Thursday, September 5, 2013

Back to Going in Circles

So many of the horse blogs I read have been suffering this summer, and the same has been true of my own

Thankfully I have been out riding and learning a lot.  Unfortunately, not everything I learned has been good.  A couple weeks ago I found out that Richard Caldwell, one of my all time favorite horsemen, passed away.  I had only read his articles and seen his DVDs, but I was looking forward to seeing him in person some year.  It is sad that myself and others wont get the chance to see him.  But he has left a fantastic legacy, and from what I can gather he led a truly wonderful life.

In searching for additional information on Caldwell, I came across an interesting thread in a forum.  It was not about Caldwell, but he did come up from time to time in the conversation.  If you are interested in Vaquero horsemanship, it is definitely worth the read.  I took a number of things away from it, but the biggest one was something I already knew. 

It's always the hind end.

Always. If you are like me, you've read that all over the place.  It is the main point in Buck's wonderful introduction to True Horsemanship Through Feel.  Martin Black and others will say it is the reason your horse backs up slow and crooked.  Betty Staley argues (via Tom Dorrance) the hindquarters are the key to a happy and balanced horse.  Missing your leads?  It's the hind end.  And on and on. 

But the actual practice of this has been a hard thing for me to grasp, but I finally got a little bit closer thanks to that forum.  The realization came through a discussion about a horse walking a circle and bulging out through the shoulder.  My inclination in these instances is always to block the shoulder.  But that doesn't work for a number of reasons. The big one is that if you're riding well, you've already got your leg there.  So you can't block any more.  You could kick the horse to get them to move over, but that isn't really going to help them through the issue.

Instead, a very knowledgeable contributor to the thread suggested you manipulate the hind end a little more.  If they're pushing through that outside shoulder, they are too stiff in the hind and driving through the edge of that circle.  If you shape that hind into more of a bend with your inside leg, the horse loosens through the loin and gets right back on track.

I tried it, and it worked amazingly well.  It also helped me make considerable progress on a long term problem Bear and I have: weaving down the strip.  When this problem would come up I would try to keep his momentum up and block his shoulders and neck with my legs and reins.  On Tuesday we were riding alone and he started weaving.  I gently reached back and tipped his hind end over to line him back up.  The same thing happened again while going down a hill.  Usually I would struggle to keep him in a line because I always like to give him his head on the downhills, but this time I tipped his hind over and solved the problem instantly.  The other great thing is Bear was more than happy to oblige.

While riding Laredo over the weekend I was able to keep our circles at the lope nice and even despite his desire to lean towards Steen at a particular spot in the circle.  A little push on the hind and things cleared right up.

When I first started riding horses I was basically riding their head and neck.  Coming from cycling, I thought you could just line up the horse's head as if they were a pair of handlebars and voila, off you went.

Obviously that is not the way it works, and as I get deeper into this horsemanship business I am realizing you ride the whole horse, but you start with the very back of that horse.

I remember watching Richard Caldwell's Jaquima a Freno (Part II) a few months ago and seeing him ride a young hackamore horse in a circle.  He would drift that horse through turns, affecting the hind end and briefly two tracking him, then get him going in a nice circle again.  I tried working on that earlier this summer and had things just fall apart.  It was just another example of knowing, from an intellectual standpoint, that I needed to manipulate that hind end but not being able to physically make it happen.  Now I've got circles working better than I ever have.
Soft hands and perfect circles.  You will be greatly missed, Richard.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Summer Riding

Robin posted a while ago about how amazing our July weather was.  It didn't last.  The second half of the month was very hot, and we didn't get quite as much riding in.  But now August is back to great temps.  We spent some really long days at the barn this weekend.

Saturday's ride ended up being a lot longer than we anticipated.  When we arrived at the barn, a fellow boarder reminded us our Vet (whose land abuts our barn owner's land) was hosting his big Eventing competition.  We've gone over to watch some of it in the past, but this weekend we wanted to ride more.  So instead we grabbed Bear and Steen and headed out into the fields.

We warmed them up with some walking, trotting, and loping about.  Both were energetic and feeling good.  After a while, we moved over to the edge of the eventing course.  From two different vantage points we could see about half a dozen jumps and a water crossing.

The guys were both quite curious watching the course walkers and golf carts getting everything set up, but they took it all in stride.

Then we heard the hoofbeats of the first horse and rider galloping our way.  Bear's ears perked up as they came through the trees, cleared a jump, ran through the stream and came to the closest jump to us.  They didn't hit this one in the ideal way, and the horses legs banged against the wood.  This noise really startled Steen, and before I knew it Bear was spinning away, too.  I got him turned around and things were fine from there on out.  The next rider came and I just petted his neck and let him watch.  I think he was pleased I wasn't making him do that kind of stuff.

But the second rider basically turned Steen inside out.  He could not handle the running and jumping horses.  Robin had her hands full keeping him from spinning and working his way into the cornfields.  We hadn't seen him this upset in years.  It was a little disappointing, as we thought he was past these kinds of things.  Guess you never know.

So we spent longer than we anticipated watching the eventers while Robin worked to calm Steen down.  Bear and I mostly hung out, worked on a few things in between riders, and snapped some photos.  I didn't get too many good ones, but this horse clearing the downhill jump was pretty exciting.

