Sunday, December 9, 2012

Laredo and Work

It has been an interesting experience having our 3 year old these past 6 months.  When he first arrived it was a matter of getting to know him and making sure he knew the basics.  Then we started working on doing more with less.  After that we began to broaden his horizons by taking him out and about (by far his favorite thing). 

In the fall we had a nice mix of everything going.  But then he had a little injury, and of course Steen had a bigger injury.  That combination meant he got a decent amount of time off, and I really got a lot of time off of him.  These past few rides I have been thinking of getting us back to where we were in the early fall, but perhaps that isn't very realistic.  Neither one of us is stagnant in our experiences with horses and riders (I've been working with horses just about as long as he has been alive, so the changes still come fast for us). 

So now I find myself thinking about how to move forward, and where that forward should take us.  Laredo, in many ways, is a very accomplished horse.  He moves off pressure extremely well; I can take him anywhere I want him to go with my seat.  He stays soft, and he understands what we ask of him.

Until he gets distracted or simply loses motivation.  That is the real difficulty Laredo and I have.  Bear can go through silly patterns and repeat things that I need to work on all day long.  He's fine with it.  Sure, such things are not usually his first choice, but he really is happy to comply.  As I have only been riding a short while, and only thinking about training for an even shorter amount of time, I have a whole lot of things to work on.  A lot of those things I need to do over, and over, and over again.

But such repetition does not work well for young Laredo.  So I am struggling a bit to keep things fresh and open and pay attention to what he needs and less so to what I need or want.  This is a very, very fine line, as I can quickly find myself letting Laredo out of things due to his age or attitude.  I don't want him "getting his way," so to speak, but I also don't want him to just check out and go through the ride without giving me or his own feet any thought. 

Needless to say, this is a work in progress for us.  Sometimes things were working well today (our trotting during the routine, pivoting on particular feet, circle work) and other things were not working too well (playing cow, moving out a little more, backing).  By the end of the ride we had made some nice progress from where we started.  I think that is the most important thing. That and the fact that he didn't run away with me.

I did get to ride with my new mecate again.  It softened up very, very nicely with just one soaking.  It even looks OK next to the don't-shoot-me-orange safety vest.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Birthday Ride!

Yesterday was my birthday.  I took the day off work so I could fully enjoy it.  I had a leisurely morning of opening gifts, drinking coffee and eating a nice breakfast.  Then I had a hard workout and even squeezed in a short nap.  In the afternoon we went out to the barn before going downtown for dinner.  It could not have gotten much better.

Robin gave me a number of very nice gifts, including a new mane hair mecate.  Funny, I know, as I gave her one for her birthday.  But she actually ordered this one before she received hers.  I guess we both had been talking enough about how much nicer the ropes on our hackamores are than the ones on the snaffles.

As it was my birthday, I really just felt like riding my own horse, but I also wanted to try out the new rope.  So I just tied it to my bosal so we could see how it looked.

Gorgeous, of course.  It is an 8 strand, whereas our others are 6 strand.  It makes it look much thinner, but it is still a nice 5/8ths inch rope.  The white flecks against the black and redish brown rows make for a super cool pattern.

The only downside is how stiff the new ropes can be.  It was certainly more supple than the others (perhaps due to the increased number of strands), but it definitely needs a good soaking.

Robin had a great time on Steen.  His leg continues to look better, and he might even be over his cold. He only coughed a couple of times today, and we even managed to do a decent amount of work.  We went through the routine a lot just to get some good trotting in.  Then we played a little cow, and Bear and Steen were both happy to throw in some lopes.  At 50 degrees, it was significantly more comfortable for all of us than the last ride.

We also worked on some backing and pivoting off of specific feet.  Robin snapped a few nice shots of us working with the new mecate.

The hair ropes truly are amazing.  They have a great feel in your hands, and they are very lively when doing groundwork and giving a release.  If you haven't tried one out, I highly recommend grabbing one.  They can appear a little bit pricey compared to some other reins, but they will easily last for decades, so are quite worth it.

At the end of the ride we ventured over to the second strip for a little while.  Laredo had been munching on the bales, but he noticed our absence and wandered over to the fence to await our return.  He even nickered as we approached.  That kid is so funny, he doesn't want to work hard when he's out (or even work lightly), but he can't stand others exploring without him.

We did have some apple cores to share with them, and he was a little overexcited to get to those.  Here he is trying his best to get to the apple but not push on me.

Little bit of a fail there, Laredo.  I did back him up just after that.

This was a really great year overall for me, and an especially great year with the horses.  Can't wait to see with the next one brings.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

This is December?

It was nearly 70 degrees this afternoon.  I like the 70s, but not in December.  And the horses, with their thick, fluffy coats, really didn't appreciate it. 

We took Bear and Laredo out onto the strip before venturing off into the big pasture.  It was a nice feeling to sit on my own horse again and just know that he wasn't going to run away with me.  Of course, I never thought Laredo would do that, either.  But there you go, that's horses.  Especially young ones.

We marched off into the hills and the guys were lethargic.  I was a little bit, too.  Once we got nice and warmed up, we went to the top of the big flat hill (where I fell off last fall) to do some work.  We don't often work Laredo when we are out and about, so we were curious to see how things would go.

Bear and I just did our own thing, lots of walking up and down hills, exploring the new drainage spots, and getting some trotting in.  I didn't want to work him too hard as he got pretty sweaty just doing that.

Robin stayed up near the top and worked on some simple trotting exercises with Laredo.  He was hot and maybe a little grumpy as he did throw a few tantrums.  Robin gracefully worked through the problems and got him responding nicely.

We explored the far corners of the pasture, took the long way down to the bottom of the strip and then called it a ride. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Run Away

Today I found myself on a run away Laredo.  One moment we were trotting a nice figure eight, and then next moment we were blazing down the strip and off into the soybean field in a full on gallop.

It is funny when these things happen. Time slows down and you can see the ground moving by at the same speed it does when you are walking, and at the same time changes can happen so fast they don't have time to register.  It was early in our ride when Laredo and I were trotting some nice figure eights.  There was one spot in the pattern that he was really stuck in, we had just made a beautiful turn and I let him stop and rest for a few moments.  We were facing up the strip, and I guess he did not see that Robin and Steen were taking a slow walk down the drainage.  I asked him to move out at the trot again.  It was smooth, and we had no trouble, but then when we turned and faced down the strip, Laredo saw Steen moving away from him, and he panicked.
Dramatic re-enactment; I didn't have the camera out during the run away.
His head came up, his body stiffened, and he immediately jumped into a fast lope.  He is three, and he changes gaits on his own from time to time.  Sometimes we shut him down immediately, and sometimes we give him a second to think and then correct him.  Lately we've been employing the latter a little more frequently.  Today I gave him a second, and in that second he had taken off into the fastest gallop I've ever ridden.  It was fast enough that I didn't want to yank him around as I worried he'd fall over.

So I went with him.  I knew he was going to dive hard for the drainage.  It has a moderately steep hill at the top, and I really didn't want to go down it.  When he was about to turn I checked him pretty hard with one rein.  It prevented him from going down the drainage, but he just turned left into the soybean field and started galloping even faster.  It was still downhill, but not as steep as the drainage.

