Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Our First Ride

The Time is Now

Late weekend, we had some very hot and stormy weather. At the same time, Cruiser’s hives came back, and I couldn’t put a saddle on him. So, here I was with no horse to ride and a river so high that I couldn’t take Cole on one of our long walks down trail.

What to do, now…

I guess it is time to ride…

I told my sister that I thought I might ride Saturday morning if the conditions were right. I don’t know what those conditions might be, but I would know if they weren’t right.

Saturday morning greeted us with a high river, hot temperatures and miserable humidity. Sounds like good conditions to me. We started out by taking care of the big guys. Ellen rode Ranger down to the river and up and down the hill a few times, and I followed with Cruiser on foot. Wow, it was a hot a humid morning.

We got back to the barn, and the arena was in use, so we waited. After a while, I got tired of just standing around and figured we would take Cole outside and walk about on the drive. He was very well-behaved—a good sign.

Soon, the arena was free. I decided to do a little lounging to get the bucks out. He was very cooperative. In fact, it was the best lounging he had ever done for me. It was looking like all the conditions were right.

I brought him back into the barn, saddled and bridled him and took him back out to the arena. I led him about, a bit, practicing our walks and whoas. Finally, I figured I should try putting my foot in the stirrup and standing up in it. I had already done this a number of times with to problems at all. I did it, and he was fine. Back on the ground, I took a deep breath and decided it was now or never. Without hesitation and with a deep breath, I told Ellen, “I’m going to do it.”

Ellen was holding Cole by the lead rope that was attached on his halter over his bridle. I rose up, swung my leg over and settled in the saddle. Nothing happened, as I predicted all along, but there was just a sliver of doubt in my mind. Ellen gave him a few pieces of apple, and he decided he liked me in the saddle.

She led him forward, and the first few steps were wobbly, but soon, he evened out. I was able to stop him with the reins, which wasn’t a surprise since I spent a lot of time practicing that on the ground. Ellen had to help me to get him to walk. That wasn’t a surprise, either, as moving forward has always been a problem with him. Whenever he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t do anything. It will be something that we will work a lot on in the future.

He seemed completely comfortable with me in the saddle, and after I stopped trembling, so was I. I was probably dripping in sweat due to the extreme heat and humidity—not my nerves. The heat probably was the reason my heart was racing, too.

After about ten minutes, I decided it was time to quit and dismounted—with a big smile on my face. I accomplished getting him used to the idea of carrying a person on his back. I have so much more work ahead…

This is only the third time I was the first person to ride a horse, and those first two times (Mingo and Cruiser) were a long time ago. Since I was waiting for my other horses to grow up, I had done way more groundwork with them than Cole, so I wasn’t quite as confidant with him. I was so happy it worked out so well.

It is a very exciting thing to experience, and I highly recommend it if you have the chance. There is that moment when you realize that your horse really trusts you, and it is simply awesome!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Life hasn’t been very kind to me, lately. I don’t blog all my problems—I try to keep it upbeat—but it is once again, a time of sadness in my house. My dear dog, Pollie, got very sick over the weekend. I have been suspicious for a few weeks that something was going wrong. I took her to the vet yesterday. She has a huge tumor wrapping around her abdomen. I was hoping it was fluids—as in congestive heart failure. At least we could have her a little while longer. This is much worse. She also has fluids by her lungs, and that is why she had trouble breathing.

The vet sent me home with Lasix and a painkiller. There is nothing we can do except keep her comfortable until the time comes. It is so sad. She has been such a wonderful dog over the last 13 years. She is a Sheltie mix, and so smart that I only spent about 10 minutes training her in her whole life. She just learned everything on her own. She never gave us an ounce of trouble and has only given us joy.

I will miss her so much…

Monday, July 26, 2010


I rode Cole.  All went well.  Unfortunately, we are very busy at work, so I will give everyone a full update when I get control of the chaos.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hot weather

Lately, I haven’t’ felt much like blogging. It has been hot, and I have been crabby. I can’t ride. Cruiser gets hives, and one of them burst open and got infected on his back in the saddle area. I just lead him around for his insulin’s sake. Cole has been kinda funny, so I am going to put off riding him another week, I think. It is probably the weather. They all hate the heat and humidity just as much as me! We’ll see how the weekend goes. See you on Monday!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cole doing well

I’m having a fun time taking Cole on his walks in the park. Fortunately, my sister and I love hiking. Many times, in the winter when we have more time, we will go hiking when we are done with our riding. Essentially, we are doing the same thing, now, but we take Cole along.