It's a much steeper downhill than it looks.
By the time we got back to the barn we had been riding for three hours and weren't really up to grabbing the other two, who we've nicknamed The Green Team.  So we called it a day and went home.

Sunday was significantly more relaxing.  We joined two other riders for an easy trail ride.  Steen was a little antsy going out, but ultimately he was great.  And visiting some of the same places where he was freaking out yesterday was probably good for him.

When we returned to the barn Robin kept working with Steen and I grabbed Zoey.  We've been having some really great rides together lately.  On Monday I got out and rode her.  It was just the two of us.  Not that momentous, but for some reason we had only ridden her with other horses.  She was great, though.

Today she was a little touchy for saddling again; weird how those things can backslide.  And during groundwork I found she has this tendency to pull away from you while going in a right circle.  To the left she has a wonderful, soft bend to her body.  Going right she is somewhat rigid and constantly pulling against he rope.  I used the flag to simultaneously drive her and encourage a bend.  If she got too stiff Robin suggested I rhythmically disengage her hind end.  After a few minutes we had made some nice improvements.

Under saddle she was a little jittery at the start, but we just got to work and she calmed right down.  She is a funny horse.  She is very sensitive, but unlike Steen, she is not spooky at all.  So what happens is she does not get bothered by things outside of her little personal bubble, but she gets highly reactive to things inside that bubble.  Unfortunately, the rider is part of that bubble.  So she puts in some big dancing steps to get away from our feet and mecates and anything else that encroaches on her.  Bugs, too. 

I guess it is just a product of her personality and her greenness.  She's 7, but she's only had about 6 months total riding time in her life.  I try to remind myself of that when we work on whirly-gigs and get a great disengage of the hind end, but when I bring my other leg in to move the front over, she flips out.  That happened twice today, once in each direction.  But we just kept working on it, and I think we came together nicely.  I know Bear and Laredo tend to get a little stuck moving from the hind to the front, so I probably come in with more leg than I should.  So I worked on using very slight pressure with my calf and I assume Zoey just got used to my leg coming in at that time. 

We've been working on all things leg related, including side-passing.
The funny thing is, you really never know what is going to bother her.  She is almost always happy and calm and ready to respond, and then all of a sudden she'll just flip out.  It never happens when she is jittery and anxious.

We'll be heading out of town for a couple weeks, so both us and the horses will get a vacation.  Zoey has come a long way since we got her, but really, we are hoping for more.  And since it seems like she just needs time, we'll be looking to get a lot of hours on her when we get back.  Hopefully that, combined with some rest, will let us see even more changes.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The One Where I Almost Get Bucked Off

There we were, loping up a beautiful grassy hill; Robin was on an energetic but attentive Steen, and I was riding a happy to be out but somewhat lethargic Laredo.  The temps were in the 60's and a strong wind was blowing out of the north.  It felt like late September.

And then Laredo threw his head down and started bucking.  I kept my butt in the seat and found myself hugging his neck trying to find an ideal moment to roll off into the long grass.  But that never came.  He got himself stopped, I sat up, and then we continued trotting up the hill like nothing happened.  Silly kid.

The only thing we can think is that his feet are sore.  Last week all four horses got their feet trimmed, and for the past many days all of them have exhibited some sign of tender footedness.  Laredo and Zoey have been affected the most (or perhaps they are the wimpiest?).  Anyways, Laredo was not spooked or bothered by anything that we could tell, but something got him started bucking.  I can't believe I stayed on, but I'm happy I did.

Me and my crazy mount.
The rest of the weekend was fabulous.  Both days we woke up to temps right around 50.  We took our time in the morning and got out to the barn when the sun was up and the breezes were cool.  We spent the better part of the day there both Saturday and Sunday. 

Saturday was when Laredo had his bucking moment.  Thankfully I followed that up with a really great ride on Bear.  We rode in the indoor so Zoey could enjoy the plush sand.  Bear was his normal relaxed self, but there was a little something extra there as well.  On our last ride I got on him a little bit for his lazy flexing and stepping under with his hind end.  I've been thinking long and hard about our rides and what is working and what isn't, and I feel like I need to just do all our normal things but really focus on energy and precision with the flexing and stepping under.  I worked hard to get his attention on those things on Thursday, and I don't think he was super happy.  But Saturday and Sunday he was light on his feet and happy to respond.  This also carried over into our backing, moving the front end over, softness to the hackamore, and upward and downward transitions.  On top of that, he was happy to be doing it.  Multiple times in the ride he'd stop for the longest lip licking sessions I've ever seen from him.

Today's double ride started with us taking Steen and Bear out and about.  We stuck to the grassy areas and walked, trotted, and loped around.  Everything was great with them.  We really wanted to keep riding, but Bear was showing some signs of sore feet, so we headed back after an hour and a half.

My second ride was on Zoey.  Robin had a less than ideal ride on her yesterday.  She seemed to be in heat and having foot issues and overall just not happy.  I had no idea what I was going to get today, but it turned out to be none of those things.

