Friday, January 29, 2016
The Super, Ever-Amazing Cole Train!
The other day, I decided to warm Cole up in the indoor arena while Ellen got Ranger ready for his walk outside. We were going to walk down to the river and then do some laps on the loop. It was a sunny, but still chilly morning. I figured if I trotted around inside, first, I would be warmer and Cole would be more settled for Ranger’s constitutional.
When I brought Cole into the arena, the owner of the pony, Ranger’s little girlfriend, was being lounged for a couple prospective owners.
This is the first time I have ever ridden with the pony in the arena. There is nothing like an audience to bring out the show pony in Cole Train. He pranced into the arena and immediately parked out when I stopped to close the door. This is normal, but it attracted the attention of the woman who was watching the pony. She wanted to know what kind of horse he was. Cole immediately stretched out further. Then, he took a bow. I was feeling bad because he was taking attention from the pony during her sales presentation, so I ended the display by hopping on him and riding into the arena.
Cole went right into his silly walk. The pony’s owner commented on it. He stepped higher. I clicked him and treated him---explaining that he teaches himself tricks, I encourage them and then later regret them. We started to walk, and when he did his silly walk, I rewarded him by rubbing his withers. That is how I acknowledge him without encouraging him to do it, again. He then walked like a normal horse around the arena.
Attention was focused back on the pony, as it should be. Now, was the time for me to warm up with a trot. I usually start with a series of transitions with clicks to test his mood and get his focus, but I knew I didn’t have much time before Ranger was ready, so I went right into serious trotting. I’ve mentioned Cole’s big show trot in the past, and of course he jumped right into it. He usually does, but he isn’t always consistent in the beginning about keeping it going. He typically has to do a bunch of snorts before he can really work—but not this time—he had an audience. His show trot kept getting bigger and more flashy. I asked for some circles—and they were perfectly round! I couldn’t believe it. We were “on” in a big way. I would click him periodically and give him a carrot—wishing I had peppermints, instead. Cole had his most amazing 10 minutes in his life.
I glanced over at his audience, and no one was looking. All eyes were on the pony. Ellen was in the barn with Ranger. No one knew about Cole’s spectacular ride except me.
Wait, there was someone watching—the pony. Is it possible that Cole’s intended audience all along had four legs, not two? If so, he gave her quite a performance, and I hope she was as impressed as I was. For he is the Super, Ever-Amazing Cole Train!
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Back last fall, when I ran out of daylight in the evenings for trail riding, I was very reluctant to ride in the indoor arena. Instead, I rode laps on the quarter mile loop in the back of our stable’s property. Round and round we went—some trotting when we were going away from the barn—and a lot of walking—all in the dark.
A few times, it was rainy, and I had to ride in the arena. Cole was excited and difficult—and he made me very nervous. We have a history of bolting when we are in the far end of the arena. Though we have worked through the problem long ago, each year we have to review it. The first few weeks of riding can be tough on my nerves, and this year, I just tried to avoid it as much as I could. I would have one day in the arena, and then as soon as the weather got better, I would be back out on the loop, around and around.
By December, I realized I had to tackle the problem. The weather was still unseasonably warm. I would ride 10-15 minutes inside, and then I would dash outside to ride around the loop.
To keep from getting bored—particularly on the walking sections of the loop, I would practice shoulder-in and leg yielding. We have always had trouble with leg yielding because Cole morphed it into side-passing. He preferred to go directly sideways to going sideways and forward at an angle. The loop was helpful because I would ask him to do it when we were heading in the direction of the barn. He had motivation to go forward instead of directly sideways. Of course, he got clicked for it.
Shoulder-in on the loop worked well, too, because he has a tendency to drift instead of go in a straight line with a nice curve in his body. Parts of the track have trees on one side and a ditch on the other. I would position him in such a way that the trees or the ditch would stop him from drifting. Of course, he got clicked for good shoulder-in’s, too.
By January, the weather got rather cold, and it wasn’t so pleasant on the loop, anymore. I had to buckle down and really start working in the arena on a regular basis. Sometimes, I couldn’t even get Cole outside on the weekends because of the weather, too. I had to get serious about training.
It only took a few rides to get totally acclimated to the arena since we had integrated some short sessions in the previous month. After a week or so, we were able to calmly travel all about the arena without Cole misbehaving (bolting) or me feeling nervous because I thought he might misbehave.
And then the amazing thing happened. I asked for a shoulder-in at a trot—and he did it better than he did last winter when we quite arena riding—both directions! Even his leg yielding was leg yielding instead of side-passing. It is far from perfect, but it is a great starting point. This includes walking and trotting. Out on the loop, I only practiced at a walk.
So, maybe I wasn’t wasting time, after all.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Everyone has a Bad Day, Sometimes
This weekend, the weather was mild and I wanted to go on a trail ride. Ellen thought the river would be too high, and it wasn’t worth the trouble to just go up and down the hill a few times. I just wanted to get out. She thought Dante would misbehave because he hadn’t been on trail in a while. I told her she could have Cole. Ellen relented, and I got to prove to her that Dante would be just fine, and that her worries were unwarranted.
