Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Lessons

Lately I've been in one of those places with Bear where things feel like they've drastically improved.  I am still surprised by these feelings, but I love that they keep coming every couple of months.

The big changes I've noticed are in how he listens to my seat.  The hopping into the lope problem has almost completely disappeared.  He will still think about doing it, but then he always notices I am still posting and giving him the trot signal.  I think all the transitions we've been doing in the indoor this winter have helped me fine tune my seat a little more.  I know it can get better, but it is a good sign that Bear is following along.

The other change is just a general willingness to follow me.  Bear is very much a leader, so it has been a challenge for me to learn about horses and softness and also learn how to step in and be the one in charge.  He's been great about filling in for me when I'm not ready for something or not making the right choice in a situation.  But lately he's be ceding more authority to me.

I really think the flag has been a big part of this.  The last few times out I have really focused on getting him relaxed and responsive with the flag, particularly on his troubled right side.

Today we made huge strides in that department.  His pivots from right to left and left to right were almost identical. Both on the ground and under saddle.  He was not worried by the flapping flag when we were riding around, and this time I felt confident enough to keep the flag in my hand while we trotted and loped around.  He was extremely uncertain with this at first, but he stayed very attentive and didn't do a single thing I didn't ask of him.

We also continued to work on getting close to the wall on his right side.  I did this to put the flag away on the ledge, but also a few times just to practice it.  This is something I never used to do.  I remember a few years ago when there would be a noise or something I could tell Bear didn't like, and I was very careful to get nowhere near that thing.

Now I am starting to notice problems and things that are difficult for him, and instead I think "I should work on that right now."  So we worked on sidepassing up to the side of the arena and hanging out there while I fumbled with the flag or tapped on the wood and aluminum siding.  They weren't perfect, but we were able to end on a really great note with him standing and sighing while I poked around up there.

Robin was having a good ride on Laredo, and as the sun was shining again, we figured we go take a walk in the fields.  Unfortunately it was super soft and mucky.  We got into the pasture and up to some high ground, but even that wasn't very pleasant.  On top of that, Laredo was fixated on something in the far edge of the pasture.  We think it was a trickling stream, but we're not certain.  Either way, we do know it was causing Laredo to dance around and not pay as much attention to Robin as he should.  She was able to work through it pretty nicely, so hopefully next time we're out it will be a little drier.  It is a lot easier to work through things with good footing.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Turning Things Around

As I've mentioned the last couple of weeks, I've been struggling with Laredo.  Getting him soft and lively and just having a good time have all been a little tough.  We normally start out doing fairly well, but then the ride goes downhill after 15 or 20 minutes.  Today was a little like that, but also a little different.

We started with the flag again. I'm getting more comfortable using it, and Laredo is understanding when to listen to it and when to just let it be.  He no longer thinks it is a toy.

Under saddle I tried to keep things moving.  So I would deliberately pick an exercise or two to roll through, and then we'd rest.  Often things come apart when we're just riding around and I'm trying to figure out what to do next.  Bear has no trouble with that, but Laredo needs a lot more guidance or he really, really checks out.

Even when we were taking our breaks we had things to work on.  I've introduced holding him in a flex and waiting for him to step over. 

He looks a little forward in this shot, but I think that is because he would often try to walk forward as one of his first guesses.  Funny guy, he's not a 'forward' type of horse, but in this position he wants to go forward?  He did start to get them, and he would step over nicely with legs and no hands and also with hands and no legs.

Another thing we constantly work on is backing.  It used to be something Laredo and I were pretty good at, but for some reason it has been awful lately.  Today it was again pretty bad.  I was frustrated and trying to get him off the hackamore and get more lively. What I was doing was working in the moment, but it wasn't really getting through to him.  Which probably means what I was doing wasn't really working.

Robin was trying to explain how it was all not working out for me, and I couldn't quite get it.  She'd do things on Steen, and I can't comprehend exactly how it works.  Bear is not as soft as Steen.  And in some ways he is not as soft as Laredo, either.  But overall he's softer.  So my calibration and understanding of softness and pressure has probably been steadily declining as I've been going back and forth between the two.

But then I kind of felt something.  I started to understand in greater depth when he was leaning and pushing against me and when he was just stuck.  It allowed me to more accurately apply force and patience.

