Monday, January 30, 2012

Sixty

Today is the second to last day of January and it was 60 degrees.  That is nearly twice what the average temps are.  Very odd.  But not unwelcome.  If we had a ton of snow, I would have been disappointed.  But we had just enough snow that the warm temps melted it all and turned the ground soft and mushy.  So even though it was gorgeous out, we still rode inside.

Bear and Steen were a little bit off when we pulled them out of the pasture.  There is a new horse out there.  Well, an old horse, really.  He used to live in this pasture a couple years ago, but I'm not sure he ever met Bear.  Anyways, he is a large (like 17 plus hand, large) quarter horse and is quite dominant.  So the guys were slightly agitated.  Steen came right up to us, as he does when he is uncomfortable in some way.

We tacked outside to enjoy the late afternoon sun, but then headed in for the ride.  It was cooling in the dusk anyways, so we didn't miss too much prime sun time.  In the arena Bear was good.  He is still loose and moving nicely, but he was a little distracted.

Despite this, we had a really great ride.  I don't know how to talk about all the things I worked on without it sounding like a list, so I'll just hit the highlights.  Fairly early in the ride I was going through some transitions and since he was backing so, so nicely, I decided to work on backing with energy and then push him right into a trot.  He got it on the first try, and each one got better and better. 

Once we were thoroughly warmed up we moved on to loping some nice circles with Robin and Steen doing the same.  Bear was super smooth and happy.  I think these past few times I have done enough running to curb his enthusiasm in asking me to lope, because today he was never offering the lope.  A few times he got lazy and dropped it, but it really took no effort on my part to keep him going.  Loping to the right he was a little tight, but he relaxed into it.  He was more inclined to drop it in this direction, but again, picking it up was no problem.

Robin then moved on to another exercise, but I kind of wanted to keep working with the lope.  So for the first time I would just ask for really short sections of loping.  Like 1/4 of the arena.  I'd get a few strides and then soft feel him down to the trot or walk.  He was great going left, so we switched it up and spent more time working to the right.  This was much harder on him.  Quite a few times he was resistant to picking it up, and he would give me a stiff neck and veer into the center of the arena.  This was not a big deal for me since I had my spurs on.  I just had to time things right and I could get him going.  We only did about 5 or 6 transitions to the right and I started to notice they were getting better.  Finally he gave me a really good one and then I let him rest.

This is something I am getting better at lately, recognizing a good effort and rewarding that with a brief rest and then moving onto something else.  I did this a few times today (with whirly-gigs, loping, transitions, and tight right circles at the trot), and I think it really contributed to our good ride.

The one funny moment of the ride was a fairly dramatic spook from Bear.  There were some kind of noises outside the arena.  Steen gave a big move and then Bear lept into a pretty lofty and energetic run.  It is funny how many things can go through your head when your horse starts running, but I wasn't very worried.  My seat felt stable and relaxed and I just kept the reins in my hands and held onto the horn.  He brought himself down to a stop and stood around a little sheepishly.  It was just another one of those things that is good for my horsemanship.

All week is supposed to be warm and dry.  So hopefully we can log quite a few rides.  Maybe it will even dry up enough that we can get out into the fields without worrying about tearing them up.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Good Rest

After two days off, Bear was happy to see me this morning.  He came over to say hi and followed me with more energy than he often does.  I was hoping this meant he was feeling better.  I let him loose to roll and wander around the indoor, but he wasn't really interested in doing much.  So I had to coerce him to move.  I hardly pushed him at all, but he took the excuse to run around, tossing his head back and forth and throwing in a few high, twisted kicks.  It was all very playful, and he even moved into a super relaxed lope while calmly watching me.  This was definitely a good sign.

