Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Long weekend

I had a long weekend with a lot of riding. Thursday, the river was too high to cross, but we crossed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. My sister and I took Ranger and Cruiser out for more than an hour each day. We did a fair amount of trotting, too.

Cole was a different problem. Wednesday and Thursday, I rode him in the arena. He has decided he doesn’t want to go forward unless it is his own idea. Ugh…I had to be tough with him,,, and I don’t like being tough.

I took him down trail Friday-Sunday, and each day, he offered me challenges. I hope he is just going through a stage. His worst offense was trying to spin to go home. We even had a few bad spooks, but they were legitimate. Once was a very loud trailer made a noise. He went airborne on that one. We had an awful time with some geese, too. They were having a battle right at our river crossing. After a while, he wasn’t afraid of them, but I had to wait until they were out of the way before I crossed.

Due to the odd behavior, I checked his back, and there doesn’t seem to be any soreness from the saddle, and it seems to be fitting him fine.

I rode him last night in the arena after the horrendous thunderstorm that we had. (Rain, wind and incredible hail) I am so glad I didn’t like the look at the sky and didn’t take Cruiser on the trail. Back to Cole, he did better than he did in the arena the last few times. He only stalled out a couple times and I had very little trouble with his transitions. He was a little pokey and unenthusiastic in his trot much of the time. Towards the end of the ride, he was doing pretty well.

He has today off, after 6 days of riding.

I got to spend a lot of time with my sister and boyfriend with the extra time off of work. Now that I am back, it feels like I never left…

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Clicking for Leg Yield

Another rainy night.  I rode Cruiser on the hill three times and Cole in the indoor arena.
   I decided it was time to try the leg yield at a trot. I started back on the circle at a trot. When I asked him for a leg yield, he stopped and walked a leg yield. I clicked him for it, because at least he made an attempt. After doing this a number of times, I gave up and walked around; pondering how to approach this problem. I figured I would just quit and do some simple trotting. When I asked him to trot, he lifted his legs way high in the air, bounced around and didn’t go very far. I didn’t know what he was doing. My teenage friend was riding with me, and I asked her what happened. She said he lifted his legs up high, but only took short steps forward. He did take one step where he crossed his front leg over the other front leg.
   The light bulb went off in my head. It then occurred to me that he figured out what I wanted, but didn’t quite know how to coordinate it. He was trying to do it on his own to get his click and carrot. I tried a trotting leg yield again, and this time, he did it—one step at a trot! We practiced our one step over and over, and I clicked and treated him for it each time—for I know if it is one step now, it will be two steps soon.
   This is what I love about clicker training. It gives Cole a reason to try to figure out what I want—and he really showed me this time!
   I started to work the other direction, but I ran out of carrots. I’ll have to work on that, next time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Just another rainy weekend...

Oh, so much rain…

The river was too high to cross on Saturday, so my sister and I rode Cruiser 3 trips on the hill. I rode Cole in the arena, and he was rather unenthusiastic. I took him down the hill to the river, and he did great.

Sunday, guess what? The river was even higher. So high that I probably can’t cross it today, either. To mix things up, my sister and I took Cole with Ranger. I haven’t ridden Cole with Ranger since last fall. Also, for the first time, I rode him up and down the hill three times. I have led him that many times—not ridden. He did great—only rushing down the hill a little bit. I rode him in the arena when we got back for about 20 minutes so we could do some trotting. His trot was more energized and he is moving straighter on the long sides of the arena.

I then took Cruiser on the hill 3 times with my boyfriend on Starry. Cruise seemed bored. We kept it at a walk because my boyfriend’s back was hurting.

It rained nearly all day. I didn’t get anything done in the yard all weekend, my boyfriend and I couldn’t hike (went to movies and saw “Bridesmaids” and laughed until we cried,) and I was subjected to basketball last night. I read while he watched the game.

The contractors are supposed to pour cement for our new driveway, but it may be raining too much.

I know I will miss the rain in August when my garden is withering in the drought that I’m sure we will have…

Friday, May 13, 2011

Farrier Night

The farrier came out last night to shoe Cruise, Range and trim Cole. Cruiser tried to nip at him several times and was very fidgety. Cole—well he was close to perfect. My farrier was very impressed with how good he has become—and this with me not working on his feet at all since the last trim. I haven’t even had him in the crossties since then. Afterwards, he commented how good he looks since he has lost weight and muscled up. Believe me, it is hard to get a compliment from our farrier. He is usually filled with gloom and doom.

