Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Benefits of Clicker Training

I was riding Cole in the arena the other night, and a really nice boarder at our barn brought her horse in to lounge. She has a sweet Paint mare, that I have never seen truly misbehave, but her owner is afraid to ride her. She needs to lounge her a lot before she will ride her, and with her busy work schedule, she usually doesn’t have the time to both lounge and ride. As we all know, fear isn’t logical, and it certainly isn’t in this case.

I thought that demonstration of the usefulness of clicker training might help her. I told her that she would be less worried if she knew that, whatever she was doing, all she had to do was say “whoa,” and her mare would stop. I trotted down the wall, said “whoa,” and Cole instantly stopped. I clicked and treated him. I also explained that I don’t need to treat him every single time at this point. I just click him now and then to keep him sharp.

I then told her how he will stand until I tell him to move off—explaining how convenient this is if you are on trail and a dozen motorcycles come flying down the road. Instead of worrying if Cole will be frightened by them, I ask him to stop and stand until they pass. Since he is hoping for a click, he is more focused on me then the traffic. He has never spooked at something when I do this.

I then told her how he stands perfectly for mounting, listens to me about when to change gaits instead of following the horse ahead of him, and if he starts to get excited, I can just wiggle a rein, his head goes down and he is listening to me, again.

Then, I dismounted and showed her how he will do the same thing when I lead him if I point the whip handle towards the ground. He will keep his head down the whole time the whip is down, as if there is a rope going from the whip to his bit. (I should have shown her how he does it when we trot in hand, too.)

I didn’t think she was convinced, yet, so I got back on and started trotting him. I threw the reins down on his neck, lifted my arms in the air for a few strides and said, “whoa.” Of course he stopped. She gasped, but it turns out that she was amazed that he kept his frame in perfect self carriage with, if anything, more impulsion than when I was holding the reins. I thought about it, and got pretty amazed myself. I had to do it again to see if he would repeat his performance. This time, I trotted longer without the riens before asking him to stop. He did even better.

Still, my friend didn’t seem convinced that clicker training can do awesome things. I then tried one more thing. I told her, “Let’s say you are out on the trail and you drop something.” I then threw my whip to the ground.

Cole immediately stopped, reached down and picked the whip up. I took it out of his mouth, clicked and treated him.

She started laughing uproariously—she was so amazed. I think his trick won her over. Funny thing is, it is just a trick. All those other things are wonderful things that make him a safer horse—consequently making a more confident rider—just what my friend needs. Chances are, if I dropped something on the trail, he would reach down and probably start to graze!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Beautiful Fall Weather for Trail Riding

What a perfectly pretty November weekend in northeast Ohio. Of course, you could find me out on the trail with my Morabs. I love this weather.

Friday, I took my very last evening trail ride of the year. The time changed this weekend, and I no longer have the daylight to ride on the trail. Anyway, Cruiser made it a good one. He was energetic and silly. What else would I expect from him on a cool evening…? I rode Cole in the arena, and he wasn’t too keen on working. Before the ride, I turned him loose to play. He ran and ran and ran. I think he used most of his energy up, and didn’t have any for the ride. We did get some things accomplished, though. I will try them again, tonight, to see if he remembers them.

Saturday, I rode Cruiser with my sister and her horse Ranger. We went for about an hour and a half. It was quite chilly, and at one point, we got off to lead to warm up our toes. It was warmer when I took Cole out. He was just so perfect, I couldn’t really believe it. We mostly trotted—too and from home. The first few times I asked him to canter, he didn’t get it. Later, I asked him again—and we went right into it so beautifully…

Sunday, I took Cole with Ranger up to the show ring trails—as we do most Sundays. He gave me an A+ ride. (We like to grade our rides, and A+ doesn’t come up that often.) We trotted most of the time, and at one point, my sister asked Ranger to canter. When I asked Cole, he agreed, and once again, we had a beautiful transition. We didn’t get too far, because Ranger came back to a trot before we wanted him to. Cole had to do the same—as I didn’t want him to run past Ranger. Still, it was the first successful canter together. I then took Cruiser out for his 5-mile sprint. We met my boyfriend with Starry at the turnaround point, and we walked back with them.

My sister has a day off, tomorrow, so I took the day off, too. I am running out of vacation, but that’s the point this time of year. We are running out of good weather, too. Tomorrow promises to be another beauty.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A day off to ride

I took yesterday off from work because they were forecasting perfect weather—and they were right.

Cole and I went on a 2:37 hour ride. He wasn’t quite as good as last time—he went through a balky stage, tossed in some squeals and spins during the ride, and it took a little more work to settle down his trot towards home. We did canter 4 times for short distances, and that was really nice. He didn’t do the mad gallop that I have gotten in the past, but an actual canter. After that, he was no longer balky at the trot. He was good going past the utility workers, but he didn’t like the truck that was painting lines on the road at all. Though he could have been better, he wasn’t bad for only the 4th long ride by himself. I don’t know if I will get any more this year because the weather gets so questionable.

I took Cruiser out on a quick 5-mile. He was great, of course. He got pretty excited on the way home, because he thought he might find Starry like he did last time, so he did some pretty fast gaiting instead of walking. Finally, he passed up some horses and calmed down the rest of the way home.

I took a break for dinner with my boyfriend and then came back to feed the horses. I was exhausted after all that. I need to get into better shape!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Rides

I took Cruiser on a quick trail ride before sunset, and we didn’t see a soul—not even the headless horseman. It was a cool and pretty evening. There are still some leaves on the trees, and they were very vibrant in the dimming light of the evening. Next weekend, the time changes, and there will be no more trail rides after work. I sure will miss them.

I then rode Cole in the arena. I had the place all to myself. We worked on a little of this and a little of that. I still can’t get him to canter, but I was able to get him to trot faster—not just bigger. I am hoping that if he figures out the speed up command, I can just keep speeding him up until he will canter. I wish I had been brave enough with this last year to introduce it then. I think he would have been more open minded. I’m getting somewhat frustrated. We are cantering a little bit on the trail, but the transitions are still explosive.

The weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow, and if I can get control of my workload, I will take the day off to take them both on a trail ride. The weekend is looking good, too, for a change.

Monday, October 31, 2011

House Cat Tip of the Month

House Cat Tip of the Month

I thought of this one when I brought my plants in for the winter. Thunder is fascinated and loves poking around in them. He doesn’t try to eat the plants, too much, but to discourage him from that idea, I put long stalks of grass from outside in them.

Now, he noses around in them, finds his grass and nibbles on that. It keeps him entertained, protects the plants, and best of all, gives him something safer to eat than houseplants.

Of course, I use grass that doesn’t have anything sprayed on it that might hurt him.

(pictures are Stormy, my sister's cat.)

Fun with Horses

We had a nice, horse weekend. The river wasn’t crossable, but our younger niece came out, and she made it fun for us. I started out riding Cole in the arena. He had a lackluster day. I then let my niece take him down the hill to the river. He was pretty good for her, and she is getting used to his bouncy walk down hills. When we got to the bottom, we let her trot on the flat part a bunch of times. Cole has a normal trail trot, and she was posting is beautifully. (She can’t manage his arena trot, but most people can’t.) I think she had fun with him. He was fine going back up the hill.

Then, we saddled up Cruiser and Ranger. My sister came with us on foot. We did the hill 3 times. At the bottom, we did do some trotting, and Cruiser showed his true colors as he burst past Ranger at a canter. Once he got in the lead, he was happy to trot. Ranger handled it well—but then he is used to it from Cruiser. May Cruiser never grow old…

Sunday, the river was low enough, so my sister and I took Ranger and Cole up to the show ring trails and had a really nice ride. It was a frosty morning—glad we had our thermal underwear on! I then took Cruiser on a quick 5-mile ride. He was in a great mood. We rode across the ford, and the only 2 motorcycles to brave the chilliness had to pass us when we were in the middle of it. He got scared and tried to run off towards home, but I was able to contain him. That certainly got our adrenaline going. It took a while to settle him down.

On the way home, we met my boyfriend on Starry and my sister on foot. We all ambled home, chatting.

Anyone looking to rent a house?

These are pictures of the house my brother and I bought.  We are going to make some revisions to it and then rent it out.  Isn't it cute?  It isn't as big as it looks in the pictures, though.

I think this is all a great idea, but it is still a scary thing to do.  I hope we can find a nice tenant who wants to stay in it for a long time...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Farrier Night

Last night was farrier night. my sister and I come out to the barn after work. Sometimes, the farrier gets there before us because he does another horse at our stables. When he finishes, he starts Cruise and Ranger. He waits for me to do Cole so I could help with holding him.

When I got there, my sister was talking to him and there were no horses in the crossties. I was surprised and wondered what was going on. My sister said that they started Cole, and he was so bad that they put him in the stall to wait for me to get there. I was disappointed. I have been working hard the last 2 weeks reviewing his training. She said he was kicking and rearing and biting—now, I started to get skeptical. That didn’t sound like my Cole Train.

She was kidding. He was perfect. The only thing he did wrong was nibble the farrier and chew the crossties. When she got there, he was nearly done and only wanted to know if I wanted the shoes back on or not.

