Monday, May 28, 2012

End of a Long Weekend

This morning we got out to the barn for the third morning in a row.  Again it was warm, but thankfully breezier than the past few days, so it felt a little bit more comfortable.  But still, I think I was tired from the long weekend, and it wasn't the best day for me out there.

I was disappointed to find that Bear's back was pretty tender again.  I was hopeful that because it was good the last two days, it would at least be pretty good today.  Guess not.  I gave him some extra massages before we got started and that seemed to help him relax and loosen up.

While Robin worked with Laredo on the strip, I did some groundwork before mounting.  We worked on the half-circle exercise while walking up and down the strip.  I was able to get him to move off very little pressure.  But it was so slow that the exercise wasn't working really well.  So I had to speed him up some.  I did a good job of getting him going but not letting him get overly excited, which happened a few times last Wednesday.  So it was a nice balance of energy and softness.  He also seemed to be moving through the turns quite nicely.  A few times he scooted through in a way that suggested some possible tightness (these things are so hard to see, and I sometimes wonder if I'm seeing things that aren't there), but most of his turns were smooth and powerful.

When I mounted I kept things slow and easy for quite a while.  We did a lot of bends and easy serpentines.  I could tell he was a little reluctant to fully give on his right side, but after a few minutes he did open up some.  Then we worked on a set of 10.  10 steps forward, 10 steps back, 9 and 9, 8 and, you get the idea.  It did not start off well at all.  Bear was not paying much attention to me, he kept looking off at the herd and again not listening to my legs.  But as we crept closer to 1, things got a little better.  He could see the goal in the exercise, and he got with me a little more.

Unfortunately we spent most of the ride with Bear being spacey.  Mostly he preferred to look at the herd, but a few times he would gaze off into the bean and corn fields.  I worked him through a wide variety of exercises in hopes of getting him focused.  We leg yielded, worked on S bends, and did a lot of transitions.  But none of these were great.

It was a little frustrating.  I suppose the good thing is that I was keeping him back on his haunches again, and if he wasn't there, I could notice it immediately.  It used to take me a while to figure this out, or I would have to have Robin point it out for me.  So at least I'm feeling more.

We finished up the ride by working on circles and figure-eights with (almost) no reins.  For some reason this was the best part of the ride.  Perhaps because I sat back and relaxed more.  Or maybe Bear just knew we were almost done.  Either way I find it odd that when I was asking with less I was getting more.  I'm sure Tom, Bill, and Ray would not be the least bit surprised, but at the end of another hot ride, I was not really thinking that way.

I was also probably not in the best frame of mind to take over and work with Laredo afterwards, either.  Robin said she had been making nice progress with his head and ears.  I could tell that she was pushing him, as he was exhausted.  Mentally more than physically.  I don't think he did much running at all.  Just heavy desensitizing.

So I took him into the outdoor arena to continue the same work and things were just so so for me.  I left Bear loose in there to graze, and I hoped that would help things.  Especially since he was inclined to walk up to Laredo and I and just hang out.  I kept showing Laredo how much Bear loves to have his head and ears scratched.  Laredo looked unimpressed.

As I continued to work with him things went a little downhill.  I stopped early so as not to do anything I shouldn't.  I was about to put him back in the pasture when I noticed he needed his fly-mask.  It took me a while to get it on.  Getting the mask on was not great, but it wasn't awful.  At least having a specific goal allowed me to think harder and be more methodical.  Once I got it on he was pretty relaxed.  He let me rub around all over it and didn't seem too bothered.  The same was true in the pasture when I slipped his rope halter off.  I guess we all just need a little time off.

Another nice thing about the end of the day was that Bear's back was a little looser when I put him back than it was before the ride.  I gave him a lot more rubs and even though he wasn't tied, he showed no inclination to scoot away from me. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hard Work

It was another really hot day out at the barn.  We are having an unusually hot streak right now.  I guess it makes sense, as I just read a headline somewhere that the past 12 months have been the hottest on record.  Still, I'm hopeful for a nicer June.  June is my favorite summer month.

Today I started the day working with Laredo.  Out on the strip we worked on walking and trotting circles, quartering, half circles, throwing the rope around, lowering his head, and backing.  The last time I did this kind of groundwork with him was Wednesday, and he was noticeably better today.  On Wednesday we had multiple times where I would offer a feel on the rope and ask him to go right and he would get flustered and take off left (or vice versa).  Today that only happened once, and almost every time he was starting to take that good deal.  It was neat to see.

Working on lowering the head and staying relaxed.
 Then we went back to our work on bridling.  Yesterday I was working on it at the hitching post, but today I just hung the lead rope over my arms and practiced out on the strip.  Just like with the other groundwork, he was better with this than yesterday.  He is a fast learner.  Within a few minutes he was calmly accepting the bit and lowering his head while my hands were still up around his ears.  Yesterday it probably took more than 20 minutes to get there.

Unfortunately the next step is pushing his ears forward so I can slide the headstall over.  He would have some mini-freak outs at that.  In my frustration I abandoned the bridle and just went to work on getting my hands up there.  I had been doing that during groundwork and during yesterday's bridling work, and multiple times I could touch his head there and rub around with little reaction.  However, I haven't gotten to where I can hold his ears for any length of time.  That is certainly the next place to go.

Thankfully Robin was about done with her ride and she said she would switch with me and work specifically on the head some more.  I was hot and frustrated, so I welcomed the change.  I took Steen from her, and swapped him out for Bear.  Laredo was wearing all the stuff I needed for Bear, so I just tacked him up on the strip.

