Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Early Morning Tireds

Last time we got up early and headed out to the barn right away, I was the tired one.  This time, it was my horse.  I can only think that the two new young horses added to our herd last night kept Laredo up and playing all night long.

When we arrived everyone was in the far east section of the pasture grazing. When they saw us approaching, they quickly grouped up.  For quite a while they stared at us from the top of the hill, all ears pricked in our direction.

Finally Bear trotted down to see us.  He could tell we had his vitamins with us.  The nice thing about feeding the dominant horse in the pasture is you can just set the food down and be sure he is the one to get it.

I was able to halter Laredo while Robin grabbed Steen and all the other horses kind of danced and trotted around us.  Clearly everyone was still a little frisky.

We rode on the strip again.  Laredo's feet have fully chipped away and now look like he just got a trim.  Funny, I've never seen any of our other horse's hoofs do this.  The good news is they still aren't bothering him.  Nothing bothered him today.  Once he left the herd he just went on some kind of auto-pilot mode.  He did everything I asked of him, and he did it all moderately well; he was just exhausted.  He didn't have the mental engagement he had during the last two rides, and he was also physically tired.  He gave me a lot of shuffle trots and was much more inclined to drop out of the trot than usual.

Still, it is a good sign that he was still able to comply with all my requests even though he was tired and spacey.  We probably didn't make great progress on things today, but since we are in the stage of just working through the basics, I think it all adds up.

The funny thing is that once we finished the ride he went right back to being goofy and playful.  He is such a kid.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Smaller Group Ride

We woke up this morning to rain.  Quite a bit of it.  This was great as we are in a drought like much of the nation, but it was a little less than great because we had our group ride plans for 9.  Robin emailed our friends and said we'd probably be going out later, and they said they would most likely do the same. But since the weather looked iffy, we didn't bother to coordinate.

So Robin and I ended up riding with just each other.  We do this all the time, but we don't usually venture so far out.  We ended up doing most of the ride we did last weekend.  And it was fantastic.

I've been having such great rides with Bear in the hackamore that I decided to try him in it on the trails.  I figured since it was only Robin and I, if things went wrong I could stop and take a break or we could just turn around.  But really, nothing went wrong.

We got to the Herbert Hoover easement and shifted into the smoothest and laziest trail trotting I've ever felt.  I'm sure it helped that Bear was tired from all our running yesterday.  But more than that, I think all four of us were just relaxed. 

We used that stretch to warm up, and then when we did the out and back stretch on the B road we moved out a little more.  We still walked the steeper downhills, but we trotted the flats, loped up the hills, and then shifted back into more trotting when we felt like we'd run far enough.  The guys were great with it.  Very attentive and very willing to move out or come down.

I kept thinking they would get overly excited or that something would kind of happen.  But no, we just kept moving out along the trail.  We followed the easement north a little farther than where we got on.  Here Bear was a teeny bit more excited, but this was only the second time he'd seen this trail.  It is also fairly treed over, so he can't see as far.  He gave a little jump when some birds flew out, and then later both he and Steen gave a little start to a deer that was crashing through the brush.  But really, these were so minor.  They were both just having fun and not worried.

I was thrilled with my decision to use the hackamore.  Just like yesterday, I could take the slack out of one rein and Bear would ease up on his pace.  I never had to pull on him at all.  The hackamore seems to allow me to be more corrective than I am with the bit but also softer on the whole.  It's really perfect.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lots of Running

Today I hoped to build on some of the work Bear and I did at the lope on our last ride.  We again rode on the strip and in the hackamore.  We warmed up with lots of meandering without hands and then some nice trotting.  The whole time I couldn't help but think how responsive Bear felt compared to Laredo.  It is not a fair comparison, of course, but since I've spent so much time working on these things with Bear it is nice to feel a pretty big difference.

