Friday, September 30, 2011

What we do when we can’t Cross the River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More rain

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

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

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yet Another Rainy Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A rainy night in Cleveland

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lovely Weekend

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

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

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tackling the Arena

Tackling the Arena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Big Trot is Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Long weekend--in the arena

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Big River

The Big River

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

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

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

That leaves Cole Train.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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