Bear and I went on to have a wonderful ride.  Our half-circling from the ground was great.  I was more precise and I don't think he was nearly as ouchy as he was a few days ago, so it made  for some great turns.  When I hopped on I again noticed a little bit of discomfort when I'd ask for a short right bend, but again, nothing like a couple rides ago.

I think that little discomfort, and also the heat and bugs, made our ride start out not so good.  But I decided to just get focused and work on a lot of things.  He was warmed up nicely from the ground work, so after just a few minutes we started moving in and out of the trot.  Again we focused on holding collection while I would ask for something.  So when we were working in the circle I'd hold collection for an S bend through the middle to change directions.  Or I would hold collection through leg yields.  Occasionally I would just ask for a soft feel to check his readiness.  Sometimes I got it immediately, other times it took a stride or two, but anytime I asked him to hold it he was great at it.

I thought he was having fun.  He never got flustered or seemed sore after those first couple minutes.  Every once in a while I would feel him getting a little forward, so I just asked for the soft feel or some other move that would help get him back on his haunches.  I noticed I could make that change pretty quickly.  Robin talked about the dramatic difference of loping Steen off his hind end vs. his front end the other day, so I decided to work on our lope once I could feel Bear really staying back.

He did not want to pick it up.  Each time we loped I had to ask at least twice.  Not ideal, but again it was hot and we have not been in the practice of running like we should be but this is definitely something we need to work on.  We should be nailing our upward transitions.  Anyways, once he picked it up things were great.  We loped really nice, controlled circles in both directions.  Multiple times.  A few times he would turn sharper and fall forward.  When that happened I gently brought him back with the bit, but the whole time I was prepared to stop loping if that became a problem.  I think too often in our recent lopes I would struggle to fix that at the lope.  Instead I should be setting it up at the walk and trot and then enjoy things from there.

The other cool thing working for us at the lope was body and leg position.  Since the first Buck clinic I have had it drilled into me to always ride with my legs.  Close doors or open doors with the legs, and whenever you are turning, "it is outside leg forward, inside leg back." It is literally Buck's voice in my head that says that.

But then at the recent clinic one of the riders asked about leg position in the lope.  I know that it is the outside leg pushed back that shapes up the hind end to get a proper lead, but this rider asked what you do with that leg once you get going.  Buck said to leave it back there.  What?!  Sitting in the stands this sounded crazy and confusing.  I know I've been having some trouble with our lope, but oftentimes we will have a ton of fun varying the size of our circles while running in the arena or out on the strip. I would always ask Bear to change direction with the usual "outside leg forward, inside leg back."  We would get some rather awesome turns with that.  Some of which I wasn't totally ready for.

So I had to chew on that one for a while.  And thankfully the next day Buck spent quite a bit of time loping Gidget in nice circles in the morning, and then loping Arc in the afternoon.  Sure enough, I could see that he kept his outside leg just slightly back.  Since the horse is literally canted sideways when they are loping (or cantering, as that is where the name comes from), positioning your body so the outside leg is slightly back puts the rider in a position to not over bend your horse.  Or to put it another way, it keeps you out of your horse's way.

Today I tried it.  Bear stayed relaxed, my seat stayed solid, and we were all happy.  I will definitely have to keep playing around with this so it is something that we are both really comfortable with, but it was amazing how much better I felt in the saddle.

We finished the ride with some more work at the trot.  It only ended up being a 45 minute ride, but it felt like it was well over an hour.  We never stopped working to chat with Robin or just stare off into space like we so often do.  It meant we got to cover a lot of ground and get a whole lot done.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

New Mecate

A few weeks ago I ordered a new hackamore set up.  It took a little while to get it because they had to make the mecate.  Of course, in that time we revisited the clinic and I learned all kinds of things I needed to practice in the snaffle.  So I just switched mecates so I could start breaking in the prickliness of the horse hair.  It is such a different feel, and it takes a coil more easily than my other one did.

Despite the new gear, or maybe in some ways because of it, we didn't have a great ride.  We rode out on the freshly mowed strip, and Bear was not very attentive.  He would go back and forth between overreacting to my legs or just blowing right through them.  I'm not sure why exactly.  I know it was hot and buggy, but those are really pretty lame excuses.  It is possible that I was bothered by those same things and just wasn't riding well.

After we were done, I pulled Bear's tack and put him in a side lot and grabbed Laredo.  Initially I planned on doing some more groundwork with him, but Robin had done some already before her ride and so I decided to just tack him up and practice bridling. 

We spent a long time working on lowering his head and then slowly getting him used to my hand positioning while I'm messing around with the bridle.  First we'd get the bit comfortable under his chin, then we got used to me changing hands on top of the headstall, then we got used to me putting the bit in his mouth (he was possibly the best with that, which I suppose is good), and then I started pushing towards the top of his head and ears with my hands and the bridle.  This is his horrible spot and we did not have a lot of luck.  Still, I felt good about practicing it all.  And he is getting much better about lowering his head. 

But it is also really frustrating to have a great horse that someone decided to cut corners on.  He has a bridle path shaved in, and we assume that whoever gave him that was not very nice about it.  30 seconds of harsh yet lazy handling is going to make for many days of work.  And it will probably be weeks, or even months, before we can casually run our hands around his ears and head like I do with Bear.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hooked on a Feeling

Just like Robin mentioned, really working the soft feel to its full potential is something we have let slide in the past few months.  I knew it was happening, but I couldn't exactly figure out why.  I guess week by week I got a little more lax about holding it and using it before a stop.  All I know is that we weren't looking as good as we were back in December:

So on our first ride after the clinic, I knew this would be the main thing to work on.  But first I had to get Bear livened up a bit on the ground.  He was happy to see me and get some face pets underneath the flymask, but he was also thrilled to doze and be lazy on the lead rope.

