Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My Ride on Starry D

I had the opportunity to take Starry for a ride with Ellen and Dante.  I didn’t know how he would do.  Would he be willing to take the lead?  Would he get stuck going backwards?  Would I survive his trot?

Starry has the worst trot--ever.  He has an incredible amount of bounce and it is somewhat irregular.  Of course, you have to post, but posting isn’t easy.  The faster he goes, the easier it is to post--the main reason we don’t want to follow pokey Dante.

When I mounted Starry, we were in the lead.  I asked him to walk a few steps and clicked him.  I did this a few times to accustom Starry to the sound of my click which is different from Kevin’s click.  He understood, but once Dante caught up with us, he refused to take the lead.  Dante had to go first.

Halfway down the hill, the trail gets a little wider and the far right end has a very small tree that you can go off the trail, go around it and go back on the trail.  This is a place where we can often trick Starry by stopping and hiding behind the tree.  Of course Starry can still see us, but sometimes he will still pass us and take the lead.

It worked, and we were in the lead.  Starry marched down the rest of the hill, into the river and to the trail on the other side.  This was an accomplishiment in itself.  There have been more than a few incidents where Starry gets halfway up the river bank, realizes he isn’t in the lead and stalls out or starts backing up.  It is too narrow to pass him, so that leaves Ellen stranded in the water until Kevin works it out.

Another place that Starry has problems at is just coming out the river to head down the trail.  When I reached that spot, I woudn’t let him pause.  Instead of waiting for Ellen, I kept him marching down the trail.  When I would feel him slowing, I squeezed my legs to keep him moving.  I did click him a few times for walking well.  When I saw that Ellen made it across the river, I started trotting.

Since Starry knew that Dante was back there, he didn’t want to trot fast, at all.  The slower he goes, the rougher his trot becomes--and I was having a hard time finding his rhythm.  I decided my best bet would be to only trot short distances, wait until Ellen gets closer and trot on ahead.  When I was walking, I woould intermittently click him for forward movement.  Starry and I were gettng along quite well.

This is how we handled things until we got to the next river crossing.  We decided to turn and head towards home.  Starry wouldn’t take the lead, but that was no surprise.  The turnaround point is one of his troublespots.  We let Dante go in the lead and started to trot.

I wouldn’t let Starry follow directly behind Dante--I had him offset to one side.  Dante trots much faster on the way home--particularly on that section of the trail.  Still, he wasn’t going at top speed.  Starry started inching up.  Before we knew it, we were right next to each other.  He had done this on the last ride with Kevin, so that was what I expected.  I squeezed my lega to ask for more speed.  We started gradually passing!  At a trot!  Shortly after taking the lead, we reached the spot that we planned to stop, so we did.  Starry was in the lead.  I asked him to walk--and he did!  He led all the way home.

We had decided to pass up home and go a little the other direction.  Before I reached the river bank that I planned to pass instead of go down, Starry figured us out and stalled.  I couldn’t get him to take a step forward.  We can’t figure out how he knew we weren’t going home.  Dante had to take the lead.  We passed up home.  I tried to get Starry in the lead, but it just wasn’t happening.  We ended up turning around and going home.  Starry was happy to lead across the river and up the hill to the barn.

He wasn’t perfect, but he did pretty good.  I just wish he was easier to trot, and we would have done a lot more of it.  It is always fun to ride another horse, and Starry is pretty awesome.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

Starry Logic

Starry Logic

Dante keeps getting better.  I wish I could say the same about Starry.  He is still inconsistent about taking the lead.  He will follow a perfect ride with a disaster ride.  He just wants to follow Dante so much.  He doesn’t mind leading if he is only with Cole--the problem is the bromance between Starry and Dante.  

It is actually very comical.  The rides are always more entertaining when Starry joins us.  Let’s say Dante is in the lead, followed by Starry and lastly, Cole.  After a while, Cole can’t handle walking that slow, and he wanted to take the lead.  He will try to pass Starry, and Starry will walk faster and block him from getting between him and Dante.  Once Cole gets ahead of him and starts to pass Dante, Starry could care less.  

