Monday, July 30, 2012

Getting Cole’s Training Back on Track

Getting Cole’s Training Back on Track

Now that I have time to ride, I want to cross off a few things from our training goals.

I decided it was time to ride Cole down the huge hill that is over by the show ring. I’m sure you are shocked to know I haven’t done it yet, but that’s only because you haven’t seen the hill. It is a long, very steep hill. Combine that with the fact that Cole loved trying to trot down all hills, I was in no hurry to attempt it. I would just lead him, and click him for walking down like a gentleman.

It was time to ride down. I had Ellen take Ranger first to encourage him to step slowly and carefully like Range. As he walked down, I periodically clicked him for good behavior. That also helped keep him from building momentum. At one point, I had to thread him between a deep rut and the hill on the edge of the trail. It was the only spot I was really worried about. As I guided him where I wanted him to step, he paid perfect attention and stepped right where I wanted him.

We made it to the bottom perfectly. I was quite pleased.

The following week, we had an opportunity to work on a training project that we hadn’t touched since last fall—trotting up the hill leading to the barn. We are so close to home—literally right across the street—that horses tend to get worked up if you go faster than a walk. I like to work them on the hill at a trot and canter when we can’t cross the river at the bottom. With the drought this summer, we were able to cross most of the time. We finally got a good rain where we couldn’t, and I decided to take advantage of it.

We had already ridden Cruiser and Ranger on it three times. We don’t trot up it with them, anymore, due to their age and Cruiser’s bowed tendon. There are level places that we do trot on. I took Cole on the hill with Ellen on foot.

We rode down the hill, turned around and headed up—leaving Ellen behind. He seemed surprised at first when I asked him to trot. He trotted at a moderate, steady speed, and I was so pleased. I stopped him about two thirds of the way up. We walked out to the street, turned around and headed back. I clicked him for his first few steps back. They never want go down the hill again with home so close, so I figured I would reward him for doing it willingly.

We made our way back to the bottom—trotting on the level parts. I had a feeling that the second trip wouldn’t go as smoothly, and I told Ellen so. I just thought that now that he knew what we were doing, he would get excited.

I was right. As we trotted, he began to build speed. I tried to slow him down, but he decided it would be better to canter. That was at the halfway point. I was able to stop him after about 3 strides and immediately turned him around and headed all the way down to the bottom. I thought that was punishment enough.

To test my theory, I asked him to trot up a third time. He was as good as the first time. I was either right, or he was tired from the work. Once again, we stopped at two thirds and walked to the top, turned around and headed down, again. My rule is that the last trip up must be at a walk. That way, they will learn that trotting and cantering on the hill means we are not going home. It has worked in the past. I used to trot Cruiser and Mingo right to the street. I want Cole to know that, too.

I’m sure we will have more high-river days to practice.

I had one more opportunity to expand his training this weekend. There was a horse show at the show grounds. We like to ride up there each weekend, though we don’t usually ride right by the show ring unless we have a lot of time.

Last fall, we did ride Cole to the edge of a show so he could look around and then left. He had a little temper tantrum just as we left, that time.

The trail loops away from the show ring on one side, so we figured we would go that direction. He was doing really well until we neared a horse trailer parked right by the trail. There were no horses in it, but I didn’t realize that a person was. When she started banging things in it, Cole flew back and tried to spin. I stopped him and made him stand for a few moments. I then asked for a step forward. When he gave it to me, I clicked and treated. I repeated it a couple times until we went by. I was careful to only click brave behavior. If I clicked frightened behavior, it would teach him that that is what I wanted.

We continued down the trail. On the other side of the loop, it goes right through the heart of the activity—the bleachers, viewing stand, loud speaker, pavilion, horses, horse trailers and people all over the place. He was fine. We would go a little, stop and let him look around and then go a little further. He was very interested in the goings on, but never got excited. He was so much easier than Cruiser…

When we made it all the way around the loop, we trotted off to the main trail and headed home. It was a very positive experience—and probably the closest he will ever get to being in a show. We would much rather spend our time riding on the trails than hanging around a show ring all day.

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