Thursday, March 9, 2023

Cole's New Job

Cole's New Job

The other day, Ellen and I were going out on a trail ride in the morning.  The barn goats were out.  Before coming to this barn, I had very little exposure to goats.  I now think they are awesome creatures.  There are 4 of them--Percy, Billy, Ernie and Spider.  I look forward to Saturday mornings when they turn the Goat Boys loose while they are cleaning the stalls.

Cole has always been fascinated by the goats.  He just can't take his eyes off them, and he tries to go to them all the time.  Of course, I don't let him, but that doesn't stop him from asking me each time he sees them when they are out.

Ellen and I walked out horses down the barn driveway to the street.  A little way down the street is the house that the barn owner lives in--and there were the 4 goats in her front yard!  We yelled back to the barn that the goats were in the yard.  They don't want them so close to the street for obvious reasons.

We started down the street, and Percy started walking down the house's driveway.  We yelled at him, but he kept getting closer and closer to the street.  Visions of disaster filled my head.  I knew what had to be done--I have been watching "1883" on TV.  It is filled with horses herding cattle.  We had to intercept Percy and turn him back towards home.

I pointed Cole to the spot where I thought Percy would be when our paths would cross, and we went at a very fast walk in that direction.  (I didn't want to run on the pavement--and I didn't want to startle Percy and cause him to bolt across the road into the yards on the other side.)  I was glad to see the other goats were happy grazing in the front yard and weren't trying to follow Percy.

By now, Percy was up to the center line on the street!

Cole's ears went forward and walked with much enthusiasm.  He finally got to do what he wanted to do all along.  He was allowed to herd a goat!  Not for one moment did he hesitate--he knew what his job was, and he was going to do it--at a very fast walk.

Once we intercepted Percy, Cole turned him without my guidance and followed him until he reached the driveway.

At that moment, the goats' owner came flying down the driveway, shouting at the goats.  I think I heard some four-lettered words.  She gathered up the goats.  Once they were on the correct side of the 4-wheeler, she started to push them down the driveway in the right direction.  Ernie looked like he was going to break free and make a run for it.  Cole was standing at the end of the driveway just waiting for him to try.  No goats were going to pass him.

Was it my imagination?  It seemed like Cole stepped a little lighter and carried his head a little higher the rest of the ride.  He seemed rather proud of himself.  He is now an official goat wrangler.  Goat Boys, beware.  No wandering towards the street on Cole's watch!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

A Ride on the Hill

 A Ride on the Hill

Ellen and I met at the barn.  The day before, it rained all day--there was no way we were crossing the river.  I asked her what she wanted to do.  She was uneasy about going in the park.  She didn't know if the planes were taking off or landing.  Dante is fine if the planes are taking off, but he will sometimes spook when they are landing--though he hasn't had a really big spook in a few years.  She was also concerned that it was a garbage day and the trucks go down the street in the morning.

I was able to talk her into riding on the hill.  I was curious to see how high the river was and it was a great day to be out in the park considering it is still February.  

We were halfway down the hill, when the thought crossed my mind that Ellen was worried about the wrong things.  Dante is fine with the planes and a garbage truck is just a truck--and we get plenty of warning as it comes down the street.  The real thing to worry about was falling trees.  A lot of trees fall--not on stormy days--but the day after the storm.  All the rain weakens them.

I decided not to remind Ellen--she has enough things to worry about. 

I'm not exaggerating--not 30 seconds after this thought crossed my mind, we heard a loud crack and then the sound of a tree breaking and falling to the ground!  We were both looking in the direction of the noise but we didn't see anything.  When I first heard the crack, I took contact with the reins.  I am glad to say that Cole didn't even flinch. 

Dante did, but Ellen isn't sure if he was startled by the noise or if he detected her fear and reacted from her.  He calmed down very quickly, and we continued on our ride.  I mentioned to Ellen what I had just been thinking, and she said, "Now I have something else to worry about."  I did tell her that I doubted that a second tree would fall on the same ride.  I suppose it could have happened, but it just wasn't likely.  I was right.

We rode up and down the hill three times.  The river was very high, but with all the rain we had, I thought it would actually be higher.  We did see a large group of turkeys, and I heard my first Kildeer of the year flying overhead.  Dante spooked at a squirrel, too.  It was another great trail ride.

Group Ride

Group Ride

On a lovely February day, I was planning to go for a ride with Kevin and Shari when Cheri and Sharon showed up.  Kevin invited them the day before, but we didn't really think they would be there.  It was a little chilly for a ride so early in the morning.

