Friday, November 30, 2012

The Run Away

Today I found myself on a run away Laredo.  One moment we were trotting a nice figure eight, and then next moment we were blazing down the strip and off into the soybean field in a full on gallop.

It is funny when these things happen. Time slows down and you can see the ground moving by at the same speed it does when you are walking, and at the same time changes can happen so fast they don't have time to register.  It was early in our ride when Laredo and I were trotting some nice figure eights.  There was one spot in the pattern that he was really stuck in, we had just made a beautiful turn and I let him stop and rest for a few moments.  We were facing up the strip, and I guess he did not see that Robin and Steen were taking a slow walk down the drainage.  I asked him to move out at the trot again.  It was smooth, and we had no trouble, but then when we turned and faced down the strip, Laredo saw Steen moving away from him, and he panicked.
Dramatic re-enactment; I didn't have the camera out during the run away.
His head came up, his body stiffened, and he immediately jumped into a fast lope.  He is three, and he changes gaits on his own from time to time.  Sometimes we shut him down immediately, and sometimes we give him a second to think and then correct him.  Lately we've been employing the latter a little more frequently.  Today I gave him a second, and in that second he had taken off into the fastest gallop I've ever ridden.  It was fast enough that I didn't want to yank him around as I worried he'd fall over.

So I went with him.  I knew he was going to dive hard for the drainage.  It has a moderately steep hill at the top, and I really didn't want to go down it.  When he was about to turn I checked him pretty hard with one rein.  It prevented him from going down the drainage, but he just turned left into the soybean field and started galloping even faster.  It was still downhill, but not as steep as the drainage.

I was feeling very stuck, and I had a little pressure on the left rein still.  I released that and tried to ride with him.  We turned left to intersect the strip and long pile of dirt from where they have been digging drainages.  I grabbed the horn and Laredo jumped over it.

Thankfully there was a somewhat steep rise on the other side of the drainage.  Laredo slowed a little, and I was able to get some order to my reins and pulled him into a nice stop.  He sat huffin and puffin for quite a few moments.  I'm not sure he even fully realized what he had done.

I was surprised how relaxed I felt afterwards.  I was also surprised how secure my seat felt during the whole run away.  Two years ago I had a bad fall in that same field when Bear and Steen got spooked by another horse.  I didn't get very far before I toppled off the left side and hit my shoulder.  I was convinced I would have the same kind of fall today, but I never lost my balance.

The rest of the ride was uneventful.  We worked on some trotting, we did the routine, we walked up and down the strip and drainage.  Laredo was attentive and tired.  He has not gotten a lot of exercise in the last two weeks, and I'm sure that was one of the hardest intervals he has ever done.  Certainly the hardest with a rider.

These are always scary things to have happen, and while you never want to actually go through them, it is amazing how much you can learn from them.  I am just thrilled that in the last two years I've learned enough that I have some good enough instincts to carry me through these moments.  And next time I won't give Laredo that extra second.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Saddle!

Not for me.  For Robin.  But I think I'm just as excited about it as she is.

Today the farrier was coming, so Robin went out early and I met her at the barn when I got off work.  Turns out that only 1 horse needed a trim.  The other twenty or so were just fine.  I do think we have a great farrier.  Of all the years we've been boarding there, we've never seen a horse with a foot or general lameness issue.  And it is also nice that he didn't decide to trim the horses anyways, as he could have done that just to make a buck.

Since Robin had some free time, she had Bear all groomed up and ready for me.  That was pretty nice.  All I had to do was throw a saddle on.

Work has been crazy, and I have been really tired.  Today I was in the mood to walk around and hangout with my horse.  We mounted on the strip and then wandered into the big pasture.  They are still working on the drainage out there, and some other gates were open, too.  So we ventured into a new field and onto a new strip that we've never used before.  Robin was on Laredo, and he is always so funny when we see new things.  He just loves exploring.

The ride was pretty uneventful, which is exactly what I was after.  Laredo would get a little excited on some of the hills and want to trot up.  No big deal.  Bear often wanted to go with him.  Sometimes we did, and other times I just practiced keeping a nice steady seat and smoothly taking the slack out of one rein.  He stayed at the walk every time.

The sun is really setting early now, and the temps drop fast.  It was warm when we climbed on, but by the end I was wishing I brought my gloves with me.  Before long I'll probably need a lot more than just gloves.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Back Home

We had a nice, short trip to visit my parents for Thanksgiving.  We always have fun there, but it always feels really nice to get back home.

