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.

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