Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Brenda Goes Flying
It was a beautiful December afternoon for a ride. Brenda joined Kevin and me on a trail ride. Her horse is Archie, a huge Quarter Horse gelding. We have ridden with Brenda plenty of times, but I seldom mention her because Archie is a pretty good horse. He does have the slow Quarter Horse gaits, so he has trouble keeping up with us. If we trot, he needs to canter. Well, it is a Quarter Horse lope. Unfortunately, if he has a lot of energy, he will throw in a buck now and then.
We crossed the river and started trotting on the other side. That didn't last long because we saw Paula and Chris on their way home. We slowed down and exchanged greetings. Once we passed, we began to trot, again. Kevin was in the lead, followed by me. Brenda, with the slower horse, was behind us. After only about 30 seconds of trotting, we heard Brenda yell, so we immediately stopped and turned around.
I was the first one to see Brenda on the ground; motionless. Archie was galloping down the adjacent paved bike path--going away from home. We both leapt off our horses and headed for Brenda.
Do you know how it is when you are in a crisis situation and time slows down? Well, I think that is just what happened. Though we couldn’t have been 50 feet away, it seemed to take about an hour to get to Brenda. We were calling and calling her name, but there was no answer. I thought she was dead. Archie came cantering back down the bike trail, turned and went towards Brenda. He saw that she was useless and turned towards us, but he didn’t go on the trail. He trotted through the underbrush and ended up stuck on a pile of logs--with a sapling wedged along his neck. Being a smart horse, he decided to stay still until someone came to help him. I stopped Cole by Archie to keep him quiet and Kevin continued the long trek towards Brenda.
Time isn’t the only thing that slowed down--so did Starry. I have never seen him walk so slow--ever. We continued to call to Brenda. I saw her leg move--she was alive! Kevin kept dragging Starry to Brenda.
A couple cars saw there was a problem and stopped. We now had some help! One man called 911. The other man asked us what he could do. I asked him to hold Cole while I untangled Archie. Kevin finally got to Brenda, and she was unconscious.
I carefully maneuvered Archie out of his predicament. I glanced back at Cole, and he was bowing. With Archie safe, I thanked the man; relieved that Archie wouldn’t be running towards home.
I could hear Kevin telling Brenda not to stand up. That was a good sign! While I was untangling Archie, she came back to consciousness and was becoming feisty. I held the 2 horses, still at a distance from them. The man who called 911 was now by Kevin. They were both trying to convince Brenda to stay down, but she had enough of lying in the mud and slowly got to her feet--and nearly fell right over. They caught her and held her up as she swayed back and forth. She was in really bad shape.
I managed to get the horses over to her. She wanted to go home. We wanted her to stay until help came. She was talking slowly and slightly slurred. The emergency responders called us back and asked for further directions. They weren’t far away. Brenda took Archie and started walking away. She just wouldn’t listen.
I got back on Cole because he kept bowing to get my attention. At least if I was on his back, he wouldn’t bow. Well, that didn’t last long--here came a huge firetruck with its light flashing! The part of the trail that were were at was right by a fence that separated the paved bike path--which was right by the street. The truck was coming right to us. I hopped off--only to see an ambulance and ranger’s car heading our way, too, with their lights flashing. I am so glad they didn’t have the sirens going, too.
I am glad to say that all 3 horses didn’t care in the least. Brenda just kept walking away. The driver of the fire truck asked me if I was all right. His truck was very loud, so I shouted to him it wasn’t me, and pointed to Brenda and said she was getting away.
He backed up his truck and intercepted her. They were talking when I caught up to them and pulled out the stretcher. Now that the professionals were there, we could work on the problem of Archie. It was getting dark, and we had to get Archie home. I quickly ran the options through my head. I have never used Cole for ponying, so that wasn’t the greatest idea. We had to cross the river to get home. It would be hard to lead 2 horses across--the greatest risk would be for the leader slipping on the slate bottom and falling--not to mention the water was cold.
Since we weren't that far from the barn, I volunteered to ride Cole home and get my car, drive to the park and ride Archie home. I geve Archie to the ranger to hold. Kevin stayed with them, too. I trotted Cole off, crossed the river and headed up the hill. Once across, I tried to trot. He got all excited, and I realized I would be safer to walk up the hill fast than to trot. Cole did go very, very fast up the hill at a walk, and we were home in no time.
