Monday, September 5, 2022
Well, Ellen had 2 more solo rides in the park, and one solo trip on the hill. It all went terrific, too. Then, much to her happiness, Starry recovered and they have been riding together ever since,
Cole had his stitches removed, and his foot is nearly healed. The same day, I was hiking, slipped and broke my wrist.
Stall rest for Cole is over, and Ellen and Kevin have been leading him around. I have been walking with him, and it's just nice spending time with him outside. He has been an angel for them, and I am so proud of him.
Next weekend, when she doesn’t have to work, he will be rideable.
By then, I will know if I will need surgery on my wrist. I am glad to say that the pain has greatly subsided, and I am working on how to do things one handed.
I have yet to figure out how to brush my cat, Thunder’s teeth.
Friday, August 26, 2022
Ellen and Dante--Solo
Could it be true? Did I really just type those words?
Ellen hasn't ridden Dante alone in the park beyond the first river crossing since the year she bought him. That fall, she was leading him on the street, he spooked, knocked her down and she broke her ankle. Ever since then, her riding anxieties took over.
Of course, if you have been following her adventures, you would know that she is getting braver all the time, and this summer, in particular, she has been outstanding.
Still, there really wasn't any reason for her to go riding on the trail by herself. Since I retired, if I know she is planning to ride, I want to be there with her. We have too much fun together to miss out on a ride.
So what happened? Bad luck.
First, Starry came up lame. We were hoping it was an abscess, but instead of getting worse, it started getting better. Abscesses don't do that. Kevin called the vet out, and she diagnosed a sprain and/or arthritis. She gave Kevin some anti-inflammatory pills and told him that if he improved, start light riding after the farrier came out. It was on his club foot, of course.
The following week, Cole got cut crossing the river by some fishing line. Though it wasn't a deep or long cut, it was in a terrible spot--the back of his leg--just above his hoof. There was a flap, and as he stepped, the wound would gape. I called the vet, and she gave him 4 stitches, wrapped his leg and told me that he needed stall rest for 2 weeks until the stitches came out. Even with our precautions, she still couldn't guarantee that the stitches would hold.
That left Ellen without her riding buddies. Shari has a different schedule than she used to, so we only get to ride with Bella on Sundays.
If Ellen wanted to ride on the trail, she had to go solo.
Well, not exactly. Since I didn't have a horse to ride, I could go with her on foot. The river isn't too high, and it doesn't bother me to get my feet wet. This would be the first time that Dante would be crossing the river and riding on the other side without another horse in 8 years! Plus, I certainly couldn't keep up with them when they trot and canter.
The day after Cole got his stitches was the first day of Dante's independent rides. Cole was not happy with the situation, and the people at the barn had to give him extra hay to quiet him down. Starry gave us a little neigh, too, when he saw us walking down the driveway without him.
The ride was such a non-event, that there really isn't much to write about. Most of the time, Ellen wasn't even nervous. She trotted off to the second river where she was going to turn around. It was there when the only scary thing happened on the whole ride.
We always see a lot of high school boys that are on the track team running down the trail in late summer and early fall. Our horses are very accustomed to them. They must have been told by their teachers to always stop for horses, because they do--every time. That is, if they actually see us.
When Ellen stopped at the river to turn around, a large group of them decided to run through the river! They made a big ruckus, and they must have looked scary to a horse, but Dante didn't care! I'm not sure how Cole would have been. Even Starry might have been startled. I'm sure Bella would have been halfway home before they even got across. Dante is a superstar.
Ellen caught up with me, and we went home.
Day one was great!
Monday, July 25, 2022
Awesome Horse, Dante
Ellen, Kevin, Shari and I went out for a ride in the park. Since it was so hot, it was hard to motivate Dante to go much faster than a slow trot. Bella can go slow, but not that slow. On days like this, we split up with either Kevin riding with Shari and me staying back with Ellen or I will ride with Shari. Starry and Bella absolutely adore each other. It seems cruel to keep them apart, so on this morning, Ellen and I let them go on off without us.
They will stop and wait for us periodically, and generally, we are much closer together on the way home since they will go slower and Dante goes a little faster when we are heading to the barn.
As usual, they waited for us at the second river. When we caught up, they crossed and walked slowly down the trail. Ever since the day that Cole fell in the river which startled Starry--causing him to fall, too, we avoid crossing the river all at one time unless at least one horse is on sure footing. It makes our river crossings slower, but we are a little safer this way.