If Starry didn't trot so fast and Dante trot so slow, none of this would be a problem.  They walk at the same speed.  Cole likes to do everything fast, so it doesn’t matter when it is just Cole and Starry.  Still, when we are riding without Dante, we practice putting Starry in the lead so he is better when we ride with Dante.

Kevin can easily get Starry to go in the lead when we are crossing a river.  Once he is in the lead, he is usually happy to be there.  If Starry has momentum on a hill, we can stop our horses, and often he goes right past.  At the beginning of the ride, when we cross the river, the trail either goes right or left.  We will go one way, and Kevin will go the other way.  Once he gets going, we turn around and catch up with him.

One of the funny ways we can get Starry to pass is to hide our horses.  It doesn’t work all the time, but it is one of our most successful ploys.  We just pull our horses way off the trail if there is a side trail we can go on.  If we are far enough away, Starry will go right past.  We laugh at him whenever we can trick him like that.  It can be a lot of fun to have Starry with us.

And then there are the times when Starry just decides to take the lead!

Starry logic can sometimes be illogical.  Sometimes, Kevin will leave ahead of me.  When he gets to the end of the trail, he turns around to go home--and Starry won’t go!  He neighs for us and waits there for us to catch up with him--even though if he goes towards home, he will catch up with us even sooner.  Sometimes, he has to wait a long time, too.  Starry always keeps us laughing.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Crossing the River on Dante

Crossing the River on Dante

Horse training is never finished.  It goes on and on.  Sometimes you get a horse doing just what you want--and then your needs change.  Nothing stops us from retraining our horses to meet different circumstances.  That is exactly where Ellen finds herself with Dante.

Ellen has been working on getting him to cross rivers faster.  Here is a little background.  When she first got Dante, he didn’t like crossing rivers, so he tried to do it very, very fast.  One day, he ended up tripping on something, falling and Ellen and Dante ended up taking a bath.  Neither one of them got hurt, but they were both shaken up.  It was a bad scene.

Dante then decided he wasn’t crossing rivers any more.  I worked with him a couple of weeks, and he not only started to cross, but he did it slowly and carefully.  Ellen started riding him, again, but she was nervous.  It was a traumatic experience for her--and she didn’t want to cross rivers, any more, either.

Since we use clicker training, she was the most comfortable asking him to stop often while crossing--and clicking him when she did.  The more nervous she was, (like when the river was higher,) the more she clicked.  It helped them both.  Dante liked hanging out in the river eating carrots.  Ellen felt better because she felt she was in control.  Both of them increased their confidence.

Now, a few years down the road, she got tired of long, drawn-out river crossings.  It was time to remove the crutch.  Instead of clicking him for reaching the top of the bank, the edge of the river, putting his front feet in the water, getting to the middle of the river and getting to the other side, she started to take clicks away.

In her early training, she made a classic clicker training mistake.  She taught him to stop in the river--but not to go in the river.  It caused Dante to stall out--in hopes of getting a click.  It is a good idea, when we use clicker, to train a behavior and then train the opposite behavior.  

Ellen began clicking Dante for walking the way she liked when he was crossing.  Now, he knew he could get a click for stopping or for walking.  

Early on, Dante did some protesting.  He wanted his treats--he thought stopping would get them for him.  Ellen held firm and clicked him for walking.  She gradually removed the clicks--but still praised him.  In just about a month, Dante is a whole different river-crossing horse.  He will now walk right across and a reasonable speed without a single stop.  He seems relaxed, too.

I like it because I am no longer on the other side, waiting for them.  Sometimes, it seemed to take 5 minutes to cross when it should take less than a minute.  Our rides seem faster, too.

