Sunday, September 30, 2012

Low on Energy

Normally when one of us rides Laredo for a while, the other one sees some huge improvement when they get to ride him again.  With Steen healing from his leg wound, Robin has spent the last week getting some awesome rides on Laredo.  Today we decided to switch, and I was really looking forward to it.

But this is what I got.

A sleepy and exhausted mount.

OK, I exaggerate a little.  But only a little.  He did not have much life in him.  Walking up hills it felt like he was heaving each foot up the hill.  Whenever we took a break from working on something I'm pretty sure he went to sleep right away.

There was one thing that changed, though.  His softness to the bit.  Despite being super tired, he was still extremely aware of me and the reins.  He could be conked out with his nose almost on the ground, and if I picked up on the reins a little bit he would still give me a soft feel.  If I held a moment longer, he would stay collected and bring his poll up above his whithers.

He maintained the same softness when we were moving, too.  We walked around the fields for a short while, and I could always get him to soften to pressure.  And it was really light pressure.  Things were going so well I could hold it for many steps and he had no problems with it.

With Steen still recovering, Robin will probably be putting a few more rides on him.  Hopefully next time I ride him it will be cooler and I can see what his softness is like coupled with a little more energy.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Making It Happen, And Staying Soft

When I first saw Buck in Decorah last September, there were a number of things that stood out to me, but one of the big ones was the idea that you always give the horse a good deal (with less pressure than you think it will take), and if that doesn't work, you make it happen.

I knew this would be great for Bear and I.  As I've mentioned before, Bear is a tricky horse.  He is both wonderful to learn on, and frustrating to work with.  At 17, he's seen a lot.  He is smart, strong, relaxed, and he often forces you to make him do things, so I figured "making it happen" would really help out our communication.

And it has.  I was able to give Bear clear signals for turns or stops or transitions, and if he did not comply, I could firm up with my legs or hands.  We got a long ways doing this, but lately it hasn't been working as well.  Looking back I can see that my corrections have become too hard and too quick.  Often I would come in with my leg or bump on the hackamore and it would startle Bear.  I am lucky that he doesn't really do much when he is startled, if he did, I probably wouldn't have gone this far with my corrections, though.

After watching some of the 7 Clinics DVDs and thinking back to both clinics we have visited, I can see where I have gone wrong.  Too often I went from soft to hard without any change in between.  Sometimes Bear needed this, like when he was clearly ignoring my asks, but most times it was uncalled for.  What I needed to do was get better at reading my horse's expression to see if he was confused or missing my cue rather than ignoring it.  If it was the former, I wasn't going to teach him anything by abruptly firming up.  Instead I needed to increase pressure in a way that made sense for the horse.  This usually means gradually pulling harder if using your reins or rhythmically increasing the bumps with your legs.

Today I worked at this for the whole ride.  Again, Bear had somewhat of a sore back.  I rubbed him down before the ride, and we planned on taking it easy (Laredo was also rather exhausted).  We warmed up on the strip, and within just a few minutes of changing how I went from soft to firm he felt different.  Our circles were rounder, our collection was softer, our transitions were smoother.  It felt really cool.

When we walked off into the soybean fields I could tell he was still stiff and sore on the downhills.  I also knew these hills seemed to loosen him up in time, but I needed to give him that time, and I couldn't let him veer back towards the barn or Laredo or wherever he wanted to go when he felt a little uncomfortable.  So I applied the same soft to firm approach to keep him going where I wanted him to go, and he was totally fine with it.  As the ride progressed I stayed calm and never got upset thinking how he should know these things and he should just go where I want him to go.  And before I knew it, I was getting more done with less.

This was no surprise.  We read it and hear it all the time.  But it is something that I have really struggled with on Bear.  This will definitely be key for keeping our relationship moving forward and keeping him happy and healthy.  Today there was no head tossing or veering when we loped around, just smooth transitions and a very comfortable pace, and to me that was enough validation.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Mid-Week Rides

This week was warm, dry, and sunny, and I got out to the barn everyday except Thursday.  On Monday we spent so much time with Steen we didn't end up riding, but I got some nice rides on Bear the other days.

Tuesday was a fun ride.  We played cow again with Robin on Laredo.  They seemed to be doing better than the other times.  Bear was really soft the whole time.  His transitions were smooth, and at times we would get ahead of the "horse," and I would get some very soft collection and slow his walk down with just my seat.  We also spent a little time running away from the "horse," and those were really nice, small circles.

We had so much fun loping during the game that I spent a good portion of the rest of the ride at the lope.  Things were pretty good when we were going up and down the strip, but when I would ask for a gradual bend, Bear was stiff and not very compliant.  I really thought I was riding well, and Robin agreed that it looked more like Bear was unwilling to bend rather than not understanding what I wanted.  I was surprised at this after our great circles when we were playing cow.  We did end up getting some nice circles again late in the ride, but we could never get a nice mix of long straight-aways and nice turns.

Wednesday and Friday our rides were quite similar; we warmed up for a few minutes on the strip, and then headed out into the newly mowed soybean fields.  Laredo was super excited to be going out again, and Bear was just so so with it.  His back appears to be sore again.  I'm not sure if Tuesday's loping was the cause, or if it came from something else, but it translated into an unwillingness to walk down the hills and general lethargy.

