Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Test and a Question

by Laura Crum

Sometimes when I talk to others or read blogs, I get a bit overwhelmed by all I’m NOT doing with my horses. Because currently all I am doing is short trail rides, light riding in the arena and gathering cattle from a small pasture. Not very exciting or challenging, though I enjoy it. So the other day I saddled Sunny up and decided to see what I can actually get done with him.

(An aside here—I saddled Sunny up on the one day in the last week that it was neither raining nor very muddy as a result of rain—in June! If I sound a bit bitter here, its because I am. But I digress.)

Here’s my list of what we can do. Walk, trot, lope on cue (within one stride), though I have to work at it to get the right hand lead. Sustain each of these gaits for several circles as asked in a calm, collected frame. Halt within a stride from any gait in a balanced frame. Back reasonably freely for several strides. Extend, or at least speed up, all three gaits without getting excited or breaking gait or losing the good frame. Walk calmly over small obstacles as I direct. Open and close a gate, involving whatever sidepassing is needed. All of this with a minimum of resistance—though sometimes there is a little resistance. But no head tossing, tail swishing, attempts to push through the bridle, or anything like that. All cues were given with my soft (ugg) boots, no spurs or crop. I have to be pretty strong with my legs sometimes, and in order to keep Sunny collected and correctly bent into the circle at the trot and lope, I must be on top of my game and using my hands effectively as well as my legs, sometimes using two hands rather than one. But he will maintain a correct frame if I do this, and on very light contact. He does not lean on my hands and most of the time there is a tiny bit of slack in the reins.

I didn’t try any more exercises, such as serpentines…etc, because both he and I were pretty much done with this formal stuff after the above work, and went on to amble around the property for a short ride, which is what we both enjoy most. But it made me feel good to realize we could execute at least a version of “work”—though I’m not sure it would impress anyone else.

So, I’m curious. How would you guys evaluate my baseline “test”? Does this sound like a reasonably broke horse to you (considering we are just going out on the trails, not doing reining patterns or dressage), or do you think I need to work on other exercises? I do realize that its simply a matter of what each individual rider finds acceptable in a riding horse, and that the only thing that really counts is if I’m happy. Still, I wonder what level of “broke” others like to have before they feel a horse is well trained. And Terri, if you read this, I have no aspirations toward a fourth level dressage horse, and, in fact, am not sure I could execute a flying change any more (!)

Sunny remained calm and confident throughout the twenty minutes or so I devoted to our test, though I could feel in his body (at times) his usual resistance/resentment at this sort of work. His former owner tried to use him for dressage and he came to me with the comment, “He likes the trails; he doesn’t like arena work,” which I have found to be true. Nonetheless, he does what I ask.

Considering that I, too, like the trails and don’t like arena work, I have just let the arena work slide, to tell you the truth. I did the “test” because I was wondering if we actually COULD execute simple arena work exercises any more. And now I’d love to get some feedback. Given the circumstances, what do you think? Should I try to do more? Or continue to be a slacker?

And here’s another question for you. I was looking through my files trying to find an author photo for my upcoming book, and I stumbled upon this one. Does it look like my little yellow mule is a horse with an opinion or what? And can you tell he only tolerates being “snuggled?” He doesn’t actually like it. He does like me to be near him, he just doesn’t like me to fuss with him, which I think the photo shows. What do you think? Good author photo or should I look for another one?


Leslie said...

Laura, I'm bitter about mud too so I can relate! We finally got a drying spell last week,then daily summer-like storms are blowing through. Makes me go UGH!!! I've had mud in my corral area since early March.

Personally, I'm going to tell you to keep trail riding and not worry much about the arena work but that's just me. Maybe throw in some arena exercises weekly or bi weekly to keep Sunny on his toes. Might be good for him. But, my thinking is that riding the trails brings up situations where you can use arena exercises anyway.

I'm one to talk, I haven't had my guys out, only in our pasture, but when I was doing trail riding with other horses I found it to be good for all of them. If you're not competing then go with what's enjoyable for all!

I like the picture of you and Sunny as an author photo.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Leslie. I too haven't been able to do a lot of riding this spring due to weather, so I can really relate to your frustration. There is mud in my corrals right now (!). We absolutely NEVER have this in the part of California where I live in June.

I can never really connect to photos of myself (is that what I look like?), but my son liked that photo for an author photo. My husband doesn't--he thinks I should use the one that's on the sidebar of me riding Sunny. So I thought I'd get some more opinions. Thanks for your input.

gillian said...

