Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Great ride on Vaquero...

After two terrible rides on Vaquero, I was getting very frustrated with my fire-breathing paso fino. I admit, I had been losing my cool with him the last few times, and our rides had been a disaster. But I sought advice from the good folks at americanpasofinos.com, and set about adjusting my attitude.

I worked him on the ground yesterday, and we just focused on little movements, and just relaxing with each other. We did some deep breathing with each other (seriously) and just tried to be pleasant with one another.

Today, I did much the same, but I went on a trial ride. But before going anywhere, I just sat on him and rewarded him for relaxing and just standing in one spot. For about 10 minutes, we just stood there until he stopped quivering and we reached a state of zen like tranquility (seriously).

We then went out on the trail, and he was uncharacteristically calm. Or was it me? Even James, riding with me, commented on how calm we both were.

We had a great ride, and I enjoyed his silky smooth gait. We stopped several times and refocused our energy to that zen like place, before we would tackle a section of the trail.

It was awesome. Best trail ride on Vaquero in months.

Yes, I know. It was me. I just needed to calm myself, find my center, and share that peace with my slightly neurotic horse so he could perform at his best. When he is "on", he is the best ride I have. I just want to get that ride from him consistently.

Damn, I'm really tired of that expression "there are no problem horses, only problem riders". It's always true!

Want to see some video of me and Vaquero? Go to youtube.com and search "1234vaquero".

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woody Reborn...

After the debacle with Vaquero at ranch sorting at the Cibolo livery, I decided to give me and Vaquero a break from our relationship, and see other horses.

Specifically, I wanted to lope some circles, and I have been missing that on Vaquero. Since Vaquero is a paso fino and a gaited horse, loping circles isn't his strong suit.

The last two days, I hopped on Woody. I used my usual bit, and one with which I am intimately familiar, and is easier than the bit I usually have beginners use when they ride Woody. We went back to the basics. We worked on lead departures on the correct lead, forehand and hindquarter transitions, side passing, and backing up. He was rusty yesterday, but today he was ON. He was getting his leads on cue, and his forehand transitions were brisk and quick. I concentrated on unloading his front end with good body position, and it made all the difference. You see, with the QH, I have more things I can work on and do, and I get to be a more active rider. With the paso fino, I sit more passively, because being active in the saddle sets him off because he's so sensitive. And with the paso, the emphasis is on smooth, not really athletic activities.

Woody's stop in just two days is MUCH better. He damn near jammed my back on one of his stops today. So in two rides, we went from a drifting kind of stop, to jamming my spine. I just persisted in working his back up, and being very deliberate in asking for the stop with my body BEFORE I pulled on the reins, and it made a big difference. I also have been riding him with a little more bit pressure, something I picked up from riding the paso, and it seemed to make him more responsive, I think because he is already "on the bit" even before I ask for the stop. He'll never be a western pleasure horse, so riding on a completely loose rein may not have been working for him.

It was awesome. I was opening my gates from Woody's back (he was doing all the work for me, no struggles), loping big circles, and running through the front pasture. I was in the front pasture, running him strong for long stretches, when one of my neighbors walked by. She is someone I'd never met, but I'd seen her horses from the trail. She stopped and we talked for a bit, and she marveled at how Woody would just run and run, and how even after just stopping, he didn't seem short of breath. That's my Woody.

It was quite a thrill today. One of those days when you know exactly why you love riding, and makes up for those days when you wonder if it's all worth it. It is DEFINITELY worth it!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ranch sorting at Cibolo...

I had been trying to find time to attend the ranch sorting practice at Cibolo livery for some time now. It's the closest thing to team penning around, and they stopped offering team penning at Cibolo some time back. The problem is that the ranch sorting practice is only held once a month. That's a tall order with my schedule.

I loaded up the horses and kids, and headed to the stables. Christine came along and was a huge help in handling the horses.

They started with a jackpot, which was basically ranch sorting for money for the teams that really knew what they were doing. I passed, of course, but I watched closely to see what the "pros" were doing. I made some small talk with the other riders, and made some new friends. There were some very impressive horses and riders in the jackpot round.

The practice session opened immediately after, and I gave it a whirl on Vaquero. I though he did pretty well for his first time out, and I looked forward to some more runs.

I fed my kids and then jumped back in the action. Only everyone had pretty much paired up by then, and I was struggling to find a partner. After my oldest daughter, Victoria, declined to try it, Christine agreed to give it a whirl on Woody. Wow! This was going to be interesting, two novices trying to ranch sort!

I don't know who was more nervous. As we waited in line for our turn, we discussed strategy. As if we needed to! This was just about getting some experience.

We headed into the round pens, and they announced "ride when ready". After encouraging Christine that the announcement meant she should get started, we were off. Well, we managed to get a few (two or so) calves sorted, and many more that shouldn't have been, but we survived the 90 seconds. Vaquero performed poorly, and was barely containable. His extra energy was not helpful in this event, and I found myself getting very frustrated with him. But Chrsitine was hooked! She wanted another round.

