Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I'm all for 50' temps, but I have to hope the snow melts and soaks in soon!  Yesterday the footing was decent, if not great.  Today, continued warmth meant Sunny was alternately splashing and squelching.  The lot was muddy, but I didn't realize until I was out in the field how bad it really was.

I could have gone down the road, I suppose, but that would have meant fussing around changing saddles and since we haven't been out on the road in nearly a month, jut the three of us by ourselves, I'd rather wait for a day when we have company - and until I can see what's underfoot in the ditches if we have to make a dash into one.  So...

We moseyed around for a few minutes trying to find the best routes (least mud, most grass and snow).  The farm owner came out to chat, which ate up about 20 minutes, and then we meandered around some more doing small circles and leg yields and working on collection and bending/counter-bending at the walk.  About 40 minutes total time in the saddle, and about half that he was dozing while I talked.  Oh well -  chalk it up to good exercise in patience, I guess.

So here's a question for all of you - when you're done riding, do you ride all the way back to where you started?  Do you stop, get off, loosen your girth/cinch and walk the last part of the way?

Here's what I do - not saying it's a best practice, just throwing it out there for the sake of conversation - lol!

In general, if I'm riding out, I stop at the foot of the driveway or a little way down the road, get off, loosen the cinch and chill a minute or so before preceding up the driveway.  If I'm in the arena or practicing in our field, I stop somewhere in the center or along the edge away from the gate - but never at the gate - get off, run the stirrups up (depending on the saddle), loosen the girth/cinch and take a minute to rub some itchy spots.

Initially I started walking the last bit home after riding out because after a long ride, my back and knees didn't like me.  A short walk was a good way to stretch.  I made it a regular habit when I noticed that, after it was clear to the horses that they were pretty much done working when the cinch loosened up, they were standing more quietly and not wanting to rush back up the driveway.

In the arena, an additional benefit is that Sunny doesn't associate the gate with being done.  Since I never end a ride twice in the same spot, he doesn't automatically try to stop anywhere, either.  But when I do stop, he plants himself on the off chance that this time might be it for the day.  He's learned that if he wiggles, we keep going.  And if he moves after I get down, I get back on.  But if he's still, there's a chance that he'll get me off his back, a loose girth and an ear rub. Patience-builders... gotta love 'em!

Growing up, we always either rode back to wherever we started (or had left the halter) before getting off, and then the saddle, etc. came off all at once.

When I took lessons out east, we were taught to get off, run both stirrups up and loosen the girth mid-arena prior to leading the horses back to their stalls for un-tacking.

Riding at Eric's on his horses, just out of habit I usually loosen the girth when I get done and do a bit of ear rubbing by way of thank you for the ride.  Haven't had him comment one way or the other yet, though.

So what's your routine at the end of a ride?  Do you have one?  Why, or why not?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunny with Slush

Woke up at 5 a.m. to temps already in the 40's, and it only got better from there.  No wind and sunshine.  Amazing.

Irresistible riding weather.  At noon I hauled the English saddle and the rest of Sunny's stuff to the car and headed out.  Interrupted the boys' nap time, but I wasn't too concerned about that.  Sunny's had upwards of two weeks off, so I was curious to see what I'd get.  He heaved a big sigh when I buckled his halter on and plodded along through the sloppy lot beside me. 

Once he was clean(er) and dressed, I picked our way down the slope of the driveway carefully - muddy spots interspersed with tire-packed snow made the footing less than ideal.  But Sunny's hooves cut into the slushy top layer much better than my boots - the advantages of four feet!

I shed my vest before I got on  (I'd already ditched a sweatshirt) - even just my turtleneck felt like too much, but taking that off too wasn't an option - lol! 

The snow in our usual field was a pristine blanket 3-4" deep and semi-slushy.  The snow wasn't balling up in his hooves, and Sunny didn't seem to be having any difficulties keeping his footing, but I decided as we shushed along the curve of our first big circle that we'd stick to walking and trotting - no sense taking a chance on him slipping or hitting something hidden in the snow.  I know there are no holes or big rocks out there, but the level snow was disguising several substantial dips and with only memory telling me where....

Ten minutes of warm-up, then I worked on getting him collected and really differentiating rates of walk.  Shoulder in, haunches in, and some spirals.  Sitting trot, and more collection - I did my best to just feel how collected he was getting, rather than tipping my head down to see what his head and neck were doing.  He's gotten much less heavy in front - especially considering where we started last fall.

All told, about 40 minutes - he's not getting as much exercise as he was, and the footing was increasingly sloppy.  Even just walking and trotting, the periods of collection were hard work - he was happy to pause for a breather periodically, and to take the opportunities to stretch I offered.  Overall an excellent ride, and the weather is supposed to be just as nice tomorrow so we should get to go again.  I'm sure he'll be thrilled.

Our post-ride circle...

Back up in the lot I left Sunny guarding a post after I brushed him and checked his feet for driveway gravel.  Thunder's turn - oh, nothing major, but I've been doing some thinking, and I decided I wanted to try him in the same type of bit I use on Sunny, rather than the D-ring snaffle with rollers that I'd put on him previously.  Since Sunny's bridle was right there handy, I figured no better time than the present...

You know, I learned something that surprised me - their heads are the same size.  Appearances sure are deceptive.  I would have bet money that Thunder's long face would require letting the buckles down at least a hole on each side.  Not so.  It must be Sunny's dish that makes his face look more petite...