It rained earlier in the day, so we took Cruiser on his physical therapy walk down to see the river, and it was raging. I doubt if it had even crested, either. We got more rain today, and they are predicting it all weekend. I do believe we won’t be crossing the river, again. This has been the most unbelievable spring. I hope this means we will have a gorgeous fall to balance it all out. I shouldn’t complain after hearing so much about the Mississippi flooding. Hopefully, it won’t be raining when we are out there so we could ride up and down the hill.

New Challenges

Sorry I haven’t blogged for a while. We got busy at work, and that must take priority!

Anyway, we had another high-river weekend. My sister and I just rode Cruise and Ranger up and down the hill multiple times. I rode Cole in the indoor arena and did hill work with him. He is getting better and better on the hill if I ride in the arena first.

So I got brave. On Monday, (after I took Cruiser for a trail ride,) I took him on a trail ride by myself. Once we crossed the river, he was all bouncy and prancy. I didn’t get very far and decided it was time to go home so I would have time to ride him at the barn. I stopped him and had him stand quietly, then got off and led him to the river. It took a little bit before I got him focused with his head down and lined up right with my thigh. Once I get him there and click him a few times for it, he sticks like a magnet. I mounted to cross the river, and dismounted to lead up the hill. He was only rushing at the bottom—then I magnetted him to my leg, and we were fine. I rode him for a half hour in the indoor arena when I got back, and he was awesome. I think he was excited about the trail, and brought that feeling to the arena.

Yesterday, I took Cruiser for a trot-filled trail ride, and then he gaited most of the way home. He was quite wound up. Will he ever settle down? I thought the warmer weather would help quiet him down, but he just wanted to go, go, go…

I decided to forgo another trail ride with Cole and tackle something more serious—the outdoor arena. We only rode there twice and only for about 5 minutes each time. The first time, he was explosive. The second time was this weekend after we did the hill work, and he was tired enough to walk small circles. It is huge with deep sand. I have used it for turnout, and he goes nuts—running and screaming until he is tired. Then he will push and rear at the unsubstantial gate until I bring him out. He will prance and carry on for a few minutes outside the arena, too. I really don’t understand what happens to him in there. If I turn him out the next day, after a big run, he is fine, but won’t do anything other than roll and stand by the gate—wanting to come in. I tried to ride him in there last fall, but I couldn’t even lead safely, so you see, it is a big deal to tackle the outdoor arena.

My teenage friend joined me, and she always gives me confidence. The horse she leases is a huge Thoroughbred that contracted EPM 20 years ago. She doesn’t always move steady, but she acts steady, and she gives me confidence. The girl is also very thoughtful and considerate.

We decided to just stay on the side of the arena by the gate. That way, he would be less likely to charge to the gate as he does when he plays. We walked and trotted our better direction, and he did fine. When I tried to trot the more difficult direction—he took off running and bucking to the gate. I’m glad I wasn’t too far from it. I stopped him and spun him in tiny circles. That was the only time he tried it. I hope that means he learned.

I rode him for 45 minutes. We did a lot of transitions—and I clicked him over and over when he went into his fantastic trot. (You really have to see the trot to believe it.) He was having trouble adjusting to the deeper sand—particularly since it wasn’t smooth. As his trot got better and better, a few times, I swear he was on the verge of a passage. He is simply an over achiever and wants to earn his carrots.

When I was done riding, I lead him around the arena. When we got to the far end, there was a herd of deer that distracted him. Maybe that’s why he tried to take off running when we were at the furthest corner from the gate. Honestly, I couldn’t tell if it was a spook or play. Maybe it was a playful spook. Anyway, I held on tight, and thought he might pull me off my feet—but I won. He then glued himself to my leg and I led him back—clicking, of course.

Tonight if farrier night—so no more riding until the weekend.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wednesday Night Ride

One more evening ride going up and down the hill to the river. This time, at least I had my boyfriend with me on his horse. I like the company. Cruiser and Starry are good friends, too.

