Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bella Blossoms

Bella Blossoms

Ellen and I have spent the whole summer riding with Shari and her National Show Horse, Bella.  When we started, Shari was a bit nervous--having had a bad incident last summer where Bella fell causing Shari to break her shoulder.  Bella, being a very spirited horse, offered many “challenges,” but the rides kept getting better and better.  We watched as both of them became more confident.

This month, Shari entered her in a horse show for the first time in a year.  She promised her uncle she would go, but later regretted it because she would miss a trail ride, but she didn’t want to disappoint her uncle.  

Turns out, she didn’t miss a trail ride that day because the river was too high to cross.  Ellen and I just rode the hill that morning.  She rode to the show ring along the street.  Bella behaved great on the road.

Bella was very excited when she arrived at the show ring.  Shari decided to just ride her on the trail that circles the show grounds at a walk--around and around--so she could take in all the sights and sounds.  I know some people would have lounged their horses to exhaustion before entering the show ring--I have seen them do that, but Shari didn’t want an exhausted horse--she wanted a relaxed horse.

Her method worked.  When it was time to go into the show ring, Bella was ready for it.  They entered two classes.  The whole time in the class, Shari was talking to Bella and telling her what a good girl she was--just like she does on the trail--and Bella was good.  She won a second in equitation and probably would have placed in pleasure, but the judge told Shari he saw her break gait in it.

This is the horse that spent the whole summer--not schooling in the arena, but riding out on the trail with us.  We were so proud of the both of them.

The next weekend, it was back to trail riding.  Saturday rained buckets right when we should have been riding.  Ellen rode Dante in the arena and then the rain cleared up, so I saddled Cole and we rode the loop at the barn.  That way, if it started raining again, we could get back to the barn quickly.  It didn't rain, fortunately, but we didn’t go on a trail ride.

On Sunday, Ellen and I were running late.  Kevin left with Brenda before us.  Shari rides to our barn to meet us, but we have agreed that if we didn’t see her by a specific time to just head out and she would know she should go directly on the trail to catch up with us.  She had called that morning, so we knew she was going to ride with us, so we headed out to meet her.

Shari went out to catch up with us.  Since it rained the day before, she could see two sets of fresh hoofprints going down the hill, crossing the river and going to the right on the trail.  Shari transformed into the Lone Ranger’s companion, Tonto.  She was going to track us down and catch up with us.

They trotted a lot, and when the trail was straight and clear, they cantered.  They were on a mission.

In the meantime, Ellen and I were moving at a brisk pace, ourselves.

Shari crossed the next river and trotted up to the bottom of a short steep hill and called up it to us.  She has a great voice.  There was no answer.  She hadn’t caught up with us, yet.

Determined to find us--still following the tracks--Bella and Shari traveled swiftly.  Ellen and I continued to do the same.

And then Shari saw two horses in the distance--Kevin and Brenda.  She was tracking the wrong horses.  We were following behind her.  She rode with them, and on their way back, we found them.  We asked Shari to leave them and ride with us, and she did.  Her mission was completed, at last.

We all got a good laugh.  The rest of the ride was wonderful.  Bella behaved like a rock star--oh, she did spook at a small branch on the trail, but we are used to that.  

I was curious, so I asked Shari how Bella was when she is in season.  In all the rides we have been on with her, she hasn’t shown any signs of marishnesss.  She told us that she can be quite marish and will really flirt with the boys.  On days when she is crabby, Shari likes to get her out and exercise her and that helps.

The next evening, I was walking Ranger on the loop.  Shari drove over and came to talk to me.  She wanted to tell me that when she got Bella back home the day before, she let her out with a couple geldings--and she was in season!  So, all along on the ride, she had raging hormones and yet she acted like a perfect lady.  Now, that’s a good horse.

Thursday, September 8, 2016



We have been riding with Shari and her lovely Bella all summer.  I don’t think a weekend has gone by that we haven’t ridden at least once,  We have seen such a transformation--it brings great satisfaction.