He came right down and was happy to stand for grooming and tacking.  In the arena he was quiet and attentive. Despite his earlier playfulness, I still took a long time warming him up.  We walked around working on soft feels, backing and disengaging the hind and fore quarters.  After about 10 minutes of that I was ready to move on to faster things, but I had told myself I was going to give him 15 solid minutes of walking to warmup.  Then I remembered I wanted to introduce haunches in at the walk.  So for the next few laps when we would hit the straight-aways I would ask for collection and then use my outside leg to move his haunches off the track towards the middle of the arena but keep him moving forward.  We did this quite slowly, and he responded very well to the exercise.  I think it helped in getting him more mentally and physically limber.  He liked the challenge of thinking about what I was asking, and having to reach forward and in with his hind legs seemed really good for him.

After that thorough warm up we moved on to our other stuff.  The soft feel was coming much more regularly at the trot, and his downward transitions were wonderful.  I don't think I had a problem with any of them.  The only not quite so great part of the ride was his energy level.  He was moving good and paying attention, but he didn't have that light, sprightly feel he often gets.  But really, it wasn't that bad.

I did get him moving nicely in the lope, just to see if he was still feeling good.  And I was hoping it would wake him up more and get him a little excited.  Just like a few rides ago, Robin and I loped in the arena together.  This one was a little more involved than last time as Steen took a moment to get going and then once he was running he veered towards us.  So there we were loping just off of Steen's hind end.  Bear was getting excited running so close to Steen, but it was easy to keep him listening to me.  I briefly transitioned into a walk (which he did a great job with) and then got us loping again so that we had some good space between us.  We got quite a few laps in, and he felt great.

We took a break to cool down, but Bear was not all that excited with the loping so I didn't really need to bring him down.  We proceeded to run to the right just to keep things even.  Again we ran with Steen.  Bear was giving me a very steady and relaxed lope (much better than the last two times to the right), but he wasn't too keen on staying on the rail.  I didn't fight it much at first, but when Robin finished her round of loping I kept Bear going just a bit longer so that I could concentrate on getting a nice circle on the rail.  It totally worked.

I cooled him out with some simple walk, trot work with a few whirly-gigs thrown in there.  He was starting to get tired. I was still interested in working and was asking him for some roll backs and urging him to take off at the trot.  They were so so, but then he gave me a really good one.  I decided to end the ride on that note.  It is supposed to be 50 degrees tomorrow, and I don't want a tired or sore horse.

He was falling asleep while I untacked him and stretched out his hind legs.  And when I turned him out into the pasture he really wanted to hang around for some pets.  It was a great day at the barn.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Discretion

It is a difficult thing to have.  Today I deadlifted after not doing it for a little while.  I was excited to get back to it, as it is one of my favorite lifts.  But I had to take it easy to ensure that I could do more in the not too distant future.  I think I got the intensity just right.

Bear, it would seem, did not exercise the same discretion yesterday.  It appears that his exuberance at the lope has cost him a little bit in terms of mobility.  Today he was stiff. And very slow to warm up.  It does not help that the winter lot resembles a lumpy ice skating rink, so I don't think he is moving much on his own.  But still, he was probably pushing himself a little harder than he should have yesterday.  He is lucky that I was not planning on pushing him at all.  I'm happy that I only loped him for a few minutes at most.

When the lot has bad footing we often let the guys roll and romp around a little.
He is getting to be an old guy (17 in a few months), and both of us can easily forget this.  In the last two weeks I think I only rode him once.  None of my winter rides have been hard, but I do need to ensure that I get more frequent, non-demanding rides in so that he can keep feeling good.  That seems to be what works best.

So today we spent a long time walking around, backing up, and doing some whirly-gigs.  When I thought he was as warmed up as he could be from walking, we moved into the trot.  It was not an energetic trot.  We spent most of the time working on our transitions in and out of the gait.  I didn't let him trot for too long, and I let him pick the pace.  I was happy that a few times he moved out a little bit more.

The transition work was really good.  Most of the time when we were moving from the walk up to the trot I could just open my legs a little bit and gather some energy into my thighs and butt.  It is hard to explain.  It felt almost like flexing my muscles, but I was also somewhat loose at the same time.  Only twice did I have to close my legs to encourage him to move out.  Every other time he gracefully moved into an easy trot when I would shift my weight and open my legs.  It was quite cool.