Dante hasn’t been doing his business in the river as much, either.  Remember how he would do it and get scared when the plops splashed him?  He is just as likely to do it on land and in the water.  When he does it in the water, he no longer panics.  Everything has worked out so well!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ranger Update

Ranger Update

Ellen is riding!  She is even trotting!  The first day was a little scary.  She saddled him, and he acted well behaved, but when she brought out the bridle, he got really, really excited.  Once she mounted, Ranger was all bouncy and prancy.  Ellen rode him about 5 minutes.  I told her to remember this when she claims Dante is acting hyper.  Dante’s hyper is a quiet day for Ranger.

After that ride, he did much better.  The first day she asked him to trot, but was super enthusiastic about it, but he has mellowed out about it, since.  We take him for half hour walks, and she has been riding about half of his walks.  Early on, he was insecure and wanted me close to him.  (He has vision issues.)  Now, he doesn’t seem to care where I am.  When she is out at the barn without me, she feels she will be able to ride him alone.

Ellen trots just short stretches--asking him to go a little longer with each ride.  She will click him when he is moving the way she wants him to.  Of course, he stops to get his treat, but it just gives her a chance to do it, again.

They both seem to be having fun, so if all goes well, Ellen plans to continue at least until it gets really cold.  It is much warmer to lead than to ride a horse that is mostly walking.

Ranger’s status has changed from retired to semi-retired!

Thursday, September 7, 2017



Ranger’s breathing is so improved, that Ellen decided to try riding him, again.  She rode him a few times in the spring, but that has been it.  Remember, she retrained him for saddling.  Though he isn’t perfect, he is so much better than he was--it takes the saddling obstacle out of the picture.

Her first time up, she planned to ride him a few laps in the arena, and if that went well, they would ride outside.  He was fine for the saddling.  When he saw her bringing out the bridle, he got so excited!  That certainly wasn’t what we were expecting.

He charged out of the barn on his way to the arena.  She led him around to get him to settle down.  Once he seemed a little better, she mounted up.  Her plan of riding a few laps in there failed.  When he saw the open gate, he bullied his way to it, and she conceded.  

She stayed in the saddle about 3 minutes.  He was so wound up.  Though he stayed at a walk, it was a bouncy, prancy walk.  Ellen decided she would be safer on the ground.

The next day, we decided to try, again.  This time, she led him one lap around the loop and then brought him back to the mounting block.  He was so much better.  Ellen was thrilled.  She went 1.5 laps and then led him the remaining 4.5 laps.  All went well.

The next day was the day after Labor Day.  Here in Cleveland, Labor Day Weekend is Air Show Weekend.  We know how to avoid the jets--which can scare horses--on the weekend, but last year, Ellen was walking him the day after and the jets flew over to go home.  Ranger had a panic attack and could barely breathe.  She didn’t want to risk that, again.  Instead, she just walked him close to the barn, so she could duck right in if necessary.

There were no jets, but after Ellen went home, Kevin was still at the barn when they came over.  THere were 8 of them, and they came one at a time.  We are so glad that Ranger was safe inside when that happened.

The next ride went lovely, again.  She did nearly 2 laps, and she only quit when he started to get a little anxious when he heard some distant machinery.

She is planning to continue to ride him on part of his walks.  He seemed to like it, and Ellen certainly does, too.  I will keep you updated.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Mud Rush

Mud Rush

Mud rush is a phenomenon that I have been experiencing for a long time, but I never knew what to call it.  Ellen came up with a perfect name for it.

When you are riding on the trail and encounter some mud, an excited horse tends to speed up when he goes through it.  Not only can they speed up, they may change gaits or even explode!  

It is, of course, a bigger problem with young and green horses.  When I am out on a new horse, and I come to mud that is trottable--if I am trotting, I come down to a walk.  If I am walking, I am vigilant and I certainly won’t canter through it.  After I get to know the horse’s tolerance to mud rush, I adjust what I do.

Even though Cole is very, very familiar with mud, if he is hyper--I walk.  Muddy river banks may cause Cole to burst up.  (Cruiser used to do the same thing when I wasn't  paying attention.)  When I think Cole may act out, I will have him stop at the bottom and ask him to walk up like a gentleman.  That doesn’t always work, so if he is in a “mood,” I make sure there is no one directly ahead of him that he may startle.

