Monday, October 26, 2009

Back in the saddle... but making bad choices

Well, we did it... we got back in the saddle! Well first we got back into the bareback...

Saturday I was determined to ride, but didn't have much time since I was at a church thing until 4:30. So I hopped on the old mare bareback knowing that Bear would run around the pasture and get his kicks out. It works great really. He charges around and bucks, plays, and jumps over the logs that are out there, and generally gives himself a good workout, and as long as he doesn't get to frisky next to us, he's allowed to let loose, because he's quite literally loose! So once he was all warmed up, I pulled him into the round pen and let the mare go. I threw a bridle on and worked him from the ground just a little, bending, moving his haunches and his shoulders, then set in up next to the fence and got on. This was actually the first time I'd been on without the bareback pad, so I was worried my butt bones would poke his back to much, but he didn't react to that at all. We just did some easy turns and halts and then opened the gate and backed out, all pretty snazzy! Then we walked around the pasture and over the logs. His only problem was that he was a little reluctant to go down to the lower pasture and thus out of sight from the old mare. So we went down anyway, did a couple more things down there, and then I hopped off for the day. Over all really good! Especially since I was daring to get on him bareback after three weeks of not even seeing him!

So after our success on Saturday, I got a little too cocky on Sunday. I take all the blame for the frustrating ride we had, I did not really set us up for success. I wanted to ride out from the property, and didn't want to pony the old mare, so I took Bear alone. We've done this before, but its been ages, and he was used to being taken places without the old mare. But with the summer off, he hadn't been out of her sight since early May. So he was that annoying zig zagging horse that is always thinking about home instead of forward. I pushed him forward into a trot a couple times just to get the forward, and he knocked off the zig zagging. Then we get to the gate and I start to ask him to side up next to it, something we've done hundreds of times, with this gate and others, and he starts to have a little tantrum! Let's just say that he got very light in the front!!! He didn't rear, but his front feet weren't fully on the ground either! NAUGHTY!!! So he got to practice trotting around in tiny circles in front of the gate! Then I hopped off and he got to practice going through that gate properly from the ground. After side passing, pivoting and standing quietly at the gate, I got back on and continued riding like nothing had happened.

He was good for a while, but then I had yet another error in judgement! I took him down the tiny trails instead of sticking to the back roads that we know so well. He got nervous and started rushing everything. I let him go along at a loose rein, as long as he didn't break into a trot, hoping that he would regulate his walk himself. He didn't and when I finally paused to really look at the trail, he started throwing a bit of a tantrum again, and started hollering to the mare! Now, we're probably 4 miles away from the mare now, he can't hear her! But he was feeling nervous and frustrated and obviously all my neglect has taken a toll on my alpha horse status! So we happened to be in a spot on the trail that is maybe 5 feet wide and 20 feet long, so I start circling him, and trotting him up and down the length stopping and turn him at the ends, and eventually I stop in the middle and stand on a loose rein. The moment he starts walking off, dancing around, or other wise being crabby I start again. At some points he slid off the side of the flat spot, or tried running up the bank on the other side, all of which threw him off balance and make him work harder to keep his feet under him. If he hollered to the mare again, I'd back him, just to get his attention back. I thought it would only take 5 minutes, it took WAY longer. At then end of sweat dripping eternity, he stood stock still for a whole minute, and I simply got off, took off his bridle and led him graze a few feet away.

Then we started to walk back! These are tricky little trails, and I shouldn't have even been on them. So I made the first good decision of the day, and walked. His issues were not stopping or turning or having me on him, his issue was listening to me and trusting me, and that is something that we can work on from the ground just as well as on top, better on the ground in this case. He had to walk next to me, not ahead, and he had to fall in behind me on the really narrow trails. He wasn't allowed to push past me, pass me on the other side, and if he pushed into me or stepped on my heels, he got a lead rope swat or some sort of thump to the chest for invading my space. Back to learning to lead! I got turned around and we ended up on tiny deer trails, not the actual trail, but we made it out. Once back at the road I put the bridle on and hopped back on. He was very forward now. So we just started the simple pattern of each time he broke into a jog, we'd stop, back a few steps and then carry one on a loose rein. He caught on quick. Funny thing was he was not dead set on going straight home! We all know that horses know the shortest route to home or the trailer, and a barn sour horse will suddenly quicken its pace at the exact halfway mark of a loop like they know they've just begun to head home! He usually is slower going home, like he's sad the adventures over. So although he was being quick, he still wanted to take all the detours like he usually does! Silly boy... so at one point we had a grassy stretch, not heading towards home, but another detour off the road. So I asked him to trot, and allowed him to go into a lope, and for that stretch let him open up and really move out. At the end of the stretch was a fence, so an easy enforcer, but he stopped very nicely when I said whoa, and we went back to walking! Again, if I had even thought of cantering the crabby old mare when she was having a barn sour day she would have pranced, poured sweat and shook her head all the way home! So I have to acknowledge the positives that he was still listening to what I was saying, going forward, stopping, and keeping at a walk.