Walking into the outdoor arena he was really lagging.  I asked him to come up to my shoulder, he didn't respond, so I went in a popped much harder.  That got him up and past me, so we just went right into working in a circle.  One of the main exercises we saw at the clinic was getting a horse to disengage its hindquarters and then immediately bring the front end over so they are circling back in the other direction. 

This is something Bear and I have worked at some, but not quite in the way Buck was teaching it.  To start out you would do it in a circle, which is kind of where we were at, then a more advanced (or perhaps just more demanding) variation involves the handler walking in a straight line at an even pace and sending the horse ahead of them in half circles.  When the horse would get to the right side and even with your shoulder, you would disengage their hindquarters and then send the front end over and to your left.  All without stopping. 

It is fast work for both horse and handler.  Bear was taking right to it, but I do think he was a little sore going one direction.  Sometimes after popping his front end over he would have a few ouchy strides.  As we worked, he did get better.  Hopefully pushing him through these kinds of movements really helps him.  I was careful not to demand much when I knew he was uncomfortable.

All this definitely served to wake Bear up.  He was very with me after just a few minutes of that exercises.  I led him to another end of the arena and there was zero lagging.

Under saddle we started working a soft feel, flexes, a few serpentines, and then worked on our circles.  We've been striving for perfect circles a lot lately, but at the clinic we learned a lot of possible variations to do.  While riding his bridle horse Arc, Buck showed us enough moves to do in a 20 foot circle to keep us busy for a couple hours.

So for most of the ride we rode in a circle.  I think it was bigger than 20 feet, but it was not overly large.  We walked and trotted with loose reins and great collection.  We practiced some soft, one rein stops.  We leg yielded from one side of the circle to the other and then moved on with a loose rein.  And then my favorite involved cutting across the middle on a path similar to that which divides the yin and yang symbol.  So if we were going to the right, I would pick up a soft feel, increase my leg pressure to bend him more sharply right, then adjust my hands and legs to move him over into left flexion, and then move out at the other end of the circle now going left.  All while holding a soft feel.

Bear was great about the soft feel today.  It was like we never stopped working on it.  Funny how that can happen.  I wonder if he was just really tuned in to what I was thinking.  I do kind of think the extra intensive groundwork helped him focus more.

After the ride I worked with Laredo on the ground a little.  We worked on the same circle exercises that Bear and I started with, but we didn't do it while walking.  Neither one of us was good enough for that.  Laredo is very keen to listen, but you have to be much more precise with moving him off his balance point whereas Bear will fill in for me all day long.  So we fumbled around a bit, and a couple times he went the opposite direction than I wanted him to go, but we got things working better after some trial and error.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


For the past 9 months Robin and I have been doing our best to apply the things we learned at the Buck Brannaman clinic in Decorah.  It has been a fun and rewarding 9 months.  We have both seen huge changes in softness, responsiveness, and how both our horses view us.  We've still had some problems and questions in that time, and while we did see some enormous progress, it was also apparent that we were maybe leaving some things out.

So last week we took a road trip to Ft. Collins, Colorado to audit another Buck clinic.  At the first clinic we saw Horsemanship 1 and Cow Working.  This time we got to start with Foundation Horsemanship in the morning and then review Horsemanship 1 in the afternoon.

The first time we saw Buck it was an amazing eye opener.  It seemed that every 10 minutes we were learning something completely new.  The awesome thing about this approach to working with horses is that it makes so much sense once you hear it.  Sometimes you wonder why you haven't thought of such things before.

Of course, in practice, things are a little different.  And this time around I pretty much knew what was coming, but I still ended up taking way more notes than last time.  I won't go through them all now, but over the next few weeks I'll try to talk about the things I do with Bear and Laredo, how I used to do the exercises, and what I learned to hopefully make things go a little bit better.

One of the cool things about going to a Buck clinic is just watching him ride.  It is unbelievable how smooth and graceful he rides.  He is 100 percent with his horse all the time.  He makes it look so easy, but clearly it is not as no one else in the arena is able to do what he can do.

During one of the exercises, a few riders were having trouble with their body position, and they just couldn't see how their movements were affecting their horses. Buck told everyone to watch closely, cuz he was only going to do it once.  Then he rode Gidget through the hind-end/front end movement we call whirly-gigs, but he did not time his requests with the feet and he did not move with the horse.  Gidget stumbled through the movement, but it was not pretty, and afterwards she gave him this look that seemed to be asking, "what the hell did you do that for?"  I know I need to get with my horse, but that illustration just hammered it into my head even more.

When moving the front end over Buck slides the hand of the leading rein up to his hip.  That was something I was missing.
It was neat to see Gidget again.  She is 4 now and looking a little more mature than last fall.  He still has her in the snaffle, but you can see he is much more demanding on her than he was last year.  Both under saddle and on the ground.  Again he brought the tarp out each morning.  This was great, as we got to see her with the tarp last year.  He says he hasn't been using it much lately, as he likes to vary things up as much as possible, so we could have easily missed the tarp work.  But overall, Buck works horses with the tarp on and off for 2 to 3 years.  Definitely something to keep in mind.

