Thursday, July 2, 2015

Simply Irresistible



Stormy apparently had a rough night.

What's Next

What’s Next

What a terribly emotional time this has been. The disappointment has been weighing on me, heavily. Not a few tears have been shed, and none of them caused by my physical pain. I was even doubting Mrs. Shoes. (Foolish, foolish me.) It didn’t help, that Kevin, always a cynic, was painting me a picture of a woman who just wanted to get rid of a horse—that she was hiding the fact that he had a bucking problem—just because she wanted to get rid of him. Though I kept defending Mrs. Shoes, it did cross my mind that I may have been gullible. But surely, if she was trying to trick me, the least she could have done was sent me better pictures of him. He really, really does look so much better than the pictures—I trusted her with that, and I trust her with everything else. She gave me a horse that has great potential, and I just have to find the key to unlock it.

He bucked once for the trainer when she initially asked him to trot, and he did the same for me. Chances are, if I had been able to stay in the saddle, that would have been the end of it. I would have used less leg pressure and all would have gone well.

The day after the “incident” I didn’t even want to look at MerryLegs. I did take him out and work with him, but there was no joy involved. I could have been working with a stranger’s horse, for all I felt. He actually did really well that day.

The following day, I heard from the trainer, and that lifted my spirits. I went out to the barn in the evening, and this time, when I first looked at MerryLegs, my heart smiled. All hope isn’t lost. Nobody tricked me into accepting a lemon at all. He is just a “Special” horse that is going to be a bigger challenge than I expected. We had an even better training session, that night.

After a lot of thought (and it seems that’s what training is all about—a lot of thought,) I am forming the basis of a plan.

Since MerryLegs bucked with both his trainer and me on the trot request, I have to get teach him to trot reliably from a voice command. I am sure he used to know how to do it, but he seemed to forget so much when he crossed the border. I have been working on it the last few lounging lessons. I ask him to trot twice from my voice, and if he doesn’t respond by the third request, I wave the whip. Sometimes, he still didn’t, so I waved harder. By the end of the second session—he was getting it. He was trotting to my voice only. That meant—it was click time. I am hoping to get him so good at it that when I ask him to trot in the saddle with a verbal command, he will understand. After a bunch of successful clicking transitions, I may not be so nervous about asking him to trot. Clicker training is a funny thing—it seems to increase the rider’s abilities, too.

The two times he got upset about the stirrup hitting his side while lounging, it was a surprise to him. My saddle’s stirrups are notorious for slipping free. It is evident he doesn’t like surprises. Mrs. Shoes said she lounged him with a western saddle that flapped on his side, but he would expect that, so it wouldn’t bother him. If I run the stirrups down intentionally, they don’t bother him. I will let them work their way down from now on. He can get used to surprises on the lounge line.

Long ago, when I got Cruiser as a 2-year-old, he was the most distracted horse. I could get nowhere with him. Someone suggested the TTeam book. I bought it, did the massage routine, took Cruiser into the indoor arena, and for the first time, ever, he looked at me—he knew I was there. After that, things went pretty smoothly. That isn’t MerryLegs problem, but since I had such a good experience with the massage, I don’t think it will hurt one bit to try some of it on MerryLegs. I got the book out and was reviewing it. The full massage routine will indicate if he has any pain, and I really don’t think this is pain, but I will give it a try. I think what he will benefit the most from is the TTouch in the girth and behind the girth area. Maybe he gets tight and sensitive there. I could try it before and after work, and see what happens. It may help him to accept pressure.

Another part of my plan might sound silly, but why not try it. I got out my old surcingle—something I haven’t used since I taught Mingo to ground drive when he was recuperating from one of his operations. I thought if I should hold it around his belly in different spots, maybe he could get used to the feeling of being trapped by pressure. Quiet reactions would get a click, of course. I have been pressing my hand and arm in the leg pressure area, and it hardly bothers him, now.

You see, one thing that Mrs. Shoes told me was that he doesn’t like when the farrier would trap his front legs between his knees when he was trimmed. I made a point to work on this so that my farrier won’t have a problem. At first, MerryLegs would lean backwards and pull away. I just did it for short periods of time and clicked him for it. He seems fine with it, now. We’ll see how he does with the farrier.

