Tuesday, March 14, 2017
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...
Friday, March 3, 2017
Ranger’s Left Lead
By Ellen Daly
This is a different approach to trail riding, but I think that a good trail horse benefits from a certain amount of arena work. I know going around in circles, often indoors, is the equivalent of algebra to many people. Before we collectively groan and move to the next article, think about the pleasure of a horse that does gait transitions well and switches leads like a dream. Often, the best place to start this transformation in our horses is in the arena.
My horse, Ranger, is a fine trail horse whose greatest ambition is snatching sunflower leaves from the side of the trail. This changed one day when I decided to raise our goals--so to speak. I know the benefits of switching diagonals when doing a lot of trotting. We all have a favorite diagonal. When traveling in a primarily straight line on trail, there isn’t an obvious need to switch diagonals, but it lessens the all around muscle strain on a long ride and works both sides of the horse. Even though one diagonal is more difficult for me than the other, I still switch. My trick is to do the difficult diagonal going away from home when my horse is naturally inclined to go slower, then switch to the easier one on the way home when Ranger likes to go faster.
Now we come to the canter, and that is a different story. If switching diagonals is good, so should switching leads at the canter. But what if you have a horse who will only take one lead? That was Ranger’s problem. He is very content to canter along on his right lead, still trying to snatch sunflower, of course. I was happy, too, until I started to read books and talk to people about trail riding. After two years of ignorant bliss, I decided that it was time for Ranger to start taking his left lead. I wasn’t sure how to do this, but I knew I would have to start this project in the arena. Luckily, I had a beautiful sand based outdoor show ring at my backdoor. I had a sketchy plan and a long-term goal. Obviously, I knew that there was no easy solution, and it would take time to achieve my left lead goal—but I was on a mission.
First, we had to adjust to arena riding and work through a certain amount of spookiness and misbehavior. This was a public show ring in a park, so there were many distractions. I started with basic walk /trot transitions and circles, stressing obedience and paying attention to the rider. We would work maybe once a week for a maximum of a half hour with a short trail ride afterward as a reward. The rest of the time we would just trail ride and relax like usual.
There is a trick that someone told me about teaching canter transitions. It is to simply to do it at the same spot every time. This builds up a lot of energy and anticipation in the horse and can result in a more willing performance. So, I did just that in Ranger’s good direction to teach him control and calmness at the canter. Eventually, we did canter transitions all over the arena but only in his good direction. We spent plenty of time trotting and doing walk/trot transitions in his bad direction. I wanted him to learn to contain the build up of energy that transitions can create in a horse but also to learn to listen to me when I ask him to go to a faster gait. It took time and patience. There were many distractions and spooks with the trail always beckoning to us. We muddled through and achieved a certain amount of precision. My scarce attempts at his difficult left lead usually ended up in a racy trot or with the wrong lead. Once again a plan formed in my mind and the time felt right to start to work the hard lead.
I had read the books about bending the horse and small circles, but this had no affect on Ranger at all. He was instinctively inclined physically and mentally to the right, so I decided to build on my transition work. Once again, I employed the “secret of transitions” of using the canter cue at the same spot every time and energy that it creates. We would warm up a bit at the trot and take the canter his preferred direction. Ranger is on the hyper side when it comes to the canter, so that was easy. We worked the hard direction doing trot transitions to get his attention and build up the all-important energy. After a while, I asked him for the hard lead at my chosen canter spot. I tried to bend him and use my seat bone to cue him as I do for his easy direction. At first he took the wrong lead, but I immediately brought him down to a trot and asked for the difficult lead again He didn’t understand and took his easy lead once again, thinking that it was what I wanted. After the second try, we did some walk/trot transitions to collect our thoughts. This pattern continued for several weeks of arena work, and he was getting very good at transitions all the transitions except the one I wanted the most
One day, we were working well together, trotting down the straight part of the arena in his difficult direction, and we were coming up to his canter corner. I felt him gather in anticipation of my cue. I asked for the canter and of course he took the wrong lead. I brought him down to a trot and within a few strides asked for the canter again. That time he took the difficult lead. It was rough and choppy, but he took it. We came down to a walk just a few strides later, quit the arena the day and headed down the trail.