We rode inside again, and we ended up having what I believe was our best ride ever.  It is true she was still sore in her feet, so we only trotted a little and didn't work on the lope at all.  But I could take her feet anywhere I wanted.  She was responsive to my legs, happy to stand, back up, or go, and she was just listening and trying.  No antics, no squirrely responses.  She was simply happy to be with me.  And I was happy to be with her.

It has been almost three months since we got her, and I have been thinking our progress has not been that great.  But today made me realize we have made good strides in catching, saddling, groundwork, moving off the legs, softening to the bit, not moving for mounting or dismounting, and looking to her rider when she gets bothered by external stimulators.  That is a pretty good list.  I think the fact that our other mounts are doing so well makes us think Zoey is coming along slowly.  But those are extremely unfair comparisons.  We've got a vacation coming up soon, but shortly after we get back we will be putting her up for sale.  Should be exciting to see what happens.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Getting Out Alone

My introduction to horses started a little over five years ago with following Robin to the barn to watch her ride Steen.  From there I slowly learned a few things about grooming, tacking, groundwork, and later, riding.  My interest grew slowly for a few years, and eventually I ended up with my own horse.  My knowledge and confidence with horses has grown immensely in that time, but one thing that hasn't changed is I still go to the barn with Robin.  We have so much fun riding out together, and having the other one there allows us to catch things we would not see on our own and has accelerated the learning process for both of us.

From time to time I do manage to get out to the barn on my own.  Robin might be out of town or have a work deadline, but it is never consistent.  This summer I had some changes to my work schedule, so for quite a few mornings I got out to the barn early by myself.

It is definitely different going out by yourself.  And early in the morning things are so unbelievably quiet.  Only once did I see another person, and she was just finishing up barn chores and leaving when I arrived. 

In the early morning the horses tend to be clustered up and dozing.  Quite a few times I have come across some hard sleeping horses.  We go into that pasture so much they don't mind us at all. 

I rode Bear on all the mornings I got out there.  A few times he was stiff from sleeping, but he was always happy to come with me.

Our rides were fun and relaxed.  We'd work on whatever we needed to work on out on the strip (getting soft, bending, staying relaxed in the lope) and then head out to explore the fields.  This is very new for me.  Years ago I envisioned myself getting out on the trails, walking, trotting, and loping around all the fields.  Just me and my horse.  As a biker, skier, and runner this kind of riding made perfect sense to me.  But doing it was far harder than I thought.  It took years for me to fully understand how a horse moves and thinks and to develop the coordination to communicate with them in a manner that is both reassuring and firm.

I probably arrived at that place earlier than this summer, but as I mentioned, I was almost always riding with Robin.  So this summer when Bear and I started getting out on our own, it felt like the most natural thing to do.  We could move out down the trail with no problems.  We even encountered some new territory together, spooked a turkey, and nearly stepped in a big hole.  And none of these were problematic at all, just part of working through things with your horse.

I know for some, getting out alone with your horse is no big deal.  Perhaps it is something you've always done, or you are fearless, or whatever.  But for me these rides have been pretty big, and they've opened a few new doors in my relationship with Bear.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Photo Dump!

So having four horses has been interesting.  We're learning tons and getting a lot of ride time in.  The only thing that is suffering is my blogging.  When you are almost always having two rides each day, it makes it hard to come home and formulate your thoughts.  So here are some highlights.

Bear had an owie under his chin earlier this spring, so we spent six weeks riding in the snaffle bit.  It was a fun refresher, though I'm really happy to be back in the hackamore now.  I think he is, too.

We spend a lot of time working on getting Zoey comfortable with things.  This includes face pets.  Initially, she was not into these at all.  I had to hold the rope halter to keep her from getting away from my rubs.  Now she can't get enough.

Bear and Steen can't get enough of us, either.  They've been very excited to see us almost everyday.  Bear has even started nickering to me in the pasture.  And if he can see me riding another horse in the outdoor arena he'll throw in a nicker, too.  It's quite endearing.

We've been out exploring in the fields more than ever.  There are some new strips of grass we can get to.  One includes a loop through a hilly soybean field.  We've taken to doing laps there, loping up the steep hill, trotting across, walking to the bottom, and then trotting back to the big hill.  Needless to say, the guys are getting pretty relaxed about moving out in open spaces.

Sometimes Robin and I play fun mirroring games.

And other times we just sit on our horses and chat.

My mom came to visit and had some great rides on Steen.

And we even got her up on the kid.  Before she came to visit her riding instructor asked who she would ride, mom said, "I don't know.  I've ridden Bear and Steen a bunch, so probably one of them.  I know I won't be riding Laredo."  He he.

Bear seems to be completely over his anemia.  He's loose and energetic and really fit right now.  We're having some of our best rides ever.

Zoey has a tendency to get stuck in situations, so we really do a lot of bending.  She's getting better.

Robin's mom came out to visit, too.  We did a nice trail ride and Bear was great for her.  Unfortunately we only got this one picture, but she was nice enough to take a whole bunch of pictures while Robin and I rode around playing cow.


I think the biggest thing we've learned from Zoey so far has to do with groundwork.  We've always done it, and we know how important it is.  But Zoey has shown us that we have not pushed enough when we need to push.  So we spend a lot of time with her and the guys getting them troubled and bringing them back down.