I was feeling very stuck, and I had a little pressure on the left rein still.  I released that and tried to ride with him.  We turned left to intersect the strip and long pile of dirt from where they have been digging drainages.  I grabbed the horn and Laredo jumped over it.

Thankfully there was a somewhat steep rise on the other side of the drainage.  Laredo slowed a little, and I was able to get some order to my reins and pulled him into a nice stop.  He sat huffin and puffin for quite a few moments.  I'm not sure he even fully realized what he had done.

I was surprised how relaxed I felt afterwards.  I was also surprised how secure my seat felt during the whole run away.  Two years ago I had a bad fall in that same field when Bear and Steen got spooked by another horse.  I didn't get very far before I toppled off the left side and hit my shoulder.  I was convinced I would have the same kind of fall today, but I never lost my balance.

The rest of the ride was uneventful.  We worked on some trotting, we did the routine, we walked up and down the strip and drainage.  Laredo was attentive and tired.  He has not gotten a lot of exercise in the last two weeks, and I'm sure that was one of the hardest intervals he has ever done.  Certainly the hardest with a rider.

These are always scary things to have happen, and while you never want to actually go through them, it is amazing how much you can learn from them.  I am just thrilled that in the last two years I've learned enough that I have some good enough instincts to carry me through these moments.  And next time I won't give Laredo that extra second.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Saddle!

Not for me.  For Robin.  But I think I'm just as excited about it as she is.

Today the farrier was coming, so Robin went out early and I met her at the barn when I got off work.  Turns out that only 1 horse needed a trim.  The other twenty or so were just fine.  I do think we have a great farrier.  Of all the years we've been boarding there, we've never seen a horse with a foot or general lameness issue.  And it is also nice that he didn't decide to trim the horses anyways, as he could have done that just to make a buck.

Since Robin had some free time, she had Bear all groomed up and ready for me.  That was pretty nice.  All I had to do was throw a saddle on.

Work has been crazy, and I have been really tired.  Today I was in the mood to walk around and hangout with my horse.  We mounted on the strip and then wandered into the big pasture.  They are still working on the drainage out there, and some other gates were open, too.  So we ventured into a new field and onto a new strip that we've never used before.  Robin was on Laredo, and he is always so funny when we see new things.  He just loves exploring.

The ride was pretty uneventful, which is exactly what I was after.  Laredo would get a little excited on some of the hills and want to trot up.  No big deal.  Bear often wanted to go with him.  Sometimes we did, and other times I just practiced keeping a nice steady seat and smoothly taking the slack out of one rein.  He stayed at the walk every time.

The sun is really setting early now, and the temps drop fast.  It was warm when we climbed on, but by the end I was wishing I brought my gloves with me.  Before long I'll probably need a lot more than just gloves.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Back Home

We had a nice, short trip to visit my parents for Thanksgiving.  We always have fun there, but it always feels really nice to get back home.

And home includes riding Bear.  I love how familiar he is to me.  I was tired and just wanted to ride around.  I didn't do any groundwork, I just led him into the treed lot and climbed on.  Of course, he was totally fine and happy to be out.

We rode through the trees on our way out to the big pasture.  Walking down the hill to the middle of it we noticed some changes.  There used to be a meandering creek/drainage in the middle of it, but that has all been filled in and smoothed over.  They are hoping to get better drainage in the field, and it looks like it will work out nicely.

We walked alongside the new drainage a few times and then went out an open gate that led to the strip.  Once there we just continued to walk and trot around a little bit.  Bear was very attentive, though he also got antsy and very lively in a few spots.  I have no idea why, but as I said, he was still very attentive.  Every time I began to take the slack out of the reins to offer a bigger correction, he was already moving with me before I could get to the hackamore.  He is looking healthy and his back was feeling great when I poked around before and after the ride, so I was fine just going with him.  He got over things pretty quickly.

The barn owner was also hanging out on the strip giving another rider a pseudo-lesson.  So we spent a while sitting on our horses and chatting with her.  Robin asked if she'd snap a few shots of us, since we have almost no pictures of us together with our horses.

Steen was his usual goofy self and kept annoying Bear by sticking his nose in Bear's face.  They never moved their feet, though.  So really I think they were both just happy to hang out with us.  It was a bummer to not have Laredo there, too.  He was standing on the other side of the fence, and when I rode over to say hi, he nickered at me.  If I had been feeling better or the weather was nicer, I probably would have been up for riding two horses today.  Next time, I guess.  Still, it is nice to know that he was happy to see us after a week off.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Young Visitors

A few years ago Robin had our friend Adele out to the barn with her young son, Ben.  They had a great time meeting Steen.  Now Adele has another son, Noah, and is pregnant with a third.  In that time we have gotten two more horses, so they were excited to come out and see everyone.

The boys were very cute in their matching blue fleeces. Ben (almost 4) was a little bit more reserved and quiet around the horses, but his younger brother Noah (just turned 2) couldn't get enough.  He knew from the moment he walked in that he wanted to ride.  We didn't even get started tacking before he asked to ride.  I set him on Bear without a saddle and he couldn't have been happier; he just kept saying "go."

I didn't really want to lead him around like that, so we finished tacking and brought Steen and Bear and the boys into the arena.  I took Noah and Robin took Ben.  Initially we just led them around in the saddles, but then we climbed on because the boys wanted a little more.  I had never ridden with a little one in front of me, but it helped that I had Noah and he wasn't afraid of anything.  He just sat there holding on to my cross over rope strap while I wrapped my right arm around him and held the reins with my left.  Bear was mostly happy to walk around where I asked, but he also tried to go to Adele many times.  He probably assumed he'd get some rest there.  Funny guy.

The boys left with huge smiles on their faces.  I had not thought how fun a barn could be at that age.  In addition to horses they heard the cows, saw tractors, played with blow up balls as big as them, and saw the biggest pile of poop they'd ever seen.  Adele is worried they'll be horse crazy from now on. It seems possible.

Robin and I finished with a short indoor ride.  I felt a little tired and was just walking around mostly, so I was happy when Robin suggested we play a little cow.  In the tight space it was a little tough, but we ended up getting more done than I thought we would.  Bear was feeling great and offered a beautiful lope in both directions.  He was also stopping hard and turning quite fast.  I realized it was the first time I'd asked for these maneuvers with spurs on.  I certainly wasn't digging into him, but if I shook my leg a bit he would hop right across and take off in the other direction.

We did a short cool down and put the guys back in the pasture.  Steen's leg continues to look great, and he is having so much fun riding again (Robin, too).  It will be fun to work with him and get him back in shape as the fall continues.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Trails

On Friday we got an invitation to go ride at some nice trails just north of us.  We had never trailered our horses anywhere, so we were quite excited to see how they would do.

We arrived at the barn early to make sure everything was ready.  We ended up being so early that we killed a lot of time grazing on the strip.

The guys had enough time to work on coreographing their grazing.

When it came time to load I put Bear in first.  He went right up.  I had no idea how to attach him in there, so Cathi came in and showed me all the connectors.  Laredo came next, also with no problem, and then two more went after him.

I knew Bear had been in a trailer quite a few times, but it had been well over two years since his last ride.  And the last few rides for him were one way trips.  He was not inclined to move at all, but he looked a little bit worried in there.

