Monday, May 30, 2011

A Long Weekend of So So Rides

Saturday was probably the best ride of the three.  Robin and I had a family friend visit on Friday night.  He had a lot of driving ahead of him and took off relatively early Saturday morning, so we just got ready and went to the barn.  It was damp and quiet and we planned on another nice, indoor ride.

The guys were being good.  Steen seemed to be moving OK in his dressage saddle, and Bear was attentive and trotting nicely, so we moved into some loping.  Going left was by far our smoothest and most relaxed lope yet.  It was wonderful.  Going right, not so good.  I had high hopes of riding to the right well as we did it on Tuesday, but Bear was not relaxed at all.  He would give me a super jackhammer styled trot and lots of head tosses.  This would pull me out of balance quite a bit, and then when we'd finally get to loping, neither one of us was set up nicely to continue it.  We did this for a few minutes and almost got one nice session in, but we couldn't repeat it.  So we went back to the left and finished on a good note.

I was thinking of loping a little more, but we were joined by another boarder.  Three horses in the indoor arena is a bit cramped, and I'm not used to weaving through traffic at the lope.  I can do it at the walk, and sometimes at the trot, but not at the lope.  So we just cooled down and then untacked.

Sunday we woke up quite early and were very excited to get out to the barn at 8 am and have the place to ourselves.  We did, but then we were joined by a rather large storm.  Neither Steen nor Bear were feeling comfortable with all the rain and wind.  They would both be good occasionally, but then they would instantly become distracted.  I was planning on just working the trot today and maybe asking for a lope if we were all relaxed about it, but I couldn't even get anything close to a relaxed trot.  It didn't help that we got off the horses a few times when the storm was really howling and lightning was striking right outside, so we never got into a good rhythm.

Unfortunately when we were feeling at our most settled, a big wind came up and pulled at the huge door of the arena.  It made a really eerie metal on metal sound and the guys spooked pretty good.  Robin was riding bareback and ended up tumbling down into the sand (thankfully she is OK and only sustained a scrape on the elbow and some minor soreness on the right side of her body).  I stayed in my saddle and was able to bring Bear under control, but that was kind of it for me.  We had been there for almost two hours and I was physically and mentally fatigued from the ride.

On Monday we woke to bright sun and howling wind.  The guys were grazing together and happy to see us, despite the lows of yesterday's ride.  We tied up outside at the hitching post and after a bit of shuffling around Bear settled into his usual nap-like state for the rest of the tacking up.

Out on the strip they were quiet.  This was nice.  Especially since I was getting on and off a few times trying to change the way I do up the cinch and tie-strap.  I usually tie the latigo in a knot in the D-ring.  It hasn't been too big of a deal for the most part, but lately it has been bothering my knee when Bear is a little rough at the trot or the lope.  I even think it hinders my balance going to the right just the slightest bit.  So today I experimented with using the buckle and then putting the excess latigo leather through the loop up on the saddle.  It took a few adjustments, but I think we got it to work.  Bear didn't appear to have any troubles with it, and I loved the smooth feel under my left knee.  I felt more relaxed in the saddle and my left leg cues seemed to be a bit more effective, too.  So hopefully I can keep doing it this way.

As the ride went on, though, Bear got really distracted and would not settle into a trot at all.  I get tired of increasing the level of contact to keep him smooth as that really just tightens his head and neck up and does not help him relax at all.  When we couldn't trot nice circles around the cones I briefly had some luck going up and down the strip, but in one direction he constantly felt like he was going to explode into a run. Maybe he felt good, but it didn't feel good to me.  So we went back to the cones to trot around and he started shying away from one spot.  This also didn't feel good.  He'd halt his forward momentum, throw his head up and dance to the side.  This area happens to be where I often ask him for the lope.  Apparently he wasn't feeling good enough to actually do the lope as he did everything he could to get away from that spot.

After watching my frustrations Robin suggested I trot him in some nice, tight figure eights and see how he does with that.  We went into those and he did a very good job with them.  I had him on a loose rein and was able to use a lot of leg to push him through the tight turns.  He was also very willing to bend his neck and body in the direction we were going.  After awhile, he started to get a little lazy and would either drop the trot in the circles or fling himself out of the turns in a half-assed acceleration.

With a little extra leg and rein he smoothed things out again.  And when he was going nicely, I would gently direct him out of the figure eights and over to the bigger circle.  Again he would shy at that spot, so we'd go right back into working tight figure eights and try it all over again.