Poor Ellen didn't know they were going to join us.  When she got out of her car, she looked a little pale, but she was still going to go on the ride.  She figured that at worst, she could just stay way in the back with Kevin on Starry.

We thought about it and realized that Cole, Dante and Bella had never gone for a ride in such a big group before.  We had ridden in a group of 5 but never in 6.  Would one additional horse make a difference?  We were about to find out.  

Cheri's horse, Warrior, is a short, wide Paint that looks like he came right out of a Thelwell book.  We've been out on a few rides with them in the past, and they have gone very well.

Sharon's horse, Karma, is a blue dun Quarter Horse.  In her old life, she was a horse that was rented out on trail rides.  We knew she had plenty of group experience--but she was never with our group.

Bella is happiest in the lead, so that is where she was.  Shari decided to take charge of the ride, and Bella liked that role, too.  Cole followed Bella and the slow horses were in the back.

We rode down the hill and crossed the river with no problem.  Once across, Shari wanted to try trotting right away.  I really didn't think the others would follow, so I trotted after Shari.  Much to my surprise, Karma and Warrior were trotting right behind me.  Cole didn't feel comfortable with this, and he told me my tossing his head and trying to accelerate.  I kept him under control, but I have to confess, I was relieved when Shari stopped so we could let Ellen and Kevin catch up.   

We did this a few times and all went well.  Shari suggested trying to go a little faster.  I knew that would help Cole.  The first time we tried it, I heard Sharon's voice behind me, and it didn't sound very good, so I immediately stopped.  She said that Karma tried to buck.  Cheri said that she saw what happened--and in her opinion, Karma did buck.  We let everyone decompress a little as we let Kevin and Ellen get closer.  They were doing little stretches of trotting, and it seemed like they were doing well.  

We tried another section of trotting, and this time, Cole jumped in the air and tried to canter.  I got him to stop after just one stride, and looked back.  Karma was behind me, and Sharon said that she bucked 4 times.  Well, that is when I thought we pushed it too far.  I turned Cole around and went back with Ellen and Kevin.  We just moseyed along and left the others to go on their ride.

I was surprised to see them start trotting right away, but I could see they were doing fine.  Soon, they were out of sight. 

At first, all we did was walk.  Ellen was very nervous.  This was all just a little too much for her.  She said that if it had been summer and we were riding in the park 5 days a week, it wouldn't have been much of a problem.  Here it was February!  We were lucky to have her at all, let alone with 5 other horses.  After a bit, Kevin was able to talk her into trying some trotting, and it went well.  We found everyone else waiting for us at the second river crossing.  It turns out that they trotted the whole way and it went great!  I am thinking that it was Cole being ahead of Karma that made her so reactive.  Once he was gone, all went well.

We rode back with them.  They did more trotting than we did, but they kept waiting for us.  Warrior, was a champ with everything that Cherie asked him, but he did not like standing around, waiting.  Cheri found something she needs to work on, and she plans to do it when she is out riding with just Sharon.

Starry was perfect the whole ride.  What a wonderful horse he is.  Dante was a bit keyed up, but Ellen thinks it might be because she was nervous.  He did spook once--and took off at a trot. That is very unusual for him.  He seldom spooks at all.

Everybody arrived home safely and had smiles on their faces.  It was a successful though sometimes challenging ride!

Monday, February 20, 2023

February--What a Month

February--What a Month

The weather has been terrific for February.  We have been able to get out on the trail and across the river quite a bit.  So many times, we are completely snowed in, iced in or can only ride the hill in February.  This year is much more like March.  

But here is the big news--Ellen has been going on the trail rides with us!  This is unprecedented.  Only once, years ago, did she take Dante across the river in February.  Since then, it has all been just too intimidating for her.

The first time she crossed the river, it had been a few weeks since her last crossing.  She was nervous, but Dante wanted to cross and he didn't give her much time to lose her nerve.  It was about a week before we were able to cross again.  This time, Dante was a little slow about it and Ellen began to get anxious.  Once Dante sensed that, he decided crossing wasn't in their best interest.  When he gets this way, we don't know if he is using Ellen as an excuse to not cross, if he is worried about crossing because she is or if he is trying to protect her.  Nevertheless, he decided he wasn't crossing.  The more resistant he became, the more worried Ellen became and then he became more resistant.