It was only a twenty minute drive, and he was thrilled to come off the trailer.  He stayed a little bit nervous, but each time we did something familiar he came down a notch.  He'd sigh with the pad, lick his lips when the saddle came on, and he lowered his head for the hackamore just like he does at home.  We did a short bit of groundwork and I hopped on.

The parking lot was surrounded by a large grassy area and we were able to walk and trot around for a little while as the rest of the group was still getting ready.  By the time everyone was saddled up, Bear was feeling like his normal self.

It was a relaxing ride.  The trail we were on meanders along a creek for quite a ways, then pops out on a dirt road, and then connects to a bigger section of trails with various loops.  We rode for about two hours, and all the horses were great.  We walked and trotted and Bear was very soft and attentive.  On our last ride in unfamiliar territory he was a little pushy and hard on the hackamore.  I never felt that on this ride.

The biggest event of the ride was a water crossing.  Laredo was a little unsure about it at first, but once he figured it out he crossed like a champ.  Our youngest rider was also not very keen on crossing, but she made it just fine with some help from her mom.  I was the last to go, and Bear was getting a little impatient that he had to wait so long.  I figured in his 17 years he had crossed water at some point, but I knew it was never with me, so I wasn't sure exactly how it would go.

Sure enough he just walked in like we cross water everyday.  It was pretty funny.  The water almost came up to their bellies, and when we got to the other bank, Bear spent some time shaking off.

With how close the trails are and how much fun everyone had, we're hoping we get invited back again sometime. But mostly it just felt great to test our horses and see how they do with completely different situations than we normally put them in.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

And Then There Were Three

Steen is very much on the mend, so today was the first day Robin and I did a double ride since sometime in September.  It was a beautiful, sunny, fall day and just perfect to be out at the barn.

I rode Bear first.

He was good from the get go.  I'm not sure what it is exactly, but we have been having the greatest time together these past few weeks.  Today was no different.

I knew I would not be riding him very long, so we warmed up (it takes him a little longer on the cool days) by strolling up and down the strip and the drainage.  Then when he felt good we did a little trotting.  I was hoping the soybean field would be free again, as we've been getting some great long trots in it, but they tilled it up and plowed some fertilizer in, so we were limited to the strip and the drainage.  But that was OK.  We would trot all they way down the drainage, turn around, and then lope back up to the strip, turn right and lope all the way to the end.  The first time things were going so nicely we even did a few extra circles up top.

I know I have had some nice, long lopes on Bear indoors, but this might have been one of the longest point to point lopes we've done.  It was really fun, and great for both of us to settle into it.  We took it easy for a few minutes and then did it again.  The second one was even more comfortable than the first.  I'll have to keep it in our normal rotation of things to work on.

We took a short break and switched horses.  Robin was kind enough to let me ride Laredo with her brand new mecate.  It feels as nice it looks.

Laredo and I mostly took it easy.  After his few weeks off from the sore shoulder, and then Robin spending most of the time riding him, we haven't had many good rides together.  Today he felt like the horse I got used to in the early fall.  He was tired, but he was also very willing to listen to me.

We had one exciting moment when we were coming back up the strip. Things had been going great, and I just wanted him to trot back up the top.  He gave me a nice stride or two and then launched into a flat and fast lope.  This is very, very un-Laredo-like, and my first instinct was to pull him into a circle.  But he was cruising fast, and I didn't want to startle him and possibly knock him over, so I just let go and figured he would peter out near the top.  On the way up he tripped hard on his front end, and I almost thought he would go to his knees, or at least drop to the trot, but he recovered and kept running as fast as he was before.

Once we got near Robin and Steen I asked for a stop and he was happy to oblige.  Robin was complimenting me on Laredo's great energy, and I said that it was something of a surprise.  Then she noticed my mecate was hanging off his right side, and it is usually on the left.  There were some strong winds from the south today, and I'm guessing when we started to trot back up the wind blew the end of the mecate over his butt and hit him.

On Robin's ride she had a little trouble getting him to go, and a tiny pop from her mecate got him into a nice lope.  So he must have just felt this and thought he better get running.  Funny guy.  But I'm glad I let him go, I don't want to squash any forward momentum from a horse who is already inclined to be lazy.

The last week of rides have been good for him.  He is more relaxed when we're tacking him up and more attentive to us undersaddle and on the ground. He is also starting to get some of his fitness back.  For a few weeks he lost a little muscle mass and developed quite the hay belly.

In other news, I hit my 150 yearly hours goal today.  After last years 109 hours, this felt like a big, but doable, goal.  It has truly been a great year, though, because I had no problem hitting it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Back in the Spurs

For some reason, I stopped riding in my spurs this summer.  I guess things were just going really well for Bear and I, and I wanted to see how just my legs would work.  It turns out they worked quite well.

But then I noticed some problems.  Lately Bear has not been excited to walk, trot, or lope straight lines down the strip.  If we are on the fence line, no problem.  But if we are closer to the field, he can't stand it.  He either veers towards the herd, or he dives towards the bean field.  And yes, they are quite different.  In the veer he is energetic and forward, in the dive he is dropping his shoulder and throwing his head towards the ground.

Over the last few weeks I have been working on this mostly at the walk and sometimes at the trot.  When he wants to go down the strip I keep my hands and legs open and encourage forward movement with my hips, when he picks a direction I don't want him to go in, I go back and forth between blocking harshly or turning him in a sharp circle and then getting back on course.  It has definitely helped some.

But watching Martin Black ride and help some of the riders in the clinic gave me quite a few ideas.  It is funny seeing clinicians in person.  So much of what they say you know on some level.  But you cannot always transfer what you know into your own problems.  In this case what I "knew," in simple horse terms, was to make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.  We've all heard it many times, and my solution to get Bear moving down the strip is an illustration of that.  What Martin really showed us in the clinic is how to get the most out of that idea.  He didn't really use those words, instead he talked about making the horse uncomfortable and then showing them where they can be comfortable when you get them on the right track.

Same but different.  And it played out that way as we watched him work with individual riders in the clinic.  It always came down to the concept of "make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy," but each example was different.  Even when two horses had similar issues with loping or lead changes.  It was rather eye opening.

The second thing that I've always "known" but don't always get to see, is that one should increase the pressure each time they ask.  Again, I'm sure you all know this, too.  And I feel like I use it all the time.  But Martin talked about keeping your asks to just three, with the outside chance of a forth.  The first ask is small, the second is a pretty big increase, and the third is quite hard and should very well get the job done.  If he asks a forth time it is only because he miscalculated on the third ask.

If that doesn't work, he rethinks things, because clearly he is not communicating well with the horse.  You don't not want a fifth or sixth or seventh ask.  Each one after the third can start to dull them to it.  Again, things we all know.  What messes me up, is that these should not surprise or shock the horse.  So often I will be working on something with Bear, say loping circles.  Things will be going nicely, then he'll get distracted and want to lope towards something.  I'll lean and use my legs, if that doesn't work I'll put some light pressure on the hackamore, and if that doesn't work I'll pull really hard.