She is, by nature, a very spirited horse, and nothing will change that.  No one wants that to change--that is just Bella.  We never wanted her nature to change--just some of her behaviours.

She spooked a lot in the beginning.  The difference now is how fast she forgets whatever bothered her and caused her to spook.  Many times, we don’t know what makes her jump, but now as Cole and I trot behind, we watch her jump--and then she just keeps on going her merry way.

She used to get very nervous with traffic and bikes.  Remember that scary ride across the ford when the bike scared her?  Now, she has been just watching the bikes as they go past.  There is no panic or even nervousness.

She used to be very strong on Shari’s hands--now Shari is riding with a loose rein much of the time.  Her head carriage is higher than most horses because she is a National Show Horse, but her neck is now relaxed.  

She barely dances around anymore.  We can trot towards home with Bella in the lead, and she doesn’t race.  Instead, she goes at a speed that even poky Dante is happy to match on the way home.

Bella loves riding with her boys.  Shari keeps her horse down the street from us, and when she rides over to our barn, Bella gets so excited!  She also seems to truly enjoy herself out on the trail.  

Shari also rides her by herself, and they have been having wonderful rides together.  All three of us are so proud of Bella.  It has been a team effort.  Shari played the hardest part.  She had to ride Bella through all her shenanigans, but she needed someone to do it with.  

Ellen and I--well we understood.  Bella acted a lot like Cruiser did in his younger days--and he turned out to be one of the best horses ever.  We did whatever we could to help Bella succeed.  We knew when to ride quietly and when we could increase the speed.  We also understood that spirited horses like Bella need to move out on the trail.  Trotting can do wonders with a hyper horse.  Shari needed riding companions who were willing to get out and trot--and Ellen and I just love trotting!  Shari needed companions were willing to ride out on the trail regularly, too.  She certainly found the right people with us!

We expected Bella to improve with time, but that doesn’t take away the satisfaction of seeing it with our own eyes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Musical Ride

A Musical Ride

Ellen and I went on a long ride.  We did a lot of trotting and a little bit of cantering on the way out.  On the way home, we did a fair amount of trotting, too.  It was a very hot and humid morning, and the horses needed a break, so we decided we’d better do some walking for a while.  

There is one part of the trail that goes over a large pipe that drains into the river.  As we approached it, I heard voices.  Now and then, people will stand below the trail by the pipe, and it can startle the horses when they see them.  I looked around, but didn’t see anyone.  I then looked just past it to some land that juts out over the river to a point--maybe 30 feet from the trail--and saw a couple men standing there.  That must have been where the voices came from.  I didn’t give the men a second glance and continued riding by.  Mistake.

Just as Cole was passing them and Dante was only a few steps behind, the peal of bagpipes pierced the air.  Ellen and I both nearly jumped out of our skin.  We halted our horses and clicked them for their obedience.  The second man started pounding a drum.  Cole looked at them curiously as he chewed his carrot.  Ellen described Dante’s response the same way.  We proceeded down the trail at a walk.  The horses acted like nothing even happened.  We were laughing about it, and the bagpipes played on.

This isn’t the first time we have encountered a bagpipe player on a ride. It has happened a few times before over the years, but this was the first time for these two horses.  We were so proud they handled it like champs.

The rest of the ride was uneventful except for one time when Dante leapt up into the air and trotted a few steps.  Ellen thought maybe a bug bit him.  About five minutes later, we wanted Dante to lead, so I stopped Cole for him to pass.  As he walked by, I looked down and saw both his front leg and back leg on that side were covered with small, green burrs!  Poor guy had drifted off the trail right before he leapt up.  Ellen immediately leapt down and rescued him.  We liked how, after the initial attack of the burrs, he settled right down and didn’t fret about them sticking to his legs.

It is nice to have a couple of horses who can handle odd occurrences on the trail.  You can try to expose them to everything, but there will always be something new to encounter.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My New Blog

If you want to just read about the other stuff going on in my life, I started another blog.

