Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bella is Bella--or is She?

Bella is Bella--or is She?

It’s been nearly a year since Shari started riding Bella with us on a regular basis.  Being an energetic National Show Horse, it was no surprise to see her spooking, dancing, prancing, trying to go at faster gait, etc.  We used to say, “That’s just Bella being Bella.”

Through the summer, we saw her calming down.  The more we rode together, the better she got.  Shari used clicker training, and that helped immensely.  Clicker changes the conversation--or in Bella’s case--brought her into the conversation.  In the beginning, she just reacted to the environment.  With clicker, Shari got her attention, and they were able to have the conversations.  

Instead of Bella saying, “I’m going.  I’m spooking.  I’m going, again.”  She was saying, “I’m going.  Shari, do you like the way I’m going?  You do?  I’ll do it some more, than.”

Sometimes, it was Bella saying, “You don’t like this?  What about this?  Do you like this?”

There are plenty of times that she does something she thinks is really awesome, and then she turns her head back and tells Shari, “I think that deserved a click.”

With the mild winter, we were still able to get out on the trail periodically.  Bella had her first ride in the snow!  In the spring, when we really started riding again, we had a few bad rides.  You read about them here.  Then, she suddenly became the horse she was at the end of the fall, last year.

Soon, it seemed like she spooked less, traveled with a loose rein, more and just seemed more relaxed.  That’s when we really started having some terrific rides.  So we worked on her following instead of leading.  That was a very easy lesson--because this isn’t the same Bella as before.

The phrase, “Bella being Bella,” is outdated.  Bella is a different horse, now.  We are going to have a fantastic summer of riding.

But what am I going to write about?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Book

My publisher is downsizing their warehouse.  Consequently, I now have several cartons of books at my house that I want to sell.  

“Trail Training for the Horse and Rider” is a highly readable, how-to book for trail riding.  I cover training the green horse, retraining the spoiled horse, negotiating difficult obstacles and terrain, conditioning, dealing with difficult weather and more.

It costs $20.00 plus $4.00 to ship.  If you are a local person, we could arrange to meet to save shipping costs.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Starry’s Turn

Starry’s Turn

The next day, Shari and I found ourselves back on the hill.  The river can be very troublesome in the spring.  We did one trip down with Cole doing some trotting in the lead and Bella following like an angel.  On the way back up, we found Kevin and Starry.

Remember that Starry has been struggling since last summer with his own leadership problems.  He doesn’t want to be lead horse.  He has improved so much since then, but he still isn’t reliable.

There is another problem.  Starry has fallen in love with Bella.  He will follow her to the ends of the earth.  He doesn’t like Cole to be between them.  Cole doesn’t mind if he can’t follow directly behind Bella, so that isn’t a problem.  The real problem is how to get Starry in front of Bella.

Kevin knew all this, and decided he would just leave.  He didn't want to mess up our ride.  It took much convincing to get him to stay.  This was a training ride for us, and it could be a training ride for him, too.  The hill can be so repetitive that we welcomed having another horse to liven things up.  We wanted to see if Bella would follow a horse other than Cole.  Of course, we had to get Starry in the lead, first.

Right away, Starry went into his backing up routine, swishing his tail and adamantly refusing to go in front of Bella.  The hill is a terrible place for this behavior with a nearly sheer drop on one side of the trail and a ditch on the other side.  Kevin decided to wait and try at the bottom.

We have learned that one way to trick Starry into taking the lead is to stop the other horse either on a slope or at the very bottom of one.  Starry then has momentum going down the hill and keeps going past.  Sometimes he will stop at the bottom and Kevin has to urge him on.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  It didn’t work this time.  Kevin had to use his mean voice, and Starry reluctantly stepped forward.  He then got a lot of praise.

Kevin asked Starry to trot, Bella was second and I took up the end.  We trotted along the flat stretch of trail at the bottom of the hill with ease.  Yes, Bella will follow other horses, too.