Then we started loping up and down the strip.  Bear does love his patterns, so he started trying to guess where I'd ask for the lope based on where I had asked for it previously.  I had to keep changing up the way we were doing things to make sure he was listening to my body.  It was kind of fun, but also a little annoying at times.  But he was always smooth transitioning up into the lope.  I only had to give the smallest cue, and we would go rolling down the strip at a comfortable stride.

We did have a little time in the middle where he got a little chargey.  It occurred after we took a brief break to chat with the new boarders.  I guess he was just feeling like we were done, but we still had a lot of time left to run.  After just a couple minutes of mixed trotting and loping with a few sharp corrections in the turns, he started listening to me again.  I wonder if because he is the head of the herd when I'm not there that he just gets used to making his own decisions, because he is constantly sharing his opinions with me.  I always work through them pretty quickly, but it is just funny to feel him keep trying.

Once we got back to my plan, he was really good.  We spent much more time running up and down the strip than we did last time.  He definitely got a good workout.  He was also really attentive to my legs in the turns.  The only downside is he was not as attentive to my legs when we were going straight.  He was often running up the strip on an angle.  I'm sure some of it was his desire to get near Laredo or near the pasture herd, but I also think some of it was my fault.  I really haven't spent a lot of time loping long sections of straightaways, and I think I just don't have my leg position and rhythm figured out for it.  But that is why I'm practicing it.  At least I know one of the major things I need to work on.

I am also continually amazed at how well Bear is taking to the hackamore.  I have done rides like this in the snaffle, but we have never been this relaxed.  He always wants to be on the bit, or he just charges out as fast as he can possibly go, thus making me bring him in with the bit.  But these past few rides we've been able to cover a lot of distance on a very loose rein.  Occasionally we get going a little faster than I would like, but all I have to do is begin to take the slack out of one rein and he just checks his speed.  I have always been a little jealous of how loose and relaxed Robin and Steen can run around, but now I think Bear and I are starting get a little bit of that.

But just when I think I'm catching up, I see that Robin has Laredo trotting around in a very smooth and relaxed gait.  It seems they were able to build on the last few rides quite a bit.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Back to Some Afternoon Riding

I love the days when I can get off work in the afternoon and Robin and I can head to the barn.  There is usually no one else there, and it can make for an exceptionally relaxing ride.  Fridays are almost always quiet, so I was excited when I got off work and the temps were mild, there were big puffy clouds in the sky, and a nice breeze from the north.

It was my turn to ride Laredo.  It would be our first ride since he threw in some bucks last weekend.  Based on how relaxed he was during grooming and tacking, I'm not sure he even remembered that he was unhappy with me riding him last time.  Still, out on the strip I spent a few extra minutes working on groundwork.  He was attentive and trying, but I did noticed during one of our exercises he was much stiffer going from left back to right.  Or I wasn't as clear in asking for that.  Either way, we practiced it a little bit more and made some teeny progress.  I'll have to keep watching for how this goes in the future.

Under saddle he was great.  Moving off my legs, giving to the bit, stopping, backing and all the things we've been working on.  I think he was actually having fun with the ride.  After a little time checking in on everything we moved into the trot.  While we were walking figure-eights I could feel that he was spending more and more time back on his haunches.  This also proved true when we started trotting.  He wasn't back quite as much as he was at the walk, but it was a noticeable improvement over some of our previous trots.  He also only took what felt like a couple sore steps, and they were at the beginning.  So his feet are definitely toughening up.

Laredo stayed relaxed through all of our trotting, but he was not bending and responding to my legs quite as well as he does at the walk.  So at times he would get a little stiff and then I would get stiff and then he would get forward and then I would lean forward and pull (probably) too hard on the bit.  But each time we were able to come through and not run into the bean field or hit the gate, and then we would have a few more strides of nice, balanced trotting.

I think I spent more time trotting him this ride than I ever have before.  And they were longer sessions of trotting, too.  He even got pretty tired at the end.  Thankfully our steering issues improved each time we trotted.  I would sometimes get a little frustrated and share my problems with Robin.  She'd watch and then tell me things looked better than I made them sound.  Because they were.  We would notice something else to focus on, then I'd walk a few circles and figure-eights and get back to the trotting.  Sure enough, that time would be better, too.  It made for a very positive feeling ride, and I think Laredo was genuinely happy with his job.

