Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Long Day in the Arena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

Walking Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hightlights From Tuesday

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

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Steady Laredo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Body Position Really Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 20, 2013

Just the Two of Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Back on Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hard to Title with Two Very Different Rides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 18, 2013

End of a Long Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The New Norm?

I checked Bear's temp first thing and it was below 100.  Very nice, considering he was just dozing in the sun on another warm afternoon.

And then I proceeded to catch Zoey.  She is not a fan of me, or possibly not a big fan of men.  It can be hard to tell as Robin is a little softer and smoother with most things horse related.  So she got pretty agitated early on in the catching process and took off out of the middle pasture with some of her new boyfriends.

Up in the dry lot we played the game for a little while.  It mostly consisted of Zoey running around the wind block and periodically failing to get other horses to run interference  for her.  At the same time, I was pretty much running around the wind block the whole time wishing I had some more appropriate footwear on.

Finally she started stopping and looking at me.  I'd immediately drop the pressure, and she'd line up to look at me.  Normally if she didn't start to come, I'd up the pressure again.  But since we don't want to aggravate her injury at all, we'd like to keep the running to a minimum.  Of course, it was always up to her.

So I'd sidle up to her slowly and see if she was ready to hang out with me.  The first few times the answer was decidedly no.

And then I'd move her off when she turned away and we'd go back to running around the wind block.  Finally we hit a spot where we were both tired and happy to hang out near one another.  Laredo walked up and I was a little worried he would mess things up, but in the end I think he helped.  He's so happy and comfortable around us.  That meant I was able to go back and forth between petting both horses and Zoey didn't end up minding the halter at all. In the end it took 9 minutes to catch her.  Same as Robin yesterday, but my 9 minutes involved a whole lot more running on my part.  And it felt like 20 minutes; I thought for sure we were backsliding.

She was still pretty unsure of me while we were grooming, but as we worked together she warmed up.  We saddle up in the arena again as she tends to shy away from the pad and saddle.  I did some work with the flag first, and I think that helped a lot.  She was inclined to shift away from it whenever it touched her, but we kept at it and she started to accept it.  So when we moved to the pad and saddle I think she took it better than she did on Sunday.

Under saddle she is soooo different than our other guys.  Little, compact, and her movements are oddly big.  She's got a ton of leg action.  We didn't ride for very long, as we don't want to cause any problems to her stitches.  But we worked through some flexing, bending, teardrop turns, serpentines, and circles at the walk and trot.  She does like to reach for that bit, and during some of the trots it felt like my feet were going to skim the sand because her front end was so low.  But we kept things together, and just like with our grooming she continued to relax throughout the ride.

Then it was back out to the pasture to grab Laredo for a second ride.  Like usual, he was happy to see me and hangout.  I did quick tack up and we headed out to the strip.  My goal today was to stay as soft as possible.  This is often my goal, but after yesterday's harsh moments, I thought it was particularly important to move things back towards softness.  I still knew I might have to back up the soft ask with a serious ask, but I kept that in the back of my mind.

From the beginning he was lively and really listening.  He was soft and quick moving back and over and jumping into the trot.

We spent some time moving out at some big trots on the strip. Never once did he feel forward or like he wanted to run away with me or even change the pace.  He was just moving with me.  It felt great.

We really didn't ride too long.  Sometimes when things are going well, it is just easy to enjoy them and not push it.  I really don't think it would have been a problem if we did more.  He was just happy to work today.  I'm so curious to see how our more exact riding technique affects Laredo.  It is funny how different he is from our other guys.  But that's why we wanted yet another horse, so we could ride twice a day with a lot more regularity.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Robin had a great ride on Laredo Sunday.  After her energetic and surprisingly good ride on Zoey, she found Laredo decidedly lacking in the try department.  She had already decided to try him in the snaffle again, and she was happy she did.  It allowed her to correct and encourage him in a way that got him with her more than he has been lately.

I started our ride today with the same strategies.  It has been easy for us to slip into a form of complacency and just let him get a way with things.  He isn't getting away with any outrageous behaviors, but he's just going through the motions and not really trying.  Ever.

So we've decided when we ask for things we will set them up softly, then add a teeny bit more energy, and finally if he has not responded, we will turn the volume way up.  As Martin Black said many times at the clinic we visited, if you have to try a fourth time, it is only because you miscalculated on the third.  But really, that fourth ask shouldn't have to happen.

