The First Few Rides

Nevada and I have spent the last couple of weeks really working on our groundwork.  While parts of the early sessions were a little rough for both of us, things are now going extremely well.  She is soft and happy and willing to work through problems that I present to her.  I’ve never spent so much time with an untouched horse before, and it is really neat to see everything you can build into them.  I’m sure I’m missing lots of stuff, too.  But so far it’s great.

Um, you mean you’re going to climb on my back soon?

She took to the saddle very well.  Never moved her feet as I practiced swinging it up and taking it down.  She was curious about the shiny stirrups, but not bothered at all.

 

Of course things changed a little when I let her go and asked her to move out.  Like most young horses, she got going pretty well and then realized the saddle might be a little scary and threw in some pretty big bucks.  She got troubled enough to try to leave the arena via the closed gate.  That didn’t work.  But as soon as her plan failed she calmed down and came right to me.  We went back to working off the line and she was completely fine.  We had a few more sessions with the saddle on and she had no trouble moving out.

Last weekend we had a really long session of groundwork with a bunch of horses in the arena.  Occasionally I would pass her off to Robin and Oliver and she would pony Nevada around.  She’s great friends with Oliver, and she was really comfortable following them and moving off Robin’s touch with the rope or light taps with her boots/stirrups.

 

Everything went really well, so I decided to climb on her.  I had already stepped up in the stirrups on some of the other days.  She was a little surprised but not at all bothered.  I did that a few more times and then swung my leg over.

Her very first ride, and my very first colt-starting experience.

It was a very short ride.  We mostly worked on walking out, rolling her hind over, and just relaxing together (i.e. lots and lots of pets).  As this is the first time for both of us, I definitely did not push it., just encouraged her to try and kept things slow.  She’s still such a little two year old, and I’ve got so much time that I’m not going to work on anything we might not be ready for.  One step at a time.  And sometimes we were literally getting one step at a time.

The next afternoon we went out to see if she was up for another ride.  The arena was busy.  Last time I waited until everyone cleared out before I climbed on, but today there were two other boarders riding as well as Robin.  Nevada was a little more curious about everything around her, but she was also still quite attentive to me.

We started with a lot more groundwork.  This time I was introducing her to the hackamore.  It definitely gives a different feel than the rope halter, but she was very quick to respond to it.  We had a slightly longer ride.  She continued to be curious about the other horses and we used them to hook on and follow them around.  I think this helped us get a much more energetic walk than we had on the previous ride.  Again we did a lot of bending, stepping the hind over, and just hanging out.  She was great.

A few days later I thought we could keep working on our rides, but she was not settled.  I don’t know what it was, but from the moment I got out in the pasture she was not ready to be caught.  We worked on that and got her in, but she was still very unsettled.  I did end up saddling her, but we only did groundwork, particularly concentrating on flag stuff.  Multiple things were bothering her, but we made each issue better before calling it a day.

No riding this time, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

Today she was a completely different horse.  She was happy to see me, relaxed for grooming and tacking, and her groundwork was soft, light and she was extremely attentive.  The other day I was having a hard time getting her to stay with me.  Today she was always with me.

I climbed on again and we had another great ride.  She continued to give me more energy at the walk, and rolling her hind over is becoming increasingly natural.  She is flexing to the hackamore really well.  I started introducing a soft feel, backing a few steps, and getting the front to step over after the hind.  That last one was a little tough, but each time I tried it she got better.  We also had our first trots.  It took a little bit for me to get her into it.  My legs were not quite getting it done, but when I started reaching back to tap her on the butt, she got going.  She also got a little frightened and threw in a few hops, but she came into a very soft bend when I asked her to.

Today also happened to be Duke day, and we got all six of the horses trimmed.  It made for a long day.  I know Nevada has had her feet done before, but this was the first time we got to do it.  I’ve been working on her feet quite a bit, but the farrier day came up really fast.  So after our ride I introduced her to the rasp and asked her to hold her feet up a little longer. She was great.   During her trim there were lots of dogs running around and other boarders getting ready for a show, so she was pretty curious about all the distractions, but she did a great job.

I still couldn’t be happier with her.  We’re learning so much together, and we’ve got such a long, long way to go, but that makes it even more exciting.


Getting Started

Nevada has been at our place for about ten days now.  We were out of town for some of that, so I’ve only had a chance to work with her on four occasions.  She is proving to be a very sweet and willing little mare.  And like the few other young horses I have worked with, she picks things up very, very fast.

