Monday, March 1, 2010

A Different Ride

Sofie's brains appear to be back. Last Friday I had a good ride on her in the arena, and on Saturday I brought her in and we groomed her while a bunch of Pony Club people were rushing around, opening and closing doors, bringing in horses, etc. She got pretty high-headed but never moved her feet, and I was very proud of her. It was a good experience for her to just stand there and get used to the commotion, since we may be trailering her to a nearby barn for a lesson with the excellent dressage trainer I mentioned, since he will not come to us (even though it is only a fifteen mile trip for him, and it would be a lot easier/less costly for him to drive to my barn than for me to haul my horse to his barn, but oh well, that's dressage divas for you). On Monday I rode her in the arena again and we got an opportunity to practice working through tension and anxiety, since one of the other boarders was wandering around the mare pasture calling her horse's name over and over and talking to her. So we were inverted and anxious for a while, but once we started our trot work in only took a few neck rubs for her to relax and stretch down.

But I must confess that much as I love Sofie, I've been cheating on her. Though I don't really think she minds, except that she has to share her bit with the other horse, so her nice hay-and-slobber patina gets ruined.

Sam is a Quarter Horse/Arab/Percheron cross gelding that I began riding last month. The majority of the horses at my barn are rarely ridden, so I decided I might as well see if any of the owners were interested in having their horse exercised, my reason being that every horse is different, every horse requires a different ride, and every horse is a learning experience. Having another horse to ride would also help me get in better shape, and I knew Sofie probably wouldn't mind sharing me. My first choice was a crossbred gelding named Baruch, who is absolutely gorgeous and built for dressage, with lovely gaits. His owner was willing to let me ride him, but after speaking to the barn owner (who knows absolutely everything about all the horses at her barn, and isn't shy about telling you all the gory details) I learned that he acts up on the crossties, sometimes rearing and becoming dangerous, and he has also bucked his owner off. Several times. Which earned him his early retirement. No thanks, I'll just admire him as he gallops around the field.

So then I called Sam's owner, since he seemed like the next best thing, and appeared to be well trained. I knew his owner let him get away with all kinds of crap on the ground (he's her "baby") and that his ground manners were nonexistent, but I also knew that when his mommy wasn't around and he was handled by people who didn't think he was such a cute widdle horsey, he got rapidly better.

The first time we worked with him, his ground manners were atrocious. He was used to recieving a steady stream of carrots while being groomed/tacked up/messed with, so when we attempted to bridle him without meeting his treat quota he had a hissy fit, stuck his head waaaaaaay up in the air (he is fairly tall, and part Arab, so yeah, he can really get that head up when he wants to!) and clamped his mouth shut. It didn't help that his bit was a single-jointed snaffle. I've never met a horse who liked one of those, except for Sofie when I tried her out, and that might have been because she was used to a Tom Thumb bit and a tie-down. *shudder* But we got the bit in his mouth eventually.

His saddle was problematic, too, because apparently whoever stuffed it was a wool flocking Nazi ("No more wool flocking! No more wool flocking!") So while the tree appeared the fit him well, the panels were pathetic, and the saddle sloped ridiculously to the rear. It doesn't help that Sam's built uphill. But we finally got him tacked up and out to the arena, and we brought out the three-step mounting block (oh yeah, the big guns). Then of course he didn't want to stand for mounting (might as well complete the trifecta of bad manners, eh Sam?).

The first ride was a bit awkward. I couldn't balance to save my life in that saddle, especially at the posting trot (posting uphill = impossible), and Sam was having some rushy tendencies, so I wound up just posting faster faster faster as he trotted faster faster faster. His movement is different than Sofie's, fairly smooth, but not as forward and a little more up and down, so I was using different muscles than usual, which wore me out. But I had fun, and he was a good boy for me. It was nice to ride a horse that just went, didn't question things or have much of an opinion.

At the end of the ride my mom said "Let's check your stirrups, 'cause you were really crooked the whole time." Turns out one of the stirrups was three or four inches longer than the other one! Always check your stirrups when you ride in someone else's saddle, kids!

I rode him again in a few days, and he was already better behaved. Then I got busy and couldn't ride him for more than two weeks. I finally got a chance to work him again, and when I went out to the gelding pasture he was quite a ways out (the gelding pasture is HUGE. I leased a gelding there one winter, and he would let me catch him, but I always had to walk to him. All. The. Freakin'. Way. In the snow, and cold, with other obnoxious geldings coming up to me going "Wanna play? Wanna play? Got any treats"? and me going "No, but I DO have a longe whip, and I WILL beat you with it."). So I was inwardly whining about having to walk aaaaaaalllllll the way out there when he saw me and took off running. In my direction. Like "Where have you been?! I missed you!" When he got fairly close, I put my hands up, like "Please don't run me over, k thanx" and he stopped.

We'd gotten permission from his owner to experiment with his equipment a little, since the last time we put the single-jointed snaffle in his mouth (with difficulty) he gaped his mouth for at least ten seconds, communicating in no uncertain terms that "This sucks", and I agreed. His mouth didn't look nearly roomy enough for a single-jointed bit, so I decided to try Sofie's bit on him. It was the right size, and it's a double-jointed oval mouth snaffle curved to follow the shape of a horse's mouth. We also made a shim to try to level the saddle at least a little.

He didn't forget anything during his time off, and was much improved in his behavior. He still wasn't great about opening his mouth for the bit, but once it was in he didn't gape his mouth at all. His mouth actually stayed nice and quiet, except for the two times he stuck his tongue out as I led him around.

I found it much easier to ride with the saddle more level, and I was actually able to control my posting, so we didn't have issues with rushing. He stopped and backed willingly (and lightly) and seemed much happier with the new bit.

I've been working on getting Sam to move more freely. He isn't very supple, and his back didn't really swing when I started working him. His walk especially was tight and restrained; he wasn't loose through the back, and he didn't really move his whole body or nod his head. He also had a problem with going behind the bit at the walk, particularly after coming back down from a trot. He is naturally high headed, so his tendency is to invert.

Yesterday I rode him again and saw some good progress. His walk was freer and much improved. We also cantered for the first time. The indoor is a little cramped for cantering, especially on a big guy like Sam, but we managed to canter down one long side and it was nice. He needs to be rounder at the canter, but that will come with time. I'm not about to force it. I'd rather he was inverted at the canter than behind the bit.

I think I'm going to learn a lot from Sam. He is similar to Sofie in some ways (sensitive, anticipates, good energy) but also very different. Sofie's walk is very strong, mainly because she does swing through her back and relax and stretch down. Sofie is also very supple and can spin on a dime, whereas Sam is kind of stiff like a board. Sam's work ethic is very good, and he seems to love attention, Sofie can be like that, but she doesn't hand it over quite as easily. I love Sam for his uncomplicated, willing nature, but at this point I couldn't tack him up by myself if I wanted to, and I wouldn't ride him down the road. Every horse has different strengths, and they all have something to teach.

"Ew! I have to share my water AND my bit with a BOY?!"

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