Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lovely Uneventful Rides

Lovely Uneventful Rides

Yes, that is all we have.  It doesn’t give me much to write about.  We have started riding up to the show ring trails on the weekend.  Ellen was nervous about it, but the very first ride was terrific.  All the rides after that were just as terrific.  She is now learning to let go.  If Dante wants to travel a little faster because Cole is, she is letting him have a loose rein.  Dante is taking his new freedom in a responsible manner.

Ellen started riding on the trail during the week  with Kevin on a regular basis, too.  Those rides are going super.  One day, there was a park worker with a weed whacker that was close to the trail.  He didn’t see the horses right away.  Starry was unconcerned, and Dante was a little nervous.  Kevin’s biggest concern was whacking weeds whacking the horses.  He was able to attract the worker’s attention, and he shut it off.  That was about the most exciting thing that happened to them on their morning rides.

One morning, there was a garbage truck parked at the end of the trail once, and they were attempting to take a side trail to get by it, then the truck moved.  See what I mean about unexciting?

We haven’t even been caught in the rain!

One evening, a Peyton, a huge Thoroughbred joined Kevin and me with his leaser riding him.  It was a first time for her.  I warned her that we like to do a lot of trotting and some cantering.  She wasn’t sure how far she would ride with us.  Well, I guess she had fun because she stayed the whole time.  We walked all the way home because we know that Peyton has been giving his owner trouble on the way home.  Overall, Peyton was great.  Another uneventful ride.

We will be keeping our rides in the safer part of the park over the holiday weekend—as we always do.  The rides will be early, too.  Things can get a little crazy when people have fireworks.  After that weekend, I am hoping that Ellen will feel confident enough to start going on the “long” rides.  We never got that way last year.  It involves 2 more river crossings and a bad intersection, but once you get through that, we have lots of great trail.  It is where we took Ranger and Cruiser nearly every possible weekend day for years.  Maybe I will get some good, uneventful rides to write about, there, too.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ranger and the Anti-Ranger

Ranger and the Anti-Ranger

I haven’t been writing much about Ranger, but that doesn’t mean he still isn’t a very important part of our lives.  Ellen only rides him occasionally, due to his breathing issues, but we take him on walks every day.  He is a super horse to walk because he is fast –he really gives us a good work out.

Unlike the Anti-Ranger.  That is what we call Dante, because he is so opposite for Ranger.  The Anti-Ranger walks slow.  He also trots and canters slow.  Ranger, in his prime, was a very fast and exciting horse to ride.  That is only the beginning.

Ranger is a very nervous horse—and so many things get him worried.  Dante is quite mellow and accepting.  Where Ranger wants to scoot away from something scary—Dante wants to touch it.  Ranger spooks a lot.  Dante—he only spooks now and then, and they are pretty pathetic spooks at that.

Ranger is a bully.  Dante is afraid of bullies—and he is even afraid of horses that aren’t bullies.

Ranger is cautious with people he doesn’t know.  Dante loves everyone.  We have to catch Ranger and hold him before he realizes the vet is visiting him.  Dante loves the vet.

Ranger makes a big deal about being saddles.  He snarls and snarks and puts on a big show.  Dante likes being saddled.  He doesn’t even mind the bug spray.  Before clicker training entered Ranger’s life, he thought bug spray was battery acid.

Ranger doesn’t like his face being touched.  Dante wants lots of pets.  We can’t touch Ranger’s mouth or give him paste wormer.  The vet needs to tranquilize him to examine his teeth.  Dante—no problem.

Ranger is fussy about food—Dante eats everything.

Ranger loves to vocalize—Dante barely says a word.

Ranger’s trot is very bouncy making posting a necessity.  Dante is smooth as butter.

