Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another good day in the round pen...

A great day in the Hill Country, even with a bad back.  I loaded up on pain meds, and decided to test if the last round pen's session was a fluke.  Would Vaquero flat walk again?  Or will it be a case of regression and frustration?

We hiked to the round pen, after a little struggle to be caught.  Actually, the struggle was more to get Woody, the herd leader, caught and out of the way; after that it was pretty simple.

My neighbors are nice enough to let me use their round pen.  We had to wade through their horses to get to the round pen.  It's not always easy to lead a horse through another horse's "turf".  After getting through Yaweh, the mare, and Canyon, the paint gelding, we reached an oasis in the pasture: the round pen.  The neighbor's horses stuck around for the show, however.

He did great! He was much more responsive to me being in front of his "driveline", and adjusted speeds quickly.  When his largo broke into a canter, I could easily bring him down just a hair to get back into the largo.  He worked for an extended period in the corto.  And he walked.  He really walked.  I mean I brought him to a walk at least a half dozen times from the corto and largo.  And he genuinely seemed relaxed at the walk.

I worked him for 20 minutes or so, until I saw lather.  Then we worked on his flexion exercises.  He remained mostly focused on me, even when Canyon would make runs and charges at the round pen and try to drive Vaquero.  Vaquero responded very little to the other horses, and his inside ear and speed, stayed with me.

I gave him a good bath after, and that's shown in the 2 photos, one from each side.

A great day in the round pen...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Working in a girdle...

OK. I know I shouldn't have done it.  I know I have a horse problem.  But I just couldn't stop myself.  So in spite of being less than 48 hours post-op from neurosurgery to my back, I worked Vaquero today.

I just worked on lateral flexion, vertical flexion, and some round pen work.  And I did it all in a girdle!  Maybe a better term is an orthopedic, orthotic, lumobosacral spine stabilizer, but it sure feels like a girdle.

After some excitement when I couldn't move fast enough to catch him quickly in a small paddock, we settled in for some work.  He did great.  I even had him at a flat walk for about 3 times around the round pen.  Our best effort to date on a flat walk was maybe 20 feet.  That means I'm better able to get him in, and maintain, all of his speeds: the flat walk, the corto, the largo, and the gallop.  That took about 2 weeks and 8 different sessions.  I'm going to keep building on this, and keep him in his various speeds for longer intervals.  I feel confident this will translate into better speed control from the saddle.  

Ultimately, I'd like to be able to trail ride him in a flat walk to keep pace with my QH buddies (let them keep up rather), and use the corto and largo as spine sparing speeds to keep up with the faster parts of the trail ride.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Last Ride for a While...

I went on a trail ride with James on April 15, 2009.  This is going to be my last trail ride for 6 weeks, until I'm healed from the back surgery I underwent today...

The ride was quite an adventure.  I didn't round pen Vaquero, as daylight was fading fast, and I wanted to maximize our riding time.  This was to be Vaquero's first trail ride with me.  I warmed him up in the arena for about 10 minutes. I rode him in a bit-less, rope halter bridle, equipped with two split reins that joined under the chin.  I could tell right away, that we were in for quite a ride together.

Vaquero is pretty responsive with a bit in his mouth, and I have close to "pinky finger" control of his speed with a bit.  But I had to go bit-less, because he had his teeth floated the day before.  I was having to really crank on his reins to get him to respond, and he was basically pushing against the nose pressure the entire ride.

He didn't spook on the trail, and his smoothness was greatly appreciated, especially going up and down hills that normally I have to post with Woody.  But it was a tough ride because of the physical force required to control him without a bit.

Vaquero is obviously not a "finished" horse.  I suspect he has not been ridden in several months.  With the help of some information from AmericanPasoFinos.com, I think I have the solution to the problem.  You can read more in the forums there, and my handle is "Vaquero".