It never really worked, so Robin suggested I work him extra hard at the spot he was shying away from.  This was tough, and I was glad I was feeling comfortable in my seat.  I'd go through a series of tight turns with lots of leg cues and he would periodically jump up and dance to the side.  He was struggling with this, though, and eventually he got a little tired.  So I let him rest where he didn't want to be and that helped things.  Then I would ask for the big circle again and he would go back to shying away.  So more work we did.  Robin said if he does it one more time I should consider jumping off and working him very hard with my mecate.  He must have heard her, because next time we trotted around the circle he looked at the spot and moved his butt away from it a little bit, but he also kept moving forward in a relaxed trot.  I took that as a good sign and kept going around the circle.  He never stopped or jumped sideways, but he wasn't totally yielding at that spot.  We kept it up for a few laps and because his trotting was so relaxed at that point, I felt like we had finally gotten somewhere.

But man it took a lot of work. I was hoping for a nice, relaxing outdoor ride.  I guess you never know what you're going to get when you go to the barn.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two a Days

There's nothing that gets you in shape like doubles.  But it was just for Bear, today, not me.  Robin went out to the barn in the morning to ride with our friend Jean.  Robin used to go on trail rides with Jean and her Thoroughbred Schooley.

Jean is an English rider through and through.  She has spent a lot of years competing in eventing, going on fox hunts, and working on dressage.  She brought a bunch of her saddles with her today, partly to try some out with Steen, and perhaps partly because she felt better in her own saddle.

I'm not sure Bear is cut out for a little dressage saddle, though.  And I know for a fact he prefers his mane to be flowing over both sides of his neck.  Still, he was pretty good for Jean.  She walked, trotted, and loped him around the indoor arena for awhile and afterwards rode Steen.

After work I was tired and hungry, but some tea and a snack perked me up enough to go out to the barn.  I kind of thought Robin would stay home and work, but she wanted to come along, too.

Bear was pretty happy to see me, and he had no problems coming inside for another grooming.  He promptly dozed off while I brushed and tacked him.  But taking him into the arena did not make him happy.  He stopped and balked twice, but I just patiently kept asking him to follow, and finally he resigned himself to another ride.

Under saddle he was very calm and attentive.  And feeling a little thin, too.  It was quite nice.  We had not ridden in the indoor for quite a while and it was rather relaxing.  We spent some time warming up at the walk, then moved into a very nice trot, and then worked up to some loping.

There was a little bit of head tossing when we started the lope, but he quickly settled in and gave me our smoothest lope yet.  For the first time I felt very centered and balanced going through the turns.  We worked at the left lead for a little while and then moved on to the right.

He didn't pick it up quite as easily, but he did eventually give me a smooth lope to the right.  It was faster than the one to the left, and his body was a little more tense and he moved his head and neck around more, but all in all it was quite good.  Robin got a short video of it and I was surprised at how smooth we both looked.  Afterwards, he was definitely tired.

I was very pleased with our first indoor lope.  I think we'll have to work in a little more frequently.  The smaller, enclosed space made it much easier for both of us to concentrate, and he wasn't as inclined to pick up the pace in long straightaways.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stop Bugging Me

Today was hot, muggy, and buggy.  And Bear was not happy about it at all.  Thankfully he was happy to see me, and he came up to me in the pasture again.  He was probably hoping I would be able to get rid of the bugs, and when I couldn't really do that, he didn't seem so happy any more.

Out on the strip he was distracted.  He generally felt fine underneath me, but he was sluggish and not paying attention to me.  When I would ask for something more demanding, like yielding the hindquarters underneath me, he would do it quite well, but then he would go back to ignoring most of the leg and rein direction I would give him.

Thankfully his trot was pretty smooth.  I really feel like we've made some improvements there.  But since it is getting easier for both of us, it is also easier for him to trot well and tune out.  So I decided to see how he would go at the lope.  He picked it up right when I asked, and it was controlled and smooth, too.  But he dropped it in the first turn.  He picked it back up with some encouragement but again dropped it in the next turn.  We trotted around a bit and I set him up for another go, but he jigged around and did his best to refuse to go where I asked.  I was just building up the courage to keep asking him for the lope when Robin said he might be uncomfortable.  It can really be so hard to tell with him sometimes.

I decided not to push it, and instead we used this as an opportunity to see how he looked loping on a long line going both right and left.  If he looked sore and/or upset, we would stop immediately.  But that was looking increasingly unlikely as Bear was not cooperating even when I was trying to lead him through the gate and into the arena.

On the line he was moving nicely, but he wasn't happy to continue working.  I smooched him into the lope and he gave me some head tossing and then settled into a nice and relaxed pace.  At least the work got him paying close attention to me as he would stop on a dime when I asked.  He even stopped at one point when I was chatting with Robin and said the word "no."