I saw Chris in her car, and the lightbulb went off in my head. I asked her to give me a ride down to the park. That way, I wouldn’t have to leave my car--and it might be good to have another person to help out. She was glad to do us the favor, and it turned out to be a great thing. When I got back down there, the ranger gave me Archie and asked Chris to stay. Brenda was refusing to go to the hospital and would need a ride back to the barn. They certainly didn’t want her to ride Archie back.
Kevin and I walked the horses to the river. I didn’t want to bother adjusting the stirrups on the western saddle, and since Archie is so tall--and Brenda is so short---I couldn’t mount from the ground. There is a log there that we intended to use as a mounting block.
As soon as I got on, I realized that Archie was trained much different than my horses! He was trained as a proper western horse, and had a curb bit. The lightest contact made him back up. I accidently neck reined him to the left--and then to the right. Ooops! Immediately, I knew that I was only going to ride him across the river and then lead up the hill. I was a fish out of water on his back--and with no stirrups! I had Kevin go down the river bank first, and I asked Archie to follow. He was fine. I hopped off as soon as I got through the muddy river bank on the other side and led him home.
Brenda was back at the barn when we got back. She still seemed out of it, but she was walking around. Bending was impossible. Her hip seemed to be bothering her. We didn’t want her to drive home, but there was no stopping her. We had her promise to call us when she got home, so we would know she was safe.
She kept her promise. By then, her hip was so bad that she decided to go to the hospital to get it xrayed. Turned out nothing was broken. She did have a concussion, of course, but they checked and there was no bleeding on the brain, so that was good news. She is very, very sore, though. I was just happy she wasn’t dead--because there was a minute there that I thought she was.
She fell because Archie bucked as she tried to keep up with us at a canter. She wasn’t that far away, so I think it was caused by high spirits on Archie’s part. Brenda didn’t want me to write about the experience because she was embarrassed by it, but there isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. Accidents happen, and it could have been so much worse. She also said there wasn’t anything anyone could learn from this--but there was. She did one thing right--she fell in the mud. At least she had a little cushion when she hit the ground.
So, if you are going to fall, aim for the mud.
Friday, December 1, 2017
Starry is a Superstar
Starry, the only horse in the world named Starry with a blaze, has come so far. Over the last month, he has become a reluctant leader.
It hasn’t been easy. We tried a lot of things--and kept the ones that seemed to help. Clicker training worked well to help him pass, but Kevin didn’t want to give him a treat every time he passed a horse, so Starry would revert, after a while.
It did backfire. In a way. Kevin would say “Good boy,” click and then treat. Starry started to stop whenever Kevin just said “Good boy.” He changed it to “Good job.” It worked. Kevin had a way to praise him when he was good.
We avoided even trying in the places that Starry was particularly reluctant to take the lead. Turning around to go home was simply impossible. We would wait until we got down the trail to ask him to lead.
We tried to avoid conflict when making him the leader. Certain places were easier to put Starry in the lead. A good time to do it was when we were crossing a river. We used that to get him in the lead without a fuss and leave him there.
As we chipped away at his resistance, things just started to get easier. If we were trotting along and he slammed on his breaks to get Cole to pass, I just turned Cole away and left him. When he saw that Cole, not only wasn’t passing him--but leaving him--he would start walking, again. As soon as I saw that, I would turn Cole back around. In a short while, Cole only had to go a step or two away.
Of course, the heart of the problem was passing Dante. I now try to guide Starry with Cole leading him by Dante. Kevin tells him, “Good job,” and we lead him down the trail for a little bit. Then, I can pull Cole off to the side of the trail to let Starry pass. If he doesn't pass willingly, I bring Cole behind Starry and away he goes.
In the beginning, this didn't always work. In the last few rides, it has worked marvelously. We are now a well-choreographed team. He will even take the lead when we turn around to go home--which was impossible, before.
We are so proud of Kevin and Starry for solving the problem. We know there are still going to be moments when Starry acts up, but we know what to do to help him through. Starry is a Superstar.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Ellen Tackles the Loop
We have had a terrific year of trail riding--which has kept us away from riding at the barn. Now, as the season winds up, we are adjusting to it by integrating arena riding and loop riding.
