Monday, January 19, 2015

Weekend Update

Weekend Update

I decided to give Cole a break on Friday and ride Dante in the arena instead; since Ellen wasn’t able to ride him on Thursday. Wow, was he a nice horse to ride—smooth—responsive and fun.

She took him back for Saturday’s ride. I rode Cole part of the time with her and Dante in the arena, and then I joined her with Ranger out on the loop. Since Cole hadn’t been ridden outside in a few weeks due to very cold weather, I didn’t know how he would be. I certainly didn’t expect perfect—but that is what he was.

On Sunday, the driveway was a sheet of ice and I rode inside, again. Shoulder in is improving at a rapid rate in both directions—thanks to our in hand work. He really likes doing it—actually he likes doing all lateral work. He thinks going straight is boring. Ellen rode Ranger in the arena with us, and he was quite a handful. It was raining part of the time, and he has always been bothered by rain when he is in the indoor arena. He was spooking, bouncing and doing little bucks. I think he was little keyed up by Cole being in there with him. Poor Ellen. I was glad that I was on Cole!

I haven’t been on the trail since New Year’s weekend, but it seems like it has been months. I really miss it, and I sure hope the weather and driveway let us get on the trail, soon, even if it is just going up and down the hill to the frozen river.

I did manage to get Maggie out on some good, long walks this weekend.

Monday, January 12, 2015

More Ground Work with Cole

More Ground Work with Cole

Cole and I have been working on our ground work every time I see him. He is now doing all the simple exercises very easily. It was time to move on a challenging exercise—shoulder-in.

Shoulder-in is a dressage exercise where a horse is put on a bend and then is asked to go straight while still maintaining a bend. I have been working at it in the arena for the last few winters, and we have been slowly getting something. Typically, he can do about 3 steps, and then he starts falling apart. I am at a huge disadvantage when I try to teach him because I have never ridden a horse doing a proper shoulder in—so I’m not sure what it is supposed to feel like.

I was hoping that teaching him on the ground would help us in the saddle. The instructions said it would take 7-10 lessons to get it. I’m glad that the book explained how tough it is for horses to learn so I wouldn’t get discouraged.

The first lesson was an abject failure. I was able to push his shoulder and get a step, but that isn’t the way you are supposed to do it. I still clicked and treated him for that step. I switched from carrots to candy corn—hoping it would encourage him to take that step.

The next day went a little better when we did it to the right—which is funny because the book said the left would be much easier. I was getting 3-4 decent steps, and he was getting clicks and candy corn. We were doing it the proper way using the reins and my body position as a signal. I guess that meant that sometimes you need to give them a push to get the step—just to show what you want. He still seemed clueless on the left side.

Our following lesson went very well on the right side. We could do nearly as many steps as I wanted most of the time. He got lots of clicks. I started to get some proper steps on the left side.

The next day, I rode first. Towards the end of our ride, I asked for a shoulder-in to the right at a walk, and he nailed it! There was no improvement on the left. After the ride, we did more work on the ground, and both sides improved.

On the next lesson, I rode first. This time, he was doing super at the walk on the right side and improved on the left side. It was time to give the trot a try. We have done shoulder-in at the trot in the past, but he was inconsistent. Well, when we did it to the right, he was perfect. Well, as perfect as I could imagine. I’m not sure if our bend was too strong, but I won’t worry about that for now. He held the bend I asked for beautifully, but he moved with balance and grace. It felt like he knew exactly what I wanted. We did it a number of times—and he got lots of clicks. It felt great. The left shoulder-in wasn’t as good, but it was better than in times past.

I never thought I would reap such rewards in just a few weeks’ time. We work no more than 10 minutes a lesson, too. Cole is still enthusiastic—probably because the treats keep coming.

I just need to come up with a practical use to shoulder in on the trail!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ground Work Lesson Day 4:

Ground Work Lesson Day 4:

I rode Cole in the indoor arena for a half hour. The thermometer said it was only 20 degrees—which isn’t bad for me, but it turned Cole into a frisky colt. He was like riding a stick of TNT—very volatile. We didn’t get much accomplished other than reinforcing “whoa” and convincing him that bolting to the doorway wasn’t a good idea. We did get some very elevated trotting!