This isn't the best illustration of that, but we've been spending a lot of time with the flag, the tarp (finally got that out there) and the rope.

Hopefully I can get into a little better blogging rhythm now.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Long Day in the Arena

It's a three day weekend and we're supposed to have huge storms every day.  Today we woke up to sprinkles and sat around the house for many hours as it continued to rain.  The crops need it, but I'd rather it came on my non-ride days.

Eventually we saw the storm ending and went out to see the guys (and girl, gotta get used to that now).  The storm was not quite done, though, and we ended up getting fairly wet.  The horses were not to thrilled, either.  We saw everyone but Bear and Steen lined up against the windblock.  Suffering.  Bear and Steen were on the bale.  Laredo had the choice spot on the end, so Robin went up and grabbed him.  That opened things up a little and I moved Whisper off and snuck in to get Zoey.  She wasn't too happy about it, but she was also kind of stuck in a corner, so she gave up and came with me.

Inside she was really jumpy.  I know it was just the cold and wet, but it brought out a lot of energetic anxiety that we've worked to minimize over the last couple of weeks.  When she was stepping away from me and the towel and not allowing me to pick up her feet I wasn't sure if we'd ride or not.  I decided to just take things one step at a time, and I'd spend as much time on each step as we needed.

In the arena we did a lot of groundwork.  I focused on keeping her listening but keeping her calm.  We worked on following my feel and energy.  She had a lot of energy, so she wanted to trot a lot, but we would take that moment to work on a smooth disengage.  Then I'd ask if she was ready to follow my energy again.  For a while the answer was no, but after some time things improved.  We didn't just drill on that, though, we mixed in some backing, moving the front end over, and lots of face pets.  She was not a fan of the face pets, so I had to tell her I was going to touch her face and 'reward' her even though she wasn't thrilled about it.  Sometimes you have to deal with the loving.

From there we moved to accepting the saddle pad and moving off it.  This was so productive that when I grabbed the saddle she was very ready for it.  I swung it up and Robin said she looked great.  I know she moved one hind foot (I think just to square up a little), so I resaddled one more time and it was perfect.

Taking the bit, yeah, not so perfect.  We got right back to the tense head we had earlier.  Something about the cold and wet made her pretty defensive of her face and head.  I had to get a lot of pets in there, but she was not feeling it.  This was the only point I was starting to lose my patience, but I hung in there, and eventually I had her head lowered and turned towards me as she accepted the bit.  She takes the bit great, it is just getting her head into the accepting position that can take time.

When I climbed on she was stiff and distracted, so we just worked on all our usual things: flexing, walking circles, moving the hind, serpentines, teardrop turns on the rail, backing.  At some point, she just started getting with me.  I wish I could remember when it happened, but I don't.  I just remember thinking, wow, we're having a really good ride right now.  It felt good, since an hour before I wasn't sure if we even would ride.

We spent some time trotting in circles and then moving out along the rail a little more.  She was happy and balanced and only troubled a few times during right turns that I struggled to set up properly.  Towards the end of the ride we decided to really move out at the trot and see if she was interested in offering some lope strides.  We went left first and got a couple.  When we tried a little more we actually got quite a few strides in a row.  Robin said she looked like she was really having fun at this point.

Going right it was not quite as good, so we spent a little more time just trotting and trying to stay balanced.  Then I started feeling her head and front end come up a little bit.  I wasn't able to get multiple strides in a row, just one or two, but it is something to build on for next time.

During our last ride I couldn't back her up to save my life.  Today, completely different.  We were soft and energetic backing up.  I was even able to back some pretty nice circles on her and then transition into moving the front end around.  She was so willing through all of it.

When I hopped off she remembered that she actually likes face pets, so I gave her a lot more while we untacked and hung out.

By this time it had stopped raining.  Typical Bear had somehow managed to almost completely dry himself off.  I don't know how he does it.  We took him into the airlock for his vitamins.  I'm pleased to say he's still eating them.  Perhaps he can tell he is getting some much needed nutrients.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Walking Out

I was a little tired this afternoon.  Friday's can get that way a lot.  Especially if we've been getting to the barn a lot that week.  But there was no question whether or not we'd go.  It was absolutely gorgeous out.  High 60s, sun, light wind.

The only question was who to ride.  I didn't really feel up to one of the youngsters, so I suggested we just grab Bear and Steen and go poke around for a while.  Robin was not hard to convince.

We spent just a few minutes walking around the strip and warming up before heading down the drainage and off the property.  Bear felt good for the warmup, but as soon as we started down the hill's drainage I knew things were different.  He had nice energy, but more than that, his hind end was reaching and his back was really loose.  I've never felt him walk down hills like that.  Usually were somewhere between really stiff and a little stiff.  Not today.

We continued down the second strip and over to the dirt road that leads to a long, grassy lane.  We had not ridden out this way since maybe September, but everyone was relaxed about it and happy to be out.

