Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the Road to the Canter

On the Road to the Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Motivation – Why Do you Ride?

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

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

Here are the most common reasons that are listed:

- Love of horses

- Exercise

- Challenge

- Profession

- Recreation

- Companionship and Social Interaction

- Mental Well-being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thunder's Teeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


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

Monday, August 22, 2011

4-day weekend

4-day weekend—heaven…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

High water

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

Successful weekend rides

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

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

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

Friday, August 12, 2011

Evening Rides

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Good Wednesday Evening Rides

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Been Doing lots of Riding

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cole's First Show

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

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

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