Monday, June 18, 2018

The Chinks in Their Armor

Now that Dante's abscess is fully healed, he is back on the trail.  This spring, when Ellen first started to ride him, he began doing something new.  On the way home, as we crossed the river for the last time, he began rushing out the last 4-5 steps.  In the beginning, he only walked very fast, but before the abscess halted her riding, he was trotting.  She tried spinning him when he got out of the water to no avail.  He would just do it the next time, too.

On our first ride out after the abscess, he did it again.  She really wanted to solve the problem--particularly after Cole and Starry fell in the river.  It was a reminder why they shouldn't rush--the slate is very, very slippery.

We think that he started doing it because the river changed since last year.  He now needs to step up a little to get to the land.  It isn't much at all, but it is different.

Another possible cause, or at least something that encouraged him to rush is that I would wait for them on top of the riverbank; in the shade.  Cole wouldn't be very visible to Dante from there.  Ellen suggested waiting on the shale island where Dante could see him.

On our very first training attempt, I had Cole in position.  Ellen asked Dante to walk, but then she would stop  him every few steps to break his momentum.  She did click him for stopping to encourage his good behavior.  When he got to the spot that he tries to trot, he did anyway,

The chink in Cole's armor is simple.  He doesn't like to be splashed!  We were far enough away that the water wasn't splashing him, but he saw Dante trotting and water spraying all over.  He did what any self-respecting splash-hating horse would do--he spun and tried to take off to get as far away as he could! 

I was able to stop him right away, but not before he caused Dante to expose the chink in his armor.  Dante is frightened whenever a horse does something sudden.  He can't abide a horse swishing at a bug.  A belly kick at a bug is simply not acceptable in his world.  A horse passing him too close can send him flying into the woods.  At this moment, he must have thought that Cole was going to attack him--as Cole was trying to run away from him.

Dante jumped in terror!  Ellen got him under control quickly, and we started to laugh.  We wondered if Cole just solved our problem.

The next day, we set everything up the same way.  Cole was on the island.  Ellen was stopping and clicking Dante as he was crossing the river.  Ellen told me that Cole's expression was hilarious.  He was glaring at Dante--warning him that he better just walk.  When Dante got to the spot where he was used to rushing, Ellen felt him pause--and then he walked out of the river.  She clicked and treated him. 

We tried it again the next day.  This time, Cole didn't have to glare--he just stood there.  Dante did a tiny pause and walked out of the river again.

We believe that Cole did solve the problem--he trained Dante to walk out of the river.  We didn't plan it this way, but it worked.

We will keep doing this for a while, and Ellen will positively reinforce good behavior, and then we will try it with us on top of the bank; in the shade.  At that point, we are hoping the positive reinforcement will be the driving factor.

For once, Cole and Dante's armor chinks worked in our favor.

Monday, June 11, 2018



Kevin, Shari and I were having a great ride the other day.  We were on our way home, and Kevin wanted to try to put Starry in the lead.  We worked it out and once Starry was where Kevin wanted him, he wanted to trot.  Shari and I were on the top of a little hill, and we didn't want to trot until we got to the bottom.  We told Kevin to go on and trot.  We talked it over and decided that we would stay walking.  We had some trouble with Bella last time when she kept prancing to catch up with Starry when he was in the lead.  We worked it out that time, and we wanted to see how Bella did this time.

I am glad to say that Bella was great.  We walked a while, and then we did some trotting, too.  Kevin was no where to be seen.  Our horses were acting like they forgot all about Starry.

When we got to the river that we cross to go home, there Kevin and Starry were--standing in the water.  They both seemed so relaxed.  Since Starry was so content to be in the river, Bella crossed.  Starry just stood.  I brought Cole into the water.  We passed up Starry.

I felt one of Cole's back feet start to slide under him.  Before I knew what happened, he lost his balance and down we went.  The water wasn't deep at all, but the bottom of the river there is smooth slate with a layer of algae.  It is very slippery.  As I hit the water, I looked over to Kevin in time to see him doing the same thing!  Unlike me, who slid out of Cole's way, Starry landed on Kevin's leg.  It was awful to see.