And home includes riding Bear.  I love how familiar he is to me.  I was tired and just wanted to ride around.  I didn't do any groundwork, I just led him into the treed lot and climbed on.  Of course, he was totally fine and happy to be out.

We rode through the trees on our way out to the big pasture.  Walking down the hill to the middle of it we noticed some changes.  There used to be a meandering creek/drainage in the middle of it, but that has all been filled in and smoothed over.  They are hoping to get better drainage in the field, and it looks like it will work out nicely.

We walked alongside the new drainage a few times and then went out an open gate that led to the strip.  Once there we just continued to walk and trot around a little bit.  Bear was very attentive, though he also got antsy and very lively in a few spots.  I have no idea why, but as I said, he was still very attentive.  Every time I began to take the slack out of the reins to offer a bigger correction, he was already moving with me before I could get to the hackamore.  He is looking healthy and his back was feeling great when I poked around before and after the ride, so I was fine just going with him.  He got over things pretty quickly.

The barn owner was also hanging out on the strip giving another rider a pseudo-lesson.  So we spent a while sitting on our horses and chatting with her.  Robin asked if she'd snap a few shots of us, since we have almost no pictures of us together with our horses.

Steen was his usual goofy self and kept annoying Bear by sticking his nose in Bear's face.  They never moved their feet, though.  So really I think they were both just happy to hang out with us.  It was a bummer to not have Laredo there, too.  He was standing on the other side of the fence, and when I rode over to say hi, he nickered at me.  If I had been feeling better or the weather was nicer, I probably would have been up for riding two horses today.  Next time, I guess.  Still, it is nice to know that he was happy to see us after a week off.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Young Visitors

A few years ago Robin had our friend Adele out to the barn with her young son, Ben.  They had a great time meeting Steen.  Now Adele has another son, Noah, and is pregnant with a third.  In that time we have gotten two more horses, so they were excited to come out and see everyone.

The boys were very cute in their matching blue fleeces. Ben (almost 4) was a little bit more reserved and quiet around the horses, but his younger brother Noah (just turned 2) couldn't get enough.  He knew from the moment he walked in that he wanted to ride.  We didn't even get started tacking before he asked to ride.  I set him on Bear without a saddle and he couldn't have been happier; he just kept saying "go."

I didn't really want to lead him around like that, so we finished tacking and brought Steen and Bear and the boys into the arena.  I took Noah and Robin took Ben.  Initially we just led them around in the saddles, but then we climbed on because the boys wanted a little more.  I had never ridden with a little one in front of me, but it helped that I had Noah and he wasn't afraid of anything.  He just sat there holding on to my cross over rope strap while I wrapped my right arm around him and held the reins with my left.  Bear was mostly happy to walk around where I asked, but he also tried to go to Adele many times.  He probably assumed he'd get some rest there.  Funny guy.

The boys left with huge smiles on their faces.  I had not thought how fun a barn could be at that age.  In addition to horses they heard the cows, saw tractors, played with blow up balls as big as them, and saw the biggest pile of poop they'd ever seen.  Adele is worried they'll be horse crazy from now on. It seems possible.

Robin and I finished with a short indoor ride.  I felt a little tired and was just walking around mostly, so I was happy when Robin suggested we play a little cow.  In the tight space it was a little tough, but we ended up getting more done than I thought we would.  Bear was feeling great and offered a beautiful lope in both directions.  He was also stopping hard and turning quite fast.  I realized it was the first time I'd asked for these maneuvers with spurs on.  I certainly wasn't digging into him, but if I shook my leg a bit he would hop right across and take off in the other direction.

We did a short cool down and put the guys back in the pasture.  Steen's leg continues to look great, and he is having so much fun riding again (Robin, too).  It will be fun to work with him and get him back in shape as the fall continues.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Trails

On Friday we got an invitation to go ride at some nice trails just north of us.  We had never trailered our horses anywhere, so we were quite excited to see how they would do.

We arrived at the barn early to make sure everything was ready.  We ended up being so early that we killed a lot of time grazing on the strip.

The guys had enough time to work on coreographing their grazing.

When it came time to load I put Bear in first.  He went right up.  I had no idea how to attach him in there, so Cathi came in and showed me all the connectors.  Laredo came next, also with no problem, and then two more went after him.

I knew Bear had been in a trailer quite a few times, but it had been well over two years since his last ride.  And the last few rides for him were one way trips.  He was not inclined to move at all, but he looked a little bit worried in there.