The bucking from our last ride wasn't too much fun, but we got through it.  And I think now we are back to improving.  So if we only have a ride or two of backsliding every few weeks, that doesn't sound too bad for a young horse.  Oh, and we will have some fun comparisons as there is a new 3 year old solid Paint living in our herd.  He and Laredo fast became best buddies.  They are almost the exact same age, but they seem to be mature and immature in completely different ways.  It will be neat to watch them grow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Another Wednesday Morning Ride

It is supposed to get over a hundred again today, so I am really happy we got out to the barn early.  Earlier than we've ever gone, actually.  And it felt really nice.  It was getting sticky-hot when we left, but during the ride it was cool and breezy.

I rode Bear out on the strip with the hackamore.  We started off working on figure-eights with no hands.  These were OK.  I felt like I had to correct him more than I would have liked.  But really, that was just my own expectations.  Since we can do great figure-eights with the reins I tend to feel like we should be able to do them all the time.  But this is something we only just started working on, so when I changed my own outlook on the exercise, I felt better about it.  We probably started riding a little better, too.

Despite the pretty good no hands riding, Bear moved right into being distracted.  I worked hard on changing things up and keeping him thinking.  I think it worked as we started to ride together a little bit more after a few minutes.  I'm not sure what was on his mind, but he really just wanted to look off in the distance.

When we started hitting all our transitions and patterns with very little use of the reins, I asked for some loping.  He was feeling very balanced at the trot, and this carried right over to the lope.  Because of our tough moments on the trail ride Sunday, I wanted to spend some time trotting and loping in long straightaways.  So we loped on down the strip right up to the point of the steep downhill.  He was great with it.  The first time he did get a little excited and want to run right back, but we just trotted a few circles and figure-eights and then trotted right back up the strip.  It was a very nice feeling trot, too.

So we kept that up for much of the ride. At no point did he get overexcited and start digging in and stiffening up.  Only one time did he pick up the lope when I didn't ask. I checked him with one rein to bring him back to the trot.  Instead he dropped his speed considerably and gave me the most relaxed lope of the day.  So I figured I had to take that. For everyone of our loping stretches he remained extremely attentive to my legs.  Since I don't have a lot of practice running a horse straight, I don't think I was using my legs as effectively as possible.  But the interesting thing was that Bear was really listening to them.  It meant I got a few shifts and turns I wasn't really asking for.  At one point I'm pretty sure he gave me a flying lead change.  So it was really cool to feel all that.

We then spent a few minutes watching Robin and Laredo trot around.  They both looked great.  Laredo has been experiencing some big chipping in his front hooves, so we were happy to see that he is not really bothered by that. Robin said he was so smooth and attentive she wanted to end on that note and she hopped off.  Things were good with Bear and I, so I was ready to end the ride, too.  But I also wanted to do just a little more work with no hands.  I think it is a good way to begin and end our rides.

So we walked around the strip for just a few minutes, and he was amazing.  Far better than during the beginning of the ride.  I felt like I could take him anywhere I wanted to go.  It was a really great way to end the ride.

I feel like lately Bear and I have had another interesting shift in our relationship.  The past couple weeks he has been coming up to me in the pasture from much farther off and with much more energy.  He seems to be liking his job and really enjoying the new challenges I present him with.  The hackamore definitely makes him think more than the bit.  Initially he seemed put off by it, but now I think he gets into it.  I also think part of the shift could be that he is feeling better.  It has been weeks since I've felt the hard knot in his back. I know how grumpy I can get when something hurts, so it makes me feel good to see him feeling good.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tweaking the Trail Ride

On Sunday we got out on the trails as a foursome again.  We only had one of the Icelandics with us, and Gay and Doc came along instead.  We've ridden with them numerous times and it is always fun.  On Sunday we were also blessed with wonderful weather.  It started off cool and breezy and then got a little cooler as clouds rolled in towards the end of our ride.  We even felt a few rain drops, but unfortunately we didn't get any real rain.

