Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My crooked horse

Boomer has always been crooked- banana left- if you will.  It takes all the strength in my right leg to get him to bend around for a circle to the right.  Or so I thought.  

I have recently realized that the problem is mine.  Big surprise.  

Since getting a new saddle that fits better and having a much more round horse, my saddle has been slipping ever so slightly to the left.  I generally have to dismount mid-ride and straighten things up and tighten the cinch.  

I was frustrated with Boomer at first.  He was bloating up and not allowing me to get the cinch tight enough until he trotted a little.  

Then I realized that the saddle was always slipping left.  Even if we only went right and even cantered to the right, which would cause me to weight my right side more (or so you would think).  

FINALLY, I realized that the saddle slipping to the left was making it uncomfortable and possibly painful for him to bend right!  He was having to bend into the spine of the saddle.  

After our 10 mile ride in the field, where we were mostly traveling straight, I did notice that my saddle was slipping a little to the left, but not enough to bother me because it had been a gradual change.  I also noticed that Boomer was getting increasingly more 'banana left' towards the end of the ride. 

*light bulb*

He is crooked BECAUSE he is uncomfortable.  He is uncomfortable because *I* am crooked.

Aw, crap.  So, what do I do?  First, I need to be more diligent about making sure my saddle is secure and comfortable for him the whole ride.  Then I need to focus on staying centered and not weighting my left stirrup more.  But, how do I do that if riding crooked feels straight?  I do notice that I feel my left foot pushing down into the stirrup when I post.  

Any suggestions?

Monday, July 25, 2011

10 mile training ride!

We, like many others, have been experiencing a heat wave.  The highs have been over 100 for about 2 weeks and we were on a heat advisory the whole time.  I went out and rode Boomer once midweek and by the time I pulled him out of the pasture, I only had enough energy to hop on a walk around the arena for 10 minutes bareback.  It was still nice to get out and DO something with him.  I also trimmed his feet that day.  

Sunday was the last day of the heat advisory and the morning started cool.  It was 80 degrees at 7:45 when I headed out the door.  There was a storm blowing in and by the time I was on my way home several hours later it was down to 78 degrees!  Of course, it DID heat up to nearly 100 by the end of the day.  

Anyhow, I was up early Sunday with the GPS watch on and we headed out ready for a few miles around the property.  Boomer was awesome!  The perimeter of the field is .8 miles with the alley back to the barn being .1 mile.  For the first 3 miles he was UP and tense.  He wanted to toss his head and fling his legs around.  Then he started listening to the bit and tried ducking his head and pulling while trotting faster.  Luckily, we were in a safe, enclosed environment and I just let him get his energy out on his own.  After the first 3 miles he really calmed down.  We continued on and changed directions every few laps and at about mile 8, it started to sprinkle.  Boomer got a second wind and was frisky for another lap.  We ended at mile 10 and then walked back .2 miles to cool out.  He was awesome!  I really have NOTHING to complain about!  We saw a lost calf on the gravel road on the south end of the property, which Boomer grew used to quickly.  I was so proud!  He did spook and spin at something BIG that jumped into the pond.  I assume it was a giant bullfrog.  It made a HUGE splash about 6 feet from the bank- quite a leap!  The ripples on the water were big.  I stayed put and was glad I wasn't in my tiny english saddle.  Those spook-spins will get you!  

After I left the barn, my friend texted me and told me that Boomer was napping, laid out, in the sun.  I felt like doing the same!  I am so proud of him for being so good and also impressed by his fitness considering how random our training has been!  

We did the 10.2 miles in 1 hour and 41 minutes, which is somewhere around 10 minute mile pace.  Not super fast, but the important part of training right now is just knowing that he can go the distance.  I don't care if our first ride takes us a full 10 hours to finish!  

Check back soon for my thoughts on having a crooked horse.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

Good and Bad

I was lucky enough to get two days with Boomer this weekend.  Though, I knew going into it that the send day riding in a row is never as good as the first.  He just doesn't do as well with back to back rides.  

