Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mingo's boo boo

My horses make me worry, so much. Last week, Mingo had a big sore on his face. It looked like he scraped it. It didn’t look too bad, so I didn’t worry about it. A few days later, he started itching at it so much, I figured it was a bug bite. Then, it got infected. It swelled up more, and blood and goo just kept draining and draining. We were washing his face at least 2 times a day. I was ready to call the vet.

This happened last year on his neck, and it healed up without a vet—but it sure was ugly.

The evening I decided to call the vet, I went out to check him first, and it was a little better. There was a little less swelling, and it was draining less—but still continually draining. I decided to wait one more day.

Well, I went out yesterday, and couldn’t believe the difference! It stopped draining, had a scab and the swelling was less by half. What a difference a day made. All that worrying and fretting for naught. I’m sure other people would have looked at it, shrugged and said it would be fine in a few days and not worried. I wish I could be more like that. But they are my babies!

Maybe his curse is over, now. This started before I did my good deed at my aunt’s. Maybe she decided to remove the pin from the head of the black horse voodoo doll.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Going back to the past

I had a strange thing happen to me this weekend. I will try to give you some of the background.

Years ago, I kept my horse at my aunt’s barn. She has a rental stables. I trained one of her horses for her, and in exchange for my work, she allowed me to breed her. That is how I got Mingo. Right about weaning time, she offered to buy him, and I turned her down. The following week, she kicked us out of her stables. We don’t know why, for sure, but I always felt she was upset she didn’t get Mingo.

Since then, we have returned to speaking terms, but we try to avoid contact with her. We simply don’t’ trust her and don’t like her. Life is too short to spend time with people you don’t trust—even if they are family.

She is a self-professed witch. I’m not kidding. We always joked that all of Mingo’s hoof abscesses were caused by her—that she had a black horse voodoo doll, and she stuck pins into it’s feet. The last 2 abscesses that he got at the same time in different feet happened just a couple days after my boyfriend talked to her at the horse show and told her I was out riding Mingo. Coincidence? Even we were starting to believe our running joke.

She still does rentals. Yesterday, I was riding when I saw a fellow that works there. He’s the same guy we saw all the motorcycles with last month. Over the years, he has become a friend. He is still fairly new at horses. He used to rent out a horse every week, but now he takes out the trail rides and cleans stalls in exchange for riding privileges. This man loves horses so much.

He asked me if I would do him a favor. There was an unplanned trail ride at noon, and he was by himself. He had to use a horse that they don’t use often, and he has a horrible time bridling him. He asked if I would come over and help.

How could I say no? I didn’t want to step a foot on her property and certainly didn’t want to see her! Still, when I finished my ride, I drove over. I hid in the barn which is behind the house by a few hundred feet. My aunt is so unpredictable. She could come out screaming or welcome me like a long-lost relative.

He was finishing the saddling and was waiting for the customers to arrive. I helped him bridle the horses, and then we got to the problem horse. I was going to bridle him in his stall. Sure enough, as soon as I got the reins over his head, the horse spun wildly about the stall. I got him in a corner, and he stood quietly. I tried to bridle him, and he did fuss about, but within 30 seconds, I had the bit lined up with his lips, stuck my thumb into his mouth and had success. I slipped him a peppermint to make it a nicer experience.

My friend was in awe. Fortunately, Mingo will give me trouble at times if he wants to eat his hay and I want to bridle him. This horse was no worse than Mingo on a bad day (except for the spinning.)

I had to help get the horses down the drive, as the last horse in line liked to turn and go home. This meant walking right past the house. I hoped I wouldn’t see my aunt. I held my breath and made it through. Probably she knew I was there and wanted to avoid me, too. They left, I hopped in my car and got out as fast as I could!

The place has become so rundown, that I was ashamed of it. Boards off fences, boards missing in the stalls, holes in the walls…I did see Mingo’s mother. She has really aged. She is the same age as Cruiser, but looks so much older. I think Cruiser looks so good because I have always kept him in top shape. She acted like her old self, though, and completely ignored me. She never had much personality—something Mingo more than made up for. If Mingo had her personality, I don’t think I would have kept him. He loves people and seems to prefer them to horses, at times.

All the horses looked fat and healthy, at least.

I am hoping that if there is a curse on my little Mingo, that my good deed was enough to break it. Believe me, it was as very hard thing for me to do, to go back…

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rainy ride

Well, my sister and I were determined to ride. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms at 11:00. That gave us 2 hours and 20 minutes. We decided we would ride an hour and turn around and come home. At the 59-minute mark, we heard thunder. We immediately turned around. Ten minutes later, it started pouring. When it got real bad, we took shelter in a picnic pavilion. (Don’t tell the rangers.) It eased up, and we headed home. By the time we walked down the driveway, it was just a drizzle.

