Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Adult!

I had to ride Bear today as it was his 18th birthday.  I was hoping I could write about our awesome ride and how good he was and young he still seems, but I can't.  He was kind of stiff and antsy.  I spent most of the ride trying to figure out if he was doing this on purpose or if he was not feeling quite right.  As the ride progressed, I felt pretty certain it was the latter.

I noticed Bear's antsyness almost right away.  He was somewhat reluctant to walk down the strip and was weaving all over, so when he doesn't want to somewhere at a relaxed walk I usually make him trot.  He was fine picking that up, but from there on it was a constant struggle to keep him from jumping into the lope or falling onto his front end and giving me a very jerky trot.

We spent a lot of time trotting in circles and figure-eights just trying to keep things steady and even.  We could achieve it sometimes, but not most of the time.  I also really wanted to check out his lope, so we kept working at the trot a loooong time until I could get some nice movement.

Finally we were ready to lope a few circles.  Going to the right wasn't too bad, but then it took us a long time to get set up to go left.  And once we did, it was not very good at all.  We only made a few circles before I noticed I was not going to be able to keep him balanced on all four feet.  The grass was dry and slick, and I knew we were pushing things.  The last thing I wanted was for both of us to fall down on his birthday.


So we stopped.  And I had to stop working on a few different exercises with him today because they were just going so bad and I was getting frustrated.  We couldn't back well or do serpentines well.  We just didn't have much going for us.  We finished the ride by just walking around a lot, and that seemed to go well.  He was much happier with that.  Robin said he had a not so happy look on his face for most of the ride.  Almost as if he was upset because he couldn't do the things I was asking of him.

It is pretty disappointing because we're coming out of the winter where we did a lot of good stuff and I thought he was feeling great.  We haven't had any sore back moments in months.  Thankfully he was still super happy to hangout with me.  When we put them back in the pasture he stood around for a while, but when I moved off to snap his picture he just looked at me and then came right back up for some ground level face pets.  Funny guy.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Actually Warm

We were sweating getting the horses ready yesterday.  It felt pretty darn good, though I am somewhat disappointed that we seem to have gone from a late winter into summer.  I like those nice days in the high 60s.  Oh well.


I rode Laredo today.  He was fun and full of energy, but I was somewhat vigilant as he gave Robin a little run for her money the day before.  We started slow and easy and just worked on bends, and after that we did a lot of trotting.

If I gave him chance, he would have bolted for the barn.  That is exactly what I was expecting, though, so as soon as I felt his body tense and surge, we moved into a bend.  The first two times he put some serious effort into it and I wasn't so nice with the pulls.  After that he was really thinking about it and I could be much softer.

This was the bulk of our ride.  We moved in and out of the trot a lot, and when we were in the trot we were working on moving at the rate I wanted us to go.  I can't say Laredo was necessarily into this, but he was getting better and listening and he never got grouchy with me.

After we had been riding for a while we decided to go for a walk out in the big pasture.  It will be closed off soon as the horses will be out there any week, so we figured we should take advantage of the easy access while we can.  Laredo loves going out, and he still gets pretty excited when we're in the big pasture.  But he was also really good, and we even had some nice moving trots with not hint of a desire to pour on more speed.

Working on a few bends while Steen took a bathroom break.
 Coming back to the barn we did a little more trotting.  Again, no desire to run away.  Towards the end of the strip he did start to speed up, but I was able to just pick up on the reins very lightly, and he tucked his head and slowed up.  No bending necessary.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

More Bear Time

Heading out to the barn this morning I wasn't sure who to ride.  Normally we get into a rhythm where we alternate between our own horse and Laredo, but with the time off, we both could have ridden Laredo.

We decided that Robin would ride Steen if he came to her, if not, she'd ride Laredo.  She got the kid, and I got Bear.  They were all out in the middle pasture.  We were a teeny bit disappointed as we hoped to have a good ride in there again, but we were also thrilled they were out on grass.

Bear's pasterns were a little swollen, but not too bad.  It seemed yesterday's ride and the extra moving on grass helped him out.

So we tacked up and rode on the strip.  Bear and I were both tired, and I decided to start off pretty slow.  We walked up and down the strip to get loose, and then we started doing circles around the tractor and other markers on the strip.  Bear was extremely attentive to my legs.  I noticed how soft he was to my legs last Saturday, and I thought it might have had to do with Robin's saddle.  But today I was thinking maybe we are just getting to a new place in softness.  Things were going so well I just put the reins down and continued our warmup with no hands.  I do this most rides, but I often have to come in for a correction here or there or occasionally give him some firmer thumps with my legs.  Not so today.  We cruised around in many different circles and I never needed the reins and I never gave him a hard thump.  It felt amazing.

We then moved on to walking and trotting some circles, and of course they were about as perfect as I've we've ever done. It felt great to just keep him in the bend I wanted with my seat and legs.  I tipped him into the lope and that went well, too.  But when we switched directions with the lope, not as good.  He was definitely stiff going left, and we had a few pretty sticky points in our circle.

It was about this time that I stopped to watch Robin and Laredo work on stops and other things.  They were doing pretty well, but also having some struggles.  Laredo was getting a little checked out at times, and he was just not that soft to the hackamore.  He wasn't even soft when she'd ask him to flex.  Normally he flexes like a champ. It feels like you are only picking up the rein and there is no horse head attached to it.

