Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hail hurts!

The day was dedicated to training horses as the family is still out of town and there's not much I'd rather do with my free time.

I started with Gemini. He and I are making such great progress and I'm just super pleased. We worked on the ground some, continuing to build online transtions, more figure 8, change of direction and sideways. We played over the cavalettis some using the squeeze game. His responses are more positive all the time and he's interested in my asks. I've been playing with him on the ground while tacked and his rear cinch response is nearly gone or gone. He hasn't thought to buck in the past 2-3 sessions. He and I did something incredible. I asked him to stand on the teeter totter, then I asked him to rock it back and forth, never moving his feet. A simple weight shift in response to my ask and he was rocking it back and forth. I wish I had that on video!!

Then, we rode in the arena, doing 21 mins of PPL at the trot. He's taking his responsibility on much more nicely and I'm rewarding him with breaks at the far end of the arena. That helped tremendously as his slow jog became an energetic trot after a few reward sessions. What a good boy! I look forward to getting him down the road soon. I'm trusting him more and more and he's finding the right answers are easy to give. He gave the nicest, most forward trot I've ever felt at the end of our 21 minutes and I decided it was the perfect place to hop off and reward him. He stuck to me beautifully across the arena and I tied him to the hitching rail for some soak time.

Then, I wanted to get some time with Cowboy. He's been getting the least amount of my attention, which is just fine for me. He's having a good time being a horse in the all the pastures and he's settled in so nicely in the herd. He's always happy to see me and happy to play and get some human attention. He's got a nice brain and a nice demeanor. I look forward to truly developing him. At first we played the catching game for about 45 seconds. It was interesting, I was 2 feet away and following him closely at a walk in zone 5. I really think he thought I was driving him away. I have to drive him away sometimes because he can be quite the pocket pony. All of a sudden, he turned and faced, as if to say, "Oh! You want to catch me!". We never have to play the catching game, so I'm convinced he was misunderstanding me.

I put him on the 45' and we played some ground games - figure 8, circle game, over obstacles, over the teeter totter. Then, I tacked him up and started with lateral flexion. This is one of Cowboy's toughest areas - he has so much built-in brace that a simple thing like lateral flexion is a big challenge. He lolls his tongue, he works his mouth, he just doesn't find peace or comfort in a bit. He can stand with it in his mouth just fine, but when I try to communicate with him through the bit, he braces and goes introverted. I took my time and stayed patient, asking for lateral flexion and rewarding the slightest tries. He was getting quieter and quieter and I found a place to quit. We have to keep working on that and perhaps for the rest of his life. Humans before me have left their mark on Cowboy's behavior and I'm a little sad about it.

I rode him around a bit, circling the round pen and asking for walk/trot/canter transitions. His canter feels a little rough right now. He's not balanced or using himself well. Some more riding and many more transitions should get him framing up better and using himself in his gaits. We did a lot of serpentines, trying to loosen his brace and get positive responses to my asks for bends. He loosened up quite well and rather quickly. We moved the dogs a little - he enjoys that tremendously! He's a very cowy horse. We also worked on disengaging the hind - which is great because it incorporates lateral flexion with a bend in the body. At first, he wasn't disengaging, he was stiff and rigid. After a few minutes, he gave the nicest, most fluid disengagement with a soft feel and I laughed and hopped off. He knew how happy he made me - he had a proud look about him. He could give the right answer and find harmony with his rider. I think he has very little history of finding harmony with his rider from his younger years.

Z's leg is healing nicely and I was trying to decide if I should/could ride her. I took Rain for a little bareback riding around my house while I decided what to do next. Chrissy was over and ready to try out some new riding attire, so I decided we should get some time on the trail together. The sky was "iffy" and it seems to rain every freakin' day. But, the storm that I thought would produce rain had moved off and out. There were more clouds, but the looked far enough out that we'd be ok. I gave Chrissy some hints on tacking up and getting her horse ready. It can get a little old tacking up multiple horses when the rider is fully capable of doing it themselves - with a little coaching. I'm all for helping her become self-sufficient.

We headed out, Z not especially happy about leaving home - I hadn't ridden her in 8 or 9 days and we didn't do a proper warm-up on the ground. I had the sky in mind, thinking it was now or never with the potential storms all over the sky. I tried hard to not compromise our relationship, allowing her to turn back if needed and then asking her to face the trail again. It was a subtle brace, just her saying, "I'd really rather..." and me saying, "I hear you, but how about my idea." About a 1/4 mile later, she was tuned in and not thinking about home.

I took Chrissy on a more challenging ride, some inclines and declines, crossing roads, trees... We also talked about developing her seat. She asks great questions and she really wants to improve. I'm excited for her to gain confidence with Rain and become a great riding partner for me. We are building to that and maybe one day, we'll even do some trail riding competitions together.

We got to a point on the trail where I could look up to the sky. Uh oh, we are TOAST! The storm that was brewing looked menacing and we weren't going to make it back in time. Zarah was not in a good place for fast speeds. She was impulsive and a little emotional. I also didn't know how fast Chrissy would want to go - most of our riding has been at the walk. Even if we galloped the whole way, we wouldn't have outrun this storm. CRAP!

So, one of my fears... lightening. Lots of animals and people get struck by lightening in Colorado. Being out in the wide open trail on a high hill during a thunderstorm is not my idea of a wise decision. Our Colorado storms typically bring hail and heavy rain and there was no place to hide. First drizzle, then rain, then torrential downpour with wind! We abandoned the idea of making it home and found a tree to hide under. A single pine tree, with less than thick branches and down in a gulley. My expensive saddles were also getting soaked. Arrgghhh!

Chrissy and I tried to take refuge under this slightly pathetic single pine, while the horses did their normal "butt to the wind" stance, waiting for it to let up. We were getting cold! And then, to add insult to injury, the hail began. Geesh - hail hurts!! I had my back to it and luckily we were wearing helmets, but the hail balls hitting my back... OUCH! We just had to laugh. The gulley now had a fast moving river running through it and I hoped it would end soon. The sky was so dark and the thunder was constant. Just a constant rumble and roar - an angry sky.

The sky started to show the slightest signs of getting lighter. The rain started to let up. Luckily, it was going to be a quick storm. It lasted maybe 20-30 minutes and Chrissy and I were drenched - head to toe soaked. It was time to go the last mile and get home. The sun was actually starting to show. We decided to walk home. Our feet were squishy and water bubbles appeared with each step on the top of my shoes. After about 1/2 mile, Chrissy's fiancee appeared at the trail head. Chrissy rode home with him and I rode Rain, ponying Z. The horses were excited and "up" and Rain wanted to get home FAST! She does her best gaiting when she's got druthers and she was moving so beautifully in her 4-beat gait. Z had to canter to keep up next to us.

It was a great day with all the horses, adventures in the rain, trailriding, arena riding, just everything. Loved it!

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