Friday, January 29, 2016

The Super, Ever-Amazing Cole Train!

The Super, Ever-Amazing Cole Train!

The other day, I decided to warm Cole up in the indoor arena while Ellen got Ranger ready for his walk outside.  We were going to walk down to the river and then do some laps on the loop.  It was a sunny, but still chilly morning.  I figured if I trotted around inside, first, I would be warmer and Cole would be more settled for Ranger’s constitutional.

When I brought Cole into the arena, the owner of the pony, Ranger’s little girlfriend, was being lounged for a couple prospective owners. 

This is the first time I have ever ridden with the pony in the arena.  There is nothing like an audience to bring out the show pony in Cole Train.  He pranced into the arena and immediately parked out when I stopped to close the door.  This is normal, but it attracted the attention of the woman who was watching the pony.  She wanted to know what kind of horse he was.  Cole immediately stretched out further.  Then, he took a bow.  I was feeling bad because he was taking attention from the pony during her sales presentation, so I ended the display by hopping on him and riding into the arena.

Cole went right into his silly walk.  The pony’s owner commented on it.  He stepped higher.  I clicked him and treated him---explaining that he teaches himself tricks, I encourage them and then later regret them.  We started to walk,  and when he did his silly walk, I rewarded him by rubbing his withers.  That is how I acknowledge him without encouraging him to do it, again.  He then walked like a normal horse around the arena.

Attention was focused back on the pony, as it should be.  Now, was the time for me to warm up with a trot.    I usually start with a series of transitions with clicks to test his mood and get his focus, but I knew I didn’t have much time before Ranger was ready, so I went right into serious trotting.  I’ve mentioned Cole’s big show trot in the past, and of course he jumped right into it.  He usually does, but he isn’t always consistent in the beginning about keeping it going.  He typically has to do a bunch of snorts before he can really work—but not this time—he had an audience.  His show trot kept getting bigger and more flashy.  I asked for some circles—and they were perfectly round!  I couldn’t believe it.  We were “on” in a big way.  I would click him periodically and give him a carrot—wishing I had peppermints, instead.  Cole had his most amazing 10 minutes in his life.

I glanced over at his audience, and no one was looking.  All eyes were on the pony.  Ellen was in the barn with Ranger.  No one knew about Cole’s spectacular ride except me.

Wait, there was someone watching—the pony.  Is it possible that Cole’s intended audience all along had four legs, not two?  If so, he gave her quite a performance, and I hope she was as impressed as I was.  For he is the Super, Ever-Amazing Cole Train!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Wasting Time

Wasting Time

Back last fall, when I ran out of daylight in the evenings for trail riding, I was very reluctant to ride in the indoor arena.  Instead, I rode laps on the quarter mile loop in the back of our stable’s property.  Round and round we went—some trotting when we were going away from the barn—and a lot of walking—all in the dark.

A few times, it was rainy, and I had to ride in the arena.  Cole was excited and difficult—and he made me very nervous.  We have a history of bolting when we are in the far end of the arena.  Though we have worked through the problem long ago, each year we have to review it.  The first few weeks of riding can be tough on my nerves, and this year, I just tried to avoid it as much as I could.  I would have one day in the arena, and then as soon as the weather got better, I would be back out on the loop, around and around.

By December, I realized I had to tackle the problem.  The weather was still unseasonably warm.  I would ride 10-15 minutes inside, and then I would dash outside to ride around the loop.

To keep from getting bored—particularly on the walking sections of the loop,  I would practice shoulder-in and leg yielding.  We have always had trouble with leg yielding because Cole morphed it into side-passing.  He preferred to go directly sideways to going sideways and forward at an angle.  The loop was helpful because I would ask him to do it when we were heading in the direction of the barn.  He had motivation to go forward instead of directly sideways.  Of course, he got clicked for it. 