We rode most of the same sections as last week, but we did a little more doubling back and explored a couple of new areas.  It made for a longer ride and a whole lot less gravel.

Bear was also something of a champion trail horse on the ride.  He started off slow and sleepy, but before long he was power walking and alert.  He had no trouble staying in the back or the front, and when we rode by a pasture with a small herd of excited horses he was fine.  Later on we passed a couple strange horses on the trail and he just looked over at them and kept powering walking a long.

I think he was feeling really good and having fun.  The only thing this wasn't good for was when we decided to move out on the trail.  Bear was ready to TROT.  He had his big, floaty, dressage trot going, and he wanted to cover a lot of ground.  So I kind of had to rein him in a bit more than I wanted to at times.

Later on in the ride we were cruising down a grassy lane that was lined in large trees.  It was gorgeous.  I'll have to remember to get the camera out next time we go.  This time I was a little busy with Bear trying to trot away with me.  When I wouldn't let him, he decided to just pick up a lope.  It was a nice lope, at first.  Then he started to feel like he was running the quarter mile.  I had to work a little hard to bring him back to a walk.  Thankfully he was totally fine once we were walking again, even when we went by a yard full of huge, barking dogs.

I was definitely a little disappointed with how forward and chargey Bear was getting when we moved into the trot and lope, but in reality we haven't spent much time working in the faster gaits with wide open space in front of us.  So now I've got another thing to practice. 

Now that we've got some riders excited about going out, we are hoping we can keep these Sunday rides going.  And with the new route, we should be able to spend even more time in the trot and lope. It will be good for us.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


It is inevitable.  We've had some great weeks with Laredo.  He's trying harder, he's less bothered by us touching his head and ears, and he has a new energy about him when we're working.

But today we had none of that.  He was distracted from the get go, and about 10 minutes into the ride he tried to buck me off.  Well, I can't say for sure he tried to get rid of me, but he did throw in a few sloppy bucks.  We were just walking some figure-eights.  He was somewhat good, but we had a sticky point at the far end of our left turn.  I went to push him a little harder with my outside leg and he just jumped out and started bucking before I could even give the stronger cue.

I let him go for just a second as the jump was small and I thought he might just settle himself.  But he kept going.  I got thrown forward and thought I might be toppling out of the saddle soon.  Instead I was able to keep my seat and bring his head around in a one-rein stop.  He settled down very quickly.  We did a few flexes and disengages and then walked off to do some more circles and figure-eights.  I was a little apprehensive, but Laredo seemed fine.

Shortly after that we had a few good things going for us.  He got considerably more responsive in the figure-eights.  He was walking out a little better, and I didn't need to use the reins much other than for some subtle corrections.

He was also stopping and backing extremely well.  It was neat to feel him take four or five huge steps back and think of the rides a month ago when we battled for one mediocre step back.  And we didn't always get that one.

Those good moments were pretty short, though.  He was very checked out for most of the ride, and he just didn't feel like the horse I've started to get used to.  I'm not sure if he was tired or what.  It has been really hot here lately, but this morning was nice and it got cool in the night.  I could guess about it all day, I'm mostly just happy I rode my first true bucking horse and was able to stay on and stop him.  I was also lucky that the horse was a little uncoordinated in his bucks. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Changing Things Up

I shifted my work hours so we could get out to the barn today for an early morning ride.  It was still hot, and quite humid, but it sure beat the 100+ degree temps that came later in the day.

The horses were grazing in the low section of the big pasture.  When we approached they were all curious, as usual, but then Bear just decided to walk up the hill right to me.  I always make him come to me, but it usually requires some pushing on my part.  Not today.  I guess he was just happy to see me.

