Thursday, November 20, 2014

Night Ride

I think I am getting used to the colder weather. When I was out at the barn last night, it was in the 20s and I wasn’t even cold. I realized that if I rode, it would be Cole’s 8th day in a row—mostly in the arena. I thought that he might need a break, so I decided to do a light ride on the loop outside. The ground was frozen, and there were patches of ice and snow, so we had to keep it at a walk. I figured that should be easy on Day 8.

Wrong. I wasn’t in the saddle 3 minutes, and he was tossing his head around in excitement. I managed to keep him at a walk nearly the whole 25 minutes I was out there, but it was getting harder to do; not easier. I decided to take him into the inside arena and do some trotting. He was very happy to move around, and he trotted pretty scary in the beginning. He did settle, and we worked another 20 minutes. He only had one bad snorting episode, and I got him straightened out in less than a minute.

Tonight, he is getting his shoes pulled, so the snow won’t be a problem, anymore. Of course, the temps are going to rise this weekend, and the snow will melt. They are talking rain. With the snow melt, I bet I won’t be able to cross the river. I hope the weather is good for Thanksgiving, because we will be out there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Here are some pictures of Starry and Dante on the trail. In rotten weather like this, it is nice to see green trees and ground that is not covered with snow.

January in November

January in November

That’s our weather, lately. Yesterday, it was like a very bad January day in November—and I happened to be off from work. Ellen got called in, and she didn’t seem to mind much. We were able to ride together in the morning—in the indoor arena. It was 11 degrees when I woke up and never got past 20. The wind was extra wicked, too. Maggie didn’t even get her long walk that we planned. I just wasn’t ready for this.

Neither were the horses. Cole, Starry and Ranger still have shoes, and the snow kept us at the barn this weekend. Dante doesn’t, so when Ellen had to work on Sunday, I took him out by myself on a trail ride. We had a very lovely time. on the way home, we found Kevin jogging. He walked back towards home with us. After a couple minutes, he asked to switch places. I was getting a little cold, so I was happy to walk while he rode. We passed up home and headed for the access trail. Kevin did some trotting and I struggled to keep up. We then swithched and I rode the rest of the way. Maybe it’s not so bad when Ellen works…

I have been struggling in the arena. Cole’s problem is consistency. We will be trotting about—just fine—and then he needs to snort. Instead of just snorting, he stops and may or may not snort. If he doesn’t, I get him going and then he will go fast, go slow, try to stop and on and on until he finally snorts. Then, he will do better, but if I take a break to do something else, he needs to snort when we start trotting, again. If I drive him forward too hard with my legs or whip, he gets mad and bucks or kicks out.

This isn’t a new behavior. I have been having a problem with it from the beginning. It is just more of a problem because I want to do more trotting now than I used to. Also, since I only have one horse, I want to ride him longer than before.

Here is what I do to try to change his behavior. We start with walk/trot transitions—and I click him for them. I then add more and more steps before clicking to reward him for good trotting. We can do this for 10 minutes, sometimes, and then the urge to snort starts. Why he can’t snort while trotting, I just don’t understand. This will even happen on the trail.

I am still struggling with the right lead. I can often get it the first time I ask if neither one of us overthinks it. If I put him on a bend at a walk and just ask at the magic moment, we will get it, and I immediately click him for it. The next time I ask, he is ready for it and insists that I really want the left lead. Since I have him on such a strong bend, he has a horrible time taking the left lead—I don’t’ know why he tries it. I think the next time I succeed, I won’t click and just let him go with it and see what happens.