Alas, with the impending doom of winter, snow, ice, cold and a frozen river that we won’t cross, we decided to pull Ranger’s and Cole’s shoes. I leave them on Cruiser because he seems to need the support with his healed bowed tendon and carpal tunnel syndrome. Last year when I pulled them, he quickly became lame. He did fine when I put them back on. (The vet said to keep them on, but I thought I would see what happened…)

The ponies get the day off, today. I am going to a local play with my boyfriend. We will be back on Saturday with my youngest niece…

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Evening Rides

There was only a little daylight after work and the river was too high to cross, again. I rode Cruiser up and down the hill three times. He was quite energetic, and even did some gaiting up the hill. (Cruiser has standard gaits, but he also does a stepping pace when he is excited. He can get quite fast. He must have gotten it from his Morgan side, as there are gaited Morgans.) When we got back to the barn, it started to rain, lightly. Perfect timing. It rained the rest of the night.

I worked Cole in the arena. Since I took him on the 2.5 hour trail ride with a lot of trotting just the day before, I planned a quiet ride. I’m glad to say he had just as much energy as a typical day. Still, I didn’t push him too hard. We did some trotting, got our 10 clickable walk/trot transitions, worked on our corners and straight sides at a walk, threw in some trotting and then started something new—walk/whoa transitions using the reins. I might have taught him that last year, but he stops quite well with a verbal command—I have gotten lazy. I realized we needed to get a solid stop with the reins. It didn’t take long—maybe 5 tries and he understood it. I only clicked him for perfect halts. I will review this lesson a lot, since it is a good one for warm ups and walk breaks.

We then had to show off to everyone how he picks up my whip if I drop it. he loves picking things up, so it is a good way to reward him for being such a good boy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Steady Trotting Home

Steady Trotting Home

The trails by our barn do not form any sort of loop. Basically, we ride out to our desired distance, turn around and come back. There are a few tiny loops, but they join the main trail, so the horses get that definite feeling that they are headed home.

Most horses will travel faster on the way home than on the way out—that is a given. Horses like to be home where their friends are. This doesn’t happen if we are riding Cruiser and Ranger together. They seem to feel that they are the herd and there is nothing to rush home to. By themselves, though, they step up the pace, too.

A faster gait on the way home if fine, but it must be a steady and controllable gait. It was time to teach Cole this lesson.

We have practiced trotting towards home with Ranger, and Cole seems happy to follow along at the speed of Range. It taught him a lot. Now, it was time to work on doing it alone.

As of writing this, we have gone on 3 long rides as described above. We did do some trotting towards home for short stretches with mixed results. On the third ride, we went further than ever. I didn’t want to do a lot of walking back because it would have taken forever. It was time to work on long stretches of trotting back to the herd.

Shortly after turning around to go towards home, I asked him to trot. He went very, very fast. After about ten seconds with no slowing, regardless of what I did, I decided it was time to start all over. Cole reluctantly stopped when I asked him to. We walked a bit, and then I asked him to trot. This time, he went even faster, and before I knew it, we were cantering—and he didn’t want to stop. I had to do the old “swerve to the left—swerve to the right” a few times to slow him down. Once he got to the trot, I turned him around a tree until he was going away from home, and we walked a little bit. It was clear that I had to come up with a plan.

We were heading back towards home, and I asked him for a trot. A few strides later, before he could gain speed, I said “whoa” and clicked for the stop. We did that a few more times. Each time, he was more cooperative about stopping. I got his attention.

My next step was to allow him to trot, and this time click him for slowing down when I asked him. We did this 4-5 times—I don’t remember how many times—and each time, he improved, but I noticed that he didn’t stop right away to get his treat. He kind of just coasted down to a walk.

The flash bulb went off. I didn’t need clicker, now. What Cole really wanted was to keep trotting. I would use that as my reward. I asked him to trot, and of course, he rushed off, again. I asked him to slow down, and when he did, I eased up on the reins, told him how good he was and let him just continue to trot at that nice speed. If he didn’t slow down, I would stop him and try it, again. (This actually didn’t happen, but it was part of the plan.) He made the connection. I didn’t have any more troubles with him the rest of the way home. When he sped up more than I wanted him, I asked him to slow, he did and then we just went on our merry way.

We did a fair amount of transitions, threw in some walk breaks and smiled all the while. We walked the last half hour except for one section of trail that was fairly close to home. I wanted to test him. We were close enough that Cruiser and Ranger will sometimes give us trouble if we trot there. We trotted 3 separate trots on that trail. The first two were perfect, but the last one, he didn’t respond to my slow down requests. He still stopped, though, when I asked him.

Overall, I think it was an excellent training session. The active training part didn’t take much more than 5 minutes. The rest was easy. Clicker helped, but figuring out that sometimes there are things that are more important than carrots helped, too. Clicker merely explained to him what I wanted.

It was a two and a half hour ride, with nearly an hour and a half of trotting. The weather was perfect and my horse just keeps getting better and better. I sure wish winter wasn’t right around the corner…

Monday, October 24, 2011

4-day weekend of rain...again

Yes, another rained out long weekend for my sister and me…

Thursday, the river was too high. We rode Cruiser and Ranger up and down the hill 3 times. I worked with Cole in the arena, and we had fun. My sister rode him for a little bit, and it was nice because then I could watch him. He is quite a sight. I then led him down to the river as a reward.

Friday, the river was still way to high to cross. This time, we rode Cruiser and Ranger in the arena, too, so we could get some good exercise. Cruiser is doing so much better this year than last. I am optimistic that we may be able to get back some of what we used to have…Ranger did very well, too. We then rode them down the hill, once. I rode Cole in the arena. A woman who had seen him last week came over to video him to show her daughter. When she left, Cole started to do some amazing things.

His one fault in trotting is that he has been carrying his head too low. I didn’t push the issue, but just gave him time to find himself. Well, he trotted a few steps with his head in the correct position, so I clicked him. Being a good clicker horse, he then repeated it right away. I clicked him about 10 times for it, and then just let him keep trotting. My sister videoed him for me so I could affirm that his gait was still proper. I’m glad to say it was. We practiced it for about 5 minutes, and at the end, he started some new movement that felt like floating. I don’t know what he did, but my sister said it was beautiful. She had already put her camera away. We quit, then, and went down the hill to the river.

Then we waited for the vet to come out to give fall shots. She also did Cole and Ranger’s teeth. Cruiser was fine.

Saturday, the river was still too high. We rode Cruiser and Ranger on the hill. Cole’s arena ride was a little shorter because the arena got too crowded to work. He was trotting with his head up, again, but he also discovered he could go faster that way! We were trotting like we were on the trail—channeling his Dan Patch heritage (famous Standardbred he is related to.) When he slowed up, I clicked him. Since we quit early, I don’t know how it would have developed. We then went down the hill.

Sunday, we were finally able to cross the river and took Cole and Ranger out together for an hour and a half. It was a gorgeous day. Ranger was feeling his oats, and he did lots of silly things. Cole was consistently well-behaved. I took Cruiser out for a 5-mile blast, and we had a terrific time. Finally, a trail-riding day!!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Evening Rides

It was a lovely night for riding, yesterday. My boyfriend got in the saddle before I got there—I got caught in traffic. I saddled up Cruiser, and away we went to meet his buddy Starry. Cruiser knew the game, and as usual, I had to keep slowing him down. We met them about 20 minutes later, and I talked my boyfriend into turning around and continuing with us until the next river crossing. it was such a pretty night, that it didn’t take much coaxing. Even his horse didn’t mind turning away from home—but of course, he had his best friend, Cruiser with him.

I rode Cole in the indoor arena. You may recall that I have had some confidence issues with him in there. My confidence, not his. Well, I rode with 4 other horses, and I trotted all around with them. I think I have finally slain the dragon. He was as well-behaved as always. I think we will be able to manage winter with riding in the indoor arena with all the other horses just fine, this year. He was doing his “big trot.” We were riding with big TBs and a QH, and they were quietly plodding about. Then here comes tiny (14.2) Cole Train—boom-boom-boom-boom…trotting like a dressage king. He doesn’t go that fast. When he trots like that, he slows the beat down and steps with great power. He was quite a contrast to the horses we were with.

He was doing so well, that a couple times, when we took a stretch break, I dropped the whip intentionally so he could pick it up for me. He loves that game.

The boys get the day off, today, so I can catch up with things at home. I have a Thursday and Friday off—they are predicting a lot of rain…

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Long Rainy Weekend

A long weekend for us, at least this year, means rain.

The weather was great on Thursday. My sister and I planned to go on our favorite ride with Cole and Ranger up to the show ring.10 minutes down the trail, we had to turn around. The electric company was trimming the trees under the wires by the trail. To make matters worse, the trail that we would take to get away from them goes out to the street by a bridge—and there were construction workers repairing it. They were blocking the trail. we turned around and went the other direction on the trail. (Later on, they were using a jackhammer on the bridge—I’m so glad we didn’t try to get through the construction.)

We went on a nice ride, just the same, for about an hour and a half total. We did a lot of trotting and managed a little bit of cantering. The foliage was gorgeous and the temperature was moderate.

When I got back with Cole, I took Cruiser out for an easy ride for about an hour.