Everybody was on their feet, quickly.  I don't even remember standing up.  I just kept Cole in the water as I looked him over.  Every time Cruiser fell in the river, I would have to retrain him to cross.  Cole is a much bolder horse than Cruiser was, but I still wanted him to not associate the fall with water in general.  I don't know if it did one bit of good, but it was the best I could come up with.  Kevin did the same with Starry.

Throughout all of this, Bella just stood and watched.  At least Shari stayed in the saddle.  We were all able to walk out of the river and I breathed a sigh of relief.

We all walked up the hill.  What a relief we could all walk!  I was completely unscathed.  Other than the fact that I was soaking wet, I would have never known that I fell off.  Kevin was very sore, but he was mobile.  The horses seemed fine.

The next day, Kevin was too sore to ride.  Shari and I went on a ride, even though we saw the storm clouds coming our way.  I wanted to see if Cole would cross the river. 

We got to the water's edge, and he stepped right in!  Not a single bit of hesitation.  I clicked and gave him a bunch of treats.  We went on a fast and fun ride.  Right as we were about to turn around, it started to rain, but it wasn't a bad rain for a warm day.  We trotted most of the way back.  When we crossed the river on the way home, I clicked Cole for going in the water.  He didn't stop for his treat, which told me that he was a little anxious and wanted to get to the other side.  I asked him to stop--and clicked him for that.  He got a handful of treats, again.  We took a few more steps, and I asked for another halt.  He did and got a click.

All is well that ends well.  Since most of our river crossings are short, we decided that we will cross the water one at a time--just in case.  We did this a lot, anyways.  Cole doesn't like a horse behind him--splashing.  Dante is usually slow to get into the water.  It really won't be much of an inconvenience.  On the larger crossings, we will just put a lot of space between us.

We think that Cole just hit a slippery slope in the river, and I will avoid that area in the future.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A Different Trio

A Different Trio

So much for being the reunited trio of horsewomen.  Dante seemed lame, and we were worried.  My gut said it would just be an abscess, but we didn't know for sure.  For a few days, it was so minor that we didn't even want to call the vet.  Once he was obviously lame, he obviously had an abscess.  Instead of calling the vet, we decided to wait the few days for the farrier to come out.  Dante blew out the abscess the day before, and he is well on his way through his healing.  Unlike Ranger, whose last abscess took weeks to work out (and we did call the vet), or Mingo, who took years to work out his abscess, Dante acquired and got rid of an abscess in relatively no time at all.

But that didn't help with Ellen's trail riding!  She missed the whole long Memorial Day Weekend.  I've looked forward to trail riding with Ellen so much, that I was extremely disappointed that we couldn't ride together.

I wasn't alone, though.  I still had Shari, and our rides keep getting better and better.  Bella has calmed down, a lot.  Cole can still be fractious, but we have more good times than bad--by far.

I also have Kevin and Starry.  We were already doing well--and then the bugs came out.  This has been a very bad year for mosquitoes in Northeast Ohio.  Bugs make Starry crazy--literally.  We were having some miserable rides.  Starry would just take off!  I then had to struggle to keep Cole calm.  We spent some rides leading them.  Kevin started going by himself because Starry was so bad.

So then came a weekend when I both Kevin and Shari were available.  I wanted to ride with them both.  Kevin had been avoiding ridintg with us because he didn't want to ruin the ride.  I thought it was worth a try.

On Friday evening, Shari and I went out towards the Lagoon.  There is always less bugs that way, and we wanted to avoid them just as much as Kevin.  This was only my second trip that way this year, and it was Shari's first. Cole was a bit bouncy--Bella was better.  We went to the end of that trail, turned around and started heading home.  It wasn't long before we saw Kevin on Starry in the distance.  We rode up to them, and then they joined us on the way home.