The loop is in the back of the property. It is about a quarter mile. Riding it is a combination of challenging and boring. It may seems contradictory, but that’s how it works out. The horses can be difficult at times because we are so close to the barn--it lures them like a magnet. Once we work out that, it gets fairly boring--just going around and around. Still, it gives us an option other than the indoor arena.
The loop is great if your are riding at dusk--or even in the dark. I used to do that alot. We now have another reason to ride the loop. The park tried to fix our trail on the hill down to the river, but they didn’t finish it. They put down a bunch of clay, that has turned into nasty mud, and in doing that--covered the culverts--causing flooding. The water has started running right down the center of the trail, and eroded it down to the base stone where it isn’t mud. In other words, it isn’t much fun to ride on--and it is hard on their hooves.
The loop now looks better than the hill if we can’t cross the river.
Cole is good on the loop because I did it so much when I was still working and didn’t have enough daylight to ride on the trail. Ellen works different hours, so she can go on the trail most of the time. Years ago, when she didn’t have anyone to trail ride with, she rode the loop a lot with Dante, and he was very good--but that was a long time ago.
But there is a problem with Dante. If he hasn’t done something for a while, he can be very, very bad the first time. Last year, I tried to ride Dante on the loop when Ellen wasn't’ there. I didn’t make it very far. He felt like he was going to explode. I dismounted--and then he exploded. He leapt up in the air, jumped about and stomped the ground in a temper tantrum. The rest of the ride was spent leading him as his tantrums diminished. It was simply no fun at all for either of us.
I didn’t have an opportunity to try it again, though I am certain that if I did, he would have been much better. That’s just the way Dante is.
One morning, had a rain storm the left us with two and a half inches of rain--there was no way we could cross the river. Since the hill was such a mess and it was likely that we could get more rain, any minute, Ellen opted to ride in the arena. I joined her with Cole, but when she finished with Dante and brought him to his stall, I took Cole out on the loop. Ellen walked with us.
The next day, we knew the river would still be too high. This time, Ellen decided to brave the loop. She knew that Cole would be an angel since she saw how good he was the day before. We hoped that since Dante is used to going along with Cole on the trail, he will just transfer his behavior to the loop. It is just a trail, after all.
As we started out, Dante was tossing his head all over the place, but his feet behaved. Ellen was nervous, and said she didn’t think she would make too many laps. Whenever she got nervous, we stopped. I made sure that Cole didn’t get too far ahead.
Dante had one slow motion protest after the first lap, but it didn't surprise Ellen, and she just dealt with it. At one point, there was some noisy construction equipment a few doors down. That made Ellen nervous, but Dante was just fine.
With each lap, Dante relaxed more and Ellen lost a little of her nervousness. We did six laps at a walk, and Ellen was in the saddle the whole time. She was so happy that she succeeded in her goal. I was very proud of her and Dante for doing so well. We now have another option for the rainy days when we don’t want to go down the hill.
Monday, November 20, 2017
Why I Love to Ride in November
Here in northeast Ohio, November ushers in cold and miserable weather--but not every day is like that. To Ellen, Kevin and me, the trail riding doesn’t stop when we turn over the October calendar page.
If it is above freezing--and not raining--there is a good chance you will see us out there. Most of the leaves are off the trees, right now. Our beautiful trails aren’t that beautiful anymore--but that is an advantage. Gone are all the sightseers. The only people out there are the diehards like us. No more loud motorcycles or hotrods. In fact, there are hardly any people on the trail except us! It is wonderful.
There are no bugs! No bug spray that doesn’t work, anyway! That does slow Starry down, though. Just a couple bugs flying around him will make him toss his head around and go faster. Now, he leisurely plods down the trail.
Our trails are rather hard and dry most of the time. We don’t have much mud to deal with, which is nice, but that also means they are very hard in the summer. We get enough rain this time of year, that the trails have some give to them. The horses appreciate it, and we do, too.
Since there are few leaves on the trees, we can see around the corners. That way, we know what is ahead of us on the trail. Also, some horses get upset if their friends go around a corner and then they can’t see them. That doesn't happen this time of year. There is also less temptation to reach out and grab a branch.
We don’t have to worry so much that the horses get too hot--meaning we can trot much more when we are close to home. That helps us keep warm, too.