It sounds like what Martin is talking about, but often I would release my pressure before my big pull.  The same could happen to my legs before a big kick.  I would get my correction, but his head would fly up like he had no idea what was happening.  What I should really be doing is getting a soft pull, keeping that tension, and from there give the big correction.

This is where the spurs come in.  I set out to have a nice ride on Bear.  I was not planning on anything harsh, I just wanted to have the spurs on my feet  in case I needed them.  One of the great things about Bear's size is that my legs hang down so that I can just use my calves to direct him, or I can raise my heels and really get into him.

Things started out great.  He was listening to my legs and seat and walking and trotting nicely.  But then something shifted when we were doing circles on the strip, and he just didn't want to go away from the barn.  So I kept the same method of block him or turning him sharply as I had before, but this time I was able to raise the discomfort just a bit with the spurs.  I was also very, very careful not to yank on the hackamore.  It was not something I would do often, hackamores are definitely not mean to be used that way, but I would at times pull harder than I wanted to.  And it always made me feel bad.  Today my pulls were much more steady, and they also meant much more to Bear.

This post is getting somewhat long, so I will not go into great detail, but I will say that Bear really responded to the increase in discomfort.  As the ride went on he got much better at moving down the strip.  It wasn't great, but I could see him thinking about it.  He knew where the comfort zone was, and he was calculating how to stay in it.

By the end of the ride we were cooling down by walking around with no hands.  We do this quite a bit, but today we had a new level of precision and energy.

My feet are turned out somewhat, but I assure you, I never used my spurs once during our cooldown, and Bear was willing to go anywhere I pointed him.  He also felt happy to do it.  It never ceases to amaze me how much he will challenge me, but once I remind him that I call the shots when we are riding, he's like an angel.  Maybe it has something to do with his 12 years as a stallion.  Or maybe it is just his personality.  I'll probably never know.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Moving Out

Bear and I have been enjoying the open spaces of fall.  We are still riding primarily on the strip, but with the soybean field nearby all mowed, it makes it easy to venture out a short ways or a medium long ways.  So I have taken to exploring on Bear a little more.  Just the two of us.

It has been very relaxing.  For so long I would take comfort from other horses and riders when we would go out on the trails, but lately Bear and I have been moving together really well, so it is fun to just poke around and see what we see.  Bear is very relaxed on these little forays, and it doesn't matter if we're doing a slow walk, working on our faster walk, or moving at a nice trot.  He's great for all of it.

Today we went out into the fields more than we have been lately.  Robin was on the strip doing groundwork with Steen, so if we were going to go anywhere, it was going to be by ourselves.

So we warmed up on the strip like we usually do, and then we went up and down the hills in the soybean fields and down the drainage, over to the second strip a few times.  We were mostly moving at the trot, and Bear was great with this.  Sometimes I will have a hard time keeping him in a nice, steady trot, but lately this has been getting better.  I have not been working on it specifically, I think it is just one of those things that is coming around through working on other things like speeding up our walk or getting nice circles or doing figure eights with no hands or whatever.  It all seems to come together, and I love when I get results on the things I'm not working on. 

The good news is that Steen is moving nicely.  We are also going out of town this weekend for a Martin Black clinic.  We found out he would be at a barn near my parents house.  Normally he is so far away from us, so we had to go check it out.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

It has been a tough few weeks with the horses.  Steen's leg is slow to heal, Laredo has been troubled by a sore shoulder, and we've had some less than ideal weather. 

But today we finally had a day that felt like normal.  Laredo is getting better, so Robin was able to ride him.  We started out on the strip and got nice and warmed up before taking a leisurely stroll through the soybean fields and around the second strip.  Everyone was good, and we had the sun warming us up and drying everything out.

After the ride we let the guys graze for a while.  Robin went to grab Steen so that all of us could hang out and enjoy the weather.

I have been lucky that Bear has been doing well these past few weeks, so I've gotten a lot of short rides in this month.  Here are a few shots of the things I should have been blogging about.

Hanging out with Laredo when we noticed his sore shoulder.

Robin has gotten quite a few good rides on Bear this month.

Robin gave me a super great lesson one day.  It's been well over a year since she last gave me a true lesson.

One day the herd was out in the hills and Bear was the only one around to enjoy the brand new bales.

October brought some crisp weather, but many of the days were really pretty.

Moving Bear out.  He trimmed down a lot with all our rides and the cool nights.

We also just hung out a lot, too.

Robin borrowed Rowdy from Marissa for a few nice rides..

Riding in the soybean fields is one of my favorite things about fall.
Later this afternoon we met our friend Jean and her family at her barn to take some photos of them.  They recently added Zagalo to their family, he's an 8 year old Lusitano.

We had met him once before, but it was cool to spend some more time with him.  We spent quite a few minutes with him at liberty in their awesome indoor arena.  He was very responsive and happy to move away or hang out with me.

So far it has been a great weekend.  Should be great weather tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to more rides out in the fields with Bear and Laredo.  Hopefully Steen will be back on the rides in just a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hearing Buck In My Head

We continue to watch the 7 Clinics DVDs, and they continue to be wonderful.  It is great that we can latch onto an exercise, see multiple different moments of Buck talking about it along with many people working on it, and then go out and try it ourselves.

Today I spent a while warming Bear up in a circle.  He was happy to see me and responsive to my legs from the beginning, so we were getting some really excellent circles.  But like often happens, Bear was not high in energy and was even losing a bit as I continue to work at the walk and trot in the circle.

Then Robin suggested we work on an exercise we watched the night before.  In order to get life into your horse, Buck would have people stop them, back five steps, and then move out with energy.  They would trot off for a few steps and then the riders would bring to the walk with a soft feel and continue on in an energetic walk.

Robin and I chose a big oval on the strip to ride around and took turns calling out when we should stop, back, and move out.  We wouldn't say everything, the rider would just call out 'back,' but each time I would hear Buck's distinct voice: Stop 'em. Back 'em five steps.  Move 'em out with life.

From the beginning of this exercise Bear took the with life very seriously.  He was springing into a huge, floaty trot each time.  At one point he pushed off so hard his hind slipped and it felt like he was falling out from underneath me.  He quickly recovered and pushed off again like nothing happened. 

I have felt Bear move like this before, but never with such consistency.  It was really surprising to get such fast results. Towards the end of the exercise we just moved out at the trot for a few laps.  Bear was eating up ground, and twice he picked up the lope.  I just got a soft feel and moved back to the trot.  Once I built up all that life I didn't want to squash it.

From there we went on to play a little cow.  Bear stayed light and lively, giving me some very soft and collected lopes, and Laredo continues to improve in all movements the game requires.  Robin even had him loping around us a few times.

We cooled down with a loop around the fields and the second strip.  I continued working on keeping Bear lively.  At this time he was getting tired again, but with a moderate amount of effort, I was able to get his walk much snappier.  His fast walk continued after the ride as I led him to the barn and later out into the pasture.  This is definitely something we will have to continue to work on.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Low on Energy

Normally when one of us rides Laredo for a while, the other one sees some huge improvement when they get to ride him again.  With Steen healing from his leg wound, Robin has spent the last week getting some awesome rides on Laredo.  Today we decided to switch, and I was really looking forward to it.

But this is what I got.

A sleepy and exhausted mount.