Going to the right he looked equally as good.  It would take him just a little longer to pick up the lope in that direction, but he still looked comfortable in the gait.  I switched directions a few times and included some big stops, comes, and backs and he did them all very well.  The only issue we had was when I was trying to cool him down by having him walk in a circle around me to the right.  He really does hate going to the right.  When I was moving him faster it wasn't a huge problem, but at the walk he put up a big fight.  I held my ground and won, and he ended up going a lot faster than I wanted him to.

In the end he was soaked in sweat as the arena had no air movement in it.  I took him back out to the strip to continue cooling him off and he was very good.  He stopped when I stopped, yielded to all my turns, and even starting going around me to the right in a very willing and relaxed manner.  So maybe I got through to him a little bit.  And now I know that I can push him a bit more to trot, lope and pay attention to me when he isn't being all that good.  But I'll be curious to see if he comes to me in the pasture next time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Left Leaning

No, Bear is not a liberal socialist.  He is a 'Merican Quarter Horse, I'm not sure you can get much more conservative than that.  The thing is, he just hates going right.  It is fine at the walk and trot, but I cannot get him to pick up a nice, relaxed lope with a right lead.  Sometimes he won't pick it up at all.  When he does pick it up he is very stiff and antsy and just plain uncomfortable.  I'm hoping he is just generally more comfortable going left and that this something he hasn't worked on in many years.  We'll have to see how he progresses in time.

Today we mostly had a great ride.  Bear was happy to be hanging out with me and was willing to follow whatever silly pattern I put him through or just stand quietly.  I know I've said it a bunch recently, but his trot just keeps getting more relaxed.  I think it is all the time we've been putting into it.  And the good news is that relaxation is starting to carry over to the lope.

After a nice warm up I asked for the lope (going left, as I know that is the easier way to start) and he picked up a nice, smooth moving lope.  I was able to give him a looser rein and he was really pacing himself nicely.  He didn't drop it once today.  In the past he has always dropped it at least once.  Today I could sometimes sense that he wanted to drop it, but instead he would just slow down into a more relaxed pace.  It was wonderful.

Trying to go right, not so wonderful.  He could tell it was coming and he was already nervous about it.  I tried to stay relaxed and then just cued him for a right lead coming out of a turn.  He lept sideways to the left as if something huge spooked him.  I calmed him down with some easy trotting and tried a few more times.  No go.

As I didn't want to make him mad or more uncomfortable, we just went back to going left.  After the aborted attempts to the right, his first lope to the left was the best we've ever had.  I think he was thanking me for getting back to that direction.  It was so funny.  It felt so nice to both of us that I had him on a really loose rein and was more or less following him through the corners.  He cut one really tight and I didn't think much of it as he's quite agile, but his inside rear foot gave a big slip.  Thankfully he collected himself and stayed upright.  That was my first slip at the lope.  It isn't a great feeling, but like sliding your tires through a dusty corner on a mountainbike,  I suppose it is something that I will get used to.

Robin, meanwhile, had an interesting ride on Steen.  She was trying out her new "spare" saddle that we got on ebay.  Everything about the saddle seemed great, but the ride had quite a few hiccups.  To start with the stirrups would not go long enough to fit her legs (and she's not even that tall).  So Robin and I spent some time on the strip pulling out the cordura stirrups in her old saddle and coaxing them into the new saddle.  It was easier than I thought, but it still took a little while.  In the end, she has mixed feelings about the saddle.  It seemed quite good for her, but not as good for Steen as he had a dry spot on the left side of his wither.  That guy is hard to fit a saddle to.

Bear was tired after our ride.
While the loping was really quite excellent today, the best yet really, I think the most exciting part of the day was when Bear walked up the hill to meet me at the gate into the pasture.  Yesterday he came a little ways, but today he really came to me.  And other than trying to go right at the lope, he was really excellent during the ride.  I just feel like he is constantly looking to me for direction and leadership.  It feels great.

Really tired.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Long in the Hoof

Yesterday we went to the barn in the afternoon looking to have a leisurely ride.  We've been dragging a little bit after coming back from vacation, so even the fun things have felt a little difficult lately.  Thankfully the weather was not so nice in the morning so we could hang around, read, and enjoy our coffee before getting out of the house.  Once we got going, the weather was perfect.

In the pasture the guys were super happy to see us.  Steen came trotting over almost right away, and then Bear took his time zig zagging through the herd to get to me.  I think it was the first time he had come to me before, so that was really nice.