$4 tarp from a hardware store, the cheapest piece of horse equipment you'll ever find.
Buck also had an assistant with him this year, a young guy named Isaac.  In between running the sound system and bringing Buck his coffee, Isaac would work with some of the more troubled horses on the ground and under saddle.  We got to see him ride many different horses, and none of them were the easy ones.  Each time he made an unbelievable turn around.  Buck did the same thing with a few horses on the ground, but it is no surprise that he can do that.  Seeing another person make similar gains was great.  I've always known that "it is the rider's fault" when things go wrong.  But what I got from watching Isaac ride (and from Buck's bad riding example I mentioned above), was that it is also the rider who can make things go well.  Funny that I never really stopped to think of it that way.

Isaac on a Friesian guiding the hind and front with the propulsion created by Buck tossing a rope.
The clinic was very educational and inspiring.  It kind of makes me want to go watch another one as soon as I can. But I know once I start revisiting exercises with Bear and Laredo I will be content for a while. Then at some point we'll probably have some other questions and can go to another clinic to reload again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Still Some Soreness

It was really great to hang out with Bear again after my Laredo ride yesterday.  It is amazing how comfortable the two of us are with one another.  I just know what he's going to do and how he is going to move.  Maybe not in every single situation, but for the most part, we are very familiar with one another.  I particularly enjoy how he lets me clean out his eyes and get the dirt out of his ears.  When Laredo won't let you near the top of his head without putting his guard up, these things really stand out.

He also knows when I'm poking around his back in order to help him.  I usually do this after I groom him but before I throw the saddle on.  Today I noticed his back was rather tight, and tight in a longer section than it normally is.  He was not inclined to move away from the pressure like he sometimes does, but he did have to convince himself to stand still while I probed around and worked to get the tension out.  After a minute or so he cocked his hip and just let me rub him out.  He'd flinch if I pushed too hard, but I got good at figuring out what was just right.  I didn't get rid of the tightness before the ride, but I hoped it would be enough to help some. 

We warmed up with a little groundwork, and he was good for that.  Under saddle he was flexing nicely, and it just felt good for me to have a really solid horse underneath me.

When he started moving out I could feel he was definitely stiff and perhaps a teeny bit ouchy.  He didn't want to bend right and he certainly didn't want to keep his weight back on his haunches while bending right.

So I kept things slow.  We went both right and left in many different sized circles.  I never tried to push him through something that would be overly awful, but I did push his body through a number of bends that I hoped would be good for him.

Throughout it all I stayed as soft as I could.  I've been working on holding the soft feel in our upward transitions, so I had lots to work on at slow speeds.  Occasionally I'd test how Bear was feeling by moving him out a little faster.  If he was uncomfortable we wouldn't do it for long, and then we'd go back to our bends at the walk.  Test again.  Then bend again.

In the end we made some nice progress.  Bear kept a very willing expression on his face and I thought he was moving better, too.  When we untacked, though, I got some confirmation.  He was not nearly as tight in his back.  I rubbed over the same spot that I did before the ride, and while it was still tender and tight, it was not nearly as tight as it was before the ride, and the tightness did not stretch over as large of an area.

So we just finished up with a little more gentle rubbing, some chopped hay and vitamins, and then I put him back out with his buddies.  It wasn't necessarily the ride I anticipated, but I think it was good for both of us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Short, Short Serpentines

This was my second ride on Laredo.  Like Robin over the weekend, we rode in the outdoor arena.  He felt a little keyed up in the beginning, but as we've come to get used to, he really comes right back to being settled so fast.  This is really great, because often when we're working on things we will go from quick, easy responses to me having to ask pretty hard.  This always gets a bigger response from him, but then he settles.  For instance, when doing groundwork he is awesome with flexing and backing and even pretty good when I ask him to back in a half circle, but then when I ask him to go around me in a circle, I have to apply a lot more pressure.  But once he leaps out and trots a step or two, he comes back to a walk and looks to me for other things.  And our circles did get better with each one.

He also calms down quickly under saddle.  I climbed on with no problems.  We stood for a bit, then went through some flexes (much improved over my last ride), and then started walking off to work on our bends.  Something must have bugged him, because then he went into some quick starts and hops.  For second I thought I was going to be riding through some bucks, but I just steadily but firmly pulled his head to the side and sat deep.  He came right down, and then it was like nothing had happened.  I guess that is young horses for you.

So we proceeded to work on serpentines, just like our last ride.  And just like last time, he was stiff and braced up, particularly going left.  During the ride I realized I was not actually asking for enough of a bend.  In my efforts to be gentle, I would ask for the bend and give him the release when I got a change.  So often we weren't getting much of a bend going and that meant we really weren't affecting that brace at all.  I thought to all the videos and examples of short serpentines I've seen, and then I changed my approach and worked to bend his head around 90 degrees, get the hind and front end working evenly, AND feel the softness come from the poll through his body.

Early in the ride before I really shortend up our serpentines
Yeah, a lot of things.  And we weren't always getting it.  At times I knew we were both frustrated.  It was a rather sunny and hot day; I was tired, hungry, and thirsty, and I'm sure this was affecting my riding despite my best efforts to not let it.

Overall, though, we did get some nice bends in there. I was left wishing for more, but I also don't want to get greedy, so I kept reminding myself to be happy with what we got.  And there were certainly things to celebrate.  He was backing up wonderfully, and I also think I was doing a good job asking for that.  He also felt softer to the bit in general, just not when his feet were in motion.  I'm sure that will come with time.

