Monday, August 30, 2010

On the road again...

I love it when friends come over to ride with me. I love riding with my kid, but honestly, adult company is very welcome. It can get quite lonely riding by myself all the time!

We went out road riding on the rarely-traveled back roads. You know, the ones that are barely a full lane wide? Thought about riding through the bottoms but with harvest in full-swing, I didn't want to risk running into any extra-loud combines rumbling through the already-scary dry and noisy corn stalks. Especially not when Kayleigh was riding with us.

She enjoys riding ahead, blazing the trails and leading the pack. Good thing Chief doesn't really care where he is in the "pack." Gabe is asking, very nicely, if he can trot to catch up. He was quite well-behaved most of the ride. There were a couple of spook-n-scoot sideways moments, but nothing major.

Can you tell she loves that old App? He does good by her. She can hang all over him and he just takes it without twitching an ear.

Seriously Gabe. What's with the mane? Sheesh. Your stylist is not on the ball with this one.

We were out for a couple of hours and the horses were content to just plod along, heads low, hooves draggin'. And while I would have liked a little more "pep in the step" I'm not going to complain! Years of riding horses that jigged and wiggled and couldn't JUST WALK! on the trail sure makes my plod-along ride that much more appreciated.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Equine ADD

Some horses you can toss out in a pasture for months and they are exactly the same when you pull them back out for a ride. This is Chief. He can go unridden and unused for weeks at a time and there is never a moment when he "forgets" that it's his job to take care of his young rider. He's steady, ready and willing to march along and do his steady-eddy thing.

Then there are those who need regular reminder sessions. I call them ADD horses. They remember what they want when they want and are very, very easily distracted. My old TB mare, Star, was this kind of horse. Loved her to death and she was always fun (if sometimes a significant challenge) but the training could be trying. She was really, really good at forgetting everything if she got more than two days off at a time. That third day was spent catching back up and reminding her of everything she'd completely put out of her silly little head. Give her a week or more off and I practically had to start all over again. Moving forward and progressing was often a trial in two steps forward, one step back.

Gabe, he falls somewhere in between the two. Ridden regularly, which for me is at least four days a week if the weather, the mud, the daylight and the farm-work cooperate while the planets align, he is a delight. I can build on what we learned before and keep moving forward. I very much like forward progression, especially when I can see the goal getting closer and closer.

If he gets a solid week off I have to spend at least one riding session just reminding him that yes, he does know how to turn and trot nicely and not leap around like he's mounted to a pogo stick. And honestly, it doesn't even have to be a riding session, just some time in the long reins gets the brain ticking along the right track again.

I have managed to ride four times this week and the results have been nothing short of wonderful. Each ride is a little better than the last, his mind is in the game for longer each ride and I feel like we are clicking more often. The lateral work last night was the best yet after I spent a few minutes on the ground reminding him to move away from the pressure before getting into the saddle.

Circles are feeling less like taking a corner on a motorcycle and more like powering through each stride balanced and upright, as it should be. He still seriously pops that shoulder and crooks the neck to the outside tracking left...but it's slowly, incrementally getting better.

He is getting quicker off my leg for transitions (a few well-timed reminders with the dressage whip fixed his extended response delay to transition up cues) and I find I'm using my reins less and less and he "hears" my body cues more and more.

Clicking, connecting, understanding. It's a beautiful thing.

The corn still freaks him out but I'm starting to think it's an excuse for him to be a silly boy and test me. The corn has gone from lush and green to dry, brown and quite loud in the breeze. Our cool-down walk along the driveway was interesting as he flicked his ears at the rustling sounds coming from the field and snorted at it more than a few times.

Getting him anywhere NEAR those rows was fun, but I managed to get him close enough to encourage him to touch his nose to a single dried leaf. And wouldn't you know it, when he touched it, it rustled and moved and OH MY GOD! Tried to EAT HIM! He can definitely move laterally, quite quickly and with much agility and athleticism. Now I need to figure out how to harness that power and athleticism so he will do the same thing when I ask, not just when the corn attacks him.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pumping it up

The summer heat has definitely taken it's toll on the energy of all the horses, especially Gabe, it seems.

You'd never guess he was an off-the-track five-year-old Thoroughbred by his behavior under saddle. He can sure be lazy, lazy, lazy. I rode last night and had to get after him a few times to keep moving instead of dribbling into a Western pleasure horse trot with his nose to the ground.

I started our session on the ground working on yielding to pressure, moving his body away from first the pressure of my closed fist, then the palm, then my fingertips, finally, the tickle of my dressage whip, all on the ground. He's getting it. Slowly but surely it's making sense to him. You can almost see the little light bulb above his head growing brighter with each little bit of understanding.

I needed to really pump up his energy because he was dragging butt. Big time. He took long, low and slow to a whole new level of plod-along. Now, I KNOW this horse has energy and FORWARD when he wants. He just didn't want to. I don't blame him, it was kinda hot and the horses haven't had much relief from the heat this summer.

But I needed him to move forward to get some of the work done I wanted to get done. Trot poles are a great way to get him up and forward and really moving, so we went over those a few times and I could feel him starting to perk up.

