Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cole's First River Crossing of the Year

Snow again--had to ride in the arena.

My trail ride with Cruiser last night was derailed by snow. He has shoes, so we had to stay inside. Once again, he was very spooky. He spooked more in 10 minutes in the arena than the last 2 weeks on trail.

A nice young lady at the barn, who has fallen in love with Cole, brought her video camera out. She taped 6 minutes of us. It was during our warm up, so it wasn’t an ideal time, but I knew she wanted to ride and didn’t want to make her wait. He did get a little silly a few times, but we worked through it. I got to see it on the camera, and I just can’t get over how pretty he trots. She is going to give it to me on a DVD. It was so sweet of her.

He did have a couple big spooks last night. One of them, I swore I heard a horse trotting outside where there shouldn’t of been one. I yelled out to Mingo, by dear departed horse, to stop teasing Cole. He didn’t spook after that.

My assistant was a no show—he was watching the Cavs game, of course. I had to feed alone. We are down to 36 horses. That’s a lot of watering.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Riding Night

I rode Cruiser in the park with my boyfriend on his horse—that means I didn’t get to trot as much as I wanted to. Right now, both horses just want to race, and we don’t need that. We tried it a few times, but didn’t get too far. Starry decided he had to canter to keep up with Cruiser, so we just walked. Other than that, they were fine. It was very cold out, and we both dismounted after we crossed the river and led them the rest of the way home. I was still cold when I got back, so I cleaned 2 stalls before riding Cole.

Cole was a bit goofy at the beginning of the ride, and then once he settled down, another person started to ride with us. Consequently, we didn’t do a whole lot of challenging work. Good news—the teen I rode with, a very nice young lady—told me she will video Cole for me and put it on a DVD. She loves the way he trots and I think she is purposely riding when I do so she could watch. I hope they follow through with it. I know he is doing better than the video my sister took last month because she said he is. I’m also able to ride it better. I really have to engage by upper thighs and concentrate on following the movement so I don’t get left behind. Just recently, I have been able to coordinate it with bearing down with my abdominal muscles—which made a huge difference with Cruiser, so I think that it is helping Cole, too. It just gives me more stability in the saddle.

I think next week, I will have enough time to take both of them on the trail—then I can leave the arena behind for a while…

Monday, March 28, 2011

Smokin' Cole Train

Here is a picture of me on Cole the first day we made it across the river this year.  Ignore my dorky helmet cover.  I look dumb, but it is so warm.  I am looking forward to the day that I can take it off and put it away until next winter.

I didn't get him across this weekend.  It was so chilly that I rode in the arena and then took him for a walk down the hill to the river.  He did well.  Lately, it feels like everything is just coming together for us, and it is a very satisfying feeling.  Training a horse is a lot of work, but it sure is worth it when things start going well.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

River Crossing Terror

River Crossing Terror

Years ago, before Cruiser bowed his tendon and the vet convinced me to keep front shoes on him for support, I used to pull his shoes for the winter. (In fact, I tried that this year, but ended up putting them back on after 8 weeks because he seemed off on his tendon.) Anyway, usually there would be about a month or so in the spring that I would be riding without shoes. For many years, he had no problem with it, but a few years before the tendon incident, something strange started to happen.

When he crossed the very first river crossing on our rides—the only one that there is no way of avoiding, if he didn’t have shoes in the spring, (it didn’t matter in the fall if I pulled his shoes early,) he would cross really weird. It is hard to explain what was going on. It was as if his legs were going every which way. He would go too fast—maybe he was trying to gait? I don’t know what it was. We called it his “crab walk.” That first crossing has a slippery slate bottom, so that might have contributed to it. The first year, we thought it was just excitement—and then we put his shoes on—it instantly disappeared.

Then it happened again the next spring, and the next spring. The crossings could be terrifying. I would try to stop him so he could pull himself together. That helped, sometimes. One time, when the river was very low, he fell. We parted, and he scrambled up and went to the side that leads towards home. He was so scared from the incident, that it took me a week to get him to cross the river, again.

Since he has had shoes on in the spring the last 3 springs, we haven’t had any trouble crossing the river. I was thinking about that when we crossed for the first time this year. All went well, he stepped carefully through the water to the other side—in spite of being very excited to be going on a real trail ride. In fact, that was the only time that he walked slow on the entire ride.

The following day, we went on another trail ride. I was in the lead, and my sister was following with Ranger. Cruiser readily stepped in the water. I was about halfway across, and he started to crab walk. All kinds of things rushed through my head. First of all, I didn’t want him to fall. It was a cold morning and not a good day to get soaked. Second, I was upset that the crab walk came back even with shoes. Will this happen every time I cross now? I couldn’t get him to stop, so I just tried to guide him straight to the river bank. I didn’t know where Ranger was, but I didn’t want to take my attention from Cruiser. I could hear geese honking in the background, but I couldn’t hear Ranger splashing through the water.

We got to the other side, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I looked back, and Ranger hadn’t even started across. Ellen yelled over to me, “I didn’t know geese could hover like that.” I had no idea what she was talking about.

She crossed with Ranger and was shocked when I asked her about the geese. She said that as we started to cross, a pair of Canadian geese were flying down the river. When they reached us, they didn’t go around us, they hovered in the air until we got out of their way. Poor Cruiser—no wonder he was rushing across the river!

I did see the geese land in the water when we were reached land. I was concentrating so hard on getting across the river safely, I didn’t realize the honking geese were right next to us!

Ranger, on the other side, was terrified and acting up for my sister, even though he wasn’t in the flight path. I am glad that Cruiser went in the water, first, since he handled the crisis better. The slate bottom is too slippery and uneven for a horse to be bouncing about.

I was very happy, because this meant the return of the crab walk was a one time thing! Hurray! We wouldn’t have any more scary crossings—unless the geese come back to terrorize us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Riding Night

I took Cruise on his first solo ride across the river for the year. He was so excited! It took him a while to walk, instead of gait. I did do a little trotting. He went fast and sound. We were able to get by the first fallen tree, but when I saw the second, I figured, no way on an older horse with vision problems. I had to go down a rooty, steep hill and make very tight, sharp turns. We headed back. I did do a little back and forth at a trot in the area that wasn’t washed down to gravel. He never settled down.