On the way back, there was an incident that caused a 4-letter word to leap out of Kevin’s mouth--and Starry wasn’t even leading at the time.  We were trotting ahead of him, and he turned into the Bella of old.  He wanted to catch up and was snaking his head; trying to pull the reins out of Kevin’s hands.  After that, Kevin really just wanted to go back home.  He didn’t think he could convince Starry to cooperate at all and once again was worried that he would ruin our ride.  We insisted he stay.

We went back up the hill, turned around and headed back down.  At the bottom, Shari stopped and Kevin kept Starry going--right past Bella.  We trotted, and it was great.  We turned around and Kevin was able to convince Starry to pass Bella and then to pass Cole, too.

We did another trip up and down the hill with sometimes Starry leading and sometimes Cole leading.  Starry still wanted to be by Bella, but he didn’t have to be following her anymore.  He seemed content to have her close behind.  

Kevin was so proud of his Starry.  In the beginning, he was certain of failure.  Shari told him he was being too negative.  Starry is a good horse and if we all work together, he will become an even better horse--just like Bella did.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Next Ride

The Next Ride

The next opportunity I had to ride with Shari, the river was too high to cross, so we had to work the hill.  Going up and down the hill multiple times can get a little boring, so I suggested that we try to make things interesting by practicing the trot with Cole in the lead.  She had had a break of a few days from riding, and her feet showed no sign of tenderness at all.  This would be a good test.

We tried it at the bottom of the hill.  Cole went first and Bella followed.  It was like they had done this for years--not one ride.  I was astounded, and so was Shari.  

We did it a few more times with great results.  Of course, Bella got praise and clicks.  Cole no longer seemed worried to be in front of Bella, either.  

Since that wasn’t much of a challenge, we decided to make it a little tougher.  We tried Bella standing as Cole trotted by, Bella walking as Cole trotted by, Bella standing as Cole trotted away from her and then Bella quietly catching up with him.  We did it at different parts of the trail, and even going uphill which is the direction towards home.  Was this really happening?  Bella was simply perfect.

Shari and I talked about it.  I really don’t believe one training session would cure a horse that was so intolerant of other horses leading.  I think that this wasn’t a case of training as an example of a horse changing her attitude.  She decided it was fine if Cole went first--we showed it to her.

It got me to thinking.  We can know a horse’s actions, of course, and sometimes we know the cause of the actions.  If a loud motorcycle comes tearing down the street and our horses spook, it is reasonable to say they got startled.  Common sense says that it is because they were frightened, but do we really know that?  Is it no coincidence that a horse will spook more at the beginning of a ride when they are fresh than at the end of a ride when they are tired?  How much spooking is caused simply by high spirits and a desire to play.  After all, we have all seen our horses playing that game when they are first turned out.  It can be hard to know of a horse’s motivations for their actions--even in somewhat obvious instances.

So the question is, why didn’t Bella like horses ahead of her.  Was it because she just desired to be in the lead?  That is what I originally thought.  Both Cruiser and Ranger always wanted to be in the lead--making challenging rides for us.  If that was the case with Bella, would we be able to fix that in one training ride?  It seems unlikely.  It took many training sessions, and Cruise and Range were still difficult together.

Bella has a lot of energy, so one could think that it may have been just because she travels faster than most horses.  That may be true at a walk, but Cole can trot as fast as the best of them, so I don’t think that she wants to lead out of frustration that we go too slow for her.

I am leaning towards believing she wanted to be in the lead just because that is what she always did, and that is where she was the most comfortable.  Yet, when she was leading, she would spook at many things.  Cole and I had to be very vigilant so we could stay out of her way if she started dancing around or shying.  It was a common occurrence on our rides.

When she was following us, she didn’t spook once.  In fact, she traveled surprisingly relaxed.  Could Bella have realized that the horse that follows can relax because the lead horse is in charge?  If Cole trots quietly, there is nothing for her to worry about.  The horse that follows doesn’t have as much stress in that position.  She could be just as, if not more comfortable following.  Did she figure it out?  Is that why she took to it like a duck to water?  Does she understand she could trust Cole to take care of her?

