Saturday, February 18, 2012

Least Exciting Ride Ever

I've been tired lately.  Some of it is the new pup.  Some of it is work.  And some of it is probably just picking up on Robin's tiredness from those same two things.  We kind of had to force ourselves out to the barn this afternoon.  But we were glad we did.

For the past couple of weeks Steen has been coming to meet Robin every we go out to the winter lot.  I gotta say, I've been a little jealous of this.  But last ride (which was Wednesday, and I didn't blog about it even though it was a good ride), and today Bear came to me from off the bale.  He didn't come to meet me at the gate, but it was still pretty great.  I'll have to make sure we can keep this good thing going.

We rode out on the strip.  The sun was bright and warm, but the air was somewhat cool.  Both the horses were as tired and lazy as we were.  I'm not exactly sure why.  It wasn't that warm.

After a few lengths of walking up and down the strip I noticed Bear was breathing a little hard.  Much faster than usual.  And he was snorting and kind of coughing, too.  I wondered if he had a cold or something.  I decided not to push things too much.  But as I was talking to Robin about it, she thought it could be from the bales.  In the late winter it is common for horses to get a dry cough from sticking their heads in the bale for hours on end.  Bear is a champion eater, so there is a good chance this is what he's got.  And sure enough when I looked at the herd they all had their heads stuffed into holes they had eaten into the bale.

We kept things slow and played the mirror game for a while.  It was a fun way to pass the time and work on some non-demanding stops and turnarounds.  Both the guys did great.  After that I thought I'd see what happened if we trotted out for a little bit.  He was tired and blowing a little hard, but I think the activity was good for his lungs.

But in between all of that we just did a lot of sitting around.  Sometimes it feels so good to just sit on your horse with the sun shining down on you.  Bear never minds when we do this, either.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Simple Lead Changes

This has been a cold and tiring week.  Also Robin has been swamped at work.  When she is busy it makes me feel busier, too.  But I did manage to get out for a ride this afternoon even though I was still tired.  It was great, as no one else was there.

Also, the arena just got dragged and groomed.  It has a little too much sand in it, so the sand tends to really pile up along the edges and in the corners.  After a while it starts to feel small and cramped in there.  I was excited to try out the more consistent footing.

It did make things kind of deep everywhere, but spatially it felt better.  Particularly when we started loping.  We did a nice long warm up, and then I quietly pushed him into a lope.  He was really smooth and happy to hug the rail.  We made quite a few laps and I was particularly surprised at how much longer the straightaways felt.

After a few laps we were settling in and I remembered that I want to start working on simple lead changes.  So after coming around the next bend I kept Bear turning and guided him into the middle of the arena, brought him down to a trot, and then sent him off while cuing for a right lead.

I wish I could say we did it really nicely.  We can, afterall, get really smooth downward and upward transitions.  But when you add in the fact that I'm turning him, bringing him down, and then setting up for another lope, I wasn't quite able to do it how it appeared in my head.  Everything was slower and choppier, but we did ultimately get it.  We kept going and every lap and a half I'd guide him to the middle and ask for a lead change.  We got a really good one going off to the right and then I let him rest.

He was super tired.  I guess all the deep sand and transitions made things a little tough on him.  I gave him a while to recover (during which we had some not so great walking, trotting, and stopping) before doing another round of lead change work.  This time we started off to the right for a few laps before working into the changes.  Again, not as good as I would have hoped, but I think they got better a little bit faster.  They were certainly fun, but we've got a ton of work to do.  I think I remember Buck saying he does thousands of simple lead changes before even attempting a flying lead change.  Well, today we got maybe a dozen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

To Hackamore, or Not To Hackamore?

A few days ago Robin and I were watching a training video by Mike Bridges.  It was not the most exciting of videos, but it did offer a lot of insightful commentary on bits and the variety of heads and mouths on horses.  At one point he talked about how horses with thicker lips might not be quite as soft to the snaffle bit as horses with thin lips.  But then when you get those horses in another set up, like the hackamore or spade, they can be exceptionally soft.  Hearing that I was pretty sure Bear had thick lips. Not because he isn't soft, but because he is kind of thick everywhere.

And sure enough, he does.  The next day we got out for a ride and I looked at a few other horses in the pasture and closely compared Bear's lips to Steen's.  Bears are quite a bit bigger and thicker.  Interesting.  So I thought, maybe I'll spend a few days in the hackamore and see how things go.  I might just surprise myself.

The start was slow.  He was good when I'd ask for a soft feel, but lateral flexion as I'd come to know it was gone.  It took a few minutes of baby-step flexes to even start to get it back.  We'd walk around easily and not think about our headgear, and then we'd work on stops and backs and flexes.

