Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sneaking in a Ride

I hadn't expected to ride today - the high was only supposed to be 13F, which is too cold for me.  But the bright sun pushed the temperatures above 15F in the early afternoon, and the temperatures didn't start falling again as early as they had predicted - it's supposed to get to -5F tonight with wind chills of -25F.  I grabbed the opportunity and took Red for a ride - Dawn, Pie and Missy got good groomings - Pie has a very large hematoma on his neck, so I wouldn't have ridden him anyway - looks like another horse bit him without really cutting the skin but really held on.

I wanted to see how Red would be after his moment of obnoxiousness two days ago.  I'm pleased to say that, despite the presence of a horse in the ring galloping around and then being dragged to a halt and aggressively backed - over, and over again - and then whacked hard with a crop every time he shied or spooked (I don't endorse such "training" methods) - Red was perfect.  Red sometimes gets alarmed when other people are aggressive with their horses, which is understandable.  Today he stayed with me and didn't worry too much.

I did a few reinforcements of his leading manners as we left the barn to go to the arena, and while we were leading to the mounting block.  This mostly consisted of stopping and starting and softly asking him to back out of my space.  He did this without trouble.  I'm particularly pleased to report that, when I went to put the reins over his head as we were getting ready to mount up, he considered - for only a fraction of a second - nipping at my hand but instantly decided on his own not to do that - good Red.

Our ride was uneventful - in fact it was excellent - lots of nice, forward, relaxed trot work.  Just the ticket for a very cold day.  Things are gradually starting to warm up beginning tomorrow, so there will be more rides in the near future . . .

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Three Good Rides, and Red is a Tad Obnoxious

Riding days are few and far between, with our extremely cold weather.  Normal highs this time of year are around 35F - we've been in the single digits and sometimes teens and rarely 20s.  Today it actually got up into the 20s, and it won't be that warm again for several days (and hasn't been since Saturday), so we took full advantage.  The wind was bad - lots of noise in the arena.

Pie was up first.  We got to ride in an empty ring, and he was wonderful - very forward but responsive and soft.  We did some work on our canter circles - we've been tending to lose his hind end to the outside, and I needed to support more with my outside leg.

Missy was next.  We started in an empty ring, and she was a bit worried about that.  We did some leading work and standing around.  When I got on, we did lots of smallish circles at the walk to help her relax and stretch down.  Once another horse came into the ring, she was more comfortable.  We did more walk figure work, and once she was halting off my intent, things were better.  Someone came into the ring and started lungeing with lots of aggressive whip cracking, so I got off for a bit and stood with her - she kept looking at me and touching me with her nose for reassurance.  Pretty soon she was OK with that and I got back on.  At the end of our ride we did about two minutes of sustained trot work - 4 times around the ring - in each direction.  I wanted forward and some tries towards softness - she did great.

Red was last.  The whole time I was riding Pie and Missy, he hung by his stall door, not touching his hay.  He was clearly interested in coming out and doing some work.  He was on alert in the arena - the doors were banging and there was a mare working in there.  When I went to put the reins over his head, he attempted to nip my hand.  Um . . . no . . . I don't think so.  We had a conversation about that and did some more leading work, including having him back out of my space.  He hasn't attempted to nip in a long time - he used to be quite inclined to bite (and do lots of other things I won't mention) when I first got him.  This was a combination of his needing to be in control when he was nervous, and also him being full of himself and even a bit studdy.  Hard to tell what brought it on today - he was very much on his mettle, there was a mare in the ring, and he'd perhaps had some studly memories triggered by seeing the mare from his old barn.  I noticed him a couple of days ago aggressively pushing another gelding around in the pasture, so that could be it. Or perhaps he was just feeling fresh and needing some exercise - he did one big head shake while we were trotting, or perhaps he was annoyed because I rode him last (Red cares about that sort of thing).  None of that really mattered, I just got on and rode him the way I wanted him to go.

