Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Teaching Old Horses New Tricks

Teaching Old Horses New Tricks

As I mentioned last time, Ellen has been thinking of riding Ranger, again, because he has been doing so well.  One of the obstacles in riding him is saddling.  He is just horrible, and each year he gets worse and worse.  We saddle in our stalls, because we feel it is easier.  Since Starry became Ranger’s neighbor, he has gotten really bad.

He snipes, snarls and even kicks out--all aimed at Starry.  It is now fun to saddle him, so if you aren’t going on much of a ride, anyway, it is just easier to lead him.

Let me backtrack, a little.  In the last year or so, he has become difficult to halter, top.  He would toss his head up, push at us and just be difficult.  It isn’t that he didn’t want to he haltered--he was just excited about going out.  It got very annoying.  One day, Ellen got fed up.  She took her clicker skills out and decided to try to improve him.  

His halter is the kind that you buckle the strap that goes over his head.  Ellen held the halter noseband in front of Ranger, and only clicked him when he put his nose in it.  Everything else he did, she ignored.  She also didn’t hook up the halter, either.  He wasn’t getting any treats or going anywhere until he put his nose in the halter.

The next step was to not click him until he put his nose in and held his head still.

You may wonder how many lessons it took to change his habit.  Much to our surprise, he was greatly improved on the second lesson--and was a new horse on the third.

That was a few months ago.  Ellen decided that if she is going to ride him, she wanted him to saddle like a gentleman.  Remember, this is a bad habit that has going on for years--and just has gotten worse.  She did click him when he stood still in the past, but he never really improved; and like I said, he got worse with Starry.

This time, she decided to enlist my help.  We would retrain him just like we did with the haltering.  She planned to break it down into tiny bits.  I was the clicker person--freeing her up to just do the saddling.  She let me use my discretion on the clicking.  I would only click when he stood still.

He was loose in the stall, and I stood in front of him on the other side of the stall guard.  Ellen brought in the saddle and showed it to him.  He started to snarl.  She just stood there--until he did the same.  Then, I clicked, of course.  We practiced that a bit.  The next step was lifting up the saddle as if she was going to saddle.  By now, Ranger seemed to understand that this was a new game, and it didn’t take any time at all for him to just stand.  The clicks kept coming.  

She gently placed the saddle on his back--click.  She took it off and repeated it several time.  He got clicked for each.

She left it on his back--click.  She walked to the other side, brought the girth up--click.  She did that a few times--click--click.

She girthed him up--click.

And then she took it off and repeated the whole process,

Ranger loves treats.

The next day, we decided to do it, again.  Ranger was perfect.  Once again, just one lesson was all it took to make a difference.  Why did we wait all these years to do this?  We will keep practicing, and sometimes he will wear his saddle on his walks.  Of course, we will fade off most of the clicks--and Ellen will be able to do them, herself.

So, we can teach an old horse a new trick with the help of clicker.  Clicker training also proves, once again, that we don’t have to settle for a horse that misbehaves.  Instead, we can gently change their behavior.  

Ellen is happier--and so is Ranger.  For all we know, he thought he was supposed to attack Starry when Ellen was saddling him.  Now, he knows he is supposed to just stand still.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ranger Update

Ranger Update

Ranger is basically, retired.  For a 27-year-old, he is doing well, except for his breathing.  He has COPD, which is bad enough, but if he gets frightened of something, he has what can best be described as an asthma attack.  His head goes high and he struggles to catch his breath.

Lately, we have been just leading him on the loop.  Ellen did ride him a few times last spring, but since he doesn’t seem to want to trot, it is just easier for us to lead him.  It’s good exercise for us, too.

Last year, we would walk him down to the river a lot.  He had trouble going back up, and we had to stop a lot for him to catch his breath.  This year, we have had so much rain that the mud at the very top of the hill has been horrendous.  It was so bad, that Cole felt that no horse in his right mind would step through it, willingly.  (It is funny how much trouble he will go through to try to keep his feet from going in the mud.)  Because we didn’t want to take an out of shape horse through deep mud--and we didn’t want to walk in it, ourselves, we just stayed on the loop behind the barn.

We finally had a dry spell, and the mud improved enough to lead Ranger through it.  We decided to see how he would do on the hill.  This summer, he seemed to be breathing much better on his walks.  Most days, Ellen hasn’t even had to give him antihistamines.  That is in spite of the fact that his breathing is usually the worst in hot weather.

We led him down the hill with ease, turned around and made our way back up.  It was with much disbelief that we observed--no loud wheezing.  He was able to walk up the hill better than he did last summer.