Not his color, but the size is right

Anyway, I definitely like the way this headstall in combination with the full cheek snaffle fits Thunder much better.  The bars on the D-ring are straighter and thicker, and it was clunking against his teeth when he mouthed it which I really didn't like.  The slightly narrower, more shaped fit of the bars on Sunny's bit let him nom-nom-nom away without any painful sounding clunking noises.  Once he'd had a few minutes to chew, I did some bending exercises with him, and he was much quicker to respond, so I think practicing in the sidepull halter did some good, as well.

They both seem to have enjoyed the afternoon as much as I did, because they were hanging over the gate when I left.

Hopefully they'll be as pleased to see me tomorrow!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

That's Burr, Not Brrr


The electric fence is still jolt-less, and the boys remain locked into the lot.  G moved a new bale in to them this morning, their third for the winter.  They went through this last one a bit faster, without pasture-access for nibbling.  Unfortunately, pre-bale delivery, Sunny decided to go adventuring again - when I got to the farm  Thunder was waiting at the bale - Sunny was on the other side of the west fence in the tree grove.

The fence on that side of the lot isn't electric - it's woven wire topped with two strands of barbwire.  NOT ideal for horses, I know - but it keeps the sheep in, which is what G considers important.  The deer started crossing at a section near the passage to the top pasture last winter, and the fence there keeps getting pushed down.  Combined with the deep drifts we had then, Sunny and Thunder walked out over it once and had to be retrieved.  I fixed the low spot and ran an electric wire across the neck of the alley,   and since then the wire has stayed strung across, because the deer have kept using their trail. Periodically I have to fix that section of fence again, but the horses have respected the wire.  Of course, the electric was on.... 

With the electricity down, Sunny ducked under and followed the deer path back across the fence into the tree lot.  He can't GO anywhere in there - there's actually no gate into it, so the only way for him is back across the low spot.  (G takes the fence down on the far end a couple times a year and lets the sheep or cows in to eat the undergrowth.)  So he couldn't get out - but he did manage to find and collect a LOT of burrs. 

Back over the fence, I led him up to the waterer to get a drink, and then tied him up, retrieved a comb and started picking burrs out. 

Three quarters-finished with the front end...
Luckily, they hadn't been in there long enough to mat into a true brombie knot, but it wasn't pretty.

He had them in his fetlocks, too
Half an hour later he looked much better.


My fingers, however, were cold and full of pickers - wish I'd had a pair of leather gloves along, but since I was wearing knit ones, I had to take them off to avoid going home covered in burrs myself.  As it was I kept having to pick them off my sleeves.

Not exactly ashamed of himself, is he?

I fixed the fence again until the next time the deer go through, at least, and it should hold for the night, especially with a new bale out.  Tomorrow, if I can get the ground stake driven in, the portable fencer goes up.  That'll fix him!

Friday, January 27, 2012

More info...

Hey, everyone - if my explanation direct vs. leverage pressure, and why I wasn't having any luck neck reining Mac the western pleasure horse in his curb bit left you going, huh?, Mugwump just posted an interesting piece on three basic types of bits and how they work.  Check it out!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lesson Day: Mac, Western Pleasure, and the Boys Enjoy a Winter Break

I should re-label these posts "weekly update" - it surely does feel as if there's not much new on the horse-front since winter decided to move in!

The boys are certainly pleased to see me every day, but I haven't been able to do much in the way of productive work this week.

Come on, open the gate...  You know you want to!
Sorry, boys - it'll have to be a bit warmer before we get back to work.


So tonight's lesson was all about western pleasure.  Hadn't done that yet.  Eric is taking quite seriously my statement that no matter what type of training the horse he puts me on has, I can learn something.  He's living up to his end of the bargain - hopefully, I'm doing the same!

And to all those western pleasure people out there, I owe you an apology!  For years I've watched you smile and step, step, step your way around the arena on slow-as-molasses moving horses and thought, "Huh... that doesn't look that hard."   Boy was I wrong.

Tonight I rode Mac.  Mac is a medium-sized bay Arab gelding with one slightly crooked front leg, a pretty face and a kind eye, and a higher-set neck than I would have expected on a pleasure horse.  Very cute, and very sweet.  And very well-trained.  His usual rider just moved to the 13 and over age division.  Mac'll be starting to leg up for show season next week, but recently he's been enjoying a well-deserved winter break.  Thankfully Mac didn't hold the interruption to his vacation against me.

It being a western lesson, and Mac being over five, the bridle Eric handed me had a broken-mouth curb bit attached. Not show-ring sanctioned, but okay for training purposes.  Mac also got splint boots in front rather than SMBs or polo wraps all the way around.

Once I had him saddled, with the stirrups adjusted and the cinch tightened, I swung on, and Eric gave me a quick rundown on proper hand/rein position and steering.  Ai-yi-yi!  Here I was, just barely managing to get my rights and lefts untangled with what I've done so far, and now he tells me western pleasure horses wearing curb bits steer in reverse.  Oh, and I wasn't to stick any fingers between the reins, either.

Apparently even though I'd get to use only one hand - my left - to "steer", western pleasure horses that have graduated out of the snaffle and hackamore are not neck reining. Although it may appear that they are given that the riders are using only one hand, Eric assured me that they're not - Mac reinforced this as the lesson progressed - in actuality, 99% of the steering actually happens off the rider's leg, not via the reins.  

