Thursday, May 26, 2016

29 Working Days to Go

29 Working Days to Go

Yes, that is all.  The big day is coming soon.  It is the day I have been looking forward to since—well the first week I started working at my job over 30 years ago.  It’s not that the job is so bad—I just don’t want to work.  Also, when I realized that I would have to drive in rush hour traffic 5 days a week, I knew I had to find a way to retire early.  I hate driving in rush hour.

I picked my date 2 years ago.  Yes, my countdown has been going that long.  Little did I know how fortuitous it would be.  I work in Cleveland—home of the 2016 Republican Convention.  Although I don’t work downtown, I work close enough that I am sure the traffic will be horrendous.  I am retiring 1 week before the convention.  I won’t have to drive in that traffic.  Yes!!!!

The best retirement advise I got from my neighbor who retired a couple years ago.  She was told not to plan anything big for the first year—just get used to it, and then decide what to do.  It worked for her.  It sounds like a good plan for me, too.

I am just going to do more of what I love to do, at a more leisurely pace and I will even sleep in now and then.  I hope Ellen and Kevin don’t get sick of seeing so much more of me.  I know Thunder and Maggie will be thrilled.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dante’s Dark Side

Dante’s Dark Side

I bet no one knew he had a dark side.  I didn’t expect it.  Let me go back and explain.

Dante had been consistently giving Ellen great rides, weekend after weekend.  She was even taking him on rides with Kevin in the mornings when I was at work.  It was wonderful.

Then one chilly morning, we decided it was time to allow Cole to take lead horse position.  Cole has trouble following Dante because their trotting speeds are mismatched.  Dante loves to lead, and Cole loves to follow—but I have to keep checking Cole’s speed because he gets too close, I have trouble posting the slow speed and he isn’t as smooth as Dante to allow easy sitting of the trot. 

We have spent plenty of rides with Cole in the lead in the past, and Dante never seemed to care.  We would just stop and let them catch up if they got too far behind.  This should have been no big deal.

But it was.  Actually, the problem started to rear its ugly head last fall when we were going on rides with Starry.  I guess having not one, but two horses far ahead of him bothered him.  He started to get feisty back then, but we kind of forgot about it this spring since everything was going so well.

Dante didn’t like following.  He wanted to canter to keep up.  Ellen wouldn’t allow that.  He began to protest by bucking.  Well, it may have been large canter leaps—it is hard to say.  He will do a large leap on a trot transition when he is on trail quite regularly.  We call it the Lambert Leap.  (He is a Lambert Morgan.)  Whatever it was, we knew he was fighting Ellen and misbehaving.  Ellen was very, very upset.

What happened to Dante Dream Horse?

I told her she had to come up with a plan to correct the problem.  We couldn’t just push it under the rug by avoiding it—or tolerating it.  Of course, I would have kept Cole in the following position forever, if it helped her, but that wasn’t the best solution to the problem.  Dante used to behave, he could behave, again.  Besides, if he didn’t like being left behind when Cole trotted faster—he was welcome to trot faster, too.

The next weekend, it rained a lot and the river was too high.  Actually, it snowed, too.  Mother nature didn’t look at the calendar to see it was May.

The following weekend, the weather was great and the river was low.  It was time to see what Ellen’s plan was and how it would work.

We got down the hill and over the river.  Right at the beginning, she said I could put Cole in the lead.  It was a great idea, because Cole starts out slow until he gets all his snorts out.  The longer we ride, the faster he will go.  We went a short distance and Ellen asked us to stop.  She stopped Dante, too.  Then she walked past us, took the lead and trotted.  We went a little way, stopped and switched again.  We kept doing this right down the trail.  Cole went faster the further we went; as expected.  I kept asking Ellen if they were all right, and she kept reassuring me that they were.

I named it “Leap Frog.”

On the trickier parts of the trail where the horses get wound up, she would tell me to trot to that corner or that tree and stop.  I kept praising Cole and sometimes clicking him for the stops, so he didn’t mind.

We had Cole lead for longer distances each time.  Not once, did Dante misbehave.  We were so happy.

Something to keep in mind; when you are training one thing, you are usually training other things at the same time.  It is important to keep that in mind, to insure you are training those other things correctly.

Dante has been nervous when Cole passes him or he passes Cole.  (He has problems with other horses, too.)  This is nothing new, and it goes away the more we trail ride.  Leap Frog gave Dante a lot of time to practice.  Ellen praised him when we passed him with no problems.