I rode Cole in the arena. He was awesome. Everything is just falling in place. One of the boarders was riding, and she had a friend with her. The friend clicker trains her dog and cats, but never saw it done with horses. It was so nice to talk to a fellow clicker. Cole showed off his trot, and everyone was duly impressed. It just keeps getting better. I need my sister to take some more video. I showed off how I can trot, drop the reins and say “whoa” and he stops suddenly. I didn’t have a mitten for him to pick up, though. This woman was so thrilled that horses do so well with clicker. Well, why not? If you can train a cat with clicker, you can train anything.

The weather is going sour, so I don’t know how much I will be able to go on the trail in the next week or so. I won’t ride Cruiser outside unless the ground is thawed and snow and ice free. My mantra is, “Protect the Tendon!”

He got accepted into a research program on Metabolic Syndrome for the University of Michigan. I think they may have picked him because he actually never got laminitis. I’m sure they don’t get many subjects like that. Most people don’t know their horse has it until too late. He really was lucky to bow his tendon and have a vet that thought there might be a connection. I have all kinds of information that I need to gather for it. it will be work, but I like the idea of being able to help horses in the future with his condition.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Weekend Update

A lot happened this weekend on the horse front.

First of all, the outdoor ring dried up enough to turn Cole out to run. He won’t run if it is muddy. After testing the footing, he decided to roll and then ran around and around and around. I took him in when he decided to attack the gate. He needed that so much.

I then took Cruiser out for a ride with my sister on Ranger. For the first time since about Thanksgiving, we were able to cross the river. Cruiser wanted to walk really fast, and he threw some gaiting in, too. Ranger—well he preferred to buck. He does these tiny little bucks. We call them kitten bucks. If you are prepared for it, they are nothing. If not—off you go. My sister was prepared. He also spooked bad once when Cruiser snorted—he was that wired.

We couldn’t go as far as we wanted because a tree was down, but it was far enough to make us feel satisfied.

I then rode Cole in the arena. He was great. We rode wherever we pleased without a problem at all. We spent most of the time on the formerly scary end. He was a whole new horse—all because he got to blow off some steam.

The river was too high to cross a green horse, so I took off his saddle and led him down the hill to the river. He did well both up and down. This gave me a lot of confidence…

Sunday, we took Cruiser and Ranger on the same ride. They were quieter and there was no kitten bucks. We kept it at a walk—no choice. The flooding we had a few weeks ago turned the trails to gravel. We are hoping they will finally repair them. They have needed repair in many places for years, but this is so bad that the whole trail should be resurfaced.

I rode Cole in the arena, again, and he had one legitimate spook. After that, he was fine. Someone we know stopped by to visit my boyfriend, and she peeked in to see us ride. The last time she saw Cole, I hadn’t started riding him, yet. She is in dressage. I made sure Cole was at his best when she was watching. I am not kidding here—she said he reminded her of Tortilla. He’s only the most popular dressage horse right now. She said Cole wants to be a dressage horse, and I said he’ll have to settle for a trail horse. It does give you an idea of what he is doing. It still amazes me. It’s not my skill. It’s his natural ability.

I then shocked everyone when I told them I was taking him across the river. My sister drove down to the park, so she wouldn’t have to cross the icy water on foot. When we got down the hill, she was on the far side with her camera. She got some great pictures, so I hope she sends them to me. At first, he wouldn’t step in the water. I kept squeezing my legs until he put his first hoof in. I then clicked and treated him. He was playing in the water—refusing to go forward. I started squeezing, again. When he began to paw, his time was up. I tickled him with the whip, and he went right in. It took less than a minute. He carefully walked across to be greeted by my sister on the other side with a handful of treats.

He was fine on the ride to the fallen tree. Once he tried to trot, but I stopped him readily. On the way back, I was ready for him to rush down the river bank like he always tried to do last fall. On the first step, he hit some mud, slid and froze. He learned his lesson about rushing, and I didn’t have to do a thing. He hesitated about stepping in the water, but once he did, he went right across.

There is no way a young horse could be so good on his first ride on the trail in the spring. On the way up the hill, he started to rush. I got off to lead him. He continually tried to trot. My arena work paid off. He will stop for the work “whoa” at a walk or a trot. I just kept stopping him and making him stand. Eventually, he gave up and started to walk quietly. That’s when I clicked.

Next time, I will start clicking him for walking up the hill before he starts the trotting routine. I think that will get him to change his mind and not rush.

I was pleased with both my horses this weekend. Unfortunately, the weather will be taking a turn for the worse by next weekend. It will be winter, again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It was farrier night, last night. All went well. Cruise got a reset and Cole and Ranger were trimmed. It was such a warm and spring like night, I wish I could have ridden, instead. My retired boyfriend rode in the morning and got to cross the river for the first time this year. Lucky guy. We may be able to cross this weekend if it isn’t raining.

Thunder has continued his crusade to take over the house completely. He spent the whole evening while I was gone sleeping on my Dad’s bed with the dog. Someday, maybe they will cuddle. Pollie, our old dog, thought cats were gross and didn’t like physical contact with Thunder. If he sniffed her nose or brushed up against her face, Pollie looked like she would throw up. Maggie seems to like the attention—as long as Thunder doesn’t pull out the claws!

My dad survived the first day of chain sawing. He gets me so nervous. The neighbor’s tree fell on our property, and they are working on cleaning it up. Dad is 80, and I am always worried he is doing too much. Between the sawing—which fortunately, the neighbor did the most of—and the hauling the wood away, Dad wasn’t even sore this morning.

No real plans this weekend except riding. With the improving weather, my boy friend and I will probably start our hiking program up, again. I am also increasing the length of the dog walks when I have the time. Spring is a pretty active time for us.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Evening Rides and Thunder Takes Over

I rode Cruise 3 trips on the hill. It is about ¾ of a mile round trip. The first couple of trips, he was very excited and either walked fast or gaited. The last trip, he relaxed and walked his normal speed. The river was still too high to cross. It was just so nice to be outside riding.

I rode Cole in the indoor arena, again. I am still working on being able to ride all over it without problems. I started by leading and clicking on the scary end for 10 minutes. I then rode circles on the scary end at a walk and clicked whenever he put his head down and concentrated on me. We did that at least 5 minutes.

