Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Double Work

Today was the first day of my vacation, so I went to the barn this morning with Robin (she still had some work to do, but she was game for some horse time).  The days and nights have both been warm lately, and that means the winter lot is a mess.  I should have gone out there in muck boots, but I didn't.

Bear was on the bale but not really eating.  I was trying to convince him to come to me by starting to play 'the game.'  It wasn't working very well, and I had to make him move some by tossing the lead rope at his hindquarters.  That worked, but he just moved to a muddier part of the pasture.  I slogged to a different vantage point and continued.

Unfortunately, Bear was not interested in coming to me.  I could have walked right up to him and put the halter on anytime I wanted, but since I started 'the game,' I kind of had to finish it.  Besides, there were foot deep puddles of muck I'd have to wade through just to get to him.  Robin had no trouble getting Steen to come to her.  She was inside and grooming for a while before she brought me my muck boots so I could more effectively play 'the game.' She's the best.

I got Bear moving around and he would think about coming to me, but he never did.  I actually gave up.  I'm not sure how long I played or how many times we went across the lot, but I got sick of it, and a little mad at him, too  He is certainly smart enough to figure this out.  So I just haltered him up and then took him to the indoor arena where I proceeded to play 'the game' some more.  I didn't want him thinking he got out of something.

He ran around for a few laps, stopped, and then came right to me.  Thanks Bear.  You could have saved us a lot of trouble if you did that half an hour ago.  At least he got a lot of exercise loping around outside and inside.  When I was grooming and tacking he was standing there like he does after many of our mentally exhausting rides.  He actually looked a little surprised when I pulled the saddle out; he probably thought he was done.

Robin was much faster than us, so they had been riding for a little while when we got in the arena.  I didn't do much groundwork and just hopped on.  He was excellent with the soft feel, and we proceeded to walk around and mix in some backs and backing circles (each time he left some excellent circular footprints in the sand).

Once warmed up we started trotting and worked on the feel, but mostly I concentrated on getting that feel and then using my seat to bring him down to a walk.  We were much better at this today.  After a particularly good transition I remembered what I was doing on the previous ride, getting a good change and then moving to a new exercise.

So we proceeded to work on what Robin and I have been calling 'whirly-gigs,' getting the horse to separate the hind end and forequarters by first stepping under with the hind and then bringing the forequarters across.  A few weeks ago Bear and I were doing a pretty good job with these.  And then something went wrong.  When I would ask Bear to halt his front end and step under, he would sometimes do it, but he was always stepping over and giving me some super sharp turns from the forehand, too.  It didn't feel great, and it certainly wasn't what I wanted.  I decided to give them a break for a little bit and hoped that in the time off we could both figure out what wasn't working.

Sunday night I re-watched Buck's hackamore DVD.  It was excellent to see for a second time, and I got what I hoped would be two crucial pointers (the second will come later).  When initiating a whirly-gig, keep the supporting rein completely clear of the horse's neck.  Only when you stop cuing the hind end and bring the outside leg into play do you apply the supporting rein.  As soon as I watched that I thought I was maybe not keeping my hands as wide as I should have.  I used to ride with them much wider, but now that I've been improving on my leg cues I have brought them in closer, and often I just use one hand.

So today I tried the whirly-gigs again, but I was conscious to keep my hands far apart.  It worked.  Mostly.  Sometimes I would either mess up or Bear would get a little confused and try to hop through with his front end, but mostly we did an excellent job.  I got a few good ones and was poised to keep going when Robin reminded me I should give it a break and then get back to it.  Thanks, honey.  That is exactly when I need to hear such advice.

With all our quiet and precision based exercises going well, we decided to move into the lope.  Robin loped Steen first.  It was her first time doing it in the hackamore.  They both looked pretty darn good.  Steen was cruising without a worry in his head, and Robin was completely off the reins and just using her body to guide him around the arena.  It was cool.

Bear and I, well, we were nothing like that.  Just like in lopes past, it was easy for me to get the first few strides out of him, and then he would drop into the jackhammer trot and make things really difficult on me.  I got some timely kicks and was able to keep him going, but it was pretty short lived.  The rough trot is extremely frustrating, and it is hard for me to ride and give the kicks when I need to.  And then I was annoyed at the little Pomeranian hanging out in the arena.  I felt I had to keep an eye on her and keep Bear going.  I didn't really, but it was an extra distraction I didn't need.

Robin volunteered to get her out of the arena.  That changed everything.  Not the absence of the dog, really, but both her and Steen were out of the arena, too.  So Bear didn't have his magnet spots.  The first time I asked him to lope after they left we were able to run for a while.  I stopped him, trotted some, and then got him going again.  I had to stay on him to keep him going, but it was nothing like our previous attempts.

We ended up going both directions, multiple times.  It was by far our best loping inside yet.  Robin snapped a few photos of us.  The light wasn't great, so they are a little blurry, but they are better than no photos at all.

We finally got to lope long enough that we were both able to relax.
And I could always lean back and get a hard stop from him, though here I was caught off guard by the hard stop and drifted forward a bit. 
It ended up being a long workout for Bear, and he was pretty tired at the end.  But he is looking and feeling much better.  Both moving around in the winter lot and under saddle he was great.  He is finally starting to get in shape a little.  He's still got plenty of Bear-gut, but when you are behind him it doesn't protrude nearly as much as it used to.

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