Thursday, October 7, 2021

Begone Anxieties!

Begone Anxieties!

Wow, has Ellen been doing great in her battle with her anxieties.  A few weeks ago, she rode up to the trails by the show ring for the first time in several years.  Kevin came with us, and all three of us, (I mean 6 of us--we have to count the horses,) had a wonderful time.  The horses were all great; especially Dante.  You would think that he would be excited to be on less familiar trails, but he took it all in stride.  Our only regret was that Shari and Bella weren't with us.  Maybe next time.

And there will be a next time.  Ellen now realizes how much she blew the whole thing out of proportion.  It is an easy ride in reality.

The other thing that has happened involves that river crossing that she has struggled with the last few years.  Dante would play his little games to put off crossing; causing Ellen to get very nervous.  Now she knows that if she demands that he step into the water, he does.  Once he gets in, she will click and treat him--and then demand that he continue crossing--and he does.  He is now crossing like a regular horse.  She still doesn't like crossing that river--or any river for that matter--that will probably never change--but she can do it.  Now, even on work days when she doesn't have that much time, she will sometimes cross that river and ride for a while on the other side.

Since those bigger problems are out of the way, she is now focusing on the smaller problems.  Dante is a naturally slow, quiet horse.  That isn't such a bad thing, but he usually doesn't keep up with the other horses.  This frustrates Ellen.  Kevin and I have both ridden him on the trail, and he does a little better for us.  He tends to stall out and be slow on his upward transitions, but just for Ellen.  It's all about habits.  When Ellen was anxious, she didn't mind it so much, so she allowed him to do it.  She doesn't like it now.

When he was slow on his transition for me, I observed that Starry got very far from us in that 5 seconds, and Dante never could regain that ground.  When he did a responsive transition, we were able to keep Starry in sight.  When the other horses go out of sight, Dante doesn't care.  He just goes slower.  If she could promptly get him to trot and keep him trotting, they won't get so far behind.

Another thing I noticed when Kevin was riding him was that Dante trotted in a different manner than he did with Ellen.  (He probably did the same when I was riding him, too.)  Much of the time, when Dante trots for Ellen, he goes into his slow, collected arena trot.  Ellen is a very good rider, and she easily brings all of it out of him.  These days, Dante defaults to that trot out in the park.  Kevin was just riding--not asking for anything at all.  For Kevin, Dante was all strung out--but taking much longer strides.  

Ellen's latest project is to find a way to get a ground-covering trail trot instead of a collected arena trot on the trail.  She is going to try to put it on the cue of "regular trot."  Cole has a cue for "regular walk," too.  What is wrong with our horses?  (Cole always wants to do his "silly walk.")

We are thinking that Dante will actually prefer traveling in a "regular trot," and once he figures out what Ellen wants, it will be self reinforcing.  That is how it is with clicker trained horses.  They often do what they think you want them to do.  That is great if that is what you really want, too.  Sometimes it is, but when it isn't, you need a way to explain it to them and convince them to do what we really want.

I think that Ellen might find that retraining her mind to restrain her anxieties will be the easier task then retraining Dante, but at least retraining Dante won't be so scary.

Monday, October 4, 2021



My sister and I were out on a trail ride the other morning, and we were enjoying a good trot.  Along the way, we met a fellow walking a dog that we have seen and spoken to a number of times.  He wanted to ask us a question, so though we were thoroughly enjoying our trot, we stopped to answer it.

He wanted to know our opinion on racing horses.  He had read the book "Seabiscuit," and it got him wondering about it.  Ellen told him that many horses are naturally competitive, and they love to race.  In fact, we used to have 2 of them, (Cruiser and Ranger,) and our biggest problem was keeping them from fighting to be the leader.

That made him feel better about the subject.  Suddenly, Ellen said, "My rein broke."  We use reins with snaps on the ends to attach to the bit, and the metal snap--snapped.

For many years, I used to have a piece of nylon stocking attached to my saddle for just this kind of thing.  I never needed it, and somewhere along the line, it got so cruddy that I threw it away and forgot to replace it.

Ellen tried to tie the rein to the bit, but it just didn't appear that it would hold very well.  She could lead Dante home with the other rein, but that was an option that we preferred to avoid.

