Monday, June 17, 2013

Dante and the River

Dante and the River

Life got in the way, and we weren’t able to tackle the river again for weeks. There was high water one weekend, extreme cold on another and then there was the awful weekend that Ellen had to work. We really wanted to get past the river, and we were both frustrated.

This weekend, the river was a little high and muddy. We would have preferred a lower river that we could see the bottom, but we were tired of waiting. It was definitely crossable, but just not ideal.

On Saturday, Ellen and I took Cole and Dante down to the water’s edge. Cole walked in and stood there. Dante refused. When he got to the edge, he took a quick turn to the left, Ellen circled him and brought him right back. This happened over and over. Cole was drinking and blowing bubbles in the water.

Nothing that Dante did was aggressive or dangerous, but he just wasn’t going to take a step in. Maybe he remembered when we led him across and he slipped a number of times on the algae-covered slate and panicked. After a few minutes, I noticed the look on Ellen’s face. I have seen it before. She looked like she was going to throw up. Her voice got very little. She had lost her nerve. Dante wasn’t going to cross when Ellen didn’t want to cross.

She explained to me later what happened. She got that image in her head that Dante would rush and slip on the slate, and she couldn’t function. If Dante would have gone in, she would have let him, but she couldn’t encourage him to do it.

She told me to go on my ride. Well, Cole was having such a fun time in the water that it was a huge effort to get him out. Finally, we made it to the other side and trotted away. Dante was very upset, but not enough to want to follow.

Ellen was going to stay at the bottom and wait, but the bugs started to get bad. She brought him back to the barn, and he was happy about that—he was going home—but she instead took him to the indoor arena and rode him for 25 minutes. He was extremely grumpy, and they had an awful ride.

She told me she wasn’t upset with Dante, but she was very upset with herself. She recognized that she was the problem.

Sunday morning, I met her at the barn and asked her what the plan was. She didn’t think he would cross, and she was visibly upset. I told her that she could ride him in the arena for the next 20 years, or we could work on the river crossing.

I told her I would ride him if she wanted. She got all happy and said that would be fine with her. She would be the ground person with a pocket full of carrots.

She saddled up Dante, rolled up her jeans and away we went.

I had no trouble getting Dante to the river’s edge, but as soon as he got there, he spun away. I kept him spinning—in a much tighter and less comfortable circle than Ellen. I don’t know how many times we went around and around. Finally, he stopped at the water and stood. We clicked and treated. When I asked for forward, sometimes he just refused and sometimes he did the spinning, but when he finally put a hoof in the water, he got clicked and treated. Soon, the spinning was gone, and he was taking one step at a time—an inch each step and he got clicked and treated each time. He put his nose into the water, sniffed the big rock next to him and looked at Ellen.

Ellen started pawing and splashing in the water to show him it was fun. He looked at her quizzically—and took a bigger step in.

When he got his back hooves in, I felt a difference in his demeanor. Up until that point, I wasn’t sure if we would make it all the way across, but now I knew. We continued clicking and treating for every step. By now, his steps were bigger. When he was halfway across, he decided he was going to the other side—and didn’t even stop when I clicked him to get a treat. We made it.

Everyone was so happy—including Dante. It took only about 10 minutes—half what I expected. We went on a little trail ride. Dante was curious and very excited and enthusiastic. When it was time to turn around to go home, he tried to turn back to keep going on. He is going to make a great trail horse.

When it was time to re-cross the river, I was a little concerned. When we did this on foot, he leapt into the water, slipped and panicked. This time, I was on his back. We rode down the steep bank and I gently nudged him in.

He then crossed like a champ. He carefully placed each step. I think he learned from the leading lesson that rushing can cause him to slip.

Wow, were we all happy. I rode him up the hill, got off and brought him to his stall. No arena work this time!

Ellen said that there are some times that you just need to get a neutral person to help you. I had done this with horses, before, and I knew what to expect. If he rushed and slipped, I planned to just sit there until we got to the other side. It was a concern, but it didn’t frighten me. Since Ellen got to watch how well he crossed, she won’t be afraid of him being careless in the future. Dante is a very careful horse.

Fear can incapacitate a person, and it happens all the time in the horse world. Remember when I was afraid to ride Cole in the arena? After he bolted a dozen times of so in the far corner, I could barely breathe when we rode there. Logic had nothing to do with it. I handled him with each bolt, got him in control and didn’t fall off. Still, I stayed on one side of the arena a whole winter.

When fear gets the best of you, recognize it and ask for help. I used to have people walk next to me when I rode Cole on the far end of the arena. When Ellen is afraid—she puts me in the saddle.

I had a great ride on Dante, and I was so happy to ride him on his first real trail ride in Ohio.


Camryn said...

Yippee, I can feel the excitement. Having conquered that I have a feeling Dante will be ready to conquer the word :)

achieve1dream said...

Fear can definitely incapacitate!! My sister and I were riding our horses when we were kids and we decided to switch horses. We rarely ever rode each others horses. She galloped my horse across the pasture and I'm not sure why it scared her because I'm fairly certain her horse was the faster one. The crazy thing is she stayed on until my horse stopped, then she slowly slipped from the saddle, completely frozen in fear, reached out to catch herself and broke her arm. I felt awful, like it was my fault. I did gain something from that day though. Almost twenty years later I was riding a friend's horse for the first time and we went for a gallop. He bolted! I started to panic and was hauling on the reins but he refused to stop. So I took a deep breath, relaxed in the saddle, gave him the reins and went with it. I knew I could gallop a horse because I'd done it my whole life, so I just waited to see what would happen. When we got to the end of the field he stopped and all was well. So I'm glad I learned that lesson young and was able to get a grip on my fear in the moment. :) Thanks for letting me share my memories.