This is when things really started to turn around.  Our backs got better, he was more willing to move out, and we ended up having a great ride.  We spent almost 90 minutes in the indoor arena, and I really had no idea we were riding that long.  I always think that is a sign of a good ride.  You think so hard when you're practically going nowhere that you have no time to get bored.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Um, Spring Break? Hello?

Today we woke up to snow, and it continued to snow throughout the morning.  So we just headed out for the barn right away less we lose motivation or get stuck in the afternoon crowds.

The guys were all tucked up against the windblock.  I grabbed Bear and then got Laredo for Robin while she fed Steen some additional chopped hay.  He's started his annual spring weight loss, so we're trying to get him a few extra calories.

A little different than the last few days, but at least Laredo scored a premo windblock spot.
I started off working with the flag again.  From the ground Bear was a little better with it than he was a few days ago.  He moved off of it nicely (without over-reacting), and he tried hard to not let it bother him when I would randomly wave it around and not ask him to move.  I was also getting some great disengages and front end pop overs.  He's really great at rolling back on his haunches.  However, he was quite sticky rolling from right to left.  I've written before about his right side, and I just don't know if he sees as well out of it.  I really had to get the flag in a lot closer to get him moving, and he always had a look on his face like the flag just came out of nowhere.

We did work on it, but I didn't press it too hard.  I wanted to climb on and keep using the flag, so we relaxed for a few minutes and I rubbed him all over with it.  When I climbed on he wasn't bothered at all. 

But then the tiniest movement of the flag had him dancing around a little.  Even having it on his left side he was more reactive than I would have liked.  So I rubbed him down some more, and then we walked in circles with me just holding the flag out.  When we had that going well I moved it back and disengaged his hind.  And when that worked out I used the flag to get some really nice, energetic steps over on the front end.

And finally we switched hands and started over on the right side.  Again, much more hesitant with it on this side, but we worked through things slowly.  We got to the point where I could get him to disengage his hind, then roll the flag over his head and get him to move the front end over.  No spooking or shying, just very attentive movements, and both directions felt about equal.

So we set the flag down for a while and worked on other things.  Again he had nice energy, so we worked on keeping a big trot going and then periodically I would soften him up and slow our pace down to about half of our fast pace.  When he felt really soft I threw him the slack in the reins and went back to some big posting.  He was great with it.

After a while I thought about going back and getting the flag, but Bear was not happy with me side passing him against the arena side to reach over and grab the flag.  So we had to work on that for awhile.  I had to ask pretty firmly to get him close enough to reach the flag.  I knew he was really tense and jumpy, so I didn't even go for the flag.  I just reached near it and made some noise on the wood with my hand.  He shied away maybe five or six times.  And each time we had to work really hard to get back in position.  Eventually we got it.  He stayed still while I moved some dust around and patted the small platform near the flag.  I gave him some big pets and then we moved on.  No reason to push it all the way and grab the flag today.  Also, I was asking him to approach the wall with his right side.

Meanwhile, Robin was having a great ride on Laredo.  He had some really nice energy despite exhausting himself on yesterday's trail ride.  We finished things up by running through the routine a few times.  We threw in some loping on the straightaways again and both guys were quite good with it all.

It feels great to have a nice rhythm going with the barn again.  And I love having so many things working for us, but also having so many things to keep working on.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


We had so much fun on yesterday's ride we decided to more or less repeat it today.  It has been too long since we got out and about, so doing the same thing over again was not a drag at all.

I had ridden Bear a few times in a row, so it was my turn to get Laredo.  As I mentioned earlier this week, our rides have been pretty sub par.  I wasn't too worried about riding out with him, but I wanted to get some things working for us before we headed out.

From the time he met me in the pasture I really worked to keep his focus on me.  I didn't want him zoning out at all and getting hooked on other things.  So if his attention strayed I would gently tip his nose back to me or get him to move his feet.  If he was really locked onto something else he had to hustle those feet or got a small pop on the nose.

I carried that same mentality into the arena for our warm up, and it definitely had a positive impact.  I worked hard to pick each activity and make sure we did it with quality.  In a short amount of time we worked on flexing, backing, moving he hind and front, figure eights a various gaits, and getting a steady trot and canter.  Only towards the very end did he start to get a little sticky with his backs, but not too bad.  And I knew we could work on those periodically throughout the day.

