Thursday, December 8, 2016
The temperatures plummeted into the 30s for both our rides last weekend, but that didn’t stop us. Each morning all of us went out--Ellen on Dante, Shari on Bella, Kevin on Starry and I was on Cole. We hadn’t ridden with Bella in a couple weeks. Shari keeps Bella down the street, and the trail entrance is between our two barns. As we got to the end of the driveway, we could see Bella prancing down the street towards us. The boys were just as thrilled to see her as she was to see us.
On Saturday, when we were getting all mounted and assembled at the trailhead, Bella sniffed Starry’s nose. Ellen and I both saw a softening in Starry eyes. It was as if he fell in love with her at that moment. Over the summer, Starry seldom rode with us when we were with Bella, so this was his first close encounter. After that, he forgot all about his bromance with Dante--it was all about Bella.
That did offer a few complications because Cole and Dante feel Bella belongs to them. They all tried to be the one to follow Bella, but Starry kept working his way up to her. She didn't seem to care; as long as she had her boys with her, she was happy.
She was also a little wound up about being on the trail for the first time in a while in the cool weather. Most of the time, she seemed alright, but she did do a fair amount of prancing. The boys just quietly followed her.
When we trotted, Bella led, as always. Starry trotted along, right behind. I usually take that position. It can be a tricky one. Ideally, you don't’ want to be too close so that when Bella spooks or misbehaves, we can stay out of the way. Kevin started to learn that. She is only disruptive for a few seconds. Sometimes, we need to stop for her to work it out, but there are a lot of times that we just need to slow down a bit and Shari gets her straightened out in no time. Kevin was learning how to do it. Bella was doing lots of spooking this weekend. Shari seems to have nerves of steel--she literally takes it all in stride.
While all of that was going on in the front, we had a different drama going on in the back of the pack. Dante has been getting wound up about horses getting too far ahead, and it has been intimidating Ellen. She isn’t used to it. She asked me to keep Cole slower so he could be closer to Dante. Cole, not a slow horse by nature, preferred to be up front. I told Ellen that he would do it for her, though. Sometimes it seems like Cole would walk through fire for her if she asked him to. I told her to keep talking to him and praising him.
What followed was the most amazing thing. We trotted along. I asked Cole to slow up his speed, and he reluctantly did. Then, Ellen started talking to him and telling him how good he was. Every time he heard her voice, his ears would turn back to listen to her and I would feel him willingly cooperate with my request to stay closer to them then his friends up ahead. I think he just wanted to be by Ellen. When she would stop talking, his ears went forward and he picked up the speed--until he heard her voice, again.
On Sunday, Bella got just a little too excited while trotting, and we decided walking would be the smarter gait. Shari brought Bella back to Dante, and they were able to successfully work with Bella at a walk--following Dante. Clicker helped, of course. Next summer, that is going to be our big project--teaching Bella to quietly follow other horses. We know it won’t be easy, but with clicker, anything is possible; given time and patience.
The rides were cold, of course. I ended up getting off and leading to stay warm. Everyone else was tougher than me, but I was warmer than them. Winter riding offers its challenges, but as long as it isn’t too cold, it is still better than riding in the arena. And since we have a river that freezes and blocks us from most of the trails for weeks or even months at a time, we have to get out there when we can.