The Great Outdoors

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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I definitely appreciate that having an indoor arena to ride in all winter is a luxury. But I have to say, for some reason, this year the indoor rides have been uninspiring. I think it’s partly just personal malaise, and partly that Steen is so broke by this point, but riding in small circles is hard to keep interesting.

It’s not always bad. A couple of weeks ago, Brian and I arrived to find the arena freshly groomed. We celebrated by looping our reins around our horns and laying down a circle each, one on either side of the arena. Then we started mirroring each other and doing figure-eights with both halves. It was kind of ridiculously fun to be able to see the exact tracks we put down and challenge ourselves to be precise.

But the arena is not usually freshly groomed. It’s sometimes crowded. Pretty much always cold. Which was why it was so exciting when we got to ride outside, twice(!) within the last few days.

And I have to say, it was so nice. More space means more things to do. Steen is a bit out of shape, and when it’s really cold I don’t ask him for a really crisp, precise canter departure anyway because he has his old leg injuries that get tight sometimes. It can hurt him if I force him into a gait on my terms. So when we’re inside and a bit rusty, I let him pick his stride (within a small window) to get going.

Outside, though, with warmer temps, we got to dial back in some really crisp transitions, work on finding our balance again with big trots, delazify our stops, and supple up for more softness. The footing is better outside. We have more space. And these last two rides, the sun was out. We were mostly just getting ourselves and our horses a little less rusty, but it was glorious.

Makes me look forward to all the upcoming time in the sun.


Please excuse our dust

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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I’ve been totally delinquent about blogging in recent years. I’m not sure why. One theory is that the way we’ve been learning has changed. It’s hard to describe, exactly, but it’s like we’ve left behind our period of beginner gains where it felt like every ride was revelatory in some way. We’re still learning. A ton. But the gains are harder to quantify and harder to write about. I had a period of time where I felt everything I tried to say was taken and twisted into something I never meant. And this eventually made me reluctant to even post.

Another theory is that blogging in general has become a bit old-school. Instagram and Facebook have largely replaced long-form style posting of personal content on a private domain.

Yet another possibility is life has been pretty steady lately. With less change, there’s less news. Posting about the same stuff over and over can start to feel redundant.

I’m not sure which of these is the primary reason. Most likely it’s a combination of all three. In any case, I’m getting frustrating with the aggressive ads on Instagram lately, I more or less quit Facebook over a year ago, and Twitter has never managed to feel like my style. With none of those platforms serving to connect me to anyone, I find myself missing the community of bloggers I once interacted with all the time.

When I got sick a few weeks ago, I decided the thing to do in my convalescence was tackle the massive project of moving my blog and Brian’s blog off of Blogger and into one comprehensive WordPress install. This meant combining over 1000 posts and multitudes of images onto one domain, and then finding a way to mesh them together along with an active feed of my Instagram gallery. I wanted to do this because it’s been bugging for a while that my posts and images were hosted on severs I had no direct access to or control over. Still, the reason I never did it before was because the project basically amounted to me laboring away for hours upon hours, while massively ill, to create a brand new platform for two blogs that have been mostly dormant for years.

So yeah. It wasn’t necessarily a rational move. It took a very long time. And I’m not done. What’s live now on amatuervaquero.com is the bones of the endeavor. I’m still planning to flesh out an area to make access to the archives easier, with navigation by date, category, tag, and author. I’m going to make it visually obvious which posts are mine and which are Brian’s. I’ve got some planned static content to add, plus lots and lots of details to clear up.

But there’s time for all that later. In the meantime, I’m hoping to return to posting with more regularity. My goal for the year is one post a month. Modest. But hopefully doable. 🙂

For now, old feeds and urls should pointing to new content. But here’s a little list of helpful links.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Here’s a photo from the weekend. Laredo was taking a long time to eat his post-ride snack, so I hopped on Steen to tool around bareback for a while.


2018, Interrupted

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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We started the year with our traditional big road trip to Arizona and Texas. Coming back, we were determined to get into a better swing of things with the barn. And we have. Several times. And life has conspired to throw our consistency out the window again in every case. First it was the weather. Then it was other life weirdness. Most recently, we got sick for the first time in over three years.

But it’s okay. Winter is always difficult, between cold and conditions that sometimes make it impossible for us to even get to the barn. Despite all that, I’ve ridden all four of horses this year, including a couple rides on Nevada and a handful on Piper. And since I’ve been silent on this blog for a long, long time, I will do a full horse rundown.

