Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cole’s First Solo Evening Ride of the Year

Cole’s First Solo Evening Ride of the Year

To give you a little background, Cole hasn’t been a very good trail horse in the evenings. His biggest fault is trying to trot towards home instead of walking. A few attempts is no big deal, but it would be constant with him. Actually, this has been his main problem from the first time I took him on a walk down there. He had long ago improved his morning rides, but the evenings just got him excited. For some reason, all of our horses are quieter on the morning rides, so why should Cole be any different. Last year, after a few very bad rides, I mainly concentrated on working in the arena in the evenings. Towards fall, when I was running out of daylight, I did have a few successful evening rides, but that wasn’t surprising, considering how awesome he was on his morning rides.

Anyway, it was time to truly tackle the problem. My evenings are very busy because I ride Cruise, too, and there is only so much daylight. Once Daylight Savings came around, so did the rain. We spent our first week on the hill. I would ride all of Cruise’s ride (3 trips on the hill to the river) and only have enough time for part of Cole’s ride. I would do one trip on the hill (20 minutes) and finish the rest in the arena. This was working out. It was a reminder to Cole that there isn’t a reason to rush home.

The next week, I decided to switch the routine and ride Cole, first. For our first evening ride across the river, we went with Starry. Cole was excited, to say the least. We had some unrequested cantering—and then there was that big buck. Anyway, we managed to get to the next river crossing. Once we turned to go home, he got very wound up and kept trying to trot. Once I got him to calm down, I got off and led him. He relaxed and we walked until we had to cross the river, again, where I got back on. He bolted up the far bank. This wasn’t the greatest ride, but Kevin was happy. He got to do a lot of trotting with us, and Starry behaved pretty good.

A few days later, we tried it again, and Cole was vastly improved. We trotted even more, and we were able to walk all the way home.

It was time to try it alone.

We started out walking down the hill. When I asked him to cross the river, he thought it was a dumb idea. After all, we had been turning at the bottom and going back up. It took some urging and light taps with the whip, and he reluctantly stepped in. I remember he did that last spring, too. We made it to the other side and started trotting. Rather than shooting off like a bullet as he did last spring, he trotted at a regular and steady speed. That was a surprise for the first solo ride. All last year, he went much faster when he was alone than when he was with slower horses.

We did very well until we heard a gunshot. That spooked him, but I could certainly forgive him for that. It got him a bit hyper, so when we arrived to the spot where we used to canter a lot, he tried it. I made him walk past the trigger spot and then we trotted. We walked down a little hill, and then we reached a great section of trail that we love to trot or canter. I want to keep him at a trot for a few weeks until I feel his brain is in the right place, so away we went at a trot. About halfway through, he broke into a canter, and I quickly brought him back to a trot. Gradually, he got faster and faster, but he stayed sane. We stopped when we reached the next river crossing and turned back home.

For the half hour walk home, he didn’t do too bad, but he could have been better. He tried to trot a few times, but I didn’t have any trouble getting him to walk, and he didn’t escalate. It was more like he was making a suggestion and I was turning him down. It was a windy day, and at one point we heard a branch break. That spooked him big time—something that doesn’t happen often. He burst into a run. It only took about 6 strides before I got him to trot and just a few more and he was walking. That was great. I found out that when he really gets scared, he doesn’t lose his mind. He calmed down right away, too.

He walked slowly down the river bank, crossed the river and walked quietly up the other side. I dismounted there, and led him up the hill. It gives him a nice reward—and it helps me with my fitness program. I did ride him a little at the barn before putting him back into his stall.

We like to grade our rides, so that way we can measure improvement. I gave him a “C” which isn’t that bad, considering last spring, when I tried this, he flunked. I know he will get better, and we are at a pretty good starting point for this early in the year.

Oh, and he showed off his silly walk when I asked him to a couple of little kids on the trail. They were thrilled with it, and he got a click and carrot.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Clicking to Save My Reins

Clicking to Save My Reins

Cole has one very bad habit that is making me crazy—and ruining my reins. He likes to grab at the rein whenever he can. I yell at him and pull it out of his mouth to no avail. I use rope reins, so they can take a lot of abuse. They have reached the stage where I need new reins. I decided I needed to do something before he wrecked another pair.

Since clicker training has been so useful in the past, I figured I would try it again. The question is, “Can you teach a horse to not do something with a clicker?” I click when he does something I want him to do. I wanted him to do nothing.