On the way home Robin and I were talking about how good trainers can get so far with their horses in just a short number of rides.  We've now seen a few instances where horses with 10 to 20 rides on them are truly unbelievable.  I guess it comes down to them knowing exactly what they want, releasing when they get it, and also knowing exactly how much pressure they can apply when they aren't getting it.

Right now I've got a pretty good idea what I want, my release is not always perfect but it does come, and I don't have much of a gauge at all for how much pressure I could use when I need to get the job done.  So in short, I'm going to make a lot of mistakes. But at least I feel like I've learned a lot already.  And like Bear, Laredo has proven to be a very forgiving horse.

Still curious and happy to hang out after a longer ride than he's used to.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

This is Why We Wanted a Third Horse

Today was sunny, in the low 70s, and there was a light breeze out of the north.  We ran a few errands in the morning and had nothing to do in the afternoon but ride.  I had another double day starting with Steen and then moving over to Bear.  Robin also had a double, working with Laredo first and then climbing on Steen.

We rode in the outdoor "arena" because it is surrounded by horses and also close to the hitching post, so we thought it would be a good place for Laredo's first outdoor ride.  It was.  That guy just keeps doing great; it is really exciting.

Meanwhile, Steen and I had an overall better ride than we did earlier this week.  I think we were both just a little more used to one another.  He was not picking up the trot like he was last time, though he did do it a few times.  He was also much more consistent in his bends and softer to the hackamore.  It was fun for me to feel him move off very subtle rein movements.  It is making me more excited to get Bear going in a hackamore.

We did get a little stuck when I would choose an exercise to work on for a little while and then we'd fizzle out and watch Robin ride.  So I decided to work through many exercises in a slightly more demanding rate.  This worked really well for both of us as we had to concentrate a lot, and we got a nice rhythm going.

Robin also seemed more at ease with me handling her horse.  She only gave me one tip, and it was very spot on.  She noticed that Steen was dumping onto his front end when I'd turn him at the trot.  I knew we weren't going great, but because Steen feels so different than Bear, I wasn't sure what kind of change I needed to make  Two brief corrections to get him back on his haunches worked wonders.

After Robin was done I took Laredo out to the pasture and grabbed Bear.  He was really happy to see me and came walking right over.  Laredo was also happy to be with us and tried to follow us out the gate.  I took that as a good sign.  I gave him a few pets and then left him to graze.

Bear was hot but otherwise good.  We worked through some circles and serpentines to warm up.  Just like yesterday, he was extremely attentive to my legs.  But then we worked on our walk/trot transitions in a circle, and things were not good.  In the beginning he was not moving in or out of the trot well, and he wasn't bending at the walk or the trot.  So basically we had nothing going well.

I tried to break things down and just focus on one issue at a time.  Still, it took a while to make some progress.  After a while I felt like we were in the same place, but then we switched directions and things started to change for the better.  Our transitions became smoother, and I didn't have to use the reins nearly as much to direct our turns.  It felt good.

Since Bear was very willing and moving nicely by the end of the ride, I decided to try a little loping.  He picked it up for me very nicely, but then it deteriorated a little.  He got chargey and was again inclined to lean in heavily and stay on his front end.  I was able to bring him up and back a little bit, but I wonder if he wasn't feeling great.  We've been changing pads on him, and hopefully his new pad will be here soon.

We went both directions and things were pretty much the same.  Occasionally we'd get a few nice strides, but they didn't last.  Robin thought he might just be getting out of practice with the running.  That could be true, as these past many weeks we've given him a lot of days off and when we do ride, we haven't been loping much.  Today was our third ride in a row, and I started on Steen to keep things easier on Bear.  I'll have to remember to at least move into the lope a few times each ride, just to keep it a part of what we do.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Double Ride

It was again my turn to work with Laredo.  We went to the barn extra early as it was both Duke Day and Vet Day, so we knew things would be a little hectic and crowded.

Thankfully Laredo keeps getting more and more settled.  Today it only took me 4 minutes to get the halter on him.  Every day has been a huge improvement.  And while we probably could have done it faster each day, we also want to set it up so that he wants to be caught.  I think it is working, as he is so curious and social.

We used the same tactic as yesterday to get the bridle on him.  It worked well, and he is also getting better about his ears.  I also agree with Robin's guess in that it could be a brace issue in his left side.  Either way, the last couple days of extra bending and not making a big deal about his head have allowed him to make some nice progress.

Despite getting to the barn early, things were pretty crowded when I brought him into the arena.  The barn owner was there with kittens and dogs, boarders were arriving, a gaggle of pre-teen girls were running around, and the vet showed up extra early.  Laredo handled all this quite well.  I do think he was looking around and listening to everything more than yesterday, but overall he was really calm.

It took me a few minutes of groundwork to calm myself down, though.  It really wasn't that long ago that I wouldn't have felt comfortable riding Bear amidst all that commotion.  But by the time I swung up into the saddle I had more than enough stuff to think about.

I kept the ride really simple and we only focused on four things: lateral flexes, serpentines of varying sizes, stops, and backing.  And of those four things we probably spent 90 percent of our time serpentining around the arena.  It was really fun to feel such a young horse try to move in a balanced way.  He is so different than Steen and Bear, and I think it will take him a little while to get physically comfortable carting around a rider.

Serpentining from left to right.
Just like with Robin, he was much, much stiffer going left, so we worked on that direction a little more.  I used consistent pressure with my legs and tried to be as light as possible with the reins, but when he'd stiffen up I'd block and encourage him to bend through the turn.  Once I felt a nice change and he held a bend on his own (even if just for a split second), I rewarded him with the tiny release that came with changing directions.