Thankfully he did warm up as we walked and trotted around.  We also threw in the occasional lope up the big hills.  This was totally wearing Laredo out, but he was really good for it, and Robin said he continued to listen to her legs throughout the ride.

Unfortunately, Bear remained quite sore on Friday.  I was hoping the easy ride and day off would help him out more.  Like I said, the ride was almost identical to Wednesday's, except when I asked for the lope uphill he was really tossing his head and veering to the right.  I didn't ask for any more after that.  When we got back to the barn I gave him a nice rub down.  He seemed both annoyed and into it, so maybe it was helping.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Long Weekend Report

I took Friday off because my parents were in town.  They have not visited for about a year, so it was fun for us to hang out and spend a lot of time at the barn. 

Friday was cold and windy.  We woke up to a damp day and then it just got wetter.  It was still sprinkling on our way out to the barn, but we were hoping it would end soon.  It did, but it didn't really warm up at all.

Robin spent a lot of time with Steen, and the rest of us worked to get Bear and Laredo tacked up.  Last time they visited, Mom had a great ride on Bear, so we were hoping to repeat that.  We rode in the treed lot again, and things went pretty well.

We definitely ride in a different style than Mom is used, so there were a few tricky moments.  But Bear was generally willing to follow us around.

I had a tough ride as Laredo was full of energy. Way more than I've ever felt in him.  I think it would have been really fun to play around with that and see what we could get done, but I was also spending so much time watching Bear and Mom that I wasn't helping him as much as I could. 

It was probably good for him; he's got to learn that sometimes he just needs to follow along and get the job done.  He did settle in nicely once we spent a lot of time trotting, and we also threw in a couple of lopes in the end and that tired him out some.

On Saturday we went back out to work on Steen's leg.  It was time to take the bandage off, and we were happy to see things had closed up nicely.  His sunburn is healing slower, but it is not looking any worse.  He also appeared to be in a slightly better mood.

We tacked Bear up again and Mom had another ride on him in the indoor.  He was a little better for her inside, and they spent more time cruising around.

In the end they even got some loping in, so it was a pretty good ride.  Bear was definitely goey, though.  Multiple times he picked up the lope on Mom.  After they rode I climbed on for a few minutes and he was just as inclined to run with me.  He is looking and feeling good, but still, he should be listening to his rider.

Today it was just Robin and I.  We were planning on washing Steen off and then exploring the recently cut soybean field, but once we got started with everything Robin thought it best to stay with Steen and clean him as much as possible and let things dry before putting him out, so I rode Laredo in the arena.

It was the first time either one of us had ridden him inside since the second ride we put on him way back in May.  I was curious to see how he would behave, especially since his three year old buddy was in there with us.

Thankfully he was great.  He was both relaxed and extremely soft.  I couldn't believe how well I could steer him around with my legs.  Doing small circles, cutting across the arena, or staying right on the rail were all exceptionally easy.

We spent a little while trotting around, and then once our buddy left I asked him for the lope.  This was funny.  I thought he'd be disinclined to pick it up, but it took significantly more energy from me to get him going than I thought it would.  He was definitely speeding up, but he was not interested in shifting over to the lope.  Finally I was able to get some nice strides out of him, but he didn't hold it for long.

So I shifted my focus of loping a few laps to just getting him to lope a few strides.  Over the next many minutes I would periodically push him into the lope and then bring him down as a reward.  He got it, and our upward transitions improved by a lot.

We worked on a few other things before returning to the lope, but this time he was even less interested in loping than he was before.  He wouldn't even trot as fast, and he'd get hung up in places.  I finally realized he was throwing in some little kicks and mini-bucks.  They were very, very small, but they still were not what I wanted to feel.  So after each one I stopped him with one rein and then continued on.  It took a while before I got another lope out of him, and I was grateful to have Robin sitting there coaching me along.

In the end, it was a really great ride.  I did start with some groundwork in the beginning, but I did more in the end.  Last night Robin and I watched the beginning of the new 7 Clinics DVD with Buck Brannaman.  The first section was all on groundwork, and we got a lot of useful tips for moving our horses around.  I always thought I was getting good circles from our guys, but I probably wasn't spending as much time focusing specifically on the hind end and transitioning from the disengage back into circles or bringing the front across for half circles.  Basically, my horse wasn't always ready to shift over when I asked him to.  Sure enough when I worked on this with Laredo he wasn't that good at first, but we made some improvement in a short while.

I did get after him a little with the groundwork, but it was all helpful.  On the ground, I'm not always as firm as I should be, and then under saddle I'm sometimes too firm.  I need to work on switching those around a little.  I think it worked well today, because when we were done Laredo followed me all the way around the winter pasture and back to the gate.  He didn't want to leave, even after we walked away

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


After work we headed out to the barn to check on Steen and get a short ride in.  We are keeping him in a side lot up by the barn so that we can closely monitor his leg and sunburn.  When we arrived it was clear he was somewhat depressed.  And with good reason, he was on drugs, banged up, and away from his herd.

Thankfully he was happy to see us.  We spent a lot of time caring for his wounds and just hanging out with him.  When we went to put him away, he really didn't want us to leave.  Robin said I should do a short ride and she would hang out with him on the strip so he could graze.