Thankfully each time I asked for a stop or a flex it got better.  That continued throughout the whole ride.  Also, he stayed good with the soft feel.  I think have the pressure right on the nose makes a lot of sense to them.

After some good warming up I decided to try the lope.  And this is where the old Bear came out.  He could tell something was different, so he tried his hardest to get out of loping.  It is funny that half the time he loves it, but if he thinks he might not have to do it, then he makes it hard on all of us.  For this ride he chose to lope in the teeniest, tiniest circles possible.  I actually didn't even know he could lope circles like that.  I was wishing I had my spurs on so I could more forcefully push him out, but I didn't. So we just continued to lope small circles with me attempting to push him out into larger circles.  He tried to stop a few times, but there was no way I was allowing that.  Finally he got the idea and gave me some nice laps around the arena.  And that was more or less where we ended the ride.

The next day we went out and again I used the hackamore.  The start was slow, but not as slow as the day before.  We were certainly making progress.  Over the course of the ride we did all our normal stuff and even got some pretty nice loping in both directions.

But things weren't all great.  I just couldn't send clear messages all the time.  And the weirdest mix ups would happen.  We'd be doing something like walking along the rail and I would bend him into a circle with maybe a 10 or 15 foot diameter, and halfway around the circle he would just veer in the other direction.  Not like he was pissed and trying to show me where he wanted to go (I know what that feels like), but more like he was just given a strong signal to go that way.

Of course, things like this can only mean that I am not a great hackamore operator. And the only way to get better is to use it.  But wow can it be frustrating.  I don't think I'll use it a ton just yet, but maybe over the next couple of months I'll do some hackamore weeks and see what kind of progress we can make.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When Things Go Wrong, Simplify

These little words of wisdom come from Dan John.  Dan is one of my favorite people to read for advice on working out and getting fitter.  The reason I love his stuff is because he breaks it down into very digestible chunks and also his advice applies just as directly to life, relationships, and work as it does exercise.  Buck talks about the same stuff.  Get better with horses, and you'll get better with life, he says.  For me I have to look at it from both angles.

Now, nothing has gone "wrong" really.  It is just the saying, but what haven't been working well for me in months are whirly-gigs.  Walking out with your horse, then halting the front end by disengaging the hind and then halting the hind end and bring the front end over.  If you do it right it looks like a very cool dance step and you go off walking in the same direction you were originally going.

In the middle of the fall I was able to do these quite regularly with Bear.  As with most things, we were better doing them to the left than the right (I'm still trying to figure out whose fault this imbalance is, and I kind of think we are both to blame).  But then things went wrong.  Bear would start whipping around rather than disengaging.  Then he started turning super fast, tight circles.  I couldn't figure out what was going on, so I more or less stopped doing them.

A few rides ago I started slowing down and breaking up the whole movement so that I could think about it.  I'd try a whirly-gig, and when that didn't work, I would just work on disengaging the hind end a few times.  And that would be it.  Another ride I would try a whirly-gig, again it wouldn't work so I would disengage the hind end, pet him for a good job, and then ask him to bring the front over.  And that was it.  I found ways to simplify the movement, then I slowly built things back up.  If we ran into a problem, I just went back to whatever step we were comfortable with.

Then yesterday we just started getting the whirly-gigs.  Now they weren't all pretty or ideal, but each time I asked for one we were able to get some clear steps in the right direction.  I didn't drill him on this, I just did one every 5 minutes or so and showed him how excited I was when we got it.

This would have been exciting enough, but really he whole ride was awesome.  I'm not sure if it was because the bails were low, the temperature was warm, Bear was tired from many rides in a row, or if things were just clicking because I was working on keeping them simple, but I'm inclined to think it was the latter.

And I did do a teeny bit of loping to ensure that we get some every ride.  And we had some big strides with the loping, too.  Robin and I were running together and I had a little bit of hard time keeping Bear off Steen's butt.  So I would apply some medium pressure to the reins to check his speed. 

He responded by giving me the biggest break at the poll I've ever seen or felt.  It was quite amazing.  His pace would slow a tad, but his body filled up with so much energy I thought we were going to leap past Steen.  I guess that is what true collection is all about.  It happened a few more times when we got close to them, but then I asked Robin to watch us after she was done loping and he again gave me the monster soft-feel even when we didn't have to worry about running into anything.

With so much great stuff happening in the ride we kept it short and sweet.  It was the kind of ride where it felt dangerous to push things, like that would make everything fall apart.  And it has left me with a lot of excitement to get back out there and keep practicing.  But today we're all going to get a day off.