I was more than ready to dismount and work on our ground work. First, we reviewed move forward from light tap on the hock and croup on both sides. He is now a champ with that. It was time to focus walking small circles. I think the exercise is for teaching a bend on command and lightness with the reins. You aren’t supposed to force him into the circle but guide lightly. This is a step to get us prepared for shoulder-in.

He was perfect in both directions. We did more practicing with clicking—and then something happened. He started changing things. First, I noticed him watching my feet and trying to match my steps. I had to cross my feet over, and he tried that, too. He started to do his high-stepping silly walk on the circle. That wasn’t enough. He leaned way to the outside and started lifting his inside leg really high in the silliest way. He became so enthusiastic with the exercise that I couldn’t help but click him for his creativity.

And then in a flash, it hit me—we weren’t learning dressage exercises—we were learning dance steps. This is so cool! We are going to have so much fun with this—who knows where Cole will take me?

In the meantime, I will learn the technique to do this with my future colt—who is bound to be a normal horse.

I then tried to introduce a new exercise where the horse circles around you similar to a turn on the haunches, but the front legs move, too, just in a smaller circle than the back legs. He did start to step a little with the back legs, and I clicked him for that, but I don’t think he really understood it. I didn’t get to work on the other side because my hands got too cold. It was time to go in. when we got to the barn door, he didn’t want to go in—he planted his feet and refused. I think he wanted to continue the game. I tapped his hock, and he took a step forward and I got him inside.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ground Work Lessons 1, 2 & 3

Ground Work Lessons 1, 2 & 3

For those who have not been following my adventures with Cole Train from the beginning, let me bring you up to date. When I got Cole, he was an untrained 4-year-old. He was halter broken, had round pen experience and had a saddle on his back. My first couple of months were spent leading on the trail and lounging. We were a complete failure as far as lounging was concerned. He was mostly horrible on a lounge line—and still is. We have a miserable first 5 minutes with bucking, rearing (lots of it) and general hyperness. We then have a good 5 minutes followed by 5 minutes of refusing to go at all.

I gave up on lounging and just started to ride him. I now only try it occasionally when I can’t turn him out to play and I think he might be too spunky to ride right away—usually in very cold weather.

So, I would say that Cole really hasn’t had much ground work. It hasn’t been a problem, but in my search to make winter more interesting, I decided to add a little to his repertoire—just for fun. It is more practical than teaching tricks. Cole loves learning tricks—why not learn practical tricks? With the aid of clicker training, I think this is going to be fun for us both. Besides, it will give me something to write about.

Years ago, I bought a dressage book with an extensive chapter on ground work, and I decided to use that as a basis of our training.

Day One:

After our ride in the arena, I was ready to introduce our first lesson—and I think it will be the hardest—though it is technically the easiest. You see, the first lesson is to step forward on command to a light whip tap on the hock. The problem—Cole loves to park out and bow. He tends to get stuck. If he is parked out, he thinks all commands mean to bow. I had to get him to see things in a different light.

I dismounted, and Cole immediately parked out. I lightly tapped his left leg by his hock—continuing until he took a step forward. It only took about 10 taps. I clicked and treated him. By the third attempt he got it right away!

Now, I had to do it on the right side. That was a whole different story. I would tap and tap and tap. It seemed like forever before I got the first step. I clicked him for that and started all over. He parked out and it seemed to take just as long on the second request, and the third request. Whenever he took the step, I clicked and we started all over—and he was just as reluctant as in the beginning. Finally, I started seeing improvement and since I was nearly out of carrots, we quit.

Here is the sequence of his behavior. I tap, he parks out, I continue to tap, he bows, I continue to tap, he steps forward and I click and treat. It’s not what the book says, but it works in the end.