Ellen started Dante across as I waited at the river's edge. She has been working on keeping him moving when he crosses the water, and he has improved so much, but she has to keep up with it. Dante is always looking for an opening to slip back into his wicked ways.
They were about two thirds across when I saw Dante take an odd step. Ellen stopped and in a slightly panicked voice, said just two words, "Fishing line."
She backed up a little bit and slowly maneuvered Dante around like a coal barge. She told me that the wire, which must have been tangled somehow in the low branches above the river was stretched across his chest. He felt it, and communicated to Ellen that there was a problem. She looked down, and first thought it was just a spider web. Suddenly, it dawned on her that it was a fishing line, and she knew she had to retreat before Dante somehow got tangled in it.
Now, she had a new problem. There are two ways that we cross the river over there. There is Ellen's way, which goes under the tree branches. It isn't as deep, but you have to go around some rocks. There aren't many rocks there this year, since Kevin was able to clear them out, so I have been riding that way, too.
The other way is Kevin's way--which is the way the Shari and Kevin went. You don't have to worry about rocks, but it is measurably deeper and for a longer distance than Ellen's way. The thought of going through the deeper water makes Ellen very anxious. Dante has done it before with me and a few times with Ellen last year, but she still doesn't like it. She had no choice, now. The only other option was to cross the ford, but since she was already in the water, that didn't make much sense.
She brought Dante back towards me and slowly positioned herself to head for the deep section. Dante was not moving very willingly, and I could see Ellen get nervous. It looked like Dante was done with river crossing.
Then I saw it--Dante's tail slowly rising! He had to do his business. When Dante first started doing his business in the river a few years ago, he scared himself with the splashing. So what did he do? He continued doing it in the river--scaring Ellen, too. Over time, he has improved, but he still gets very tense and sometimes he will rush across. Ellen tries to keep him standing, and when he does, he gets a treat. This year, it has barely been a problem, but Ellen was already nervous.
She held him still, he did what he needed to do and then Ellen knew he would cross. That was the reason he was so reluctant to move.
She carefully guided Dante across. Since the river was very low, the water was only a couple inches above his knees. Step my step, they got to the other side.
After all this time, Bella and Starry were nowhere to be seen. Dante was in the lead. We trotted up to the next hill, walked up it and proceeded to trot down the trail. Dante was in the lead and going at a good speed, but with all the standing around, Cole was feeling like going faster. I couldn't get him to match Dante's speed. We would catch up, stop, walk a bit and start trotting.
We were walking when I heard a very loud motorcycle. I figured I might as well just stop him until it passed--since I was having no trouble keeping up with Dante. As it passed, Cole jumped and tried to take off. At that moment, there was also a man riding a bike up the hill on the parallel paved bike path. He had a radio on his bike that was blasting one of those bad 70's songs.
I was able to contain Cole by bending him. He hopped twice, but didn't get anywhere. Dante noticed Cole and took off running. Due to a bend in the trail, Dante was going straight for the paved bike path. Ellen swerved him away--and then he stopped.
We both decided it wasn't the motorcycle that caused the problem--but the bad 70's song.
After we caught our breath, we continued trotting. Eventually, we saw Shari and Kevin--totally oblivious of all that was going on. When they saw us trotting, they trotted, too. We caught them at the end of the trail.
The rest of the ride was uneventful and easy. Ellen had to cross the river through the deeper water, but other than being unsure on the best route, she did well. We took it easy on the way home because it was so warm, and enjoyed being with our friends.
Ellen was so thrilled that Dante told her there was a problem in the river instead of pushing through the wire or getting scared of it. Dante is such an awesome horse!
Friday, July 15, 2022
Extreme Trail Challenge
Ellen and I planned, for the last 2 weeks, to go up to the show ring trails for the first time this year on a day that she was scheduled to go into work late. We were both really excited about it. We wanted to do it for the first time on a weekday because the park is so much more quiet than on the weekends when Ellen doesn't have to go to work.
She felt fine about crossing the different river crossing, and she didn't seem too nervous at all about riding through the Lagoon. What got her worried was going on the hill right before the river crossing when the\landing. She is fine when the planes are taking off, but when they land, they are so low that it looks like they could hit the trees. (We ride very close to the airport.) Dante has been known to spook at the planes, and Ellen can't seem to get over it.
If the planes were taking off--no big deal. If they were landing, we weren't going to go that way--and they were. We really, really wanted to go. Ellen was extremely nervous, but she said she would try it.