I call it "My Boring Little Life."  Don't worry, my life isn't boring and little. This is just the little stuff that goes on in my life that other people might think is boring.  I talk about my garden, books and stuff like that.

And then, I started a cat blog.  It is here:

That way I can talk about Thunder all I like without worrying that my horse friends are rolling their eyes, wondering what happened to my horse blog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dante’s “Problem”

Dante’s “Problem”

I mentioned previously that Dante was having trouble crossing the river when things splashed into the water.  I didn’t disclose the problem because it was so embarrassing.  I have a reason to come clean, now.

Dante’s “problem” started when he did his business while crossing the river.  That is what splashed and spooked him.  Poor Ellen.  She has enough anxieties about crossing the river--she didn’t need this, too!

it really made her nervous.  If he hadn’t done his business recently when we crossed the water, she stressed--big time.  

Last weekend, we were riding with Shari on Bella and Kevin on Starry.  When we got to the river crossing that she was so worried about, he still hadn’t done anything the whole ride!  He was due.

Shari and I crossed the river and waited for the other two to follow.  While we were waiting, I reminded her that Dante had this “problem.”  I glanced back and saw that Dante had made it to the island not far from the bank.  Kevin was still on the other side; giving Ellen plenty of space if there was any difficulties.  I continued talking to Shari.

Soon, Ellen was on the other side.  She asked if we had seen the genius.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  She then explained that Dante got stuck on the island and wouldn’t step into the water.  He simply refused--and then he showed his genius.  He did his business on the island and then preceded to cross the river!  He was a genius!

To prove to us that this wasn’t a fluke, the following day we were crossing the “big” river.  It has a large island in the center.  When Dante got to the island, he did his business and then continued crossing.  He really is a genius.  He realized that he, himself, was causing the big splash, and he did something about it.  Genius Horse--Dante!

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Long Ride

A Long Ride

Ellen, Shari and I have been planning to go on a long ride for a while, but the weather hasn't been cooperating.  Finally, the weather was great and the river was down.  It was time.

Neither one of our horses have gone over to these trails in two years.  Ellen was very nervous.  Her anxieties were focused on two different area--a ford and the “big” river crossing.

We were going to cross one river by crossing the ford which we will be sharing with traffic--a lot of traffic.  There is a busy intersection to negotiate on the other side, too.  The river crossing itself is filled with large, jagged rocks that we wanted to avoid.

The “big” river crossing is about 3 times wider than any other crossing.  

The rest of the ride is easy.  In fact, once we cross the river, the trails are flat and away from traffic with no intersections for a few miles.  

Before we even got to the tricky ford, we had a scary incident.  As Shari was passing the big hill leading up to the show ring trails, some kids came running down it--scaring Bella.  We watched Bella shoot off like a rocket.  Shari got her back under control, and we explained to the kids that that was a very bad hill to run down--as there are times there are horses on it.

Right after that, we crossed the street and headed for the ford.  Since it was still early in the morning, the traffic wasn’t bad.  Ellen led and Shari and I rode across.  The horses waited quietly at the light, we crossed the street and got back on the trail.

Just a couple minutes later, we reached the big river.  I was shocked to see the small, shale island in the center was now a very large shale island.  Then, I saw that most of the bottom of the river was no longer slippery, uneven slate.  It now had a dirt bottom.  The deep areas were filled in.  The river crossing was now the easiest I have ever experienced on horseback!

It went without a hitch.  We were on the other side before we knew it.  No stress involved.

We had been working with Bella on allowing Cole to lead at a trot the day before when we rode up at the show ring trails with great success, but we thought that she would naturally be a little too excited on the new trails for that.  We put her in the lead.  Cole followed and Dante trailed at the end.  We did some great trotting, though we had to stop periodically for Dante to catch up.  He was too busy looking around to trot fast.

After a while, Cole started to get more and more wound up.  I had to keep reminding him to slow down to stay behind Bella.  Twice, he got the better of me and took off at a canter to pass her.  This is actually very unusual for Cole to try to pass, so it gives you an idea how excited he was.  After the second time, I suggested walking for a while so he could settle down.  It worked.  When we trotted, again, he was more comfortable with just following.

