Monday, May 2, 2011

Trotting Cole on Trail

Trotting Cole on Trail

Cole has been obnoxious on the hill, so I thought that maybe if I trotted him once we crossed the river, it would help him settle down. It seemed to help last fall. I didn’t know what to expect when I asked him to trot. After being stuck at the barn all winter, Cruiser and Ranger were very excitable when we trotted. I spent a number of rides, alone on the trail with Cruiser, practicing transitions whenever he got too fast. Ranger adjusted to spring faster than Cruiser—as long as Ellen rode him by herself. The few times we actually got across the river to ride together, our trotting wasn’t very successful. If we trotted them on the level parts of the hill leading up to the very high river, they did very well. Then again, Cruise and Range are like this every spring.

On Cole’s third trail ride of the year, I rode him down the hill and crossed the river to meet Ellen on the other side. He did very well that morning. He wasn’t much different than he was last fall, and that made me very hopeful.

Once we got to a decent section of trail that wasn’t washed out with big stones everywhere, I thought I would give trotting a try. Ellen suggested that she walk up the trail, and that I ask him to trot up to her. This is how we introduced the trot last fall. When he would reach Ellen, I would ask him to stop, and click when he did.

On my first attempt, he didn’t trot; he galloped and came to a sliding stop when we reached Ellen. So much for that idea. I did click him because he stopped when I asked him to.

I decided to try just trotting alone. I asked him to trot and he went very, very fast. I decided to see if he could stop. I said “whoa” and he immediately stopped. I clicked him for it, of course.

I asked for a trot, again, and this time he started cantering after a few steps. I slowed him to a trot and asked him to stop, but this time, he wasn’t so cooperative. He finally did stop, and I clicked him.

I decided to try one more time, and though he stayed at a very fast trot, he didn’t want to stop at all. I had to do the old “swerve to the left—swerve to the right” maneuver. It worked. He was wound up for the rest of the ride and awful on the hill home. Sigh.

Unfortunately, the weather kept us from crossing the river for more than 2 weeks to try it again. We just kept working in the arena.

When the time came for us to try the park, again, I decided to just walk the first day. He flew down the river bank and only stopped when we reached the water’s edge. He walked fast and was very excited. We met Kevin on Starry on the trail and rode with them on the way home. It didn’t make any difference. Cole walked fast, he continuously tried to trot and got so far ahead of Starry that we had to keep stopping to wait for them. When it came time to cross the river to get home, he did a Shamu—he jumped into the water and tried to trot across. I do think that my beloved Mingo was next to us, and he whispered in Cole’s ear to do that. Mingo would do a Shamu at least once each spring.

We did have some trouble going home on the hill, but there was a big improvement over the last real trail ride we went on, so that made me happy.

I was starting to get discouraged that Cole wasn’t near as good as he was last fall when we were riding in the park. It seemed like I was starting all over, again. Then I remembered what I proved to Kevin, just the day before.

We were both out at the barn at the same time, so I suggested that he ride Starry with Cruiser and me. He didn’t want to, because the last time we tried before all the rain, the two of them misbehaved. When we tried to trot, Starry wanted to canter and wouldn’t listen to Kevin. Cruiser wanted to do his racing trot, which he is no longer allowed to do due to his bowed tendon—and then he didn’t want to stop. We finally gave up, and walked the rest of the ride. Cruiser walked very fast, and Starry had trouble keeping up and wanted to take off to get back to Cruiser. I had to stop Cruiser and wait to keep Starry from bolting.

I convinced Kevin to give it a try, explaining that Cruiser is always hyper like this in the spring, and the best way to get them to behave together is to ride together. I said that it is a “process” and they will get better and better the more we do it. If we don’t trot as much as we want to this time, we will probably be able to do more next time. We used to be able to ride them together all the time, and we would be able to do that, again, but we had to work with the horses to get there.

I am glad to say that there was a big improvement over the first time we rode Cruiser and Starry together this year. We did a fair amount of trotting—though Starry did canter the first time and buck the second. (Which gives a new meaning to the word Starbucks.) By the time we got to the next river crossing where we planned to turn around, Starry was being great. Cruiser threw in a little cantering, though, but it didn’t bother Star at all, and I got Cruiser down to a trot rather easily.

We had so much fun and success, that we did that last section of the trail a second time so we could trot some more.

I realized that there was no reason to expect Cole to be any different. Every year, I have to get Cruiser to settle down in the spring. Every year, we have to ride some rough rides when we add trotting and cantering until the horses become business like in their behavior instead of just wanting to play with the other horses. It isn’t easy, and it is often frustrating, but we get through it.

Why wouldn’t Cole be the same way? Maybe he will be like this every spring. In fact, probably he will be like this every spring. I just have to get through it. The only reason this spring has been so difficult with all the horses is because the weather has been so bad and the trail riding so limited.

The following day, I decided to try it again. This was a very rare occurrence this year—the first time I could take Cole on 2 consecutive trail rides. Once again, Ellen was on foot with us.

He was perfect going down the hill, and he walked down the river bank and crossed calmly and willingly—meeting Ellen on the other side. He walked quietly down the trail. I knew it would be a good day to try trotting. I had Ellen go just a few feet ahead of us so we could trot to her and stop to test his mood. He trotted slowly and quietly stopped. We did this a few more times with Ellen going further away each time with complete success.

I decided to try it on my own. He went very fast, and after about 10 seconds, I decided to test the brakes. He stopped instantly. I did it again, and went further this time. He kept building in speed. I forgot how fast Cole could trot. (Don’t forget, he is a distant relative of Dan Patch, one of the greatest pacers of all time.) I asked him to stop after a fair distance, and he did. We walked until he settled down, and I asked for a trot, again. Away we sped down the trail. This time, he was reluctant to stop, so I kept the rest of the ride at a walk.

He was a bit tired, so he walked quietly most of the way home. When he started getting bouncy, Ellen pointed to the ground, and said, “Head down.” He would drop his head and I clicked. After a doing this about 10 times, he settled back down. We crossed the river without the Shamu leap, and he was only bad in one section of the hill on the way home.

So, just as I reminded Kevin, they get hyper in the spring, and getting them to calm down is a “process.” Each day, our horses should get better, if only because trail riding is no longer a novelty to them. If they don’t get better, we have to review what we are doing and make adjustments. I think that Cole, just like the rest of them, just needs time out on the trail. Now if only the weather will cooperate!

1 comment:

achieve1dream said...

Starbucks . . . hehehehe.

This is a great post and a great reminder. I walked Chrome on the road last weekend after him being off for a month due to his puncture wound and he was awful. Thanks for the reminder to take things slow and practice. :)