Piper

Our little palomino has now had two osphos injections. While she is definitely much MUCH improved, she’s still not exactly what you’d call sound. Still, she’s to the point now that she can reliably truck around carrying a rider at the walk without any discomfort. So that’s a massive improvement from where we were before the injections. Trotting is hit or miss, even without  a rider. We’re starting to accept this might be the best we can do for her.

With that in mind, we are working on getting her in more, refining what she can do, and making her a bit more versatile in terms of her life experiences. Brian rode her a couple times, marking her first time being ridden by someone other than me. More recently, I met our long time student and friend, K, out at the barn and threw her up on Piper. That went well, and K is game to keep riding her with some regularity to help expose Piper to more people than just me. Which is great, because as soon as the weather turns, we’re going to begin a serious effort to find her a new home. She’s such a great little horse and it’s such a shame she’s not more sound, but I’m hopeful we can find the right situation for her. Because we really, really, really cannot have four horses for very much longer.

Laredo

The kid is doing pretty well. We have found he does not cough at all if he’s either not on a round bale or wearing a grazing muzzle. I’m coming to believe his issue is less about dust and all the irritants that typically cause heaves and more about a habit of continual over-eating. If we can limit his food intake, he’s fine.

We discovered this because, while he’s been steadily gaining weight bit by bit since we got him, this year he started tipping over into a category less like stout and more like obese. We’ve had him in a couple different settings that limit his food intake, and in all cases his cough immediately disappears as soon as his life doesn’t include an all-you-can-eat buffet. He’s also lost A LOT of weight, and is moving better under saddle because of it.

Sadly, with where we board, a limited food environment is not an easy thing to give him. So we’re moving again towards thinking we need to find him another home. I’d rather he be healthy elsewhere than always struggling with this issue in our care. Plenty of people could provide a setting where he’d just get a few flakes of hay every day. In that kind of setup, he’d thrive.

Nevada

I’ve ridden our youngest a couple of times this year, and both rides were great. She’s getting to be a lot less of a baby. I’m looking forward to working with her more as the weather changes.

Steen

My main man is a bit out of shape and in his typical late-winter shag mode. But for the second year running he’s made it through the worst of the cold without ever needing a blanket. After all the years I had to fight so hard to keep weight on him, it’s nice that he’s finally handling extreme conditions  better. Also he basically runs the herd these days. So that doesn’t hurt.

So anyway, really, not much has changed. It does feel like we’ve been stuck in a bit of a horse rut for a while now. Hopefully, though, 2018 will see us moving forward.

Horseback Hours YTD: 5:30


Same Old

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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Well, here we are in September. I guess we’re just reaching a point in life where things don’t change as much or as often as they once did. Esti is two now, and pretty well settled in. Brian’s job is good. Work is steady for me. Life goes on.

Which is mostly good as, generally speaking, our life is pretty darn fabulous. But as far as the horses go, we’re still a bit stuck. However, things don’t feel as gloomy as they did last year.

Laredo

Back at the beginning of the year, we decided to sell Laredo. Then after dragging our heels on that for several months, we realized we really didn’t want to. Since then we’ve had some success managing his cough. Brian’s been riding him and things have been going well. He’s just such a fabulous, solid guy at this point, we’re loathe to let him go. He got a cut on his nose a few weeks ago that was right under where the hackamore sits, so Brian’s been riding him in the snaffle. That’s spurred some interesting conversations and comparisons about the subtleties of the different tools we like to use.

 

Piper

We’ve had a lot of ups and downs with Piper. A few times this year, trying different shoeing strategies led to temporary periods of her being sound. But it never lasts. Last week, we had a vet out to administer an Osphos injection. We’ve heard a lot of good things about it helping with similar cases. So, fingers crossed we see a change. We should know in a month or two whether or not it will make a big difference for her.

 

Nevada

Our youngest has mostly been sitting. I’ve been on her back a few times, and we’ve had brief but good rides. Mostly, though, we’re just letting her do her own thing and grow up a little more. I keep meaning to ride her more often. She’s got gaits to die for and she’s so soft and responsive to legs and seat. But we just haven’t been getting to the barn as consistently this year, and we always seem to default to riding Steen and Laredo because it’s easy.

 

Steen

My main guy is still doing awesome. We’ve been working on more precision and control in our canter departures, and holding softness at the canter. Even when I don’t work as hard to maintain him as I should, he just stays reliable and wonderful. He’s basically my own personal rockstar and I adore him.