This was odd.  Robin was being very soft and patient, but I could see he was abusing this and getting some leaning in.  I thought about it and suggested she give him some light pulls and releases.  She started working that and things turned around pretty fast.  I think this is one of the other spots we've been letting him get away with his love for pressure.  It is amazing how he sneaks this pressure thing in, but we're closing those doors on him.

I then applied the same technique with Bear.  He can be hit or miss on the lateral flexes.  Sure enough he needed a few, tiny pops today.  And then I carried that idea over to loping some circles to the left.  Instead of guiding his head in the direction I wanted him to go, I made sure my seat was set up, picked up my inside rein to take the slack out, and when I felt him stiffen up, I gave him some very quick and soft pull and releases.  It allowed him to free up his shoulders and bend more through the turns. Excellent.

This also carried over into doing some short-serpentines. Robin and I were both struggling with these on our mounts today.  Both horses were inclined to get forward and not reach with the inside front leg.  Encouraging them to bend a little more and keeping the forward motion going started to work very well.  And after a few minutes of concentrating on these, Bear and I were looser loping to the left and I hardly needed to encourage a bend with the pull and releases.

I've hear Buck say over and over that the short-serpentine is the maneuver that will work wonders for your horse, and I keep seeing more and more things in it.  On the one hand, it is a very simple thing to do, but on the other, your horse has to be extremely supple and balanced to do it well.  And doing it well is the key here.  Anyone can get their horse to flop around in some turns, but to get them using their whole body from nose to tail in one smooth motion, that is something.  I work on this exercise all the time, but now I've got just a little more of an understanding for it. I wonder what I'll see in it after a couple more years.

We finished the ride by going for a little walk in the fields with a fellow boarder and her young horse.  The guys were all relaxed and happy to be out, and it was fun to go out with another horse again.

We ended up riding for two hours, and we packed a lot of stuff into the ride.  I hope these kind of rides start to become the norm this year.  We've got a long ways to go if I want to hit my 200 hours goal.

Not Immune

I got the sickness.  Sunday afternoon, after my great rides, I could feel it coming on.  Then I missed a few days at work and was a little too weak to get to the barn on the other days.

Thankfully Friday I was feeling a little better.  And the weather was really nice.  I didn't have a lot of expectations, though, so I grabbed Bear and thought we might just spend a while hanging out with my on his back.

Once I had him up to the barn I really thought that might be the case as the pasterns in his hind legs were super swollen.  The horses are still in the winter lot, and it is mired in mud and manure, so I don't think he's moving like he should be.

We rode over in the middle pasture.  I don't think we've been over there for about a year, so it was fun to ride there again.  Bear had some good energy early on, so it wasn't long before we were trotting around.  And after just a few minutes, Robin said to look at his legs.  The swelling was completely gone.  That made me feel a lot better.

We kept up our walking and trotting.  Bear was feeling friskier and friskier and kept hopping into the lope, and I had to keep shutting him down.  I was happy to lope, too, but I get to decide when we do it.  Instead we trotted some big laps around the fence line.  It is fun to just move out at a ground covering trot for a while.  After that we kept up the trotting.  I would pick a fence post across the pasture and trot out to it.  We'd stop, dwell for a moment, rock back and pick a new post that fell into my line of vision.


This was a tough exercise for us.  I was keeping the reins long and loose and working hard to line Bear up with just my legs.  It was a windy day and Steen and Robin were also running around, so he had other places he'd want to be than the particular fence post I randomly selected, but I was able to get him to each point in a fairly straight line.  The only times I picked up on the reins were when he wanted to lope.

So finally, I asked him to lope.  And it was an unbelievably smooth and wonderful lope.  We did a nice sized circle to the right and just enjoyed ourselves for quite a few laps.  When we stopped Bear just kept licking his lips.  For the rest of the ride we mixed in a lot of loping.  Nothing was as good as that first round, but we still got some good work done.  I challenged him more by asking him to move around in different shapes.  The ground slopes down in a few corners of the pasture, and I didn't want to lope him down those hills (maybe later, as Steen wasn't having any trouble with them), so we loped in big triangles and funny trapezoids.  He was stiff at times, but ultimately he was happy to move out and I could always supple him up after a few strides.

We ended the ride by walking out through the big pasture and back up the strip.  We let the guys hang out and eat some grass as they haven't had any in months.


It was a really great Friday.  Robin and Steen were celebrating their 5th anniversary, and we decided to keep celebrating and went out for a couple beers and dinner.  Hopefully this is the beginning of us getting healthy again and having a great spring of riding.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

More Solo Barn Time

Robin is still not well, so again I headed off to the barn alone.  I had a good time hanging out with Steen yesterday, and I thought I'd grab him first so we could ride.  He was happy to come to me and get ready for the ride.
It was still wet and cold and ridiculously windy, so we started off indoors.  We did a small amount of groundwork, and then I climbed on.  Steen went from being really relaxed to not quite so sure about this riding without Robin thing.  He is by far our most sensitive horse, so I just wanted to take it slow and get us working together.

We started with walking circles.  That way he could get used to my legs and I could get used to his responsiveness when the stakes were really low.  We spent a while on this.  Not because we had to, but because we were doing well.  In both directions I could almost always have him on the trajectory I wanted.  If he came off, it became a game to me to see how little I could do to bring him back.  After a little while, we had a nice worn path in the arena.  A more or less perfect circle.