So I grabbed Bear and quickly tacked him up.  He was very willing and interested coming in from the pasture, but once we got out on the strip he was distracted.  Many big tractors were harvesting the bean field right next to the strip and the wind was blowing about 30 miles an hour.  On top of that, he could see Steen was just hanging out and not having to work, and he didn't seem to understand why.

I was also somewhat distracted, so I know I wasn't helping things.  We did work a lot on trotting various patterns with a lot of focus on my seat and legs.  When I used my hands it was to check in with a feel or to correct a missed leg cue.  Towards the end of the ride I realized my rein corrections were probably a little too sharp.  As a result, Bear was getting more frustrated and then I was getting more frustrated, too.  He started losing energy in many of his movements (particularly backing) and was only putting energy in trying to get near Steen.

I was able to get to a nice stopping point, and then we hung out with Steen and Robin for a little while.  Hanging out with all of us did make Steen happier, and we are really happy that his new fly-sheet is here and the swelling on his cut leg is really not bad at all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Long Day at the Barn

We went out to the barn excited to spend a long day with the guys.  I was hoping to repeat last Sunday and ride two horses.

But we were disappointed to find that Steen's sunburn was significantly worse.  We had to spend quite a bit of time cleaning him up and applying various ointments that a super nice fellow boarder lent us.  Her bay paint is just finishing the exact same sunburn issues Steen is starting, so she had all the goods and the know how.  We got Steen cleaned and gooped up, and he seemed to be feeling better when we turned him out in a rather ugly, blue fly-sheet.

All that kind of tired us out, but we did get a pretty good ride in.  We rode in the treed lot again since it was free of horses and a little bit sunny and warm.  Also, the strip was full of farm equipment and horse trailers.

Though I was tired walking out there, I quickly made up a plan of things to work on so that I would be fair to Bear.  I know when I just go through the motions, he does the same.  Then I can get a little frustrated with him, when in reality I should be frustrated with me.  So this time I hopped on, checked out our gradual serpentines and other movements, and then worked on some long trots.

There is a nice, long fenceline in the pasture that curves from the southeast corner to the northwest corner.  It is mostly open, but it does have a few trees scattered along it.  Bear and I just trotted out from one gate to the other.  I worked on keeping him in an even pace and steering around the trees, fallen branches, and random holes in the ground using only my seat.  Of course I couldn't accomplish that with every turn, but we did a pretty good job.  And things got better with each pass.

After we felt nice and warmed up we loped across the middle to meet Robin and Laredo.  They were doing pretty good, but we were both still tired.  We decided to work on exercises together.  We started with backing circles around one another.  Laredo was still slow, but definitely better than last time.

We stopped after a great round and decided to use the same skills in a different way.  We played cow.  Things started slow, but we quickly found ourselves speeding up a little bit as Laredo was starting to get it.  He was watching Bear a lot, and his stops, turns, and starts all improved throughout the game.  On the last round we decided to work things for a few minutes and let Laredo (the cow) win.  In reality, Bear and I stopped pretty late, and there was not much "letting" in their win.  If I really got on Bear we probably could have stopped them, but that's not how we want to play the game.  No point in sacrificing good horsemanship for the sake of not "losing."

The ride turned out pretty great.  We cooled down for a few minutes and then hopped off.  It is funny when you don't get the ride you plan on. But if you are open to it, usually you can get something just as good.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Taking Laredo Out

Just like our first lope, we probably could have gone exploring with Laredo a little earlier.  But waiting a little bit longer certainly helped us get some things down, and I think it helped make the ride really great.

Robin was the first one to ride him after we got him, and then she was also the first one to lope on him, so she thought it would be good if I was the first one to ride him on the trails.  It felt like something that would keep building my confidence in going out and about.

We left the barn in the morning with Robin on Steen and our friend Kat on Kafteinn.  In the little outings we have done on Laredo he has been extremely curious and excited to explore, and today was no different.  He marched right to the front and was walking quite fast.  This felt funny to me, as I'm used to riding Bear who starts quite slow and doesn't mind hanging out in the back.

It was not a fast ride, but we did spend a little time moving out.  On a long stretch of trail we picked up the trot to cover some more ground.  Laredo was great with this, actually even going a little slow initially.  We picked up the pace enough to feel comfortable, but when he realized we were still going after a few minutes he was  starting to slow and tire.  At the end of that stretch we walked to the next section and Laredo was no longer in the lead.  Thankfully he was fine hanging back and following the others.

He remained pretty tired for the rest of the ride, but he would put a lot of effort into his faster gaits, so I could always get him to trot nicely.  And at one point he decided to pick up the lope and catch up to Kafteinn.  Initially I reached for the reins to shut him down, but he moved into it so nicely I decided to see how it would go.  It felt great, but then he really started digging in and bracing to catch up, so at that point I worked to slow him down.  No problem, really, just a little excitement for the youngster.  He was happy to go right back to walking and didn't get riled up at all.

Throughout the ride he kept looking to me and responding to my cues.  I could always move him laterally with a small amount of leg pressure.  I wasn't sure if this would carry over into the trail ride, but in some ways it was even better than our rides close to home.  The same was true for getting a soft feel when we were walking around.  Our trot-walk transitions were not that great, and quite a few times I had to use more pressure than I would have liked to make the transition happen. After those I always went back to asking for soft collection a few times to remind him that he shouldn't move into pressure.  Each time he gave to the bit very nicely.  Again, sometimes better than when we are riding near home.

