Sunday, March 27, 2011

Good and Bad

That is how the barn day felt today.  Things were probably mostly good, but there was some bad in there, too.  Here's the break down.

Good:  The saddle was great.  Yesterday Robin and I treated it with oil to supple up the fenders and various other parts and then dumped a bunch of baby powder into it to stop the squeaks.  When Robin said that is what you do, I didn't really believe it.  But then every page that came up on the Google search "how to stop a squeaky saddle" said to put baby powder in every crevice.  So we did.  I think I heard one tiny creak today, that was it.

Bad:  At 9 am on a Sunday the barn was crowded.  There was a lame horse, lots of noisy conversation, banging, horses getting ready for rides, and various other things happening.  It wasn't a big deal really, but usually early on a weekend we get the place to ourselves.  Perhaps we've been a bit spoiled.

Good:  Bear was super calm today.  He stood like a dream for grooming and tacking, and he was responsive during groundwork.  A bit slow (I think due to all the noise and distraction), but definitely better than Friday.

Bad:  Bear's stops.  Usually he stops on a dime.  Today it would take him three to four steps to go from his very slow walk to a stop.  I tried to work on this a lot today.  I'd ask for the stop firmly, it would take awhile to get it, and then I'd back him up a lot in hopes that it would get him thinking again, in general, and ideally thinking about going backwards would prepare him more for a stop.  But I don't think he stopped nicely once during the whole ride.

Good:  Getting back to the trot.  When I first asked Bear to trot he was great.  His speed was nice and relaxed, and I didn't have much contact on his mouth.  I also felt really good in the saddle.

Bad:  Continuing in the trot.  It deteriorated pretty quickly.  Robin and Steen were riding in the arena with us, and when they were about done with their ride they just calmly stood in the center of the arena for a bit while Bear and I trotted around them.  Bear didn't like this.  He kept veering off the rail in hopes of getting to stand in the middle with Steen.  I had to bring him back to the rail and that's when things started getting a little jerky.

Good:  Bear's half-passes.  OK, this wasn't really good as I didn't ask for it.  But at one point during our trotting Bear was zig zagging every which way to stay off the rail, and when I tried to get him back on it he went into the smoothest and prettiest little half-pass.  I wish I could have seen it.  I do know it felt good.

Bad:  More zig-zagging and head tossing in the trot.  I wasn't sure if he was uncomfortable or if it was the commotion or if he was a little sore or tired from all the riding this week, but Bear was not happy about me asking him to trot more.  We kept it up for just a bit longer (thought it was much shorter than Friday's trot session) and then I cooled him down for a while.  He was a little better during that time, but I still felt like he was just ready to be done.

And so that was our ride.  Definitely interesting, and overall not bad, but not as good as it could have been.  I think I'll give Bear a few days of rest and then see where he's at.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Continuing to Trot

The pasture horses got some nice, dry bales of hay.  When I went out to get Bear he was standing with his side up against a bale, and he was covered in hay.  I wish I took a picture of it.  When he saw me coming he took a half-hearted bite out of the bale and then waited for my approach.  Still, he seemed excited to get the halter on and follow me out of the pasture.

Grooming was good and we moved on to some groundwork.  From the get go he was fidgety and not paying much attention to me.  He started walking in circles and so we just went with circle work.  He was moving and bending nicely, but he was not stopping or being very respectful of me.  So we upped the pace, and I tried to challenge him with more change ups.  Then he got uncomfortable.  I had already put the saddle on (normally this isn't a problem), and it seems the new one might bounce a bit without a rider up there. 

So we pulled it off, slowed things down, and went back to yielding the hind and fore-quarters and backing.  He calmed right down and started paying a little more attention to me.  It could have been better, but I was happy with calm.  There is also no doubt that he had an overfull tummy.  He pooped when he came in, he pooped at the beginning of ground work, and then he pooped two more times while I was riding him.  At least we know his digestive system is working.

Under saddle he was good right from the start.  He followed the rail nicely and gave me some really excellent tight turns.