On the grassy section we moved into a trot.  Robin let us take the lead so Bear and I could determine the pace based on how he was feeling.  Still good, apparently.  He was giving me a big, energetic trot.  I kept the reins loose and just looped my fingers over the horn to stabilize my posting a little.  His trot was so big and fast I was having some trouble with it, and if I got out of step with him it generally caused him to accelerate.  But just putting a couple fingers on the horn was enough.  I wasn't grabbing it.  Still, it would be nice to ride perfectly all the time without such crutches.  Stuff to work on.

We stayed on the path all the way down to the B-road.  I kind of wanted to keep going, but I figured it was best to not push Bear too much.  He had some time off and we're just getting things going again.  He still felt great, but no reason to push it.

Thankfully he stayed feeling great the whole way back.  We were even outwalking Steen at a few points.  When we hit the grassy stretch we decided to trot it out again.  This time we really got moving.  Steen and Robin were moving in and out of the lope to keep up.  Bear definitely has fun moving out, but this time I think it might have been because we were pointed towards home.

The ride ended with no troubles.  It was just a fun, trail ride and extremely relaxing.  Exactly the kind of riding I thought I was getting into years ago.  Just goes to show how much you don't know when you don't know things.  But the journey getting here has been totally worth it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hightlights From Tuesday

On Tuesday Robin grabbed some not-highly-exciting-video of me working Bear when I was trying to keep things light and stay off his head as he's still got a pretty big lump from being kicked in the neck and chest.

We've been working on this for a lot of months now.  I used to have to move my legs and lean a lot more, so it is fun to see the progress we're getting.  Now if I can just do this and get him to walk faster.  Maybe next year.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Steady Laredo

Robin and I were both tired heading out to the barn.  It was a cool and cloudy day; I'm sure that wasn't helping.

We did feel better once we got out there and grabbed our horses.  It is funny how steady and even Laredo feels after working with Zoey.  Not only have we known him so long (over a year, and a quarter of his life at that), but he's really filling out and just carrying himself nicely.

While Robin was taking her time saddling Zoey and getting the bridling done right, I decided to up things a little with Laredo and grabbed the rope.  My skills with the thing are still atrocious, but I have to learn somehow.  I started by playing around with it on the ground.  I focused on keeping my coil organized as I learned from the Martin Black clinic.  I also worked to get Laredo used to the rope and moving off the rope.  He was quite good at the first part and a little stuck with the second.  Typical Laredo.  But once I upped my energy and swatted him on the shoulder, he started moving off and respecting the rope.  But as soon as I hung out and rubbed him with it, he cocked a hip and relaxed.

I climbed on and we spent a few minutes riding around with me touching his neck and rump.  No problems.  So I built a messy loop and started swirling it around.

He was pretty fine with it.  His ears came up and he was paying a lot of attention, but he didn't mind it at all.  When I finally got the loop thrown out, he wanted to go inspect it.  I suppose that is a good initial thought.  But I had him stay and gathered the rope up myself.

And that was about it.  I didn't want to push things too much as I know a bad roper plus an inexperienced roping horse is a recipe for disaster.  So we spent the rest of the ride alternately watching Robin and working on some small movements and then moving out at the trot and lope.

He was really good with all of it.  Our loping was extremely smooth, and he gave me some of the best lope-trot transitions we've ever had.

Our only issue came towards the end of the ride.  I was occasionally asking for some more energy and getting a nice, big, posting trot going.  We could do this to the right no problem, but going left he was stiff and forward.  I kept going in both directions and couldn't figure it out.

Finally I had Robin watch and she said he was looking slightly anxious and prepared.  Almost as if he was expecting me to ask for the lope.  Funny.  We'd been moving in and out of it a lot, but he never seemed anxious about it.

And then it hit me.  Left shoulder.  I've been great about keeping it open and back at the walk and trot, but when things got fast I started to slump forward.  This was throwing my weight forward and starting to mimic the change in my body when I ask for the lope.  Going right it wasn't a problem.

From earlier in the ride, you can see my left shoulder forward and stiff, and I'm trying to fix things with the inside rein when I should just sit back and relax.
Going slower, but still, same problem.  Left shoulder slightly forward and I'm trying to fix it with my inside rein.
So I worked at exaggerating my posture to keep that shoulder up and back, and Laredo went into a nice bend almost immediately.  It is so cool to get feedback like that.  Yet another example of it always being the rider.  Sorry Laredo, but thanks for letting me work through things.  It's also nice that he's solid and steady enough to handle these things.

At the end, sitting back and relaxed, loose reins, and Laredo is balanced, bending, and happy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Body Position Really Matters

A few nights ago we watched Richard Caldwell's Jaquima a Freno (part II).  It was a really great video.  So many of the exercises we have seen before, but it is always nice to hear how another great horseman lays everything out there.  And like so many others, Caldwell rides like he grew right out of the back of the horse.  It is amazing to watch.

See more wonderful pics of Caldwell and other amazing riders in this album.
One of the things he talked a lot about was how his body affects the horse's body.  He demonstrated how during groundwork dropping his shoulder would often lead the horse to do the same thing.  Under saddle things are more magnified.  He showed us what it looks like to side-pass with an inactive body, and then he did it again shaping his rib cage up to match the horse's.  The difference in energy and lightness in the horse was like night and day.