We led the horses down the street to the trail. Once we got to the mounting block, we heard a chainsaw a few houses down. Dante tensed up. Ellen suggested leading a little ways and mounting further down the trail. I agreed. The chainsawing was intermittent, making it hard for Dante to get used to it and relax. Even when we got to the spot that we planned to mount, I could see that Dante still was very tense. No big deal—we would just lead to the bottom of the hill.
Before we got that far, a woman came up the hill on an unknown horse. Dante got more tense. He is very distrustful of other horses—and actually has trouble tolerating any horses that are too close to him. At his moment, 3 deer went dashing through the woods. Deer seldom bother our horses, but Dante was ready to burst, so he went flying backwards. That sent Cole dancing, too.
When we got to the bottom of the hill, we mounted and started walking back and forth on the flat part of the trail. I wanted to Dante to settle down. He wasn’t. He was tossing his head around and walking very impatiently. Cole was fine for Ellen, but Dante was still wound up and not unwinding.
As we were going back and forth at the bottom of the hill, I glanced up and saw the woman on the strange horse trotting down the hill in our direction. It looked like she had very little control. That was enough for me. I hopped off and waited for her to get to us. Dante stood still.
After she turned around to go back up the hill, I decided to lead Dante back and forth on the bottom of the hill to see if he would calm down because the riding didn’t work. The morning was very, very foggy, and at one point, the sun came out and lit up the fog among the trees. It looked very beautiful to me, but I think it looked threatening to Dante because he gave yet another big spook. Sigh. I was starting to get discouraged, but stuck to my plan. Back and forth we went—countless times.
Finally, I saw his head drop down and a quiet look came into his eyes. I did one more back and forth, and we headed up the hill. When we got to the spot that we like to turn around, it was time to add another dose of demoralization. When we turned, Dante threw a little temper tantrum. When he does this, he will bounce up and down, pounding his feet and try to go the direction he wants to go. I quietly circled him a few times until he gave up and followed me down the hill. After a minute or so, it looked like he gave up and was ready to cooperate.
When we got down to the bottom, I mounted and rode him back and forth a number of times. He was the old Dante, again. Not once did he misbehave or even feel tense.
We then rode up the hill and back home.
So much for showing Ellen that Dante would be just fine. Her hunch was correct—he hadn’t been out on the trail in a few weeks, and he would be over excited. I think that was only part of the problem. It put him in a mood that couldn’t tolerate the chainsaw, the strange horse, the deer and the fog that made everything look strange. He was over stimulated and that caused him to not be his calm, laid back self. Everybody has a bad day, sometimes.
I was very disappointed in him. He was acting like a baby horse—not a seasoned 9-year-old trail horse. Still, I felt good that we were able to work through the mood with no major drama or confrontations. In the end, Dante accepted that all we wanted to do was walk up and down the hill, quietly.
It was raining the next day, so we couldn’t repeat the lesson. From my experience with Dante—I am sure he would have been considerably better—if not perfect on day 2. That’s just how he is.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Cruiser and I had a game we used to play called “Find Ellen.” I would take him out on a trail ride and Ellen would go for a hike on the trail. Of course, she couldn’t keep up with us because we trotted and cantered. We would ride out and meet her on the way back. I would chant “Find Ellen, where’s Ellen, find Ellen,” in a high pitched voice. After a while, Cruiser figured it out. His head would go up, he would look left and right and then he would start walking faster. The more I said it, the faster he would walk. Eventually, he would be gaiting—something he would only do for me when he wanted to trot and I wouldn’t let him. It was a lot of fun for both of us. As soon as he found Ellen, he would settle down and walk by her side all the way home.
Kevin taught Starry to look for Cruiser the same way. If I was out on a ride and Kevin was looking for us, he would say, “Find Cruiser.” He didn’t get Starry to go any faster, but Starry would start to neigh.
We have been going through a cold spell. Ellen prefers to ride Dante in the arena when it is really cold. I prefer to ride Cole in the park. So, I watch Ellen with Dante in the arena and then take Cole in the park. Ellen meets us on the other side of the river and walks with us. The ground has been frozen solid since there hasn’t been any snow to insulate it. I prefer not to trot on it—and Cole agrees.
Over New Year’s weekend, as I rode Cole down the hill to the river, I decided to try to teach him “Find Ellen.” The first day, I did the chant, he crossed the river and found Ellen on the other side. The second day, I did the same. On the third day, I was halfway down the hill when I started the chant. Cole tossed his head in the air, shook his mane and neighed. He very seldom neighs when I ride him, so this was something new. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, an couple minutes later, he did it again. When he got to the bottom of the hill, he tried taking off at a trot to the river crossing. (I made him walk, of course.)
After only 3 tries, Cole seems to have figured out the game. He is a genius. It also goes to show you how much he, just like Cruiser, likes walking with Ellen.