Day Two:

I rode Cole in the arena for a while with Dante, and then we went outside to wait for Ellen to get Ranger ready. I decided to do his ground work while we waited. Since he is used to playing “Park and Bow” whenever we wait for horses, the first step on the easy side was really, really tough. I remained patient and just kept tapping lightly and he finally got it. Subsequent steps were much easier. I switched to the hard side—and he got it immediately! Cole is a genius. I think once he realized we were playing a different game, he just knew what to do. I was so proud of him. We then took Cole and Ranger down the hill.

When we got back, Cole wanted to practice standing ground tied in the driveway. We do that after most rides. Just as he parked out, I noticed a car coming our direction, and I had to move Cole. I lightly tapped his hock, and he stepped right out of the way. In the past, this situation could be a problem with Cole refusing to move in a timely manner. Ground training is already benefitting us! We then practiced ground tying, and he was happy.

Day Three:

Ellen and I rode Cole and Dante 3 trips on the hill. The rain from the night before turned our frozen river into a raging torrent. When we got back to the barn, I took Cole in the arena to work on our ground work.

He understood stepping from a single light touch on the hock with the whip on both sides. He is skipping most of the parking out and all of the bowing! He realized he will get the treat faster if he just steps forward. I love working with him.

It was time to move on to the next step—moving forward to a touch on the croup. I was doubtful that this would go smoothly, because I have tried to use it in the past when Cole was stuck in a parked position and didn’t want to go forward—and I would end up with a bow. To my delight—he understood immediately! I guess the previous work put the idea of moving forward in his mind, so it was an easy mental leap.

Ellen came in and wanted to see what we were doing. I showed her the hock tap move from both sides and the forward on the croup tap. I then told her I was going to try the next step. By holding both reins on 1 side of his body (one by his mouth and one by his lower neck), I would ask him to go forward in a small circle. This involved a certain amount of awkward coordination on my part with a signal forward with the whip. In less than a minute on each side, he understood.

On his next lesson, I will practice this maneuver until I feel he is ready to move on.

My goal is to spend 5-10 minutes each time I am with him to build on what we are learning. We will both have fun—because Cole loves stuff like this—and I will also learn new skills and coordination to use with my future colt.

My ultimate goal—Piaffe—which is trotting in place. I know this will come physically easy to Cole when he is ready. When I first started riding him in the saddle and asked him to trot—he gave me a Piaffe instead. I had the hardest time moving him forward. I am hoping that as I progress through the program, we will learn to communicate well enough that he will understand what I want. The joy of working with Cole Train is that he tries so hard to get to that click. He is creative and likes to volunteer his ideas.

Stay tuned…

By the way, Ellen is inspired to start doing this with Ranger. He started his intro lesson after his morning stroll, and is just starting to understand it.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Trying to work in the Arena

Trying to work in the Arena

Since Ellen and I took so much vacation time in November and December, combined with conquering the loop in the back of the property, I have never ridden so little in an indoor arena since the years when we didn’t have one. This is a good thing—and a bad thing. It’s good that I have been able to ride so much outside, but it’s bad because I am having such a problem getting my brain in the place it needs to be to ride inside.

I won’t have any more vacation time until spring, and I’m sure that the weather won’t be so cooperative now that it is January. I face weeks—even months—or working in the arena. Soon, we may not even be able to get outside much on the weekends. I have to get focused.

Ellen usually rides Dante in the arena on the days she has to go to work. She rides Ranger outside, so she isn’t so compelled to ride Dante outside, too. I used to be like that when I had 2 horses, too. She is doing so well with Dante. Every time I see her work him in the arena, and can see improvement.

She does have an advantage, though. Dante is a much easier horse to ride inside. He doesn’t have the “big trot” that Cole has, so he is less exhausting. They don’t have the “snort issue,” either. That is when Cole refuses to go if he has to snort. We have arguments about it all the time. Once we get through the snort, he does fine, but if I take a break—and I often need to because I get so tired from “the big trot”, the snorting problem starts up, again.

I think I just need to build up my stamina, but that has been hard to do when I only ride in the arena once a week. Last year, I had plenty of stamina since Ellen broke her ankle—and I still had Cruiser. I was riding 4 horses.

