Ridin’ High

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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We were out of town Thursday thru Monday. We went to the Chicago area to audit a Martin Black clinic, which was great. The setting was small and intimate, only eight riders and a handful of auditors. Martin gave all the riders a lot of one on one attention, and we learned a whole lot by watching.

Tuesday was an ohmygodihavesomuchworktodo day for me. I had asked Marissa to apply the spray to Steen’s leg while we were out of town, and I hadn’t heard anything from her, so I was reasonably certain things were fine. Still, I was more than ready to get out to the barn when Brian got home from work today.

I was hopeful heading out that the leg would have healed a lot during my absence, so at first I was pretty disappointed when a very grubby Steen greeted me with a scab on his leg that seemed just as big as the last time I saw it. I brought him in and looked more closely, though, and saw that it has indeed made a lot of progress. The scab is in that flaky stage, where bits of its break off at the slightest provocation. The swelling right below the cut has decreased even further.

The ankle was a bit puffy again, though, so I decided another day of light work on the strip would be good. And after a little discussion with Brian I went ahead and put Steen’s saddle on too. Our vet told me about two weeks ago that I could ride Steen if I wanted, but that seemed super premature to me. Today I thought the main thing we needed was some mobility. And I’ll be honest. I love Laredo and Bear but I’m really, really missing riding my own horse.

I had to tie my mecate back on my bosal before I could put the hackamore on, and as I stood there working on that Steen kept reaching towards me with his nose. When I finally went to put it on, he was “helping” get his head into the bosal with so much enthusiasm I could hardly get it on him.

So we went out to the strip and did some groundwork. Steen was FULL of energy, putting a lot more effort into every movement than was strictly necessary. When I had him trot on the line he would give these extra little hops with his front end every time I had him change directions. I almost looked like he was doing a little dance. It was hilarious.

Finally I got on. Steen seemed so TALL. I walked around for a few minutes feeling like I was sitting on a phone book or something.

He was also really revved up. He was more than ready to get to work. He was blowing his little signature half-snorts every other step, and he was moving out with as much energy as he could put into a walk. After so much time on the lackadaisical Laredo, it felt great. I mean really, really great. Steen has his faults, to be sure, but taking time away from riding him and working more with other horses really only reinforced how much I adore him and how well we suit each other.

Of course I couldn’t exactly do anything to use his energy up. My plan was to ride for no more than 20 minutes, walking only. So I worked on a few things we learned at the clinic. Martin Black talked most about three things: where the feet are, where your weight is, and being careful not to pull for more than an instant.

I’ve thought a lot about my weight in the saddle for a long time, but one thing Martin Black did differently was encourage people to exaggerate shifting their weight and then ask their horse for a little movement. Seeing where the horse went would do a lot to illustrate how their weight was affecting their horses’ ability to move. He also emphasized the difference between leaning and actually shifting your center of gravity. You can lean and still stayed centered on the horse, which doesn’t help your horse at all.

He also said at one point, “Think of it like you’re on a giant beach ball. If you rock your weight back, the ball will roll forward. If you rock to the left, the ball will go right. Use your weight the same way on your horse.”

It’s amazing how you can read and think and watch and try and struggle to get a concept through your thick skull, and then suddenly one person can say one thing and it all becomes clear. For some reason the beach ball analogy struck home for me.

So while I was working on walking Steen around the strip, I played around with influencing his direction with my weight. Of course Steen is already responsive to my legs, but I do always have more trouble turning him right than left. I have thought this is because my left hip is weaker and less flexible, but today I realized its because I don’t shift my weight correctly. Even though I think I’m taking my weight off that right front shoulder when I ask for a right turn, what I’m really doing is leaning a little to the left and keeping my center of gravity right in the same place. Derned right side dominance.

Steen was great. Soft to my leg, soft to the hackamore, and I might be making this up but I swear he was just as happy to have me on his  back as I was to be there.

After dinking around on the strip for a while, Brian and I meandered down the drainage. Steen walked out like a champ, but in spite of the snorting and extra energy, never did anything other than walk. Heading back to the barn his energy came up an extra notch. I made sure to let my hips go with him and keep lots and lots of slack in the reins. We made it back up to the top and did a few more circles. He did pick up the trot once at the very end, but dropped it when he felt me move my hand to pick up the rein, before I could even make contact. What a guy.

The swelling in the ankle had gone down by the time I got off, and the leg looked otherwise the same. So I’m going to keep a careful eye on things and maybe do a light ride every few days until the scab is gone entirely.

Ride Time: 0:20
Horseback hours YTD: 134:05

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Suzanne Hodges

Love. Martin. Black.
So awesome you went to see him. Yep, that makes me just a tad jelly. But to see you atop Steen again is great. It's been a long healing process for him.