Thursday, April 30, 2009



Our part of the world if filled with whitetail deer. I see more of them on a typical ride than I see squirrels. They terrorize my gardens, and the only way to protect my vegetables is with an electric fence. An electric fence won’t help us on our trail rides. We just have to deal with them.

Since we see deer so often, the horses aren’t frightened of them unless they do something sudden. We just need to be alert and spot the deer before the horses do.

The other evening, I was out riding Mingo by myself. Since he is still working off his springtime silliness, he was being a little unpredictable. We did some trotting and some cantering, and all went well. When we got to our favorite spot to canter, he became very animated with anticipation.

(If you do the same thing in the same spot all of the time, your horse will want to do the same thing in that same spot all the time. We are guilty of creating a bad habit—but it is such a great place to canter!)

Right at the moment of his transition, a goose or duck landed loudly in the river that was right alongside us. He leapt sideways into the canter rather than straight, and that was a good excuse to toss in a little buck. No big deal for me—I’m used to it this time of year with him. He just gets excited—and his bucks are really easy to ride. I just pushed him straight into a canter. He did great, though faster than his usual slow speed. I was enjoying it quite a bit when we saw a deer close to the trail jump forward. We must have startled him, because he took off running and jumping off through the woods. Mingo was startled, too, and came back down to a trot. Since the deer was running parallel to the trail, I thought it would be a good idea to encourage Mingo to follow—staying on his trail, of course.

Mingo thought this was the greatest idea in the world! He kept going faster and faster to catch up with the deer. I couldn’t believe the speed he reached. Problem was—it was at a trot. Once Mingo starts to trot fast, he can’t seem to coordinate a canter transition. I didn’t know the little guy could trot so fast. We were going Cruiser speed—the speed Cruiser is discouraged from doing these days. Wow, it was fun.

Mingo slowed down as we approached the next river crossing. By then, the deer was gone. He must have turned away from the trail when I wasn’t looking, and that is probably why Mingo slowed down. He was tired, and I was happy. We turned around and headed home.

As we walked along, it occurred to me that chasing another animal is probably instinctual. After all, horses were used for centuries to hunt. Those that didn’t boldly chase after the bison wouldn’t be much use. I’m sure horses chased deer for hunters—not to mention chasing after the fox. Then there is Mingo’s Quarter Horse cattle chasing roots. He was just doing what he was meant to do—and it was fun for both of us.

The following week, Ellen and I were coming home from a ride and had to cross the river to get home. On the other side, there was a group of six deer scuffling around and playing a little. We needed to cross, and Ellen was worried that the deer would do something to startle the horses while we were in the middle of the water. It is very slippery and not a good place for a spook. We waited a bit for them to go away, but they started toward us! One of them even walked into the water.

It was getting late, and I still wanted to ride Cruiser, so we couldn’t wait forever. I remembered how Mingo was when we chased the deer, and said to Ellen, “Don’t worry, Mingo will take care of them.” I asked him to enter the water, and we slowly walked across. At the halfway point, I turned him directly towards the deer, and finally, they turned around and walked away. Ellen and Ranger were then able to safely cross. Mingo saved the day.

Cruiser’s New Speed

Cruiser’s New Speed

Cruiser has always been a speedy horse, and I love him that way. Unfortunately, with a healed bowed tendon, I didn’t think it would be wise to blast down the trails like he loves to do in the spring when he first gets out. Extended trotting can be hard on a bad tendon, so I needed him to slow down for his springtime conditioning.

We started out just trotting short sections of trail. When he got too fast, I brought him to a walk for a minute and then tried again. This worked well when we were riding away from home, but when we tried it going towards home, he was fast on the first stride, and he just wouldn’t settle down. I decided we would spend going towards home at a walk for a while. It worked, sort of.

Since Cruiser wanted to go faster and I wouldn’t let him, he decided to gait. He has been occasionally gaiting ever since I got him nearly 20 years ago. He would only do it when he traveled downhill or was really excited. I think it is a stepping pace that he does. It’s faster than a walk, but not as fast as his trot, and I have always enjoyed it. He just cruises along on a loose rein. There are gaited Morgans, and gaitedness shows up in Arabians now and then. He could have gotten his skill from either side of his family tree.

