Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cats Rule

Cats Rule
Yes, it’s true, at least in my house. Thunder is completely adapted to our new dog, Maggie. He likes to stalk and pounce her, and he is now regularly chasing her with all claws out. He feels comfortable going anywhere in the house and will take naps downstairs, too. If Maggie misbehaves for me—like getting hyper and fidgety when I put her leash on, Thunder will walk up, do a Thunder roar and swat her. Now, when she starts to act up, I just tell her, “Thunder is going to get you.”

Maggie has learned to leave us alone when we play games. She will stay in the other room, and I will periodically give her pieces of cat food. She will even let me chase Thunder around the house or throw cat food for him to chase. I am very amazed.
I have been clicker training Maggie, and Thunder (a clicker savvy cat,) started out by watching us. I wanted Maggie to chase a Frisbee. I started with clicking her when she touched it. After a while, I started asking Thunder to touch it, and I clicked him. I gave Maggie a treat for staying in position with the same click.

Maggie moved up to following it when slid it on the floor. A few times in the beginning, when she got confused, Thunder walked up to it and sniffed it. He got clicked and treated, of course.
We tried the same lesson the next day. Maggie and Thunder started to understand about taking turns. After a bit, Thunder got tired of the game since I was only using dry cat food for treats. I concentrated on Maggie. One time, I slid the Frisbee on the floor towards Thunder, and since the floor is wooden, the Frisbee started spinning. Thunder thought that was so neat. He walked up to it and took his paw and spun it over and over. It was the cutest thing! I clicked Maggie for just sitting still and letting him play. It lasted for 10 minutes until Maggie heard something and started barking.
I’m so happy everything has worked out. No one can imagine how upset I was, in the beginning when they were having problems. Now, not only do they get along, we can even play training games together.

Tackling the Arena

Tackling the Arena
I believe I have hinted a few times that Cole doesn’t behave well in the arena. I have managed to avoid it as much as I could by taking long weekends so I can trail ride instead and sometimes I spend my arena time just lounging.
I am nearly out of vacation time. The evenings are too dark to ride on the trail, and the weekends aren’t going to be much better pretty soon. It’s time to get serious about the arena.
The problem stems from when I used to ride him there in there during the summer. The far end and one side of the indoor arena are bordered by a pasture. In the summer, there is a horse out in the pasture. As he walks by the walls of the arena, the noise would spook Cole. If Cole saw him walking by through the window, that be another excuse to run. Also, there was the next door neighbor. We were on the same schedule. When I rode, she would turn her horses out to play. The sound of them frolicking around or banging the gate was enough to cause Cole to take off. Though I haven’t fallen off, and he has not succeeded in getting more than a couple strides in before I spun him, the damage was done. He was prepared to spook from noises over there, and I was prepared to have a problems.

I spent my rides this summer on the safe side of the arena. That was no guarantee that I would avoid the spooks, but at least he wouldn’t’ bolt across the arena to the gate that leads into our barn. It still gave us plenty of room to work.
Honestly, the biggest problem, (and I actually hate to admit this) was my nerves. After having so much trouble, ride after ride, I was afraid to go to the far end of the arena. I rode a lot of circles, which really isn’t’ a bad thing. Still, I knew I had to conquer the problem.
As the weather got colder, the pasture horse was brought in and, on most days, the neighbor’s horses weren’t outside. To make things better, they closed the windows. I no longer had an excuse.
I started out by lounging him before his rides. He was only a so-so lounger, since he really didn’t need it in the warm weather. With the help of a clicker, I got him listening pretty well. My biggest problem was Cole deciding to practice his “airs above the ground” while I lounged him. I did the only thing I knew, which was to click him a lot for trotting well and increasing the duration. Though he will still play games, they are far less than the early days. Some days, I just worked on the lounging. It was nice to see the improvement. Now, I will click him when he drops his head and steps well underneath him. The good news is that he is starting to offer it on his own, and I am now working on duration.
The next step I started a couple of weeks ago. It was time to lounge him on the scary end of the arena. It was tough in the beginning. We did a lot of transitions, and he did spook a number of times, but I was persistent, and we worked through it. Soon, he was trotting around with his head down and focused on me instead of the outdoors.
When I rode, though, I stayed on the safe end. I found out that I could barely breathe when I approached the scary end. At the end of the ride, I would lead him around and around on that side. He wasn’t spooking, but I was.
Fear can be irrational. I’m a capable rider, and all he does is spook and try to run. I quickly spin him, and he stops readily. It’s more dangerous to be riding him on the trail, yet when I ride over there, my heart starts to race, I lean forward and quit breathing.
Each ride, I kept pushing myself a little out of my comfort zone. I did my circles in the center of the arena and drifted that way. I spent a lot of time finding reasons to click and treat him over there. We did have a few spooks, and that didn’t help my nerves at all. One time, I was actually leaning over his neck giving him a treat, and we heard a noise and he bolted.
Finally, one day, I knew what would help me relax—Kevin. I asked him to walk with me while I rode. I know that Cole likes to be with people on foot and that alone boosted my confidence. Just talking to Kevin as I rode got me to relax so much. I breathed, again. I kept getting closer and closer to the far wall. I was there! I started doing circles. It worked! He didn’t bolt, and I didn’t get too scared. I gave him lots of treats, too.
Looking back on the last few weeks of rides, I realized he isn’t spooking there any more than anywhere else in the arena. I just have to stop spooking myself!
Kevin has been by my side on a few other rides, and what a difference it has made. I can now trot three quarters of the arena. I still get worried, but I am getting better. I am hoping that by the time winter is over, this person who wasn’t afraid to take a horse on trail who had only been ridden a week, will be able to trot full laps without a care in the world.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thunder takes control!