The good news? We weren’t in the barn 5 minutes before it really started to pour! Even though we couldn’t get much wetter than we already were, we were relieved that we missed the worst of the storm.

Cruiser got wet—Mingo got the day off.

The weather Sunday was beautiful, but my sister had to work and I rode by myself. I took both horses for a nice ride, but I sure did miss my sister.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Horse Books

Here is a new link I am adding to my website. It is for Sharon's Corner Bookstore. On it, you will find a list of horse books for all ages—both fiction and non-fiction. What makes this site special, is that they feature small publisher and independently published books (like mine) that you may overlook at the big retailers. Sharon doesn’t sell the books. She set up her website just to help authors and readers connect. She directs you to the authors’ websites where you can get more information.

Our Other New Apprentice

Our Other New Apprentice

Our older niece, Sarah, was able to come out with me for her first “real trail ride.” Originally, she was supposed to ride Mingo, but due to a hoof abscess, she had to ride Ranger. The biggest difference between Mingo and Ranger is Ranger you must post his trot, and with Mingo, it isn’t necessary. I decided this would be a perfect opportunity to teach Sarah to post. I e-mailed her the following instructions to read beforehand:

How to Post

Posting is the most wonderful riding invention since the stirrups. If my memory is correct, it was discovered by the boys who would ride postillion. Back, many, many years ago when there were carriages with four and six horse teams, they would have a boy ride one of the horses as well as a driver driving the team. These horses didn’t do the slow cow horse jog. They did a fast ground-traveling trot. Some anonymous genius discovered that if you rise up and down with the beat of the horse it turned from misery to comfort.

When you ride a horse with a bouncy trot, the bounce is not caused by the step up into the air, but when your horse’s body comes back down. On a speedy or big stepping horse, the body goes down faster than you do and you bounce when you hit the saddle. To make matters worse, the horse’s body goes down on one side first and then the other side. This leaves you flying all over the saddle. Not fun for you or the horse.

Posting is like dancing. In the beginning, your horse leads and you follow. Later, as you get better, you will dance in time with him. When you get really good, you can lead and your horse will follow you!

As you start to trot, your horse will lift you up into the air. You need to time it so you stay up in the air a beat as his body travels down. This way, you miss a bounce. He will come back up to get you. You will follow him back down in perfect timing—so you miss the next bounce, too. Immediately, he will bring you back up and it will start all over again. It is really tough at first—like riding a bike.

Once you learn it, you will never forget it—like riding a bike. You’ll know when you get it right—it will just feel right. Once you know the feeling—just keep trying to find that feeling again. At first, you may only get one or two beats, but before you know it, you will be able to post for miles effortlessly.

With a smooth horse, like Mingo, you don’t need to post at all. You just follow his body with your body as if you were connected with Velcro. It is very hard to learn to post on a horse like him because he doesn’t give you much lift. Once you learn, you will find it possible to post on him or any other horse.

The Ride

Just as we had done with her sister, I taught Sarah to saddle and bridle both horses—then down the trail we went.

We rode down the hill, crossed the river and trotted a short section of trail. I was in the lead, so I couldn’t see what was going on. When Sarah caught up with me, I found out that she had no success with posting. We walked over a rough section of trail that gave her a chance to rest. We tried another short section of trail, and she said she got a few beats.

The next section of trail was longer. Once again, I was in the lead. I didn’t realize that Cruiser got so far ahead of Ranger until I glanced back to see him cantering! Well, Sarah said she was posting until he started to do “something funny.” I knew success was in our reach.

The last section of trail that we planned to trot is a long one, and by the time we got to the end of it, Sarah was happily posting along. We walked back to the beginning of the section and did it again for practice.

I wanted her to do a little bit of cantering to take the mystery out of it. We tried the section a third time. It didn’t work with me following, so I took the lead and cantered—hoping Ranger would follow suit. Then I heard the yell, looked behind and saw Sarah tumbling off the saddle right into a nice, soft area off the trail. Ranger gave a little buck and away she went. At 5’10”, all I saw were arms and legs. She was on her feet in no time, and I told her to grab Ranger. She was unhurt, thankfully. I had her walk Ranger for a few minutes until she relaxed a little. She mounted back up, and we had an uneventful trip back to the barn.

Good news—even though I made her lead Mingo for 20 minutes (always a challenge for the uninitiated) and then clean 12 feet, she still wants to come out and ride again.