It was only a twenty minute drive, and he was thrilled to come off the trailer.  He stayed a little bit nervous, but each time we did something familiar he came down a notch.  He'd sigh with the pad, lick his lips when the saddle came on, and he lowered his head for the hackamore just like he does at home.  We did a short bit of groundwork and I hopped on.

The parking lot was surrounded by a large grassy area and we were able to walk and trot around for a little while as the rest of the group was still getting ready.  By the time everyone was saddled up, Bear was feeling like his normal self.

It was a relaxing ride.  The trail we were on meanders along a creek for quite a ways, then pops out on a dirt road, and then connects to a bigger section of trails with various loops.  We rode for about two hours, and all the horses were great.  We walked and trotted and Bear was very soft and attentive.  On our last ride in unfamiliar territory he was a little pushy and hard on the hackamore.  I never felt that on this ride.

The biggest event of the ride was a water crossing.  Laredo was a little unsure about it at first, but once he figured it out he crossed like a champ.  Our youngest rider was also not very keen on crossing, but she made it just fine with some help from her mom.  I was the last to go, and Bear was getting a little impatient that he had to wait so long.  I figured in his 17 years he had crossed water at some point, but I knew it was never with me, so I wasn't sure exactly how it would go.

Sure enough he just walked in like we cross water everyday.  It was pretty funny.  The water almost came up to their bellies, and when we got to the other bank, Bear spent some time shaking off.

With how close the trails are and how much fun everyone had, we're hoping we get invited back again sometime. But mostly it just felt great to test our horses and see how they do with completely different situations than we normally put them in.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

And Then There Were Three

Steen is very much on the mend, so today was the first day Robin and I did a double ride since sometime in September.  It was a beautiful, sunny, fall day and just perfect to be out at the barn.

I rode Bear first.

He was good from the get go.  I'm not sure what it is exactly, but we have been having the greatest time together these past few weeks.  Today was no different.

I knew I would not be riding him very long, so we warmed up (it takes him a little longer on the cool days) by strolling up and down the strip and the drainage.  Then when he felt good we did a little trotting.  I was hoping the soybean field would be free again, as we've been getting some great long trots in it, but they tilled it up and plowed some fertilizer in, so we were limited to the strip and the drainage.  But that was OK.  We would trot all they way down the drainage, turn around, and then lope back up to the strip, turn right and lope all the way to the end.  The first time things were going so nicely we even did a few extra circles up top.

I know I have had some nice, long lopes on Bear indoors, but this might have been one of the longest point to point lopes we've done.  It was really fun, and great for both of us to settle into it.  We took it easy for a few minutes and then did it again.  The second one was even more comfortable than the first.  I'll have to keep it in our normal rotation of things to work on.

We took a short break and switched horses.  Robin was kind enough to let me ride Laredo with her brand new mecate.  It feels as nice it looks.

Laredo and I mostly took it easy.  After his few weeks off from the sore shoulder, and then Robin spending most of the time riding him, we haven't had many good rides together.  Today he felt like the horse I got used to in the early fall.  He was tired, but he was also very willing to listen to me.

We had one exciting moment when we were coming back up the strip. Things had been going great, and I just wanted him to trot back up the top.  He gave me a nice stride or two and then launched into a flat and fast lope.  This is very, very un-Laredo-like, and my first instinct was to pull him into a circle.  But he was cruising fast, and I didn't want to startle him and possibly knock him over, so I just let go and figured he would peter out near the top.  On the way up he tripped hard on his front end, and I almost thought he would go to his knees, or at least drop to the trot, but he recovered and kept running as fast as he was before.

Once we got near Robin and Steen I asked for a stop and he was happy to oblige.  Robin was complimenting me on Laredo's great energy, and I said that it was something of a surprise.  Then she noticed my mecate was hanging off his right side, and it is usually on the left.  There were some strong winds from the south today, and I'm guessing when we started to trot back up the wind blew the end of the mecate over his butt and hit him.

On Robin's ride she had a little trouble getting him to go, and a tiny pop from her mecate got him into a nice lope.  So he must have just felt this and thought he better get running.  Funny guy.  But I'm glad I let him go, I don't want to squash any forward momentum from a horse who is already inclined to be lazy.

The last week of rides have been good for him.  He is more relaxed when we're tacking him up and more attentive to us undersaddle and on the ground. He is also starting to get some of his fitness back.  For a few weeks he lost a little muscle mass and developed quite the hay belly.

