Monday, February 13, 2017

Team Sharibella (Shari/Aribella)

Team Sharibella (Shari/Aribella)

Once again, we were able to ride with Shari and Bella on a surprisingly nice day in February.  We were even going to be able to cross the river!  It had been cold the last few days, so we knew that the ground would be frozen and rough.  The ride would be a walk-only ride, but just getting a trail ride in February is such a treat, who were we to complain?

Kevin had family obligations, so Ellen got to ride Starry.  I was on Cole, of course.  We met at our usual time and headed for the trail.  Bella seemed very excited, but sensible.  It looked like it was going to be a successful ride.

As we rode down the hill, we caught up on what we have been up to.  The river bank looked very muddy, and there was a line of inconsequential ice along the edge of it about a foot from the water.  The ice had formed when the river was a little higher, and when the water retreated, it left the ice behind.  It was about a foot wide, and so thin that it would just crumble away when stepped on.

We knew it was harmless, but Bella thought it was very dangerous.  Starry crossed, first.  Cole had seen ice like this before, so he didn’t even notice it.  I had him go next, and I hoped that Bella would see his confidence and willingly follow.  She didn’t.

Ellen and I watched Shari and Bella from the other side.  She went back and forth, back and forth.  She didn’t want to step over the horse-killing ice.  After a few minutes, I brought Cole back across to try to lure her in.  He stood in front of her quietly in the water, and still she refused.

Eventually, we gave up and went back, across.  Shari told us to go on our way and hopefully she would eventually be able to cross.  

I kept looking back, and I could see Bella standing there.  

Ellen and I rode out to the next river crossing and turned around to come home.  A couple minutes later, who should we see but Team Sharibella.  Bella was walking quietly with a relaxed look on her face.  Success!

After we left them, Shari reached into her clicker training tool kit.  She asked Bella to take four steps, clicked, treated and repeated--right into the river.  She crossed the river a little on the fast side, but once she got to the other side, she relaxed and walked like a lady until she caught up with us.  She was a little excited when we were walking home, but that wasn’t a surprise--she was going home, after all.  Just the same, we were very impressed by her.  It has been weeks since she was across the river.  We didn’t think that she would be this calm.

This gives us great hope for the springtime transition to trail riding.  Bella may not be as excitable this spring as she was last spring.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Flashback Fun - February, 2001 - Where I Ride

Flashback Fun - February, 2001

Where I Ride

I live in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. It may seem an unlikely place for a trail rider, but that is not the case at all. We have a park system that circles the city and is consequently called “The Emerald Necklace.” Within our great park, we have over 82 miles of bridle trails to ride on. Anywhere you live in the county, you are less than a ½ hour away from the trails. Most of them are well maintained and easily accessible. There are plenty of boarding stables all along the perimeter of the park where hundreds of people keep their horses (including me.)

Typically, the trails are wooded. There are some hills, fields, marshes and a lot of creeks and rivers. My particular area is noted for a wide variety of lovely wildflowers and gorgeous views of the Rocky River. There is a large diversity of trees in the area making the fall foliage spectacular. One particularly splendid spot is an old pine forest on the top of the valley. It changes dramatically with the time of day and the time of year. I never get tired of looking up at those awesome pines. Another thing about our trails is that there are plenty of places for trotting and cantering, and we take advantage of it.

The downside of living in a very populated area is that we must share our trails with many people. I’m not just talking about other trail riders. If only it was that easy. We deal with heavy automobile traffic, pedestrians, joggers, dog walkers, bikes, cross country skiers, roller bladers and miscellaneous strollers, kite fliers, rocket shooters and even a bagpipe player now and then. Sometimes it gets rather stressful. We really have to spend a great deal of time with our horses to get them used to all the craziness out there. In a way, that is what inspired my book. If it had been easy for me, I would have thought it was easy for everyone, and I would have never written my book.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ranger is Back

Ranger is Back

I am glad to report that Ranger’s most awful abscess is fully healed.  With the cooler weather, he breathing problem is greatly improved, so Ellen decided it was time to start riding the old guy, again.

She barely rode him all summer because of his breathing, and only rode him lightly the previous spring.  She did ride him once in the fall, but he seemed off that day.  He also seemed troubled by his inability to see clearly.  One of his eyes has a cataract.  Just a few days later, he came down with the abscess.