Now, I didn't see this.  I was out riding at the time.  My dad saw Thunder, not once but twice, chase Maggie into the room where he was at.  I think that they are trying to figure out a game to play together.  Maggie then went and attacked the toilet paper. 

When I got home, I decided to do some clicker. I have a small dog frisbee.  I have been using it as a target.  We have finally advanced to where I can slide it on the floor and Maggie will usually follow it. 

In the beginning of our lesson, I was clicking Maggie for touching it when I held it to her.  I then told her to stay and clicked Thunder for touching it.  They both got treats.  Thunder for touching and Maggie for staying.

I then started the sliding and Maggie was doing pretty good.  Then, she got distracted or confused--I don't know what.  Anyway, at that point, Thunder got up and walked over to the frisbee and sniffed it.  Of course, I clicked him.  He did it several time.  Cats really are smarter than dogs.  They don't usually show it since they don't have the pack mentality.  I have read that they will watch a dog or another cat in training and then just do it themselves right away.  Thunder proved it!

We will work on more, tonight.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Amazing Dog

She used to be Dumb Dog, but now she is Amazing. I worked with her a few days with the clicker to get her to stay in the other room when I played with Thunder. Every minute or 2, I would come back, click and give her a treat.
Thunder's favorite game--one we weren't able to play unless she was outside or locked up is "Throw." I would throw a piece of dry catfood across the wooden floor and he would chase after it, and of course, eat it. Maggie would come in whenever she heard it, and we would have to quit.
Saturday, I tried to get a few throws in before the dog heard, and found myself doing lots of throws. I figured Maggie was asleep. I finally checked her--and found her with Dad--wide awake--waiting for a treat! Of course I gave her one.
By Sunday, I was able to throw food off and on for Thunder for about 10 minutes while I was on the phone--I was unable to reward the dog. Still, she waited.

Thunder and I can now play all of our games--including me chasing after him through the house.
I am so happy about this, that now, I am more interested in playing with Maggie. I just need to figure out what she would like to do other than go on walks. She is very athletic. I would like her to catch a frisbee, but she doesn't understand, yet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another 4-day weekend!

Yes, I am trying to use up my vacation time before Cruiser's shoes are pulled--which is next week.  The weather won't be like last week, but I think it will be good enough.  My sister will be able to ride with me on my first rides, but then she will have to go to work.  My boyfriend will be around, of course.  He is retired and loves having me around.  He may be able to ride with me on my second rides.

I also have a 4-day weekend next weekend because of Thanksgiving.  This is the life...  Then it will be back to work until Christmas and then nothing until spring.  I don't waste vacation in the winter.

I plan to get more of the garden cleaned up, and if I finish up the beets, I will take the electric fence down.  Then, I will be done with all my outside stuff.  We don't rake until spring, and thats just by the house. We have a lot of red oaks that lose most of their leaves in the spring. 