He needs to be ridden in the traditional headgear for the paso, a type of bosal that will have two sets of reins.  The first set of reins will control nose pressure and head height.  The first set will also work to steer him by positioning his head, and will put him in the right "frame" of head.  That is: flexed at the poll, head held higher than his withers or above his topline, and moving his head in response to bosal pressure.  A second set of reins will control his bit, and will help to control his speed and stop.  Ultimately, I want to be able to ride him with one set of reins, probably the bit, but flexed at the poll.  This type of bosal is different from the one used in western riding, but serves the same purpose.  In fact, if successful, I anticipate using this same set-up in my quarter horse, to get him riding more flexed at the poll and collected.  It seems like I have a lot more to learn AND teach my horses.  But I enjoy the challenge.  I was kind of getting to the point where I was bored with the level I had reached with Woody.  This next goal of riding collected, is going to be tough, but will get me to the point of a more finished horse in both of my mounts.

The picture in this post is of the beautiful sunset I enjoyed with Vaquero, Bullseye, and James.  I plan to keep looking at this picture as I recover over the next 6 weeks, as a reminder of the last trail ride, and to keep dreaming of the next one...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Great ride for Vaquero...

It's a beautiful Easter Sunday.  The sun is shining, and the wind is blowing just enough to keep things cool.  Great day for a ride.  I hope the horses agree.

Vaquero was first.  He was caught fairly easily.  He worked like a champ with our lateral flexion exercises we've been working on, giving to the pressure of the rope halter easily on both sides.  I am convinced that he is just very out of shape, so I looked at my watch and committed to 15 minutes of continuous round pen work before I'd let him in.  

He was hot at first, and wanted to canter around the round pen.  I let him, thinking it'd be a good work out for him, even if I've heard gaited horses shouldn't be allowed to canter much.  I needed an edge.  I wanted him tired.

After a while, he was more content to do a largo, and then a corto.  He was licking his lips and kept looking at me to let him in, but I resisted and sent him around again and again.  We did 15 continuous minutes, and in the end, he was even willing to do a flat walk.  He was sweating, but not breathing nearly as hard as he did just several days ago when he was lathered and nostrils flaring after 5 minutes in the round pen!

We repeated our lateral flexion exercises, and he was butter.  OK, now time to practice standing still for mounting.

I kept the rope halter on him, and put weight in his stirrup with my hand.  He stayed still.  I put a foot in the stirrup, and he danced.  That's it!  I sent him around on the lead rope.  If he wasn't going to stay still for mounting, he was going to work!  He licked his lips quickly and came in, as if to say "OK.  I get it.  I'm supposed to be still.  I just forgot".  We started over.  He was still, and I picked myself up in the stirrup, but did NOT swing my leg over.  I just stayed there, weight on him in the left stirrup, and demanding he be still.  We did this several times, and after one more trip around on the lead line as punishment for moving, he was solid!  No more moving while I mounted.

Now for a ride.  I bridled him up, making him drop his head for me.  He just eats the bit.  I mean, you'd think I dipped it in molasses, that's how eagerly he takes the bit.

I mounted slowly, easing my right leg over.  Would he be still?  Would he tremble underneath me and move off before I could get settled in the saddle, as he had been doing?  Nothing.  He was still.  There was no tremble and he let me get settled and pick up the reins before we began our ride in the round pen.

We spent time in the largo and corto, and even a flat walk at times.  He tolerated changing directions with only an occasional tail swish, but none of the buck he had been giving me.  I've gotten used to his fabulous neck rein, and I just ease him around for turns, lest I go over the saddle with his quick direction changes!  After about 30 minutes, we called it a day, ending on a high note.

Woody was next.  I spent some time round penning him, because I've been often getting on him cold back, and I think he could use a little extra exercise.  I only worked him for about 10 minutes, enough for a sweat, but not enough to get him breathing very hard.  He has awesome stamina, however, and it would probably take 30 minutes to get him winded.

With Woody, I repeated the lateral flexion exercises I've been doing with the paso, and he wasn't nearly as good.  He is stiff as a board with flexing to the left, and much better to the right.  I'll need to be more consistent with doing these exercises.

We did a medium length trail ride of about 45 minutes.  After riding the paso, I've got to say that Woody feels absolutely pokey.  His walk feels like a crawl compared to the corto of the paso.  And it's got even more bounce than the paso's corto.  I'm anxious to get the paso out on the trail, where I suspect I can do the same trails I ride with Woody in half the time, and with less bounce.  I can't wait to see how the paso negotiates the tougher, rockier trails, and see if he can maintain the smoothness.  But I'll wait to do a trail ride with the paso when another horse can join us, just so he feels a little more secure.

