Monday, October 5, 2009

Weekend update

We had a good weekend. Unfortunately, the day my niece came out to ride, we couldn’t cross the river—way too high. We did the hill 3 times. She still had fun. Since we had some extra time, we taught her a little about ground work and leading. She practiced on Mingo and Ranger. We then took her on a long hike and out to lunch at Burger King.

Sunday we were able to cross, and my sister and I had a very nice ride. I rode Mingo wioth my sister on Ranger and then took Cruiser out by himself. All the horses and people were so glad to get across. We have been doing the hill all week because of the rain.

We have a 4-day weekend coming up, and we just can’t wait! My boyfriend agreed to let us have Starry on one day for a long ride with Mingo. We had such a good time with them last time, we wanted to do it again.

Friday, October 2, 2009

House Cat Tip of the Month

House Cat Tip of the Month

Indoor cats love to play with outdoor toys. I had a cat who loved to chase acorns, but Thunder wasn’t impressed with them. When I saw one of the barn cats playing with a buckeye, I thought I would bring one home for Thunder. I set it down near his toys to play with later, but I never got the chance. The next time I saw it, it was shredded. Pollie, our dog found it. So much for that idea.

I gave him a tiny summer squash, and he was having fun batting it around. I warned him to watch out for Pollie, but when I glanced over, I realized I was too late. He was looking at the bare floor, bewildered, and I could see the dog in the other room eating the squash.

My sister’s cat likes small sticks, but her dog will sometimes take them away. The cat and dog sometimes play tug-o-war with them, but the dog always wins.

Thunder does like to play with green beans. His favorite beans are the Chinese Yard Long beans that I grew this year. They are about 2 feet long. Kevin’s cats think that these long beans are great, too. My sister’s cat likes normal green beans. She puts one at the end of a stick for him to follow around. The best thing about green bean? Dogs hate them.

Adventures in Clicker Training

Adventures in Clicker Training

As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, I have been playing around with clicker training with Mingo. He now goes down the first riverbank like a normal horse instead of molasses in January. I only click him for it once every couple of weeks or so when I remember to bring him a treat. I haven’t tried him on the river ford for quite a while, but I have a feeling that when I do, he will go as confidently as he did in the spring when I worked with him with the clicker.

Our new project does not involve the trail. With the shorter evenings, I am taking Cruiser on trail rides and riding Mingo in the big outdoor arena. I like working out there, though I only do it for a few months in the fall. It is too wet and sloppy in the winter, so I use the indoor arena in the inclement weather.

My main project that I decided to work on with the clicker is improving our walk/trot transitions. He is fine out on the trail, but in the arena, he feels that trotting is optional. This is something I have struggled with him, forever. When he does trot, often he only trots with his front legs and walks with his hind legs. Finally, towards the end of the session, he would give in and start to work. By then, I would be worn out, and we would quit for the day. It is all so frustrating. Last winter, he had me convinced there was something physically wrong with him—until we started riding on the trail in the spring, and he transformed into a regular dynamo for the first month.

We worked a little with clicker transitions on the trail. I would ask him to trot, he would, I would click, he would stop and I would give him a tiny piece of carrot. Sometimes, I use green beans from my garden. It worked fine on the trail, but then again, I seldom have trouble getting him to trot on the trail.

To make things easier for me, I trained him to understand a click noise I made with my tongue. I switched, not so much, because it is that hard to use a clicker while riding, but because it was so hard to remember to bring the clicker with me on the rides! It took only a couple tries, and he knew the tongue click.

Our first venture into the outdoor arena went very well, and I was so excited. At first, I clicked for a transition. When he was doing that well, I had him trot a little before clicking. I gradually increased the distance that we trotted and finally only clicked when he trotted well. Towards the end of the ride, he was going so fast that I was sure we had made a breakthrough.

