Northwood Horsemanship Challenge: Week One

So far this week I’ve logged nine and a half hours not counting today. I’ve gotten in five PURPOSEFUL rides, one of which was entirely bareback. My week was an interesting one as it really was my way of forming a plan for the rest of my challenge journey. Each bit of time I spent with my horse was used to feel him out and find places to improve. My final goal is to go out in the arena and ride a small obstacle course bareback, using several walk/trot transitions. And, do it with a pretty decent seat. This week, I found lots of things that I can work on to make that final ride easier.

Ride one on day one was an easy amble through the woods along the Verde River. My husband went with me on this ride. It lasted two hours and probably appeared completely boring on the outside.

I actually spent the entire ride focusing on a couple of questions. How heavy does my horse really feel in my hands and beneath me? How much effort does it take the two of us to perform normal trail horse tasks? The answer I came up with is, sometimes we move together effortlessly, and he feels weightless. Other times I feel like I am driving a mack truck with no power steering. More often than not it is a feel more on the light side than the heavy side so at least I know we are headed in a good direction. But still, there are definitely those heavy spots I need to work with.

So, on day two I went into the arena and did some on line lunging. We spent quite a bit of time in the beginning of our relationship doing on line lunging and I was happy where we left it. However, although we work quite a bit loose in the round pen on transitions and I thought we were doing really well, I found that it was a good thing we went back and revisited on line work. Holy cow, he wanted to pull on me! Mainly on the part of the circle that was nearer the herd, but still, where the heck did that come from? Apparently I had lost a ton of ground with this horse and didn’t even realize it. So, that’s what we worked on for a half hour. It was a pretty big struggle to find the sweet spot where he could trot in a circle and not pull. It took about a half hour to get it in one direction. When I switched direction to what is usually his more “bracey” side there was no pull whatsoever. Interesting. I ended there. I didn’t get nearly as far as I had intended, but I did gain back a little ground, and with this horse, that’s enough for me.

Day three we did another two hour saddled ride down by the river, this time alone. I used the two hours to focus on lateral flexing at a walk, a few walk/trot transitions and most importantly we went in and out of the barnyard several times to play more with the mental pull it has on him. He’s never acted barn sour, he’s always gone as far at any speed as I’ve needed him. He’s never been spooky out by himself or ever made me feel like riding alone was a bad idea. But still, the on line stuff got me thinking that even if there is no physical manifestation, as much as I would like to think he is, this horse is not mentally “with” me. So we played with that. When we got to the point that we could stop, move his hind end and then move off in both directions (away from and toward home) with the same energy, and overall light, not rushing feel, I turned him around and ambled home. I think that was the right thing to do, but only time will tell.

Day four was another ride very similar to day three. I added a few more walk/trot transitions to build on what we had been doing. After we got home I unsaddled him and hopped on bareback in the round pen. It turns out he isn’t the only one who needs work! I used to ride bareback all of the time, in all sorts of terrain, at any speed. I knew I had lost some of it over the past few years but I didn’t realize quite how dependent I had become on my saddle. Of all of the pictures I have that day, I only found one where I wasn’t in the fetal position. How’d that happen? If I have an excuse it is that this particular horse came to us with a history of bucking. I am a chicken about bucking, and as such, I have avoided riding him bareback. Sometimes logic doesn’t do us any favors. The good news is I found that areas that use to be no go zones, were no longer an issue. In other words, he didn’t dump my butt when I lost my balance and grabbed on to his bare withers. Victory is mine!!!!! Sort of.

Day five was a fun one! I used a much more finished saddle horse, Austin, to do groundwork with Limbo. We worked on flagging, mainly getting him to let me get in to position to flag him, without him turning and running off. Again, it was a slow, walking with just a bit of trotting session but I felt like we ended in a really good place with the flagging. Not only was it good for both of the horses involved, it was good for me to go back and practice my technique. After the flagging I stayed on Austin and practiced my roping. It took me a half hour of trying, and missing to get my horse into position, convince Limbo to maintain a certain speed of walk while I was riding along side him swinging a loop and then actually having everything come together and catch him! Once I caught him I found that he had no pull in him. I had to time my picture just right to show a tight rope. He’d feel it and give immediately. That was very good news in my book. Austin was pretty poofy about catching the wild black bronc. I put him up so he could gloat to the other horses and then had Limbo pick me up from the fence for our first official bareback ride.

I spent the first part of the ride just trying to find the feel of my horse at a walk. Bit by bit I became accustomed to the rhythm again so I decided to pick up a trot. There was that lurch forward again. So, I experimented with body position, and balance and came up with something pretty quick. I am going to write “Head Up” on my saddle horn. That’s what’s throwing me off. I spend WAY too much time looking down, specifically at my horse’s ears. (In my defense he does have big, adorable, expressive, floppy ears that are usually the best indication of what is going on in his mind.) Still, I need to break that habit now. Once I sat up and looked up I started finding my balance again. It wasn’t a miracle or anything, but I did take four nice trot strides and then gear down to a walk both directions without the forward lurch so I know I found the root of the problem. I spent a half hour working on my seat and he was a perfectly gentlemanly school horse. That made me pretty happy. I definitely count day five as our biggest success.

Day six was a pretty laid back trail ride with a friend. No ground breaking discoveries but a good ride for his mind. We worked on two tracking and hind end/front end stuff, and again I focused a lot on how much he weighed in my hands. He seemed lighter but it may be too early to tell.

Today I plan to revisit on line lunging and get a small ride in. I’m hoping to find less of the pull. If so, I’d like to play with his transitions more and maybe add some trot over ground poles. We’ll see.

That’s all for now. Overall I think I did manage to come up with an outline of skills that need work for both me and my horse. With time and effort I am sure we can improve by leaps and bounds. I love reading everyone’s updates, there are so many stories of success and determination. It’s amazing how many disciplines and breeds this challenge covers. It really seems to be the first absolutely no boundaries horsemanship group I’ve seen. I love it, and I am so thankful to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see what the coming weeks bring for everyone!

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