Tuesday, February 17, 2009

another ride on the Big Bay

Yesterday afternoon it was chillier and windy, and the sky kept shifting from sunshine and blue to dark gray. I decided I wanted to ride anyway, keeping the routine in place, and seeing how Keil Bay and I did on the ride *after* our good work on Saturday.

It's been dry lately, so all the horses have been easy to clean up, which makes for a much faster "tack up and ride" experience. I used the extra time to do some TTouch massage, from Linda Tellington-Jones. Years back, a riding instructor recommended her book as a good one for a girl getting her first pony, and my daughter and I read it together and have occasionally used some of the techniques. Keil Bay loves anything that falls into the category of pampering or giving him special care, so he lowered his head and chewed and licked.

He was relaxed but at the same time alert. It was one of those days where he seemed to be 17.2. Tarps were flapping on the shavings pile, and one was completely loose in the barnyard, flying around as the wind picked it up and dropped it back down again.

Fortunately, Keil has become nearly immune to the tarps. His thing yesterday was the wooded end of the arena. Each time we rode into that area he wanted to cut the corners so as not to get too close to the woods. I let him check it out and then began to ask that he pay attention to me as we approached the corners and rode deep into them with a correct bend. When he torqued his neck to look at the woods, we rode a circle and tried again. Initially, it took 4 circles to work this out. On the fourth circle he let out a big sigh and gave up the idea that there was something to spook at.

My line in the sand with him about spooking is that if he doesn't spook at something when he's not under saddle he shouldn't be spooking when I'm riding. He'd just been loose in the barnyard, prior to tacking up, and had gone down the labyrinth path to the gate, looking for bits of green to nibble, without so much as a peaked ear or snort.

On some level, I think Keil enjoys making the rides interesting, and usually when he starts out acting like there might be something to spook at, I know we're going to have a good ride.

We did a lot of walking correctly. My focus was on two things: making sure my entire body was positioned well, and riding with what Sally Swift calls "soft eyes." I've noticed that I can get very fixated on Keil's body when I'm riding - noting the bend, etc. - and while some of this is a good thing, it can also add to the crookedness. Often if I let my eyes go "soft" and look ahead without focusing too hard on any one thing, Keil will straighten and move much better. I'm sure it's my body that's torquing in the hyper-focused moments and when I do the soft eyes, I relax.

So we walked. I decided to let him set his pace, since he was already up and alert, and just ride what he offered until it settled into a good rhythm. This was a wonderful part of the ride yesterday. He enjoyed being in charge of the rhythm while I stayed soft and correct. We rode the full arena, we changed directions, we did serpentines, we did the entwickeln exercise again. It went much better today, as I was able to do it without thinking too hard through the steps, and after a couple times in each direction it became obvious that Keil Bay was nice and warm and flexible.

(I forgot to mention that I also did this exercise with Cody on Sunday. Cody does not know shoulder-in, but this exercise presents it in such a way that the horse seems to get it instantly. Cody did a great job and the suppling was evident in his gait after the exercise.)

I had planned to do lots of trotting with Keil Bay, and we started to the right. Again, I asked him to trot very correctly, and I put each part of my body into a good position, checked back periodically to make sure it was still IN that good position, and otherwise just looked up and enjoyed the ride.

The reward for this was Keil really getting down to work. Which I think is a misnomer - what he gets down to is really a pleasure in moving well, with his rider balanced and staying with him. I wish I could show a short video of what it looks like from my perspective from his back when he goes into this "mode."

He rounds his back, which makes my whole body feel suddenly like I'm an Olympic-level rider. It feels easy, and like I can do it really well. His neck rounds, his poll is suddenly the central point I see, and the movement of his shoulders is different, as though they are being pushed from behind by a well-oiled engine. We got this trot going to the right in about one long side of the arena, and we kept going for quite a few circuits, as I really wanted both of us to incorporate the sensation of that lovely, balanced movement.

The transition down to walk was elastic and wonderful. I gave him a few minutes' free walk, but still correct, as we changed to the left across the diagonal.

And then we repeated, but to the left. It was harder getting the correct bend going left. We had to do some 20m circles to establish it, and then try to keep that up the long side. There's one spot in the arena going left where the tends to show his stiffness the most. I think the footing is thinner there, or perhaps it's just his habit, and mine. I tried to let go of my expectation that he would stiffen on that stretch, and tried not to automatically torque my body. We rode through with much less stiffness the first time around, and the second, right as we entered the stretch again, he went into his power trot and we both nailed it. Very very good. I wanted to end on that note for that particular stretch, so we kept trotting, but I circled at E the next few times around so we could continue the work but not push our luck.

I often end the ride by riding on the buckle and letting Keil Bay go wherever he wants to. I practice thinking directions in my head and seeing if he heads that way on a loose rein with no aids, and often he does. He was so relaxed by the end, and I felt completely relaxed as well - strong and relaxed. It was a great ride, nothing fancy, but like both of us notched up quite a bit from the previous ride. I know part of it is the regularity we've had, and that we're both getting back into shape.

There is nothing quite like riding Keil Bay's big, powerful trot when both of us are feeling good and doing our parts together.


ponymaid said...

Billie, I'm exhausted just hearing about all that exercise! I had to go and lie down for a bit. I would love to stand at the side with R&R and watch you but confess all that trotting and bending makes me dizzy. You and Keil sound like you're enjoying yourselves immensely. Frankly, I don't quite understand it but it's nice to see two species enjoying each other's company so much.

Yours in ice,

billie said...

Sheaffer, I love riding the Big Bay and can get quite caught up in the technical aspects of it.

Rafer Johnson would say: What's the big deal? I can bend and leap and buck and turn and jump and do anything the big boys can do.

