Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sweet Sixteen

Today was Bear's sixteenth birthday, and I'm happy to report he doesn't look or act that old. 

We started the day off by giving them both a little chopped hay.  The pasture they've been hanging out in for a week or so is a little thin, so we decided to supplement their diets a bit.  Plus it can serve to calm the guys down.  With all the herd stirrings, construction, and wind, everyone is just a little antsy.

Robin and I took our time grooming and tacking them up.  Bear was a little fidgety, but nothing like yesterday.  And halfway through he started to almost fall asleep.

Lately I have been reading up on saddle fit and position.  Yesterday I put Bear's saddle on just a teeny bit further back than I usually do.  It seemed to be a good thing as he was moving exceptionally well.  I decided to try the same position again today.  It can be a little tricky for me because bear has a bit of a short back and the saddle is a little long, so I'm inclined to put it too far onto his withers.  But I might have found the sweet spot as he was again moving free and easy this afternoon.

We took the guys out to the strip and set up four cones straight up the middle at varying distances.  Bear was not happy that I wouldn't let him graze.  It took awhile for me to keep his head up and move his feet around before he would stand quietly and let me mount.  Once up he was also not inclined to stand.  We worked in figure-eights at one end and after a few minutes he was calming down.

Then we moved into the trot.  He was giving me a very relaxed jog in the beginning.  In the figure-eights it just felt like we were floating through the turns.  Then we worked in big circles and later in ovals.  After a little bit of that we moved on to trotting the full length of the four cones.  On these long straightaways he would occasionally get going pretty fast, but I could usually bring him back down with a little light contact on his mouth.  Other times he would be on a super loose rein giving me a very smooth trot.  I think we just need to spend a lot of time moving at the gaits and he will get better at figuring out what speed I want him to be at.

All the trotting was making him tired and relaxed.  Robin was on Steen bareback and she would spend periods of time just watching us.  She kept saying how good he looked and then asked if today could be the day to ask for his lope.  I've been thinking about it for weeks.  I just wanted a day that he was responsive and a little tired after a lot of work.  Today definitely fit that criteria.

I kept doing the big long straightaways.  One way was slightly downhill and the other slightly uphill.  He would go fast on the downhills as that was also in the direction of the herd.  So after we came around the cone and headed back up I kissed to him.  He perked his ears up and started moving into a rather fast trot.  He certainly knew the command, but he seemed a little surprised that I was asking for it.  It is also possible that my body language was not clearly asking for the lope.

I smoothed him out and just went out and back at the trot.  The next time coming back up the gentle slope I kissed again.  He briefly gave me the jackhammer trot and when I kissed once more he bounced into a very smooth and easy going lope.  We went up to the cone and I brought him to a trot and headed back down again.  We just did one more little loping session after that.  By this time we had been riding for an hour and my hips were a little fatigued from being stretched out over the saddle.  I cooled Bear down with some tight circles at the walk and he was great.

After watching my successful lope, Robin decided to do a little outdoor bareback loping on Steen.  They both looked really good, and Bear didn't care at all when Steen was loping right past us.

Once the ride was over we decided not to let them graze, but I did give Bear my apple core as a little extra present.  I gave Steen some as well since he deserved a party favor due to his good loping and overall relaxed demeanor all afternoon.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Not the Most Relaxing Friday at the Barn

The good news was that Bear was moving in a very smooth and relaxed manner under saddle.  Both directions.  There was not a hint of tightness in either side, and if anything, he was turning better to the right today than he was to the left.

The bad was pretty much everything else.  There was a new horse introduced to the pasture herd last night, a very cute little buckskin Quarter Horse named Cowboy.  Apparently he and Bear got into a little scuffle.  Neither horse took it super seriously as they kept the wire fence between them (they didn't have to), but that led to many additional scrapes and cuts.  I don't think either horse was any worse for the wear, but it definitely left Bear a little riled (but I kinda think he won).

And he is losing weight.  This is actually a good thing, too.  He is looking fantastic.  Better than I've ever seen him look (except for the last, long winter hairs that are hanging on and fading to orange).  But I think the lack of food in the new pastures is making him a little antsy and distracted.