I rode Cole in the arena, first. I am working on maintaining the pretty trot. I started with counting strides. I found out that he lasts strong about 9 strides. I then anticipated the 10th stride—mostly by not doing anything to disrupt him. When he got to 10 strides, I clicked, and then I built up from there. We were doing about 25 strides on a circle in the end. Mostly, I would click him before he lost it. We then tried going straight and then bending and then going straight again. That is tougher for us because we are changing our balance. I noticed improvement with that, too. There is so much to work on! We also practiced leg yielding at a walk and side passing. When I asked for a leg yield at a trot, he immediately went to a walk, since that is what he though he was supposed to do.

We wound up our ride by riding down the hill. He did fine until we got to the bottom, and he saw the pair of Canadian geese. He wanted to just stare at them. At the very moment I asked him to walk, one of them stretched out his wings and startled Cole. He jumped and spun to run up the hill. I kept him spinning until we were back where we started, and then he was fine—as if it never happened. We walked to the end of the trail, and when I turned him around, I dismounted and led him up the hill. Each time, he gets better. At the barn, we walked up and down the driveway a few times before putting him back in his stall.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cole learns to side pass

Cole is going to make one awesome cow pony. I know, he was going to make an awesome dressage horse, but yesterday, when I was practicing leg yield at a walk, I gave him leg pressure when he was at a stand still, and he did a very perfect side pass to the right. We practiced it, and he did it over and over. That caught me by surprise. He didn’t do it to the left, but we haven’t been as advanced going to the left all along. That has been our challenging direction.

After a half hour arena ride, we went down the hill. Remember how much trouble I have been having? Well, he was perfect on the way down. He started to get prancy on the way up, so I decided that I would lead so my nervousness wouldn’t transfer to him. I think I may have discovered something when he tries to rush off—at least it worked last night. When he pranced or tried to trot, I dropped the reins by his mouth, held the other end and stopped. He didn’t go far—he stopped on his own before he even got to the end of the reins. He didn’t want to leave me. I didn’t click him for it, but went back to his head and restarted. Instead of getting all wound up, he ended up going up the hill pretty good. I did stop him like this about 5 times—whenever he got too fast.

The river was too high to cross, and I rode Cruiser on the hill 3 times—doing a fair amount of trotting on the flat parts. He seemed to have fun.

Monday, May 2, 2011

House Cat Tip of the Month

House Cat Tip of the Month

Thunder was an adult cat when I bought him, and he does have one bad habit that he brought with him from his old life. He likes to attack my hand if he is in a playful mood. If he is in a snuggly mood, he loves when I rub his belly, but he likes to play more than snuggle. He will grab a hold of my and kick it. He doesn’t scratch me with his kicks, but he pushes my hand into his front paws and causes his claws to dig into my skin that way.

I read somewhere that this is how cats kill rabbits, so since all play mimics life skills, when he does this to my hand, he is playing “Kill the Rabbit.”

My hand doesn’t appreciate the game, but I did find a way to take care of his urge to practice his rabbit attack technique. After all, you never know when a rabbit will get into the house, and he will have to defend us.

I gently roll a tennis ball into his belly. He grabs it and kicks it until he pushes it away, and then I roll it right back. Tennis balls have enough grip to them that he can hold them. Smooth balls don’t work so well.

We have tennis balls placed strategically around the house, and surprisingly the dog leaves them alone. Maybe she figures it is better that he uses the tennis ball to practice “Kill the Rabbit” instead of her.

Trotting Cole on Trail

Trotting Cole on Trail

Cole has been obnoxious on the hill, so I thought that maybe if I trotted him once we crossed the river, it would help him settle down. It seemed to help last fall. I didn’t know what to expect when I asked him to trot. After being stuck at the barn all winter, Cruiser and Ranger were very excitable when we trotted. I spent a number of rides, alone on the trail with Cruiser, practicing transitions whenever he got too fast. Ranger adjusted to spring faster than Cruiser—as long as Ellen rode him by herself. The few times we actually got across the river to ride together, our trotting wasn’t very successful. If we trotted them on the level parts of the hill leading up to the very high river, they did very well. Then again, Cruise and Range are like this every spring.

On Cole’s third trail ride of the year, I rode him down the hill and crossed the river to meet Ellen on the other side. He did very well that morning. He wasn’t much different than he was last fall, and that made me very hopeful.