So then, what's that about steering in reverse you ask?  It's like this: a horse ridden in a curb bit will flex his nose the right when the rider's hand moves left, and vice versa. And if you're scratching your head, you're not alone.  But once I thought about it, it got clearer.  

As I understand it (and any mistakes here are mine, not Eric's) horses ridden in a snaffle on contact, or in a bosal, work off of direct pressure - it's how they're conditioned to respond.  (Neck reining is also direct pressure - the pressure of the rein against the side of the horse's neck prompts them to give, or move away from the pressure.)  

A curb bit, unlike a snaffle, operates on leverage from the shanks of the bit.  So with a curb lifting your hand over to the left actually releases pressure on the left side of the horse's face - and increases it on the right, tipping the horse's nose in that direction.  And if I got my rights and lefts straight, that should even make sense.  At any rate, moving my hand toward the wall, in combination with inside leg, resulted in an inside bend and Mac stepping over toward the wall/outside of the circle, not into the center.

Ideally, Mac would move forward off my leg with a nice loose drape in the reins, and I would be able to change directions and increase or decrease my rate/change gaits from leg cues alone.  In practice, the picture wasn't quite that pretty.  In fact, the pair of us did several completely unintentional small circles in place before I figured out that I couldn't just move my hand right when I wanted him to go right.  And once I almost ran him headlong into the wall. Thankfully we were only walking.  

Just when I'd think I had it figured out, I'd realize that I was automatically trying to steer by neck reining, and Mac, bless his heart, paying attention, even though what I was telling him didn't make a lick of sense.  Sorry, Mac!  I managed to do a bit better as the lesson progressed, thank goodness.

Another thought I've frequently had while watching a western pleasure class is - please, no throwing things  - that riding a western pleasure horse doesn't look like a particularly pleasurable experience.  I didn't learn anything today that made me change my mind.  It's much harder than it looks, definitely - but something I would want to do on a daily basis?  No. 

Why not?  I thought about that a lot on the drive home.  For some reason, although the level of collection and roundness asked for is comparable in many ways to what I've been learning to ask for riding hunt seat, the rate at which the horses are asked to cover ground seems artificial and unpleasantly... well, unpleasant.  Everything from the four-beat - count them out, one. two. three. four. - walk, two-beat jog, and three-beat lope (which I had a hideous time getting slow enough, by the way) just didn't feel right.  

What it does feel is darned impractical - who, outside the show ring, wants a horse that takes five minutes to cover 50 feet at the walk.  Okay, that's an exaggeration, but still...

Maybe it's because I do so much trail riding in a stock saddle, but I want to go somewhere when I ride.  Reining didn't feel wrong, but the horses move out.  Saddleseat felt weird, yes, but as collected as the horses are asked to be, they go forward with energy.  And hunt is again, collected, but not... stifled.  I want my horse to be nice and round and balanced, but I also want to go, even if I'm only traveling in a circle. 
Still, it was a fun lesson, even if Sunny and I won't be venturing into western pleasure anytime soon.  Possibly because everything was so deliberate and rhythmically paced, I really had time to think about what I was doing.  As a result, my lope transitions were the very best they've been, even though Eric informs me that Mac's lope is the very worst of all the horses he's put me on (including Sunny).  Despite that, my lower legs stayed where they were supposed to, at least for the most part.  Best of all, I stayed soft in my lower back, and I didn't collapse my inside shoulder on the upward transitions, and I could feel the difference.

Now I just have to cross my fingers that the improvement sticks!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

No matter the discipline...

Cdncowgirl shared this over on Home on the Range (a great blog, for those of you who haven't happened across it), and I just had to share it here as well.

I don't think it matters whether you're an English rider or a western rider, watching a talented horse & rider perform - or in this case a two pairs - is pretty amazing.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Random thoughts...

I exercise pretty much every morning - we have one of those elliptical thingies, that I can get on with a book and just zone for half an hour.  In the five years since we got it I've put over 1000 miles on it.  It's great for my hind end, and my arms don't jiggle.  But it's no substitute for "real" exercise.  Who knew clucking with every stride could make it so hard to breathe?

Cats are weird - or possibly someone snuck into the house and drugged mine.  Nunu spent the last half an hour stalking, batting, pouncing on and determinedly ignoring a kernel of dried corn that fell out of my chore-coat pocket.  Apparently it's more fun than her catnip mouse.  I just finished peeling carrots (after which I did rinse my hands off), and Mabel is now trying to chew on my fingers - I just dumped her off my lap for the third time so I can go wash - with soap.  Snowball is sleeping - the cat-doper must have missed her.

City snow plows manned by evil people.  I've cleaned off the sidewalk at the corner for the postman three times today and they just went past again - my nicely cleared corner is now knee-deep in crusty chunks.  Again.  And if I don't go shovel it.  Again.  The postman will leave me a nasty note threatening not to deliver my mail.  Okay, okay.  I know they're not really evil - but can I still suspect them of being wielded with malicious intent?  Probably not, I guess I just have bad timing.

HorseLoverZ.com is having a customer-appreciation lycra sale - all lycra 40-70% off.  Who thought up lycra for horses, anyway? Were they color blind?  Channeling Cyndi Lauper circa mid-'80s? And now  I'm wondering what Sunny would look like as a zebra...