When he is in a steady mood, I don’t worry about muddy river banks, and I let him go through the mud.  I may give him a half halt if he is in a borderline mood.  It’s all about knowing your horse and knowing his mood at the time.

Now, mud rush isn’t always such a bad thing.  Dante is a quieter horse, and Ellen uses the mud to her advantage.  He will speed up when he feels the softness under his feet.  She will even use light mud as a good spot to ask for a canter transition.  She has another technique.  If she has gotten far behind Cole, she will trot right through the mud to catch up with us--knowing I will either stop or take a longer route around the mud to avoid mud rush with Cole.

As far as I know, Starry is completely unaffected by mud, and I don’t even know if Kevin is aware that we can have problems with mud rush.  He walks through bad mud and trots through the rest.  If we are following him, we will ask him to stop at the mud, and of course, he does.  I don’t know if he knows why, though.

So, if you have a wonderful horse like Starry, please keep in mind that other horses you are with may have a case of mud rush.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Starry and Dante’s Problems, Still

Starry and Dante’s Problems, Still

We thought that We had Dante’s problem lickecd.  He was doing his business on the trail, and Ellen would reward him with a peppermint.  All was well with the world.  Then he decided he would only do it in the river, again.  That is what he has been doing the last month.  Ellen is trying to worry about it less.  He usually does it when she is close to the other side.  He hasn’t overreacted that much.  Sometimes he walks faster, and sometimes he will trot up the bank.  He is no longer doing it on dry land.  It looks like she will just have to live with it.

And then there is Starry’s problem.  For the last year or so, he has been reluctant to take the lead when we are on the trail.  He is the worst with Dante, his best friend.  This has caused Kevin much frustration.

He has tried changing Starry’s behavior with clicker training, and that is when he has the most success.  Then, he feels that Starry should be over it and quits the clicks.  Clicker training isn’t ever an instant cure all.  Repetition is a must, and then you can fade it off.  Kevin doesn’t like the repetition, and in the past, fading off meant going cold turkey.  Then, he would end up back where he started.

Finally, it seemed like the lesson sunk in.  So often, it is harder to teach the human than the horse.  Kevin got serious about the clicking.  We didn’t even try it with Dante, in the beginning.  He has always been better with Cole, so that is when we did our training.  On our rides, I would take Cole far to the side of the trail.  Kevn would ask him to pass, and clicked him for any forward movement.  Eventually, Starry would pass.  If he started to fight, we would just give up and try later on the trail.  

In a few weeks, Starry was doing pretty good.  Kevin would only click when he got ahead of Cole and if he didn’t pass, he got no clicks.  We finally got to the place where we could go on an hour ride and Starry would lead the whole time.

We then started to work with him and Dante.  It was, and is still, much tricker.  Sometimes, we would get him to pass Dante by following Cole--and then down the trail, we would ask him to pass Cole.  Kevin would still click intermittently.  Of course, he always gets “good boys.”

There are still places where it is nearly impossible to get him in the lead if Dante is there.  One of those spots is when we cross the second river on the way home.  On our last ride, together, Ellen and I went way off the trail and watched him.

Kevin asked him walk, and Starry stepped backwards 3 steps--then he went forward a step--click.  Kevin repeated it, but this time Starry went back only 2 steps--then forward-click.  He tried again, backwards one step--forward click.  The last attempt, he only stepped backwards a half step before going forward.

We did have one perfect ride with Dante, Starry and Cole.  It was a shorter ride, but it still counts.  Starry led the whole way with no drama.  The next day, he was back to his old tricks.  Kevin wants instant results, and we have to be there to encourage him when things don’t go as well as he likes.  There was a time when there was no chance that Starry would pass up Dante, and now he does it often, though he isn’t as consistent as we would like.  We just don’t want Kevin to give up and lose his temper.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no horse is trained in a day, or week, month or even year.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Teaching Old Horses New Tricks

Teaching Old Horses New Tricks

As I mentioned last time, Ellen has been thinking of riding Ranger, again, because he has been doing so well.  One of the obstacles in riding him is saddling.  He is just horrible, and each year he gets worse and worse.  We saddle in our stalls, because we feel it is easier.  Since Starry became Ranger’s neighbor, he has gotten really bad.