Thursday night, it rained pretty hard, and the river that is close by the start of the trail was too high to cross. We rode Cruiser up and down the hill leading to the river 3 times. I then worked Cole in the indoor arena. He did pretty good, and he earned a lot of clicks. I woman that I know was visiting our barn, and she had never seen Cole in action. I told her to watch him trot, and she was stunned. I love seeing people’s reactions to his trot. She is going to have some of her dressage friends come out to see him. It is amazing that the horse I bought for a trail horse has so much natural talent. I tried to canter him with no success. I then took him down to the river to cool off.

Saturday was extremely windy. My sister was hesitant to go out, but I talked her into a short ride with Cruiser. They were fine, and no trees fell. (We have experienced so many tree falls while riding, I have lost count.)

I then took Cole on the same distance ride with the plan of working on our canter transitions. I planned on clicking him for the transition. Well, that didn’t work. He slammed on the breaks so fast to get his treat that we went sliding! We had to stick with “good boys” after that. We had some good ones, and we had some bad ones. The bad ones consisted of big bucks from excitement. We were going on the same trail over and over. I moved down to a different section of trail, and I got a good transition but more speed than I wanted. I rode it out, tried it again and he was more reasonable. My last transition was excellent and the speed was right. I hope he remembers our lessons that we had this day.

Sunday, my sister and I decided to go on our show ring ride that we wanted to do on Thursday. After about a half hour, it started to rain lightly. We figured it wouldn’t last. We rode on to our destination and all the way home in the rain. It rained all day…Cole was in a funny mood, so it wasn’t the best of rides. Every now and then, he gets that way. He bolted/spooked a couple times and tried passing Ranger without permission. He wasn’t as relaxed, either. Still, he went down the big hill the best, ever.

Since it was still raining, Cruiser got the day off. we just led him in the indoor arena for a half hour to help with his insulin. He seemed happy just to follow us around. He likes to walk with me on one side and my sister on the other side, so he can take turns nuzzling us.

I’m riding this evening after work, so I am hoping the river isn’t too high so I can get Cruiser out for a bit. There isn’t enough daylight to ride both on the trail, so I will work Cole in the indoor.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Second big ride

On Monday afternoon, I saw what the weather forecast looked like, I wasn’t too busy at work, so I decided to take yesterday off. What a great decision. The weather was perfect for trail riding.

My sister works second shift and usually rides in the mornings. I took Cruiser with her and Ranger for a short ride. She was really happy to have the company.

When we got back, she went to work and I saddled up Cole. We were going to go on our second long solo ride. Unlike last week, the river was low, so we crossed at all 4 crossings. I didn’t like the third crossing. There was no good path through the big rocks. Cole was a dream going through them, though. From now on, I will be going on the river ford as I have the last few years with Cruiser.

The big river crossing was great. This is the first time he crossed it by himself. He marched right in and crossed like a champ.

We had a few issues. We went through the busy intersection, and once we reached the trail, he bolted forward. I was able to stop him right away, but then he did it about 30 seconds later. Once again, I stopped him. Shortly after, on the other side of thanks, big river, he bolted up the bank. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I started trotting, and he went really, really fast for the first minute. I then decided he was just responding to excitement. He didn’t do it any after that.

We trotted a lot on the way out, and once he settled, he did pretty well. A few times, he stopped on his own, but that was the only problem. We also trotted on the way home when we were far away. At first, he was steady and responsive when I asked him to return to a walk, but the closer we got to home, the faster he went and the less cooperative he was about stopping. Of course, that is what I would expect. I was clicking all of his good downward transitions on the way home. I didn’t click the bad ones.

He wasn’t too concerned about the Brookpark Bridge, this time. I clicked him for that. He was a little worried when he saw the 480 bridge, but he did better than he did with the Brookpark Bridge last week. I clicked for good behavior. We turned around just past the second bridge to go home.

A few times, on the way home, he tried to trot without permission, and I brought him to a halt and started again. To help explain what I wanted, I then clicked a few times for a quiet walk. He then saw the light, and stayed at a walk.

We planned to walk the last half hour home, but 15 minutes into it, we found my boyfriend on his horse, Starry. He wanted to go on a longer ride, so I turned back with Cole and rode away from home for a while. Cole didn’t like that, and he tried to spin to go home, once. We put Starry ahead of him, and then he quietly followed him. I clicked him a few times for that, too.

We made it home. With my backtracking with Starry, the ride turned out to be 2 hours and 45 minutes. It was a little longer than expected. I am giving him this evening off, and I will just ride Cruiser in the rain. Yes, after 10 days of sun, the rain is back. At least we got a break after a rainy, rainy year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunny weekend with lots of trail riding

Finally! A sunny weekend! I rode on trail, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was awesome.

Friday was just a quick trail ride on Cruiser before sunset. I then rode Cole in the arena. I am so glad I am going to start feeding on Friday evenings next month. We are supposed to feed at 8:00, and the feeder fed at 6:45. It is just hay, so I let Cole eat while I cleaned our stalls. When I was done, I took him in the arena. Wow, was he crabby. He kept trying to go to the gate, didn’t pay as good attention as he usually does and just didn’t want to cooperate. This is the first time I have taken him away from his hay for an arena ride. Sure, a horse should learn to behave under such adverse conditions, but I would just prefer not to go through it all. I have been feeding on Mondays and Wednesdays, and it is great that I can control the feeding time. The little bit of money helps, too.

Saturday, my sister and I took Cruise and Ranger on a 5 mile ride with a lot of walking so we could talk. I then took Cole on the same ride alone with a lot of trotting and some cantering. He had trouble getting going into the canter, but when he did, he flew. I’m glad to say I didn’t have any trouble stopping, but he was very excited, after that. it took a bit to calm him down. I need to do more cantering with him.

Sunday, we took Cole and Ranger up to the show ring area, and there we did lots of trotting—more than ever. He was nearly perfect, too. We did the front loop trail, which we haven’t been doing with them, and they were both great. These trails are right by a stable that we used to keep Cruise, Ranger and Mingo. They have been silly up there, ever since. They get excited about going towards that barn, and pout when we leave it. Cole, of course, isn’t doing this—he is the opposite. This works to our advantage. I am trying to teach him to trot quietly towards home. Since Ranger is pouting and trotting slow, and since we have worked hard to teach Cole not to pass other horses without permission, he will trot slowly behind Ranger. I then took Cruise on a 4.5 mile ride. He did great, of course. He always does.

My goal with Cole is to get him as good as Cruiser—and it seems like we are going to make it! Plus, since I am older and wiser, I am teaching Cole things to make him better than Cruiser. (Such as not passing up other horses, not trying to race and better downward transitions.)

Long weekend coming up…

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Big Ride

The Big Ride

Last month, I was so frustrated with the weather. Only once, near the beginning of the month, I was able to ride Cole with Ellen on Ranger past the big river. From then on, even though we took vacation time, we never had another chance to repeat the ride. I wanted to do it a couple more times with Ranger before I tried it on my own. It just didn’t work out the way I planned.

The first weekend of October came and went without us stepping one hoof on the other side of the river. where is all this rain coming from? That weekend, there was an article in the newspaper stating that we are nearing the record for the rainiest recorded year in Cleveland.

I was getting antsy about going on a long ride with Cole. I decided I would do it with or without Ellen—whichever came first. As soon as I got a chance, I would take a day off of work and go.

The weather took a turn for the better, and on the first Tuesday of the month, I decided the first Wednesday of the month would be perfect. I got the day off from my job. Everything was set. That is, until I found out the river was still very, very high on Tuesday afternoon. Ugh.

I woke up Wednesday morning with a smile on my face. This was going to be the big day, if I could only cross the river. I decided to take Cruiser for a short ride, first. As we neared the river, I couldn’t believe it was still on the high side. In fact, it was higher than any day I have ever crossed with Cole. I carefully crossed with Cruiser with no problems, got some good trotting in and brought him back to the barn.

Next horse, Cole Train. It was cool and sunny; a perfect day to ride. My pockets were loaded with carrots. I was all set for our big adventure.

The first challenge was crossing the river. He didn’t like the looks of it and was very hesitant as we neared it. I asked him to step forward into the water. As soon as he did, I clicked and treated him. That got his attention. He knew the game.

It was well over his knees, which isn’t so bad, butt the current was very strong. I clicked every few steps. About halfway across, he plunged his face into the water and started drinking. This was a first. He has never drunk from the river before, regardless how hot the weather was. We walked to the other side and turned left. This is also a first. We have only gone solo to the right, reserving the other direction for rides with Ranger to the show ring. He seemed a little surprised and hesitant to start with, but soon he was walking along happily.

I decided to cross the next river crossing instead of going on the concrete ford like we usually do with Ellen. (She prefers it to the river.) I have had a little trouble with him, here, in the past, but he stepped right in. I clicked him. It was deeper over here, but the current was very slow, so I wasn’t concerned about it. Neither was he. We made it across without any difficulty.

The next section of trail is a great place to trot, so we moved on out. He was excited and went a bit faster than he typically does with Ranger. Once, he burst into a canter. Yes, Cole was in a good mood.

The next big obstacle with another river crossing. I opted to go on the concrete ford with the cars on this one. I am just not very familiar with that river crossing to try it on a day when the water was deep and muddy. Only single car passed us. I clicked him a lot for walking quietly.