She rode him a few minutes last weekend by herself.  He seemed fine.  Yesterday, I was with her when she wanted to ride.  With his vision, he seems much more comfortable when he has someone next to him.  We think it gives him a sense of security.  She was going to ride him outside on the loop.

He seemed unsteady--not physically unsteady, but confidence unsteady.  We just talked to him as I walked next to him--handing him treats.  She may have ridden him 10 minutes, and she got off to lead.  Immediately, he walked faster and with confidence.

Today, we planned to do the same thing.  It was snowing like crazy.  Ranger always seemed to like snow.  

Ellen climbed aboard, and I slipped him a peppermint.  As he moved off, he was a completely different horse from the day before.  Actually, he was like his old self, again.  I still gave him some treats, but he didn’t have to walk right next to me.  He wandered off to the other side of the trail. He even said he wanted to go a different direction than I did.  We let him have his way.  He was walking his normal speed with a spring in his step.  It was so nice to see Ranger being himself, again.

Ellen only rode until she got cold, and then she lead him to keep warm.

We think he is about 27.  All we know for sure is that he was an adult when Ellen got him 22 years ago.  After today, I think we can change his status from retired to semi-retired.  Go Ranger!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Flashback Fun - January, 2001 - Mingo's Meltdown

Flashback Fun - January, 2001 - Mingo's Meltdown

My boyfriend, Kevin has been leasing Mingo for more than a year now. In November, he was going to go on a trail ride by himself. He rode down to the river, and just as he was going to walk down the bank, Mingo grabbed at a branch. Kevin pulled the branch out of his mouth the best he could, but then Mingo started tossing his head around and fretting. They stepped over to the river, and my little horse completely refused to cross. He continued tossing his head around and began to franticly dance about and even buck. 

A woman came by and thought that Mingo would cross if he could follow her horse. It didn’t work. By now, Kevin was suspecting that something must be wrong with the bridle. He asked the woman to take a peak. She pulled up his lip, and sure enough, his tongue was over the bit. It probably happened when he tried to eat the branch. Kevin knew he had to get Mingo back to the barn because Mingo was so worked up by now, that he didn’t think he’d be able to re-bridle him safely by the river. He turned to go up the hill on the way home. The woman who was trying to help him across the river allowed her horse to run up the hill. This was all Mingo needed in his frantic state of mind. He tried to follow, and when Kevin tried to stop him, Mingo started backing up and almost stepped off the edge of the trail into the ditch. Kevin’s guardian angel was looking over his shoulder, and stopped Mingo just in time. It then occurred to Kevin that there was only one safe thing to do. He quickly dismounted and led Mingo back to the barn.

I heard the story with a mixture of pride in Kevin because of his sensibility and horror at the thought of what could have happened. It wasn’t until later in the night that I began to worry about the river. I’ve seen too many people trying to cross that river on a horse that didn’t want to cross, and I have been there a few times myself. Anyone who has been following my adventures for a while may remember that Mingo was the horse that got stuck on the ford. When Mingo doesn’t want to go somewhere because he is afraid, there isn’t much you can do about it. A couple days later, I had my opportunity to see if he would be afraid to cross the river. I rode with my sister’s horse, Ranger, down to the river. My angelic little horse just walked right across. He wasn’t afraid of the river at all that day; he was upset about the way his mouth felt and was telling Kevin in the only way he knew how. I’m so proud that Kevin realized that there might be something wrong when a normally quiet horse acts very out of character and thought to check his tack. It is something we all should remember.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Flashback Fun - January, 2001 - Brandy's Bit