Unfortunately, from a financial standpoint we really shouldn’t have four horses. Piper wasn’t supposed to be a long-term project, and Nevada was supposed to grow up and be Brian’s primary mount when Laredo moved to Arizona. Basically none of that stuff panned out the way we were expecting. (Just goes to show the futility of planning.) We’re going to need to find someone a new home soon. It won’t be Steen. I know that much. I don’t really want it to be any of the others either. But I guess that’s life sometimes. Hopefully we can figure something out.

And here’s a gratuitous Esti photo just because.

Horseback Hours YTD: 56:36


Baby Steps

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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It feels like the horse gods frowned on us for pretty much all of 2016, but as 2017 begins we have been trying to forge ahead in the simplest way possible and just put one foot in front of the other. With so many horses manifesting special needs, we’ve honestly been feeling overwhelmed. So finally we decided to pick one problem, focus on that, and let the others go for a while. Right now, the simplest and most urgent of our issues is Laredo. He needs to live in an environment different from the one we can offer him, which sadly means he needs to find a new home. None of the challenges with our other horses are in any way time-sensitive. In fact, (fingers crossed) Piper seems to be getting more sound by the week, so here’s hoping she stays on that trajectory if we give her enough time.

So, Laredo. Our primary objective right now is to get him back into shape. He’s very very broke, but he’s also a little chubby and out of the swing of things. We want to polish him up just a little before we reach out in search of his next home. We also need to get some decent video that shows what he’s capable of. To that end, we’ve been getting him back into regular light work. The main problem with this isn’t him, it’s us. I’m still recovering from the bad wreck I had in September, and Brian crashed his bike a couple weeks ago and probably cracked a rib or two. So we’re just parceling out the rides and trading him back and forth like the old days.

I haven’t really ridden Laredo much in recent years, and it’s easy for me to still think of him as the 3-year-old we probably weren’t totally qualified to own. Then I get surprised when I ride him and realize he’s going-on-8, very mature, very accomplished, super duper soft and responsive and light and steady and … well … grown up. It’s hard to totally comprehend that we’ve had him for almost five years. He was such a kid when he arrived. Now he’s not.

Please disregard us both seeming orange and plump in this photo. We’re just both wearing our winter coats. Really. It’s pure fluff I swear.

Seeing Laredo go will be sad. He was our first real project, arguably our biggest guinea pig ever. But he was always a total champ when it came to tolerating our fumblings and letting us learn from him. I know he’ll be an incredible match for someone who needs a super solid and personable partner in crime. In all reality, he deserves that after being passed back and forth between me and Brian for so long. He’s never felt exactly like ‘my’ horse or Brian’s horse in particular. He always was a joint project. Still, I will miss him when he goes.

Horseback Hours YTD: 5:30


Another Year

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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2016 is well and truly over, which is a little hard to believe. And part of the reason for my silence on this blog is things have been tough going for us as far as the horses have been concerned for the last many months. Looking back at my stats, I spent only about 100 hours on horseback this year — by far the lowest number ever since I’ve been keeping track. This was mainly because, of our four horses, three have been having major issues. Those issues have been pretty varied, but can be summed up quickly enough.

Piper

Piper still isn’t reliably sound. We’ve got a good farrier who is working with us, and she’s much, much, much better than she was. But we’re coming to accept she just might not ever make it back to 100%. So we’re trying to digest that and figure out what to do with regards to finding her a life where she can thrive as much as possible given her limitations.

 

Laredo

Laredo has been struggling with an intermittent yet persistent cough for the last year or so. Multiple different vets and a long haul to a fancy clinic in Ames so he could get scoped and have lots of bloodwork done have yielded very little by way of concrete information on how to improve the situation. The problem comes and goes, which makes it hard for us to ride him consistently. The vets in Ames diagnosed him with a very early case of heaves, and recommended he not be on a round bale. That’s not possible for us. So again, we’re looking at making some tough decisions as far as trying to give him the best possible life going forward.

 

Nevada

Nevada bucked me off in September. I landed badly, leading to trauma to my lumbar spine and three weeks during which I couldn’t even really walk. Once I was kind of up again, I returned to light rides on Steen. But it wasn’t until late December that I was able to do much of anything without having to be super careful. Now I’m more or less back to normal, but neither Brian nor I have been on Nevada since the incident. Of course, these things are never the horse’s fault. She’s young and extremely athletic and despite having so much positive time with her under saddle last year, she still has these explosions every now and then that so far we’ve had a hard time tracing to an underlying cause.

