Thursday, September 16, 2010

I'm counting today as my first day of autumn...

For the past two days I've tried to get out to the barn early so I could ride in the cooler morning air, feed, get chores done, and get back in by mid-day. It took two days of revving my engine before I actually managed to shift my gears into this new routine, but it was SO worth it.

We're all waking up this week. The long hot summer is moving on, and everyone at November Hill is feeling the effects of that.

Keil Bay is a "morning person." He likes to do his work in the a.m. so the rest of his day is free and clear. He's always preferred that, but depending on schedules and the weather I've not always been able to accommodate his preference.

We've had a slow summer riding-wise. The rides I did were mostly bareback and not very much work for either of us. Two days ago I hauled my saddle from bedroom to barn, got things organized in the tack room, and finally, today, we got back in the groove.

Keil loves to be groomed in his stall where he can look out the window while I'm brushing. Today I wanted our return to work to be extremely pleasant, so I took the brushes in, along with a small handful of alfalfa pellets. I've been grooming daily again, and doing some ground and in-hand work, for about two weeks, and with the heat in decline and no need for hosing, added to us having no rain, getting him clean is a snap.

I put his Thinline sheepskin pad on, then saddled him up. I like to do the girth a notch at a time, so I got it just snug enough to stay put if he turned around in the stall, and then got more pellets and the stirrups. Girth up a notch on each side. More pellets and my helmet and whip. Girth up a notch. More pellets and bridle. And we were ready to go.

I decided today that instead of trying to force my leg higher than it wants to go (and given the fact that my left pelvis has been rotating out again) I would put the mounting block by the barrel in the arena, use the block to get on the barrel, and then simply lift my leg over Keil's back and sit straight down. Keil never had issues with mounting until I forgot to tighten the girth one ride about a year ago and the saddle slipped completely underneath him when I went to get on. Needless to say, I got even more finicky about mounting after that happened, and I have made him finicky as well. If I go ahead and mount without fretting, he's fine. But the moment I hesitate he steps away. So today daughter rewarded him with (yes, more!) alfalfa pellets as I stepped up onto the barrel and got on. Hopefully we can turn this into our regular routine and as he realizes I'm no longer hesitating, he can stand quietly the way he always has.

I had decided we were going to do lots of walking today, watching for trouble spots and fixing those quietly. Immediately it felt like there were steering issues. I had the bitless on him and probably didn't have it snug enough, but that didn't really seem "it." I felt like I was using too much leg, too frequently, and then realized that every time I used a leg aid I was taking the weight out of the stirrup, so that the other leg was by default being weighted - and that this was throwing everything out of whack.

Sometimes the solution is so simple we almost don't find it. Today I was thankfully aware of the domino effect I was creating and stopped it by focusing on just one thing - keeping my weight even in the stirrups. Suddenly everything got much sharper. And as we got more in sync and I was quieter in the saddle, Keil clearly wanted to trot. So we trotted on. He immediately went into his big, swinging trot that is so smooth it makes absolutely no sense to post - I just kept focusing on keeping my feet evenly weighted and keeping my hands soft and still. And he woke up - all the way. By taking care of my issues, I took the brakes off him.

Keil Bay is big and powerful and when he wakes up all the way it's both exhilarating and a bit intimidating to me if I've not been riding regularly. But after last week's big buck, the groaning sound he was making as he turned to the left, my heel pain, and the feeling that both of us were suddenly seeming as old as our combined ages, I was so happy today to feel his energy, and mine, that I let go of the idea that I might not be ready for it.

We did more trotting, and some pas de deux with daughter and pony. Keil was so in front of my leg that even the thought of asking for trot was enough. He was big and bold and very interested in forward motion.

Cody had already been ridden but he was so intrigued with the energy in the arena he opened the gate and came in - he couldn't quite figure out how to join the pas de deux so he stood at X and watched as we continued.