My next step was to add the trot. I went back to the safe end intending to do a few circles there to start. As soon as I asked him to trot, he got all weird and out of control. I should have just stopped him and tried again, but instead I tried to calm him down. He took off and ran to the scary end—stopping when he got to the scary corner. The only one that was scared was me. I took him in tiny circles. I could be wrong, but I think he wanted to go there to work because he was having fun getting all the carrots.

My boyfriend heard the ruckus and came out to see what was wrong. I brought Cole back to the safe end to calm down and try again. He did try again—to bolt to the far end, but I was onto him and started spinning him right away. By now, my boyfriend was pale and anxious. I worked on the trot—doing transitions until he settled and did his pretty trot.

I then went to the other side and started walking circles in our better direction. I reinforced him when he lowered his head and focused on me. I then trotted a few circles, and he was lovely! Hope started returning.

Time to work on our more challenging direction. We stayed at a walk since this way is always a session or 2 behind the other way. It took a bit before he lowered his head, but he did. At no time did he try to go back to the safe side—which is the problem I was having before.

I then took him back to the safe side and just did some walk/ trot transactions with no problems.

I am a little closer to my goal, but I didn’t get as far as I planned. Maybe next time.

Big breakthrough on the home front. Little Thunder has finally taken control of the whole house from the dog. The dog loves to sleep on my dad’s bed. Around 4:30, Thunder starts to wait for me to come home from work. His favorite place to wait—my dad’s bed. He hasn’t lain on Dad’s bed since we got Maggie in October, but with all the sunshine yesterday, Thunder couldn’t resist. Dad said he walked into the room and popped right on the bed. Maggie wasn’t happy with it, but she let him lay in the sun.

I came home, and they both came to greet me. Later in the evening, when I was heading out to the barn, Thunder decided to go back on the bed. This time, Maggie wagged her tail. She walked over to him, looked at him, went to a different spot on the bed and wagged her tail. She did this several times-always wagging. Maybe she was simply happy that he wasn’t chasing her or smacking her with all claws out. He stretched full out in the sun—totally relaxed and happy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Old article from 12 years ago

September 1999

I have 2 wonderful horses. The older one is Cruiser, the dazzling chestnut horse, and my other horse is Mingo, a dark bay, solid Paint. I’ve had Cruiser for 9 years and we know each other so well, I think we can read each other’s mind. Mingo is only three and I’ve had him from birth. I’ve only started riding him this year. I truly believe that Mingo was put on this earth so I wouldn’t take Cruiser for granted.

Don’t get me wrong, Mingo isn’t a bad horse, regardless of how many times I call him the “Devil Horse”, he isn’t a whole lot different from any other young horse of the age of three. He is just so different from Cruiser, as different in personalities as in colors, that very little of what I learned while training Cruiser will apply to Mingo. He is truly a challenge for me. When Cruiser was the age Mingo is now, I would describe him as “a wild, flighty and hyper horse.” Mingo, on the other hand, is more like “a lazy, belligerent and quiet horse.”

Back when Cruiser was only three, our biggest problem was spooking. Cruiser found a horse-eating monster around every corner. Our rides could get so frightening that many times I had to get off and lead him just so I could calm down. Every loud car, motorcycle or bicycle would make him jump and try to run away home. Even just an incidental noise in the wind would set him off. This isn’t the case with my little Mingo. He is very quiet and little scares him. He is the picture of calmness. People marvel at his indifference towards traffic and strange looking objects. Only now and then will he see a horse-eating monster, and he usually just gives a little jump and settles right down. Now you must be asking why is he a “Devil Horse?” Well, if he doesn’t like the look of something, he will quietly just freeze in one spot and refuse to go anywhere. He doesn’t get wild and excited like Cruiser, I know how to get Cruiser past something frightening, I’ve done it for years, but what do I do when Mingo just stops and stands? One day we were stuck in the same spot for 2 hours before I was able to get him going. He really tries my patience. The day I took Mingo to a trail and nuisance training clinic, he wouldn’t step over a simple pole on the ground. He just stood there and tried to move it out of his way with his nose. He didn’t act frightened, he just said it was impossible to step over a pole.

Cruiser was always energetic, and the early days were spent trying to settle him down before he would be ready to learn. Mingo, on the other hand, is lazy and quiet. Mingo’s lessons have to take on a whole different nature than Cruiser’s. It would take 15-20 minutes of riding Cruiser before I could get him in the right frame of mind and get some training accomplished. Things are much different with Mingo. After 15-20 minutes of riding, he is very bored and will no longer pay attention to me. His warm-ups have to be very short, or I will lose my window of training time. I’ve fallen in that trap a number of times. He will just tune me off if I keep trying to challenge him and it’s all down hill from there. If I want to ride him longer for exercise purposes, I have to either end the lesson with simple things or take him on a trail ride.

These are the two biggest differences I’ve discovered between my two horses, but here are a lot of little ones, too. Mingo holds on to his bad habits for a very, very long time, whereas Cruiser was happy to cooperate. Mingo questions my actions and often seems to say, “Why should I?” Cruiser usually trusted me and would follow me anywhere. Cruiser was, and still is, always eager to go. Mingo can be balky and sluggish. Cruiser is friendly to everyone, Mingo kicks at dogs. Just the same, I love them both.

All of these differences between my two horses keeps me alert and on my toes. If Mingo was more like Cruiser, he would be easier for me to train, but I wouldn’t learn much from the experience. By having such a different horse, it will make me a well-rounded trainer. When the next horse comes along, I should be able to adjust to whatever his personality dishes out to me. I have learned not to assume that anything that Cruiser did, Mingo will do, too. My horses keep reminding me that all horses really are different, just as all people are different. We must accept them for their good and their bad, learn to adjust the way we treat them and stay away from stereotypes. Some people, just like horses, are quiet and relaxed and some are high-strung and nervous. There is nothing wrong with either kind, and there is something to love about all of them.

What I am looking forward to...

Excerrpt from "Trail Horse Adventures and Advice"

Each season is a delight to me when I am out riding. It is finally spring, and I see and recognize each variety of wildflowers as they sprout. Right now, the Virginia Bluebells, Rue Anenomes and Wild Geraniums are beginning to wane, but they are being replaced with my old friends the Indian Hyacinths and Jack in the Pulpits. I see the Dames Rockets will be blooming soon and the monstrous Cow Parsnips are sprouting.

