Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Struggling with My First Arena Ride of the Season

Struggling with My First Arena Ride of the Season

The days are short, and by the time I get to the barn, I only have a few minutes of daylight. I have been going on mini trail rides and finishing up my ride outside doing laps on the little track we have, but the other night was rainy. I was thwarted. With much reluctance, I entered the indoor arena.

Just a reminder for my readers—I had issues with Cole in the arena in the early days. He would get to the far corner and try to bolt back to the front of the arena. He did this enough in the first few weeks that I became afraid to ride over there. I would just ride circles on the safe half. This lasted a really long time, but I got over it. Nowadays, he seldom tries that trick—but when I haven’t been in the arena for a while, my old fears show up.

I started out working in his better-behaved direction. After a few minutes, we started walking laps. When I felt good with that, I would trot a little and ask him to stop before he got too close to the far end. Each time we did it, I got a little closer. Within 10 minutes, I was trotting full laps. He was doing his big show trot which is hard to post and hard to sit. I started out with posting and once I got used to it, (he seldom does it on the trail,) I began to sit the trot.

Now, it was time to try the other direction. This direction is more complicated because he likes to take off along the wall to get to the far corner. At the next corner, I have had trouble with him wanting to run down to the wall to get to our barn door which is just off the normal oval we ride at the corner. I began with the walking, again.

When it was time to trot, my nerves got the better of me. I decided to trot on the safe half. More than once, when he saw that far corner, he tried to go straight instead of circle to the center of the arena. I struggled to get him to continue with the circle. Great—he justified my fear of him bolting to the corner. I really hoped he had forgotten this behavior. To prevent it, I overcompensated by bending him too much on the circle and he began to lean. Neither one of us liked that—and finally he voiced his protest by having a temper tantrum when he saw that far corner—bucking and trying to get away. I quickly spun him into the wall and made some small circles until I felt he was under control, again. Now, I really didn’t trust him.

I went back to walking laps. I did some short trot spurts and practiced stopping. He started to get better. When I tried to take him down the wall that leads to our barn door, he braced himself to go straight to the door—rather than turn along the track. I ended up spinning him again. I went back to rotting circles on the safe end, again. He kept trying to get either to the far end or our barn door. When I could keep him from overbending, I could feel my old Cole from last year return to me.

A friend showed up, and we started to talk as I rode. We seemed to relax, then, and I started getting good circles without fighting. It was getting close to an hour of riding, so then I just went and walked the hard direction. At least I was no longer afraid when I reached the far end.

I know it will get better—and probably just in a few rides. I had to contend with my nerves, re-familiarizing myself with his big show trot while he was getting used to working in a manner that he hasn’t worked in since back in March. The challenges did make the ride much more entertaining and the time went fast. We never even got to work on our laterals.

Working on Straightness


I haven’t seen Ellen and Dante work in the arena, lately.  The last time I did, I helped her with straightness and corners.  She tells me she is still having some trouble with the corners, but he is doing well on the straightaways.  She is learning to correct him when he goes crooked. 

Often, from the saddle it looks like your horse is traveling straight along the wall or fence, but upon closer examination, you will see his shoulder is the same distance from the wall as his hip.  Since a horse’s shoulder is narrower than his hip, this means he is crooked.  His shoulder should be directly in front of his hip—making it further away from the wall.  If you are unsure, have someone stand in front of you while you ride down the wall, and that person can tell you what is happening.

Once you know your horse is crooked, you need to be able to develop the feel for when he is crooked and when he is straight.  When he is crooked, you need to adjust him right away and do it every time.  It’s a lot of work just to ride a straight line along the wall!  Corners are even more complex.

No wonder I like to trail ride, but I know that schooling in the arena is important to making a well-rounded horse and rider.  If you are aware of the changes in your horse’s body—telling you he is going crooked, you are more likely to notice any changes on the trail, too.  He may be a little anxious about something off to the side or nervous when you are riding next to another horse.  It gives you an early warning that something may happen and the potential to avoid it. 