Shoulder-in on the loop worked well, too, because he has a tendency to drift instead of go in a straight line with a nice curve in his body.  Parts of the track have trees on one side and a ditch on the other.  I would position him in such a way that the trees or the ditch would stop him from drifting.  Of course, he got clicked for good shoulder-in’s, too.

By January, the weather got rather cold, and it wasn’t so pleasant on the loop, anymore.  I had to buckle down and really start working in the arena on a regular basis.  Sometimes, I couldn’t even get Cole outside on the weekends because of the weather, too.  I had to get serious about training.

It only took a few rides to get totally acclimated to the arena since we had integrated some short sessions in the previous month.  After a week or so, we were able to calmly travel all about the arena without Cole misbehaving (bolting) or me feeling nervous because I thought he might misbehave.

And then the amazing thing happened.  I asked for a shoulder-in at a trot—and he did it better than he did last winter when we quite arena riding—both directions!  Even his leg yielding was leg yielding instead of side-passing.  It is far from perfect, but it is a great starting point.  This includes walking and trotting.   Out on the loop, I only practiced at a walk.

So, maybe I wasn’t wasting time, after all.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Snow Plow Stormy

My sister's cat, Stormy, is no sissy cat.  He won't let a little snow ruin his day!

Everyone has a Bad Day, Sometimes

Everyone has a Bad Day, Sometimes

This weekend, the weather was mild and I wanted to go on a trail ride.  Ellen thought the river would be too high, and it wasn’t worth the trouble to just go up and down the hill a few times.  I just wanted to get out.  She thought Dante would misbehave because he hadn’t been on trail in a while.  I told her she could have Cole.  Ellen relented, and I got to prove to her that Dante would be just fine, and that her worries were unwarranted.

We led the horses down the street to the trail.  Once we got to the mounting block, we heard a chainsaw a few houses down.  Dante tensed up.  Ellen suggested leading a little ways and mounting further down the trail.  I agreed.  The chainsawing was intermittent, making it hard for Dante to get used to it and relax.  Even when we got to the spot that we planned to mount, I could see that Dante still was very tense.  No big deal—we would just lead to the bottom of the hill.

Before we got that far, a woman came up the hill on an unknown horse.  Dante got more tense.  He is very distrustful of other horses—and actually has trouble tolerating any horses that are too close to him.  At his moment, 3 deer went dashing through the woods.  Deer seldom bother our horses, but Dante was ready to burst, so he went flying backwards.  That sent Cole dancing, too.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, we mounted and started walking back and forth on the flat part of the trail.  I wanted to Dante to settle down.  He wasn’t.  He was tossing his head around and walking very impatiently.  Cole was fine for Ellen, but Dante was still wound up and not unwinding.

As we were going back and forth at the bottom of the hill, I glanced up and saw the woman on the strange horse trotting down the hill in our direction.  It looked like she had very little control.  That was enough for me.  I hopped off and waited for her to get to us.  Dante stood still.

After she turned around to go back up the hill, I decided to lead Dante back and forth on the bottom of the hill to see if he would calm down because the riding didn’t work.  The morning was very, very foggy, and at one point, the sun came out and lit up the fog among the trees.  It looked very beautiful to me, but I think it looked threatening to Dante because he gave yet another big spook.  Sigh.  I was starting to get discouraged, but stuck to my plan.  Back and forth we went—countless times. 

Finally, I saw his head drop down and a quiet look came into his eyes.  I did one more back and forth, and we headed up the hill.  When we got to the spot that we like to turn around, it was time to add another dose of demoralization.  When  we turned, Dante threw a little temper tantrum.  When he does this, he will bounce up and down, pounding his feet and try to go the direction he wants to go.  I quietly circled him a few times until he gave up and followed me down the hill.  After a minute or so, it looked like he gave up and was ready to cooperate.

When we got down to the bottom, I mounted and rode him back and forth a number of times.  He was the old Dante, again.  Not once did he misbehave or even feel tense.

We then rode up the hill and back home.