Due to the very excited horses, I figured we would have to walk most of the way home, so I suggested turning around about a mile before the end of the trail at the Brookpark bridge.  Everyone thought that was a great idea.  Cole walked very, very fast.  Bella was very excited to be heading home, too.  Eventually, we found Kevin on Starry coming out to meet us.

As we walked and talked on the way home, a group of riders passed us.  For some reason, even though they were only walking, that got Bella very hyper and she was prancing to catch up with the horses ahead.

We overtook the horses at the big river.  To make the crossing more chaotic, there was a family with a baby stroller and 3 tiny kids waist deep in the water; splashing.  Kevin told them to stop the splashing and the parents did, too.  They paused and then started wading for the shore.  None of the horses seemed bothered by these things. They just wanted to go home.  We had no trouble with the crossing.

Next came the bad intersection and ford.  I said that I was dismounting just because i wanted to stretch my legs.  Ellen always leads across the ford.  Kevin and Shari decided to lead, too.

Once the traffic let up, we crossed the first road and positioned ourselves at the light to cross the second one.  I was in the lead with Cole.  No sooner did I get his whole body on the ford, then I heard Ellen call out, “There’s a horse trailer.”  The trailer would be passing us on the narrow ford.  I really wasn’t worried much about Cole or Starry.  I just wasn’t sure how Bella and Dante would react.

I stopped, turned to face Cole and he automatically parked out.  I then glanced back to see the other horses lined behind him standing like statues.  The trailer passed us up and now was the hard part--getting Cole to walk, again.  I asked him to walk, and he started to bow--right there on the ford.  He wanted a treat.  I clicked for the bow--just so I could get him going, again.  We made it to the other side with no problems at all.  

We all mounted and rode home in triumph.  Cole did have a bad spook at a motorcycle that wasn’t close to us but was really loud.  The truth is, he had just been walking too long.  If he walks a lot, little things will set him off.  Mingo was the same way, so I kinda expect it.

The ride was close to 3 hours, and we were all pleased with it.  Ellen said she will no longer worry about the “big” river crossing, since it has improved so dramatically.  With only the ford to negotiate, I don’t think it will be that hard to convince her to go this way more often.

Once the horses settle down on the trail, we will be able to go farther because we will be able to trot towards home.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Starry Stalls

Starry Stalls

I have mentioned how much Starry loves Dante.  Well, it has gotten totally out of hand.  One morning, Kevin and Ellen went for a ride without me.  Kevin wanted to lead because Starry is a faster horse, but Starry would have nothing to do with that idea.  Starry insisted on following Dante.

They tried everything they could think of.  Starry would back up to the ends of the earth before he would take the lead.  If Dante stopped, Starry would stop to--refusing to go forward  Finally, when they were nearly home, the bugs started to really bother Starry, and Dante was just way too slow.  Kevin was then able to convince Starry to lead.

Ellen related all of this to me, and I could hardly believe that Starry, usually such a good horse, could be so bad.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to ride with Kevin and Starry.  Kevin left before I arrived at the barn, so I quickly saddled up and took off after them.  I met them around the spot where we planned to turn around and go home. It was another really hot day, so we just walked for a while and cooled off.  Cole led.

After a while, we decided we should see if Starry would take the lead.  We never had that much trouble with it, before.  Starry would protest mildly, but still lead.

I got to see a side of Starry I didn’t even know existed.  There was no way he was leading.  He was backing, kicking out and generally throwing a Starry tantrum.  I tried to circle Cole around behind him, but Starry flew backwards.  We had a big problem on our hand.

I had to put my trainer’s thinking cap on.  Kevin needed help.  As I usually do these days, my thoughts were about what a clicker trainer would do.  The first thing that popped into my head was baby steps.  Clicker trainers break things down into baby steps and click for even a hint in the right direction.  We literally needed one baby step in the right direction and that baby step had to be taken by a big buckskin baby that was currently throwing a baby tantrum.