I miss the trail…

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Another uneventful weekend update

I’ve done plenty of riding, but I don’t have much to write about.  Last week, I took a couple days off and got to ride with Ellen—and the horses were great.  We then rode on the weekend—and the horses were great.  On my own, I have ridden Cole out on the loop a couple times by myself in complete darkness—and he was great.  I love these rides, but what’s a blogger to do?
The weather is  going to change dramatically by tomorrow, so I think I will then just write about how the cold is shortening our rides… Sigh… Maybe we will have a warm December that will make up for it.
Ranger is having some difficulty with COPD.  He isn’t coughing much at all, just breathing louder.  We talked to the vet when she came out to give him shots, and she suggested just dunking his hay.  It is helping, and his breathing has already improved. 
My vegetable garden is complete except for a couple more kohlrabi.  It was a great year, and my freezer is packed.  My challenge will be to use everything up by next year. 
With the dark evenings, my dog walks are getting very short—and Maggie is getting restless.  She is already starting to drive me and Thunder crazy.  She’s not  the kind of dog who wants to play with people all the time.  actually, she doesn’t seem to know how to play with people.  Whenever I try, it just doesn’t seem to work.  She will climb all over you, try to gnaw on your hand, roll around and make strange noises—but fetch and tug-o-war barely works.  She ends up staring at you, puzzled.  Oh the trials and tribulations of a rescue dog.  What she wants to do is be in the way, beg for food, lick your face and disturb cat games.  It’s going to be a long winter…
Thunder is doing well.  Leaf hunting season is going strong.  He spends much of his free time sitting on his tower—stalking the blowing leaves.  It is serious business.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Weekend Update

Weekend Update

Bad weather weekend. It was rainy and horrible on Saturday, so we ended up riding in the indoor arena. I think it was Cole’s fourth time, this fall, and he showed significant improvement. In fact, I quit after a half hour and walked around in the rain for the rest of the ride. I wanted to end on a good note. Dante did great in the arena, but that is because Ellen has been working with him all summer. We just led Ranger outside for his exercise.

Of course, if it rains all day—the river will be too high to cross the next day. We did the hill with Dante and Cole together. We trot back and forth on the bottom, and Dante thought it was great fun. He behaved fine, but he started to anticipate the trot as soon as we got to the bottom. Of course, if you always do the same thing in the same spot, your horse will want to do that same thing all the time. Ellen immediately asked him to stop—and he didn’t. Dante lost his brakes. That meant it was time to reinstall them. It took a few trips going back and forth, and then Dante saw the light.

She did try to do some cantering, too. We trotted with Cole in the lead, and since Cole is the faster horse, it was just enough to tempt Dante to canter. She got a few successful transitions. We did the hill a total of three times and who knows how many times we went back and forth on the bottom.

Ellen then rode Ranger on the hill.

We really wanted to get across the river. The park finally fixed some more of the trail—and we wanted to give it a try. That section of trail has been in sorry shape since the big storm back in the spring. I took a few days off work to ride this week, so I should be able to get there. Cole will be so happy?

With the time change, Thunder has been serenading me an hour early. He got quite frantic this morning, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up 10 minutes before the alarm, so I guess he won. Ellen’s cat, Stormy, doesn’t speak. He knocked books on the floor to wake Ellen up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Loop

The Loop

Last year at this time, I tried riding Cole out on the loop—a small track that is about a quarter mile long that is behind the barn—and it was a disaster. I ended up riding him in the arena when it got too dark in the evenings to go on the trail. This year, I decided to try it again.

I began a few weeks ago by going on a short trail ride with the remaining daylight and then working on the loop when I got back to round out the ride. Since we made sure our short trail rides were vigorous, walking the loop was a way for Cole to wind down. Last year, he was explosive when I tried this. This year he was only a little explosive the first time, and he has done well ever since.

As would be expected, he would walk a lot faster on the way facing the barn than he did when he went away from the barn. Consequently, I clicked him for sensible walking when we were going away and for whoas when we were going towards the barn. This kept him focused on me and made it more fun for both of us. When we would make the turn at the intersection of the trail that goes toward the barn and the trail that starts the lap over again, I clicked him, too.

A few rides ago, I had to stop doing the mini trail ride because there wasn’t enough time. Now, we were working on the loop only. It started to get a little boring, so I started reviewing our arena exercises. We were fairly successful with shoulder-in in one direction and not so good in the other—something to work on. I added leg yielding, and he was much better than in the arena—where he wants to morph it into side passing. Since he wants to go forward down the path, it eliminates his temptation to go sideways—into the ditch, woods or fence that go along the trail. Every now and then, we would stop and do some turn-on-the-haunches or backing up.