Getting close to home he was really tired.  We rode him for over two hours, which is by far the longest ride since we got him, and he was exposed to a lot of stuff.  Most of it he loved, the only things he didn't like were some big piles of plastic piping.  I didn't want him to get the idea he could shy and dance away from things out on the trail, so we spent a few minutes walking back and forth along side them.  They were the kind of scary objects that were only going to hurt the right side of his body and not the left.  After a few minutes he realized they wouldn't hurt any side of his body.

Despite encountering so many new things and walking for hours, he still just wanted to play when he got back.  He's such a youngster, and just so much fun to work with.

Friday, September 14, 2012

If It Is Important, Do It Every Ride

Today we were short on time.  Work was busy and we also had an early evening social engagement.  So I was the one to dash out to the barn in the late afternoon.  Robin was at the barn yesterday getting all their feet trimmed, and Steen's shoulder burns were looking a lot worse.  I wanted to make sure I could check on him and also look at a cut he's got near his right, front hoof.

He was excited to see me and came walking right up.  I slipped his halter on and then walked around the herd over to Bear and Mo.  Bear turned and ambled right up to me, too.  I led them both in with no problem.  I curried Steen down a little bit (it was evident he had been rolling a lot) and tended to his sore shoulders.  They appear to be drying and flaking off some, and he wasn't bothered by me rubbing ointment into them.  Hopefully that is a good sign.

Then I quickly tacked up Bear (thankfully he was almost totally clean), put Steen in the side lot, and rode Bear in the outdoor arena.  I really didn't have much time at this point, so I just went through what I thought was important.  Dan John, one of my favorite people trainers, is always saying "if it is important, do it everyday."  And if it isn't, well then don't do it.

As we got going I tried to think of all the things I think are important.  We worked on softness, bending left and right, one-rein stops in each direction, backing, backing circles, turning on the hindend, trotting out and in circles, transitioning in and out of gaits, and loping.  The one thing I did not include but probably should have done for just a minute in the early part of the ride was the short serpentine.  I know we can still do more work on that one, but we do have it going pretty well most of the time and as a result I haven't been in the habit of hitting it every ride.  I probably should do it every ride, at least for a little bit. We did do some gradual serpentines with no hands, though.

It is surprising how much you can run through in a short amount of time.  I did all of the above, with some nice quality, in less than 20 minutes.  It does not give you a lot of time to really work on any one issue, but as training is about accumulation, it was a productive ride.

When we started loping things were going mostly good, and we still had a few extra minutes, so I did actually spend a little time working specifically on the lope.  I was practicing keeping a solid seat and really directing him with my legs.  That was going pretty well, but at one point Bear was cutting across the middle and we were going to have a hard time keeping our circle going, so I picked up the reins, dropped to the trot, and took off loping in the other direction.  It was a perfect simple lead change.  I decided to keep going with these for a few minutes.  They went really well.  I had never worked on these in the hackamore, and hadn't done them at all since the spring. 

They are physically and mentally demanding for both the horse and the rider, so Bear and I had a lot to concentrate on, and I think that allowed us to get into a nice groove with the exercise.  We weren't always nailing the lead changes, but many times we could drop to the trot for just a second and he would already be shifting his body to pick up the next lead.  This worked best going from a left lead to a right lead, and I'm rather certain the problem with the other direction lies in my tight, right hip.  So I know where to keep working.

We briefly cooled down, untacked, and then I led both guys back out to the pasture.  This was probably the busiest and shortest trip to the barn I've ever had, and it was still surprisingly relaxing and productive.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Continuing the Softness

One of the great things about having Laredo is that he has changed the way Robin and I ride, and think about, our main horses.  Though I would try very hard to approach every ride from a fresh perspective, I couldn't always accomplish that, and I would fall back on old excuses for my old horse.

Continually changing horses has allowed me to be more flexible and, overall, much softer.  When I climbed on Bear today I had a much easier time riding in the same frame of mind that I did yesterday, and it had a positive impact on our ride.

We rode in the treed pasture. We had not ridden in there for many weeks, but the horses were not in it and the sun was rather warm, so it was the perfect place to ride.  The horses do tend to be a little more distracted in this pasture when we haven't been in it for a while.  It is full of manure from other horses, closer to the cows, closer to the road, and just full of tree branches and squirrels and other things to pay attention to that aren't us.  So I started out not worrying about any of that stuff and just thinking about doing more with less, riding from as high up my legs as possible and only coming in with my hands if I really needed to back up my request.

Bear did start out in what I would call one of his "usual" modes.  He was quite compliant, but not very interested in listening to specifics.  So he'd turn left or right, but it was going to be as quick or slow or sharp or shallow as he wanted it to be.  I just did the same thing I did with Laredo yesterday, made sure my body was completely lined up with where I wanted to go and then brought in more leg or rein to make sure Bear got on that line.

His attitude turned around almost immediately.  He was moving nicely, stopping hard, backing up with no pressure, and we even got back to some really great turns on his hind end.  I was happy, and he seemed happy, too.  Almost proud of himself.  It feels good when your horse responds like that.