I guess, a long-term solution to this problem is to get another horse to build up my stamina. So, I’m looking. Well, actually I have been looking since Cruiser died. Ideally, my future horse should be around 2-3 years old. That would be easy if I wanted a common breed, but what I would like the most is another Morab. Sadly, I just don’t think that is going to happen. No one seems to be breeding them anymore.

My second choice is a Morgan. To make things more complicated, I really want an old-style Morgan. There aren’t that many of them. I’ve never been a big fan of the ones that look more like Saddlebreds. My first horse, Brandy, was an old-style Morgan, and so is Dante. Actually, Cole’s Morgan side is, too. There are some out there, but there aren’t many. I feel by spring I will be able to find one. Having a new horse to train will spark my ambition, too. I think is may be just what I need.

That doesn’t solve my problem of sparking my ambition, right now. I just have to get right in there to start working, setting goals and improving my riding.

I guess I am at that stage of winter where I simply won’t have any choice…

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Riding over Christmas

We are one third of the way through winter! It hasn’t been bad at all. I can’t remember a December that I got to do so much trail riding. Every year, I want to trail ride for the Christmas holiday, and most years I end up in the indoor arena. This year was a huge exception.

I had to work Christmas Eve, but they let me out early. I went home, took care of the dog and cat and scurried out to the barn. I had just enough daylight to go dashing down the trail with Cole Train. And dash we did. It has been a while wince I have taken him out on a ride by himself, and I think that got him a little wound up—we just flew… It was about 60 degrees, so he got sweaty and we had to walk all the way home. Still, since he went so fast on the way out, we had no trouble getting back by dark.

It rained that night, so the river was too high to cross on Christmas. Ellen and I worked with Dante on the hill. He was a little bit excited, but Ellen managed him well. Cole was perfect.

The river was still a little high the next day. Ellen had to go to work, so I helped her out with Dante in the arena and out on the loop that is on the barn property. She went to work, and I took Cole out for a trail ride with Kevin on Starry. We did a lot of trotting and some cantering. It was fun.

The following day, we took Cole and Dante on an hour and a half ride and a great time was had by all. Once again, we did a lot of trotting and a bit of cantering. On the way home, we found Kevin with Starry and they joined us

Amazingly, we were able to get on the trail on Sunday, too, but since it rained the night before, the river was too high, again. Ellen and I worked them on the hill. For the first time ever, Dante was perfect for all 3 trips on the hill and the trotting back and forth at the bottom. It was a great way to end a long weekend of riding.

The weather has been so mild that the river hasn’t had a bit of ice on it. That will be changing this week as the weather is cooling off to normal. We are just grateful that we had the trail rides we did. It will make the whole winter seem shorter—since the first third was so wonderful.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Big Step

The Big Step

Most of my life, I have played it safe, followed the rules and made mostly right decisions. The wrong ones were small ones. I live just like I ride. I wear a helmet, look both ways before I cross the street, train my horses with safety in mind, have as much fun as I can, but I don’t take unnecessary risks. I’m really a pretty boring person.

I have been living this way for 49 years, and it’s time to break a rule—very carefully, of course.

I will not work until I can collect social security—not even close. I’m going to take a chance. I’m going to retire early. I just want to spend my time doing what I want—and I think I can.

Oh, don’t worry, it is all planned out as carefully and thoughtfully as I have planned out everything. I am going to work about 80 more weeks. At that point, I will have worked at my job for 30 years, and I should be financially ready—if not, I will delay my retirement.

My house is paid for. My wants are few. In fact, the thing I want the most is to just have a little bit more time to ride…

I have to get a second horse…

Dog Discipline

Yesterday, I got home from work, and after feeding Thunder and Maggie (aka Dumb Dog) their supper, I sat on the floor to talk to Thunder. He started to tell me about his day, and then Maggie decided to crawl all over me and sit in my lap. I told her repeatedly to stop because I was trying to talk to Thunder. (Maggie wanted her walk.)