The hill is not very far down the trail. We marched up it, walked across the top and started down the other side. About halfway down, we heard a loud plane approaching us. Ellen stopped Dante, shortened one rein and waited.
The waiting is the hardest part...
The reason she shortens the rein is so that instead of shooting forward, if he does anything, she can control him by spinning. He isn't a fast spinner, so it works well for him.
The problem with the low planes isn't the sound so much as he can see them just above the trees. Even if the plane isn't in his line of vision, often he can see the large shadow on the ground. The real question is, why don't more horses spook at the planes?
This time, it was the shadow. It was about 3 feet wide, and it darted across the bushes and ground. I saw Dante lift his head, get very tense--and then he couldn't take it anymore. He took 2 steps to the left--only to see Cole standing there; taking a little nap. Dante settled right down. Poor Ellen's heart was pounding so loud that I thought I could hear it.
We proceeded down the hill, crossed the river and another plane came over us. Since we were lower and the plane was behind us, it wasn't a problem. Dante stood beautifully for it. After that, we were beyond the flight path of the low-flying planes.
We had the fun part of the ride ahead of us, but Ellen couldn't get the thought of the ride back over the hill out of her head. She just tried the best to stay in the moment.
We trotted through the Lagoon, crossed the street and headed for the big hill. This is the longest, steepest hill in our park. Cole got excited and passed up Dante to go up the hill. Dante came behind; slower but very steady. We were at the top for the first time of the year!
The park has recently renovated the trails up there. They widened them, added drainage ditches, fixed the muddy sections and did a really odd thing. They made 2 cement canals that cross the trail for the water to drain. This is the first time we have run into anything like it on our bridle trails. The first one is about 4 feet wide, so you have to step down a curb, walk a couple steps and step up a curb on the other side. The second one is only about 2 feet wide. It is possible to completely step across it or step down into it.
We intentionally wanted to try crossing them on a day when there wouldn't be any water running in them. Honestly, we felt our horses would navigate them just fine, though we knew that other horses were having trouble with them.
Dante was in the lead. He put his head down, sniffed the curb and stepped right in. Ellen praised him and clicked and treated on the other side. Cole did exactly the same thing. The wide crossing was easy. How would they do the narrow crossing was the question. Some horses will try to jump a narrow, scary obstacle--not our guys. They sniffed the curb and stepped right in. What awesome ponies!
The rest of the trail is easy. We were soon at the end. We turned around and headed towards home.
When we got back to the cement crossings, there was a horse coming towards us on the other side of them. They were going home. She said her horse was fine going home, but he didn't like walking over them on the way out. We told her it was our first try today, and we said how good they were. Yes, we gloated a little bit. They both demonstrated to her how they could cross them as if they did it every day.
Ellen is always surprising me, and she did it again. She decided to ride Dante down the big hill. She has done it before in previous years, but not until she has led him down it a number of times. It is a very steep hill, but once you get past the top part, it isn't that bad. I opted to lead Cole, because sometimes he gets a little rushy. This time, they were both perfect. Next time, I'll ride, too.
We rode through the Lagoon and up to the river crossing before the hill with the planes. Cole was almost across when we heard a familiar neigh--it was Starry! Of course, Kevin was with him. He arrived just in time to give Ellen moral support to handle the airplanes.
So, you may be wondering where Kevin was all this time? He has a tendency to not wait for us when we are tacking up. He left without talking to us about our destination. When he saw the planes were landing, he assumed we weren't going forward with our plan and went the other way.
We planned to keep Dante close to Cole when the planes came since it helped him originally. Kevin was to take up the rear. We were all set for the planes. There weren't any. All Ellen's worrying was for naught. The rest of the ride was uneventful.
We had a terrific 2-hour ride. I'm so glad that Ellen gathered the courage to be able to do it. She really is the bravest person I know.
Sunday, July 10, 2022
The Fading Trot
Typically, when I go out trail riding with Kevin and Ellen and I ride in the lead, I will get far ahead of them. When I pass people up, I warn them that two more horses are coming--and I often say, "I have the fast horse."
Starry can go just as fast as Cole, but if Kevin decides to stay with Ellen, it is because he wants to take it easy. Starry isn't the slow horse--Dante is.
There is nothing wrong with slow horses. I had one myself. Mingo was one of the slowest. At least Dante will walk sort of fast--and he has a great ground-covering canter. It is only his trot that tends to be too slow.
