Monday, April 21, 2014

Pictures of the boys

Cole, Dante and Ranger.  They are about halfway shedded out and looking much more presentable.  Cole is parked out, of course.  I don't think I could get a picture of him any other way.  I just look at him, and he parks out.  He is such a silly boy. 

Dante--Ace Trail Horse

Isn't he a cutie?  We had a wonderful weekend.  He went on 2 trail rides and was simply a dream horse.  I'm hoping the river will stay low for a while so I can take advantage of Ellen's nervousness and get some more great trail rides on him.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dante’s Next Challenge

Dante’s Next Challenge

It seems that the one lesson on traffic desensitization worked a miracle with Dante. My next goal to prepare him for Ellen was to conquer the hill, and after that will be the river. Of course, he had been on the hill many times last year, but that is never a guarantee that things will go smoothly after a long winter away from the trail.

One weekend morning when Ellen was working, I put Dante’s halter on and headed for the hill. I stopped him at the end of the driveway to watch a few cars go by before venturing onto the street. Of course, he got clicks and treats for behaving. A car did pass us while we were walking on the street, and he was perfect.

We headed down the hill, and in the beginning, he was very good. I clicked and treated him for good behavior. He was even good on the way back. I wasn’t going to stop with one trip, though. I turned him around and asked him to go back down. That is when he threw his little temper tantrum. He raised his head up, stomped the ground with his front legs and tried to pull away. I held steady, and we continued down the trail. He threw several temper tantrums on the way down, walked quietly up and there were more temper tantrums on the third trip down. In no way were any of his misbehaviors dangerous or hard to handle, but I was still disappointed.

On the way home, we stopped at the trailhead before crossing the street. He stood for a few seconds, and then he flew backwards for no apparent reason! I just held still like a post. When he got to the end of the rope, he came back and we walked home. That really made me disappointed.

I’m not one to give up easily. My next opportunity came on an evening later in the week. I didn’t have enough daylight to do more than one trip. Once again, he was perfect on the street. We didn’t get too far down the trail when he started crying. He doesn’t have a pretty voice in the least. Think of a loud, hoarse goose honk.

I just talked to him and kept leading him. After a few cries, he changed his tactics. He would cry, throw his head up in the air and throw a temper tantrum. He kept doing this, so eventually; I pulled down at the halter and yelled at him to stop. He didn’t, so I repeated. No clicks for Dante. Once we got down to the bottom of the hill, he settled down, and I clicked and gave him a bunch of carrots. On the way back home, he didn’t cry, but he jogged—which is not acceptable. I made him stop and stand each time he tried to trot.

At the trail head, I made him stand like the last time, and when he did, he got jackpotted with a handful of carrots. He tried rushing home on the street.

I wasn’t able to call Ellen before she went to bed, so I left her a message about what a terrible time we had. Cole wasn’t very good on his ride—bolting at the bottom of the hill and refusing to stop when he saw a deer. (Like we don’t see deer on every single ride!)

Ellen heard my message and didn’t understand why I sounded so sad. She saw that he was good on the street with the cars. She wasn’t as disheartened as I was, at all, and did her best to cheer me up.

Two days later, I had another chance to try the hill. Once again, I didn’t have enough time for more than one trip. It didn’t matter. Except for crying a little bit, he was perfect—100% perfect. He did it again. He thought about what he learned and applied it to the following lesson. This has been a Dante trend from the beginning.

The next day, Ellen was there. She and my niece rode Dante in the arena, and then we untacked him and led him down the hill. Kevin was up ahead on the hill with Starry, and even though Dante could see him, he behaved. He didn’t mind when Starry passed him going up when we were going down, either. He caught up with us, and we joined him on the way back up the hill. Dante was perfect except he didn’t want to go home—he wanted to stay with Starry, but Kevin was doing multiple trips and we weren’t. Dante cried, but he did walk quietly home. Ellen got to see him on another perfect day!

