Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Again

Excerpt from "Trail Adventures and Advice"
(Written quite a few years ago.  Some things never change...)

Spring Again

We are back to riding our horses regularly on the trail, and our horses have been a handful. They are so excited to get out and stretch their legs on the trail. We are now working on transforming them into what we refer to as “summer horses.” We have to do this transformation every year. You would think that horses that have been ridden hundreds of miles on the trail each year wouldn’t get so excited when they first get out again in the spring. Mingo has been doing his grunt and buck routine, Cruiser has been tossing his head and squealing before he dashes forward (we call this his death squeal) and Ranger has started his prancing/jogging when he is supposed to walk.

Cruiser and Ranger have a tendency to get very competitive together, and that is our biggest problem. We are fine when we are walking, but when we pick up the pace, it gets tricky. They both want to be lead horse. Until they settle down at a trot, we don’t even consider cantering. Unfortunately, both of them can trot at lightning speed. One time, a woman with a big Thoroughbred joined us on a ride. We asked her if we could do some trotting, and she agreed. We were speeding along in our usual manner, and I glanced back to see her cantering. After we stopped, I apologized that we went so fast that she had to canter to keep up. Her response was, “What do you mean canter, I was galloping!”

Our solution to settling down our silly spring horses involves doing a few things. Since Ranger is just a little faster than Cruiser, I find that it helps to trot Cruiser directly behind Ranger and use Ranger’s body as an obstacle to keep Cruiser from passing. As long as Cruiser doesn’t pass, Ranger will keep at a reasonable speed. It isn’t the easiest thing for me to do, but when I get it right, we can trot fairly quietly. Another thing we will try is to only trot or canter short distances. We call it practicing our transitions. The idea is to stop before they get hyper and start to race. The secret is in the timing, and sometimes the horses are a couple steps ahead of us and it turns into a race—just what we want to avoid. We then bring them to a walk and start all over.

Another thing that sometimes helps is a technique we discovered a couple years ago, which we call “putting them into position.” I will take the lead with Cruiser, and my sister will ride Ranger next to me with his head lined up to my leg. This sort of tricks Cruiser into thinking he is in the lead position, which he prefers. Ranger feels in charge because he is in the “driving position” and is pushing Cruiser to go forward. They seem to settle down when we ride them like this as long as I don’t allow Cruiser to go as fast as Ranger is pushing him to go.

When nothing else works, we try our last resort—separating. If they can’t behave together, we make them go by themselves. This is the worst punishment we can think of because these two horses are the best of friends. We had to do this the other day when Ranger was being just awful. My sister turned him around to go home and made him trot for a few miles. Cruiser and I continued on with Mingo at a trot. We reached our destination, and turned around to go home. We intercepted Ranger coming back towards us. My sister said he was so upset that he never stopped screaming to Cruiser. We continued on home together and had few problems after that. They were both a little tired because of all the trotting and were happy to be together again. Maybe they were even afraid that we would separate them again.

The oddest thing is if we ride Mingo and Cruiser together or Mingo and Ranger together, we aren’t having any problems at all. Mingo seems to quiet the other horses down. He is not a very competitive horse, and often will hang back a hundred feet or so behind and be very happy. We call him our anchor. If he is in a faster mood, we let him take the lead and the other horses don’t care that much. It must be a case of herd dynamics that we don’t understand. Like I mentioned earlier, his spring problem is the grunt and buck. The best thing we can do is get him out on the trail and get him tired. We sure don’t mind an excuse to ride on the trail more often!

Eventually, our trusty steeds become consistently quiet, but I often wonder if it is because of all our training, or if it is simply because summer rolls in and the temperatures get warmer!

1 comment:

achieve1dream said...

It's so interesting reading about herd dynamics and how they affect trail riding. It sounds like you had a good system worked out between those horses. Has Cole been out with Cruiser or Ranger yet?