The next day, we tried it again.  I am so happy to say that the first day wasn’t an anomaly.  Once again, Ranger walked up the hill without any breathing distress.

Well, we decided it is time to integrate the hill on his weekend workouts.  It is more interesting than going 6 laps on the loop.  We can do the hill and a few laps to bring his workout up to a half hour.  He seems to like the variety--and we sure do.  Plus, it is shady!

Ellen was thinking she might just dust off his saddle...

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dante’s “Problem” Revisited

Dante’s “Problem” Revisited

Poor Dante.  After having some bad experiences where he tried to do his business in the river and got frightened by the plops splashing him, he seemed to decide he just wasn’t going to do it on the trail.

On the shorter rides, he could hold it in and wait until he got home.  We were able to avoid crossing the river where there was a ford, so that his nervousness, alone, didn’t make his digestive system start moving.  Still, that wasn’t the answer.  We wanted to go on longer rides, and when the river is low, it is safer to cross than the fords.

Someone suggested getting a large sponge which, when soaked, would make a perfect plop in the water.  Ellen ordered one.  We knew that we would have to practice it in the river to make it help us out, but to get used to it, a little, when Ellen would sponge him off after a hot ride, she would let it plop in the water bucket.

In the meantime, she decided to give him treats if he did his business on dry land.  Since he had done it once, already, we hoped that we would be able to capture the behavior enough to teach him what we wanted.

After one ride that was on the longer side, Ellen tried talking him into it.  We were on the last stretch of trail--the hill that led home.  She told him she would get off, give him treats and grab pieces of grass for him while she led him up the hill.  Talk about good timing--he did it!  She kept her word and got off, gave him treats and fed him pieces of grass all the way up.

Then, there was a dry spell for a while.  He went back to holding it until he got back to the barn.  We went on a longer ride--with no results--so we passed up home and rode to the dead end trail, again.  It worked!  He got a peppermint.  Peppermints are one of his favorite treats.

The next day, a miracle happened.  He did it shortly after Ellen mounted him.  He got his peppermint, and we were ecstatic.  We went on a very happy ride.  Ellen didn’t even worry when we crossed the rivers.  And then, another miracle happened.  He did it again, on the hill on the way home.  Dante scored another peppermint.

We thought all was fine--that Dante found the key to getting peppermints.  Then, the next day, nothing.  He waited until he got back to the barn.  No peppermints for Dante.

The following day, we went out for another ride in the park.  On the way home, Ellen suspected he had to go, so we did a lot of walking.  Nothing happened.  We came up to the river.  Though Ellen could have crossed on the ford, the water was lower than it has been all year.  She felt that she just had to deal with it.  

I crossed first and waited on the other side for them.  They slowly walked down the river bank--which was a good sign.  In the past, when he was worried, he was reluctant to go down the bank.  They then slowly walked across the water.  He seemed relaxed.  Ellen just wanted to get him past the center point where the remainder of the crossing is sand with no rocks.  If He decided to bolt through the water, he could do it safely.  

Since he looked so relaxed, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a disturbance in the water by his hindlegs.  Yes!  Dante was doing his business--and he just stood quietly to do it.  Ellen was so shocked, that she wasn’t able to give him a treat in time.  He just started walking across.  I may have imagined it, but he sure did seem to have a happy expression on his face when he got to the other side.  Dante figured it out!

We have decided that Dante’s “problem” is now a ‘non-problem”

The next ride--he did it right after Ellen mounted, again...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dante’s “Problem” is Back

Dante’s “Problem” is Back

You may recall that last summer, Dante developed a “problem.”  He randomly did his business in the river for the first time--and terrified himself.  His typical prodigious amount caused a huge splash, and he bolted out of the water.

He managed to work it out by going on land, or on the islands that are part of a few of the river crossings.  

This spring, Ellen and I simply forgot about it.  He did his business wherever he felt like it, and we rode along in ignorant bliss.  That is, until he inadvertently did it in the water, again.  Ellen was unprepared, and he bolted out of the river.

This caused weeks of stress for Ellen.  She worried on every river crossing.  He went only 2 more times--only in the river.  (Successfully, because Ellen got him to stop.)  He used to go once or twice on a ride.  Now he usually waited until he got back to his stall.  Apparently, Dante was traumatized.

What saved him was he got into the habit of doing his business in his stall before the ride.  That way, he could go about an hour and a half and hold it.  

