Thursday, January 19, 2017
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?
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 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…
Starry Stalls--Big Time
We have been having some decent weather, lately. The river even thawed out, so we could go on a real trail ride on the other side of the river for the first time in a few weeks. Kevin and I decided to take Starry and Cole out for ride.
It was still very cold, so the river bank, rather than being muddy, was frozen. Cole hates mud, so I thought this might be an improvement, but as we walked down it, I realized it wasn’t as it seemed. The top inch was frozen, and it was soft underneath. Cole got worried when it made a loud, hollow sound. In some places, his hoof went through to the mud beneath. I kept praising him and gave him a click and a treat at the bottom.
Starry followed us with no problem. We had a nice, but very cold ride.
The next day, we were pleased that it was a little warmer. As we approached the river bank, Cole remembered that he didn’t like it and hesitated. Starry simply refused to go first, but that is not unusual for him. I told Cole he had to lead, and he hesitantly stepped toward the frozen mud. It was softer than the day before, so it didn’t sound as bad, but he broke through it even more. I just kept praising and praising him--and clicked him when we got through it.
I have taught Cole that when I praise and praise, he will get a click at the end. That way, he will keep doing what I ask--knowing that a reward will follow. I find it a very handy way to get through situations where it may not be convenient to click.
When Cole took a step into the water, I clicked him again. It was as that point that I realized Starry wasn’t following. He also remembered what it was like walking on the horrible frozen mud, and he was having nothing to do with it. In fact, rather than going forward, he was going backward.
Kevin told me to just go ahead, cross the river and enjoy my ride. Reluctantly, I did. We planned a short ride, so Kevin just rode Starry up and down the hill until we came back.
Kevin has some ideas on how to solve the problem, and I will keep you updated. It is supposed to be warm all week, so if the rain doesn’t make the river too high, we will get another chance, soon. Also, it will turn back into mud.
This shows the risk of riding with me. You never know when you might end up in my blog when your horse does something you don’t want him to do.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Bella out on the Trail, Again
Due to Shari’s work schedule and crummy weather, Bella didn’t get out on the trail for about 3 weeks. She had a day off, and the weather was decent, so we met for a trail ride.
Cole has been getting out on the trail sporadically, so it wasn’t a big deal for him. Bella was so happy to see him! We got down the hill in an ordinary fashion, and then Shari turned her towards the river. Bella said, “No way!” We had a huge pile of ice chunks along the river’s edge. Kevin was able to clear a path through them. Bella was so worried about the chunks that she refused to take a step forwards. In fact, she thought backwards was a great idea.
Cole to the rescue. He showed her the way, and proved it was safe for horses. Bella willingly followed him through the ice. We then crossed the river with ease.
Once on the other side, we did a little trotting, but Bella was fractious. She would spook or jump about. Over the summer, I would stop Cole, immediately, whenever she would act up. When he listened, I would click and treat him. He has now gotten to the point where he will pretty much stop on his own whenever Bella has a problem.
We ended up mostly walking, but that was only Cole walking. Bella just jigged.
There was a woman in the woods with a dog--that scared Bella. I recognized the woman from the week before. She is clicker training her dog to get used to horses. I explained it to Shari, and she suggested that the woman slowly bring her dog closer to us--clicking him while she was clicking Bella. The dog acted well and Bella was no longer afraid of him. She said she wanted to have a horse, someday. We told her that when she does--not to forget that she could use clicker training with horses, too.
We rode on to the next river crossing and turned around there to go home. As has happened in the past, Bella did much better on the way home. This gave Shari the opportunity to start clicking Bella for walking quietly. The more she got clicked, the better she did. I was clicking Cole, too, just because he was being such a good boy.
We crossed the river, and Bella saw the ice chunks. This time, instead of being scared, she walked up to the and sniffed them. Shari clicked her for it. She then turned her to the river bank where she had to walk up the path through the ice chunks. We followed. Bella took one step and then launched into the air and got to the top of the bank in one leap. Well, that is what it looked like to me. Cole saw her two back hooves flying out, and he thought he was going to be kicked. He spun the other way. Shari was surprised by the leap, but she was laughing, as was I. The rest of the trip home was uneventful.
The weather is going to take a turn for the worst, again. The temperatures are plummeting, and the river will quickly freeze. Hopefully, we will get some chances to get Bella out; at least on the hill, now and then. That way, she won’t be too over excited in the spring.
Monday, December 26, 2016
Ice everywhere. That is how it has been the last couple of weeks. We had snow, followed by rain and immediately followed by extreme cold. That left us with a thick layer of ice turned snow--everywhere. We couldn’t even step out of the barn with the horses, let alone go on the trail.