OK, I exaggerate a little.  But only a little.  He did not have much life in him.  Walking up hills it felt like he was heaving each foot up the hill.  Whenever we took a break from working on something I'm pretty sure he went to sleep right away.

There was one thing that changed, though.  His softness to the bit.  Despite being super tired, he was still extremely aware of me and the reins.  He could be conked out with his nose almost on the ground, and if I picked up on the reins a little bit he would still give me a soft feel.  If I held a moment longer, he would stay collected and bring his poll up above his whithers.

He maintained the same softness when we were moving, too.  We walked around the fields for a short while, and I could always get him to soften to pressure.  And it was really light pressure.  Things were going so well I could hold it for many steps and he had no problems with it.

With Steen still recovering, Robin will probably be putting a few more rides on him.  Hopefully next time I ride him it will be cooler and I can see what his softness is like coupled with a little more energy.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Making It Happen, And Staying Soft

When I first saw Buck in Decorah last September, there were a number of things that stood out to me, but one of the big ones was the idea that you always give the horse a good deal (with less pressure than you think it will take), and if that doesn't work, you make it happen.

I knew this would be great for Bear and I.  As I've mentioned before, Bear is a tricky horse.  He is both wonderful to learn on, and frustrating to work with.  At 17, he's seen a lot.  He is smart, strong, relaxed, and he often forces you to make him do things, so I figured "making it happen" would really help out our communication.

And it has.  I was able to give Bear clear signals for turns or stops or transitions, and if he did not comply, I could firm up with my legs or hands.  We got a long ways doing this, but lately it hasn't been working as well.  Looking back I can see that my corrections have become too hard and too quick.  Often I would come in with my leg or bump on the hackamore and it would startle Bear.  I am lucky that he doesn't really do much when he is startled, if he did, I probably wouldn't have gone this far with my corrections, though.

After watching some of the 7 Clinics DVDs and thinking back to both clinics we have visited, I can see where I have gone wrong.  Too often I went from soft to hard without any change in between.  Sometimes Bear needed this, like when he was clearly ignoring my asks, but most times it was uncalled for.  What I needed to do was get better at reading my horse's expression to see if he was confused or missing my cue rather than ignoring it.  If it was the former, I wasn't going to teach him anything by abruptly firming up.  Instead I needed to increase pressure in a way that made sense for the horse.  This usually means gradually pulling harder if using your reins or rhythmically increasing the bumps with your legs.

Today I worked at this for the whole ride.  Again, Bear had somewhat of a sore back.  I rubbed him down before the ride, and we planned on taking it easy (Laredo was also rather exhausted).  We warmed up on the strip, and within just a few minutes of changing how I went from soft to firm he felt different.  Our circles were rounder, our collection was softer, our transitions were smoother.  It felt really cool.

When we walked off into the soybean fields I could tell he was still stiff and sore on the downhills.  I also knew these hills seemed to loosen him up in time, but I needed to give him that time, and I couldn't let him veer back towards the barn or Laredo or wherever he wanted to go when he felt a little uncomfortable.  So I applied the same soft to firm approach to keep him going where I wanted him to go, and he was totally fine with it.  As the ride progressed I stayed calm and never got upset thinking how he should know these things and he should just go where I want him to go.  And before I knew it, I was getting more done with less.

This was no surprise.  We read it and hear it all the time.  But it is something that I have really struggled with on Bear.  This will definitely be key for keeping our relationship moving forward and keeping him happy and healthy.  Today there was no head tossing or veering when we loped around, just smooth transitions and a very comfortable pace, and to me that was enough validation.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Mid-Week Rides

This week was warm, dry, and sunny, and I got out to the barn everyday except Thursday.  On Monday we spent so much time with Steen we didn't end up riding, but I got some nice rides on Bear the other days.

Tuesday was a fun ride.  We played cow again with Robin on Laredo.  They seemed to be doing better than the other times.  Bear was really soft the whole time.  His transitions were smooth, and at times we would get ahead of the "horse," and I would get some very soft collection and slow his walk down with just my seat.  We also spent a little time running away from the "horse," and those were really nice, small circles.

We had so much fun loping during the game that I spent a good portion of the rest of the ride at the lope.  Things were pretty good when we were going up and down the strip, but when I would ask for a gradual bend, Bear was stiff and not very compliant.  I really thought I was riding well, and Robin agreed that it looked more like Bear was unwilling to bend rather than not understanding what I wanted.  I was surprised at this after our great circles when we were playing cow.  We did end up getting some nice circles again late in the ride, but we could never get a nice mix of long straight-aways and nice turns.

Wednesday and Friday our rides were quite similar; we warmed up for a few minutes on the strip, and then headed out into the newly mowed soybean fields.  Laredo was super excited to be going out again, and Bear was just so so with it.  His back appears to be sore again.  I'm not sure if Tuesday's loping was the cause, or if it came from something else, but it translated into an unwillingness to walk down the hills and general lethargy.

Thankfully he did warm up as we walked and trotted around.  We also threw in the occasional lope up the big hills.  This was totally wearing Laredo out, but he was really good for it, and Robin said he continued to listen to her legs throughout the ride.

Unfortunately, Bear remained quite sore on Friday.  I was hoping the easy ride and day off would help him out more.  Like I said, the ride was almost identical to Wednesday's, except when I asked for the lope uphill he was really tossing his head and veering to the right.  I didn't ask for any more after that.  When we got back to the barn I gave him a nice rub down.  He seemed both annoyed and into it, so maybe it was helping.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Long Weekend Report

I took Friday off because my parents were in town.  They have not visited for about a year, so it was fun for us to hang out and spend a lot of time at the barn. 

Friday was cold and windy.  We woke up to a damp day and then it just got wetter.  It was still sprinkling on our way out to the barn, but we were hoping it would end soon.  It did, but it didn't really warm up at all.

Robin spent a lot of time with Steen, and the rest of us worked to get Bear and Laredo tacked up.  Last time they visited, Mom had a great ride on Bear, so we were hoping to repeat that.  We rode in the treed lot again, and things went pretty well.

We definitely ride in a different style than Mom is used, so there were a few tricky moments.  But Bear was generally willing to follow us around.

I had a tough ride as Laredo was full of energy. Way more than I've ever felt in him.  I think it would have been really fun to play around with that and see what we could get done, but I was also spending so much time watching Bear and Mom that I wasn't helping him as much as I could. 

It was probably good for him; he's got to learn that sometimes he just needs to follow along and get the job done.  He did settle in nicely once we spent a lot of time trotting, and we also threw in a couple of lopes in the end and that tired him out some.

On Saturday we went back out to work on Steen's leg.  It was time to take the bandage off, and we were happy to see things had closed up nicely.  His sunburn is healing slower, but it is not looking any worse.  He also appeared to be in a slightly better mood.

We tacked Bear up again and Mom had another ride on him in the indoor.  He was a little better for her inside, and they spent more time cruising around.

In the end they even got some loping in, so it was a pretty good ride.  Bear was definitely goey, though.  Multiple times he picked up the lope on Mom.  After they rode I climbed on for a few minutes and he was just as inclined to run with me.  He is looking and feeling good, but still, he should be listening to his rider.