It's far more fun to put Christmas ornaments up than take them down.... Speaking of which, back to work.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lesson Day: Pete, Saddleseat, and Snowy Noses

Not surprisingly, my lesson tonight was on an another of the indoor horses - the car thermometer read 0', but inside was much warmer.

Eric offered me my choice, western pleasure or saddleseat - I didn't really have a preference, so he had me get Pete out.  "We'll go with one that will keep you warm," he said. 

Pete's a hackney/Arab-cross; a medium-sized, upright, compact-bodied, large-headed chestnut pinto. 

"He might be a bit fresh, he hasn't really been worked much since the end of show season."  Ummmm...  Really?  "Pete can be a bit squirrelly on occasion, but he's really talented."  Eric ran down the horse's accomplishments - an impressive list - under youth and open riders - while he hunted for the right saddle. 

Pete rolled one eye back to look at me as I brushed him, and heaved a big sigh when the very flat saddle settled on his back.
"We'll just lunge him for a couple of minutes to get the buck out - if he feels hunchy when you get on, let me know."  You betcha! 

I jokingly accused Eric of wanting to make sure I had a chance to practice the whole "melting into the saddle" thing, and he just grinned at me. 

Pete stood firmly planted while I adjusted the bridle to fit his big head - the buckle was stiff, and it took me three times of on/off to get it right.  He opened his mouth and lipped the bit up politely every single time.  He didn't budge a hoof as I swung on, and walked off nice as pie when I asked.  Not a hunch to be felt.

With Pete's cooperation, the rest of the lesson was incredibly helpful.  I've watched saddleseat at shows, but I've never ever considered riding it.  As it turns out, getting the varying degrees of collection - which Pete was very, very capable of performing - required me to really focus on my upper body position, lower leg position, and relaxing through my lower back.  Oddly, all areas I need to work on....

While he did get hollow and stick his nose out (read, when I slipped up and let him), Pete was completely sane and sensible, with no sign of loose screws or squirrelliness.  A little look-y now and then, but in a lot of ways and despite their dramatically different builds, he was much more similar to riding Sunny - particularly the tendency to get hollow and the lookiness - than either Pride or Alisha. 

I enjoyed the heck out of the opportunity - I've always thought saddleseat riders looked, well, behind their horses.  It certainly appears as if they're holding themselves up by the reins.  But it didn't feel anything like that on top.  The way Pete is put together - that long neck, upright front end, short back, and powerful hindquarters, let him drive up underneath himself.  When he was collected and balanced, he was as light in my hands as Pride, the cute little Arab reiner I rode last week.  Just like in reining, I had to remember to really keep my shoulders back, my head up, and my weight over my hips - making it easier for him to elevate in front and really extend and reach forward.
 I'm consistently amazed by how something as simple as tipping my chin up and rolling my shoulders back impacts the horse's frame.

Elsewhere in my horse world.... I finally moved the trailer out to the farm today - they're saying we may get another 4" of snow tomorrow, and since the city already plowed around the trailer once while I was out of town for work earlier in the week, I didn't want to push my luck and end up with a ticket - or with it stuck in a giant drift I'd have to shovel free of.

The temperature had climbed all the way up to  - 2 by half past noon.  Kind of a shock to the system after the warm weather we've had 'til now, but at least the sun was out.  The windchill was -19, but hey, who's counting.

They look so innocent, don't they?
The boys were napping in the lee of the hill where the sun could hit them, breath steaming in the cold, but they didn't seem phased one bit by the weather.  I picked out feet and scritched itchy spots.  They've been gated out of the pastures now, probably for the remainder of the winter, since the electric fence seems to have developed a short. 

Unfortunately, if it's not hot, they can't be trusted not to creep through it.  G came home Tuesday night while I was gone and found them in the driveway.  They'd been helping themselves to one of the bales he feeds the sheep from, so hadn't gone far, thank goodness.  But as a result they got to spend Tuesday night and all day Wednesday in with the sheep.  G put panels up across the alley out to the pastures Wednesday afternoon, and when I got back Wednesday night I moved the boys back in where they belong.  Troublemakers, the both of them.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunny, with a (Lack of) Forward

It may not have quite hit 50' today, but 44' is plenty warm for mid-January.   I was just tired today for some reason, but it was too nice not to ride.  I didn't have the energy to monkey with the trailer though, so I tossed the lighter western saddle I've been using on Thunder, a pad, a couple of brushes and Sunny's bridle in the car.  For one day they can share - I can only ride one at once, after all!

The boys were napping in the lot, which I kind of expected.  I was disappointed though, to see that no one was home - I'll ride Sunny with no back-up, but Thunder and I haven't progressed to the point that I'm brave enough to tackle him without someone around.

I gave them both a quick brushing, saddled Sunny, and walked him out and down around to the field where we usually work. The standard warm-up routine and a pause to tighten the cinch, and we were off.... well, sort of. 

I'm not sure what I'm doing, but when I ask for an upward transition, I'm getting collection - which is good - but not a transition.  I didn't feel like he was being lazy - just sort of stuck in compressed mode.  I didn't have spurs on, which might have helped, but since he was trying, maybe not.  Eventually we ironed out walk to trot, but upward to canter remained... odd.  He felt sort of like riding a completely squeezed together accordion, which was truly bizarre.  On the plus side, when he did finally rock up into the canter it was easy and much more collected....

