Thursday, June 15, 2017
Happy Ending for MerryLegs
Remember the horse that was given to me about 2 years ago? He was a drop-dead gorgeous palomino Morgan that was green broke. After reviewing ground work with him, I tried to ride him and on the fifth ride, he went into a violent fit of bucking. Of course, I flew off. I tried it again--the same thing happened. I hired a trainer--and it happened to her, too. I ended up giving him to Windy Hills Farm. They train and sell horses. I was completely upfront with the situation. He was more than I could handle. If I could have stayed in the saddle, I could have worked it out, but I didn’t have the skills of a bronc rider. All I could see was me getting seriously hurt.
Windy Hill told me they would keep in touch, but I knew they wouldn’t. I was right. I could have contacted them to see how he was doing, but honestly, I was afraid I would hear bad news. I would rather not know than to know that he didn’t work out.
From time to time, we would see him in the background of their sales videos. One time, they posted a picture on Facebook that showed a young lady sitting on his back. It seemed like a good sign to me.
Still, I never contacted them. After seeing the photo, I assumed he was being ridden. Lately, there haven’t been any sightings of him in their videos.
One of our fellow boarders at our stables said she talked to the owner of Windy Hill, and she asked about the palomino Morgan. He knew who she was talking about right away. He said they had one really bad ride in the beginning, but after that, he was fine. He turned into a very good horse, and they sold him.
A happy ending. In my heart, I felt that if a trainer could stay in the saddle through all of his bucking, he would give up. He was a very lazy horse without much fight. I just couldn’t do it. We have to know our limitations. You can’t imagine how pleased I am that he worked out and has moved on to be a useful horse. Thank you Windy Hill/
Friday, June 9, 2017
Lisa, at our barn, got a new horse last July named Ice. He is a huge gray Quarter Horse with a lot of Appendix breeding. When I look at him, I see Thoroughbred before I see the Quarter Horse. At 14 years old, I've lived a sheltered life. He never went off the property at his previous owner’s place, so he isn’t used to the variety of things we see out on the trail. Lisa only took him on about 4 trail rides last year, and she wanted to take him out for the first time this year with a quiet horse. I volunteered Cole Train.
Our goal was to ride him down the hill to the river. If he did that well, we would cross and go just a short distance. The river is really low, right now, so it would be a good time to cross for the first time of the year.
Traffic makes him nervous, so Lisa decided to lead him on the street. When a car passed us, he did take a side step, but that was all.
Lisa mounted on the trail, and we headed down the hill. Cole reluctantly took the lead to give Ice courage. It must have helped, because Ice was flawless on the way down. It was a no-brainer to try to cross the river.
Cole went first, and Ice walked right in! Kevin had given Lisa some horse cookies, so she gave one to Ice when they got to the other side.
At the beginning of our ride, we have to go along a fence that separates us from the paved bike trail and the street. It is actually a good place to let horses get accustomed to both traffic and bikes.
Some cars came, and Ice slowed down, stopped and then turned around to go home. Lisa struggled to prevent him from turning, but Ice simply powered through her. When she got to a wider spot of the trail, she was able to turn him back around, but when she asked him to go forward, he just wanted to back up. She did get him to walk, but as he went along the fence, he repeated the whole behaviour. And then it happened again, and again. He wasn’t doing anything dangerous, but Lisa wasn’t getting anywhere. By Ice’s body language I would say he wasn’t afraid, but just uneasy with going on the trail. He thought home would be a better place.
I suggested that Lisa try leading so we could make this a positive experience rather than an unhappy one with a lot of conflicts. She agreed and dismounted. When she was trying to lead him, he kept swinging his head in front of her and then would cuth her off, so he could turn around and go home. She turned him back--and then he would do it again. She was getting frustrated, so I got off Cole and showed her how she could lead him with a hand on each rein--with the right rein under his neck on the other side of his head. That way, when he tried his little trick, she would have the leverage to keep him from succeeding. He still was able to bend his head a little towards her, but he was no longer able to cut him off.
We got past the fence and went into the woods a little bit. We then turned around. Ice immediately walked like a gentleman with much enthusiasm--but he didn’t prance, dance or rush like a barn sour horse. He just walked faster.
There is a good log for mounting right by the river crossing, so Lisa was able to mount and ride across the river. Ice went right in and walked up the hill without a single problem.
Overall, I think it was a good ride. Ice used to do things like that to Lisa when she rode him on the property, and she was able to work it out with him. At no time did he seem overly nervous or excited. He spooked at nothing--unless you count that side step when the car passed.