I like my my trail horses to go and to stop. To move off my leg so I can avoid trees and to collect himself on the downhill spots. Sounds like your boy does all of that and more. I think you worry too much.

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like he's already got that "arena" stuff down - but it's all a question of what you want to do with your horse. He sounds like a good, reliable, responsive horse to me that's well trained in more than just the basics. Unless you really like arena work or want to do more advanced stuff with him, just ride the way you want - trails and moving cattle sound like fun to me.

Right now I've only got one horse that's trail-ready and his arena work still has lots of holes (Pie). Then I've got the arena queen who's doing great although she and I have to get more confident in each other in the canter (Dawn) - we're getting braver about (very small) trail excursions. Then there's Drift, who's basically green but coming along. I'd like to get him started on the trail soon but the basics have to be there first, and finding someone to ride with is a challenge as our barn is so small.

wilsonc said...

I think your horse sounds like he would be a "dream horse" to many horse owners out there. So many of them can't even ride their horses, so to have one so well- trained AND good on the trails is ideal. I have a well-trained horse too, but he's not so good on the trails. More trail time would take care of that I'm sure. He can do all your horse does when he has a rider who doesn't confuse him. The fact that Sunny does them well after all this time speaks to your riding as well as his training. Do what's fun for you and an arena tune-up every so often. Your a lucky woman with the ability to play in both worlds.

Laura Crum said...

gillian--Your comment made me laugh. Thanks. I am, as you point out, by nature, somewhat of a worrier. I have to say, though, that I wasn't really "worried" about what Sunny could or couldn't do compared to other horses--I was more curious.

Kate--I enjoy reading about your three horses and what you are doing with them. In fact, you were one of the people who inspired me to try my little test. After hearing what you were working on, I wondered what Sunny could actually do in the way of arena work--if I asked him. I hear you about finding a companion to ride with--our horses are very reliable, but even so, when I go out on the trails with my young son, I prefer to have another experienced rider along. It can make all the difference in an unexpected situation--and the unexpected is the nature of trail riding.

wilsonc--I have to say that I do not really consider Sunny "well trained". Reasonably broke, maybe. I have owned ( and trained) many horses that could do a whole lot more than Sunny in the way of arena work. Gunner, for instance was solid on flying changes, spins, and sliding stops--Sunny is not in that league. Sunny is a good trail horse, which is what I bought him for, and I guess I was just testing to see what he could actually get done in the way of arena work. But thanks for the nice compliment--I do feel as if I'm lucky to own a horse that does what I need him to do.

Shanster said...

I think I'm with the others - do what you enjoy!! I love the way Sunny sounds and I absolutely appreciate older, broke horses who have been there done that and I know I wouldn't be out on the trails all that much... I don't really have anyone to go with and the Dressage bug is in my system so you do what you enjoy and of course you miss out on other things... but we only have so much time and money ... now if I were filthy rich with no job and all I had were endless days to ride... I'd be diving into a lot of different horse activities! grin.

Shanster said...

Oh - and I like the photo!

Minus Pride said...

Your yellow horse can do more than me:) Sugar is my first horse that I've put the training on, and I train her as I can. She's a star on the ground, so not dangerous for anyone else to handle, but I work and attend school (both full time) so she gets what training I have time for. She's four, she walks and trots very happily, leg yields, and loping is next on our list.
I just realigned my goals for Sugar & I. Originally the plan was Dressage, but she "told" me several times that's not what she's interested in. She's a beautiful horse, bred to the hilt to show halter...but that's just not what we want to do. She gets very bored standing around. She loves to go out on the trails, and her head comes right up and her ears go forward.
I really like reading your stories about Sunny and would not enjoy them half as much if they were in the arena setting.
I like the photo!

Linda said...

ummmm....hmmmm...let me think about that for two seconds...YES!!! He's as trained as you need him to be. I use my horses the same way you do and I try to keep the superfluous stuff to a minimum. They don't like arena work and it doesn't suit our purpose. I do all of the training out on the trail. I'm not a big fan of arenas or round-penning except as tools to get to the broader goal of trails. I'm lucky that I do have a huge group of friends to ride with. I started a club at one point--then it morphed into another and now it's called The Lilac City Riders. We have a message board so all we have to do is pop up an "I'm going to ride at this time, this place" and we get takers to ride along. New people to the city can find instant riding partners this way, too. We all have the same goal--trails, trails, trails! One more thing, horses have excellent memories and if every little thing you do is fair and clear you build a strong foundation that can survive a week or more between rides--even with the young ones. That's my experience anyway. They might be a little "fresh", but that's not a biggy.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: Sunny knows more than enough! At this point, Qrac doesn't know much more, in fact, it sounds like Sunny is far less complicated to ride than Qrac, who can get a little stroppy at times. I've not even tried rein back yet.