Starry simply loves Bella.  He loves her more than Dante.  Once he saw her, he seemed to forget about his bug phobia.  He was happy just to follow her home.  He didn't take off to get away from the bugs a single time.  I saw a few belly kicks and head tosses, but that was it.  Single-minded Starry could only think of Bella.

This gave me hope.

The next day, Shari and I headed the other direction on the trail.  We didn't get too far when we came across a huge tree over the trail.  We could neither step over it or go safely around it.  So, we had to turn around and go the other way.  As we passed our river crossing to go home, we found Kevin and Starry.  We invited him to come along with us as we headed the other way towards the Lagoon, again.

He came.  Bella led with Starry right behind him.  Cole stayed in the back; out of the way.  We did some walking and some trotting.  Things went very smoothly.  Once, Cole got revved up and wanted to shoot past everyone, but I warned them, and we all stopped before Cole could do it.

We went farther down the trail, this time.  When we got to the big hill, we talked it over and decided to ride up.  Kevin had been up there this year, but Shari and I hadn't.  In fact, Shari didn't make it up last year, either.

Sometimes, Starry gets feisty about going up the hill--he doesn't want to.  Not this time.  He followed Bella right up.  We walked through the pine forest, and once we got out, we started trotting.

Starry just followed Bella--he showed none of his bad bug behaviors, at all.  We got to the end of the trail, turned around and basically walked home.  It has been impossible to walk home with Starry for the last few weeks.  Kevin was delighted.

We were able to get Starry in the lead once.  The rest of the time, he resisted.  That frustrated Kevin because Starry has gotten so much better when he goes out with Cole.  We had a training project.

The next day, we decided to do it all, again.  This time, Kevin left with us.  He wanted to see the tree that fell, so we trotted that way.  It was still there.  We turned around and headed to the Lagoon.  Bella led, Starry followed right behind and Cole stayed in the back.  This time, Cole was much more relaxed and happy to stay where he was.

The first step of Starry's training was to get him to stop following directly behind Bella.  It is dangerous becasue Bella could stop suddenly and Starry would run right into her.  Our trails are wide enough that he could position himself to one side and Bella can take the other side.  It isn't as easy as it sounds with a horse like Starry who is determined to stay directly behind his friend, but Kevin was just as determined.  In my position in the back, I could easily watch the progress.  In the beginning, it was a big fight, but after a while, I could see both Kevin and Starry relaxing and trotting along behind Bella--offset.

We got to the end of the trail and turned around.  Since I was in the back, when we turned, I was in the front.  We walked until we got to a spot where I could pull off the trail.  Starry walked right past us!  We all started to trot, and we got pretty far!  Bella followed Starry--which is another training project we have been working on--getting Bella to follow.

Eventually, we decided it was just time to walk to cool them off.  We used our walking time wisely.  We just kept putting Starry in the lead.  Since Bella is a faster walker, it never would last long, but then Shari would just turn around and go behind Starry, again.  We did this a number of times, and each time it got easier.

Throughout all of this, the bugs hardly bothered Starry at all!  It is all about Bella, now.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Reunited Trio of Horsewomen

The Reunited Trio of Horsewomen

Finally, Ellen, Shari and I were able to go on a trail ride together.  Due to Shari's work schedule last year, we had hardly any rides together.  The previous year, we had a lot of them, and we had a lot of fun.  This year, Shari's work schedule is more favorable, and finally, finally we were all able to ride together.

Ellen was a little nervous about it.  She has only been trail riding a short time this year, and Bella is often a handful.  The last few rides I had with her, though, have been wonderful.  I was hopeful that the ride would go smoothly.

Shari keeps her horse down the street from us.  We met at the appointed time, and off we went.  The trip down the hill and across the river were typical.  Once we got across, Shari took the lead, followed by Ellen on Dante and then me.  We began trotting right away.  Dante, usually the slowest horse in the bunch, was excited and kept up with Bella.  That made my ride easy.  We were traveling at a speed that is very easy for Cole--neither too fast or too slow. 