As Cruiser and I canter slowly down our trail, my eyes are forever looking along the trail for my flowers. At the same time, I take in the lovely sound of the songbirds singing and the ever-present murmur of the Rocky River that our trail closely follows. Sometimes, particularly in the spring, the smell of one of the many flowering trees and shrubs will find its way to my nose and make me smile. Honeysuckle, Cottonwoods, and Locust Trees—I love them all.

Soon, the trees will be a dark green and the flowers on the forest floor will quickly disappear. Never fear, though, as the summer progresses, new flowers will show their faces in any spot that the sun comes through. There are a number of pretty wild sunflowers that our horses love to try to eat as we go by. The warm weather will bring that old snapping turtle out in the swamp by the fence—I’m always sure to look for him as I go by.

In the fall, I think our trails have some of the prettiest colors around. Some sections are such bright yellow tunnels that they will blind you on a sunny day. The most beautiful vistas are seen when we cross our river. The main flowers of interest are the Asters, Joe-Pye-Weed, Boneset and many varieties of Goldenrod.

I ride all year and have learned to appreciate the winter. The trees are lovely in their stark nakedness. The trunks and branches show their true personalities, which are hidden by their leafy summer clothing. The snow blankets the ground and completely transforms the world I know so well. I love the days when the snow is sitting on every branch of every tree. These days are glorious, but fleeting for the snow usually melts before my eyes as the morning progresses. Even now, I still see my flowers—the dried stalks of sunflowers, goldenrods and teasels peek out of the snow to remind us they will be back. Soon, it will all begin again, and I will revel in the joy of spring and the joy of being alive, riding my precious horses in the park, I love so well.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday's rides

It was a chilly evening (low 30s), but that didn’t keep me from taking Cruiser out on his first solo trail ride of the year. He sure was hyper. We only went on the hill to the river, which was too high for us to cross. We did it 3 times. the first 2 times, he went really fast—switching from walking to gaiting and back. By the 3rd time, he was somewhat settled down, and mostly walked. I got a little cold, so I decided to lead him up the last time. He was still fast enough to get my blood pumping.

Though he was fit to burst from excitement, he behaved excellently the whole time. He pointed out the herd of deer, and then willingly stood still as they dashed through the woods. I hope that someday Cole will be as well behaved even when he is very keyed up.

I rode Cole in the indoor arena because I still don’t have enough daylight. We started the ride sharing it with a couple other horses. He spooked once when I was leading him when a horse stumbled. He spooked early in the ride when the cats had a battle in the hayloft. Other than that, he was fine. When one horse that was being led by his owner rolled and got loose, Cole stood for me. I was worried the loose horse would start to run and play, but he was caught right away.

When everyone left the arena and we were by ourselves, I rode all over it at a walk—including the scary parts. He did super. If I hadn’t been approaching the hour mark, I would have tried it at a trot. maybe tomorrow.

Once again—no unwaranted spooks and not a single attempt at a bolt. He did learn that lesson on Saturday!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dog getting better

Could Maggie, AKA Dumb Dog, be finally forming new neural pathways? I think she is learning how to learn. I don’t know what her former life was like, but I don’t think she got much attention. When we got here, she didn’t even know how to play—and was only partially housebroken. She did learn playing, but other learning (including housebreaking) seemed slow. She learned to lay down well, but everything else was very slow—and usually she just would lay down when she got confused.

In the last week, she has managed freestanding to a verbal command, solidified jumping obstacles to a verbal command, solidified spin to a slight hand motion, is great with target touching and yesterday even brought it to me twice! Then, she would only lie down. She is sitting on a verbal command, too, and that was a tough one to get—all she wanted to do was lay down.

If I am playing with the cat, she leaves the room and lies down—waiting for a treat. This includes when we play “throw,” where it throw pieces of cat food for Thunder to chase.

She sits and lets me put the leash on her.

I think she is starting to understand that if she sits on my lap, she can’t chew on my hand. What I ended up doing with this problem is just putting her on the floor immediately when she started to do it. She gets it right about half the time. Then I pet her and praise her.

Maybe there is hope for her…

Finally rode outside!

The snow that we got on Friday started melting Saturday mornign. It was still too icy on the drive to think of taking to horses outside, so I worked them in the indoor arena, again.

I decided it was time to get tough with Cole. I decided that the increase in spooking and bolting the last few weeks was not due to fear. There was no trace of panic in his actions. It was time to deal with it. He decided to test me in the first few minutes. I asked him to do a halt to walk transition, and he took off to his barn door. Instead of being scared, myself, I kept him moving when he got there, and once we made the turn, I started to spin him in tiny circles. Horses hate the tiny spin.

From experience, when I have tried to extinguish a behavior with punishment, I know that it won’t take once. It seems that the horses want to test and see if the same thing will happen if they try it again. The second time was as bad as the first, after that, each time got better and the last time (the seventh) was very half hearted. Whenever he behaved, I clicked him. He kept getting better through the ride.

I wasn’t sure if I was handling the situation correctly, though it worked when Mingo went through that stage—and it helped Cruiser when he was an overly spooky baby horse. (Though I do think it was fear with Cruiser, most of the time. I just needed to control him.)

Good news. On Sunday, though he wasn’t perfect, he didn’t once try to spook or bolt. Rather, he was mostly cooperative. We even worked on end of the arena where he has been particularly bad.

After a half hour, I took the saddle off and we worked on outside manners. We did leading and stopping. He was excited to be outside on the driveway, but he only acted up twice, and I just held the rope steady. After that, he was perfect. Soon, I will take him on a walk on the trail.

Speaking of trail, my sister and I rode Cruiser and Ranger on the hill. There was snow halfway down, and since Cruiser has shoes, we had to turn back at that point. We did back and forth 3 times and then worked on the driveway. It was so nice to be working outside. Both horses had an A+ ride. I will be doing the same, tonight. I hope more of the snow is melted.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Snow again...Sigh...

I can’t believe we are in the middle of another snowstorm. We got 5 inches overnight, and they are predicting 3-7 more. I am so done with winter. I hope the drive home from work is better than the drive here.