In other news, I hit my 150 yearly hours goal today.  After last years 109 hours, this felt like a big, but doable, goal.  It has truly been a great year, though, because I had no problem hitting it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Back in the Spurs

For some reason, I stopped riding in my spurs this summer.  I guess things were just going really well for Bear and I, and I wanted to see how just my legs would work.  It turns out they worked quite well.

But then I noticed some problems.  Lately Bear has not been excited to walk, trot, or lope straight lines down the strip.  If we are on the fence line, no problem.  But if we are closer to the field, he can't stand it.  He either veers towards the herd, or he dives towards the bean field.  And yes, they are quite different.  In the veer he is energetic and forward, in the dive he is dropping his shoulder and throwing his head towards the ground.

Over the last few weeks I have been working on this mostly at the walk and sometimes at the trot.  When he wants to go down the strip I keep my hands and legs open and encourage forward movement with my hips, when he picks a direction I don't want him to go in, I go back and forth between blocking harshly or turning him in a sharp circle and then getting back on course.  It has definitely helped some.

But watching Martin Black ride and help some of the riders in the clinic gave me quite a few ideas.  It is funny seeing clinicians in person.  So much of what they say you know on some level.  But you cannot always transfer what you know into your own problems.  In this case what I "knew," in simple horse terms, was to make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.  We've all heard it many times, and my solution to get Bear moving down the strip is an illustration of that.  What Martin really showed us in the clinic is how to get the most out of that idea.  He didn't really use those words, instead he talked about making the horse uncomfortable and then showing them where they can be comfortable when you get them on the right track.

Same but different.  And it played out that way as we watched him work with individual riders in the clinic.  It always came down to the concept of "make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy," but each example was different.  Even when two horses had similar issues with loping or lead changes.  It was rather eye opening.

The second thing that I've always "known" but don't always get to see, is that one should increase the pressure each time they ask.  Again, I'm sure you all know this, too.  And I feel like I use it all the time.  But Martin talked about keeping your asks to just three, with the outside chance of a forth.  The first ask is small, the second is a pretty big increase, and the third is quite hard and should very well get the job done.  If he asks a forth time it is only because he miscalculated on the third ask.

If that doesn't work, he rethinks things, because clearly he is not communicating well with the horse.  You don't not want a fifth or sixth or seventh ask.  Each one after the third can start to dull them to it.  Again, things we all know.  What messes me up, is that these should not surprise or shock the horse.  So often I will be working on something with Bear, say loping circles.  Things will be going nicely, then he'll get distracted and want to lope towards something.  I'll lean and use my legs, if that doesn't work I'll put some light pressure on the hackamore, and if that doesn't work I'll pull really hard.

It sounds like what Martin is talking about, but often I would release my pressure before my big pull.  The same could happen to my legs before a big kick.  I would get my correction, but his head would fly up like he had no idea what was happening.  What I should really be doing is getting a soft pull, keeping that tension, and from there give the big correction.

This is where the spurs come in.  I set out to have a nice ride on Bear.  I was not planning on anything harsh, I just wanted to have the spurs on my feet  in case I needed them.  One of the great things about Bear's size is that my legs hang down so that I can just use my calves to direct him, or I can raise my heels and really get into him.

Things started out great.  He was listening to my legs and seat and walking and trotting nicely.  But then something shifted when we were doing circles on the strip, and he just didn't want to go away from the barn.  So I kept the same method of block him or turning him sharply as I had before, but this time I was able to raise the discomfort just a bit with the spurs.  I was also very, very careful not to yank on the hackamore.  It was not something I would do often, hackamores are definitely not mean to be used that way, but I would at times pull harder than I wanted to.  And it always made me feel bad.  Today my pulls were much more steady, and they also meant much more to Bear.

This post is getting somewhat long, so I will not go into great detail, but I will say that Bear really responded to the increase in discomfort.  As the ride went on he got much better at moving down the strip.  It wasn't great, but I could see him thinking about it.  He knew where the comfort zone was, and he was calculating how to stay in it.

By the end of the ride we were cooling down by walking around with no hands.  We do this quite a bit, but today we had a new level of precision and energy.

My feet are turned out somewhat, but I assure you, I never used my spurs once during our cooldown, and Bear was willing to go anywhere I pointed him.  He also felt happy to do it.  It never ceases to amaze me how much he will challenge me, but once I remind him that I call the shots when we are riding, he's like an angel.  Maybe it has something to do with his 12 years as a stallion.  Or maybe it is just his personality.  I'll probably never know.