Today Robin and I both rode two horses. We got to the barn even earlier than yesterday, and we decided to each start with the horse least familiar to us. So Robin rode Laredo, and I rode Steen.
I spent the ride thinking about Robin’s last blog post, so I was trying my best to be as soft as possible. Steen is so responsive (and often reactive) that you get a ton of feedback from him, so I figured it would be good to practice. I always try to be soft with Bear, but it is different. He’s what I know, and I think I often revert back to some of my older riding habits. Also, his demeanor and attitude seem to require that I change my levels of softness and demanding-ness from ride to ride.
Steen was his usual, somewhat nervous self with me. He is not like this for Robin, and he is not like this when I’m around him on the ground. But on his back, he’s just unsure. So me being soft really helped us out, and he did relax as the ride went on.
In the beginning we worked on all the slow stuff like short serpentines, moving the front or hind end, walking perfect circles, and stuff like that. These things helped keep us calm, but when we moved to the trot he brought his head up and hollowed his back out and scooted around. It doesn’t feel great when he does that.
So we would move in and out of the trot a lot and work on bending and staying soft laterally. Things didn’t get great, but they did improve.
Robin said she thought we looked better than we’ve ever looked together. That is probably true, even though it didn’t feel as good as some of my rides on Bear. We cooled down by working on some whirly-gigs (which we actually did quite well) and some leg yielding. I kept doing those at the walk because I couldn’t believe how soft I could hold the reins and just barely brush my leg up against him. It felt really good. I was able to stay very balanced, and no doubt that helped him move over nicely. At the trot, yeah, not so much. But I was happy I got a glimmer of what leg yields could be like for Bear and I. This is one of the exercises that I think is hard for him because of his tight back, but I also think it is good for his tight back.
When I grabbed Bear from the side lot and brought him out to the strip, I was trying to keep the same idea of softness as I had with Steen, to be lighter than I need to be.
Of course, Bear was extremely distracted and not at all interested in the suggestions from my legs or hands. I was pretty disappointed.
Thankfully he still seemed to be feeling good. He was bending nicely and moving out without any problems. So I shifted my focus to being as firm as I had to be for as brief as I could, and then go back to softness. The soft moments didn’t last super long in the beginning, but as we rode, we did make progress.
I didn’t want to ride him very long since we had a good ride yesterday, so I moved through a lot of things in a little over half an hour. The most fun was the loping mixed in with figure-eights at the trot and some short-serpentines to encourage him to stay back and use his haunches.
I think it worked nicely. We did more loping than we’ve done in a few weeks. Both directions he felt smooth and relaxed, and with interspersing the other exercises in, each lope felt better than the last.
To cool down we revisited the ‘how soft can I be’ idea by walking various sized circles and figure-eights and using the reins as little as possible. By this time he felt like a totally different horse. He was listening to me and happy to move wherever I asked. It is so funny with Bear, but sometimes it just seems like he forces me to make him do things from time to time. Other days, he is thrilled to listen from the start. I know I read over and over again that it is always the rider, but other times I’m not so sure.