From that day on, he understood his left lead and it just become better ever since. For a long time he took the wrong lead first but when I would bring him down to a trot and ask again he would take the proper lead. Eventually we could do circles and attain a certain amount of control. It took him a while to physically adjust to using muscles that he hadn’t used in years. All in all, I would say that it took us about eight months working a half an hour, once a week in the arena. The rest of the time, we would trail ride. He still occasionally misfires, but we always recover. On trail, he prefers his easy lead, and I have a difficult time with the other one. That is our next project. Could we have done this on trail and not in the arena? I suppose one could argue the point, but by going to the arena with a specific goal in mind, it forced us to concentrate. This was the best way for me to do it with Ranger. Trail riding is so enjoyable and relaxing that sometimes it is hard to think about goals and training. I saw how being able to take both leads at the canter could benefit Ranger on trail, and I knew that the arena was the best place for us to start. Our next challenge is taking our arena work and utilizing it on the trail. Next time it maybe the other way around and we will take our trail work and use it in the arena. The key is to have an open mind in both horse and rider, form a plan and follow it through—adjusting it as you go to suit your needs.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Dante’s First Time Out
Dante is a strange horse. He is very quiet and safe to ride on the trail, but if he hasn’t been out in a while, he gets over excited and unpredictable. On a typical winter, we can have long spells where we are stuck inside the barn. Usually, it is extreme cold, an icy driveway and/or a frozen river.
This year has been an exceptionally good year. I have been able to get Cole out on the trail; even across the river at least once or twice every week or two. Ellen has opted to keep Dante inside the indoor arena. She doesn't’ see the sense of taking him out for a ride or two and having to deal with his “problems” only to be stuck inside for a week or so and have to start all over again the next time. She wants to bring him on the trail, get through those first few rides and be done with it.
The last few weeks have been very, very mild. We have made a concentrated effort to turn Dante out, outside as much as we can. After Ellen rides him in the arena, she brings him outside, too. In the beginning, it was just to stand and look around, but this last week, she has ridden him around the driveway.
I have been able to ride Cole on the trail, a lot, with either Shari or Kevin, and he is finally settling down and becoming reliable, again.
The long term forecast still looks good, and we are entering the time of year where we can ride on the trail regularly. Ellen decided it was time.
I didn’t know it ahead of time. She didn’t even ask me to come out and ride with her in the morning. Lately, I have been going out to ride in the afternoon in the heat of the day. It was going to be a warm morning, so I just showed up. She had decided that if I showed up, she would take Dante on the trail.
She wanted me to lead him on the street since he is not always that good with traffic if he is excited. The night before, I played “bus stop” with him, and he didn’t flinch at any of the vehicles, so I figured he would be good for the street--and he was.
We mounted up at the trailhead and rode down the hill. Ellen was nervous about the river, as always, but to complicate things even more, there is now some very deep mud on the riverbanks on both sides. Earlier in the week, a woman from our barn was riding through it and her horse panicked and went sideways, off the trail where the mud was up to his knees. He panicked and started bucking. Eventually, he calmed down and everything was okay, but it demonstrated what deep mud can do to a horse’s mind.
Dante is a mudder, though. He has never been troubled by mud. (Cole has--he hates mud.) I told her he would be fine, and he was. He walked down the mud, crossed the river slowly and walked up the mud on the other side.
On the other side, we tried to trot, but he started tossing his head all around and getting agitated. Okay, so maybe that wasn’t a good idea. We opted to walk. Cole was in the lead, and at one point, Dante threw his head up in the air and charged past him. That was a first. He doesn’t like passing other horses--they make him nervous, but he evidently wanted to lead. He must of figured that Cole couldn’t attack him this way. (Cole has never, ever attacked him, but Dante always acts like he will.)
We let him stay in the lead, after that. Ellen wanted to know if it would be all right if she turned around early. She was getting nervous. I told her it was. She still rode on. After a while, she decided to try trotting again, but wanted me to hold Cole back a bit. That way, he would be trotting all by himself, basically. I stopped Cole and let her trot. I then walked until she stopped and then I trotted to catch up. We had success! We did this for short stretches all the way down the trail. Each time she went a little longer. Cole was a perfect gentleman, of course. It seems he always knows what Ellen needs.
We made it to our destination--the next river crossing. We turned there, put Cole in the lead and walked home. Ellen still worried about the mud and river on the way home, but there was no need to, Dante was great. What she should have worried about was turkeys. On the way up the hill--nearly to the top, he did a big spook. She circled him about and he quieted down. It was at that time that she noticed the turkeys on the other side of the ravine. They weren’t close, but they may have been shuffling about, making noises.
I led Dante on the street, and the horse gods were smiling upon us. No cars passed us.
Was it a perfect ride? For Cole, it was, but Dante got a “B-.” Still, that wasn’t bad for the first time--and he was great for the things that Ellen is the most nervous about--the street, the river and the mud. The rest of it was him being very, very excited about being on the trail for the first time since some time in December.