The treed pasture was full of horses, and since I had to be at work later, we just decided to ride in the outdoor arena.  We hadn't done that in a while, so it actually felt good to get back in there.  I hopped on Bear and proceeded to give him a good warm up.  His back has been feeling very loose to the touch, so it seems the new pad and the extra time off is really helping him, but I still like to do my best to make sure he has time to ease into the rides.

Part of our warmup involved walking a bunch of circles and doing some gradual serpentines.  When we were circling to the right, I noticed that I was hardly using my hands at all.  Occasionally I'd collect him the littlest bit to move him out to the edge of the circle again, but that was it.  And this was happening so infrequently I decided to try walking a nice circle without my hands at all.  So I draped my mecate on the horn and held my hands up and out so I wouldn't use them.  Our circle stayed the same. It wasn't perfect, but it was quite good.

I felt really good about this and decided to try it out with some gradual serpentines, too.  We warmed up with me riding like normal.  Like always I was paying more attention to my legs and seat, and things tarted off really well.  So I folded my hands over my chest and walked a bunch of figure-eights.  They were not quite as good as the circle, but it is a more difficult exercise.  I've dabbled with the no hands gradual serpentine before, as Buck says it is a definite prerequisite for making a bridle horse, but this was the first time we really got it working for us.  It is funny how so many rides can feel the same and then all of a sudden you push through to a new level.

I wish I could say the rest of the ride was like the beginning, but it wasn't.  The excellent control I had at the walk did not carry over into the faster gaits.  The trot started out OK, but then he got a little rough and forward.  We worked on lots of bending and did some big figure-eights with trotting over a large pole.  Bear didn't love this, but it did help him and I balance more.

We only loped a few times, and for most of those he was stiff and reluctant to turn nicely.  I thought it was me again, but Robin said I really looked like my body was set up for a good turn.  I think a lot of it is adjusting to the hackamore and learning to listen to the quiet cues of my body when we're going faster.  I'm hoping it just takes time, because that is kind of what we've got right now.

Thankfully I didn't lose what I had from the beginning.  We cooled down by doing some more gradual serpentines without me using my hands, and Bear was just as good at the end as he was at the beginning.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Best Trail Ride Yet

This morning we met a fellow boarder and her friend to go out on a trail ride.  She has two, cute Icelandic Horses that live in the same pasture as our guys.  So we would have almost half the herd on the trail ride.

Since we're still adjusting to things with the hackamore, I decided to go back to my snaffle for this ride.  When I hopped on to do some warming up on the strip, he felt good.  He was soft and attentive to my legs, but if I needed to use my reins for anything like stopping, backing, or asking for a bit of collection, things were different.  He would willingly do them, and do them well, but it didn't feel the same as is has been in the hackamore.  I didn't have any liveliness there; it was almost like the bit kind of deadened him.

I've had Bear for almost two years now.  In that time I've learned a ton about riding.  I knsow I've got a million more things to learn, too, but I've had a lot of fun getting Bear softer and softer to my legs and bit.  I've watched Robin and Steen continue to get softer to the bit for a long time, and I kept thinking we were just behind.  But other times I think that Bear really can't get any softer to the bit. Sometimes I wish he could just tell me what kind of experiences he's had in the past, because he just doesn't seem as lively and soft to the bit as he does to the hackamore. I guess I'll just have to see how things transpire as I go back and forth between the two.  Martin Black does say the hackamore is the tool you use when you really want to improve your horsemanship.  I am hoping that I can use it well and it will allow us to continue to get softer. We'll see.

But back to today.  After a few minutes of warming up we all walked down the drainage in the soy bean field and then down the second strip.  One of the Icelandics was a little antsy, but everyone else was great.  We continued on to the northeast part of the property and went out the gate and onto a gravel road.  This was the farthest I've been out on a horse yet.

We followed the road a ways to an easement/trail and jumped on that.  It had great footing and we were all feeling relaxed, so we trotted down that as long as we could follow it.  Bear was moving nicely and only a little bit inclined to push forward and get up with the other horses (we were kind of in the back), but a little pressure on the reins brought him into a comfortable, collected trot.