He was not bad today, but he was so persistent about not paying attention to me that it was kind of driving me crazy.  During our grooming I did some rather serious groundwork with him a couple of times (and Robin did, too).  This would help, but it wouldn't really last. He'd go back to moving around, bumping into me with his hindquarters, and pushing me with his head.

Finally we got everyone tacked up and went into the outdoor arena.  Steen was amazing through all this, but Bear just kept being a butthead.  After a little battle about grazing, I finally mounted.  At first he was rather riled up (for Bear), he wouldn't stand or back or neck rein very well.  So we just went right into trotting figure-eights in hopes that it would give him something to think about.

It took awhile, but he did settle down and start cruising around on a looser rein.  The arena was still damp, though, so we moved to the strip after we got things under control.  On the strip it was like we had to start all over again.  The grazing problem came back, as did the lack of standing or paying attention to me.  The wind had also picked up, and with the way he was jerking around I had visions of him running off into the fields again.

I decided to keep everything tight and compact.  He was moving so well that I knew we could work in really tight circles and figure-eights.  So we did that for another 20 minutes or so.  He did get calmer and start paying more attention to me, but it was never great.  The wind was  continuing to howl out of the south and one of the mares was in a bit of a mood, and neither of these things helped.

Thankfully I felt quite good in the saddle.  I just kept working on leaning back into my tall cantle and not leaning too far into the turns but instead staying upright and keeping a little extra weight on my outside leg.  All this was good for me to think about, and Bear's erratic pace and super tight turns made it more important for me to concentrate.  I even feel a little fatigue in my legs.  That generally doesn't happen after a ride.

Even after the ride he was not inclined to stand or pay attention.  But we did get an OK side shot of him.  We've seen Bear muscle up nicely in the past, but we've never seen his belly this small.  We'll have to get a head on shot soon, as that really shows the lack of protrusion from the sides.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Back Indoors

This has been an exceptionally cold and wet spring.  Today we were planning on braving the chill and riding outside, but since the barn was completely empty, we wimped out and stayed in.  It was plenty comfortable as the last couple rides were outside.  And the new magnesium stuff in the sand is keeping things moist.  So there was not a speck of dust in the air.

Bear was happy to see me and pretty good for all the grooming and pre-ride stuff.  In the arena he was more than happy to stand, follow the rail, turn nice figure-eights on leg cues, and give me great stops.  It was excellent.  As the ride went on he did get a little more distracted.  I think it was the open door outside the arena, construction sounds, and the tractor in the arena.  There might have been a few other culprits.  It was odd, though.  Bear is not inclined to be distracted.

When we moved into some trotting he was moving very comfortably and relaxed.  I think he was giving me a definitive jog at times.  He was not inclined to drop it, either.  But then as we went along, he started dropping it in the right turns, just like Sunday.  He then did it once or twice in the left turns, but I think that was laziness.  In the right turns he was not moving great.  He would stiffen up some and kind of jerk his body through them.  Then he'd pick up a nice trot for the straightaways. 

I moved our pattern so we could keep the right turns less tight.  That worked a little bit, but he was always inclined to make them tighter on his own.  Then we just trotted right circles and he got increasingly uncomfortable with each loop.  To the left he was great.  We tried following the rail to the right and he was OK in the beginning, but then he got progressively worse as we continued.  To the left, again he was pretty all right.

I decided to cool him down and work on a few bending drills at the walk.  He was the normal, relaxed Bear I've come to expect, which makes me think he was not trying to take advantage of me.  I also felt very secure through all his herky jerky motions, so I don't think I was giving him much of a window of insecurity.

We finished things up as Robin loped Steen around us.  He looked quite good, and she was riding bareback, which was fun to watch.

After I untacked Bear and groomed him, he was extremely chilled out.  I poked around on his back and found a decent sized knot on the right side.  He didn't like it when I pushed on it.  I lightened my touch and started to massage through it.  He really started to enjoy that.  After a few minutes it was feeling quite a bit better.  Hopefully it is just a little old-horse stiffness.  Or it possibly could have resulted from his chiro adjustment on Friday.  Either way, I'll continue to massage that spot and work him slowly.  And despite this minor set back, we still had a pretty great ride.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Beautiful Day on the Strip

Of course, much of the beauty came before and after the barn.  Robin and I had our usual relaxing morning before turning to some basement work and flower shopping to spruce up the front of the house.  We then moved on to a wonderful French crepe shop downtown and then stopped at my favorite establishment, the library. The day ended with a tasty dinner, and now I sit here blogging with a fine single malt to end the day.