Great job, Ellen and Dante.
Monday, February 13, 2017
Team Sharibella (Shari/Aribella)
Once again, we were able to ride with Shari and Bella on a surprisingly nice day in February. We were even going to be able to cross the river! It had been cold the last few days, so we knew that the ground would be frozen and rough. The ride would be a walk-only ride, but just getting a trail ride in February is such a treat, who were we to complain?
Kevin had family obligations, so Ellen got to ride Starry. I was on Cole, of course. We met at our usual time and headed for the trail. Bella seemed very excited, but sensible. It looked like it was going to be a successful ride.
As we rode down the hill, we caught up on what we have been up to. The river bank looked very muddy, and there was a line of inconsequential ice along the edge of it about a foot from the water. The ice had formed when the river was a little higher, and when the water retreated, it left the ice behind. It was about a foot wide, and so thin that it would just crumble away when stepped on.
We knew it was harmless, but Bella thought it was very dangerous. Starry crossed, first. Cole had seen ice like this before, so he didn’t even notice it. I had him go next, and I hoped that Bella would see his confidence and willingly follow. She didn’t.
Ellen and I watched Shari and Bella from the other side. She went back and forth, back and forth. She didn’t want to step over the horse-killing ice. After a few minutes, I brought Cole back across to try to lure her in. He stood in front of her quietly in the water, and still she refused.
Eventually, we gave up and went back, across. Shari told us to go on our way and hopefully she would eventually be able to cross.
I kept looking back, and I could see Bella standing there.
Ellen and I rode out to the next river crossing and turned around to come home. A couple minutes later, who should we see but Team Sharibella. Bella was walking quietly with a relaxed look on her face. Success!
After we left them, Shari reached into her clicker training tool kit. She asked Bella to take four steps, clicked, treated and repeated--right into the river. She crossed the river a little on the fast side, but once she got to the other side, she relaxed and walked like a lady until she caught up with us. She was a little excited when we were walking home, but that wasn’t a surprise--she was going home, after all. Just the same, we were very impressed by her. It has been weeks since she was across the river. We didn’t think that she would be this calm.
This gives us great hope for the springtime transition to trail riding. Bella may not be as excitable this spring as she was last spring.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Flashback Fun - February, 2001
Where I Ride
Where I Ride
I live in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. It may seem an unlikely place for a trail rider, but that is not the case at all. We have a park system that circles the city and is consequently called “The Emerald Necklace.” Within our great park, we have over 82 miles of bridle trails to ride on. Anywhere you live in the county, you are less than a ½ hour away from the trails. Most of them are well maintained and easily accessible. There are plenty of boarding stables all along the perimeter of the park where hundreds of people keep their horses (including me.)
Typically, the trails are wooded. There are some hills, fields, marshes and a lot of creeks and rivers. My particular area is noted for a wide variety of lovely wildflowers and gorgeous views of the Rocky River. There is a large diversity of trees in the area making the fall foliage spectacular. One particularly splendid spot is an old pine forest on the top of the valley. It changes dramatically with the time of day and the time of year. I never get tired of looking up at those awesome pines. Another thing about our trails is that there are plenty of places for trotting and cantering, and we take advantage of it.
The downside of living in a very populated area is that we must share our trails with many people. I’m not just talking about other trail riders. If only it was that easy. We deal with heavy automobile traffic, pedestrians, joggers, dog walkers, bikes, cross country skiers, roller bladers and miscellaneous strollers, kite fliers, rocket shooters and even a bagpipe player now and then. Sometimes it gets rather stressful. We really have to spend a great deal of time with our horses to get them used to all the craziness out there. In a way, that is what inspired my book. If it had been easy for me, I would have thought it was easy for everyone, and I would have never written my book.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Ranger is Back
I am glad to report that Ranger’s most awful abscess is fully healed. With the cooler weather, he breathing problem is greatly improved, so Ellen decided it was time to start riding the old guy, again.
She barely rode him all summer because of his breathing, and only rode him lightly the previous spring. She did ride him once in the fall, but he seemed off that day. He also seemed troubled by his inability to see clearly. One of his eyes has a cataract. Just a few days later, he came down with the abscess.
She rode him a few minutes last weekend by herself. He seemed fine. Yesterday, I was with her when she wanted to ride. With his vision, he seems much more comfortable when he has someone next to him. We think it gives him a sense of security. She was going to ride him outside on the loop.
He seemed unsteady--not physically unsteady, but confidence unsteady. We just talked to him as I walked next to him--handing him treats. She may have ridden him 10 minutes, and she got off to lead. Immediately, he walked faster and with confidence.