Dante has gotten a little sloppy with his downward transitions on the trail, too.  (He is perfect in the arena.)  Ellen insisted that his transitions were precise. 

Overall, it was a great ride.

We were able to take them on a trail ride the next day, too.  It was time to review the lesson.  We had terrific success.  We will continue to review until eventually, I can canter (gallop) off at Cole’s speed and Dante can canter at his slower speed without trouble.  We used to be able to do it—we can do it again.  (The warmer weather will help us with that.)  The final test will be adding Starry and Kevin back in the mix.

Kevin can’t wait.  I think he misses riding with us on the weekends.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Crossing a Raging River

Crossing a Raging River

Cole is a very bold horse—one of the boldest I ever met.  Only two times has he told me he didn’t want to do something.  The first was when I first got him.  He didn’t like being led in the barn door past the evil mare that bears her teeth.  (Dante had the same problem.)  The second thing was crossing the river for the first time.  That’s a pretty normal thing to be worried about.

So it was a surprise when, years later, he found something he was afraid to do.  They recently repaired one of our trails that kept getting washed out.  Unfortunately, they just resurfaced it and didn’t fix the cause—a plugged culvert.  It was only a matter of time before that would cause problems.  Sure enough, heavy rains caused the little stream that is supposed to go under the trail to go over the trail.  There is now a stream that crosses the trail and travels parallel through the center of it until it finds its way into the woods.

I knew that walking over a small stream can be as scary as walking through a large stream for a lot of horses, but Cole?  Seriously?  The first time we saw it, Cole balked.  I didn’t make a big deal about it, I just kept gently urging Cole to step over it.  Eventually, Cole hopped over it.  He was better on the way home, of course.

This went on for a number of rides.  When he crossed it, I praised him and clicked when he got to the other side.  Eventually, things dried out, and he started to lose his fear.  I continued to click him when he would step over the foot wide indentation where the stream previously flowed and he kept getting better and better.  Eventually, he barely even looked at it.

And then it rained, again.  I thought the running water would bother him, but I wasn’t sure.  He walked up to it, I squeezed my legs and he went airborne.  He leapt over it—really high and caught me totally by surprise.  He was reluctant to cross it on the way home, but going home is always easier, so it only took a few seconds.

The next day, I had Ellen ride Dante over it, first.  Dante barely noticed it was even there, but that didn’t help Cole out one bit.  He simply refused to step over it.  I tried and tried and then gave up and dismounted. 

Cruiser was afraid of a lot of things, but would follow me anywhere if I dismounted.  I never had to dismount to lead Cole through or over something, so I didn’t know how he would be.  He was still afraid to cross but I showed him I could cross and asked him to follow me.  It only took 30 second and he cautiously stepped over.  Of course, he got clicked, but instead of a slice of carrot, he got a handful of carrots.  On the way back, he stepped over carefully.  I was glad that he trusted me, too.

The following week, it rained, again.  I was back on that trail with Kevin and Starry.  By now, I was hesitant to try.  This had been going on all spring, and he wasn’t getting better, he was getting worse.  That’s not how Cole is.  He is supposed to be the bold one.

Kevin wanted to put Starry in the lead to help, and I thought it was a great idea.  The only problem was that I had to move Cole over, and that involved stepping over the stream where it went parallel to the edge of the trail just to get out of the way.  Great.

To my utter astonishment, he stepped right over it and waited for Starry to pass.  Then he stepped back when I asked him to.  I was shocked.  I tried it again—success!  I was bewildered.  I rode him to the spot that we crossed last time and he didn’t even hesitate.  My bold Cole was back.  Of course he was clicked for it.  He was perfect when we crossed on the way home, too.

I don’t know if Cole was no longer afraid after I led him across, or if crossing it in a different spot at a different angle made him think it was safe to cross in any spot.  Regardless, I don’t think he will mind doing it anymore.  He’s such a good boy.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Spring Time for Kitties

Spring has finally arrived and the cats are celebrating!
Nothing like the spring time sunshine.  Something no cat takes for granted.
After all, this wasn't that long ago--and we will be back there before we know it.  So enjoy the sunshine, kitties.