I kept things quiet and we worked through figure-eights at the walk and trot, pivoting on all four feet, whirly-gigs (either my lean was getting better or Steen is unaffected by such things), rectangles, and backing circles.  Steen was really good for all of it, and he was settling in some.  Unfortunately the wind was crazy, and it was even blowing the sliding door open at times.  Thankfully he never did more than look at it.  He probably wasn't as worried as I thought, it is just funny how different his movements are than Bear or Laredo's.

Towards the end we started moving out more at the trot and did a little loping.  I think he was actually the most relaxed the whole ride while we were loping.  He had a nice, rolling gait, and thanks to all the circle work from the beginning of the ride, I could send him wherever I wanted just with my seat.


When I put Steen back out and grabbed Bear, the wind didn't seem quite as bad and the day had warmed up, so I thought we'd ride on the strip.  Part of it has been dug up, and there is still some big machinery parked on it, so we had to ride down lower.

Bear was moving out at a really nice walk, but then when I asked him to turn back up the strip he got a little humpy.  No bucking or anything like that, but I could feel his back and haunches were completely tightened up and he was bouncing around ever so slightly.  I decided to hop off and do a little more groundwork, but I couldn't sense that anything was wrong. So I climbed back into the saddle.

For the rest of the ride he was jumpy and not the best listener.  We spent a lot of time walking and trotting big ovals and figure-eights.  I started to feel bad because I had to be a little hard on him to get him listening to me.

Thankfully we started to have some breakthroughs.  While trotting figure-eights there were a couple spots he was diving in, and one in particular was really bad.  I had to be especially careful to not yank on him and make sure that my seat was set up and telling him where to go.  This was hard, because he wasn't exactly smooth in his trot, and a few times I definitely had to give him some big pulls.  But then we started going through the problem area and I could feel him listening.  He didn't get it, but he was trying, and over the next three passes they all got better.

We also had a good time moving out back towards the barn (I also used this energy in our favor to get some awesome whirly-gigs, hopefully Bear remembers how those felt in the future).  He was giving me some really big trots, and he never jumped into the lope, which he kinda loves to do.  I think all our work on that in the arena over winter must have paid off, because if there was ever a day he felt like he wanted to just run, that was today.

As much as I enjoyed the big, ground covering trot, I wanted to make sure he was listening.  So I would periodically pick up on the hackamore, and he always softened up, collected, and dropped the pace a little.  As soft as that was, he wasn't too keen to turn back and go the other way.  But I found if I had him soft and collected before asking for the gradual bend back the other way, things turned out just fine.

It was a hard ride on both of us, though, and I was really tired driving back into town. But Bear and I haven't ridden outside much this year, and we haven't done it alone, and we also haven't done it in 30+ mile an hour winds when the herd was up the way running like mad.  So all in all, we did pretty well.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Just Me

Robin has been ill for almost a whole week.  We keep waking up thinking she'll be feeling better, but nope.  Not so.  Today she really didn't feel up to going to the barn, but she was happy to let me head out.

We really ride together a lot.  We used to get more solo rides sprinkled in, but over the last year or so, I have probably only had four or five solo rides.  It is fun to be out alone, just you and the horses.  But at the same time the rides feel very different, and it is harder to come up with things to work on.  Normally if I ever get stuck, I can just think back to the four or five things I have seen Robin do out of my peripheral vision.

Today it was pretty easy to fill my rides because I didn't ride very long.  I started with Laredo.  For the first time in many outings he decided not to kick up his heels and he came right to me.  I was very curious to see how he'd be by himself.  Totally unaffected.  He was extremely relaxed and just happy to hang out.

This week we received a ton of rain, and everywhere around the barn was sopping.  That meant more indoor riding.  It was sunny, though, and I opened up the big doors in the arena.

Laredo was really attentive from the beginning.  We worked on all our usual things for a while and everything was nice and soft.  Then we started working on whirly-gigs and I had some trouble.  We could get them pretty good bending to the right.  I could get him stepping under, find the point where his balance shifts, and then bring the front end over. 

But going left we were getting stuck.  I couldn't stop his front end, and I could not, for the life of me, get my timing down with his hind feet.  The poor guy had to put up with me going to the left multiple times, then going to the right and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.  I figured out the problem was in the set up.  Since we had nothing right from the beginning, everything else was off, too.  I think I was leaning to the right a little bit when asking him to disengage, and therefore I was getting in his way.  Laredo is pretty tuned in to our seats, so feeling my weight more equally balanced in the saddle, I'm sure drifting forward but still kicking the hind end over felt logical to him.  Once I fixed this we got a few decent whirly-gigs to the left, but I'll have to keep practicing them.

We also had some fun time loping.  He was giving me the slowest lope I've ever felt, but thankfully he never dropped it on me.  Towards the end I encouraged him to move out a little faster and he responded.  So that is good.  I don't want the slow, western pleasure type lope to become the norm, but as long as he's not dropping it right now, I'll take it.  Baby steps.

After I put Laredo back I grabbed Bear.  Robin has been encouraging me to ride in her saddle for weeks.  The only problem is, she's usually in it when I am riding.  But today I had my chance.

It is much, much lighter than mine.  The stirrup leathers and fenders are trimmer and so are the skirts.  Hers is also a 1/2 inch smaller than mine, and I have lately been wondering if my seat is a little bigger than is ideal. 

Bear and I had a pretty good time in it.  He was much softer off my leg than he normally is.  I can only think this is due to the trimmer fenders.  I also felt nice sitting in the seat.  In my saddle I definitely shift forward and back a lot, but in Robin's I was in a nice pocket and very aware of the cantle.  But I wasn't cramped. 