Then came the morning that he didn’t do it pre-ride.  It wasn’t that long of a ride, but by we got to cross the first river on the way home, Ellen was suspicious.  He refused to step into the water.  He would try to spin and head up the bank.  Ellen had me go first.  He didn’t want to follow and still continued to try to spin.  Finally, he succeeded in his spin and ran up the bank.  He adamantly refused to step down.  Ellen decided to take him across the ford.  Kevin was with her on Starry, so they went together.  I was already on the other side, waiting.

We now realized that the “problem” really was a problem.  As we headed home, we talked it over.  Since it was a lovely day and we had the time, we decided to pass up home and keep going at a walk--hoping he would do his business.  Then, Ellen could click him, treat him and praise him like crazy.

It took a long time, but the plan worked.  We were so happy.  Hopefully, it made an impact in his brain.

The next day, we planned a ride up to the show ring.  It is a longer ride and crosses the river at  different spot.  Once again, he didn’t do his business in his stall before the ride.

We had a lovely ride.  The weather was comfortable and there were hardly any bugs to pester us.  

On the way back, we arrived at the river.  This is the crossing that last year, Dante figured out that he could walk over to the island off to the left, do his business and then cross.  Ellen figured she would take him there, and hopefully he would remember.  I crossed to get out of the way.  Dante was happy to go down the bank and to the island.  There, Ellen waited and waited…

On the other side, I saw a group of four dragonflies that I never saw before.  I have developed a fascination for these amazing creatures over the last year or so.  When I am out and see a new one, I memorize the markings and head  home to check my dragonfly guide.  It is often hard to see the marking when they are flying around.  One of these guys landed on the ground, and I hopped off Cole to get a good look at him.  He was small, with a blue head and a blue tip on his tail.  His wings were clear.  (Turns out he was a blue fronted dancer.)

I looked over to Ellen, and she was still on the island.  She was getting frustrated and decided to try crossing.  As she walked off the island, he spun and ran back up the river bank.  I couldn’t see them, so I waited a few minutes and decided to ride back.  

Cole didn't mind going back across, because he was going to help Ellen.  I found her--stuck.  Dante wouldn’t move.  We discussed our options.  

We can cross on the ford, but the traffic was ridiculous.  There were so many cars and bikes--after all, it was a perfect day to be in the park--we really didn’t want to cross that way.  Besides, it wouldn’t be helping with the problem.  He would just hold everything in--and we still had to cross the river by the barn--where there was no ford that we ride over.

The other option was to cross the river.  I asked her to see if he would walk towards the bank now that Cole was here.  He took a step in the right direction.  That was hopeful.  Still, Ellen hesitated in making a decision.  I asked her if she wanted to switch horses.  This is a good crossing.  The bottom of the river is sand--or slippery slate--and Kevin had cleared all the rocks away.  If he bolted--he was just bolting.  Still, I didn’t want to deal with it any more than Ellen.  I was just less intimidated by it.

She said I could give it a try if I wanted.  I was going to march him down the bank and go straight across.  I braced myself to keep him off the island.  I thought he might get stuck on it.

My bracing did no good.  Dante is so strong.  He bullied his way to the island and marched down it.  It is just a narrow strip of shale that is about 15 feet long.  He went to the end, I turned him around and started bringing him back.  Before we got back--we had success!  My first thought was, “ I sure did get out of this easy!”  We were all happy.

He then willingly crossed the river.  Ellen, unfortunately had a bit of trouble with Cole.  For some reason that we haven't figured out, Cole gets stuck and backs up on her.  He never does that for me.  She worked him through that and then he tried spinning on the bank.  That is a problem I have with him.  He doesn’t like going down banks since the time when that mare freaked out on a bank right by him and terrified him.  

Dante and I were on the other side.  We got to watch Ellen ride Cole across the river; giving him a lecture.  Well at least we got both horses on the right side of the river-finally.

Dante’s “problem” has become a problem.  It wasn’t our imagination.  He is definitely reluctant to do his business on the trail because he is afraid he will suddenly get splashed.  Not only is he worried in the river, he doesn’t seem to understand that the way to avoid it isn’t to try to wait to get back to the barn, but to just do it on the trail.  

This is the weirdest thing we have ever heard, and we aren’t really sure what to do.  I will keep you updated.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Quiet Month

A Quiet Month

Yes, there really isn’t much to write about, this month.  Shari is working different hours, so we haven’t ridden with Bella hardly at all.  Not that Shari needs our help, anymore.  Bella is doing awesome whether she is with us or by herself.