The dog is getting better.  She hasn't had an accident in more than a week.  If I tell her to stay away from us, she leaves me alone to play with the cat for a few minutes, otherwise, she gets in the way.  Thunder then starts to stalk her.  He's getting more aggressive with his pouncing.  She doesn't like it, but hasn't figured out just to leave us alone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My weekend

Wow, did I pick 4 fantastic days for a long weekend. The weather was so awesome--not the typical November Cleveland weather. Of course, I rode--I ride regardless--but it was nice to be comfortable instead of cold.

Cole was horrible the first day, but he did great the rest. Yesterday, my sister even rode him a little bit on the trail. I walked, she rode. Cole was a little confused when she went to mount him, and pranced a bit for about a minute, but then he settled down. She even trotted him a short distance a few times. She liked the way he felt--he is like a small version of her large horse--just as round.

When she had enough, I rode the rest of the way.

Cruiser was great the whole time, of course.

I am going out to ride again, tonight. I have to feed, so I might as well ride, too. It will be in the arena, though.

I took off this Thursday and Friday coming up, too. I gotta use the vacation up before Cruise's shoes are pulled! I only ride him very limited on the trail without shoes. He needs them for support for his bad tendon.

Maggie and Thunder are doing better all the time. He is regularly stalking and pouncing her, now. She just gets confused and ignores him--just like Pollie does. I praise her each time I see her do that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Long weekend

Well, I have to use up the vacation days, and since the weather is going to be great, I now have a 4-day weekend!  I plan to ride, of course. 

I will be going out to the barn, tonight, too.  Due to economic conditions, when the barn manager decided to switch back to 3 feedings a day, I gladly took the opportunity to feed on Mondays and Wednesdays.  It helps with the bottom line.  I used to do it a few years ago, but they dropped the evening feeding and I was laid off.  It is only hay and water for about 30 horses.  Often, my boyfriend is there to help.  He is good at watering--it's mindless.

Anyway, I will probably just lounge Cole, tonight.  I want to continue to desensitize him to the far end of the arena.  I will work Cruiser for a while, too.  I hope he does a little better than he did on Monday!  Then, the rest of the weekend I will be on trail.  I love the trail!

I will also continue working with Thunder and dumb dog.  Last night, I was working on Stay while I would run out of the room--chasing Thunder around.  This is the one game of Thunder's that I thought was gone for good, so I am very amazed that Maggie listened.  I love clicker.  I was inspired by the excellent show on PBS, Nova, that was showing how smart dogs could be--as I was doing the training.  Maybe I should stop calling her dumb dog.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cruiser and Cole in the Arena

I rode Cruiser in the arena for the first time since mid March, and it didn't go so well.  It was obvious his mind wasn't on it.  I would ask him to trot, and he would halt.  Sometimes he just stopped on his own.  When we got to the far end of the arena at a trot, his head went straight up like a Saddlebred.  I would calm him down, but each time we got there, he did the same thing.  He drifted off the wall and he couldn't stay in a steady rhythm.  I can see we have a lot of work to do this winter. 

Last winter, was the winter of Mingo's illness, and I wasn't able to focus well when I rode Cruiser.  I know I was lax, and I think I am paying the price for it, now.

I mostly lounged Cole on the scary end of the arena for desensitation.  I haven't been riding him over there due to his volatility.  He was volatile on the lounge line, but he improved as time went on.  I then saddled him and worked on riding him over there at a walk.  We did have one really bad incident the second time I took him through it and one stop in place spook the third time over there.  After that, he was fine. We just kept going in circles on that end.  This has been our biggest arena issue.  Most times, I just stay away, but I have to solve it eventually.  Now that it is quiet outside the arena (the source of the problem in the beginning) I have no excuse.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Demon Dog Miracle

It was a miracle.  The dog who wouldn't go outside alone (abandonment issues, I think) went to the door and looked at it.  I asked her if she wanted to go out, and she wagged.  I opened the door, she walked out and 15 seconds later did her business!!!!  I praised her from inside the house.  She was so happy that she did good.

She is doing great with Thunder, except she wants to chase him when he playfully runs around.  I stop her, but I can't help but think that Thunder wants her to chase him.  He loves when I chase him, but when I catch up to him, I pet him.  I'm not sure what she will do if she caught up with him, so I discourage her.

