Frozen Pastures and Energetic Horses

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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After Thursday’s all day rain and yesterday’s cold temps, we found the guys safely tucked against the big bails.  The area surrounding the bails was the only solid footing in the whole pasture.  The rest was a mix of frozen lumps of ground and frozen puddles.  It was a slow, careful walk getting them out of there.

Today was my day with Bear and Robin’s with Laredo.  As is our habit we turned them loose in the indoor to spend some time on solid ground.  They moseyed about for a  few moments, then Bear rolled.  After a few good back scratches, he sprang up, kicked out, threw his head around and started running.  Laredo immediately joined him.  The two proceeded to play around for quite some time.  I’m sure all the eating and lack of movement left them full of energy.

Once calmed down they came to us, and we brought them out for grooming and tacking.  I could tell Bear was a little stiff when he was romping around, so I took it really easy on him in the beginning of the ride.  I spent the first 30 minutes of the ride just walking.  It sounds boring, but it was actually quite fun.  We worked on bending through various sized circles, moving the forequarters and hindquarters, staying loose at the poll, backing, backing circles and much more.  I thought of it as pre-hab type work.  Stuff to get him moving and feeling good.

And I think it worked.  When we moved into the trot he gave me a few little hops, but he very quickly settled into it.  His steps were full of energy, and I had no problem directing him around with my legs.  We then moved into the lope and got quite a few nice, balanced laps around the arena.  He felt like he wanted to just keep going, but Robin and I had plans to work on some transitions.

So we proceeded to walk half a lap and trot half a lap like we often do.  Laredo seemed to be doing great.  Bear, well, Bear just wanted to spring into the lope.  Every time.  There was not a single lap when we were going to the left that Bear didn’t move into the lope.  And he wasn’t just kind of offering, he was powering into it.  I felt bad bringing him down lap after lap, but he had to know that loping wasn’t the answer.

I had no idea why he was doing this.  Of course I thought I might have been bringing too much energy into my ask.  I didn’t really think this was true, but nevertheless, I decided to go into each upward transition and ask for the trot with as little change in my body as possible.  It worked in some ways, he wasn’t wanting to rocket off into the lope, but he was still picking it up.

It was not until we switched directions that I started getting him settled into some nice trots, and that was nice.  I just never know what to think when I encounter this.  I’ve written about other instances where I think he is having a little trouble trotting and would prefer the lope (the lope is such an easy gait for Bear), but today he just felt so at ease in both gaits.  So I really don’t know.

At the end of the ride he was not the least bit tired, so I’m just going to be happy with the (overall) good ride that we had.

Some Catching Up

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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Trips to the barn have become more consistent, though the weekly volume is still not high.  We have been very consistent at trading off our Laredo rides.  This has gone a long way to getting him back into work and feeling good moving around in the indoor arena.

I have also been making sure I get some not too demanding rides in on Bear.  No agenda, just getting on and feeling him out.  Some days he is stiffer than others, but overall he seems to be happy to come in and hang out with us.  The other week we had a short but low key ride while our barn manager put her first ride on her new two year old.  He was surprisingly all right with everything.

A couple of weeks ago Robin decided to see how Laredo would go in the hackamore.  It is something we have talked about for a while, but we never got around to trying.  She had a pretty great time with it, so then I had a go, too.

I know the hackamore is just another tool, but for some reason it has become my favorite horse tool over the last 8 months or so.  I find that I can communicate much more solidly and clearly with the horse.  Because of that, there is a lot less room for error when using it, so I have learned a lot about touch and feel and setting things up. This is not to say such riding cannot take place in a bit.  It totally can, but for whatever reason, I am understanding more with the hackamore at this point in my riding.

And all the knowledge I’ve gained from riding Bear in it most of last year translated nicely to working with Laredo.  Yes, they are very different, but we had a great time on our first hackamore ride.  As Robin mentioned in her blog, he seems to have some bit anxiety that is still lingering from when he was started.  We’ve come a long way in softening him up, but when he gets a little anxious, he can only think about the bit.  The hackamore seemed to free his mind up a little, and he was much more attentive to my legs.  We also had some excellent transitions and some fun loping.  I did have to pop him on the butt a couple of times with my mecate to get him going, but after that, he was more than willing to move out.  He even seemed to be having a lot of fun with it.