He snipes, snarls and even kicks out--all aimed at Starry.  It is now fun to saddle him, so if you aren’t going on much of a ride, anyway, it is just easier to lead him.

Let me backtrack, a little.  In the last year or so, he has become difficult to halter, top.  He would toss his head up, push at us and just be difficult.  It isn’t that he didn’t want to he haltered--he was just excited about going out.  It got very annoying.  One day, Ellen got fed up.  She took her clicker skills out and decided to try to improve him.  

His halter is the kind that you buckle the strap that goes over his head.  Ellen held the halter noseband in front of Ranger, and only clicked him when he put his nose in it.  Everything else he did, she ignored.  She also didn’t hook up the halter, either.  He wasn’t getting any treats or going anywhere until he put his nose in the halter.

The next step was to not click him until he put his nose in and held his head still.

You may wonder how many lessons it took to change his habit.  Much to our surprise, he was greatly improved on the second lesson--and was a new horse on the third.

That was a few months ago.  Ellen decided that if she is going to ride him, she wanted him to saddle like a gentleman.  Remember, this is a bad habit that has going on for years--and just has gotten worse.  She did click him when he stood still in the past, but he never really improved; and like I said, he got worse with Starry.

This time, she decided to enlist my help.  We would retrain him just like we did with the haltering.  She planned to break it down into tiny bits.  I was the clicker person--freeing her up to just do the saddling.  She let me use my discretion on the clicking.  I would only click when he stood still.

He was loose in the stall, and I stood in front of him on the other side of the stall guard.  Ellen brought in the saddle and showed it to him.  He started to snarl.  She just stood there--until he did the same.  Then, I clicked, of course.  We practiced that a bit.  The next step was lifting up the saddle as if she was going to saddle.  By now, Ranger seemed to understand that this was a new game, and it didn’t take any time at all for him to just stand.  The clicks kept coming.  

She gently placed the saddle on his back--click.  She took it off and repeated it several time.  He got clicked for each.

She left it on his back--click.  She walked to the other side, brought the girth up--click.  She did that a few times--click--click.

She girthed him up--click.

And then she took it off and repeated the whole process,

Ranger loves treats.

The next day, we decided to do it, again.  Ranger was perfect.  Once again, just one lesson was all it took to make a difference.  Why did we wait all these years to do this?  We will keep practicing, and sometimes he will wear his saddle on his walks.  Of course, we will fade off most of the clicks--and Ellen will be able to do them, herself.

So, we can teach an old horse a new trick with the help of clicker.  Clicker training also proves, once again, that we don’t have to settle for a horse that misbehaves.  Instead, we can gently change their behavior.  

Ellen is happier--and so is Ranger.  For all we know, he thought he was supposed to attack Starry when Ellen was saddling him.  Now, he knows he is supposed to just stand still.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ranger Update

Ranger Update

Ranger is basically, retired.  For a 27-year-old, he is doing well, except for his breathing.  He has COPD, which is bad enough, but if he gets frightened of something, he has what can best be described as an asthma attack.  His head goes high and he struggles to catch his breath.

Lately, we have been just leading him on the loop.  Ellen did ride him a few times last spring, but since he doesn’t seem to want to trot, it is just easier for us to lead him.  It’s good exercise for us, too.

Last year, we would walk him down to the river a lot.  He had trouble going back up, and we had to stop a lot for him to catch his breath.  This year, we have had so much rain that the mud at the very top of the hill has been horrendous.  It was so bad, that Cole felt that no horse in his right mind would step through it, willingly.  (It is funny how much trouble he will go through to try to keep his feet from going in the mud.)  Because we didn’t want to take an out of shape horse through deep mud--and we didn’t want to walk in it, ourselves, we just stayed on the loop behind the barn.