I went riding last night instead of today to avoid the storm. It was still raining when I was trying to ride. (It had been raining for 2 solid says.) The rain on the metal roof is bad enough, but add the water pouring through the gutters, the winds blasting the rain on the side of the metal building and you end up with a very nervous rider.

I really wanted to work on riding the whole arena, but since I was skittish, so was Cole. I ended up getting off after a half hour and leading him in circles on the scary end. He did spook in hand twice, but I don’t care if he does that when I am leading. After about 10 minutes, I got up and rode circles there, and he was fine.

I hope the arena is quiet this weekend and I can tackle this problem. I am basically running out of time. I will soon be working him on the trail. It is silly that I still get nervous over there. I have all the tools to work through it. He has a terrific stop—coming to a halt as soon as he hears the word—from a walk or trot. He bends and turns lovely. When he goes head up and he gets distracted, I can easily coax him back down with a rein vibration and get him to refocus. I can do it, but when the arena is making random noises, or there are other horses riding with us, I don’t even try.

In only led Cruise around because I was in a hurry to get home before the snow started. Another woman was leading her horse, and we had a nice time talking. It did start to snow on my drive home, but it wasn’t sticking on the road, and I had no trouble.

Snow again...Sigh...

I can’t believe we are in the middle of another snowstorm. We got 5 inches overnight, and they are predicting 3-7 more. I am so done with winter. I hope the drive home from work is better than the drive here.

I went riding last night instead of today to avoid the storm. It was still raining when I was trying to ride. (It had been raining for 2 solid says.) The rain on the metal roof is bad enough, but add the water pouring through the gutters, the winds blasting the rain on the side of the metal building and you end up with a very nervous rider.

I really wanted to work on riding the whole arena, but since I was skittish, so was Cole. I ended up getting off after a half hour and leading him in circles on the scary end. He did spook in hand twice, but I don’t care if he does that when I am leading. After about 10 minutes, I got up and rode circles there, and he was fine.

I hope the arena is quiet this weekend and I can tackle this problem. I am basically running out of time. I will soon be working him on the trail. It is silly that I still get nervous over there. I have all the tools to work through it. He has a terrific stop—coming to a halt as soon as he hears the word—from a walk or trot. He bends and turns lovely. When he goes head up and he gets distracted, I can easily coax him back down with a rein vibration and get him to refocus. I can do it, but when the arena is making random noises, or there are other horses riding with us, I don’t even try.

In only led Cruise around because I was in a hurry to get home before the snow started. Another woman was leading her horse, and we had a nice time talking. It did start to snow on my drive home, but it wasn’t sticking on the road, and I had no trouble.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More cat/dog clicker training

I am continuing with Thunder’s training. Since we didn’t get to do it when we first got the dog, we are mostly reviewing his old tricks to get him where he was pre-Maggie.

I put Maggie outside so I could train Thunder last night. I did some simple targeting. I couldn’t get him to load into his “trailer” at all. (It is a very narrow box with an opening on one side.) He just wants to rub his face on the corners. He used to load very well—and then hop out over the front. I did get him to jump his jump, once.

We then went to hopping to and from his scratching post. After doing a single jump from his square pedestal, we moved up to going from his round pedestal, to his scratching post to land on his square pedestal—all for one click. He also did the reverse very willingly. I just tap with the target toy where I want to go, and he goes in a straight line to get there. If his scratching post is in the way, he uses that to get there. We used to do this with a bunch of boxes all in a row. I’m glad he remembered.

He is getting great at sitting up. He is now lifting both paws up consistently.

I need to make him a new hoop to jump through. I don’t know what happened to his old one. I just cut it out of cardboard.

Finally, he got distracted with exploring some of his boxes, and we quit.

I got the dog in for her training. She is improving standing up and getting consistent with target frisbee. I just wish she would figure out to pick it up and bring it to me. If I hand it to her, she will put it in her mouth, but won’t hold it any length of time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Video of Cole

My sister posted video of Cole on Facebook.  I couldn't even watch it, let alone link it to here.  If anyone is interested, I think I linked it to my site.  Search for Judi Daly.  If not, look on my sister's site.  I only have intermittent access to Facebook, myself.  I don't do a whole lot there.  Let me know if you find the video and what you think.

Cat/Dog Clicker Training

I have been putting the dog outside when I want to clicker train Thunder, and he is starting to remember the things I taught him in the past. He really likes hopping to the top of his scratching post. He looks like he is sitting on a fence post. He will sit up on it for me. He will then hop to his pedestal. He likes this game so much that he is reluctant to try anything else. I suppose I should start with something else to start with and then do the scratching post at the end. I will need to experiment.
Last night, I started clicker training the dog, and Thunder wanted to join us, so we did a joint session. It isn’t easy. I have to give the dog a treat for each click the cat gets. She is being rewarded for laying still and leaving us alone. She has to have a lot of patience because it takes Thunder a lot longer to eat his treat. I don’t give Thunder a treat when the dog gets clicked, and I think that causes him some confusion.
The dog is learning to stand up on command. It started with target touching, but she decided to stand when I held the target up, instead. She has terrific balance and can hold it for a couple of seconds. The cat just stares at her with a look of disbelief.

Weekend Discovery

I have been having some trouble with Cole Train in the arena. He is trying to run down the walls—particularly in one spot. I will be doing a circle, and he tries to break out of the circle to go down the wall. We end up having a tug-o-war, and it isn’t pretty.

I decided he is doing it out of confusion. Maybe, on the circle, (since that is my more difficult direction) I’m not being precise, so since he doesn’t know for sure what I want, he is trying to get away. There was another spot on the circle that he was giving me trouble, but that was by our barn entrance, so he had incentive to try to break away. My plan was to make sure my aids were very clear in that spot.

On my next ride, I was very, very conscience of what I was doing. I could see that my body wasn’t automatically doing what I want, like it does when I ride the other direction. He started doing better. Now, he wanted to play in the shavings pile and stop and eat hay scraps on the floor. When I was on the far end of the arena, just walking, he bolted down the wall and ran to our barn entrance. I am so glad I insist on that door being closed when I ride. I stopped him until I stopped shaking. When I asked him to walk, he bucked in place, instead. I spun him about and vocally reprimanded him. He was then fine for the rest of the ride.