Starry--well, he is Starry.  He is still having a little trouble passing other horses.  Some days, he is great--and other days he is terrible.  It frustrates Kevin so much!  It all depends on who he is riding with.  The biggest problem for Kevin is riding with Dante.  Starry has a Quarter Horse friend, Archie, that he has been riding a lot with, and he does pretty good being a lead horse with him, but if Dante is around, it is a whole different story.

One day, he was riding with just me and Cole.  We were heading home, and Starry refused to lead.  I suggested turning him away from home and going down the trail a little ways, turning back and then asking Starry to pass Cole.  After three attempts, it worked.  We tried later on, and it worked in one attempt.  Unfortunately, we haven’t had much opportunity to try that solution, since.  We don’t think it will help much if we were riding away from home, though.  Then, Starry would be punished by turning around and going towards home--and he may not think that is a punishment.

Cole has had some difficulty on solo rides.  The source of the problem is simply that I don’t ride by myself much, anymore.  I have managed it about once a week, this month.  Cole always has a tendency to get excited and just want to run.  We call them “Cole Bursts.”  Usually, I can get him to stop in a few strides, but lately, on solo rides, he has been bolting and fighting me when I ask him to stop.  The first ride, he did it just once, but it was a very short ride.  I didn’t think much of it.  The next ride, he bolted three times!  That is when I knew I had a problem.  

After that, when I rode by myself, I stayed aware of his excitement level.  Whenever he seemed to get over enthusiastic about going fast, I either intermixed walk/trot transitions or simply walked until he settled down.  Since then, he has improved.  The last time I took him on a ride by himself, there were no “Cole Bursts” at all, and we did plenty of fast trotting and a little cantering.

Recently, I was on a ride with Ellen.  We were planning to cross the second river and go further, but the water was on the high and muddy side.  We would have had to ride across the ford.  We didn’t really feel like dealing with traffic, that day, so Ellen suggested heading towards home, turning around and doing the last section of the trail, again.  

It is a fine section of trail that we call “The Canter Stretch,” because we often canter there.  We had just trotted it with Dante in the lead. That meant that it was a slower, controlled trot.  Ellen said Dante was going to be very upset about doing the trail, again.  We have done this in the past, and Dante seems to think it is a dumb idea.  Not a surprise, since most horses would agree.

That is not the case with Cole, oddly, at all.  I have done this many times--usually by myself--when I don’t feel like crossing the ford on my evening rides when there is so much more traffic.  He seems to really, really enjoy it.

I suggested that we let Cole lead.  I would just do a fast trot.  Ellen could canter if she likes.

We turned.  Dante made the turn very, very slow.  Cole seemed eager.  I asked her if she was ready, and she said she was.  I then asked Cole to walk.

Cole was so happy that we were doing the trail again--I got a squeal and a “Cole Burst;” big time!  He was off like a rocket.  Cole is truly the fastest horse I have ever ridden.  I know there are faster horses out there, but for a tiny horse, Cole can simply fly!

But that is not what I wanted!  I struggled to slow him down.  In my head, I wasn’t worried about myself.  I was worried about Ellen.  I pictured Dante, the horse that is afraid of any sudden movement made by another horse, spooking and running into the woods, spinning and running towards home, bucking and dashing off after Cole…

After about a two hundred feet, I got Cole to trot and shortly after that, he stopped.  I looked back--and burst out laughing!  It was the funniest thing I ever saw.  Instead of any of my scenarios that were flashing through my head, there was Dante--frozen in place!  He didn’t move a muscle.  He thought it was a dumb idea, and didn’t want to go at all!

As I was laughing, Ellen got him to move, and we tried, again.  This time, Cole trotted very, very fast and Dante cantered behind us.  Once she asked him to canter, he decided it wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Happy Ending for MerryLegs

Happy Ending for MerryLegs

Remember the horse that was given to me about 2 years ago?  He was a drop-dead gorgeous palomino Morgan that was green broke.  After reviewing ground work with him, I tried to ride him and on the fifth ride, he went into a violent fit of bucking.  Of course, I flew off.  I tried it again--the same thing happened.  I hired a trainer--and it happened to her, too.  I ended up giving him to Windy Hills Farm.  They train and sell horses.  I was completely upfront with the situation.  He was more than I could handle.  If I could have stayed in the saddle, I could have worked it out, but I didn’t have the skills of a bronc rider.  All I could see was me getting seriously hurt.

Windy Hill told me they would keep in touch, but I knew they wouldn’t.  I was right.  I could have contacted them to see how he was doing, but honestly, I was afraid I would hear bad news.  I would rather not know than to know that he didn’t work out.