So far, so good. It was only about 5 minutes later that we reached the “big” river crossing. It was very deep and ominous looking. Though we crossed it last time with Ranger, I decided to go on the bridge with the cars. This is a pretty long bridge, and we go alongside the rail that overlooks the river below. I didn’t know how he would do his first time, but he proved, once again, that he is a wonderful horse. It helped that the “horse gods” were looking out for us, and not single car passed us, again! He got lots of clicks.

Once we got to the other side, I breathed a sigh of relief. There were no more roads or rivers to cross until we turned back for home. Now it was just time to ride and have fun. So we did.

We did a lot of trotting, and after about 5 minutes, he settled down to a moderate speed and a nice even rhythm. Finally, I was riding the way I like to. We approached the Brookpark Bridge. It spans the whole valley and is huge. I forgot that it looked scary, but Cole told me right away. One of the legs of the bridge is very close to the trail, and from that spot, we can see the whole underbelly of the bridge. Throw in the noise of the cars going overhead, and it all looked and sounded like a horse eating monster! This was the first time ever that Cole was truly afraid of something while I was riding him. He refused to go under the bridge. Instead, he showed me how good he has gotten at backing up.

I asked him to stop, and when he did, I sighed and had him stand quietly while I talked to him. About 30 seconds later, I asked him to take a step, and he did. I clicked him for it, and I noticed him relax a little as he took the treat from my hand. I asked for a few more steps, which he took readily, and I clicked again. We kept this up until we got to the other side. Since I knew the next bridge is only a half mile away, I decided to turn back and go home instead of overload him emotionally.

I turned, and he said, “No way! That’s a horse-eating monster!” We repeated the whole process until we got to the other side. On the way back, we did short stretches of trotting, and we would stop when he got too excited. Trotting home always gets horses a bit wound up the first few times. I want him to form good habits. So I don’t like him to practice the bad ones. Besides, I want the walk to be his default gait. I spent too many rides convincing him that he should walk quietly when he preferred to trot, to mess it up now. At one point, I gave him a long walk break, and then when I asked him to trot, he was perfect. I think I just gave him a chance to realize he was tired!

Back at the bridge over the big river crossing—we now had to ride on the other side. In one sense, it is easier because we can take the paved bike path that is by the side of the road—keeping us out of traffic. On the other hand, it is a little more complicated because we have to go between the bridge rail on one side and the rail of the pathway on the other. Some horses are bothered by them. Not Cole. The other difficulty is sharing the path with bikes passing right next to us. There, we lucked out, since not a single bike came by. I think he would have been fine, but it is nice to introduce him to something new without anything else to mess things up.

The rest was easy. The river ford was uneventful. A few minutes later, I found Kevin on Starry coming out to meet us, and we went home with them. Cole seemed tired, and didn’t even care that Starry was there. He just walked quietly home. The ride was 2 and a quarter hours of heavenly bliss for me. I am hoping it is the first of many more.

I smiled all day long.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

More Rain

We have had more than 20 inches rain above normal this year, and we are closing in to break a record.  What does this mean?  We had another rained out weekend.  Friday, I rode Cruiser on the hill to the river and Cole in the arena.  Saturday, we rode all the horses in the arena, as it was raining.  Sunday, we took Cruiser and Ranger on the hill.  I rode Cole in the arena, and then we headed to the hill, too.  Monday, I rode Cruiser on the hill.  I think I may be able to cross the river, tomorrow.

This is simply ridiculous.  We are supposed to have a good run of dry weather, for a while.  I hope so.  I have more vacation scheduled, and I want to get some good rides in.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What we do when we can’t Cross the River

My sister and I took a 4-day weekend off from work to get some trail riding in. Just like the one we tried a few weeks previous, we couldn’t cross the river the first 3 days. That meant doing the hill leading to the river with Cruiser and Ranger and working Cole in the arena.

Having Ellen watch me and Cole during our rides was very helpful. She gave me all kinds of good advice, and she took video with her smart phone. She was able to show me how I was riding. One of the videos from the first day is on Facebook. With her suggestions, we improved over the weekend. It is amazing how much the way we ride effects the way a horse moves. By adjusting my seat, Cole adjusted the way he moved and improved on his consistency. So though we didn’t get on the trail, at least the time wasn’t wasted.

One of the days, my youngest niece came out to ride. She goes with us on the trail. She rides Ranger, Ellen rides Cruiser and I ride Cole. Just going up and down the hill isn’t the most exciting thing to do. Ellen suggested that I ride Cole in the arena, and if he is doing well, my niece can ride him, too. Then we would take Cruiser and Ranger on the hill. Ellen didn’t mind not riding the hill, since we did plenty of it the two days before.

Cole was doing very nicely in the arena. His big trot was up to full form, he was responsive and very well behaved. He was in the perfect mood for a novice. After about a half hour, I asked my niece if she wanted to ride him, and she dashed into the barn to get her helmet.

I think it had been a couple months since she rode him in the arena last. She climbed aboard and proceeded to walk around the arena. He kept offering to trot—and it was the big trot—not a good trot for a beginner! He was throwing her off the saddle. She figured out it was because she has short legs that rest on his side—where my long legs go beyond his sides. Her normal pressure was probably cuing the trot. Yes, he is that sensitive.

I told her that he will stop if she says, “whoa.” That offered her a new challenge because he stops from a trot very suddenly if you ask him. (Cole is always an over achiever.) That’s basically how their ride went. Walk, go into the big trot, sudden stop and walk again. Yet, she kept her composure and stayed in the saddle. When I asked her if she wanted to ride him down to the river, her face lit up!

We headed down the hill. Ellen and I were at her side, but she was still a little nervous. Ranger goes fairly slowly down the hill. Cole is a speedy downhill traveler, and she was concerned he would try to trot. Since he was doing it for her in the arena, and I used to have trouble with him trotting down the hill, it was a reasonable thing to be concerned about. I had her do a lot of transitions down the hill when he got too fast.

About halfway down the hill, on a level section, Ellen noticed a red-tailed hawk sitting on a log by the side of the trail. We stopped Cole and Ellen went on ahead to shoo the bird away. We figured if we were close and he flew up, Cole would be startled. As Ellen got closer, the hawk just looked at her. There was something wrong with it. Ellen told us to continue down to the river, and she would call the park.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, Cole did try to trot with her a few times. Fortunately, my niece knew just what to do to keep from bouncing off. He walked quietly on the way back up to my sister. She said the park had her call the Lake Erie Nature Center; which specializes in wildlife rehabilitation. They told us we would have to bring the hawk in to them. They didn’t have anyone that could come and get it. Yeah, right. We were going to catch a hawk.

We went back to the barn and called Kevin. We also talked to a woman at the barn who has a big heart for animals—and birds at home. She showed us a large cat carrier that was at the barn. Suddenly, this seemed doable. While we were waiting for Kevin, we took Ranger and Cruiser out for their ride. The hawk was still there.

On our last trip up the hill, here comes Kevin. He was all excited and enthusiastic about catching the hawk. He checked out the situation, headed back to the barn and gathered everyone that was going to help. Ellen went with them, but I stayed with my niece to untack and clean up the horses.

After a while, they came back with the hawk. Apparently, as Kevin was about to throw a blanket on him while our friend was stroking his beak with a stick to distract him, Kevin slipped and fell on top of the hawk—catching himself before he crushed him. The blanket wrapped around him and they were able to get him in the cat carrier. Kevin was going to take him Nature Center, Ellen was going with him and I was going to take my niece home. (That is, after a visit to Taco Bell.)

When I dropped her off, I told her mother we had an exciting day, and told my niece to tell her about it. She replied, “I rode Cole down the hill.” There’s a kid after my own heart. She didn’t mention finding and capturing a large bird of prey. What was important to her was riding Cole on the hill.

(It turns out the hawk had a damaged eye, and since their eyesight is so important to hunting and flying, she was weak from lack of food and dehydrated. If she can heal enough to hunt, she will be released.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More rain

It rained again! When I got out to the barn, it did stop in time for me to ride Cruiser down to the river and back a couple times. I’m sure it won’t be crossable until Wednesday—and they predict more rain on Wednesday. This has been such an incredibly rainy year.

I rode Cole in the arena. In spite of it being his 6th straight day of riding, he still had some energy left. I can tell he needs a break, so I think he will be happy to have today off. Me too. Actually, I am doing something very important this evening. I am signing papers on a house I am buying with my brother that we are going to use as a rental property. It is just a tiny one that is close to where we live. It was a foreclosure, so we got a good deal on it. We hope to have renters by spring. There are things we want to do to it, but they are all aesthetic. The house is quite solid, and it has a 2 car garage. It’s in a good neighborhood with good schools. I hope it works out. It is always scary purchasing something that is more than 3 digits—and this is 5 digits!

Back to horses, since that is what this blog is about. With the shortening of the daylight hours, I am going to start going out to the barn right after work instead of going home to eat, first. That way, I will be able to get a quick trail ride on Cruiser before sunset. Cole will just have to wait for the weekends. He is fun to ride in the arena, so I don’t mind.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yet Another Rainy Weekend

My sister and I took a 4-day weekend off from work to get some trail riding in. Just like the one we tried a few weeks ago, we couldn’t cross the river the first 3 days. That meant doing the hill leading to the river with Cruiser and Ranger and working Cole in the arena.

