Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Be Kind

Ellen and I were coming home form a beautiful November ride up at the show ring area. We have been taking Mingo and Ranger up there on Sundays since last fall when Cruiser got hurt. They repaired and extended the trails, so we can get a quite a good ride.
On our way home, we came across some acquaintances on horseback. One of the party didn’t like something that we did, and she presented her opinion to us in a very untactful way. This didn’t surprise us, coming from this woman, but it still ruined our ride--for at least ten minutes.
It got me to thinking how some horse people treat other trail users. Rather than politely educate them when they are doing something that they don’t like, they treat them rudely by making smart remarks, yelling simply acting mean.

Kevin still, to this day, talks about the woman on a horse that gave him a hard time about jogging on the bridle path—even though he kindly stopped and went to the side of the trail to allow her to pass. (Joggers are allowed on our trails.) This was years before he ever imagined he’d own his own horse. He is still trying to figure out who she was. We have all seen joggers, hikers and dog walkers cower on the trail when they see us—as if they are preparing for a tongue lashing. I’ve seen some run off the trail into the woods when they see us coming. This isn’t right. We are all out there for the same reason—to enjoy the trails.

Our park has rules that state that dogs should be on leashes and bikes should stay on their own trails, but when we see violators, should we give them a nasty comment or be rude? Do we understand how easily our trails can be lost to us forever? We need the fellow trail users on our side, not against us. In our park, we are easily out numbered.

When we see a bike rider on our trail, we ask them to stop and allow us to pass. If he does, we thank him and explain that horses can be startled. We don’t need to remind them that in our park, bikes have their own trails. I’m sure they already know it.

If we see a loose dog that is not under control (some are so good, they don’t need a leash) we slow down and wait for them to put a leash on. If they don’t, Kevin will give them a long explanation about why their dog should be leashed. Ellen and I simply say, “Our horses kick.” That does the trick most of the time. No dog owner wants to see their animal hurt—it suddenly makes perfect sense to them why their dog needs to be leashed. Most people are just ignorant and need to be educated. Once the dog is on a leash, we cheerfully thank the dog walker and ride on.

If we see someone sharing our trail and they aren’t doing anything wrong, we say hello and act friendly. Really, we want these people on our side—lets be welcoming. If ever our trails are threatened, we want the dog walkers, hikers and joggers to say they want us there. Being rude is the last thing we should do. Friendliness can pay off where you don’t expect it, too. That is how I met Kevin all those years ago. He was just jogger. If I would have told him that he shouldn’t be on my trail, I would have never known all the joy I would have missed.


Something New on the Trail

We don’t have the luxury of owning a horse trailer, so we just ride on the trails that are accessible to our the barn. We are so glad that we have them. Since we ride them all the time, we know just about every step of the trails by heart. So do the horses.

This is always something we keep in mind. A horse that knows an area well will notice anything new on the trail. The other day, my sister was driving through the park on the way to the barn for our Saturday morning ride, and she saw the park put up a new sign in the Lagoon area fairly close to the bridle trail. We knew that it might bother the horses, so instead of trotting or cantering through there like we usually do, we slowed to a walk just as the sign came into view. Ranger and Cruiser eyed it suspiciously. If we were going faster, there is no doubt that they would have at least sidestepped. When I went by not long after with Mingo, he didn’t care at all, but then he always has been a less reactive horse.

We were also cautious on the way home. Once again, they noticed it, but their reaction was less pronounced. A horse needs to see something from both sides before he is comfortable with it. After that day, they never looked at the sign, again.