From time to time, we would see him in the background of their sales videos.  One time, they posted a picture on Facebook that showed a young lady sitting on his back.  It seemed like a good sign to me.

Still, I never contacted them.  After seeing the photo, I assumed he was being ridden.  Lately, there haven’t been any sightings of him in their videos.

One of our fellow boarders at our stables said she talked to the owner of Windy Hill, and she asked about the palomino Morgan.  He knew who she was talking about right away.  He said they had one really bad ride in the beginning, but after that, he was fine.  He turned into a very good horse, and they sold him.

A happy ending.  In my heart, I felt that if a trainer could stay in the saddle through all of his bucking, he would give up.  He was a very lazy horse without much fight.  I just couldn’t do it.  We have to know our limitations.  You can’t imagine how pleased I am that he worked out and has moved on to be a useful horse.  Thank you Windy Hill/

Friday, June 9, 2017

Introducing Ice

Introducing Ice

Lisa, at our barn, got a new horse last July named Ice.  He is a huge gray Quarter Horse with a lot of Appendix breeding.  When I look at him, I see Thoroughbred before I see the Quarter Horse.  At 14 years old, I've lived a sheltered life.  He never went off the property at his previous owner’s place, so he isn’t used to the variety of things we see out on the trail.  Lisa only took him on about 4 trail rides last year, and she wanted to take him out for the first time this year with a quiet horse.  I volunteered Cole Train.

Our goal was to ride him down the hill to the river.  If he did that well, we would cross and go just a short distance.  The river is really low, right now, so it would be a good time to cross for the first time of the year.

Traffic makes him nervous, so Lisa decided to lead him on the street.  When a car passed us, he did take a side step, but that was all.

Lisa mounted on the trail, and we headed down the hill.  Cole reluctantly took the lead to give Ice courage.  It must have helped, because Ice was flawless on the way down.  It was a no-brainer to try to cross the river.

Cole went first, and Ice walked right in!  Kevin had given Lisa some horse cookies, so she gave one to Ice when they got to the other side.

At the beginning of our ride, we have to go along a fence that separates us from the paved bike trail and the street.  It is actually a good place to let horses get accustomed to both traffic and bikes.

Some cars came, and Ice slowed down, stopped and then turned around to go home.  Lisa struggled to prevent him from turning, but Ice simply powered through her.  When she got to a wider spot of the trail, she was able to turn him back around, but when she asked him to go forward, he just wanted to back up.  She did get him to walk, but as he went along the fence, he repeated the whole behaviour.  And then it happened again, and again.  He wasn’t doing anything dangerous, but Lisa wasn’t getting anywhere.  By Ice’s body language I would say he wasn’t afraid, but just uneasy with going on the trail.  He thought home would be a better place.

I suggested that Lisa try leading so we could make this a positive experience rather than an unhappy one with a lot of conflicts.  She agreed and dismounted.  When she was trying to lead him, he kept swinging his head in front of her and then would cuth her off, so he could turn around and go home.  She turned him back--and then he would do it again.  She was getting frustrated, so I got off Cole and showed her how she could lead him with a hand on each rein--with the right rein under his neck on the other side of his head.  That way, when he tried his little trick, she would have the leverage to keep him from succeeding.  He still was able to bend his head a little towards her, but he was no longer able to cut him off.

We got past the fence and went into the woods a little bit.  We then turned around.  Ice immediately walked like a gentleman with much enthusiasm--but he didn’t prance, dance or rush like a barn sour horse.  He just walked faster.

There is a good log for mounting right by the river crossing, so Lisa was able to mount and ride across the river.  Ice went right in and walked up the hill without a single problem.

Overall, I think it was a good ride.  Ice used to do things like that to Lisa when she rode him on the property, and she was able to work it out with him.  At no time did he seem overly nervous or excited.  He spooked at nothing--unless you count that side step when the car passed.  

Lisa was nervous, but she kept her cool and did everything right.  I showed her how next time when he tries to turn around to go home she could keep him turning in a small circle with a leading rein to get him facing the direction she wants.  The only problem is he is such a big horse that it won’t work where the trail is very narrow with a drop off on one side--like on the hill in places.  She will have to use her judgement in those cases.

I think he has the potential to make a fine trail horse.  Dante was worse on his first ride of the year than Ice--and Ellen has ridden him hundreds of miles on our trails over the years.  If she keeps up with him, not only will he keep improving, he will probably start to enjoy it.