The way I made up for lost ground with Mingo is by trotting wherever possible. The other horses might walk--for whatever reason--but we kept trotting. When they trotted, I often cantered Mingo to keep up.
The last few years, Dante has become a big dawdler. If Ellen wanted to trot a section of the trail, he often stopped long before she got to the end. Then, she has to struggle to get him trotting again. In the meantime, she lost a lot of ground. We spend a lot of time waiting for her, and she spends a lot of time riding alone. She gets frustrated, and Dante just keeps getting worse. She calls it her "fading trot." He just goes slower and slower, and then he is walking.
Another thing that Dante does if we are trotting, and Cole is in the lead, is as soon as Cole stops, Dante wants to stop, too. The problem is that Cole could be 100 feet ahead when this happens.
Ellen admits that she probably caused much of the problem. With all her anxieties, she often felt relieved when he stopped, so she just let him. Another possibility is sitting-trot fatigue. She is still trying to master a sitting trot. The problem with Dante is that he is so slow and incredibly smooth, that it can be very hard to post. She tends to get tired after a while, and when her body quits working, Dante may be sensing her fatigue. He is a very sensitive horse.
Remember, I ride the fast horse. I don't see most of what is going on, and I always assumed that Dante was stopping when Ellen asked him to. I didn't realize that Dante was running the show.
The other day, she was lamenting about her difficulties. I then told her what I would do if I was her.
We try to train with positive reinforcement as much as we can. Clicker training has been a marvelous success for us, but sometimes it isn't the best tool in the toolbox. When Cole tries to eat branches on the side of the trail as we pass them by, I can't see how clicking him will stop him from it. I tap him on the neck with the whip. After a few times, he no longer tries very hard. If I branch happens to be right by his mouth, he can't resist, but the rest of them he only looks at.
Ellen said that when she would gently try to keep Dante going with her seat and legs, he just ignored it.
I told her that when she feels him slowing down, to tap him with the whip. It doesn't have to be very hard--just hard enough for him to know it. If he still stops, at that point she should use the whip again, but harder than the first time.
Really, this isn't rocket science at all. Ellen could have figured it out for herself, but she is one of the gentlest people I know. Using a whip on Dante is a hard thing for her to do. I basically gave her permission.
To be effective with something like this, it is important to be consistent. Horses love consistency. They want to be able to predict the future, and uncertainty is stressful for them. If Ellen was not going to allow him to do a fading trot, she can't let him do it sometimes and surprise him with a whip tap other times. Consistency is very important in all horse training.
The next day, we went out for a ride. Remember, I am in the front, so I didn't observe much of this. Here is what Ellen told me happened.
The first couple times Dante tried to fade, he ended up stopping even though Ellen tried her new system. That was it for the rest of the ride. He still tried to slow down, but a light tap of the whip got him going before he stopped. He tried to fade in all the usual places where he is in the habit of stopping. He tried when Cole stopped trotting. He tried randomly, too, but he never stopped again.
Since we are clicker trainers, Ellen also spent some time clicking him when he kept going. Of course, that meant he stopped to get his treat, but it did show him that he was doing the correct thing.
After a while, he didn't just keep going, but he offered his "arena trot."
It was weird. Every time I looked back, Dante was trotting.
Dante learned the lesson on the very first day. We were awestruck. It is hard to break bad habits. It got me wondering, maybe Dante didn't want to stop but did it out of habit, or like Ellen said, he stopped because he felt her getting tired--or maybe both? Could it be that he always wanted to keep going because he wanted to get back to us? Did he stop because he thought Ellen wanted him to?
The next ride was even better. He never stopped on his own at all. When he tried to fade, Ellen was able to keep him going with her legs. The whip was no longer necessary. She continued to click him when he kept going, but only now and then. He continued to give her his lovely show trot. She said he seemed more responsive to her legs in general. I think he is now paying more attention to her to see what she wants.
My old horse, Cruiser, was our energizer bunny. He kept going and going. He was never tired. We now have a new one, and his name is Dante. He is just a slower bunny, but he keeps going and going.
Saturday, July 9, 2022
I think I write about Ellen's first trip through the Lagoon every year. It is a boring section of trail--out in the open, along a busy park street with a wall on the other side that goes down to the river. Traffic can make Ellen nervous, and so does being out in the open. There are great trails on the other side of the Lagoon, but we got to go through it to get to them.
Oh, I forgot to mention the small parking lots right by the trail and the picnic area with a ball diamond on the other side of the street. Yes, it can get chaotic.