I left the paso hanging on a swivel line while I rode Woody.  I left him pawing and "talking".  He resumed the pawing on our return.  So it wasn't perfect, but it was close...

Friday, April 10, 2009

This is what it's all about...

The kids and I grabbed some outdoor time today, and it was awesome.

Victoria and I spent some time in the round pen working Vaquero.  He did great, and was responsive with lateral flexion on the ground and better with maintaining his speed and going through speed transitions. He was doing so well, I put a saddle on him.  He danced a bit for mounting, but MUCH less than our first few rides.  He was still trembling under saddle at first, but within 30-45 seconds, got it under control.  The experience on the ground was duplicated in the saddle (shocking) and he kept his speed easily at paso corto for most of our ride, going into the largo only when I asked for it.  He still doesn't walk well, but he can't do that from the ground yet either, so we still have work to do.

Victoria was fascinated by his different walk.  Sofia said he moves like he's walking fast, and proceeded to demonstrate!  V was so intrigued, that I was able to sell her on the idea of riding him while I led her in the round pen.  She was grinning from ear to ear, and enjoyed the smooth ride.  It was good for Vaquero, because I held him while she mounted, and he put up with her crude efforts to get on him without dancing underneath her.  He also got to practice his flat walk, because I kept it slow while leading V for most of the ride; although, I did get him into a slow corto for V to "ride the glide".

The girls then proceeded to pamper him with endless brushing after the ride.  It is CLEAR that Vaquero likes to be groomed.

I grabbed Woody next, and Sofia was led around.  She and Woody were doing so well, I gave her some instructions on the reins, and she rode Woody free, with me walking ahead, but off the lead rope.  She was turning him well, and using both hands.  She is clearly a natural, and understands horses well.

Weather permitting, we'll make some time for more horse adventures tomorrow.  I am very encouraged by the progress the paso fino is making, and I got the sense that he genuinely likes children.  He was very attuned to the kids, and calmed down in their presence.  Just one of those days when it's good to be a dad and a horseman.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New feet for Vaquero

Vaquero got his hooves worked on today.  The bottom picture shows his hooves before his trim.  I worked him on a long lead to see if his gait got any smoother, but it's hard to tell without getting in the saddle.  I'll check THAT tomorrow. 

It took Vaquero all of about 2 minutes to work off the long lead line.  He wanted to come in to me, but I shoved him out, and he picked up what I wanted pretty quickly.  That horse is no dummy.  You just have to show him twice, and he's got it.  It also means you have to be very consistent, because he WILL remember what you asked for and how you asked for it. He is the smartest horse I've worked with to date by a wide margin.  If I can keep up with him, there is tremendous potential there for a beautiful partnership.

He is flexing laterally very easily to both sides from the ground.  I think I'll work on his standing still for mounting tomorrow in the round pen.

Saying goodbye...

Went to my old stables to ride with Winter. James came with me. We warmed up well in the arena and then hit the back trail. It was just a great, uneventful ride in the beautiful, central Texas hill country. The full moon (seen in the pic) lit our path for the ride back.

I'm very much going to miss riding at my old stables. The trails and memories there will always be in my mind.

James's "Bullseye" is riding much better with the Myler bit. In fact, that bit, together with his conditioning and the frequent riding, led James to comment that "Bullseye is riding the best he's ever ridden".

Now if I can just get my paso fino "Vaquero" to that level...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Went for a trail ride with James.  Got on Woody cold-back...no problems. He was his usual reliable self, and we hit the trails after a short warm up.  Did 2.5 trails, including one with a climb.

Highlight of the trip was seeing James get "Bullseye" up on a boulder after I told him he'd never do it!  This boulder was no bigger than a coffee table and 2 feet off the ground.  Quite a sight.

I left "Vaquero" tied the whole time we were gone, about 2 hours, and I did not notice him pawing in the 45 minutes we spent un-tacking and cleaning up the barn.  I think he may finally be learning some patience!