Early in the ride we had a few rough moments, but it did get Laredo paying attention to me.  He was a little sullen about it, but he was watchful.  I tried to be careful to not push too hard, as that is never good for any horse.  So I mixed in exercises where I wanted specific outcomes (circles, moving the front end, transitions) with things that were a lot more relaxed and easy (moving out at the walk and trot and just hanging out sometimes and getting a soft feel).

After about twenty minutes I was noticing a lot more energy and effort in him than I've ever felt before.  We decided to have a little game of cow, and I was definitely able to use this to my advantage.  We were stopping and turning really well. Steen was of course beating us, but if we were chasing him, Laredo was moving after him with a purpose.

When we were the cow, we got to move into the lope quite a few times.  He was having fun with it.  My control with loping Laredo in circles is not the best.  So we had moments where we'd drift into the newly planted fields or come close to cutting off Steen and running into him.  But these were all good experiences.

We have learned so much from Laredo in the past year.  And the more I see other horses, the more I think he was a rather difficult horse to take on as our first 3 year old.  But after changes like these, we can see glimmers of the truly great horse he could become.

Alert, and energetically backing up (which is a little hard to capture in a head on shot)
We also spent a lot of time checking on our sick and injured horses.  Zoey's back side is staying closed.  It is still swollen, but not looking bad.  I checked Bear's temp right when we arrived.  I was disappointed to find it was 102, just the hint of a fever.  But it was also the first 90+ degree day we've had.  And at 3 PM, it was definitely HOT out there.  After our ride I brought him in to cool down inside and gave him some cold water.  When I checked the temp again it was 100.8.  Definitely a good sign.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Long Weekend

Robin has some better summaries here and here.  I don't really feel up to writing about all of it.  We are pretty excited to have our new horse, but that first day was really packed.  I was excited Robin had a great ride on her.

Unfortunately, Bear was not doing so great for our ride.  We mostly just tooled around in the indoor.  I had put the snaffle back on because he had a cut under his chin and the knot in the hackamore would aggravate it.  In some ways it was fun to feel the differences of everything in the snaffle v. hackamore.  But it other ways the ride was no fun as Bear was just not himself.

He's actually not been himself, to varying degrees, for a few weeks know.  The biggest indicator of how off he was came when we saw our new horse push him against the fence and kick him multiple times.  Bear is really great in a herd.  He used to be a stallion.  He knows how to move horses and he knows when he should turn and walk away.  But yesterday he was just stuck there as she kicked him over and over again.  He stumbled away, and it was clear he was in a lot of pain.  I felt so bad for him, and there was nothing I could really do.

We did check on him and make sure the wounds were not too bad.  He was bobbing his head and just spacey.  He wouldn't eat, and he was not really worried if other horses would take his food or not.  Our new mare was one of the interested parties, and when I shooed her off, I saw a really big gash in her right hind.

So we had the vet in.  It was a while stitching up the new girl, and we had Bear up, too.  He just hung out while he waited his turn.  When the vet started checking on him he wasn't too concerned.  But then we found out his temperature was 105.  Dangerously high.  So we pumped him full of antibiotics and probiotics and took a blood sample.  But that was all we could do at the time.

This morning I got up early and drove out to the barn to check on him.  It was a cold night, and I found him in the middle of the second pasture, just hanging out.  This worried me initially, but as I walked up I saw him grab a few bites of grass.

He was happy to see me, and I brought him in to give him another dose of probiotics and some of his vitamins.  His appetite was much better.  And I was happy to find his temp was between 100 and 101.  When I put him back he was even moving horses again.  So I felt a lot better.

It is scary to think what might have happened if we didn't get the vet out yesterday.  Maybe he would have been fine.  But maybe things would have gotten really bad.  At the very least we're going to start keeping regular tabs on our guys' temperatures.  It's not like you can feel their foreheads or they can tell you they don't feel well. 

Robin was out again in the evening and Bear continues to act more like himself and his temp is hovering around 100 and 101.  Hopefully that means he's on the road to recovery.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Is Four Too Many?

We just hit our one year anniversary with Laredo and being a three horse family, and now we are considering a fourth.  Truth be told, we've been talking about it for some time.  There are days at the barn where we just want to put our guys back and grab another one.  This doesn't work well with three as someone always gets a lot longer ride time.  With Bear and Steen both getting older, it doesn't seem fair to ride them into the ground.