Sometimes Cole gets upset when other horses are close to him.  When he “tells” me, I move him ahead or behind.  If I’m not paying attention, there are times that he will bolt forward or sideways to get away.  (Cole is a big sissy.)

Learning to straighten your horse easily can be handy, too.  Let’s say there is some mud and your horse doesn’t want to get his feet dirty—but by going around it, your knee is aiming for a tree.  By making a slight adjustment, you may save your knee and maybe still stay out of the mud, but you need the ability to make that adjustment—and your horse needs to know what you are asking.

So, working on straightness in the arena is a worthwhile endeavor—as are many other things that we do.  I know this is the truth, but why is it so hard for me to get used to riding in it now that the evenings are dark and I can’t go on the trail?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pretty October Rides

We had some great riding this weekend. It was rainy on Saturday, but not too rainy to ride--just rainy enough to keep the tourists out of the park. We were nearly alone--except for the usual joggers.

On Saturday, Ellen and I took Dante and Cole out on the short ride (5 miles) and they were great. Since Cole’s weekday rides have been shortened due to the early darkness, he was a bit full of himself. We let Dante lead for a while, but we couldn’t take the slowness any more. When we took the lead, Cole flew along the trail. We did some terrific trotting and had a great gallop. We can get away with it because Dante remains calm. We just wait for them to catch up. Ellen did canter Dante a couple times, too. Ellen did insist on leading the way home because she wasn’t so sure that Dante would tolerate Cole vanishing from sight.

Cole did get frightened by a loose dog. The dog was Daisy, one we know well. She jogs along with her owner, and is one of the best behaved dogs we have ever encountered. She just started running around like a nut--to the embarrassment of her owner. Once I got Cole to stand, he just froze until she settled down. Dante was fine.

Sunday's ride was a little challenging. It was sunny and beautiful. We headed up to the show ring trails. They started off both walking dreadfully slow. By the time the trails improved and we could trot a lot, Cole came to life. We had one leap into a canter accented with a buck at the bottom of the big hill. That completely took me by surprise. He stopped readily. They both handled the hill beautifully. Once on top, Cole led at the trot. He was rather spunky, but he was reasonable. I kept looking back to make sure that Dante wasn’t upset when we got too far ahead. There were muddy patches on the trail that we stopped to walk through, and Dante would catch up with us.

All was going well until we got to the end of the trail by the street. I heard some odd bird noises coming from a tree right by the trail. As we neared to a stop by the tree, Cole flew sideways—away from the tree in alarm. He settled down, Ellen caught up with us, and Dante got startled by the tree, too. We turned them around and asked for a walk and Cole leapt up and said we should just get away from that tree as fast as possible. I calmly circled him back under control. Dante was also nervous. As we walked down the trail, 2 hawks were flapping and calling from tree to tree as if they were following us. I don’t think they were—it was probably coincidence. The only thing we could think of is that they were having a territorial issue.

Once we got away from them, we trotted with Dante in the lead. Ellen got him to go fast enough for Cole to trot comfortably and they were great. We decided to pass up the trail leading home and ride out on the front loop that goes around the show grounds. This was the first time we ever did it with Dante. Most of the summer, it was just too hot to go out into the sun and just walk around. Being right out in the open, we have found our horses can get pretty excited the first few times. We were right—they were both keyed up, but all went well.

I had one more problem spot with Cole. When we went down the big hill, Cole decided to trot. The big hill is very, very steep and it has a large rut that was caused by erosion going down the center of it. It wasn’t a place for rambunctious. I asked him to “whoa” which is something he is very good at, and he ignored me. I resorted to bending him sharply—not something I wanted to do on the hill, and finally he stopped. I made him stand quietly for about 30 seconds and then decided I was better off leading. He did better, but he had one more bad moment when we got close to the bottom. That time, it was a little easier to stop him. He hasn’t pulled anything like this since back in the spring. I think it was just his mood. We rode at a walk the rest of the way home, and other than refusing to stop and stand—which is pretty bad for him—he was fine. Dante did better on the ride, overall.