Since I wasn't having much luck figuring out a fix for that issue, I changed gears and worked on half-passing.  To the left has been getting better and better, but right has been a struggle.  For the first time we managed a couple of decently put together sections of half-pass right.  I concentrated on really holding his right shoulder and pushing his left hip over, keeping my weight back and looking ahead instead of down, and lo and behold, progress.

We spiraled, I did some two-point... same old, same old.  Thunder hung out for a while along the east fence, nibbling grass with occasional pauses to watch the show, then disappeared back up into the lot for another nap. 

An hour with Sunny, but I petered out on Thunder.  The prediction for tomorrow's high is 15', which I'm sorry, is just too cold to think about riding, but hopefully it will warm up into the 30's by mid-week and I can keep our string of winter rides going..

When I left the boys were hanging their heads over the gate watching me go as if they'd had no attention whatsoever.  They are such a trip sometimes.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tomorrow, we ride!

I've always wanted to say that - lol!

Today, we played.  I buckled Sunny's halter on and hopped - or wriggled - on bareback and Sunny and I made a foray up to check on the gate they escaped through on Wednesday.  No hoofprints even close to it, so apparently they haven't been that eager to repeat their excursion.

In fact, there weren't too many tracks out into the snowy fields they do have access to.  Today was the first day since the snow that the wind has really died down, and from the looks of it they've been content to shelter in the dip where the bale is and munch.

Thunder didn't join us.  He's long since realized - as Sunny has - that these treks of ours around the fields, even when we disappear from sight, are of short duration.  He cocked a hip and watched up go, and didn't stir himself until we came back, when he moseyed over to have his ears rubbed.

I didn't ride for long - out away from the protection of the tree grove and hill the tiny breeze was enough to chill my fingers and toes, and I was sorry I'd shed my gloves before I got on.  I buried my fingers in Sunny's mane and steered with my legs.  We half-passed slant-wise up the hill and managed a fair turn on the haunches before making our way back down.  Spiral in, and trot off, slowing to walk the perimeter where the snow cover could potentially be hiding things to stumble over.
I practiced trying to stop him just be breathing out and pressing my seatbones down into the warmth of his back, but had better luck just breathing the word "whoa".  Instant stop, just add w-word.  We backed a circle, then walked forward into another spiral in.  Another halt, then I asked him to flex to my knee in both directions, and then repeated, but this time asked him to step over with his back end until he was straight again. 

Touching my toe with his nose.
For such a short-necked horse, he really is pretty flexible.  Sunny was warm and willing under me, the sun certainly felt good, and it was fun seeing his tracks marking our maneuvers through the frosting of snow.  Tomorrow it's supposed to be in the 40's and sunny again.  Crossing my fingers that the weatherman isn't being too optimistic, because I really want to get a serious ride in!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lesson day: Pride

So glad I'd already decided the boys were not going tonight.  The road over to Eric's was shiny, just greasy-glazed with ice.  I left early so I could go nice and slow, and I was glad I did.

Once I was in the nice warm barn, I didn't want to go back out - and Eric, who was fighting a nasty cold and had very little voice, didn't either.  I got to ride Pride.  He's so cute!  Have I mentioned he's a stallion?  You'd never know it - his manners are no different than any other horse in the barn, and he's not handled or treated any differently.  Plain web buckle halter and a cotton lead. 

The lesson was an interesting combination of hunt-seat and reining.  I got to do two-point in a western saddle, and practice spins.  My leg position (thanks to the two-point practice with Sunny) was much improved, but I'm collapsing my right shoulder consistently on lope departures, and I'm bracing into my stops.  Nice to know I'm at least being consistent!

So... I got to practice lope departures with the reins in my outside hand and my inside hand planted on Pride's butt.  Which both of us thought was odd, but it did work.  At least until I got to try with both hands again.  Sigh...  The good thing was lesson I was able to give Pride much clearer cues and at least he was making the transitions smoothly.

We did a lot of stopping.  And a lot of loping.  And after Pride spooked and bounced at the dog, I got a serious lecture on not bracing.  I stiffened up, which pushed my seat out of the saddle rather than sinking into it and going with him - I caught myself and Pride didn't take advantage, but it's apparently one bad habit Eric takes pretty seriously, as it was about as close to irate as I've heard him get. He reiterated that as much trail riding as I do, I MUST learn to go with  the horse or I'm going to end up on the ground. Crud!  I know that, too.  I just have a hard time translating the knowing to the doing.

Unfortunately it's one of those nasty habits I've had for a very long time - hopefully he'll be able to help me fix it.  And I could tell he was ready to get after me for it again, as he stopped discouraging the dog from playing in the arena, but he'll have to wait for another opportunity - neither the dog nor the horse cooperated.  But it's only a matter of time....

Cool down was basically just a few rounds of the arena to let Pride stretch his neck and back.  Living inside, he's pretty darn sleek and he's also in excellent shape - he wasn't the slightest bit sweaty when we finished, but I took some extra time brushing him off anyway.  He was a very good boy, even if I could feel him getting lazy on me toward the end of the hour.  All in all it was a good lesson, and as always I have plenty to think about and try to assimilate before next week.

I guess it had to happen sometime...