There is another part of the trail that had an unusual obstacle/horse-eating monster. A woman in the neighborhood lost a dog near the park, so she plastered the area with signs. She also set up the dog’s cage right next to the trail with his blanket and water dish. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it until we rounded a sharp corner, so it definitely made our horses dance the first time. I’m sure the dog owner never thought that the horse people in the area might have problems with it, but it worried Cruiser and Starry quite a bit. After the first time, we could ride past it, but they would cringe on the far side of the trail. Kevin and I would warn each other when we got near it so we would slow down before it appeared. Eventually, Cruiser would trot right by—as long as he wasn’t close to it. I’m glad to say that the dog was found in a few weeks. The owner put on note on the “Lost Dog Signs” and took the cage home.

I have noticed that if there is an area that has things change all the time, our horses don’t seem to mind. There are some signs close to the trail that people will attach balloons and such to point to a party in the park. They seem to happen often enough that the horses seldom care. They are used to the changes.So if you are riding on one of your regular trails, and you see something new before your horse sees it, it is smart to slow him down to give him a chance to see


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Trail Training Newsletter - #84 - part 1

Trail Training Newsletter – Volume 83
January 2008

Dear Readers,

Bad news this month. Early in December, Cruiser came up lame on his bad leg during a trail ride. My heart fell. Common sense said that it had to be the tendon. We walked him back to the barn, iced, wrapped and started him on bute for the swelling. I called the vet out. He gave him a lameness exam and an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed some thickening in the tendon, but no lesions, so that was good.

He will be on stall rest for a couple more weeks, and then I can start some light riding—gradually building him back up. He is allowed 10 minutes a day of hand walking. That is for his mental state. The lameness is already gone. There is just a little heat left.

The vet said that this isn’t unusual. We bring them along slowly, everything is going well and then there will be a setback.

I guess if this was going to happen, I’m glad it happened now. We had a terrific fall riding season. Winter isn’t near as much fun to ride—particularly once the river freezes. We’ll be ready by spring.

Just a reminder—if you received a gift card for Borders over the holiday, you can use it to buy my books. Treat yourself!


The Journey

It was about this time of year, eighteen years ago, that my first horse, Brandy, died. Seeing the trees barren of their leaves, brings back the memories and makes me very thoughtful.

Enough time has gone by that I no longer think as much about the end of his life. For those of you who have read my book “Trail Training for the Horse and Rider,” the last chapter does talk about the feelings I went through at the time. Losing a horse is never an easy thing, but it was a case of being “better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all.”

These days, I think more about the short two and a half years we had together. I had some experience with horses before he was given to me, but really not that much. A lot of that experience was with him—that’s why I took him. He was the horse I grew up with—in a sense. I may have only seen him a few times a year, but he was the horse I always thought of as the most important horse in the world.

He was owned my aunt, and in time, she no longer had much use for him and gave him to me. I knew that he had his problems, but I was twenty-one at the time. I figured I could do anything. How naïve we are at that age.

I brought him to a boarding stables that was only a half mile from the trails. After all, trail riding was my passion—even back then—I was hooked. It was early February when I got him. The following weekend, a group of riders were going down to the trail. I decided to go with them to find out how to get there—and anyway—this was my dream. Why wait?

I remember the day was cold and snowy. Silly me. These days, I would never take a brand new horse out on the trail on such a day. Cold weather can make the best horse act silly. Silly he was. As the group of riders were walking down the trail, he was trotting and prancing. He insisted on being in the lead. Did I mention he had a hard mouth and a tendency to run away? After about 15 minutes of this, I turned around and went home. He trotted and pranced the whole way. Needless to say, I was very upset.

A few weeks later, when the weather was better, I tried it a few more times on my own without much success. One day, when it was warmer, he did pretty well, and I was so happy. The next ride, he was terrible. In the spot that the trail bent towards the woods, he decided to bend the other way, turned around and ran to the street. He galloped down the middle of the road. Years later, I can still see the yellow line under our feet. Fortunately, there wasn’t any traffic. I somehow got him to the side of the road, slowed him to a stop, dismounted and led him home—in tears.