I was searching all over for something.  I thought maybe she could pull the strap out of the top of her half chaps.  She gave it a tug, but it was in too snugly--then she noticed her shoelaces.  My boots have zippers, but hers have laces.  She undid one of her boots and used it to attach the rein to the bit.  It was very snug, and we both felt confident that she could ride safely.  She did say it felt funny to ride with a boot with no laces, though.

Meanwhile, Kevin was out riding behind us with the intention of catching up to us.  He saw the man with the dog, and he asked if we were up ahead.  He told him that we had a problem with a strap breaking.  Kevin always used to carry an old shoelace in his saddlebag for just this kind of thing, but when he switched saddlebags, he didn't put it in the new one.

I guess I don't have to tell you the moral of this story.

Anyway, we made it home safely.  The best thing about the whole incident is that the rein broke when we weren't doing anything!  It is good to stop and talk to friendly people even if it does break up some good trotting.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Dumbest Thing Bella Ever Did!

The Dumbest Thing Bella Ever Did!

Bella is a National Show Horse, and she is known for having a lot of energy.  As is often the case, energetic horses tend to be more reactive than lazy horses.  They spook a little easier.  In the early days when we first started riding with Shari, it seemed like Bella was spooking at everything and often nothing at all.  Shari was so brave.  She did just kept riding her--and that is what she needed--lots of time on the trail.

She is so much better, now.  She still spooks at dumb things but not nearly as many of them.  Strips of bark laying on the trail gets her nearly every time.  We just laugh.  

The other day, she did the dumbest thing, ever.  

Shari was in the lead, followed by me and finally Ellen.  Bella reached off the trail and grabbed a branch to munch on.  It was a big one that Kevin cut back in the spring and threw off to the side.  The leaves were dead and noisy.  When Bella pulled the branch, it moved and all the leaves rattled.  Bella stood there with the branch in her mouth.  Most horses would let go, but Bella didn't want to give up her snack.  Shari warned us to get out the the way.

I turned Cole and started walking back go Ellen.  She circled Dante out of the way.  Shari asked Bella to move, and she hung on to the branch; dragging it with her--and then she panicked.  (Bella, not Shari.  Shari has nerves of steel.)  I didn't see it because Cole tried to high-tail it away--at a zigzag.  I started to go over his side, but I was determined to hang on because I wasn't going to let such a silly thing make me fall.  I hoisted myself back up and brought Cole to a halt before we reached Dante.  (Dante was far enough away from Bella and only took a couple steps.)

Shari didn't know how many times Bella spun around before she dropped the branch.  Then, Bella wouldn't pass the branch which was now blocking the trail.  Cole had enough with all of it, passed Bella right up and marched right by it.  The other horses followed.

Once everything settled down, all we did was laugh at Bella.  If you are afraid of something that you are pulling in your mouth--you should just drop it.

It did remind me of the dumbest thing Cruiser ever did.  At the time, he was just a youngster, and it was one of my early rides with him.  At least he had an excuse; unlike Bella.  I was riding in the arena and stopped to talk to Ellen by the gate.  (I'm so glad there was a witness.)  He reached back to sniff my foot.  Somehow, he got a hold of my stirrup, and it slipped behind his teeth where the bit sits--and got stuck.  He panicked and started spinning--around and around.  I didn't know how to stop him, and hit him in the neck with the whip.  That startled him, he opened his mouth and the stirrup fell out--and he stopped spinning.  He never sniffed my foot, again. 

Now, the question is--will Bella learn from this?

A Tale of Two Rivers

 A Tale of Two Rivers

Ellen finds crossing the river to be very intimidating.  It's not surprising.  All of us have had horses fall in the river at least once.  Cruiser did it at least 3 times, Mingo, Cole, Starry and Dante at least once and Ranger fell at least twice.  Some of the falls have been when the water was too high, but sometimes the water is low and they slip on the algae.  I really don't blame Ellen at all.  Myself, I try not to think about it when I cross.  We do cross the horses one at a time ever since the day that Cole fell and he scared Starry--causing him to fall, too.

Ellen has mastered the first river crossing, and she only gets really nervous with it when she hasn't crossed it in a while.  All of the other crossings we can avoid by going on the road, but it is safer to stay out of traffic, so we prefer to cross the river.

The second river crossing to the south is our most challenging one--and the one we cross the most after the first crossing.  We have 2 routes across.  The one that Ellen likes to take is more shallow but there are a lot of rocks to walk over.  The way that Kevin and I prefer to cross is much deeper, but the bottom is smooth.