I told Kevin that as soon as Starry takes a single step forward to click and treat him.  As always with all training, that first step is the hardest.  Kevin struggled and struggled what seemed like an eternity rather than a few minutes.  Finally, Starry took a forward step, Kevin clicked him and Starry got a treat.

Of course, now Starry stopped for his treat and Kevin had to convince him to take another step.  This time, it took less time.  I reminded Kevin how Dante  had to retry all the things he did before until he picked up the dish the second time.  Just like Dante, Starry tried all the evasions and then took another forward step.  Kevin clicked and treated.  The third time didn't take that long, and that time Kevin just praised him and asked him to trot on.  Starry did, happily.

Kevin had some concerns that Starry would learn to back up so that Kevin would click him when he went forward.  I told him that Starry could learn that.  Clicker training can be a little tricky at times.  Animals learn to chain events that lead to a desired outcome.  This would be a bad chain.

I said that he should up the criteria to more steps once he starts to improve and fade off the clicking to just praise and wither rubs.  Once he starts getting more consistent, If Starry does back up and then takes a forward step, he could praise him, stop him and ask again.  If he does it without backing up, then click him.

I will keep you updated on Starry’s progress.

Dante and the Feed Dish

Dante and the Feed Dish

Ellen soaks some hay cubes for Ranger when she visits.  After Ranger eats them, she lets Dante play with the dish.  Dante loves to play with everything.

Last week, Kevin got the idea that it would be cute to teach Dante to pick up the dish.  Dante had his stall door open with the stall guard across, and he set the dish in the aisle.  Dante  liked the dish, nudged it, pulled the towel on his stall’s towel rack, pawed, looked at Kevin, touched the dish...He did everything except pick up the dish.

This went on for a while, and Kevin was getting comically frustrated.  I told him to click him as soon as Dante gets his mouth on the edge of the dish.  By trial and error, Dante grabbed the edge and picked it up.  Kevin immediately clicked.  Dante dropped the dish and Kevin gave him a treat.

Hurray!  Now, Kevin wanted him to pick it up, again.

Dante did all the things he did before, but this time, he would look right at Kevin, as if to say, Is that it?  Do I get my click, now?”  It was paw, look at Kevin, grab the towel, look at Kevin, touch the dish, look at Kevin.  In less time than the first time, he picked the dish up.  Kevin was so happy!

The third time, he still cycled through all the other things, looking at Kevn after each time.  (It was so cute.)  I think it was only 30 seconds before he picked it up.  After that, he picked it up rather readily.

This is a typical clicker training scenario.  There is a lot of trial and error at first, and then there is less and less.  Our job is to click at the right moment.  If our horse does the wrong thing, we don’t reprimand, we just wait.  Most horses who are familiar with clicker training are really trying to get it right.  They aren’t resisting, they are joining us in our endeavors.  I think that is why clicker training of so fun.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Bella’s New Lesson

Bella’s New Lesson

We have ridden with Shari on Bella a number of times, now, and Bella is getting better with each ride.  Last weekend, we got some well-needed rain, and the river was too high to cross.  We limited to riding up and down the hill.

Ellen was on Dante, I was on Cole and Shari was there with Bella.  During all our other rides, we have been putting Bella in the lead.  She is a fast walker and trots pretty good, too.  Since she is such a spirited horse, we figured it would just work out better with her leading.  We were right.

When we reached the bottom of the hill, we decided to trot.  Since Dante is so slow, we decided to have Ellen just trot down to the end on her own, and then we would follow.  For some reason, Cole was in the lead, so I just went first.  Cole went pretty fast, and that got Bella all wound up.  She wanted to race.

Shari realized that she had a new training project, and what better place to do it than when we were going up and down the hill.  Her goal was to encourage Bella to relax when other horses were ahead of her.  Since Dante is too pokey, that meant Cole had to be the leader.