What if MerryLegs is like this with everything? What if he is adverse to the feeling of being trapped? This seems like a safe way to possibly get him used to it.

Once I can ride him and get a trot transition without leg pressure, he will still have to get used to it. Let’s say he should spook and I reflexively hold on with my legs—that would scare him even more. Also, if he is used to light contact with my legs, if I should use heavier contact—he wouldn’t get as surprised as sudden pressure—like he does when the stirrups slip down.

I’m sure I will have more ideas, but this is where I’m starting. I sure hope it works.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ouch

Ouch

My 4th ride on MerryLegs went superb. We practiced our walk/whoa transitions, did some straight lines and he seemed to understand when I wanted to turn. Things were looking good.

On Saturday, I rode at a walk for about 15 minutes. I decided to ask for a trot. I tried the ride before, but he didn’t do it, and I didn’t push it. This time, I was more determined. I said the word, squeezed my legs, got nothing and continued to squeeze. Next thing I knew, I was flying through the air. He had turned into a bucking bronco.

I was bruised and battered—and blind. Ellen found my glasses for me, and I wanted to get back on. When I lifted my foot to the stirrup, he started to buck, again. Now, I knew I had a problem. I led him around to get him to settle down. When he seemed quiet, I took him to the mounting block. I pulled at the stirrup, flopped my body over his back—and did all the stuff you would do to accustom horse to being ridden. I eased on his back and had him stand. So far, so good. I dismounted and did it all again. Kevin was by my side. I asked him to walk, but immediately, it didn’t feel right. I tried to stop him, but he refused. before I knew it, I was flying through the air, again.

I was more bruised and battered—and done. No more riding MerryLegs that day, or for a while.

It seemed to me, that the first bucking incident was related directly to the leg pressure. My guess is the second incident was caused by him being upset about the first one.

To say I was discouraged, despondent, depressed and just plain down is an understatement. Did I make a really big mistake? Is this why he was a free horse. I dind’t think Mrs. Shoes and MerryLeg’s trainer was lying to me. What was I going to do?

I immediately decided that I wouldn’t consider riding again for at least a month. I needed to do more groundwork and come up with a plan—and heal. I din’t break anything, but I am extremely sore in the posterior area. My tailbone was unscathed, but the muscles around it are very bad. There is no way I could manage any challenging riding in this state. I’m lucky I can even ride Cole.

Then next day, we had a very productive lounging session. I had him saddled and bridled. When we stopped, I tried pressing my hand firmly on his side where my leg would go, and he cringed and started to back up. Ah hah! I then tried light pressure, and he stood still. I clicked/treated. I kept repeating—adding pressure—until I had it as heavy as before. He was good. The clicking really helps with desensitization. I then did the same on the other side.

I am not going to give up, but I must concede I may not succeed.

I then emailed his trainer to see if she had this problem and what she did to overcome it.

She did, but only the first time she asked him to trot. He never did it again, but she also learned to ask mainly with her voice and her seat. So, that confirmed my theory that it was the leg pressure that set him off. The good news is that this wasn’t a chronic problem that she struggled with—this gives me hope.

I will get him to be terrific with his trot transitions from voice command, desensitize him to pressure in any way I can think of and hopefully, I will be able to go beyond it. I must confess, asking him to trot is a rather terrifying idea, but I will have to do it, eventually. He is such a good horse, in many ways. I really hope I can work this out.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ranger


Ellen's boyfriend was out with his camera. Ellen and I were riding the loop with Ranger and Cole. As we passed him, Cole did his best silly walk, ever. His legs stepped high, and he barely went forward. Cool, I thought, John can get a picture of him. Then I looked over and John had his camera on Ranger.

This is the picture he got. I can imagine that Ranger, who we always joke is embarrassed by Cole's antics, is looking back at Ellen saying, "Do you believe what he is doing now?"

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ride Two and Three

Rides Two and Three

Totally uneventful.  I didn’t have my number one assistant, Ellen, but Kevin did a fine job as number two assistant.  He held MerryLegs for mounting and stood with us as we practiced standing quietly and walked by our side.  He stayed with us the majority of ride #2, but I only had him help a little on ride #3. 