We also did some loping straight across the pasture.  In the past I have only loped medium sized circles in this pasture, and they haven't really gone well.  Today Bear felt quite good and I just picked a long line and pushed him out into the lope.  It worked really well.  Like on the strip sometimes, he was perhaps overly sensitive to my legs and we had some veering issues, but they didn't bother me.  I just worked on holding my body and legs in a way to make it obvious where I wanted to go.  If Bear wanted to veer to Laredo or a tree for some reason, I just blocked that.

I was surprised with how relaxed I felt doing that.  Really, on the whole ride I felt great.  We walked the perimeter and squeezed around trees and I never felt worried about anything.  I would not say in general that I am a worrier on horseback, but I do take a cautious approach.  I guess the work we've been doing lately and the great partnership Bear and I had going today made for a new level of relaxation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Do More With Less

I'm not sure who said this first, probably Ray or Tom, but I know I've read it from a lot of people, most recently Martin Black.  We found some great write ups of some colt starting clinics he put on a few years ago (click on the forward arrows to get through these if you're interested).

I had fun reading through them, and I took away a lot of things, but the big one is the reminder to constantly strive to do more with less.  For some reason this is an easy thing for me to forget, despite having encountered it many times.  So today I went out to the barn ready to get Laredo and be as soft as I could, but also as firm as I had to be.

I think it worked.  Overall we had a fantastic ride.  Laredo was happy to see me and extremely relaxed for grooming and tacking.  He keeps getting more relaxed about this, and today we even had a barn worker hanging around his hind end untangling and rewinding up hoses.  He was great.

Out on the strip he was energetic with the groundwork, but also attentive to me.  He is not looking off for the herd as much as he used to.  When I climbed on he just felt great.  He's getting so soft to the bit when we are just standing there or backing up.  Sometimes I just want to do those two things for a while and call it a ride.

But then I get curious to see how he will respond to my legs.  So we walk off and work on circles and figure-eights. This is where I really started working on doing more with less.  I concentrated very hard on where my upper thighs and sit bones were in relation to the amount of turn I wanted.  I also worked to keep my shoulders at the same angle and make sure that I was not pushing my weight forward and making it tough for Laredo to stay back on his haunches. This is stuff I think about a lot, but it is also easy to have your attention pulled elsewhere.

It is also a lot of stuff to think about, and at times it didn't really feel like I was doing "less."  But as I was hardly using my hands at all, it probably felt like less to Laredo.  At least I hope it did.  Of course, it didn't always work.  At times we would be going straight for many steps while I made sure my body was clearly saying turn.  Then I'd come in a little firm with the rein and Laredo would move on over.  I thought I was doing this a little more than I should, and I ended up talking things over with Robin.  But in that little break, Laredo seemed to get it.  The next few times things got better.  And after that, they just kept getting better.

We thought about playing cow again, but we didn't want to tax Laredo in that way too much.  He's not quite ready to be pushed on his turns.  Or rather, I'm not ready to get myself set up under pressure.  That's the real truth.  He'd turn on a dime if someone like Martin was on him.

Anyways, we still wanted to challenge him and give him a job, so we decided to work on 'the routine.'  We sat in the middle of the strip and reviewed our pattern, then backed them up a few steps and moved into the trot.

The first round wasn't too bad.  There were a few things that bugged me, but as Robin pointed out, it was our first run through of the day AND we'd never done it with Laredo.  So things looked beter after that.  But our second round was stellar.  I couldn't believe how good he felt.  All the work we had done with the turns earlier in the ride really paid off.

We probably should have stopped there, as rounds three and four left something to be desired, but it was all good practice.  And good fun, too.

Laredo and I ended up doing a little loping, too.  The first time we did it, Robin and Steen happened to be off the strip getting some water out of the car.  I didn't think this was a big deal, but apparently it caused Laredo to take off like a bullet and really dig in.  I'd only felt such power on Bear before.  We quickly got to the top of the strip, and he was not slowing down like he normally does.  I didn't want to do anything traumatic to him, so I very lightly doubled him with the left rein, and then moved to a double with the right rein.  I slowed him up a good deal and kept him back on his haunches.  I still had to do a couple more light pulls before we bent into a nice circle at the trot.  I think it was a good experience for us, and Laredo didn't seem bothered in the slightest.

We had a few more sessions of loping, but they were quite uneventful compared to the first one.  He is getting better at picking it up.  The first day we loped I was trying to think about what lead I was asking for, but I had to move my legs around so much I completely lost track of that and just hoped he would pick it up.  Today we came around a turn and stayed very balanced.  When I asked for the lope my left leg was a little bit back since we were coming out of the left turn, and he picked up a perfect right lead.  So it won't be long before we're doing more with the lope, too.

Today was really a great ride for us.  Laredo had a ton of fun, and I really felt like I was able to ride well and support him.  It is a pretty neat feeling. He was also pretty tired at the end.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Playing Cow

We got to the barn fairly early to meet a friend for a trail ride.  It was really cool out, and we were looking forward to a long day of riding.  Unfortunately our friend never made it out.  We tacked up and started riding on the strip thinking they would show, but no.

So we had to improvise.  We both warmed up our horses for a bit.  Bear was quite stiff, both mentally and physically, so we did a lot of circles and bends.  Once we were feeling good, we started playing cow.