Our ride was pretty good - he was extremely forward and even showing off for the mare in the ring - his trot was very animated.  There was one scoot/bolt when someone, instead of tapping on the big arena door to say they were coming in, slammed on it - right behind Red. It took a while to get relaxation and softness, but we did, including some nice stretching down.  We also took advantage of his animated gaits to do some very nice lateral work.  Red's a challenge to ride at times, and I always need to be sure his ground manners stay appropriate, but he's a delight as well.

We've got some more very cold weather coming, and then the weekend looks possible for riding . . .

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Limitations of Technique

A very nice, and profound, post by Mark Rashid on the limitations of technique and "training".  For me, the concept of just simply riding the horse you way you'd like him/her to go, and offering the feel of that to the horse, and having the horse join you there, is at the center of horsemanship and can be transformational, for you and your horse - I know it has been for me and my horses.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Relaxed at 15 Degrees

It was a sunny day with not too much wind, but the temperatures didn't make it to 20F.  I went to the barn not really intending to ride - it was supposed to get much colder in the afternoon but by the time I got everyone groomed, it was still 15 degrees and one other boarder was riding, so Red and I ended up having an excellent ride.  He managed well yesterday with all the distractions, but I wanted to see if we could have a relaxed, stretching down ride so I took my chance - I didn't want to leave him where he was yesterday.  He had behaved very well under challenging conditions yesterday, but although we managed a bit of relaxation by the end of our ride, it wasn't as much as I'd like.

Even though conditions were very cold, he was just wonderful.  Lots of very nice, forward, stretching down trot with very good engagement behind and excellent stepping under with the inside hind on turns and circles.  There was a pile of new stuff in one corner - hay bags and buckets for the pasture horses who are staying in the indoor arena tonight - Red gave this the hairy eyeball a few times but then was just great.  We kept our work session fairly short since he was doing so well.  When we were done, I asked him to stand in the center of the arena while I picked up some manure.  He did that beautifully as well, watching me as I walked around as well as observing the other horse and rider.  People are often surprised that Red and Pie do this for me - I never "trained" them to do it but just asked them, and they willingly comply.

By the time I got home, it was down to 11F, and after I went out for a quick dinner a couple of hours later, it was 6F.  Going to be a cold one, with no riding tomorrow  . . .

Red Remembers Too

I had an enjoyable afternoon yesterday, and all three of Missy, Red and Pie and I had rides together (Dawn and I spent time in the morning grooming).  I had planned to ride Missy and Red, but hadn't been able to ride in days due to the weather, and it's getting very cold and windy again starting today, so no rides again for a while.  I thought Pie would appreciate getting out and stretching his legs a bit - the pastures are snowy and icy and very chopped up so there's little chance for the horses to run around.

All rides were excellent.  Missy and I did started our real trot work - we'd trotted before but only briefly - since her softness, relaxation, stretching down and bending at the walk were going very well.  Yesterday, all we worked on was maintaining forward at the trot and asking for stretching down and relaxation - we only got a few moments of that but it's the first step and that was very good.  I was also very pleased that, only one day after her hoof trim, she was completely sound at the trot.  She seems comfortable now on all surfaces, both hard and soft, at five weeks out of shoes, even though she's still got a lot of changes to her hooves to make.

The ring was extremely crowded for my rides on both Missy and Red (Pie and I had an empty ring, which was lovely and allowed us to do some nice canter work), and they both dealt well with that.  I was riding Red when the arena door opened and the new mare (the one Dawn remembered) was led into the ring for a hand walk around.  Suddenly, Red was on fire - his head went up, his neck was arched, his eyes were on stalks and he was intensely focussed on the mare, he was sniffing loudly and wanted to follow her around.  As we did our work, he was on springs - extremely forward and animated in his gaits.  He usually notices new horses, particularly mares, but this reaction was much more extreme.  We kept working until he relaxed a bit.

And then I remembered - Red knew the mare too!  He was only at the old barn for a year before we moved over here, and was never in the mare's herd, but was stalled next to her and saw her every day.  I think this is a good reminder of how social horses really are, and how important their relationships to other horses, even relationships that aren't that close, are to them.  It'll be interesting to see how Red reacts the next time he sees the mare.