So far we have only done work on the line and with the flag.  I haven’t saddled her yet, though that will come soon.  We are starting to get all the basics down, she is improving on backing softly each day, and initially she was a little stiff stepping under to the right, but now she’s doing it very smoothly both ways.  I’ve been grooming her, picking up her feet and giving her lots, and lots of face pets.

 

In many things she is coming along so fast it is easy to get ahead of ourselves.  Today I was working her in circles with the flag, first getting the hind, then getting the front and sending her off the other way.  We had done this very slowly before, and today we were working in a bigger circle and going just a little quicker.  She started to get stuck in a few places, and I had to remind myself that we could probably work on the hind with the flag and not moving anywhere a little bit more.  We went back to that and she started moving over very nicely.  When we returned to the bigger circle, there were no more problems. I just have to remember to keep going one step at a time, and taking steps back is never a bad thing.

One thing we are still sorting out is catching.  In the four days I’ve worked with her it has taken between 1 minute and 55 minutes before she is ready to be caught.  They are out on nearly 15 acres of grass, and that is a lot of ground to cover when she’s not ready to be with me.  But I just hang in there and slowly drive her up towards the winter lot, which is still big, but smaller than any other area.  After I catch her, going back to open the gates gives us a nice little job to do.

 

Today it was only 10 minutes before she was ready to be caught.  Thankfully we were finally there on a quiet day and I could use our indoor arena to practice getting her to come to me.  A round pen would be perfect, but unfortunately we don’t have one of those.  When I turned her out and started sending her around me, she was pretty keen to look out the doors at her pasture mates.  But it only took a minute or two before she completely turned in towards me and was willing to hang out.  It was really hot inside, so we went back outside after that one quick session, but we did come back inside to practice getting her to come to me some more.  She learned the lesson really fast.  I had her coming up to me from each direction, and she couldn’t have been happier following me around the arena.  This should help some when I go out to meet her in the pasture next time.

She is settling into the herd nicely, too. We have a rather cliquish band of mares out there, but she is more interested in hanging out with the geldings and Jester, our resident pony.  He always seems to take on the new comers and show them the ropes.


She is a really nice, and relaxed filly.  I can’t wait to keep working with her and see what kind of a horse she turns into.  She’s pretty little right now, but her parents are very good sized.  And from some angles you can see she’s got a really big hip on her with wide, square legs.  I think she should turn out to be right around 15 hands and quite stout, which would be perfect for me.  That is exactly how I like ’em.


When You Don’t Have Your Own Horse Anymore

A few weeks ago I retired Bear (Birthday Diplomat) to the therapeutic riding program Miracles in Motion.  They’re a PATH International organization located just a short drive away from us.  It was a difficult decision to come to, but it is one I had been thinking about for over a year.  At 19, Bear was just having more and more trouble keeping up with us, and it didn’t seem fair to either one of us to keep trying to make it work.

We had a nice last ride out in the fields.  Just the two of us.  And the next day the Miracles people came to pick him up.  It does help that they are very excited about him.  We were also able to visit him last weekend, and he seems to be thriving. All the volunteers love him, and he is progressing through their exercises and training program very rapidly.  I have no doubt he will turn into the best therapy horse out there (though I might be a little biased).

The past few weeks I have been getting a lot of riding in on Laredo and Oliver.  It has been a lot of fun to spend more time with Laredo again.  Robin rode him for most of the fall and early winter as I ended up doing most of the training with Zoey.  We are really starting to click again, and he’s in fantastic shape.  I’ve never spent so much time loping a horse before.

Oliver is also coming along.  He’s light and quick on his feet and still extremely soft to the legs and hands.  I’ve also been working on getting him used to scary objects like manure forks and flags.  I initially thought that Oliver might become my main horse.  But after spending more time with him, it doesn’t feel quite right.  His gaits are smooth and easy, but they lean more towards the western pleasure spectrum rather than the ground-covering action of the ranch type horses.

As much fun as I’ve been having with these two, I am still left with the feeling like I don’t have my very own horse.  So I decided to call up the breeder we got Laredo from and see what they had in terms of unstarted two year olds.

We went out last night and got a nice tour of the barns again and saw a few of the brand new foals that arrived that morning.  Eventually we made it out to the sopping wet pasture and it was pretty much love at first sight.