I was happy to have Cody visiting, but hoping things didn't get out of hand. A few days ago daughter captured these photos of the pony during one particularly intense "play" session:

To wind things down, we went for a turn through the back field - and Keil Bay was so up and ready to go he did a little jig and tossed his head in the bridle! He would have loved a long hack through the woods, and if we had such a trail available to us, I'd have taken him there and tried my best to keep up with him!

He was looking a bit like this:

Instead, we headed back through the paddock to the arena and finished the ride. Keil knew breakfast was coming, so life was good anyway, even without a hack!

My favorite photo from the play session though, I've saved for last. Apache Moon loves this movement and would probably be incredibly easy to teach if we wanted him to do it on command:

Leaping forward to fall!!


ponymaid said...

Billie, you and the Big Bay sound like two youngsters having yourselves a wonderful time. There seems to be a lot of energy in the air these days - the photos of your Lippizan pony in full levade would seem to illustrate this perfectly!

billie said...

Sheaffer, I almost titled the post "The Spanish Riding School Came By This Week and Look What We're Doing Now!"

All sorts of airs above the ground are being performed. R&R are both enjoying many times a day rolls in their dust pits, as if they know the season for dust-bathing is nearing an end. I just read today that we are back in moderate drought here in our county, so it's not likely the dust pits they've worked on all summer are going anywhere any time soon!

Hope all is well in Sheaffer-dom. I keep looking for a new post from you and then remember The Woman is sashaying all over the country and leaving you without your scribe.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Wonderful pictures! I do especially like the last one too.

You and the big bay sound like you're totally in sync with each other and having fun. I'm hoping the cool weather continues here as well and we all have good rides. I think the horses welcome these temps and energize the same way we do.

Your mounting block issue sounds like the same scenario Dusty and I have. Mounting without stirrups by throwing a leg over. Luckily, she's much shorter than Keil Bay and I only have to use the 4-step mounting block. Her past issues (saddle slipping, flipping herself over onto her back etc.) have all been fixed by mounting this way and daughter has plenty of treats at the ready, so it's all good.

billie said...

Arlene, if our daughters with treats for mounting ever take off and leave us, we're going to have to join forces and do it for each other!!

I am not fond of standing up on this barrel, but it's way better than hauling the mounting block around trying to get it exactly right while Keil gets increasingly confused about what it is I want him to do. (bow down and let me climb on from the ground would be nice...!)

forever in blue jeans, Beth said...

Sweet harmony-in-motion - that's what sounds like you and Sir K found - I remember that feeling - course, Cooks and I, at a trot, are a lot more like a bowl of jello on a jack-hammer - LOL !! Love the pictures of the Pony-in-action - sweet eye candy :) Kuddos to your Daughter - again - I find action good, candid, action pixs hard to get.
Beth and Cookie,
in Virginia

billie said...

Beth, she spent hours when she was younger and more into drawing doing sketches of various parts of the horse at rest and in motion. I think that study has made her exquisitely good at capturing action moments of the equines here.

I am fascinated by the feet positioning of Apache Moon in the first photo with Keil Bay. Although he is chunky, he is the most nimble equine here when it comes to being able to twist and turn his body both on the ground and in the air.

Victoria Cummings said...

Looks like everyone is feeling frisky - great photos! I applaud you for keeping your focus and letting your big bay partner show his spirit. I'm sure he appreciated it.

billie said...

We're all so relieved to be having some autumn days, Victoria. There hasn't been much horseplay going on around here since the intense heat settled in - so it's especially nice to see all the "busting out" of moves!

Máire said...

That is a great description of you ride with Keil Bay. Sounds like he really enjoyed this increased activity again. I love the way you observed the domino effect from your leg aid. It is all too easy to focus on one part and not notice the effects on everything else.

billie said...

Thanks, Maire. I try to look at one or two things at a time when I ride, although sometimes I do a rolling check-in where I go from head to toe as I head around the arena.