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.

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