HQ Tip the Barmaid.  She was a little amped up from the storm and not too inclined to be caught.  We spent a little while watching her move around and eventually steered her into a smaller lot by herself.  After a while I sidled up next to her and gave her some nice pets on the withers and jaw.  She put her head down and let me slip the halter on.

I have not spent much time handling two year olds, just a couple at our barn.  I expected her to be a little more, I don’t know, undeveloped perhaps.  The pictures might not really illustrate it, but she’s strong and super fit.  She did lead nicely, though, and she was relaxed and happy to hang out without any other horses.

We did a little bit of light groundwork with her in the arena.  She really doesn’t have much experience working with people, and that is entirely the point.  I’ll get to train from the ground up.  Also, she’s got a gorgeous head.

The Hockensons are breeding some of the best horses in the midwest as far as I can tell.  She’s over 90 percent foundation bred, and we were fortunate enough to get to spend time with her sire and her dam.

Her sire, HQ Rojo B Bartender, is one of the most correct horses I have ever seen in person.  He is strong, powerful, light on his feet, and has a quirky personality.  This little filly has her daddy’s barrel and coloring.

Rojo B Bartender

Her dam, FCS Poco Lenas Candy, is a big athletic sorrel sired by cutting horse money earner Jae Bar Flinn.

Pocolenas Candy
And that happens to be our little filly HQ Tip the Barmaid as a weanling.

You can see the filly’s full lineage here: HQ Tip the Barmaid

She is going to stay at the breeders for at least a couple months.  We’ve got to get either Aiden or Oliver sold before we take another horse on.  It’s going to be a little hard to wait, but I think it will be worth it.  And we’ll be starting everything off nice and slow anyways.


Getting to Know the New Guys

It’s been just over a week since we picked up Aiden and Oliver, and in that time we’ve worked with them quite a bit.  I’ve spent most of that time with Oliver.  He is the bigger horse, and when they arrived, he was also the pushier horse.  As Robin’s side can still get flared up from doing too much, I offered to work with Oliver.

The first day was interesting.  The guys were both inclined to barge into your space as if you weren’t even there.  They led poorly, and they were generally more interested in each other and their new surroundings than they were in their handler.

So we worked on that.  I started with a lot of groundwork.  Moving the hind, moving the front, backing up, moving out and slowing down.  I worked for a while with just the rope, then added in some time with the flag, and then went back to just the rope.  At times we were both working very hard, but after a few minutes, Oliver started to see the soft things I was offering him.  He spent more time looking at me than looking off.  These moments didn’t last for super long before I would need to remind him that he should be focused on me, but it was neat to see a change come in so fast.

Our first ride was just so so.  These guys were definitely ridden a lot, so they know the drill.  But they have not been worked in years.  Their feet were long, so we didn’t ride hard.  We mostly walked in circles, worked on bending, serpentines, moving the hind and moving the front.  Most of the same stuff we did on the ground.  Oliver’s worst hangup was with the bit.  The slightest bit of pressure on the bit caused him to harden up and retreat backwards very fast.  I can only guess that he has had some leverage on him in the past, but I really don’t know.  I did not worry about it too much that first ride, I just focused on keeping him relaxed and bending him (he was fine when I would pick up on one rein).

The very next time I brought him in it was like he was a different horse.  All his attention was on me, he was able to stand without fidgeting, and he wore an expression that was open and at ease.  Groundwork was nothing like the first day.  I was able to stay soft and build on some of the things we worked on last time.

Under saddle he was more comfortable as well, though he was still inclined to escape backwards from the bit.  This time I decided to really work on that.  When we were just hanging out, I would pick up on the reins as light as possible.  It was lighter than I’ve ever picked up on a horse.  He would still brace and start to go back, but I just moved with him and used my seat to guide him into a circle if we were going to hit a wall, but I never changed my hands.  Finally, he started dipping at the poll.  Then he’d start doing it without moving his feet.

From there we progressed really fast.  We could get soft standing still, backing up, going forward, and in our downward transitions.  This didn’t happen with every movement, but it was happening a lot, and if we ran into trouble I could just hang in there until he remembered to get nice and soft.  Given his response on day one, I would not think he would come around this fast.  It’s been cool to see.