The problem was that I had created an idea in my head that wasn't realistic for him, and therefor felt like a frustrating failure every step of the way. Overall it was a frustrating ride, but not a detrimental one. Despite the fact that the problems that had to be addressed had been created out of poor judgement, I think we probably accomplished quite a bit in the course of the ride. I don't think that I left him traumatized, I don't think he was left thinking tantrums we're ok either. Its a fine line when you're doing a battle of the wills. At some point you make it worse by creating a battle out of nothing, but some behaviours can't be tolerated. Nervousness is alright, dancing about and considering walking around on two feet is not! But at the end of the ride he was responsive enough to open and close the gate to the pasture, and he was dry. I figure if a horse has had enough time to dry, they've probably relaxed enough to call it stopping on a positive note!

Friday, October 23, 2009

No time for the poor pony!

Oh, poor and neglected Bear… so right after my last post I trailer Bear out to the really easy trail, and did the “pony him off the old mare then switch and pony her off him” trick. It’s working better and better! He is getting used to her being in a different position, it really frustrated him to have her back by his flank for awhile. We even trotted down the trail a bit and he settled into a nice relaxed trot on a loose rein. Such an nice treat. We also got out to the arena and had a very productive workout both on the lunge and under saddle. We’re starting to get the hang of half-halts to rebalance his trot, but after all this time off and sporadic work his canter is very weak and off balance. He just needs to get into shape again.

That was at the end of September. Then the first Monday in October I started a new job, spent most of my free time doing wedding stuff for a friend, and then spent over a week house sitting. So I have hardly even seen Bear!

Winter is coming, and with that all sorts of new needs to meet. I feel pretty good about his feed and keeping his weight up better than last year, but I still need to figure out a couple things. Firstly I blanketed him last year, and with that blanket he hardly grew any hair. He’s out in pasture full time, but has a shelter to get into so he doesn’t absolutely need to blanket for rain protection. I mainly blanketed to keep the heavy winter coat off since I was working him at nights and wanted to make sure he’d dry easily if he really got worked into a sweat.

~He was almost always clean except his neck and legs, which were covered in mud because he lies down and rolls often.
~He grew very little hair and looked sleek and pretty and never got lathered up from work.
~He is naturally a lean athletic horse and I think the blanket helped keep weight on him.

~The extra time and hassle to un-blanket and then re-blanket during the days (as long as it was warm and dry enough).
~He is VERY hard on blankets. His blanket from last year was fixed twice and when he broke it a third time in early spring it got retired to emergency blanket status.
~His shoulders got rubbed.
~He runs around and plays a lot, and blankets, despite being for turnouts, are not designed to be galloped in.

So this year I haven’t started to blanket yet, and it’s starting to get pretty cold at night. So far he is not fuzzy, at least not like the old mare. I’m curious to see what kind of winter coat he would get, but I’m afraid it won’t be much. I think I may have convinced myself to start blanketing again, I just need to see what I can do to address some of the problems.

Secondly, I need to figure out a riding schedule. I don’t have the night classes in the indoor with him until January, I work too far away now to ride at lunch, and pretty soon it will be dark by the time I get home. I am looking for places that let you haul in to use their indoor at nights, but that gets costly on a regular basis, so maybe just finding a trainer that will give after work lessons which I am willing to spend money on. I am seriously considering setting up lights at home, but the pasture is not as flat and safe as arena footing. Night trail rides (in safe, level, non-cougar places of course) would be a good challenge, but really I shouldn’t do that alone.

Thirdly, which really ties right into secondly, I will get out to ride more often if I could take my boyfriend along. The old mare is crotchety and set in her ways, so she’s not actually the best beginner’s horse. She is well trained with me on her, and I feel confident that she’ll do anything I need, but she puts up an attitude when my mom rides her. She also can get very anxious and prance on the trail when we turn towards home. SO in many ways she can make herself a frustrating horse to ride. That leaves three and a half year old Bear as the better beginner option. Of course that seems silly, which is why I haven’t actually made this happen yet! I had been hoping to have my sister get on him first since she’s more of an intermediate rider, but she’s pregnant and not allowed on horses. So eventually I will make Bear and the boyfriend into riding buddies, but I think they are both going to find it boring because of all the safety limits I put on them! To start out they won’t be allowed off of the lunge line or lead rope (I plan to pony them down the trails). Even with these restrictions I want to make sure Bear is 100% mentally and physically back into working mode. (Having a beginner bounce around on his back will be easier if he’s got a strong back and a balanced trot.)

So I have a whole lot to think about! Well I hope to be back on the boy in the next few days