We didn't stop until we got to the section where the trail was washed out.  Dante walked fast enough to keep up with Bella, too.  Once we got to a good section of trail, it was time to trot.  There, I saw the most amazing thing.  Dante passed up Bella and took the lead.  They only went a short way, but Bella didn't seem to mind that Dante was in the lead.  Typically, Bella will not tolerate another horse leading and will try her hardest to barrel past.

The next section of trail is one that we often canter our horses.  They all like to go faster there, regardless of the gait.  We decided to see what happened if we kept Dante in lead and trotted.  We knew Dante would enjoy leading, but we didn't know what Bella would do.  Cole is happy to take up the rear, as long as everyone goes fast enough. 

Honestly, I couldn't believe my eyes.  We trotted at a great speed, and Bella stayed in place.  She wanted to pass Dante, but Shari was able to convince her that she shouldn't--and she didn't.  We went a long way, too.  It was amazing and wonderful.

Was this really our first ride all together?

We crossed the river, and on that section of trail Ellen felt better walking.  It was only her second time up there this year.  We walked to the end, turned around and walked back.  Once we recrossed the river, we wanted to put Bella in the lead.  She started to act like Starry does when he is in that spot and refused to go forward  She even took a step backwards.  It didn't take much to get her to change her mind.  She took the lead.  We showed Ellen where the tree fell--and then we started trotting, again.  Bella first, followed by Dante and then Cole,

It went great--until we were nearly at the end of the section.  There is a sandy section of trail where our guys seem to want to accelerate.  Accelerate Dante did--he took off at a gallop.  Dante had a Cole Burst.  Ellen doubted that he would attempt passing Bella, and she was right.  She was easily able to stop him before he reached her.  Ellen wasn't intimidated by the unusual behavior--she laughed.

The whole ride was terrific.  Ellen was worried in the beginning, but she ended up having as much fun as we did.  She knows that Dante will slow down to his usual self in a few weeks--and she just enjoyed him being a little bit speedier.

It was a great ride, and I am sure it is the first of many.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Another Blogless Ride?

Another Blogless Ride?

The other evening, I went out on a ride with Shari on Bella.  The previous ride we did together, Cole was in an odd mood and got into all kinds of mischief.  Bella started out well, but it didn't take long before she seemed to pick up on Cole's mood.  It was a very disappointing ride.  Between that ride and this ride, I rode Cole 5 more times, and he was very good on each ride.  I was very pleased, but that didn't give me anything to write about.

The ride with Bella started out good, and it stayed that way.  We got down the hill, over the river and started trotting on the other side.  On our previous ride together, Cole kept rushing up behind Bella and didn't want to stop.  On this ride, he just matched his speed with hers.

We got to do a lot of trotting--just what we like.  I don't think Bella spooked at all, and the motorcycles weren't bothering Cole.

We crossed the river at the next crossing and continued on the other side.  We passed a couple of hikers.  The horses were being so good that we were even able to chat about other things as we rode along.  On the last ride, they were so wound up on this side of the river, that we gave up and turned around early.  They wouldn't even walk quietly, let alone trot.  This time, we just trotted along; happy as can be.

At the end of this section of the trail, we decided to turn for home.  We walked quietly back to the river, crossed and decided to trot on the way home on the next section.  Why not?  They had been behaving so well.

All was going so well, I really was wondering what I would write about.  Bella was being so good.  Dante's rides were going so smoothly that I had little to write about and even Starry was willing to go ahead of Dante on our rides.  I love a good, boring ride, but what do I write about if all the rides are boring?

Bella was in the lead, as always.  I don't think we got 5 steps into our trot when I heard a loud noise to the right of us.  I automatically shortened my left rein to restrict Cole's movement.  Cole surged, but I had in in control.  I didn't want him charging up behind Bella.  A half second later, I heard another noise--and I knew--a tree was going to fall.

Since I had Cole bent, already, I spun him the opposite direction.  I could see Bella high tailing it away.  When I got Cole so he was facing the opposite direction--away from home--he decided to keep going.  I could see the hikers just standing there, watching.  Once we made it around the spin, I didn't see Bella at all.  I couldn't stop to look because the tree was still cracking and Cole wanted to join Bella; wherever she might be.  I kept spinning.  I could see the hikers again.  The tree was still cracking as we still spun.  I still couldn't see Bella as I heard the tree fall to the ground.  One more half spin, and all was silent.  Cole stopped.  We ended up looking at the hikers.