I had a new theory. My little horse was bored and wanted to play. Because of the weather and icy conditions, I have only ridden him in the arena for several months. The following day, we had a miracle—good weather. Instead of riding, I took him out on a lead line and we walked up and down the long driveway at the barn. I clicked for good behavior and proper stops. He did melt down once when a kid was jumping in puddles, but after a display of rearing and spinning, he calmed down. Then, the rain started up pretty hard. Alas, I had to bring him in because it wasn’t a warm enough day to allow him to get soaked.

The next day, I was back in the arena, and he was fine. I still made sure my aids were clear, and he didn’t try to break out of his circles, eat, bolt, play in the shavings or dance around. Yes, I think he was just bored.

His old girlfriend, Katie the Mule, came out and rode around with us when we were at the end of the ride and just walking. When I was ready to go in, I thought I would see how he did at a trot. Will he try to impress his sweetheart? Wow, from the first stride, he was full circus—a high stepping collected stallion showing off for his love. We all laughed, and I quit for the day.

I rode him again yesterday, and once again, he was very sensible.

I should be able to get him outside on a regular basis, now, and soon we will be at least leading down to the river. There was still a little ice on the hill. My sister and I attempted it with Cruiser and Ranger, and we had to turn back. We finished our ride up and down the driveway in the light rain. Even though it was the first time in 2011 that Cruiser was out of the barn, his behavior was impeccable. I hope that someday Cole will be as good and reliable on the trail as Cruiser.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Mock Show

Another one from the archives:

My sister, Ellen, and I are serious trail riders. If we can ride on the trail, we do. Bad weather is not a deterrent—it is a challenge. Don’t get the wrong idea, though, we don’t just goof off all the time. We take our riding and training very seriously. If the weather is dreadful or it is dark out, we school them in the arena and work hard on improving our riding skills. Long ago, we realized a good trail horse needs to be an all-around, well-trained horse. We also work on training them while we are on the trail to be obedient and responsive. Not all training has to take place in the ring. One last ingredient to making a terrific trail horse is for the rider to skilled enough to ride balanced and tactfully. How can we expect our horses to behave well if we ride crooked and make them sore, or if we are leaning on the bit? Remember, we don’t work for just a half an hour like someone would in an arena, we go out riding for several hours at a time. Our horses can get quite sore on the long rides if we ride poorly. If we make the time unpleasant for our horses, they will make it unpleasant for us.

We work very hard to keep our horses’ training and our riding skills up to our standards, yet Ellen’s horse, Ranger, has never been in a show, and my horses have only been in one once. We love trail riding so much that we don’t want to spend a day at a show. Not long ago, there was a local instructor who was giving a “mock show” class. She invited anyone in the neighborhood to meet her up at the local show ring where she would evaluate the riders as if she was a judge. Ellen and I thought it would be a good experience for our horses to work in a ring with a group of other horses. For years, we boarded at small barns and didn’t have many opportunities to work our horses in large groups.

We rode our horses up to the show ring early and met the instructor. She didn’t know us, so we introduced ourselves and told her we were just “trail riders” who wanted to work our horses in a group and had no intention of showing. She welcomed us and soon the class began.

Right from the start, our horses showed up the rest of the class. We were the only riders in the class who would even try to go through the large puddle along the rail at one end. Our horses didn’t even hesitate to do it. The rest of the riders cut inside to avoid it—not even trying it. Maybe they just didn’t want to get their horses muddy, but good trail horses have to go through mud whether they like it or not. Just to stay with the rest of the group, we cut inside to go around the puddle after that. Whenever we were in a crowd of other horses and wanted to get away from the group, we would leave them and head for the mud. They would then happily go along the rail and through the water.

The instructor gave us some good advice on how to improve our riding. Most of it was aesthetic, such as looking forward instead of down at the horses head. I think we have spent too many miles swatting mosquitoes from their necks. At the canter, I held my hands a little too high and sometimes my heels came up a bit. Of course, I expected to have some criticism, but I certainly thought there would be more than that. I will now work on these things when I am riding on the trail. It will just be a matter of changing some bad habits that I picked up.

The great part of our ride is that our horses behaved beautifully. Remember, they’ve had little experience with working in large groups. It instructor was impressed that they did fine in the group, yet worked well independently when we circled them to get a better spot away from the other horses. Even though our horses are best of friends, they didn’t mind being away from each other as we rode around the ring. They were quiet and obedient. At the end of the class, the instructor told us that, for horses that were “just trail horses,” they did very well. We were quite proud of them. Instead of going right home like everyone else did, we went on a short trail ride. Not much will keep us from our passion.

It was good to know that all of our hard work has paid off. We both felt that if we wanted to go in a show, we may not win anything, but our horses would do just fine. The question we have to ask ourselves is, "Do we want to spend the day at a show ring and miss a lovely trail ride?" I don’t think so. The trail calls…

Cruiser, the Early Days

Here is an article I wrote about Cruiser quite a few years ago:

I forgot what a challenge he was in the beginning!

Cruiser, the Early Days

I bought my second horse, Cruiser, when he was only a two-year-old. Quite honestly, I was still a rather green horse person. I had only owned my first horse for two years before he died, and bought Cruiser the very next week. It may have seemed rather impulsive, but for $300.00, I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose. I would always be able to turn around and sell him for what I paid for him. He was such a pretty little horse. Cruiser is a light chestnut, half Morgan/ half Arabian.

Cruiser was barely halter-broken when I got him. With the help of some good books, common sense and patience, I was in the saddle by the time he was 3. All that time, I hadn’t been going on any trail rides, and I missed it dreadfully. I was sure that I could get Cruiser on the trail right away. We had gone for walks in the park many times, so it wasn’t unfamiliar to him. He seemed quiet enough in the arena after the first 10 minutes of silliness. Granted, he was a bit on the spooky side, but I just had to get on the trail. The summer had begun, and I didn’t want to miss a day of it. After less than a month of riding at the barn, we hit the trail.