After the ride they're always happy to hang near by, but it was nice they came to us, too.
We took our time grooming them in the warm sun and then went over to the strip.  Like Thursday, Bear was attentive and responsive.  While trotting he felt super energetic again but was still listening nicely.  Also his trot was very relaxed.

While taking a break from trotting we worked on a few flexing exercises and then changed up the pattern to include a few more turns.  At this point Bear started to seem off.  He was not behaving poorly, but he no longer felt happy to be working.  The trot became a little more erratic and his head carriage was not nearly as relaxed as I've come to expect it to be.

I was using a new pad for the first time, and I thought that might possibly be settling into his back in a strange way.  I thought this unlikely, but I didn't have much more to go on.  Robin watched us and thought it possibly could be his long feet (both guys are in need of a trim) or maybe the flexing we were doing earlier.  As I was still tired I didn't push things, but I'll have to keep an eye on things for a few days.

It is the same pad I've been borrowing from Steen and Robin, but this one is 2 inches longer and wider, so it should accommodate his saddle a little bit better.
Today the farrier came to the barn, so we don't have to worry about long, un-even feet for awhile.  Often we plan on riding during Duke-days, but rarely do we ever make it happen.  Today was no different.  Lots of people and horses around make for a crowded and long morning at the barn, so we just took care of the trimming today.
Both guys were quite good for the farrier.  He said their hooves look great, so hopefully we can get back to some nice, long rides this week.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy to Be Home

Vacations are wonderful things, but I am always thrilled to come home again.  I suppose that is a good thing.

It is also interesting to ride other horses and then get back to the one you are most familiar with.  I haven't even had Bear a year yet, but he is by far the horse I am the most comfortable with, even compared to Steen, who I have been hanging out with for over 3 years.

And after a week of rest, Bear seemed very happy to hang out with me again, too.  He had some super crusty muck on both sides of his neck, so it no doubt helped that I solved that problem for him.  But he was also good with everything else.

After our leisurely tack up we took the guys to the strip.  Bear was extremely responsive.  He looked to every movement I made to see exactly what I wanted.  When we started trotting he moved into an extremely relaxed pace, but it was also full of strength and action.  I have never felt a horse underneath me with so much potential energy, yet also so willing to do what I asked.  I think it was a little hard on him, too.  He certainly felt good, and I could tell he was just hoping I would let him run, but I was really tired from all the traveling and kind of just wanted to have an easy ride.  Once we went back to walking around Bear was super content.

Despite the easy ride, he was still inclined to doze a little at the hitching post.  So I got a good side-shot of him.  He put on a little bit of weight in the week off, but I think it was all good weight.  He actually looked a little skinny last Thursday, and I think this more moderate bulk suits him nicely.

Back on Jak

Robin and I spent the last few days visiting her family in Arizona.  We had wonderful weather and lots of relaxing family time.  We also got to spend some time with the horses.  For three days I got to ride my sister-in-law's horse Jak.  He is a spunky little Appaloosa with a lot of character.  He was also the first horse I ever rode.  I have a picture of me riding a pony when I was 5, and I have a vague memory of being up on a horse at one my dad's friend's houses when I was maybe 10, but Jak is the first horse I rode where I was in charge of the reins.  That was a little over 5 years ago.  It is funny to look back on those first rides; I never would have thought horse ownership was in my future. 

It had been about 2 years since I last rode Jak, and I think he was a little surprised by my progress as a horse person.  Like I said, Jak can be a bit spunky, and this often leads to him taking a few advantages of his rider.  But on our rides he never got the best of me.  We did some nice walking, trotting, and a little loping, along with some fun foot-work.  After he realized I wasn't going to let him make any decisions, he kind of started to enjoy himself even though I didn't always have the best seat.

Jak's saddle is actually Robin's old saddle from when she had her first horse Blue.  It is a really cool little leather saddle, but it had gotten a little sun-beaten and dried in recent years.  Robin and I spent a few days oiling it, and I could feel the skirts and fenders loosening up with each ride.

Unfortunately it was a little small for me (it's only a 14 inch seat), so I was perched a little more forward than I would have liked, and there were no more holes for me to let the stirrups out any further.  But I made do.

I also spent a little time with Rojo.  He's my mother-in-law's horse and he is a friendly Missouri Fox Trotter.  Up until this trip I had only really given him a few pets through the fence.  This time I had a lot more fun with him doing a little groundwork, grooming, and even worming (though he didn't appreciate that much).