Saturday was good, we just rode in the arena for 30-45 minutes and his cantering was great.  I finally figured out why he always bulges away fro the rail in one spot in the arena.  The footing is deeper and he is avoiding that.  So, now I feel even LESS sympathy for him than before!  I thought it was a physical difficulty in staying straight after a corner.  No.  He is just smart and lazy.  But we already knew that.  

I have been working on Les Vogt's 5 easy pieces with him.  This is just a good test to see if you have control of all parts of your horses body.  First you pull their head around in a small circle until they start to relax the jaw and swing their outside front leg around making larger steps.  Second, you use your leg (knee pressure) to move the across the arena- leading with the shoulder.  Third, you use leg pressure to side pass. Fourth, you do a turn on the forehand.  Fifth, you back in a circle.  

The first 4 parts are gaining control of each individual part, the 5th piece is putting it all together and seeing what isn't working.  So far, Boomer is doing well with everything except side passing and backing.  His turns on the forehand are beautiful!  Saturday was the best day we had so far.  Very proud.  We just spend the last 5 minutes of the ride doing this exercise and it seems to be getting better each day. Probably wouldn't hurt to do it at the beginning AND end of the ride.  

Sunday's ride was not as good.  He was fighting me almost the whole time, which is his usual behavior when we ride two days in a row.  We were out in the field and he decided that he had forgotten the cantering lesson we had.  So, I had to buck up and do it again.  Except this time it was 95 degrees and humid.  I finally got him to slow down and behave after cantering for close to 30 minutes straight.  By then, I was done.  Surprisingly, he was NOT TIRED after that.  He was panting and puffing, but still asked to trot after that!  We rode for a total of 2 hours- 30 minutes of walking, 45 minutes of trotting, and 45 minutes of cantering.  I would say that I am confident that he can do a 25 miler right now.  In a month, he will be ready to do a 50 miler.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

Boomer the wonder jumper!

Boomer, being the brave soul that he is, is learning to jump!  I went out to ride him on Wednesday and ended up going out around the pond and to the jump field with Julie and the barn owner, Dennis.  I trotted and cantered Boomer around and he was very good.  I had lowered the bit by one hole and it took him a little bit to get used to it and stop resisting.  I got to bragging on Boomer and how brave he was to have trotted and cantered over the flowerbox.  I then realized that he was sure to make a fool of me by acting terrified of it.  Surprisingly, he headed right towards it and hopped right over!  Julie moved the flowerbox to a new location and he was STILL fine with it!  She then set up a few cross rails for us and we went over two in a row!  I was so proud!  The most complicated and difficult thing we did (can you sense the sarcasm yet?) was canter down hill and make a U-turn to the cross rail.  I actually missed it a few times until Julie pointed out that I wasn't looking at the jump.  Once I looked around the turn for the jump, Boomer sat down and turned hard.  It was actually pretty cool to feel him sit and turn like that.  

I am so happy that Boomer seems to be enjoying himself!  He goes around the whole time with his ears perked forward like he is really having a blast!  It is a really fun change of pace from the flat work we have been focusing on.  I am actually pretty excited about it and hope that we can actually jump something someday instead of just taking bigger steps to clear the obstacles.   

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

He jumps!

I went out Saturday morning to ride and see if Boomer remembered his cantering lesson for earlier in the week.  Again, he was straight and even at the walk.  We trotted a little to warm up, and then I asked him to canter.  He was great!  He started off nice and easy and only rushed for about one lap before settling down into a nice even gait.  We did both directions and did several simple lead changes through the center of the ring.  I had him on a loose rein he whole time.  After a while, I decided to take him out for a little trail ride to kill some time before I had to leave for the airport to pick up my dad.  I sidepassed him to the arena gate, opened it, and sidepassed him back to close it!  Yay Boomer!

Out in the field, we trotted around the pond and into the jump field.  He was feeling very nice and I decided to see if the cantering lesson still applied out in the open.  Turns out, Boomer actually LEARNED something!  He was very good and listened well.  Going down a very slight decline, he wanted to rush, but I lifted his head and kept my legs on him and he balanced himself well.  