We haven’t done much except practice “walk” and “whoa.”  He only tried backing up a couple of times.  We got stuck at a standstill a few times, but we were able to work it through.  He can’t seem to break out of a small circle, but at least he is circling in both directions.

I’m glad to say that he is relaxed and hasn’t once spooked or done anything sudden.  It doesn’t seem to be his nature. 

Wow, what a boring post.

On to other things.  He is getting used to bug spray.  Well, it is fake bugspray.  I filled up an old bottle of bugspray with water.  It only smells a little bit.  In the beginning, he acted like I was spraying him with battery acid.  I spray him when he is loose in his stall, and with patience and the help of my clicker, he will stand perfectly still for spraying.

He is terrific with saddling and bridling.

His leading has improved dramatically.  The only difficulty I still have is coming out of his stall and going out of the barn door—but last night, he only gave me minimal resistance.

When I got him, Mrs. Shoes warned me that he doesn’t like when a farrier picks up his foot and holds it trapped in his legs.  That was a challenge I sought to overcome—and I think has decided that it is now no big deal.  I gradually got him used to it—with the help of my handy clicker.  In the beginning, I could do it only for seconds.  After a few weeks, I could clean his foot with his leg trapped, but if I went much longer, he would sway backwards.  Now, I can hold it as long as I want, and he just stands.  He no longer has any issues.

I have now started to do it in the crossties, since that is how our farrier likes to do the horses.  Last night, he was perfect.

Our only big problem—he has learned to self bathe.  He decided dumping his water bucket is great fun—turning his stall into a swamp.  He was seen actually grabbing it from the bottom and flipping it over.  He also liked lifting it by the lip.  I switched to a different bucket, and he seems better.  I also got a bucket holder, so if he starts up again, I will put that up.


If it would only stop raining—I want to get him across the river.  Ellen and I call this the “New Horse Curse.”  This happened to us the summer we got Cole and the summer we got Dante.  It is very frustrating.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Because a person doesn’t turn 50 everyday…

Because a person doesn’t turn 50 everyday…

I wanted to do something special on my special day.  I didn’t tell anybody, just in case I changed my mind.  The conditions had to be right.  It needed to be quiet at the barn, MerryLegs had to be in the right frame of mind and my gut had to say it was right.

I saddled and bridled the little guy and took him into the indoor arena.  I led him about and did some lounging.  He seemed quiet and was mostly attentive.  I took a deep breath, handed the rope to Ellen, my assistant in all these adventures, and told her, “It’s time.”  She didn’t understand, at first, but then it dawned on her.  I went back into the barn to put my boots on and grab my helmet.

Part of our last few sessions was spent tugging at the stirrup, bouncing by his side and flopping over the saddle.  I clicked him for quiet behavior.  A few times, he did lean backwards when I was leaning over the saddle, but the rest of it he took in stride.  I led MerryLegs to the mounting block and gave Ellen the leadrope.  I would have reins.

I really didn’t know what to expect from him.  He was ridden at the trainer’s back in the fall of 2012, but that was the last time.  I also knew that they just did walking and trotting in the round pen, for the most part.  Since he has been acting like everything I have asked him was a new experience –at least in the beginning, I decided to treat him like this was his first time.  I trained Cruiser, Mingo and Cole for saddle, so this wasn’t a new experience for me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t exciting.  In fact, riding a horse for the first time is one of the most exciting things I have ever done in my life.

I swung my leg over the saddle and tucked my foot in the stirrup.  I felt MerryLegs start to step backwards.  (What a surprise—that is always what he does when I try something new.)  I didn’t like where things might be going, so I told Ellen to give him treats.  That changed his mind.  He stood still and ate.  I touched him all around and gently swung my legs on his sides.  When I clicked, Ellen treated.  He seemed more and more relaxed with me on his back.

I squeezed my legs to ask him to go forward—he didn’t remember what that meant.  He started to back up.  I told Ellen to back away from his head and try to lure him forward.  I continued to squeeze.  When he took a forward step, I released and clicked.  Ellen treated.  We did this for a few minutes.  I think he started to understand, but I’m not sure—he may have just been following Ellen.