But not all progress is linear, of course.  Yesterday we were doing some groundwork before the ride.  It was the first time we had brought Oliver in without Aiden.  He seemed fine with it at first, but after we tacked him up he was a little agitated and mildly distracted.  We worked on all the things I always start with, including some faster half circles, and he started spending more time getting back with me.  But one time going in a circle to the left, I asked him to move up to the trot, and he didn’t respond.  No big deal, I turned up the volume a bit and he trotted off a couple steps, but then he exploded pretty big.  He started bucking and hopping like you see some colts do when they finally realize they have a saddle on their backs and want to get rid of it.  He stayed in the same place for a while, then he started to coming towards me.  I still had the mecate in my hand, and I just put my arms up and shook them. He stopped immediately and walked right up to me.

Something really got to him.  He’s had some tightness in his left side, so I wonder if he trotted off and got kinked up in some way.  I gave him a few big pets and then went back to all the same groundwork, but no other issues came up.  The ride that day was decent.  I could tell he was a little tired from riding every day the past week, so we didn’t do too much.  He also showed more signs of being stiff to the left.  Walking in a circle that way he’d kink his head so that his nose went out and his poll went in, but the whole head was also generally out of the circle. I’ve never seen anything quite like that.  Afterwards we rubbed him down a lot and worked on bending that neck.  Our barn manager elicited a few pops from his neck and he really relaxed after those.  Hopefully that is all it is.

He’s been a really fun horse to work with, and I’m excited to see how the next couple weeks go for him.


Lots of Riding

Well, it’s been lots of riding for January, at least.  The less than ideal weather has been so less than ideal that I’ve gotten out a few extra times to check on everyone.  And when I’m out there, why not go for a short ride?

I am also giving a lesson every Friday, so that gets me out to the barn even though sometimes I am tired at the end of the week.  And giving lessons is hard.  I have to think through all the things I do, then figure out how to explain them.  And invariably I get something wrong and have to think harder about what I’m actually doing, and come up with another way to explain it.  But I’m lucky in that I have a really great student who is eager to learn, patient, and a fabulous listener.  We’ve had four lessons, and she has made wonderful progress in each one.  She’s been riding Steen, and they have been getting along great.  I’m excited to see how things progress in the future.

I’ve been riding Zoey a lot.  Nearly half of my ride time this year is on her.  She continues to come along really well.  We are spending more time on the lope, but it is tricky for us.  I’m pretty big on her, and it is really taxing for her to lope in the deep sand of the arena.  She’s not a particularly balanced loper even without a rider, so I have to be extra aware of my body position and even work to help her out when I can.  We have been making some great progress, though.

We did have one little hiccup this past week.  Robin had a really great ride on her last weekend, and then when I rode her the next day, she was extra jumpy, not excited about the saddle or cinch, and generally a little spacey.  Yesterday it was more of the same, including some kick outs and hops when we were trotting around.  My best guess is she is in heat.  I’ve never worked consistently with a mare before, and in the summer and fall she was just so jumpy all the time that her heat cycles didn’t really stand out.  So the last few rides I just worked on riding through things and being firm but fair.  She ended up really coming down and relaxing towards the end of the ride.  So hopefully that is all it is.

Working on some simple figure eights with 90% seat and 10% hands.

I’ve been having some exceptionally good rides on Bear lately, and I couldn’t be more happy.  Late last year I was having regular thoughts about the possibility of needing to send him on to a retirement home.  We’ve got a therapeutic riding school nearby that takes solid, older geldings, and we think Bear would fit right in.  He had a rough fall, and he has overall been having a difficult time keeping up with our riding.  It didn’t seem fair for me to keep asking him to do things that he wasn’t quite capable of doing.

We ended up having his bloodwork done in November, and the vet said he was partially anemic again.  So we got him on a rather strong supplement.  I also got my nice new saddle about the same time.  The tree is a really nice Rod Nikkel, and the bars are angled in between regular quarter horse and full quarter horse.  It sits on his back perfectly, and he has not had any tight spots or knots back there.

Now, after nearly two months on the supplement, he’s starting to act like the old frisky Bear I knew a couple years ago.  He still loves standing and hanging around, but if I start to ask him to go, he’d rather give me a nice, energetic lope than anything else.  He’s also perkier overall, and much softer to the hackamore.

One of the big things that has been suffering for us is backing up.  I think it was just bothering his back, but now he is backing with energy again.  Part of the problem was definitely me, as I’m sure I started asking for it differently when I noticed he was struggling.  Robin saw how nicely we were backing up today, and she pointed out how I could stay soft but ask just a teeny bit more from him.  I changed my release just a little, and sure enough he got softer and gave me even more energy.