And so began our search for a possible fourth. We were looking for a middle aged (5 to 9 years?) stock horse that knew some things but needed a lot of miles.  Ideally we would be able to keep this horse for a few months and then sell it in the late summer or early fall.

Many would call this a flip, and I guess that is what it ultimately would be.  But that's not really our goal.  We want another horse that can teach us some new things, and hopefully in that time we can leave the horse in a better place than we found them.  We're not out to make any money on this deal, just learn things (and, um, hopefully not lose any money).  We could also see ourselves doing this kind of thing more in the future.  Not being pro trainers or anything, just people with some good experience who can maybe help out some other riders and horses.

So we started looking for this ideal horse.  There weren't many for sale in our area that seemed right in terms of what we wanted and what we were willing to pay.  So we put an ad on Craig's List and wow did we get some responses.  Turns out there are a lot of horses out there in need of a good hand.  Many people don't feel like they can keep their horse, but they also don't feel like they can sell them in their current state.

We spent many days this week looking at five different horses.  All fit into our basic criteria, but as with all things horse related, there were quite a few surprises.  Two of the five could not even be saddled without throwing some bucking fits.  And while we were curious to see what it would be like to work through these issues, we really don't want to be problem horse solvers.  And we don't want to get into dangerous situations if we can help it.

Some of the horses were hard and heavy, some slow, and some were sensitive.  It was actually really hard to decide on what to do.  We almost considered extending our search, but honestly, horse shopping is exhausting.  And it was already taking time from our other guys.  That is not something we want.  This should add and supplement our current routine, not alter it in a negative way.

In the end, we went with the last horse we visited.  I suppose that is often the case.  She is a short little AQHA bay roan.  Seven years old.  She was started as five year old and then hung out for a while.  Over the last few months she has been in a lot of work with a trainer who focuses on eventing.  She's soft to the bit, but also overly reliant on it.  She is a little bit nervous and shy on the ground, but she also knows her job when it comes to riding.  She can get forward in her gaits, but she doesn't want to run away with you or take charge.  We think she has  the potential to be exactly what we're looking for. And we know no matter what, we're gonna learn a lot in this experiment.

She gets delivered this afternoon.  And then all we have to do is name her (right now they call her Shorty, ugh, how demeaning) and ride.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

One Year Later

We've now had Laredo for exactly one year. At times it has been rough, but it has also been extremely educational.   

In that time we've gotten over the ear issue, had a few bucks and runaways, taught him how to lope some circles, and become close enough that he will sometimes run to us in the pastures.  He has helped me become more patient (still got a ways to go on that one), understand serpentines better, feel what it really means for your horse to lean on your hands, and highlighted exactly how much my seat and legs can get in a horse's way. 

Today we overall had a great ride.  And all the things we did, we could not have done a year ago.  It wasn't a particularly special or fantastic ride, just a good ride to keep us moving on with our training.

We focused on moving out at the trot and then slowing down and relaxing in the trot.  Laredo is getting more sensitive to how our seat dictates speed.  He will sometimes get that feeling like he wants to run somewhere real fast, but lately he has just been coming right back to us before that happens.  A couple weeks ago I had to bend him pretty hard if he felt like he was going to take off, now I can just sit a little differently, or pick up a soft feel, or if really necessary, pick up one rein and ask for a slight bend. 

It was in some of those gradual bends going up and down the strip that I noticed a problem in my seat.  Overall we were getting some great turns at the trot today, but occasionally going to the right I would get Laredo into this frame where it felt like he was yielding his head, neck, and hindquarters very softly, but his shoulder was just bulging through.  It made no sense considering how well he was listening.  So I really concentrated on what I was doing, and sure enough, my outside leg was coming off him a little bit in that turn.  So he was finding a small space, that I was unknowingly opening, and trying to stay in it.  That's extremely good stuff.  And when I was able to close that door slightly, he stopped doing that.  No big deal.  Another moment of it always being the rider.

We spent a few minutes working on our lope, too.  He was happy to move into it and gave me a real smooth and relaxed lope.  There were a few spots in our turns where he'd get stuck and come out of it.  It's possible these are somewhat related to the above problem, but at this time I was aware of that and I was going into the turns as set up as I possibly knew how to be.  After many circles we were able to hold the even pace all the way through, both directions.  But even when we got stuck in the turns, I could just pick up the inside rein and he'd follow that feel right out of the turn.  He's always been soft laterally, but since we started working hard to get him to stop leaning on us (as slight as it was sometimes) we've seen some drastic improvement.