I have found that the only thing that scares him is when something looks out of place. He didn’t like the big boulder or the bike leaning on a tree. Big signs, garbage cans and park benches can be worrisome. When he saw the bike laying on the ground that had a cart attached to it, he felt that might be dangerous, too. Unlike Cruiser in his youth, Cole doesn’t panic, spin and try to run off. Instead, he pauses, holds his head up high and cautiously follows me to the monster. Then, if I let him, he will touch his nose to it. I then click and treat him. The fear leaves him, and we continue on our way.

He is crossing rivers and roads. Traffic doesn’t bother him in the least.

He walks better than most dogs we see!

We are getting very close to riding. We’ll see how he does with his ground work this week—maybe I will ride on the weekend.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I taught Cole to put his head down when I point to the ground.  It was very useful when I was teaching him to cross the water.  Supposedly, it also makes the horse to relax to lower his head.  I'm not sure if that is true, but it sure doesn't hurt if it is!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cole back into training

Well, last night, I decided I should work with Cole to advance us towards riding. I started out with the bridle. Up until now, he has been so obsessed with chewing and playing with the bit that he ignores me. I found a flash noseband in my pile of miscellaneous tack. It fit him. I only put it tight enough to keep him from opening his mouth more than ½ an inch. It did the trick. I led him about and practiced walk/whoa/ turn. He advanced very quickly and in the end, wasn’t much different than Cruiser.

I took the bridle off and put the saddle on. I decided we really need to tackle the lounging problem. He is now walking well on the lounge, but needs to improve his trot transitions and trot duration. I have been using clicker for this. It took a bit, but finally, he started to misbehave and dance about. I drove him forward for a few laps, and I could see the light bulb go off! He knew what I wanted. Of course, I clicked, and then we started up again. He was doing laps, and when he tried to slow down, I could speed him back up. I think he has got it—I just can’t wait 2 weeks before I do this again, like before.

Next step—preliminary mounting. I simply made him stand while I jumped up and down. I did it on both sides. He was fine. we have done this before. I then thought I would try to jump up and lean across the saddle. After all, he is only 14.2.

Alas, I am not as young as I used to be. He didn’t seem to mind me throwing my body into his side and slipping down. Next time, I will try it from the mounting block. By now, I was dripping in sweat from all the hopping and jumping. I put him back in his stall and took Cruiser out for a trail ride.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Another weekend with Cole

Another good weekend with Cole. We took him on a long walk on Saturday and crossed the two river crossings that he did before. I had trouble turning him around to go back towards home.

Sunday, we went a new direction on the trail. This one heads towards the busy part of the park. We had to cross a new river. It only took him a few minutes to decide it was safe. We then were in the chaotic area. I saw him frightened for thanks, first time—it was the horse-eating rock! The park put is by the side of the road with a commemoration plaque. I told him he was silly, and led him up to see it. It didn’t take much urging. He cautiously approached—and found apples pieces on top of it. He settled right down and we continued on our walk.

As we walked along the trail that closely paralleled the street, he didn’t spook at any of the heavy traffic. There were motorcycles so loud that, if my hands were free, I would have covered my ears. When we got out in the open, he viewed to picnic area, the fisherman’s wall with all the fishermen and watched bikes go by across the street. He took it all in, and wasn’t afraid. We turned back and headed home. He crossed back over the new river with no hesitation at all—walked right in, and carefully crossed without rushing—just what I have been trying to teach him!

He is a fine horse.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cole and the River - the Full Report

Cole and the River

Crossing water is a very important skill for a trail horse, particularly where we keep our horses. Our trails start right by the barn. About a quarter mile down the trail, we experience our first river crossing. There is no way around it—if we want to get on the main part of the trails, we have to cross the river. The trails follow the river closely as it meanders through the park, crossing at a number of other spots, too. It is essential that our horses cross water willingly.

I didn’t just want Cole to cross water willingly, I wanted him to cross it happily. I decided the best way to start this project was not to rush at all. I would let him figure out that the river is no big deal.

We ended the last report with Cole, watching the mother deer teaching her baby to cross—and then he put a hoof in the water. That was enough for us, that day.