We tried a little with Ellen walking next to him instead of in front of him, and that was a bit of struggle.  By now, all he wanted was to get treats, and he was crowding Ellen instead of walking straight.  At least he was going forwards.

Finally, I decided we had had enough and dismounted.  I don’t think I was in the saddle for more than 10 minutes.  Honestly, I am surprised on how little he seemed to remember of his training, but that has been the pattern from the beginning.  He felt like he had never been ridden in his life.  My other horses felt more experienced and confidant than him.  Hopefully, it will come back to him, and he will progress quickly—I want to get him on the trail!

We then took him for a walk down the hill to the river.  His behavior was just perfect.  The river was too high for me to lead him across.  That will have to wait for another day.  It wasn’t too high for Ellen and I to ride across, though, so we went back, got Cole and Dante and went on a terrific birthday ride.


The rest of my birthday went just as nicely as the start, and I will always look back on the day I turned 50 with fondness.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cole flies and MerryLegs Bounces

Last night, Kevin and I were finally able to cross the river in at least a week.  Both horses seemed excited to be doing something other than going up and down the hill.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far before we were blocked by a tree across the trail.  Dejectedly, we rode back.  When we were nearly about to cross the river to go home, Kevin suggested turning around and doing it again. 

At first, both horses didn’t want to go away from home, but with a little kick, Cole too the lead at a very vigorous trot.  Soon, we were cantering.  I made him come back down to a trot.  The whole way to the fallen tree, Cole wanted to go as fast as I would let him.  Eventually, we put Starry back in the lead to settle the horses down.  It was as if he knew that the sooner we would get to the fallen tree, the sooner we would turn around to go home.

I saddled up MerryLegs and led him from the barn.  The only time he stalled out was right outside the barn where the grass was and when I wanted to pass up the arena door to go to the loop.  I was able to signal him forward with the whip.  We did the loop once and walked down the driveway.  I then took him inside and lounged him.  This is only the second time I lounged him with the saddle.  The first time, he was very reluctant to trot—and I attributed it to the heat.  Once again, I had trouble getting him to trot with the saddle.  Praise and clicks didnnt’ make any improvement.  When he did trot, it was unenergetic.  Finally, he must have gotten disgusted with yet another request for a trot and he swerved towards me.  I waved him away with the whip, and he decided to bolt out of the circle.  I hung on, and he stopped.  He then started bucking—a whole bunch of little bucks in place where his feet went up no more than a few inches.  He didn’t kick out or twist around—just boing, boing, boing.  Kevin, who was watering the adjoining barn, heard some commotion and came over to see what was going on.  By then, MerryLegs was standing still.  I started explaining, and MerryLegs personally demonstrated it with more bucks in place.


I think he was testing the saddle. It may have started when one of the stirrups (English saddle) worked its way loose and was flopping on his side.  Once he stopped bucking, I led him a little and he calmed down.  I  then started to lounge him, and he was perfect at the walk and trot.  He even moved with the exuberance at the trot that he shows when he doesn’t have a saddle on him.  Maybe he just needed to do a little bucking.  I’ll see how he does next time, and that will give me an idea if he learned anything from his silliness.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Paradise Returns

Paradise Returns

Mrs. Shoes replied to my email.  As I expected, MerryLegs was never a barn sour horse at his Canadian home.  She described how she gentled him by touching him all over with the whip and the rope.  This was excellent news.  Since I planned to do it, too, it would just be a review of something he already knew.  Evidently, everything I was experiencing was a new behavior, my theory was probably correct—and the good news—it isn’t very ingrained in his head.  Hopefully, it will not be that hard to change.

It was full steam ahead with my plan.

After doing some lounging in the indoor arena, I asked MerryLegs to stand.  No problem, there.  Next step—reviewing whip touches to prove to him that I had no plan of hurting or scaring him.  That went very smoothly.  He never flinched.