When we took Ranger on trail rides, he had to be in the lead most of the time.  If he wasn’t, he wanted to race the horse that was ahead.  Often if he was in the lead, he would slow down to let the other horse get closer and then try to get a race going.  Cruiser fell for it all the time.  Dante enjoys being the leader, but he is willing to be the follower, and he doesn’t care to race, though he doesn’t always want to be left far behind.  Ranger was never, ever left behind.

No two terrific horses can be more opposite than these two.  Though Dante may be an easier horse to manage, we absolutely love them both for who they are.   

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Starry Pouts

Starry Pouts

On our evening rides, Kevin and I have been going out to the second river crossing, turning around, coming back, passing home and riding out to the end of an access trail.  We call it the Access Trail—very creative, huh?

Anyway, with a lot of trotting and some cantering, this ride takes about an hour, and we like it.  When we pass up home, I click Cole and give him a treat.  Kevin doesn’t click Starry, but it doesn’t matter.  We are typically in the lead, and I give Cole his treat before Starry catches up with us.  Cole then trots on off, happily, and Starry follows.

Last night, Starry was in the lead.  As they passed up the trail to that goes down the riverbank and home, Kevin asked for a trot.  Starry took a couple steps, grabbed a branch on the side of the trail and swung out his huge buckskin body in his infamous “right angle move” and blocked the trail.  He does this once or twice a week with us.  Cole then slams on the brakes and we wait for Kevin to get Starry pointed the right direction.

Well, this time, Starry was having nothing with that.  He started swishing his tail and backing up.  He backed up into Cole, and Cole went flying the other direction.  (Cole is very sensitive to the actions of other horses, and tends to panic if they get too close to him.)  I got control of Cole, and Kevin then asked Starry to go forward, again.  Starry did more backing up and swishing, and Cole really panicked this time.  He spun away, tossed in a tiny buck and tried to run off.  I stopped him, and asked him to stand.

Starry still wasn’t going down the trail, so I said I would pass and see if he would follow us.  As soon as Cole got one step past Starry, he wanted to high-tail it away from him.  We went about 50 feet at a very fast trot, and then I asked him to stop and wait.  In what seemed to be an hour, but probably was only 30 seconds, Kevin got Starry to trot down the trail.  We continued on our way, rode to the Access Trail and turned to come home.

Kevin thought it would be a good idea to ride past home, again.  This time, we were going to go the other way along a fence that separates the trail from the road.  I suggested putting Cole in the lead to lure Starry into the right decision.  It didn’t work.  Kevin wanted to get to the end of the fence—and Starry wanted to just go home.  Cole wasn’t very happy about it, either, but he showed me by walking very slow and reluctant.  I decided we would just trot to the end of the fence and wait for Starry.

Eventually, Kevin and Starry worked it out, and they trotted to us.  We turned around and headed home.

All of this behavior really surprised Kevin.  Starry has always been the good one when it came to passing up home.  He used to help our friend, Audrey, with her horse when they would practice passing up home, and Starry used to set such a good example.

We think the issue started with Starry thinking that Cole was going home.  He was upset.  He was pouting.  Once he got the idea in his head, having Cole ahead of him didn’t help anymore.  Next time, we are going to put Cole in front, again.  No need to cause Starry pouting if we can avoid it.  (Besides, Cole and I like to trot that trail really, really fast.)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Farrier Night – Cole Makes Me Proud  

(The video is my sister's cat, Stormy, playing with her dog, Stubby.)

Cole and I have been practicing holding his hind feet forward and up for the farrier.  It was the one thing he wasn’t consistent with when my farrier trimmed his feet.  Since I am retiring and expect to ride more, he really needed rear shoes.  I have been keeping them barefoot and wearing his feet down way too far for his naturally low heels.

All the work payed off.  Ellen arrived to the barn before me because she can get out of work earlier.  our farrier had already trimmed all the horses.  He was just waiting for someone to show up to help out with Cole’s first set of back shoes.

Cole was great and our farrier was very happy.  We will continue to review the lesson a few times a week until the next time, and if that goes well, too, we will be all set.  I love clicker training.

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.”