Dante isn't afraid to cross the water, but he feels he doesn't have to because Ellen is afraid.  He draws out the river crossings to the point where Ellen is so frustrated that she doesn't even want to do them.  Last month, we switched horses a few times to see how Dante did with me--and he crossed really well.  I took him the deep route direction.  Even though it was new, he was still willing to cross.  

When it was time for Ellen to start crossing again, Dante returned to his wicked ways.  He stalled, he balked, he tried to turn around--he just didn't want to do it.  After a few more rides, he started to get really good on the way home, but crossing on the way out was ridiculously slow.

Last weekend, Ellen tried once again.  After some hesitation, Dante made it clear to her that he would cross if she let him go the deep, smooth way.  It had rained recently, and she couldn't see the bottom, but she realized she had to "trust the process."  Though Ellen was terrified because the water was well over his knees, Dante crossed like a champ!  We were all in shock.

Today, I decided it was time to try the river crossing to the north.  Ellen hasn't crossed it in at least 2 years.  She tried it a few weeks ago, but she only got about 5 feet in and lost her nerve.  I had her hold Cole for me, got on Dante, marched across the river, turned around and marched back.  

This crossing is the easiest of the river crossings.  The water isn't very deep, the bottom is mostly dirt instead of slippery slate and there are very few rocks in it.  After crossing the deeper river crossing, this one should be a piece of cake for Ellen and Dante.

I told Ellen we would ride to it, switch horses and I would ride Dante across.  She could then practice crossing it with Cole.  She started whining that she wanted an easy ride today, but I held firm.  

When we got to the river, she just kept going.  I was waiting for her to stop so we could switch, but it just didn't happen.  In no time at all, she had all 4 of Dante's feet in the water.  She clicked him, treated him and told him to march across.  A few times, it looked like he was going to stop, but she just hit the gas and told him to continue.  He made it across just like a regular horse--no muss, no fuss.  We rode a little bit on the other side, turned around and she rode him right across in the other direction.  We were both in awe.  It was so easy!

The best part was; she said she had very little anxiety about it.  I guess when she crossed the deep river crossing, it made this one look easy--and it was.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Taking a Ride on Dante


Taking a Ride on Dante

Kevin wanted to go riding with me, but Cole really needed a day off.  Ellen wasn't able to ride, so she suggested I ride Dante instead of Cole.  It was a perfect solution!  She didn't have to ask me twice.

She likes when I ride Dante because it gives her insight into how she can improve his training.  He is a good horse, but he really has her number.  We really don't know if he senses her anxieties and acts accordingly to help her, or if he is simply taking advantage of her.  For example, she worries about crossing the river, so he says, "Fine.  Lets just stand at the water and look at it.  Ellen is safer over here."  Or is he saying, "She is afraid to cross, so I just won't because I prefer standing."  Honestly, after riding him, I still don't know the answer.  What I do know is that there is a very good horse in there.  I can easily get him to express himself.  Ellen cannot.

There are some things that are an easy fix for me.  Dante is a notorious branch grabber.  All I need to do is yell at him in a mean voice and keep him from getting anything, and the constant urge to grab branches goes away.  Ellen doesn't have much of a mean voice.  It just isn't in her.  Just the same, after I take Dante on a ride, he is much better for her for quite a while.  I have a really good mean voice.  (It doesn't work on Cole.)

Dante gives me no real trouble with the river crossings.  This day, it had just rained and the water was higher than Ellen would have crossed it.  He went right in, walked carefully and emerged on the other side nearly as well as Cole.  I swear the water was going up as I was crossing, and when we came back to cross the river to go home, it was higher.  In fact, it was higher than he has ever crossed it with Ellen--to the top of his knees; with a strong current.  He crossed it like a dream for me.

Dante is a naturally slow horse, and that really aggravates Ellen.  I know what she feels like, because that is how my horse, Mingo, was.  He had a decent canter, but his trot and walk were caterpillar speed.  Dante is a little better, but his problem is stalling out, and he is very slow on his upward transitions.  We are often way down the trail before Dante gets trotting.  With his slower gait, he ends up getting far behind us.  I don't complain.  Ellen used to have to wait for me when I was riding Mingo, and she was riding Ranger.  Still, it bothers Ellen.