Well, I’m lucky I didn’t literally hit the trail. At least I was smart enough to wear a helmet. If only I was smart enough to realize we weren’t ready for the trail. From the moment we left the driveway, he transformed into a creature I didn’t recognize. His spookiness compounded in the park. He didn’t just jump when something startled him; he spun and ran. I couldn’t get him to stop or turn well. Foolish me. He didn’t do these things well in the arena. Why did I ever think he could do them on trail? He was just so distracted by everything. I would ask him to trot, and he would take off at an incredible speed—never cantering—but hard to control and hard to stop. (Maybe he was really a Standardbred with fake papers.) After a half a dozen attempts of trail riding, I came to my senses. This horse needed more training before he killed me out there.

We went back to the drawing board. I worked him in that incredibly boring indoor arena where there weren’t many distractions. I drilled the basics into him until he would respond without hesitation. It didn’t take that long to get him where I wanted; just a couple of months. By September, I ventured out on the trail again. Sure, we still had problems, but I was better prepared, and he had a clearer idea of what I wanted. I still had some white-knuckle moments, but that will happen with any new trail horse. I rode him on the trail whenever I could until the weather got too bad for it, and then it was time for schooling in the arena again. By spring, he was even better, and our trail rides became a real pleasure.

I moved him to a busier part of the park that summer. Finally, we could ride with people! Everyone said that horses did better if they had companions. I was looking forward to having someone to talk to when I rode. At my first opportunity, I went along with a group of 4 other horses. A big surprise was in store for me. I had a miserable time on the ride trying to keep him from dashing to the head of the group, crowding the other horses and just plain listening to me. Once again, he was way to distracted to pay any attention to me. This time, I understood that it was the unfamiliar situation that transformed him, and rather than try it again anytime soon, I went back to the drawing board once again. I found someone with a quiet, little mare that was happy to follow right behind us. (We found out later that she was going blind, and we think she was using Cruiser as her seeing-eye horse.) After a few months riding with her, I gradually rode with different horses and bigger groups. Finally, it didn’t matter what size the group was, he would listen to me instead of trying to play with the other horses.

You see, when we take a horse away from the safety of their herd and familiar surroundings, something happens to them. New surroundings and different horses are exciting and scary for them. It is like aliens came and exchanged your horse with another one when you weren’t looking. A smart rider will know his or her limitations and the degree of their horses training before they try to push the envelope.

At least I didn’t get hurt, but it was probably just because I was lucky.

West Creek Reservation

I have been going through my old files, finding things to post here.  Here is a letter I wrote to the people in charge of taking the lond by my house and converting it to a public park.  I receive a personal letter back from the director telling me how moved he was by my letter. 

I will let you know how they did sometime soon.

As a resident of Ridgewood Drive, I grew up and still live on the banks of West Creek. Through the years, I delighted in playing in the water, learning the names of the many wildflowers and watching the changes in the season. We knew all the trails within reasonable walking distance from our house. Unfortunately, my strongest memories are from watching the changes and destruction of the area. It was a happy time when they covered up all the garbage in the landfill and left the bulk of the landfill alone, but when they built the Channel 19 tower, they also tore up the most beautiful hill of wildflowers across the creek to hook up the wires. In all my life, I have never seen as many Trilliums in one place as there were growing on that hillside. There are only a few left, now. I keep hoping they will make a recovery, but I have noticed no difference at all in all these years. A wonderful bunch of concord grapes were destroyed at the same time. Every fall, we had picked grapes for home made jelly. To this day, I don’t like the taste of the store bought grape jelly.

I watched with disappointment as the city gradually removed the fruit trees from the remnants of the old orchard. There would be no more lovely spring shows of flowering apple, pear, plum, cherry and hawthorn trees, and we would no longer be able to eat those delicious cherry pies my mother used to make.

More recently, the city decided they would dump their fill in a lovely wetland area near the former orchard. How could they do this? The few mallard ducks in the area used to swim about in it. There are no frogs left in the area since they destroyed that wetland. Now I hear that they will try to restore the wetland. What a shame that it had been ruined in the first place.

Building the Channel 55 tower destroyed a small, secluded wetland that always made me think we were in Louisiana whenever we would look at it. There is just a tiny remnant of it left that looks nothing like the original, and it hurts me to see it when I remember its former beauty.
Another sad day is when we discovered that someone must have gotten a chainsaw and decided to practice with it in “Eerie Forest.” They easily cut down 100 trees and let them lay there. Previously, they trees were so thick that very little light could shine through; hence the name we gave it. We watched as the first minnows showed up in our part of the creek. We used to try to catch them with no luck at all, but we had a lot of fun trying. As the years have gone by, though, each year there are less and less fish. The pollution is taking over our lovely creek, and killing them off. Soon, I wonder if the herons, kingfishers and water snakes will go elsewhere, too.

Sometimes I feel like the Native American in the TV commercial that I saw when I was a child, crying as he looked at all the litter. I cry when I look at all the terrible destruction of the place I love so much. Will the West Creek Preservation Committee help restore things or will the increase of human use increase the deterioration? I’ve seen the damage that mountain bikes have caused in the MetroParks, the litter that the people leave behind and the way that some areas are “improved” by the MetroParks by making them more civilized and taking away the naturalness. Will the easier access to the trails mean more teenagers with drinking parties leaving bottles and cans everywhere? Will people be picking and trampling the wildflowers that are left? I look to the future of West Creek with hope, yet with trepidation. Please let my fears be for naught.

Rainy weekend on the way

I haven’t blogged much about my rides—doesn’t mean I’m not riding. I am figuring things out, and when I have them firm in my mind, I will let you know.

I don’t know what this weekend holds, other than rain. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to get Cruise out a little on the trail. My sister brought her horse down to the river, yesterday, and she said there were some icy spots, and the crossing is out of the question. There is a tree over the riverbank that we can’t get around. Of course, there is so much rain predicted this weekend, it may be enough to wash it away. We shall see. It depends on the weather.

For Cole’s first trip, I will lead him. The hill to the river is always where he has been the most excited and least predictable. Maybe months of schooling in the arena will help him out. It is amazing that I managed him on trail last fall considering how very, very green he was. He’s not quite so green anymore.

Next week may be my last one stuck in the arena. The time change changes everything. Plus, that’s when the weather becomes more consistent. I am so tired of the arena. We are learning a lot, but the trail calls. I might still ride Cole for a little while in there until there is enough time to take both out. As long as there is no frozen, icy or snowy trail, Cruiser will be out on the trail even if we can’t cross the river.