The only downside is Robin's saddle is built with a narrower seat than mine.  This made my hips feel cramped.  I'm used to have a nice, wide spread over the horse, but this narrower seat got my problem right hip all flared up.  It hasn't bother me that much riding since we took a lesson with my mom a while ago.  And we rode in English saddles, which were also very, very narrow (so were the horses).

But Bear and I still got a lot done.  Lots of loping and trotting and I also subjected him to a few whirly-gigs to see if my balance and timing were better.  Maybe a little, but I've got a lot of work to do there.

Before leaving I brought Steen in too.  We had to put the blankets back on all the guys on Wednesday due to freezing temps and rain.  We've got more of that in the forecast, but unfortunately the days are a little warm.  So I wanted to get as much dirt and hair out of his coat as I could.  And wow was that a lot of hair.  Steen's got the most hair of all our horses, and the funny thing is, his coat is the most useless when it comes to keeping him warm.  But he was happy to hang out with me while I groomed him up.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Epiphanies

We got out to the barn nice and early this morning.  It was still wet, soggy, and cold, but the wind was blowing hard and it was supposed to warm up.  In the mucky lot, Bear came up to me right away.  Again, Laredo was not too keen on hanging out with us.  He started coming to Robin, but then he got swept up in some other running horses. 

While I was trying to block his exits so Robin could make him come, I noticed that Whisper was lame.  He was not moving during any of the running, and then he took a step near me and could not bare weight on his right-hind leg.  It looked quite swollen, too.  So I went and deposited Bear in the arena and then went back out to grab him so our barn owner (and Whisper's owner) could doctor him up.  He's a sweet little 2 year old, and I've known him since the day he was born.  He's also one of Bear's best friends, so he was happy to come with us, though he really didn't like walking on that leg.

It appears he's received a few big kicks and cuts around the hock.  Hopefully with some icing and drugs and rest he will recover.

When I climbed on Bear today I had one main goal, be as soft as I can.  Particularly when using two hands to get him to collect or back up.  When I rode Laredo on Friday we were working on backing some circles.  We've been struggling with our back up for a little while, and backing circles have suffered as well.  I started each one with the lightest possible pressure I could, and that seemed to help a lot.  I started using that in our regular back ups and saw a difference there as well. So with Bear, I went after the same thing. 

I like to think I ride with light hands, and compared to many people I see, I do.  But I know I can get lighter, and I think recently I have firmed up without completely being aware of it.  I know in the past few months I've gained a lot of confidence.  Confidence to both try new things and ride through not so ideal moments, and also confidence in how to ask the horse for particular maneuvers and how to firm up when they aren't responding.

But in that change, I think I've overall become a little too firm.  And when I picked up on Bear's reins to ask him to back with as light a pressure as possible, of course he responded with some happy backing.

I shared my thoughts with Robin, but I also said he's taking the softest, tiniest steps back.  So we'll have to work on that.  She suggested adding more life in my body.  Which I knew about.  I've added life in my legs and hips and back and generally not been able to get it working for us.  Then she explained it a different way.  She said back up with your hips just like you walk forward with your hips.

Duh.  Everything I ask Bear to do is with my hips.  Turn, walk faster, upward transitions, downward transitions, you name it. So why was I taking a hold of the reins, opening my legs, and just sitting there expecting Bear to back up faster?  I think it goes back to teaching a horse to back up.  You just want one step initially, so it is easy to not move much.  I guess I was trying to string many, active steps together without changing what I was doing  Thankfully Robin has not been backing with her hips for years and not telling me, it was a somewhat recent find for her, too. 

So I tried to keep my super light hands approach, and then I added my hips into the mix, and what do you know, Bear starts backing even faster.  I didn't even have my hips timed up nicely with him.  Walking forward is easy, but going back it is like a slow trot, and I would often be out of sync with him.  Still, he knew I had life there, and he was trying to speed up and match it.  Throughout the day I practiced this, and my timing got a little better.  We even got to backing nice circles with just one hand.  I found it easier to get a rhythm going with the backwards circles.

The rest of the ride was great, too.  We loped and trotted around and just enjoyed ourselves until Robin suggested we do the routine.  We decided to lope the first half and trot the second half.  We came around the first loop really well and pretty nicely timed up with Laredo.  We then entered the first sharp turn and Bear dropped the lope.  I asked for it again and he hopped up and threw in some serious kicks and bucks.  I lost my left stirrup and was all the way across the arena before I was able to get organized and bring us down to a stop.  Thankfully my seat felt great the whole time.

I think he just got really kinked up.  We went through a few turns and serpentines, and sure enough he was not happy in some sharp turns, particularly to the right.  I thought back on the rest of the ride and realized we struggled a bit with some stops and moving the front end over.  Basically things that required some serious haunch work.

I hopped off to check him out.  I couldn't see anything visible, but when I dug around his right haunch, he was definitely tender.  I wouldn't be surprised if he recently got kicked in all the running around that's been happening out there lately.  The rest of the ride we just went easy and worked on keeping him loose.  I massaged him a little more after the ride and it was still tender, but he was willing to stand there, hips cocked, while I dug in and rubbed him down. Hopefully a few days off is all he needs.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Friday at the Barn

We almost didn't make it out to the barn today.  We had some good mid-week rides, and I'm often tired at the end of the week.  Plus it was cold and wet.  Again.