Mother Nature decided to send winter to visit us.  (I say visit, because Sunday it's supposed to be 50' again.)

Don't know what made me decide to check on the horses early today, but I was very glad I did.  Got to the farm to find that G had moved in a new bale for the horses, but the horses were nowhere to be seen.  No tracks in the new snow, either.

So I grabbed the halters and set off in search of the missing.  Sure enough, the gate out into the big cow pasture wasn't closed.

Do you see what I see?
That's right...
Ponies amid the cows
The cows said, "Ooh!  A scary person!"
The horses decided that the cows had the right idea.  It didn't help that the wind was blowing straight at me, making it hard for them to hear me call.

Run away!
Thankfully, the pony part of the equation stopped almost immediately, Sunny whinnied at me, and then the two of them headed back my way.  I caught Sunny first - the cows quick-stepped it for parts distant, and Thunder contemplated going with them.  Not good.  But he didn't really want to get too far from Sunny and I collared him before he'd had a chance to get far.

A prancing pony in each hand I started back - they were plenty wired, and I had my hands full. All the practice the three of us have had leading together this year paid off today for sure - if they weren't used to leading on either side and respectful about keeping slack in the leadropes, I'd have lost them a couple of times.  Complicating matters, the new snow covered over the many holes in the cow pasture.  Thunder and I managed to avoid them all, but Sunny stumbled into a shallow one and came up in a poof! of snow.  No damage done, thank goodness!

Back through the open panel into their pasture, another exercise in horse-juggling since we couldn't all walk through at once.  No place to secure them and the electric gate was down, too - so it was on through their pasture and up to the top lot.  I locked them in and they had a drink and a chance to scavenge the morning's windfall corn from the base of the big grain bin while I went back and secured the pass-through and restrung the electric gate.  Once that was done, I let them out again and they circled a few times while I cut the twine off their new bale.  They must have been tired from their adventure, because they settled down in a sheltered spot with their butts to the wind.  Nap time.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Changing shape?

What do you think - is he changing shape?  Other than getting rounder, I mean.

July 2011

October 2011
January 2012

Eric keeps saying Sunny's building muscle and that he can see a difference.  I can feel a difference in how he carries himself, but I don't really notice one looking at him - maybe there's too much padding!  Of course, I see him every day.

July 2011

January 2012

He's definitely fuzzier... I know the pictures aren't all taken from the same angle or in the same light, and it would be much better if he was standing the same way in all of them.   I'd love to hear some of your thoughts.

Another hour of riding with Sunny yesterday.  Pretty much a repeat of Saturday's schedule - bending for him, two-point for me.  I spent more time on spiral-in/out at the walk warming up though - it really seems to help him get stretched out, and he flexes better afterwards.
His monster-detector was registering something in the tree grove again, so he kept trying to hollow out and crane his neck to see what was in there traveling along the north side.  Probably just deer (or squirrels), but it did make things interesting.

About 40 minutes total with Thunder - 20 riding.  He's getting the hang of yielding and turning.  Walking off is still tentative, but watching his ears flick back and forth I can tell he's thinking hard.  He does show a strong inclination to want to ease back over to the trailer and Sunny - his security blanket - but even though he wanted to go that way, he turned back away willingly enough.  At least he wasn't seeing monsters in the tree grove! 

Saturday, January 7, 2012


It only looks like a bad hair day

Sunny and I put in just under an hour of work this afternoon.  I'm not entirely sure how successful my two-point practice was.  I wasn't brave enough to try it cantering, so I stuck to walk and trot, and he cooperated by motoring around in nice big circles on a loose rein.  I alternated my homework and homework for him - it was warm work despite the chill in the air.  He was dampish and I was too, by the time we finished.  He was more than happy to snooze by the trailer while I tacked up the next victim.

It was definitely starting to cool off by the time I got started with Thunder, so I decided to forgo the longeing part of the program and spend the extra time working on the cue for forward, alternating with asking him to give his face.  As I'd thought, the initial "Huh?" period was much shorter than last time.  Amazing how quickly they catch on given time to process.

When he was walking nicely off from a cluck and light stirrup bump, I checked the cinch and swung on.  He stood nicely - good boy! Click! Rather than monkey with the bit and bridle, I'd snapped the reins to the sidepull rings on his rope halter, and I left his leadrope on, as well, figuring if he decided to get rambunctious I'd probably have better luck getting him to stop with the lead on the halter than using a bridle, anyway at this stage of things.

I tugged gently on the right rein, and after a second or so of resistance, Thunder swung his nose around to touch my toe.  Click!  Good boy!  Repeat to the left.  Click! And again...  Okay, so that part of the lesson seemed to have percolated properly through his head... now to see if he'd walk off. Cluck, gentle nudge with the side of the stirrup and... Houston, we have ignition!

He stepped forward a bit hesitantly, but when I sat quiet, he continued on until I lifted the reins enough to for him to feel pressure, sat deep and said the W-word.  And the feet stopped moving.  GOOD BOY!!!  Click!

One success didn't mean we'd conquered forward movement completely, though. When I asked again, he seemed a bit confused.  But stepping backward didn't work, and turning his head didn't work, so after a little time to process while I continued to cluck and squeeze - being careful to keep my heels out of his sides, because Eeep!  I'd forgotten that I'd been riding Sunny with nubby, round-tipped spurs and I was still wearing them - he stepped forward again.  Could I direct our walk in a circle?  Why yes, I could.  Not a big circle and slightly wobbly, but a circle... and a figure-eight.  Another whoa, and then another circle.... 