We learned about playing cow at the Buck clinic in Decorah last fall.  The idea is that there is a herd (this could be a circle or a group of horses and riders or, in our case, cones), and one rider is the horse and the other rider is the cow that both circle the herd.  The cow has to act like a cow, so when the horse pushes on their balance points, they will stop or turn around or go faster.  The "cow" wants to get back to the herd, and the horse wants to keep them out. It looked like so much fun we thought we'd be playing cow as soon as we got back to our horses.  In fact, we tried once, but I know for me in particular I couldn't make any of the moves happen.  And after that we were completely lost in figuring out serpentines, soft feels, and proper flexions.  That took forever (and I'm still working on it).

But today we felt ready.  We picked our spot and went through a warmup round at the walk and trot.  Bear was not backing and turning very well, but we were having fun being a cow anyways.  When we switched, the Robin/Steen cow decided to do a lot of running.  This upped the ante quite a bit, and we soon found ourselves loping tight circles, stopping hard, and really getting into the game.

We went back and forth for quite a while, switching up who was the "cow" every few minutes.  The guys started to understand that they wanted to get into those cones so they could rest and get some pets.  I think they were liking it.  Although one time Bear and I were the cow and Bear was a little pissed at Steen and pinned his ears, moving them out of our way.  Robin called cow foul, and we had to neutralize that round.

We didn't want to overdo things too much, as it was our first time playing and we are hoping to play this game a lot in the future.  So we took our guys in and then switched to different mounts.  Robin brought Bear back to the pasture and picked up Laredo.  I cooled Steen off and then tacked him up again in my saddle.

We rode on the strip again.  Steen was great for me.  He was super relaxed and extremely soft to the hackamore.  Lately I've been riding Steen at least once every two or three weeks, and it is really starting to show as we keep getting on better and better.

Robin was also having a great ride on Laredo.  The loping continues to go great, and so far there is no sacrifice of control.  So we decided to see how Laredo would do at playing cow. And he was OK.  We kept things quite slow in the turn arounds, but other than that, we were often going for it.  When Steen and I were the cow and trotting around, Laredo was so much faster than us that we had to move into the lope to keep from constantly needing to turn around.  We had some really great and relaxed moments of loping.  Probably our best ever.

We didn't want to overdo things with Laredo here, especially since it is easy to get excited and stop riding as well as one should.  We cooled down some and moved onto backing circles around one another.  This is another exercise we learned at the Decorah Clinic.  We did it A TON last fall, but we haven't really done it since.

Laredo definitely needs the practice with bending and backing.  He's really getting the backing down, so this seemed like a logical progression.  He also seems to learn well when there is a goal and he can see the point (although as a "cow" he wasn't that excited to get into the cones, go figure).

He did pretty well this exercise, and Steen and I did, too.  Steen was backing so well for me Robin couldn't stop talking about how good he looked.  I've seen it the other way around, so I know, but it was also really neat to feel.

Robin finished up with a little more loping and trot work on Laredo, and I hopped off to hang out in the grass.  I was really satisfied with my rides, and it was such a gorgeous day I didn't mind lounging at all.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

And More Running

Today it was my turn to ride Laredo, and after Robin's highly successful loping, I figured we would do the same.

The ride started out pretty good, with the only problem coming from me and my boots.  My good riding boots are at the cobbler's getting new heels (I knocked the rubber off one doing hard groundwork in the pasture with Laredo the other week), so I had to wear my old pair of boots.  These have always been too big on me, and they are much cheaper and floppier.  You would not think it would make a huge difference, but throughout the ride I was shocked at how unstable my feet felt in the stirrups.  This had a pretty big impact on my leg cues and seat.  I'm sure I'd get used to them if I had to, but thankfully my trusty Olathes with their excellent heels and solid, leather soles will be back in just a few days.

With the funny feelings in the feet and some tight hips, I almost didn't lope Laredo.  But with how good he has been, those were silly reasons not to.  And all our normal stuff was going great.  Like Robin, we did a lot of bending.

We spent a good amount of time at the trot.  He is moving out very nicely and really seems to enjoy trotting.

Finally we trotted down the strip and then picked up the lope on the way back.  It does take a little more effort to get him going than it does with Steen or Bear, but he seems to shift between the trot and lope much smoother than either of them do.  And when you are in the lope, it feels great.

We loped up the strip six or seven times.  A few of them he got distracted on and petered out rather quickly.  Once it was the herd, and then when we tried to lope with Robin and Steen, rather than get really interested in another running horse and try to stay with them, Laredo was surprised to see Steen running and had to slow down to take it all in.  He's such a funny horse.  Thankfully the second time we tried to run together he hooked on to Steen nicely and we had a great run.

In between our runs we worked on troting and bending and walking.  He wasn't exactly riled up from running, but he did want to keep going down the strip.  He also has this weird tendency to move into pressure when things are happening a little bit outside his comfort zone.  In this instance he wanted to follow his buddy Tate who left on a trail ride, but instead I was making him run and pay attention to me.

We're pretty sure the person who trained him as a 2 year old was a little heavy on the bit.  We know they started in a snaffle, but they also used a twisted-wire snaffle.  Definitely not ideal as far as we're concerned.  Robin and I have been working really hard to not get into any kind of pulling wars with him, and when he wants to seek pressure we just keep him moving forward and throw him as much rein as we can.