Rojo and I, working on our "step by step" leading
On the final day I even rode Rojo.  I had never been on a gaited horse before and it felt very strange.  His whole body felt loose and relaxed as we strolled around the arena.  I could feel his hindquarters moving up and down, but he always felt smooth.  We spent a few minutes at the trot/fox trot.  He's a little rusty, and I know nothing about asking for funky gaits, so I kind of left it up to him to shift between the two. 
Even though I was his third rider that day, Rojo had no problem standing quietly while I mounted.
It was fun to ride out in the warm desert, but I'm really excited to get back to Bear and see how his vacation treated him.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Athlete!

I never thought Bear would start looking this fit.  It is rather amazing.  He is out in a 13 acre pasture with all you can eat grass, and he loves to eat.  It is all he does.  Other horses will take breaks, not Bear.  His only break from eating is when I pull him out to ride.  But we have been riding a lot lately.  We just finished off another solid block of four riding days in a row (I would have blogged about it sooner, but blogger was down!).  We loped for quite a few of those, too.

Here is a great shot of Bear looking large and fit just two weeks ago:

Dozing after a hard ride on May 1st. Compare to the side shots from the fall.
And here are some shots from Thursday's ride.  He is still nicely muscled, but his belly is noticeably trimmer, and I'm starting to look bigger on him.

Look at that lack of belly and hind leg reach!
All sweaty after a rather hard ride, and looking very young and fit.
The wonderful thing is that he feels great.  He is loping in a nice and relaxed manner, though mostly off the left lead.  Today we had a few problems with the right lead  where he had to make a turn on a slight up or downhill grade.  I'll have to look for some flatter ground to practice that.

He is also getting increasingly responsive.  Today I spent some time working on the leg yielding exercise that Robin has been working on with Steen.  It took a couple tries for me to be able to ask for it correctly, but when I did Bear executed it wonderfully.  I then applied similar leg cues to our figure-eight trots and I was able to make his circles much rounder and more consistent in size.  He was also bending laterally in a way he doesn't usually do.  Perhaps I just haven't been asking for all these things.

There was a bit of a pissy moment today when Robin and I tried to cool the guys down by practicing our pattern.  Bear was not happy being that close to Steen (which is odd, as they have been getting very close lately) and he would walk (and then trot) with his hind end sticking out towards his brother.  There were no kicks or anything like that, but the movement in Bear's hind quarters showed he wasn't all that happy with things.  I tried to force his butt back under me, but I couldn't quite do it.  So I made him work again and he went back to listening to me real fast.

It was another gorgeous weather day, and we were surprised to have the place to ourselves, so we took our time hanging out.  I got to get back in the pen and get some baby time.

He's getting bigger and friendlier, also his skin has darkened quite a bit, so I might be wrong about him being a Perlino.
And then I gave Bear his first shower.  Well, he had clearly had a shower before, but I had never given one to him.  I had sprayed Steen's legs off with the house, but I'd never fully hosed a horse down before.  Bear was super hot, so he loved it.  Steen on the other hand, well, he had to think about it.

We're going to give the guys a little break from riding now.  They definitely deserve it.  I'll be curious to see if Bear puts any weight back on during this time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sweaty Rides

Yesterday was 90!  We usually only hit 90 a handful of times in July and August each year, to get it in May is crazy.  And with the cold spring we've had it felt like we missed the wonderful late spring/early summer weather and moved right into the bleghs of late August.

I shouldn't complain too much, though.  It felt good to sweat, and I was actually more comfortable riding than I thought I would be.  Bear, though, was decidedly uncomfortable.  He does not like the heat at all.  We ended up riding in the less than ideal outdoor arena because there was a semi-truck making consistent passes on the strip.  For most of the ride he was just distracted and not listening very well.  He wasn't good at the walk or the trot, and while I thought a nice lope would be good for him, the arena is not a very appealing place for that gait.

Robin was having a good ride, though, and after chatting with her I was able to concentrate on our ride a little more.  We worked on yielding the hindquarters under saddle.  While it took a few tries to get things working the day before, on this day he was yielding like he has been doing it his whole life. Which probably means he has.  So that was nice.

Then we moved into more concentrated trotting.  I've been reading Bill Dorrance's book True Horsemanship Through Feel.  I'm only in the beginning, but I already picked up a few things to concentrate on regarding my seat, legs, and how to pay more attention to the horse's movement beneath me.  So while we trotted figure-eights I tried as hard as I could to think about all those things.  I think it helped, because Bear started to pay a lot more attention to me, his trot smoothed out and his pace stayed even.  It was hard work for me, but it is something I will continue to think about as I ride and learn more from the book.  So far I recommend it.

Today our ride was almost waylaid by a storm.  Robin and I watched the radar and decided to wait it out and see if it would move by quickly.  It did.  And it was actually a mild storm, it only brought about an hour of heavy sprinkles, though the radar and warnings indicated it could have been more severe.