Things started to warm up, and slowly the ice began to melt. On Christmas morning, the driveway was passable. We had checked the hill on foot the day before, and it still needed a little more melting to be safe.
Ellen didn’t plan to take Dante out. When he is barn bound for a while, he needs a good, outdoor turnout to get his brain back where it belongs. The outdoor turnout areas were all ice, so that was out of the question. We didn’t need him running on divoted ice. I was hopeful that I might be able to get Cole out a little bit.
Ellen and I both worked the horses in the arena while Kevin cleaned his stall. He wanted to join me on the hill with Starry. When we were done, I brought Cole out to wait for Kevin. It was about 40 degrees out, which is very comfortable for December.
We got down the driveway with no problem at all. There was enough dry patches that we never stepped a foot on ice. The top of the hill was pretty good, too. Once we got to the slope, it got a little more difficult. Ellen led the way on foot to check for the best parts of the trail. Cole was happy to follow her. She is his favorite trail companion.
When we got to one narrow part of the trail, the trajectory we usually follow was icy. Cole needed to go to the other side of the trail--but we absolutely never go there because it is stony. I told him to move over, and he hesitated. Ellen scooted over to the side and guided Cole to her with hand signals. He knew just what she wanted and stepped right where she pointed, the clear part of the trail was only about a foot wide, but Cole is just a pony, so it was effortless for him.
Behind us, we heard Kevin say he was going to turn around and go back. Starry is the furthest thing from a pony, and Kevin felt it was too risky for the behemoth to squeeze through the narrow opening on the ice.
The rest of the trip down the hill was fairly easy. Ellen and I just guided Cole to the best parts of the trail, and he happily complied. I think he enjoyed being outside, again. The shore of the river was still piled up with huge hunks of ice from the quick thaw a few weeks previously--a sight we typically see only during the spring thaw. There will be no crossing the river unless we get large amounts of rain to flood them all away.
One trip down the hill was enough for us. We turned around and looked up--there was Starry--just where we left him. He didn’t want to go home without Cole, so Kevin let him wait. Going up the hill was easier than going down because Cole could dig his feet into the ground.
Our Christmas ride was a success.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Winter has Arrived
We were regularly riding out on the trail and having a great time. Then, the weather started getting cold. As is inevitable, the river started to freeze. Fine, we can just ride on the hill. Then we had some warm weather mixed with cold weather; causing the driveway to freeze into a sheet of ice. If that wasn’t bad enough, it got reallly cold, followed by a heat spike which brought a lot of rain on top of all the snow--then the temps plummeted. We now have an icy driveway, an icy hill and the banks of the river have piles of huge ice chunks that washed up when the flooding broke up the river. The river is freezing over, again, too.
We are officially stuck at the barn. I can’t even ride out on the loop because of the ice.
It is now time to concentrate on our arena work. Sigh…
My first 2 rides in the arena with Cole didn’t go very well. My third ride felt like I was riding a stick of dynamite. I only trotted a few times because he exploded into the trot. We just walked about and did tricks. By the time we were done, I was able to trot a couple controlled steps at a time. I quit while I was ahead, untacked him and watched him run and jump about. I guess I should have done that first.
The next time I tried again, I did have him run and play, first. It paid off. He felt like a normal horse.We just reviewed where we left off last year. He seemed to remember it all, and I was very happy with that ride.
I did discover why dressage people love to do shoulder in so often. Don’t listen to them about suppling. Remember how I would get nervous on the far end? When he is hyper, if I trot out of that corner down towards our barn door, he would try to take off for our door. I tried doing a shoulder in after that corner and it worked like magic. I felt brave because his head was already bent to the inside--so I could circle him with ease if he tried any shenanigans, and he was focused on the exercise I was asking instead of bad thoughts. Being a clicker-trained horse, once he knew what I wanted, he had all the more reason to perform it well instead of going of on a literal tangent.
Since then, he has been fairly well behaved in the arena. We continue to review old work and try to have as much fun as possible. Of course, we much prefer to be on the trail.
Ellen lets me ride Dante in the arena a few days a week, too. I haven’t ridden him regularly in there since she broke her ankle, years ago. He is so much better, now. There is nothing to be frightened about riding him, inside. The worst that he will do is stall out and not want to go forward. He trots so smooth--it is dreamlike. Dante is super responsive and very agile. His legs never get tangled up like Cole’s can at the trot. He does lack consistent lateral moves, and that is something I can work on with him this winter.
