Thursday, April 28, 2011

Life's little challenges.

I had a bad start to the morning. First off, the winds were down right scary last night, and they kept waking me up. I expected a tree to fall on the house, they were so bad. Amazingly, as far as I could tell, no trees fell.

Next, I started out for work, and my car wouldn’t start. After thoroughly checking the battery’s connection and charge, I had to call a tow truck. I ended up an hour and a half late for work. Fortunately, I was able to use my dad’s car. I think it is the starter. I’m still waiting to hear—I’m sure it will be expensive.  Thunder, my cat, was thrilled.  At last, he was able to keep me home longer to cuddle.  He purred and purred and purred.

My rides last night were good. The river was too high to cross, but we missed the bad rain yesterday, and the forecast looks good. It think we will be crossing on the weekend. I rode Cruiser on the hill 3 times. I rode Cole in the indoor arena. I have truly slayed the dragon—I spent most of my ride doing full laps at the walk and trot, and I wasn’t afraid a single time. He didn’t spook, either. Hurray! I think that stage is over with. Our issues now are more complicated. He loses his balance when we go from corners to straight and back to corners. I’m sure most of it is me. If he had a normal trot, I could just sit still—but with the big trot, I have to try to stay still and still coordinate my aids for the changes. I have a long way to go…

I rode him down the hill to the river after the ride, and he was very hyper. He only trotted once, but he walked very, very fast. I have found that our horses are always more hyper in the evenings, and Cole is no exception. He has been doing well when I ride him down in the mornings after our arena ride. I shouldn’t have bee surprised when he was a firecracker when I turned to go up. I ended up leading him, and he still was a problem—trying to trot, but not as much as in the past when I have had to lead him up. It will just take us time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Smokin' Cole Train Turns Five

Yes, today is my little horse's birthday.  We are going to celebrate by going for a ride--in the arena, I'm sure.  I saw the radar, and there is more rain on it's way.  I doubt if I could cross the river, anyway.  Hopefully I can get a quick ride on Cruiser on the hill going to the river before the rain hits.

Will it ever end?  I'm sure I will be complaining about not getting enough rain in August as my garden withers away.

Hard to believe I have only crossed the river with Cole once this month.  That's even with 2 long weekends.  I have crossed more with Cruiser because I will cross him when it is higher, and sometimes there isn't enough time to take both on trail after work.

May has got to be better...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More Rain

The rain just won’t quit! I got out to the barn yesterday evening for my rides, and was relegated to the arena, again. I started out with Cole. It was great—I was the only person riding the whole time. My riding space was limited because the roof was leaking so bad there were numerous slick spots. He remained calm with the rain thundering on the metal roof.  I don't think I have ever ridden in there when it was so loud.  After 45 minutes, the rain eased up, and I took him outside and rode on the driveway. It was a mess—good day to work on puddles.

Then, a miracle happened. The rain stopped altogether. I still had a little daylight left, so I threw Cole in his stall and saddled up Cruiser. We rode down to the river. It was high and rising. We did 2 quick trips until it started looking dark. We finished our ride on the driveway, too.

I was talking to a boarder at the stables next door, and she said she talked to someone who knew me that was looking for a horse to lease. It turned out to be the woman who I leased a horse from 24 years ago. She got me started. Her horse must have died. (Not the same one—that mare died only a few months after I stopped leasing.) We keep popping in and out of each other’s lives. There is a horse at our barn that she may be interested in, so I will be getting in touch with her. It’s been a while, so we will have a lot of catching up to do.

Oh, and more rain is on its way. This is our rainiest April on record, and it’s not over, yet.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Strange Ride

All we had this weekend was rain!  3 days off, and I never crossed the river.  My sister and I just rode Cruiser and Ranger on the hill--over and over.  2 of the 3 days, we just got in before the rain started, again, and those days, Cole didn't go on the hill at all.

Friday was a surreal day.  It was dentist day at our boarding stables, and nearly everyone was out.  We use our vet as a dentist, so we weren't involved with it.  Cole was in fine form, having blown some steam off first, as you can see in the picture.  Anyway, as we worked, people started to gather and just watch us.  They were all milling around.  Some people brought their horses in the arena, and just stood there, watching...Many of them never saw me ride him before, as they typically don't come out in the mornings. 

Cole started getting compliments right and left.  Remember his awesome trot?  Seems like the more people watching, the better it gets.  Finally, John came out to watch.  Though I usually see him in the mornings, I have never ridden Cole with him.  I like to ride Cruiser first, and John leaves by the time I ride Cole.  Besides, John rides too fast on that huge Saddlebred, and he makes me nervous.

