Monday, August 19, 2013

Dante and the Second River

Dante and the Second River

I know everyone is sitting at the edge of their seats, wondering how my weekend went with Dante.

I rode him on Friday with Kevin and Starry. We went to the second river crossing, which I creatively named years ago as “The Second River.” It’s the same river, but the next place to cross on the trail.

A few weeks ago, Ellen did cross it on Dante, about halfway through, he nearly fell, but regained his balance in time.. On the way home, he refused to even go down the bank to the river, so she crossed him on the ford.

I thought it was time to try it again. I planned to do it the same way as I did on Monday with the first river crossing. The ride up to that point was just perfect. Starry went down the bank, first. Dante stopped 2 feet from the edge and wasn’t going anywhere—unless he was trying to spin to go home. In 15 minutes, I think I gained about 6 inches. It was time to get my feet wet. Sigh… I had my riding boots on…

I grabbed some long grass from the bank, and using that as a lure, I got him to inch down the bank. I would reach back and get more grass, and he would manage to step back. Eventually, I got so much grass in my hand that I was able to inch him down into the water. The first half of the crossing is sand, so at least I didn’t have to worry about him slipping. It was very slow going, but I finally got all 4 feet in the water. I was out of grass and nearly out of carrots, so I decided to quit on a good note and go home. Starry was standing in the river the whole time like a statue. Kevin told me it took 25 minutes.

Saturday, my younger niece came out to ride with Ellen, Kevin and me. This would be the first time that Ellen would be on Dante on the trail since the fall in the river. She asked that I cross the river for her—she would cross on Cole. This was fine for me—it would give her a chance to see how good he was doing before she tried herself. She was understandably very nervous about crossing on him after the fall.

Dante didn’t let me down. He crossed in his new, slow and careful manner. We switched horses and had a great ride to the second river. We came back, passed up home and rode out to the access trail. Dante, and all the other horses, were perfect. We switched at the river, and I rode Dante home. What a great ride.

We did have one incident. Dante was in the lead and Starry was close behind. We passed a group of 3 horses. A minute or two later, we heard a ruckus behind us. It sounded like a horse was running up the hill. I asked Dante to stand, and he did. So did Starry. I was hoping everything was okay with Ellen and my neice. When all was quiet, I looked back, and there was one of the other riders on the ground. Ellen was on foot, but it turns out that she had dimounted right after croosing the river, so she hadn’t fallen. It turns out, that as the were going up the slope, one of the other horses began to misbehave, and the horse ended up falling when he tried to back up the hill. The rider fell, too, of course. I’m glad that Ellen was on foot because any sudden moves by another horse really freaks out Cole. He thinks they are going to attack him, and he will try to get out of the way. With Ellen next to him, he felt safer, and he was all right. Ranger was fine, too, and the fallen rider seemed okay, so we headed home. I was so pleased on the way Dante reacted. That’s not how Cruiser would have been!

I turned Dante on the trail to get him facing up hill, and I made a huge mistake. I have been riding Cole so much, I didn’t realize that Dante needed more space. Cole is a little smaller, but his back is very short—making tight turns quite easy. As we turned on the haunches, Dante’s hooves went right to the edge of the hill which had a sheer drop into a deep ditch. I didn’t think he would make it, and I was scared, but Dante managed. That is the scariest moment I have had with a horse in a long time—and every one else was just as scared as they watched us. I guess Dante wasn’t going to allow slipping into a ditch to happen, and I shouldn’t have been worried. I will be more careful in the future.

That still left us the second river to master.

Sunday, we took Ranger, Cole and Starry for a great ride to the show ring. When we got back, it was time for our training session with Dante. Ellen and I both donned tennis shoes, grabbed our helmets and took Dante down the trail. I rode him across the first river with Ellen by my side—with apples! We were practicing the halt in the water—something he is very reluctant to do. Well, just the smell of apples makes a clicker horse very interested in pleasing, so we accomplished a number of halts in the water. It was great. When we got to the other side, Ellen climbed up and it was my turn to hike.

She did a lot of trotting—clicking him for downward transitions. I walked really fast, and would catch up with her—and then they would trot off, again. When we got to the second river, it was my turn to ride. Ellen had handfuls of grass and a bag of apple pieces—we were ready to go.

He did go down the river bank, and it didn’t take too long for him to step into the water. He followed Ellen, taking one careful step after the next. About halfway across, it suddenly gets deeper and the bottom becomes slippery slate. This is where he nearly fell last time. He carefully negotiated it and then walked away from Ellen, still carefully, to the other side. Success.

We still had to get back, and I expected that to be more difficult. We decided to do it right away. We turned around and faced the bank. The bank is very steep, here, making it much more imposing. He didn’t want to go down it, and while he was pondering it, we heard something crashing behind us. Ellen looked back and saw 2 deer running by. Dante stood still through this, and was fortunately still standing quietly when the dog that was chasing the deer showed up. The deer got away, but the dog slowed and stopped when he saw Dante—maybe his next victim.

This wasn’t a black Lab or a Border Collie. No, this was a monster of a dog that Ellen said was a Cane Corso—a dog that can be aggressive and dangerous, and here he was, alone, without a collar—looking at Dante and deciding what to do next. We were perched at the top of a steep bank. Dante’s head was very high, but he stood motionless as Ellen ran at the dog, yelling at him to go home. Even that didn’t cause Dante react. The dog turned tail and ran away. Whew. Ellen knows way more about dogs than I do, and she said that if a dog is out of his own territory, they will usually run away if you act like that. She said that she wouldn’t let any dog hurt her horse. I’m so glad she was there, and I wasn’t doing this by myself.

We still had the river to cross. Dante inched down the bank to the water’s edge, but that’s as far as he wanted to go. We saw our friend, Pat, on her Morgan, Beau, on the other side. She asked if we needed any help, but we said we didn’t because we had apples.

Ellen walked ahead into the water to lure Dante. I was asking him to walk. When we got a step in, we clicked and treated. Each step was laborious. He didn’t seem frightened—he just didn’t think he should cross. Maybe he remembered there was an easier way to go by crossing on the street. He did the best he could to keep his hind feet on land. Once they got into the water, it became a little easier. He still took one slow step after another, but we didn’t mind—that’s just what we wanted. When he got to the sandy half of the river, he walked more confidently, and when he saw Beau, he just walked right to him. We did it!

Ellen let me stay in the saddle, and she walked home with us. We stayed with Beau, and a couple other horses from our barn joined us. It was a boring ride home—in true Dante fashion. When Beau tried to lounge up the hill, I asked Dante to stand, and he did. When Beau and the other horses got too far ahead, Dante was happy to stay with Ellen. Though the park was busy since it was late morning, Dante was unaffected. And best of all, he crossed the river like a gentleman.

We decided that we will repeat the lesson in a few days when Ellen and I are together, next. I’m sure that will go well, and it is probably unnecessary, but we want him to think the second river is a happy place to be with praise and treats.

Overall, Dante was flawless. What a great ride it was. I am going to miss him when Ellen takes over.

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