It was a hot day, so we didn't ride too long.  They were tired and sweaty by the end, and he was totally loving the neck rubs.

It took a little while to really get comfortable with him, but now it is even kind of hard to remember those first rides.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Out and About

I thought we'd be getting out there on the trails more regularly this spring, but we really haven't.  Even today it almost didn't work out.  We didn't want to ride inside again, and we figured the surrounding areas would be too wet for our normal working rides, so we planned on an easy trail ride.  But it was sopping.  Muddy B roads and standing water in some of the drainages we like to walk through.

But we still did it.  And it wasn't too bad.  Bear didn't love the B road on the way out, but thankfully it was nice and sunny out and the road was already in better shape when we came back.

We spent most of the ride walking, though we did trot through some fields that were new to me.  Robin had been on them before.  They are nice rolling hills with multiple grassy lanes looping through them. 

They'll be a great place to spend more time moving out.  I was still trying to keep it easy on Bear today.  He was moving pretty good, but when we would stop I think his back was a little fatigued.

We also did some exploring around a pond and a section of woods that leads to our vet's eventing course.  The guys were great poking around all the stuff.  Steen was the funniest.  He was as curious as Laredo is.  Usually he's pretty skeptical, but today he was just relaxed and trying to go check things out. 

The whole ride was fun and relaxing. A perfect Sunday, really.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Taking it Easy

We had another big, cold rain storm come through.  Robin was nice enough to run out to the barn Thursday night to blanket the guys and let me get a workout in.  Things were still wet on Friday, and we didn't have much end of the week motivation.

But today we got up in the morning and went out to the barn early. It was still cold and wet, but we were happy to be out there.

I decided to ride Bear again just to keep checking him out.  We rode inside, and I had no intentions of working on anything fast.  Our arena has some kind of mixture in the sand that soaks up moisture and keeps the dust down.  We had a new treatment not that long ago, but with the new storm, the sand was holding a lot of water.  So Bear and I spent a long time warming up by just walking through the puddles and mixing them into the sand.  It was kind of fun, actually.

From there we did a lot of bending.  Like the other days, he was much stiffer going left than right.  Often he would move his feet when I asked him to flex to the left, and other times he wouldn't move his feet at all when that is what I wanted.  We worked on both of those things a ton, and they did get better.  But even still, at the end of the ride the left side was lagging behind the right side.

I didn't want to aggravate him too much with me making the decisions of where his head should go, so we started walking some circles and just trying to get a nice, even bend.  This was going so well I put the reins down.  From there I decided to make each circle smaller than the previous one and just really take my time encouraging Bear into tighter and tighter bends.  All without reins.

I was surprised with how small of a circle we could get in each direction.  He was bending nicely and reaching evenly with all four feet.  It was some of the best no hands riding we've ever done.  I never picked up on the reins once, and he was very soft to me encouraging more bend or keeping him from collapsing too soon.  I think he enjoyed it as much as I did.

By this time we had been riding for a while, and I was running out of slow things to work on.  Robin was having a good ride on Laredo, and she suggested we just switch.  We hopped off, pulled our saddles and jumped on the other horse.  It took about 90 seconds, and I don't know why we don't do this more often.

I had fun watching Robin and Bear.  They don't ride together very much, and it is rare I get to see the expressions on Bear's face while he's working.  They both looked rather cute.

Laredo was good, and had nice energy, but he was also touchier than I've ever felt him.  He was moving out a lot, but he was going back and forth between being too responsive off my leg or dull to my leg.  I can only think he was so attuned to Robin that my riding style and leg placement was jarring to him. 

Over the next half hour we were able to work through it.  We got some nice trotting and loping in, and we also worked on the same circle exercise, but I needed my hands with Laredo. 

By the end I think he was enjoying working with me.  Over the past year it has been funny working with him.  We often try so hard to keep him interested in what we're doing.  All of a sudden he is just a whole lot more into it.  I'm not sure if it is a maturity thing, and improvement in our riding, or what, but I do like it.  And I hope the trend continues.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Checking Things Out

Today would be my day to ride Laredo, but most of the day I kept thinking I owed Bear a soft, easy ride to see if we could find what was bothering him.  Robin suggested I just do both.  So I did.  I groomed them both up, tacked Bear and put Laredo in the big side pen near the arena.  He was quite curious to just check out the new space.

