Sunday, January 22, 2023
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
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
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?
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.
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
My Next Big Goal
As I have been recovering from wrist surgery, I keep setting little goals. In the very beginning, the simplest things were very difficult such as, turning a faucet, cleaning Thunder's litter box, opening up a can and I can't tell you how hard it was to change clothes.
As time went on, I graduated to carrying a plate, preparing vegetables, bridling Cole and cleaning his hooves.
I have finally reached the point where all the day-to-day things I do are easy. I have to keep reminding myself how far I have come when I get disappointed that I am still trying to meet certain measurements when I visit the physical therapist. As my range of motion improves, I realize my grip still has a way to go.
I only have one big goal left, and right now I can't work on it. It is mounting Cole from the ground. I am currently using a mounting block. I have a 10 pound limit on my wrist, and my hop isn't good enough to propel myself up without a little help from my hand on Cole's withers.
Why is it so important to me? Because I am the only one in our group who can still do it. Whenever any of us drops something, I hop off and get it for them. That includes me. Also, if Ellen needs to dismount to lead Dante across the ford--or any reason at all, I dismount and hold her stirrup so she doesn't have to look for a log to help her back up. With colder weather approaching, I can't just hop off and lead a while to get warm, either.
I love being able to mount from the ground!
Once I get approval to start mounting from the ground, I will be working really hard on it. My arm isn't as strong as it was, and I'm not even sure if I have a strong enough grip with my hand. That is why I have been working so hard to improve my grip.
In the beginning, I plan to have Ellen hold the stirrup for me. It really helps if you aren't worried about the saddle slipping if things go awry. Also, I will probably start from the bottom step of the mounting block to help me out.
Ellen wants me to be able to mount from the ground, too. She tells me she lives in fear of dropping things when we are out on the trail!
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Back in the Saddle
Early in November, I went back to the surgeon for a follow up on my wrist surgery. The x-rays looked good. It is healing fine, and my new weight limit is now 10 pounds. She was very happy to see how my range of motion was improving. I have been diligent about doing my physical therapy exercises 5 times a day, and it is finally paying off.
I decided it was time to start riding across the river and going on “real rides.” Up to this point, the most I was doing was having Ellen lead me down the hill, and then I would trot back and forth on the bottom. Most of the time, it was with one hand, since my other hurt to hold the reins–let alone ride with contact. Also, I only had a 5 pound limit, and I worried about what would happen if I really had to take a hold of the reins in an emergency.
My first big day across the river was that evening after seeing the surgeon. I was wasting no time getting back in the saddle. The ride was with Kevin. I would be lying to say that I wasn't nervous--but at the same time, I was excited. It was 2 and a half months since I was on the other side of the river--riding independently. Kevin was nervous, too.
The plan was to keep Starry in the lead, because Cole always behaves better if he is following instead of leading. When Cole is in the lead, he likes to go fast, but if he follows another horse, he will match that horse's speed.
The problem was Starry was so slow...Starry hates leading...
We mostly walked. I trotted briefly just once. It went well. Cole stopped when I wanted him to. There were a few times that Starry was just walking so slow that I took the lead.
I was smiling a lot after that ride.
The next day, I went out with Kevin again. This time, I trotted a longer stretch of trail, and Cole was perfect. I also led a little more in the sections of the trail where I felt more confident. Cole was doing great with one-handed riding. (He is an English-trained horse, and I ride in a snaffle.)
The following day, I had Kevin and Ellen. With my whole support team with me, I felt much more confident. This time, I followed Ellen with Dante. Dante has a slow trot, most of the time. I would either trot slow behind them, or I would let them get ahead a bit and trot to catch up with them. When they did go faster, Cole just followed along.
After that, my rides kept getting better and better. I was doing a lot more trotting in the lead to help speed the other two up. The riding must be helping my hand, because each day, it felt a little better. Now I can ride with both reins comfortably. On the weekend, we increased the length of our rides to be just what we would have done if my wrist wasn't broken. We are pretty much back to normal.
I am still riding with my splint, and they recommend continuing to do so for the next couple of months--just in case I fall off. I'm not planning to, of course. Who ever does? I am also wearing it when I go hiking.
I can't lift Cole's saddle, so Ellen and Kevin are doing that for me. I also have to use a mounting block to mount with one hand--and I can't hold the reins while I do, so they are holding Cole for me. He is great for standing while I mount, but why take any chances?
It is so nice to be back riding on the trail again. I was afraid that Ellen wouldn't give Cole back to me--they were doing so well together at the end. I really appreciate her taking such good care of him. They are a good team, and Cole probably wishes she was still riding him...She gives him lots more treats.
Monday, October 31, 2022
Sunday, October 16, 2022
There is Always Hope
Since I broke my wrist, Ellen has been forced to do things that she might not have otherwise done. The other day, she had an extraordinary ride--and the most extraordinary thing about it was its complete ordinariness.
She took Dante in the park by herself. Kevin couldn't make it out to ride with her. If she wanted to go on the trail, she had to do it by herself, and she did.
I walked with her to the river's edge and sent her on her way while I waited for her; reading a book.
She rode out to the second river, turned around and came back. The ride consisted of a lot of trotting and very little anxiety. At the end of it, she confessed that she has more anxiety taking Cole out by herself, (something she has done quite a few times in the last few weeks,) than she did on her solo ride with Dante.
That doesn't give me much to write about.
And it doesn't surprise me.
Dante is a great horse. He is very quiet, spooks at very little and isn't likely to go dashing off. He takes care of his rider.
Ellen's anxieties got in the way of truly believing it.
Ellen is also a very skilled rider who rode a far more challenging horse on the trail for many years before she got Dante. Ranger was a lot of fun, but he wasn't always an easy horse to ride. He was spirited, spooked at many things and really liked to go fast. He trained Ellen into the talented rider she is today.
Ellen's anxieties got in the way of believing that, too.
She rode Dante a few times by herself the first summer she had him, but her anxieties got the better of her. The following spring, she could no longer do it. It didn't matter at the time. She still had Ranger to ride in the park by herself.
Each year, she seemed to get a little worse. Eventually, it was hard for her to stand outside with Dante all by herself--let alone ride him alone. Just riding him on the driveway was really tough--but she kept pushing herself to do what she could.
She never gave up. A lot of people would have, but Ellen loves riding and loves riding Dante. In the last few years, she has gotten better, little by little. Moving to our new barn seemed to help her a lot because it gave her a new start. It wasn't long before she was able to ride Dante outside at the barn with no one--not even on foot--to help her.
She became braver on the trail rides--even to the point where she could ride Dante without other horses on the hill if I was walking with her. This may not seem like much, but it was a really big deal for her.
When Cole cut his foot at the same time that Starry was dealing with a lameness issue, I was able to walk with her on the trail rides. (It was warm enough for me to walk across the river.) Once Starry got better, she went out riding with Kevin all the time. It had been years since she had ridden without me, her security sister.
Then, when I broke my wrist, she was the one who had to ease Cole back into riding. That was not an easy thing to do! He had a lot of pent up energy, and it literally took weeks for him to settle down. She rode him with Kevin and Starry a lot, but quite a few times she had to ride him by herself. I don't know many people who could have done a better job getting Cole back into work--and I don't know many people who would have been brave enough to do it. He is a lot of horse.
It only seemed natural for her to eventually get up the nerve to ride Dante alone. Surely he would be easier than Cole--and he was. He was a dream horse.
There is always hope if you lose your riding confidence. It may take a long time, but never give up. Keep doing what you are able to do, and don't beat yourself up about it. It happens to people all the time. Keep moving forward--there is always hope.
Just ask Ellen.