Saturday, September 17, 2011

Short Serpentines

Today was cloudy and somewhat cool.  When we walked out to the pasture all the horses were out of sight except Bear, who was tucked into a corner of the windblock.  When he heard our voices he turned around to look at us.

After watching for a few moments he wandered over to me while Robin went to fetch Steen.  I cleaned some of the dried mud off him and shooed the flies away, then we worked on moving forward and back on a light feel, and then I let him eat in the airlock while we waited for the others.  Steen was just about as far away as he could be, cuz it took them a while.

We tacked up and headed out to the middle pasture.  Bear was walking out and giving me these little half snorts early on.  I guess he was feeling good.  He was paying a lot of attention to me through our little groundwork session, but once I got on he felt like he had a lot of energy.  And some of his attention was on me, but some of it was on wanting to move around.  The other horses in the pasture were doing a lot of running, so maybe that was part of it.

Still, he was responsive to me.  He was mostly walking straight either along the fence or right across the pasture (whichever I was asking for), and when his hind end would trail out, I could easily bring it back on line with my leg.  This has been a problem for us for months, but I think some of the soft feel work we've been doing has made both of us more balanced and made him more willing to listen and respond to me.

One of the main exercises Buck talked about at his clinic was the short serpentine.  This was another move I had both read about and seen in a video, yet I didn't fully have it down.  The clinic really let me see what it was about.  It involves walking your horse in a series of tight U turns, right, left, right, left, etc.  You get a good bend in their neck, say to the left, while you keep propelling with your legs and cuing the turn.  So in the left turn the right leg is further forward and the left leg is further back.  When you and the horse get it right, the horse is very supple and moving through their whole body in a balanced way.

When you don't quite get it right the forequarters are going at one rate and the hindquarters at another.  It leads to an inactive or unnecessarily lively feel (depending on the moment).  In those instances Buck recommends taking the horse through a full circle in order to get the light, balanced feel.

Bear and I have been doing these for three rides now.  They're mostly going well.  Today was certainly the best.  We tend to do better turning right than left, and I kind of think this is my fault.  My body isn't as comfortable asking for the bend to the left.  Something about the way I normally position my hips, weight, and left hand is just not the same as going right.  I have made a few corrections, and things did start to get better, but we will have to work on this a lot.  Buck believes it is one of the main keys to getting your horse supple and balanced and responding to your legs.  He recommends doing it until you don't need your reins and can get perfect figure eights with your arms folded over your chest.  Bear and I have a ways to go before we get there, but at times we were looking pretty good.

After lots of specific work at very controlled speeds we worked on moving out a bit more.  I've been able to get livelier walks out of Bear lately, and I'm also working on asking for the trot and lope with only my body.  Today we did a lot of jumps into the trot followed shortly by a halt.  He was smooth and relaxed for most of this.  We did have one short period of sluggish stops, so we went back to the walk to work on the same thing.  Then when we revisited the exercise at the trot he was much better.

In the end we just kept working on all these same things while we wandered about the pasture.  I ended up asking him for a lope at one point, and he gave me a fast but controlled run up the hill.  He started to veer towards Robin and Steen, but I just applied a little leg to keep him near the fence (using legs at the lope is still somewhat new for me, so I'm happy when I can do it) and he just straightened back out.  When I did ask for a turn it was very smooth and not too sharp at all.  He did end up dropping the lope near Steen, and I had a couple of difficult moments trying to pick it back up without giving him a verbal cue.  We did get it eventually, and again he was very relaxed and willing.  Once he settled in I stopped him and gave him a lot of big pets.

So three rides out from the clinic and we're doing great.  We've only applied a tiny fraction of the exercises we learned, and so far they are all making a difference.  When I get off Bear he is extremely attentive and with me through everything; opening gates, walking fast, slow, going backwards, whatever.  He just pays very close attention to me.  When I left him at the tying rack to put my saddle up he had crept forward to scratch his chest on the bars.  Once I returned I back him up, moved him left a step, right a step, then brought him forward right where I wanted him, and he didn't budge until I was done untacking and grooming him.  He never used to listen to me like that before.  It isn't all from the clinic as he did have a rather butthead kind of moment in August that I had to work hard to overcome, but since then things have been just like this.  He's soft and willing and exactly the kind of horse I wanted when I first started talking about getting one a couple years ago.

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