She had to work the following day and I didn’t, so I was back on the hill with Dante. My plan was to do 3 trips. He was perfect on the way down except for crying. He saw a person walking a dog on the other side of the river, and it fascinated him. I walked him to the river bank and on a hunch, we walked down it. The river was pretty high, and we wouldn’t think of crossing him at that height for the first time of the year.

I led him to the edge of the water—click/treat. I asked him to step in—1 toe—click/treat. I asked for the other toe—click/treat. Then, I asked him for another step—but I didn’t intend on getting my feet wet. He had to do it without me—and he did! Click/jackpot treat!

I let him stand in the water. I knew that if I wanted to get wet, he would have walked right across. We left, went up the hill and came back down, walked down to the river and repeated everything. We walked up the bank, walked a little, turned around and went back to the water. In all, we did 3 trips on the hill and 6 trips into the water. He was heavenly.

Was this really the same horse?

As soon as the river is low enough to cross on a day that Ellen and I are both there—we are crossing—and I don’t expect we will have any problems at all. I hope she lets me ride him. Soon, very soon, I will have nothing to write about.

The many faces of Thunder

My sister came over this weekend to visit Thunder, and she took some pictures of him. He was defending his tower, so he had some unusual expressions!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Desensitizing Dante to Traffic

Desensitizing Dante to Traffic

Dante isn’t good with traffic. If a car passes him on the left, he is fine. If a car passes him on the right, he consistently gets reactive. That is how Ellen broke her ankle last fall. Circumstances dictated leading him on the wrong side of the street, and Dante spooked at a car and knocked her over somehow. Ellen hasn’t led him in traffic, since. Mostly, she hasn’t led him because she was recovering from a broken ankle, and then we had the longest winter, ever.

I decided I would help by spending my free time desensitizing Dante to traffic. The other evening, I got to the barn before Kevin. I filled up my pockets with little pieces of carrots and walked Dante down the driveway. Once we were in front to the barn, Kevin drove up—perfect timing. I stopped Dante and motioned to Kevin to drive towards us. He slowly approached, and I clicked and treated for standing. Kevin shut his car off, and I clicked and clicked. When Dante seemed settled, we started walking around his car—always with the car on the right—the scary side. The clicks and carrots kept coming. On one side, he had to thread through a 10-foot space between Kevin’s car and my car. I could see he felt claustrophobic about it, so I asked him for “head down” and clicked him.

I don’t know how many times we circled Kevin’s car, but at one point, I saw another car pulling into the driveway. Dante did, too, and he spooked—even though the car was very far away. I had him halt and the car passed him. More clicks. As it pulled into a parking spot, we followed it. More clicks. I have always found that if a horse can follow a monster, they will treat it as less of a monster.

I was running low on carrots, so I told Kevin to go park. He did something better. He started his car (spook) and then kept going forward and backwards while Dante watched—on the right side—and finished off the carrots. It was a good session.

The next day, Ellen was there. She rode him in the arena, and then I thought we could do a little bit of driveway work. I took over. I led him down the driveway, and then chaos erupted. I just wanted him to watch them at a distance from the street, and there were plenty of cars out there, but then we had some pull in the driveway and some pull out of the driveway. A car went into the driveway right next door. A couple minutes later, they left. A noisy truck came down the street. Seeing us, the driver pulled into the driveway across the street and came over to ask us if we had a dozen empty stalls at our barn. We directed him down the street—so he started up his very noisy truck and drove away. More cars came by. We decided to bring him home, and another car pulled up to us. The woman driving knew about the desensitization program, so she kept her car still and allowed Dante to approach. She then left.

Through all of this, he only gave one small spook and that is when he heard a farrier open up her truck bed. We were amazed and very pleased. Of course, all the carrots and clicks made it a very positive experience for him. Ellen was simply awestruck.

To be continued…

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dante Improves

Each day, I seem to be a little bit sadder about Cruiser. I thought it was supposed to go the other way! I don’t even feel like riding, but I have been, anyway. One thing that really makes me feel better is working with Dante.