The following weekend, Ellen and I took Thursday and Friday off, making it a 4-day weekend. We were ready to tackle “Project River.” Thursday, we wandered down to the river. I ended up stepping in the water, and after a while, he put his front feet in the water, too. I clicked and treated any forward behavior that I saw.

Friday was even better. He put all his hooves in the water, and the water was just up past his coronet band. He didn’t seem too stressed, either. I got pretty wet, myself, but since it was a warm day, it didn’t matter to me. We were training Cole before our trail rides. By now, I knew I needed to bring dry socks, so that when I put my riding boots on, I wouldn’t get them wet.

Saturday was much the same as Friday, but he ended up going a little deeper. This time, the water covered his pasterns.

Sunday, we had a feeling he might cross. Within a few minutes, he was as deep as he was the day before. Something came over him, and he started walking across on his own! In fact, he scurried across very quickly. Up until now, he was only on the sandy, rocky part of the river. This time, he had ventured out into the middle which is slippery slate. I believe he got scared of the way the ground felt under his feet, and that is why he went so fast.

We got to the other side, I gave him a bunch of carrots, and we turned around to go home. Now, I had problems. He was afraid to go back into the water. A woman came by on horseback and saw we were having a problem. She tried to lure Cole across with her horse for about 10 minutes before she gave up.

After a half hour or so, a guy from our barn came by on his horse. He also tried luring Cole with no luck. He offered a few well-timed taps with his crop. At first I refused, but after a while, I was getting desperate, so agreed. It worked. Cole charged across. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t traumatized, so I turned him around to face the river, again. His head was up and his eyes were big. I walked him to the spot we originally crossed from, and after a few minutes, he got all 4 hooves in, again. At that point, we went home.

I was very worried that I had made him afraid of the water. I didn’t plan to try to cross again until the following weekend when Ellen would be there. I had a whole week to worry.

Ellen showed up with a bag of sliced apples. She chose Pink Ladies because of their firm texture. She also brought her old shoes and spare socks. This time, we were really prepared.

We took Cole to the river’s edge and did everything as we had done it before. He got all 4 feet in, but didn’t want to go further. Ellen then opened up the bag of apples. The smell had a magical effect on Cole. He started walking on his own—not a single tug on the lead rope was necessary. I clicked, and he got an apple, this time.

Since I felt that he was startled by the footing, I decided to show him he could stop and stand. After the first few steps, I didn’t click him for going forward. I clicked for stopping in the water and standing. It worked like magic. He calmed down and walked across like a champ—stopping every few strides when I asked him. He got a jackpot—a handful of apples. Since it only took a few minutes to get him across this time, we decided to keep going.

His eyes were big and he was breathing a little heavier, but he walked along nicely. We went about 10 minutes, turned around and came back towards home. This time, it only took him about a minute to step into the water. He got a handful of apples on the other side, again.

The next day, we did the same thing. He crossed the water faster, and we went on a longer walk. By now, I’m not walking on the trail, I’m walking on air.

Sunday, we not only crossed the river and walked on the trail, we walked for a half hour and got to the next river crossing. This one has a large section of mud right before stepping into the water. I didn’t know how he would be with the mud, let alone the water. To my surprise, he stepped right into the mud. I walked ahead of him and waited. Ellen caught up with us with her bag of apples. Cole decided that standing in mud wasn’t as much fun as apples, so he joined us in the water. The river is deeper here, but that didn’t seem to bother him. We just practiced our walk/whoa transitions until we got to the other side.

We only went a little way down the trail before turning back and heading home. He was no trouble crossing back over the new river crossing. I think that problem is solved. We have other river crossings to practice on, but I don’t expect any problems with them.

On top of mastering thanks, art of crossing rivers, he had a fair amount of exposure to traffic and people. After all, it was the 4th of July weekend. There are a few parts of the trail that get close to the street. The traffic didn’t bother him—not even the motorcycles. He saw bikes and joggers—no problem. He was very polite when we passed other horses.

Now if I didn’t spend so much time taking him on walks, I would probably be riding him, by now. It won’t be much longer, it’s just that I’d prefer walking in the shade to riding in a hot arena.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cole in the river

This picture was taken the day that Cole put one hoof in the water.  It has gotten better ever since.  We have crossed a number of times and have been going for walks on the trail. So far, nothing has scared  him out there.  He is pretty amazing.  Even motorcycles don't bother him.  Cruiser still spooks with the loud ones.  He is going to be a fine horse.  I am working on an article about the river crossing, so a full report is yet to come.