But we rallied, and like always, I was happy we did.  I was even happy to be out when Laredo ran away from me and continued to run around the winter lot for many minutes.  I could not figure out why he was so agitated, and then all of a sudden he just disengaged his hind end, looked at me, and trotted through some big puddles right up to me.  Strange.  But later in the day we were chatting with the barn manager and we learned they were all pretty fired up when they put new bales in a few hours ago, so maybe that was it.

Our ride was really fun and varied.  Things have continued to go well for me and Laredo these past few weeks.  I was particularly happy with how well the ride went since I was still quite tired when I climbed on, and I really had no ambition or agenda.

We started out by just walking around and working on steering with my seat and legs.  I do this almost every ride with Bear, but with him I can put the reins down on the saddle.  If I do that with Laredo, I need to pick them up too frequently.  So I keep them in my hands and steer legs and seat first, and then come in with minimal rein if needed.  And if I really need it, I'll follow up with direct reining, but we don't need that too often with this exercise.


We also spent a lot of time moving out.  I got him into some big trots and smooth lopes.  The loping was probably the strongest and most relaxed we've ever had in the indoor arena.  That is until he got a little tired and started having opinions.  He expressed these by periodically slamming on the brakes or kicking oup.  One of the kick outs felt moderately big, too.  I just told him I didn't appreciate those responses and we kept right on loping and trotting.  He also got a few extra kicks and smacks on the butt with the end of my mecate. 

After that he was great.  Back to being attentive Laredo and listening to my body.  Of course, this couldn't last, either.  We were joined by the barn manager who was riding a large paint that stays in another pasture.  Laredo was extremely curious about this other horse.  So curious he would consistently stop listening to me just to stare at it.

One good thing about Laredo is that he has given me a lot of practice in working on not getting mad, because really, I kind of get mad at him a lot.  This time I handled my not getting mad by focusing on simple exercises that we know really well and just moving through them.  I would ask softly, and if he didn't respond, I got to practice making it happen.

It took a surprising amount of effort to get him focused on me, and I don't think I really got him with me 100 percent when the other horse was there.  Sure, he is a young horse, but I am not asking too much.  And there were times in between when I would take a break, set the reins down, and let him look off wherever he wanted for a moment or two.  Then we'd go back to work.

Like I said in the beginning, it was a fun ride.  Despite the kicks and distractions, we got a lot done, and we spent over an hour in the small indoor arena when initially I didn't think I'd last 40 minutes.

We put them out for one more night of blankets.  I also gave Bear his old man vitamins.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Shivering Horses

We're in the midst of a long, cold, rain storm.  It can make it tough to get to the barn, but we also knew the guys would be pretty uncomfortable.

And they were.  Pretty much the whole herd was lined up against the wind-break shivering.  Steen was wandering around on his own and walked right up to Robin.  I grabbed Laredo and Bear, neither of which were happy to see me.  I was a little surprised, but I think they were just uncomfortable, because as soon as their halters were on they couldn't wait to go inside with me.

We did our best to get the water off them and towel dry them a little.  We gave them a snack and then Robin blanketed Steen and put him back outside.  We tacked up the other two for a ride.  Bear was super fidgity for the grooming and tacking.  Laredo was handling everything the best.

In the arena, Bear was still really lively.  We did a bunch of groundwork to make sure he was loose and moving well, and then I climbed on.  And we had one of the liveliest rides I've ever had.  He was extremely sensitive to everything, and he was putting a ton of energy into all movements.  It made things very fun.  I'm sure this was due to his cold and discomfort, but the more we worked the better things got.  And the more warm and dry he got.  By the end of the ride he only had one little wet spot on his butt.

Still pretty damp, but looking more content.
We spent some more time playing the cow game we started yesterday, only this time Bear and I got to be the cow.  This was fun.  Bear was stopping hard and turning great.  As the game went on, he got really into it and started turning faster and faster.  Many times we made a hard turn and just took off in the lope.  We were all having fun with it.

The rest of the ride we worked on softness at the walk, trot, and a very little bit at the lope.  This is something I just haven't been focusing a lot on.  We work on it every ride, but lately it seems to have taken a back seat to other things, and really, there is no reason for that.

We mixed that in with getting some nice backs and then jumping out at the lope.  The first few were not too great, but then we got in a nice rhythm with them.  Robin was working on the same thing with Laredo, and she suggested we have a little race to the end of the arena.  We'd back five, solid steps, and then jump them out.

Bear and I won the first round, and then the kid came back to win the second round.  They were pretty amped up at that point, so we settled them down a bit.  We had to have a tie break round, but I said we should be back them five steps and then make them walk.  No use getting all that life if you can't bring them back down.

They both did great with it.  We still tried to race to the end of the arena at the walk, but each horse gave a single trot step, and were therefore disqualified due to the rigorous rules of the competition.  We did get them walking out nicely, and I guess technically, Laredo won that round, too.

We were glad we got out there.  We got everyone warm and dry and snuggled in a blanket, and we had some fun riding.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Dirty One

It was again my turn to ride Laredo, who we have also been referring to as the dirty one.  Sure enough we arrived at the barn to see him conked out on his side near the windblock, nestled into a soft mixture of mud and manure.


He rolled up onto his belly when I got closer, but he was not interested in getting all the way up.  I banged the lead rope against my chinks while I was marching towards him, and he just gave me a sleepy look.  It was really funny.  I kept getting closer thinking he'd pop right up, but he didn't. He just pushed his head out towards me asking for some face pets.  I even put the halter on him while he was in that position.  Again, no worries, he just pushed his nose right into the halter.  I gave him a few more pets and then stepped away.  He got up with no complaints.  We like making them come to us, but this seemed like a good change for today.