At one point when we stopped again, I climbed down and led him back over to the trailer so I could grab the camera.  Silly maybe, but I wanted to document the occasion - not the first time I've sat on him, since I've been sitting on him bareback since he was three, but the first time we navigated anywhere under saddle and sans leader.

A couple more circles in each direction at the walk, and I called it a ride.  Only about 20 minutes, but progress.  The sun was sinking taking the warmth with it, and my fingers were starting to get numb, but it was definitely a good day!

Friday, January 6, 2012


The frozen tundra that was Jan. 2011...
I was sort of afraid to look back and see what my goals for 2011 were, considering how hectic the year ended up being.  But on the whole I don't think I did too badly.  In 2011 I resolved I would:
  1. Ride more
    Well, that I certainly did.  Not sure how many miles Sunny and I covered, but my Frequent Rider Log courtesy of the Arabian Horse Association shows a lot more hours than previous years.  And that's just Sunny - it doesn't take into account the times I rode Rufus or one of the other horses at J's, or my non-Sunny lessons.
  2. Take lessons
    I'm continuing to cover that base, too - although I got started later in the year than I'd planned, I'm having a great time.  I like horse homework!
  3. Conduct a tack clean-out
    C- on this one, and it's going to have to carry over to 2012.  I donated some odds and ends of things in good condition to the horse rescue booth at the SD Horse Fair for their tacksale table.  And I did manage to sell one saddle that I'm not using, but I acquired another one.  Things look pretty decent at the moment because three of them are currently in the trailer and three are at the saddler's being oiled.  And that's just the saddles.
Good marks for two out of three's not terrible.  And since I'm on a roll with numbers one and two, I think I'm going to have to carry all three over into 2012.  So:
  1. Ride more: Ideally, I want to put more hours on Sunny this year than I did last year.  And since I'm not spending the better part of the week 2 1/2 hours away, that's realistic.
    Ride Thunder.
    "Really, you're going to ride me?"
    Ride Rufus.
    Ride Amyra.
  2. Lessons:  Keep going with hunt seat with Sunny, and on reining with Amyra. 
    October - and you should see how much better we look now!
    Haven't decided which direction I'd like to go with Thunder, but if I get that far, some sort of lessons with him, too.
  3. Tack clean-out: Reduce, repurpose, recycle... Ebay.
    It's going to look this good again!
    However I do it, some of the surplus needs to go.
  4. Show:  At least one local show with Sunny, and -
    Okay, I'm getting butterflies just thinking about this one...
    At least one larger show (gulp!) with Amyra.
I think that's sufficient.  Given how my plans tend to work out, I'm sure looking back on this post at the end of the year will provide some entertaining memories, at very least.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lesson Day: Sunny, and a Bug. On the Windshield. In January. 'Nuf said.

My legs feel like jello.  

Eric watched without commenting much as I warmed Sunny up.  I used the full arena, asking him to collect, bend deep into the corners, shoulder-in and then haunches-in down the long sides, reverse and the same routine with the addition of a spiral in/out on one end.  Sunny was in fine form, ears flopping, chewing away.  I think he likes the warm weather, too. 

Once we we'd showed off some at the walk, earning ourselves a couple of compliments, it was up to posting trot and serpentines.  So much to think about - leg position, proper bend, switch diagonals... Oi! 

A break to stretch and breath, and then half pass, first left (very, very good!) and right... not so good, but it's his stiffer direction, so putting a few proper steps together in a row was an improvement, even if we couldn't get our act together for the whole way across.

From there it was back on the rail, collect, bend, and cue to canter - my nemesis. Sunny stepped off nicely, but I just wasn't able get my lower leg to stay where it should. And I have an equally tough time keeping my shoulders up and square and my back soft like I'm supposed to be doing.  But Sunny's upward transitions are continuing to improve - and using the whole arena it was much easier to keep him from breaking. 

Sunny is apparently doing so well that tonight 
it was my turn to be tortured into better form. 

Lucky me, I got to do walk, trot, canter in two-point.  At one point with both arms stuck straight out to the side like a toddler playing airplane.  Which worked, as it was supposed to, to make me balance.  But it sure wasn't pretty.

Since I had no intention of dragging on Sunny's mouth while I floundered, he basically pattered around the ring in sort of randomly circular pattern with a huge loop in his reins.  And bless him, he didn't take the opportunity to shy at any of the numerous things he could have. But I swear he was snickering.  At least until he figured out that he was going to have to keep going until I managed to find my balance.

It's been a while - years - since I did anything resembling a two-point.  And based on the position that Eric had me working on attaining tonight, I have a sneaking suspicion I've probably never actually done it properly anyway.  I'm still not anywhere near consistent, but at least I have a better idea of how it's supposed to work.  Apparently - and this just kills me - it's not supposed to be hard.  Sigh.  I'll believe that when I can do it without my legs wanting to fall off.

So aside from making Sunny laugh at me, keeping me doing two-point until my legs were whimpering was intended to improve a) my lower leg position,  and b) my upper body/shoulder position, which will in turn help Sunny.  Eric says it was working.  I did feel more secure in the saddle by the time we finished, but since my homework for next week is more two-point (Sunny's is more bend, collect-soften, release and stretch), I'm hoping it gets much better - or at least easier.  Quick!