Once we got to a decent section of trail that wasn’t washed out with big stones everywhere, I thought I would give trotting a try. Ellen suggested that she walk up the trail, and that I ask him to trot up to her. This is how we introduced the trot last fall. When he would reach Ellen, I would ask him to stop, and click when he did.

On my first attempt, he didn’t trot; he galloped and came to a sliding stop when we reached Ellen. So much for that idea. I did click him because he stopped when I asked him to.

I decided to try just trotting alone. I asked him to trot and he went very, very fast. I decided to see if he could stop. I said “whoa” and he immediately stopped. I clicked him for it, of course.

I asked for a trot, again, and this time he started cantering after a few steps. I slowed him to a trot and asked him to stop, but this time, he wasn’t so cooperative. He finally did stop, and I clicked him.

I decided to try one more time, and though he stayed at a very fast trot, he didn’t want to stop at all. I had to do the old “swerve to the left—swerve to the right” maneuver. It worked. He was wound up for the rest of the ride and awful on the hill home. Sigh.

Unfortunately, the weather kept us from crossing the river for more than 2 weeks to try it again. We just kept working in the arena.

When the time came for us to try the park, again, I decided to just walk the first day. He flew down the river bank and only stopped when we reached the water’s edge. He walked fast and was very excited. We met Kevin on Starry on the trail and rode with them on the way home. It didn’t make any difference. Cole walked fast, he continuously tried to trot and got so far ahead of Starry that we had to keep stopping to wait for them. When it came time to cross the river to get home, he did a Shamu—he jumped into the water and tried to trot across. I do think that my beloved Mingo was next to us, and he whispered in Cole’s ear to do that. Mingo would do a Shamu at least once each spring.

We did have some trouble going home on the hill, but there was a big improvement over the last real trail ride we went on, so that made me happy.

I was starting to get discouraged that Cole wasn’t near as good as he was last fall when we were riding in the park. It seemed like I was starting all over, again. Then I remembered what I proved to Kevin, just the day before.

We were both out at the barn at the same time, so I suggested that he ride Starry with Cruiser and me. He didn’t want to, because the last time we tried before all the rain, the two of them misbehaved. When we tried to trot, Starry wanted to canter and wouldn’t listen to Kevin. Cruiser wanted to do his racing trot, which he is no longer allowed to do due to his bowed tendon—and then he didn’t want to stop. We finally gave up, and walked the rest of the ride. Cruiser walked very fast, and Starry had trouble keeping up and wanted to take off to get back to Cruiser. I had to stop Cruiser and wait to keep Starry from bolting.

I convinced Kevin to give it a try, explaining that Cruiser is always hyper like this in the spring, and the best way to get them to behave together is to ride together. I said that it is a “process” and they will get better and better the more we do it. If we don’t trot as much as we want to this time, we will probably be able to do more next time. We used to be able to ride them together all the time, and we would be able to do that, again, but we had to work with the horses to get there.

I am glad to say that there was a big improvement over the first time we rode Cruiser and Starry together this year. We did a fair amount of trotting—though Starry did canter the first time and buck the second. (Which gives a new meaning to the word Starbucks.) By the time we got to the next river crossing where we planned to turn around, Starry was being great. Cruiser threw in a little cantering, though, but it didn’t bother Star at all, and I got Cruiser down to a trot rather easily.

We had so much fun and success, that we did that last section of the trail a second time so we could trot some more.

I realized that there was no reason to expect Cole to be any different. Every year, I have to get Cruiser to settle down in the spring. Every year, we have to ride some rough rides when we add trotting and cantering until the horses become business like in their behavior instead of just wanting to play with the other horses. It isn’t easy, and it is often frustrating, but we get through it.

Why wouldn’t Cole be the same way? Maybe he will be like this every spring. In fact, probably he will be like this every spring. I just have to get through it. The only reason this spring has been so difficult with all the horses is because the weather has been so bad and the trail riding so limited.

The following day, I decided to try it again. This was a very rare occurrence this year—the first time I could take Cole on 2 consecutive trail rides. Once again, Ellen was on foot with us.

He was perfect going down the hill, and he walked down the river bank and crossed calmly and willingly—meeting Ellen on the other side. He walked quietly down the trail. I knew it would be a good day to try trotting. I had Ellen go just a few feet ahead of us so we could trot to her and stop to test his mood. He trotted slowly and quietly stopped. We did this a few more times with Ellen going further away each time with complete success.