We do get more days that are rained out or the river is too high to cross. There is also a chance that snow will keep horses off the trail if they still have shoes, but that doesn’t happen too often. Sometimes, it is so cold that the trail is frozen--and then we just walk--and freeze. Most of the time, we still feel it is better than riding in the indoor arena. We have all winter for that.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
The Same Old Trails
We don't have a horse trailer. We don't have a truck to pull a horse trailer. We are stuck riding on the same old trails, ride after ride.
Actually, I’m not complaining. It may not be as exciting as exploring the world at large, but we do explore the small world around us. We ride in the Cleveland MetroParks, and we are so grateful to have them. Here we live in a large urban area--and we can go trail riding whenever we like! It is awesome.
We never know what we might encounter. Sometimes, we see nothing of note, at all. Other times, we can see wild turkeys! We love the turkeys. They aren’t much afraid of horses, so we can get pretty close to them. They are so beautiful. If we are lucky, we will see them fly up into the trees or across the river. Usually, they just walk on by.
We see deer all the time, so they are nothing special. I prefer watching the squirrels more than the deer. I think squirrels are adorable. They come in black, gray or red. We also have fox squirrels. My favorite are the red squirrels. The are more skittish than the rest and run so fast that we call them the speed squirrels.
We have a fox that we see on the hill, occasionally. A few months ago, we followed him up the hill, until he stopped at the side of the trail to let us pass. There was a pair of foxes that grew up in a horse pasture a few doors down. We think this might be one of them. He simply has no fear of horses, at all.
We do see a coyote, now and then. They seem to make the horses a little nervous. We know there are plenty out there, but they are rather elusive.
Once or twice a year, we may be lucky enough to see a mink.
Of course, we see lots of birds. On a good day, we will see one of the bald eagles that live in the area. There are a lot of Great Blue Herons along the river. Sometimes we see, but more often hear, a barred owl. Wood ducks, mallard ducks and geese are always in the river. They have been known to spook the horses when they splash down.
We will see turtles now and then. Kevin loves turtles. One time, Ellen placed a fake turtle close to the trail by a wetlands. As we rode by, she pointed to it and said to Kevin, “There’s a turtle.” We have never seen him leap off Starry so fast. We all had a good laugh when he realized the turtle wasn’t real.
A few weeks ago, we were crossing a river. I was in the lead, and I saw a dark creature swimming down the center of the river--low in the water. I pointed it out. At first, I thought it was a big fish. My second thought was that it was a snapping turtle. Kevin had seen one there, recently. As it got closer--I realized it was a beaver! It was so cool to see him go by. We have beavers in the nearby wetlands, but we have never seen one swimming by us in the river. We watched him as he swam away…
So, though we may be riding the same old trails, there is always a chance of seeing something wonderful.
Monday, October 30, 2017
I Venture Back into the Arena
For those of you that have followed my adventures for a long time, you may remember that Cole and I have had some issues in the arena. In the early days, he took to bolting away from the scary corner whenever he heard a noise--or just felt like it. It happened enough that I learned to just stay on the safe side of the arena until he seemed calm.
After months of riding him in there, we finally worked it out, and I could ride him through the scary corner without any fear.
Then we spent a summer trail riding. The following fall, I found myself back in the arena--with the same problem. I got anxious about it, and we ended up back on the safe side until we worked it out--many rides later.
This has happened every year, since. Last year, I was determined to be brave, and took him to the scary corner early in the ride--he bolted. I was back where I started.
This is really my problem, not his. I am a good enough rider to handle his bolts. I either catch him in the first stride and stop him handily or, if he catches me by surprise, I can certainly ride a brisk gallop to the other end of the arena. After thwarting him a few times, Cole gives up. He only wants to please me--he’s just that kind of horse. It’s all in my head.
Consequently, my first ride in the arena of the year is a big deal.
Ellen and I had hoped to ride in the park, but it was cold and rainy. It wasn’t a hard rain. If it was warmer, we may have hit the trail, but it just isn’t pleasant for anyone when it is cold and rainy. It was time to tackle the arena.
I decided to be cautious and try not to think too much about it. Cole was very excited when I led him towards the arena. As a clicker horse, he likes to go where the treats are plentiful. He parked out, bowed and then he was ready for fun!