Flashback Fun - January, 2001 - Brandy's Bit

My sister gave me back a bit I gave her to use years ago.  Over time, it became worn, and she had to replace it.  She thought I would want it back for my “museum.”  I sat there and looked at that old bit, and memories came flooding back to me.
Most people reading this newsletter have already met my first horse, Brandy.  My aunt gave him to me when I was 21. It was a dream come true—I finally got a horse of my own.  He came with a long list of problems, but at least he was a gentle horse for a beginner to start with.  I rode him as a teenager when I visited my aunt, so I was aware of most of his problems when I accepted him.  One of them was his hard mouth.  Since he was a runaway, too, this was a pretty serious problem.  We rode him in a mechanical hackamore because my aunt told me he absolutely wouldn’t listen to any bit less severe than a spade bit.  In the world of bits, the spade is one of the most severe around.  It should only be used in the hands of a very skilled horseman, which I was far, far from.  My aunt gave me his hackamore when she gave me Brandy, and I used it quite a while.
After about 6 months or so, the padding on the noseband was starting to come loose on it, so I decided to put new padding on it.  I tore it apart to find a chain similar to a bicycle chain in the center of it.  I wrapped new material around it, and made it as soft and comfortable as possible.  It bothered me to find out how this hackamore was constructed.  I saw that by pulling the reins, I was crushing his nose between two chains. He didn’t listen to it very well, so when I did pull the reins, I had to pull very hard.  Is this what I wanted for my beloved horse?

This brings me back to my bit.  A friend had given it to me several years before I ever had a horse, and I kept in my “museum.”  It was a short-shanked Pelham with a joint in the middle like a snaffle.  Since it had two reins, the top rein would activate the snaffle action and the bottom would make it work like a curb.  I had read some negatives things about bits like this, but since I had it, I figured I would take the chance and try it.  It was during the wintertime, and I was riding in the arena, so if he didn’t listen to it, where would he go?  To my delight, he listened as well and sometimes better than he did in the hackamore.  I seldom used the hackamore again. (Only cold days that I didn’t want to warm the bit.)  Generally, he ignored the snaffle rein whenever he felt like not cooperating, but I always had the curb to back it up.  I benefited because I got to use a more precise tool of communication.   It helped to improve my horsemanship quite a bit because I was able to develop “hands.”

He was 22-years-old when I made the switch.  Logic would say that it shouldn’t have worked.  My aunt owned Brandy for many years and knew him better than anyone before she gave him to me.    I had an open mind, tried it in a safe area and had great success.  I was even able to use it down trail and had no more problems than I had when I used the hackamore.  Sometimes you can teach old horses new tricks.
When my sister got her first horse, she tried several bits and ended up using this one because it worked the best for them.  Eventually, she was able to switch to a plain snaffle in most situations.  The only time she uses a Pelham now is when she goes down trail with Cruiser and me.  Since they are such good friends, sometimes they get a little hyper and racy, and she needs some help stopping Ranger.  Most of the time, she can ride using the snaffle rein, only.  If Ranger ignores that, she backs it up with the curb.

I held the bit in my hand and thought about how many miles that my sister and I traveled with it in our horse’s mouths.  Yes, this was certainly something that belonged in my “museum.”

Bella is Back

Bella is Back

We have had a spell of warm weather.  Kevin and I have been able to ride quite a bit in the last few weeks, since we are retired, but Shari has to work and hasn’t been able to get Bella on the trail in weeks.  Saturday morning was her first opportunity.  It was warm, but the river was too high to cross.

Needless to say, Bella was extremely excited.  She pranced down the hill.  Cole and Starry strolled down, quietly.  We rode to the river’s edge to let Bella dip her toes in the river.  Bella did plenty of her Bella skipping and dancing.  We decided to ride back and forth on the flat part of the trail on the bottom of the hill.  I don’t know how many times we did it before Bella finally just walked.

We went back up the hill, and she was all excited, again.  Of course, we turned around and went back down.  She did a little better.  At the bottom of the hill, Sam, the Thoroughbred and his rider, Diana, caught up with us.  All four of us started back up.  We didn’t even reach our turnaround spot, and Bella really started acting up.  Shari immediately turned her around to take her back down.  Kevin and Starry left us at this point.

We made our way down to the bottom.  Bella wasn’t much better.  Shari was amazing with her steadfast patience.  As we turned around at the bottom of the hill, we heard a crack, and I saw a large branch fall and roll partway down the hill.  All of the horses jumped--Bella jumped the highest.

That was enough for us.  We all headed home.  

Later on, Shari tried riding down the hill by herself, and Bella was perfect!