In the afternoon we ventured out to the barn via some clients/friends of Robin's.  He had recently sold his horse and had some old tack lying around that we might be interested in.  We ended up getting a nice leather headstall with a full cheek copper snaffle and a very gentle curb.  I'm quite curious to see how Bear goes in a curb, so I'll try that in the near future.

At the barn things were fairly quiet except for the house construction that has been going on.  As it was a nice day, we kept the guys outside the whole time, and they didn't mind the noise at all.  We groomed at the hitching post and then took them over to the strip.  Yesterday we grazed there, but neither I nor Robin had ridden on the strip since my bad fall in early November.  It felt good to be back, and Steen and Bear seemed fine with it, too.

Bear was a little half snorty and wary of things in the beginning, but he didn't feel edgy at all.  So we just kept up our normal warm up and then moved on into some trotting.  This went quite well.  I've been keeping him on a very loose rein and only collecting him every once in a while.  Today might have been our longest trotting session yet, and he really relaxed into things.  But at times he would get a little lofty and jackhammery, but it never lasted.

When we were trotting in circles, though, he started dropping the trot while going to the right.  I kept at it for a while, but he kept dropping it.  I thought he might be tired and feeling lazy, so I went back to the left, but there wasn't really a problem that direction.  So we tried right again and he was inclined to drop it.

His body language was so relaxed the whole time, and he never acted like he was uncomfortable.  But I really think something was giving him a little pinch, or something.  I decided not to push it as the chiro said to give him a couple of easy walk/trot days after her work on Friday (of course, all we've been doing is easy walk/trot days).  So we cooled down and he went back to being very light and responsive.  After I got off and went through some bending exercises Robin was amazed at how keyed into me he was.  Hopefully that shows that he wasn't just trying some butthead, Bear antics.

We let the guys graze for awhile on the strip and then turned them back out to the pasture.  I'm very excited to keep working on things outdoors, and hopefully May is a teeny bit drier than April has been.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Little Break

After quite a few weeks of more riding, I took it easy this past week.  The weather was cold and wet, so it made it easy for me to stay home, drink tea, and read books.  Yesterday Bear got some work done on him by the chiropractor.  I was at work so Robin was there to hold him.  He was quite the pill for her, but she made him sorry for his actions with some groundwork and demanding backing to the pasture (yeah, they pretty much walked backwards the whole way to the pasture).

Today the horses were out in the middle pasture enjoying some grass.  When I walked through the gate Bear seemed pretty excited to see me.  He didn't come to me (he never does), but he did stop eating and eagerly watched me approach.  He was happy to be haltered and had almost an energetic walk.

As the guys are still shedding a ton we spent a lot of time grooming them outside.  There were two people riding in the arena at the time, so we weren't in any hurry.  And both the guys love the new hitching post, so it is easy to spend a lot of time there.

When we went to ride things were still a little bit busy in the arena as one rider was on a rather green four year old with her very nice dog following her around.  Also there was a new tractor in the arena.  But both Bear and Steen were remarkably calm.  Bear has been a little challenging recently, but today he was extremely willing to move in any way I asked him.  I was a little worried he would get impatient with the young mare and try to move her, but he continually looked to me for guidance.  It felt nice.

After the young horse left the arena we started trotting.  I kept Bear on a very loose rein almost the entire time.  He is getting better at understanding that the trot can be smooth and comfortable (I'm sure he's also getting more fit and I'm getting better at riding his trot).  We spent quite a bit of time trotting today.  At times he would turn sharply and drop it, but he always picked it right back up.  I kind of wanted to trot more, but as he just got wrenched around yesterday I decided to keep it light and we finished the ride off by working on some simple patterns at the walk.

When we finished the ride we took them out to the strip for a little more grooming and grazing.  This was the only time we brought the camera out.