Thunder took matters in his own paws. He walked behind Maggie, said “Nyet” and swatted her in her in her pantaloons. When she didn’t respond, her said “Nyet” and swatted her again. That time, she skittled away and stood respectfully a few feet away from me. I was then able to continue my conversation with Thunder.

A little later, Thunder wanted me to talk to him again. I sat on the floor next to him. Maggie walked up and immediately laid down on her side and played dead. Thunder is a much better dog trainer than I am.

Thunder has a lot of words, and I know most of them. “Nyet” is a brand new one. I am hoping he meant “no” in Russian and that he wasn’t cussing at Maggie.

He has “I’m hungry,” I’m lonely,” “Come here,” “I hate dogs,” “I’m going to vomit,” “This is fun,” “I’m happy” and “I love you.” Now he has “nyet.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter Vacation

In case anyone missed me, I was on vacation. Somehow, Ellen and I ended up with too many vacation days left in December. Now, December in Cleveland can be pretty bad. There have been years that the river is frozen over, the driveway is ice, the temps are frigid and we have piles and piles of snow. Not this year. We were so lucky!

And the trail rides? They were very, very uneventful. I have nothing to write about. Sure, there were a few times that Cole got a little over excited. Dante did spook a time or two. Starry—well he is always getting into trouble, so that is normal.

For the first time—ever—Ellen and I have horses we can safely ride in cold weather. We have even had Dante and Cole out in the snow with little trouble. Cruiser was so bad when the weather cooled off that I couldn’t ride him on the trail in the winter and not be scared to death until he was around 7 years old. Even then, for a few more years, we could only walk towards home. Any faster work meant problems. Actually, I don’t think he could consistently trot towards home if we were fairly close until he was around 20. Ranger was nearly as bad. That meant we would either freeze on the way home or have to get off and lead.

Of course, Mingo was a sweetheart. I loved riding him in the winter. He would speed up, but he was so sensible. A ride with Mingo in the snow was a delight—but I couldn’t do it with Ranger or Cruiser. I had to go out by myself.

Cole and Dante are only slightly faster than they were in the warm weather. It is really hard to believe that Ellen and I can ride in the cooler weather with such ease. We finally have winter horses—and so far we have had a great winter to go along with them. I’m sure that part won’t last… At least we have used up our vacation riding on the trail.

I have reluctantly started to ride Cole in the arena. I put it off by riding out on the loop at night, but it started to get a little boring, and cold and dark. Now that vacations are over, I will be doing it on a more regular basis. We’ll see what we can accomplish this year.

Forever Morgan Horse Rescue has a Christmas Special

If you are considering a Morgan for your future, or if you are looking for a good horse, stop by and check out the older horses at Forever Morgan.

Right now, they have a special on older horses.  Thanks to an anonymous donor, any horse that was born before 1998 will ship to his/her new home free of charge.  The adoption must be approved by December 31.  They have a number of high-quality, lovely, sound horses that have years left to their careers.

For example:

Tazara Cappuccino #0152301 (CN)
1995 Registered Chestnut Mare, approx. 15.1 hands
BDM Dancer's Captain (CN) x Marquesa Caress
Fostered in FL
Rescued August 2014
Adoption Fee: $700 $300 for the Home for the Holidays special!
Transport donated with Home for the Holidays special!
Cappuccino was owned by a broker who was going to sell her directly to slaughter, not even giving her a chance at auction. Thankfully, he was willing to sell her to FM, so she got on a different truck instead! She is sound, sensible, and solid, a good girl who tries to understand what is wanted. Cappuccino is a nice mare who continues to get better with more work. She is fostered at a lesson barn in Florida where she is ridden by the advanced/ intermediate students. She was a driving horse so is not yet sure of herself under saddle but is improving every ride. She is very good at walk and trot but not yet comfortable cantering under saddle. She lunges beautifully, has no issues being saddled and bridled, crossties, bathes, and is good for the farrier; her foster home is still working on being clipped and fly sprayed. Cappuccino is a very pretty mover, not hot at all, and would be a nice hunter or western pleasure horse.