Well, this spring, he was gaiting a lot—which I think is a good sign since he hadn’t offered it very much in the last few years. I think he has been telling me that he feels good (and wants to trot towards home.) A few weeks ago, for the first time when he did it, I told him “Good boy.” He heard those words and accelerated! I was shocked. I never thought he knew that “good boy” really meant “good boy.” I figured it was just mindless chatter to him. I tried a few more times, and he ended up going faster than he ever did for me at his gait. We were flying down the trail. I was thrilled. I decided I wanted to do this more often—but how could I cue him to do it?

The next ride, I experimented. I learned from Ariel that collection can help, but it made no difference with Cruiser. He just collected his walk or went into a collected trot. If I just urged him forward, he wanted to trot. I was just not getting through to him. It wasn’t a surprise. A nearly 22-year-old horse that has never been asked to gait can’t be expected to know just what I want him to do.

Since Ellen and I only have three horses between us, on the weekends she often walks with me on the trail when I ride my second horse. The following weekend, she joined us. Of course, she can’t keep up with us when we trot, so I end up way ahead of her. I then turn around and head towards home. Years ago, we taught Cruiser to play the “Find Ranger” game. If Ranger’s shoes were too worn and Ellen didn’t want to take him on a long, fast ride, she would leave the barn later than us and meet us on the way home. I would tell Cruiser to “find Ranger” and after doing it enough, he knew the game. I would say the words, he would raise his head, look around and go faster.

This game transformed into “Find Ellen.” When we were looking for Ellen, his head would go up, he would look around and trot faster. I thought I would try it to encourage him to gait. It worked like a charm! I was so amazed. He instantly went from a walk into his gait. I said it a few more times, and he went faster!

I can only use this command when Cruiser will actually find Ellen. I don’t want to ruin the magic. What I have been doing is adding some gentle leg pressure—just enough to speed him up, but not enough for him to think I am asking for a trot. I think he is making a connection because he is starting to gait from the leg pressure. I have been tossing in “good boys” and that is helping. He still does the best when we can “find Ellen.”

He won’t do it with other horses—he doesn’t want to leave them, and he walks with Ellen for the same reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does it less in the summer because of the heat and the mere fact that I will be trotting him more. Just the same, I am having a lot of fun with this.

The most surprising part is how he picked up on the word cues. I never would have predicted the success. It goes to show you that we are teaching them all the time whether we know it or not. Also, it shows that we can teach an old horse a new trick.

Trail Training Newsletter – 100 - part 1

Trail Training Newsletter – 100
May 2009

Dear Readers,

This is the 100th newsletter. I never would have thought I had so much to write about! If you have only been receiving the newsletter for the last few years, and you wish you had read the early ones, you can buy my book “Trail Horse Adventures and Advice.” My sister gave a copy of the book to a woman she works with. She had never even touched a horse in her life. She loved the book and told Ellen it is about more than horses. She said it is about philosophy, learning and the lessons of life. She was right, but I never thought anyone would figure it out. We live our life through our horses, and everything about us is reflected in them.

If you haven’t bought a copy of “Trail Training for the Horse and Rider,” here is a review from the blogosphere that might convince you to give it a try: It sure made my day when I read it. It makes me want to go back and read my book! I haven’t read any of it since my very last edit—but I have looked at the pictures. There are pictures of Mingo when he was just a little 3-year-old on his first trail rides. What an exciting time that was. He took to the trail like a fish to water—much easier than Cruiser who was afraid of everything. Those early rides with Cruiser were exciting for a different reason!

Spring has finally arrived in Ohio. We have been trail riding and loving it. The hoses are thrilled to be out of the arena. It was such as long, long winter. We are conditioning the horses for longer and more vigorous rides. Mingo and Cruiser still haven’t’ settled down, but I think they will be very soon. Ranger is acting sensible—except when one of my silly horses is with him. Silliness can be contagious.

We plan to take a few more vacation days this month. Our attempts last month were met with rain, so we are due to have some good luck.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Update on Ming

Last night, after work, the abscess still hadn't bust out. I soaked him while I cleaned stalls, and went for a ride on Cruiser. When I got back, I turned Mingo out in the arena. He hobbled around a little and thought about rolling, but wouldn't. I brougth his best buddy, Ranger out to keep him company. Ranger did his best to get him to run. He actually did a slow trot. Then he rolled and walked all about with Ranger.