Oh, I should say that during one butt pop I got the mecate stuck under his tail.  I could feel him tense up as he clamped his tail down on the rope, but he just kept loping nice little circles the whole time and didn’t freak out at all.  I slowed him down to a stop and tried to pull the rope out, but he was still clamping down pretty hard.  I almost got it by pulling on his tail some, but in the end Robin hopped down and freed the rope.  Everything went so well up to that point I didn’t want to push things into scary territory.

When the weather is not so nice and the ground is frozen and lumpy, we like to let the guys move around on their own in the arena.  Bear and Steen really know the drill, but in the last couple of days Laredo has started to figure it out.

 Steen is a little dramatic sometimes. He also probably wouldn’t tell you that he started it.

And Back Outside

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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Just when I was getting used to the indoors, the temps get into the 50s.  I’m not complaining, though.  And as I type this I can hear the wind hitting the house, bringing in some frigid temps.  This weekend we should hit single digit highs and the rest of the week will be in the 20s.  Normal for January, really, but after the last few winters it feels kind of extreme.

But today we took full advantage of the warmth, sunglasses, unzipped jackets, no gloves, and Robin even left her winter boots at home.  It was my turn to get back on Laredo.  It was the first ride for us outside after the second runaway, so I had that in the back of my mind.  But we started off with some groundwork and he was great.  Really attentive.  He is starting to get to the point where I can put my arm out and he will just follow a feel right into the circle I want.  It’s really cool.

Under saddle he was a little more distracted.  The horses in the herd were kicking up their heals, and thanks to the nice weather, we were joined by many other riders outside.  Laredo kept his attention on all of those things before he’d pay me any mind.

He was still good, though, and we were getting a lot of things done.  But halfway through the ride I kind of got a little sick of his lack of attention and stopped putting up with it.  I should have done this from the get go, but like I said, I had that last run away in the back of my mind.  It is funny how things like that can affect your decisions.  I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable and thus lead to him running away again, but letting him get distracted was probably more likely to make him run away.  So funny how the logic of horses works.  You get scared so they get scared and then you get more scared and it keeps going.  Or, you get soft or lead better and they get more responsive and attentive and so you continue to be a better leader.  It has to be one of them.

So I firmed up.  We would be going along nicely, I’d ask for a turn, and he would keep looking at the horses off in the distance.  Once I made sure my leg and body were clearly asking for the bend, I took the slack out of the inside rein, and if he didn’t give at all, I yanked his head right around.  I can’t remember if I did that three times or four, but it was certainly no more than four.  After that he would still get distracted, but then my shifting weight meant a lot more to him, and if he missed that he certainly wasn’t missing me pulling the slack out of the reins.

We got a decently long ride in, and it did get me excited for the upcoming spring.  Last year we started venturing out pretty early in the spring, but now we know so many more fun places to go.  So hopefully we’ll be getting out and about even sooner.  But next week, it will probably be back inside.

Indoors Is Not So Bad

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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We spend so much of the year trying to get outside.  Last year the spring and fall were so mild we were hardly inside at all.  On a few occasions we even rode inside just to do it.

Now that the weather is truly wintery (albeit still mild), I’m not minding the indoor arena at all.  The last two rides have been fun and productive.  Also a little bit longer than I thought.

Getting some face pets after some really great groundwork.

On Saturday I rode Laredo.  Robin has been having some great rides on him again, but I’m still a little gun shy on his back after his running away antics.  He was good for this ride, but it took me a while to settle in, and I think because of that he was a little less comfortable than he otherwise would have been.

I did a lot of trotting and focused on steering with my legs and bending him into tighter and tighter circles.  We’d mix that up with transitions, short serpentines, backing, and pivoting around individual feet.  We never run through all of these things and nail them.  But each ride I am surprised at how good he can be at each individual thing.  We just need to keep practicing until he’s got everything dialed in.  Thankfully the practicing is fun.

On Wednesday I got back on Bear.  He is always so comfortable after riding Laredo.

There was a period in the late summer/early fall when Laredo started to feel surprisingly comfortable to me, but then I didn’t ride him as regularly due to Steen’s injury.  Hopefully we’ll get back to that soon.  But that meant Bear felt amazing today.  We spent a lot of time moving around with no hands just because we could.