I my issues with Cole are related to cool weather and shorter, less vigorous evening rides. We do have another long weekend coming up—that should help a lot.

Both days, Ellen rode Ranger on a short ride while I walked with him. He was in a great mood.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Long, Overdue Update

I haven’t blogged for a while because I have had a cold, and it has taken away my creative energy. It hasn’t stopped me from riding, of course.

Ellen and I had a 4-day weekend, last weekend. The park was paving the road by the northern trails, but we still had the southern trail. It isn’t as long, but we were just glad they weren’t paving there, too. The weather was nice and the horses were great. We had lovely rides.

On Saturday, we were able to go north, so we decided to go on a long ride. We hadn’t done it for a while because of everything going on in the park and all the paving. This is the ride we used to go on with Ranger and Cruiser in their youth. For the first time, Ellen was brave enough to cross the big river on Dante. The only time I handled him was to lead across the busy ford. He was perfect for everything, of course.

The whole ride went well, but we were still disappointed. Now that we didn’t have any new goals to accomplish over there, we were just frustrated. These used to be awesome trails that we could trot and canter most of the way. It was a thrill to go ride fast and far. The problem—the trails are still a mess from the big spring flood. There is gravel, everywhere. We would trot for a minute and walk for a minute. This went on most of the way. Towards the end, it got better, but we were anxious to get home. We had to turn before we got to the best part of the trail. It took us 3 hours to do a ride we used to do in 2 hours. We got back right in time for the horses to get their noontime meal—and Ellen wasn’t able to ride Ranger.

It was disheartening to look forward to being able to go on the long, fast and far rides and find out that we can’t do it anymore. We can do really long, slow rides where we feel guilty with every bad step the horses take on all the stones. We can’t have what we used to have until they do some repair work, and they are too busy worrying about repaving the road. I don’t know if anything will ever happen. They did do a little repair work on the other short trail, but not all that much—though we will take anything we can get.

The next disappointment of the weekend happened on Sunday. Our niece, Missy, was home from college and was supposed to ride with us. She called me in the morning as sick as a dog and cancelled. (Turned out she has mono—no wonder why she felt so horrible.) We did the ride that we planned, just the same. It was time to go to the show ring. Missy never went up there before, and she would have loved it. We had a great ride. The weather was perfect for October, the trees were lovely and the trail up there is far from the river, so it’s never harmed by flooding. We trotted and trotted and trotted. It was fun. We met Kevin and Starry on the way home. It was the best ride of the weekend.

My evening rides have been short. I just don’t have much time before it gets dark. I rush home, eat, feed Thunder and Maggie, take Maggie on a short walk and rush to the barn. I can saddle in less than 5 minutes and be on the trail, but I can’t go far. When I get back, I ride the loop in the back of the property in the dark. I was unable to do this with Cole last year due to misbehavior, so I am happy I can do it now. I am just not ready to ride in the indoor arena—maybe next week if the weather is bad. I just can’t do it, yet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Arena Update

Arena Update

Dante has been sound, but the wound on his heel where the abscess burst out became aggravated the week before—probably from crossing the river, so we decided to keep him dry until our 4-day weekend this week. Consequently, Ellen rode him in the arena this weekend.

She has been having problems with him drifting off the wall and cutting the corners. On Saturday, I let her warm up and watched what they were doing. I saw some very lovely trotting, but she was having problems. I haven’t ridden Dante in the arena in many months, so I thought I would take a spin on him. I wanted to determine if the problem she was having was rider error or an evasive horse. Dante is such a cooperative guy, I really thought it was Ellen. So did she.

I cruised around for a while and had no trouble at all. That meant, I had to figure out what I was doing right.

Now, confession time. Ellen and I never had a real lesson. (Have you seen the prices of lessons? We have horses! How can we afford lessons!) We are self-taught with the help of books and a few DVDs. Our favorites are Mary Wanless and Jane Savoie. Mary to help us with the riding and Jane to help us with the training. Overall, I think we’ve done pretty good.