Cole can lead, but he prefers not to.  Bella can follow, but she prefers not to.  Cole will purposely go slow or try to turn around to go behind the other horses.  Bella just tries to pass.  I had to keep Cole moving forward and Shari had to hold Bella back.

I managed pretty well, but poor Shari had to hold Bella with a much tighter rein than she wanted to.  She hates riding like that.  She wanted Bella to relax and to have loose contact on the reins.

Bella was very resistant in the beginning.  Whenever she finally showed some sign of relaxing, Shari praised her, clicked her and treated her.  She also would rub her on the withers as she walked quietly along.

Bella didn’t like turning around to go back down the hill.  We call that the “Demoralizing Part.”  When the horses learn that they aren’t always going home when they go up the hill, they tend to slow down and relax.

We did three trips up and down the hill--staying at the walk.  By the third time down, we were seeing noticeable improvement, and on the last trip up, she was near perfect!  We were so thrilled.

As luck would have it, I was supposed to ride with Shari the next day in the evening, and the river was even higher even though we didn’t get any more rain.  We were stuck on the hill, but it gave us time to reinforce the lesson from the day before.

Bella got more consistent and relaxed.  At one point, another horse from her barn was with us, and Bella stayed last in line, but it didn’t bother her.  She was relaxed and walking with a loose rein.

Our next goal is to work with Bella on following another horse in a lady like-manner at a trot.  That will probably be more challenging, but I think she will figure it out.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dante and the River, Revisited

Dante and the River, Revisited

About a month ago, Dante was crossing one of the river crossings, and something splashed in the river and startled him.  He took off running through the river and up the river bank.  He would have kept on running, except Ellen forced him to stop.

Ellen has always been nervous crossing rivers, but she has improved over time.  This was the last thing she needed.  It was a huge setback.

In the weeks that followed, we had a few similar incidents, and Dante behaved himself.  Ellen was still nervous about crossing, though.

Dante had another bad incident at one of the river crossings, and this time, he trotted through the water, passing Cole and startling him.  Ellen wasn’t able to get Dante to stop until they got to the top of the river bank.  Now, we had a problem.

Even though this happened when Ellen was traveling north across the river, Dante was now nervous when Ellen tried to cross south.  The next time we went that way, he was reluctant to cross--or was that Ellen and Dante was picking it up from her?

On the way home, Ellen lost her nerve.  She just couldn’t cross the river.  Instead, we crossed on the ford.

The next week, Ellen rode him north, again, and he didn’t want to do it.  When it came time to cross on the way home, she talked me into riding him across.  We switched horses, and I went first.

He did walk quietly across, but he nervously trotted up the bank.  It wasn’t scary or dangerous, but it wasn’t what I wanted.  I wanted Ellen to see perfect behaviour.

The very next day, we repeated the ride.  This time, on the way out, Ellen took control.  She would ask him to go a few steps and then click him for doing it well.  With a lot of clicks, they crossed beautifully without any incident or unwillingness on Dante’s part.  

On the way home, I really expected her to ask me to ride him across, but I wasn’t going to suggest it.  I wanted to see what she would do.  I had mentioned, earlier, that whoever rode him across should stop him at the bottom of the bank to discourage him from trotting up.

Ellen surprised me by saying she would ride across.  We had our friend, Shari with her horse, Bella, go first.  Kevin and I waited for Ellen to go next.  

We then witnessed a beautiful and flawless example of horsemanship.  He went down the bank and paused at the edge of the water.  She gently urged him on and clicked and treated him.  They proceeded across the water slowly and calmly with well-timed clicks--and then walked up the bank on the other side.  The whole time, Dante was focused on her and not worried about the environment around him.  Ellen squelched her nerves so well, that a person who didn’t know what had been going on would have never even suspected that there ever was a problem crossing the river.

Ellen later confessed that the reason she rode across the river was just plain laziness.  It was a hot ride and we had been in the saddle a long time.  Any other solution--crossing the road, leading up the street to an access trail or switching riders would have just been too much trouble.