So we headed out for the strip and walked down to the big pasture.  Laredo has an interesting history when it comes to walking down hills.  He's not very good at it, and he doesn't like it.  He's been known to charge straight down them, refuse to go down them, and throw in some bucks at the top of them.  Today he started marching right down the first steep hill with no trouble.  I know he's been getting stronger, so maybe this is easier for him.  But then halfway down his front foot slipped out from under him.  I worried for a second we'd tumble forward, but he very calmly caught his balance and proceeded on.  Very interesting.  Unfortunately the rest of the day's down hills were hit or miss.

When we rounded the bend into the big pasture, he was a little nervous about something.  He kept looking around, and his head carriage was much higher than usual.  I would gently bend him or ask him to soften up to make sure he was listening.  He responded nicely, but it didn't make a lasting impression.

Then he spooked at something.  He just rolled back on his haunches and launched himself to the right at the canter.  He tucked right behind Steen and stopped.  I didn't even have time to react; thankfully everything was so smooth it wasn't a problem.  Neither Steen, nor Robin or myself could see what was bugging him.  Silly kid.

We proceeded to walk through the big pasture and trot up to the treed lot with no problems.  We got through all the gates and then made it to the long, hilly strip heading into the 'salad bowl.'  Again, Laredo was looking around a lot.  We had never been over here, so it was understandable.  We just kept working on some lateral and vertical softening, and he was great.


When we got to the salad bowl we also got to work.  We want to spend longer rides moving out, especially with Laredo.  So we hung out in the area trotting up and down the length of the field and walking up and down the steep hills.  He was getting more and more fatigued with each pass, but he also continued to listen to me.  Each time we'd take a break I'd have him back up or ask him to move his feet, he was always soft and attentive.

In the end we threw in a few lopes up a hill and down a long straight away.  He was smooth and relaxed, and also extremely tired at this point.  But it was a very successful outing.

On the way back he was struggling to keep up with Steen's rather relaxed walk, so we worked on speeding up and getting some collected trots in.  He was good for that, but he often wanted to hop into the trot on his own, so we also got to work on our downward transitions.  When we crested the last big hill near the barn, he saw home and let out the loudest, most pathetic whinny I've ever heard from him.  Poor guy was exhausted.

Picking our way through one of the softer spots.
And we still had to go back through two more pastures, but he was all right with that.  And in the end, I think he had a lot of fun.  He was falling asleep while munching on his chopped hay, and he was totally fine with me rubbing all over his ears.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Break!

I had a work trip to Minneapolis earlier this week, but other than that I've taken some days off work because it is spring break.  The weather has been nothing like spring break.  We've had rain and snow and single digit temps and some crazy wind that felt right out of Canada.

So when today was sunny, clear, and nearly 40 degrees, we were pretty excited.  We went out to the barn in the peak heat of the day.  The guys were dozing in their blankets and not too excited to come to us.  I had to move Bear around a little bit yesterday to get him to come to me, and he almost made it today.  But then he didn't.  So we did a little work and then I got him.  Unfortunately, things were a little different with Steen as he got swept up by the running herd.  But he came around eventually.

It was warm enough that we tacked up outside, and both guys promptly fell asleep for the grooming.  Their coats are really starting to shed now, and it was nice to just let the hair blow around and not have to worry about it.

We started the ride inside just to get warmed up and work on a few things.  Both guys were great.  Bear was giving me some excellent lopes in both directions and was moving both his hind and forequarters around with ease.

So we headed out to the strip.  It was soggy in spots, but other areas were completely dry.  We walked on down to the end and saw the open gate leading to the big pasture, so we turned in there.  The guys seemed excited to be out.  Bear was walking out like a champ, and Steen as exceptionally relaxed.  We have both had rides where they are a bit of handful in the big pasture, but we had nothing close to that today.

We walked across the length of it and trotted up the narrow chute that leads to the treed pasture.  As there were no horses in there, we opened that gate and poked around in there.  When we got to the end of it, we decided to just keep going.  So we went out the final gate and crossed the road to the strip of grass that leads to the 'salad bowl.'

Hanging out on the strip that leads to the 'salad bowl' behind us.
As we started up a hill we spooked a small herd of deer in the nearby trees, but it was no big deal to the guys.  So we asked for a trot and proceeded on to the salad bowl.  Bear was moving out and frisky, but he was always balanced and back on his haunches.  I did ask him to slow down a few times, but that was it.