It was about 99 degrees out and VERY humid, so I asked him to walk and started to cool him off.  But, he kept trotting and asking to go faster.  So, we trotted and cantered some more.  Eventually, I had him walk and we went over the ground poles and flower box in the jump field.  I even had him trot over them!  He actually seemed to enjoy that!  I was so surprised!  I decided to push my luck and ask him to canter over the flower box.  I have never cantered him over anything, even a single ground pole.  He perked up his ears and cantered right over it without hesitation!  What a good boy!  

We headed back to the barn and he was hot, hot, hot.  He was panting and had some good white foam across his chest.  I took him into the washrack in the barn (which he is usually nervous about) and hosed him off.  I spent a long time hosing him and started very slowly, only hosing his legs and neck until he cooled off.  I saved his large muscle groups (rump and back) for last in an effort to keep them from getting tight.  He actually really enjoyed the bath and allowed me to gently spray his face and he even licked the water a few times!  

I was just so happy with him!  Boomer really is a good little horse, he just has his quirks.  He is very smart and capable of learning, but he learns lessons best when he is worn out and worked hard.  With Boomer, the lesson has to be drilled home really hard once, and then he gets it.  

I think he is starting to get back into shape and I am still cautiously optimistic about doing a few rides this fall.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fixing the canter

I went out to ride on Tuesday with the intention of fixing the canter issue we have been encountering.  

My goal was to get off the 'safety circle', use the whole arena, push him through the bucking, and not let him slow down.  

So, we started out walking with some light trotting and he was incredible.  I was shocked.  I had moved my saddle back about an inch further than usual and he was so even and straight!  I couldn't believe how straight he felt down the long sides of the arena!  I was amazed!  He was on the bit and connected.  He was listening.  He didn't even need our usual neck flexions to get him soft and paying attention!  

On to the canter, I asked he moved right out.  I aimed him straight down the rail and he reached under and dug in to go faster.  I just let him.  I was in this for the long haul, whether he knew it or not.  Around the first turn, I lifted my inside hand and weighted my outside stirrup for balance.  Along the second long side, he arched his neck down and tried a buck.  I pulled in around into the 'oh shit' circle, aka- disengage the hind end.  I kicked his hip around a few times and asked him to walk off.  He was tossing his head and pissed off.  I asked him to canter again.  Again he took off with some speed.  I just focused on sitting back and deep.  He tried  bucking again going into a corner, so instead of disengaging his hip, I just pulled him into a small circle but kept him cantering.  We went on.  He tried one last time to buck on the long side and I pulled him into the small circle and kicked him forward, not letting him break gait. That seemed to solve the bucking issue and now I just waited for him to try to slow down.  When he did, I pushed him forward faster.  We did a total of 20 laps around the arena to the left.  I wanted enough horse left to go the other direction, so we did a lead change through the trot across the diagonal of the arena and kept going.  Again, he wanted to go fast, so I let him.  We did about 12-15 laps to the right.  By the end, he was on a totally loose rein, cantering along nicely and doing circles off of my seat!  I was in awe!  We did a circle steering with seat only, then a simple change with seat only and a circle in the other direction off of my seat only.  I asked him to halt, scratched his neck and let him cool out at the walk.  

It was a really incredible ride.  I was proud of myself for bucking up, so to speak, and getting it done.  I have really gained patience and confidence with him lately.  

To finish cooling out, we walked a lap around the pond with my friend Julie and Boomer's pasture-mate Ringo.  

I am hoping that this lesson sticks with Boomer.  He seems to be the kind of horse who has to learn a lesson the hard way, but once he learns it- its there for good.  Thats how it went with trailer loading and being barn sour.  So, I am hoping that this was enough of a workout for him to have learned his lesson.  He seemed pretty pooped afterwards!  I was so very happy with the results though.  So, next time we ride will be the real test!