Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Soft Can We Get?

Both rides this weekend I really focused on the same stuff I've been blogging about the last few times, and it all amounts to softness.  Both Bear and I have gotten better about this.  He responds quicker, and I've been able to continually ask for things with less pressure.  Or with more patience.  Or both.  At times I still need to step in and make something happen, but I always try to bring it back to softness.  And I think those moments help Bear (and me) learn more than any others.

But still, it can feel like we aren't getting very far sometimes.  Especially when we have some backsliding in certain areas.  One of those has been backing.  Before the clinic backing was something we were really good at.  Of course, I was asking Bear to go backwards in one of the most annoying ways possible, so it is no wonder he would respond.  With the new way of backing there are so many little things to remember that it can be easy for me to forget some.  On Friday we were nailing it, though.  So this weekend I kept at the backing and then also started working on backing circles.

Again, we kind of used to be good at this one.  But that was back when I was doing it wrong.  It was still after the clinic, but I had somehow neglected the soft feel of every step backwards.  Oops.  Now getting that feel and getting Bear to back a circle was a little much.  He would give me a bend but not turn.  Then he would turn but he'd be sluffing through on his front end rather than engaging his big butt muscles.  It was a little frustrating.  Then Robin helped me out big time by showing me I should be engaging my supporting rein a little more.  I brought that in and it fixed almost everything.  So much so that both Bear and I were surprised with the quality of our backs.

We've been having some camera focus issues, but you can see the nice head tuck, loose reins, and hind-end engagement.
He started backing so fast and sharp in the turns that he would swing his front end over and pivot off the hind.  It wasn't really what I wanted, and I got kind of upset with him for it, but Robin reminded me it was a move I would want eventually.  So I would attempt to quietly ask him to back another few steps after that to say he wasn't quite right, but I didn't reprimand him for it either.

Just like Friday, the weekend's rides were emotionally and intellectually difficult on Bear.  He finished each one looking really drained, but he also seemed to appreciate me more.  On Sunday he actually left the bale to come over and see me.  Then after our 90 minute ride, when I hopped off to let him graze, he was more content to just stand close to me.  Very un-Bear-like, but very sweet.

So even though we continue to have the occasional set-back, it is great to see the softness we get once we push on.  And when I read through my posts from last fall and earlier this year, it is amazing to me how much more resistant Bear was to the bit and my cues and also how imprecise many of my actions were.  Bear is starting to be a bit of an old horse (sixteen and a half), and he often feels set in his ways, so it is easy for me to think there are limits to how responsive he can get.  But that might not be true, so long as I keep working to see how soft we can act get.

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