I then wanted to teach him to go forward to a hock tap.  I remembered that it took a long time for Cole to figure it out at first, so I was prepared.  I tapped and tapped and tapped and tapped.  It was getting really boring.  He finally took a step.  Click/treat/ repeat.  It took forever each time I tried.  I started to cheat, even though I knew it was wrong.  I gently pulled the lead rope and caused  him to take a step.  It worked.  It started to do it that way.  I would tap, and when that didn’t work, I would pull the rope.  He didn’t seem to get the hock part at all, but he was getting the lead rope, and that was a good thing. 

By now, I was totally bored, and he probably was, too.  I went on to the next step, even though I didn’t really have the first step.  I tapped his rump.  To my pleasure, he didn’t step backwards but forwards.  I had just read an article about clicker training that explained that when you ask a new thing with a different cue, a horse will often experiment with something similar to what he was just doing—most likely figuring it was working before, why not try it?  Since that is what I wanted, anyway, I was thrilled.  We practiced that a lot, of course.  Since it was working, neither one of us were bored.

I then headed outside.  He wasn’t too bad going out the arena door, but he did stall out.  I used my new technique, and it worked!  He wasn’t going  backwards.  I headed for the loop in the back of the property.  We did have some issues a few times where the old behavior returned, but when he was backing, I kept tapping.  When he went forwards, I stopped.  I think he was experimenting to see what would work.  I thought we would get to the loop, but he saw a pair of deer in that direction, and that totally put him off.  I wasn’t prepared for a fight—I never am.  I turned back to the barn, passed it up—and he marched right past and down the driveway—the place where I struggled so much the day before.  Wow!  I gave him a handful of treats at the street and brought him home.

The next day, I did the same.  This time, Ellen was with me.  The only time I had a really big problem where he protested about going forward was where the neighbor took down part of her fence to repair it; exposing some delicious-looking grass.  He said he wanted to explore the grass.  (Ellen said Ranger wanted to do exactly the same thing.)  The rest of the time, when he stopped on his own, he readily went forward with a whip tap.  We walked multiple trips on the loop and down the driveway to the street.

The following day, I had very few problems, whatsoever.  This time, we only did one lap on the loop and then headed down the driveway to the trail and headed down the hill.  The problems were minimal and he was simply perfect on the trail.

I think my theory was correct, and when I took the time to show him what I wanted, I was able to communicate with him rather than confuse him.  Once I took the confusion out of the way, he didn’t mind going outside.  Even if he stalled out, I was able to start him back up, but he was stalling out less and less. 


This was a very important lesson for me, and I think it will help me through all of his training.  Apparently, when MerryLegs is confused, he shuts down.  If I find him shutting down, it is a sign that he doesn’t understand.  Cole is so different.  If I confuse him, he starts guessing—usually ending up going sideways in various versions of sidepassing.  He makes it very obvious.  If I ask him for one thing and end up with a sidepass, it is evident he doesn’t understand.  MerryLegs isn’t a guesser—he is like a little child who just wants to take his toys and go home.  I need to keep him from getting to that point, but if he does end up there, I need to bring him back by explaining clearer.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in Paradise

I have been having some trouble with MerryLegs.  It all started when he didn’t want to walk out to the loop.  I don’t know what caused him to feel that way, but I couldn’t get him budged without a struggle.  That was the beginning.  It began to spread.  Soon, he didn’t want to walk away from the barn, down the driveway, down the street and eventually, he didn’t want to go out the barn door.  At one point, he didn’t want to go in the barn, either.  Ellen had him stuck in the barn aisle—he didn’t want to go in his stall.  I also had trouble getting him out of his stall.  Stall is the word.  He stalled out, everywhere.  I could get him to walk to the outdoor arena one day, but the next day would be trouble. 

This went on for more than a week, and I must confess, the frustration was skyrocketing.  I was wondering if I made a big mistake getting MerryLegs.  Mrs. Shoes trusted me to train him well, and I was making a big mess out of him.  Once I got him into the indoor arena, he was lounging and leading like a champ.  I could lead him outside if someone waved their arms behind him with very little effort—for a few steps—sometimes more.  If I tapped his rump with the whip or waved the lead rope, he went backwards.  Once he stopped, he refused to go forwards.  If I stood in front of him at the end of the lead rope, eventually, he would walk right up to me—unless he got too far from the barn.  Then, that didn’t work, either.  I needed a way to get him to lead without any help from my assistants.  I felt rottin.