I decided to try it on my own. He went very fast, and after about 10 seconds, I decided to test the brakes. He stopped instantly. I did it again, and went further this time. He kept building in speed. I forgot how fast Cole could trot. (Don’t forget, he is a distant relative of Dan Patch, one of the greatest pacers of all time.) I asked him to stop after a fair distance, and he did. We walked until he settled down, and I asked for a trot, again. Away we sped down the trail. This time, he was reluctant to stop, so I kept the rest of the ride at a walk.

He was a bit tired, so he walked quietly most of the way home. When he started getting bouncy, Ellen pointed to the ground, and said, “Head down.” He would drop his head and I clicked. After a doing this about 10 times, he settled back down. We crossed the river without the Shamu leap, and he was only bad in one section of the hill on the way home.

So, just as I reminded Kevin, they get hyper in the spring, and getting them to calm down is a “process.” Each day, our horses should get better, if only because trail riding is no longer a novelty to them. If they don’t get better, we have to review what we are doing and make adjustments. I think that Cole, just like the rest of them, just needs time out on the trail. Now if only the weather will cooperate!

Hill Woes

Hill Woes

I have had more troubles with Cole on the hill leading to the river than anywhere else in the whole park. Before the weather turned sour in December, I spent time leading him up and down the hill, over and over, hoping for improvement, and I did achieve some. Once the weather got snowy and the hill got icy, I discontinued the hill training and concentrated with our arena work.

Now that it is spring, our old problem has reared its ugly head. The few times I have crossed the river, he was fine there, but he was awful on the hill.

It’s not just going towards home; it is going away from home, too, which is downhill. He just wants to trot—regardless of direction. He is doing a better downhill. I think the problem with that stemmed from lack of strength. It takes a lot of control to fight gravity and stay at a walk. He is stronger, now. If he gets too fast, I ask him to stop and stand. When we restart, he has more control over his legs. There have been times we have made it down the hill with nary a trot step.

Uphill is different because it is on the way home. After 3 disastrous trips up the hill because he was so excited, I knew I had to come up with a plan. We went through a rainy spell where I couldn’t cross the river, so I was riding Cole in the arena. One weekend when I finished, I took the saddle and bridle off and led him down with the halter. There was a huge improvement. He definitely led better with the halter.

Another thing I added to his training program was not taking him to his stall when we got back to the barn. I would either lead or ride him on the driveway or the arena for 5-10 minutes. I didn’t want to give him a reason to rush home.

The next weekend was rainy, too. I advanced him to the next level and rode the hill with the halter on over his bridle. This way, I could lead him back with the halter. I didn’t need it. I was able to ride him up without trouble.

The following weekend, it rained, too. I felt confident enough with him to leave the halter and lead rope at the barn. I didn’t need it. He was fine, and I was feeling pretty good at this point.

I decided it was time to try it in the evening. Up until now, I had only done it on my morning rides. There wasn’t enough daylight, previously to ride Cruiser first, work Cole in the arena and take him down the hill.

I don’t know how other horses are, but our horses are always more hyper in the evenings than in the mornings. Even quiet Mingo was more energetic in the evenings. I expected Cole to not behave as well as he did in the mornings.

I made it down the hill with him only rushing a little at the very bottom. I turned around to go back and his attitude changed. As soon as we started up the slope, he began to prance and dance. I made him stop and stand, but when I asked for forward movement, he resumed. I made it only about a minute when I decided I would be better off leading. I was getting nervous and I could feel myself holding the reins too tight. I was only contributing to the problem.

Unfortunately, I was overconfident this time and didn’t have the halter. I had to lead him up with the bridle. Though he was far from perfect, he was nowhere near as bad as he was on those first 3 rides up before I started our program. I clicked him whenever he lined his head up with my leg, and after a bit, he was doing it fairly often for the clicks.

When we got back, we walked up and down the driveway for 5 minutes.

So, it is evident I need to work with him on this the same way I did on the morning rides. If the river ever goes down and I have enough daylight, I will include it with a regular trail ride. On all of these rides, he didn’t have any horse companionship. I believe if he did, he would have been much better.

Someday, I will laugh at all this. It was almost a year ago that he was afraid step on pavement, and we couldn’t cross the street to get to the trail…