A Trail Ride with Cole

A Trail Ride with Cole

Early in the month, the weather got very chilly. With chilly weather, we get hyper horses. Well, Cruiser and Ranger are getting up there in years, so the hyperness it nothing more than a small challenge and an opportunity for a few laughs. Cruise will unexpectedly dash ahead to the lead as we quietly plod along, or Ranger will toss in one of his kitten bucks. It’s not a big deal to us.

Cole, on the other hand, is an unknown. We never know what to expect with him. I am now regularly lounging him before riding—just to test his mood. He has definably been more challenging in the cooler weather—yet we have had some great rides.

I took him out on a ride on the first Sunday of the month. I had ridden him the 2 days previous, so I figured I would skip the lounging, since we were going on the trail. He does better on the trail than the arena.

I rode him by myself down the hill to the river. The hill has always been the toughest place for him (he thinks he should be allowed to trot downhill), but the day before, we practiced it 3 times. I must say, he was the best he had ever been this time. He only tried to trot a couple times, and they were very half-hearted attempts.

He willingly crossed the river—though he had never crossed it that high before, and we met Ellen, on foot, on the other side.

We walked for a few minutes, and he was very relaxed. I knew this was going to be a good ride. We trotted away from Ellen, and he didn’t even get upset about leaving her. We trotted and walked and trotted and walked for about 15 minutes when we got to the next river crossing.

I hadn’t gone across this one alone for a few weeks. We have either turned around, here, or followed Ranger. I expected some resistance, and Cole didn’t disappoint me. He stopped and told me that this is where we turn around. I accidently reverted to how I had to ride with Mingo, and gave him a big boot to get him to go forward. Oooops!!! That is not something you do with Cole. He is very, very sensitive to the forward cue. He jumped and started to trot down the bank. I made him walk, and he did until he saw the muddy bottom. I decided to try a different tactic to get him going. I squeezed my legs and held. When he took one step, I released, clicked and treated. I then asked again. This time, he responded right away. I rewarded him, again and asked him to resume walking. This time, I didn’t click him until he was walking through the mud. I decided that warranted clicking, too.

We then went into the river—and it was deep! I couldn’t see the bottom! I didn’t realize the depth until I was right in it. The current is very slow there, so it wasn’t a problem—it was just something different for him. Cole did just fine.

Once we got across the river, I felt his excitement level rise. I knew there was a group of 4 horses ahead of me, because I had seen them cross the river from a distance. I think that is why he perked up. We walked a bit until we got back in the woods—away from all the human caused distraction. I have only done minimal trotting in this area, so it was no surprise to me that when I asked him to trot, he went very fast. After about 15 seconds, I asked him to stop. We walked a bit and then trotted, again. We did this routine 4 times, and only on the last time, did he settle down and we went further. I walked for a few more minutes, passed up the other horses on their way home and shortly after, turned around to go home, myself.

Soon, I met Ellen and she walked with us. Well, she sort of walked with us. I had to keep stopping Cole to let her catch up. (Good practice for Cole.)

The trip home went well. He walked fast, and a few times he tried to trot. Sometimes, we could see the horses up ahead. Turns out, they were all mares. We passed up other horses going the opposite direction, and he acted very appropriate.

Overall, the ride was a great one. At the final river crossing, I left Ellen. On the other side, there was a woman and her daughter on horseback on top of the bank. They were just standing there. As I came up the bank, the woman asked me how Cole had been doing. I told her that he was doing great. The words were barely out of my mouth, when he jumped up the last stride of the bank and tried to lounge towards their horses! I quickly spun him away from them and threw in another spin for good measure. I guess he had been good for too long. I got asked him to stand, and when he seemed settled down, I got off and led him up the hill.

It was a great ride, but he made sure I didn’t forget that he is still a very green horse.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

More saddle pictures

No, that's not a horn in the back.  It it meant to keep the pack secure.  I can take it entirely apart.  The 2 bottom panels come off, too.  On the inside, you can see the ring that you would attach your saber.  I keep an identification tag on it.  The tree is attached by rawhide strings, so it is flexible.  Every horse is smoother in this saddle.  I think that is why.

If you ever find one--they are on Ebay, now and then, consider purchasing it to use.  I only needed to have the billets replaced.  Between the purchase price and repairs, I think it was about $150.00.