My sister checked him this morning, and he was laying down. His heel felt damp and it was smelly, so it might have busted out. I hope so. I will soak it tonight, and put on his bootie to keep it clean.

If I don't forget my clicker, again, I may do some training.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hoof Abscess

Mingo has another hoof abscess. I had the vet out, but after a thorough search, she said that it must be under his frog, so she can't drain the hoof from the bottom. I will have to soak and soak and it should pop out if his heel in a few days. Poor little guy--I wanted him to have some relief. He isn't lame, and he will put weight on his heel about half the time.

My vet can't believe his high tolerance to pain, but I'm used to it. I only knew there was a problem because I know him and abscesses so well. Poor little guy. He has such a stoic look on his face.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fun evening ride

My sister was able to ride with me last night. Since she works evenings and I work days, this doesn't happen often. I'm usually by myself. Now and then, my retired boyfriend joins me, but he usually rides in the morning, too.

Anyway, Mingo and Ranger behaved their best yet for the year. We trotted much of the trail on the way out and walked home so we could talk on the way back. There was no bucks and no racing. What a relief--they are finally settling down. This weekend, we plan to bite the bullet and do some cantering together.

I had enough time to ride Cruiser and few times on the hill. We got in just before dark--and just before it started raining.

I'm staying home, tonight, but tomorrow, I'm going to ride Cruiser. My boyfriend has to babysit, so I will be by myself, but at least I won't have to watch the Cavs with him. (Usually I go to his house after my Friday night ride, and we watch a movie.) I can't wait until the playoffs are over!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Great Weekend

We had a nice, long weekend. The weather was great on Saturday and Sunday. I rode Cruiser longer on both days than I have been. He is starting to settle down. We did take Mingo and Ranger up to the show ring. As expected, they were very, very excited. We didn’t do any trotting until we turned to go back home. Yes, they like it up there so much that they go slower on the way home than on the way out. It’s silly, but I think it is because they lived up there for 4 years.

We loved boarding up there, and would still be, today, but the owners of the little place we kept them out went through a divorce and the house ended up getting sold. It was a sad situation. We didn’t have an indoor arena, though, so the winters were pretty tough.

Monday, it rained. We got a short ride in between showers. I even managed to take Cruiser on a walk between a couple more rain showers. We then waited for the vet to come and give them their second set of shots. She was early this time. Hurray! My sister and I then went over my house to take the dog on a long walk. It was sunny when we left, but just as we turned to go home, it started raining like crazy. We could barely see. My dog wasn’t too happy, either.

We got pizza from our favorite place and ate until we were stuffed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The weekend plan

My sister and I took Monday off for the second round of shots for the horses. Of course it is supposed to be cold and rainy. Hopefully we will be able to get a ride in and the vet won't be too late.

We plan to ride Mingo and Ranger up to the show ring for the first time this year tomorrow. They get so excited up there that we will probably only be able to walk the first time. They used to live up there, years ago, and I think that is a cause of the hyperness. They were never that way when they lived there, though.

We have to go up a very steep hill, and then we end up in a small but gorgeous pine forest. Outside the forest, the path goes two ways. One is just thought a mowed field that loops aroung the public showring. The other goes through a really pretty section of the field is growing out. There are a lot of pretty shrubs. It then goes to a wild meadow, past a couple private barns and along the street beside another wild meadow for a bit. Then it ends at the road.

The trails are the best condition around. We usually end up taking the meadow trail and riding out to the showring. It is a pleasant and pretty ride.

I hope Mingo doesn't buck...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Weekend rides

Saturday’s ride was disappointing because we weren’t able to cross the river. We rode up and down the hill leading to it 3 times with each horse.

We then waited for our niece to come out and take Ranger for a ride. she has just ridden sporadically over the years. The last time she was out was in the winter, and we tried to teach her to post. Posting is necessary with Ranger if you want to be comfortable. She kinda understood, but didn’t really have it. well, she rode down to the river and we let her trot at the bottom. She posted like a champ. Somehow, she learned to post over the winter on her own. She didn’t tell us her secret.