Today, we planned to do the same thing. It was snowing like crazy. Ranger always seemed to like snow.
Ellen climbed aboard, and I slipped him a peppermint. As he moved off, he was a completely different horse from the day before. Actually, he was like his old self, again. I still gave him some treats, but he didn’t have to walk right next to me. He wandered off to the other side of the trail. He even said he wanted to go a different direction than I did. We let him have his way. He was walking his normal speed with a spring in his step. It was so nice to see Ranger being himself, again.
Ellen only rode until she got cold, and then she lead him to keep warm.
We think he is about 27. All we know for sure is that he was an adult when Ellen got him 22 years ago. After today, I think we can change his status from retired to semi-retired. Go Ranger!
Friday, January 27, 2017
Flashback Fun - January, 2001 - Mingo's Meltdown
My boyfriend, Kevin has been leasing Mingo for more than a year now. In November, he was going to go on a trail ride by himself. He rode down to the river, and just as he was going to walk down the bank, Mingo grabbed at a branch. Kevin pulled the branch out of his mouth the best he could, but then Mingo started tossing his head around and fretting. They stepped over to the river, and my little horse completely refused to cross. He continued tossing his head around and began to franticly dance about and even buck.
A woman came by and thought that Mingo would cross if he could follow her horse. It didn’t work. By now, Kevin was suspecting that something must be wrong with the bridle. He asked the woman to take a peak. She pulled up his lip, and sure enough, his tongue was over the bit. It probably happened when he tried to eat the branch. Kevin knew he had to get Mingo back to the barn because Mingo was so worked up by now, that he didn’t think he’d be able to re-bridle him safely by the river. He turned to go up the hill on the way home. The woman who was trying to help him across the river allowed her horse to run up the hill. This was all Mingo needed in his frantic state of mind. He tried to follow, and when Kevin tried to stop him, Mingo started backing up and almost stepped off the edge of the trail into the ditch. Kevin’s guardian angel was looking over his shoulder, and stopped Mingo just in time. It then occurred to Kevin that there was only one safe thing to do. He quickly dismounted and led Mingo back to the barn.
I heard the story with a mixture of pride in Kevin because of his sensibility and horror at the thought of what could have happened. It wasn’t until later in the night that I began to worry about the river. I’ve seen too many people trying to cross that river on a horse that didn’t want to cross, and I have been there a few times myself. Anyone who has been following my adventures for a while may remember that Mingo was the horse that got stuck on the ford. When Mingo doesn’t want to go somewhere because he is afraid, there isn’t much you can do about it. A couple days later, I had my opportunity to see if he would be afraid to cross the river. I rode with my sister’s horse, Ranger, down to the river. My angelic little horse just walked right across. He wasn’t afraid of the river at all that day; he was upset about the way his mouth felt and was telling Kevin in the only way he knew how. I’m so proud that Kevin realized that there might be something wrong when a normally quiet horse acts very out of character and thought to check his tack. It is something we all should remember.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Flashback Fun - January, 2001 - Brandy's Bit
My sister gave me back a bit I gave her to use years ago. Over time, it became worn, and she had to replace it. She thought I would want it back for my “museum.” I sat there and looked at that old bit, and memories came flooding back to me.
Most people reading this newsletter have already met my first horse, Brandy. My aunt gave him to me when I was 21. It was a dream come true—I finally got a horse of my own. He came with a long list of problems, but at least he was a gentle horse for a beginner to start with. I rode him as a teenager when I visited my aunt, so I was aware of most of his problems when I accepted him. One of them was his hard mouth. Since he was a runaway, too, this was a pretty serious problem. We rode him in a mechanical hackamore because my aunt told me he absolutely wouldn’t listen to any bit less severe than a spade bit. In the world of bits, the spade is one of the most severe around. It should only be used in the hands of a very skilled horseman, which I was far, far from. My aunt gave me his hackamore when she gave me Brandy, and I used it quite a while.
After about 6 months or so, the padding on the noseband was starting to come loose on it, so I decided to put new padding on it. I tore it apart to find a chain similar to a bicycle chain in the center of it. I wrapped new material around it, and made it as soft and comfortable as possible. It bothered me to find out how this hackamore was constructed. I saw that by pulling the reins, I was crushing his nose between two chains. He didn’t listen to it very well, so when I did pull the reins, I had to pull very hard. Is this what I wanted for my beloved horse?