The next day, the river was low enough to cross, so Shari and I tried again.  Honestly, our hopes weren’t very high.  We crossed the river successfully and started trotting on the other side.  Bella started out well, so Shari clicked her several times to let her know how much she appreciated it.  That showed Bella what Shari wanted.  We continued to trot, and we were amazed how well it went.  Of course, we knew it wouldn’t last forever, and  we weren’t surprised when Bella burst out into a canter and didn't want to stop.  We decided to stick to a walk after that, but we were so happy that we made it so far, that we didn’t mind.

We turned at the next river crossing.  Kevin on Starry caught up with us there, and we went home together.  We decided to try trotting again, and we were successful!  Well, until Cole started to get a little too excited and wanted to pass Bella.  I knew that wouldn’t go over well, so we brought them back to a walk.  We did get pretty far.

It was a very warm day for horses with winter coats, so we walked from there.  Bella tripped crossing the river, but she regained her balance.

There is one spot on the hill where we go around a corner and up a short, steep slope.  This is the one spot in the whole park where Cole is the most likely to act up.  Many times, when he feels excited, I will get off and lead so that if he acts out, I will be safe on the ground.  It was muddy, this day, so I didn’t want to dismount.  Mistake.  Bella and Starry went ahead of us.  There was a squirrel walking up the trail, and he seemed oblivious to us.  Bella was fixated on him and it looked like she wanted to chase him.  Starry was close behind.  When Cole stepped onto the sloping part of the hill, he burst with happiness.  The other horses did the same.  We got to the top of the hill, laughing.

It was a surprisingly successful ride compared to the day before.  We were able to do a lot of trotting, They walked quietly when we wanted to walk and it was so much better than, the day before.  This gives us a lot of hope for the spring  when we want to get back into regular riding.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Will Starry Cross?

Will Starry Cross?

Or should I say, will he go down the river bank so he could cross.  A few days ago, Starry refused to go down the river bank because he didn’t like the frozen mud what broke under his feet.  Cole didn’t like it, either, but he went through it, anyway.  Starry stayed behind on the wrong side of the river.

The day after that happened, we got a lot of rain that raised the river too high to cross.  At least it was warm so the icy part of the bank thawed out.  We had to wait a few days for the river to go down.

The problem could be approached a few different ways.  If it was me, I would have employed clicker.  I would ask for step, click, treat and repeat until we got to the bottom; making sure the treats were really good ones.

Kevin came up with a different, but still good plan.  He would try leading Starry down the bank.  Starry has never refused to follow Kevin when he leads him, but there were two problems.  The reason I would have been reluctant to try it is that the now thawed mud would be very, very messy to walk through.  Kevin seemed okay with that.  The other problem is a tougher one.  Starry is huge, and Kevin can’t mount him from the ground.  Of course, he would have to mount to cross the river.  Walking through mud is one thing.  Wading the river in January is a whole different story.

Kevin solved that by finding a rock that he could carry down to the water to use as a mounting block.

The third option was the simplest and the most likely to fail.  Just have Starry follow Cole down the bank when the ground wasn’t frozen so it wouldn't make the hollow sound.  Hopefully, Starry would realize it was just mud and willingly walk down the bank.

Kevin decided to try that option.  

Cole hates mud, so my job was to make sure he didn’t hesitate one step--even though he wanted to.  Kevin’s job was to keep Starry from stalling,

Everything worked like magic and in a few seconds, we were all in the river.  We then headed out on a lovely January ride--which doesn’t happen too often.

Hurray for Starry D.!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Frustrating Problem Solved?

Frustrating Problem Solved?

I am working Cole in the arena a few times a week, now, when I can’t get him on the trail.  With that, came the resurgence of our most frustrating problem--his snorting.

When Cole trots, within a few minutes, he needs to make a great big snort.  This happens regardless of whether we are in the arena or trail.  Even on the trail, he tends to slam on the brakes to gather himself up and snort.  Sometimes, I will trot about a minute on the trail, stop him and then he snorts.  If he is following a friend, he often snorts in motion, so I know he can do it.  I praise him and rub his neck when he snorts in motion.

Things get complicated when I ride in the arena.  Back in the early days; knowing he likes to stop and snort, I let him.  I was just too nice, I guess.  Then, we would trot along and everything would be fine--until he needed to snort again.  If he didn’t really need to snort, he would stop--and pretend he was going to snort.  I would ask him to trot, and he would refuse.  He had to snort.  We would get into arguments about this.  If I pushed him too hard, he would buck and then trot a half lap, stop and say he had to snort.  Eventually, he would do a small snort and get back to work.