Lisa was nervous, but she kept her cool and did everything right. I showed her how next time when he tries to turn around to go home she could keep him turning in a small circle with a leading rein to get him facing the direction she wants. The only problem is he is such a big horse that it won’t work where the trail is very narrow with a drop off on one side--like on the hill in places. She will have to use her judgement in those cases.
I think he has the potential to make a fine trail horse. Dante was worse on his first ride of the year than Ice--and Ellen has ridden him hundreds of miles on our trails over the years. If she keeps up with him, not only will he keep improving, he will probably start to enjoy it.
By the way, Cole was a superstar. He waited patiently when he needed to and did everything I wanted of him. And he sure was surprised when we turned back early!
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Forecast for no Riding
They were predicting rain, and my sister, Ellen, said if it was raining to not bother meeting her the next morning. When I saw the forecast on the 11:00 news, it looked very bleak. They predicted rain in the morning--after a rainy night. Even if it wasn’t raining, the river was too high.
I emailed her that I probably wouldn't be out there because of the weather. I felt really crummy.
I really did want to ride with Ellen, so I still set my clock to get up. When it went off I could hear the rain on the roof. I checked the radar, and I saw that there was rain over us, but it looked like it was moving out--and then there wouldn’t be any rain for a while.
I decided to head out to the barn. If the river was too high, she might not want to ride on the hill. I would watch her ride Dante in the arena and then maybe ride Cole on Ranger’s walk. I really don't know what I would do, but at least I could keep Ellen company.
When I got there, she was saddled and bridled and ready to go in the arena. She didn’t think I was coming out. By now, the rain had stopped, just as the radar predicted. When she told me the river was crossable, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I had to do a little coaxing, but not all that much. I told her the rain stopped--and we should just go.
We rode down the hill to the river. It started drizzling. The river was a little high, but crossable. I told her it was her call. She said we should just do the hill. I asked her if she was sure, because the hill is either difficult--or boring. I told her it would be an easier ride if we crossed. She hesitated for about 3 seconds and then agreed.
Ellen gets nervous crossing rivers, even when they are low. She gets nervous riding on rainy days because Dante is somewhat troubled by loud traffic on wet roads. She worries about thunderstorms--after all, we were caught in a doosy, years ago, and a tree fell right next to us. She gets nervous about lots of things. Yet, here we were on a rainy day crossing a higher than normal river! Like it was nothing! This was awesome.
It started raining a little harder. I was beginning to think I looked at the wrong radar. Af first, Dante was pretty pokey. I tried to follow, but he was too slow for Cole. She told me to go in the lead.
Cole went faster--and Dante did too! Ellen didn't seem to be nervous at all. She seemed to like it! We moved out faster, and so did she. Dante didn’t go as fast as Cole, but he was going at a good trot.
When we got to the section we like to canter, she wanted to go in the lead to do a some of it. We started at a fast trot. Dante will always trot faster, here, because he is hoping to canter. I typically let them canter, and Cole trots behind. Dante started to canter, and I did something unusual--I asked Cole to canter, too. This is the trail that Cole sprouts wings at a canter. I will ride in front of my companions, and we will go off like a rocket. At the end, I just wait for them to catch up. In this season of hyper horses, no one has allowed me to do that, so I haven’t cantered much at all this year. It was time to try something new--cantering behind another horse.
Cole did well, but he was going too fast. In a short time, I had to bring him back to a trot--but the good news is he did just that--came back to a trot. Ellen asked Dante to trot, too, a few seconds later, but he didn’t just trot--he trotted faster than he has ever trotted with Ellen before. I know this because we were following. I think he was trotting faster than he was just cantering. It was awesome! Ellen wasn’t afraid in the least. She just went along for the ride.
It was time to turn around and head for home. It was still raining, but not really bad at all. There were no bugs, and it wasn’t too cold.
We did a mixture of walking and trotting on the way home. Ellen’s braveness was giving way, and she was nervous that her nervousness might cause Dante to be nervous crossing the elevated river. I was a good sister and agreed to switch horses. Dante crossed the river well, and then we waited for Ellen.
Poor Ellen, Cole decided he wanted treats. He got stuck on the river bank--demanding treats. When she convinced him to enter the water--I don’t know how many treats it took, he walked fast. Well, it wasn’t fast for Cole--but fast for Ellen. I heard her whining the whole time they crossed.
“Cole, slow down. Cole you are going too fast--slow down.” Cole ignored her, of course. He knew how to get her safely across. Cole always takes care of Ellen.