I know with an older horse you never know how things are going to go.  But I’m just happy that we’re both having fun together again. 

Looking younger and in great shape again.

Frigid

Like so much of the country, we are experiencing some pretty crazy temps.  I’ve made it out to the barn the past three days, though, and I’m happy to say our four are doing quite well.

The big cold was rolling in Sunday evening, so I went out to check everything late that afternoon.  It was about 2 degrees, and I brought everyone inside and brushed the ice off their faces and bodies.  I then hopped on Bear for an easy ride. 

I grabbed the flag and worked on moving the other horses.  I briefly got them trotting and loping circles together.  Then I worked on moving just one, and after I had pushed the one for a few moments I removed the pressure and sidepassed or backed up to them to rub them down with the flag or pet their faces with my hand.  Laredo had a lot of energy, so he wasn’t totally all right with this at first, but after some practice everyone was happy to move or stand and get face pets.

Yesterday morning we woke up to -15 degree temps.  I bundled up again and went out to get the horses.  My body stayed pretty warm, but it was really hard to keep my hands warm working all the ropes and gates.  And even inside the indoor arena it was zero degrees.  I think they were happy to be in and out of the wind, but really, it still wasn’t that nice for them.  Again I removed the ice from their coats and picked some out of their hooves.  But that was it.  There was a little running and romping, but mostly we just kind of hung out for a little while. Then I put them back out.  At least the sun was shining and they had plenty of hay, heated water, and a wind block.

Today I was supposed to meet the ferrier at the barn, but he ended up not coming due to the cold.  It was about 4 or 5 degrees when I got out.  But there was almost no wind, so it felt downright comfortable compared to yesterday.  I brought everyone inside again, and they settled right in.  No romping or kicking up.  I think they might be getting a little bored with this new come inside routine.  Still, I brushed the ice out of them and picked their feet again.  At least today the indoor had warmed up to 18 degrees.  Again, it felt quite comfortable.

So I tacked up Zoey, and we had a nice, short ride.  For the past two weeks I have been riding her in the hackamore due the sores she got from a bad bale.  Those seem to be healed, so I wanted to get back to the bit and see how that compares.  She has been good in the hackamore.  She’s mostly light to it, but I do feel like we were losing some softness and refined communication.  It would probably take more time to get both of us really comfortable with it.  And since we are most likely going to sell her to someone who will use a bit, I was excited to get back to the snaffle.

She was not thrilled about taking the bit (even though I thoroughly warmed it up), but once she relaxed and took it, she was great.  I was surprised that she was much lighter through her whole body.  She was softer off my legs even when I was not engaging the reins.  It is possible I was riding differently, but I really don’t think so (my hip was really tight from the cold, so I know I wasn’t riding great today).  My guess is she has just become more relaxed about the snaffle and that is where she is comfortable. 

We only did a short ride.  The other guys were still hanging out in the arena.  Bear and Steen enjoyed following us around some.  I’m pretty sure Laredo just took a nap.  We worked on bends, moving the front and then the hind, walking circles, and then did a bunch of trotting.  She was quite good with all of it.

And lucky for us, things are warming up.  I’m a little worried about the weekend forecast, though.  Supposedly it could get near 40.  I really don’t want things to get sloppy this early in winter.  Are average winter temps too much to ask for?


New Year!

Got my first ride of the year in today.  It was super cold and snowy, but we had a pretty good time.  I rode Zoey, and she was happy to come in and was very relaxed.  But under saddle, she was a little more tense.  She had two spooks.  I have no idea what caused them, but they were a little surprising since she hasn’t spooked at anything in a couple of months.  But we worked through things and still had a pretty good ride.

I have not blogged much last year.  It was definitely my best year of riding, but also my worst year of blogging.  So here are a few highlights from the past couple months.

We did a lot of riding in the treed lot this fall.  One day we let Bear just hang out and eat grass while we rode.  Towards the end of the ride I haltered him from horseback and then practiced moving him around.  I’d never done that from horseback before.

Bear got a little anemic again in the end of the summer.  So we had a lot of easy going rides.  He seems to be coming back nice and strong, though.  He sure does love the vitamins we’ve got him on.

In the early fall I got out on the trails with Laredo quite a few times.  He was really fun to ride.

And then we went out on the trails after they cut all the crops down.  Laredo was light and full of energy.  So full of energy I thought he could pop at any moment.  We did a lot of work on top of the soybean hill, and Robin snapped this shot just before he took off like a bullet and we galloped back for home.  Never went so fast downhill on a horse before.  Maybe never so fast ever.  We were both fine, though, and I guess it was another one of those ‘good’ experiences.