It got me thinking more about my own body.  Particularly my tight, right hip.  I know it has caused me some problems in many a turn.  And no matter how much I try to open it up, it doesn't really help.  But something Caldwell said made me shift my focus to my left shoulder.  Another problem area in my body, though in a very different way.  Still, I'm sure they're connected, and over the past few days I've really focused on keeping that shoulder up and back.  I've been doing this while walking, doing the dishes, typing at work, during clean and presses, and of course, on the horse.

I have to say, it has a really nice impact on how my hip and the rest of my body feels.  It is a funny feeling, too.  I always think I'm exaggerating my posture, but in reality I have probably gotten in the habit of pushing my left shoulder forward more often than not.

All this helped me have a tremendous ride on Zoey.  She is a little girl.  Just over 14.1 and also very slight.  As a result, my mass means an awful lot to her.  If I shift my weight in a way that she's not ready for, it can take all the wind out of our sails.  Ultimately this is good for me, as it keeps me riding very well.  Better than I have to ride on the other guys.  But it is a lot to think about.

Onto the ride.  She was interested to see me in the pasture and I put her halter on with no problem.  She was extra relaxed during grooming, and I decided to saddle her at the hitching post.  She has a little saddling anxiety, so we've been doing it in the arenas where she has space to move and we have space to work.  Today, though, I was able to take my time and get the saddle on her with very little swiveling or anxiety.  I put it on and off three times, but the first had very little reaction, and the last was quite good.

When we get things from the barn she is very curious if we're coming back
In the arena we moved on to groundwork.  I focused on being soft, keeping my energy even, and of course, keeping my posture even, too.  We had a really good session.  I didn't push her as hard as other days, but we didn't need that.  And (surprise) I got more done.

Under saddle she was also relaxed.  We focused on some flexing and easy bending from the start.  A few rides ago on Bear I realized I should consciously keep my weight back when I ask for a flex as it was helping him keep his weight more evenly dispersed between his front and back feet.  The same is even more true for Zoey.

And then we rode.  We did a lot of circles, figure-eights, tear drop turns, and serpentines.  We also did a whole lot of trotting.  The trotting was working really well for us.  We started with smaller circles, then moved out to bigger ones, then to figure-eights, and finally out to using most of the arena.  She was very alert and attentive the whole time.  She also seemed to be happy with her job.

The only thing we struggled with was backing.  The first few times I asked it was great, bu then things really fell apart.  I just couldn't get her to move off.  I thought I was too active with my body and legs, so I did less.  That got me nowhere, so I did a little more.  And a little more.  And we just weren't getting it.  Since everything else was going so well, I didn't worry about it.  We'll get it next ride.  Or the one after.

Our second mounts for the day were hanging out in the airlock enjoying the fresh grass.

We quickly tacked them up and moved out into the pasture herd lot.  We'd never ridden in there, and hardly even walked through it.  It is a big square with a few flat sections and a few steeper hills in the far corner.  Bear and I started by just walking the fenceline and checking things out.  From there we moved into working some circles.

I'm still trying to be as light as I can with him as I know he hasn't magically gotten over the anemia yet.  He's now on his new supplement, so I'm hopeful we'll see some results soon.  Thankfully we still had a pretty good ride.  He's getting more and more sensitive to my legs.  I love how it feels to apply small amounts of pressure or just move one leg forward a little bit and feel him respond.

The not so great thing is he's not very responsive to the bit.  I have no idea if he was always like this and I just have more expectations/a better sense of feel since I've been riding him in the hackamore for the past year or if it is related to his general lethargy.  The nice energy I'm getting off my legs makes me wonder.

We also spent quite a while watching Robin and Steen ride.  The double horse rides are pretty long.  Particularly after a work day.  But they're really fun.  And I can already tell that riding Zoey has helped me learn all kinds of new, subtle things.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Just the Two of Us

As I said in the previous post, I felt a little bad with how I rode Bear.  I had to get out to the barn to get him the last of his meds and the first of his new supplement, so I figured I would make it up to him and have a nice, easy ride.

It helped that we weren't confined to the arena.  We've spent more time there in the last six months than we usually do, and I think its wearing on me.  Usually I don't mind it, and I'm thrilled we have access to it, but I really like being outside.  Today the sun was up and the wind was blowing cool, dry air in.

Bear and I did a few easy circles on the strip and then headed out.  He was pretty game walking down the drainage and over to the second strip.  As we continued I could feel he was a little anxious.  We never really go out alone.  This was actually only our second time doing it.  With the wind blowing hard, he was really looking around a lot.  But his body felt good and relaxed.  And I think that is the most important thing.

The end of that strip has some new grass laid down, and it was a little muddy.  I had planned on going all the way up to the corner of our vet's land, but trampling the tiny blades of grass didn't seem nice.  Instead I followed the edge of the field for a short ways and used a new drainage.

Well, not new.  It's old, but I only recall walking up it once a few years ago.  It snakes up into the hillside.  Bear was excited at first because the trajectory was initially towards home.  But then he had a different excited feeling when he realized we were going farther.

I just kept moving him from one side to the other with my legs and checking in to see how he would respond to the bit.  Everything was totally fine, and I think he ended up having fun.

I snapped a few pics.  They're a whole lot more boring when it is just you and the fields.  The best I could do was get Bear's ears in there.