I laughed; in relief, and said to the hikers, "You sure did see a show!"  They laughed and agreed.  I turned Cole around, and was thrilled to see Bella off a short ways in the distance with Shari still on her back.

Shari said that Bella took off running.  When Shari got her wits back after the initial surprise, she was able to stop her with a one rein stop.  All was well--except we were both literally shaking.  We walked for a while for the horses--and for us--to calm down.

Shari saw what fell.  It was either the top of a tree or a very large branch that was way up high.  That is why the noise lasted so long.  It took a long time for it to reach the ground.

I had so many trees fall when I was riding Cruiser that I lost count.  I remember the last one.  We heard a noise up ahead, Cruiser stopped and looked at it.  As we watched the tree fall, he took a few steps backwards.  He was barely startled at all since there had been so many trees falling for him in the past.  This was Cole's first one and Bella's second.

The rest of the ride was lovely and boring.  Bella walked home with a loose rein.  We stopped to talk to 3 riders that we never met before.  One of their horses was a very young Saddlebred that was dancing about.  Cole and Bella didn't seem to care.

We trotted more towards home, and even though we were pretty close, it didn't make any difference.  at least no more trees fell.  I do like a boring ride, but at least this one gave me something to write about.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Dante is Awesome

I wanted to write about Ellen's debut on the trail with Dante--and there is nothing to write about!  Of course, I am happy about that.

She pretended she had been riding him all along--and it wasn't their first trail ride of the year.  It was the prettiest spring morning you can imagine.  There are no leaves on the trees, yet, but there are some wildflowers blooming.  The bluebells just started blooming.  Ellen always starts riding Dante on the trail when the bluebells start to bloom.

We rode down the hill, crossed the river and started trotting.  She took the lead, and Dante went his usual slow speed.  I would trot and catch up, walk a bit and trot and catch up, again.  After a while, we put Cole in the lead.  He naturally goes faster than Dante.  We trotted ahead, walked until they caught up then trotted ahead, again.  It really turns out to be the same thing whether we are in the front or behind.

When we got to a section that we often canter, Cole trotted faster and Dante tried to canter.  Ellen had no trouble getting him to walk.  Dante was just making a suggestion. 

After that, we put Dante back in the lead, so Cole's faster trotting wouldn't get him too excited.  That worked well.  We trotted out to the next river crossing where we met Kevin on Starry--just like the last ride--and Starry came home with us.  We stayed at a walk, and all the horses were good.  Starry even took the lead a few times without too much fuss.  Cole was happy in the middle and Dante took up the rear.

The ride finished and nothing happened--those are the best rides.  It was a beautiful ride on a beautiful day.

It's going to be a great summer!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dante is Dante

Cole, Starry and even Bella have become consistent on the trail.  Starry was easy--we just had to get used to him wanting to lead.  (What is with that?)  Cole was doing good, but he had a bad ride last week that was right out of the blue.  I'm glad to say it was a one time thing, and he is back to normal.  Bella came around with what Ellen and I call a "5-day blitz."  Shari rode her 5 days in a row, and in the end she was back to her old self.

That left us with Dante.  Due to her nervousness, Ellen had been waiting for the weather to be decent and the river to be on the low side for his first day out.  Those days were few and far between.  This year, spring was extremely elusive.  We had snow just last week!

The forecast is improving, and in a few days, there is supposed to be a perfect day.  She picked out the day for her maiden voyage of the year.  Ellen and I were taking Ranger on his morning constitutional; talking about it.  She told me she almost wanted to do it today since the river was so low, but it was just too cold.  (The temps were in the 30s, and it was cloudy.)  I really didn't blame her.  Most horses are friskier on colder days--making it harder for the first ride out.  She seemed so disappointed, so I told her I would ride him if she liked and she could ride Cole.

