Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cole and the River - the Full Report

Cole and the River

Crossing water is a very important skill for a trail horse, particularly where we keep our horses. Our trails start right by the barn. About a quarter mile down the trail, we experience our first river crossing. There is no way around it—if we want to get on the main part of the trails, we have to cross the river. The trails follow the river closely as it meanders through the park, crossing at a number of other spots, too. It is essential that our horses cross water willingly.

I didn’t just want Cole to cross water willingly, I wanted him to cross it happily. I decided the best way to start this project was not to rush at all. I would let him figure out that the river is no big deal.

We ended the last report with Cole, watching the mother deer teaching her baby to cross—and then he put a hoof in the water. That was enough for us, that day.

The following weekend, Ellen and I took Thursday and Friday off, making it a 4-day weekend. We were ready to tackle “Project River.” Thursday, we wandered down to the river. I ended up stepping in the water, and after a while, he put his front feet in the water, too. I clicked and treated any forward behavior that I saw.

Friday was even better. He put all his hooves in the water, and the water was just up past his coronet band. He didn’t seem too stressed, either. I got pretty wet, myself, but since it was a warm day, it didn’t matter to me. We were training Cole before our trail rides. By now, I knew I needed to bring dry socks, so that when I put my riding boots on, I wouldn’t get them wet.

Saturday was much the same as Friday, but he ended up going a little deeper. This time, the water covered his pasterns.

Sunday, we had a feeling he might cross. Within a few minutes, he was as deep as he was the day before. Something came over him, and he started walking across on his own! In fact, he scurried across very quickly. Up until now, he was only on the sandy, rocky part of the river. This time, he had ventured out into the middle which is slippery slate. I believe he got scared of the way the ground felt under his feet, and that is why he went so fast.

We got to the other side, I gave him a bunch of carrots, and we turned around to go home. Now, I had problems. He was afraid to go back into the water. A woman came by on horseback and saw we were having a problem. She tried to lure Cole across with her horse for about 10 minutes before she gave up.

After a half hour or so, a guy from our barn came by on his horse. He also tried luring Cole with no luck. He offered a few well-timed taps with his crop. At first I refused, but after a while, I was getting desperate, so agreed. It worked. Cole charged across. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t traumatized, so I turned him around to face the river, again. His head was up and his eyes were big. I walked him to the spot we originally crossed from, and after a few minutes, he got all 4 hooves in, again. At that point, we went home.

I was very worried that I had made him afraid of the water. I didn’t plan to try to cross again until the following weekend when Ellen would be there. I had a whole week to worry.

Ellen showed up with a bag of sliced apples. She chose Pink Ladies because of their firm texture. She also brought her old shoes and spare socks. This time, we were really prepared.

We took Cole to the river’s edge and did everything as we had done it before. He got all 4 feet in, but didn’t want to go further. Ellen then opened up the bag of apples. The smell had a magical effect on Cole. He started walking on his own—not a single tug on the lead rope was necessary. I clicked, and he got an apple, this time.

Since I felt that he was startled by the footing, I decided to show him he could stop and stand. After the first few steps, I didn’t click him for going forward. I clicked for stopping in the water and standing. It worked like magic. He calmed down and walked across like a champ—stopping every few strides when I asked him. He got a jackpot—a handful of apples. Since it only took a few minutes to get him across this time, we decided to keep going.

His eyes were big and he was breathing a little heavier, but he walked along nicely. We went about 10 minutes, turned around and came back towards home. This time, it only took him about a minute to step into the water. He got a handful of apples on the other side, again.

The next day, we did the same thing. He crossed the water faster, and we went on a longer walk. By now, I’m not walking on the trail, I’m walking on air.

Sunday, we not only crossed the river and walked on the trail, we walked for a half hour and got to the next river crossing. This one has a large section of mud right before stepping into the water. I didn’t know how he would be with the mud, let alone the water. To my surprise, he stepped right into the mud. I walked ahead of him and waited. Ellen caught up with us with her bag of apples. Cole decided that standing in mud wasn’t as much fun as apples, so he joined us in the water. The river is deeper here, but that didn’t seem to bother him. We just practiced our walk/whoa transitions until we got to the other side.

We only went a little way down the trail before turning back and heading home. He was no trouble crossing back over the new river crossing. I think that problem is solved. We have other river crossings to practice on, but I don’t expect any problems with them.

On top of mastering thanks, art of crossing rivers, he had a fair amount of exposure to traffic and people. After all, it was the 4th of July weekend. There are a few parts of the trail that get close to the street. The traffic didn’t bother him—not even the motorcycles. He saw bikes and joggers—no problem. He was very polite when we passed other horses.

Now if I didn’t spend so much time taking him on walks, I would probably be riding him, by now. It won’t be much longer, it’s just that I’d prefer walking in the shade to riding in a hot arena.



Rising Rainbow said...

With that kind of exposure to water he should learn to love it.
We have a creek that runs through our property and our horses loves playing in it........but some of them still shy away from puddles. LOL

achieve1dream said...

Sorry I took so long to comment. Been busy.

It sounds like Cole is doing fantastic!! I've had those kind of setbacks like when he crossed for the first time and got scared, but it didn't seem to cause him any problems. He sounds like a pro already lol. :)