As we walked out of the pasture Bear came up to greet us.  It was really nice.  Bear is an unbelievably friendly horse, but when I'm getting a different mount, he never comes up to say hi.  He always seems more pleased to keep eating.  But today he just wanted to say hi.

Laredo was sleepy, but he was also rather sweet and attentive.  He kept an eye on me through all the grooming, and he would occasionally push his forehead against my chest.  He also did not mind when I wrapped my arms around his head and played with his ears.  That is big progress.

We got a lot of rain in the morning, and the ground was sopping.  So wet we would have even torn up the hearty strip.  That meant another indoor ride, but it wasn't bad.  We opened up all the doors and had a good time.  Laredo had good energy and was really soft through all our maneuvers. 

The usual relaxed Laredo, except that ear and open face show how ready he was to respond to me.
While we were riding around I told Robin about a Martin Black article I read the other night.  He had a lot of cool things to say about building up a young horse's confidence and not asking harder to get them to rush faster when they're already doing what you were asking them to.  And then Robin asked the question we are so often asking, how do you get them to speed up in certain maneuvers?

And Martin had an answer.  He likes to work them on cows and let them make the mistake.  When they do, they have to work that much harder to get back in position.

We don't have cows at our disposal, but Robin came up with a good version of playing cow that could encourage Laredo to speed up in his stops, backs, and turns.  We made her and Steen the cow, and Laredo and I worked to keep them on the rail.  When we sped up and passed their balance point, they would stop, turn around, and take off at the trot or lope.  If Laredo and I could put in a good turn, then we'd get ahead of them real quickly and just stop and rest.  If not, then we had to lope after them.

Most of the time we had to lope after them, but he was also catching on to the fact that if he hurried, we got to rest.  In the beginning his hurrying came in the lope departs and the running after Steen, not in the turn around.  But we just kept at it for a while.  Laredo briefly entered his sulky, I don't want to do it phase.  But it was mild and we just pushed through it.  Eventually we got some really nice turn around and were able to stop Steen and Robin almost immediately.  That was fun.  We'll definitely repeat this version of playing cow later on.

The rest of the ride we worked on moving in and out of the lope and on whirly-gigs.  I've struggled with those for so long, but after spending a lot of time working on moving the hind and front independently (on both Bear and Laredo), I started stringing them together a little better.

However, I still had timing issues.  The other night when I was falling asleep I was trying to workout the feel of each foot fall when I would get the maneuver to work.  I thought I felt the horse balanced and back on his haunches when he made a short step immediately after the big step under.  If that makes sense.

Today I worked on feeling for that moment, and when I got it right, sure enough we were set up for some really nice, light front end movement.  Timing and balance, that's it.  Now I just have to do it a hundred-thousand more times and it will feel more natural. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Longer Rides

Today was perfect.  Sunny, in the 60s, and almost no wind. We got out there with a plan to enjoy all the horses.  So I started on Steen.

Last summer I was riding Steen once every two weeks or so, and we were often having a good time together.  But I had not ridden him since his fence accident.

He is definitely the most different of our other horses.  He has a lot of energy and is the most emotionally and physically sensitive.  He is also the only one who is built very even, or perhaps even slightly uphill.  So every time I climb on him I really have to adjust a lot.

We spent a while just walking around, stopping, backing, turning, and getting used to one another.  He was happy.  When we started trotting, though, he was a little less happy.  Not bad, but many of his sticking points started to come out.  He was dropping his shoulders in the turns back for home, and he would often bulge his front shoulder out towards his herd and/or away from the big tractors.  All signs that he might have been a little less comfortable with me than would be ideal.

So we worked on those things.  It is a lot easier to problem solve on a horse that isn't yours.  I don't have the emotional baggage (for lack of a better term) with Steen that I do with the other two.  So we just rode around trying to figure out how we could best keep Steen listening to me and back on his haunches.  With lots of bends and blocks, we got it figured out.  And after that, he settled in a lot more.

We didn't ride very hard, though.  We spent quite a bit of time watching Robin and Laredo.  I was lucky enough to be watching when Laredo had his attempted run away.  Robin shut him down pretty hard.  He threw in a few little bucks and kicks, but really, there was nothing he could do but go back to loping nice circles.  Steen and I just watched and worked on our backing.  He's got the softest most energetic back up I've ever felt.


We finished the ride with a little loping.  I'm not sure I've loped circles on Steen outside.  I know I have when we've played cow, but with another horse there it is a lot easier.  Especially since I'm pretty sure that other horse was Bear, and Steen has no problem loping away from Bear.  Anyways, today we had to work a little to get used to how I ask for the lope, but we got into it with no problems.  I think overall our circles at the lope were better than the trot.  Steen was really nicely balanced.


After that I gave Robin both horses and went to get Bear.  He was snoozing in the pasture pretty close to the strip, and when he saw me coming he actually nickered and started walking right up to me.  I know I've been having some great rides on him lately, but it was nice to see he was looking forward to going out, too.

We tacked up again and took the round about way to the salad bowl.  The guys were really relaxed and happy to be out.  They weren't even bothered by the guy in the huge tractor burning piles of tree stumps.

We walked and trotted on over to the salad bowl.  I wanted to just spend a bunch of time riding around there and seeing if we could use the big middle area to work on loping some nice sized circles.  Bear was warm and relaxed, so I figured it would work OK.