She brightened up; immediately.  The plan was on.   We turned Dante out to play in the outdoor arena and let him run some bucks out.  Of course, he had to roll.  I told Ellen she could brush Dante, and I would get Cole ready.

She assured me that she wouldn't want to switch horses during the ride, so that meant I could use my favorite saddle which doesn't fit Cole because he is just too little--the WWII Japanese Military saddle.  I used it exclusively on Mingo, and when he died I used it on Cruiser.  The only thing I don't like about Cole is that he can't wear this saddle.  Ellen wasn't too thrilled about me using it.  It has no knee support at all, and it is easy to come off of.  I assured her I would be fine.

Kevin came out, and we suggested that he ride Starry out ahead of us and meet us at the turnaround point.  Then he could go home with us.  For the first ride, we didn't want Starry to complicate things.

Here is a list of our concerns about the ride.
1. Dante would be nervous around cars.
2. Dante would misbehave going through the giant mud pit that wasn't there last year.
3. Dante wouldn't want to go down the river bank.
4. Dante wouldn't like the mud leading to the river's edge.
5. Dante would refuse to cross the river by doing his slow spin routine--he does that every year.
6. Dante would go into the river, but spook if he did his business while crossing because he gets splashed.
7. Dante would spook near the fence from traffic because it is right by the road--and he does that every year on the first ride.
8. Dante would be hyper and not listen.

Yes, it is a rather long list, but at least he doesn't have Cole bursts--which are when Cole leaps into the air and tries to run down the trail--just because he feels good.  (Why did Ellen really want to ride Cole?)

I led Dante down the street and a couple cars passed us.  He handled them like a champ.  When we got to the start of the trail, he did get nervous when he was in close proximity to Cole, which was no surprise.  This is always a big problem in the spring which improves over time.  No big deal.

As we headed down the trail, Cole took the lead and was walking very, very fast.  Could it be that he knew Starry was ahead?  Dante walked very, very fast behind him.  That was far from normal.  He generally walks extremely slow, and I have to stop and wait for them to catch up.

We went through the bad mud pit as if he did it every day.  When we got to the bottom of the hill, he marched right down the bank, into the mud, swerved off our path a little to where the mud was deeper, started sinking--and froze!  I didn't know what to do!  I wanted to keep momentum up so I could get him to the edge of the river without the slow spin.  Then I realized what was happening.  He was doing his business before entering into the water--as we were training him to do it, last year.  He got a peppermint.  Another problem was checked off the list.

He then went right to the edge of the river with no refusing.  As soon as he got a step into the water, I clicked and treated him.  Then, he marched right across!  No slow spin!  What an awesome horse!

He wanted to trot along the fence like we usually do.  I wanted to walk the first time, and he listened.  A few cars went by, and he didn't flinch.  I was bragging about it to Ellen, and she reminded me that his  yearly spook happens on the way home.

We spent the first part of the time walking.  The trail was recently washed out from the big storm, and it is quite the mess.  Dante was looking at all the changes; as expected.  He is an very observant horse.  He was also tossing his head a bit, but he does that.

When we got to a good section of trail, I put Dante in the lead to do some trotting.  Dante has a much slower trot than Cole, and I didn't want him to get hyped up if Cole got too far away.  I braced myself for the Lambert Leap--something he nearly always does on his trot transitions on the trail.  It was a big one--and then he settled right into his slow, smooth and beautiful trot.  I could ride it all day.

Cole didn't like it, though.  Ellen was having trouble regulating him.  He was trying to charge up and pass.  It just wasn't working.  We returned to a walk.  I got what I wanted--to see if Dante would do a safe trot--and he was marvelous.

We walked on until we met Kevin on Starry at the next river crossing.  We turned around and headed home at a walk.  The big question was--will the bromance between Starry and Dante continue?  Remember, Starry has had trouble leading when Dante was there to follow.  Lately, he had been very willing to lead with Cole.