Today it was just Robin and I.  We were planning on washing Steen off and then exploring the recently cut soybean field, but once we got started with everything Robin thought it best to stay with Steen and clean him as much as possible and let things dry before putting him out, so I rode Laredo in the arena.

It was the first time either one of us had ridden him inside since the second ride we put on him way back in May.  I was curious to see how he would behave, especially since his three year old buddy was in there with us.

Thankfully he was great.  He was both relaxed and extremely soft.  I couldn't believe how well I could steer him around with my legs.  Doing small circles, cutting across the arena, or staying right on the rail were all exceptionally easy.

We spent a little while trotting around, and then once our buddy left I asked him for the lope.  This was funny.  I thought he'd be disinclined to pick it up, but it took significantly more energy from me to get him going than I thought it would.  He was definitely speeding up, but he was not interested in shifting over to the lope.  Finally I was able to get some nice strides out of him, but he didn't hold it for long.

So I shifted my focus of loping a few laps to just getting him to lope a few strides.  Over the next many minutes I would periodically push him into the lope and then bring him down as a reward.  He got it, and our upward transitions improved by a lot.

We worked on a few other things before returning to the lope, but this time he was even less interested in loping than he was before.  He wouldn't even trot as fast, and he'd get hung up in places.  I finally realized he was throwing in some little kicks and mini-bucks.  They were very, very small, but they still were not what I wanted to feel.  So after each one I stopped him with one rein and then continued on.  It took a while before I got another lope out of him, and I was grateful to have Robin sitting there coaching me along.

In the end, it was a really great ride.  I did start with some groundwork in the beginning, but I did more in the end.  Last night Robin and I watched the beginning of the new 7 Clinics DVD with Buck Brannaman.  The first section was all on groundwork, and we got a lot of useful tips for moving our horses around.  I always thought I was getting good circles from our guys, but I probably wasn't spending as much time focusing specifically on the hind end and transitioning from the disengage back into circles or bringing the front across for half circles.  Basically, my horse wasn't always ready to shift over when I asked him to.  Sure enough when I worked on this with Laredo he wasn't that good at first, but we made some improvement in a short while.

I did get after him a little with the groundwork, but it was all helpful.  On the ground, I'm not always as firm as I should be, and then under saddle I'm sometimes too firm.  I need to work on switching those around a little.  I think it worked well today, because when we were done Laredo followed me all the way around the winter pasture and back to the gate.  He didn't want to leave, even after we walked away

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


After work we headed out to the barn to check on Steen and get a short ride in.  We are keeping him in a side lot up by the barn so that we can closely monitor his leg and sunburn.  When we arrived it was clear he was somewhat depressed.  And with good reason, he was on drugs, banged up, and away from his herd.

Thankfully he was happy to see us.  We spent a lot of time caring for his wounds and just hanging out with him.  When we went to put him away, he really didn't want us to leave.  Robin said I should do a short ride and she would hang out with him on the strip so he could graze.

So I grabbed Bear and quickly tacked him up.  He was very willing and interested coming in from the pasture, but once we got out on the strip he was distracted.  Many big tractors were harvesting the bean field right next to the strip and the wind was blowing about 30 miles an hour.  On top of that, he could see Steen was just hanging out and not having to work, and he didn't seem to understand why.

I was also somewhat distracted, so I know I wasn't helping things.  We did work a lot on trotting various patterns with a lot of focus on my seat and legs.  When I used my hands it was to check in with a feel or to correct a missed leg cue.  Towards the end of the ride I realized my rein corrections were probably a little too sharp.  As a result, Bear was getting more frustrated and then I was getting more frustrated, too.  He started losing energy in many of his movements (particularly backing) and was only putting energy in trying to get near Steen.

I was able to get to a nice stopping point, and then we hung out with Steen and Robin for a little while.  Hanging out with all of us did make Steen happier, and we are really happy that his new fly-sheet is here and the swelling on his cut leg is really not bad at all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Long Day at the Barn

We went out to the barn excited to spend a long day with the guys.  I was hoping to repeat last Sunday and ride two horses.

But we were disappointed to find that Steen's sunburn was significantly worse.  We had to spend quite a bit of time cleaning him up and applying various ointments that a super nice fellow boarder lent us.  Her bay paint is just finishing the exact same sunburn issues Steen is starting, so she had all the goods and the know how.  We got Steen cleaned and gooped up, and he seemed to be feeling better when we turned him out in a rather ugly, blue fly-sheet.

All that kind of tired us out, but we did get a pretty good ride in.  We rode in the treed lot again since it was free of horses and a little bit sunny and warm.  Also, the strip was full of farm equipment and horse trailers.

Though I was tired walking out there, I quickly made up a plan of things to work on so that I would be fair to Bear.  I know when I just go through the motions, he does the same.  Then I can get a little frustrated with him, when in reality I should be frustrated with me.  So this time I hopped on, checked out our gradual serpentines and other movements, and then worked on some long trots.

There is a nice, long fenceline in the pasture that curves from the southeast corner to the northwest corner.  It is mostly open, but it does have a few trees scattered along it.  Bear and I just trotted out from one gate to the other.  I worked on keeping him in an even pace and steering around the trees, fallen branches, and random holes in the ground using only my seat.  Of course I couldn't accomplish that with every turn, but we did a pretty good job.  And things got better with each pass.

After we felt nice and warmed up we loped across the middle to meet Robin and Laredo.  They were doing pretty good, but we were both still tired.  We decided to work on exercises together.  We started with backing circles around one another.  Laredo was still slow, but definitely better than last time.

We stopped after a great round and decided to use the same skills in a different way.  We played cow.  Things started slow, but we quickly found ourselves speeding up a little bit as Laredo was starting to get it.  He was watching Bear a lot, and his stops, turns, and starts all improved throughout the game.  On the last round we decided to work things for a few minutes and let Laredo (the cow) win.  In reality, Bear and I stopped pretty late, and there was not much "letting" in their win.  If I really got on Bear we probably could have stopped them, but that's not how we want to play the game.  No point in sacrificing good horsemanship for the sake of not "losing."

The ride turned out pretty great.  We cooled down for a few minutes and then hopped off.  It is funny when you don't get the ride you plan on. But if you are open to it, usually you can get something just as good.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Taking Laredo Out

Just like our first lope, we probably could have gone exploring with Laredo a little earlier.  But waiting a little bit longer certainly helped us get some things down, and I think it helped make the ride really great.

Robin was the first one to ride him after we got him, and then she was also the first one to lope on him, so she thought it would be good if I was the first one to ride him on the trails.  It felt like something that would keep building my confidence in going out and about.

We left the barn in the morning with Robin on Steen and our friend Kat on Kafteinn.  In the little outings we have done on Laredo he has been extremely curious and excited to explore, and today was no different.  He marched right to the front and was walking quite fast.  This felt funny to me, as I'm used to riding Bear who starts quite slow and doesn't mind hanging out in the back.

It was not a fast ride, but we did spend a little time moving out.  On a long stretch of trail we picked up the trot to cover some more ground.  Laredo was great with this, actually even going a little slow initially.  We picked up the pace enough to feel comfortable, but when he realized we were still going after a few minutes he was  starting to slow and tire.  At the end of that stretch we walked to the next section and Laredo was no longer in the lead.  Thankfully he was fine hanging back and following the others.

