Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hackers!

Sherm and I are getting quite a lot of field and forest work in this week.  Mixing up open flat work in the fields with some small up and down hills work here and there, the BBW is becoming quite proficient at the hacking.  He attacks weird-looking objects (scary stumps, dark, open doors on the hunters' cabins, flapping surveyor's tape, etc.) with great gusto, demonstrating not one ounce of the fear of cougars from which his Uncle Celby suffers.  Large animals rustling in the underbrush will prompt the occasional big, whooping spook, but it's just a scoop and stop, followed by a turnaround to see what was that!?

Soon enough, we're going to have to get seriously back to our dressage figures, but for now we are having a blast out and about.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Aaaaaand, Canter!

Before today, I had cantered on Sherm only once.  Just once, just briefly, about 18 months ago.  He'd been under saddle at all, but going reasonably solidly at walk-trot, for about six weeks, and we were trotting some cavaletti.  He came off the last one, and (probably with the help of the trainer behind me and her lunge whip) picked up a tidy little canter, surprising me.  He rode into the corner and turned a remarkably handy, deep canter through it, and then lost his balance coming down the side.  But going in and through the turn had been so tidy that we were all delighted with it, though the BBW might have been a little alarmed.  He needed to think about it for a while, so we finished that session with more familiar w-t work.

Fast forward through the next 18 months of his training, through the awkwardness of his growth spurts and then through the misery of terrible saddle fit (pinching his shoulders and slamming his loins) and the rider confusion and frustration that came with it, and we haven't had a canter since that day.

Until today.

Last week I asked for it in the arena for the first time, and it was very funny to feel his body go all wonky as he was thinking about it.  Thinking about how to do it, whether he could do it, and how he would go about doing it if he could.  His forward, happy trot got all rickety and side-wind-y like there was a monkey in his works.  And he never did manage to give me a canter.  I let it go, figuring that he'd think about it and figure it out in his own time.

So today, on a frosty morning, a fresh, frisky horse got put together with a rider who has gained so much confidence and trust with him out in the field that she just sat up and let him go when his trot got a little more collected and suddenly bounced into a canter down the far side of the hay meadow.  Probably ten strides of nice canter before we approached a pretty steep step-down out of the field and onto the farm lane, at which point I asked him to back off into a trot, then circled him twice in two lovely 20-meter-ish rounds in the meadow before coming down to walk down the slope onto the lane.

Then, once on the lane and up onto the raised railbed (an honest-to-goodness rails-to-trails railbed that bisects the property), we had another go.  Probably 20-25 strides of similarly nice canter, big strides as he found his balance and confidence (er, um, that was probably me finding my balance and throwing his off less with each stride) and then a reasonable transition to trot-- not too much wobble at all!  Turn around and go back the same way, doing the same thing.

I like the railbed because it is 40 years'-worth of forest turf over railroad track stone, and no woodchucks burrow in it.  So the path is clean, clear, and just perfect for letting a horse run.  I only wish it were more than 150 yards long.

We came to the end of this path, and Sherm hit a patch of frosty leaves, losing his footing enough to prompt him to put on the brakes himself.  Once his footing was re-established, he was blowing and prancing, and absolutely full-on Morgan proud of himself.  He was thinking, doing, thinking, doing, and I could feel all the wheels turning in his body and his mind.

I thought I'd take advantage of this moment, safely, and do a bit of work in the arena.  Now that he'd gotten the idea of canter, maybe we could work on shaping it a bit.

Um, no.

Once we got back into the arena, he pretty much shouted THIS IS STUPID; there is nowhere to go in here, so why would I go there faster?! Let's go back out!  I gave him a few good trot circles and then called it a morning.  I didn't want to push my luck, or his patience, so we ended on a mutually-satisfied note.

I suspect I'd better get my canter butt in shape, as this will become his new favorite thing...


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Graduating to an Adult Library Card

I was, of course, an avid reader as a kid.  My mother had to decide which was more nuisance for her-- haul my butt to the local branch of the public library multiple times a week because I'd so quickly go through the maximum number of books my juvenile card allowed me to check out, or to deal with the dissatisfied glares of the librarians as she signed out additional books for me on her adult card. The day we finally convinced the librarians to look at my check-out records and grant me an adult card a full two years earlier than library policy allowed was a liberation day for all of us.  It took a full summer of showing up at the library every three days to prove to them that I really was just reading everything, and needing more opportunity to check out more and longer books, not just looking for access to the Judy Blume adult novels, but we finally got them to do it after my mother signed off on my access to adult literature.

Sherman's work these last few weeks has reminded me a lot of that summer.  He has outgrown his juvenile card, and is ready for more challenges.  He's all but begging me for access to the grown-up sections of the library.  And I, like my mother before me, have conceded that he's ready for more.

Odd metaphor, but apt in its way.  Sherman literally is begging me for access to a broader world.  After a few wonderful post-saddle-fit sessions in the arena, I took him out on a hack around the farm.  I'd planned to just walk around the outside of the arena on the grass track to see how he would handle it.  He was brilliant, and so well-behaved, and so I took him on out through the fields.  And then on through the woods.  And it was phenomenal; he was bold and brave, and so, so happy to be out in the world, seeing and doing things, not just going in circles.

And now, of course, he balks at the arena gate going in.  Just a quick stop, and an eager look to say Come on, it's dull in here.  Let's go out there!  When I remind him that we start in the arena and will go out when he's shown he's listening and "obedient," he acquiesces and gives me a nice warm-up.

And then he goes to the gate.  Nearly every time around, he goes to the gate and stops.  Sometimes slams his chest into the gate if I don't catch him.  Argh.  A monster, I have created a monster.  Of course, every time he does this, I insist that he return to work and only when his full attention has returned to the job at hand do I then guide him to the gate and let us both out on an adventure.  But woe unto me if my attention wanders; he's on that like white on rice, and we're at the gate, begging to go out before I know it.  So it's gotten to be a drill for us.  I am getting nice work out of him in between, though.

And then we go out, and he's even better.  He is ready for hacking.  He is bold and brave and curious, and he just wants to go on and on, do more and more.  Though he's a bit woofy (you can't take all the Morgan out of a Morgan, no matter how wonderful he is) out there, he really works with me, and his attention and connectedness are viscerally palpable out there.  He's a better saddle horse out there.  I'm not a better rider by any means, I'm sure, but he more than makes up for it.

And that's where my great challenge lies.  He's ready, he wants to be out there.  He's doing all the work of being amazing.  He's lending me great confidence as I learn to feel comfortable out in the wide open spaces.  I love it out there; I love riding him out there; I love having a horse who has such confidence and demonstrates such joy out there.  But I've got to catch up with him.  I've got to develop my skills and my own confidence out there enough to be the rider he deserves.  I've got to stop obsessing over icy patches and woodchuck holes, over the sounds that don't spook him, and the fear of surprises that probably won't, either.

It'll come, but right now it's still a shock to have my boy be so far ahead of me, so much readier for this than I might have expected.  I'm constantly surprised by the stack of adult novels he's reading-- wasn't he just a baby, just learning to read?  How can he possibly be using that Adult Card already?