Once she mastered the other second river crossing, she was all set to try the Lagoon. We were out early in the morning on a weekday, so it was fairly quiet. Kevin came along on Starry to give Ellen support.
We crossed the second river and rode out to the street that we have to cross. Traffic was a little busy, and Ellen didn't want to get too close to the road until it dissipated. I brought Cole up to it so I could see and give the "all clear" to cross. It was very uneventful.
The very first part of the trail goes into some sheltering trees. It is very close to the road, but we don't feel as vulnerable. We were able to do some trotting through there. Trotting is good because it helps Ellen's nerves.
We got out into the open, walked to the other end, turned around and came back. It really was that easy. There was some traffic that Dante ignored. He was looking all around--like he always does if he is somewhere that he hasn't been to in a while. Dante wasn't worried about anything at all.
Soon, we were back at the second river crossing. I went first and waited on the other side. Dante followed. I honestly wasn't paying that much attention when I heard loud splashing in the river. Dante was nearly across, and he had to do his business. The loud plopping scared him, and he rushed out of the water.
During the whole ride, Dante didn't get scared of a single thing. The only time he spooked was when he spooked himself.
It was a very successful ride.
Thursday, June 16, 2022
Ellen had a day off from work, and that usually means one of two things--bad weather or trail maintenance. We had a bit of both. The weather was extremely hot--and they were repairing the trail.
Though she saw that they were repairing the banks on the second river crossing, she still wanted to go on a trail ride. Due to the heat, we would take it slow. The river banks at our first crossing needed some repair, too. If they were working on that when we got there, we couldn't cross the river. If they started on it while we were out, we might have some problems getting home.
When we got to the river, they were nowhere in sight, so we headed down the trail. After about ten minutes, we heard some very loud machinery approaching. We didn't know if it was on the trail or on the street. The park workers will always stop when they see horses, but they have to see us first.
Ellen started to get that panicked sound to her voice. She was in the lead, so she asked me to put Cole in front. We still couldn't tell where the noise was coming from, so she told me to trot on ahead to find them and tell them to stop.
We went trotting down the trail. As I went around the corner, I saw a large front end loader coming right down the trail. I asked Cole to stop and signaled to the driver to stop, too. He did, and then I waved Ellen on. Cole walked up to the machine to give it a sniff, and I thanked the driver and chatted as Ellen caught up. I asked him if they were planning to fix our river bank, and he said he would try. He didn't say when, though. We were a little concerned that we might have trouble on the way home, but we proceeded, anyway.
We checked the work that they did on the second river crossing, and it looked great, but Ellen decided the river was a little too high for her to cross. We crossed on the ford, instead, and continued down the trail. At the next intersection, the park workers had backed up their flatbed trailer that they used to haul the front end loader. It wasn't quite blocking the trail. We could have squeezed by, but it would have been tight. Since it was such a hot day, we didn't have the energy to try, so we headed back towards home.
First, Cole wanted to take a look at it. The ramp was down, and it felt like he would have ridden right up it, had I asked. When I turned him away from it, he did put one foot on the ramp as we passed. He didn't seem startled, so I think he did it on purpose. Dante also rode up to it, but he didn't get any silly ideas like Cole.
When we got to the hill we have to ride down, we could see a dump truck on the trail below--heading our way. I could hear the trepidation in Ellen's voice--and then the relief when it turned and cut over to the road. It was empty, so we figured they were heading to get more dirt.
As we moseyed on home, we kept our eyes and ears open to potential problems. Ellen was telling me how she has been trying not to worry about things until they happen. She saved herself a lot of worrying because when we did find the front end loader, he was parked by the side of the trail. They were fixing a very stony section that always gets washed out every year because it is so low and very close to the river, and he was waiting for more dirt for the trail. We stopped and talked a little to him--he said they may not get to our river bank for a few more days. We told him how much we appreciate how well they take care of our trails.
Then we saw the dump truck coming down the trail behind us. It was time to high tail it out of there. Well, we actually just trotted. We were pretty far down the trail when we heard the dump truck dump its dirt.
Not long after, we ran into Kevin on Starry coming our way. We told him what was going on, and he decided to turn around and ride the other direction. Poor Starry wasn't too happy when we crossed the river to go home, and he had to keep going the other way.
Both our horses handled everything so well! We were very proud of them.
Ellen and Dante finished the Virtual Tevis Cup on this ride--100 miles in 100 days--so I am glad it had an extra challenge to it--and they rose to the challenge!