Sunday was wonderful riding. We took Mingo and Ranger out for about 5 miles and we were able to do some trotting without them being too competitive. We did walk all the way home, though. We didn’t want to push our luck.

I took Cruiser out for about 4 miles. We did a lot of trotting and a little cantering. On the way home, we met my boyfriend on Starry, and we rode the rest of the way together. Starry did some bucking and general silliness, but Cruiser still acted mature. I was proud of him.

I am going out to ride tonight, but it is snowing. If it sticks, Cruiser will have to stay inside (shoes), but Mingo will go down trail. He just loves snow.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wow, what a week it has been. I have a nasty cold, but I have still been going to work. I figure if I could go out and ride, I will go to work. The days have been so long!

I took Mingo in the park a couple times this week, and he is settling down very nicely. We did some really nice cantering, and it was quite a thrill. He doesn't go that fast in the summer, but he wasn't going a reckless speed. We've been able to do some trotting towards home. Since he is going faster, I have to post. Yes, Mingo is making me work.

Cruiser only got in the park once, but I am riding him out there tonight. It was getting dark, so we only went up and down the hill. I trot him on the flat areas. I gave up trotting him up the hill once he bowed his tendon. Why push my luck. Wouldn't you know it, on the steepest part, some deer started dancing about and he spooked. I swung his head around to control his speed, and I kept him from running up. I also got a terrible cramp in my arm. That was weird. He walked up a little faster after that, but he behaved.

He has been gaiting a lot. I think it is a stepping pace. His gait is faster than his walk and slower than his trot. He does it when he is feeling good, so that's a good sign. I wish I could get him to do it on command. He does it with a loose rein. I'm going to try half halting him when he seems like he is in the mood and then, if he does it, I'll loosen the reins as a reward, sit back and enjoy it.

I'll be riding both days this weekend, just the way it is supposed to be.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Trail Training Newsletter - #99 - part 2

Springtime Silliness Revisited

Every spring, Ellen and I have the same problem—hyper horses. I think we wouldn’t have so many problems if we merely walked on the trail all year. Our problems stem from riding so much at a trot and canter. We love it, and the horses love it, too.

We did what we always do when we can first get across the river in the spring. We just walk. The horses are so excited to be out, that they walk very fast. Even Mingo speeds along at a walk those first few rides. Oh how I wish he walked like that all the time.

After a few rides like this, we are ready to add some trotting and cantering. Unfortunately, the horses are ready, too—really ready. They want to kick up their heels and race along the trail with each other. Ellen and I don’t really want to be racing, so we have come up with some techniques to keep this from happening. Our personal favorite is to just take the horses out by themselves. The go at a more reasonable speed when they are alone, and we can just sit back and enjoy the ride without any problems. The only problem we have with that, is what do we do if we are both out at the barn at the same time?

Simple—we go out at separate times, meet and ride home at a walk. We have done this with Cruiser and Ranger nearly every spring, but they learned the game, and the horse that went out second would get very excited. We certainly weren’t going to do this with Cruiser with his healed bowed tendon. Cruiser would be going out all by himself until all the horses are settled down.

Mingo doesn’t know the game, so we figured if Ranger went out first, Mingo could follow 10 minutes later, and Ellen could wait for us over by the next river crossing. All went well. Mingo had been out on the trail enough in the last few weeks that he acted like it was a typical summer day. He plodded down the hill, crossed the river and did some slow and smooth trotting. We got to a spot that is good for cantering. He gave me a fast but lovely canter. It was his first cantering out on the trail of the spring. I brought him down to a walk, we rounded a corner and got to our favorite part of the trail to canter. It is about a quarter mile, and at the end of it, Ranger would be waiting.

Mingo’s head went out and he started neighing! I think he heard Ranger, who Ellen later told me was neighing at the other end. I asked for a canter, and he gave me that lovely canter of before. After a bit, he neighed again, but his head down to buck, (I held it up, so he only got a large canter stride) and took off. I don’t think I have ever ridden Mingo a gallop this fast ever. He is simply not a speedy horse at any gait.