It is great to have eyes on the ground to watch me ride—even better when she can take video. Cole was trotting very curled up and behind the bit, a lot. There was a lot of tail swishing going on, too, which is something that seldom happens. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. My sister’s eyes and the video helped. It showed that I was curled. My shoulders were slumped forward. Who knows what caused this. Maybe he did. It may have been me responding to him—causing him to respond to me. A downward spiral.

The next day, I made a conscious effort to uncurl, and guess what—so did he. He moved on the bit with a lighter forehand. I know, because I saw the video.

The following day, we did just as well. After about a half hour, I let my niece ride him. She did very well with him, although he kept trotting. She figured out it was because she has short legs that rest on his side—where my long legs go beyond his sides. Her normal pressure was probably cuing the trot. yes, he is that sensitive. Of course, he had to use that big show trot of his, and that threw her around the saddle. She learned how fast he responds to “whoa,” too.

Since she rode with such composure on a challenging arena ride, I asked her if she wanted to ride down to the river. Of course she did. She was nervous. She usually rides Ranger, and he goes fairly slowly down the hill. Cole is speedy going downhill, and she was concerned he would try to trot. Since he was doing it in the arena, and I used to have trouble with just that, it was a reasonable thing to be concerned about. I had her do a lot of transitions down the hill when he got too fast. When she got to the bottom, he did try to trot with her a few times. He walked quietly on the way back. She was so happy to have ridden him on the trail—even though it was only about 10 minutes of riding.

Yesterday, my sister and I finally made it across the river. We went on our favorite ride to the show ring trails. I then took Cruiser our for 5 miles round trip in the other direction. It was a pretty day, but the mosquitoes were bad. I can’t wait for cooler weather.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A rainy night in Cleveland

Due to rain, I rode Cruiser in the arena for the first time since spring, and he did much better than I expected. He is 24, now, and in the last few years, he hasn’t been very cooperative in the arena. He doesn’t have the spring or enthusiasm. Also, he seems to be having trouble holding his head at the vertical. I am fairly certain that is caused by the tumor on his thyroid. It is getting pretty big. I know that how a horse holds his head isn’t as important as how he moves his body, but I am not sure if we can ride as connected as we used to if he is uncomfortable with the position of his neck. He is continually trying to find a good spot, and it often deteriorates into him trotting with his head straight up in the air like a Saddlebred. Of course, then I fall in the dip in his back, and it is all downhill from there.

We started out with a lot of walking to get him warmed up—and we started the direction that he doesn’t want to go in. (Another fairly recent development.) once we started to trot, he was all over the place. The surprise—he settled down in a few minutes and lowered his head. I gave him a lot of rein, and he moved fairly well. When he started to putter, I was able to keep him regular with my seat. When we went his better direction, he was even better.

Here is what I learned—all the work with Cole had mad me a better rider! I have to be so very aware of what I am doing with Cole that I was quicker with Cruiser. Also, I am used to Cole’s stronger movement, now. I was able to use that skill to create a stronger movement in Cruiser—and he responded.

I was dreading riding Cruiser in the arena this winter since things went so poorly last year, but I’m not as concerned about it, now. With my new found skills, I may not be able to bring him back to where he was when he was younger, but maybe we can at least have a more consistent and pleasant ride.

I then rode Cole. He was a little goofy about the far end of the arena because of all the noises from the rain, but I persisted in doing my 5 laps at a walk each way. His trot was enthusiastic and pretty spectacular, at times. We worked on corners and circles and transitions. He seems to be grasping backing up pretty good. We were doing 4 steps at a time. after the first step, the cues for the rest were very light. I tried cantering, but we didn’t get it. I guess I need to do it more down trail.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lovely Weekend

We had a great weekend for riding. Finally, it is cool and the bugs are leaving us alone. Saturday, my sister and I took Ranger and Cruiser out, first. I followed that up with my best trail ride, ever, with Cole. We went about 5 miles—further than I have ever gone by myself. He was near flawless. The only mistake he made was that big buck on our first canter transition. I could forgive him for that because I think it has been 2 weeks since I cantered on trail. The next 2 trans were fine. We did a lot of trotting, a little cantering and then walked home.

Sunday, we took Ranger and Cole out first, and we had our best ride ever with another horse. We did the show ring trails, and his behavior was flawless. The ride consisted of a lot of trotting—and looking at the beautiful goldenrod-filled field. I think they are at the peak, and they are gorgeous. I then took Cruiser out for 5 miles. We met Starry on the way home, so he was very happy.

What more can I say? I love September trail riding. This weekend is going to be another 4-day weekend. We hope that the weather is better than the last one, and we can get across the river the whole time. if so, we will have so much fun.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tackling the Arena

Tackling the Arena

I am riding Cole all over the place on the trail—walking, trotting and cantering, but I still felt nervous in the arena. Now, it didn’t help that I only rode him in there a couple times a week. It was the same old problem—the far end just got me nervous. That didn’t mean I didn’t go over there—I did, but I didn’t enjoy it. It distracted me. It didn’t help that the pasture of our barn and the neighbor’s barn are by the far end. If their horses were in their pastures—who knows what unexpected things would happen? It was actually a big part of my problems, initially. Any sudden noise from that direction sent Cole flying!

In August, I started reading a book that mentioned I should set goals. I put the book down, and thought about it. I always ride with goals on the trail. As we meet each goal, I add a new one. It is a very effective way to train, obviously. It keeps us focused and on track. Now why haven’t’ I been doing this in the arena.

So, right there, I decided to pick a goal. The first thing that came to my mind was trotting laps. I decided I would trot 5 consecutive laps in each direction. I then caught my breath at the thought of it. I would really be pushing to try that right now. I needed to make my goal achievable. I would walk 5 laps each direction—using the full arena.

Isn’t it crazy that I couldn’t do this before? I have been riding for many years, and I have spent plenty of time in the arena with Cruiser and Mingo. I needed to get over my arena anxieties.

The plan was to walk the 5 laps in the first direction. I could stop, but when I started, I had to continue on the path. If I didn’t, I had to start all over again. For a person nervous about riding on the far end, that was quite an incentive to keep going.

My first attempt was in the evening. There were horses turned out in both pastures. I wanted to do it at the beginning of the ride to get it over with. I was very nervous the first few laps, and I had to stop Cole and stand for a moment, but a miracle happened. By the 5th lap, I felt pretty good. I turned him around and did our 5 laps the other direction.

The feeling I had was tremendous. Not only did I succeed with my goal, but all the fear and uneasiness had vanished. I ended up trotting Cole all around the arena.

This marked a change in my arena riding. In just a few rides, I was a totally new person. I left the old one behind. He even spooked a few times on the formerly scary end. That didn’t stop me. I didn’t want to have to redo any of the laps.

I stay focused and try to make the corners perfect. Sometimes I get bored and start trotting the laps and working on transitions. I now ride the whole arena whether there are horses out in the pastures or not without hesitation. In a very short time, I have changed my whole attitude about the arena.

Other goals I have set are riding round circles, good transitions and inter-gait transitions. I have always had these goals, but now I have quantified them. I need 10 good transitions—and I won’t quite my circles until I get at least one of them round.

I have never enjoyed arena riding as much as I have the last month or so. I am still only doing it a couple times a week, so we don’t get that much accomplished, but by the time winter rolls around, I will be ready…

That doesn’t mean I want winter to hurry to Cleveland! I am having too much fun on the trail…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Big Trot is Back

I took Cruiser on a quick trail ride before dark, and then it was time to work with Cole in the arena. He was so much more consistent than Monday. We warmed up at a walk, and when he went above the bit, I jiggled the rein until he lowered his head. I clicked the first couple times for it, but after he got the idea, I didn’t click anymore. Once I started trotting, he hardly went above the bit, and when he did, I corrected him easily. We practiced and clicked our trot trans--I think 6 times and then he turned into “featherlite trans” horse. Our circles were rounder. There was a cone in the arena, and I used that as a guide. It made it much easier. I just tried to stay a predetermined distance from it as we went around.

I then started to ask him for “more” trot. I clicked him when I got it and started again. After 4-5 times, “more” trot became “big” trot. I clicked him for it a few times right at the beginning, and then it was back—the “super big” trot that we discovered last week. My sister got one brief video of it before he quit doing it for the weekend, and from what I could tell, it looks spectacular. I was clicking him for it for longer and longer durations. Last night, I seemed to have some control over where he was going. He was able to do it on straight-aways and circles. I didn’t do too much of it, because I didn’t want to sour him on it. It is a lot of exertion for both of us.

That being said, I think I like it better where I get it when I ask for it, and not all the time. This way, I can work on other things without getting exhausted. By working on the circles at a regular trot, then he does better on the circles with the “big” trot, etc.

When I asked for the canter, I got a super-duper big trot. He also tried skipping, and once, he just got his legs all tangled, and we had to stop. No cantering last night. I need to do it more down trail so he learns that canter means canter and not just faster—and no skipping. I wish I had video of that. No one saw it, but my sister saw it a few times. This time seemed even more exaggerated than when she saw it. Clicker training makes horses very creative.

