Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Weekend Indoors

We've had a lot of storms these past few days, though I suppose we are lucky that we only had to deal with strong winds and some mild thunderstorms.  It was never storming actively when we got out to the barn the past three days, but things were usually cold and damp so we elected to ride inside.

When Bear doesn't come to me from a decent ways off, I make sure to spend a few minutes applying some pressure.  Maybe this will change things for the future, if not it sets a nice tone for our rides.
Friday and Saturday were interesting rides for Bear and I.  Some parts were great, and some parts were not so great.  I think the most annoying thing was Bear's inclination to come off the rail.  I often wonder if he doesn't see so well sometimes, because he shies away at odd things.  He also tries hard to crane his neck around and look at things out of both eyes (almost always when the "offensive" thing is on his right side).  With all the wind blowing he was not too excited to be right on the rail, so I made a game of just keeping him there.  If he came off or didn't want to go into a specific spot, I would just back him into it or sidepass him over.  I got a ton of practice with these minute maneuvers.  It was good for me to have something to think about other than getting kind of mad because he wouldn't do something that appeared so simple to me. 

With all the sidepass practice, I decided to try something we've never done before.  Gates.  We have a very light and easy swinging gate to get in and out of the arena.  So I just stepped us right up to it, and went about opening and closing it.  Bear was suspicious at times, and it was not the prettiest opening and closing, but we did get it done.  We went from both sides and never had any problems.  Of course, I did tell him that if we had cows around we surely would have lost them.  He didn't seem to care.

Another not so ideal moment occurred when Robin and I were practicing the routine.  We had gone through it once or twice with no real problems, then we decided to add the lope.  That was interesting for both of us, and it must have stirred Bear up a little, because when we came back together he was charging to the right to cut off Steen.  I pushed him back left, but he didn't listen very well, so I asked a little more with my spur and he got really pissed.  He kicked out at Steen once for sure, maybe twice; It was a little hard to tell.  I just felt a bunch of hops, but before I knew it I had reined him into a stop pretty hard.  We walked a lot of short-serpentines and I made sure he was bending exactly how I wanted him to.  He wasn't happy, but he seemed to get over it.  When we did the routine again there weren't any problems.

After our early Saturday morning ride (there was another show at the barn, and we wanted to be done before that got started), we drove up to the Kirkwood Equestrian Center to audit part of a Jeff Griffith clinic.  In the morning we watched the second half of the colt starting class.  It was really fun to see so many different riders putting what was probably just the fifth or sixth ride on their horses.  Some looked good, others not quite so good, but they were all making progress with their horses.  It was nice to see.  I have never seen colt starting in person, and it made it seem a lot more doable than it did in my head.

In the afternoon we watched the horsemanship class.  Jeff rode a gorgeous little four year old buckskin that was so unbelievably soft.  Many of the things in the clinic were not new to us, but it is always helpful to hear how a good teacher helps others work through problems.  But I think the best thing for me was watching him ride.  I read an article the other day about good clinicians and not so good clinicians and how to tell the difference.  So much of course comes down to personal preference and how you want to ride, but the article concluded that if they show you a taste of how good you can get your horse, then you've probably gotten something out of the clinic.  I hope one day I can have a horse as soft and responsive as his.

We didn't spend much time getting pictures, but at least here you can see some of the relaxed softness in his horse.
Today we rode inside with a few other people.  Some out-of-towners had stayed over for the show, and when we climbed on to ride there were six of us in the arena along with some barrels and cones and a big ball.  We don't have a huge arena, so it was a little cramped.  A few riders left early on, but we still rode in traffic for a little while.  I remember when I used to hate traffic.  Mostly I was just not confident enough in controlling my horse or in the ability of others to control their horses.  Now I feel good about the former issue, and it lets me not worry too much about others.

One of the other big things I took away from the clinic was to not hang on the horse's mouth.  I know this.  I think I'm OK at it, but really, we all know this and think we're OK at it.  I looked through a ton of pictures this morning of me riding and I realized that I am actually OK at it.  But I could be a whole lot better.

So as Bear and I meandered around obstacles and other riders, I kept my reins as loose as possible (I actually lengthened them a little bit) and just steered with my legs as much as I could.  I have been making good progress there lately, so that is nice, but the big difference I noticed was when we started doing this at the trot.  I kept the super duper loose rein and really concentrated on my legs, and for the most part, he went exactly where I wanted him to go.  I few times I could see him searching for the rein, which just told me that I have in fact been using them more than I should, and when he didn't find the reins he just continued to relax more.  We had no speed control issues today, and I don't think that was a coincidence.

We did get some practice at the lope all three days, and it was mostly just OK.  Bear was again inclined to lean in hard and charge through the corners, so I continued with my tactic to sit back and deep and use the rein to remind him to stay back on his haunches and bend through the turns.  Jeff had a nice analogy that worked in situations like these.  He said if you don't want your horse to go somewhere you put up a wall to block them.  If you were to run into a wall, you would just hit it once, you wouldn't keep banging into that wall.  So many riders at the clinic would continually get on their horses in hopes of stopping something, but really they were just getting their horses used to something uncomfortable.  Instead you should go in, make your correction, and then leave them alone. 

I kept thinking about that as we were loping around.  I kept a longer rein than I usually do when we lope, but when he got chargey and started dropping his shoulder, I just firmly reminded him to stay up and back.  It totally worked.  He started recognizing when a correction would come and then he'd think about it and soften through his body.  Because of all the traffic I didn't keep this up as much as I would have liked, but it is always nice to leave things for another day.

All three rides were quite difficult for both of us, but I think we made a lot of nice progress.  I really think the reminders we got from the clinic and the experience of watching Jeff's super soft hackamore horse will help us in our goals.

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