I have had way more arena experience than Ellen because I have had more horses, and I can’t ride on the trail much of the year because of the dark evenings. Ellen is able to ride in the morning. I have been forced to spend the more time in the arena than her. Besides, I’m the big sister.

I realized that the aids I used to keep Dante on the wall and in the corners were a strong thigh when I felt him deviate and an indirect inside rein combined with my thigh as I approached a corner. I explained what I was doing with Ellen, and then it was her turn. She walked him around in the more difficult direction, and not surprisingly, Dante understood what she wanted. I had her trot a lap—and wallah! It was like they had been doing it all along. She wanted to quit, but I told her to do one more lap to get the feeling in place. She repeated her success. She found out she just needed to work a little harder.

On Sunday when she rode him in the arena, she didn’t even need me. They trotted around like a dream. Of course, when you work harder, you get warn out. Once she reached the exhaustion phase, we went outside to walk around. She now has something to work on when I’m not around.

We took Ranger and Cole on lovely rides each day.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ranger showing his Age—or is He?

Ranger showing his Age—or is He?

We think Ranger is around 25 years old. There is no doubt that he has some arthritis and he’s getting a cataract in one of his eyes, but overall, he is doing well. Ellen has had to limit his riding to make sure she doesn’t overdo it and make him sore. He no longer will canter for her—she is sure it is physical since he has always loved to canter in the past. He doesn’t trot near as fast as he used to either, but he still has his great walk.

Last weekend, she bought him a new girth. She rides him English. His old girth was too short and she had to use a girth extender to make it work. Also, it was stretched more on one side than the other which was evident when on she would hook up the billets. It was a very expensive, brand name girth, but it just wasn’t working right, anymore.

She bought a longer girth, so that Ranger no longer needed a girth extender. The new girth is also contoured for comfort. She didn’t get the expensive brand, again, since she didn’t like how it pulled at his long winter coat. (She had to use a girth cover to prevent it from bothering him.)

She tested it out on Saturday. I was on Dante, and as I followed along, I was marveling at how perky Ranger seemed. He had had a few days off, and I just figured that was the reason. Ellen did notice that he moved smoother than he had been when she went down slopes. She attributed it to the new girth.

Dante had a sore hoof on Sunday, so Ranger ended up going on the longer ride—even though he had a brisk ride the day before. We figured he would be grumpy and unenthusiastic—even though it was to his favorite destinations—the show ring. I rode Cole.

Once we started trotting, I was surprised how fast Ranger went. He wasn’t tearing up the trail like he did 10 years ago, but I was able to follow at a comfortable posting trot—and he stayed like that for all the trotting we did. By now, we were starting to become suspicious. It was Day 2 and rather warm for a horse with so much winter coat. Could it be the new girth?

We talked about it and thought we would just see how the whole ride went. When we turned to go home, he pouted—as he usually does. He used to live up there, and he always thinks he is leaving home when we turn to go home.

Once we got far enough away from his old barn, though, he picked up the speed. Now, that wouldn’t be unusual for the Ranger of years gone by, but this is a pretty long ride and for the last year or so, he would walk slowly all the way home. Cole had to keep stopping to wait for Ranger to catch up. We attributed it to his age, but now, we are thinking a little different.

Horses don’t change their behavior for no reason at all. Maybe the reason he walked slow on the way home was that he was aggravated by his girth—not by his age. Maybe he is now walking fast on the way home like he used to because his girth isn’t bothering him anymore?

We met Kevin on Starry on the way home, and Ranger happily led his herd back to the barn.

Ellen just ordered a new girth for Dante…

Friday, September 26, 2014

Update on Dante’s Hoof

Update on Dante’s Hoof

The farrier was out, yesterday to give the guys their pedicures. Ellen explained the abscess, so Ken took a look. He found a hole on the bottom of his hoof, opened it up a bit and it was as dry as could be. It didn’t seem to bother Dante at all, too. They spot where it busted out on the top of the heel is dry and only a little sore. Ken said to go ahead and ride him—and Dante will let her know if it is bothering him.