I mounted up, and he went right into the silly walk. I clicked him for it, and then told him it was time for regular walk. We headed right to the scary corner and did a full lap without any problems--and I didn’t break out into a cold sweat. That was a very good start. I went back to the safe end and walked some circles. Ellen was already trotting around with Dante. I think she was showing off
I ventured off to the scary end of the arena, again. Cole was fine! I went back to the safe side and did more walking. Brenda joined us on Archie, and he was perfect, as usual.
After about 10 minutes of walking around, I knew it was time to trot. Archie and Dante were doing their slow, quiet trot--making it all look so easy. If only that was what I had to deal with. Instead, I have the Big Trot!
Yes, Cole has a completely different trot, and it isn’t easy to ride. It is my fault--when he offered it, back in the early days, I clicked and encouraged it. His trot is big, powerful and beautiful. He seldom does it on the trail, unless he sees someone and wants to show off, so I get way out of practice over the summer.
I braced myself, (which you have to do or you will lose your seat,) and he launched. It was big, it was powerful and I assume it was a beautiful trot, but it wasn’t out of control as it sometimes is when he is excited. I did half a circle, exhaled deeply and he came to a lovely halt. I had my horse back. Of course, he got clicked.
We practiced our circles on the safe end. Before I knew it, we were doing full circles. I had to keep an eye out for Archie and Dante. Since they go so much slower, it is easy to get in their way. This keeps me focused on where we are and in the moment.
I even threw in a shoulder-in at the trot just for fun--and it was his best--ever!
I didn’t trot on the scary end, but by the end of our session, I was walking through it and trotting back to the safe end. Everything went so well for our first ride in the arena since March.
As the ride wound down, it was time for Cole’s favorite time of the ride--TRICKS!
Tricks really just consist of side pass, turn on the haunches and the hardest trick of all--backing up. Since I click him for his tricks, he just loves them. He will do them all day if I let him. Trick time is a great way to end a surprisingly successful first arena ride.
I hope it will be a while before the second one...
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
I had the opportunity to take Starry for a ride with Ellen and Dante. I didn’t know how he would do. Would he be willing to take the lead? Would he get stuck going backwards? Would I survive his trot?
Starry has the worst trot--ever. He has an incredible amount of bounce and it is somewhat irregular. Of course, you have to post, but posting isn’t easy. The faster he goes, the easier it is to post--the main reason we don’t want to follow pokey Dante.
When I mounted Starry, we were in the lead. I asked him to walk a few steps and clicked him. I did this a few times to accustom Starry to the sound of my click which is different from Kevin’s click. He understood, but once Dante caught up with us, he refused to take the lead. Dante had to go first.
Halfway down the hill, the trail gets a little wider and the far right end has a very small tree that you can go off the trail, go around it and go back on the trail. This is a place where we can often trick Starry by stopping and hiding behind the tree. Of course Starry can still see us, but sometimes he will still pass us and take the lead.
It worked, and we were in the lead. Starry marched down the rest of the hill, into the river and to the trail on the other side. This was an accomplishiment in itself. There have been more than a few incidents where Starry gets halfway up the river bank, realizes he isn’t in the lead and stalls out or starts backing up. It is too narrow to pass him, so that leaves Ellen stranded in the water until Kevin works it out.
Another place that Starry has problems at is just coming out the river to head down the trail. When I reached that spot, I woudn’t let him pause. Instead of waiting for Ellen, I kept him marching down the trail. When I would feel him slowing, I squeezed my legs to keep him moving. I did click him a few times for walking well. When I saw that Ellen made it across the river, I started trotting.
Since Starry knew that Dante was back there, he didn’t want to trot fast, at all. The slower he goes, the rougher his trot becomes--and I was having a hard time finding his rhythm. I decided my best bet would be to only trot short distances, wait until Ellen gets closer and trot on ahead. When I was walking, I woould intermittently click him for forward movement. Starry and I were gettng along quite well.
This is how we handled things until we got to the next river crossing. We decided to turn and head towards home. Starry wouldn’t take the lead, but that was no surprise. The turnaround point is one of his troublespots. We let Dante go in the lead and started to trot.