The only thing that can rescue us from the arena right now is a huge thaw or a huge snowstorm to cover up all the ice. I prefer the thaw, of course. Until that happens, we will just make the best of it.
Monday, December 12, 2016
Bella’s First Trail Ride in the Snow
We got just about an inch of snow overnight. Suddenly the bleak December landscape looked just a little bit prettier. We were going to meet Shari with Bella for a trail ride. I took Cole to meet her at the trailhead closest to her barn. We saw her prancing down the driveway and when she reached the street, she slammed on the brakes. She got startled by going from a white driveway to the black top! We knew that this was going to be a challenging ride for her.
She pranced over to Cole--and then refused to step onto the trail unless he went first. Bella was afraid of the snow. Bella, the horse that insists on being leader, now needed Cole to show her the way. Shari told me that this was the very first time she rode Bella on the trail in the snow. Bella thought everything looked different, and it just wasn’t safe.
We caught up with Kevin on Starry. They were about halfway down the hill, poking along. Bellas still followed Cole.
The trail was frozen solid from the day before, and there really wasn’t enough snow to soften it. There would be no trotting, today. Our trails freeze like cement, and though we see some people trotting and cantering on them, we are concerned in protecting our horses’ long-term soundness.
There was no ice on the river, so we crossed with ease. Well, Bella was worried about it, so Cole went first. Bella was looking at everything. On the other side of the river, Cole had to lead, too. It was like some sort of “Twilight Zone” ride.
As we rode along the fence which is right by the road, I told Shari we needed to be on the lookout for snowplows. If we heard one coming when we were in a bad spot like by the fence, we would need to scurry towards safety. Between going fast, making noises, spraying snow high into the air and scattering salt--they were just too much for the best of horses.
As soon as we got into the woods, Kevin warned us that a snowplow was coming. We stopped the horses and waited The plow was far enough away, but it made a loud noise and all of our horses jumped. Yes, snowplows are a risk.
Bella gave one big spook when she approached a large boulder that was covered with snow. Of course, she knew that rock quite well, but it was different now. It could have been a horse-eating monster.
As we rode along, Bella would walk next to or follow Cole. Starry was thrilled, because now he could follow his girlfriend without Cole in the way.
About halfway down the trail, I stopped Cole to see if Bella would take the lead. Not only did she refuse to pass Cole, but she started to go backwards. Was this really the horse who wouldn’t let any other horse take the lead all summer for more than 30 seconds?
After some disagreement, Shari was able to get Bella to take the lead. Starry then insisted he follow her. Cole happily trailed behind. That lasted for about a minute, and then I found myself leading the pack, again. When we approached the next river crossing, where we planned to turn towards home, Bella happily took the lead.
We figured she would do better on the way home, and she did. Most of the time, she was either next to Cole or right ahead of him. Now, the biggest issue was Starry crowding Cole, so he could get to his girlfriend.
Once we started heading up the hill, Bella was more than happy to lead, and she got well ahead of us. She was going home. I’m sure our next ride in the snow will be back to normal with Bella leading the way the whole time.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
The temperatures plummeted into the 30s for both our rides last weekend, but that didn’t stop us. Each morning all of us went out--Ellen on Dante, Shari on Bella, Kevin on Starry and I was on Cole. We hadn’t ridden with Bella in a couple weeks. Shari keeps Bella down the street, and the trail entrance is between our two barns. As we got to the end of the driveway, we could see Bella prancing down the street towards us. The boys were just as thrilled to see her as she was to see us.
On Saturday, when we were getting all mounted and assembled at the trailhead, Bella sniffed Starry’s nose. Ellen and I both saw a softening in Starry eyes. It was as if he fell in love with her at that moment. Over the summer, Starry seldom rode with us when we were with Bella, so this was his first close encounter. After that, he forgot all about his bromance with Dante--it was all about Bella.
That did offer a few complications because Cole and Dante feel Bella belongs to them. They all tried to be the one to follow Bella, but Starry kept working his way up to her. She didn't seem to care; as long as she had her boys with her, she was happy.
She was also a little wound up about being on the trail for the first time in a while in the cool weather. Most of the time, she seemed alright, but she did do a fair amount of prancing. The boys just quietly followed her.
When we trotted, Bella led, as always. Starry trotted along, right behind. I usually take that position. It can be a tricky one. Ideally, you don't’ want to be too close so that when Bella spooks or misbehaves, we can stay out of the way. Kevin started to learn that. She is only disruptive for a few seconds. Sometimes, we need to stop for her to work it out, but there are a lot of times that we just need to slow down a bit and Shari gets her straightened out in no time. Kevin was learning how to do it. Bella was doing lots of spooking this weekend. Shari seems to have nerves of steel--she literally takes it all in stride.