This brings me back to my bit. A friend had given it to me several years before I ever had a horse, and I kept in my “museum.” It was a short-shanked Pelham with a joint in the middle like a snaffle. Since it had two reins, the top rein would activate the snaffle action and the bottom would make it work like a curb. I had read some negatives things about bits like this, but since I had it, I figured I would take the chance and try it. It was during the wintertime, and I was riding in the arena, so if he didn’t listen to it, where would he go? To my delight, he listened as well and sometimes better than he did in the hackamore. I seldom used the hackamore again. (Only cold days that I didn’t want to warm the bit.) Generally, he ignored the snaffle rein whenever he felt like not cooperating, but I always had the curb to back it up. I benefited because I got to use a more precise tool of communication. It helped to improve my horsemanship quite a bit because I was able to develop “hands.”
He was 22-years-old when I made the switch. Logic would say that it shouldn’t have worked. My aunt owned Brandy for many years and knew him better than anyone before she gave him to me. I had an open mind, tried it in a safe area and had great success. I was even able to use it down trail and had no more problems than I had when I used the hackamore. Sometimes you can teach old horses new tricks.
When my sister got her first horse, she tried several bits and ended up using this one because it worked the best for them. Eventually, she was able to switch to a plain snaffle in most situations. The only time she uses a Pelham now is when she goes down trail with Cruiser and me. Since they are such good friends, sometimes they get a little hyper and racy, and she needs some help stopping Ranger. Most of the time, she can ride using the snaffle rein, only. If Ranger ignores that, she backs it up with the curb.
I held the bit in my hand and thought about how many miles that my sister and I traveled with it in our horse’s mouths. Yes, this was certainly something that belonged in my “museum.”
Bella is Back
We have had a spell of warm weather. Kevin and I have been able to ride quite a bit in the last few weeks, since we are retired, but Shari has to work and hasn’t been able to get Bella on the trail in weeks. Saturday morning was her first opportunity. It was warm, but the river was too high to cross.
Needless to say, Bella was extremely excited. She pranced down the hill. Cole and Starry strolled down, quietly. We rode to the river’s edge to let Bella dip her toes in the river. Bella did plenty of her Bella skipping and dancing. We decided to ride back and forth on the flat part of the trail on the bottom of the hill. I don’t know how many times we did it before Bella finally just walked.
We went back up the hill, and she was all excited, again. Of course, we turned around and went back down. She did a little better. At the bottom of the hill, Sam, the Thoroughbred and his rider, Diana, caught up with us. All four of us started back up. We didn’t even reach our turnaround spot, and Bella really started acting up. Shari immediately turned her around to take her back down. Kevin and Starry left us at this point.
We made our way down to the bottom. Bella wasn’t much better. Shari was amazing with her steadfast patience. As we turned around at the bottom of the hill, we heard a crack, and I saw a large branch fall and roll partway down the hill. All of the horses jumped--Bella jumped the highest.
That was enough for us. We all headed home.
Later on, Shari tried riding down the hill by herself, and Bella was perfect!
The next day, the river was low enough to cross, so Shari and I tried again. Honestly, our hopes weren’t very high. We crossed the river successfully and started trotting on the other side. Bella started out well, so Shari clicked her several times to let her know how much she appreciated it. That showed Bella what Shari wanted. We continued to trot, and we were amazed how well it went. Of course, we knew it wouldn’t last forever, and we weren’t surprised when Bella burst out into a canter and didn't want to stop. We decided to stick to a walk after that, but we were so happy that we made it so far, that we didn’t mind.
We turned at the next river crossing. Kevin on Starry caught up with us there, and we went home together. We decided to try trotting again, and we were successful! Well, until Cole started to get a little too excited and wanted to pass Bella. I knew that wouldn’t go over well, so we brought them back to a walk. We did get pretty far.
It was a very warm day for horses with winter coats, so we walked from there. Bella tripped crossing the river, but she regained her balance.
There is one spot on the hill where we go around a corner and up a short, steep slope. This is the one spot in the whole park where Cole is the most likely to act up. Many times, when he feels excited, I will get off and lead so that if he acts out, I will be safe on the ground. It was muddy, this day, so I didn’t want to dismount. Mistake. Bella and Starry went ahead of us. There was a squirrel walking up the trail, and he seemed oblivious to us. Bella was fixated on him and it looked like she wanted to chase him. Starry was close behind. When Cole stepped onto the sloping part of the hill, he burst with happiness. The other horses did the same. We got to the top of the hill, laughing.
It was a surprisingly successful ride compared to the day before. We were able to do a lot of trotting, They walked quietly when we wanted to walk and it was so much better than, the day before. This gives us a lot of hope for the spring when we want to get back into regular riding.