Sunday, April 22, 2012

You Run Away From Me, You're Gonna Get Coned

When we walked out into the pasture this morning the guys were in the same far, low corner they were in Friday when they came up to us.  But when we got close to them today they moved off.  Well, not they, it was clearly Bear who moved the others over the creek drainage and behind a hill.

Bear leading them off behind a hill.
I climbed up the other side of the hill and saw Bear eating.  Steen didn't know what was going on and came right up to me.  I gave him some pets, sent him off in Robin's direction, and then went to get my horse.  When I walked down the backside of the hill, Bear rather quickly turned and trotted around the hill.  When I got back up top he gave me a toss of his head, kicked up his heels, and then spurred the whole herd into a gallop to get out of there. Perhaps I pushed him a little too hard yesterday by making him walk all the way to the gate.

Oh well.  At least when they all gallop somewhere it is right back to the winter lot where we wanted to go anyways.  When we got up there I moved Bear a little bit and he trotted right over to Robin.  That was funny.  They have been getting friendlier and friendlier these past many months.  For awhile Bear would always give Robin a somewhat questioning look.  When I had trouble with Bear, Robin always stepped in as assessor and disciplinarian.  Now it would seem when Bear has trouble with me he goes up to Robin.  When I looked at him, though, he came right up to me with a somewhat relieved and sheepish look on his face.

It was another cool morning, and there was a fairly strong wind out of the north.  It had also rained in the night, so things were slippery.  Despite the sun starting to come out and warm things up, we opted to ride inside again.  We did open the big door, and that made it really comfortable.

Bear was great in the beginning.  He was listening to all my requests and staying on the rail like a champ.  Then when I asked him to stay just off the rail, he would do that, too.  Our trots were relaxed and everything seemed good.  I asked him for a lope and he threw his head down and started hopping around.  That was definitely not as good.  I worked to calm him down and he continued to dance around for a little while.

We sat for a minute and he seemed fine.  So we walked around, did some serpentines, walked some more, then trotted, and after we had gone a lap it was Bear who wanted to hop into the lope, so I let him.  I figured it was a good sign if it was his idea.  And it was.  So maybe he had a kink to work out.  Probably from the kicking and galloping up and down hills to get away from me.

When things got going nicely again I decided to get back to transitions.  I had so much fun working on them yesterday that I thought I could build on that.  I didn't want to do things in quite as prescribed a manner, so I figured we would move freely about the arena and ride in and out of the walk, trot and every once in a while add in a lope.  Robin decided to stay a half arena's length behind and do the same thing.

It started off nicely, but once we got into the faster stuff it was nearly impossible for me to keep Bear from moving either from the trot to the lope, or from the walk to the trot.  I was bouncing around a lot and using the reins much more than I wanted to.  Something had to change.

It was Robin who suggested the perfect exercise.  She thought I could possibly get some good results if I trotted him in figure-eights at one end of the arena, then when he was moving in a calm and collected manner I could ask for the lope on the rail and do a full lap.  After that I would return to the figure-eight pattern as needed.

This was one of the best exercises I've ever done.  We worked on it for over 25 minutes, and I loved every second of it.  In the figure-eights Bear was inclined to be sluggish on the left turns and drop his shoulder in very tight right turns.  I tried to counter both of these, but after awhile I saw he was really still dictating the size of the circles.  So I switched it up and forced him to do tight left circles and wider right circles. That worked wonderfully.

When I would get a few good ones in a row I would either stop and let him rest (for about as long as he was inclined to lick his lips, so maybe 10 seconds) or move him into a lope.  The lopes were awesome.  A few times I ended up going more than a lap because we had such a great rhythm and I loved feeling my hips move with him. 

The downward transitions worked well because I would ask him to move right back into trotting figure-eights. I did have one where I thought we could move down nicely while staying on the rail, not possible.  So we just kept it at going back to the figure-eights.  Another day we'll get back to standard transitions.

Later on Robin and Steen worked on simple lead changes, and Bear and I worked on some quieter stuff, moving on his hind end, backing circles, and things like that.  All was going well, so I decided to ride over to one of the big cones and pick it up.  It was quite challenging in that the top of the cone was just below my stirrup, so I had to reach down pretty far.  Bear does not mind when I move around in the saddle, but he wasn't totally thrilled with the cone.  When I picked it up he shied to the side a bit and then collected himself.  But the cone was really heavy and awkward, so when I tried to change my grip Bear really started moving off.  I ended up dropping the cone as he scooted all the way to the other side of the arena.  It was interesting to feel him move this way, and probably really good for me.

But of course it meant I had to pick the cone up again.  It took a few tries for me to sidepass and back him into position.  I picked the cone up and tried to get a good grip on it.  Bear danced sideways and I lightly checked him with my rein.  He calmed down and looked while I moved the cone around.  I didn't know what to do next so Robin suggested I brush his shoulder with it.  A good idea, but not what Bear had in mind.  So we danced around a little more and then he calmed down.  I brushed the shoulder again and he was better.  Then I figured we could just walk a few steps with the cone and I would put it down.  When Bear saw the cone was still following him he took off again.  I dropped it once more and it tipped over.  So there was no more picking it up off the ground from under-saddle.  We walked around it a few times, and then I worked with it from the ground.

I had never worked to get a horse used to something "scary" before.  It was quite interesting.  I tried hard to stay in the sweet spot between too much pressure and too much relief.  After a short while I was rubbing him with the cone.


The expressions on Bear's face were priceless.


Finally we got to a spot where I could really put the cone anywhere, and I could get him to move his feet with the cone on top of him.


It was a great way to end the ride, and we'll have to work on things like this more often.  We didn't even revisit me riding with the cone, so we've certainly got things to work up to.

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