Perhaps tomorrow will be a nice day and we can actually ride them on the strip.  You never know with April in Iowa.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Long Visitor Report

Friday was one of those awful spring days, wet, windy, and quite cold.  So we skipped our usual Friday-at-the-barn routine.  Plus we knew my sister Christina was coming to visit this weekend and we were going to spend plenty of time at the barn the next couple of days.

Saturday the weather was not much better.  As I enjoyed my coffee and a book in the morning, it snowed sideways.  By the time Christy got to our house and we were able to leave for the barn it was a little bit warmer, but the guys were not in a great mood when we got there.  Bear was OK, but Steen was not at all pleased.  He was hungry and freezing.  We tried to groom them after they rolled, but they were not all that settled, so we just fed them some chopped hay to get their minds on something else.

After that, they were both pretty good.  Robin did some groundwork with Steen and I got Bear tacked up and warmed him up in the arena.  He was riding like a dream.  His neck reining was amazing, his trot was smooth, and he was paying a lot of attention to me.

I kept it short and then put Christy up on him.  We started with me just leading the two of them around the arena with the mecate.

They were both very relaxed, so I turned things over to Christy.  This is when Bear decided to be a butthead.  He would only go back.  And back, and back, and back.  With some help from Robin, we finally got them going, but Bear challenged Christy the whole time.

Christy does not have horse experience.  She's visited with some of the horses my mother rides, and she rode my sister-in-law's horse once, about three years ago.  However, she was doing a really good job keeping Bear going.  I was amazed that she didn't get more flustered. I certainly would have. Do, actually, as Bear does the same thing to me sometimes.

After that extremely poor performance from Bear, I had to climb on him again and make him work.  Physically, it felt like he was pissed at me for letting someone else ride him.  It was kind of funny really, as he wasn't awful.  I just had to work to get him trotting, then we went through a lot of patterns, gait changes, backs, and everything else I know.  He didn't fully come around to where he was before Christy rode him, but he did start to relax and respond to my cues more quickly.  When I climbed off he was his usual, easy-going self, acting like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.  Very funny.

A calmed down Steen kept Christy company while I worked Bear.
Sunday we went back out to the barn and again it was empty (most of the boarders were at a show).  It was a much warmer and calmer day, and we found many of the horses snoozing in the pasture.  We decided to just bring Steen inside at first and see if he was up for letting Christy ride him.

Steen was a completely different horse than yesterday.  He was about as mellow as I've ever seen him.  So we groomed him up and let Christy hop on.  Again, she did great.  Steen is not at all inclined to challenge a rider like Bear will, so he was quite willing to let her steer him around the arena.  A few times he wanted to go to Robin in the middle, but Christy was able to keep him on the rail. Robin will have some photos of them on her blog.

After their ride I brought Bear in and he was in a grumpy and funky mood.  I let him run around the arena initially, and then we did some groundwork without a line.  He was moving very fast, but he was also extremely responsive.  But while I was grooming him he would not stand still.  I had to be as firm as I could to get him to back up after he would creep forward, but it would never last.

Robin was busy working with Steen and Christy, but she saw my frustration and recommended I take him in the arena and make him work as soon as he creeps again.  It was a very good idea.  So the next time he creeped forward I brought him into the arena and made him trot left, stop and disengage, then trot right, and repeat.

He was a little feisty but also quite responsive.  I tied him up again, but he only stood nicely for a few seconds.  So we went back to the arena for more work.  He was even feistier this time, but still responsive.  This time when I brought him back to the tie area he stood like his feet were in cement.  His head came down and he was a completely different horse.  I finished the grooming and tacking and hopped on.

Under saddle he was just like yesterday (the first time yesterday).  He was perfect at following the rail and responding to neck reining, his trot was smooth and relaxed, and his stops were nice.  They could have been nicer, but they were still good.  I kept the ride short because we had been there a long time and also the inside of my knees are bothering me a little from the saddle.  I spent a lot of time oiling the lower part of the stirrups so they would twist nicely (and they do), but I didn't work the upper part of the fender that hits my knee.  This week I'll try to get to it.

Giving Bear some much deserved pets.

I guess Bear is just really becoming my horse.  It is definitely a nice feeling, but it would be nice if he would occasionally let other people ride him.  I certainly don't want to get in the habit of putting a lot of different people on my horse, but every once in a while it is nice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Spring in Our Step

Today was one of those very rare April days.  It was sunny, in the low 70s, and the wind was just leisurely blowing out of the south.  It was perfect for our first ride in the outdoor arena.  Bear and I have ridden outside quite a bit, but we've never been in the outdoor arena.  And this was our first outdoor ride of the year.