I saw continual improvement throughout the ride, despite the fact that things actually got noisier.  We did have one mini startle.  I think the noise just got to him and he couldn't quite see around the big pile of hay bales, but all he did was freeze in place for a second.  It then took about a minute of turns and bends to get him calm and thinking again, but for a soon to be 3 year old, it truly amazes me how fast he calms down.

I hopped off before the ride started to go downhill in any way.  By that time we were up for our trimmings, so I ran out to the pasture to grab Bear while a fellow boarder gave Laredo a lot of pets.

After the quick trim, I tacked Bear and headed out to the strip for a second ride.  He was really calm and in a great mood.  I think his back is slowly getting better, and yesterday's ride seemed to have loosened him up some.  And of course he felt so different than Laredo.  He's so much bigger and more substantial, and he is also really soft.  It can get easy to think you aren't getting very far with your horse sometimes, but that is one of the things we're excited about with having a third horse, it will just give us so much more perspective.

I've been working really hard to use the reins as little as possible, and today might have been one of the best rides yet for that.  It also meant that when I wanted a little collection, he would give it to me right away.  Since things were going well and he was feeling good, I kept the ride pretty short.  There is a good chance he could get a few rides in a row this week.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Robin Rides!

I won't go into too many details, as I'm sure Robin will cover all of those, but Robin had a great time with Laredo today.  He was easy to catch, great with grooming, and very relaxed under saddle.  Since we just got him trimmed we decided to get the stick out and measure him.  He didn't mind it at all.  It was a little tough to find the perfect spot to measure, but we're pretty sure he is 14.2.

To compare I measured Bear in a few different places.  The funny thing was Bear was not into the stick at all.  I think he might have been snoozing when I approached his right side, and he gave a big jump and then stayed a little antsy.  But I got him to come down a little and measured him all over.  High on the withers he was over 15.2, which is totally not true.  In the spot where we measured Laredo, Bear was 15 hands.  I always call him a 14.3 horse, but maybe he is somewhere between the two.

We rode in the indoor, and it was a little hot.  It probably helped with Laredo's calmness, but Bear wasn't excited about it at all.  I can tell he has gotten a little out of shape these last few weeks.  What riding we've been doing has been easy, and I've also given him lots of time off in between.  I do think it is helping his back some, but he was also stiff today.  Especially when we were walking or trotting in circles.

Thankfully he was really soft in other areas.  I got lots of soft feels, great backs, and wonderful responses off my legs.  This was the first time in a while I didn't ride in my spurs.  I had taken them off when I rode Steen, and I never put them back on.  I suppose it makes sense as I have been using my legs a lot when riding, but not necessarily using the spurs.  So this was an interesting test.  We spent some more time doing serpentines and circles and figure-eights with me holding the reins on the saddle horn.  We only had a few problems, and they occurred when Bear wanted to go say hi to Laredo (they appear to get along really well; I like to think that Bear sees his younger self in Laredo).

In the end we did do a little loping, but it was only OK.  He gave me a big head toss and a hop when we got into it, which didn't feel great.  But then it felt like he settled in some.  However, on the turns he was not feeling good.  I could see his neck was out and very stiff.  This meant he was leaning in very far in the turns and not bending at all.  I tried to get him back on his haunches and encourage a nice bend, but it wasn't working.

So we just finished the ride with some more bending at the walk and trot.  We made some nice progress and I could feel some tension leaving his body.  I thought about loping some more, but I figured we should end on a good note.  And besides, Robin and Laredo had been done for quite a few minutes already.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Turn

Robin worked with Laredo for most of yesterday, so today it was my turn.  We found him in a low section of the big pasture, grazing with the Icelandics.  I went over to give Bleika some pets.  Laredo got curious, and for a second I thought he would come right up to us.

But no.  He got a little frisky and started running around the other horses, periodically stopping to graze.  I kept following him, applying more pressure when needed, but not really getting much closer to him.  After Robin gave Bear some of his vitamins, she came out into the big pasture and stood a ways off.  It helped keep him from running off in that direction, and after a moment he ran with Bleika up into the winter lot.

And that was really it.  No more running after that.  I slowly approached him, releasing the pressure when he looked at me, and before I knew it I was standing with him.  We spent quite a few minutes with me petting his face and him lipping at my hands.  I would rub his nose with the rope halter.  Sometimes he would back up, and I would just go with him and then remove the halter when he got his feet stopped.  It was hard for me not to rush things at this point and just quickly halter him up, but I knew taking the extra minute or two doing this would help in the long run.  And sure enough, I got him haltered with no problem.  It took half the time it did yesterday, so that is excellent progress.

Grooming and tacking were uneventful.  He was less tense than yesterday and was picking his feet up with ease.  When I put the saddle on him he was totally OK with everything.  Doing up the cinch he was paying a lot of attention to me, but I went slow with it and he wasn't bothered at all.

I opened the big overhead door with him there, and he was mostly OK with it.
In the arena we started off with some leading exercises and desensitizing to the rope.  I don't think he really needed that last part as it became obvious that someone has done a lot of rope work with him, but it was all good practice for me.  Especially since some difficult rope moments would come later.

I brought the stick in with me so that we could try using that to work on his ears.  In the beginning I was rubbing him all over, and then I worked up to his face and ears.  He loves the stick on his face, and he liked trying to get it in his mouth, but the ears were definitely not his favorite thing.  I got plenty of practice with rubbing the stick all over and following him as he tried to get away.  We made some progress with it, and later on when I worked my hands around his ears things seemed a little better than yesterday.