Last night, I decided it was time to add trotting. This was his 6th ride in a row, and it was a very warm night for a horse with his full winter coat. It was also quiet at the barn, so there were no distractions. In other words, all the planets were in alignment. When we got to the side of the loop that goes directly away from the barn, I asked for a trot and got the most lovely, forward going but sane trot that I could have dreamed of. We stopped at the next corner, walked all the way around the loop and did it again. We repeated it 5 times and he was perfect. I gave him lots of verbal praise. We walked one more lap and then I headed to the driveway and went to the front of the barn where it is wide enough to practice small circles and then called it a day.

At least I now know that if it is a warm night and Cole isn’t in a feisty mood, we can do some trotting on the loop in the dark. Mission accomplished.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Old Poke Meets Mr. Smooth

Old Poke Meets Mr. Smooth

Oh, what a long weekend we had. It was 4 consecutive, sunny October days—perfect for riding. Of course, we had our usual vacation disaster, but this time, it had nothing to do with the weather or a high river. I will get to that, later.

Thursday, we had our plans, but they changed suddenly when Kevin invited his friend, Sarah, out to ride Starry. She used to ride him all the time until she moved to Missouri. She was here to visit her family and had a chance to visit Starry, too. Kevin asked if we could all ride together and if he could ride Dante. Of course, Ellen said yes. Kevin has leant us Starry so many times, it was the least she could do to pay him back. He had ridden Dante in the arena for a few minutes last winter, and he has always wanted to try him on the trail. Now, a reminder—Starry’s trot is a killer. You have to post it, and it is not very easy to do at that. Dante’s trot is fantastic. It is incredibly smooth no matter how fast he goes.

Ellen was on Ranger, Sarah was on Starry and I was on Cole, of course. With Ranger in the ride, it wouldn’t be fast. We are respectful of his age. Also, no one is allowed to pass him or he gets mad and tries to go faster than Ellen wants him to. When we trotted, we would allow Ranger to get a head start, and we would try to stay back. Kevin pretty much stayed in the back. Cole knows the rule when we ride Ranger, so he didn’t have any trouble. Starry is a different story, so Sarah had a tougher time. At one point, we let a lot of space between Ranger, and we all got to canter a bit before we caught up. It was a little chaotic, but everyone obediently stopped when we reached Ranger.

We walked all the way home, and that gave us plenty more time to trot. Ranger may not trot as fast as he used to—and he was really fast—but he still has a super speedy walk. I would look back at Kevin trotting to catch up and there was always a big smile on his face as he sat the trot. Dante and Kevin were very happy with each other.

Everybody was perfect on the ride and all of us were smiling.

Now, it is time for the disaster. After we got back, we were just standing around, talking. Dante has a weird habit of sticking his mouth through the opening of the bars on his stall where we pour the grain. He rests his upper jaw over the metal covered wood of his stall wall—just behind his incisors. We just ignore him when he does it. Well, he was doing it and something happened and he got stuck and panicked. We still aren’t sure what it was, though Ellen and I saw the whole thing. I did see the board go forward and then he tried pulling back. For a long 5 seconds, he struggled and there was nothing we could do—and then he was free. That was a relief—until we saw the blood pouring out of his mouth. It was awful!

Ellen looked in his mouth, but all we could see was blood, blood and more blood. She got a syringe and filled it up with water and started rinsing it out. It was hard to tell, but most of it seemed to come from his canine tooth on one side. We didn’t know if he cut his gum or damaged the tooth. He didn’t seem upset about it, and when his afternoon hay showed up, he didn’t have any trouble eating it. It still kept bleeding and bleeding but not as profusely as before. We decided that it could wait until the next day when the vet was scheduled to give them shots.

The next day, the vet said the tooth was fine, and it was just a cut on his gum. It finally stopped bleeding, and it didn’t look bad at all. The grain opening of his stall was altered to prevent it from happening again, and all was well in the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Struggling with My First Arena Ride of the Season

Struggling with My First Arena Ride of the Season

The days are short, and by the time I get to the barn, I only have a few minutes of daylight. I have been going on mini trail rides and finishing up my ride outside doing laps on the little track we have, but the other night was rainy. I was thwarted. With much reluctance, I entered the indoor arena.