He moved into the lope real nicely.  Since we had so much space I just worked to keep him in a real gradual bend.  Occasionally we would drip up the hillsides a little bit, but that was really fun.  I'd never loped down hillsides like that before, and Bear was really smooth about it.


Going to the right was particularly nice.  He would open up a little when we were pointed towards the barn, but I started working on keeping him collected going that direction, and he always responded to light pressure on the hackamore.  Then I'd keep us moving out away from the barn.


To the left he was not quite as good.  I'm not sure if I was a little uncomfortable up there or if Bear was looking around more since Robin was loping her own circles at the same time.  So we just kept going for a while until we both settled in a little.  When I stopped, Bear was soaking wet.  He's still got a bit of winter coat on him.

We took a short break on the top of a hill and watched Steen and Robin.  It was fun to see them way below us.  The salad bowl is really big, and it will be fun to do this a lot more.


When we got back to the strip Bear and I worked a little on our back up into a lope depart.  The first few were pretty sloppy, but then he pulled one out so big it startled me.  I was laughing while I leaned way back in the saddle.  He came right down and we called it a ride.  I'm looking forward to working on those a little more.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Spring Winds Blow

We are finally getting some warmer weather, and of course it is accompanied by 40+ mile an hour winds.

But we got out there and had a fun ride anyways.  The barn was crowded with it being a vet day and one our boarder's horses had a cute little filly in the night.


How could you not want to see the baby and her happy momma?

But that also meant we had nowhere to tie while grooming and tacking.  This didn't bother Laredo in the slightest.  I parked him right next to a manure spread and just got to work.  I hardly had to correct him at all.  There was another three year old there swiveling all over the place, so it was nice to see that our training methods are working.

We rode out on the strip and had a good time.  Laredo's energy was good.  I really think he's happy being outside again.  I worked on staying relaxed and only being demanding if he was leaning on the hackamore.  And he hardly leaned at all.  He was also backing like a dream.  I know the deep sand can start to affect Bear's backing, perhaps it contributes to Laredo's too?  Impossible to know for sure, but I do know things were working well for us.

In the beginning we spent a lot of time working on softness and getting good circles at the walk, trot, and lope.  This meant for a lot of transitions as well.  He was really happy to move out at the lope and I was surprised we didn't have any major sticking points in the circle.



As all that was going well for us, we decided to play some cow.  We've done this off and on with Laredo.  We usually take it pretty slow as we don't want him to get frustrated, but today we were moving well.  The stops, backs and turns were all quite nice.  Not perfect, and we did get stuck sometimes, but overall the energy was great.  We even got to the middle on our own, well timed stop and pivot.  That felt good.

We did have a little trouble loping out during the cow game.  We got into it nicely, but then he got grouchy and kept dropping it.  I'd get him going again, but he'd drop it almost immediately.  He seemed extra worried that Steen was right there pushing us, and he even kicked out a couple times.  Robin decided to stop Steen and just let us get our lope working again.  And we did.  After that he seemed great.

We finished the ride by going for a walk around the soybean fields and over to the second strip.  Laredo is always game to go walk about.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bringing Back the Rope

It was another gorgeous day, and we decided to just head straight outside for the strip.  Since I have been doing a lot of work on Bear with the flag, I decided to take the rope back out and see how we could do with that.  When we used it a little last summer, he was pretty wary around it.  Particularly if I was recoiling the excess rope on his right side.


So today we started working with it on the ground.  Right away I could sense he was better with it.  Still pretty uncertain, but nothing like before.  I patted him all around with the coils and threw a few lopes near him and over him.


When we got to the point where he wasn't dancing around any more I climbed on.  We spent quite a few minutes riding around with me holding the rope in my right hand.  I'd just bang it against my leg or rub him on the neck and rump.  He'd increase his pace sometimes, but overall he was good.


We moved into trotting various patterns and figure-eights with me still desensitizing him to the rope.  This was the best part as he really settled into things nicely.  I think he finally figured out he could just relax and the rope wasn't going to bother him.  I threw a few really awkward loops off his back from the walk and trot, and that went pretty well.  He was not bothered at all when I gathered the rope back up on his right side.  An excellent sign.

From there I hopped off and looped the rope around an old fence post.  I climbed back on and we worked on pulling the post going backwards and sideways.  I'd also walk around it and work on positioning Bear right where I wanted him as if we had a cow.  He was not thrilled with this, and he didn't love facing the post, so I got a lot more practice in on blocking him with my legs and immediately shifting over to being supportive. 


We never pulled the post behind us.  Neither Bear nor I felt ready for that.  Dealing with the rope and reins and weight on the rope was a lot tougher than I thought it would be.  It is not natural for me to dally the rope around the horn and ride off.  But at least we'll have some fun things to work on.

Finally I put the rope away and we proceeded to have a more regular ride.  I think Bear was happy with this, because he was really good.  He gave me the nicest circles at the lope I've ever felt outside.  They were shockingly smooth and easy.  This is one of the things I've struggled with off and on and felt like we should have down.  It is nice to see they might be coming around.

We also spent a few minutes trotting and loping off by ourselves down the drainage.  Again, Bear was great.  It's so fun to be riding around outside with him again.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Keeping Going

The sun is getting stronger and the grasses are slowly coming up.  It is definitely making it a lot easier to get to the barn.

I found Laredo snoozing in the sun.  It took a few smacks of the lead rope on my chinks to get him to wake up, but as soon as he did he came marching right over.