It really is hard to know a horse’s motivations for hs/her behaviors.  We can often only guess.  We do know something happened in Bella’s head, and it was for the better.  She trusts Cole to be her leader.  Now, will it work with other horses?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bella's New Challenge

Shari and I were out on a ride with Bella and Cole.  Shari thought that Bella’s feet might be a little sore because she was riding her so much, and she didn’t have her shoes on, yet.  Once she pointed it out, it seemed that Bella did indeed seem to have tender feet.  We were only going on a short ride, so we continued on.

I had one of those light bulb moments.  Our project for the summer is to train Bella to accept horses in front of her.  She loves to be a leader, and if any other horse is in the lead, she does her best to change that.  She does all right at a walk. We practiced that a lot last year, and as long as Cole walks fast enough, she will allow him to be in front of her or next to her.  It is a different story when we trot.

I decided this would be the perfect day to introduce trotting.

Our first problem was Cole.  He insisted that it was wrong for him to be in front of Bella.  It took a lot of convincing to change his mind.  Once he was in the lead, I told Shari to let me know if she was having trouble.  For the most part, I just heard, “Good girl.  Good girl.”  Shari would periodically click Bella, and then I would click Cole, too.

All went well until we got to the section of the trail where Cole and I like to canter.  Of course, we stayed at a trot, but it was a faster trot.  It was time to challenge Bella.  She lasted longer than I thought, but in the end, she couldn’t take it anymore and she scooted forward.

Just the same, she did awesome.  Our hopes are that the next time that we try this--regardless of the state of her feet--she will remember her positive experience.

We didn’t try it on the way home, because it is unlikely she would tolerate it.  Will our training ride help us in the future?  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Next Days on Dante

The Next Days on Dante

Ellen wanted me to ride Dante the next day, even though she was very sure he would be fine.  Dante had showed a pattern, over the years, of acting terribly the first day we try something we haven’t done in a long time--and then being perfectly normal the next day.  Ellen thought this would be the case.

It happened to be Easter Sunday morning, so the park was particularly quiet.  This time, it was only Ellen and me; going out alone.  We mounted at the beginning of the trail and headed down the hill.  I could immediately feel the difference in Dante’s manner.  This was the horse I knew--not the tense creature of the day before.

Cole was a different case, altogether.  Not that he was tense--he was just happy to have Ellen aboard.  He tried to do his silly walk numerous times--in hopes of getting a click.  Sometimes he just stopped and said he deserved a treat.  When that didn’t work--it would be time for the silly walk, again.  He had me chuckling all the way.

We crossed the river without much ado.  I put Dante in the lead, and we trotted off.  Dante is much slower, naturally than Cole.  Cole just can’t trot as slow as Dante.  Ellen would hold Cole back, click him, trot to catch up, stop, click him and repeat.  Cole thought it was a great game.  Finally, he got Ellen to give him a lot of treats!  Dante just trotted happily down the trail.  Sure, he tossed his head around a bit--he always does when he is excited--but his feet just trotted on, steadily and smooth.

He had one minor spook--but that was no big deal.  We continued on this way to the next river crossing, turned around and walked home.  This was the Dante we know and love!

The next day, I wasn’t going to ride until the evening and Ellen could only be there in the morning, so she rode with Kevin and Starry.  This was very, very brave of her, since if she had a problem, she couldn’t switch horses with me.  

Of course, they had no problems.  Once again, she put Dante in the lead, and they trotted most of the trail--except where they cantered.  Dante volunteered the canter, but Ellen insisted he trot--but after he trotted a bit more--Ellen asked for the canter.  They did great.

I was able to ride with Ellen the next day.  This time, we made things a little tougher.  About half of the ride, we put Cole in the lead.  Cole sets a faster pace.  It did cause Dante to break into an unwanted canter with a little buck, but it wasn’t anything Ellen couldn't handle with ease.  Towards the end of the trail, we put Dante back into the lead and Ellen asked him for a canter.  He did great.  Cole just trotted along behind him.  We walked home.

We are sure that there will still be hiccups in our rides, but things look pretty good right now.  Ellen is quickly getting her confidence back--for good reason, too.  She’s got a great horse.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dante’s Debut

Dante’s Debut

All the stars were in alignment--the river was low, the weather was warm and Ellen and I were both able to ride on the same day.  Dante was going out on the trail for the first time since February.