Just a reminder for my readers—I had issues with Cole in the arena in the early days. He would get to the far corner and try to bolt back to the front of the arena. He did this enough in the first few weeks that I became afraid to ride over there. I would just ride circles on the safe half. This lasted a really long time, but I got over it. Nowadays, he seldom tries that trick—but when I haven’t been in the arena for a while, my old fears show up.

I started out working in his better-behaved direction. After a few minutes, we started walking laps. When I felt good with that, I would trot a little and ask him to stop before he got too close to the far end. Each time we did it, I got a little closer. Within 10 minutes, I was trotting full laps. He was doing his big show trot which is hard to post and hard to sit. I started out with posting and once I got used to it, (he seldom does it on the trail,) I began to sit the trot.

Now, it was time to try the other direction. This direction is more complicated because he likes to take off along the wall to get to the far corner. At the next corner, I have had trouble with him wanting to run down to the wall to get to our barn door which is just off the normal oval we ride at the corner. I began with the walking, again.

When it was time to trot, my nerves got the better of me. I decided to trot on the safe half. More than once, when he saw that far corner, he tried to go straight instead of circle to the center of the arena. I struggled to get him to continue with the circle. Great—he justified my fear of him bolting to the corner. I really hoped he had forgotten this behavior. To prevent it, I overcompensated by bending him too much on the circle and he began to lean. Neither one of us liked that—and finally he voiced his protest by having a temper tantrum when he saw that far corner—bucking and trying to get away. I quickly spun him into the wall and made some small circles until I felt he was under control, again. Now, I really didn’t trust him.

I went back to walking laps. I did some short trot spurts and practiced stopping. He started to get better. When I tried to take him down the wall that leads to our barn door, he braced himself to go straight to the door—rather than turn along the track. I ended up spinning him again. I went back to rotting circles on the safe end, again. He kept trying to get either to the far end or our barn door. When I could keep him from overbending, I could feel my old Cole from last year return to me.

A friend showed up, and we started to talk as I rode. We seemed to relax, then, and I started getting good circles without fighting. It was getting close to an hour of riding, so then I just went and walked the hard direction. At least I was no longer afraid when I reached the far end.

I know it will get better—and probably just in a few rides. I had to contend with my nerves, re-familiarizing myself with his big show trot while he was getting used to working in a manner that he hasn’t worked in since back in March. The challenges did make the ride much more entertaining and the time went fast. We never even got to work on our laterals.

Working on Straightness

I haven’t seen Ellen and Dante work in the arena, lately.  The last time I did, I helped her with straightness and corners.  She tells me she is still having some trouble with the corners, but he is doing well on the straightaways.  She is learning to correct him when he goes crooked. 

Often, from the saddle it looks like your horse is traveling straight along the wall or fence, but upon closer examination, you will see his shoulder is the same distance from the wall as his hip.  Since a horse’s shoulder is narrower than his hip, this means he is crooked.  His shoulder should be directly in front of his hip—making it further away from the wall.  If you are unsure, have someone stand in front of you while you ride down the wall, and that person can tell you what is happening.

Once you know your horse is crooked, you need to be able to develop the feel for when he is crooked and when he is straight.  When he is crooked, you need to adjust him right away and do it every time.  It’s a lot of work just to ride a straight line along the wall!  Corners are even more complex.

No wonder I like to trail ride, but I know that schooling in the arena is important to making a well-rounded horse and rider.  If you are aware of the changes in your horse’s body—telling you he is going crooked, you are more likely to notice any changes on the trail, too.  He may be a little anxious about something off to the side or nervous when you are riding next to another horse.  It gives you an early warning that something may happen and the potential to avoid it. 

Sometimes Cole gets upset when other horses are close to him.  When he “tells” me, I move him ahead or behind.  If I’m not paying attention, there are times that he will bolt forward or sideways to get away.  (Cole is a big sissy.)