The next week, he was back to his old self in the arena. I realized that the first time, he was probably just excited to be in the arena after many months on trail. I tried doing what I did the previous training session, but it didn’t make much difference. It was like it always was—it was only towards the end of the ride that he promptly went into the trot and trotted well.

This happened ride after ride, and honestly, I was getting discouraged. We were on our seventh ride. I led him along the perimeter of the arena, and he walked with enthusiasm. This is a rare thing with Mingo at any time; let alone in the arena. This has happened a few times before with him, and I knew something was up. He had something on his mind.

I mounted and started warming him up at a walk. He continued to go fairly fast. I asked him to trot—nothing. I asked him more vigorously, and he gave me a halfhearted trot. It was something, so I clicked. I asked him again—a little better. One more time, and we had it.

We spent the session working on our trotting, and overall he did very well. We practiced transitions and then went to practicing the trot. He gave me a lot of steady, consistent trotting. He wasn’t perfect, but when he didn’t get it right, he didn’t get a click. I think this may work, after all.

I know that I will be able to fade the clicker out—just as I did with the riverbank, so that isn’t a worry. In the end, I think he will realize that even if he doesn’t get a treat all the time, just trotting along without me constantly urging him on is much more pleasant than what we have been doing. Once he is consistent, we will move on to other things—like trotting a whole circle without stopping. What a novel idea. The rides will become more fun for both of us. He is going to love working on canter transitions. (He loves to canter!) Maybe we will finally get out of kindergarten—at the age of 14. Come to think of it, Cruiser was about 14 when we started to do really well in the ring.

Our next training session worked out about the same. There was no improvement, but he didn’t get any worse, either. Our last training session took place out on the trail. He did very well, but he always does better on the trail. Once he started doing well with the transitions, I started clicking for high quality trotting. When we got to his favorite section to canter, he wouldn’t. He only wanted to trot. Could it be because he figured he’d get a click for trotting? I’m not sure, but I didn’t make an issue of it. It will be interesting to see if his highly successful trail ride will influence his next training session in the arena.

My hopes will be that we will learn a lot this winter. I predict, if that happens, in the spring I will vow to continue working with him in the arena through the summer so we don’t lose anything that we gained. I also predict that I will ride him on the trail all summer—like I always do, and then we will have to start all over in the fall.

I will keep you updated on our progress…

Riding with Our Niece

Riding with Our Niece

After a break of three weeks, we found ourselves riding with our youngest niece, again. It was the most perfect September morning. Fortunately, she remembered everything we taught her. She saddled and bridled Ranger with no trouble, and we were off.

Little does she know that we carefully plan ahead of time everything we are going to do with her on the ride. We were determined to get some good cantering in. The last few weeks, we had been practicing cantering Cruiser and Ranger together to reinforce good manners. The last thing we needed was for the horses to decide they were going to go on a race. Mingo, well, he is not a problem. Ellen hasn’t been able to get him to canter for her in years, which is weird, because he loves to canter with me.

We got to our favorite section of trail to canter. It is so suitable for cantering that we call it “The Canter Stretch.” We didn’t start cantering at the beginning of it, because that is what we call ”The Trigger Point.” They get so excited there that they tend to just take off flying down the trail. We don’t mind, ourselves, but we wanted a positive experience for our niece.

When we got to a good spot of the trail and the horses seemed to be in the right frame of mind, I warned my niece, and asked Cruiser to canter. He went into a quiet canter just behind Ranger. He slowly started to pass Ranger, and I told my niece to ask him to canter.

He went into the most perfect canter—not too fast—not too slow. After a bit, I brought Cruiser down to a trot so he wouldn’t encourage Ranger to speed up, and we traveled along the trail as happy as could be.