I was already on the other side of the river, and I asked Ellen if I came back, could she ride Cole across.  She said she could, so I rode back and we switched horses.  Dante went right across for me without hesitation.  I kept him for the rest of the ride, and we all had fun.

Since then, Ellen has been crossing the river without any difficulties.  I think she has already ridden 6 or 7 times on the other side--and there were quite a few rides on the hill when the river was too high to cross.  We have ridden a bit in the indoor arena on the really cold days, and there have been a few rides in the outdoor arena, too.  It is so nice to have all that variety.

In previous winters, Ellen would just ride in the indoor arena while Kevin, Shari and I would go in the park.  I'm so happy to have her with us.  Hopefully, the weather will continue to be good enough so she can get in the park on a regular basis--and never quit this year.  One of the hardest things she has to overcome each spring is getting out on that first spring ride.  It would be nice if that doesn't happen this year because she never quit riding on the trail.  It all depends on the weather...

In the meantime, we will ride in the park as much as we can.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Mission Accomplished

 Mission Accomplished

As you all know, I was riding with a broken wrist for a long time.  Finally. the doctor said it was healed enough that I no longer had any restrictions.  That meant I could lift, carry, lean on and pull any weight I liked.

The very same day, I saddled Cole on my own.  Over the months, the saddle got much heavier.  Thank goodness I ride English.  After a couple weeks, it no longer seemed heavy, so either I am getting stronger or I am just getting used to a heavier saddle.  It doesn't matter.  Now, I can ride even if there isn't anyone out there to help me tack Cole up.

That still left one thing that I needed to do--mount from the ground.  I have been using a 3-step mounting block.  Mounting was very easy from the top step, since Cole is only 14.2.  There are a lot of advantages to having a small horse.

I started mounting from the second step, and did it by grabbing his mane and withers and holding it as I stepped up.  That wasn't as easy as one would think, because when you have wrist surgery, it really messes up your hand.  My hand was swollen like a balloon for weeks, and I was only able to move my fingers a little bit.  Even when the swelling went down, it had lost most of its strength.  I couldn't even squeeze a tube of toothpaste with it without a lot of pain.

I worked for many weeks on strengthening my grip and flexibility. (And I am still working on it.)  My hand gave me more trouble than my wrist.  

Once I was able to take a solid grip in his mane and withers, mounting from the second step became very easy. so I moved down to the bottom step.  On that step, I had to add a little hop and pull.  My hand was doing what it was supposed to, now I had to remind my foot to hop.  The hop is the most important part of mounting from the ground because if you have a good hop, you barely pull at the saddle.  

I mounted from the bottom step for a few weeks before I even considered doing it from the ground.

Finally, the moment of truth had arrived.  I didn't tell anyone what I was going to do.  Ellen was still saddling up Dante when I took Cole into the indoor arena.  I set him up.  He had to bow a couple times, because that is just what he does.  At last I gave him the cue.  I said, "I'm going to mount."  (I have never been very creative with my cues).  He stopped his bowing routine and stood quietly.  

I added one more very essential thing to my mounting procedure--I had to do a loud groan when I was doing it.  Everyone knows that you are stronger if you groan.  

I did a bunch of practice bounces, gave my loud groan and hoisted myself up.  I was in the saddle!  I won't say it was easy, but it wasn't so hard, either.  I knew I was in a good place to improve my mount, and I no longer worry that I might drop something.  

Ellen brought Dante in the arena and saw that I didn't bring the mounting block out.  I hope she noticed that I was grinning from ear to ear, too.

Since then, I have been able to reduce the volume of my groan, because the mounting keeps getting easier the more I do it.  I haven't used the mounting block, since.

It takes a year to fully heal broken bones, but to me, I am already there.  I can do whatever I want without worrying about my wrist anymore!

Sunday, January 15, 2023



Those of you that have been following Ellen's adventures with anxieties, probably remember that she quits trail riding in the winter.  Once she can't cross the river for a few weeks, she is just done.  It doesn't matter how low the river got, she wouldn't cross until spring.  Her reasoning was that is was so scary to cross, that she didn't want to cross on a good day--dealing with all the stress and anxieties she felt--only to not be able to cross again for a few more weeks and do it all over again.

Something happened this year.  We were shut down right before Christmas with that terribly cold weather.  The river froze right up.  No one was crossing for a few weeks.

We then had a sudden warm spell with a lot of rain.  It broke up the river, and eventually, the river became low enough to cross--and she did!!!