During figure-eights over the PVC pipe he would get both really good (he learns patterns super fast) and really lazy (tripping on the pipe and cutting corners).  We perked him up with some trotting.  He was quite good with this, even better than Wednesday.  At times I would hold a medium amount of contact on his mouth, and he was fine with this.  He'd slow down a bit and bring his back up into the trot (I only know this because Robin and Heather were giving commentary from the sidelines).  Sometimes I even had him on a rather loose rein.

We kept up the trotting for a little over 15 minutes, with intermittent walking breaks.  This is possibly one of the best rides I've had on Bear.  He stayed on the rail quite willingly, he was very responsive to the neck reining, and he seemed to enjoy the work at the trot.  Sure, he got tired, but he was very much connected to me and what I was asking him to do.  Kind of surprising given how checked out he was with the groundwork.

After the ride he stood like a dream and was still paying very close attention to me.  He only inched into the storage space for chopped hay once, but I backed him up and told him he'd explode if he ate any more just yet.  He understood.  The goal for the next few weeks is to increase time at the trot and get him controlling his own speed.  Should be fun.  Oh, and the new saddle was wonderful.  Both for me and Bear.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Saddle!

I was out of town the last two days for work, and it was a little tiring.  After I got home I lounged in the recliner wondering what I should do with my afternoon when the UPS guy came up to the door with a huge box in his arms.  My new Bear Trap Rancher saddle.  It came fast, as we just ordered it on Saturday.

Pulling it out of the box it looked even better than the pictures online.  And those pictures looked pretty cool.  We pulled off some of the superfluous nylon bits and propped it on the stairs to admire.

Then we changed and went to the barn.  How could we not try it out?

The barn initially looked quiet, but then we saw a few people in the pasture, and another border pulled up right after us to give a lesson, so it was actually hoppin for a Wednesday.  We also got two new horses in the feed lot pasture, so all those horses were really running and kicking up their heels.

Bear and Steen were relaxed, though.  Bear was a tad fidgity while I groomed him (he was attracted to the chopped hay; yesterday Robin reminded him what it tasted like).  The initial fitting of the saddle without a pad looked good.  So I finished the tacking up and took him in the arena.  Our barn owner's daughter was getting a lesson, but they didn't mind us joining them.  Bear was good with the traffic, and we just did our mostly normal warm-up stuff (sans groundwork).

The saddle felt good to me.  Roomy and comfy.  But what really surprised me was how easy Bear was moving.  He seemed to be walking faster and more steadily.  And when we were doing tight turns he was bending like no other.  Even to the right!  His bad side.  It was so amazing I spent quite a few minutes just doing tight right turns, and he never once heaved himself over or shuffled to the side or anything that he often does.

So it is possible that the other saddle pinched or did something to make him comfortable.  It is certainly a little too early to tell for sure.  But really, he has never turned right like that.  It is quite shocking.

Robin took this with the little camera, so the quality isn't quite as good as the others.
After a little while I gave Robin a chance to try it out, and she agreed with my assessment: Bear was ultra relaxed.  She trotted on Bear again, and I had never seen his trot look so even and smooth.  He was reaching better with his hind legs, and he wasn't flinging himself up as high as he used to.  So I jumped back on and did a bit more walking and then we tried some trotting, too.  I hadn't been trotting at all because of how uncomfortably stiff I've felt in the saddle.  It has been a mixture of the bad-fall nerves and a really tight right hip (mine, and I kinda thought Bear's too).  It might also have been due to a poorly fitting saddle.  Anyways, today we trotted for a few minutes.  It was decent.  We've got some work to do.  I think my stirrups were too long, and Bear was really not excited when I got back on him for the second time.  So we'll need to work through those things.  But all in all, everything is good.

Except the weather.  The next few days are supposed to bring cold temps and some wintry mix.  The midwest in march.  Nice.  So after Bear's hard work yesterday, and a little today, I thought we should give him a big snack.  The bails are getting low, too.

With food in the picture, Bear got pushy again.  So I moved him around while Robin laid it all out.  While he and Steen ate we  swapped the thin, rawhide stirrups for my old, nice and fat stirrups.  And we took some pictures.