We trotted along for a ways, including down some short, steep hills (which we usually walk), and then we moved into an easy lope to gain the next hill.  I didn't know Robin had dropped back at the time, but she moved Steen into a fast, yet controlled lope to catch right up to us.  We stopped at the top just to hang out and look at the scenery.  Despite this being our first trip out for the year and opening them up a bit, the guys were as calm as could be.

We stayed in the salad bowl for a short while and did some more trotting and loping, and then we started back for home.  We did a mix of walking and trotting.  It felt really good to just move out for a while.  On the way back Bear was not giving me the same energetic trot as he was in the beginning, which is good.  I don't want my horse making a b-line for the barn.  Instead he settled into a nice, relaxing trot.

Back in the big pasture. In the background you can see some of the tiling put in last fall for better drainage.
The whole ride was fantastic.  It was definitely cool by temperature standards, but with the shining late, March sun, we felt plenty warm.  And the guys were breathing hard and really sweaty in the neck and haunches.

It has been a really slow start to the year in terms of rides and hours, but we have been getting some quality work in when we do ride, and this mini-trail ride felt like our reward for those arena hours.  It is supposed to snow this weekend, but hopefully more of these rides are just around the corner.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Softness and Life

These strike me as two of the most important elements in horsemanship.  Over the past couple of years I have been working hard on coming to understand softness.  I know I can keep getting softer (probably a LOT softer), but Bear and I have come so far in this area.

What I often lack is the life.  And sometimes I will get frustrated trying to work on getting certain maneuvers faster.  I could never do it without sacrificing softness, and many times I couldn't do it period.  Bear would just get a little fed up with my impatience and refuse to move.

But these last few rides things have been turning around.  As I blogged about recently, I have been asking more of Bear on the ground and then working to carry that energy into our rides.  But I'm not doing it at the expense of softness.

Today we continued to work on moving the front end over and lope-trot transitions.  We were nailing both of them.  Previously, I could maybe get 20 percent of our front end movement steps to have any kind of quality, but today we started getting great stuff 80 percent of the time.  And what is interesting is that Bear was moving faster and putting more energy into the movement.

I have no doubt that energy helped him out, but I was not asking him to do it faster.  That energy was coming from somewhere else.  I can only think it was from the way I was moving in and out of the faster gaits, asking for more life in the back up, and then jumping him out of his tracks.  He was giving me a lot of effort to get moving forward.

I will have to work on my timing and position, as I was only able to get him to go right into the lope once, but many times he was oh so close to hitting it.  But I don't think the gait really mattered in the exercise.  It was about him listening and responding quickly.

Last night we were watching some more of the 7 Clinics Buck DVDs and I had a bit of an epiphany.  Buck is always talking about softness and life, but I do not see him combining the two in the same exercise.  I see him do it with his horse all the time, but not with the riders at the clinic.  Instead they are working on one at a time.  I think the reason is because when you start getting them to work well independently, then you can get them to start working together.  And that is what I felt in our ride today.  In the past I was always working on soft, but then I would try to add life on top of that.  Nowhere was I really working on life on its own. 

We also had some fun playing with our new flag.  I'll have to write more about that later, but I will say Bear was pretty good with it.  I was actually surprised at how responsive and attentive he was to it.  He always looks so young when he gets a little stirred up.

Oh, and one more thing to add for our own records.  The vet was there, so we got all their spring vacs done.  All three of them were quite good.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Into Pressure?

Everything you learn about horses involves applying pressure in varying amounts in order to get a response.  And it works extremely well.

That is until you get a horse who seeks the pressure.  This is an issue we've had with Laredo since we got him.  It does not come up all the time, and it never happens on the ground, but there are many times under saddle where he will seek contact with the bit.  This hasn't been an issue in the hackamore until just the last few rides.  He is hunting for pressure in the way you hope a horse will hunt for the release.

This has been tough for me, and our rides have not been the best lately.  I know it is hard on Laredo, too.  He has to go back and forth between two riders.  Robin, due to her experience and working with Steen (and perhaps just who she is) is softer and quicker than I am.  There are so many things I'm still learning, and I have been extremely fortunate to learn on Bear these past few years.  He is very forgiving of my mistakes; he will get soft and responsive, but he won't clam up if I get too rough or start mistiming my releases.