Anyway, John used to be a professional trainer in the saddle seat world and is still a horse show judge.  When I saw him watching, I was curious to see his reaction to Cole's trot.  After all, he has been around the horse world more than most of us, though he rides and trains very differently than me.

His response, "Wow, you have a $50,000.00 horse.  Dressage people would pay a fortune for him."  I guess that meant he liked him.

Don't worry--I'm not going to sell him.  My boyfriend put a for sale sign on his stall a few times, but we keep taking it off.

Cole is going to be my next awesome trail horse, regardless of how pretty his trot is.  We just need it to stop raining so I can start training him on the trail, again. He has only been across the river three times this year. 

After our ride, people just gathered around us, petting him and talking to me.  Cole is now a celebrity at our stables.  I thought they were going to ask for his autograph.  They just seemed to want to be around him.  I know it had nothing to do with me.  It was really, really weird.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I write a lot about Cole, since he is my project horse, but Cruiser is the love of my life. I have had him for 21 years, and we are terrific partners.  I know him inside and out, and I think he knows me, just as well.  I hope someday, it will be like that with Cole.

My sister sent me this picture of us, today.  I think she must have taken it last fall. 

Cruise is a Morab like Cole, but he is a 50/50 cross where Cole is 75/25.  Cruiser acts and moves like a 100% Arabian.  He has boundless energy--even though he is nearly 24.  Last night, I took him on trail, and he was wild!  It is funny how Cole can scare me when he gets a little wild, and I am thrilled when Cruiser is as hyper as can be.  He wanted to run, but I told him we had to wait for that.  He was squealing and dancing.  When he trotted, he went fast, and when he walked, he gaited.  Yes, Cruiser is gaited. He does a stepping pace, and it gets faster each year. 

I rode Cole in the arena, and we improved our leg yielding, worked on bending and practiced transitions.  I was able to influence his trot tempo by changing my tempo, and I was surprised how easy it was.  When he rushed, I slowed and steadied him down--and then he would go into the pretty trot!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Long Weekend

I had a 3-day weekend. The vet was scheduled to come out Friday afternoon to give round one of spring shots. My sister had to work, but since she works afternoons, she spent the morning with me.

We started out with a trail ride on Cruiser and Ranger. We tried to trot, once, and they were very fast. We decided to walk the rest of the way. They behaved beautifully at a walk and we had a nice time. I think we were out about an hour.

Then, it was Cole’s turn. My sister drove down to the trail on the other side of the river and waited for us. We had no trouble going down the hill and crossing the river. In fact, he did very well, so I thought it would be a good time to try and trot. I had the same problem with him as we had with Cruiser and Ranger. I tried 4 times for very short distances. Twice, he broke into a canter, once he went into a fast trot and didn’t want to stop and once he went into a fast trot and I got him to stop readily after about 10 steps. There is no doubt he was excited to move out on the trail. Hopefully he will be better next time.

My sister left to go to work, and I rode him across the river and up the hill by myself. Once again, he was anxious to get home, and kept trying to trot—though he was better than the last time I crossed the river with him. When I got back to the barn, we rode about 10 minutes in the indoor arena.

Saturday morning was sunny but windy. We took Cruiser and Ranger out for an identical ride with more trotting. They did much better. I had Cole saddled and ready to go when it started to pour. Alas, I was stuck in the indoor arena. We had a good ride, but it was notable that he did his trail trot instead of his big trot. It only took one day on trail to convert him! The arena started to get crowded, so I decided to ride him down the hill. The rain was light when we left. Of course, that changed once I got to the bottom. I turned to come back. Overall, he was perfect. Not once did I have to correct him.

Sunday—it was the inevitable high river. My sister and I took Ranger and Cruiser up and down the hill 3 times—trotting on the bottom where it is flat. They were great in spite of the high wind.

I started Cole in the arena, where he was strangely calm, even though the windows and doors were making all kinds of noises from the wind. After 50 minutes, I decided to give him a break and just lead him down the hill. That way, if a tree fell, at least I wouldn’t fall, too. As it was, only a small branch fell, and Cole didn’t even notice. When we were almost back to the barn, he did a little bit of trotting. I made him stop and stand for a minute before continuing. Once we got back, I led him up and down the driveway for 10 minutes.

I’m hoping that next weekend will have better weather so I can really get him out on the trail. I am getting a little frustrated. At least Cruiser is improving. He is doing quite well when I ride him by myself in the evenings. He just needs to relax when trotting with other horses.