Shari and Bella were joining us.

Shari rode over to our barn to meet us.  As Ellen led Dante down the driveway, we could see he was very, very excited.  Usually, he just plods down, quietly as Bella prances and Cole tries to do his silly walk.  Not this time.  Dante was very tall with a lot of spring in his step.  Ellen asked me if I could lead him on the street.  Of course, I did.  Dante was just fine.  When I got to the trail, I gave Ellen the reins, we mounted up and headed down the hill.

Bella went in front because that is where she is happiest.  Dante was still excited, so he followed Bella and I brought up the rear with Cole.  About halfway down the hill, The spring in Dante’s step came back, and I watched as his tail slowly started to rise into “Arab” position.  The first thought that came into my mind was, “Uh oh.  We are in trouble.”  It is rare for Dante, unless he is out playing, to do that.

At that moment, Ellen asked to switch horses.  She didn’t see his tail, but she could feel the electricity flowing through his body.  She was getting too nervous to handle him.

I gave her Cole and then led Dante down the hill.  He was very hyper, and I preferred that he settled down a little before I got on him.  By the time we got to the river, he seemed a little better, so I mounted.

Ellen brought Cole to the mounting block and told us to go right ahead and cross while she mounted.  Bella willingly walked down the bank and into the water.  Dante trotted down the bank, (without permission) until he reached the deep mud and then he got serious and walked carefully.  This was very unlike Dante--he is usually slow in approaching the river.  I think Bella was already across by the time Dante got all the way in the water.

Shari called out, “There’s a goose coming!”  Sure enough, a Canadian goose was in the middle of the river floating quickly in the current straight toward us.  I didn’t want to rush Dante across because he has been taught to walk carefully through the river for Ellen's sake--yet I did want him to rush across because we were on a collision course with a goose.  Shari kept warning us about the goose as he got closer and closer.  Dante decided to rush across, all on his own.  

The river bank on the opposite side is currently very muddy.  When Dante reached the bank, he leapt up it at a gallop and kept going.  He actually made it about 5 strides down the trail before I could stop him.  I tried to spin him at the top of the bank, but he used his Morgan “iron neck” against my efforts.

When I got him to a standstill, I could see Ellen still on the other side of the river with Cole at the mounting block.  She saw the whole thing.  Now, I would have to ride Dante for the next 2 weeks to prove to her he was safe.  Sigh…

We headed down the trail.  Dante was still an excited bundle of nerves.  I never rode him before when he felt this way.  We tried a little trotting to settle him down, but that had the opposite results.  It was going to be a walking ride.  

After about 10 minutes, his head started to lower and his rhythm started to get regular.  I felt like he was coming back to me.  We did try trotting a second time, but that got him all wound up, again.  We rode out to the next river crossing, turned around and headed home.

He was very good on the way home--much like his normal self.  We crossed the river, and I led  him up the hill.  He was feeling spunky on the hill, but he only showed it by walking faster than normal.

Throughout all this excitement, what was Bella, our problem child doing?  She was the perfect angel.  Not once did she misbehaved in the slightest.  We were so proud of her.

I asked Ellen if she was worried about riding Dante after seeing his unusual display of badness, and she said she thought he would be just fine because she saw how his behavior improved over a relatively short time.  She was sure he would be perfect the next time--I rode him.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Chink in Starry’s Armor

The Chink in Starry’s Armor

Shari and I were riding Bella and Cole on the hill because the river was too high to cross.  We had been on the the hill for about an hour and heading up for the last time when Bella started to get all bouncy.  Shari thought that another trip down was in order so that Bella learns that rushing home wouldn’t get her home any quicker.  

As Shari turned a bouncing Bella around, she got a little too close to Cole.  Cole is very sensitive to other horses getting into his space--particularly if they are acting fractious.  He decided to hightail it out it of there.  He dashed up the hill.  Bella thought that was a great idea and followed.  I spun Cole to get him under control--and that was when he saw Bella coming up behind him.  He felt threatened again and tried to resume his run.