My original plan was to do a brief warm up in the indoor arena, but there was a young girl getting a pretty thorough lesson when we arrived.  Robin and I took our time tacking up at the new outdoor hitching post, but they were still going.  So we just decided to start outside.

While Robin climbed on Steen bareback from a cinder block, I fixed Bear's cinch and made sure our brand new headstall was fitting nicely.  Robin bought it for us a few weeks ago, but we never got around to setting it up.  The funny thing is, it is made by the same company as my saddle.  AND it is in the same stain.  So now we unintentionally match.  I must say, it does look really good.

When I climbed on Bear he was a little unhappy with things.  Perhaps it was the other horse hanging out in the round pen that was also in the arena.  Maybe it was the new space.  Or he might have just been a little upset with being so close to his herd and dinner, but not being able to enjoy himself.  Whatever it was it made for some jerky walking.  He also picked up the trot on his own a couple times.

I started on figure-eights right away hoping the pattern would calm him down.  After the last few rides I've felt confident enough to keep him trotting if he decides to jump into it.  But he did it so early I just wanted to make sure he was warmed up (he is a coming 16 year old after all).  When he picked up the trot a second time, though, I made him stick to it.

And he was very relaxed.  Occasionally his pace would get a little fast, but we spent almost the whole time in a very comfortable extended trot.

During our previous trotting sessions I would often have some light contact on his mouth to keep his speed in check and help both of us balance a little better.  Today I only used the tiniest bit of contact.  For most of our trotting he was on a loose rein and very responsive.  He would increase or decrease the intensity of his turns just by the slightest movement in my hands.  It was wonderful.

And there was no way he was sore.  He just fell right into working and got a lot of enjoyment out of it.  His trot was smooth, his stops were spot on, and he was happy to be backing or doing whatever else I asked him.  Even when the stall herd got a little stirred up with their coming dinner, Bear stood like a champ and looked to me asking what we should do next.

I think I can say this was our best ride yet.  And I feel like our riding season is just getting started.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Trotting in Traffic

Robin and I woke up really early this Saturday.  We had plenty of time to enjoy our coffee, read (or write, for Robin), have a nice breakfast and still make it to the barn early.  We were rewarded by having the place to ourselves.

For about five minutes.  Other boarders must have had the same thought as us, for just as we pulled our guys out of the pasture another boarder showed up.  She is often quick and efficient with her barn visits, and we had dirty, shedding horses, so we just took our time getting ready while she rode in the arena.

But just when we were getting closer to riding another boarder showed up with her boyfriend and boyfriend's parents.  Everyone was very nice, and our guys were super happy to hang out and receive pets and compliments from the visitors.  After a nice chat, we got into the arena and started our ride.

Bear was quite good from the beginning.  We followed the rail just to get warmed up and he was mostly sticking to it.  The commotion might have distracted him a little bit, but his infractions were not serious enough for me to really get on him.  Instead we kept going and worked on backs and stops.  After reading an interesting reining article that included some thoughts on backing, Robin tried it on Bear.  It seems he knows it really well.  So I did a lot of backing to get him thinking.  And it is fun to see him tuck his head nicely and back up however far I ask him to go.

After a few minutes we were joined by the boarder and her older Arabian.  We weren't worried about our horses as all three of the guys live together.  At first I was feeling a little crowded with three of us in the 60 by 90 foot arena, but then I got more comfortable.  And after seeing Robin and Steen executing an extremely relaxed jog, I asked Bear for the same.  He didn't go quite as slow as Steen, but he felt wonderful.  His whole body was relaxed and supple, and he really seemed to be enjoying himself.  As there were three of us milling about, I couldn't stick to a simple pattern like figure-eights or following the rail, but he responded very nicely to all my steering.

Over the course of our ride many people got on and off the Arab. Depending on who was riding, Bear and I would stand or work on backs, walk around, and sometimes trot.  A couple of our trotting sessions were a teeny bit erratic.  He never got going super fast, but he did give me a few head tosses that suggested he wasn't loving the work.  But at other times he would settle in nicely.  I am hoping consistent rides like this are the perfect thing to keep his physical and mental fitness progressing.