 

Steen

The good news of the year, however, has been Steen. He continues to be my bombproof goofball. He’s a horse I can crawl onto and feel safe on even when I can literally barely walk, a horse that’s great for the cold because I can just set my reins down and stick my hands in my pockets and ride all around, a horse who is, impossibly, 17 this year but still acts like a foal sometimes. Let’s hope he stays that way for a long time to come.

Anyway, I miss this blog. I miss writing about what we do with the horses. But even more than that, I miss having a record to look back on after the fact. It’s been hard to want to write about all the bad news. But hopefully we’ll get some of these issues sorted out, I can get back in a better blogging habit, and 2017 will be the year things turn around.

Horseback Hours YTD: 1:30


Writing about Riding

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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I find myself struggling with this blog lately. Not due to lack of material. We’ve got plenty going on at the barn lately. This week, we’ve gone out a couple of times after work. On Tuesday, I rode Buttercup and Brian rode Stormy. Yesterday, I rode Stormy. Brian worked with King and his owner.

King? Buttercup? Stormy? I have not mentioned any of these horses here before. They are not ours, but we’re doing some work with them. Which is a bit ironic because we’ve never set out to position ourselves as expert horsemen. I know my level of skill at riding and handling horses is light-years behind the true masters of horsemanship I aspire to learn from.

And yet, it seems we frequently meet people who are struggling with their horses, and the things they struggle with are things we can easily help with. So we end up helping. And suddenly Brian and I both have multiple students, and we’re putting time into horses that aren’t ours.

In many ways, it’s great. Every horse we can work with is an invaluable opportunity for new learning. And any person we can teach to get along with a horse even just a little better is a net gain to all. What’s tricky is I don’t necessarily feel comfortable writing publicly about the details of what we’re doing. I don’t want to say anything a student might read and misunderstand.

Because, really, that’s the crux of it. It’s so hard to talk and write about horses in a way that conveys the meaning you’re after. This is true with teaching also, of course. It often takes multiple attempts and analogies to get an idea across the student. But with a student, you are there with them, in the same place. You’ve got a living, breathing horse providing instant feedback. You both know where you’re starting from, and what your goals are.

The internet is a mushier place. It seems I often write or post things people misunderstand.

So much of it is context. It’s like reading ads about sale horses. Perusing the classifieds, you’d think every horse is the same. “Very quiet. Soft on the bit. Moves off the leg. Good for the vet and farrier. 100% sound.” And yet, anyone who has ever shopped for a horse knows the high probability of showing up and discovering one or more of these classic sale ad statements not to be “true.”

The problem isn’t that all horse owners are liars. The problem is “soft on the bit” is a subjective statement. What is soft? What is light? What is quiet? What is good? I know what these words mean to me, but there’s no way to convey my understanding of them to another person through language alone.

So basically, I’m finding it impossible to say anything at all about a horse without leaving the door open for someone to come in and point out how my choice of phrasing is incorrect or inaccurate, or I’m not doing justice to the horse because I’m pigeonholing him by defining him with a certain term, or how if I did X differently, Y wouldn’t be a problem anyway. This, of course, always comes from people who have never even seen me handle or ride a horse, much less observed the situation I’m writing about. And the vast majority are responding to what they think I mean, which is often light years off from what I’m actually trying to say.

The result is lately I feel stuck and exhausted the moment I sit down to blog. I find myself rereading every sentence I write for how it might be twisted into something I don’t intend. After a while, I lose motivation to dodge my way through the proverbial minefield, and just don’t post anything.

I started blogging about Steen all those years ago because I felt like I was learning a lot. Recording my experiences felt both fun and useful.

I still feel like I’m learning a lot, but increasingly I’m finding the things I learn very difficult to put into words.


A Navicular Diagnosis

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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When I started Piper in early 2015, she was sound. However, as we moved past the first few rides and got going a little, at times I felt she was a little off at the trot. It was always really hard to pin down, or even be sure of. Some days it was maybe, maybe there. Some days it definitely wasn’t. It was never anything as distinct as a limp or a head bob. It was just this feeling I had that her movement was mildly inhibited, or a little hitchy at times. I could always come up with a plausible explanation. She is small, and wasn’t yet used to carrying a rider. The sand in our arena is a little deep and uneven in places, so she had to work harder in those spots. She can get tense in new situations, and that leads to choppy or uncertain movement at times.

So, the spring turned into summer. When I started riding Piper outside the arenas, exploring the grassy pastures we like to ride in, she seemed much better. I thought she’d gained strength and confidence and whatever had been maybe a little wrong was a thing of the past.