While all of that was going on in the front, we had a different drama going on in the back of the pack. Dante has been getting wound up about horses getting too far ahead, and it has been intimidating Ellen. She isn’t used to it. She asked me to keep Cole slower so he could be closer to Dante. Cole, not a slow horse by nature, preferred to be up front. I told Ellen that he would do it for her, though. Sometimes it seems like Cole would walk through fire for her if she asked him to. I told her to keep talking to him and praising him.
What followed was the most amazing thing. We trotted along. I asked Cole to slow up his speed, and he reluctantly did. Then, Ellen started talking to him and telling him how good he was. Every time he heard her voice, his ears would turn back to listen to her and I would feel him willingly cooperate with my request to stay closer to them then his friends up ahead. I think he just wanted to be by Ellen. When she would stop talking, his ears went forward and he picked up the speed--until he heard her voice, again.
On Sunday, Bella got just a little too excited while trotting, and we decided walking would be the smarter gait. Shari brought Bella back to Dante, and they were able to successfully work with Bella at a walk--following Dante. Clicker helped, of course. Next summer, that is going to be our big project--teaching Bella to quietly follow other horses. We know it won’t be easy, but with clicker, anything is possible; given time and patience.
The rides were cold, of course. I ended up getting off and leading to stay warm. Everyone else was tougher than me, but I was warmer than them. Winter riding offers its challenges, but as long as it isn’t too cold, it is still better than riding in the arena. And since we have a river that freezes and blocks us from most of the trails for weeks or even months at a time, we have to get out there when we can.
Monday, December 5, 2016
I wrote some time ago about Ranger’s hoof. He had a terrible abscess that the vet wasn't able to drain, so she poulticed it and several days later, it drained on its own.
That wasn’t the end of the story. Over the next few weeks, he improved a lot, but he never completely recovered. I have had way more experience with abscesses than the average person because of Mingo’s chronic abscess, so I knew this wasn’t normal.
We continued to take him on his walks every day, but he still wasn’t quite right.
About a week before the farrier was supposed to come out to trim him, he took a turn for the worse. We decided not to call the vet out, again, since she wasn’t much help the last time. Instead, we waited to see what Ken would say when he trimmed his hoof.
Ellen was at work, so I handled it on my own. I explained to Ken the problem. It took him all of 20 seconds to find the cause of Ranger’s discomfort. Ranger had a pus pocket between the inner sole and the outer sole of his hoof. Ken trimmed back his outer sole about a half inch and the fluid drained out. There wasn’t much there. It probably got caught there when Ranger was abscessing and the pus was trying to find a way out of his hoof. It busted out the heel, but this bit in his sole didn’t drain out. This is why we were so disappointed the vet didn’t establish draining out the bottom of the hoof.
Ken said he should be significantly better in a couple of days. Of course, he would have a tender foot because Ken took so much sole off. There was actually a slit about 2 inches long between the soles.
Well, Ranger didn't get much better at all. A hole formed at the tip of his frog that led to the gap between the soles. That whole area seemed tender. He got so bad, that we couldn’t take him on any form of a walk.
Ellen didn't know what to do. Was it another abscess? It seemed serious enough to be one. After 2 weeks, she decided it was time to call our farrier and get some advice.
Better than advice, the farrier came out that very morning to look at Ranger’s hoof. He checked it with hoof testers and ruled out another abscess. He ended up cutting off all of the outer sole in the sore area; thinking that stepping on that remaining section of hoof was causing the pain.
Ranger was instantly 15% better when they put him back in his stall. Of course, he sole is now very, very thin in the sore area. Ellen wrapped it up with vet wrap and a stall boot. Ken said to call in a week and let him know how he was.
I was out to see the boys that night, and I took Ranger for a short walk in the indoor arena. To me, he seemed at least 20% better, but 20% better was still pretty bad. He was walking fast, though, and that was a good sign.
The following morning, Ellen and I took him out of the stall and walked a few laps around the indoor arena. We saw real improvement! He wanted to go outside, so we cautiously bought him out on the hard ground. Yes, he was up to 40%
The next day, we took him outside and walked him about 15 minutes. Ranger was so excited, he even tried trotting. This was more than he had done in at least a week. He only had a slight head bob.
We are going to ease him back into his old program of hand walking every day, again. He needs the boot to protect his sole, and he is wearing it in his stall, too. Eventually, we will only put it on during his walks.
Ellen is thinking of riding, again...