I dreamt for years that I would someday have a trail horse, and instead I had a horse that was just too much for me. I called my aunt—she said I could sell him. Well, I wasn’t ready for that. I was able to ride him fine in the arena. I simply gave up on trail riding altogether. Someday, I would have a different horse and I would be able to live my dream. Now, I just needed to learn how to ride better and build my very shaken confidence.

Having a horse is pretty expensive, and in those days, I didn’t have very much money. I didn’t see how I could afford both a horse and riding lessons, so I had to figure this out by myself. I did listen, read and learn as much as I could. I practiced, rode at least four times a week and rationalized to myself that I someday could have a trail horse. I just had to wait. I waited this long, I could wait some more. I simply was to frightened to go out on the trail. My confidence was zero.

Good thing Brandy was a fine arena horse. He wasn’t necessarily an easy horse, but he was safe. There was no bucking, bolting or rearing. There was just disagreements as to where we were going to go and how fast we were going to do it. My riding became more confident. I could even ride bareback! I even cantered bareback! I could even mount from the ground bareback! I’m afraid those days are long gone. I tried it a few years ago with Cruiser, and I just couldn’t do it and had to use a mounting block.

Something happened that following winter. Boredom overcame the fear. I’m sure that could only happen because my growing confidence caused my fear to shrink. It was about February when I was so fed up with the arena that I had to get out! I couldn’t wait for the weather to get a little better. I needed to escape desperately. I had to try. After all, I was 22 and I could do anything. Couldn’t I?

Things had changed. My horse was no longer my adversary—he was my friend. As two friends, we were going to work our problems out. By now, he trusted me. I was no longer the strange person that took him away from his home of many years, brought him to a scary place and expected him to go on new trails filled with monsters. I was his trusty leader, and he was my trusty horse. Both of our attitudes had changed dramatically. He couldn’t trust me when I had no confidence. Now, things were different.

Our very first trail ride was so much better than all the rides the year before. I remember I got off and led him all the way home. That last half mile up the road was the toughest part. He pranced and tried to trot the whole way. I very, very firmly held onto the reins and insisted he walked. After fighting all the way up the very steep hill that lead to the barn, he exhausted himself. He never gave me trouble walking up that hill the rest of his life.

Each ride, we did a little more. Before I knew it, I was riding home. I told myself, “As long as I’m able to walk in the park, I’ll be happy.” That is, until I decided to try to trot. all worked well. I then told myself, “A long as I’m able to walk and trot in the park, I’ll be happy.” One day, I got brave and asked him to canter. He cantered, and I was able to stop him when I wanted to! Soon, I was even able to trot towards home. I even cantered towards home, now and then—but only when we were far away. my hard-mouthed, runaway horse was now a sane, dependable horse.

I rode him on the trail all that summer and fall. We were a team, and those who have experienced that feeling know how special it is. January 1, he came down with a case of laminitis. It was devastating, but we got it under control, and by summer, we were back out on the trail. The fun didn’t stop until November when he colicked and died at the age of 24.

It was a tragic time for me, but through that two and a half years, I learned so much. I found out about a 2-year-old Morab, and less than two weeks later, he was mine. I was setting myself up for a whole bunch of challenges, but I was 24. I could do anything. Brandy proved it to me. I still didn’t have much money, so I did the training myself with the help of a few good books. We just progressed from one step to the next. When the books couldn’t help—I wrote my own.

Sure, I had some tough time and had some scary times with Cruiser. He had a lot of energy, but I was already used to that from Brandy. Cruiser’s biggest problem was his terrible spooks, but I never gave up. Instead, I learned how to handle them. By the time he was just four, he was already an awesome trail horse. My next big challenge—raising a baby horse from birth. That’s where my Mingo came in. By now, it was easy.

Now, that I’m older, (Cruiser, too, he’s twenty,) I know I can’t do everything, but I do know that I can do most anything if I break it down into little bits. If my horse gets confused or I get nervous about something, we step back in our training until we are ready to move forward again. Soon, we will be ready to continue our journey once again.