Tomorrow the guys get their feet trimmed (and they really need it!).  Those are always busy days, and we could get some monster storms here, so I'm not banking on a ride.  But as of right now, it would be fun to keep our streak of good rides going.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Best Lesson Yet

After Robin's very encouraging rides this week, I went back to riding Bear.  It felt great to be on my own horse again.  It even felt good to pick his feet.  I'm still a new enough horse person that I do not expect such drastic differences between them.  But they are everywhere, even in their hooves.

Before the ride Robin had thoroughly explained all her tactics for diffusing Bear's little antics, so I was prepared to use them.  We kept things very simple.  If he veered off the rail, I would let him make the mistake and then turn him very sharply into the rail and continue on in the opposite direction.  If he wanted to change the pace, then I would keep that pace going until he was very, very ready to stop.  And the other one we threw in was to make him go backwards if he ever didn't want to start walking forward, or thought of going backwards on his own.

We started out on the rail.  He was walking nicely and showing no signs of discomfort.  Just like old times, he would veer off the rail and I'd get on him for it and turn him back on the rail in the other direction.  I only did it three or four times before he really stuck to the rail.  He would then drift off and stop paying attention in a couple of the corners, but I didn't have too much trouble correcting that either.

Early on in the ride he picked up the trot when I didn't ask for it.  Out of habit I brought him right to a stop and sat there.  Of course, that is what he wanted.  But I wasn't quick enough (or perhaps ready enough) to just go with the trot.  After that, I decided the next time he picked up the trot, we'd stay with it.

Feeling done with our follow the rail exercise, we moved to walking in figure-eights in the middle.  Bear was pretty inconsistent in the turns.  Of course, this was largely my fault as I wasn't doing the best job steering.  Robin gave us a big X in the middle of the arena to shoot for.  I though it would help things, but we had not even completed our first pattern when Bear jumped into a trot (and yes, he does have this way about him where he leaps up into the trot).

So we trotted.  And trotted.  And trotted some more.  And Bear hated it.  He tossed his head a few times, he was erratic with the pace, sharp in the turns, and he dropped it a couple of times.  But each time I had him pick it up again, and though I was a tad uncomfortable from time to time, I just focused on my posture and staying relaxed.  After a few minutes Bear relaxed into things, too.

I gave him a few minutes to walk and then we changed directions with the figure-eights and went back to the trot.  He immediately started trotting in a much more relaxed manner this second time.  It wasn't amazing, but it was quite good.  We kept it up for a little bit, and then I asked for a woah in the middle of the pattern and he stopped like his life depended on it.  Robin said she'd never seen a horse slam his front feet into the ground so nicely.

Since the ride was going so well at that point we almost decided to end things on a good note, but then I said we should trot just a bit more and then cool down.  So we had a few more very relaxed minutes of trotting in the figure-eights and then walked on the rail to cool him down.  I think for the cool down he only came off the rail once.

It was a great ride.  During no part of it did Bear act, feel, or look sore.  And Robin rode him in the same way with the same tack yesterday.  I know it doesn't mean we've solved all the problems, but I feel a whole lot better about where we're at with getting Bear into shape and out of butt-head mode.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Still on Steen

Finally we're having some great weather this spring.  We had temps in the 60s, a light north wind, and some nice, fluffy, white clouds.

But we rode inside anyways.  Since we didn't ride a ton this winter I don't feel like I'm in a super hurry to get outside.  Feeling comfy in the saddle with a roof over our heads is just fine by me.

Today I rode Steen while Robin continued to check out Bear.  She'll have a bigger write up on things, but we're getting closer to just thinking he's a butthead who is smart enough to take advantage of my horsey insecurities.

Steen, on the other hand, feels no reason to think for himself or take advantage at all.  Sometimes he will choose to not think and throw in a spook or bolt, but those have been getting increasingly rare.  And today he was great.

We started by walking around for a bit, working through some simple patterns while he threw in some huge yawns and tried to wake up. After some time we moved into trotting and he was back to the super slow pace where I sometimes can't tell if he's walking or trotting.  The last two times we rode (one of which I did not blog about) he had a very erratic trot.  Not so today.  Robin said it was us getting used to each other again.  Definitely so.  I think the warm weather might have played a part, too.