Clicker Training Mingo

Clicker Training Mingo

Last month, I wrote about clicker training my cat, Thunder. I was having so much fun with Thunder; I thought I would experiment with Mingo. (Cruiser is very limited with treats, so he was out of the question.) I bought a good book on clicker training horses, and I worked up my plan.

Clicker training is based on 100% positive reinforcement. When a horse does something you want him to do, he gets a reward—usually in the form of a treat. The beauty of the clicker is that you click at the very moment of the correct behavior. This makes rewarding your horse clear and consistent—something that is incredibly important with horses. Let’s say that you want your horse to step over a log, and decided to give him a reward when he did. If you stop and give him a treat after he steps over the log, he may not understand why he is getting the treat. It may be because he stepped over the log, but it might be because he stopped or because he is standing still. See where the confusion lies? With a clicker, you can click as your horse is stepping over the log. Once he hears the click, he knows he will get a treat, so the reward is clearly for stepping over the log.

A trainer can clicker train a horse from the start to the finish of his career. It applies to tricks, groundwork and riding. It sounded like intense clicker training would be good for winter training, but this is trail-riding season here in Ohio. I wasn’t about to spend a lot of time in the arena, right now.

From working with Thunder, I knew that clicker training could work for isolated behaviors, too. I chose a few projects to work on that would help us with our trail riding. I wanted to teach “walk faster” and its corollary “walk down the river bank faster.” I also wanted to reinforce confident walking over the river ford.

The first thing to teach Mingo was that the clicker meant “Good boy.” It took about 5 minutes. The book suggested using a cone, but I decided a hammer would be better. I didn’t want him acting silly around cones. As he stood in his stall, I held the hammer out. Being naturally curious, he touched it with his nose. I clicked and gave him a treat. We practiced this. If he touched my hand—nothing. He had to touch the hammer. Eventually, he would touch the hammer wherever I stood. When I clicked, he turned his attention to me and waited for his treat. Finally, I would throw the hammer on the floor, and he would walk over and touch it. Mingo is an equine genius.

As he had a hoof abscess at this time that required hand walking, my next step was to teach him “walk faster.” It only took one session—even with a sore foot. I would cluck my tongue, tug the rope, he would speed up and I would click and treat. He was even trying to trot. I didn’t click for that. Before I knew it, the tongue cluck was all he needed to speed up. A miracle.

When his hoof healed up enough to take him for a walk down to the river, I practiced on the hill, and then we did the riverbank. Several years ago, the riverbank washed out resulting in very deep mud. He hated the mud, and got in the habit of walking very, very slowly down the bank. When the park fixed the bank, there was nothing I could do to get him to go down it faster. Once he decides something should be done slow, it is so hard to convince him otherwise.

Clicker training works best if you break the project down into small steps. (Mingo is good at small steps!) He has always been reluctant to take the first step down the bank. As I led him down a couple steps, I clicked and treated. We went a few more steps and I did the same. I also clicked at the bottom. I turned him around, brought him up and did it again. By the third trip, he knew just what I wanted.

At my next opportunity to ride him, I rode him down the bank several times. When you ride a horse and click, he will stop and wait for his treat. After a few times, when he was walking quickly every time I asked him to step further down the bank, I decided to click him at the bottom only. He was ready to walk quickly down the bank. It was another miracle.

Since I didn’t want to give him a treat every time we went down the riverbank, I phased the clicker out. I did give him verbal praise, and I wouldn’t let him stop and wait for the treat. This was a couple of months ago. I now only give him a click and treat maybe once a week when he goes down the bank, but it is enough. His old habit was changed and a new habit is in its place. He now walks down the bank at the speed of a normal horse without me even asking.

I had one more project—the river ford. When he was just a colt, we had an incident on the river ford where he got scared and hurt. To make the long story short, he didn’t want to cross any of the fords. I retrained him, and it worked for a couple years—then he quit, again. It took a couple more years for me to convince him it was safe, he did well, and last year, in a rainstorm, we tried to cross one of the fords and he refused. The next week, on a dry day, he refused again. He still crossed the other fords, but I realized how shaky his confidence was. He could refuse anytime, and then it would be back to square one. All spring, we had been crossing one of the fords by following other horses, and he was doing well, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try by myself. This is where clicker came in.

I went out for a ride on my own. When I got to the river ford, I dismounted (it is easier to give him a treat, and I knew he would be more willing if he followed me.) His trouble spot is a line where the black top pavement changes to cement. He thinks it might be a sheer drop off into the middle of nowhere. There is one on each side, of course. I clicked on the approach, clicked when he stepped over the line, clicked in the center and clicked when he crossed over the second line. We repeated the process on the way home, too. Every ride that I did this on, he was more confident and willing to cross the ford—even if he wasn’t following another horse.