By the way, Cole was a superstar.  He waited patiently when he needed to and did everything I wanted of him.  And he sure was surprised when we turned back early!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Forecast for no Riding

Forecast for no Riding

They were predicting rain, and my sister, Ellen, said if it was raining to not bother meeting her the next morning.  When I saw the forecast on the 11:00 news, it looked very bleak.  They predicted rain in the morning--after a rainy night.  Even if it wasn’t raining, the river was too high.

I emailed her that I probably wouldn't be out there because of the weather.  I felt really crummy.  

I really did want to ride with Ellen, so I still set my clock to get up.  When it went off I could hear the rain on the roof.  I checked the radar, and I saw that there was rain over us, but it looked like it was moving out--and then there wouldn’t be any rain for a while.

I decided to head out to the barn.  If the river was too high, she might not want to ride on the hill.  I would watch her ride Dante in the arena and then maybe ride Cole on Ranger’s walk.  I really don't know what I would do, but at least I could keep Ellen company.

When I got there, she was saddled and bridled and ready to go in the arena.  She didn’t think I was coming out.  By now, the rain had stopped, just as the radar predicted.  When she told me the river was crossable, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  I had to do a little coaxing, but not all that much.  I told her the rain stopped--and we should just go.

We rode down the hill to the river.  It started drizzling.  The river was a little high, but crossable.  I told her it was her call.  She said we should just do the hill.  I asked her if she was sure, because the hill is either difficult--or boring.  I told her it would be an easier ride if we crossed.  She hesitated for about 3 seconds and then agreed.

Ellen gets nervous crossing rivers, even when they are low.  She gets nervous riding on rainy days because Dante is somewhat troubled by loud traffic on wet roads.  She worries about thunderstorms--after all, we were caught in a doosy, years ago, and a tree fell right next to us.  She gets nervous about lots of things.  Yet, here we were on a rainy day crossing a higher than normal river!  Like it was nothing!  This was awesome.

It started raining a little harder.  I was beginning to think I looked at the wrong radar.  Af first, Dante was pretty pokey.  I tried to follow, but he was too slow for Cole.  She told me to go in the lead.

Cole went faster--and Dante did too!  Ellen didn't seem to be nervous at all.  She seemed to like it!  We moved out faster, and so did she.  Dante didn’t go as fast as Cole, but he was going at a good trot.

When we got to the section we like to canter, she wanted to go in the lead to do a some of it.  We started at a fast trot.  Dante will always trot faster, here, because he is hoping to canter.  I typically let them canter, and Cole trots behind.  Dante started to canter, and I did something unusual--I asked Cole to canter, too.  This is the trail that Cole sprouts wings at a canter.  I will ride in front of my companions, and we will go off like a rocket.  At the end, I just wait for them to catch up.  In this season of hyper horses, no one has allowed me to do that, so I haven’t cantered much at all this year.  It was time to try something new--cantering behind another horse.

Cole did well, but he was going too fast.  In a short time, I had to bring him back to a trot--but the good news is he did just that--came back to a trot.  Ellen asked Dante to trot, too, a few seconds later, but he didn’t just trot--he trotted faster than he has ever trotted with Ellen before.  I know this because we were following.  I think he was trotting faster than he was just cantering.  It was awesome!  Ellen wasn’t afraid in the least.  She just went along for the ride.

It was time to turn around and head for home.  It was still raining, but not really bad at all.  There were no bugs, and it wasn’t too cold.

We did a mixture of walking and trotting on the way home.  Ellen’s braveness was giving way, and she was nervous that her nervousness might cause Dante to be nervous crossing the elevated river.  I was a good sister and agreed to switch horses.  Dante crossed the river well, and then we waited for Ellen.  

Poor Ellen, Cole decided he wanted treats.  He got stuck on the river bank--demanding treats.  When she convinced him to enter the water--I don’t know how many treats it took, he walked fast.  Well, it wasn’t fast for Cole--but fast for Ellen.  I heard her whining the whole time they crossed.  

“Cole, slow down.  Cole you are going too fast--slow down.”  Cole ignored her, of course.  He knew how to get her safely across.  Cole always takes care of Ellen.

Ellen told me the reason she was so easy to convince to go on the ride was because she wasn’t anticipating it.  Since she thought I wouldn’t be there, she just figured on an arena ride--and she had no real anxiety except with the river on the way home.  I think I should do that in the future--tell her I’m not coming out--and show up.

It never did stop raining all day--it only got worse.

Starry and Bugs

Starry and Bugs

I met Kevin out at the barn on a rainy day.  It wasn’t raining, and according to the radar, there was a break in the action.  If we went right out on a ride, we would be able to ride during a dry window.  