As it turns out, this weekend is going to be the prettiest weather of the whole year—70s’, sunny and no humidity. We are glad that he gave his blessing to ride. Dante will go on the geriatric ride, tomorrow, with me in the saddle. Ellen will ride Ranger. If all goes well, he will go on the main ride with Cole Train on Sunday.

Hurray for heeling hooves!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thunder Worries



Thunder had a bad weekend.  He started having diarrhea, and that made him so uncomfortable that he would vomit when he finished with the litterbox—at least that was the best I could figure out.  It started Friday evening.  By Saturday morning, he wouldn’t eat.  I went to the barn to ride, and then rushed back home.  He started eating a  little—I didn’t really want him to eat a lot, but I was glad he was interested in food, again.  He needed a lot of consolation.  He likes when I sit on the floor while he sits on one of his pedestals and he will just lean his forehead on my face and purr while I pet him.  If I leave him, he calls out to me to come back.  He just doesn’t want to be alone.  By Sunday evening, he was much his normal self and I didn’t have to take him to the vet Monday morning as I had planned.

 

What a relief.  He is back to his old self.  He gets very upset when he doesn’t feel good.  A hairball is a big deal, and if I am at home, he needs petting and consoling for at least a half hour.  He gets so upset that he shakes—it is awful.  And then he will be just fine.  I feel bad whenever I find out he had a hairball, and I wasn’t there to comfort him.

 

He reminds me of my old horse, Mingo.  When Ming would get a hoof abscess, and he had many, it was the end of the world.  I remember once when my sister saw him laying down in his stall because of a hoof abscess.  He saw her watching him.  He nuzzled his back hoof to show her the problem and flopped onto his side and said he was going to die.  What a contrast to Dante this weekend!  We thought his foot was fine, and he ended up blowing out the abscess during the ride.  He didn’t even limp.

 

I guess animals, as well as people have different tolerances to pain.  I also know that some animals will hide it because they don’t want to appear vulnerable.  I don’t think that was the case with Dante, since it was evident he had an abscess a few days before.  It probably just moved to a spot in the hoof that didn’t cause him pain when he put weight on that foot.

Forever Morgans


Forever Morgans
 
If you haven’t figured it out already, Ellen and I are big fans of the Morgan horse.  My first horse was Morgan, and though I then branched off to a couple of Morabs, I still loved the Morgan side of them.  Ellen’s horse, Ranger, is suspected to be a Morgan mix.  When it came time for her to buy another horse, her first thought was to get a Morgan—resulting in Dante.  Kevin’s first horse, RB, was a Morgan, too.  If he hadn’t fallen in love with Starry, (really, it was love at first sight for him.)  I think he may have found himself a Morgan, too.  He still admires them.
 
Morgans make awesome trail horses, so they are perfect fit for people like us.  They are hardy, sensible, intelligent and enjoy having a job.  They are known for their stamina and some can really trot fast.  I personally think they are beautiful, too.
 
They are also very popular with the Amish, and when they get a little bit too old to go 20-30 miles a day, they tend to end up at the auctions—and we all know the potential fate of any horse that ends up at an auction—ask Ranger.  That’s where he came from.  The meat man bought him, but he was put in the wrong pen and didn’t go in the trucks with the other horses.  A kind woman, seeing his potential, bought him from the meat man and later sold him to Ellen.
 
That is where Forever Morgans steps in.  They are a Morgan horse rescue group that purchases horses from the auctions or directly from caring Amish owners, puts them in foster homes and finds them homes. 
 
The reason I mention this here is to let you know if you are looking for some excellent future trail horses, please check them out.  Many of the horses are registered.  They are upfront on the horse’s abilities and limitations, and they only want them to find the perfect home where they will be loved and cared for, for the rest of their lives.  There are some horses that are only suited for a pasture pet, but many of them are sound and young enough to have years of riding. Their prices are very reasonable, too.  In other words, you can get a great horse for a great price—and feel really good about it. 
 