Once I got him to the trail, he was perfect.  He walked beside me down to the river, into the river and back home with ease.

Sometimes, he seemed barn sour.  Sometimes he seemed ornery.  Sometimes he seemed like he just didn’t care about anything at all.  I spent time talking to Kevin and Ellen about it.  We kept brainstorming.  Finally, something Ellen said made an impression on my mind.  She said, “He is acting like he doesn’t want to load a trailer.”

That evening, I just sat and thought about the problem.  There was something that stuck in my mind.  When I talked to the shipper who received him at his Toronto layover, I asked him what MerryLegs looked like; as I hadn’t seen him, yet.  He said he is doing well, and he is a nice-looking horse.  He then paused and said, "Striking, actually, I think you will be pleased."  Then he added, “in that respect.”  Could it have just been a phrase he threw in because he didn’t know MerryLegs, either, or did it mean something.  Originally, I took it as the former then, but now I took it as a clue.

What would he know about MerryLegs’ personality—probably nothing except what he learned in the short time it took to lead him from the trailer into the barn.  When we did that upon his arrival in Ohio, MerryLegs was afraid to step through the barn door.  Actually, that was no surprise to me, since Cole did the same thing when he first arrived.  I immediately opened to door as wide as it would go, and MerryLegs stepped in.

What if this happened in Toronto, and they couldn’t do that?  What if he refused to step in?  Would they have waited until he got a good look inside and relaxed from the long trip—or would they want him to go in promptly.  What if they took a whip and tapped him on the rump.  He may have stepped backwards because he wasn’t ready to go forward.  They may have stopped tapping—do this a few times—and what would a smart horse like MerryLegs figure out?  If you go backwards when someone stops tapping a whip, they will stop tapping.  (The tapping is a very common way to convince a horse to load a trailer—light, constant tapping—not causing any pain.)

A few days later, when it was time to load him back in the trailer—he may not have wanted to go up that ramp—look what happened the last time.  He may have had a repeat lesson in whip tapping—and it may have reinforced that backing could cause it to stop.  After all, these are haulers; not trainers.  They may not realize how important timing is.  Another point—most horses are trained to respond by going forward when tapped with the whip, but what if he didn’t know that was what it meant?

The final conclusion to my theory was that he is not barn sour, per se.  He may have stalled out a few times for whatever reasons, and in trying to get him moving, I asked him to go backwards (in his mind) and then kept trying to get him to go forwards—sending him into confusion.  The confusion caused him to not want to go outside and encounter it, again.  We were in a downward spiral of misbehavior.

What I needed to know to confirm my hypothesis was if this was a new behavior or not—time to send an email to his old owner, Mrs. Shoes.  If it was an old behavior, how did Mrs. Shoes solve the problem?  If it was a new one, if MerryLegs didn’t know ahead of time what the whip meant, it was likely I was correct. 

I sent out an email and started formulating my next plan.  Ellen suggested desensitizing him to the whip to improve his relationship with it.  That made sense.  I’m not the type of trainer that wants my horse to be afraid of a whip.  It is merely an extension of my arm.  I train a lot with a whip because of that. If he is being fearful of the whip, I needed to fix it.

Next, I remembered the program of groundwork I did with Cole over the winter.  Cole and I both had fun with it.  This would help improve our communication. I looked it up in the book that I used for Cole, and refreshed my memory.

The first step was to teach him to go forward to a light, constant tapping with a whip on his hock.  I forgot that I taught that to Cole, oddly.  I use it all the time when he gets stuck in a series of bows, and I want him to step forward.  How could I forget it?  This can be an alternate cue to teach him.

The second step was teaching him to go forward to a constant rump tap.  This is where we were going wrong.  He thinks he should go backwards, and I want him to go forwards.  Everything that he did right would be reinforced with a click and treat.  Once he mastered the new cues, we would go outside and test it in the real world.

I just needed to hear what Mrs. Shoes had to say…


To be continued…

Monday, June 8, 2015

Great Success

Great Success!