I mentioned how awful he was on Monday. Well, he was the opposite on Wednesday. I was so tickled with the improvement. After a generous turnout where he ran plenty (which didn’t help at all on Monday) I took him for a little walk. We started with the same routine that we did on Monday, and we had no issues whatsoever. I pushed the envelope by adding the loop—still good. He got plenty of praise and a few clicks, too. I then went back to the barn, passed it up and headed down the driveway. We stopped about 20 feet from the street and watched a few cars go by. He didn’t see bothered by them, but he didn’t want to stand still. I simply kept circling him around and stopping him when he was facing the street. It was all so uneventful. I brought him back to the barn, and he reminded me of Mingo—the way he carefully walked with his head about the height of my hip. He was extremely relaxed. I will push the envelope more this weekend.

I want him to be back to his old self by the time the river is low enough to cross. Ellen is very nervous about all this—it is her nature—so I am glad I am able to help her. She needs to see him behave with me. She is a very visual person, and if she can see it, she can process it.

Cole has been very good on his hill trips with Starry. I wish it wouldn’t rain so much! We haven’t crossed the river in over a week.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

It just wasn’t right looking at Cruiser’s empty stall, so we moved Dante into it. It’s a better stall, anyway. Dante and Starry are now best buddies. They play with each other just as much as Cruiser and Starry used to. it was a good move.

We got an unexpected 6 inches of snow on Saturday night. The river was too high to cross, so we took Starry, Ranger and Cole on the hill. It was one of the prettiest snowfalls I have ever seen. Since it wasn’t that cold, it was the really heavy snow that sticks to all the branches. It was truly a winter wonderland, though the calendar said it was spring. Even more unusual—it was a clear blue sky. The sun was causing the snow to melt quickly, and we were getting pelleted by chunks of snow falling off the branches.

The picture shows Cole in the front and Ranger’s ear.

Yesterday, the river was still high because all of the snow had melted. I rode the hill with Kevin on Starry. We had a nice time. I then let Dante out to play while I cleaned up his stall. Once he got all his bucks out, I took him for a walk in the back of the property—and found out he still didn’t have all his bucks out. Turns out, every time we would go in a direction that he didn’t want to go, he would throw a temper tantrum. He basically just wanted to go back to the barn. I just held steady—sometimes circling him. in about 10 minutes, he was walking like a gentleman. We will work on this more later in the week.

Of course, I miss Cruiser, but I have to keep going forward. Cruiser believed in always going forward—as fast as allowed. I will take his advice.

Monday, March 31, 2014

R.I.P. Cruiser

R.I.P. Cruiser

On Saturday, March 29, Cruiser passed away due to colic at the age of 26. He will be missed by many, because he touched many—but mostly, he will be missed by me. No words can describe how I feel about my 24 years with Cruiser, so I won’t even try. My father used to call him SuperHorse, and he was.

He will live on in my heart, forever.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trail Ride!

Trail Ride!

The park cleared up the ice chunks at the river crossing—finally we can trail ride? Kevin checked his calendar. The last time we went on a ride across the river was January 1. No wonder I was longing for trail riding so much—it really has been a long time.

In the evening, I let Cole play a few minutes in the arena to get his bucks out, then we saddled up quickly and headed out. Kevin rode Starry, of course. He had crossed the river the day before on him, so it wasn’t there first day out.

We did have to thread through the remaining ice chunks, but they didn’t’ seem to bother Cole at all. We waited at the river for Starry because Kevin wanted to show us the best place to cross. The water was low enough that we could see the bottom and go around some large rocks. Cole went right in the water. I was happy he didn’t hesitate, so I clicked and treated him. He took a sip and then we crossed to the other side.

Since it was so cold, (25 degrees) the ground was rough and frozen in most places. We planned to stay at a walk. Cole was so excited that he walked very, very fast. Starry doesn’t believe in fast walking, so it wasn’t long before I was far ahead of them. We reached a spot that the sun thawed out the trail, is I couldn’t resist the temptation. We started trotting. That didn’t last long and Cole was cantering. In my heart, I wanted to keep cantering, but that’s against the rules. My horses have to stay in the gait requested for at least the first 10 years, so I made him trot. It wasn’t long before the trail got bad, again, and I asked for a walk. he dropped right into it, so I clicked him. We did a few short stretches of trotting whenever the trail looked good.