Then I started using the rope to work on his touchy head and ears.  I would swirl it up and over his head.  I wasn't very good at this, and it didn't help that Laredo hated it, particularly when I would stand near his left side (as if I was bridling him).  A few times he dashed away from me and I was left floundering after him.  Robin was coaching me to not let up on the pressure.  It took me a few tries to figure out how to follow him and keep swirling the rope around his head, but I got it figured out.  And sure enough he quieted down.  We got to the point where I could stand in near him and swirl the rope up his head so it would catch on his ears and he wouldn't shy away at all.  Definitely some nice progress.

Even when he would get a little riled up with things, he was always willing to come right back down and look to me for pets and comfort.  It was really neat to see.  It even allowed me to feel comfortable enough to play around with mounting.  I didn't get all the way on and ride, but quite a few times I slipped my foot in the stirrup and stood up into the saddle.  He never moved a foot.  This shouldn't be a huge surprise as he is started, but I know it was a nice confidence booster for me, and hopefully it helped him feel more comfortable, too.

We were also lucky to have our farrier show up.  He came by to replace a shoe for another horse, and he was more than willing to trim up Laredo after he was done.  I held him while Robin continued to ride Steen.  He was really quite good.  He pulled his right hind leg away just a bit, but nothing too bad.  Especially since he hasn't had his feet trimmed in a very long time.

When we put him back out in the pasture he was not inclined to go anywhere.  He played around with Steen a little bit, but always kept a close eye on Robin and I.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Change Up

With three horses under our care now, there is a good chance we will be changing things up a lot.  Today was the first real day with Laredo, and we decided Robin would spend most of it working with him.  So in order to give Bear a little more rest, I opted to ride Steen.

But first we found all the horses scattered about the pasture.  Bear and Laredo were grazing pretty close to one another, and as we walked up they got even closer.

I don't see Bear engaging in the mutual grooming a lot.  He often looks annoyed when such things happen.  But not today.  Perhaps he is taking a liking to the young guy.

Of course, as we got closer to them Laredo drifted off to visit another horse.  We had to spend a few minutes convincing him he should hangout with us, but all in all, catching a young horse for the first time in a 13+ acre pasture was not at all difficult.

We decided to work in the indoor arena since the footing is good and it had the potential for the least amount of distractions.  I climbed on Steen and had the usual 'this feels totally different than my horse' thoughts.  They were actually bigger than I anticipated.  I know Steen feels different, and I was sure I was ready for it.  But I guess not.  I also realized I hadn't ridden him since early October.  That is quite a while.  Perhaps the longest I've gone since we have had him.

Overall he was good for me, but just like thinking I was ready for the different feel of Steen, I was also anticipating a slightly better ride than we had.  I guess it will just take us a little time to get to know one another again.  It is probably good for both of us.

I think the main differences and things I need to work on are just understanding how Steen moves and how my legs affect him.  He was inclined to pick up the trot on me, just like he has been doing to other non-Robin riders.  We worked around that, and he was very soft when I'd ask him to come down.  We did a lot of walking and trotting in figure-eights and circles.  Overall I was probably using a lot more leg than he is used to, and I think this confused him a little bit.  His response was to either over or under-turn, so I was trying hard to adjust my leg placement and pressure in response to this.

We were going better at the end of the ride.  Our transitions were smooth and our bends got more consistent, but neither one of us were as relaxed as we usually are.  We'll have to see how things go in the future.

Oh, and we rode in the hackamore.  I thought it would be great practice for me to feel another horse in the hackamore, but everything was so different, I didn't even really have time to think about the fact that I was using the hackamore.  I think I did a good job keeping the reins light and loose, because he never braced up on me.  Hopefully once I'm more used to the hackamore on Bear and the way Steen moves I will be able to learn more from riding Steen in the hackamore.

He Finally Arrives

I know we only had to wait a few days once we made an offer, but it really felt like much longer before Laredo finally arrived.  Waiting just never gets easier, so we went out to the barn early and just decided to ride.

Last week, during one of my many sessions of poking around the web for horse stuff, I came across a short article about using contoured, cut-out pads to help sore backed horses.  Robin was kind enough to let me try her new pad on Bear.  The fit seemed quite good, but you never know what you can tell from one ride.

Out on the strip, though, I was already thinking about things differently.  Bear was moving great.  His stride was long and fluid, he would stop on a dime (something he often does, but not when he's sore), and our bends were a thing of beauty.  I never had to coax him into a tighter serpentine.  In fact, late in the ride I was working on doing figure-eights with my hands firmly on the horn, and with only my legs I was able to get tight circles like I only used to get with reins (and with a fair bit of encouragement in those reins).

So maybe the pad really did help.  I am trying to not be too excited, as I know I've posted many times about things that I hoped would help only to find out that they helped a little bit.  Or they only helped temporarily.  So we are definitely in the wait and see stage. But the other piece of evidence we have is that Robin's ride was not nearly as great as mine.

It is clear that the light rides and extra days off are also helping Bear.  I could certainly feel that today, but we also have a ways to go.  During the last few weeks, when things were perhaps at their most uncomfortable for Bear, he started to brace up periodically during our rides.  Now I can see that this has become something of a habit, as during this ride he would occasionally get very stiff when picking up a trot or when I would ask him to yield to one side.  He would then get a little surprised shortly after the moment, perhaps realizing that there wasn't any discomfort.  I worked hard during these moments to stay as light and positive as possible.  So hopefully if we can keep resting him and I can keep riding well, we can work through this.