Mingo's Old Saddle

I was going through my old e-mails, and I found the photos of Mingo's saddle that I sent off to Japan for verification--and much to my joy, there was Pollie, the best dog ever, that passed away in the summer.  I sure do miss her.  I call our new dog, Maggie, "Not-the-Pollie."

Anyway, back to the saddle.  I bought it at an estate sale and got it fixed so I could use it.  Turns out it is a Japanese military saddle from WWII.  It is so comfortable, and it was the only saddle that Mingo was happy with. 

It is now Cruiser's saddle.  It is too easy to come off of, so I don't dare use it with Cole for a while.

Autumn Trail Ride on Cole

Here we are experiencing the last of the fall color.  It is all gone, now, and it looks very, very bleak.  I can't wait until spring.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thunder Meets Devil Dog

Thunder Meets Devil Dog

Last summer, our wonderful dog, Pollie, passed on. She was the most perfect, best dog, ever. It was heartbreaking. In fact, my heart is still broken, and I still miss her, so much.

I didn’t really want another dog. I’m not really a dog person to begin with, and I knew we would never find one as perfect as Pollie. Thunder, the cat, and I were perfectly content with the way things were.

I live with my dad—the dog person. Our fates changed the day my dad went to the doctor. When the doctor asked him if he had any questions, my dad replied, “Do you think I should get a dog?” The doctor said, “Yes.” My life was ruined.

Dad wanted one as much like Pollie as possible. Pollie was a Sheltie mix. I went to Petfinders. I couldn’t find a dog at all like Pollie under the Shelties. I decided to try Border Collies. There was a young female listed at a cat rescue in our area. Her name was Maggie. What attracted me to her was the cat lying down in the background. As I am looking at the ad, my office mate’s radio started playing the song, “Maggie” by Rod Stewart. Was that a good sign? It sure was weird.

A few days later, I sent in an application for approval. As I was writing my sister in an email about it, that song came on, again. It was really getting weird.

Through emails and phone calls, we worked things out and a couple weeks later, they delivered her to our house. She was the right size—30 pounds, friendly and incredibly cute. We said we would take her. They said she was good with cats. That was the most important thing to me. Thunder is my best buddy, and I wanted him to be happy. He liked Pollie, even if Pollie was indifferent to him. He would stalk and pounce her.

Now, here comes one more weird thing. I asked the volunteer where she was found, and I couldn’t believe it—Train Avenue. That’s where Pollie was found all those years ago. If you are a westsider of Cleveland, you would know Train Avenue. It is a spooky, mostly deserted street with train tracks, trash and a few businesses. The cat shelter feeds feral cats and does trap/neuter/release with any cats they don’t think can be adopted. They found her, gave her some food and as they left, she chased the van. She didn’t want to be alone.

The first thing she did was chase Thunder through the house. He was so fearful. He ran upstairs to my bedroom. I had the stairs blocked so a cat could go up, but a dog couldn’t. He didn’t come down until the evening. When she found him, he panicked and ran. Like all dogs, she chased. It was awful. He was so scared, and I was so upset. There was another incident the next day that was just as bad.

Now, Thunder has never been known for his bravery. He is quite the chicken cat. I was starting to think he would be living upstairs forever. I moved up his litter boxes, food, cat furniture and toys. We were both miserable. I thought I made the biggest mistake of my life.

With the help of my brother and sister-in-law, we came up with a possible plan. We have a hallway that leads to a couple rooms and my bathroom. I would block it with the fireplace screen, and put him there so he could see her, yet still be safe. It might help to desensitize him. I would work with him in short sessions and then let him back upstairs.

In the meantime, she needed to learn some manners. I got out my trusty clicker and taught her to lie down and to stay. It only took a couple lessons. The first day I tried our experiment, I worked with the dog on the far end of the house. Thunder got curious and sat on the safe side of the screen and watched. I brought her closer and he was okay with it. As long as she behaved, he would watch.

Each time, I got closer. Eventually, I clicked and treated the dog for lying quietly by the screen. Thunder just watched. On the second day of training, he asked to come out. I opened the screen, held the dog and he walked around her to go up the stairs. The dog got a lot of treats.

