Monday, July 7, 2014

Wow, We did It!

Wow, We did It!

My goal since Cruiser and Ranger got too old to go on long, fast rides together, has been able to go on long, fast rides with my sister. I have worked hard to get Cole ready, and we have gone on long, fast rides with Kevin and long, fast rides alone, but not with my sister.

Once she bought Dante, I knew it would happen sometime in the future, but it seemed so elusive. The weather was horrible last summer with high rivers every weekend—or so it seemed. We got Dante to the point where we could go on short, fast rides—and then Ellen broke her ankle, winter showed up and we had a late spring. Since then, we have been picking away at the various obstacles to get to the good trails and building up Ellen’s shattered confidence from the ankle incident.

The key was to traffic desensitize Dante to the max. To get to the long ride trail, we have to deal with plenty of traffic and chaos. Memorial Day weekend was a huge turning point. By the end of the weekend, Dante was doing well through a very difficult stretch of trail called the Lagoon. Unfortunately, we had more high rivers to contend with—and Ellen had to work some days on the weekend, too.

We did get side tracked by getting Dante up to the show ring trails on the other side of the chaotic Lagoon area. I rode him a few times up there, first, and this weekend, Ellen rode him there for the first time. He was mostly great, and when he wasn’t, it wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle.

Now, it was back to our project—getting to the good trails. We had 3 more obstacles to get through. The first was another ford. Since he has been working very well with the first 2 fords, I wasn’t too concerned. The only thing that made this one tougher is that the traffic was controlled by a light at the other side of it. That meant that we may have to thread between the edge of the ford and idling cars.

We then had to cross a very busy intersection, but at least it is controlled by the light.

The final obstacle is the “big river.” It is at least 3 times as wide as our other river crossings. I have crossed it a number of times with Cole, but Ellen hasn’t crossed it in years. When we have gotten Ranger to that side of the park, we have crossed on the bridge. It is a long bridge with a lot of traffic, so we thought it would be better to cross the river with Dante.

After doing all that, we have a bridle trail that we can ride with abandon—well almost. We share it with many other users, but we don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff with Dante.

The big day arrived. Dante had been ridden for the last 6 days in a row, so his mind was in a good place. Ellen would ride him on all the familiar trails, and then we would switch horses. She was very nervous. I was excited because we were chipping away on the last piece of my goal.

The first part of the ride went well. When we got to the ford, dismounted and led the horses across. They did fine, in spite of the traffic. We stood at the light, it changed and we led across. None of the traffic bothered Dante.

We mounted and rode to the river. Honestly, I wouldn’t have worried one bit about the river, except that last fall, we tried a new river crossing with me aboard, and Dante simply refused. After about 20 minutes, we gave up and went home. We have been avoiding that one ever since by going on the ford, instead. Would Dante refuse on this one, too?

My plan was to reinforce walking forward on command with clicker on the short stretch of trail leading to the river. I ran into a problem, though—he was so excited to be on a new trail that I couldn’t get him to stop so I could ask him to “walk.” I gave up and hoped his enthusiasm would carry him into the water.

He was in the lead—since I couldn’t get him to stop and let Cole pass. He paused at the top of the river bank, and we used that to get Cole in the lead. I pointed Dante to Cole’s rump, and we followed him right in. Whew, what a relief. The worst was over.

Well, so I thought. I forgot about Ellen—a person who has always been nervous crossing the river. Cole slowly walked across and Ellen was a wreck. At one point, Dante tried to turn around, but I kept him turning until we were facing Cole again and after that, he committed himself to crossing. Cole slipped, Ellen squawked. Cole slipped again, Ellen squawked again. I avoided the spots that Cole had trouble. The slate bottom had a thick coat of algae making tough whenever they stepped on an uneven spot.

There is a small island in the middle that we rested on. Ellen worried Dante wouldn’t want to step off the island, but he did—passing Cole and getting to the other side long before him. Cole wanted to play in the water and was pretending to drink. Once Ellen learned the game, she gave him a kick.

She said she was shaking—then I realized I was too. She was shaking from nerves, but I was shaking from excitement. I had reached my goal!!! We stepped up onto the trail on the other side and just walked along.

We weren’t going to go far—we would save that for another day. We just wanted Dante to enjoy himself on the other side and then we would head on home. We would turn around in a small open area. In the distance, we heard a bagpipe. Remember when I mentioned that we have a lot of people using our trails? You never know what you might find. We usually find a bagpipe player once or twice a year, but never with Dante. It got louder and louder. We decided not to push our luck and turned a little earlier.

That meant we had to do everything all over again.

Dante went right into the river, and I had no trouble with him except he did slip a few times. Though it is scary when he slips, he doesn’t panic but slowly negotiates himself through the rough spot. All went well for me.

Poor Ellen was having a panic attack. Cole walked faster, this time, since he was on the way home. He slipped a few times and she was squawking incessantly. I couldn’t even stand to watch them in her panicked state. Cole got across just fine, but Ellen was shaking, again. I was shaking, too, from happiness that Dante did so well.

Next step—the intersection and the ford. This time, we had to cross both streets of the intersection—which meant going right into the traffic. I led him, and he did well. The ford itself was easy because a car stopped at the beginning of it and blocked all other traffic until we got across. We truly appreciated that kindness. Once we were on the other side, I got off the street at the earliest possible moment by taking Dante up a little slope—and he burst! He did a dance and I had to spin him. This seems to be his normal response when he has to be good through a stressful situation—as soon as he is out of it, he reacts.

We switched horses and Cole was so happy to have me back. The rest of the way home went well. We did it! by this time next year, we will be doing all this without thinking twice, but there is always the “first time” to get through, and we did it and did it well.


achieve1dream said...

Yay!!!!! Congrats! I'm glad you finally reached your goal. :D In time you guys will be having so much fun the difficulties will be a distant memory. :D

Is Ellen terrified of the river because of Dante falling with her? Neither of them were hurt that time were they? I can't swim, but I would think having a horse fall in water would be a lot less scary and painful than on dry land, but I could totally be wrong. I hope she can conquer her fear so she can get back to enjoying herself. :)

Judi said...

She always was nervous with river crossing, and when Dante fell with her, she lost the little nerve that she had. They both fell, he regained his feet before she did and ended up dragging her through the water by the reins. It was a pretty dramatic experience, though neither got hurt.

She is getting better each time, but she was pretty much a wreck crossing the big river on Cole.

He wasn't happy about it. He still won't talk to her or bow for her. She has been giving him treats to try and make up for it.

achieve1dream said...

So the river has always made her nervous. :( The bad experiences like falling and being dragged through the water always seems to happen to the people who are most scared... or it seems that way to me. I hope now that Dante has had more experience with crossing now that he won't ever fall with her again so hopefully she'll start feeling more confident about it in time. I deal with a lot of fear and anxiety too so I can relate to how she must be feeling. I'm glad she has such an awesome sister to help her through all of it!!

Hannah said...

Congrats on reaching your goal!! That's great!