We have been doing “back” the last few arena rides, and I think he is understanding it. We tried it early in his career, but it seemed to cause confusion, so I put it aside until now. I have to make a point in doing it every ride.

I never knew arena riding could be so much fun. It won’t be such a long winter this year…

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Long weekend--in the arena

I’m sure everyone has wondered where I was-vacation! Well, it was just a 4-day weekend. And the river was too high for 3 of the 4 days, so I didn’t do the kind of riding that I wanted too. Still, I wasn’t at work, and that is really what vacation is about for me.

I spent a lot of time in the arena with Cole. Here is what is happening is while working on consistency with his trot, I have lost the “big trot.” He would trot big for a while, and when I asked for a turn or corner, he would come above the bit and we would lose it. I was just trying to keep him from popping up, and when he did, to get him to reach down and round up, again. I figured that an ordinary trot was acceptable as long as he wasn’t above the bit. My plan worked. He is much more consistent through bends and corners, but he is not doing that fantastic trot. What I have been working on is more important, and I suppose the trot will come back when he is ready. Maybe when it does, he will have the skill to keep it. The weather was also hot for a horse growing his winter coat, and he was getting a lot of work, so he wasn’t quite bursting with energy by the end of the vacation.

I finally cantered him in the arena. We did it on 2 days. It wasn’t easy the first few times, because he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. When we did canter, he didn’t get very far—but we did it, that’s what counts.

I just rode Cruiser on the hill to the river on the days we couldn’t cross. Sunday, we went on a nice ride with Starry. They are good buddies.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Big River

The Big River

Before Cruiser and Ranger entered their senior years, every Saturday and Sunday, we took them on our favorite long ride. It was fast paced and fun. Usually, we would ride about two and a half hours or so. Sometimes, we would go a little further, too.

Some years ago, we went down to once a weekend. Then we went down to occasionally and I’m not sure of the last time we did that whole ride. The trails over there haven’t been well maintained, so we knew that we couldn’t do all the trotting and cantering that we used to do, anyway. That helped us not miss those fun rides quite as much. We still miss them, though…

Well, the park is in the midst of repairing the trail. Unfortunately, the old guys are even older, now. We are very careful with them. I don’t think that we will be blasting down the trail with them like we used to. No more fast and far rides for them. We can do fast, and we can do far. We just can’t do both.

That leaves Cole Train.

To get to the good trail, we have 2 more unfamiliar river crossings and a busy intersection with a traffic light. I didn’t want to tackle all it on my own for the first time-- not because I didn’t think we could manage it, but I just wanted to do everything in my power to make the first time a success. We have been planning this for awhile, but we have had issues with the weather and the river. I didn’t want to cross the big river unless I could see the bottom. We could avoid the crossing by going on the bridge, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted to cross the river.

Finally the weather cooperated, and we had a clear river on the weekend. We opted to skip one of the river crossings because there was a lot of stones on the bank. The horses just had their feet trimmed a couple days before, and Ranger was very tender. We did cross that river once before, so I didn’t need any help with it. We decided to avoid the stones.

This meant crossing a river ford that Cole had never been on before. Ellen rode, but I decided to lead. This way, it would be easier for me to click him a few times during it.

Ranger decided it would be better is Cole went first. Thanks, Range. Cole went right across, I clicked for good behavior and we made it to the other side. The busy intersection wasn’t busy, so we crossed over to the other side. Once I got into the trees, I mounted back up. Next stop—the big river.

When I say big river, I mean it. It is three times as wide as all our other crossings and a little deeper. There are 2 branches to the Rocky River. This crossing is just beyond where the 2 branches join and turn it into a real river. It is not hard to cross, there is just so much more of it.

Ellen and I had mapped out a good route across it a few years ago to keep us away from the uneven, slippery slate bottom. We were glad to see that it hadn’t changed. Ranger went first. As soon as we get into the water, we have to walk down stream, parallel to the land for about a minute. Then we get to a level section. We cross over to an island in the middle and then proceed to the other side.

Cole thought the bridge upstream looked odd, but other than that, he acted as if it was his first time crossing this year instead of his first time crossing—ever.

On the other side, we found the path leading up to the trail a little overgrown. I guess it was because we haven’t been riding there like we used to. They did repair the top of it where it had eroded badly, so this time, it was better that Cole went first. He would be clueless about the change. We then did a little trotting but mostly walked on account of Ranger’s tender toes. This area was still stony. We didn’t go far when we decided to turn back.

We walked the horses home. It was as uneventful as the way out. The intersection was a little trickier because we had to cross two roads this time and wait with traffic at the light. No big deal for Cole. It all went well.

And that is the lesson of the story. The reason everything went so perfect was due to being prepared. Cole was already confident with traffic, so crossing the busy ford and the intersection was easy for him. He was accustomed to all the smaller river crossings. This one was just more river. Taking him with another horse was even greater insurance of success. I would have been more surprised if things didn’t work as planned.

It rained that night, so the next day we couldn’t cross any rivers. I didn’t mind. It met my goal, and Cole and I have a long future of rides that are fast and far. I just wish my sister could come with me…and Cruiser…and Ranger…

Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day Weekend

I always consider this weekend to be the beginning of riding season.  By now, the horses are in shape, we are in shape, the weather starts to cool, and best of all, I always find myself with a lot of vacation time left over.  We have 2 long weekends, besides this long weekend, in September, alone.

Tomorrow, my younger neice is coming out to ride. We will take the 3 horses out together.  It is the only time we get to take the whole herd out for a trail ride.  It's supposed to be really hot.  I'm sure we will mostly walk with a little light trotting mixed in.

Sunday, if the river is on the lower side, we want to venture out beyond the big river crossing with Cole and Ranger.  We haven't done it, yet.  I want the river to be low for th first time. This crossing is not only deeper, but about 3 times the width of the other crossings.  The trails on the other side were in bad shape, but they are finally starting to repair them.  When they are done, they will be better than they have been in years.

Monday, we will take Ranger and Cole up to the show ring trails and bop about up there.  Of course, both days, I will tak Cruise on a ride, too.

Yesterday, the farrier was out.  Cole was better than last time.  I can tell my farrier likes him.  Not only has he not said a negative thing about him, (unusual for any horse) but he compliments his good behaviour and said he really likes his face.  Compliments are few and far between from him.  We love our farrier.  We have used him for 24+ years.  But he isn't always the most positive guy around.

I rode Cole in the indoor on Wednesday, and he improved over the last arena ride in there a week ago.  I love that I am riding him on the trail so much that we aren't getting in the arena often.  Of course, it will change in a few months, but the shadow of winter never keeps me from enjoying Fall.  I love Fall in Cleveland.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the Road to the Canter

On the Road to the Canter

Cantering Cole has been tough for me, but it’s my own fault. I never taught him to canter on the lounge line before I started riding him—or for that matter—all winter when I was lounging him before I rode him. I have to confess, part of the problem is I don’t like lounging. I see nothing wrong with it, but my time is limited and I prefer riding. Once I started riding him, I only lounged him enough so he’d be safe to ride.

He wasn’t a good lounger, either. When he was feeling his oats, I had bucking bolting and rearing. It was a sorry scene. I don’t know how many times I’d be saying, “Get down, Cole.” Once he settled on the lounge, about 5-10 minutes into his session, he would lose all energy and get as bored as me. That’s when I would ride.

When I start a young horse, I like to canter within the first few weeks of riding. Well, let’s see…What happened there? The trail, that’s what happened. My weekends and days off were spent on the trail. In the beginning, we did mostly walking, and then I started to add trotting. I did work in the arena for short sessions once or twice a week, but he wasn’t doing as well in there as the trail. We had enough trouble staying at a quiet walk, at first. Once I started to trot, just containing his energy in a small part of the arena was tough enough. I wasn’t ready to try a canter.

Winter came, and I had to get serious about my arena work. He went through that spell of bad spooking on the far end of the arena, and he just shook my nerves. I did my share of cantering when he spooked. I wasn’t ready to canter him—I could barely manage his trot for a while.

My nerves settled down, and so did he. That’s when the big trot showed up. It took me some time to figure out how to even ride it. He would bounce me so high that I could felt the top of my feet hit the top of the stirrups.

Finally, I was ready to canter—and he didn’t have a clue what I wanted. I couldn’t bring myself to beat him into it. He’s is such an enthusiastic and willing horse, that I don’t want to do anything to harm that attitude in the least.

Last fall, Ellen and I spent several sessions on the trail using her as a target. I wrote about it and shared it with you. It was very successful. He got the idea, and I was able to canter him up to her where he would stop and get clicked for stopping. Since we couldn’t continue it, due to winter, he didn’t learn the cue well enough to transfer into the arena a few months later when I was ready to canter, there.

We tried it again in the spring with less success than in the fall. I decided to try a different tactic. By now, I was riding with Ranger quite a bit, and we were doing as much trotting as we felt like. My idea was to have Ellen canter Ranger and Cole would be bound to pick it up.

We went to a short, but smooth trail not far from the barn that is just ideal for such an activity. Ranger was happy enough to canter, and Cole was happy enough to trot all the faster. We tried a number of times and finally I got a few strides. We continued on our ride, and on the way home, when we got to that spot, we turned around and did it again. Cole remembered the game, and that time, I got about 15 wonderful, wonderful strides.