Bear again had a lot of energy.  His trots were big and was happy to cruise around at the lope.  At one point I was enjoying a fast, high stepping trot and just steering him around with my legs and Robin said he looked a little off.  I didn’t feel it, but a few times later in the ride I thought I might have.

Then a little while later I definitely felt a few things.  Bear continued to move great at the lope, but occasionally at the trot he was noticeably uncomfortable.  While the indoor arena might not be too bad for me, it is definitely not Bear’s favorite thing.  There is deep sand that covers a rather hard surface, and the sand gets moved around a lot.  So we are left with very deep sections, and very hard sections.  My guess is that the deep sand bothers his back and the hard sections bother his legs.  Loping is significantly less concussive on a horse’s joints, so that might be while he has been itching to leave the trot lately.

As always, it will have to be something I keep an eye on and work through.  My whole goal with riding in the winter is to just keep the guys in a little bit of shape.  Generally Bear does better when he’s fit, but I’ll just have to make sure I’m not creating additional problems while working to keep him in shape.

Back Indoors

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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After a long couple weeks of traveling, we felt like lounging in our own house a little bit.  So it was a few days before we got out to the barn to see the guys.  I definitely missed them, but it was also nice to know they were getting some good time off.

Bear was definitely happy to hang out with me again.

We got out on Sunday to meet the farrier, but it turns out none of them needed their feet trimmed.  Again.  I guess something about the weather and walking around on a mixture of frozen ground and ice is keeping their feet from growing.  And we don’t mind saving the money.

We let all three guys play around in the indoor arena.  They love getting on some good footing in the winter time.  Steen and Bear also like to roll as soon as they get in.  Laredo wasn’t so sure, but once he got his first roll in, he didn’t stop for quite a few minutes.

I did a short ride on Bear, and it felt sooo good to be on him after riding a different horse in a very, very small saddle.  Bear was attentive and happy to walk, trot, and lope around.  In winters past he was inclined to get chunky and out of shape, but I’ve been riding so much more this year that he doesn’t seem as inclined to baloon up.

We had another short ride on Wednesday afternoon.  I rode Bear again and Robin rode Laredo.  We did a lot of work on walk/trot transitions and did a few rounds of the routine.  The tricky part with all of these was Bear.  He just wanted to go faster, and if we were trotting he was always wanting to lope. Bear expressing his desire to lope is not something new, but I have never seen him this persistent.  He was very smooth and relaxed when I would let him go, and his action at the trot was also great.  So he must just be feeling good.  I also had no trouble controlling him, and we spent quite a while cooling down at the walk with me steering only with my legs.

And that is all for the year so far.  I know I’ve got bigger hourly goals for this year, but I never try to push it in the first 6 weeks or so.  It can be hard to get a winter barn pattern going, and I also don’t want to burn myself out on indoor rides too much.

An End and a Beginning

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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2012 closed with us spending some nice time in Arizona.  People complained about it being a little cold there, but we were comfortable hanging out in t-shirts and working with Jak and Rojo.

Jak was really the first horse I ever rode, and for a few years I would get out on him for a short trail ride whenever we visited.  On our last few visits I worked a lot with Rojo, so I had not ridden Jak for a couple years  This time I got back to working with him, and we had some fun times together working on groundwork, riding around the property, and going out for an easy trail ride.

Jak is a little guy, and to make him seem even smaller, his saddle is tiny, too.  Not the most comfortable of rides for me, but it gets the job done.

We got back home on January 1st, so Jak was the last horse I rode in 2012.  It turned out to be a really good year of riding for me.  I set out to get 150 hours in the saddle, and  I got that sometime in November.  My total ended up being 162:55.  Not a lot for some people, but enough so that I can feel a pretty big difference from where I was at the year before.  Some of the highlights of 2012:

  • No falls.  I’m pretty excited about this one.
  • Going to our second Buck clinic.
  • Riding and training our 3 year old.
  • First time riding through a bucking horse (thanks Laredo).
  • First big trail rides from the barn.
  • Going to our first Martin Black clinic.
  • First trail ride we got to haul to.
  • First time stuck on a galloping horse (thanks again, Laredo).

And there were probably many more, but those are the things that come to mind.  I am hoping 2013 is equally as good.  Once again I’ve decided to push my hourly ride goal out.  I figure with some work at extending my rides and getting more days where I ride two horses I can hit 200 hours.  Either way, it will be fun trying to get there.