Bear was not happy when I tried to get him to pose with me for the camera.
Hopefully next time we can work more on working the kinks out of Bear's trot (and my seat) and the creaks out of the leather saddle.  Both might take a few rides.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shots and Saddles

On Friday I had another good lesson on Bear.  It was a beautiful and relaxing afternoon at the barn.  When I brought Bear in, though, he was probably the dirtiest I'd ever seen him.  So grooming took some time.  He was good for it.  I think the groundwork we've been doing has made him more trusting of me as a leader.

We also started this session off with groundwork.  It was by far the best yet.  We did a lot of circle work, and it was the most relaxed he has ever been on the line.  We then combined lots of our usual tricks to make the exercises more demanding, and he responded really well to this.

Under saddle he was very relaxed.  Robin finished her ride before we even started (Steen was not as dirty) and she was watering the arena while we did groundwork.  Bear remained so relaxed we decided she should just keep watering.  We went through all our normal patterns.  The tight right turns are still tough, but he was working through them nicely.  In the end I thought about trotting some (we've really got to get back to working at the trot), but I didn't feel super comfortable.  Like Bear, I've got a really tight hip, and I often feel stiff and unstable in the saddle.  Friday it was a little more noticeable because Bear felt wider.  Again.  Last Friday he felt trimmer, but this Friday I had to readjust his off-billet he was so big.  That wideness doesn't make my hip feel great.

Big Bear hanging out in the muck.

So we ended the day with some more groundwork in the arena sans rope and halter.  He was good going in circles both directions.  He didn't really want to come to me, but after one longer running session he was pretty excited to come in for pets.  We ended it on that high note.

Saturday was vet day.  We arrived to lots of commotion and teeth drilling.  Our horses only needed shots as they had their teeth done in November.  Oh, and we needed a poop sample.  They'll get tested this spring to see what kind of parasites (if any) they've got, and then we'll worm accordingly.  Hopefully it will be cheaper and mean less medicine for them.  Bear is a super pooper, so I got his sample just moments after we came into the barn.  Steen on the other hand, we'll, he's a little shy.

While waiting for our turn (and Steen's poop) we spent a lot of time grooming and washing the mud off their legs. Bear was great the whole time.  Oh yeah, he even came up to me from the bale!  He never does that.  So yesterday's work must have been good for him.  Then today he stood wonderfully.  He didn't react at all to the shots or all the other squeely and nervous horses.  Steen was good, too, but Robin really had to work for that stool sample.

The really big news of the day is I ordered a new saddle.  As I mentioned above, I'm often uncomfortable on Bear.  I've thought for a few months that my saddle was too small for me.  I'm not a big guy, but I am quite tall, and I don't think my long legs ever fit well in the saddle I've been riding.  So after much reading on line (for perhaps the dozenth time), watching old videos of me riding different horses in different saddles, and trying out some larger saddles (16 and 17 inch) at our local tack shop, we finally ordered one:


It's a Bear Trap Rancher by American Saddlery.  That's right, Bear Trap.  But that isn't why I bought it, though it is kind of why I initially wanted it.  I settled on this one for the stellar reviews, good price, elegantly simple design, and secure pommel, seat, and cantle.  It should be in next week, and I can't wait.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lessons and an Anniversary

Friday we continued our little tradition of going out to the barn and having Robin give me a lesson.  This time things were a bit crowded, though.  Ruby, a 13 year old girl who's been at the barn quite a few years, was also getting a lesson from another border.  Ruby is definitely a better rider than me, but still, I was a tad nervous to have all the extra stuff happening around us.

Before the other lesson started Bear and I were able to get in and do some groundwork.  We're getting better and better.  When he lags or gets sluggish now I've got a lot more things to demand of him.  And on Friday I really had to get on his case to back out of my space.  At one point I hit him a little bit (and I mean little, cuz he's a huge horse) and he backed up like I'd never seen.

Then he didn't want to come back to me.  So we did more backs and circles and he was really paying attention to the whole time.  After a very short while he was doing everything I asked, including coming to me.

When I hopped on we had the arena to ourselves and just did some big loops and a few small patterns to warm up.  Then Ruby and Ginger (her horse) came in.  Since things were a little busier Robin didn't really tell me to do a whole lot of specific things.  So I just paid attention to where everyone was at and fit in the exercises that Bear and I know.