We did this for a few more rides, and each time it was easier to get him to canter. We found that he was more willing to canter if we let him go ahead of Ranger, but then he would stop when he got too far ahead.

Finally, it was time for me to try it on my own. One morning, I headed out solo. Ellen was hiking along, but she couldn’t keep up with me once I started to trot. When I got to that spot, I asked him to canter with a vocal, then a leg tap and finally a tap with the whip. It took one light tap and we were off! He went very fast, but after about 5 strides, he moderated and it was wonderful. I brought him to a trot, and I clicked for the downward transition. I wanted him to know it was good to stop cantering. I didn’t bother to click him for the canter transition, because I figured cantering alone was enough reward.

We did some trotting, and then when we got to some more good trail, I requested the canter—and got it! I did about 5 canter/trot transitions that ride until I got to the next river crossing. We crossed and trotted for about 5 minutes before turning to come home.

I met Ellen on the way back, and we walked and I glowed with happiness. I asked her if Cole looked more mature, and she said he did.

Since then, I have cantered on my own at least once or twice a week. I think that brings me up to 4 times. He is eager to canter, and he has been experimenting. He has learned, I hope, that he isn’t supposed to canter without me asking. He has learned that he gets yelled at when he throws in a big buck on his transition. (I’m so glad Mingo prepared me for that move.) He has learned that he can’t throw his head down to buck while cantering and finally, he has learned to slow down a little because it is easier.

I was going to canter him on my last solo ride, but when we got to the place where we have been starting our cantering, he began to prance and dance with excitement. I changed my plans and walked through there (with clicks for walking when he settled down) and then only walked and trotted the rest of the ride.

I am a big stickler in a horse staying at the gait that we are traveling in. If I am walking, I want him to stay walking until otherwise notified. That goes for all gaits. So I will be careful with him to instill this lesson.

(I must confess, I am no longer that way with Cruiser, but was for the first 20 years. Now, if he wants to go faster, I smile because I’m just glad that a high-mileage, older horse still wants to go fast. If he wants to go slower, I figure he knows better than me how he feels. When Cole is his age, I’ll let him choose the speed, too.)

Hopefully he will improve at the canter as quickly as he did at the trot and be able to learn the cue well enough that I can start him cantering in the arena this winter.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Motivation – Why Do you Ride?

I have started rereading “In Search of Your Image – A Practical Guide to the Mental and Spiritual Aspects of Horsemanship” by Jill Keiser Hassler. I bought the book a number of years ago, and found it too spiritual for me. Times change, and so did I. My life is different, and now the book seems so much more relevant.

In the first chapter, it discusses the motivations of why we are involved with horses. I never gave it much thought, before.

Here are the most common reasons that are listed:

- Love of horses

- Exercise

- Challenge

- Profession

- Recreation

- Companionship and Social Interaction

- Mental Well-being

Upon consideration, I decided that these are the reasons I ride:

Love of Horses. I have loved horses from the time I knew what a horse was. I bet a lot of people would include this on their list, but honestly, I have known a few people who didn’t even seem to like horses, let alone love them. They must have had different motivations for riding.

Exercise. I love the exercise I get around horses. I know that exercise is good for me, and around horses—I don’t even feel like I am exercising at all. It is a big bonus—but not real reason I spend time with horses. I’m just glad my hobby furnishes me a chance to exercise and helps keep me in shape.

Challenge. I like how horses are always challenging me with something new. Whether it is a problem that I need to solve, or just something new that I am trying to learn, the challenges give me something to think about and learn from. I think that is why, even when Cole was intimidating me in the arena last winter, I never gave up. My biggest challenge became overcoming my nerves.

Recreation. Riding is just plain fun. I love to ride.

Mental Well-being. I usually feel better after being around horses. There was a time back when Mingo was very sick that I felt worse with each visit to the barn. I had even considered giving up on horses during that time, because I was feeling so sad about all of it. It was then that I realized how much my mental well-being is tied to my horses. It wasn’t just the sadness involved with Mingo’s illness, but I didn’t get that boost in spirit that revived me for the rest of the day. now that my heart has healed, I feel terrific after a good day at the barn.

So, you see, I have lots of reasons to be involved with horses. What are your reasons?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thunder's Teeth

Last week, my sister and I took Maggie and Thunder to the vet. Maggie for shots and Thunder for his wellness check. He doesn't get shots because he is very allergic.

Anyway, we had been seeing a particular vet at the practice. She moved on, so we went to Dr. Shaw. Dr. Shaw has taken care of many of our pets over the years. In fact, at one point during the exam, he paused, sighed, and said, "One thing I will remember for the rest of my life is Indi." Indi was my Siamese for 19.5 years. She was as gentle as she was tough. She never gave up--even after kidney disease and losing 5 teeth. She kept going strong--with my help, of course. I gave her fluids, and catered to her every need.

But, I learned a lesson. For cats that live a long time, their teeth need care, How much happier Indi would have been if her teeth lasted as long as she did?

When I got Thunder, I started brushing his teeth. Because I couldn't do a very good job, at first, I got in the habit of doing them every day. I still do. He is now 5, and has lovely teeth.

When Dr. Shaw looked at his mouth, his first words were,"Nice teeth."

"I brush them every day," I proudly replied.

He looked up with this big smile on his face. "Really..." He then reached for his camera. Thunder quietly lay there while Dr. Shaw focused in on his teeth and took a picture. He downloaded it to his computer desktop and showed it to us blown up on his display board. He is going to use the picture to show people to encourage them to try brushing their cat's teeth, too. Thunder is going to be an inspiration!

He also showed us the other picture he uses--a picture of a dog who had 23 teeth removed. He showed us the dog's mouth and then the removed teeth. What a contrast to Thunder's teeth.

It really isn't that hard to teach a cat to allow his teeth to be brushed. I mean, if I can teach a horse to allow me to ride him, why not a cat to allow his mouth to be handled?

My cat has beautiful teeth. My sister's cat has no teeth. He had them removed due to an autoimmune disease where his body was attacking his teeth. He is now eating dry food and playing all the time. She won't have to do any brushing, but if he had normal teeth, I'm sure she would. We really dote on our cats.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


We felt the earthquake here in Cleveland!  It lasted a long time, too.  Who else felt it?

Monday, August 22, 2011

4-day weekend

4-day weekend—heaven…

I rode with my older niece, after work on Wednesday. We had a really nice time, but it was bittersweet. She went back to college, and she won’t be able to ride with me again until next summer. Anyway, I wanted to make sure she cantered Ranger at least once before she left. We rode to a spot that he likes to canter, I explained what to do, and it worked like magic. Ranger cantered and my niece smiled. They both did wonderfully, and she discovered what a terrific canter felt like. She has cantered a few times over the years, but never on Ranger. He is wonderful. On the way home, we turned the horses around and cantered there, again. This time, they went a little faster. She was exhilarated.

Thursday, my sister and I took Cole and Ranger up to the show ring area. We did lots of trotting all about. We ever rode in the front field, which we only did once before. Cole was flawless. I took Cruiser out on a ride by himself.

Friday, we took Cole and Ranger on our 5 mile ride. Once again, we had a flawless ride. We did try to convince Cole to canter with Ranger in our favorite spot, and he got a few strides in. Up to this point, that’s the best he’s done with cantering. We have tried it here, before.

Saturday, my younger niece came out to ride with us. We took all 3 horses on the 5-mile ride. Flawless, again. We did a lot of walking and a little trotting. The older horses were on the slow side, so we changed our plans for Sunday.

Sunday, we took Cruiser and Ranger to the Lagoon. It is a short ride, and we only did a little trotting. They enjoyed the easy ride, and my sister and I just talked and enjoyed the light rain.

I then took Cole on a 4.5 mile ride. at the spot that we have been trying to get him to canter, I asked him—and he did!!! We went about 200 feet and stopped. The rest of the ride to the next river crossing with filled with transitions. He seems to know what the word means—in the first lesson. He isn’t consistent with the vocal command, but he will be, soon. I only clicked him for downward transitions. Once we crossed the river, we stayed at a trot, and though he was excited and trotted fast, he didn’t offer a canter. I think he knows he needs to wait for the command. What a sweetheart. We turned around and walked home.

After such a nice riding weekend, it is sure hard to go back to work!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

High water

3.51 inches of rain.  That was the official tally for this weekend’s storm.  Needless to say, I didn’t cross the river last night.  I rode Cruiser 3 times on the hill, and Cole and I worked in the arena.  He did much better than he has for the last few weeks.  I was getting the big trot more consistently and for longer durations.  We lasted 35 minutes, and then a couple other horses came in, so I decided I would take him down the hill rather than deal with all the dust.  He was fine on the hill.  I know it wasn’t long ago that a trip on the hill meant racing down and racing up.  What a difference, now.  He walked down like a gentleman and walked back up like a gentleman.  I would have done more, but I am losing patience with the mosquitoes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Successful weekend rides

I took Cole on 2 rides this weekend with my sister on her horse, Ranger. All I can say is they were dreamlike. Everything he knew how to do, he was perfect. Some new things that we added—like trotting towards home and trotting in new places, he was great. We did try cantering with mixed success. He just doesn’t understand that that is what I want him to do. I figured when he was Ranger cantering, he would understand, but that hasn’t been the case. It’s odd, because when my sister is on foot, and simulates cantering, he understands. Anyway, we did get it a couple times for a very short distance. I’m sure we will work it out—and I hope soon—it was such a lovely, lovely canter. Cruiser has a fair canter, and Mingo’s was tough unless he went fast. Ranger has an awesome canter, and Cole’s seemed more like Ranger’s—for the short distance we traveled. There is a big difference between naturally rear-wheel drive horses and naturally front-wheel drive ones. At last, I got a rear wheel!