He kept neighing and going faster. I could feel my face flattening to my head like a dog with his head sticking out of a fast moving car. I think I was holding my breath because I soon felt myself gasping for air. About two thirds down the trail, Mingo came to his senses and slowed down. He still kept neighing. When he got close to Ranger, he dropped to a trot when I asked him. They were so happy to see each other.

Well, now Mingo knows the game, too. I don’t think can play it anymore. The comical part is that Ranger knows the game so well that he knows we are going to play it if I am out at the barn and don’t got out with him on the ride. He tends to get a little confused, sometimes. He thought Mingo was ahead of him instead of behind him!

Trail Training Newsletter #99 - part 1


It was the end of February, and I don’t think Mingo had been out on the trail in the month. He was getting very bored of the arena, and honestly, so was I. We were out at the barn on a bitterly cold morning—in the single digits, and I wanted him to get out, but it was so cold, I decided to lead him rather than ride. Since there was no snow and the ground was frozen as hard as concrete, I knew that we wouldn’t go any faster than a walk, and I would just freeze if I was in the saddle. Besides, I could use a little exercise.

Ellen came with me, of course. We led Mingo down the river, and he was very excited, but well behaved. He went faster than normal, and that helped warm us up. I led him back to the top of the hill, turned him around to go back down and he didn’t even mind it.

Halfway up the hill on the second trip, his head shot up and he wouldn’t budge. I heard some pounding, but that wouldn’t normally bother him this much. Then, Ellen pointed up ahead. A house close to the trail was getting a new roof, and Mingo could see the men crawling on top of it. This was too much for him. When Mingo gets scared, he isn’t playing, he’s serious.

I was going to do three trips on the hill, anyway, so we turned him around and took him back down. He was fine, since he was going away from the house with the monster on top of it. We could hear power saws and pounding, and we wondered how we would get Mingo past the house to get him home.

I have been reading Temple Grandin’s new book “How Animals Make Us Human.” It is a terrific book. She tells how an animal’s core emotions influence their behavior. We all understand fear in horses, but there is another emotion that can override it, and that is the seeking emotion. Seeking is the emotion that makes us mammals want to play, look for food or explore. Apparently, both fear and seeking cannot operate at the same time, yet they can flip back and forth.

Whether I was reading this book or not, we probably would have approached the problem the same way, because it has worked in the past. We just were able to better understand what was going on. The method is called peppermints. As we got closer to the house, I realized that if I put Mingo far to the right side of the trail, the trees obscured the roof with the men crawling about. This helped, but we still had the noise. When his head went up, Ellen gave him a peppermint. His head dropped down as he chewed and slowly walked forward. This is where Ellen turned on seek. She didn’t give him a second peppermint right away. Rather, she rattled the wrapper. In doing that, she turned on “seek.” His head went down as he strained to get a treat. We went 10 steps or so, and she gave it to him. He got another one a little further along. I could actually see him flipping back and forth from fear to seek.

Now, we were about to pass the house. the point a horse will bolt forward from a monster is the moment that he has just gone past it. We knew this was a crucial part. Ellen started rattling the paper. Mingo was very focused on her and his potential peppermint. We made it all the way to the street, gave him a treat and told him how wonderful he was.

We are thinking there was something else going on at the house that we couldn’t hear. Maybe it was a generator or something. Kevin tried to take Starry to the hill, and he never even made it out of the driveway. Even though Starry couldn’t see the house, he refused to budge. Fortunately for Kevin, he didn’t have to go past the house to get home like us, and he decided it wasn’t worth fighting over.

Having some treats in your pocket can be a useful thing. I like the peppermints because the wrappers can “call” a horse. The horses like the peppermints, too. A couple weeks ago, we decided it was time to cross the ford with Mingo. Since he has had problems with the fords in our park over the years, we decided to approach the problem prepared. Ellen and Ranger went first, and I followed with Mingo on foot. I rattled a wrapper just before he stepped on the ford. When he did, I gave him his mint. He also got one at the middle and the end of the ford. As an additional reward, when we got across, we immediately turned around, recrossed the ford and went home.

The following week, I was able to ride him right across—just giving him praise. He offered no hesitation and though not eager, was willing to cross without a single problem. We still have 2 more fords to tackle!