I hopped on Bear and he was OK.  He was happy to see me when I pulled him out of the pasture, and he seemed to be walking out nice.  He was still stiff, particularly going to the left.  We worked on that for a little while and then checked out the trot.  Not great, but better than yesterday.  I thought we should check out the lope briefly.  He moved into it really nicely, but there was one stretch along the field that he did not want to stay on.  He would cut hard to the right and go for the fence.  I had to work pretty hard to keep him from doing this, and it made for a rough ride.  I was not always successful, either.  Going the other way we didn't have that problem, but there was a particularly sticky spot where he wouldn't bend to head back in the other direction.  Robin said it looked like he would make the turn on his forelegs, swiveling his hind end over with each step.  I guess that is what it felt like.

We stopped there, as I really didn't want to keep going with things that were not working.  I was happy he was overall a little better at the walk and trot, but loping was not good.  Robin and I talked about it for a while, and we came to the conclusion it could be from my riding.  When his lope gets big and rough (mostly when he wants to go somewhere other than where I want to go) I don't ride as well.  I tend to slide around a lot more and my butt can slam into the saddle quite often.  This was actually happening a lot last Friday when we rode in the middle pasture.  We were loping a big trapezoidal pattern, and there were a few spots where Bear was pushing out and I had to really use my legs to keep him where I wanted him.  As a result, I was popping up and slamming down on his back from time to time.

We're not a hundred percent sure this is the problem, but from where we're at now it seems the likeliest culprit.  I'll have to give him some time off, and when we do ride I will probably have to stay out of the lope until we've got everything working well for us again.  It is a bummer.  I certainly don't want to hurt my horse, but I also need to work on riding rougher lopes and keeping us going where I want, and that will be hard to practice without doing it.  I know the greats say you can get a lot done at the walk, so I'll just have to see what I can come up with there that will help us out with our faster problems.

At this point, Laredo was running and bucking up a storm in the side pen.  Guess he was done being curious about the space.  I went and put Bear in the pen and grabbed the kid.  I sprinted right up to me, but then he immediately calmed down.  I even pushed things a bit by bridling him in the pen rather than our normal spot.  He was great.

He did require a little more groundwork, though.  Guess some of the spiritedness was still there. Once I hopped on he was great, though.  He got a little distracted by some farm machinery driving around in the distance, but I never felt him want to leave me.  When we were trotting he was really listening, so our last ride made a good impression on him.

He was super soft with his backing, circles, and lateral movements today.
 We spent a large part of the ride working on bending in a nice teardrop shape and going off in the other direction.  This didn't go very well, because neither one of us are good at it.  Laredo tends to lose all his speed in the turns and/or fall onto his front end.  My problem is getting timed with the feet and going from too soft to too hard.  The turn is so short, I think it makes me rush things.

Over time we both got a little better, but it wasn't great.  We'll definitely have to keep doing that.  One nice thing is Laredo really didn't mind the drilling.  He really used to check out and get grouchy about that kind of stuff, but lately that has been less and less the case.  I guess he is just getting more mature and understanding the goals better.

He was also great when we started moving into the lope.  We got some nice big circles in both directions.  He was soft to the hackamore and happy to run.  We only had one moment where we got stuck in one of the plowed rows in the field.  He wouldn't come out of it and kept charging ahead faster.  I just had to pop him a little harder and we came right back into the strip.  Typical Laredo, he wasn't bothered by it at all.

We ended the ride by going to explore in the fields.  On the second strip we decided to move out at the trot.  Laredo was giving me a big but controlled trot, so we just went with it all the way down the strip and onto the new section of drainage that leads off the property.  We turned around and kept trotting for home with no problem.

Back on the second strip we decided to check out a new spot that was recently cleared.  It looks like a short road with a bunch of trees on one side and a big berm on the other that is much taller than our heads.  At this time also walked by the tiny little creek.  Laredo heard he noise and leaped to his right.  For some reason the sound of running water really got him going.  Steen was just fine, but I had to bend him a few times before I could encourage him to get closer to check it out.  Ultimately he was pretty curious about it, but he never fully relaxed near the stream.  Guess we'll have to work on that.

He stayed a little excited as we walked on and checked out the new area, but as soon as we rounded the bend and saw home, he slowed right down.  I swear he is the only horse who does not want to make a b-line for the barn.