Sometime in October it just kind of happened that I took over riding Zoey.  I think it has been good for us (and it was good for Robin and Laredo to spend a lot of quality time together, too).  So here I am with my ‘string’ of horses.

I got a few good rides on Steen this year.  He is sooo much different than the other three.  It’s always an adjustment for me.  But we are having more and more fun together.  We even went out on a trail ride earlier this year, but here we are riding in the big, middle pasture.

I love when the soybean fields have been mowed (except when the horse runs away with me).  We spent a lot of time romping around out there in October and November.

But now we’re back in side.  I’ve had Zoey in the hackamore the last few rides due to the mouth sores she got from the bad bale.  Thankfully she is healing nicely, and she’s actually taking to the hackamore quite well.

And after two and a half months, I finally got a ride on Laredo again.  I kinda missed the big kid.  Here he is sporting my new saddle.  I actually got it used (though it still looks new), and it fits me and Bear (and the other horses) perfectly.  I had some saddle troubles this year.  They either weren’t fitting me well, or if they did, they bothered Bear’s back.  But now we seem to be in business.  For those of you who are curious, it is a 15 in. Brian Castagno, full rough wade out on a Rod Nikkel tree.  The seat is unbelievably awesome.

I got my 200 hours in the saddle goal pretty easily this year, but I also think it was the right amount of challenging.  I’m not sure exactly what my goals for 2014 are going to be.  I know I’d like to ride more than I did this year.  I would also kind of like to start my first horse, but at the moment, we’ve got a small problem as we still have four horses (Zoey is for sale!).  Oh, and later this week I will give my first lesson.  I have no doubt trying to explain all the things we do on horses will give me a better understanding of it all.  Hopefully the student thinks so too.


Back to Going in Circles

So many of the horse blogs I read have been suffering this summer, and the same has been true of my own

Thankfully I have been out riding and learning a lot.  Unfortunately, not everything I learned has been good.  A couple weeks ago I found out that Richard Caldwell, one of my all time favorite horsemen, passed away.  I had only read his articles and seen his DVDs, but I was looking forward to seeing him in person some year.  It is sad that myself and others wont get the chance to see him.  But he has left a fantastic legacy, and from what I can gather he led a truly wonderful life.

In searching for additional information on Caldwell, I came across an interesting thread in a forum.  It was not about Caldwell, but he did come up from time to time in the conversation.  If you are interested in Vaquero horsemanship, it is definitely worth the read.  I took a number of things away from it, but the biggest one was something I already knew.

It’s always the hind end.

Always. If you are like me, you’ve read that all over the place.  It is the main point in Buck’s wonderful introduction to True Horsemanship Through Feel.  Martin Black and others will say it is the reason your horse backs up slow and crooked.  Betty Staley argues (via Tom Dorrance) the hindquarters are the key to a happy and balanced horse.  Missing your leads?  It’s the hind end.  And on and on.

But the actual practice of this has been a hard thing for me to grasp, but I finally got a little bit closer thanks to that forum.  The realization came through a discussion about a horse walking a circle and bulging out through the shoulder.  My inclination in these instances is always to block the shoulder.  But that doesn’t work for a number of reasons. The big one is that if you’re riding well, you’ve already got your leg there.  So you can’t block any more.  You could kick the horse to get them to move over, but that isn’t really going to help them through the issue.

Instead, a very knowledgeable contributor to the thread suggested you manipulate the hind end a little more.  If they’re pushing through that outside shoulder, they are too stiff in the hind and driving through the edge of that circle.  If you shape that hind into more of a bend with your inside leg, the horse loosens through the loin and gets right back on track.

I tried it, and it worked amazingly well.  It also helped me make considerable progress on a long term problem Bear and I have: weaving down the strip.  When this problem would come up I would try to keep his momentum up and block his shoulders and neck with my legs and reins.  On Tuesday we were riding alone and he started weaving.  I gently reached back and tipped his hind end over to line him back up.  The same thing happened again while going down a hill.  Usually I would struggle to keep him in a line because I always like to give him his head on the downhills, but this time I tipped his hind over and solved the problem instantly.  The other great thing is Bear was more than happy to oblige.

While riding Laredo over the weekend I was able to keep our circles at the lope nice and even despite his desire to lean towards Steen at a particular spot in the circle.  A little push on the hind and things cleared right up.