All of this took place in just a couple seconds, and in a couple more, we had Bella and Cole standing still.  They were both still agitated, and Shari suggested dismounting.  I was already jumping down before the word, “Yes” could get out of my mouth.

At that point, we saw Kevin, riding Starry, approaching us.

Kevin asked me to ride one more time down the hill with him.  Shari checked the time, and realized she had to get back to the barn.  I told Kevin I would go with him, and Shari left.

It was an uneventful ride down to the river.  We were about halfway up when we spotted the turkeys close to the trail.  Ten hens and one gorgeous Tom were strolling by.  We often see turkeys when we ride, but this time, for the first time ever, we got to see a Tom fully displaying his magnificence.  He was all puffed out and pretty.  We were fascinated and just stood there watching.

As they got closer, the Tom noticed us.  He would turn to us and puff out even more.  Oh, was he pretty  He kept doing it.  Maybe he thought we would take his girls away?

Starry, the horse who is afraid of just about nothing, was all alert.  Starry, who would let a semi pass him without batting an eye, was raising and lowering his head to try to get a better view of the turkeys.  Starry, who quietly watched a coyote chasing some deer just the week before, was standing there as tense as could be.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Starry was frozen.  When Kevin tried to turn him away to proceed up the hill, Starry tried to scurry away.  This is normal behavior for a spooky horse, but it was bizarre behavior for Starry.  Kevin decided he was safer on the ground.  Starry was still dancing about.  I told him to face the turkeys before trying to dismount.  Kevin turned him toward to the turkeys, and Starry froze once more.

Kevin safely dismounted.  I was already on the ground.  Once Starry started to act up, I got off to prevent a repeat of what happened with Bella.  Cole is very reliable.  When I dismount, he parks out like a proper Morgan and won’t budge--even if I want him to.

Starry was still scared, of course.  We carefully led them up the hill, and I don’t think Starry relaxed until we were about 50 feet away.  Cole wasn’t worried about the turkeys at all.  For all the excitement with Starry, we were happy we got to see the turkeys.  That Tom was just so pretty.

And I got to see Starry acting like a real horse, for a change.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Everybody has a Bad Day, Sometimes

Everybody has a Bad Day, Sometimes

I have been riding Cole on the trail all winter.  Our extremely warm weather has kept the river thawed and ice off the hill most of the time.  I don’t know for sure, but I would guess I have ridden on the trail at least once or twice every other week.  In March, I have been out on the trail most days and across the river much of the time.  With all this trail riding, Cole is acting nearly as good as he does in the summer.  

Last week, there was a day that the river was too high to cross, so Kevin and I rode up and down the hill, instead.  The temperature was extremely high for horses with partial winter coats, so we expected them to be very quiet.  

A woman at our barn was also leading her new yearling down to play in the shallow part of the water.  We passed them on our way up the hill the first time.  They had just arrived at the bottom of the hill.

On our second trip down, they were in the water.  We caught the filly’s attention as we passed, and she neighed at us.  I think that might be what got Cole going.  He leapt into the air and charged towards Starry.  I got him back under control, but he tried to rush all the way up the hill.

When we turned around to go back down for the third time, he kept trying to trot.  He doesn’t have the kind of trot that you want to go downhill on, that is for sure.  I managed some semblance of control.  Kevin was almost clueless to my problems.  Starry was a perfect gentleman.

We turned around to go back up the hill.  The filly neighed, again.  Cole was even worse, this time.  When we arrived at our turnaround spot, here came Jack on his very hyper Tennessee Walker.  That was all I needed.  I immediately hopped off.  Jack rode past us and Cole jumped up into the air and started bucking.  If Kevin didn’t comprehend Cole’s rambunctious mood before, he sure did after that!

Kevin wanted to go down the hill one more time.  I agreed, but there was no way I was going to ride.  I lead Cole down to the river and back.  The whole time, he was rather horrendous.  The only time he did halfway decent is when I had Starry in front of us.

The next day, I rode Cole and he was back to his old self.

That weekend, I rode a couple times with Shari on Bella.  Bella had been sick, so she hadn’t been out on the trail very much for a few weeks, and she was particularly good.  We were so pleased.

