We’ve had a beautiful spring here in Iowa. Not much rain, quite a bit of sun, and lots of really temperate weather. April was a good month with the horses.
I’ve continued to do work both with Loretta alone and with Loretta and her owner together. We are seeing a lot of really good changes. I’ve learned a lot about working with a horse that isn’t mine. For Loretta, the breakthrough came when I worked with her three days in a row. From there, we’ve been making very steady forward progress. Now that Loretta has an understanding of the basic principles we’re working with, it’s more and more possible for her owner to be more effective with her.
This past Friday, Loretta’s owner couldn’t make it out. I decided to just include Loretta in our day like she was one of ours. So I brought her and Steen up to the hitching post and got them ready together. Loretta was pretty good about standing, though she did get a little restless a few times.
In the outdoor arena, I parked Steen and did groundwork with Loretta. We’ve been working a lot on walking half circles. Loretta still has a lot of strange locomotion issues. She is heavy on the forehand, disinclined to engage her hind, and still very defensive at times. I was using the flag, which I hadn’t used in a while with her. I was pleased to see she was way way less reactive to it than I’d ever seen before. We then worked on the half circles until she could go without escaping and at least sort of disengage both the front and the hind. It took us going most of the way up the arena and back, but finally she started to slow down and soften and try. We got one good half circle and stopped. Then we took a pretty long break. (She is quite overweight and very out of shape and also has heaves, so she gets out of breath quickly.) Then we did it again and she was much faster to start searching instead of escaping. We moved on to other things, and overall I was super pleased with how she was responding to everything.
After a while I climbed on Steen and continued to work Loretta from his back. I was able to get softer disengages from her mounted than I usually manage from the ground, so that was interesting. I worked both sides and ponied her around. Then I put her back in her pen and finished my ride on Steen.
April was a rough month for Steen. He just wasn’t feeling like himself. For a few weeks it felt like he had no try and I had to pedal him for every movement. I need to remember that he is not at all a sluggish horse, and if he feels like that there is something wrong. It’s hard for me, though, because he is getting older. It’s easy to attribute any given day’s low energy to age or heat or fatigue due to getting back in shape, my emotional state, or some other thing. This week, though, the horses have gotten to spend half their time out on grass. The change in Steen is remarkable. His front feet don’t hit the ground so hard when I lead him, he responds to light asks again under saddle, and gone is the feeling that he’s just not trying. I think spring and fall are just hard on him these days. I’m going to put him on the supplement our vet recommended when Bear was feeling low, and possibly just do that as a standard thing for a month or so when the seasons change from now on.
I’ve been having a great time with Piper. A few weeks ago, we hit our low point. In retrospect, I had gotten to pushing her a little too hard. Piper is a quiet horse, but a lot of that quietness is from internalized stress. My biggest challenge with her has been finding ways to get to her feet without pushing her into feeling defensive. With every other horse we’ve had, asking for more life with more energy works to snap them out of resistance and into effort. With Piper, it does not. She shuts down, withdraws mentally, and resists all the more. It took me some time to recognize when this was happening and find other ways to approach the things that were hanging us up.
The week before last, however, we had an amazing week. The walking half-circle exercise actually really helped with her too. I’d been taking it too slow, pausing when she got behind. Brian pointed this out, so I worked on making sure I continued to move my feet at all times. Piper figured out she needed to keep up, and a lot of her stickiness on the ground went away very quickly. I think it worked so well because she could see a reason for the consequences. When she got behind, she flag came in and moved her shoulder. Before, I think the flag or the rope or whatever was seeming too random to her.
Once we got our walking half circles slow and soft but consistent, that helped a lot of things under saddle as well. We had three rides were I was feeling like we were really together. She was walking, trotting off of light asks. We were getting downward transitions off the seat alone. We could get a soft feel standing and walking and sometimes trotting. We were disengaging the front and the hind both, either one after the other or separately, with decent consistency and quality. My seat was meaning more and more to her. A few times we managed fluid turns with no support from the reins.
Then, last week, Piper got vaccinations and had her teeth floated. We’re pretty sure she’d never had dental work before, and she had some huge points. The vet recommended we give her quite a bit of time off to heal. So I didn’t ride her all week.
Yesterday I got on again. Things were still good, but that extra softness and refinement we’d been getting to had deteriorated a little. But it’s ok. I’ve no doubt we’ll get back to that soon.
Horseback Hours YTD: 51:40