He promptly fell back asleep at the hitching post as I worked to get all the mud and grime out of his coat.  He is by far our dirtiest horse.  I'm hoping it is an age thing he will at least get over it somewhat.

Our ride was a good one.  We started indoors again, and I worked on all the things I've been doing with him.  We did a lot of trotting, bending, loping, stopping, and backing.  It wasn't all great, but he is working harder to pay attention and giving a lot more energy and effort.  We really didn't have anything great or awful on the ride, just some nice practice.

We went outside to work on the strip for a bit.  The footing was surprisingly good, and Laredo seemed happy to be outside.  We mostly continued working on the same things.  His energy was still good, and he really wasn't leaning on the hackamore much at all.  I did have to get him off it a few times, but I'm feeling it better than I used to, and I think it is translating into him doing it less and less.

After trotting some nice circles and figure-eights, I asked him to move into the lope.  I really haven't run with him outside too much.  Last summer and fall we did it quite a bit, but it was always in a straight line.  Today I wanted to start working in some circles.  I didn't have any grand goals other than to just get him into the gait and keep and nice bend.  He picked it up nicely, but it was also the slowest lope I've ever felt on him.  Guess that is better than the alternative.

We finished the ride by going for a stroll down the drainage on onto the second strip.  He was really happy to be walking out.  We encountered three different scary tractors, and he wasn't worried much at all.  The worst one was on the way back.  We turned for home, and to the guys, it might have felt like the tractor was chasing us a little.  His head came up and he started walking fast and dancing around a bit, but I calmed him down very easily and we had an easy walk home.

All in all, it was a really great spring ride.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Surprise

We spent the weekend in the Chicago area visiting my family and meeting our new niece.  We also got to spend a lot of quality time with our 2 year old nephew.  It was my first time playing Easter Bunny, too.

When we got back into town Sunday afternoon we were tired and hungry, but the sun was shining and I knew a ride would be good.  Robin was tired, too, but when I suggested we just ride Bear and Steen she was up for it.  We know we can always have a good ride on those goes.

So 15 minutes after getting to the house we were headed back out to the barn.  Robin had a rough time catching Steen a couple weeks ago, but he learned his lesson and now comes right to us with energy.  Bear on the other hand seems to be where Steen was earlier.  So I had to do quite a bit of chasing to get him to come to me.  I don't know if it is the new horses in the herd or just spring in the air, but I do know it is annoying.  Our 2 year old nephew doesn't know that word, and I'm not sure Bear does either.

But once we started the ride things were great.  We started inside and just had fun riding around the cones and moving the big soccer ball around.  I had never asked Bear to move the soccer ball before, but I figured it was another good thing to work on in our quest for getting Bear (and by default, me) comfortable with everything.

He wasn't too keen on it at first, and I got to work on quickly blocking with my legs and then softening up when he was trying.  After just a few kicks he got to the point where he didn't really care about it.  He didn't like doing it, but he also wasn't bothered by it.

Robin and I weren't working too hard.  We spent quite a bit of time talking to various other borders and just hanging out on the horses.  But then we'd go back and get to work.  We worked on a figure-eight exercise that involved us staying really even with each other and speeding up or slowing down when we crossed paths.  It was quite demanding, and Bear wasn't happy with it.  But after a few minutes, Bear started putting in some serious effort to get his walk going.

After that we decided to work on the routine.  It can be a lot more fun with Bear and Steen because they know the drill a lot better than Laredo does.  Of course, we went through it and it was about the worst running of the routine we'd ever done.  It was so bad we couldn't stop laughing at how awful it was.  Both guys were sluggish and tired, as were we.

So we decided to try the whole thing at the lope.  Really smart, I know, but it actually worked.  I had to think about it for a minute and figure out where I'd need to do simple lead changes, but it turned out there were only two. 

We backed them up and took off at the lope.  I think they were both shocked by what we were asking that they rose to the challenge.  At the end we were laughing because of how well everything went.  We only did it once, though, as we were not confident it could get much better that day.  But we'll definitely work on keeping it faster in the future.

At this point we decided to just go walk around outside.  The footing was much better than the week before, despite some weekend rain and manure spread over parts of the strip.  The guys were happy to be out, and Bear was responding nicely when I asked him to pick up the pace.

We ended up trotting down the second strip and just enjoying the sunshine.  It was one of the best trots I've ever had on Bear.  We were comfortably covering ground and he was really using his haunches as he picked his way around tractor divots and muddy patches.

It was so nice we decided to trot back.  Bear suggested we lope, and I told him no that isn't a good idea.  But then Robin said we should try for a nice little lope.  We got going and then Bear got kinked up or something.  He gave a couple big sideways leaps, and each time he landed he put on more speed.

Before I knew it we were galloping up the second strip.  Robin said, "I don't really have control right now."  And I told her I didn't either.  I knew I could stop him, but I couldn't stop him right then.

So we rode.  I gave a few short, sharp pulls that allowed me to scrub some speed off the run, but the real change didn't happen until we hit the drainage.  I knew he'd turn left for home, so I hit him with a well timed pull on the right side.  He pulled up, and Steen was on our right, which I didn't think about, and he almost ran into us.  The good news is that this really slowed everyone down, and we got them under control pretty easily.

After that, they were happy to just walk on home.  Silly guys.

Obviously a little unasked for gallop is never a good thing.  But I was happy with how calm I felt about everything and how it worked out in the end.  Just another good experience to have.