When I first started riding horses I was basically riding their head and neck.  Coming from cycling, I thought you could just line up the horse’s head as if they were a pair of handlebars and voila, off you went.

Obviously that is not the way it works, and as I get deeper into this horsemanship business I am realizing you ride the whole horse, but you start with the very back of that horse.

I remember watching Richard Caldwell’s Jaquima a Freno (Part II) a few months ago and seeing him ride a young hackamore horse in a circle.  He would drift that horse through turns, affecting the hind end and briefly two tracking him, then get him going in a nice circle again.  I tried working on that earlier this summer and had things just fall apart.  It was just another example of knowing, from an intellectual standpoint, that I needed to manipulate that hind end but not being able to physically make it happen.  Now I’ve got circles working better than I ever have.

http://www.westernhorsereview.com/blogs/screen-doors-saddles/the-vaquero-tradition/

Soft hands and perfect circles.  You will be greatly missed, Richard.


Summer Riding

Robin posted a while ago about how amazing our July weather was.  It didn’t last.  The second half of the month was very hot, and we didn’t get quite as much riding in.  But now August is back to great temps.  We spent some really long days at the barn this weekend.

Saturday’s ride ended up being a lot longer than we anticipated.  When we arrived at the barn, a fellow boarder reminded us our Vet (whose land abuts our barn owner’s land) was hosting his big Eventing competition.  We’ve gone over to watch some of it in the past, but this weekend we wanted to ride more.  So instead we grabbed Bear and Steen and headed out into the fields.

We warmed them up with some walking, trotting, and loping about.  Both were energetic and feeling good.  After a while, we moved over to the edge of the eventing course.  From two different vantage points we could see about half a dozen jumps and a water crossing.

The guys were both quite curious watching the course walkers and golf carts getting everything set up, but they took it all in stride.

Then we heard the hoofbeats of the first horse and rider galloping our way.  Bear’s ears perked up as they came through the trees, cleared a jump, ran through the stream and came to the closest jump to us.  They didn’t hit this one in the ideal way, and the horses legs banged against the wood.  This noise really startled Steen, and before I knew it Bear was spinning away, too.  I got him turned around and things were fine from there on out.  The next rider came and I just petted his neck and let him watch.  I think he was pleased I wasn’t making him do that kind of stuff.

But the second rider basically turned Steen inside out.  He could not handle the running and jumping horses.  Robin had her hands full keeping him from spinning and working his way into the cornfields.  We hadn’t seen him this upset in years.  It was a little disappointing, as we thought he was past these kinds of things.  Guess you never know.

So we spent longer than we anticipated watching the eventers while Robin worked to calm Steen down.  Bear and I mostly hung out, worked on a few things in between riders, and snapped some photos.  I didn’t get too many good ones, but this horse clearing the downhill jump was pretty exciting.

It’s a much steeper downhill than it looks.

By the time we got back to the barn we had been riding for three hours and weren’t really up to grabbing the other two, who we’ve nicknamed The Green Team.  So we called it a day and went home.

Sunday was significantly more relaxing.  We joined two other riders for an easy trail ride.  Steen was a little antsy going out, but ultimately he was great.  And visiting some of the same places where he was freaking out yesterday was probably good for him.

When we returned to the barn Robin kept working with Steen and I grabbed Zoey.  We’ve been having some really great rides together lately.  On Monday I got out and rode her.  It was just the two of us.  Not that momentous, but for some reason we had only ridden her with other horses.  She was great, though.

Today she was a little touchy for saddling again; weird how those things can backslide.  And during groundwork I found she has this tendency to pull away from you while going in a right circle.  To the left she has a wonderful, soft bend to her body.  Going right she is somewhat rigid and constantly pulling against he rope.  I used the flag to simultaneously drive her and encourage a bend.  If she got too stiff Robin suggested I rhythmically disengage her hind end.  After a few minutes we had made some nice improvements.

Under saddle she was a little jittery at the start, but we just got to work and she calmed right down.  She is a funny horse.  She is very sensitive, but unlike Steen, she is not spooky at all.  So what happens is she does not get bothered by things outside of her little personal bubble, but she gets highly reactive to things inside that bubble.  Unfortunately, the rider is part of that bubble.  So she puts in some big dancing steps to get away from our feet and mecates and anything else that encroaches on her.  Bugs, too. 