A few days later, Shari was able to ride with me in the morning.  Once again, the river was too high, and we were limited to the hill.  Shari’s barn is down the street from us.  There was a bunch of machinery going on in her yard when she left, so by the time she got to the trail, Bella was a little wound up.  

She seemed to settle down--until we got halfway down the hill and could see and hear the park maintenance crew cutting a tree and putting it through the chipper.  That’s all it took to send Bella to the darkside.  She wasn’t bad in a dangerous way, but she was nervous and prancy.  We tried walking back and forth on the flat bottom part of the hill.  That didn’t help.  We tried a little trotting,  and that made it worse.  We went back to walking.  She seemed a little better so we went up the hill partway, turned around and rode back down.  She was just as bad as before.  Shari looked at me and asked if we should just go home.  We did.  Bella was having a bad day.

The week previous, Dante had a bad day in the arena.  You have to understand, he is a very steady arena horse.  Some days he is a little more cooperative than others, but that is the worst he does.  Ellen was riding him in there when the neighbor started calling for her dog.  He couldn’t see her because her yard borders the solid wall of the arena.  She was calling and calling.  The disembodied voice bothered Dante so much.  His head went high and he tuned Ellen out.  Even when the person stopped calling for the dog, he kept searching for the voice.

She took him to the safe end of the arena and worked there for a while.  He did a little better.  She dismounted and led him back to where the voice was.  He did all right.  As she led him back, a door suddenly opened and made him spook.  Princess, the feline barn tyrant was in his path.  She had to dash away.  Ellen gave up after that.

She was very worried.  Her wonderful arena horse was dramatically different from what she was used to.  Her fear was that he was ruined from this bad experience.  I told her he just had a bad day, and he would be fine the next ride.  That didn’t stop her from worrying.

Of course, he was perfect the next time she rode him in there.  He just had a bad day like Cole and Bella.  Sometimes there is a cause for the bad day, and other times there seems to be no cause at all.  I wonder if there are times that they may have a headache and just don’t feel like cooperating.  One bad day doesn’t make a bad horse.

We all have bad days, sometimes….

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Week with Starry D.

A Week with Starry D.

And it was a bust.  Not that it was Starry’s fault.  It was the fault of the weather.

Kevin had to babysit his grandchildren for the week, and Ellen and I had to babysit Starry.  Two days before Kevin left, the farrier replaced Starry’s shoes with snow pads with plain old shoes.  Of course that could only mean one thing--snow.  Ellen was supposed to ride him on Saturday and Sunday on the trail.  Not only was it snowy, but it was so cold that I didn’t ride Cole on the trail, either.  March can be like that, sometimes, in Cleveland.

The snow melted and the temperatures improved on Monday, so Ellen and I were able to take him on a lovely ride with Cole.  That was our only good ride of the week.

We got rain on Tuesday, and it made the river too high.  I was out, by myself, in the evening and took him on the hill.  I was going to go three trips, but it started to rain on my second trip up, so we went home early.

I knew the river would still be too high on Wednesday, but I was hoping to do better on the hill.  It was an extremely windy afternoon.  Honestly, I have never experienced wind like that in my life.  It was constant strong winds with gusts up to 60 mph.  I took Cole out for a ride, first.  We didn’t get very far at all when we came across a pine tree crossing the trail that it didn’t look like we could go around.  I thought I might be able to lead Cole under the branch on one end, so I got off.  Suddenly, a huge gust of wind came and all the trees were waving.  I could hear cracking over my head--and I realized that I shouldn’t even be out there.  I turned back.  Starry didn’t get ridden at all.

It may be a good thing that I did turn back.  There were 3 other trees that had fallen on our trail--including one that was right where I was standing when I turned around.  There were others that fell closeby, too.  I don’t know if any of them would have fallen when I was riding, but I am glad I wasn’t there to find out.

The following day, my car died, and I wasn’t able to get out to see the horses at all.

Friday was my last chance.  It was cold, the river was still a little high but I managed to take Starry up and down the hill three times.

Kevin was back on Saturday to take him on an extremely cold ride, again.

And now there is snow...