As we trotted on the rail we would work on walk/trot transitions and the occasional stop/trot/stop transitions, which he was not quite as good at.  That is probably why I didn't work on them much, even though I know for that very reason it would be good to work on it more.

When Bear and Robin were done (Bear was cleaner and Robin didn't use a saddle, so they got quite the head start), Steen and I used the whole arena to trot some nice figure eights.  He was really good at this, in the beginning.  Then he would get slightly erratic and maybe a tad flustered.  After we got things under control again, I cooled him down.  I think he was just warm and tired.  He hasn't been getting many rides in that are an hour long.

Steen has been great fun, but I will be looking forward to getting back on the Bear.  I just need to learn how to make him work a little more.  It should be doable.  Hopefully in the next few days we'll get back together.  Robin would like one more ride with the saddle just to cover all the different variables.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Back on Steen

Wednesday we went out to the barn early in the afternoon in hopes of a repeat of last Friday's great ride.  Bear was sluggish in the beginning, and even not all that excited to leave the bale and follow me.  But once we started groundwork he came around.  He continues to get better at responding to what I ask.  Or maybe I get better at asking it.  Either way, we are seeing improvement.  Particularly in his relaxation during circle work.

Under saddle things started out good.  He was his usual quiet self going through our walking warm-up.  It was a pretty, sunny day and we had all the doors open in the arena.  During one pass by the big door we heard a horse whinny outside, Bear lifted his head semi-quickly, and then bolted towards the middle of the arena.  Thankfully my new saddle held me in place, but this was more than a little disconcerting.  It was very un-Bear-like.  Sure, he's jumped off before, but never like that.  He is perhaps the most dominant horse in the pasture, there is no way a whinny like that would worry him.

We continued to walk around for a bit, but he then had a few other starts and was just not acting like himself.  Robin volunteered to ride him to see if we could determine if he was sore, or just being temperamental.  He didn't want to let her on, but she got up there and bounced around a little and the saddle didn't seem to bother him.  She walked around and then asked him to trot for a while.  He did it, but you could tell he was hating it the whole time, and he just wasn't moving like he was the week before.

After the ride we took the saddle off and thoroughly examined his back, but we couldn't detect any immediate problems.  Then we explored other parts on him and found a very, very sensitive spot on his right side.  Right in the ribs where the cinch goes.  He's been sore there before, so we're going to give him some rest and see if the chiropractor can offer us some more specific work and exercises on this particular problem (rather than the general soreness old Bear gets). 

We had not been out very long, so I decided to jump on Steen.  He did not seem to mind my new saddle as we walked around the arena and even did a little trotting.  I was shocked at how different Steen felt.  I really haven't ridden him since maybe June.  He was quite relaxed, but even a relaxed Steen involves a lot of jerky motions that I do not experience on Bear.  So that, coupled with a very busy barn that afternoon and the surprises from riding Bear, meant I didn't feel like riding for very long.

On Friday both Robin and I had the tireds and decided to skip the barn.  Instead we went out this morning and had the place to ourselves.  We planned on letting Bear rest, so I went out and grabbed Steen as I would use him for my lesson.  It was fun to tack him up again.  I spent so much time doing that years ago, and today he was extremely calm and relaxed.

Again I used my saddle, and he seemed to like it.  We did a lot of the usual things I've been doing with Bear and then moved to the trotting.  His trotting was very eratic, so in some ways it did feel a little like Bear's.  But Steen can be sensitive about his mouth and I never knew if I was giving him too much pressure or not enough.  At times he would settle in, at other times, not so much.  All in all I spent 40 minutes and it was good to get used to him again.
After my ride I encouraged Robin to get on and enjoy herself.  She had tried out my new saddle before, but she hadn't used it on Steen.  Like me, she was surprised at how different it felt on him than it did on Bear. 

Steen was thoroughly warmed up for her, so after a few laps of trotting she asked him for the lope.  She probably hadn't loped on him since the fall, but he did really well.  We had the good camera out with us and I snapped a lot of shots.  You can see more at her blog.