A week after we got the dog, I was brushing my teeth at night. The screen was in place, but open enough for me to get in. Thunder was upstairs. The phone rang, and I ran to get it. It was dark, and I didn’t see the screen—I ran straight into it and fell. The answering machine got the call before me. I told Kevin to call back. I waited. The dog went into the bathroom. I called her to come out and she did, but she went back and started making funny noises. I went to investigate and found Thunder cornered in the bathtub! He must have come down when I was brushing my teeth to visit me. I rescued him.

From that day, things got steadily better. I wonder if Thunder, since he was cornered, had to defend himself and found out the dog wouldn’t hurt him if he showed her his claws? He started coming downstairs when the dog wasn’t in the living room and skittering up when she found him. He spent a lot of time watching her from the safety of the stairs—studying. Thursday morning, he sniffed her nose. Thursday evening he spent downstairs with me whenever he felt safe. Friday, he was downstairs even more.

Saturday, he gently pounced her. Later in the day, he charged her with claws flying and she backed off. From that point, he no longer acted afraid. If she was too pushy, he growled. He spent a lot of time sniffing her. He made friendly gestures. She tried puppy play position. He didn’t understand and growled. There is a definite language problem.

On Halloween, he was no longer a scaredy cat. In 2 weeks, he made an amazing transformation. Maggie seems to ignore him unless I am paying attention to him. It is something we will have to work with. I am hoping to be able to play games with him downstairs, someday. Everything was a success. I really think they will end up being friends. Maybe that song was a good omen.

Dad has his dog, and I have a much braver cat. In fact, he seems all full of himself. Cats are amazing, adaptable creatures.

Trail Training Newsletter #118 - The Canter

The Canter

I won’t keep you in suspense for long. I wanted to get the canter in, soon, so it wouldn’t get intimidating for me. In the past, I have cantered my green horses within a few weeks of the first ride, but that has always been in the arena. I have been having problems with Cole in the arena—partly because I have been spending a lot of my time on the trail. We only work in the arena 1-3 times a week at the most, and since the weather got cooler, there have been days that we haven’t’ gotten past lounging. I have been working in the indoor arena, and if there are horses outside moving about or it is windy, he becomes very volatile—spooking at any noise. I also figured out that he wasn’t very consistent with his lounging anyway, so there are days I stick to the safer activity.

On the trail, he hardly spooks, and he is much more advanced than he is in the arena. I decided the place to introduce the canter was on the trail. I know this isn’t what most people do, but it seemed like the best plan.

I didn’t know what to expect. Would he buck for the fun of it? Would I be able to stop him? Would I ever get him out of a fast trot? Would he have a comfortable canter? I remember Cruiser’s canter was pretty rough when I started him. He has a tendency to do a 4-beat if he doesn’t have enough impulsion. When I cantered him for the first time on the trail, he actually went slowly. Some horses are just made to trot. I have to confess, I was nervous—more nervous than the first time I ever rode him.

Ellen and I decided we would do it the same way we started the trot on the trail. I would have her walk down the trail a ways while we waited and I would try to canter to her. He is conditioned, with the clicker, to stop when he gets to her. This way, I would have brakes if he got excited.

I started out by trotting him out for about 10 minutes to settle him down. We then turned and headed back towards home until I met Ellen on foot. I turned him around to face him away from home (always a good idea when you are introducing any type of speed) and sent Ellen up the trail. We did a few short stretches at a trot to remind him what the game is about. It had been about a month since we did it last. He remembered. I clicked and treated when I got to Ellen to reinforce the stop.

Now, it was time to canter. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a cue for it. We haven’t lounged at the canter, yet, because he has been getting too excited in the arena. The first few times, I just tried leg pressure when we were trotting. He just trotted faster. I then tried a few times with a whip tickle. (A strong whip would likely make a sensitive horse, like Cole, buck.)Finally, he got it and burst forward at the canter—or was it a gallop? He came to a halt when he reached Ellen. Even in the excitement, he understood the game.

The next time I asked him, he knew right away, and so we were able to go a little further. He got steady on the last few stride before he got to Ellen. I did it one more time, but this time, I didn’t need the whip tickle.

The following day, I decided we would do the same thing. This time, he flew into the canter when I asked him to walk towards Ellen. Yes, he remembered what he learned. On my next attempt, I made sure he walked first, and then trotted when I asked him to trot. When I said the word “canter,” away we went. Of course, he didn’t know the cue, but I think he was looking for anything that he might consider a cue.