Next time I am riding and the fords are closed allowing us to cross but not cars, I will go back to the one that he absolutely refuses to cross, and we will have another training session. I will let you know how it goes. It should be better since he has a reason to “walk,” “walk faster” and “walk over the line.”

Clickers can be purchased for a few dollars at many pet stores. I got mine at Pet Supplies Plus. You can use them with any animal. I now see the clicker as another tool in my toolbox to solve problems. Besides, it is a lot of fun seeing the animals figure things out and do them because they want to—not because they have to.

It was a Quiet Sunday Morning

It was a Quiet Sunday Morning

One Sunday last month, Ellen and I went on a ride up to the public show ring. We don’t ride in the ring—just all about the trails up there. The horses love the ride, since we used to board them close by, and their enthusiasm is overwhelming. We like it, too, and try to go there once a week.

It was a totally successful and enjoyable ride. We were on our way home, when I heard Ellen say, “Uh oh.” This is never a good thing to hear on a ride. We happened to be on the Lagoon trail. It is right out in the open and just a few feet from the street. On the opposite side of the trail is a rock wall with the river below.

As I glanced behind me, I saw a couple police cars with their lights flashing. My first fear was that they would turn on their sirens. We turned the horses around to face the cars. Horses are less likely to bolt if they are facing the monster. That is when we saw the motorcycles coming around the corner, and remembered there was a motorcycle rally that was going through the park that day. We were at the absolutely worst place we could be.

Ranger and Mingo’s heads were up, and they were very tense. The motorcycles were coming down the street, and there was no end in sight. Ellen started walking Ranger towards them, and we followed. This seemed to help. Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get worse, one the bikers got the idea in his head to honk and wave to us. Then they all started honking and waving!

We stopped the horses right before the trail goes into the trees. Since the trail still follows the road, the trees would have obscured the bikes, but wouldn’t have taken us away from them. We thought that would be worse. As the motorcycles passed us, two by two, we just sat there on our horses, half heartedly waving back with fake smiles pasted on our faces.

Before we even saw the motorcycles, we had seen a friend of ours, Dave, down the trail coming towards us. He was soon by our side. He said that his horse, Montana, was doing fine until they started honking. That is when Montana decided to spin around. Dave knew if he caught up with us, Montana would be fine. He was right. So now, all three of us were standing there, waving as the motorcycles went by, honking at us.

It was easily a full five minutes until they all passed us. At the end of the caravan, there were more police cars with flashing lights and then a huge utility truck! The horses still just stood and stared. Finally it was over and time to go home.

I was grateful that I wasn’t riding Cruiser. Mingo handles motorcycles much better than Cruiser. This may have been a little too much for his Arab nature. As it turned out, Mingo and Ranger behaved in a perfect manner, and we were so pleased with them. We were also glad that we were there to help Dave through it.

The moral of the story? Next time we hear there is going to be a motorcycle rally, we will still ride, but we will ride on a trail that isn’t so close to the street!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Holiday weekend

It was a disappointing holiday weekend. On Friday, I had car trouble and didn’t get out to ride with my sister. By the time I did, the fireworks were bad enough that I didn’t want to risk riding on the trail. I just led Cruiser around for his glucose therapy. Saturday was a better day. I did get to ride both horses. I took Mingo with my sister up to the show ring and that was fun. I also took Cruiser out for an hour ride. Sunday, my sister had to work and I had to rush to finish in time. My boyfriend’s family was having a get together and I agreed to go. I took both horses out for about an hour. I hate rushing. Next weekend will be better.

Last night and this morning were a little tough. Don’t worry—this has a happy ending, so don’t worry. Last night, I woke up to find Thunder, my beloved cat, shaking in pain! He then threw up. There was a little grass, and maybe hair. I brought him back upstairs, and he was trembling very badly. He started purring really loud—due to the discomfort—this happened once before. He shook so hard. I just held and comforted him. I was so upset. After about a half hour, his shaking and purring gradually subsided, so I felt better, too. I figured he ate a bad bug or something and throwing it up solved the problem. He went downstairs. I waited a bit and then brought him back up. He seemed better—and then he jumped down and started eating! I went to sleep. He left and didn’t come back. I got up early—and couldn’t find him!!! I searched for 15 minutes. When he doesn’t feel good, he hides—but never this good. I spent 15 minutes looking for him before I heard him cry. I still couldn’t find him. He was mewing every couple minutes. I was in the basement and it occurred to me—the rec room. The door was closed, and he was trapped inside! He must have pushed the door open and it closed behind him. He was fine and happy—came upstairs and ate. Then he went back down and wanted to go back into the rec room. I left the door open for him. I was so scared and so relieved!