Monday, February 28, 2011

A Snowy Gallop and ...Trails?

Winter wonderland has returned here to Spokane. Saturday's high was 17 I think so I didn't really even bother to leave the condo. I'm staying with my mom as my house has mold issues and the insurance/contractor are trying to get their -stuff- together so it can get fixed. Stalling? Noooooooooooo, surely not. My parent's have cable tv, which is about a million stations I've never even heard of before. It's like crack.

Sunday was a little warmer and I thought I could ride around on the driveway that loops around the barn as the arenas are slippery and full of snow. Unfortunately the driveway was really slick from cars packing the snow down, so the only option was to head out on the trail and through the frozen snowy hay fields.

We hit the first hay field at a very brisk walk. He asked to trot. We trotted, he asked to canter multiple times until I let him. There was about a foot of snow but he didn't seem to be slipping or sliding around, and by the time he was allowed to canter we were at the base of a hill that connects to another hay field. I let him stretch out a little, which was pretty exciting for both of us, and once we hit the top of the hill he very reluctantly came back down to a walk.

The next field is a lot bigger, and instead of following the trail that loops around to the left he chose to head for the biggest, longest, steepest hill at a trot. Then a canter. Up, up, up we went... I braced my hands at the base of his neck and he settled into a nice rhythm through the field. Until the terrifying pile of brown stuff showed up. He spooked, but I'm pretty sure it was just an excuse to take off. It's the first time he's taken off with me. With each bound I'm sure the 100s of acres were calling to him, telling him "look at how much space there is, go faster! faster! faster!" Luckily he's really not that strong (as in determined) and I got him pulled up before things got really out of control. We circled back and oh, the brown stuff is not that scary after all. Here, let me step through it. Then we cantered NICELY for a little bit more to prove we could. Then had a discussion about walking and NOT prancing. One of my biggest pet peeves, the prancing thing. After we got out of the field and onto a narrow trail in the woods he relaxed quite a bit.

All in all the ride was probably 20 minutes. The last 10 were on a loose rein through the woods and back to the barn. He walked through the last field, down the hill, and back to the barn with no problems. Got lots of and lots of praise. Gotta end on a good note.

What are your trail expectations? When you are on a trail ride or out hacking do you have a different set of rules for your horse than when you're in an arena?

My expectations on trails are that my horses walk on a loose rein. I don't care how fast they walk (mine always seem to be speed walkers), or if the meander around a little bit, but they may not prance or break gait without permission. Alexandre (not mine anymore) often stops to take in the views, especially when he's on top of a hill or overlooking a valley. He stops on his own to catch his breath on hills and will continue on when he's ready. He also "S" curves down the trail and sometimes chooses to walk through the woods. He's always happy and interested in his surroundings. I know I could keep him on the straight and narrow, but I let him choose his own path cause he enjoys it.

Jasper is not as confident as Alexandre, and is still learning how to stay on a trail. When he wonders off into the woods, which happens often, it's because he gets distracted by, well... everything. I try to use leg pressure to keep him on the trail rather than reins. I let him meander off into the woods every now and then, and he often gets himself in situations that he can't get out of (uh, gee, there's a big downed tree here and bushes on all sides, uh, duh. Or hey, I'm on top of a cliff of shale, can't really walk down that, uh...) but I figure he'll learn how to plan ahead and find a path eventually. I like to let horses use their brains and make decisions for themselves as much as possible. Alexandre can be in the deepest, darkest woods and can always find a way out. Jasper's just learning to walk through the woods and not get stuck.

And I almost always have light/medium contact at the trot and canter as the need for speed requires half halts.

Do you ride on a loose rein? Keep contact? Are you in control of your horse's every move? Let them make decisions and think for themselves?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Running and bucking and riding, oh my...

Jasper's scar is pretty much as healed up as it's going to get. You can still see where line where the skin was stitched together and there are a few extra folds here and there, but the hair is growing back and after that it will be almost invisible.

Last weekend I wanted to ride, it has been almost 2 months and we needed to start out slow, like walking for 10 minutes at first and building up. The problem was that I wasn't ready to head down the road and the smaller arena is still muddy and slick with a few areas of super muck. I decided there are two ways to look at it. One is that the arena is dangerous because it is muddy and slick, and if Jasper freaks out/bolts/bucks/etc. he has a high possibility of slipping/falling/injuring us. The other is that the arena is muddy and slick and Jasper would have enough self-preservation to NOT freak out/bolt/buck/etc. I decided to trust him and go with the second train of thought.