He remained pretty tired for the rest of the ride, but he would put a lot of effort into his faster gaits, so I could always get him to trot nicely.  And at one point he decided to pick up the lope and catch up to Kafteinn.  Initially I reached for the reins to shut him down, but he moved into it so nicely I decided to see how it would go.  It felt great, but then he really started digging in and bracing to catch up, so at that point I worked to slow him down.  No problem, really, just a little excitement for the youngster.  He was happy to go right back to walking and didn't get riled up at all.

Throughout the ride he kept looking to me and responding to my cues.  I could always move him laterally with a small amount of leg pressure.  I wasn't sure if this would carry over into the trail ride, but in some ways it was even better than our rides close to home.  The same was true for getting a soft feel when we were walking around.  Our trot-walk transitions were not that great, and quite a few times I had to use more pressure than I would have liked to make the transition happen. After those I always went back to asking for soft collection a few times to remind him that he shouldn't move into pressure.  Each time he gave to the bit very nicely.  Again, sometimes better than when we are riding near home.

Getting close to home he was really tired.  We rode him for over two hours, which is by far the longest ride since we got him, and he was exposed to a lot of stuff.  Most of it he loved, the only things he didn't like were some big piles of plastic piping.  I didn't want him to get the idea he could shy and dance away from things out on the trail, so we spent a few minutes walking back and forth along side them.  They were the kind of scary objects that were only going to hurt the right side of his body and not the left.  After a few minutes he realized they wouldn't hurt any side of his body.

Despite encountering so many new things and walking for hours, he still just wanted to play when he got back.  He's such a youngster, and just so much fun to work with.

Friday, September 14, 2012

If It Is Important, Do It Every Ride

Today we were short on time.  Work was busy and we also had an early evening social engagement.  So I was the one to dash out to the barn in the late afternoon.  Robin was at the barn yesterday getting all their feet trimmed, and Steen's shoulder burns were looking a lot worse.  I wanted to make sure I could check on him and also look at a cut he's got near his right, front hoof.

He was excited to see me and came walking right up.  I slipped his halter on and then walked around the herd over to Bear and Mo.  Bear turned and ambled right up to me, too.  I led them both in with no problem.  I curried Steen down a little bit (it was evident he had been rolling a lot) and tended to his sore shoulders.  They appear to be drying and flaking off some, and he wasn't bothered by me rubbing ointment into them.  Hopefully that is a good sign.

Then I quickly tacked up Bear (thankfully he was almost totally clean), put Steen in the side lot, and rode Bear in the outdoor arena.  I really didn't have much time at this point, so I just went through what I thought was important.  Dan John, one of my favorite people trainers, is always saying "if it is important, do it everyday."  And if it isn't, well then don't do it.

As we got going I tried to think of all the things I think are important.  We worked on softness, bending left and right, one-rein stops in each direction, backing, backing circles, turning on the hindend, trotting out and in circles, transitioning in and out of gaits, and loping.  The one thing I did not include but probably should have done for just a minute in the early part of the ride was the short serpentine.  I know we can still do more work on that one, but we do have it going pretty well most of the time and as a result I haven't been in the habit of hitting it every ride.  I probably should do it every ride, at least for a little bit. We did do some gradual serpentines with no hands, though.

It is surprising how much you can run through in a short amount of time.  I did all of the above, with some nice quality, in less than 20 minutes.  It does not give you a lot of time to really work on any one issue, but as training is about accumulation, it was a productive ride.

When we started loping things were going mostly good, and we still had a few extra minutes, so I did actually spend a little time working specifically on the lope.  I was practicing keeping a solid seat and really directing him with my legs.  That was going pretty well, but at one point Bear was cutting across the middle and we were going to have a hard time keeping our circle going, so I picked up the reins, dropped to the trot, and took off loping in the other direction.  It was a perfect simple lead change.  I decided to keep going with these for a few minutes.  They went really well.  I had never worked on these in the hackamore, and hadn't done them at all since the spring. 

They are physically and mentally demanding for both the horse and the rider, so Bear and I had a lot to concentrate on, and I think that allowed us to get into a nice groove with the exercise.  We weren't always nailing the lead changes, but many times we could drop to the trot for just a second and he would already be shifting his body to pick up the next lead.  This worked best going from a left lead to a right lead, and I'm rather certain the problem with the other direction lies in my tight, right hip.  So I know where to keep working.

We briefly cooled down, untacked, and then I led both guys back out to the pasture.  This was probably the busiest and shortest trip to the barn I've ever had, and it was still surprisingly relaxing and productive.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Continuing the Softness

One of the great things about having Laredo is that he has changed the way Robin and I ride, and think about, our main horses.  Though I would try very hard to approach every ride from a fresh perspective, I couldn't always accomplish that, and I would fall back on old excuses for my old horse.

Continually changing horses has allowed me to be more flexible and, overall, much softer.  When I climbed on Bear today I had a much easier time riding in the same frame of mind that I did yesterday, and it had a positive impact on our ride.

We rode in the treed pasture. We had not ridden in there for many weeks, but the horses were not in it and the sun was rather warm, so it was the perfect place to ride.  The horses do tend to be a little more distracted in this pasture when we haven't been in it for a while.  It is full of manure from other horses, closer to the cows, closer to the road, and just full of tree branches and squirrels and other things to pay attention to that aren't us.  So I started out not worrying about any of that stuff and just thinking about doing more with less, riding from as high up my legs as possible and only coming in with my hands if I really needed to back up my request.

Bear did start out in what I would call one of his "usual" modes.  He was quite compliant, but not very interested in listening to specifics.  So he'd turn left or right, but it was going to be as quick or slow or sharp or shallow as he wanted it to be.  I just did the same thing I did with Laredo yesterday, made sure my body was completely lined up with where I wanted to go and then brought in more leg or rein to make sure Bear got on that line.

His attitude turned around almost immediately.  He was moving nicely, stopping hard, backing up with no pressure, and we even got back to some really great turns on his hind end.  I was happy, and he seemed happy, too.  Almost proud of himself.  It feels good when your horse responds like that.

We also did some loping straight across the pasture.  In the past I have only loped medium sized circles in this pasture, and they haven't really gone well.  Today Bear felt quite good and I just picked a long line and pushed him out into the lope.  It worked really well.  Like on the strip sometimes, he was perhaps overly sensitive to my legs and we had some veering issues, but they didn't bother me.  I just worked on holding my body and legs in a way to make it obvious where I wanted to go.  If Bear wanted to veer to Laredo or a tree for some reason, I just blocked that.

I was surprised with how relaxed I felt doing that.  Really, on the whole ride I felt great.  We walked the perimeter and squeezed around trees and I never felt worried about anything.  I would not say in general that I am a worrier on horseback, but I do take a cautious approach.  I guess the work we've been doing lately and the great partnership Bear and I had going today made for a new level of relaxation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Do More With Less

I'm not sure who said this first, probably Ray or Tom, but I know I've read it from a lot of people, most recently Martin Black.  We found some great write ups of some colt starting clinics he put on a few years ago (click on the forward arrows to get through these if you're interested).

