Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Switching Horses

Switching Horses

Dante fell in the river. Ellen was riding him, he slipped and they both took a bath. Ellen’s confidence was shaken. Dante’s biggest, and perhaps his only problem is rushing across the river. It would be no problem if our river had a sandy or rocky bottom, but it has a slate bottom—a very slippery, algae-cover slate bottom. It is as slick as a hockey rink right after the zamboni cleans the ice. I have tried to walk on it, myself, so I know what it is like.

I offered to trade horses for a while. Ellen could ride Cole, and I would ride Dante. This way, he could get some trail rides during the week when I ride in the evenings. Ellen doesn’t feel comfortable going by herself in the mornings. I wouldn’t be by myself. I have Kevin with Starry D. She would still ride Dante in the arena as well as ride Cole on the trail.

My goal—to teach Dante that it is safer and less scary to cross the river at a slow walk. My plan was to stop him multiple times; clicking for the stop to slow his momentum. Once he slows, I would click him for walking slow. This is how I taught Cole to walk down the river banks like a gentleman.

I rode him down to the river with Kevin on Starry. Unfortunately, he remembered his bad experience, and he didn’t want to cross the water. Sigh. Kevin asked Starry to stand in the middle of the river.

I would click him for stepping in the water, but once he got his carrot, he would step back. We had plenty of spinning away from the water—and me spinning him right back to face it. Once I got him to go further in, he was backing back out—with much precision. At one point, to Kevin’s horror, he thread himself backwards between two large rocks.

After a long time—seemed like hours to me—Kevin thought he would bring Starry back and try luring Dante across. Dante had his front hooves in the water. Starry was positioned a couple feet in front of him. I asked for him to step to Starry. He did, reached out to touch Starry and I clicked him. This time, when he got his treat, he didn’t back up. Kevin asked Starry to step forward a few more feet. Dante stepped forward, too, reached out and touched Starry. I clicked and treated. Yes, it turns out I was targeting Starry—but it worked.

Starry advanced, but now Dante was all on the slate. He started to walk faster, passing Starry. It tried to halt, but he was oblivious. He started to slip and panic. Kevin said it was his hind legs, and it was like he was spinning his wheels on ice. I must confess, I was getting worried at this point. I continued to try and stop him—and he paused. I clicked, but he ignored and continued across the river.

I kept trying to stop him, and then I realized—he was taking small, slow and careful steps! He was doing just what I wanted. I clicked and clicked, but he never stopped for a treat. He just kept going, got to the other side and was praised profusely.

What a relief! We did it and did it well. It took us 15 minutes to cross the river.

We then went on our ride. Dante was his perfect, boring self. He spooked a few times. The way he spooks is he quickly lifts his head up. Yeah, that all he does. We trotted a lot. Starry refused to take the lead, so Dante was in charge of setting the pace. At first, he went too slow for Kevin to be comfortable. Starry’s trot is much too rough to sit, and if it is too slow, it is tough to post. So, I encouraged Dante to pick up the speed—and we found the perfect speed for Starry. He stayed at that speed for the rest of the ride.

We turned at the next river crossing—one was enough for me. We walked back; chatting. I was concerned about how he would be going across the river to go home. I figured he’d go right in, but I didn’t want him to go too fast and slip. Also, I wanted to teach him to go slow.

We had Starry go down the bank, first. Kevin stopped him a couple of times so that Dante would, too. We didn’t need him jumping into the water. Starry moved out into the river and stopped. Dante followed, but rather than stopping behind Starry, he kept going—oblivious to my requests. He passed Starry so close that my leg scraped against his side.

Throughout the crossing, I was trying to get Dante to stop, but he had no breaks. Then, I realized that once again, he was taking those small, slow and careful steps! I was so pleased! I clicked him, but he ignored me and kept walking, just like before. I just let him keep up and praised him.

I hope he has a good memory for the next ride. Actually, I think he might. This is a perfect example of how Dante learns—and once he does figure something out, the lesson is done.

The only other event on the ride was when we were leading the horses on the street to the barn. It is only a short distance—maybe a minute. When we got out into the street, we noticed a motorcycle way behind us. We hurried to get to the driveway before it reached us. I really wasn’t sure how he would act. Starry was in the lead, and we were close behind.

Long before that motorcycle reached us, one approached us from the front. We were trapped between two motorcycles. Kevin stopped Starry to wait for it to pass. Dante stood and watched it. He did flinch when it went by, but that’s all.

We still had the one behind us. Vehicles from be behind are always scarier than from the front. Since he was not his usual relaxed self due to the first one, it was very likely he would react to the second one. It was a very loud one, too.

I pulled out our secret weapon—the one that works so well with Ranger and Cole, that Ellen had to teach it to Dante. I pointed to the ground in front of him, and he arched his neck and put his nose down—the best “head down” I ever saw him do—it rivaled Cole’s. He held it there as the motorcycle passed—not reacting in the least. I clicked him and gave him a handful of carrot pieces.

Dante is a treasure, and he is undoubtedly the best horse that Ellen could have gotten. Once we get this river problem solved, the sky is the limit.

I will be riding him again, very soon.

To be continued…

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