Ellen told me the reason she was so easy to convince to go on the ride was because she wasn’t anticipating it. Since she thought I wouldn’t be there, she just figured on an arena ride--and she had no real anxiety except with the river on the way home. I think I should do that in the future--tell her I’m not coming out--and show up.
It never did stop raining all day--it only got worse.
Starry and Bugs
I met Kevin out at the barn on a rainy day. It wasn’t raining, and according to the radar, there was a break in the action. If we went right out on a ride, we would be able to ride during a dry window.
Kevin was hesitant. First, he was worried he would get caught in the rain. Earlier in the day, he went jogging, and just as he was turning around to head towards home, it began to rain. He ended up getting soaked, and he wasn’t looking forward to being drenched again.
I assured him that we would stay dry. His other worry was bugs. Often, after it rains, the mosquitoes come out in droves--and Starry is so sensitive. They make him crazy, and he will act up. I suggested we go towards the Lagoon, which is a shorter ride and, where there are always less bugs. Since I was wearing a sweatshirt and a sweat jacket, I felt it was probably too cold for them, anyway. I didn’t even put bug spray on Cole.
Kevin loaded up Starry with spray and put his mask on. We headed down the trail. When Starry got to the bottom of the hill, he took off at a fast trot. I heard Kevin say something about “no brakes.” I was still going down the hill, and Cole saw Starry moving fast--and he decided to join him. I didn't have any brakes, either. (Usually, Cole will tolerate Starry doing things like this, so I figured he must be in “a mood.”
I haven’t ridden Cole to the Lagoon since last year, due to all sorts of reasons. Ellen and I plan to go on longer rides in that direction, so I figured that it would be good to get Cole there at least once before Ellen attempts it. It is a bit of a tricky trail, because it goes parallel to the street and the river. We just have a stip of trail with grass on each side between them. To make matters worse, there isn't a simple river bank alongside the trail. It is a 10 foot wall that drops down the the river.
It was one of those noisy days. With all the rain, the cars were very loud on the wet street and the planes were flying low. We ride quite close to the airport, and the planes are so loud that you can’t talk when one flies overhead. Today was really bad.
We arrived at the Lagoon. The first part of the trail actually has trees and shrubs along both sides. The rain had left lots of puddles, so Kevin was stopping to walk through them. That was great--he had brakes! Cole can go through puddles, but he prefers to tiptoe around them, so we did. At the last big puddle, Kevin just kept trotting. We trotted through it, and Cole’s belly got splashed. I had a sudden acceleration. He started to lean into the bit and then his head got lower than I like. If his head gets too low, he is known to toss in a buck.
I asked Kevin to stop, and he did. I pulled Cole back together, and we took of trotting, again.
We were now in the open area, and Starry picked up the speed. Cole could keep up, but I could feel the momentum building in his hindquarters. He then started pulling his head down, again. I thought a reset would help. I stopped him, and then asked him to trot, again. Unfortunately, Kevin didn't know we stopped, and he moved further away from us. Maybe stopping wasn’t a very good idea. Cole once again started to build up his excitement. Kevin stopped to walk through a rough patch of trail, and I was able to catch up. Before I had a moment to relax, he was off, again. My white knuckles reappeared.
We reached another spot that we typically stop to go down a gravelly slope. I caught up, again. Somehow, I ended up in the lead, and we trotted down to the end of the trail.
As soon as we turned around, Starry got bugs in his head. There were no bugs around us, but Starry is so phobic, that he acted like there was. He started swishing and belly kicking--and then he took off at a fast trot.
Cole thought he had a great idea--and took off after him. By now, I had had enough. I bent his head towards the left to slow him down, and though he fought at first, he did finally come down to a walk. Starry was a different story. They trotted out of sight.
That really got Cole upset. He tried to trot up, but I insisted he just walk. We compromised and walked very fast. As soon as we got around the corner, we could see Starry up a ways. Kevin finally got him to walk.
Gradually, we got closer to him, and I guess Starry realized there weren’t any bugs, after all. He relaxed and walked like a gentleman. He still tossed his head about at the imaginary bugs, but we made it all the way home without incident.
If it wasn’t his first time over there for the year, Cole would have been fine. If Starry wasn’t plagued by bugs and and acted like his usual self, Cole would have been fine, also. But a crazy Starry on a different trail? Well, it wasn’t much worse than I expected--and much better than I expected on the way home.
One thing I know for sure, it will be much easier to ride that trail with Dante!
Saturday, May 20, 2017
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 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
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 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
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
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.