Then we realized the truth.  Starry isn't fixated on Dante--he is fixated on Ellen!!!  He willingly passed Dante so he could follow Cole, but he didn't want to pass Cole.  If I am riding Cole, he doesn't care.  It is all about Ellen.  (And Bella, if she is there.)

The trip home was uneventful, except that we all got cold.  Dante was fine along the fence and didn't give us his yearly spook.  The only unexpected thing; which was expected was when Starry started to act out and scared Dante.  Dante spun and tried to run away from him.  Starry has the same effect on Cole, so I was used to the sudden spin.  Only thing was that Cole spins left most of the time, and Dante spun to the right.

Cole was much better with Ellen than he has been on her last few rides with him.  She enjoyed him, thoroughly.

The whole ride went so well.  Dante didn't do a thing that was on our list.  Even with the cold weather on his first trail ride of the season, he acted like it was in the middle of the summer.  The only out of the ordinary thing he did was walk faster--and we wish he would do that all the time.  What a wonderful horse.

I am happy to say, Dante is Dante.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Try Something New

Chances are, you have read about me clicking and treating for a behavior.  Those of you that have tried clicker training will nod in agreement.  Those of you that haven't tried it probably roll your eyes and think, "Not again."

I say, try something new.  Give clicker training a try.  It is fun, and it does no harm.

Clicker training has proved successful in all other species, so why not horses?  When I was at the Cleveland Zoo, I watched them move the elephants from one pen to the other with the handlers on the outside of the fence.  They told the elephants where to go, and when they did, they marked the behaviour and gave them a treat.  They didn't lure the elephants the way we often (and sometimes unsuccessfully) try to get horses to load in a trailer.  Instead, they ask for a behavior and them gave a treat.  (The click is merely a message that tells an animal that they got it right and a treat is coming.  It is an accurate way to communicate--where just handing a treat is not.  The timing may be off--causing confusion.)

I first started clicker training when I saw the great success that my sister had with her dog.  I decided to try it with my cat and Mingo, my horse.  Starting with a cat is a great way to begin.  Since most cats don't have much training, you are working with a blank slate.  The only good way to train a cat is with positive reinforcement, period.  If you have a cat, I'd advise you to get a clicker and a bag of cat treats--and have some fun.

Dogs seem to be naturals for clicker training, and it is the only way I seem to be able to teach my slow-witted Maggie.  I don't think I could have lived with her without being able clicker training.  She still isn't a very good dog, but she is a better one.

Back to horses.  I started with Mingo because Cruiser was insulin resistant and couldn't have treats.  After initiation--which only took a few short lessons, Mingo got it.  I started to use it while riding, and I could see it working.  Unfortunately, after a few lessons, he got sick with a mysterious illness.  That is when I discovered the true value of clicker training.  The illness caused many things, including an abscess in his hoof which caused his leg to swell up and become very sore.  I couldn't touch his leg to try to soak his hoof.  With clicker training as a tool, I got him to lift his leg up--without me touching it--so I could put a soaking boot on his hoof.  A week later, the farrier was able to trim the foot with ease--even though Mingo still didn't want anyone to touch that leg.  Clicker training helped him overcome the pain and cooperate with me, instead.  I was sold on it.

Poor Mingo didn't survive the illness, and that is when Cole came into my life.  He was unridden when I bought him, and I decided to train him primarily with clicker training--and it worked like a charm.

But, you don't have to go that route.  If you have a horse that is already trained like Mingo, you can just do some clicking for fun.  Is there a trick you want to teach?  Clicker training is the best way to go.  Tricks should be fun.  I taught Cole to park out, bow and do a silly walk.  He learned to chase a ball, but I never could get him to pick it up and return it.  When I first started riding him, I taught him to pick up a mitten if I was in the saddle and threw it on the ground.  I haven't done it in years, but a few weeks ago, I had to take my mitten off when I was riding and accidentally dropped it.  Wouldn't you know, he remembered and picked it up for me! He got clicked, of course.