So much for showing Ellen that Dante would be just fine.  Her hunch was correct—he hadn’t been out on the trail in a few weeks, and he would be over excited.  I think that was only part of the problem.  It put him in a mood that couldn’t tolerate the chainsaw, the strange horse, the deer and the fog that made everything look strange.  He was over stimulated and that caused him to not be his calm, laid back self.  Everybody has a bad day, sometimes.

I was very disappointed in him.  He was acting like a baby horse—not a seasoned 9-year-old trail horse.  Still, I felt good that we were able to work through the mood with no major drama or confrontations.  In the end, Dante accepted that all we wanted to do was walk up and down the hill, quietly.

It was raining the next day, so we couldn’t repeat the lesson.  From my experience with Dante—I am sure he would have been considerably better—if not perfect on day 2.  That’s just how he is.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Finding Ellen

Finding Ellen

Cruiser and I had a game we used to play called “Find Ellen.”  I would take him out on a trail ride and Ellen would go for a hike on the trail.  Of course, she couldn’t keep up with us because we trotted and cantered.  We would ride out and meet her on the way back.  I would chant “Find Ellen, where’s Ellen, find Ellen,” in a high pitched voice.  After a while, Cruiser figured it out.  His head would go up, he would look left and right and then he would start walking faster.  The more I said it, the faster he would walk.  Eventually, he would be gaiting—something he would only do for me when he wanted to trot and I wouldn’t let him.  It was a lot of fun for both of us.  As soon as he found Ellen, he would settle down and walk by her side all the way home.

Kevin taught Starry to look for Cruiser the same way.  If I was out on a ride and Kevin was looking for us, he would say, “Find Cruiser.”  He didn’t get Starry to go any faster, but Starry would start to neigh.

We have been going through a cold spell.  Ellen prefers to ride Dante in the arena when it is really cold.  I prefer to ride Cole in the park.  So, I watch Ellen with Dante in the arena and then take Cole in the park.  Ellen meets us on the other side of the river and walks with us.  The ground has been frozen solid since there hasn’t been any snow to insulate it.  I prefer not to trot on it—and Cole agrees. 

Over New Year’s weekend, as I rode Cole down the hill to the river, I decided to try to teach him “Find Ellen.”  The first day, I did the chant, he crossed the river and found Ellen on the other side.  The second day, I did the same.  On the third day, I was halfway down the hill when I started the chant.  Cole tossed his head in the air, shook his mane and neighed.  He very seldom neighs when I ride him, so this was something new.  To prove it wasn’t a fluke, an couple minutes later, he did it again.  When he got to the bottom of the hill, he tried taking off at a trot to the river crossing.  (I made him walk, of course.)

After only 3 tries, Cole seems to have figured out the game.  He is a genius.  It also goes to show you how much he, just like Cruiser, likes walking with Ellen.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Christmas Ride

A Christmas Ride

Ellen and I met out at the barn on Christmas morning.  It is a tradition with us to ride on Christmas morning—but then again, it is a tradition for us to ride on together on all holidays if we are both not working—actually, that includes weekends, too.  I guess riding on Christmas isn’t such a big deal, after all.

Going on a long trail ride on Christmas morning is special, though.  There are a lot of Christmas mornings that we have extreme cold, rain, ice, snow storms or can’t cross the river.  Even if we can get on the trail and across the river, it is usually very cold, so we go for a short ride.  This year was an exception.  With the temps’ in the 40’s, we were able to go for a lovely, longer ride.

There was only one problem.  The river was a little high.  Now, it was crossable.  I crossed just the day before with Kevin.  (Ellen was working.)  It was pretty high then, but we had no problems.  I knew it would only be lower, and she could do it, but since we haven’t had much rain in months, she was out of practice and was nervous about riding Dante across.

She had an ingenious idea—we would switch horses!  She would ride Cole Train and I would ride Dante.  (Why she felt braver riding a pony across when her own horse is a couple inches taller and much more sturdy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I didn’t question it—it meant we would be able to go on a trail ride.)