I guess it is just a product of her personality and her greenness.  She’s 7, but she’s only had about 6 months total riding time in her life.  I try to remind myself of that when we work on whirly-gigs and get a great disengage of the hind end, but when I bring my other leg in to move the front over, she flips out.  That happened twice today, once in each direction.  But we just kept working on it, and I think we came together nicely.  I know Bear and Laredo tend to get a little stuck moving from the hind to the front, so I probably come in with more leg than I should.  So I worked on using very slight pressure with my calf and I assume Zoey just got used to my leg coming in at that time. 

We’ve been working on all things leg related, including side-passing.

The funny thing is, you really never know what is going to bother her.  She is almost always happy and calm and ready to respond, and then all of a sudden she’ll just flip out.  It never happens when she is jittery and anxious.

We’ll be heading out of town for a couple weeks, so both us and the horses will get a vacation.  Zoey has come a long way since we got her, but really, we are hoping for more.  And since it seems like she just needs time, we’ll be looking to get a lot of hours on her when we get back.  Hopefully that, combined with some rest, will let us see even more changes.


The One Where I Almost Get Bucked Off

There we were, loping up a beautiful grassy hill; Robin was on an energetic but attentive Steen, and I was riding a happy to be out but somewhat lethargic Laredo.  The temps were in the 60’s and a strong wind was blowing out of the north.  It felt like late September.

And then Laredo threw his head down and started bucking.  I kept my butt in the seat and found myself hugging his neck trying to find an ideal moment to roll off into the long grass.  But that never came.  He got himself stopped, I sat up, and then we continued trotting up the hill like nothing happened.  Silly kid.

The only thing we can think is that his feet are sore.  Last week all four horses got their feet trimmed, and for the past many days all of them have exhibited some sign of tender footedness.  Laredo and Zoey have been affected the most (or perhaps they are the wimpiest?).  Anyways, Laredo was not spooked or bothered by anything that we could tell, but something got him started bucking.  I can’t believe I stayed on, but I’m happy I did.

Me and my crazy mount.

The rest of the weekend was fabulous.  Both days we woke up to temps right around 50.  We took our time in the morning and got out to the barn when the sun was up and the breezes were cool.  We spent the better part of the day there both Saturday and Sunday. 

Saturday was when Laredo had his bucking moment.  Thankfully I followed that up with a really great ride on Bear.  We rode in the indoor so Zoey could enjoy the plush sand.  Bear was his normal relaxed self, but there was a little something extra there as well.  On our last ride I got on him a little bit for his lazy flexing and stepping under with his hind end.  I’ve been thinking long and hard about our rides and what is working and what isn’t, and I feel like I need to just do all our normal things but really focus on energy and precision with the flexing and stepping under.  I worked hard to get his attention on those things on Thursday, and I don’t think he was super happy.  But Saturday and Sunday he was light on his feet and happy to respond.  This also carried over into our backing, moving the front end over, softness to the hackamore, and upward and downward transitions.  On top of that, he was happy to be doing it.  Multiple times in the ride he’d stop for the longest lip licking sessions I’ve ever seen from him.

Today’s double ride started with us taking Steen and Bear out and about.  We stuck to the grassy areas and walked, trotted, and loped around.  Everything was great with them.  We really wanted to keep riding, but Bear was showing some signs of sore feet, so we headed back after an hour and a half.

My second ride was on Zoey.  Robin had a less than ideal ride on her yesterday.  She seemed to be in heat and having foot issues and overall just not happy.  I had no idea what I was going to get today, but it turned out to be none of those things.

We rode inside again, and we ended up having what I believe was our best ride ever.  It is true she was still sore in her feet, so we only trotted a little and didn’t work on the lope at all.  But I could take her feet anywhere I wanted.  She was responsive to my legs, happy to stand, back up, or go, and she was just listening and trying.  No antics, no squirrely responses.  She was simply happy to be with me.  And I was happy to be with her.

It has been almost three months since we got her, and I have been thinking our progress has not been that great.  But today made me realize we have made good strides in catching, saddling, groundwork, moving off the legs, softening to the bit, not moving for mounting or dismounting, and looking to her rider when she gets bothered by external stimulators.  That is a pretty good list.  I think the fact that our other mounts are doing so well makes us think Zoey is coming along slowly.  But those are extremely unfair comparisons.  We’ve got a vacation coming up soon, but shortly after we get back we will be putting her up for sale.  Should be exciting to see what happens.