From there we headed up a double track level B road.  It bisected a couple of huge corn fields and it felt like we were really getting away from things, even though you're never really that far from anything in this part of Iowa.  Maybe in all of Iowa.

The level B road popped us out onto another quiet, gravel road and we started heading back in the direction of the barn.  The horses were great, although they were getting pretty sweaty and tired.  I was hoping we could get up to another section of B road, but that didn't totally work out.  We ended up following the gravel for quite a while and just chatting and enjoying the day.  Finally we got to a small dirt path that angled us back to the barn.

This was the only time I felt like Bear wasn't paying a lot of attention to me.  He was definitely hot at this point, but he just kept looking at a farm on our left that was full of chicken coops.  Then a little farther on he kept looking to the right where his pasture was.  Of course, I understood his desires, but I also wanted him to keep listening should I need him for something.  So I would check in with a lot of soft feels and occasionally leg yield him from one side of the path to the other.  He wasn't great at responding to my requests, but he did come back to me each time.

We strolled back to our barn from the west to make it a complete loop.  We had no spooks or any troubles the whole time, and we made tentative plans to do it again next weekend.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Settling in a Little More

Today was the second ride for Bear and I in the new hackamore.  We started out by skipping groundwork and just getting right into herding some horses.  The treed pasture we like to ride in on these hot days is part of the string of pastures the stall horses have the use of, and this morning about half the herd was in there.

I've moved a lot of horses from the ground with Bear, and I feel like we've gotten pretty good at it.  Robin was also there with Laredo, so I figured I would hop on and see how things go.  If they were going bad, I could always just get off.

Bear was really attentive and good at listening to my legs.  I think he could sense that we had a somewhat challenging job to do.  However, I was using my hands a little more than I should have.  A few times he got a little annoyed and stated shaking his head at me.  It wasn't too bad, as I know he is still getting used to the feel of the bosal on his nose.  I was certainly not yanking on him at all, and I like to think that in a few weeks time such movements wont bother him at all.

We started by getting the most dominant horse moving.  He is a very quiet quarter horse, and he picked up on what we wanted of him right away.  He helped us get the other horses going, but a few of the younger saddlebreds were not so inclined to move off.  I could swing my mecate end pretty good, but it was not quite long enough to really drive them with it.  So mostly Robin got them going and I blocked one side and kept them moving.  The whole thing only took a few minutes, and it was pretty fun.

At that point I got off to get some groundwork in.  Bear was soft to the hackamore when I'd back him or drive him.  When we did some of the unwrapping exercises we did last time, he got a little more lively.  He didn't love them, and he started to anticipate things and moving off before I asked him to.  At one point my rope got caught on the wrong sides of the horn and cantle, and there was no way he'd unwrap from that.  He trotted off feeling a little scared, but then he just stopped and waited for me to untangle them.  The next few tries with that exercise went much better.

Under saddle we had a good time.  Robin was on Laredo and they were using the trees to work on figure-eights at the walk and trot.  Bear was still getting forward and stiff in the trot, so I decided to use the trees to work on that.  We did quite a bit of trotting in, and since he was always bending and I was using my legs, he really settled into a nice, balanced trot.  When we did the same thing in the open area it was much, much better than at the beginning of the ride.

It was a really fun ride.  In my head, I was kind of hoping we could do some loping, but I never quite got things shaped up at the trot.  But I'm sure we'll be doing more in no time.

Oh, and no pics.  I had the camera and snapped one shot of Robin before it died.  Maybe next time.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Another Threesome

Today was the last day all three of us could get out for a ride, so we had to take advantage of it.  Since Laurie had such a good time on Bear last week, we thought she should ride him again.  So that meant I was on Laredo again.

Just like our last ride, he was super attentive and fun to be with.  I think we have just crossed over a hump and he is enjoying spending time with us and really thinking about the training.  There was almost no rooting or checking out. The only thing he was prone to doing was getting overly excited about things around him.  And by overly excited I just mean he would get extremely curious about things like cows in the other pasture, trucks on the driveway, squirrels, tree branches he'd never seen, and things like that.  So basically just being a three year old.  Unfortunately, when Laredo and I were trying to ride with Steen and Bear, he would end up paying more attention to the distractions than he would to my legs, seat, and hands.  I did my best to work through it and get him back with me, but overall it got to be a little tough.

So we went back to other parts o the pasture and just did our normal thing with one new addition.  Instead of mostly doing our figure-eights in the open, we did them around the trees like Robin did the other day.  It was probably good for both of us to have things to concentrate one, and when I went back to doing figure-eights out in the open, they were wonderful.  This is definitely something I'll have to use from time to time.  Probably with Bear, too.

As Laredo's feet are growing out again and looking good, we also spent some time working on the trot.  But instead of trotting mostly in circles, I would just move him out into the trot while we were cutting across the open part of the pasture.  I'd give him a few strides to settle in, and then I would ask for a downward transition.  I wish I could say these were great, but they were awful.  We had never done any trotting with big open areas in front of us before, and I think it led to him getting a little excited and forward.  So most of our downward transitions ended up with me rolling him into a stop with one-rein.  Since he is getting so soft to the bit and knows this maneuver so well, it is not a problem at all and we both stayed really comfortable.

I must admit, there was a period a few weeks to a month ago where I was having some doubts about Laredo.  He was sore on his front feet, touchy around his head, and developing a habit of rooting on the bit and throwing his head down when things didn't make sense to him.  But we are really coming out of that. He is fun to ride and getting better every time we go out.  I can't wait to see what he is like after another month.  Things can change so fast, and they seem to change even faster with a young horse.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Returning to the Hackamore

This was one of the earliest mornings we were able to get to the barn.  Unfortunately it was also one of the hottest days of the year in what has been a very hot year.  Still, we had a good ride.

Recently Robin and I had watched Martin Black's video, The Hackamore.  Martin is one of my favorite trainers, and it was great to see some of the exercises he uses to get horses going in the hackamore.  I had ordered one a couple months ago after having such a good time borrowing Robin's, but then I spent many weeks continuing to work on things in the snaffle.  And I will no doubt keep revisiting the snaffle to work on things, but for the moment I'm thinking of giving the hackamore a go for a little while.

We rode in the treed lot and enjoyed some of the shade.  Robin was having a good time on Laredo, and Bear and I settled into feeling out our new hackamore.  Bear is definitely a horse that gets very used to his job, so when things change, he is often a little put out.  With the hackamore on, this translated into a whole lot more energy mixed with moments of extreme tireds.  Basically it forced Bear to think a whole lot more than he usually has to.

There was some rough trotting and some head tossing, but at other times he would settle in and remember that the riding was really the same even if the head gear had changed.  Our backing was unbelievably fantastic.  I couldn't believe how light I could work the reins when I released with each step.  It seemed to allow him to collect a lot but also remain soft.

One big thing I learned in the video was doubling.  I had read about this in other works of Martin's, but I definitely didn't fully understand it.  Watching him work on exercises that introduce the horse to the hackamore and understanding why they work, and then seeing a full demonstration of doubling really helped me out.  So when Bear and I were working on some trotting and he would get a little bouncy and excited, I knew exactly what to do to bring him back down.  And I was able to do it with a calm confidence that kept us both happy and relaxed.

So I am looking forward to more rides in the hackamore.  I like how it forces me to use my body more than my hands.  And it also gave me a similar feeling to what I get when riding Laredo; a kind of new excitement that forces me to stay on my toes and ride my best.  And just like riding young Laredo is making me better, I hope the hackamore does the same. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fourth

It was great to have the Fourth of July in the middle of week this year.   It meant I got to use my day off to get to the barn early before the heat set in.