If we were trotting and I gave him a break from it for a couple minutes, he acted like he had to snort when I wanted him to trot, again.  He would trot slow with his head up in the air in protest.

It was all annoying, and something I probably started just by letting him stop for his first big snort.

I may have stumbled on a solution.  For Christmas, Ellen gave me some tasty treats for him.  I typically use carrots as a treat.  I knew that he liked these better than carrots, so I decided to use both at the same time.  I would click and treat him for ordinary things with carrots, and when he excelled; I would give him the good treats.  

When Cole has very good treats, he tends to over achieve.  I get too much of everything.  His trot will get faster and bigger.  His stops can give me whiplash.  He overbends.  Walking in a staight line becomes tough because he volunteers a lot of behaviors without me asking for them.  He figures straight won’t get him a treat--but sideways might.

I thought by mixing the treats, he will strive to improve without going overboard.

It worked on the very first day.  We did our warm up and review with carrots, but when I started asking for tougher things, I gave him the good treats when he did awesome.  We had a great ride.

He repeated it the next ride, too.  Upon reflection, I realized that the reason I thought the ride went so well was because we didn’t get trapped into the snorting spiral.

After that, I started paying attention.  He still needed his big snort, and he still did it in the same way.  After that, once I started mixing in the good treats, he forgot all about snorting.  I even tried taking a walk break for a few minutes, and then asking him to trot.  I would click him and give him a good treat--and the snorting issue was a non issue.

As I expected all along, he was playing a game to get out of work.  Fighting about it didn’t get him to cooperate.  What seems to be working is creating a better game.  Cole is focusing on figuring out how to get to good treats.

It is working for now, and hopefully it will continue to work.  It certainly is making arena work more enjoyable for me.

Flashback Fun - January, 2001 - Winter

Flashback Friday - January, 2001


It’s been a long winter for us. We currently keep our horses at a small barn by the park. The care is excellent and we have a small indoor arena to ride in at night or when the weather crummy. The trail that leads into the park is right outside the back of the property. There is only one problem with our lovely barn. The trail leads down a hill and crosses the river only 5 minutes away. Every now and then, the river is too high to safely cross, and that isn’t too bad because it will be low in a day or two. The real problem is in the wintertime when the water freezes. There is no way that we will dare cross the ice. I suppose when horses were the main source of travel in this country, people would cross ice because they had no other choice, but it just isn’t worth the risk to us. We just ride up and down the hill a few times to add variety to our arena rides.

This winter has been very tough. Typically, the river doesn’t freeze until around Christmas. This year, it froze Thanksgiving weekend. There were 2 times between then and now that it thawed out and we managed to get across, but it quickly froze right back up. Each week we watch the weather forecast with our breaths held—hoping that the river would be melted by the weekend.  

Last week, we had a lot of rain, and it broke up the ice making the river possible to cross. Unfortunately, the rain turned the snow on the hill into a sheet of ice, and now it isn’t safe to ride down to the river. The trails in the park look pretty icy in spots for the same reason. We opted to play it safe and rode once again in the arena. Our horses are getting just as bored of it as we are. They were so good back in December when we started with the arena-riding marathon. Now they have taken to playing little games to make it more fun for themselves. Their favorite is “spook.” You never know when it will happen, and it caused my sister to fall off of Ranger last week. This weekend, I was the next victim. Mingo, who seldom spooks, was in a feisty mood and did one of those spin spooks. I bit the dust, unhurt. I’m getting awfully tired of the game and did the only thing I could think of to stop the silliness. I rode him 5 minutes at a canter without stopping. It worked. It definitely took the edge off of his silliness and made him concentrate on working.

The real problem is the horses are just bored. During the summer, we ride them nearly all the time on the trail. When the days are short, they still get on the trail on the weekends. They seem to really like the trail riding. Both Mingo and Cruiser have tried to avoid going back to the barn on several occasions and Mingo never rushes home, even when we are very close to the barn. Maybe next weekend. They are predicting milder weather for later in the week, but if it rains too much, the river will be high…