I started clicking him when I was preparing to mount for not messing with the reins. It would work when I was actively working on it, but as soon as we went to do something else, he would grab the rein. I think he was interpreting it as “I will get a click if I hold my head still.” That was a good thing to do, but it didn’t actually teach him to leave the reins alone.

After about a week, I came up with something new. The one time when he always, always tries to get the reins was when I would put them over his head. I spent a couple of minutes before and after my ride putting the reins over his head. Of course, he grabbed at them. Finally, one time he didn’t. (I helped by keeping them as far away from his mouth as possible.) I clicked and treated. From there, he went to grabbing it about half the time, then a quarter of the time and then hardly at all. If he moved at all to grab the rein—no click. If he left them alone—click.

The next day, after our ride, I had a handful of carrot slivers left, and I used them all on this lesson. Not once did he grab the reins. I made it tougher for him by going slower or holding the rein by his mouth to tempt him. It didn’t matter. My little genius knew he should leave the reins alone. He was able to learn to do nothing with the help of a clicker—and in just 2 short lessons. Why didn’t I do this a year ago?

I will continue reinforcing a lot for the next week or so, and then I will fade it off and use verbal praise instead. Then I will buy some new reins.

Leg Yield

Leg Yield

The other night, I was riding Cole in the indoor arena, and I spontaneously decided to try to teach him leg yield at the trot, again. I was working on it about a month ago, and he seemed to be a little confused. He used to do leg yield at the walk, but that morphed into a really nice side pass. Well, when I would ask for leg yield at the trot, he would try stop and try to side pass at the walk. He was getting frustrated that he wasn’t getting it right (no clicks) so he started going sideways all over the place.

I had to back pedal and teach him to go straight, again. I then decided to put it on hold. I’d rather get forward than sideways, any day. So when it popped into my mind, I decided I would try it, and if there was any confusion, I would just stop right away.

Wouldn’t you know; the little guy got it right away! In clicker training, you click for the smallest try. On the first attempt, we were getting one step. I was clicking him for that, and of course, he would stop to get his carrot and then we would try again.

When we switched to his favorite direction, I was getting 2 steps right off the bat!

Another thing with clicker training is the more you reward in the beginning, the stronger and faster the behavior gets ingrained. I decided we would do lots of little leg yields so he would know what I wanted next time. Now, I have learned that getting that first step or two in anything with Cole is the most important. Once you get those, the rest comes easy. There was no reason to push beyond his initial attempt. I just kept rewarding his little attempts.

Oh, we both started to have so much fun. He was really getting into this game. We would power around the corner, head for the straight away and I could feel him just waiting. I would touch my leg to his side and right away, he would take his couple steps. I would click, treat, walk a couple steps and start up to do it on the next side. His trot became bigger and faster with the excitement. I had to hold in the laughter. In the end, we were doing 2-3 steps his favorite direction and 1-2 in his less favorite direction. He didn’t get as excited that way, either. I think it is because he didn’t have the coordination, so wasn’t as confident.

Then came the real test. I figured I’d better make sure he could go straight. We went his favorite way, got to the long side and I sat as still as I could—and he went straight. I clicked him for it. We repeated it a few times without clicks, but with verbal praise. I rested a bit and then decided to just do a few laps. We managed 3 laps of a gorgeous trot—all straight. By then, I was exhausted. (His trot takes a lot of energy to sit.) We went to reviewing backing up (not his favorite exercise regardless of carrots) and then I led him outside in the dark to relax. It was a fun ride for both of us.

Since then, we have slowly improved by adding a step or two. I don’t work on it all the time because he is just “so into it.” I make sure I don’t click him unless I ask first, and I also click him for going straight.

I have never met a horse so enthusiastic about learning new things.

Ready for Spring

Ready for Spring

Last month, I was riding in the indoor arena. The weather has been mild enough that I could have gone on the trail, but it was dark. Until the time changes, I really don’t have enough daylight to ride on the trail after work. I am glad I have the indoor arena. It allows me to ride all winter long. Years ago, when we were at a barn without one, my riding was very sporadic in the winter. Between bad weather and bad footing, sometimes I couldn’t ride for a few weeks at a time, and even when I could ride; it wasn’t very pleasant and seldom productive.

I started out my indoor riding season with great aspirations. I was going to try to get Cruiser back to where he was before he bowed his tendon and things got complicated. I did pretty well, too. I can feel that he doesn’t have the power in the hindquarters that he used to have, though. Age is catching up with him. Still, we did so much better than the last few years. We even had some moments of perfection. It was wonderful.