Learning to straighten your horse easily can be handy, too.  Let’s say there is some mud and your horse doesn’t want to get his feet dirty—but by going around it, your knee is aiming for a tree.  By making a slight adjustment, you may save your knee and maybe still stay out of the mud, but you need the ability to make that adjustment—and your horse needs to know what you are asking.

So, working on straightness in the arena is a worthwhile endeavor—as are many other things that we do.  I know this is the truth, but why is it so hard for me to get used to riding in it now that the evenings are dark and I can’t go on the trail?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pretty October Rides

We had some great riding this weekend. It was rainy on Saturday, but not too rainy to ride--just rainy enough to keep the tourists out of the park. We were nearly alone--except for the usual joggers.

On Saturday, Ellen and I took Dante and Cole out on the short ride (5 miles) and they were great. Since Cole’s weekday rides have been shortened due to the early darkness, he was a bit full of himself. We let Dante lead for a while, but we couldn’t take the slowness any more. When we took the lead, Cole flew along the trail. We did some terrific trotting and had a great gallop. We can get away with it because Dante remains calm. We just wait for them to catch up. Ellen did canter Dante a couple times, too. Ellen did insist on leading the way home because she wasn’t so sure that Dante would tolerate Cole vanishing from sight.

Cole did get frightened by a loose dog. The dog was Daisy, one we know well. She jogs along with her owner, and is one of the best behaved dogs we have ever encountered. She just started running around like a nut--to the embarrassment of her owner. Once I got Cole to stand, he just froze until she settled down. Dante was fine.

Sunday's ride was a little challenging. It was sunny and beautiful. We headed up to the show ring trails. They started off both walking dreadfully slow. By the time the trails improved and we could trot a lot, Cole came to life. We had one leap into a canter accented with a buck at the bottom of the big hill. That completely took me by surprise. He stopped readily. They both handled the hill beautifully. Once on top, Cole led at the trot. He was rather spunky, but he was reasonable. I kept looking back to make sure that Dante wasn’t upset when we got too far ahead. There were muddy patches on the trail that we stopped to walk through, and Dante would catch up with us.

All was going well until we got to the end of the trail by the street. I heard some odd bird noises coming from a tree right by the trail. As we neared to a stop by the tree, Cole flew sideways—away from the tree in alarm. He settled down, Ellen caught up with us, and Dante got startled by the tree, too. We turned them around and asked for a walk and Cole leapt up and said we should just get away from that tree as fast as possible. I calmly circled him back under control. Dante was also nervous. As we walked down the trail, 2 hawks were flapping and calling from tree to tree as if they were following us. I don’t think they were—it was probably coincidence. The only thing we could think of is that they were having a territorial issue.

Once we got away from them, we trotted with Dante in the lead. Ellen got him to go fast enough for Cole to trot comfortably and they were great. We decided to pass up the trail leading home and ride out on the front loop that goes around the show grounds. This was the first time we ever did it with Dante. Most of the summer, it was just too hot to go out into the sun and just walk around. Being right out in the open, we have found our horses can get pretty excited the first few times. We were right—they were both keyed up, but all went well.

I had one more problem spot with Cole. When we went down the big hill, Cole decided to trot. The big hill is very, very steep and it has a large rut that was caused by erosion going down the center of it. It wasn’t a place for rambunctious. I asked him to “whoa” which is something he is very good at, and he ignored me. I resorted to bending him sharply—not something I wanted to do on the hill, and finally he stopped. I made him stand quietly for about 30 seconds and then decided I was better off leading. He did better, but he had one more bad moment when we got close to the bottom. That time, it was a little easier to stop him. He hasn’t pulled anything like this since back in the spring. I think it was just his mood. We rode at a walk the rest of the way home, and other than refusing to stop and stand—which is pretty bad for him—he was fine. Dante did better on the ride, overall.

I my issues with Cole are related to cool weather and shorter, less vigorous evening rides. We do have another long weekend coming up—that should help a lot.

Both days, Ellen rode Ranger on a short ride while I walked with him. He was in a great mood.