Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fun on a Snow Day

It's been snowing pretty hard for a good part of the day - the original forecast was that we would get 1-2 inchs, but it now looks like we're getting more like 6-8 inches.  This is good in a way, because our snow this winter has been way below normal, which isn't good for next year's growing season.  The roads were terrible, and getting worse, but with my truck in 4-wheel drive that didn't really matter - I was at the barn this afternoon as usual.  There was only one person there when I got there and she left right after that - I had to ask her not to turn the arena lights off on me - she didn't see that I was in there through the doors.

Dawn had a day off today.  Red and Pie and I had the place to ourselves - when this happens our small indoor arena is plenty big enough and it's a lot of fun.  I'd bought a new toy, and we spent some time playing with that.  Remember my dream about riding with a pinch of mane?  As an approximation of that, I bought a neck ring - that's how Shadowfax in the Lord of the Rings movies was ridden - to try out with Red and Pie - Dawn and I may even give it a whirl.  Here's the one I got (I know nothing about Julie Goodnight and don't recommend or not recommend her or her methods or equipment) - I like that it has a breakaway and that it has a loop to attach to the saddle horn so it can't end up around your horse's ears if they put their head down, and if you're riding without it it just stays put.

Red and I rode first.  He was great with the neck ring as we were warming up at the walk - as I expected he caught on right away.  It took a bit for me to figure out how to organize my reins, and the dressage whip I carry when I ride him and Pie, while also holding the neck ring.  Getting the neck ring the right length took some adjusting, and I found the best arrangement of reins (loose but not drooping), neck ring and dressage whip was to hold the ring and outside rein in one hand and the inside rein and dressage whip in the other - I wasn't using the reins at the walk, but wanted them to be available.

Red did turns, side pass, backing, circles and leg yield just about perfectly with the neck ring alone, along with my weight, leg and focus.  It was a lot of fun.  When I asked for trot, I did it at first on a loose rein, and he fussed and balked.  I then asked him for softness with the reins and asked for trot, and he did it although he was pretty stiff for a while.  When he's stiff, he tends to want to put his head up and brace on the bit - this is really what he's doing when he balks - he's falling on the forehand when he does this and avoiding really using his hind end, to spare his hocks, which are sore.  Eventually he warmed up and did some nice long and also more collected trot work - I feel sorry that he's sore but the exercise is good to keep his joints moving as his hocks finally get to the point of fusing the lower joints.

At the trot, both he and Pie lost a good part of their responsiveness to the neck ring - Pie wasn't quite as sensitive to it at the walk as Red had been, and took some time to figure out backing but improved rapidly.  I think this is more an issue with me than them - I think it means that I'm more skilled at riding with my weight, focus and energy at the walk and less so at the higher gaits, where I tend to rely more on my hands.  The neck ring is a good "tell" - it shows where I need to work.  At trot and canter, I need to stop riding the head - a big challenge for me, and probably lots of other people as well.

Pie and I also did some very good trot/canter/trot work on both leads - he has trouble with the tight corners, so I had him do canter down the long sides, trot around the ends and canter again at the next long side.  His transitions got to be pretty nice, and he was bending pretty well on a loose rein - I tried to avoid too much rein aid except gently rubbing the inside rein on his neck to help him move to the outside.  He even volunteered to canter all the way around a few times and it was very nice.

Pretty good for a snow day!  There was even more snow when I went back out to my truck, but it plowed right through everything without a complaint.

Sending out good wishes to all those in the northeast who will be affected by the big storm this weekend - I was in Boston for the Blizzard of '78 - almost 30 inches of snow just ten days after a 20-inch snow - it was chaos for over a week.  Those events are memorable, but also scary and challenging.  Hope everyone does well - stay warm and safe!

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