A few leg yields to the rail down the long side were acceptable considering he's just starting to "get it." I try never to "over-drill" in any one thing. Keep their minds active and in the game and you have a much better chance of actually getting through those skulls without boring the snot out of them.

Then, I threw in a twist. So far I've been pretty content to let him trot at his own tempo and pace as long as he keeps moving forward without dribbling into a walk. Last night, I pushed him hard into an extended trot down the long side, then slowed into a more collected trot around the corners. He wasn't quite sure what to think at first but offered when I asked...and I took it. A few good extended trots and he was feeling more powerful and energetic again. He, amazingly, rounded into the bridle and I could feel his back lift and his hind end tuck under to work that trot. And work it he did. His extended trot, while no where near show arena ready, was like flying. All that power at my fingertips, literally, is so freakin' exhilarating in so many way. Flying. That's what we were doing, we were soaring together in delightful harmony.

I am kind of surprised at how adjustable he is at this stage. I slow and lower my posting, he slows with me, matching me. I speed it up a bit and make it bigger, he matches me stride for stride. This isn't him rushing around with his head in the air just going faster and faster and faster with short, fast little strides. The tempo remained nearly the same, it was just BIGGER. Those who have ridden dressage school-masters know what I mean.

And we cantered. Have I mentioned I love his canter? Pretty sure I have...a few times. The most amazing, up, powerful, forward, comfortable canter I have ever ridden. And no giraffe neck with a horrible hollow back! He actually lifts and rounds like he's supposed to. Delightful. I could ride it all day long! We did a few up and down transitions between the trot and canter and he's really starting to understand what I'm asking and paying attention to me, those ears flicking back and forth constantly, waiting and asking what to do next.

Tonight will be a relaxing ride, I believe. We'll see how he's feeling, but I see a few trails through the woods in our future.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The rearview

We finally got a decent break in the heat and I was able to work Gabe a bit. Not in the saddle though. After Sunday's ride I decided we needed a bit more ground work on moving away from the leg and making circles without our head swung to the outside.

So we did just over an hour of groundwork in the long reins. It's great exercise for the "rider" to have to run along with the beast to get the work done! I was definitely dripping sweat more than he was by the time we accomplished some of the goals I had.

Long and low and relaxed. Look at how nicely he's marching forward! I almost have to jog to keep up with his working walk. I want to note that I do not have the long reins attached correctly for more advanced long rein work. I had them running through the rings of the surcingle and clipped directly to the bit because we were just working on turns and very, very low-level lateral movements. When I want to work him on correct bend, higher level lateral movements and really working that hind end I'll thread the reins through the bit and then clip the ends back to the surcingle on a higher ring where it will give a different action and effect on his mouth.

Starting to get a wee bit of hind end cross-over on lines. It took FOREVER to get just this little bit of sideways movement. Gabe is having a really hard time figuring out exactly what I'm asking when I nudge him over: It's like his brain just isn't connecting to the pressure on his side. He's the same way standing at the hitching post. He just doesn't get it when I tap him to move over. This issue is going to be my top priority until the little bells go off in his Thoroughbred mind and he has an "AH HA!" moment.

All in all, a good session. I got lots of hugs afterwards. This horse makes me so happy...I love his guts!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is it fall yet?

What I love most about summer: The heat.
What I hate most about summer: The heat.

I guess there's just no pleasing some people!

I look forward to every summer and the chance to ride every day if I feel like it. In my somewhat skewed memory, summers as a horse-crazy teen were dry and hot and windy — that hot, dusty summer smell mingling so perfectly with the scent of my mare's sweat sticky-slick on my shorts-clad legs and that delightful horse aroma enveloping me as we went wherever our imaginations would allow. The occasional dip in a nearby creek or swim across the river cooled our dusty skin. We dried quickly, that hot wind evaporating the water and the sweat and leaving us appropriately cooled in the process.

Heat has never bothered me.

But these summers in Illinois are different than those I grew up with in Kansas.

They are hot and disgusting: A sticky, wet, muggy, suffocating heat that leaves little energy or desire to do anything but sit around in the air conditioning and curse the summer. And that means very little energy to ride. The endless days of dangerous heat advisories haven't helped matters much as I pace inside and beg for a breeze, a dip in temperature, a cool fall morning.

There is no constant wind to dry the sweat. There is only sweat that soaks and drips and drenches and clothes that cling uncomfortably to every inch of covered skin. There is no relief, just relentless, brutal heat.

My horses come in from the pasture drenched in sweat and drooping from the tips of their ears to the ends of their tails. The horse flies have been absolutely unforgiving this summer and no amount or brand of fly spray deters them. Who wants to ride when the horse is already exhausted and miserable? Not me.

I just want to ride. I need to ride. I dream about riding. I rode Sunday but it was a short ride just to get on and do my soul good. It did a lot of good but I need more!

I hate Illinois summers. Hate. Them.

You see, the bitter cold I can deal with. As long as my face isn't getting frostbitten, I'm outside. The dry heat I can deal with. This boil-water-on-your-skin and suck the life out of you humidity? Not so much.

Please fall, arrive soon? I miss you much. I'm so totally over summer.