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.