That is not to say she wasn't very nervous, because she was.  I think she is just learning to deal with those feelings.  For instance, she knows she has to get Dante in the river as soon as she can so the feelings don't accelerate.  She needs to keep him moving.  While Cole and Starry are drinking and playing about in the river, Ellen just tells Dante to keep going.

She has also got a better handle on reality.  She suffers from "Reality Distortion."  That is when your mind plays tricks on you and makes things look much worse than they are.  I could say to her, "Look, the water is below his knees."  And she would see the water as very high and uncrossable.  

Now, here she is in the middle of January, crossing the river and going on a trail ride.  It is awesome!

When she can't cross the river, she is happy to ride up and down the hill leading to the river.  That is something else that she didn't do before in the middle of winter.  

She is also riding outside at the barn--another thing that was a huge struggle just a few years ago.  

Dante seems happy to have more variety in his rides.  When we do ride in the arena, he is doing better than ever, but since she isn't doing it as often as she used to, she is getting nothing accomplished as far as teaching him new things.  That is all right.  He is getting exercise.

I'm not getting anything accomplished in the arena, either.  I'm happier just going up and down the hill on the trail, or when we are lucky, crossing the river and having a cold trail ride.  This is my kind of winter, and I'm glad I can share it with Ellen--just like we did back in the days of Cruiser and Ranger.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Treat Delivery

Treat Delivery

Somewhere along the line, Cole decided that if I am giving him a treat from the saddle, that he will not bend his neck.  Instead, I have to lean way over and bring my hand to his mouth.  I'm not all that crazy about doing it this way.  Early in the summer, I decided to try and teach him to turn his head towards me to get his treat on his own.

I tried and tried.  My verbal cue was, "Turn your head," and I would hold my hand out to the side.  I thought if I just waited, he would do it because he wanted his treat.  Sometimes it worked, but usually it didn't.  It was very frustrating.  If I refused to give him his treat, instead of asking for it by bending his head towards me, he simply wouldn't do anything.

We were at a stalemate.  This went on for months, and there was no signs of improvement.

Now, I know that when you hit a training problem, it is often best to go back to the beginning. Clicker training is also very effective if you break things down into baby steps.  It is just that all I really want to do in the summer is go trail riding.  I didn't really want to spend time back at the barn with this.  It really wasn't all that important.

Then Cole cut his leg, got stitches and needed to be on stall rest for 2 weeks.  I needed to find ways to entertain him while he convalesced.  I thought I would work on treat delivery.

After giving it some thought, I decided that I would teach him to target touch my hand.  That was pretty easy, since I taught him to touch targets long ago.  I just needed him to know that my hand was the target.  He learned that in about 20 seconds.

We practiced hand targeting.  I would move my hand up, down, to the side--whatever I felt like.  He got really good at that just on the first day.  Of course, this being Cole, he added in some bowing, too.

After a few days of doing this, I decided I needed to stand by his side in the spot I would be if I was riding and ask him to bend his head around to touch my hand.  It actually took him at least 5 minutes to really understand what I wanted.  I actually started to wonder if he had been dealing with some sort of neck stiffness.  He definitely did better on the left side than the right side.  I like to give treats from the right since I am right handed.  Of course, we practiced both sides, and we did it every day.  He got quite good.  If neck stiffness caused the problem, stretching his neck solved it.

His two weeks were up, the stitches were removed and I was allowed to hand walk him until he was healed up well enough to ride him.  That evening, I fell while hiking and broke my wrist.  With all that excitement, I completely forgot that I was teaching Cole to turn his head to me when I give him treats from the saddle.  

Ellen took over Cole.

I never told Ellen to practice it--in fact--I was back riding a couple weeks before I realized he was turning his head towards me when I was giving him treats.  I may have forgotten, but Cole figured out the next step of his training on his own.  I think he must have been practicing with Ellen, and she didn't even know it. 

Going back to the beginning and breaking it down into baby steps was the key, of course.  It always is.

Treat delivery has gotten much easier...

Cole's New Trick

Cole's New Trick

The other evening, Cole had the day off, so I turned him out to play.  He rolled and bucked and then he just stood and watched me.  I walked along the outside of the fence.  He walked alongside me on the inside doing his silly walk.  I clicked and treated him for it--giving him his treat through the fence.  That wasn't his new trick.  He does that all the time.

I decided that he must want me to come in and do tricks with him.  I was right.  He did silly walk, bow and follow the balls that I kicked.  He does a great at-liberty side pass, too.  Cole just loves doing tricks.