And that was about it for the ride.  We finished with a lot of stretching, and I rubbed down both of his hind legs.  He seemed to enjoy that.  When I put him back out into the pasture I thought he was moving better than when I brought him in, so that is something.  There is a chance of snow tomorrow so I will probably use that as an excuse to read, drink tea, and make a nice dinner, so Bear can get some rest.  But if I'm really lucky I'll get to ski.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stand and Lope

Those are Bear's two favorite gaits.  It is funny as I tend to forget about the second one when we haven't been practicing it.  Like in the late fall after I had taken a tumble and we weren't riding is spaces that were great for practicing the lope.

And though I have not been riding a ton lately, since late December I've been doing a good job of working the lope into every ride.  In the beginning there were some difficulties.  In fact, on a couple occasions Bear's reaction to picking up the lope would make you think it was his least favorite gait.  Not so.  Once he gets into a little bit of shape, he can't not lope.

Last Wednesday I went out for a solo-ride that I never blogged about.  It was great, there was not another person at the barn the whole time I was there, and I had a wonderful time.  But when Robin asked about the ride, I said it was not that great.  Really, it was just different.  Bear kept jumping into the lope.  I've experienced a number of different times where we will be trotting and then he will show me that he would prefer to lope by continuing to trot with his hind end but throw in a few teeny hops with the front end.  It is rather funny.  But on this ride he was jumping into the lope from the walk.  That was new.  It took me a few minutes to get him really listening to me again.

Of course, he still wanted to lope even after we worked on a lot of other things.  So after a few good rounds of transitions, we loped.  And we loped, and loped, and loped.  He wanted to stop a couple times, but I just gave him a little encouragement with my hips and kept on running.  He was loving it.  I think it was our most relaxed lope yet.  And by the time we stopped he just stood there blowing and licking his lips as if he was thinking, 'finally we got some good running in.'

Then we had a week off with some weird weather.  Now it is getting nicer and Robin and I are making a push to get into a riding habit again.  Still, I was a little tired and planned to have an easy ride.  Bear was in a super relaxed mood and paying very close attention to me, which was great.  I even thought he missed me.

But while we were working on things at the trot, again he was telling me he wanted to run.  I hadn't even decided on whether or not I wanted to work on that today.  We had enough to polish up at the walk and trot.  But he kept insisting.  So finally I just rocked my hips in an encouraging way when he was feeling goey, and he picked up the smoothest lope I've ever felt.  I thought last week was good. No.  This was the best.  I had never felt a transition like that before.  Robin saw it and was equally amazed.

After a little while of running we transitioned down to a walk and again Bear was super pleased with himself.  We worked on a few steering exercises at the walk and I was about to ask for a lope on the other lead when Steen and Robin started running.  I got out of the way to let them go, but then I slotted in a little behind them and we were able to both lope together.  We'd never done that indoors before.  It worked perfectly, even in our smaller arena.  And the horses were extremely relaxed.

It was really the perfect ride to get us going again.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the Thirteenth

And it was wonderful.  I finally feel back to my normal routine of working, exercising, and riding. This afternoon we drove out to the barn to hang out with the guys and check out Steen's leg.  He was hanging out in the indoor arena with another injured horse when we arrived.  I left Robin to tend to his leg and tromped through the drifted pasture to get Bear.  The gates were opened up to let them get into the low lying areas of the other pastures, so horses were everywhere and I couldn't see Bear. 

Turns out he was on the other side of the bail, out of the wind with his head absolutely buried in the middle of it.  When I walked around the bail and saw him I said, "hey big Bear," and he pulled his head out and jumped straight up before he realized it was me.  Kind of funny.  I'd never startled him like that.

Inside he was a little restless since Steen was getting treats and he wasn't.  But he calmed down and I got him groomed and tacked.  After a brief bit of groundwork I hopped on.

He was quiet and pretty responsive.  Since our last rides have been pretty bad with the feel, I had planned on really focusing on that.  Particularly at the trot.  We started at the walk, and he was good.  He only picked up a little trot a couple times when I didn't ask, but I was able to soft feel him back to a walk.