We waited our turn again, and hit it for our second effort. Christine and Woody did better, but Vaquero was a total disaster. He had no clue as to what we were doing, and his energy was excessive for the event. but we had fun.

A few observations after trying this event: Vaquero is ill suited for ranch sorting. It's not that he's not "cowy" or quick enough. He has plenty of skill in those areas. It's that he can't stay put, and he has to move FORWARD, and this is an event where you're required to "hold" the cattle, and that often means staying put or just side-passing or just yielding hindquarters but staying in place. He just can't do any of that and NOT move forward. And once he moves forward, we are out of position.

This event is not something I'll be doing often. It's not offered enough and my schedule won't allow it. But it's apparent I'm going to need a good QH to do some of the cattle events. I'll try to make a few play-days with Vaquero, but I suspect he won't do well there either. And I miss loping, and Vaquero doesn't do that well.

I rode Woody a bit in the arena while we were there, but his trot was torture for my back, and I kept him in a lope. I was very envious of al the QH riders there with some beautiful looking QH's that OBVIOUSLY had smooth trots and slow lopes.

I need a smooth trotting, good looking QH. It's that simple. It's time to start saving pennies. But it was one heck of an experience, and I'll be back.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clicker training with Vaquero...

I went for a casual trail ride with Vaquero yesterday. I started by working on his clicker training in the barn while tacking up. He was asked to touch an inanimate object (a feed lid), and was rewarded with a click and a treat. He likes the apple treats, and seemed eager to earn more.

I took him out of the barn and went about mounting him. He has a habit of taking a few baby steps when I mount him, but this time he stayed still, and earned a click and a treat. Again, he seemed pleased with himself.

We went out to ride one trail, and I kept asking for the walk and rewarding him when he slowed and maintained his walk, with a click and a treat. But I found out it's a lot harder to give a treat while mounted, than while on the ground. I would stop him, and he would bring his head around to take the treat from my hand. But he didn't like to stay that twisted and still for too long, and I found myself pushing the treat in his mouth. Well, of course, my fingers were presenting the treat instead of a flat palm. Can you guess what happened? Yep, he caught my fingers in his teeth and I got rewarded with pain! That pretty much ended the treat offerings for that trail ride.

I'm going to continue with his clicker training. I may even just give him a "good boy" and a neck rub along with the click, but I do think he is responding to positive reinforcement...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

5 miler on August 5th, 2009

James and I did a 5.2 mile ride in 55 minutes. We had been riding slow and easy, but our goal is to get in 1-2 rides a week at a brisk pace. We alternated between a trot, slow lope, and a run.

Vaquero was a little rough at first, and I worked to settle him into a nice largo. He gets a little excited sometimes at the beginning of a ride, and his normally smooth gait comes best to him after a warm up. I kept him in a largo while James rode Bullseye in a slow lope beside me.

When James picked it up to a faster lope, Vaquero's largo couldn't keep up, so I let him slip into a slow canter, still very smooth. The best part of riding Vaquero is that when you transition between the lope and largo, it's smooth. There is no jarring transition into a hard trot from a smooth lope, like in my QH Woody. On Vaquero, you just keep your seat, and everything feels under control at any speed transition.

At one point, we opened them up, and I had Vaquero at a full run (I later clocked him at 20mph using my GPS) and I was goosing him to see just how fast he would go. At that point, James and Bullseye came thundering up behind me and easily bested Vaquero's speed. Bullesye, the QH, definitely has another gear that Vaquero lacks. Still, I really enjoy Vaquero's smoothness, and I'll use that more than I will top speed.

The horses were panting for a good 10 minutes after the ride. And James and I grudgingly admitted to one another that the extended loping had left our abdominal muscles hurting. It was loads of fun...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ride for August 3, 2009.

Rode about 4 miles with James. He rode Bullseye and I mounted Woody, my grade quarterhorse.

Woody has been ridden by mostly beginners for the past few months, and he has completely lost his handle. He has a very poor stop if it's not maintained with lots of firm stops and backing up. Currently, I would rate his stop a 2/10. It will probably take me a month of riding a couple of times a week to get his stop back to his personal best, which is about a 7/10. He never "stops on a dime", but rather slows down and then eases into a stop. But right now, he's tossing his head and I'm using the "emergency brake" (a one rein stop) to get him to slow reasonably quickly.

Woody is also not riding collected, and he has lost some speed control. He hasn't had a rider on him in months that insists he lowers his head and flexes at the poll, and so he's not. He's got his head in the air. And he has walk, trot, and RUN. And I want the slow canter I know he has. Needless to say, it was a "working" ride yesterday, and we did a lot of flexing, lowering head, and fighting the bit to keep him from running and to get him to stay in a slow canter.

Despite our disagreements, he never reared or bucked, but I could definitely feel his displeasure at his not getting his way.

I have a million requests from friends that want to ride with me. I give them Woody, because I know he won't knowingly hurt anyone. But I'm afraid he's not reaching his potential with so many novice riders on his back. I may have to take him back, and be his only rider for a while, to get him back in form...