Because of his extreme enthusiasm for this game, I decided we should do a few short stretches of trotting up to Ellen. I am please to say that he was a perfect gentleman, but when I eventually asked for a canter, he was clueless for the first few attempts. When he did figure it out, he was just as enthusiastic as before. I decided it was time to quit the cantering for the day. He was hyper all the way home—trying to trot and throwing in a few spooks. It could have been about the cantering, it could have been the wind and all the leaves blowing around or it could have been because Starry joined us on the trip home. My feeling is that it was everything combined. He was over stimulated. I was glad to dismount.

His canter was fast and powerful, but a lot of it might have been just because it was new. We will see how he does when he relaxes at the canter once the novelty is gone. His transitions were like a racehorse bursting out of the starting gate. At least there was no sign of bucking from the excitement.

The funniest part about the whole thing is how, not only did he wait for Ellen to walk down the trail, but he would actually stop to let her go on ahead. He really liked the game.

I don’t know how much more cantering on the trail we will do. The season is winding down very quickly, and I really prefer to work on trotting quietly with other horses. I certainly am not ready to try cantering with another horse! At least, I got the initial cantering over with, and if we start having any success this winter in the arena, I won’t be hesitant to add it into our training. Then, in the spring, he will be much better when I try it on the trail.

Trail Training Newsletter #118 - Trotting for Two

Trotting for Two

I have been taking Cole out on the trail and doing a fair amount of trotting, but it is always when we are riding by ourselves. There are times that he is very hyper and doesn’t want to settle into a steady trot or tries to canter. By doing walk/trot transitions he will eventually even out. Other times, he gets a little reluctant to go, and I just use gentle urging with my legs—releasing when he listens. It has to be gentle. He has a very sensitive gas pedal.

It was now time to trot with other horses. The horse of choice was Ranger, since Ellen is the greatest person to ride with. The problem that we had to face, though, now had two faces—the face of Cole; an energetic, green horse and the face of Ranger; the leader of the herd who doesn’t want some whippersnapper little horse to be in the lead.

Oh, how I miss my Mingo. He was the perfect horse for times like this. Most of the time, he was uncompetitive. He was happy to let his companion horses go on ahead of him. He would just travel along at a comfortable speed for himself. He knew we would always wait for him. Mingo was the perfect anchor horse. Ranger doesn’t believe in being an anchor horse.

The first day we went out on a ride planning to trot together, we started in an area where Ranger typically goes slower and gladly lets Cruiser take the lead. The first attempt went well. The second was so-so. The third—Ranger got mad and Ellen had a tough time keeping him from blasting past Cole. That was enough for the day. We walked the rest of the ride.

It was another week before we could try it again. This time, Ranger was upset the first time. The second time, he threw in a few of his kitten bucks. It was time to change our plan. This just wasn’t working.

In the spring, when Cruiser and Ranger are really hyper, we go back to practicing transitions. I suggested we try this with Ranger and Cole. I figured if I worked with the clicker on the downward transitions, it would encourage him to stop instead of race. We put Cole in the lead, trotted about 20 steps and stopped. I clicked and treated Cole. Ranger happily stopped to Ellen’s command since Cole stopped first.

We did it a few more time, and each time they behaved a little better. Ranger remembered the game, and when I would tell Ellen that I was going to walk, that was enough for Ranger to walk on his own. They both slowed down and trotted steadily.

Each time, we went a little further before stopping. We put Cole behind Ranger, and he was so focused on me—waiting for a whoa—that he didn’t try to pass. Ranger was perfectly happy. Finally, we were going about 30 seconds at a time when we reached the next river crossing.

We decided to turn home, there. We went about a quarter mile home, turned around and did it again. This time, we only did a few transitions. It was great. It never, ever worked this well with Cruiser!

We couldn’t resist the temptation—we did it again. The last time, we trotted the whole way without stopping. Cole was a bit reluctant to go again, but Range was fine with it. It all went so beautiful.

Then next opportunity we had, we were on a trail that Cole is less familiar with, and it didn’t go quite as good, but it still wasn’t bad. It was the trail that added the excitement. We only did it 3 or 4 times and then stuck to walking.

We now had a way to get Cole accustomed to trotting with another horse in a mannerly way. I wonder if it will work at a canter?