I was going to work on that on my ride, but the problem was nonexistent for me.  Could it have just been the excitement of having a different rider?  The trails were soft, too.  That helped, I'm sure.  Dante hates the harder trail.  I'm afraid I couldn't discover any insight to help Ellen with this problem.  He never stalled, and his transitions were very prompt.

Dante occasionally spooks at airplanes.  It is only the low planes that are landing.  (We ride very close to Cleveland Hopkins Airport.)  This really bothers Ellen and causes her much anxiety.  She taught him to stop for the airplanes whether they are likely to spook him or not--figuring that he will then stop and stand for the scary ones.  This usually works, but he doesn't always start walking promptly after she stops him.  Also, as soon as he hears a far off plane, he stops on his own.  This whole procedure really slows down the already slow horse.  I thought it would be nice if he only stopped for it when the plane was right overhead.

The first plane came over and he didn't stop on his own, so I waited until it got loud to stop him.  When it did, I decided to see what happens if I don't ask him to stop.  He just kept walking--something he would never do with Ellen.  I told him he was a good boy, and we just kept going.  After that, he didn't stop for any of the planes.  He wasn't afraid of them, either.  They were taking off--not landing--so he had no reason to be afraid.  If they were landing, I would have told him to stop.  Sometimes they are so low, it looks like they are going to hit the trees--plus the shadows look like they are going to attack. 

The second river crossing was too high to cross, so we crossed on the ford, instead.  I led him across, just like Ellen always does.  He is actually very good on the ford.  A few years ago, he had a very bad incident, but from that day on, he has been perfect.

Kevin and I trotted the Sewer Plant Trail, turned around and headed home.  It was very humid and the mosquitoes were terrible.  Starry was in a hurry, because he gets frantic when there are bugs.  While he pranced, danced and rushed, I enjoyed Dante's slow trot to keep up with him.  There are times when a slow trot is just lovely.  Cole struggles to go that slow, so I was really enjoying it on Dante.

Once we got back across the ford, we decided we should both do some trotting.  Starry took off at a nice speed.  There is one thing that Ellen has been trying to teach Dante with varying success, and that is to speed up his trot on command.  She tries it on the way home when he is the most likely to want to go faster.  (He will trot pretty fast on the way out on the parts of the trail where they sometimes canter, but she doesn't canter him on the way home, so he isn't hyper.)

It isn't often that I have to tell Cole to go faster.  He is the opposite of Dante.  I work on slowing him down, instead.  When I do want to go faster, I remove my legs from his side, then close them around him and squeeze.  It isn't a kick or a strong squeeze, but it is a very definitive, purposeful contact.  It is like squeezing toothpaste from a tube.  You don't want to do it hard and fast or you will squirt the toothpaste all over.  Well, that is what would happen if you signaled Cole too hard.  You have to squeeze just so you get enough pressure to get the toothpaste on your brush--and just the right amount of toothpaste.

Now, I have to be honest--I never thought much about what I was doing with Dante--it's just that when I thought of asking for more speed--I just did it the way I am used to doing it with Cole.  It just so happens that I never thought to tell Ellen to try it.  I always do it this way so I don't get too much speed, and that isn't a problem for Ellen.

Much to my surprise, Dante sped up measurably.  I praised him and let him keep going as a reward.  (This was a gamble, because I didn't know if he would really think of it as a reward.)  About 30 seconds later, I repeated it--and got more speed.  I praised and repeated it.  By the end of the trail, we were keeping up with Starry.  Kevin stopped to let us catch up, and I think I surprised him when I was right behind him.  We stopped at the corner, and then started trotting again.  It worked again.  Dante was very enthusiastic about the game.  

The rest of the ride was mostly at a walk to cool down with a little trotting to catch up with Starry and Kevin.  I continued to walk through the planes, we crossed the river, rode up the hill, and I was so tempted to ride him home on the street--something Ellen never does--but I thought I might be pushing my luck.

I hope I didn't mess him up for her, and she will still let me ride him in the future.  That is something I should do much more often.  We had fun.  Maybe Dante didn't try any of his games because he knew they wouldn't work with me, or maybe he was just happy to have a rider he didn't have to take care of.  I got back from the ride with no new understanding on how he thinks.  I guess I will just leave that job to Ellen.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Someone Really Likes Clicker Training


Thunder sitting in the middle of his hoop.