The ride was really great, and in the end he was so relaxed he let me scrub the mud off his ears that he would not let me get in the pasture or when we were grooming.

Bear also seems to be doing good. All our running is keeping him lean for his lady friend.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lots of Running

Bear continues to feel a little off. He was not super interested in coming to me, and while he often lacks a little spunk, today he was lacking more than usual.

I kept things very slow in the beginning.  We went through all our usual things that seem to help loosen him up like walking and trotting in circles of varying sizes and serpentines and easy one rein stops.  These might have helped some; it was a little hard to tell.  Thankfully I could tell that he was not in serious discomfort, so I decided to spend some time going faster.  Oftentimes that will blast out some of the stiffness and really allow him to relax.

We ended up spending a lot of time working at the lope.  It was quite fun, and also quite demanding on me.  It took a few passes of the oval for us to work together through the turns, but we ended up settling into a really nice pace.  He was good off my legs, and I think he was having fun.

After some great running, we took a break to snap some shots of Robin and Laredo.  She was having a wonderful ride and decided she should lope him for the first time.  I know, we've had him for months and have not worked on the lope yet.  But really, we're in no hurry.

Of course, he seems to have an extremely balanced lope and absolutely no inclination to run away with you, so everything worked out fine and there was probably no real reason to wait this long.  But all this time has made us all really comfortable with one another, and I'm sure that had to help.

I went back to working with Bear and wanted to spend some more time going right.  We had mixed it up earlier, but spent most of the time going left.  Right was good, but I wanted make sure.  Wanting to make sure is probably the best way to ensure things are not good, and that is exactly what happened this time.

Bear was turning right just fine, but he was not into bending smoothly through a gradual turn.  Instead we were running in what felt like a big triangle.  We would run to the soybean field and then make a turn to the right, upon which Bear would lope at an angle to the opposite fenceline (ignoring my leg completely) and then dig in for a super tight turn up the fenceline before making a semi-nice 90 degree turn to head back towards the soybean field.

It was exhausting for me to push him out of this pattern.  You can see in the pic above that I've got my right leg on him and am trying to add a little bit from both the leading and supporting rein.  Trying to go up the soybean field while Bear wanted to cut over made it a little difficult for me to keep my butt planted in the saddle, but eventually we started working things out a little bit better and got some nice big ovals.  It is funny to project what the horse is thinking, and probably isn't all that useful, but I like to do it anyways.  In this instance, it really felt like Bear was just trying to go where he wanted to go, then all of a sudden he got tired of working against my cues and decided to just work with them.  In the end, he was neither more sore nor less sore, but I'm hopeful the running loosened him up some.

Also, baby Laredo shots.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Playing Cowboy

When we were grooming the guys, the barn owner's 9 year old daughter, Sylvia, asked if we wanted to help move the cows to the other treed lot for the winter.  We were definitely down with that. 

We mounted in the treed lot we often ride in and rode off into the big pasture with Sylvia and her friend Grace.  We also had the barn owner in her golf cart.  The cows were as far away as they could be, so we walked all the way down to the end and planned to bring them up along the south fence line, through a narrow section of the pasture and then to the far northwest corner of the treed lot that we started in.  Sounds far, but it was certainly less than half a mile.

We spread out in the pasture when we got close to the herd.  Sylvia dove right in and started moving the cows while Robin and I ended up on top of the hill near the front of the herd.  I moved to the very front and tried to keep an eye on one of the more energetic adults.  She had a few youngsters with her, and she definitely wanted to run.  Bear and I checked her a few times, but then she took off.  We loped alongside them for a little while, but the terrain got a little steep and I let them get away from us.  Thankfully they just went where we wanted them to anyways.  I definitely need some practice on reading cows and knowing the best position to be in.

The rest of it was uneventful.  I waited for the rest of the herd to pass me by and then we trailed them up the hill and into the treed pasture. They went to the proper corner and then we just had to hang out there while some helpers opened the gate and shooed them across the driveway into their new home.  It was a pretty cool experience, and I look forward to doing it again some time.

Then the girls planned on ridding in a big section of timber that has become a little more rideable thanks to some mowing and breaking down of tree branches.  So we tagged along with them.  It was a fun ride, and not too demanding physically. 

We mostly zig zagged around the big area, finding small openings in the trees and squeezing through narrow sections of brush.  We walked almost the whole time, and no one had a problem at all.  I think they cows got everyone a little excited, and then we took them all somewhere new and they were just happy to follow along with whatever we wanted.

Back on the strip we did a small amount of work.  Bear was only so so with listening to me in the timber section.  He was not happy when we were in the back, and he kept crowding the other horses, so I wanted to spend a little time making sure he was listening to me.  He was mostly OK.  Robin and I then ended up loping all the way up the strip towards the barn.  It was pretty fun, except Bear really gets it in his head that he is racing Steen.  I checked him a few times with the hackamore.  He relaxed his pace a little, and we ended up losing the "race."