I had fun reading through them, and I took away a lot of things, but the big one is the reminder to constantly strive to do more with less.  For some reason this is an easy thing for me to forget, despite having encountered it many times.  So today I went out to the barn ready to get Laredo and be as soft as I could, but also as firm as I had to be.

I think it worked.  Overall we had a fantastic ride.  Laredo was happy to see me and extremely relaxed for grooming and tacking.  He keeps getting more relaxed about this, and today we even had a barn worker hanging around his hind end untangling and rewinding up hoses.  He was great.

Out on the strip he was energetic with the groundwork, but also attentive to me.  He is not looking off for the herd as much as he used to.  When I climbed on he just felt great.  He's getting so soft to the bit when we are just standing there or backing up.  Sometimes I just want to do those two things for a while and call it a ride.

But then I get curious to see how he will respond to my legs.  So we walk off and work on circles and figure-eights. This is where I really started working on doing more with less.  I concentrated very hard on where my upper thighs and sit bones were in relation to the amount of turn I wanted.  I also worked to keep my shoulders at the same angle and make sure that I was not pushing my weight forward and making it tough for Laredo to stay back on his haunches. This is stuff I think about a lot, but it is also easy to have your attention pulled elsewhere.

It is also a lot of stuff to think about, and at times it didn't really feel like I was doing "less."  But as I was hardly using my hands at all, it probably felt like less to Laredo.  At least I hope it did.  Of course, it didn't always work.  At times we would be going straight for many steps while I made sure my body was clearly saying turn.  Then I'd come in a little firm with the rein and Laredo would move on over.  I thought I was doing this a little more than I should, and I ended up talking things over with Robin.  But in that little break, Laredo seemed to get it.  The next few times things got better.  And after that, they just kept getting better.

We thought about playing cow again, but we didn't want to tax Laredo in that way too much.  He's not quite ready to be pushed on his turns.  Or rather, I'm not ready to get myself set up under pressure.  That's the real truth.  He'd turn on a dime if someone like Martin was on him.

Anyways, we still wanted to challenge him and give him a job, so we decided to work on 'the routine.'  We sat in the middle of the strip and reviewed our pattern, then backed them up a few steps and moved into the trot.

The first round wasn't too bad.  There were a few things that bugged me, but as Robin pointed out, it was our first run through of the day AND we'd never done it with Laredo.  So things looked beter after that.  But our second round was stellar.  I couldn't believe how good he felt.  All the work we had done with the turns earlier in the ride really paid off.

We probably should have stopped there, as rounds three and four left something to be desired, but it was all good practice.  And good fun, too.

Laredo and I ended up doing a little loping, too.  The first time we did it, Robin and Steen happened to be off the strip getting some water out of the car.  I didn't think this was a big deal, but apparently it caused Laredo to take off like a bullet and really dig in.  I'd only felt such power on Bear before.  We quickly got to the top of the strip, and he was not slowing down like he normally does.  I didn't want to do anything traumatic to him, so I very lightly doubled him with the left rein, and then moved to a double with the right rein.  I slowed him up a good deal and kept him back on his haunches.  I still had to do a couple more light pulls before we bent into a nice circle at the trot.  I think it was a good experience for us, and Laredo didn't seem bothered in the slightest.

We had a few more sessions of loping, but they were quite uneventful compared to the first one.  He is getting better at picking it up.  The first day we loped I was trying to think about what lead I was asking for, but I had to move my legs around so much I completely lost track of that and just hoped he would pick it up.  Today we came around a turn and stayed very balanced.  When I asked for the lope my left leg was a little bit back since we were coming out of the left turn, and he picked up a perfect right lead.  So it won't be long before we're doing more with the lope, too.

Today was really a great ride for us.  Laredo had a ton of fun, and I really felt like I was able to ride well and support him.  It is a pretty neat feeling. He was also pretty tired at the end.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Playing Cow

We got to the barn fairly early to meet a friend for a trail ride.  It was really cool out, and we were looking forward to a long day of riding.  Unfortunately our friend never made it out.  We tacked up and started riding on the strip thinking they would show, but no.

So we had to improvise.  We both warmed up our horses for a bit.  Bear was quite stiff, both mentally and physically, so we did a lot of circles and bends.  Once we were feeling good, we started playing cow.

We learned about playing cow at the Buck clinic in Decorah last fall.  The idea is that there is a herd (this could be a circle or a group of horses and riders or, in our case, cones), and one rider is the horse and the other rider is the cow that both circle the herd.  The cow has to act like a cow, so when the horse pushes on their balance points, they will stop or turn around or go faster.  The "cow" wants to get back to the herd, and the horse wants to keep them out. It looked like so much fun we thought we'd be playing cow as soon as we got back to our horses.  In fact, we tried once, but I know for me in particular I couldn't make any of the moves happen.  And after that we were completely lost in figuring out serpentines, soft feels, and proper flexions.  That took forever (and I'm still working on it).

But today we felt ready.  We picked our spot and went through a warmup round at the walk and trot.  Bear was not backing and turning very well, but we were having fun being a cow anyways.  When we switched, the Robin/Steen cow decided to do a lot of running.  This upped the ante quite a bit, and we soon found ourselves loping tight circles, stopping hard, and really getting into the game.

We went back and forth for quite a while, switching up who was the "cow" every few minutes.  The guys started to understand that they wanted to get into those cones so they could rest and get some pets.  I think they were liking it.  Although one time Bear and I were the cow and Bear was a little pissed at Steen and pinned his ears, moving them out of our way.  Robin called cow foul, and we had to neutralize that round.

We didn't want to overdo things too much, as it was our first time playing and we are hoping to play this game a lot in the future.  So we took our guys in and then switched to different mounts.  Robin brought Bear back to the pasture and picked up Laredo.  I cooled Steen off and then tacked him up again in my saddle.

We rode on the strip again.  Steen was great for me.  He was super relaxed and extremely soft to the hackamore.  Lately I've been riding Steen at least once every two or three weeks, and it is really starting to show as we keep getting on better and better.

Robin was also having a great ride on Laredo.  The loping continues to go great, and so far there is no sacrifice of control.  So we decided to see how Laredo would do at playing cow. And he was OK.  We kept things quite slow in the turn arounds, but other than that, we were often going for it.  When Steen and I were the cow and trotting around, Laredo was so much faster than us that we had to move into the lope to keep from constantly needing to turn around.  We had some really great and relaxed moments of loping.  Probably our best ever.

We didn't want to overdo things with Laredo here, especially since it is easy to get excited and stop riding as well as one should.  We cooled down some and moved onto backing circles around one another.  This is another exercise we learned at the Decorah Clinic.  We did it A TON last fall, but we haven't really done it since.

Laredo definitely needs the practice with bending and backing.  He's really getting the backing down, so this seemed like a logical progression.  He also seems to learn well when there is a goal and he can see the point (although as a "cow" he wasn't that excited to get into the cones, go figure).

He did pretty well this exercise, and Steen and I did, too.  Steen was backing so well for me Robin couldn't stop talking about how good he looked.  I've seen it the other way around, so I know, but it was also really neat to feel.

Robin finished up with a little more loping and trot work on Laredo, and I hopped off to hang out in the grass.  I was really satisfied with my rides, and it was such a gorgeous day I didn't mind lounging at all.