Monday, May 2, 2016


Ellen was riding Ranger on the loop this weekend, and I was walking next to them to keep them company.  Our loop has a drainage ditch on 2 sides of it.  as we were walking, I looked down and saw something funny looking on the ground.  Ranger was heading straight for it.  I tried to tell Ellen to move him away, but I was so distracted by what I saw that my words came out in a jumble.

At the very moment I was able to say to watch out, Ranger stepped on it.  I watched as he missed it with his back hoof.  It was the first time I ever saw a spotted salamander, and now it was squished.  It was black and slimy with yellow spots.  I figured it must have crawled out of the ditch where it probably was laying eggs.  So much for that.

I figured I would at least get a good look at it on the next lap—and then I couldn’t find it anywhere.  There was not trace--no tail or leg--nothing.  (They can lose an appendage and still survive to grow a new one.)  Apparently, Ranger didn’t kill it, after all.  It was muddy, and either he just pushed it in the mud or the salamander was within the concave part of his hoof when he stepped on it.  Maybe it was a combination of both.  Anyway, I wasn’t able to get a good look at it, but at least it was still alive.

When I told Kevin about it, he was all excited.  Turns out, in his whole life, he has never, ever seen one, either—and he loves anything reptilian or amphibian.  He would have loved to see it, but he was glad it survived. 

Funny, all the time we spend in the local parks riding and hiking, and we end up seeing a salamander at the barn by a drainage ditch.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dante and Kevin

Dante and Kevin

Starry is having some hoof troubles, so Kevin wasn’t able to ride him with me.  Ellen offered Dante, and Kevin couldn’t resist.  He rode him on a trail ride a couple years ago, and he loved him. 

Now, this was going to be an evening ride, and Dante hasn’t been on an evening ride in a few years.  All of our other horses get very excited about going out in the evenings—particularly if they haven’t done it all winter.  Well, it has been much longer for Dante than a single winter.  To complicate matters, Kevin has had so little experience with him.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  I didn’t want to tell any of this to Kevin.  After all, he has enough experience to handle a rambunctious Dante.  Dante at his worst isn’t all that bad, so I kept my nervousness to myself.  (Turns out Ellen was nervous, too.)

I helped Kevin tack Dante up, and brought him up to speed about all the places he has to click and treat Dante if he is good.  The street when cars go by, when mounted, when his first feet step into the river…

We led the horses out of the barn, and Dante was so happy.  He loves going on trail rides.  He is like a dog that looks forward to his walks.  Dante marched right down the driveway.  Cole wanted to park out, bow, do silly walk, and Dante didn’t want to waste time.  There was no waiting for us.  I hurried Cole along, and we caught up with them by the time they reached the street.

Kevin mounted and decided the stirrups were too long.  I told him we could fix them at the bottom of the hill.  I didn’t want to mess around right by the street.  The horses marched on down.  At the bottom, I dismounted, parked Cole out and shortened one stirrup.  Kevin felt better.  I tried to lead Cole to the other side, and Dante kept skittling away.  He is going through a phase of being afraid of Cole being too close.  I don’t know what has brought this on, but it has happened before, and it passes. 

I told Kevin he had to do the other stirrup.  He figured it out and started on his way.  I was still on the ground.  Cole wanted to do his park/bow routine, again, and it took me a bit to get him focused and standing square so I could mount.  By now, Dante was way up the trail.  I started to trot to catch up.  Dante heard us, and he thought it was a great idea.  He took off at a trot with no brakes.  He wanted to pass up the exit ramp and just trot back and forth at the bottom of the hill—one of his favorite games.  I had Cole walk, and Kevin got control of Dante, but he still didn’t want to go down the exit ramp to the river.  Cole marched by and stepped in the river while Kevin struggled.

The ride wasn’t starting quite the way I wanted, but I felt if I could just get them across the river and trotting that things would work out.  Kevin finally got him walking down the bank.  They stepped into the water, and I sighed a sigh of relief. We were on our way.

To make Kevin’s ride easy, he was going to be the leader.  Dante loves to lead, but is a slow leader.  Cole prefers to follow, but he likes to go fast.  If I put him in the lead, he would speed along much faster than Dante wants to trot, and either Dante would get excited, or I would leave them far behind.  We didn’t need that, so Dante was lead horse.