I wouldn’t let Starry follow directly behind Dante--I had him offset to one side. Dante trots much faster on the way home--particularly on that section of the trail. Still, he wasn’t going at top speed. Starry started inching up. Before we knew it, we were right next to each other. He had done this on the last ride with Kevin, so that was what I expected. I squeezed my lega to ask for more speed. We started gradually passing! At a trot! Shortly after taking the lead, we reached the spot that we planned to stop, so we did. Starry was in the lead. I asked him to walk--and he did! He led all the way home.
We had decided to pass up home and go a little the other direction. Before I reached the river bank that I planned to pass instead of go down, Starry figured us out and stalled. I couldn’t get him to take a step forward. We can’t figure out how he knew we weren’t going home. Dante had to take the lead. We passed up home. I tried to get Starry in the lead, but it just wasn’t happening. We ended up turning around and going home. Starry was happy to lead across the river and up the hill to the barn.
He wasn’t perfect, but he did pretty good. I just wish he was easier to trot, and we would have done a lot more of it. It is always fun to ride another horse, and Starry is pretty awesome.
Friday, September 29, 2017
Dante keeps getting better. I wish I could say the same about Starry. He is still inconsistent about taking the lead. He will follow a perfect ride with a disaster ride. He just wants to follow Dante so much. He doesn’t mind leading if he is only with Cole--the problem is the bromance between Starry and Dante.
It is actually very comical. The rides are always more entertaining when Starry joins us. Let’s say Dante is in the lead, followed by Starry and lastly, Cole. After a while, Cole can’t handle walking that slow, and he wanted to take the lead. He will try to pass Starry, and Starry will walk faster and block him from getting between him and Dante. Once Cole gets ahead of him and starts to pass Dante, Starry could care less.
If Starry didn't trot so fast and Dante trot so slow, none of this would be a problem. They walk at the same speed. Cole likes to do everything fast, so it doesn’t matter when it is just Cole and Starry. Still, when we are riding without Dante, we practice putting Starry in the lead so he is better when we ride with Dante.
Kevin can easily get Starry to go in the lead when we are crossing a river. Once he is in the lead, he is usually happy to be there. If Starry has momentum on a hill, we can stop our horses, and often he goes right past. At the beginning of the ride, when we cross the river, the trail either goes right or left. We will go one way, and Kevin will go the other way. Once he gets going, we turn around and catch up with him.
One of the funny ways we can get Starry to pass is to hide our horses. It doesn’t work all the time, but it is one of our most successful ploys. We just pull our horses way off the trail if there is a side trail we can go on. If we are far enough away, Starry will go right past. We laugh at him whenever we can trick him like that. It can be a lot of fun to have Starry with us.
And then there are the times when Starry just decides to take the lead!
Starry logic can sometimes be illogical. Sometimes, Kevin will leave ahead of me. When he gets to the end of the trail, he turns around to go home--and Starry won’t go! He neighs for us and waits there for us to catch up with him--even though if he goes towards home, he will catch up with us even sooner. Sometimes, he has to wait a long time, too. Starry always keeps us laughing.
Monday, September 25, 2017
Crossing the River on Dante
Horse training is never finished. It goes on and on. Sometimes you get a horse doing just what you want--and then your needs change. Nothing stops us from retraining our horses to meet different circumstances. That is exactly where Ellen finds herself with Dante.
Ellen has been working on getting him to cross rivers faster. Here is a little background. When she first got Dante, he didn’t like crossing rivers, so he tried to do it very, very fast. One day, he ended up tripping on something, falling and Ellen and Dante ended up taking a bath. Neither one of them got hurt, but they were both shaken up. It was a bad scene.
Dante then decided he wasn’t crossing rivers any more. I worked with him a couple of weeks, and he not only started to cross, but he did it slowly and carefully. Ellen started riding him, again, but she was nervous. It was a traumatic experience for her--and she didn’t want to cross rivers, any more, either.
Since we use clicker training, she was the most comfortable asking him to stop often while crossing--and clicking him when she did. The more nervous she was, (like when the river was higher,) the more she clicked. It helped them both. Dante liked hanging out in the river eating carrots. Ellen felt better because she felt she was in control. Both of them increased their confidence.
Now, a few years down the road, she got tired of long, drawn-out river crossings. It was time to remove the crutch. Instead of clicking him for reaching the top of the bank, the edge of the river, putting his front feet in the water, getting to the middle of the river and getting to the other side, she started to take clicks away.