We ended the ride just a few minutes before the breeder arrived with Laredo (we've definitely decided on the name, and we think it is a good fit for him).  He backed out of the trailer like a pro.  We could see immediately that since we last saw him, he had shed out a little more and also put on a few pounds.  The recent rains have probably been good for the grasses and consequently good for his tummy.

We introduced him to Bear and Steen in the airlock before we turned him out with the other horses.  They all seemed to get a long great.  Laredo has grown up in a herd, so I think he'll fit in quite well with ours.

After we introduced him to the rest of the herd, we spent some time watching them all.  Laredo was happy to play with all the others, but he wasn't pushy about it.  He would also go back and forth between playing and grazing, which seems to be a good indicator that he was already settling in.  The only other horses I've seen introduced to our herd have been older.  I think it can take them longer to readjust than a youngster.

In some ways Steen was the funniest.  He would play hard with Laredo, and then take a break to come hangout with us.  Hopefully that will help the young guy learn that hanging out with us is pretty cool.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hot and Buggy

After driving back into town Sunday afternoon, we went out to the barn for a relaxing ride.  Well, we were hoping it would be a relaxing ride, but I don't think it was for any of us.  Robin and I were just plain tired, and Bear was extremely bothered by the bugs.  It was hot and muggy without much wind, so it made for the buggiest day of the year.

For some reason bugs just like Bear.  When we are grooming and tacking, Bear easily has 3 times as many bugs on him as Steen does.  It clearly makes it hard for him to concentrate, and that in turn makes it hard for me to concentrate.

We rode out on the strip, and I was hoping we could just keep moving to keep the bug annoyance down, but that didn't work too well.  Bear was perhaps feeling a little bit better.  It can get so hard to tell, but I feel certain that he was no worse than he's been in the last week or so. 

But since none of us were having a great time, we decided to just call it a ride after thirty minutes.  That was probably the shortest ride I've done in a year.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Wednesday's Ride

For one solid week Bear got a lot of rest with only a couple of super light rides.  I continued to give him lots of back massages and hind end stretches during this time.  I was hopeful he would be feeling at least somewhat better when we went out on Wednesday, but I was also prepared to take it easy for another week.

When we walked out in the pasture they were grazing in the south end, which is one of their favorite spots.  Steen looked up at us as soon as we opened the arena door.  I've never seen him notice us from so far away before.  He took a few more bites and then started trotting up to meet us.  The only problem is the fence to the middle pasture was in the way, so he got a little stuck.  Then Bear noticed us and ran up to meet Steen.  I was lucky enough to get the rest on video.

So I guess that answers the question of how good Bear was feeling. I only hoped that all his frolicking didn't bother his back some more.  But overall he seemed good, and his whole demeanor was different.  He was more relaxed, more friendly, softer on the line, and just seemed happy. He also shed out almost all the last remnants of his winter coat during the last rain storm, so he was very sleek.

We rode out on the strip, and I could feel his body had much more energy than the past few rides.  He was still a bit stiff at times, but overall he was moving very nicely.  I only ended up riding 10 minutes.  I just wanted to see how he was going, and then I let Meryl spend some time with him.  I wanted her to see how much better he would be for her than he was last summer.  He gave her a pretty hard time during their first ride.

Wednesday, though, he was great.  Very quiet and attentive.  And when Meryl hopped on he gave me the cutest look.  I guess he was just wondering if all this was OK.  I assured him it was.

The girls had a fun time riding around the strip, working on the routine, and just hanging out.  It was fun for me to watch my horse move, particularly since he is feeling quite a bit better.

Leaning a bit more than is ideal in the turns, but he's bending much better.
I've been feeling bad these past few weeks that he's been so sore.  He is such a great horse when he's feeling good.  Hopefully by just riding him 2 or 3 times a week he will be able to stay in nice shape but not get over-worked.  And the rest of the time I can spend working with our new guy.  Since he's only three it will probably be best to not over-work him, either.  This should all make for a really great summer of riding.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Three Horse Family

We've had a nice week with Meryl visiting.  She has had some good barn time on Steen and a little on Bear, too.  While we were giving Bear some rest, we also did a little horse shopping.

Like many horse people, I periodically look at what is for sale in the area.  For a couple of years I have seen nice looking Quarter Horses from a breeder not too far away from us.  Until now I've never had a reason to contact them, but on Tuesday we went out to see the farm.

They have a really cool operation with 3 studs, 8 brood mares, and a little over a dozen horses between the ages of 1 and 4.  We went out to look at a couple of started and unstarted three year olds.  We spent almost an hour hanging out with all the young ones in the pasture.  They are extremely friendly and well socialized, and almost all were quite soft moving off of pressure.

Based on the info we had, we were most interested in a red dun gelding, and as we played around with the herd, it became apparent that he was the best horse for what we were looking for.  He's about 14.2, but will most likely add an inch or two over the next year.  He's got a gorgeous head, straight legs, a nice flat back, and big, correct feet.  In terms of his personality, Robin described him as in between Steen and Bear.  He's got Steen's softness and energy, but he's also got Bear's intelligence and disinclination towards over-reacting.  I'm sure our assessment will change as we get to know him, though.

After lots of thinking and talking things over, we made an offer and worked out a deal.  He should be delivered early next week, and we can't wait.

The name they've been using for him, Major, is a shortened version of his registered name, but we are kicking around the idea of calling him Laredo.