Once we crossed the river, I told Kevin to trot whenever he felt comfortable.  Dante started trotting right away, so I was glad that Kevin was already comfortable with him.  I started trotting after them, and then Kevin stopped Dante.  Turns out that trotting was Dante’s idea, not Kevin’s.  They walked for a little bit, and then Kevin asked him to trot.  With all my instructions to Kevin, I forgot to tell him about the Lambert Leap.  When Dante is excited, he takes a huge first step when he trots.  It did give Kevin a surprise—and then I told him what it was and to not worry about it.  He does it all the time—and then just trots along.

We trotted and trotted.  I watched them the whole time, and not once did Kevin post—not once.  What a difference for him after riding Starry’s Turbulence Trot.  Cole was antsy and wanted to pass so he could stretch his legs.  The weather was very chilly, which only adds to his exuberance.  Occasionally, I would stop him when he got too close, let them get ahead and then let him trot a little faster to catch up. 

We got to the next river crossing where we were going to turn around to go home all too soon.  We turned, walked a bit and then did some more trotting.  Dante went faster, here, since he was heading towards home, and still no posting from Kevin.  We stopped and walked on to home.  Kevin wanted to trot more, but I told him he couldn’t since Ellen wasn’t trotting closer to home yet.  He really, really wanted to trot more, so when we got to our river crossing to go home, I suggested passing up home and trotting out to the street.  It is only about 30 seconds of trotting, but when we do this, Cole gets to lead and I let him go as fast as he likes.  Dante always follows politely.

Cole flew.  He was holding in a lot of energy.  (I loved it.)  When we got to the end, Dante wasn’t as far back as he usually is.  Kevin said it was the fastest he had gone the whole ride.  I didn’t see them, but I bet that Kevin didn’t post.

We walked home, and it was happily uneventful.  Kevin wanted to grade Dante with a A+ for the ride, but I reminded him of how he was at the bottom of the hill, so he adjusted it to an A.  Still, that is pretty impressive for Dante’s first evening ride in a few years, on a cool night with a new rider—only a few weeks after Ellen started trail riding him this year.

Kevin has renamed Dante.  He is now “Smooth as Butter.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Preparing Cole for More Riding

Preparing Cole for More Riding

I’m not sure what Cole’s opinion of my retirement would be if he knew what was going to happen.  It will mean more work for him.  With more work comes more hoof wear, too.  The last few years, we have been getting away with front shoes, only, but barely.  I wore his back feet down way too far, and there is no way that they can take any more riding than he has been getting.  It is time for Cole to get back shoes.

This means preparing him for the big event.  He isn’t bad for trims, but he isn’t happy about the phase when the farrier pulls his hindlegs up and forward.  He is tense and wants to pull away.  It isn’t such a big deal with trimming, but shoeing is more involved and takes more time.  I like Cole and my farrier too much to make shoeing a difficult time for either of them, so I decided to work with Cole on this problem.

Of course, I’m using clicker training for this.  I have found clicker training to be wonderful for any kind of hoof work.

I have 8 weeks.

I started with lifting his back hoof up forward and high, and clicking when I felt any sort of relaxation in Cole’s leg.  I would then put it down and give him a treat, of course.  I was doing each foot about 10 times each session.

After he was getting reliable with that, I started to pull his leg towards the side and set it on mine.  Once again, when I felt relaxation, I clicked, released and treated.  I did this so many times, that by now, when I walk to Cole’s hindquarters and face forward, Cole lifts his foot up for me.

I am only doing this with Cole loose in his stall, and in the first few weeks, he voiced his displeasure with the activity by moving to a different part of the stall after a few pickups.  I just patiently followed him and continued the training.  He no longer does that, so I think that is a good sign.

The next step was adding duration, and I started it on a day that he was eating hay.  I thought that might make him more cooperative, and it did.  I would set his foot on my thigh and do the “good boy” chant.  (Cole is conditioned to know when I do the chant that he will get a treat at the end of it.)  I began with 20 seconds and have been increasing it over time.  Even though he was eating hay, I was still clicking and giving him carrots.

The first time I did it without hay, we did have one silly session.  When Cole wants to ask for a treat, he will park out and bow.  Well, I had his foot up and was rubbing his withers and doing the chant and he decided he would park out.  When he does, he will arch his neck and point his nose down, first.  Cole arched his neck, pointed down and then he tried to pick up his front foot to move it forward and realized that he couldn’t because he was on three legs.  He glanced back at me with a quizzical face that made me laugh.