My boyfriend has a family event, and if it starts too early, I am just going to stay home. I have so much to do, and I hate rushing home from the barn and rushing back out. My sister and I like to go out to lunch or go hiking on days we don’t ride too much. I like to be leisurely on the dog walk, and I must have time to hang out with Thunder. Then there is the laundry, cleaning, finishing my taxes and taking a nap. I would love some time to read, too. Seems I never get much time to read…

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Today is my 25th anniversary at my job. I was surprised that everyone was making such a big deal about it. It actually means a lot to me, but I didn’t think anyone else really cared. There was a balloon with a brownie on my desk from my office mate and friend Therese, the company brought me a bunch of fancy cupcakes and another coworker, Rita, brought me flowers.

I confess, I feel very happy and content at my job for the first time in a long time. I had so many people say such kind words to me.  People really do care, and sometimes I forget that.  Or maybe I'm feeling so warm and fuzzy becasue I just have a sugar high from the 2 cupcakes I ate?

They are going to set a date to take me out to lunch.

By the way, I am an estimator at a large commercial printer. It is both a tough job because you need to know so much—and a very easy one most of the time—when you have been doing it as long as me. I enjoy it because I love numbers.

I don't expect to be hear another 25 years--I plan to retire in 14.  That's not as long as it sounds because the first 25 went so fast.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Clicking cats and dogs.

I worked a little with clicker last night with Maggie the Dog and Thunder the Cat. Maggie has mastered spin. I just need to move my hand in a small circular motion, and she does a slow spin. I introduced the other direction, and she got totally confused and laid down. We quit at turning her head.

I put her outside and worked with Thunder. We had been playing a lot of Throw (I throw pieces of dry cat food all around the living room and he chases it.) His belly was fairly full. With cats, you get the best training when they are hungry—unlike dogs or horses who never get tired of eating. We did manage to get a little done. Where he used to carefully stretch from his pedestal to the top of his scratching post, he is now jumping to them. We do it with targeting. He follows his target toy. (It is just a pencil with a feather taped to the end.) He did it a few times and walked away to see if there was something else to play.

About 4:00 this morning, I woke up when I heard a sound that I couldn’t identify. I laid there a minute and then I heard Thunder crying. It was a plaintive cry I didn’t recognize, so I ran downstairs to see what was the matter. There was his target toy laying on the floor. When I reached him, he started purring! I guess me coming to see him was better than a treat. He somehow got it off the shelf. After a couple minutes of purring and petting, I brought him back upstairs and we had a good cuddle until he fell asleep—I was wide awake by then, so I just kept petting him until I fell asleep.

He is such a silly guy.
I put his target toy where he couldn’t reach it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How I got Cruiser

Every horse has his story. If you see a horse in the park, you may want to ask the owner what the story is. I usually do. Sometimes I find a horse that had been rescued from abuse or starvation or was a loser on the track but a winner in his new owner’s heart. Maybe the owner has had the horse from the time of his birth—twenty-five years ago, and they have been constant companions since.

Here is Cruiser's story.
When my first horse, Brandy, fell victim to a serious case of colic. The initial crisis passed, yet he just wasn’t getting any better. He wouldn’t eat or drink and was extremely depressed.  All I could do was wait and see what transpired.  He was up there in years, and his age probably made recovery much more difficult.  About a week later, he took a turn for the worse and started having trouble breathing.  That night, the owner of the boarding stables I kept him at told me about a colt she heard of through the grapevine that was for sale at an extremely reasonable price.  He was half Arabian and half Morgan, a combination that I always heard was very good.  I told her I would keep it in mind, but at the time, I wasn’t thinking of anything except Brandy.

The next day, Brandy was doing so poorly, I knew he couldn’t recover.  I called the vet to see if he agreed that we should put him out of his misery.  He told me that Brandy would only get worse and would only live a couple more days.  I couldn’t bear the thought of him suffering so much; it was worse than the thought of losing my dear companion, so I told the vet to go ahead.  As I fled the barn in tears, I asked for the phone number for the colt.

I called on the colt that evening and arranged to see him on the weekend.  He was only 2 years old, and the current owners said they didn’t have the knowledge to train him to be a riding horse.  I was anxious to see him.  Could this horse possibly fill the empty space in my heart?

That morning, they brought him out of his stall, and I looked him over.  My inexperienced eyes could not see anything wrong in his build, and I liked his enthusiastic attitude and friendly personality.  The owners told me they called him Satan because he was so wild before he was gelded the year before, but they insisted he was fine now.  They just didn’t come up with a new name for him.  He had tagged along when they bought his mother two years previous and now that he was grown; they didn’t know what to do with him.

I wrote a check for $300.00 and arranged to have him brought to me.  I realized that in the state I was in, I could be making a very foolish mistake.  I did rationalize that if things didn’t go well, I would always be able to get his purchase price back.  I had never trained a horse from scratch and I was possibly biting off more than I could chew.  In fact, I had only owned my first horse for 2 ½ years and was very much a novice.  This was going to be a challenge.

The first thing I did when I got my new horse was change his name to Cruiser.  I sure wouldn’t be owning any horse named Satan.  I quickly realized that he was barely halter broken.  I really was starting from scratch.  Though he was easily excited and startled, he did have a good friendly attitude as I originally suspected.  I felt I could do it.

With the help of some good books for guidance, a lot of patience and a good dose of determination, I was riding him by the following summer.  Before I knew it, we were spending much of our time out on trail.  In time, he turned into a fantastic trail horse and a real joy to ride.  He has an unending amount of patience with children that I always marvel at.

Sometime afterwards, I found out the real reason that his previous owners sold him.  They continued to call him Satan after he was gelded because he persisted in acting like a wild, devilish horse.  They had to sell him because he was too wild to do anything with.  I burst out laughing when I heard this.  I began training him with a preconceived notion that he was a typical, tame horse, and he responded as such.  If I had known the truth, I may have been intimidated and treated him differently.  Chances are, he would have then lived up to his reputation.  By remaining unprejudiced, I was able, with little experience, to train Cruiser to exceed all my expectations.  I learned that most horses can succeed if treated correctly and given a fair chance.

Cruiser is now 23 years old.