(Oh, Cole was the best of all our horses for his exam and shots.  He stood like a perfect gentleman.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Brave Move

I had a lovely ride with Cruiser in the park. We went a little further which meant another river crossing. This one, the water is very still, and it was surprisingly deep. We had trouble seeing the rocks on the bottom, and he stumbled once. I think I may start crossing on the concrete ford until the water level drops a little more. I would like to plot a course across to avoid the big rocks.

He was very excited. We did a lot of trotting on the way out, and he gaited most of the way home. He has a lot of energy for a horse that is nearly 24. We were out for an hour.

I started out riding Cole in the indoor arena. My young friend asked me if I would ride on the driveway with her. Her horse needs more confidence. I actually led Cole, and he only acted up once. When she left, he didn’t care, and we did it again. Since he seemed to be in a good frame of mind, I decided to get brave. For the first time ever, I attempted the large outdoor arena. It is at least 3 times the size of the indoor and there are lots of distractions. Add to that the fact that he is used to running and playing in it, I was hesitant to try it before.

I led him in circles by the gate. He was paying attention, so I mounted and rode circles. He seemed a little distracted, but we managed it. Finally, I took a deep breath and asked for a trot. After a couple steps, he took off running—throwing a little buck in. Since I was close to the gate, he didn’t get very fast. I put him into a very tight circle. He doesn’t like that, so he stopped.

I don’t know where all this bravery is coming, but even though I was still shaking, I asked him to trot, again. I clicked him for the transition, so then he stopped for his treat. I asked him again, and after 5-6 steps, I said “whoa” and he instantly stopped and I clicked him.

I may have done more, but someone brought a horse out at the stables next door, and that got all his attention. Since we had already been working an hour, I quit for the day on a good note.

It is so nice to have my old, bold self come back after a winter of insecurity. Maybe it is riding Cruiser out on the trails when he is fit to burst from excitement that is making me my old brave self. Anyway, I felt good.

Tomorrow is spring shots round one. I’m taking the day off work and we will do some riding first. The weather is even supposed to be tolerable. It should be a fine day at the barn.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Quiet Day for a Ride (Excerpt from the Book "Trail Adventures and Advice"

Recently, I was riding my sister’s horse, Ranger, and my boyfriend, Kevin, was riding my horse, Cruiser, in the park. It was a sunny morning, and it had not rained in a couple days. We were both unfamiliar with riding our mounts—neither of us was on our own horse—but just the same; we had a very successful ride.

Suddenly, there was a “crack” and the horses froze. Then there was a “crack, crack.” The horses spun and started to run. We were able to stop them before we got very far by spinning them to face the noise. They were very nervous and jumpy. Kevin suggested dismounting because it sounded like a tree cracking. We didn’t know if it would continue to crack or even fall. The biggest risk for falling trees is a day or two after a severe storm. The storm will weaken the trees, but they will not fall for a right away.

I agreed with Kevin, because I didn’t feel like falling off a spooking horse. I warned him to really hold tight to the reins. A scared horse can jerk free fairly easy if the rider isn’t prepared for it. That is the biggest risk with leading your horse through a difficult situation and should always be taken in consideration before you decide to dismount. We started to lead them down the trail. It was just seconds later that we started hearing the cracks again. We stopped and watched in disbelief as a large tree fell across the trail about fifty feet ahead. We would have been very close to the spot if we had not heard the warning cracks. Our horses jumped, but did not panic badly.

Surprisingly, this was the third time in three years that these two horses witnessed a tree falling close by. It just proves that continued exposure to a crisis situation will desensitize horses to the fear. I think we’ve had enough of this exposure. If this keeps up—trees falling wherever we go—no one will want to ride with us. What it really proves to me is that someone is watching over us, keeping us safe. For in all threes instances, no one was harmed, and all we ended up with was a racing heart and a good story.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Good Wednesday

I made it across the river with Cruiser! We went by ourselves and trotted wherever the trail warranted. He behaved and finally seems to have gotten over the worst of his springtime hyperness. Okay, he did insist on gaiting most of the way home, but he was doing that a lot last summer. He does a stepping pace that is much faster than a walk, but slower than his trot. It sure felt great just to go out and trot. it was our most vigorous ride of the year, though it was no more than an hour. It just felt great.

I rode Cole in the indoor arena, and though we had a few little snafus, overall I was very pleased. I was having trouble coordinating the leg yield in my hard direction, but I was getting it right last night. We practiced walk/trot trans with the clicker, and then when I stayed at the trot, it was fantastic. I guess that is the way to warm him up for it. We did lots of circles, of course and even worked on the scary end. It is no longer scary. My new problem is when I ride the long wall back towards the gate. Though he never got out of control, we had trouble with the turn. That will just take practice.