And he can! But not with me on his back! :)

We had ice in the troughs this a.m. but thankfully tonight it is staying in the 40s as we are expecting a fair amount of rain tomorrow. Which is good - the arena is getting dusty and a good rain and harrowing will help it.

AND, we got the front field mulched and spread this weekend, so the rain will kick-start the spring grass.

Stay warm!!

Anonymous said...

I SO enjoyed this post.
Every word of it.
You make me think hard about why horses spook under saddle at things they don't even seem to notice when they're on their own. Perhaps it's because they're "under our control" so to speak and not fully able to give all their attention or ignore the thing that might spook them? It's not on their terms anymore. If this is the case, the the leeway you give is fair.
Just a thought. I"m always thinking of a way to make it fair. Pardon my running off at the mouth.

billie said...

Please spout off as much as you like! I love reading it. :)

I have thought a lot about Keil Bay's spooking. He did more of it earlier in our partnership than he does now. ( a good progression, I think!)

Part of that has to do with the fact that he came from a very pristinely kept, adult barn. My boarding him for about 8 months at a family barn that had children and an obstacle course with many interesting elements set up in the barnyard, as well as dirt bikes and a pool visible from the barn, etc., really helped him de-sensitize.

Back then, I gave him a lot of time and leeway when riding. We generally began and ended each ride with a walk through the obstacle course. He ended up enjoying that a great deal.

I had been told he would spook some if anything was moved around in his arena. This ended quickly at the boarding barn, because things changed on a daily basis.

We're probably somewhere in between here at our farm. We try to offer a rich environment, more for the pony and the QH who travel to Pony Club events and shows on occasion and need to be used to some flash and commotion. But it's been good for Keil, who has really become nonchalant about almost every thing he used to snort at!

I also give him free time in the barnyard, which is enclosed, but he has ended up having much closer encounters with things like tarps, pogo sticks, bicycles, etc., and having been able to explore these kinds of things at his own pace, while grazing, he knows they aren't that scary.

I know Kempfling (the Dancing With Horses author, hope I've got his name right) takes his horses on walks into town, and all over the place, and I think that is such a great thing to do. They gain a lot of confidence, I think, from that kind of exposure.

The other thing about Keil's spooking is that when he does it, it is always done with agility and elegance, almost as if he puts some forethought into it.

I don't know - as you mention, I try to be fair and I would never punish him for spooking. But I do expect him to transition from being perfectly fine 'on his own' with something and then accepting it under saddle, with a few circles, the chance to check it out, and me making sure I'm breathing and relaxed and not sending mixed messages.

There has been one thing I remember him getting truly spooked at, and that was my father's walker. We brought each horse to my dad in the barnyard, with the walker off to the side, and allowed each one to realize it wasn't a monster. I doubted any of them had seen such a thing before, and they were ALL very spooked by the funky metal clanking thing that seemed to be hooked up to the human!

Had I been riding, we would have spent an entire session de-sensitizing to that one thing.

And of course, if his spooking was accompanied by more intense behavior, say at the woods' edge, I would probably assume there was indeed something out there and go check it out. Salina, our mare, has alerted us to things many times (deer, guinea hens in the trees, etc.)

Thanks for commenting - I love thinking about things like this, and writing about it helps me sort it through even more.

Grey Horse Matters said...

You've made me tired just reading about how much you did. Keil Bay is an exceptional horse and you two seem so in tune with each other.

In some of my riding I've found that if I think it they do it, it's always led me to wonder if I unwittingly gave them a clue as to where I wanted them to go or something I wanted them to do was accomplished, with just my thoughts. As for spooking, I have no answers for that one. I rode the spookiest horse on the face of the earth for 15 years, and let me say he was a master at his craft. Surprisingly, I only came off about 5 times and it wasn't pretty but it was fast. He could trot around in a lesson for an hour and pass all the same blankets on the rail, and then whoosh, I'm scared and I'm outta here... Go figure.

billie said...

Arlene, when I first got Keil Bay the young trainer told me he would spook sometimes but she felt it was more based in resistance than fear.

Initially, it was MY fear that drove things in that regard, and after I rode through a spook at the trot, and later at the canter, I relaxed, because I realized he did it so athletically it didn't unseat me.

Later on, especially over the past 2 years, I have come to see his spooking as a way to inject some excitement into the ride. I have rarely felt he was truly afraid, but he does seem to enjoy the big movement and the drama associated with a spook.

He has a very goofy sense of humor, and I wonder if that plays a role too.

I discovered awhile back that if I set up jumps and do some work, jump a little jump, do some more work, jump another little jump, he gets very "up" but in a nice, forward, energetic way.

I read somewhere recently that a lot of warmbloods can be sluggish while schooling but if you warm up and then do some hand galloping in the field, THEN do the schooling, they are sharp and in front of the leg.

I suspect that is part of it for Keil Bay. He loves riding out and if we had a good place to do it, it would be such a treat for him.

I find that same thing about thinking it and them doing it. In that Molly Sivewright book called Thinking Riding, she actually talks about telepathy between horse and rider as being an aid. I think she's right.

Rising Rainbow said...

I'd forgotten about Sally Swift and soft eyes. It's been so long since I read her. Thanks for the reminder. While I usually ride pretty soft it's easy to get "intense" when riding the young horses.

There's an award waiting for you at my blog. Come take a peek!

billie said...

MiKael, I love Sally Swift. I often think of her illustrations when I'm trying to get in a good position in the saddle.

And thank you SO MUCH for the award! I have not been visiting as many blogs lately, and just spent a good while catching up on yours. I love the long lining series and wish I had you here to help me teach Cody. I think he would benefit from the experience and finding his true gaits.