Friday evening, I went for a ride by myself on Cole Train. Since I was alone, I did a lot more cantering than when I am with other horses. We did get the hard lead once on a sharp corner—that same corner that we were successful before. He was doing great until we reached a sharp corner the other direction—and he switched. Well, at least I had it for a little while. We trotted a lot towards home, too. The ride was about 5 miles round trip, and the only demerit he received was rushing down one of the river banks.
Saturday, Ellen had to work. When life gives you lemons—make lemonade. I decided to go on a longer ride than she will normally take Ranger. Kevin and Starry tagged along. We went for 2.5 hours with a lot of trotting on the way out. We walked all the way home. This was the first time on that trail since last fall, and Cole got pretty excited about it a few times. The further we trotted, the faster Cole went. (Hence deciding to walk towards home.) It was so much like riding Cruiser in his younger days—I loved it. The only thing that would have made it better would have been Ellen being with us.
Sunday was the big day.
We started out by taking Cole and Ranger on a ride. Cole was a more settled after his long ride, and that was perfect. He was happy to go as fast or slow as Ranger wanted him to. We trotted plenty and all of us enjoyed ourselves. The day only got better
It was time for Ellen to climb into the saddle—on Dante’s back.
We started in the indoor arena with all the gates closed for safety. We didn’t need him running back to his stall or bursting outside. (Never happened to us, but it has happened to other boarders.) She took him over to the mounting block and had me hold his head. I saw a look of either hesitation or maybe disbelief on her face that this was real. Anyway, she slowly mounted and gently landed on Dante’s back.
He seemed surprised, but stood still. I started taking pictures of the big moment. I don’t think Ellen liked me dancing about. I came back to lead Dante forward. He wouldn’t go. She had to encourage him for a very long minute, and then he tentatively took a step. Actually, tentative was the best way to describe the whole ride. It took about 5 minutes before he was walking regularly. We think he may have been a little distracted with all the goings on in the barn. There was someone clipping a horse and a lot of people wandering about. Someone came through with a wheelbarrow, too.
Ellen thought he would be better outside, so Kevin opened the gate. Out we went, and he immediately relaxed. We wandered up and down the driveway and did some more circles. Then it was time for more pictures. Ellen got off and she seemed happy. No, I know she was happy. I saw the smile on her face.
We weren’t done, yet.
We were going to tackle the river.
Ellen took his saddle off, we rolled up our jeans, gathered up Kevin and away we went. It was a perfect day for it because the river is seldom lower than this at this time of the year. Plus, it was warm—and we were going in.
Kevin was wearing his tall rubber boots. He planned to clean up some to the rocks that were in the way. Anyone seeing us go down the street must have known we were going into the water. I’m sure we looked very silly. Dante had already been led down the hill to the river a number of times by now, so that was all very easy.
Dante has crossed water before in West Virginia, but we decided to treat him like it was his first time. He made it to the water’s edge, and Ellen and I stepped in. This wasn’t enough to get him in, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out a magic carrot. He stretched his head forward and dipped his toe in. I gave him a carrot. We repeated this a few times and he had his front hooves in, but the back ones were glued on the shore. In a couple minutes, he took the big step—and slid on the algae-covered slate river bottom. That made him vey uneasy—so he rushed forward—passing Ellen up and nearly running Kevin down. She circled him around to get him under control, faced the far bank and he marched right across to the other side.
Once he was back on solid ground, he was very happy to go on a little walk. Right there, there is a fence that goes along the trail that divides our trail with a paved all-purpose trail which is right next to the street. This was a perfect place to see how he did with distractions. Several bikes passed, there was a lot of car traffic, a few joggers and some hikers. He twitched when a motorcycle roared by. He was doing great—and then he spooked at a log. And then he spooked at another log. This was so much like Ranger, we had to laugh. We didn’t go that far—just a few minutes. He really did great for all the commotion on a new trail with new people handling him.
We led him down the river bank to go home. He stopped at the edge. I told him not to be like Cole who took a half hour to get back home his first time across. He said he just didn’t want to go back in. I pulled out a carrot, but before I knew it—he leapt into the air and landed in the water with a huge splash. He then raced to the other side.
Kevin was puttering about---picking up rocks. He didn’t even see it.
Ellen thought it might be wise to see if he would go back into the water. He did, but once again he went way, way too fast—and slipped. We think he was bothered by the slippery footing. I saw a few trot steps thrown in. Of course, the faster he went, the more he slipped and the more upset he got. This just wasn’t working. We needed him to calm down.
Then I remembered that further down the river the shale rocks go into the water a ways before it becomes slippery slate. We marched down there and asked Dante if he wanted to go in. He said he had enough. Carrots didn’t work. Grass didn’t work. Waiting did. Eventually, he took a step to reach a carrot. When he didn’t slip, he took another step. In the end, Ellen was able to walk him in the water parallel to the shore. I think he might have drifted onto the slate, but since he was going quietly, he didn’t slip.
She decided it was a good time to quit. Dante led up the hill like an old pro. We were soaked, but it didn’t matter because it was a warm day. Kevin was still puttering around with the rocks.
This is why she didn’t want to ride across the first time.
Now, if he was clicker trained, she may have been able to ask for a step, click, treat and repeat. She may have also asked for a step, halt, click and repeat. That would have controlled his speed and possibly prevented him from slipping. She has introduced some clicking, but they are only working on “head down.” She really doesn’t think he will need clicker training—we don’t foresee many problems to solve. She is probably worried I will teach him to chase balls, dance, pick up things and bow…
I was very proud of how Ellen handled everything. Her timing was perfect—as was her intuition. She said it was from watching me all these years. I said, “Yeah, you saw me make the mistakes and then figure out the right way. That way, you skipped the mistakes.” She didn’t deny it.
By the way, you are probably wondering what happened to Kevin. As he was puttering about, a rider showed up with her horse on his first solo trip in the park. There was Kevin in his rubber boots. She asked him to help her get her horse across by walking with her. Since he was perfectly prepared for it, he gladly walked with them across the river and down the trail for a ways. She was very grateful.