We were glad we waited, because when we arrived at the barn it was gorgeous.  Possibly the best riding weather we've had all year.  The temps were in the low 70s, we had some pretty clouds in the distance, and there was almost no wind. The barn was a little active, but there were no trucks about, so we were able to go back out to the strip.

Bear was good from the get go.  He was walking out nicely, turning well, and just seemed to have an overall pleased feel about him (Robin said his facial expressions were particularly relaxed and happy). When we started trotting it was smooth and relaxed in the beginning, but then it got a lot rougher.  I was trying to keep him on a completely loose rein, but he just seems to do better with slight contact.  I suppose this is not a bad thing.  It certainly helps me ride better.  Sometimes when he gets trotting fast he has a tendency for his hind end to drift out to the right, and this makes things extremely rough and lopsided for me.  Today when I collected him I was able to give a little leg cue and move his butt up underneath me.  That felt better, and it is something we'll have to work on more in the future.

Then we moved into the lope.  Bear was excited and feeling good and I could sense that he wanted to lope while we were trotting.  He really wanted to go when we were at the bottom of the strip, but I didn't love the idea of letting him run where he knows he gets to run.  So with Robin's help I attempted to lope him around some cones in an oval pattern.

He picked it up beautifully the first time I asked, and he even had the correct lead.  But around the first turn he dropped it.  Robin said we both looked good, but since the turn is at the top of a slight slope she suggested I sit as upright as possible and lean back just the tiniest bit to keep his front end light.

Following Robin's suggestions, we made it through and got a full circle on our next try.  As we continued Bear was still inclined to drop it at times in the turns, but it mostly felt like laziness.  Once I got on him and kissed again, he would keep it going.  We had quite a few sessions at the lope, and we both settled in nicely.  He gave me a great even pace, and I was able to keep him on a loose rein and just move my hips with the rhythm of the gait.

The silly thing is that I had our little camera in my pocket the whole time, so we have no pictures or video of any of this.  After we were done loping I snapped a few shots of Robin (including her awesome new pants) and then she got some of me cooling down Bear.

Both of us getting a nice relaxed turn in after lots of loping.

Bear follows me step for step after our hard ride.
And best of all, Bear had a pristine sweat pattern on his back after both yesterday and today's ride.  So now I have little doubt that the saddle is an excellent fit for him.  He even had a nice dry channel right up his spine!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Going Slow

When we first arrived at the barn we had to visit baby Whisper again.  I snapped quite a few photos while Robin got in the pen and gave the little guy a bunch of pets.  I'm sure many of our rides will start out this way.

He is curious about so many things, including the sound of the camera shutter.
Robin and I both got in a lot of good pets, and he never shied away from us.
In the pasture the herd was hanging out in the low point trying to stay out of the wind.  Both Bear and Steen looked noticeably bigger.  This weekend we gave them a couple days off as we were in Chicago visiting my parents.  The weather was nice and warm, so the grasses are coming in very strong.  They both probably ate the whole weekend.

The guys, looking very full.
As soon as I climbed on Bear I knew I was correct about him getting bigger.  My hips felt super tight and stretched out (of course, it didn't help that I spent much of Saturday and Sunday in a car).  I was so tight that I didn't even feel relaxed at the walk.

Thankfully Bear was very relaxed.  We were out on the strip and the herd was a little bit closer than they were on Friday, but it was also extremely windy and warm.  I thought Bear was happy to see me when I pulled him out of the pasture, and continued to be in a good mood as he felt willing and attentive under saddle as well.  So we walked around for a while just so both of us could loosen up.

When we moved into the trot I was only feeling a little bit better.  He was moving nicely, but I was having a hard time getting into the rhythm.  We would go back and forth between the walk and trot and things did improve for me, but I didn't feel like riding very long.

We went back to walking and by this time I was feeling a little better.  I decided to push him out towards the far end of the strip and just work on moving my hips with him and staying relaxed while we left Steen and Robin behind.  He was great.  He was paying so much attention to me that at one point I was shifting around in the saddle and I pushed my stirrups forward (like I do for a 'woah') and he just stopped.  I had to give him some praise for that, even though I didn't mean to ask for it.

In the end we stood around for a few minutes while Robin and I chatted about our rides.  Both guys were great for this.  Robin asked for a few disengages of the hindquarters under saddle and I decided to try it, too.  I've asked Bear for this before, but I haven't been able to get it.  Robin was helpful in that she kept an eye on his foot movement and I was able to either keep asking or release the pressure based on how well he was doing.