We rode down to the river, slowly.  Cole wanted clicks from Ellen, so he started trialing behaviors.  He was doing silly walk and going sideways.  I saw him overdo the sideways and jackknife once.  I just kept plodding with Dante.

When we made it to the river, both horses didn’t really want to cross.  They each wanted the other horse to go first.  Cole finally stepped in, and Dante slowly followed.  It really wasn’t very high—up to the top of Cole’s knees.

Once across, Dante and I had a disagreement.  He wanted to go to the left.  He always prefers to go that direction.  We wanted to go to the right.  It is a nicer ride if you don’t want to go more than an hour and a half.  I circled him and pointed him the direction we wanted to go. 

I decided to go first so that Cole could follow slowly behind and not worry Ellen with any excessive speed.  She certainly had nothing to worry about.  Cole decided to take advantage of the situation.  He began trialing, again.  He would stop and tell her he needed a treat—and she would give him one!  Well, that opened the Pandora ’s Box.  He kept stopping, and I think she kept treating.  I don’t really know exactly what was going on.  We kept trotting and they were long out of sight.  At times, I stopped and let them catch up.  Dante’s favorite trot is much slower than Cole’s favorite trot, so this was a huge switch from normal.  Usually, I am waiting for Dante because Cole goes faster.  Now, I was waiting for Cole—simply unheard of.

We got to a point where we hadn’t seen them in a couple minutes, and Dante realized what was going on—and started to cry!  He has the most horrible voice.  We just stood there and waited.  Cole finally woke up and trotted up to us.

By this time, Kevin caught up on Starry.  The more the merrier on this Christmas morning.

We went down a little hill and around a corner—and got to the spot that we usually canter—we call it the canter stretch.  I certainly didn’t want to put Ellen through that.  Cole, if he is in the mood, will canter very, very fast.  I suppose I should call it a gallop.  It is my fault.  I love it and encourage him.  It doesn’t bother Starry or Dante when we get too far ahead.  They will go a little faster, but they get left in the dust.  We will stop and wait for them to catch up.  Any other time, he canters normal—but not on the canter stretch.  Dante goes a good, fast speed, but it is still a rational canter.  Ellen isn’t used to Cole’s gallop, so it was best just to trot.

Since all three horses would have preferred to canter, we trotted fast, and it was fun.  Ellen and I both love a fast trot.  We stopped at the next river crossing.  Since the river is always higher there, we decided to cross on the ford.  Since Ellen likes to lead across it, we dismounted and switched horses.  After that, it was a normal ride.

Shortly after, Kevin turned back.  He had less time than us because he had a Christmas event with his family.  Our family knows better than to schedule anything that would interfere with our riding.

On the way home, we once again switched horses to recross the river.  Cole is not happy about that river bank because it has gotten very muddy at the bottom and some of the bank has washed away.  He has to step down into the mud.  Dante just slides down the edge of the washed out area into the mud.  It doesn’t bother him at all.  We were across the river waiting on the other side, and Cole was still trying to find a way to avoid getting his feet in the mud.  Ellen patiently worked with him to get him to go down the bank into the water successfully.

Once they got across, we both opted to dismount and lead up the hill.  We were a little chilly.  On the faster parts of the ride, we got pretty sweaty.  As we walked home to cool the horses down, our sweatiness cooled us too much.  Leading up the hill is a perfect solution to warm up.  It is something we do often.  We switched back to our proper horses.

I had fun when I was riding Dante , and Ellen felt the same on Cole.  We now have a way that we can cross when the river is a little too high for Ellen’s comfort, yet it is safe to cross.  She could ride the little horse.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Garden

My big, multi-year project.  This is my garden wall that my sister rebuilt a few summers ago.  I have been working on bringing the garden back to life, but nothing has thrived.  This winter, I am bringing home tubs of rotted horse manure every time I go to the barn and adding them to my various gardens. This one has about 6 inches of manure on it, now.  In the spring, I will be planting all kinds of flowers in it.  Hopefully, the deer will allow some to grow.