I have a long weekend coming up, and I am hoping to get him on trail 3 days in a row. At that point, if I feel confident with taking him out on my own, I may start riding him on the trail in the evening, too. I should have enough time to do it next week. Then, it will be goodbye arena for a while.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rain, rain, go away.

I’m tired of high rivers. I rode Friday, Saturday and Sunday—up and down the hill to the river. We probably could have crossed with Cruiser and Ranger, yesterday, but my sister was a little nervous about doing it, and I certainly won’t push the issue. We did do some trotting at the bottom of the hill a number of times to get the guys used to trotting together, again. the problem isn’t her horse, it is Cruiser. He likes to race Ranger. Since it was so hot, we got them to settle down with the trotting. Hopefully they will remember next weekend when we ride together, hopefully, on the main trail.

Cole stayed in the arena with one trip down the hill on Saturday and Sunday. The hill has always been our stumbling block, and I am glad to say that yesterday he was nearly perfect. Our problem—he wants to trot. Downhill, I think it is a momentum issue. Uphill, I think it is an “I want to get home issue.” I have been clicking him for lowering his head and walking—just like I have trained him in the arena. It is so cute when he so purposely points his nose downward and waits for that click. Saturday, he was dancing on the street, so when we got back to the barn, I led him around the property and didn’t go right back to the stall. I decided to make that the routine for a while. Sunday, he was fine on the street and only took one trot step on the drive.

He did pretty good on his arena rides. He is doing quite well leg yielding on his good direction. I am having trouble coordinating the difficult direction. My body just won’t listen to me, and he is getting confused. It is very frustrating for me. We will work on it more, tonight.

It rained more, so I think I will just be riding Cruiser on the hill, again. Well, at least we are on the trail, sort of.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Into the great unknown

I have had some uneventful trail rides. Monday, it was raining too hard to take Cruiser out. I just led him in the arena. Wednesday, it stopped raining, but the river was too high. We just went up and down the hill 3 times with Starry. It rained all night, so that will probably be the case tonight and tomorrow.

I worked Cole in the arena. I have started to teach him to leg yield. I never had a horse I could teach leg yielding. Cruiser is a straight line horse. He wants to get from A to B in the most efficient way possible. He just didn’t get lateral moves at all. Eventually, I gave up.

I did try it with Mingo the last summer I rode him. It seemed like he was understanding it a little with the help of the clicker, but one day, he quit cooperating with me, and we struggled with everything from then on. Looking back, I know now that that is when he started feeling sick.

Cole, well he seemed to get it right away—as long as I cued him precisely. Now, I really don’t know what I am doing—just using what I have read in books. I never had a lesson—never could afford it. I have always had one too many horse to afford any sort of luxury. I never rode a proper lateral movement in my life—making it all doubly hard.

It seems that timing is everything. When I figured out that I needed to cue him at precisely at the right moment—that moment when I would ask a horse to move over on the trail and actually get a smooth and seamless response. I knew how to do this, but I just needed to take it one step further. With the help of clicker, when I got it right, so did he—and he got clicked. If I think about it too much, my timing is off. It reminds me of when I used to play foosball in high school. I was really quite good, but I couldn’t say what I was doing. I had to duplicate the feeling of the last successful angle shot. If I thought too hard about it, I failed. I just keep trying to duplicate the feeling of success.

We worked on it for 2 consecutive rides. We are now taking one lateral step in each direction at a walk. I can tell he is trying very hard to understand what I want. When we are learning it, he doesn’t notice anything else going on. He is completely focused on me. I think that is the clicker training. He has something to gain by learning.

The other night, one of the boarders came up to tell me that Cole is the most beautiful moving horse she has ever seen, and then she told me something I never thought about, but I believe is true. She said that Cole seems to enjoy working with me. I modestly told her that it was the clicker, not me. I suppose I should get some credit, though. I am the one who chose to go the clicker route.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Again

Excerpt from "Trail Adventures and Advice"
(Written quite a few years ago.  Some things never change...)

Spring Again

We are back to riding our horses regularly on the trail, and our horses have been a handful. They are so excited to get out and stretch their legs on the trail. We are now working on transforming them into what we refer to as “summer horses.” We have to do this transformation every year. You would think that horses that have been ridden hundreds of miles on the trail each year wouldn’t get so excited when they first get out again in the spring. Mingo has been doing his grunt and buck routine, Cruiser has been tossing his head and squealing before he dashes forward (we call this his death squeal) and Ranger has started his prancing/jogging when he is supposed to walk.