The first one was awful, but after that he really started to pick them up.  We got three very good disengages in.  I'll be excited to work on this with both sides later on.  I think it could be a movement that is really good for his strength and flexibility.

So it wasn't an exciting ride at all, but with so much concentration at the faster gaits lately, it was nice for both of us to relax into the walk and work on a few things.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Baby!

But not for us.  We're not quite ready for a horse baby or a human baby.  Our barn owner's recently acquired mare delivered little Whisper sometime last night.  Everything appeared to go well for both of them. 

The mom is known for throwing lots of colored babies, and this guy is a really interesting color.  He's a red dun with the cremello gene, sometimes called a perlino dun.  It give his coat a very cool creamy, silvery look.  And of course the baby is hilarious to watch.  It took him minutes to figure out how to lie down, and he has the tendency to skip the trot and just move from a nice walk into a herky, jerky canter. 

After quite a few minutes with the baby, we found our guys way out in the big pasture.  Hopefully this is where they will be for the next five or more months.  Both of them were eating high on a hill fairly close to one another and the head mare.

But they were more than a little distracted today.  We think getting turned out into the big pasture, meeting the new baby, and not being quite as close to the herd while we rode them on the strip contributed to a little anxiety and aloofness.

For Bear it started as simply not listening very closely to my cues.  Instead he would look off in various directions.  Then he wouldn't stop.  It would take many steps and repeated asks on my part to get his feet to stop moving.  This is very un-Bear-like.  He loves to stop; it is one of his favorite things to do.

Since I couldn't get his attention by taking things slowly and asking nicely, I decided to move into some work.  So we trotted for a long time.  We went through some more complicated versions of a figure-eight that included extra turns at the cones, then we trotted up and down the strip, periodically adding turns and direction changes.  He was moving well, and sometimes he would relax into things and pay close attention to me, but there was always another distraction just around the corner.

After much trotting we moved into the lope.  Initially he was moving a little quick at the lope, but he was still inclined to drop it towards the top of the strip.  I would keep him moving in a trot for a little bit and then bring him back into the lope.  It was kind of like doing intervals, and I could tell from his breathing that he was working pretty hard.

Once we got a rhythm going his lope became very fast.  Coming up the strip I could feel his body level out and his haunches really dig in and accelerate.  This was by far the fastest I had ever gone on a horse.  Thankfully he was in control and actually listening to me at this point.  We'd hit the top of the strip near the farm equipment and he would slow into a very collected lope and ease into the turn, always dropping into a trot right when I asked him to.

But after the loping sessions he would go right back to being distracted.  It was a little annoying.  He would also throw in some jigs and half-passes when I tried to bring him back down the strip.  I got through them and did my best to stay patient.  By this point we had been riding for quite a while, so I cooled him down and revisited his previous stopping problem.

I knew he wanted to be up by Steen and closer to the baby, so I walked him down the strip in the opposite direction.  While walking away from all the good stuff I would ask for a stop.  If it was bad, we kept walking away, if it was good I gave him praise and turned him towards home.  While walking towards home it was just the opposite, I'd turn him around for a bad stop and let him keep going if he gave me a good stop.  He figured it out after a few minutes, and this ended up being one of the better parts of our ride.

After the ride Bear was super excited to lounge at the hitching post and fall asleep.  Robin and I alternated grooming our guys and watching the baby.  It is going to be fun to watch him grow up.  It definitely has us more excited to get a young horse of our own someday.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Practicing the Lope

Bear continues to defer to me in almost every way.  It is wonderful.  After almost a week of really solid work he has not given me a hard time at all.

So today we kept doing what we've been doing out on the strip.  He was quiet and a little lethargic in the beginning.  I still took my time getting him warmed up, but then we moved into some long trots.  He was very inclined to keep the pace smooth and relaxed, and he was very attentive to all my cues. 

I didn't lope him on Monday as we were both tired, but I was hoping we could get some nice loping in today.  I started walking and trotting him in a nice sized oval around the cones and then asked him for a lope.  All I got was some jackhammer trots.  I calmed him down and then asked again.  He gave it to me and it felt like we were flying around the turns.  Bear is a short, stocky horse, so he can really lean into those turns.  I've never felt so close to the ground on Bear before.

It was kind of fun, and a little unnerving. But he was also inclined to drop the lope just as we were getting out of the turn, and then I would get more jackhammer trots.  It would take me a little while to get him back into the lope, but it never lasted. 

Robin was sitting atop Steen and watching this whole process.  I trotted Bear over to them and asked what her assessment was.  She thought that Bear was not used to the lope and so it was a little difficult for him to carry it through the turns.  She also pointed out that I was not used to the lope and that meant it was difficult for me to ride it in a smooth and relaxed manner.  Makes sense.