Then, in late November, one day she was suddenly mildly but definitively off in the left front. We couldn’t find any evidence of why. No injury, heat, bumps, swelling, sore spots, stone bruises. Nothing. We figured she’d strained a muscle or a tendon, and decided to give her some time off.

All through the winter, the problem would come and go. In January we had a few good rides with no sign of the problem. A few weeks later, I got on her back and felt it – this hitch in her step. So I got off again two minutes later. We tried TheraPlate treatments, massage, linament rubs. Nothing made any difference.

Finally, about a month ago, the horses got turned out into the bigger pasture. And suddenly Piper was limping even at the walk, even without a rider, even on grass. It seemed to get worse by the day. We still couldn’t find any sign of why. We had the farrier look at her. He was perplexed. We called in a vet. And yesterday, Piper was diagnosed with navicular syndrome.

The causes of navicular are unknown, though there are plenty of theories. Piper is not a classic risk case. She wasn’t even started (much less ridden hard or jumped) until she was five, and we rode her very lightly. She’s a small horse, with good-sized feet that aren’t excessively upright or narrow. But she is a Quarter Horse, and some Quarter Horses get navicular.

Navicular cannot be cured, but it can often be successfully managed. Looking back with the clarity of hindsight, I see that stickiness I felt on and off riding her last spring was probably the earliest signs of the condition. She’s a textbook case. What starts as mild and intermittent offness progresses into a horse that’s in constant pain.

While this is not good news at all, I feel oddly relieved to have a definitive answer and explanation for what’s been a protracted and confusing situation. Now, at least, we can make informed choices about where to go from here. Fortunately, a shoeing strategy that lifts the heel to reduce pressure on the navicular bone can often help. So our next step is to get back with the farrier.

Horseback Hours YTD: 48:30


Taking What’s Offered

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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I thought I had a great ride on Nevada last Saturday, but Sunday’s left it in the dust. Nevada and I had the kind of day together that leaves me grinning the whole way home. In the outdoor arena, we got great work done at all three gaits, and also continued our work with lateral movements.

The week was busy. We didn’t get out to the barn again until Friday. It had rained, but the footing was ok in the outdoor arena, so we rode out there again.

The herds had just gotten turned out into the big pasture, which is wonderful, but this kind of change often gives rise to a little extra energy. When I got on Nevada on Friday, she was the most distracted she’d ever been outside – really wanting to stare at the horizon and the horses on the distant hillside. When we worked at the trot, it was the first time I ever felt her get a little forward, ahead of me, and unbalanced. So we worked on circles to balance her back out and after a little while she really settled. The ride wrapped up beautifully.

Saturday, it rained the entire day. Like, relentlessly. While we do have an indoor arena, when it’s actively raining it gets so loud with the water falling on the metal roof it’s pretty unpleasant in there. Multiple times Brian and I have rallied our enthusiasm on such days only to sort of end up wishing we’d stayed home. So we just skipped riding.

This morning things were still dreary, but we headed out early in hopes of beating another storm. We found the horses pretty happy to come in. Things were too sloppy everywhere to ride anywhere but inside.

Tacking up, Nevada flinched when cinched. Last year right around the period when she got explosive, she got super touchy about her girth area and flanks. So we rubbed her around there and she seemed fine. I’m pretty sure Piper is in heat, and while I haven’t seen as much direct evidence with Nevada, we did think there was some connection to her trouble last year and her cycle.

She was fine with groundwork, so I got on, though she had another little moment of flinching when I touched her girth again. I explored the region more, and again she didn’t seem bothered. As soon as I was on board, though, she felt more unsettled than I’ve ever felt her. When I’d barely nudge her with my calf to ask her to step over, she’d wring her tail. She didn’t want to move out at first — another behavior that preceded her bolting and bucking melt-downs with Brian last year. So I was pretty ready for things to get Western.

At the same time, though, I really didn’t want to push her back over that edge. Steen has been Nevada’s safety net since the day Brian got on her back for the first time, so we started off sort of following Steen and Brian around a little. Once she got going, she really wanted to keep moving. Brian suggested we practice some turnarounds when she got ahead.

So we played a super slow motion version of “cow.” When Nevada got ahead of Steen, Brian would stop and step Steen’s front around. I’d asked Nevada to do the same. Steen loves these games and gets super motivated by them. Nevada had never played one before. She got the idea quickly, and soon was giving me very light, fluid turnarounds, mirroring Steen. For a while I thought I’d misread all the signs, and she was totally fine.