In her early training, she made a classic clicker training mistake. She taught him to stop in the river--but not to go in the river. It caused Dante to stall out--in hopes of getting a click. It is a good idea, when we use clicker, to train a behavior and then train the opposite behavior.
Ellen began clicking Dante for walking the way she liked when he was crossing. Now, he knew he could get a click for stopping or for walking.
Early on, Dante did some protesting. He wanted his treats--he thought stopping would get them for him. Ellen held firm and clicked him for walking. She gradually removed the clicks--but still praised him. In just about a month, Dante is a whole different river-crossing horse. He will now walk right across and a reasonable speed without a single stop. He seems relaxed, too.
I like it because I am no longer on the other side, waiting for them. Sometimes, it seemed to take 5 minutes to cross when it should take less than a minute. Our rides seem faster, too.
Dante hasn’t been doing his business in the river as much, either. Remember how he would do it and get scared when the plops splashed him? He is just as likely to do it on land and in the water. When he does it in the water, he no longer panics. Everything has worked out so well!
Friday, September 15, 2017
Ellen is riding! She is even trotting! The first day was a little scary. She saddled him, and he acted well behaved, but when she brought out the bridle, he got really, really excited. Once she mounted, Ranger was all bouncy and prancy. Ellen rode him about 5 minutes. I told her to remember this when she claims Dante is acting hyper. Dante’s hyper is a quiet day for Ranger.
After that ride, he did much better. The first day she asked him to trot, but was super enthusiastic about it, but he has mellowed out about it, since. We take him for half hour walks, and she has been riding about half of his walks. Early on, he was insecure and wanted me close to him. (He has vision issues.) Now, he doesn’t seem to care where I am. When she is out at the barn without me, she feels she will be able to ride him alone.
Ellen trots just short stretches--asking him to go a little longer with each ride. She will click him when he is moving the way she wants him to. Of course, he stops to get his treat, but it just gives her a chance to do it, again.
They both seem to be having fun, so if all goes well, Ellen plans to continue at least until it gets really cold. It is much warmer to lead than to ride a horse that is mostly walking.
Ranger’s status has changed from retired to semi-retired!
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Ranger’s breathing is so improved, that Ellen decided to try riding him, again. She rode him a few times in the spring, but that has been it. Remember, she retrained him for saddling. Though he isn’t perfect, he is so much better than he was--it takes the saddling obstacle out of the picture.
Her first time up, she planned to ride him a few laps in the arena, and if that went well, they would ride outside. He was fine for the saddling. When he saw her bringing out the bridle, he got so excited! That certainly wasn’t what we were expecting.
He charged out of the barn on his way to the arena. She led him around to get him to settle down. Once he seemed a little better, she mounted up. Her plan of riding a few laps in there failed. When he saw the open gate, he bullied his way to it, and she conceded.
She stayed in the saddle about 3 minutes. He was so wound up. Though he stayed at a walk, it was a bouncy, prancy walk. Ellen decided she would be safer on the ground.
The next day, we decided to try, again. This time, she led him one lap around the loop and then brought him back to the mounting block. He was so much better. Ellen was thrilled. She went 1.5 laps and then led him the remaining 4.5 laps. All went well.
The next day was the day after Labor Day. Here in Cleveland, Labor Day Weekend is Air Show Weekend. We know how to avoid the jets--which can scare horses--on the weekend, but last year, Ellen was walking him the day after and the jets flew over to go home. Ranger had a panic attack and could barely breathe. She didn’t want to risk that, again. Instead, she just walked him close to the barn, so she could duck right in if necessary.
There were no jets, but after Ellen went home, Kevin was still at the barn when they came over. THere were 8 of them, and they came one at a time. We are so glad that Ranger was safe inside when that happened.
The next ride went lovely, again. She did nearly 2 laps, and she only quit when he started to get a little anxious when he heard some distant machinery.
She is planning to continue to ride him on part of his walks. He seemed to like it, and Ellen certainly does, too. I will keep you updated.
Friday, September 1, 2017
Mud rush is a phenomenon that I have been experiencing for a long time, but I never knew what to call it. Ellen came up with a perfect name for it.
When you are riding on the trail and encounter some mud, an excited horse tends to speed up when he goes through it. Not only can they speed up, they may change gaits or even explode!
