I'm going to let you in on a little secret.Cyrus

When I write posts for Horse Listening, some of my ideas are sparked by - shall we say - my own "needs". As in, if I need to think about or do something with the horses, I tend to write about it.

We are deep in the throes of winter here - snow halfway up our calves, icy footing underneath, and short days of daylight. Add to that the usual daily work demands, and there is little room for horsin' around, especially when keeping safety in mind.

Having said that, the horses don't know the difference. They go out in their paddocks in the morning and come in at night, but in reality, their need for exercise does not diminish even if the footing is off and I stumble in tired from a day's work.

So the other day, I decided to listen to my own words of "wisdom" - and give my horse the gift of exercise.

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Despite the snow fall the night before, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and there was no hint of searing winter wind. The weather was just perfect!

I talked myself into doing it the safest way - instead of actually riding, I decided I'd just lunge my horse. Once in a while, especially after days of no exercise, I let my horse loose to "free lunge" in the ring, but that was not a consideration. The outdoor ring was in no condition for me to let my horse go - although he is pretty street smart about icy footing brought about by wintry conditions, he might nevertheless become over-exuberant and momentarily careless.

He always enjoys a good grooming session. Unlike the other horses, he seems to revel in the attention he gets when he is in the barn all alone. I brushed off the dust from his glossy black coat and finished with soft flicks over his eyes and muzzle. Spending a few moments detangling his tail left him looking almost as pleased as I was about his overall appearance - shiny, midnight black, well muscled despite the lack of exercise, and fluffy tail to top it all off.

I tacked him up like I was going to ride. Saddle pad, saddle and girth, bridle - and side reins. With lunge line and whip in hand, we headed off into the snowy winter wonderland that used to be our beautiful sandy riding ring in the summer.

I was going to take it easy - just walk around for a while and see what the ground really was like under the snow. Cyrus had other things in mind. The moment we closed the gate, and he saw that he was going to go for a spin, his body outline changed and he radiated horse-language excitement. Time for some fun!

His first few trot steps were a joy to watch. Because the snow went halfway up his cannons, he had to take high, controlled steps, making sparkling new foot holes as he landed in the crisp, clean white snow. Bouncing along, he seemed to spend more time in the air than on the ground. Sometimes, deep snow can be great for encouraging impulsion!

Soon we got down to business. At first, he trotted carefully while making a nice path in the snow. He was able to loosen a bit over his back and enjoy the movement more as the snow flattened and became easier to move through.

Then came the snorting session: snort, snort, snort, SNORT! He couldn't tell me in any clearer terms how much he was enjoying the moment.

The footing wasn't so bad after all. He was able to take solid, firm steps and as time went on, he started swinging over the back and taking bolder, longer steps. He stretched his neck down and playfully poked his nose into the snow as he went along, snorting again when the light snow fluffed into his nostrils.

I asked for a little canter. He seemed sure-footed enough, and he looked like he was going to explode with energy! He skipped lightly into the three-beat gait and floated along gracefully as if there was no snow at all. Several snorts later, he broke back into a careful trot, ready to go again at the slightest indication from me.

Then we began to play. Trot - canter - trot. Wow! The trot stride was ever increasing. I think Cyrus is one of the most dynamic horses I have ever had on a lunge line. He can reach underneath his body with his hind legs deeper than most horses. Where another horse would have problems balancing, he just tilts his croup and his hind legs go pretty much underneath the middle of his body. That way, he seems to have incredibly good control of his power - a little more, and he can change gaits to canter, and a little less, and he can hold his trot stride longer and with surprisingly good balance on a circle.

Today, I thought we could play a little with his trot. He was easily hopping from trot to canter in both directions, so instead of asking for more canter, I asked for a stronger trot without increasing the tempo. I asked him: can you turn up your power without breaking gait or speeding up in the trot and use it instead to reach even further under your body and round your back more?

First, he switched to canter. I tried again. The second time, he sped up at the trot. I tried again. In remarkably little time, he figured it out! When I could see his hind footsteps reaching farther forward than his front footsteps (called "over-tracking"), I was (almost) as excited as he was. He was LOVING the feeling of good movement - I could see it in his eyes, in his bounding steps and enthusiasm, and in his ever-celebratory snorts.

As he eased back to a walk, and I began to let his pulse settle through some walk exercises, I realized how possible it really is to spend a little time in movement with your horse even in difficult conditions - and how much the horse appreciates it. As we headed back to the barn, Cyrus walked beside me with dreamy eyes and a softly flowing, calm body.

"Ahh," he seemed to say, "that was nice!"

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  1. What a fine post! I can feel the cold air, hear those snorts (!), see your horse energized by the motion of his own body and the snow he is negotiating on his circle. Love it! Thanks for sharing!!