Making our way up the new drainage.
And back down the drainage.
On the way home he was something of a power walker.  As Bear is normally a bit of a plodder, I just enjoyed it.  He was very barn focused, though.  So when we hit the turn for home I made him walk past it and give me a few nice tear drop bends before heading up.  He didn't get mad at those, instead they really helped him relax and focus.  I know bending helps horses, but it is always nice to feel it.

Back on the strip we walked around some more and then trotted a few circles.  These were excellent going to the left.  I was really surprised.  Then going right we had a spot where he was dropping in and surging forward.  It was on a slight downhill, but really, it was so so slight.  He should be able to handle it.  So each time we went around I played around with body position and (very) light rein contact to see if I could encourage him to stay even as we moved through it.  In the end we got a couple of really nice circles, and I was happy how easy it was to work through it.

As always, it was a lot of fun to spend time with just my horse.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Back on Bear

After a week of recovering from the fever I decided to grab Bear and see how and easy ride would go for him.  His fever has been down for many days now.  We did get his bloodwork back and found he is rather anemic, though.  So that could explain some of his lethargy these past few weeks.  We'll be changing his diet around some and hopefully that will have a positive impact on him.  Then we'll retest his blood in a month.

It had rained in the night, and we were disappointed to see the ground sopping.  Everywhere.  That meant another indoor ride.  Even with all the doors open it was hot and sticky in there.  The wind was blowing hard, just not in a way that helped us out.

Robin worked with Zoey while I hung out with Bear.  We didn't do too much.  I knew he was probably still not feeling great, and he has some sizeable bruises from the kicks, too.  So we just walked around, did a lot of bending and flexing and moving of the hindquarters, and a little bit of trotting.  His trot was awful.  Big and rough and fast.  And he was clearly not relaxed in it.  I tried to work through it for just a few moments, but it didn't improve so we went back to walking.

I definitely didn't want to do too much.  Though I made a few other mistakes, too.  While flexing and working on backing up I was probably a little too hard on him.  He was just inclined to lean on the bit.  That is very old Bear, it isn't something we've had to deal with for quite some time.  So my reaction to the feeling was to get him off the pressure.  It always worked, but I don't think he was fully there mentally.  In reality I should have worked harder to not put him in a position where he couldn't do a good job.  That is hard to do in normal circumstances, but in the hot arena with a horse that I don't know exactly how they are feeling made it even harder. 

So in the future, err on the side of too little.  If it isn't even beginning to shape up nicely, don't do it. 

But it wasn't anything awful; I'm sure I felt worse about it than Bear did.  I could tell he was happy to come in with the rest of us and hang out.  Also, Robin and Zoey had a pretty good ride.  So far we're seeing continual improvement in almost everything.

Hard to Title with Two Very Different Rides

We got out to the barn early on Saturday knowing we would work with a lot of horses.  We were each going to ride two, and on top of that Robin would be working with a 2 year old.

It was my day to work with Zoey, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that she wanted to work with me, too.  There were no catching issues.  She didn't come to me, but she didn't go anywhere, either.  Pretty good progress in just a few days.

We worked in our 'outdoor arena.'  It was the first time either of us worked with Zoey outside.  She was good, but definitely a little extra distracted.  Thankfully this was somewhat offset by her extra relaxation.  This was by far the most relaxed she has been in our presence yet.

The saddling took a few extra minutes today.  It was windy, and Robin was also having a pretty intense groundwork session with the 2 year old.  Eventually I got Zoey all ready to go, but then she wasn't too keen on my stepping up.  She kept stepping off.  I would move her over and back her up, then adjust my reins and work to get on.  She must have stepped of close to 10 times, and I definitely got a little frustrated with her, but I just kept asking her to move and then trying to set it up again.  Robin was getting on Steen at this point, and she suggested I continue with asking her to move, but lighten up just a little bit and also work to get her steps even and rhythmic.  I had to do it three or four more times, but then all of a sudden it just worked.

And she was just fine.  Super relaxed.  So funny how one little thing can get to them, but then once you're through that, things are fine.  Of course other things will (and did) come up, but nothing major.  I was happy with how relaxed she felt outside.  There was definitely a little more energy, but nothing outrageous.  We did a lot of circles and serpentines and spent some time on a set of 10.  We had to split that up into two sessions as our stops were deteriorating.  Backing improved, though.

We spent more time trotting circles and figure eights.  She felt much more balanced and relaxed than last time.  There were a few spots in the circle she wanted to bulge out towards, but I worked to gently block her and get her where I wanted.  I was erring on the side of blocking too light.  Same with when she'd drop the trot.  I would just encourage her to pick it back up and not worry if it took four or five strides.  I would never have given Bear or Laredo a pass like that, but it is funny when you don't really know the horse yet.  Also, she is much more sensitive and inclined to clam up than either Bear or Laredo.

And that was pretty much our ride.  She did fidget when I got off her.  Something about her left shoulder gets her bothered.  Multiple times in the ride it seemed like my left boot/stirrup freaked her out.  And then when I stepped off into that same space she didn't like it.  So I got back on.  That only took three times of setting it up.  But she stood, relaxed, and then stayed relaxed for the second dismounting.  A new horse sure gives you a lot of things to work on.

We had a quick snack and then I switched to Laredo.  The treed pasture was closed off, so we decided to take advantage of that and ride over there.  We used it quite a bit last summer, but I don't think we've ridden out there since maybe September or October.  And Laredo was excited about it.  He had a ton of energy.  But he was also moving off my legs nicely, so I wasn't too concerned.

In the beginning he gave me some big, gorgeous trots as we explored through the trees.  Then he started pushing out and offering to lope.  I didn't really want that yet, but thankfully a light bend in either direction would bring him right back to the trot.

When we had that working for us I picked a figure-eight-ish pattern in the open space and planned to lope half of it and trot the other half.  There were two giant weeds that served as our transition marker.  He picked the lope up each time really smoothly. 

About half way through the circle he'd accelerate a little, and then rounding the bend he started getting really forward.  About that time we'd transition to the trot, and these were pretty good.  So I kept rolling with it.  Always the great upward transition, then more speed, then loss of balance.  The last round we did was the same, and when we hit the transition area he was not at all interested in coming down to the trot.  He pushed against the bit a little and threw in a perfectly smooth flying lead change.  It was so nice I didn't even know he did it.  Robin was just laughing as she watched him do it.  I got the trot transition a few steps later, and then I figured we should maybe work on these same things but at a slower speed.  The lope was not doing us any favors.

To move down to the trot I normally pick up light pressure on the reins and move into a posting trot.  Laredo was not having it this time.
So we did a lot of trot/walk/trot transitions.  He wasn't very happy with these, either, but we kept going and things got better.  I realize I don't do those too much when we've got a lot of open space in front of us. Definitely something to work on, particularly since I'll want these smooth transitions at all gaits and no matter what surroundings we have.

He did get a little pissy later on.  We were trotting around the trees and he just wanted to lope again.  I blocked him and used my body to ask for the trot.  He threw his head down and hopped a few times before trotting.  Silly horse.  Over the last year he's really thrown in a lot of mini-bucks.  More than I thought he would. But he never gets anything out of them.  I just keep thinking he'll quit it.  Hopefully soon.  At least they help my seat, though.

By the end I was pretty darn tired.  Riding our two, least finished horses is pretty demanding.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

End of a Long Week

We've barely had Zoey a week.  It is kind of hard to imagine, as it seems like we've gotten to know her pretty well through the vet work and groundwork and riding.  It does help that she is a fairly easy horse to work with.  She has her anxieties and issues, but she is not dangerous and she is not overly reactive.

Still, it has been a tiring week.  We've changed our routine a bit and we've had to get out there a little extra to check on sick Bear and give Zoey her meds.  But when I got home from work yesterday afternoon, I knew I still wanted to go to the barn.

I decided to start with Laredo and just tool around on him while Robin worked with Zoey in the indoor.  It was a hot afternoon.  I thought the indoor would be relatively comfortable, but it wasn't getting any of the nice breeze.

Robin did some very thorough groundwork and had a nice ride, so I ended up riding Laredo longer than I anticipated, but we didn't ride hard.  Most of our ride was spent working on small things.  We've been walking rectangles a lot more, which involves side passing.  His side passes are quite good, but I do think it has had a negative effect on moving his hind end with legs but no hands.  Today I wanted to him to really feel and think about the subtle difference in my body between moving his hind end, side passing, moving the front end, and backing circles.  So we did all those over and over again in various order.

He was really good with all of it.  His energy levels were up almost the whole time despite the heat, and I really felt like I had tremendous control of his feet by the end of the ride.  This was good, because it was a rather busy afternoon.  Robin was working with Zoey, there was a lesson on a longe line, and another person was warming up getting ready for their lesson. But I never had to worry about Laredo as I knew I could take him anywhere I wanted at anytime. 

After that we switched things up for ride two.  I put Zoey back and tacked up Steen.  Robin would keep going on Laredo.  We went out to the strip and it was a really nice evening.  Steen was extremely relaxed with me.  He often is.  Until I get on.  Then we have to get used to one another again.

But not today.  I climbed on and he was thrilled to work with me.  We still had a to adjust to fit each other a little bit, but he didn't get bothered by it.  At all.  He just kept going where my body was telling him.  If it didn't feel right to me, I'd play around with my position or block him slightly with the hackamore and he would just keep hunting for the right place to be. 

Steen is so unbelievably light, and it makes it fun to kind of play with that lightness.  Robin was having fun watching me just collect him.

But then I could hold that and move his feet around forward, backward, left, and right and he never pushed against my hands. 

We also spent a few minutes loping some nice circles.  I had one spot in each direction where I got stuck.  I think I was missing a cue with my hip or dropping my shoulder.  But with how it happened, I know it was something I was doing.  Again, Steen was not bothered by this even though we got pretty close to the fence and went into the planted field once.  Oops. I didn't drill on it, I figured we'd come back to it again at some point.

So this was by far my best ride on Steen.  Not sure how it happened, but he is just feeling extremely different.  I think every couple of months we notice an improvement in our horses, but this new feeling in Steen is the most dramatic change we've ever felt.