After we were warmed up I asked for the trot.  We spent many minutes working on feel.  Once I would get it three or four times in a row, I would then use the feel to bring him down to a walk.  He was continually improving at both of those things.  So then we went for the lope.

And the lope was awesome.  Robin watched as I loped around and around with a big smile on my face.  I was really able to direct him around the arena with my legs, and since things were so smooth, I felt I could work on transitions more than I have been recently.  So we got some walk, trot, lope, trot, walk, lope, walk, stop, etc.  Every time I asked for the lope he picked it up with ease (except once).  He also gave me the biggest stop I've ever felt.  Robin was laughing at me as I fell forward a bit.  But Bear just stood there licking his lips knowing he did an excellent job.

I cooled him out for a few minutes and then called it a ride.  We only rode for 30 minutes, but I swear it was much longer than that.  When I hopped off I had to look at my watch multiple times, because I couldn't really believe it.  I suppose that is a sign of a good ride.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Catching Up

Well it feels like we are well into the new year, and I haven't blogged yet.  It felt like I made it through the holidays and was ready to get back to my normal routine, but I forgot that we were having Robin's brother Jesse and his wife Susie visit for a long weekend.  We had a fantastic time with them, but I didn't get a whole lot of riding or blogging done.



When they planned their trip a couple months ago, we had no idea what would happen as far as weather.  I kind of hoped we could all go skiing, but in many ways the 50 degree days we had were better.  We got in some runs and bike rides and a great afternoon at the barn.


It was so warm we all hung out at the hitching post outside for some grooming, then we rode in the outdoor arena.  Robin and I warmed the guys up a little, and then we handed them over.  Jesse climbed on Steen and Susie rode Bear.  At first he didn't want to do much, but once they got moving both Susie and Bear did great.  Bear is really starting to lose his reputation of being a bad ride for visitors.  He was listening to her leg and rein cues, walking nice circles, stopping, and even gave her a pretty nice trot.



Jesse was having a little more trouble on Steen, but he stuck it out and made some progress.  After that he hopped on Bear for a little bit and they enjoy a little trotting around the arena.



When they were done I took Bear into the arena for a little loping practice.  It was warm and he was a little hot and tired, but he wasn't sluggish at all.  It also took no effort to keep him going.  He just tipped right over into a super smooth lope in both directions.  It was by far our best indoor lope yet, going both right and left I had no trouble keeping him on the rail.  I think he is getting more and more fit, and we're also getting more comfortable loping in that space.

The visit did make things a little busy for us, but we were also able to sneak out for a mid-week ride before the current storm storm rolled in.  It was a lovely afternoon and we planned on riding on the strip.  Unfortunately, Steen had a cut on his leg.  He actually had it when Jesse and Susie were here, but it really didn't look too bad.  Once we were able to take time and clean it all out and explore the area, we could see it was a little bit worse than we thought.  Thankfully he is not favoring it at all, but Robin thought it would be best to just clean it, wrap it, and not ride him.  Probably smart.

While she took care of her patient I took Bear out to the strip for a short ride.  In our recent time off he has lost some soft feel, particularly at the trot.  So we did a lot of trotting with me trying to remind him how to respond to the bit.  I guess he got better, but I feel like we'll have to get back to practicing this more and more.



He was soft to the bit while we were backing, and he was especially good at backing circles.  One of the bummers about the ride was that a huge portion of the strip was a little torn up by a sod cutter.  And it is the exact spot that is perfect for loping.  So I didn't really think we would run, but then I decided to run him out and back on the strip.  It was the first time we'd done it since last spring.  We started by going away from the barn, and he picked up a beautiful lope and had no trouble holding it on the slight downhill.  We dropped to a trot and then came back up.  Going slightly uphill and toward the barn Bear was inclined to really dig in.  He felt solid and I wasn't worried about him, but I do like him to have a softer feel while we're loping.  So we'll have to practice this some more.  I think it will take some time, and some sessions where we really get a lot of running in.  This ride I only went out and back a few times.

And then we called it a night.  Now here it is almost half way through January and I've only managed a couple short rides.  But I'm not worried, it is already way more riding than I did last January.