So yes, continue doing what you enjoy, and maybe do a little arena work to keep him supple and attentive. I think older horses benefit from suppling exercises.

And I too like the picture. It has a lovely soft light to it.

Mrs. Mom said...

I only wish we had mud right now, instead of this dry choking dust.

Sunny is a solid, good, reliable guy. He's got the "stuff" down pretty pat! And correctly-- which is more than can be said for the pregnant gelding that owns us.

Do what makes you two HAPPY. If you feel the bug for arena work, go for it. If only trails, then go for that too!

I like the photo- it is a really nice one of you. Sunny is Sunny- and that shows who HE is quite nicely!

You know what? Reading your blog, talking with you via email makes it more.... fun, interesting, exciting for me to read your books. I find myself trying to "find" the real horses in there based on what you've told us about them on here. Getting to see the "real" Sunny in that photo gives me a chuckle. Maybe it's just me- I do tend to view things from a different view point ;)

Alison said...

Hi Laura and others--I need to ask you guys for some help after hearing about Sunny's 'test' and the other comments. I school Relish briefly before going out on the trail just to make sure he is paying attention. (We have a grassy flat spot, no railings.) I ride in a soft bosal and since he is a big rangy boy, built like a QH, bending is not his strong suit. He has never liked a bit--I tried to get him gradually used to a snaffle, but I could tell he was not happy. I know part of the problem with bending is the bosal. Any suggestions to get him softer and rounder with the bosal or wean him painlessly to a snaffle?

Anonymous said...


Sounds like Sunny has enough training to do his jobs well. It also sounds like he's the type of horse who doesn't like to be drilled on stuff he already knows.

I wouldn't worry about it as long as he's getting enough work to stay in shape. My goal this year is to get my horse to be more like Sunny. Sigh. Since I don't have an indoor place to ride, the weather has been a bitter disappointment here too.

I like the photo.

Anonymous said...

Hey Laura:

Your blog post made me laugh! I wish my new girl was as well trained/broke as Sunny!! She is definitely a point and shoot trail horse. In the arena she will pop her shoulder out and try to run right through it, or just stop and refuse to go faster than a walk!! She is also as stiff as a board, especially to the left. And like Sunny she does not like to work in the arena!!! So we are starting with the basics trying to get her to soften and accept the bit, to respond to the aids when asked not after having been beat on by my legs!!! I'm fortunate that there is a large research farm down the road from us and they have several open grassy areas that we can "school" in without making it an arena workout. So we try to incorporate it into our trail work. But I do agree with Francesca that being supple will only benefit our horses as they age.

I still believe that a good mind out weights training any day and with Sunny and Henry you definitely have good minds.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks Shanster--I just wish I was able to get in more riding of any sort right now.

And thank you, Minus Pride. I'm like your mare and Sunny--the arena bores me.

Linda--One of Sunny's virtues is that I can skip a week and he's just the same.

Francesca--I do believe that Sunny would benefit from some stretching exercises. Its my lack of interest that's the problem. I just find "exercises" boring. Another reason I'm getting stout (!)

Thanks Mrs Mom--I'm glad you like my books. And Sunny is not all that well trained. Before the "test" I had to wake him up a little and let him know we were going to do something more ambitious than our usual "amble around". Sunny is essentially a lazy horse. Once woke up, and with me using a pretty active leg, he executed the described manuevers--more or less willingly.

Alison--I am the wrong one to give advice here. Sunny has a tendency to lean on a bit--so I ride him in a mechanical hackamore--and he does not lean on it at all. I tend to ride a horse in whatever he's comfortable in. If Relish likes the bosal, I'd probably stick to that.

redhorse--Thanks for the compliment to my little yellow mule. I like him, too. The weather has been the pits (!)

Lynn--Sounds like you are off to a good start with Peaches. I think that many of these experienced trail horses somewhat resent arena work.

Anonymous said...