I had higher goals with Cole. I really wanted to get him cantering in the arena, and I did a few times, but it was such a struggle most of the time that I gave up. I will solve it on the trail this summer, I’m sure. He knows what I want out there. In the arena, he doesn’t trot faster—he trots bigger, deeper and simply fantastic when I push him to go faster. If I push too strong or too long, he gets confused and bucks in frustration. Once he gets locked into the trot, it is hard to unlock him. I did better in getting him to canter on the lounge line, but it has been such a mild winter, that he hasn’t needed much lounging. I would so much rather ride than lounge. I just didn’t do it regularly enough for him to understand the verbal command.

His trot has become more gorgeous. He is learning the leg yield too well. I had started him on shoulder in, but he was learning that too well, too. When he learns too well, that’s all he wants to do. It makes doing simple things like just trotting around, more complicated. He has a great turn on the haunches, terrific side pass and lovely walk-trot transitions. I taught him to stop with rein pressure. (Sounds strange that he didn’t know that, but he is so good with the verbal command, I guess he never learned it.) Backing and whoa-walk transitions are still not as consistent as I like. I keep working on them, though. He has figured out how to do small circles without losing his balance—most of the time. Sometimes he forgets he has to shorten his stride in his rear legs and they skid all out of control or his legs get tangled.

About half way through Cole’s ride that night, it hit me like a freight train—I am bored with arena riding. All my aspirations and accomplishments meant nothing. I missed my trail riding. Once this idea popped into my head, Cole started to ignore me, and he began sticking his nose up in the air and wiggling it. I had to refocus my brain to refocus his. We ended up on a good note.

I then rode Cruiser on his ride. It only took about 10 minutes, and I was ready to quit. I didn’t, though. I continued on with the ride—resisting the temptation to take him outside and walk him up and down the driveway. I guess getting out on a couple trail rides that weekend ruined me.

I am ready for spring and trail riding season to begin.

My Niece’s Morning at the Barn

My Niece’s Morning at the Barn

Kevin was away for a weekend, so we had his horse, Starry, to take care of. I thought my younger niece would like to help me out on Friday evening because, not only do I ride both my horses, I clean our 3 stalls and feed and water all the rest of the horses. With Kevin gone, I needed to clean his horse’s stall, too—plus, he wouldn’t be there to help with the rest.

Well, I thought of calling her too late. She had plans with her friends. She was just so upset that she was missing out, that I asked her if she wanted to come out Saturday morning, instead. I don’t have to do any feeding, but we could use her help in exercising Starry.

We haven’t had her out in a couple of months because we haven’t been trail riding regularly. She was thrilled for the opportunity, even though she would not be able to go on a trail ride.

I battled a snow storm to pick her up and get her to the stables. By the time we got there, my sister had the stalls cleaned. She just had to dump a wheelbarrow. We sent my niece out in the snow storm to push it way, way back to the manure pile. She had to earn her keep, somehow. Besides, I wanted her to get warm as I didn’t have the heat on in my car due to windshield wiper failure.

I saddled up Cruiser and headed for the arena. Ellen helped her with Starry. She has had very little experience with him, but since he’s such a gentle horse, I didn’t worry. My sister then saddled up Ranger for herself to ride. We all rode together. The whole ride went well, except for the time that Cruiser spooked and that sent all the horses flying. I knew I could depend on Cruiser to shake things up. I was right by my niece when it happened, and she was able to stop Starry and maintain both her seat and her composure.

Starry, well he was Starry. In the arena, he is basically a green broke horse since Kevin avoids the it like the plaque. He has a rough trot because of a bad club foot that makes him very uneven. Also, he gives a big bound on the first step that tends to knock you out of balance. By the time my niece would recover, Starry stopped. She never complained—just kept trying.

When I finished my ride, my sister offered to take Starry in and allow my niece to ride Ranger. She and Ranger are buddies—he’s who she rides on the trail. We put Cruiser and Starry away and gave her the arena to herself. She did very well with him. I saddled up Cole, and her ride with Ranger came to an end.

Cole had a good day, and after a half hour of riding, I offered him to my niece to ride. She has ridden him a little bit in the past, and didn’t hesitate for a moment. At first, all he wanted to do with her is his silly circus walk. I told her to just ignore it, and he would stop. Finally, he gave up and walked normal. (Be careful what you teach them!)

She had trouble getting him to trot, so I helped her out. I just walked over and said “Trot” and away he would go. He started doing his big trot—which is very hard to post—so she opted to sit. It’s very hard to sit, too, unless you “get it.” “Get it” she did. She was so excited because it felt so wonderful.