Laredo and Work

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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It has been an interesting experience having our 3 year old these past 6 months.  When he first arrived it was a matter of getting to know him and making sure he knew the basics.  Then we started working on doing more with less.  After that we began to broaden his horizons by taking him out and about (by far his favorite thing).

In the fall we had a nice mix of everything going.  But then he had a little injury, and of course Steen had a bigger injury.  That combination meant he got a decent amount of time off, and I really got a lot of time off of him.  These past few rides I have been thinking of getting us back to where we were in the early fall, but perhaps that isn’t very realistic.  Neither one of us is stagnant in our experiences with horses and riders (I’ve been working with horses just about as long as he has been alive, so the changes still come fast for us).

So now I find myself thinking about how to move forward, and where that forward should take us.  Laredo, in many ways, is a very accomplished horse.  He moves off pressure extremely well; I can take him anywhere I want him to go with my seat.  He stays soft, and he understands what we ask of him.

Until he gets distracted or simply loses motivation.  That is the real difficulty Laredo and I have.  Bear can go through silly patterns and repeat things that I need to work on all day long.  He’s fine with it.  Sure, such things are not usually his first choice, but he really is happy to comply.  As I have only been riding a short while, and only thinking about training for an even shorter amount of time, I have a whole lot of things to work on.  A lot of those things I need to do over, and over, and over again.

But such repetition does not work well for young Laredo.  So I am struggling a bit to keep things fresh and open and pay attention to what he needs and less so to what I need or want.  This is a very, very fine line, as I can quickly find myself letting Laredo out of things due to his age or attitude.  I don’t want him “getting his way,” so to speak, but I also don’t want him to just check out and go through the ride without giving me or his own feet any thought.

Needless to say, this is a work in progress for us.  Sometimes things were working well today (our trotting during the routine, pivoting on particular feet, circle work) and other things were not working too well (playing cow, moving out a little more, backing).  By the end of the ride we had made some nice progress from where we started.  I think that is the most important thing. That and the fact that he didn’t run away with me.

I did get to ride with my new mecate again.  It softened up very, very nicely with just one soaking.  It even looks OK next to the don’t-shoot-me-orange safety vest.

Birthday Ride!

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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Yesterday was my birthday.  I took the day off work so I could fully enjoy it.  I had a leisurely morning of opening gifts, drinking coffee and eating a nice breakfast.  Then I had a hard workout and even squeezed in a short nap.  In the afternoon we went out to the barn before going downtown for dinner.  It could not have gotten much better.

Robin gave me a number of very nice gifts, including a new mane hair mecate.  Funny, I know, as I gave her one for her birthday.  But she actually ordered this one before she received hers.  I guess we both had been talking enough about how much nicer the ropes on our hackamores are than the ones on the snaffles.

As it was my birthday, I really just felt like riding my own horse, but I also wanted to try out the new rope.  So I just tied it to my bosal so we could see how it looked.

Gorgeous, of course.  It is an 8 strand, whereas our others are 6 strand.  It makes it look much thinner, but it is still a nice 5/8ths inch rope.  The white flecks against the black and redish brown rows make for a super cool pattern.

The only downside is how stiff the new ropes can be.  It was certainly more supple than the others (perhaps due to the increased number of strands), but it definitely needs a good soaking.

Robin had a great time on Steen.  His leg continues to look better, and he might even be over his cold. He only coughed a couple of times today, and we even managed to do a decent amount of work.  We went through the routine a lot just to get some good trotting in.  Then we played a little cow, and Bear and Steen were both happy to throw in some lopes.  At 50 degrees, it was significantly more comfortable for all of us than the last ride.

We also worked on some backing and pivoting off of specific feet.  Robin snapped a few nice shots of us working with the new mecate.


The hair ropes truly are amazing.  They have a great feel in your hands, and they are very lively when doing groundwork and giving a release.  If you haven’t tried one out, I highly recommend grabbing one.  They can appear a little bit pricey compared to some other reins, but they will easily last for decades, so are quite worth it.

At the end of the ride we ventured over to the second strip for a little while.  Laredo had been munching on the bales, but he noticed our absence and wandered over to the fence to await our return.  He even nickered as we approached.  That kid is so funny, he doesn’t want to work hard when he’s out (or even work lightly), but he can’t stand others exploring without him.