We finally had a dry spell, and the mud improved enough to lead Ranger through it.  We decided to see how he would do on the hill.  This summer, he seemed to be breathing much better on his walks.  Most days, Ellen hasn’t even had to give him antihistamines.  That is in spite of the fact that his breathing is usually the worst in hot weather.

We led him down the hill with ease, turned around and made our way back up.  It was with much disbelief that we observed--no loud wheezing.  He was able to walk up the hill better than he did last summer.

The next day, we tried it again.  I am so happy to say that the first day wasn’t an anomaly.  Once again, Ranger walked up the hill without any breathing distress.

Well, we decided it is time to integrate the hill on his weekend workouts.  It is more interesting than going 6 laps on the loop.  We can do the hill and a few laps to bring his workout up to a half hour.  He seems to like the variety--and we sure do.  Plus, it is shady!

Ellen was thinking she might just dust off his saddle...

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dante’s “Problem” Revisited

Dante’s “Problem” Revisited

Poor Dante.  After having some bad experiences where he tried to do his business in the river and got frightened by the plops splashing him, he seemed to decide he just wasn’t going to do it on the trail.

On the shorter rides, he could hold it in and wait until he got home.  We were able to avoid crossing the river where there was a ford, so that his nervousness, alone, didn’t make his digestive system start moving.  Still, that wasn’t the answer.  We wanted to go on longer rides, and when the river is low, it is safer to cross than the fords.

Someone suggested getting a large sponge which, when soaked, would make a perfect plop in the water.  Ellen ordered one.  We knew that we would have to practice it in the river to make it help us out, but to get used to it, a little, when Ellen would sponge him off after a hot ride, she would let it plop in the water bucket.

In the meantime, she decided to give him treats if he did his business on dry land.  Since he had done it once, already, we hoped that we would be able to capture the behavior enough to teach him what we wanted.

After one ride that was on the longer side, Ellen tried talking him into it.  We were on the last stretch of trail--the hill that led home.  She told him she would get off, give him treats and grab pieces of grass for him while she led him up the hill.  Talk about good timing--he did it!  She kept her word and got off, gave him treats and fed him pieces of grass all the way up.

Then, there was a dry spell for a while.  He went back to holding it until he got back to the barn.  We went on a longer ride--with no results--so we passed up home and rode to the dead end trail, again.  It worked!  He got a peppermint.  Peppermints are one of his favorite treats.

The next day, a miracle happened.  He did it shortly after Ellen mounted him.  He got his peppermint, and we were ecstatic.  We went on a very happy ride.  Ellen didn’t even worry when we crossed the rivers.  And then, another miracle happened.  He did it again, on the hill on the way home.  Dante scored another peppermint.

We thought all was fine--that Dante found the key to getting peppermints.  Then, the next day, nothing.  He waited until he got back to the barn.  No peppermints for Dante.

The following day, we went out for another ride in the park.  On the way home, Ellen suspected he had to go, so we did a lot of walking.  Nothing happened.  We came up to the river.  Though Ellen could have crossed on the ford, the water was lower than it has been all year.  She felt that she just had to deal with it.  

I crossed first and waited on the other side for them.  They slowly walked down the river bank--which was a good sign.  In the past, when he was worried, he was reluctant to go down the bank.  They then slowly walked across the water.  He seemed relaxed.  Ellen just wanted to get him past the center point where the remainder of the crossing is sand with no rocks.  If He decided to bolt through the water, he could do it safely.  

Since he looked so relaxed, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a disturbance in the water by his hindlegs.  Yes!  Dante was doing his business--and he just stood quietly to do it.  Ellen was so shocked, that she wasn’t able to give him a treat in time.  He just started walking across.  I may have imagined it, but he sure did seem to have a happy expression on his face when he got to the other side.  Dante figured it out!

We have decided that Dante’s “problem” is now a ‘non-problem”

The next ride--he did it right after Ellen mounted, again...