It is, of course, a bigger problem with young and green horses. When I am out on a new horse, and I come to mud that is trottable--if I am trotting, I come down to a walk. If I am walking, I am vigilant and I certainly won’t canter through it. After I get to know the horse’s tolerance to mud rush, I adjust what I do.
Even though Cole is very, very familiar with mud, if he is hyper--I walk. Muddy river banks may cause Cole to burst up. (Cruiser used to do the same thing when I wasn't paying attention.) When I think Cole may act out, I will have him stop at the bottom and ask him to walk up like a gentleman. That doesn’t always work, so if he is in a “mood,” I make sure there is no one directly ahead of him that he may startle.
When he is in a steady mood, I don’t worry about muddy river banks, and I let him go through the mud. I may give him a half halt if he is in a borderline mood. It’s all about knowing your horse and knowing his mood at the time.
Now, mud rush isn’t always such a bad thing. Dante is a quieter horse, and Ellen uses the mud to her advantage. He will speed up when he feels the softness under his feet. She will even use light mud as a good spot to ask for a canter transition. She has another technique. If she has gotten far behind Cole, she will trot right through the mud to catch up with us--knowing I will either stop or take a longer route around the mud to avoid mud rush with Cole.
As far as I know, Starry is completely unaffected by mud, and I don’t even know if Kevin is aware that we can have problems with mud rush. He walks through bad mud and trots through the rest. If we are following him, we will ask him to stop at the mud, and of course, he does. I don’t know if he knows why, though.
So, if you have a wonderful horse like Starry, please keep in mind that other horses you are with may have a case of mud rush.
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Starry and Dante’s Problems, Still
We thought that We had Dante’s problem lickecd. He was doing his business on the trail, and Ellen would reward him with a peppermint. All was well with the world. Then he decided he would only do it in the river, again. That is what he has been doing the last month. Ellen is trying to worry about it less. He usually does it when she is close to the other side. He hasn’t overreacted that much. Sometimes he walks faster, and sometimes he will trot up the bank. He is no longer doing it on dry land. It looks like she will just have to live with it.
And then there is Starry’s problem. For the last year or so, he has been reluctant to take the lead when we are on the trail. He is the worst with Dante, his best friend. This has caused Kevin much frustration.
He has tried changing Starry’s behavior with clicker training, and that is when he has the most success. Then, he feels that Starry should be over it and quits the clicks. Clicker training isn’t ever an instant cure all. Repetition is a must, and then you can fade it off. Kevin doesn’t like the repetition, and in the past, fading off meant going cold turkey. Then, he would end up back where he started.
Finally, it seemed like the lesson sunk in. So often, it is harder to teach the human than the horse. Kevin got serious about the clicking. We didn’t even try it with Dante, in the beginning. He has always been better with Cole, so that is when we did our training. On our rides, I would take Cole far to the side of the trail. Kevn would ask him to pass, and clicked him for any forward movement. Eventually, Starry would pass. If he started to fight, we would just give up and try later on the trail.
In a few weeks, Starry was doing pretty good. Kevin would only click when he got ahead of Cole and if he didn’t pass, he got no clicks. We finally got to the place where we could go on an hour ride and Starry would lead the whole time.
We then started to work with him and Dante. It was, and is still, much tricker. Sometimes, we would get him to pass Dante by following Cole--and then down the trail, we would ask him to pass Cole. Kevin would still click intermittently. Of course, he always gets “good boys.”
There are still places where it is nearly impossible to get him in the lead if Dante is there. One of those spots is when we cross the second river on the way home. On our last ride, together, Ellen and I went way off the trail and watched him.
Kevin asked him walk, and Starry stepped backwards 3 steps--then he went forward a step--click. Kevin repeated it, but this time Starry went back only 2 steps--then forward-click. He tried again, backwards one step--forward click. The last attempt, he only stepped backwards a half step before going forward.
We did have one perfect ride with Dante, Starry and Cole. It was a shorter ride, but it still counts. Starry led the whole way with no drama. The next day, he was back to his old tricks. Kevin wants instant results, and we have to be there to encourage him when things don’t go as well as he likes. There was a time when there was no chance that Starry would pass up Dante, and now he does it often, though he isn’t as consistent as we would like. We just don’t want Kevin to give up and lose his temper.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no horse is trained in a day, or week, month or even year.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
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.