We did have some apple cores to share with them, and he was a little overexcited to get to those.  Here he is trying his best to get to the apple but not push on me.

Little bit of a fail there, Laredo.  I did back him up just after that.

This was a really great year overall for me, and an especially great year with the horses.  Can’t wait to see with the next one brings.

This is December?

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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It was nearly 70 degrees this afternoon.  I like the 70s, but not in December.  And the horses, with their thick, fluffy coats, really didn’t appreciate it. 

We took Bear and Laredo out onto the strip before venturing off into the big pasture.  It was a nice feeling to sit on my own horse again and just know that he wasn’t going to run away with me.  Of course, I never thought Laredo would do that, either.  But there you go, that’s horses.  Especially young ones.

We marched off into the hills and the guys were lethargic.  I was a little bit, too.  Once we got nice and warmed up, we went to the top of the big flat hill (where I fell off last fall) to do some work.  We don’t often work Laredo when we are out and about, so we were curious to see how things would go.

Bear and I just did our own thing, lots of walking up and down hills, exploring the new drainage spots, and getting some trotting in.  I didn’t want to work him too hard as he got pretty sweaty just doing that.

Robin stayed up near the top and worked on some simple trotting exercises with Laredo.  He was hot and maybe a little grumpy as he did throw a few tantrums.  Robin gracefully worked through the problems and got him responding nicely.

We explored the far corners of the pasture, took the long way down to the bottom of the strip and then called it a ride. 

The Run Away

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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Today I found myself on a run away Laredo.  One moment we were trotting a nice figure eight, and then next moment we were blazing down the strip and off into the soybean field in a full on gallop.

It is funny when these things happen. Time slows down and you can see the ground moving by at the same speed it does when you are walking, and at the same time changes can happen so fast they don’t have time to register.  It was early in our ride when Laredo and I were trotting some nice figure eights.  There was one spot in the pattern that he was really stuck in, we had just made a beautiful turn and I let him stop and rest for a few moments.  We were facing up the strip, and I guess he did not see that Robin and Steen were taking a slow walk down the drainage.  I asked him to move out at the trot again.  It was smooth, and we had no trouble, but then when we turned and faced down the strip, Laredo saw Steen moving away from him, and he panicked.

Dramatic re-enactment; I didn’t have the camera out during the run away.

His head came up, his body stiffened, and he immediately jumped into a fast lope.  He is three, and he changes gaits on his own from time to time.  Sometimes we shut him down immediately, and sometimes we give him a second to think and then correct him.  Lately we’ve been employing the latter a little more frequently.  Today I gave him a second, and in that second he had taken off into the fastest gallop I’ve ever ridden.  It was fast enough that I didn’t want to yank him around as I worried he’d fall over.

So I went with him.  I knew he was going to dive hard for the drainage.  It has a moderately steep hill at the top, and I really didn’t want to go down it.  When he was about to turn I checked him pretty hard with one rein.  It prevented him from going down the drainage, but he just turned left into the soybean field and started galloping even faster.  It was still downhill, but not as steep as the drainage.

I was feeling very stuck, and I had a little pressure on the left rein still.  I released that and tried to ride with him.  We turned left to intersect the strip and long pile of dirt from where they have been digging drainages.  I grabbed the horn and Laredo jumped over it.

Thankfully there was a somewhat steep rise on the other side of the drainage.  Laredo slowed a little, and I was able to get some order to my reins and pulled him into a nice stop.  He sat huffin and puffin for quite a few moments.  I’m not sure he even fully realized what he had done.

I was surprised how relaxed I felt afterwards.  I was also surprised how secure my seat felt during the whole run away.  Two years ago I had a bad fall in that same field when Bear and Steen got spooked by another horse.  I didn’t get very far before I toppled off the left side and hit my shoulder.  I was convinced I would have the same kind of fall today, but I never lost my balance.

The rest of the ride was uneventful.  We worked on some trotting, we did the routine, we walked up and down the strip and drainage.  Laredo was attentive and tired.  He has not gotten a lot of exercise in the last two weeks, and I’m sure that was one of the hardest intervals he has ever done.  Certainly the hardest with a rider.

These are always scary things to have happen, and while you never want to actually go through them, it is amazing how much you can learn from them.  I am just thrilled that in the last two years I’ve learned enough that I have some good enough instincts to carry me through these moments.  And next time I won’t give Laredo that extra second.