I had 2 great solo rides on Cruiser this weekend. We got in just in time, yesterday morning. We were only inside a few minutes when the deluge hit, and only ended this morning. I am going riding tonight, but I won’t be able to cross the river. I will work the hill with Cruiser and spend my time with Cole in the arena.

Some good news—looks like deerfly season is winding down. They didn’t have to wear their bonnets yesterday, and I only saw a couple that were easy to kill. All we have to worry about, now, is the mosquitoes, which is bad enough. I don’t ever remember a worse year for mosquitoes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Evening Rides

I took my older niece out riding last night. I was on Cruiser and she rode my sister’s horse, Ranger. All went well for most of the ride. She is really mastering posting. On the ride home, we just walked, so I suggested she practiced her hands. She needs to keep them steady with even contact. She is such a conscientious student—she practiced all the way home until she fell off.

When we were crossing the river, which was very low and slippery, Ranger slid a bit in the back and started to fall. A better rider may have been able to stay on—but at least she didn’t throw him off balance and cause him to fall, too. I didn’t see it until she was sitting in the water and Ranger was walking towards us. I got off, but not in time to reach Range’s reins. He walked right by Cruiser, up the river bank and happily for us—turned the opposite direction of home when he got to the top. By now, my niece was up and walking towards us. (Unhurt but soaked.) I sent her ahead while Cruiser and I blocked the path towards home. Ranger was munching a patch of grass that he has probably had an eye on for years. My niece took the carrot that was in her pocket and slowly approached, stretched out her arm and Ranger traded his freedom for a piece of carrot.

I rode Cole in the outdoor arena—first time in a couple weeks or more. It finally dried out enough. Well, the stables next to us had 6 horses turned out, and they were running all around because of the bugs. There was someone riding there and someone cutting grass. We didn’t get much accomplished. A few times, the mower hit something and that spooked Cole. He did try to run once when the other horses ran and he didn’t pay much attention to me. Overall, he did better than I thought he would with the distractions, but it still wasn’t as much fun as it usually because of them. That’s just how things go…

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Good Wednesday Evening Rides

Yesterday evening, I found my boyfriend at the barn. I never know when he is going to ride with me. Sometimes, he rides in the morning and still comes out to help me in the evening. This time, he saved his riding so he could ride with me.

I decided to take Cole with him. We did this a few weeks ago with good success. This time, I was going to be braver and trot more. It helped that the trail has been repaired—allowing us to trot a lot more than before.

Now, my boyfriend has limited control with of his horse. He can tell him which way to go and at what gait, but he has very little control of the speed of his gait. Starry goes at whatever speed he likes.

I asked my boyfriend to try to go a little slower, but I was wasting my breath. I’m not sure if he didn’t try, couldn’t succeed or never heard me. Each time he asked Starry to trot, he went at a pretty brisk speed—much faster than when we trot with Ranger, but still slower than when we trot alone. I’m glad to say, though I worried Cole would get excited and try to race, he never passed Starry. We probably trotted a mile, all told, and Cole was perfect. Even when Starry started to canter, Cole just trotted faster. I was very pleased.

Cole did try to trot a few times on the way home when we were supposed to be walking, so I can’t say he was perfect, but he was close enough to me.

I then took Cruiser out alone for a longer ride. I had a nice time on him, too.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Been Doing lots of Riding

I have been remiss in blogging, but that’s not because I haven’t been riding. I’m doing that as much as ever. My nieces have been riding with us, and that makes it all the more fun. Unfortunately, I only have a few more weeks before the older one goes back to Cornell. I sure will miss her company.

I have been asking more of Cole, so that means we have been encountering more difficulties. I could have kept it easy and just taken him on short walk-only rides, but I want to trot, canter and go further. Friday evening, when I took him on a trail ride by himself, he was very annoyed with the bugs. That really does affect our rides. He wants to either go fast or go home. When I ride him alone, his speed of trotting is incredible, and lately, I have lost his good downward transitions. He has been getting excited, and since I have asked him to canter a few times on the trail, he has been offering it on his own, again.

When I ride with another horse, he pretty much will match the speed of the other horse. Well, yesterday, he decided to try and pass up Ranger. The first time, Ranger snarled at him. the second time, I spun him to get him to stop and we headed back towards Ranger so I could put him behind him where he belongs—well, Ranger marched toward him with an ugly face, and Cole just backed away from Ranger in fear. I had him take a wide berth around Ranger, and then we trotted one more time. Cole was perfectly behaved. Where I try to train with positive and negative reinforcement, Ranger is training with positive punishment. I hate to admit it, but I think that Ranger’s method may be working.

Our arena work has been up and down, and it is probably because I am only working in there once or twice a week. That’s okay—that’s what winter is for…

Cruise is doing well, and I am riding him 5 days a week on the trail. each spring, I ask for one more summer. Looks like he is living up to my request. He is energetic and enthusiastic. Last year, he didn’t want to canter. This year, he is cantering quite a bit. Last year, he needed to pause and rest on the hills. This year, he goes straight up. Of course, he is happy to trot forever.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cole's First Show

He went to his first show, yesterday. Don’t get excited. We just rode to the show grounds and stood on the outskirts for about 10 minutes.  Rnager kept inching forward--he wanted to wander around amongst the activity.  He loves doing that.  There were horses going past us or warming up in the field nearby, the loud speaker was blaring and horses were calling.  Cole behaved well at the show, but as we rode away, I told Ellen I expected an expression of emotion any moment. About a minute later, he jumped and squealed. At least he didn’t let me down.

He was in a funny mood the whole ride.  I think it was the bugs.  A number of times, he tried to spin and go home.  Twice, he nearly collided into the jaws of death--Ranger's gaping jaws.  I think Ranger taught him manners better than I could ever teach him.  We did do some new things, and he was great for them.  All the trotting went well, too.  It was just when we were walking and getting swarmed by mosquitoes that he misbehaved.

With all the rain we have been getting, including right now, I don't know if we will be getting any break from the bugs anytime soon.  I really don't much like summer, and I am so much looking forward to fall.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Scary River

We had another pretty big flood this month. When the water went down enough to cross, we found a large log partially blocking the river bank on the far side, a faster current and funny ripples that weren’t there before. Either the slate bottom got torn up or some big rocks were moved in. It was hard to tell because the water was still muddy.

Kevin tried to go on a ride on his own, and Starry refused to cross. A few days later, he wanted to ride with me to help get Starry to the other side. I took Cruiser and I am glad to say that Cruiser wasn’t worried about the changes at all. The only problem we had with him was he wanted to drink and drink. We just wanted to get Starry across before he thought too much about what we were doing. Eventually, Cruiser decided to cooperate and we made it!

On the way home, Cruiser stepped on what I correctly guessed was a large, flat piece of shale about 6 inches high. He put his hoof on it, started to shift his weight to step up, paused, did it again, paused, and when I asked him to move to the side of the rock, he happily took his hoof off and put it next to the shale. It is so nice to have a horse that thinks before acting.

The next morning, Ellen tried to cross Ranger, and he refused. It looked too funny to him. They worked out a compromise—once he got all 4 hooves in the water, she turned him around and they gave up on the river.

Well, that put me in a tough spot. The following evening, my niece was supposed to ride with me, and she rides Ranger. I talked it over with Ellen, and we decided that I would ride Ranger across and then we would switch horses on the other side. We knew that Cruiser would cross, and that should help Ranger.

I’m glad to say that the water was lower, and now we could see all the large hunks of shale that were washed down; causing the funny ripples. The water was still traveling faster that it used to. I told my niece to start down the river bank to the water. Ranger refused to go first. Cruiser thought Ranger had the right idea—and who was that on his back, anyway, and why did he have to listen to her?

Poor Ranger had to take the lead. I clicked him halfway down the bank and gave him a carrot. That put him in a much better mood. I clicked him when he stepped into the water, too. He stopped and I gave him another carrot. He was nervous. Cruiser wasn’t in the lead like he was supposed to be. I asked Ranger to walk, and he started wading through the water. I clicked and clicked and clicked, but he was so uptight that he didn’t stop! When we got to the other side, I he finally stopped for a click. I hopped off and gave him the handful of carrots he should have gotten if he had stopped while I was clicking. Cruiser finally made it over, and we switched horses and enjoyed the rest of our ride.

The only other difficulty we had was on the way home. I forgot to tell my niece to be careful about the log on the river bank that initially scared Range. I was in the lead and heard a noise. It was Ranger scurrying down the river bank and into the water to get away from the log. No harm done, and it was a good experience for my niece to ride a nervous horse for a few seconds. He calmed down and was fine the rest of the way home.

Soon, Ranger will cross the water as reliable as he used to be. By then, the log will be gone and Kevin will have cleaned the rocks out of the water.