On a completely different note, Eric reports Amyra is doing well.  I checked in on her as I've been doing after each lesson.  She was munching away at her evening hay, but left her meal to come get some attention.  Her stall is roomy, and the divider on one side is such that she can visit with her neighbor.  She looks glossy and happy, and I'm looking forward to getting enough reining lessons under my belt that I feel more confident about riding her.  But as long as it stays this warm, Sunny's on the hot-seat.

I'm so spoiled!

40 mph winds this weekend were a touch on the wild side for riding, so I'll give myself an out on that.  Even J and C didn't ride, and they're pretty diehard.  Monday was clear, crisp and still - with a high of 23' - but when I went out to check the horses, it was so gorgeous the cold didn't register.  I probably would have ridden if I'd taken a saddle along.

I was sure I'd ride Tuesday - it was supposed to be in the high 30's, and for winter in SD, that's darn pleasant.  Except I made the mistake of looking at the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.... Solidly in the 50's!  And by that I mean practically 60'. 

So I wimped out on Tuesday, but I did ride yesterday.  Since I have a lesson tonight and Sunny's had nearly a week off, I kept it slow and worked a lot on bending and flexing.  Funny to think when I started this process a few months ago I was keeping things slow because neither of us had a lot of control and I didn't want him getting away from me.  Now it's really only at the canter that we're still struggling consistently with collection.  Collection at the walk is hugely better, and yesterday he was finding the sweet spot at the trot, too.

I asked him for a couple of left lead canter transitions to build some energy, and got them.  They didn't come as promptly as they should, but better than they sometimes have, so...

Unfortunately, I'm still not comfortable feeling things, and I end up looking down more than I should to check my diagonals, etc.  Which isn't the greatest thing for muscle memory.

Sunny still felt just short in the front right, and right bend seemed tougher for him.  But he didn't seem put out or sore - he was rolling the bit around and slobbering, and his ears had that lovely floppy look to them that they get when he's relaxed and focused on what I'm asking for.

I focused on bend at the walk, with minimal trotting and no canter in that direction.  After warm-up, it was probably 40 minutes of work, but since I was working on homework (bend, soften to collection, commit, release and stretch down ) and he seemed to be getting it there was plenty of "release and stretch down".  Even at 57', it wasn't a sweaty workout by any means, and he barely had damp patches under the girth when I unsaddled. 

Thunder napped by the trailer with no banging or fuss while I worked with Sunny, and then stood nicely to be saddled.  I need to do some digging through my extra headstalls and find one that fits him better, as well as a different snaffle.  At this point he's just packing it, but I don't like the way the browband on the one I've been using sits - it's way to high by his ears, and it's made so it doesn't adjust up there.  And the bit squeaks.  He doesn't seem to mind, but it was annoying me.

Anyway, I let him wear it while I lunged him - 5 minutes or so in each direction.  Just long enough to see that he didn't have the sillies and make sure the saddle was sitting comfortably.  He was quiet and attentive in both directions, so I moved on. 

He needs to learn to give his face.  Right now, when he hits pressure on the halter he gives immediately, but he's having a hard time with the concept of "bend".  Instead of turning his head, he tends to back up.  So I worked on that with the reins snapped to the sidepull rings on his rope halter, and the clicker.  Which comes in very handy for reinforcing steps (or looking) in the right direction.  At the point of progress - a few turns in a row to each side without the feet moving - I moved on to something else.  He'll process, and next time will be better.

On to the next sticky point... forward.  He's used to being led from the ground.  Someone else's visible actions signal to him to walk on.  And he does - but from on top, there's no visible cue.  He has to walk off from a cluck and heel nudge.  And right now a heel nudge means pretty much nothing except move away.  So I worked on that - standing beside him.  Cluck and bump gently with the stirrup, walk a few steps and "whoa".  At first, the bump triggered move away sideways, since that's what he's always been asked to do.  But after a couple of repetitions with the clicker, he was starting to get it.

On to mounting and dismounting.  He's still thinking about it, but he stands relaxed and quiet.  Once I'd gotten on and off a few times, I asked him to bend again from on top, keeping my legs very quiet and just vibrating the left or right rein.  I could almost see the "click" in he head when he realized what I wanted and his nose started coming readily around to brush my boot toe.

Forward was tougher, and I'll reinforce there with more groundwork next time.  But we did manage a few forward (and more sideways) steps than backwards ones this time.  He's trying. 

Unfortunately, the farm owner didn't realize who I was working with, and I was still on top when she let Aisha, her mini-dachshund, out.  I heard the squeak of a hinge and Aisha's low-slung pudgy body exploded out of the house to the tune of her usual "hello world, you'd better get ready" barking.  Thankfully, we were facing that direction, because when Aisha realized I was there she raced right over to dance around Thunder's feet.  He's used to her, and wasn't too concerned, but with all her darting to and fro through the weeds and barking, I lost his complete attention.  Time to stop for the day.  A solid hour with him, though.

And believe it or not, I'm sore today.  Not my seat bones, but my legs - must have been all that bending and flexing with Sunny.  Apparently I used some unfamiliar muscles groups in a more controlled way, as well - LOL!