At the end of it, where we had to stop for the river, we waited for Ellen on Mingo. We saw them trotting around the corner. Ellen said she gave him a clear cue to canter twice, but he said he preferred to trot. Maybe next time…

We met our goal, but we still planned to ride on. The next section of trail is one I love to ride on, but Ranger tends to be a little spooky. We got to a good place to start trotting. Now, for some reason, Mingo thinks this is a fun trail—could it be because I usually canter here with him when I ride by myself? Well, once we started trotting, Mingo felt he should be in the lead. Ranger thought that was wrong, very wrong. He charged forward and did a couple “kitten bucks.” We call them “kitten bucks” because they are very tiny, but since they are usually without warning and actually quite jarring, they can be bad news.

I watched as my niece braced herself on Ranger’s neck so she wouldn’t fall off, and then, as he surged forward at a canter, she shortened the reins and told him to trot. The crisis was over, and all was well. We stopped all the horses, put Mingo in the back where he belonged and trotted on with Ranger in the lead.

Our niece certainly had something to be proud of. It was Ranger’s kitten bucks that threw her older sister off a few months ago. She did great by staying on.

She instinctively handled the problem correctly. We told her the only other thing she should have done was warn us that she was having a problem. That way, we could have stopped our horses to help diffuse the situation. As it was, I saw what was happening and warned Ellen. We did explain that if she was riding a real buck, like the ones that Mingo does in the spring, her first response should be to pull the reins up to keep his head from getting low. Low head means high buck—and possibly multiple bucks. Doing that with Ranger when he was doing his kitten bucks would have made him buck more. He needed to go forward. The faster a horse goes, the smaller the buck.

We had no other incidents. On the last stretch of trail before turning home, she was trotting on in the lead. Mingo was keeping up, and I pointed out to Ellen the way that our niece was posting. Her timing was beautiful—it was the best posting she’s ever done.

We walked most of the way home. At one point, we optimistically tried to trot, but the group dynamics weren’t working, so we went back to a walk. Our niece is learning a lot about herd dynamics and horse behavior—a very important lesson for a trail rider.

We all celebrated the great ride at Taco Bell.

A week later, Ellen had a revelation. She figured out why Mingo wasn’t cantering for her. She knew he wanted to, and he was ready—he just didn’t. When she rides Ranger, she just tells him to go faster and he goes into a canter—usually on the right lead. She just doesn’t worry about leads on the trail. I do, and I will always tell my horses which lead I want. Poor little Mingo—he was simply waiting for her to tell him which lead he should take! Since Ellen didn’t squeeze with one of her legs, like I do, Mingo figured she just wanted to trot, so he did.


Most of September was filled with gorgeous weather and great riding. Sure, it was a little warm for horses with their winter coats, but at least we stayed dry. That ended last weekend, when we went into monsoon season. Of course, we got caught in the rain, again. It was a bad one, and my boots were wet for days…

We had two long weekends this month. On one of the days, we took Mingo out with Kevin’s horse, Starry and a longer ride than we typically go with them. They are both such slow horses that it never occurred to us before, but since we were off from work, we had a lot of time. We had so much fun on our ride.

Ellen has been working with Starry on his canter whenever she gets a chance. (Kevin’s back bothers him when he canters, so he seldom does it.) The trail we took that day has many good places to canter, so we took advantage of it. We put Starry in the lead and put a lot of space between the two horses so Mingo wouldn’t challenge him. At first, he seemed confused with the whole process. She did a number of sloppy transitions, and then he didn’t go very far before coming down to a trot. She stopped and let us catch up with them, and we took a little walk break.

Starry was excited from the cantering. His whole attitude changed. Ellen thought it might be a good time to try again. He understood perfectly this time and went right into the canter. He still had trouble with duration, though.

Later, on the way home, we were trotting, and Starry wasn’t paying attention. He slowed down to a walk and Mingo got too far ahead. Ellen asked him to trot on, and he demonstrated a perfect canter transition. Of course, she didn’t let him work on duration, this time, and brought him back down to a trot, but it shows that he may have learned his lesson.

We enjoyed our ride together so much, that we already asked if we could have Starry back for our next long weekend. Kevin agreed, so now we just have to hope that the rain will stop by then!