Saturday, November 13, 2010

When horses run

Smokey and I have been hard at work at the barn, trying to put everything we learned at the clinic to work. Over all things have gone well. Generally Smokey is a little rusty the first day we get back to work after a break (with work I can't really get to the barn for 3-4 days) and we have to work hard on steering and keeping his head in the right position. So we do that first each day until we're back on track.

By back on track I mean until we turn well in both directions at the trot without having to do the lift maneuver.

Some days that's 6 circles. Some days it feels like 26.

But going out on our own is getting better and better. We still only ride within the general area of the barn, but there's less balking and "barn diving" (you know, doing hard turns back to the barn). The improvement is very incremental, but discernible.

Then there is the run.

We went to the lake last weekend with B and her new horse - the 4 year old gaited Palomino Buddy that Donna was selling - and with D and her gaited TWH Trigger.

B (who is also our farrier) is no longer threatening to steal Smokey. She's in deep love with her new horse.

However, Smokey and Buddy (who is very alpha) don't get along, and Smokey gives him a wide berth. Until they start running.

Smokey did well on the trail around the lake, not spooking or anything. But when we got to the area where we all tend to do some loping he got... competitive. I couldn't keep him in a solid canter and pretty quick we were in a run, catching up with Buddy who was at the head of the pack.

The run didn't feel out of control, other than it was faster than I wanted to go. I thought I'd probably be able to slow him down if I veered him off to the side because I still had steering. But it was exhilarating, in a way. And, when we came down (and then hung out with Trigger, who is much older and wasn't going to do any more cantering), Smokey did fine. No jigging, no calling out. He ran out one other time at a different spot, again racing to catch up to Buddy.

Only later did I think of one thing I could have done - kept him running and running past the herd. It's like all those times after a party when you think of the things you should have said.

But at least I did ride it out and now I won't be afraid of it.

I know that the issue is simple: I need more practice at the canter. We've only cantered a handful of times. He never raced into a run before.

So we worked on this a little today in the arena. It was messy at the start, but we got better before calling it a day.

So what do you do with a racing horse? I don't think this is a "every time we canter" thing. I think it's just in a herd. How do you get that stop nice and sticky in the canter - or get them to rate down? Lots of transitions?

Advice is welcome and needed!


Shirley said...

Since every situation is different, I can't advise what to do on the trail. However, in a schooling situation, especially with young horses, I like to lope circles. I warm up with walking, trotting, and lots of up and down transitions, then ask for a lope- just a few circles at first, then transition down. Back up to the lope, etc. On young horses I like to use leg wraps to protect their legs. Get so that your horse is comfortable at the lope both directions,- this may take a few days- and start asking for speed changes while loping. (This can be done with body language) Once you are comfortable that you can control or rate the speed of your horse in the arena, it should be safer to gallop on the trail- but remember that things are more exciting on the trail and it may take a little more time before his mind engages. I usually don't lope a young horse on the trail unless he's a little bit tired.
Hope this helps!

Dan and Betty said...

I'm in the same camp as Shirley above. I think a big part of this is Smokey's youth.


Susan said...

I think the question you need to ask yourself is, where is Smokey's attention when he runs. Keep him busy by and keep his attention by making him do things like walk over a log or leave the trail, etc. A horse who's attention is on his rider doesn't misbehave.