We did that for a little while, then took a break. She spooked a minute later, hopping into the trot from a standstill when the wind gusted through the door. I was so ready for her to explode I just grabbed my night latch and settled in, but she only trotted about half a lap. I was able to softly bend her to a stop without further trouble.

We worked on more walking, bending, etc. for quite a while, and things stayed on edge. She was bothered by one end of the arena and by being on the rail. She prefers to watch the world out her left eye, so going in circles to the left she kept sagging through my leg and counter bending. At one point I decided I was one more sign away from getting off and doing more groundwork.

But then, she hopped into the trot of her own volition again when we were by the door. I decided just to take the trot and do some good with it. We trotted all over the arena for many minutes. Where I could get with her, I did so. Where I couldn’t, we just worked on finding something positive – some yield, some give, some try. She came down bit by bit. Steen is like this also. Sometimes when he’s all wound up and full of anxiety, the best thing is to just let him move out. None of our other horses have ever been quite the same. Many of them get more anxious if turned loose when troubled.

Today, though, it did the trick with Nevada. Our “togetherness” got more consistent. Soon I was able to start working in some lateral movements. Shortly after that, she remembered about my leg in left turns and not collapsing through it. After she settled, she was lighter to my legs than I’ve ever felt before.

After about 50 minutes had gone by, the trouble was a thing of the past. It’s the perfect illustration of the kind of scenario I would have “gotten wrong” a few years ago. I used to think a nervous and distracted horse needed to be shut down, their attention brought back to me this instant at any cost. Because of this, I picked more than one fight that only achieved the opposite.

A year or two ago, we watched a few Joe Wolter videos that made such an impression on me. He was working with a couple really young, really energetic, really just-this-side-of-explosive mares. And he just kept talking about how you can take all the energy and you can oppose it or bottle it up and then you have a rough time and the horse has a rough time and if you’re lucky you don’t do any lasting damage. He said he preferred to take the energy and use it, and I was surprised at the number of little behaviors he didn’t try to correct at all — things I’d heard many trainers put in the category of “you can never, ever, let a horse get away with this.” Because obviously horses who “get away” with these things turn into unruly monsters.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of taking what the horse can give for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve ever had quite so clear an illustration of how well it can work. I’ve no doubt Nevada and I could have had our worst ride ever today. But we didn’t. We actually had a great ride. By the end, all of the trouble was gone. She was soft, focused, lively, and happy. I was happy too. I never kicked, yanked, whacked, spurred, whipped, or got angry. I’m particularly encouraged by the way she held it together the couple times she got really close to the edge.

If this is Nevada on a bad day, I think we’re going to continue to get along just fine.

Horseback Hours YTD: 42:25


58 vs 580

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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

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I don’t actually know how much time I’ve spent riding Steen. I started keeping track in 2011, and since then I’ve spent 580 hours on his back (this doesn’t count the riding Brian has done). I can safely say I’ve spent vastly more time on Steen than any other single horse in my life.

Today, when I got off Nevada, I’d logged her 58th hour. That is, Brian has ridden her for 32 hours, I have ridden her for 26.

We rode today in the outdoor arena. The footing was a little softer than last time, and Nevada was happy to move out. We did more trotting than usual, which was super nice. She’s got a great cadence and usually pretty good energy, but in my experience most horses struggle with motivation when ridden mostly in an indoor arena for months on end. It is so nice to be able to get her out into the world a little.

But the word comes with more distractions. Today she was a little stiffer on the hackamore at times. I worked on this in various ways. Then Brian mentioned Steen was a little nervy at some gaits (he’s still not as settled with Brian as he is with me), and I told him lateral work often softens Steen up nicely. Then I realized I should be doing more lateral work with Nevada as well. So we did some leg-yields and side passes, and she just lightened up all throughout her body. We got glimmers of awesome collected movement for the first time.

Right now, we’re at a point with Nevada that the basics are there, but still need reinforcement. Beyond that, we’ve put in the broad strokes of some more advanced skills. I’m sure plenty of horses who have 58 hours under their cinches have done a lot more, but given that Nevada is the first horse we ever started from absolute zero, I’m pretty please with how she’s going. Today was definitely my best ride on her to date, but at one point I was watching Brian and Steen and I thought, “We’re a long way from being that effortless.”

But then, a few minutes later Brian turned around and talked about how he and Steen still have to work a bit to get totally aligned some of time. The difference is, Steen has over 600 hours of combined riding time, and Nevada has less than 60. It’s hard to totally comprehend that kind of differential.

Horseback Hours YTD: 39:00