This is the view outside my dining room window.  It used to be a thing of great beauty before the wall started to collapse and killed much of the flowers.  I hope to return it to it's former glory.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Update on Ranger and His Girlfriend

Update on Ranger and His Girlfriend

She loves him; simply loves him.  He thinks she is a pipsqueak and ignores her most of the time.  It is wonderful.  I can clean his stall when he is in it, and he isn’t trying to kick the wall or snake his head at her.  She will stand by his wall and reach her little nose up as high as she can to see him, and he doesn’t care.

The other day, we were out leading Ranger on the loop.  One end of the track goes along the fence of the outdoor arena, and the pony was out there.  We trotted Ranger along the fence, and she trotted alongside him.  It was so cute, and I could see he was watching her out of the corner of his eye, yet he was a gentleman the whole time.  He didn’t try to race her—or snarl at her.

She cries when he leaves the barn, and he could care less.  The more she adores him, the more he ignores her.  We couldn’t be happier!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Waiting for Winter

Waiting for Winter

In the winter, I have limited trail riding because of the lack of daylight in the evenings and crummy weather on the weekends.  The transition to arena work is a tough one for Cole and me.  Between his over enthusiasm and his tremendously big arena trot that is tough to ride, I know I can spend a week or so straight getting us both used to a new routine.  This year, it just isn’t working.  The weather has been too nice to ride inside.  We have been having great trail rides on the weekend.  I have even managed to get out of work early a few times and go on trail rides.  On most of the evenings, it is so warm that I ride outside on the loop in the dark—round and round the quarter-mile track.  I do a little trotting and lots of walking.

My first couple of arena rides were back in November, and they were really tough. After that, I have averaged about one a week—no way to build up any momentum.  He has gotten better, slowly.  I managed to do it twice last week for 20 minutes—and then went outside and rode on the loop.

I know eventually, the good weather will end and I will have to start working, but I just can’t motivate myself when I can comfortably bop around outside.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Quietude Dante

Quietude Dante

In the spring of 2013, my sister, Ellen, made the trip to West Virginia to the Quietude Stud.  She was going to meet her dream horse, but she didn’t know it at the time.   Her Morgan mix, Ranger, was getting up in years, and she was looking for another horse to gradually fill his shoes as he aged.  When she laid her eyes on Dante, she felt he would be the one.

We couldn’t have asked for a better horse.  Ellen needs a quiet, trustworthy horse, and that is what Dante turned out to be.  He hardly spooks, and when he does spook,  it isn’t bad and he calms down right away. 

Dante genuinely enjoys trail riding.  We have never met a horse that likes to look around at things as much as Dante.  He is such a sight seer out on the trail.  In the beginning, it made Ellen worry.  She He likes to touch things, too.  Whenever he sees something interesting, he tries to walk over to it to touch it.  He is such a curious and playful horse.  Ellen does nothing to stifle it.  We both delight in his silly ways.

We trail ride together as much as we can—nearly every weekend if the weather permits, and we take all our vacation time off together to trail ride, too.  We do lots of trotting and a bit of cantering on our rides.  Dante is, quite honestly, not the fastest horse in the barn—but he certainly is the smoothest.  If I lead on my Morab, Cole Train, we often have to wait for them to catch up.  Dante doesn’t seem to mind if other horses get too far ahead.  He stays calm and keeps going.  Now and then, he decides to go fast—his trot is still smooth and his canter is lovely.

Ellen and Dante have had some difficulties that they had to work through, but we found that once Dante knows what we want, he is happy to comply.  She has learned to trust him, and he has learned to take care of her.  If she gets nervous, Dante will often just stop to give her a chance to relax.

When Ellen bought Dante, she knew he would be a good horse.  She didn’t know he would be a dream horse; but she knows it now.  He’s a perfect match.  It takes time to build a horse/human relationship, but when everything starts to fall in place, it is a beautiful thing.