Alison - there are a lot of different snaffles out there - single jointed, double jointed with lozenge or French link, ported with roller, Mylar comfort snaffles in different designs - I've found that each horse has preferences that are partly due to mouth shape, palate height and tongue size. The side pieces can make a difference too - some horses hate a loose ring, for example. You may have to try some different ones before you find the right one, or just stick with the bosal.

Anonymous said...

Alison - oh, one other thing - bitting problems are often related to dental problems, so you might want to look into that.

Joy said...

Such a good post. I loathe arena work. LOATHE it. My horse loves it. But it has to be a certain size arena to facilitate his mechanical lameness issues.

That being said, if your boy does what you ask and doens't buck (I'm thinking double barrell and dolphin bucks here btw), to me that's a win.

I had to move my horse some miles away to my friend's house so I have really been able to ride since Oct. I'm suffering major anxiety issues (it's clinical) because my horse is my zen. So I would DIE for an arena workout like yours right now.

It sounds perfect. You don't need to test yourself. You're a trainer, accomplished rider and you've got the perfect horse(s) for your needs.

Godspeed my friend.

Joy said...

haven't. have not. not have. I hate when I mess up speileing....

Gayle Carline said...

I have two arena horses - I'd love my mare to be a trail horse, but she is spooky. If we were surrounded by beautiful scenery instead of southern California congestion, I'd work harder to make her less sensitive, but it is what it is.

While I agree that you should do what you like, which is trail ride, I also think that occasional arena work is good for you and Sunny. Not only does it keep him supple, but it's good exercise for both of your minds. I'd be tempted to throw in a serpentine every once in awhile, just to check out my own reflexes and my ability to give timely commands to my horse.

Alison said...

Thanks Laura and Kate with bitting advice. Since I don't ride at a barn and don't have access to all those different kind of bits (and too poor to buy them all) there is no way I can try and see what works, though that seems like the bet thing to do. I have had his teeth checked so that's not the problem. Will forge on!

Laura Crum said...

Joy--I am so sorry to hear you're struggling with anxiety issues. I have been there and its not fun. I hope you can be riding Willy and free of anxiety soon. Thanks for the supportive comment.

Gayle--I think arena work is probably good for me, too, which is why I occasionally try to do a bit of it. Unfortunately Sunny has been off and on too gimpy for more than walking lately--the day I did the test he seemed fine, but yesterday the slight bob in his stride was back, so I think the next thing I'm going to do is have a vet take some X-rays so I can find out what's bothering him and maybe help him out a bit.

Alison--I don't change bits unless I feel that my horse (or myself) is not happy in the usual bit, so I'm not a good resource. I HAVE had the experience of trying a horse who fussed endlessly with his bit (PLumber) in numerous bits, only to find he fussed with all of them (and yes, the teeth were checked). Turns out he just liked to fuss with the bit. It didn't stop him from becoming a very successful team roping horse, but it remained an annoying habit. We just tolerated it, because he was such a good horse overall.

joycemocha said...

Heh. Now you know what we deal with in the Pacific Northwet! I was very bitter when I was down your way in Sunnyvale last week; the weather was like it'd been here while in PDX it was warm and sunny! Sigh.

Meanwhile, I think Sunny sounds pretty broke. For myself, I'd do a lot more, but sounds like he's got it together and has the basic foundation that can be brushed up if needed. I like having that foundation on a horse even if you don't use it much formally in an arena.

Laura Crum said...

joycemocha--I, too, like having the foundation. In fact, I'm uncomfortable riding a horse that can't execute a simple version of arena work correctly, such as I did on Sunny. Such horses feel out of control to me, even if they're only walking along.

horsegenes said...

Sunny is finished. I like that word better than broke. Sunny knows his job and even though it may not please him to lope circles he does it because it is his job. I don't like the word test. Puts me into a tail spin - to much pressure. :) I like to play. I like the challange of the puzzle. I want to be able to walk trot and lope around on both leads with a loose rein. I want to be able to back up, side pass etc without any resistance, just light leg pressure or a bump with a calf. I love to set up obstacles in and out of the arena to work over. Backing through barrels, side passing over poles set up a crazy angles. I love a good egg and spoon trotting race! Heck - I love a good trotting race any day - with or without the egg. The problem with the word test and arena is we all go into professional mode. I can't fool around in the arena - you have to use your best horsemanship etc. I say phooey! Have some fun. Have a egg and spoon race. :)

Laura when I make it down to see you - I am bringing the spoons....