Cruiser and Ranger have a tendency to get very competitive together, and that is our biggest problem. We are fine when we are walking, but when we pick up the pace, it gets tricky. They both want to be lead horse. Until they settle down at a trot, we don’t even consider cantering. Unfortunately, both of them can trot at lightning speed. One time, a woman with a big Thoroughbred joined us on a ride. We asked her if we could do some trotting, and she agreed. We were speeding along in our usual manner, and I glanced back to see her cantering. After we stopped, I apologized that we went so fast that she had to canter to keep up. Her response was, “What do you mean canter, I was galloping!”

Our solution to settling down our silly spring horses involves doing a few things. Since Ranger is just a little faster than Cruiser, I find that it helps to trot Cruiser directly behind Ranger and use Ranger’s body as an obstacle to keep Cruiser from passing. As long as Cruiser doesn’t pass, Ranger will keep at a reasonable speed. It isn’t the easiest thing for me to do, but when I get it right, we can trot fairly quietly. Another thing we will try is to only trot or canter short distances. We call it practicing our transitions. The idea is to stop before they get hyper and start to race. The secret is in the timing, and sometimes the horses are a couple steps ahead of us and it turns into a race—just what we want to avoid. We then bring them to a walk and start all over.

Another thing that sometimes helps is a technique we discovered a couple years ago, which we call “putting them into position.” I will take the lead with Cruiser, and my sister will ride Ranger next to me with his head lined up to my leg. This sort of tricks Cruiser into thinking he is in the lead position, which he prefers. Ranger feels in charge because he is in the “driving position” and is pushing Cruiser to go forward. They seem to settle down when we ride them like this as long as I don’t allow Cruiser to go as fast as Ranger is pushing him to go.

When nothing else works, we try our last resort—separating. If they can’t behave together, we make them go by themselves. This is the worst punishment we can think of because these two horses are the best of friends. We had to do this the other day when Ranger was being just awful. My sister turned him around to go home and made him trot for a few miles. Cruiser and I continued on with Mingo at a trot. We reached our destination, and turned around to go home. We intercepted Ranger coming back towards us. My sister said he was so upset that he never stopped screaming to Cruiser. We continued on home together and had few problems after that. They were both a little tired because of all the trotting and were happy to be together again. Maybe they were even afraid that we would separate them again.

The oddest thing is if we ride Mingo and Cruiser together or Mingo and Ranger together, we aren’t having any problems at all. Mingo seems to quiet the other horses down. He is not a very competitive horse, and often will hang back a hundred feet or so behind and be very happy. We call him our anchor. If he is in a faster mood, we let him take the lead and the other horses don’t care that much. It must be a case of herd dynamics that we don’t understand. Like I mentioned earlier, his spring problem is the grunt and buck. The best thing we can do is get him out on the trail and get him tired. We sure don’t mind an excuse to ride on the trail more often!

Eventually, our trusty steeds become consistently quiet, but I often wonder if it is because of all our training, or if it is simply because summer rolls in and the temperatures get warmer!

Tunnel Fun

This is my sister's cat, my nephew, in his new favorite toy--the tunnel!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend Rides

I didn’t get as much riding as I would have liked this weekend. Friday evening, I got to the barn a bit earlier than normal, and took Cruiser on an hour ride. He was still wound up as could be. We did intermittent trotting. As soon as he got too extended (which happened a lot), I made him walk. Extended trots are bad for bad tendons. In the old days, I would just let him trot it out, but now, I try to control his speed. Fast trotting is fine—no more mega-trot.

I had enough daylight to take Cole on a short ride. This was our second ride across the river, and only the second evening ride, ever. I shouldn’t have been surprised when he kept trying to rush on the way home, but I was disappointed. I ended up leading and circling and stopping and standing. It took a long time to get home.

Saturday, my sister and I took Cruise and Ranger on a short ride together—all at a walk, and they were great. We didn’t try trotting because we hated to break the spell. Next weekend. We were short on time because our very best friend was bringing her daughter out to visit and ride Ranger, so I rode Cole for a bit in the arena and then rode him down to the river. Unlike the day before, he was great both away from home and on the way back. What a relief.

Sunday, I had to go somewhere with my dad, so I didn’t get to ride with Ellen. She had to work, anyway. I took Cruiser on a short trail ride and we trotted a lot. He was much, much better. He only got hard to manage a few times.

I didn’t have the time for Cole because I got out so late, so I turned him out to play and took him on a walk to the river and back. Once again, he was fine. I don’t know what happened to him Friday evening, but I hope it doesn’t happen, again.

Rain today, so I don’t expect much in the way of trail riding. I’ll be in the arena.