To kill time, because just standing there with a hoof on my leg is rather tedious, I started to gently rub his hoof and foot.  I was surprised when he didn’t like that and tried to pull his hoof away.  After a few times, he didn’t mind, anymore.  I have added tapping and scraping his hoof with the hoof pick, and he took that in stride.

It is hard to hold this position for long, so I guess I am working on duration for myself, too.  I don’t know how farriers do this all day.  It’s making me appreciate my farrier more than ever!

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Inevitable Uneventful Rides

The Inevitable Uneventful Rides

I don’t know what is happening to my sister, but I like it.  Shortly after her first trail ride weekend, she went on a ride without me!  Yes, it is true.  She went on a trail ride with Kevin and Starry.  Dante was wonderful.

The next weekend, she rode with me, again.  Each day, we went a little further and a little faster.  We are now trotting and cantering as much as we were at the end of the year, last year.  She’s been leading Dante on the street to the trail—last year, I think it was June before that happened.  There are days during the week when she is alone where she rides to the end of the driveway and plays bus stop.  All of this is happening and it has been so uneventful—giving me nothing at all to write about.

It’s great!

Trail riding, at least in a very urban setting like ours, is one of the hardest equine sports.  A horse has to get used to so many stimulating experiences and learn to handle them in a calm, matter-of-fact way.  Even a horse like Dante, who had trail experience before Ellen got him, had to adjust to our difficult trails—and adjust to Ellen.  At the same time, Ellen, had to learn about him.  Some people are lucky and get a great horse right from the start like Kevin did with Starry, but most horses have an adjustment period.  (Starry did have an advantage that he was born at a place close to our trails and had experience with them.  I can recall seeing a cute buckskin colt being ponied with his palomino mother on our trails—I am certain it was him.)

The ironic part of training a horse for trail riding is it can be so very difficult—and then it suddenly becomes very easy.  Once everything falls in place, it is effortless.

So, if you are still in that difficult stage—if your horse seems to be spooking at everything like Cruiser did the first year I was riding him, or he just doesn’t want to settle down and walk—the way Cole started out—take heart and keep trying.  If traffic bothers them like Dante—or they just want to run home like Brandy, keep trying.  Things typically get better and then they get wonderful!

Now, what am I going to write about in the months that come?  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Future Looks Bright

I was planning to retire this summer, but my employer made me a very good offer if I would stay on part time.  It was a sensible thing to do, and I would be starting in March instead of waiting until summer.  That was the biggest draw.  I was excited.

Well, we go so incredibly busy at work that that plan was put on the back burner.  I have been working full time all along.  Since we were so busy, I think that made them re-evaluate things—plus there are other things involved—and they changed their mind.  They decided to hire a replacement.  Since the replacement is someone they laid off a couple months ago from a different department, I am thrilled for him. He needs a full-time job much more than I need a part-time job.

Also, once the weather started getting nice, I started to question my decision about going part time.  In my head it was for 3 years, then it went to 2 years.  I was down to one year when they told me they changed their mind.  The last week or so, when it looked like they would make me work full time up until my retirement date, I was wondering if I made a mistake.  When they told me what their new plan, I was smiling

I will be full-time until July--then freedom!

This Time Last Year…

This Time Last Year…

This time last year, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my new horse.  Well, we all know how that turned out.  Believe it or not, my tailbone still hurts from being bucked off.  I am glad to report he is still at the trainer that I gave him to.  I saw him in the background of a video for another horse that was for sale.  He looked healthy and happy.  Since they still have him, he must be working out.  I know they put many months of training on their horses until they offer them for sale, so I am sure they have a long way to go.  I’m glad they must have worked through the bucking problem.

I was so disappointed with the whole experience that I put all my plans of buying a second horse on hold.

And now, I am happy it all worked out the way it did.  I was so upset about everything that I asked Ellen if she would let me take care of Ranger when she wasn’t there.  I have enjoyed taking Ranger for his walks so much.  I always liked Ranger, and this has given me more time to get to know him.

He has benefited, too.  With his breathing problems, Ellen can’t always give him all the exercise he needs.  I am able to help fill in the gaps.

Ranger loves going on walks with me.  When I reach for his halter, he starts neighing and carrying on.  He just can’t wait to get out the door to walk around and around the loop.  I don’t know what the attraction is, but he does get clicks and treats. 

I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, but it sure seems like it this time.  If I would have had another horse, I would have never had this opportunity to spend precious time with Ranger in his golden years.  This time is golden to me.

The story had a happy ending, after all.