We were also lucky to have Robin's mom visiting us from Tucson.  We used this opportunity to get all three horses out together for the first time.  We put Laurie on Bear, as he is certainly the most steady and she has ridden Steen a few times before but had not had the chance to ride Bear yet.  That meant I got to ride Laredo.

We rode in the treed lot to get some shade and keep things interesting for all of us.  Laredo was fun today.  From the moment I put his halter on he was very attentive and energetic, perhaps more so than ever before. It carried over into a great ride.

Robin and Laurie started by cruising around the trees, but I thought I should work on some of our other stuff before trying to follow them.  Thankfully Laredo was completely fine being separated from the "herd."

So we ran through our exercises and things were good.  He was soft to my legs and to the bit.  That was the real surprise.  There was almost no rooting like there has been for the past couple weeks.  He would just walk out with energy and then comply when I asked for a turn or a stop or a back.  It felt like he was really with me.

Since things were going well I decided to try and jump in with the others for a few laps around the pasture.  Laredo was definitely excited about that.  He kept jumping into the trot, trying to get to places I didn't really want him to go.  He also stopped listening to my legs and the bit completely.  So maybe we'll have to try that again another time.

Instead we went back to the middle area and worked on serpentines and circles.  At this point he got right back with me, and I think we were going through the nicest most consistent circles we've ever had. I rarely had to bring the rein in to correct him, he was almost always responding to the increase in my leg pressure first.

So all in all, it was a really great ride.  Laredo feels like he is more and more our horse, and Bear was very good for Laurie. They walked and trotted around with no problems, and in the end he was even willing to let her try some finer movements like moving the front and hind end around.

Licking his lips after some nice stepping over.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Heat of Summer

This has been the hottest summer I've ever experienced in Iowa, and it is only the beginning of July.  Since I work early in the morning and get off early in the afternoons , we haven't been going out much.  It isn't great for the horses to stand around in the heat all day and then go for a ride.  And for us it is just really uncomfortable.

But we have been getting out on the weekends.  Saturday we got out early, but not early enough.  It was still extremely hot, muggy, and buggy.  Laredo, like Bear, is not a huge fan of the bugs.  And he was distracted for most of the ride.

We rode out on the strip.  It had rained that morning, but the sun was out when we rode.  Laredo and I just went through our normal routine.  Nothing was bad, but nothing was great, either.  The worst thing he was doing was lowering his head into the pressure on the bit.  This was not as bad as it has been, but he was still doing it quite frequently.

To try to fix it, I decided to roll him into a stop with one rein whenever he rooted.  He is so soft and supple with that maneauver, and he really doesn't seem to mind it much.  So we would walk around, he would root, and I would bring him to a stop.  Rinse and repeat.

The time between stops got longer, which was good.  And I also noticed that I was really able to pay attention to my legs and body when asking for the stop.  I was able to do it much softer and more precise after all that practice.  Before I used to use the one-rein stop as a type of punishment.  Something to do to shut a horse down when they aren't doing what you want.  As a result, I didn't practice it over and over.  But now I was feeling very comfortable with it.  It's nice when good things come from less than ideal situations.

Sunday the weather was much better.  Again we rode on the strip, but I rode Bear and Robin rode Laredo.  Just when we were starting our ride a bunch of clouds rolled in with a strong breeze.  So it was much more comfortable.

Bear was not the greatest, though.  He was distracted and not inclined to listen to my legs or give softly to the bit.  I decided to get a little hard and demanding on him and see if that would have any kind of effect.  So we went through a lot of circles, leg yields, backs, transitions in and out of the walk, trot, and lope, and whatever else I could think of.  He definitely perked up and got with it, so it was probably the right approach.

Thankfully his back did not appear sore at all.  There was no detectable knot before or after the ride, and he seemed to be moving nicely throughout the ride.  So using the new pad backwards with the relief notch over the sore spot on his back seems to be helping.  And of course a little extra rest from the three horse rotation is probably good for him, too.