If you look closely you can see that Bear is actually a little bit trimmer than he was a few weeks ago.
It all worked out really well.  I was nervous at times, as Ruby and Ginger were doing a lot of loping and even a little jumping (I should also say we don't have a very large arena).  At one point Ginger hit the jump pretty hard and Bear jumped a bit.  In retrospect it was pretty funny, but at the time, not so much.  In reality Bear was really good the whole time and he was doing an excellent job paying attention to me.

Ruby and Ginger, just barely clearing that rail
Today is Robin and my 2nd year anniversary.  So I took the afternoon off work (easy, as it's spring break) and we went to the barn.  Robin had a good bareback ride on Steen while Bear and I continued to work on groundwork.  He really responded to some quick disengages followed by some big backs.  It was fun.  For me.

But all the work is really helping me be more in charge and authoritative.  All important things as Bear is kind of in charge a lot.  After today's ride we watched him cleverly move the head mare away from a prime eating spot.  So the more he can pay attention to me, the better.  Today we continued to test that out as Gay and Doc joined us in the arena.  I'd never been in our arena with three riders before.
It was a little crowded, but all in all it worked out just fine.  Good practice for both Bear and I.  Well, mostly for me.

I'm always sure to give him lots of "Good Boy's"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

No Pics This Time

But the guys look the same.  And I'm pretty sure I was wearing the same outfit I've been wearing to the barn for a month (it has been washed in that time).

On a relatively mild Sunday afternoon we were thrilled to have the barn to ourselves.  We brought both Steen and Bear inside.  Robin stripped off Steen's blanket and shortly thereafter hopped on for a bareback ride.  I took my sweet time grooming Bear (though he was actually cleaner than the blanketed Steen).  Then we joined the others in the arena to do a little groundwork.

Bear and I have been doing groundwork off and on since we became partners back in August of last year.  We never really did it super consistently, and often we had Robin giving us a hand, so it was never a solid part of the work we did together.  But in these last three weeks we have made a nice little breakthrough.  Bear understands all the moves I'm asking of him, and he seems to enjoy thinking through them and doing the right thing.

We had one moment when I was asking for him to disengage his forequarters and he just kind of kept walking around in bad circles.  He was yielding, but not in the way I wanted.  Finally we got a few passable disengages, and then we switched to the other side.  On this side he figured it out.  And I could see him thinking really hard, "oh, this is how it was supposed to work."

The problem with the first try was that it was on Bear's bad side.  I was asking him to turn right.  He is super stiff somewhere in his body and it prevents him from being able to comfortably turn right at a certain angle.  And it is an odd angle.  He can actually turn right very sharply with no problems (Robin says it is because he can pivot on that huge haunch of his).  But if it is a little less sharp, then it hurts him.  Bigger circles, no problem.

The same thing was happening when we were doing some circling exercises under saddle.  Excellent to the left, OK to the right for awhile and then, bang, awful.  Mostly due to his discomfort.  So I'm trying to let him move in a way that is natural for him, but I'm also trying to make it look like I'm asking him to do it.  It is tricky, and sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't.  Just more to work on.

We ended our very good ride and then turned Bear and Steen out into the arena.  Both Robin and I rode really easily, and their pasture is a mud bog right now, so we were hoping they would kick up their heels a bit.  Robin started by encouraging Bear into some free longing.  He was great at it.  Steen just hung out by me the whole time.  He was not interested in playing.

We figured that was fine and then I had a turn doing some free longing with Bear.  He has certainly done this before, but who knows when the last time was.  It helped me that Robin got him started today.  Then I just worked to keep it light and easy, asking him to move around me in a circle, then stop, then come to me.  When he didn't want to come I just urged him right back into the circle.

Then he started coming to me.  It was very gratifying.  After the second time we did some leading drills.  He just followed right along.  This felt like a big deal to me because Bear is very much a 'do his own thing' kind of horse.  But today he was thrilled to follow me around.

So all in all it was an excellent Sunday afternoon at the barn.  Probably far better than a ride Friday would have been with me being tired and the boys spending the whole day standing around in the cold rain.  Now we just need to make sure we can keep our momentum up a little bit.