Laredo is not quite as forgiving. Nor should he be, as he's only a three year old.  So Sunday we found ourselves having a pretty bad ride.  He was stiff, not very attentive, and constantly pushing his nose out and seeking pressure.  It was pretty frustrating.

Luckily I was able to get some more help from Robin.  She watched us for a while, and then we talked over what we were seeing.  We didn't have any great fixes, but it was abundantly clear that he was tuning me out every time he went for the end of the hackamore.  So we decided to walk and trot around, and if he nosed out, I would bring him into a bend. Left and right and left etc.  Then we'd go straight again and see how things were.

I probably spent almost 10 solid minutes of doing this.  We rarely got more than 20 meters of good, attentive riding before we'd have to go through some more bends.  But then all of a sudden he started listening again.  He was lighter, his eyes were more focused, and he was constantly flicking his ears in my direction.

I know this is not a serious fix.  It is more like putting a band aid on an open wound.  But it gives Laredo and I a start in working on our problems.  Hopefully with a few days off and some more focused goals on my part, we can get back into good riding territory.

There were some good notes for the day, though.  He was excellent with his head and ears for bridling, and he stood like a champ for the farrier.  And in every other aspect of our relationship he just keeps getting more comfortable.

Me and the guys waiting our turn for the farrier.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

More Energy

Bear has always been an extremely dependable horse.  I can count on him to more or less go where I want him to and in the gait I want him to.  He rarely spooks or gets frazzled, and he is always friendly.

What I do struggle with is getting him to move out with more life and energy.  On our last couple of rides I've started with some more demanding groundwork, and that is having a nice carry over into the rides.  I've been working hard to get him moving out of my space when I come in with energy, and we have also been putting more time in on the walking, half-circle exercise.

When I climbed on he was his usual, attentive self.  He was moving off my seat well and my legs could send him wherever I wanted to go.  But the backing on the ground did not have a great carryover to the ride, so I tried the same technique I was using on Laredo.  For him it was a listening and paying attention problem, for Bear I think it is more of a 'I'm an old guy and I've been backing slowly for a long time' kind of thing.  When I started asking for more, with more energy, I started to get more.  We didn't get to the point where our first steps were flying back, but I saw some big changes in him.

We were also able to build on our two issues from the previous ride.  He continues to put more effort into rocking back on his haunches so he can bring his front end over, and today I don't think he once jumped into the lope from the trot unasked.  He was also happy to keep moving along after we had been running around a bit.

Robin was running out of exercises to work on with Laredo, so she suggested we do the routine.  It had been a few weeks, so we figured it would be good to get back to it.  The first round was pretty good for us.  We matched each other pretty well, but Laredo was not really that into it.  So we decided to see how he would handle throwing the lope into the straightaways.  Both the guys were great with it.  I was happy that I had been doing a lot of lope/trot transitions, as they clearly paid off when we needed them to.  And Laredo might have been bored doing the routine at the trot, but he loved the challenge of extra running.

We finished up right when some other boarders were getting ready, which was perfect.  Tomorrow the farrier comes, so we probably won't be able to have the place to ourselves.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Mid-Week Rides

The weather is slowly improving and so is our motivation.  So this week we got out to the barn on two afternoons.

On Wednesday I rode Bear.  He continues to come in feeling good and loose.  The blanket has definitely been a smart choice with all the cold and damp weather we've had lately.  I suppose next winter I will almost certainly be blanketing him for all of it.

Our ride was not only fun, but very productive.  There are a few things I have been working on a lot with Bear that are just so so, and I want them to get a lot better.  The first is lope/trot/lope transitions.  I can always get a good stop out of Bear, and I can usually bring him out of the lope pretty well.  But too often he will want to dive for the center of the arena or very quickly leap back into the lope.  On this ride we spent a lot of time moving in and out of the lope and trot.  Initially he was inclined to keep hopping back into the lope, but after a while he started to settle in nicely.  A few times he started to pick up the lope, but I just kept on posting and he brought himself down to match my rhythm. 

Since we were running around quite a bit it was nice to have a quiet exercise to work on so we could 'rest.'  My other big sticking point with Bear is getting him to pivot on his hind end and step his forequarters over.  So often he want to either rock forward or turn in a way that involves moving both the forequarters and the hindquarters.