Even better, you can use clicker training to help you along if you have a problem area that conventional training doesn't seem to be working well enough.  Just break the task down into little pieces.  Do you have a horse that just doesn't seem to get backing up?  Start by clicking for a shift in weight.  When that works, wait until you get a backwards step--no matter how tiny it may be.  When your horse understands that really well--go for the second step, etc...

When your horse backs well, you can fade off the clicking--or add going forward after backing.  This winter, I worked with Cole to back up--and then trot forward.  He thought it was fun--because he got clicked.

If you only use clicker training to help with one task or trick--that is great!  Even better, you may see how useful it can be and use it for other things.  You don't have to convert your horse to a complete clicker trained horse, like Cole, but you just might.  It is fun for the trainers, too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"Trail Training for the Horse and Rider"

My book, "Trail Training for the Horse and Rider" is officially out of print! I got the last 2 cartons from the publisher, so you can still buy it new from me. If you are interested in buying my book, let me know. It is $19.95 plus shipping. We could work out those details when I find out how you would like me to ship it.

Third Time is a Charm?

Third Time is a Charm?

Bella, the beautiful, high-energy National Show Horse, had a bad spooking incident with Shari a few weeks ago.  They parted ways and both of them got hurt enough that they took a few weeks off from trail riding.  We weren't there when it happened.  In fact, I haven't ridden with them all year.  Circumstances and the weather just didn't cooperate.

That changed Easter weekend.  Shari and I had our first ride of the year on Saturday.  The river was too high to cross, so we were stuck on the hill--but that actually can be helpful on the first ride, because we can work on demoralization.

Demoralization is what we call doing the hill multiple times.  If they are in a hurry to get home--we just do the hill, again.

For our first ride together, we decided that staying at a walk was the best choice.  Generally, I feel that we shouldn't trot until they walk well and shouldn't canter until they trot well. 

Walking well was a challenge.  We spent much time standing until she relaxed.  We then would walk some more.  Gradually, she settled down and listened to Shari.  After 4 trips on the hill, things seemed hopeful.

Our next ride was the next day, Easter Sunday.  We thought we would be stuck on the hill, again, but the river surprised us.  We were able to cross!!!

We knew we would only be walking, but it was a pretty morning for a walk in the park.  Bella didn't have a crazy look on her face.  She walked fast and insisted on being in the lead.  She did try rushing towards home, but Shari was always able to talk her down.  Though she showed some nervousness, there was improvement from the day before.  Things were looking up.  We figured one more day of consecutive riding would be all she needed.

The following evening, Shari and I met for a ride.  The river was now in great shape for crossing.  Kevin and Starry were already out on their ride.  As we went down the hill, we could see them on the other side of the river; coming home.  Cole crossed first, and I was talking to Kevin as Bella crossed.  I wasn't watching, but apparently she turned into a crazy horse--trying to run across the river.  She charged up the bank.  Maybe it was because she saw Starry, but she isn't near as attached to him and Starry is to her.  She passed him up with barely a glance.  She wanted to go!

Starry went home, and we went on our ride.  We trotted short stretches--each time going a little longer.  The trotting went fairly well.  Bella wanted to go fast, but Shari kept her at a moderate speed.  Though Bella was a bit spooky and nervous, she wasn't that bad.  Our problems showed up on the way home.  She was rushing and anxious to get back.  All she wanted to do was trot.  Shari was constantly correcting her.  And then the spooking!  Everything bothered her.  She spooked at a falling leaf--that was the kind of mood she was in.  Poor Shari.  It was an exhausting ride for her.  The third ride wasn't a charm.  It was the worst ride of the three. 

Cole, on the other hand, just walked along behind her--just as he had the whole weekend.  He didn't bat an eye at any of Bella's antics.  He seems to know that he has to stay quiet and give her space.  It's a good thing, too.  We don't need him to add fuel to Bella's fire.  I don't know if he helps quiet her down, any, but he doesn't make anything worse.

We made it up the hill and dismounted with a sigh of relief.  The early rides of spring can be tough, and we just had one of those rides.  The good news is that they get better.  Bella was a good horse, before, and she will be a good horse, again.