Kevin was hesitant.  First, he was worried he would get caught in the rain.  Earlier in the day, he went jogging, and just as he was turning around to head towards home, it began to rain.  He ended up getting soaked, and he wasn’t looking forward to being drenched again.

I assured him that we would stay dry.  His other worry was bugs.  Often, after it rains, the mosquitoes come out in droves--and Starry is so sensitive.  They make him crazy, and he will act up.  I suggested we go towards the Lagoon, which is a shorter ride and, where there are always less bugs.  Since I was wearing a sweatshirt and a sweat jacket, I felt it was probably too cold for them, anyway.  I didn’t even put bug spray on Cole.

Kevin loaded up Starry with spray and put his mask on.  We headed down the trail.  When Starry got to the bottom of the hill, he took off at a fast trot.  I heard Kevin say something about “no brakes.” I was still going down the hill, and Cole saw Starry moving fast--and he decided to join him.  I didn't have any brakes, either.  (Usually, Cole will tolerate Starry doing things like this, so I figured he must be in “a mood.”

I haven’t ridden Cole to the Lagoon since last year, due to all sorts of reasons.  Ellen and I plan to go on longer rides in that direction, so I figured that it would be good to get Cole there at least once before Ellen attempts it.  It is a bit of a tricky trail, because it goes parallel to the street and the river.  We just have a stip of trail with grass on each side between them.  To make matters worse, there isn't a simple river bank alongside the trail.  It is a 10 foot wall that drops down the the river.

It was one of those noisy days.  With all the rain, the cars were very loud on the wet street and the planes were flying low.  We ride quite close to the airport, and the planes are so loud that you can’t talk when one flies overhead.  Today was really bad.  

We arrived at the Lagoon.  The first part of the trail actually has trees and shrubs along both sides.  The rain had left lots of puddles, so Kevin was stopping to walk through them.  That was great--he had brakes!  Cole can go through puddles, but he prefers to tiptoe around them, so we did.  At the last big puddle, Kevin just kept trotting.  We trotted through it, and Cole’s belly got splashed.  I had a sudden acceleration.  He started to lean into the bit and then his head got lower than I like.  If his head gets too low, he is known to toss in a buck.

I asked Kevin to stop, and he did.  I pulled Cole back together, and we took of trotting, again.

We were now in the open area, and Starry picked up the speed.  Cole could keep up, but I could feel the momentum building in his hindquarters.  He then started pulling his head down, again.  I thought a reset would help.  I stopped him, and then asked him to trot, again.  Unfortunately, Kevin didn't know we stopped, and he moved further away from us.  Maybe stopping wasn’t a very good idea.  Cole once again started to build up his excitement.  Kevin stopped to walk through a rough patch of trail, and I was able to catch up.  Before I had a moment to relax, he was off, again.  My white knuckles reappeared.

We reached another spot that we typically stop to go down a gravelly slope.  I caught up, again.  Somehow, I ended up in the lead, and we trotted down to the end of the trail.

As soon as we turned around, Starry got bugs in his head.  There were no bugs around us, but Starry is so phobic, that he acted like there was.  He started swishing and belly kicking--and then he took off at a fast trot.

Cole thought he had a great idea--and took off after him.  By now, I had had enough.  I bent his head towards the left to slow him down, and though he fought at first, he did finally come down to a walk.  Starry was a different story.  They trotted out of sight.

That really got Cole upset.  He tried to trot up, but I insisted he just walk.  We compromised and walked very fast.  As soon as we got around the corner, we could see Starry up a ways.  Kevin finally got him to walk.

Gradually, we got closer to him, and I guess Starry realized there weren’t any bugs, after all.  He relaxed and walked like a gentleman.  He still tossed his head about at the imaginary bugs, but we made it all the way home without incident.

If it wasn’t his first time over there for the year, Cole would have been fine.  If Starry wasn’t plagued by bugs and and acted like his usual self, Cole would have been fine, also.  But a crazy Starry on a different trail?  Well, it wasn’t much worse than I expected--and much better than I expected on the way home.  

One thing I know for sure, it will be much easier to ride that trail with Dante!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bella is Bella--or is She?

Bella is Bella--or is She?

It’s been nearly a year since Shari started riding Bella with us on a regular basis.  Being an energetic National Show Horse, it was no surprise to see her spooking, dancing, prancing, trying to go at faster gait, etc.  We used to say, “That’s just Bella being Bella.”