From watching our Buck videos and getting some help from Robin, I developed a nice plan to block him but also encourage him to be in the correct frame.  Ideally I could keep my hands out of his head completely, but since he really rocks forward a lot, I started putting just the littlest bit of energy into the hackamore to discourage the forward movement.  If he doesn't rock back off that, then I set him back three or four steps in a less than gentle manner.

This proved to be really effective.  Bear had to think pretty hard, and at a couple points I could see him getting just the littlest bit frustrated.  But then we started getting some great energetic steps over, and you could see he was pretty proud of himself for figuring it out.

Thursday was our anniversary.  We've been married for four great years, and for the past three we have always been able to celebrate with an afternoon ride before going out for a nice dinner.  We were lucky to have a really pretty afternoon.  Sunny and even a little warm.

I rode Laredo, and I was really excited to have a good ride with him.  Robin has again been getting some really great things out of him.  But I have been struggling a little bit, and today turned out to be another struggle. 

When I climbed on he was really good and responsive.  He would move off my seat, and if he drifted off the wall or too close to the wall I could very gently get him back with just a subtle shift of my weight.  Unfortunately, this didn't last.  He started losing interest really fast, and then when a young girl on a pony and her father came to join us, Laredo was very distracted.

At this point I struggled to keep him soft, get him to back up, and get him to listen to my seat.  Again I got some good pointers from Robin on backing, so I decided to work on that more than the other stuff. 

Laredo and I used to have such a good back up working for us, but lately it has been getting worse and worse.  He will lighten up to the softest pressure, but often when I ask him to back he gets stuck and then just leans into the hackamore.  Robin suggested I work a steady slack and pull rhythm to encourage some response and life from him.  It totally worked.  I had to practice my timing quite a bit, and to use the reins in that manner was a little awkward for me, so I had to spend some time figuring out how to set everything up.

It was nice to get some good responses out of him and get him paying attention to me again.  We ended the ride by heading outside for short turn on the strip.  The ground was still sopping wet in most places, but there was enough good footing to move around.  Laredo was his usual relaxed and curious self outside, but I was also happy that he kept listening to me the whole time.  I could back him up, move him over, and move in and out of the trot with no troubles.  Like me, I think he was just happy to be out.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Warm and Loose

Again we trudged out to the pasture in a steady rain.  It continued to rain on and off through the night, and I was happy we put the blanket on yesterday.  I found him tucked up to the bale munching on some hay.  He seemed happy to see me, as he probably knew I was taking him indoors.  We walked by Laredo, who was also eating, to see how he was doing.  He is so young and not bothered by things like rain.  I was even surprised to see he had the driest face of all the horses.  He probably had it buried in the bale for most of the night.

While Bear's head and neck were soaked, the blanket did its job and kept his body completely dry.  It made grooming and tacking a whole lot faster.

We did a little groundwork to get started, and I could already tell he was moving well.  I climbed on and we proceeded to do our usual warming up of walking through various bends and working on collection and backing.  We did not have to do nearly as long a warm up as usual.

When we moved to the trot it was big and energetic, but also very controlled.  Robin said he was really reaching with his hind end, and I could feel it.  So often when he gets tight it is like his hind end is stuttering through at about 70 percent.  Not today.

We did a lot of work at the trot and lope and he felt great.  Another surprising thing was that he never once tried to pick up the lope unasked.  I think when he does that he is just uncomfortable and wants to move in a different way.  With no physical distractions he was happy to listen to my cues for the whole ride.

One specific thing we worked on was trot/lope/trot transitions.  Robin and I tried to stay exactly half a lap apart and proceeded to ride one lap at the trot and then one lap at the lope, on and on and on.  The guys started out full of energy, and I was working hard to keep Bear's trot a little slower so we wouldn't run up on Steen.  At one point we even had to turn a sharp circle, and we still didn't fall behind at all.

I definitely have a lot of work to do with the lope to trot transition.  I don't do it a whole lot, and when I do, I am not very specific about exactly where to come out of it.  Today's exercise might have been a little bit much to really focus on that as I was also worried about where we were in the arena, but this is definitely something I'll continue to do for a while.

