If it seems like weather is a frequent topic in my posts lately, that's because it feels as if SD has moved south for the season. With the sole exception of today, highs for this week will be in the 50's. 2011 has definitely been an interesting year weather-wise.
Yesterday's high was 54' and I couldn't NOT ride. I should have gotten an earlier start, though. When I headed out to the farm at around 1 PM is the clouds were high and gauzy, and there was just enough breeze to ruffle the dust a bit. Sunny and Thunder were pleased to see me until I collected them both and tied them to the trailer.
By the time I had both of them brushed, 8 hooves cleaned, the breeze was stronger. Enough to make me glad I'd layered my puffy vest over my sweatshirt.
I saddled Sunny - western - stretched him, buckled on my spurs, and and swapped halter for bridle. As much as I liked riding with the bitless bridle, it's comforting to see that he's taking the bit easily now that I'm back to riding with contact.
For warm-up we walked various-sized circles working on bending and haunches in, then trotted large, easy circles on a loose rein, gradually adding contact and spiraling in, then back out. After that I wanted to work on canter departures (thus the spurs). Collect, bend on the circle, bump outside leg, kiss, and if he didn't canter off, roll my heel to cue with spur.... Once cantering, my goal was to keep him from falling out of gait for at least three full circles before intentionally asking for a downward transition.
The departures improved dramatically. Getting him not to break back to a trot... needs more work. But on the whole, he's getting much more balanced and less heavy on the forehand. And he's dropping his shoulders and diving around the corners less. I was doing my best to help him out, keeping my head up, my back soft, my shoulders square, and my weight in my outside seatbone where it was supposed to be. Riding Alisha the last couple of weeks and feeling how big a difference a simple weight shift can make has really been helpful. I'm less nervous about going faster, so I have more room in my head to think - LOL!
As usual, there were monsters in the cedar trees on the house-edge of the pasture. Invariably he wants to scoot past that section when we're going left. About the fourth whoosh forward I had an epiphany: rather than stiffen up and hold him, I tried softening into the saddle and slowing my hips. It worked - although I could still feel his stride lengthening somewhat through that section of the circle, rather than fighting him for the next third of the way around, he was rating back to me much more quickly.
We finished up the "work" portion of the ride with some half-passes and a side-pass or two, and some loose rein circles. For as much cantering as we did, he was barely damp. But he'd been working - and cooperating - for an hour, and that was enough for the day.
Back at the trailer I untacked and brushed him off, then collected a cone, longe line and whip, and Thunder. He'd been waiting with less than his usual patience - pawing and the occasional bang of a hoof on the running board punctuated Sunny's ride. By this point the breeze was a gusty wind, and Thunder let me know he was feeling good with several snorts and some head-flipping.
I made sure I had my gloves on before I sent him out, anticipating a repeat of his run-outs to the right from the other day, but he surprised me - although he was definitely feeling good - more snorting and lots of flying snot - he stayed light on the line in both directions. He did swing out and try to stop and face me a couple of times to the right, but a step toward his hip and a cluck sent him off again with no hesitation. "Whoa" worked every time, and he came back to an easy walk when asked even when he was flying around at a pretty good clip.
By the time I finished currying the now-dried sweaty marks off of Sunny and rubbing Thunder's itchy spots as a reward for good behavior, the wind had increased to the point of swirling grit and leaf-laden dust-devils down the driveway. Random banging and sheep bouncing and zooming about in their lots had both horses dancing, and with one in each hand, I was grateful yet again that they lead so lightly. Once back inside the top lot with the gate secured they settled and hung out for a few more scritches around the ears after I took their halters off. What a marvelous way to spend an afternoon!