Soon, I could hear Kevin in the distance. Starry knew what we were doing and he was getting all wound up. I stopped Cole and waited for them. The trail was pretty much frozen from then on, so we just walked.

At the next river crossing we turned around to walk home. I kept having to wait for Starry, so I was clicking and treating Cole for walking quietly. When I first started riding Cole on the trail, he had the hardest time with just walking towards home, and this I how I taught him to. It never hurts to review the lessons. Anyway, it gave Starry a chance to catch up.

There were a few times when Starry got feisty—wanting to play with Cole. When he did, we just put him in the lead. He hates leading, so it actually is a punishment. It would only last a short time, since Cole was walking so fast, but it would get Starry to settle down. When Cole misbehaves, we put him in the back of the line for the same reason. We got back to the barn at dusk.

As soon as we got back across the river, we dismounted to lead. We were pretty cold, and walking up the hill really helps warm you up. Overall, we were happy with both horses. For the first time together in months in very cold weather, they were very good.

We had a great time riding out on the trail and riding together, again. We are looking forward to many such evening rides in the months to come.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Clicker Training Fun – Cole’s New Tricks

Clicker Training Fun – Cole’s New Tricks

Some of Cole’s best tricks are the ones that I don’t train him for. (Silly walk, parking out, bowing.) He is always trying to learn something that will get him a treat.

When I first started cleaning Dante’s stall, if he was in it, he would keep playing with the wheelbarrow until he ended up dumping it. Ellen solved the problem by giving him a little hay to nibble on while she cleaned. This is what we do with Cole to keep him out of the way, too. Of course they love it. I decided I would try teaching Dante to stay away from the door with clicker training.

First, I taught him to back up away from the door. Of course, I clicked him. The next step was to teach him to stay away from the door. I clicked him for it and in about a week, he did pretty well. I would click every 3-4 shovels full. He didn’t get consistent, but he didn’t dump the wheelbarrow anymore, either. I had to reset him, a lot. Ellen didn’t do it, so if I didn’t clean his stall on a regular basis, he would get rusty and we would have to start all over. There was one side effect. He wanted to back up all the time whenever Ellen was doing something with him. Mounting became a problem. (Which Ellen fixed admirably with clicker training so he now lines up with the mounting block perfectly.) Cleaning Dante’s hind feet in his stall was sometimes a problem because he would back up to the wall. Ellen wasn’t too thrilled with me.

I was playing around with Dante for a few months before it occurred to me to try it with Cole Train. Wouldn’t you know it; he was perfect from the very first day. I just backed him away from the door and told him to stand. We do it this way most of the time, now. He just stands and watches me. Sometimes, he will park out, and now and then he will throw in a bow. Just like with Dante, I click and treat every 3-4 shovels full. Typical Cole—he seems to just love it. Actually, I’m not sure if it is the treats or the attention. Cole loves attention almost as much as he loves food.

I have spent a lot of time outside the stall reinforcing the “Stand” command, so it should be no surprise that he could do it in his stall. I guess the real surprise is why it took me so long to give it a try.

His second trick caught me by surprise, too. I have often clicked him for picking up his feet. When I first got him, he wasn’t good about it and gave my farrier a very tough time. I decided to use clicker to improve his hoof handling, and the next time the farrier came out—he was perfect. Since then, if I have some carrots at the end of the ride, I often click and treat him on the last hoof. He doesn’t need the clicker to do it—he is wonderful with his feet—I just do it to be nice.

All my life, I have always said, “Up” before lifting any hooves. I guess I do it to tell them I will be lifting a hoof up, presently. A few weeks ago, I said it and was slow in touching Cole’s leg—and he lifted it up before I could. I was surprised. I then tried it with the other three legs, and on each one, he lifted up his leg with a verbal request only. I clicked him and gave him carrots on the last one. Ever since, if I just say the word, he lifts his foot. He learned to anticipate my request. You can be sure I will save him carrots for hoof cleaning for now on.

What trick will Cole teach himself, next?