Friday evening found me struggling with MerryLegs.  He didn’t want to go out of the barn, he didn’t want to walk  on the street, he didn’t want to walk back to the loop, he didn’t want to go around the first corner of the loop,  he didn’t want to go into the indoor arena…  He wore me out.  He would either plant his feet or go backwards.  Eventually, he relented about the loop.  The first lap was tough, but the other 4 laps were easy.  (Each lap is a quarter mile.) 

I then went back to the street.  He did better, but he only made it to the next house—but h got there 3 times.  Still, we had positive moments that we could click for.  I simply couldn’t get him back into the arena door to get him to his stall, so I had Kevin lead Starry ahead of us.  He willingly followed Starry, but when I tried it alone, he refused, again.  We brought Starry back out, and practiced it a number of times—clicking for each success, and then he finally was able to do it on his own.

The next day, I had my sister to help.  I took him out the barn door that leads outside instead of the arena, and that went well, as always.  Next step—leading to the loop.  He went through his whole refusal routine for Ellen to see.  Then, she stood behind him and gently waved her arms.  That worked way better than tapping with the whip.  He went forward and got clicked.  That’s how we managed him whenever he got sticky, and we no longer had any serious problem.  He walked 5 laps on the loop.  I don’t know how much was my training from the night before and how much was Ellen’s influence.  Whatever, I’ll take it.
We then headed for the street.  Ellen was able to gently urge him whenever he paused, and we made it to the trail.  He stopped suddenly when he heard a saw.  We knew without looking that it must be our friend from down the street, Dave, sawing the tree that was partially blocking the trail.  As soon as he saw us, he stopped, of course.  MerryLegs then happily entered the trail. 

He was perfect leading down the hill, but then that is something he seems to enjoy.  I do believe I have a horse that is going to love trail riding.  He walked down the muddy river bank, stepped through the debris pile and walked towards the water.  He then stepped to the water and stuck his nose in it.  Click time.  While he stood there, one hoof went into the water—click.  Soon, another one followed.  Click.  More clicks.  I led him parallel to the shore, and his feet stepped into the water.  Of course he got clicks for this.  Three times I led him along and all of his feet stepped in.  The water was only a few inches deep on the edge, and he was stepping on a dirt, shale mix, so it didn’t feel scary, but that doesn’t matter.  This was all wonderful.  It was time to go home.



Next day, it was time to repeat the process.  We started out by trying to lead him out the barn door that goes into the arena.  We took him out of his stall and had him stand.  Whenever he took a step forward, he got clicked.  It only took a couple of minutes, and we were out.  We went directly outside and to the loop.  After a couple of uneventful laps, we headed for the street.  He walked his best, yet, but he did jump when a large, loud truck went by.  He seems to be fine with the typical car, but the odd vehicles are a little tougher. 

For the first time, ever, he stepped right to the trail without hesitation.  There was Dave, again, trying to figure out how to get rid of a bigger log on the trail.  We marched down the hill, right to the river.  After some nose wiggles in the water, I walked him parallel to the shore, again, and he got his feet wet.  He seemed so mellow by this.  I stopped, looked at the water and contemplated.  If I get my feet wet, will MerryLegs make it worthwhile?  I had my tennis shoes on—not my riding boots, but I still had to ride Cole, and I didn’t have any dry socks or jeans.  It was plenty warm.

I took a deep breath and told Ellen, “I’m going in.”

MerryLegs followed me right into the water.  Jackpot!!!  He got a handful of carrots.  He didn’t seem one bit bothered by the water.  He tried to paw, but I told him not to.  (Pawing is a precursor to rolling.)  I asked him to step around the water, and that didn’t bother him, either.  He was walking on the smooth slate surface.  He stuck his head in the water down up to his eyeballs and blew bubbles.

I led him out—and then we went back in.  JACKPOT!!!  We did it again.

Suddenly, all the struggling I had done the last few days melted away.  We led him back home, and he even went in the indoor arena door without a problem.  I really think I may have the makings of a terrific trail horse.




I do believe he would have followed me across, but since Ellen had her good boots on, I decided that could wait.  Our plan is to lead him down to the river on the next possible day with Ellen riding Ranger.  We will cross and join them on their ride.  We can only go on the weekends together, and it will have to be a warm day with low water.  I can’t wait.