He was basically a good boy. Tense but good. Couldn't stand still after mounting (nothing new here), and had a few moments of feeling rein pressure and shaking his head and rooting. Even did a few trot steps on the dry stretch. He was trying really hard to be good. The horses in the pasture by the arena started trotting around and he totally jumped inside his own skin, then stopped himself from reacting, jump stop jump stop jump stop. I know my adrenaline was through the roof but in the end he kept it together and walked off.

This past week I only got out to the barn a couple of times and took him to the larger outdoor at the bottom of the hill. He went ballistic. Sprinting down the sides, sliding and hopping and bucking around the short side, then gathering speed into a full out fast-as-you-can-go sprint down the long side again. Throw in many bucks and kicks, grunts and squeals. I don't encourage him. I just stand in the middle of the arena and watch in awe, and cringe as the end of the arena gets closer and closer and he hasn't checked his speed yet. And as he hits a slick spot and slides around.

Since he was free lunged yesterday, and because there were other people around, I decided to try riding in the larger outdoor. The smaller one is a swamp. It was... exciting. He was pretty much looking for any excuse to increase speed. Many, many, many very nice but not asked for canter transitions. There are lots of reasons for cantering. Slight inclines, circling, slight declines, going down the long side, going down the short side, cues for leg yielding, tripping, sliding, going by the pole bending poles, going over the trot poles, going by the barrels, going by the people sitting at the picnic table. A gust of wind. Another horse trotting. Someone opening a gate. I found myself laughing out loud a couple of times, I mean come on, doofus!

For the most part I ignore the bad and praise the good. I ride through the small bucks and crow hops and back legs kicking out. I ride through the head shaking and spooks. When we are heading for complete meltdown though, I circle. When he stops, the head goes up and and shakes and he starts jackhammering with all 4 legs I pull his head to my leg and circle. It works for me. It allows him to keep moving but keeps him on the ground. Usually he stops on his own, I release, pause for a few moments to regroup, and then continue on in whichever gait we were in before meltdown. I'm pretty sure I would be criticized for this by many people except cowboys... but I feel like it keeps me from getting into battles with him.

And he feels sound. This was reinforced when he was good for an entire circle so I got off and removed his tack. He ran and ran and ran, (dripping with sweat and foam in a full winter coat, ugh) and for the first time since the injury stayed on the right lead for extended lengths of time. It was his right fore that was injured, and up till now would canter and gallop around on the left lead only.

So now I need to start riding consistently and start building muscle back up. Start treating him like an out of shape horse rather than an injured one. I believe that Jasper is back. Woot!

I'm not exactly what he's doing here other than frantically digging. When he's bored he walks up to you, enters your space bubble, and starts pawing. Soooo (ahem) 'cute'.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Freedom & an Indoor!

I wish I would have had a video camera the day Jasper got his run back. It was lightly raining and muddy, but I decided to let him out anyway since it was supposed to keep raining for the next couple of days and it was time for him to get out of his stall. The vet did give me the option of riding him at a controlled walk before turning him out, but when I explained it would have to be down the driveway or out on a trail we both agreed to let the little velociraptor have his run back first.

I put him back in his stall after rearranging the fence line. He calmly walked out and it took him a minute to register there wasn't a gate holding him back from freedom anymore. His run is huge, kind of a small paddock and runs the entire length of the outdoor arena. Have you seen those cartoons where the character spins out, dirt flying up behind them but they don't go anywhere? I was plastered with mud and dirt chunks while he tried to grab hold of the footing and accelerate from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds flat. The bucking, crow hopping, squealing, grunting, sliding, and airs above ground that followed were definitely video worthy but I didn't even bring a regular camera. He looks good to me, granted it was a little hard to tell but he didn't seem to favor the right shoulder at all.

It's about a week later now and all of the swelling has gone down. I've taken him on a few more walks and velociraptor has turned back into brontosaurus. Still alert, but more interested in trying to eat the moldy dead weeds along the driveway. Seriously mellowed out.

And I got the best news ever from Norm, the barn owner. They're putting in an indoor arena!!! I think it's going to be 70x120 or close to it. It will completely change everything in terms of training when the weather is crappy. I can't imagine being able to ride all winter and spring, even when the footing is a big sloppy mess.