All the horses got trimmed before we left for Texas, and our farrier confirmed what I thought – that Piper has really nice feet. She also behaved well for him, which was awesome because she was pretty uncertain with her feet when she came to us. I had worked on it a lot, but I wasn’t sure she’d be totally cool with the trim. She was tense at first and got a little wobbly a couple of times, but I just kept petting her neck when she was still, and applying super tiny blocks to the halter when she started to teeter. She never tried to take a foot away. By the last foot, she was relaxed.
On Friday after she had a week off due to our travels, I did a lot of groundwork with Piper in the outdoor arena. It was a new environment for us, and I pushed her a little harder than I have before. One thing I was thinking after the Buck clinic is while you don’t want to deliberately trouble a horse, getting to them to the edge of their comfort zone is how they learn the fastest. That was also Piper’s first day being tied at the outdoor hitching post. She was happy to stand quietly out there, even when Brian and Steen and Brian’s student and Laredo all left us behind to start their ride.
Saturday and Sunday both, I rode Piper indoors. Saturday was particularly good. She started out responsive and soft to the bit. She also moved off my legs more easily. We tooled around for half an hour. Brian and Laredo helped with impulsion at first, then we did a fair bit of moving out and coming to a stop on our own. We were getting some decent energy at the walk, and getting consistent movement for long enough that I could start to time my seat up with her walk for quite a few consecutive steps. Every time I did this, Piper’s ears would tip back to me just a little, like she was thinking, “Huh, that’s interesting.” And shortly thereafter I started to be able to keep her moving with my seat alone when she started to stall sometimes. We also had some pretty nice soft, slow changes of direction.
After my ride on Saturday, I, of course, put a lot of thought into what I’d done right and what I’d done wrong. One thing I have noticed with Piper is that while she’s a generally a quiet horse, she really, really doesn’t like pressure. She usually only needs to be corrected about something once or twice. After that, she’s super motivated to avoid running into the same block or barrier. Almost every time we’ve gotten stuck on anything, I have found backing off and doing less gets her unstuck more effectively than doing more. Unlike Laredo and Nevada (who seem a little more philosophical about corrections on the whole), and most of the horses we got already broke (who had learned to deal with and wear pressure), Piper puts a ton of effort into avoiding the barriers I put up for her. Obviously, it’s a trait I want to go out of my way to encourage and reward.
Under saddle, she’s still sticky going forward sometimes. I realized thinking back on my ride that I had defaulted to bumping her forward firmly each time she stopped because she was stopping and getting stuck so often. It occurred to me that I wasn’t being fair there. I forgot the golden rule – always ask with less than you think it will take. Then, you make it happen. Every time, in every situation.
So I had all that in mind on Sunday. But starting off, Piper seemed a little off her game. She seemed a tad tender in the girth area. Though she wasn’t definitively sore anywhere, I think her back was fatigued. She’s not a big girl, (we sticked her after her trim at 14.1) and she’s never carried a rider before. She was fine with groundwork, but I could see in her face that she was a little less connected and focused. I found she was much slower to respond to the bit, and a little frustrated in some of her responses to my cues. She wasn’t anxious or troubled though, so I went ahead and got on. I worked on being soft and patient, and moving her out with opening my legs then encouraging her with a light nudge before the firm tap. She had a much easier time moving forward when I gave her some space and time to work on that. Still, though, overall it just felt like she was struggling to stay focused.
Brian also pointed out that she was most likely to get stuck in turns when my timing didn’t sync up with her inside front foot. Of course, getting with the feet is what I’m trying to do, but I’m a work in progress as far as having 100% perfect timing. It’s pretty interesting (and really good feedback) to be on a horse that doesn’t know how to fill in for you at all. It’s obvious when I get in Piper’s way. I’m going to try to pay a lot of attention and hopefully learn a lot from feeling when I trip her up.
After about 15 minutes, Piper started to settle in better. We had 10 minutes of pretty good stuff, where again I felt like she was beginning to feel my seat and move off my legs. We’ve got our flexes and rolling the hind under from the walk working great on the left side. On the right, we’re still kind of sloppy. I have trouble helping her keep her poll elevated. We made some improvement on that, though, so I got off while we were in a good place.
This is the first time I’ve worked with Piper that it felt like she wasn’t giving me 110% effort, and I think she was just kind of exhausted. She’ll get a few days off this week and hopefully start to build some strength. And then we’ll get back to work.
Horseback Hours YTD: 24:10