I'm not sure if this energy means he is feeling better or not.  It was not the kind of ride that allowed me to really pay attention to the little signs I'm used to seeing. But if the cows make him better, we just might have to get a little herd of our own to keep things interesting for him.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hot and Sticky

We've been waking up to really cloudy days lately. It hasn't helped us get to the barn early.  It might have been better if we did today, because by the time we got riding the sun was out and all the moisture in the ground made for a very sticky day.

It wasn't that bad, but it was surprising in that we haven't had a day like this in a really long time.  Most of the summer was unusually dry, so these humid days really stand out.

It may or may not have affected Laredo.  I could tell he was tired, but that could have been from the physically and mentally challenging ride he had yesterday after a week of no rides, or it could have been the heat, or possibly a mix of both.

But overall he was good.  He continues to relax into everything we do with him.  At one point, though, he showed more anxious excitement than I've ever seen from him.  Robin and Steen had gone loping down the strip, and Laredo was certain we had to go with them or we would miss the exploring portion of the ride.  I kept him down at our end, but his mind was out on the trails.  It took a little while to get him concentrating after that, as he kept wanting to head off between the soy bean fields.

When we worked on the walk/trot transition exercise he was much better.  I know our upward transitions were the best yet.  I could roll my hips forward slightly and open up my legs and he would move into a smooth trot.  The downward transitions were also quite good.  They could have been a bit more consistent in terms of how quickly he gave to the bit, but overall I was really happy with how things went.

Since Laredo was so keen to head off down the strip, I decided to take him down there and actually do some work.  We've been up and down it quite a few times, but we haven't worked in any of the far spots.  So we started with some circles and figure-eights and quickly moved in to the trot.  This was not so great.  He was pretty balanced and fairly relaxed in terms of how his body felt, but he was not interested in listening to me AT ALL.  This made me a little angry, but I got over that and focused on slowing things down and riding with quality.  That got a little better, but it wasn't a great fix, so we slowed down more and worked on short serpentines.

He kind of hated these at first.  He was so stiff, and I was trying to ride through them in a way that didn't seem punitive, but I really had to bend him at times and encourage him with my legs.  Within a few minutes we got our serpentines going really nicely; he suppled up and started reaching evenly with all four feet.  When we went back to our other exercises he was much, much more attentive to me.

We finished the ride by trotting back up the strip and working in big circles and figure-eights a little more.  There is no doubt he is more attentive in our usual place, so we will have to keep pushing the boundaries of where we work.  Of course, he can be bad in the usual area, too.  Shortly after we got up there Robin dismounted because she was done.  Laredo did not think it was fair at all for me to keep working him, and I had to remind him about my legs a few times.  Riding him is so fun because of all these changes.  It really forces me to stay light and constantly adjust what I'm doing.

Bear seemed happy in the pasture today.  His back was a teeny bit stiff to the touch, but not as bad as it has been.  I couldn't find any knots.  We gave him his vitamins and I put his fly-boots on.  I'm hoping those will reduce some of the stamping and possibly help him feel a little better.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Back to Second Guessing

After a week off due to heat and busy work days, we got back to the barn.  I was disappointed to find that Bear was still not feeling the greatest.  He was inclined to really park out during grooming and tacking, and when I hopped on he felt stiff and distracted.  He also continued to swish his tail almost constantly.

It was a little tough for me to ride well in the beginning. I was really letting his distractedness get to me, and I'm sure that wasn't helping me help him.  Thankfully Robin was having a great ride on Laredo, and she asked if I wanted to do some walk/trot transitions in a big oval.  I was definitely up for that.

I'm pretty sure our first passes around the circle were more disjointed than Robin and Laredo's.  They looked great, and we still felt bad.  But I got things under control a little.  I worked on getting softer with my hands and legs and asking for collection more regularly.  It was going so well (and maybe distracting Bear from being distracted?) that I started holding collection through our upward transitions.  I've never done this before.  I know it is a place I should be getting to, so I figured this would be a great time to start.

All in all, it worked pretty well.  It did help that he was collecting nicely at both gaits.  Initially he would give me some big hops into the trot and also get rather stiff in the head and neck.  I would always make sure to keep a little pressure on him until he softened back up a few strides later.  As we continued with the exercise, he got to where he was softening up much quicker.  We never had a transition where he remained soft through the whole thing, but we got really close.  And for our first attempts at this, I'll take it.  Especially since his downward transitions were extremely soft.

After that Robin suggested we take Laredo on walk down the drainage.  I had done this with him a few weeks ago and he loved it.  He is such a curious guy, and he seems to have no anxiety about exploring.  So off we went, and of course, he was fine.  Bear was fine, too, except that he was walking quite slow and we had to trot a few times to catch up to the power-walking Laredo.

We ended up going a ways down the second strip before coming back.  Laredo wanted to keep going, so that seems like a good sign.  When we got back to the strip I pushed Bear into an easy lope and he felt really nice.  He gave me a soft downward transition and then we called it a ride and hung out for a few minutes so the guys could graze on the lush, strip grasses.

The one shot where he didn't have hunks of grass hanging out of his mouth.
I'll have to just keep a close eye on Bear's back I guess.  I'm not sure if it is stamping at flies or picking fights with the new horses in the herd.  Either way, there isn't much I can do about it other than ride lightly and hope to limber him up and give him time off when he might need it.  It is just extra disappointing since we are coming off a great summer where he had almost no soreness.