We followed that up by working some figure-eights at the walk.  Again Robin and I spaced ourselves evenly through the patter, and when we hit the center we alternated who went first and who went second.  The idea was to work on varying our pace at the walk.  Bear was not super happy with the exercise.  He had to think pretty hard to get what I was asking him to do.  The upside is that we got some really nice energetic walks going.  Not every time I needed it, but we got it enough.  Again, something to build on.

I decided to leave the blanket on him another night.  I'm glad I did as it continued to rain for most of the day, and tonight it could shift over into snow.  I hope I don't have to leave it on much longer.  It is almost mid-March.  Either way, it is nice that we have the spare.  And I think next winter might be the year we start blanketing Bear all the time. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Some Challenging Groundwork

Whoops.  Looks like I missed last weekend's rides.  It is getting a little tough staying on top of the blogging as we still don't have a great rhythm going for 2013.  I do know I rode Laredo and I rode Bear.  Again inside.  We did a lot of walking, troting, and loping and everything was pretty fun.

Today we got to the barn to find the guys sopping wet.  It had rained through most of the night.  The pasture was still mostly covered in snow and ice, but now there were standing puddles of water on top of that.  Gross.

Steen ran right up to Robin as he was uncomfortable, and Laredo looked at me but decided to go to Robin, too.  Not ideal, so I moved him around some (and splashed through quite a few ice puddles) to get him to come to me.

Because they were so wet, we really didn't want to let them roll around in the sand.  It is really tough to get the sand out of their soaking wet coats before saddling them.  So we just brought them in, toweled them off as best we could, and then proceeded to tack them up.

Everything about getting ready was great.  Laredo was happy to be rubbed down, and getting the hackamore on him was not much trouble at all.  He was willing to follow me in the arena and get to work, but once I asked him for some simple circle work on the ground, he got a little agitated. 

Always working on the ears and bridling with Laredo.  Things have come a long way, but we've still got more to do.
I'm not sure if he was just frisky or if his saddle was bothering his wet back a little or what.  But he was inclined to run around and not listen much. I just stuck with him, asked for a lot of direction changes, and found good spots to pause and give him pets.  He was always happy to stand, and he never appeared agitated when he wasn't moving.  I figured he would be just fine to climb on, but I thought it would be better practice for both of us if I kept working him until he could do the moves in a relaxed and attentive manner.

Since I was pushing him a bit, he continued to get a little riled up.  At one point he got stuck when I was asking for a back up.  I kept coming at him and working to move him off.  Instead of going back he rolled back on his haunches and gave a half hearted strike with both front feet.  He was nowhere close to hitting me, nor do I think he wanted to, but I was not pleased with this behavior.  So I really got after him and asked for some serious hustle and attention.  When he went by me the first time he popped his butt up and kicked out at me.  Again, not really close or trying to get me, but definitely not cool.

At this point he realized he had made a mistake.  I was moving him all over the arena, and when he wasn't listening I would quarter him in a not very gentle manner.  His attitude changed real fast.  He was all eyes and ears on me, and he would move off at the exact pace I wanted.  For a little while we worked fast, and when he was doing really well we took a short break.  Then we returned to what I had been looking for the whole time, just walking a nice circle around me.  He gave it to me with no problems.

This whole ordeal took about 20 minutes, but it was time very well spent.  I climbed on and he continued to be extra attentive.  He moved off my legs with very little pressure, and when we were working on trotting some tight figure-eights, he was engaging his haunches more than I've ever felt.

Over all we had a really great ride, though I did make one mistake.  Once we were going, I was just happy to ride how we normally ride.  But after the difficult groundwork, Laredo was not really ready to focus for a long time.  After about half an hour, he was getting pretty checked out.  I was still going along with our normal stuff, but I wasn't getting anything done.

The groundwork and beginning of our ride were so effective that I should have found an excellent place to stop and hopped off him.  I know I didn't do any kind of damage by continuing the ride; he's not that delicate.  But he is still young enough that it would have been a little better if I quit when we were still doing well.  As it was I got a few good things to end the ride on, but we just had to go through a whole lot of not-so-great to get there.

When we put the guys back out we gave Bear his vitamins.  It was raining and the wind was blowing, and we were surprised to see he was shaking a little bit.  Not normal for Big Bear.  As it was supposed to be cold and rainy for the entire weekend, we decided to bring him in, dry him off a little, and put our spare blanket on him.

Such a cutie.  Hopefully it helps keep him comfortable through the night.  He did seem relieved as soon as I threw it over him.