So we went back to loping some long straightaways and then walking and trotting back down the strip.  Bear and I have been venturing further down the strip lately, so I make the straightaways pretty long.  He would pick the lope up very nicely every time.  The first couple days we loped I had him fairly collected so that I could stay nice and balanced and his speed wouldn't vary too much, but today he was really relaxing into it (I probably was, too) and once we got started we continued on a rather loose rein.  We kept this up for a little while and then I noticed Bear was getting pretty tired, so we called it quits at the lope.

To cool down we did a little simple mirroring exercise with Robin and Steen where we trotted next to one another up the middle of the strip and then turned to the outside at a designated cone and then came back together at the bottom of the strip.  Steen trots slow and Bear trots fast, so we both had to work to keep them together.  It mostly worked out from a timing perspective, but if anyone was judging us we wouldn't have done well as Bear was constantly dropping the trot (I never make him trot quite that slow, and plus he was tired).  So we'll have to try that again in the future.

We finished the day up with a couple trips almost down to the end of the strip.  Neither one of the guys was nervous about this, so hopefully that is a sign of what we can expect when we start taking them out and about again.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Four in a Row

And I have nothing exciting to report.  It was a cool, sunny, breezy day, and Bear was really good.  Except we were both tired.

We mostly just walked and trotted around the strip for close to an hour.  Sometimes we would stand for awhile to watch Robin or the delivery of a new Arab out of a huge transport truck.  That proved to be rather uneventful.  Which is a good thing.

For the most part Bear's trot was very good, but occasionally it would get choppy and erratic.  This was happening more on the downhill than the up.  Today I used an old saddle pad because Robin decided to try her saddle again (which we know is not a good fit for Steen), and I encouraged her to use the nice pad.  I'm not sure if the old pad was bothering Bear or not, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't helping anything.

He was responsive for a large part of the ride, but in the second half he got kind of lethargic.  I can't really blame him as I was also feeling just plain tired.  I'm not sure I've ridden a horse four days in a row before.  My hips and legs were more than a little sore from being pushed into that saddle position.  Still, in the end we came around, and in the last few minutes he was paying extremely close attention to me.  When we were cooling down I asked him to walk a ways down the strip, away from Steen, and past the cones we had been using.  He looked around a little initially, but then he just resigned himself to going where I pointed.  When we turned back he was still just paying very close attention to me; he wasn't thinking about rushing back or anything.  It felt great.

After the ride we did some slow grooming at the hitching post and watched the new Arab meet the stall horse herd.  There was some momentary excitement with 2 year old Caboose, but that horse is exciting even when he's by himself.  Bear was dozing while I leaned over him and watched the horses, and he didn't seem to care what was going on at all.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Sunday Lope

Robin and I had a late Saturday night at a friend's birthday that then made for a late and lazy Sunday morning.  While putzing around the house and doing some chores, the barn kind of slipped out of our minds, but we rallied for a late afternoon ride.

We are glad we did, because it was a gorgeous afternoon.  The sun was out, the wind had calmed down to a normal spring breeze, and the guys were in excellent moods.  Bear was back to standing tied like I've come to expect him to.

We rode on the strip again and used the same cone configuration as yesterday.  I started off letting Bear graze while I snapped a few photos of Robin riding.

You can see more on her blog.  Then I hopped on Bear and things were great from the start.  He was really paying attention to all my subtle cues, and when I asked for the trot he went into an extremely relaxed jog.  I got the impression he was a little worried that I'd make him trot for an hour again.

I had no intention of riding that long again.  My knees are still a little tender on the inside from the new, stiff leather on my saddle.  Plus I could tell Bear was quite fatigued from the last two days of riding.  He continued to give me some excellent trots, but his body was not moving quite as easily as it was yesterday. Nevertheless, I had to ask for the lope again.  We used the same long straightaway as yesterday, and everything was great. 

He didn't get worked up at all from the lope.  I think it was definitely due to the tireds.  I could bring him down from a run and he would just stand.

I did not want to over-work him, so we just cooled down at the walk.  He was still paying excellent attention to me.  Sometimes he will give his opinions about direction with a stiff neck and a forceful manner, but today his opinions were more like leaning in a certain direction and asking if we could please go back to Robin and Steen.  Sometimes I would let him, and sometimes I wouldn't. It felt really nice to have that kind of control.

After the ride Bear was falling asleep at the hitching post.  I untacked him and rubbed him down.  He still has a slight knot on the right side of his back.  He really loved when I worked that out with my fingers and hands.  With regular attention and consistent work it shouldn't bother him much longer.