Through the summer, we saw her calming down.  The more we rode together, the better she got.  Shari used clicker training, and that helped immensely.  Clicker changes the conversation--or in Bella’s case--brought her into the conversation.  In the beginning, she just reacted to the environment.  With clicker, Shari got her attention, and they were able to have the conversations.  

Instead of Bella saying, “I’m going.  I’m spooking.  I’m going, again.”  She was saying, “I’m going.  Shari, do you like the way I’m going?  You do?  I’ll do it some more, than.”

Sometimes, it was Bella saying, “You don’t like this?  What about this?  Do you like this?”

There are plenty of times that she does something she thinks is really awesome, and then she turns her head back and tells Shari, “I think that deserved a click.”

With the mild winter, we were still able to get out on the trail periodically.  Bella had her first ride in the snow!  In the spring, when we really started riding again, we had a few bad rides.  You read about them here.  Then, she suddenly became the horse she was at the end of the fall, last year.

Soon, it seemed like she spooked less, traveled with a loose rein, more and just seemed more relaxed.  That’s when we really started having some terrific rides.  So we worked on her following instead of leading.  That was a very easy lesson--because this isn’t the same Bella as before.

The phrase, “Bella being Bella,” is outdated.  Bella is a different horse, now.  We are going to have a fantastic summer of riding.

But what am I going to write about?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Book

My publisher is downsizing their warehouse.  Consequently, I now have several cartons of books at my house that I want to sell.  

“Trail Training for the Horse and Rider” is a highly readable, how-to book for trail riding.  I cover training the green horse, retraining the spoiled horse, negotiating difficult obstacles and terrain, conditioning, dealing with difficult weather and more.

It costs $20.00 plus $4.00 to ship.  If you are a local person, we could arrange to meet to save shipping costs.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Starry’s Turn

Starry’s Turn

The next day, Shari and I found ourselves back on the hill.  The river can be very troublesome in the spring.  We did one trip down with Cole doing some trotting in the lead and Bella following like an angel.  On the way back up, we found Kevin and Starry.

Remember that Starry has been struggling since last summer with his own leadership problems.  He doesn’t want to be lead horse.  He has improved so much since then, but he still isn’t reliable.

There is another problem.  Starry has fallen in love with Bella.  He will follow her to the ends of the earth.  He doesn’t like Cole to be between them.  Cole doesn’t mind if he can’t follow directly behind Bella, so that isn’t a problem.  The real problem is how to get Starry in front of Bella.

Kevin knew all this, and decided he would just leave.  He didn't want to mess up our ride.  It took much convincing to get him to stay.  This was a training ride for us, and it could be a training ride for him, too.  The hill can be so repetitive that we welcomed having another horse to liven things up.  We wanted to see if Bella would follow a horse other than Cole.  Of course, we had to get Starry in the lead, first.

Right away, Starry went into his backing up routine, swishing his tail and adamantly refusing to go in front of Bella.  The hill is a terrible place for this behavior with a nearly sheer drop on one side of the trail and a ditch on the other side.  Kevin decided to wait and try at the bottom.

We have learned that one way to trick Starry into taking the lead is to stop the other horse either on a slope or at the very bottom of one.  Starry then has momentum going down the hill and keeps going past.  Sometimes he will stop at the bottom and Kevin has to urge him on.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  It didn’t work this time.  Kevin had to use his mean voice, and Starry reluctantly stepped forward.  He then got a lot of praise.

Kevin asked Starry to trot, Bella was second and I took up the end.  We trotted along the flat stretch of trail at the bottom of the hill with ease.  Yes, Bella will follow other horses, too.

On the way back, there was an incident that caused a 4-letter word to leap out of Kevin’s mouth--and Starry wasn’t even leading at the time.  We were trotting ahead of him, and he turned into the Bella of old.  He wanted to catch up and was snaking his head; trying to pull the reins out of Kevin’s hands.  After that, Kevin really just wanted to go back home.  He didn’t think he could convince Starry to cooperate at all and once again was worried that he would ruin our ride.  We insisted he stay.

We went back up the hill, turned around and headed back down.  At the bottom, Shari stopped and Kevin kept Starry going--right past Bella.  We trotted, and it was great.  We turned around and Kevin was able to convince Starry to pass Bella and then to pass Cole, too.

We did another trip up and down the hill with sometimes Starry leading and sometimes Cole leading.  Starry still wanted to be by Bella, but he didn’t have to be following her anymore.  He seemed content to have her close behind.  

Kevin was so proud of his Starry.  In the beginning, he was certain of failure.  Shari told him he was being too negative.  Starry is a good horse and if we all work together, he will become an even better horse--just like Bella did.