She would go 10-12 steps, and say “whoa” and he would slide to a stop. I would then click and treat him for the halt. I think she was sad when I told her it was time to quit. We were nearing the 1-hour mark, and I usually don’t go longer than that in the arena.

Overall, she had a lot of fun, and I’m starting to think she may turn into a talented horsewoman in spite of us. We haven’t schooled our nieces much. We just put them up and let them go. We want them to first; be safe, second; to have fun and if they ever decide they are ready to be serious, we will help them get there.

In a few weeks, Kevin is going away again…I could use some help…

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cole in the snow

Cole Running in the Snow

Melt Down

Melt Down

It was really chilly last night. The temperature in the indoor arena was below freezing. Of course, that is not too cold to ride, but last year, I would have had to lounge Cole before riding on a night like last night. He would have been awful, too, with much rearing and bucking. I decided to just ride him and see how he did.

I am happy to report that he behaved beautifully. There was no spooking, bucking or bolting. Yes, we have come a long way. He didn’t perform very consistently, though, but I attribute that to me. I just couldn’t get my muscles working right—possibly due to some indigestion caused by eating all the leftover goodies from the holidays.

I figured I’d do better with Cruiser since he is a smoother ride that requires less effort. I saddled him up and brought him out—only to find Grace, the Percheron being ridden in the arena. Ugh…

I explained to her owners how Cruiser is about white horses. You see, back when I bought him as a 2-year-old, my friends had a white Appaloosa that Cruiser became fast friends with. For several years, they were together. When his owner became ill, she had to sell him and he ended up going to a different stables. From that time on, Cruiser has been very attracted to white horses. Now, if the horse is also a mare, he is worse. Well, Grace is a huge mare! Last time we shared the arena, I had to take him outside away from her. This night, the world was covered in ice. I had no other choice but to see how he did with her in the arena.

We just walked for the first 10 minutes, and he was a little jumpy. I kept him in a circle to contain him, and we did all right until they started to trot Grace. That is when Cruiser started to toss in a few bucks. It escalated into forward surges that I had to spin him to get control. I kept apologizing. I then saw someone leading the mostly white Paint mare up and down the adjacent barn. Cruiser saw, too. He started lifting his feet up a little higher. A couple minutes later, someone led in the white Thoroughbred mare. I hopped off. This was just too much. I am so glad I did. A minute later, Cruiser had a meltdown. He started bucking in place, spinning and spinning around me as he tried to take off. He wouldn’t settle down. The Thoroughbred and the Quarter Horse who just came into the barn started to spook with him. Grace didn’t care. Her owners were using this as a training opportunity.

I just stood in one place and sighed. My horse had lost his mind—he was in lizard brain. In 22 years, he was never as bad as this—and that is saying a lot. I decided I had to get him out and get him in his stall for a time out. That was a challenge in itself as he wanted to do that more than I did. As I led him, he tried to pull me to the barn door. The woman with the Quarter Horse decided she wouldn’t ride, and took her horse out to get a lounge line. The woman with the Thoroughbred quit, too. Grace still walked around quietly. I finally got Cruiser to his stall, closed the door and let him decompress.

I then unsaddled him, put his halter on and brought him back out. All the white horses were gone, and I led him around while the Quarter Horse was being lounged. He only acted out once, and after a few minutes he was walking quietly by my side. I was even able to trot him out a few times—mostly to make sure he didn’t hurt his tendon with his antics. He was sound and quiet.

I know this is just an anomaly. He has been very quite and well behaved in the arena this year. I’m sure the next time I ride him, he will be fine—as long as Grace isn’t there. He can handle the other white mares, because he has in the past. He just can’t take his eyes off of them. I just don’t think I will be riding him with Grace, anymore.

Snowy Ride with Cole

Snowy Ride with Cole

I have been working with Cole in the arena with much determination to train him to be an awesome horse. Well, the other day, I decided I am getting a little off track. I have been neglectful of his trail training. The real reason isn’t my goals in the arena. The real reason is the weather and dark evenings.

We had a rather nice day that landed on the weekend, so I decided it was time to test him in the snow. I had already ridden him in the arena for a half hour, the sun was shining and the trail was calling.

When Cruiser was the same age as Cole (5), he was impossible on the trail in to cold and snowy weather. After a few disastrous attempts, I gave up until spring. Mingo, on the other hand, was a dream horse by that age. Of course, they were completely different personalities. Cole is somewhere in the middle. Would he get all excited and uncontrollable like Cruiser used to? Would he be a mellow and careful horse like Mingo? It was time to find what Cole would be like.