 
They are also on Facebook
 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade

My sister and I take our vacation days together so we can go riding. We have to pick our days weeks ahead of time because if the way her employer’s system works. It’s not like we can look at the forecast and pick the days with the best weather. Instead, we just guess.

Our vacations are notorious for having bad weather and high rivers. If we get a long weekend where we are able to ride as much as we like without being affected by the weather, it is rare.

Well, we planned a 3-day weekend, and the weather wasn’t the problem this time. The week before, we found out the park would be repaving the road that runs adjacent to the bridle trails. A few days after that, Dante started acting like he had a hoof abscess. Yes, it was vacation time.

It looked like Dante was brewing a rear heel abscess. He was reluctant to place weight on his heel and he was a little lame. We were doing the soaking routine, and nothing seemed to happen. Our farrier was scheduled to come out in less than a week, so if it wasn’t better by then, we would have him drain it.

Saturday, Dante’s hoof seemed better—so much better that he wasn’t showing any lameness at all! Could it have drains from a tiny hole, and we didn’t know about it? We led him around and turned him out to trot around.

They are only working on the street paving during the week, so there was no problem with going on a trail ride. We then took Ranger and Cole out for a ride up to the show ring area. It was a fun ride with a fair amount of trotting.

Sunday, we led Dante around outside on the hard and stony ground. He still didn’t show any signs of lameness.

Ranger can manage one longer ride at a time, but we don’t want to overdo it with him, so Cole and I left 20 minutes before Ellen and Ranger. We had a vigorous ride with a lot of trotting and cantering while Ellen had a slower and shorter ride with Ranger. I met them on the way back right at the spot where Ellen was planning to turn around, and we walked home together. She said Ranger was rather slow, but when she told him to “find Cole,” he started to neigh and went faster. (We used to play this game with Ranger and Cruiser, and they learned the find command back then. Starry knows it, too.)

Monday, our vacation day, was the day we made lemonade out of the lemons. Ranger earned a day off, so Kevin graciously offered us Starry.

Starry is a great horse in so many ways, but he has the misfortune of having a very, very uncomfortable trot. I have never ridden a worse one. You have to post, of course, but it is so bouncy and inconsistent that it is very tough to post. Once we got across the river, we started to trot, and the first words out of Ellen’s mouth were, “This is horrible.”

I just trotted happily along behind them. After a while, I suggested she try cantering, and she did. She found his canter much more comfortable than his trot. When we got to the spot that Cole loves to run, I took the lead and left them in the dust, as usual. Ellen cantered and trotted along at their own pace. I waited for them to catch up. I think she had fun.

We crossed the river and did a lot of walking because the trail conditions are horrible over there. When we got out to the street, we could see they had just sprayed the road with some sort of sealant. We didn’t want to step on it—not knowing what it was—but we were able to ride over to the intersection and go around it on the other road. Though neither horse has ever done that before, they both took it all in stride.

We then have a quarter mile of good trail, so Ellen took the lead with Starry and we began to trot. I don’t think she could manage the trot any longer due to muscle fatigue, so she asked him to canter. Cole just trotted behind. We made it to the end had headed home.

One the way home, we realized how lucky we were to pick our two best horses in traffic. By now, the paving was beginning. There were lots of alrge noisy equipment on the street—things that would have gotten Ranger all wound uup and way more than Dante’s ever been exposed to. Dante might have been fine, but Ellen would have been so worried that it would have ruined her ride. Cole and Starry didn’t seem to notice.

All the loud noise did bother us, so we trotted to get away from the worst and then walked the rest of the way home. We were so happy we had the right horses for the ride.

Back to Dante. Ellen rode him in the arena and he seemed sound, but a little slow. She then took him outside and we walked the loop. We discovered he thinks wild turkeys are cool and wants to follow them.

When we got back, Ellen found that the abscess had busted out of his heel while she was riding him. Now, we just have to wait for him to heal his heal.