Someone Really Likes Clicker Training

The first animal I ever tried clicker training with was my cat, Thunder.  He learned how to follow a target, jump obstacles, jump on boxes, go through tunnels and walk through a hoop.  He seemed to enjoy the games, but once his belly got full, he walked away.  With a tiny cat belly, that didn't take very long.

I then started to use clicker training with my horses.  Anything that can work so well with cats has to be good for horses.  I often recommend that people practice training their cats before trying clicker training with horses.

When I got my dog, Maggie, I used clicker training with her.  She was such a very bad dog in the beginning, that without clicker, I probably would have sent her out to live with the coyotes.  Clicker training was the only way I could reach her.  She was a rescue dog, so I have no idea how she began her life.  I do know where she was found, though.  Years later, I figured out why she may have been so clueless to everything--she came from a neighborhood that had a lot of Puerto Ricans.  I think I may have been talking the wrong language, and she was just very confused.  She must have come from a Spanish-speaking household.

She learned the language of clicker very quickly.

The problem was that when I would try to play it with Thunder, she wanted to be involved.  If I put her outside, she would just bark at the door.  I tried to do it with both at the same time, but Thunder kept getting distracted by Maggie.  Eventually, I gave up.  There were a lot of other games that Thunder liked to play that Maggie didn't.

Fast forward many years later, I remembered how much Thunder seemed to like to play clicker.  He was going through a phase where he wanted to spend a lot of time upstairs where Maggie isn't allowed to go.  Maggie doesn't hear as well as she used to, so I thought that maybe we could play up there.

I use a tongue click with Maggie; just like I do with the horses.  I lost my real clicker long ago.  I asked my sister if she had an extra one, and she gave it to me.  

I got out Thunder's old target toy with a handful of treats, and I was ready to go.  He touched the target, I clicked--and he got scared of the sound!  This never happened before!  I quit and went back to the drawing board.  I decided to try and muffle the sound of the clicker in a sock.  It didn't work.  He was still getting startled by it.

A few days later, I read online that some cats are afraid of the sound, and they recommended using the clicker from a ballpoint pen.  Thunder was downstairs when I tried it, but since the click was so quiet, Maggie couldn't hear it!  

It worked.  I started some simple targeting--and Thunder burst out into purrs!  He never used to purr during our clicker sessions in the past.

We practiced every day for about a week.  I gradually added in more and more of his old tricks.  He was sitting up, doing slow spins, going through his hoop and his tunnel, jumping over his tunnel and going from box to box.  Each time, he would purr the whole time--talk about positive reinforcement for humans--I'll do anything to make him purr--the greatest sound in the world.

One morning, he was sitting in the area of the living room that we use for our clicking, and he started to roll around to get my attention.  I went to see him and told him how cute he was and walked away.  I was watching him.  He started going from box to box.  I thought it probably meant nothing.  Maggie went to see him, and he pounced her, turned around and jumped his tunnel.  He ran about, came back, pounced Maggie again and ran through his tunnel. 

It wasn't my imagination.  Other than the Maggie part, he was doing the tricks we were had been practicing.  I grabbed his target toy, the pen and a handful a treats--and he burst into purrs.  He got his way.  How could I resist?  We played a session of clicker.

The following morning, I had a few minutes before I had to leave the house so I went to talk to him in the living room.  He got up and went through his tunnel.  I went to get his treats, the pen and his target.  He burst into purrs.  He now has me completely trained.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

A gorgeous day for a ride.

  A gorgeous day for a ride.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

My Artwork


My Artwork

I have been putting my artwork here for quite a while, but I never gave any explanation.  I was one of those fortunate people who was born with artistic skills, but never had a chance to do anything with them.  They basically lay dormant for decades.  I never went to art school, so other than some very good art classes in high school, I am very untrained.

Since retirement, I have decided to wake up those dormant skills.  I'm not a very creative person, but I can draw from photos and that is what I do.  I like to think I am improving with all the practice.  I really like working in charcoal--and that is what this is.  When I want to use color, I have been experimenting with pastels, colored pencils and watercolor pencils.  Lately, I have added oil pastels, too.  The colors are great for flowers, and by practicing on flowers--I get better with colors.  Besides, I love flowers.

Not all the pictures are good.  In fact, I don't think many are good at all, but I am my harshest critic.  I just keep practicing.

If you are interested in seeing the rest of my pictures, here is a link to my blog: