Sunday, February 24, 2013

Birthday Chinks

In addition to a gorgeous mecate and a few other gifts, Robin also got me a pair of custom chinks for my birthday.  It took a few months for them to get made, but the wait was worth it.  We got them from LW Leather, and they are extremely well made and comfortable.  I was really surprised to learn how good they felt in the saddle.  I almost thought the extra material might cause some issues.  Not so.  If anything, the chinks really enhance the way you connect with the saddle.  So that, on top of providing some additional warmth, make them pretty darn amazing.

This weekend we had some fun rides.  The weather continues to be less than ideal, but that's all right.  We are still having fun in the indoor, and it is always nice to play around with them before we get down to grooming and tacking.

Today I was running around with Laredo.  He'd follow me around and then run off when I stopped to go after him, then he'd get curious again and come follow me.  Super funny.

He's been getting increasingly friendly and comfortable lately.  Slipping the hackamore on is getting easier and easier, but he still has his odd things.  He doe snot love you being on his right side.  So whenever we're hanging out and grooming we make sure to spend more time on that side of him just rubbing him down and getting him used to it.  He's getting better, but you can see a definite lean away from me in the pic below.

His groundwork also continues to improve.  He is really starting to move off the feel of the rope, and I rarely have to encourage him to move off faster or clamp down on the rope with a sharp correction.  It is neat to see.

And things keep going well with Bear.  Though the weather has not been great, it hasn't been awful, either.  And he seems to be overall moving better than he was in January.  Today we did a lot of loping around again and he was very relaxed and attentive.  Of course, he is always happy to hangout in his other favorite gait, too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Just The Bear and I

Robin has been extremely busy with work this year, and that has cut down on some of our mid-week rides.  But today I felt determined to get out there.  Robin stayed home to work, so it was just Bear and I.

We also had the barn to ourselves for most of the afternoon.  So I brought him in and let him loose to roll and play.  The guys love doing this when they come in from the frozen pasture, so I was curious what Bear would do on his own.  He ended up rolling three times (one or twice is his norm).  Then he jumped up, kicked out, threw his head around and trotted right up to me.  I gave him a few pets and started walking around.  He was keen on following me, so I started running a little and playing a little chase.  He'd cut hard and then run away, then I'd run away and he would come after me.  Then I went after him again and he turn on the gas loping some hard circles around me.  I stopped and turned away from him and he just slowed down and came right up to me.  We had never practiced any of this stuff, so it was neat to see how he responded.

When I climbed on he was very attentive.  I forget how much having another horse in the arena affects them.  He basically just had me to pay attention to.  I was also happy to see how good he was feeling.  Much looser than the past couple of weeks.  Perhaps it is the slightly more regular exercise, or maybe it is just that we have been getting him more senior vitamins, but it is nice to see.  Today we only did about ten minutes of warming up before he felt ready to go.

We went through a few laps at the lope in each direction.  After that we took advantage of the empty arena to work on simple lead changes.  These are tough on me and on Bear, so instead of figur-eighting the whole time and changing each half lap, I would cut across the arena for our change and then do a full lap and a half on the new lead before cutting back to the middle for another change.

This gave us a lot of time to settle in and get ready.  I still need quite a few steps in the trot before we're ready to move off into the lope again, but we improved each time we did it.  Bear was definitely anticipating me, and he was always happy when he got it right.  When he didn't he would dip his head, shake it hard, and then move off into the correct lead.  It almost seemed like he was made at me or himself, or maybe both.

We did not spend much time trotting today, and perhaps that was also a part of why Bear was feeling so good.  We would go through a few sessions of the simple lead changes, and then work on walking around without the reins or pivoting on individual feet.  Then we'd get back to some more loping.

We also worked a little on getting the lope from the walk (I almost always move into it from the trot).  We had a couple of so-so upward transitions, and then I realized I wasn't softly collecting him.  So I picked up the reins, shaped up my legs, and then asked him to move out.  He took off like a rocket.  It was the fastest I'd felt a horse move in the arena.  His head was up and he was kind of looking around.  It wasn't until we made the turn at the other end of the arena that I saw all the barn dogs down there kicking it up.  They had recently been let out by the barn owner, but I wasn't paying much attention to them.  It turns out they came bursting through the arena gate right when I asked Bear for the lope.  So funny.

I always forget how fun it can be to hang out with just Bear and no one else.  I will definitely have to make this a more regular occurance.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cruisin on Laredo

We had our best ride together since sometime early in the fall.  After that I wasn't riding him a lot due to Steen's injury.  Then we had our couple of run-away moments just before the holidays (apparently I didn't blog about the second one).  They were excellent learning experiences, but they definitely set my Laredo comfort level back a little bit.

But since January we've been doing more and more rides, and today was the best one yet.  He was very attentive to my legs and happy to walk, trot, or lope around.  We started moving into the lope very early in the ride, and Laredo was eager to keep doing it.  For the most part I don't worry too much about steering him.  We just more or less go along the rail and work on staying relaxed and getting comfortable with it.  Sometimes we stop from the lope (which Laredo is really good at) and sometimes we transition down to the trot or walk.  He is good at looking for the signals, but at times he still misses things.  So sometimes we move in and out of the lope unexpectedly, or other times he will cut across the arena when I did not expect it.  As Ray Hunt says, it is a great moment to practice going with your horse.

During one of these sharp dashes across the arena we got pretty close to the wall and I had no idea what he was going to do, so I just reached down and gently picked up on the right rein.  Laredo tucked his butt, changed leads, and effortlessly moved off to the right.  No pulling or yanking or anything that would push him off balance.  It was one of the most amazing moments I've had on a horse.  It is great to see him responding so well to the hackamore.

Robin and I finished out the ride playing a few transition games and then working on the routine.  The first round left something to be desired.  Laredo wanted to nip and play with Steen, and Steen wasn't that happy about it, and then one of us was always going too fast or too slow.  It was probably one of our worst runs at the routine yet.  Thankfully the next couple improved quite a bit.  I was a little worried that I had reached the end of Laredo's attention span, but he came right back to me and got to work.

I'm really excited about this ride, and I hope it marks a nice turning point for Laredo and I.  I have no doubt something else will come along in the future, and even though working through those tricky moments is never fun, it is always great to come out the other side.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Feeling Good

Again we got out to the barn early in the morning.  And it was pretty cold.  This week it got really nice, but we were busy with work stuff.  So this morning's 11 degrees felt pretty chilly.

Thankfully the pasture has improved some.  It is still full of frozen lumps, but they are more rounded and not quite as hard as they used to be.  Also, there is only one major frozen puddle now.  We arrived to find all three of our guys soaking up the sun behind the windblock.

Bear was quite tight coming in.  When we turned him loose with Laredo, he took quite a few minutes before he rolled, and then he walked around for a while longer before they finally started moving freely and kicking it up a bit.  We could easily see Bear was moving better in the lope than the trot, but each time he started going faster, he looked better.  That was a good sign.

When I climbed on he was still stiff, and like our last ride, I just took it slow.  We spent almost 20 minutes doing some gradual serpentines, going forward and backwards, pivoting on all four feet, and just getting loose.

He started feeling good so I asked for the trot.  It was the first ride all winter that he didn't hop and kick out a little.  So we moved into the lope and it was really smooth.  He was attentive to my seat and legs and seemed to be really happy to be moving around.  We went back and forth in each direction and every lap was smooth and fun.

Half way through the ride I grabbed a couple of cones and we set them up to play cow.  We didn't play long, but we had fun.  The first round Laredo was the 'horse' and Bear and I were the 'cow.'  We were doing alright, but Laredo was getting a little sluggish.  When we switched it up, though, Robin really livened Laredo up and we had a great little session.  He was trotting and loping in nice, tight circles, stopping well, and backing with enthusiasm.  So that kind of ended the ride.  We always look for nice endings with Laredo.

Even though it is still quite cold, I'm hoping being half way through February means Bear will have more good days than bad days.  It will probably also help us get out to the barn a little more.  I'm ahead of where I was this time last year, but with the lofty goal of 200 hours in the saddle, I should start picking it up soon.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Getting Out Early

When we went to bed Saturday night, we knew there was a good chance Sunday would be not so nice.  So I decided to just get up the next morning, have my coffee and breakfast, and then go to the barn.  No matter what.

It was a good thing I made that decision, because otherwise we might have stayed home.  The guys were happy to see us and come inside for a while.  They were completely soaked, and they had a lot of fun running around in the arena before we groomed and tacked them up.

Definitely wet, but not too unhappy.
The ride was pretty nice.  Laredo and I warmed up with some easy walking and trotting and then moved into working on the lope.  I had my spurs on today, but I don't think I used them once.  He was happy to move out for me, and we had some nice upward and downward transitions.  I would have liked to have worked on it more, but we were then joined by another border.  With three horses in the arena it can get a little crowded.

Instead we focused on smaller stuff.  He is getting great at moving his front end or hind over with very little pressure from me.  Here is a not so exciting shot of my moving his hind end to the left. 

Just moving my leg back and rotating my weight onto that hip bone gets him stepping over very nicely.  He is so good at it that it's hard not to do it all the time.

He did continue to have some nose up issues today, but not much.  They mostly happened after the third horse and rider joined us in the arena.  I really changed up what we were doing, and I think he got a little bored with it.  It is always hard to say, but overall, it was a good ride and he is continually adjusting to the hackamore.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Frozen Pastures and Energetic Horses

After Thursday's all day rain and yesterday's cold temps, we found the guys safely tucked against the big bails.  The area surrounding the bails was the only solid footing in the whole pasture.  The rest was a mix of frozen lumps of ground and frozen puddles.  It was a slow, careful walk getting them out of there.

Today was my day with Bear and Robin's with Laredo.  As is our habit we turned them loose in the indoor to spend some time on solid ground.  They moseyed about for a  few moments, then Bear rolled.  After a few good back scratches, he sprang up, kicked out, threw his head around and started running.  Laredo immediately joined him.  The two proceeded to play around for quite some time.  I'm sure all the eating and lack of movement left them full of energy.

Once calmed down they came to us, and we brought them out for grooming and tacking.  I could tell Bear was a little stiff when he was romping around, so I took it really easy on him in the beginning of the ride.  I spent the first 30 minutes of the ride just walking.  It sounds boring, but it was actually quite fun.  We worked on bending through various sized circles, moving the forequarters and hindquarters, staying loose at the poll, backing, backing circles and much more.  I thought of it as pre-hab type work.  Stuff to get him moving and feeling good.

And I think it worked.  When we moved into the trot he gave me a few little hops, but he very quickly settled into it.  His steps were full of energy, and I had no problem directing him around with my legs.  We then moved into the lope and got quite a few nice, balanced laps around the arena.  He felt like he wanted to just keep going, but Robin and I had plans to work on some transitions.

So we proceeded to walk half a lap and trot half a lap like we often do.  Laredo seemed to be doing great.  Bear, well, Bear just wanted to spring into the lope.  Every time.  There was not a single lap when we were going to the left that Bear didn't move into the lope.  And he wasn't just kind of offering, he was powering into it.  I felt bad bringing him down lap after lap, but he had to know that loping wasn't the answer. 

I had no idea why he was doing this.  Of course I thought I might have been bringing too much energy into my ask.  I didn't really think this was true, but nevertheless, I decided to go into each upward transition and ask for the trot with as little change in my body as possible.  It worked in some ways, he wasn't wanting to rocket off into the lope, but he was still picking it up.

It was not until we switched directions that I started getting him settled into some nice trots, and that was nice.  I just never know what to think when I encounter this.  I've written about other instances where I think he is having a little trouble trotting and would prefer the lope (the lope is such an easy gait for Bear), but today he just felt so at ease in both gaits.  So I really don't know. 

At the end of the ride he was not the least bit tired, so I'm just going to be happy with the (overall) good ride that we had.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Some Catching Up

Trips to the barn have become more consistent, though the weekly volume is still not high.  We have been very consistent at trading off our Laredo rides.  This has gone a long way to getting him back into work and feeling good moving around in the indoor arena.

I have also been making sure I get some not too demanding rides in on Bear.  No agenda, just getting on and feeling him out.  Some days he is stiffer than others, but overall he seems to be happy to come in and hang out with us.  The other week we had a short but low key ride while our barn manager put her first ride on her new two year old.  He was surprisingly all right with everything.

A couple of weeks ago Robin decided to see how Laredo would go in the hackamore.  It is something we have talked about for a while, but we never got around to trying.  She had a pretty great time with it, so then I had a go, too.

I know the hackamore is just another tool, but for some reason it has become my favorite horse tool over the last 8 months or so.  I find that I can communicate much more solidly and clearly with the horse.  Because of that, there is a lot less room for error when using it, so I have learned a lot about touch and feel and setting things up. This is not to say such riding cannot take place in a bit.  It totally can, but for whatever reason, I am understanding more with the hackamore at this point in my riding.

And all the knowledge I've gained from riding Bear in it most of last year translated nicely to working with Laredo.  Yes, they are very different, but we had a great time on our first hackamore ride.  As Robin mentioned in her blog, he seems to have some bit anxiety that is still lingering from when he was started.  We've come a long way in softening him up, but when he gets a little anxious, he can only think about the bit.  The hackamore seemed to free his mind up a little, and he was much more attentive to my legs.  We also had some excellent transitions and some fun loping.  I did have to pop him on the butt a couple of times with my mecate to get him going, but after that, he was more than willing to move out.  He even seemed to be having a lot of fun with it.

Oh, I should say that during one butt pop I got the mecate stuck under his tail.  I could feel him tense up as he clamped his tail down on the rope, but he just kept loping nice little circles the whole time and didn't freak out at all.  I slowed him down to a stop and tried to pull the rope out, but he was still clamping down pretty hard.  I almost got it by pulling on his tail some, but in the end Robin hopped down and freed the rope.  Everything went so well up to that point I didn't want to push things into scary territory.

When the weather is not so nice and the ground is frozen and lumpy, we like to let the guys move around on their own in the arena.  Bear and Steen really know the drill, but in the last couple of days Laredo has started to figure it out.

 Steen is a little dramatic sometimes. He also probably wouldn't tell you that he started it.