Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Difficult Time to Write

Difficult Time to Write

It is winter. Trail riding is a distant memory. It has been so cold, the river is frozen and we are stuck in the indoor arena. I have nothing to write about, but I will try.

I usually don’t get bored of working in the arena until late February, but it happened a bit earlier this year since I was riding Ellen’s horses in November and December, too. She is back to riding, and now I only have my horses, but I am still getting restless. I need to get on the trail. I haven’t gone on a trail ride since early January, I think. Then, the weather got cold due to the polar vortex, the river froze, we had a thaw, the river crossing was blocked by huge piles of ice chunks—and then it got cold and the river froze.

I have taken Cole on the hill a few times, but since he isn’t getting out enough, he is very, very hyper. I have been taking Cruiser out on the small loop on the barn’s property—sometimes with Ellen and Ranger. Six laps make a half hour. At least it gets Cruiser outside and out of the dust which aggravates his COPD. Of course, we only do it when the weather isn’t wicked and the driveway isn’t icy. Cole is a handful, there, too. I have tried it, but not with a lot of success.

That still leaves the dark evenings after work where I can only ride in the arena. On the real cold days, I just lead Cruiser since our rides aren’t really vigorous enough to keep me warm. When I ride, I generally ride at least a half hour with 5-10 minutes of trotting.

Cole, of course, is more complicated. If it is extremely cold, I don’t ride him at all because he is just too hyper. I can’t even safely lounge him because the first 10 minutes are filled with bucking and rearing. Yes, rearing. He has never lounged well. After those first 10 minutes, I can barely get him to move.

So, on those really cold days, I turn him out to play, and play he does. He is filled with bucking, rolling and dashing about. The smallest noise will send him off cavorting. When he settles down, sometimes we will play ball—where I throw the ball and he chases it, touches it with his nose and gets clicked. Other times, we will do dancing—where we both do a very animated silly walk in unison. I think we probably look pretty foolish, but he seems to like it.

Most days, we are able to ride. In January, my main project has been to get him to consistently trot his new trot. The huge trot is gone—and good riddance to it. I much prefer the new trot. I saw Ellen ride him, and the new trot is still very, very pretty with plenty of impulsion, but not as extreme as the old one. I can manage to ride multiple laps without getting exhausted. I just need him to understand that he is supposed to go multiple laps, too. With his huge trot, I had to quite after only 1-2 laps, and I think he got into that habit. He either tries to stop, or he reverts back to the nose up in the air, hollowed back trot. I call it “The Stupid Trot.”

I am encouraging the new trot by using clicker training, of course. I click him for longer and longer durations. If he slips up, I just ask him to go right back into a proper trot. He is improving, but now and then, he will have a bad day and I will get all discouraged.

That’s not all we do, of course. It is just the thing I want to reinforce the most. We have started learning shoulder-in. I have never done it successfully with any of my horses in the past—and I’m not so certain I am doing it successfully, now. But we are doing something, and he seems to like it. We do it well at the walk in one direction, so we have started the trot that way. The other direction we are still working at the walk.

His circles are mostly good, but we still do some on each ride. He bends nicely on the corners and he has great trot transitions. We are working on the canter transitions, and they have been tough. He is great to the left, but on the right, he doesn’t always get the lead I want. The first few times will be correct, and then he will fall apart. I then get discouraged and quit. No use practicing the wrong thing. We go back to working on our bends, again. When he does get it right, he gets clicked. The right lead is the one I still have trouble with on the trail, too. When we are cantering well, it is the nicest canter you can imagine.

We have been having trouble at night. When it is cold, not all of the arena lights will come on—and the ones that usually don’t are the ones on the “Scary End” of the arena. He doesn’t like that at all. I have been getting a lot of spooks and bolts down there. Most of them I can counter quickly, but it makes me want to stay on the light side of the arena, instead. When he settles down, we walk a lot on that end and then add a little trotting until we feel confident, again. Hopefully, he will get used to the dark end before winter is up. When I ride in the daylight on the weekends, he is fine.

Our biggest problem—and it is getting better—is his snorting. Usually, in the first few minutes of trotting, he will need to snort. His snorts are huge, and for some reason he insists on stopping. No amount of urging will keep him going. I get so frustrated. This even happens on the trail. After the snorting, he is fine. If I give him a walk break, he will then need to snort, again. If he would just snort and be done with it, I am happy. The problem arises when he says he needs to snort, stops, doesn’t snort and then doesn’t want to go either.

What has worked for me the last few weeks it to start trotting and click for the transition. Then we trot again, and I click about halfway around the arena. The next time, we go about three quarters around and click him. At this point, when I ask him to trot, he says he can’t, snorts 3-4 times and then he is ready to work. What I am doing is rewarding him for going further to keep him from stopping on his own. I give him incentive to keep going even though he really wants to stop and snort. Then, when he can’t take it anymore, he will snort between transitions. I can tolerate snorting between transitions.

Like I said, Cole can be complicated.

We always spend a little time at the end of our ride doing tricks. He loves to do turn on the haunches and sidepassing. I have been throwing in backing—which he doesn’t like at all, too. Lately, I have been chaining his tricks together—doing one after the next—and only clicking at the end of the chain—with backing up. This way, he is more enthusiastic about the backing, and I don’t have to stop and give him so many treats.

I try to ride him between 45 minutes and an hour. If he is really good, and we are the only ones there, I untack him in the arena and turn him loose to roll and play. He runs about like a mad horse, and I can’t ever help but think how amazing it is that a horse who wants to carry on like that, will allow me to ride him without acting out more than he does.

I wish I could say I have great aspirations and lofty goals that I am trying to meet this year, but honestly, my goal is to merely make it through the winter so I can go trail riding again in the spring.


aurora said...

Sounds like things are going well with Cole, even if you are stuck riding in the indoor arena (like me) for now. Warmer days are coming, at least that is what I keep telling myself!

Venom said...

I am intrigued with the clicker horse training - I have used the clicker method very successfully with dogs in the past. I would like to try clicker-ing on 1 of my horses to start, but not knowing anyone who has done it (other than your blog) I am not sure how to go about it. I know to 'pre-load' the click with lots of click-immediate treats at first, but please tell me though, when you have goteen past that & are trying to click during a ride, how do you give the reward?

Do you just lean over and give it to him, or do you have to dismount?

Judi said...

Hi Venom, thanks for visiting.

Once the clicker is loaded, they suggest you move to targeting (touching an item) so your horse learns that he needs to do something to get the click. When he figures it out, you will see his face light up with happiness. I'm not kidding. It is so fun to see them make that connection.

After that, you can use clicker for anything. Once your horse really understands it, you can switch to a tongue click--much easier.

When you are riding, you just lean over to give him a treat. Your horse will stop and wait for the treat. You don't have to teach them to stop--they figure it out on their own.

Since you have done it successfully with dogs, you should do really well with horses. They are great students.

achieve1dream said...

That is so bizarre on the snorting! I've never known a horse who wants to stop to snort lol. I hope you can get it figured out. :D

Chrome doesn't like backing either. I should get my clicker back out and do some chaining. That's such a great idea for increasing enthusiasm. :D

Venom, I use clicker training with my horse too. I started when he was a weanling (he's almost five now) and I've blogged about him since the day I brought him home. I haven't been using the clicker much lately, but if you look at my labels you can click on clicker training to see only those posts. There are videos too. I even have a video of how I taught him to smile using a target and clicker. Anyway I'm not self advertising my blog, I just wanted to let you know there are more out there. I used to have some linked in my sidebar too, but I don't remember if I still have it there. I'll check later. :D