After a while, I left the ring.  Starry and Dante were in the neighboring ring, and I wanted to check on them.  I saw Cole was just watching me.  I walked over to Cole and tried to see if he would run along the fence with me.  Sometimes, if I could get him going, I can stop and he will just keep running on his own.

I was on the outside and he was on the inside.  I trotted.  He decided to trot along.  Good--I got him going.  I stopped--and he stopped.  I didn't ask him to, he just stopped and looked at me.  I couldn't resist.  I clicked and treated him.  He just invented a new trick.  Once is all it takes with Cole.  After that, all we did was practice.

Now, this being Cole, he isn't content to just trot.  No, he had to do his cute Morgan buggy horse trot--arched neck, high steps, flowing tail.  I am talking really cute.  As soon as I stopped, he stopped too.  No verbal cues necessary.  He got his cues from watching my legs.  He did it perfectly every single time.  Of course, I clicked and treated him.  We kept doing it and doing it.  I thought that once we got to the other side and he was facing the gate that he would take off running--nope.  He wanted to do his new trick.

I just had to show Kevin.  He was coming outside just as I was going to get him.  I showed him Cole's new trick, but he didn't seem all that impressed.  He said Starry would do it, too.  So, we tried.  Starry would walk a step or two, stop and look at us.  There was no trotting, no looking cute and no synchronized halts.  I thought I'd give it a try with Dante.  He just walked away.

Cole is such an amazing horse who just loves to perform.  I wonder what he will come up with next?

The Log

The Log

Last week, we had a very windy day.  Ellen and I rode at the barn the following morning because it was raining.  Kevin came out to the barn later when the rain had stopped and took Starry on a trail ride by himself.  He didn't get very far before he had to turn around and go back home.  There was a large tree that had fallen across the trail.

Ellen and I rode the following morning.  It was very cold, so we decided to ride only up to the fallen tree so we could take a look at it.

It was a very large log, and it was too high for a short-legged pony like Cole to step over it--but we didn't have to.  There was enough space between the end of the log and the stump to walk right through--particularly with a short-legged pony like Cole.  Ellen agreed she could do it with Dante, too.  It didn't matter, though.  We were cold and wanted to head home.

We told Kevin that we could have gotten past the fallen tree, but he said that Starry was too big.  It is true, Starry is huge compared to our horses.

The following evening, I was supposed to ride with Kevin.  It had been sunny all day, and it promised to be a lovely evening ride.  While we were tacking up, a couple of our friends came back from a ride.  We asked if the log was still across the trail, and it was--but they were able to pass through the opening.  Kevin was aghast!  Their horses are large like Starry. 

Just as we started to ride down the driveway, the weather turned completely overcast.  Was it really the same day as it was when we walked into the barn?  

We suddenly had much less time for our ride.  We do have to walk along the street for a few minutes to get home, and we certainly didn't want to do that in the dark.  We decided to turn at the log again.  Kevin hadn't planned to go any further, anyway.  He said that no way would he ride his horse through such a narrow opening.

We rode up to the log.  I was in the lead, so I double checked--yes, I could get Cole through if we had time.  Kevin didn't think he could do it with Starry.  It didn't matter.  We were going home.

The following morning, Ellen rode with us.  I didn't know what I should do--should I ride on with Ellen or go back with Kevin?

Ellen was in the lead, followed by me and Kevin was behind us.  There was a lot of space between all of us.  I didn't know what Ellen was going to do, and I was a little surprised that she didn't even hesitate--she rode right through.  At that moment, I decided I would follow her--and maybe we would catch Kevin on the way home.  Starry is a very slow walker.

I had no trouble at all.

I looked back, and there was Starry and Kevin ambling down the paved all-purpose trail that runs parallel to the bridle trail.  There is a short path between the two paths right before the log, but I knew from memory that there was no good way to get back to the trail.  I told Kevin that, but he had to go look for himself.  We just decided to ride on.  He would figure it out on his own.  Sure enough, we saw him turn around and head back to where he came from.  He gave up and was heading back home.

A few minutes later, I turned back and there was Starry behind us.  Kevin was laughing.  He said he had no trouble going through the opening.  All along, he never rode close enough to take a look at it.  When he did, he found out that he could easily ride Starry right through--and he did.

So the moral of the story isn't "look before you leap." but rather, "look before you don't leap."  

We saw the guys from the park heading down the trail towards the tree before we even got back to the barn.  The log would no longer be a problem--not that it ever was.