I told Ellen, who was watching us ride, that I was going down the hill. She got a funny look on her face, and I thought that was a bad sign. Could I be asking too much from my spunky, young horse who hadn’t had a good turnout in a couple of weeks?

I led him down the driveway to the trail. I asked him to do his silly walk a couple of times to get him focused on me. At the trail, I mounted and away we went. Our goal was to ride to the uncrossable river and back. Since we have consistently had more troubles on the hill than anywhere else on the trail, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

We started out fine. About halfway down, on a flat section, we encountered our first ice under the 2 inches of snow. He slipped, but recovered and kept going. At this point, I asked him to slow down and pay attention to his feet by jiggling the rein to get him to lower his head. It worked. He became very aware of where he was stepping instead of gawking at the trees.

I was a little nervous where the slope resumed because of the ice. I kept encouraging him to be foot aware, and it worked. We found no ice on the slope. I think there may not have been any.

The hill gets very steep at the bottom, and he often gets excited there. Nothing I did worked, here, as he motored down it at a very fast walk. Thank goodness there wasn’t any ice. We walked to the end, turned around and we headed up the hill.

Sometimes he gets excited going up because he is going home, but he was simply perfect. He walked at a moderate speed in a careful manner. He didn’t slip in the icy part because I asked him to look down and step with care, and he did.

I was so very pleased with our little, 15 minute ride. He did as well as he would have in the summer time in spite of the snow and cold. Also, he acted calmly on the ice—something Cruiser doesn’t always do. (Cruiser has to keep his shoes on for therapeutic reasons, so he doesn’t go out in the snow anymore.)

It will be many weeks before it will be light enough after work to go riding on the hill, so we will still be working hard in the arena. On the weekends, though, when the weather is reasonable and the conditions are good, I will try to get him out a little bit for variety. I think he will be fine.

Cruiser is Who He was Meant to Be

Cruiser is Who He was Meant to Be

Way back when I bought Cruiser, I was given his papers. He is not registered as a Morab, but as a Half Arabian. I don’t even have proof that his mother was a Morgan. I just took the word of his previous owners. Quite honestly, they could have told me he was half St. Bernard, and I wouldn’t of cared. I fell in love with him, so none of it mattered.

I knew the name of his father, but nothing else. The papers only listed his parents. Over the years, I would check the All Breed Pedigree website and see if his father was listed. Well, last month, someone finally put his pedigree into the website.

If you have never looked up your horse, be sure to take a visit. It is here that I found out that Cole is related to the famous Standardbred, Dan Patch, and the Morgan I wrote about that was exported to China, Magellan. It shows lots of pictures of the ancestors, too.

Finally, I knew Cruiser’s Arabian ancestors. I started to look up all his grandsires. What I found was they were all foundation Arabians—mostly CMK Arabians. What does that mean? Cruiser’s father was bred to excel in endurance riding. Anyone who wants to successfully compete in endurance looks to horses with his father’s breeding.

All his life, I marveled on Cruise’s energy. I could take him on a 3-hour, fast ride and bring him home looking like he was just coming back from a short stroll—as long as you looked past the dried sweat, you would have never known. He just never gets tired and would trot all day. I always said he was my 100-mile horse. I used to pretend I was riding the Tevis Cup on Tevis day. I was disappointed the year it was canceled due to forest fires—and rode out on our own mini Tevis ride that day without them.

I never had the resources to take Cruiser out and compete him but was satisfied to ride him like crazy here at home—pretending I could compete if I wanted to. Now, I think I really could have.

Even now at 24, he has more energy on the trail than most other horses. Well, now I know he wasn’t a fluke. He is exactly who he was bred to be.

Cole Train is One Step Closer to Becoming a Circus Pony

Cole Train is One Step Closer to Becoming a Circus Pony

Cole and I started out very poorly on our ride, last night. We entered the indoor arena, and the horse that was being ridden at the time became very spooky. Cole picked up on it, and he decided to buck and play as I was leading him. Well, this made our companion’s horse even worse. The rider became insecure and left to get a lounge line. In the meantime, I started trotting Cole. He was very volatile, and had several outbursts.

The other horse came back to be lounged. That meant we lost half of the arena. It took a while for the other horse to settle down, so Cole and I just stood there and watched. When her horse seemed settled, we started to work on our half. Cole settled down, and I realized how un-round out circles have become.

At the end of the ride, I led Cole around a little. We practiced walking in time with my footsteps, and he was doing great. I clicked him a few times for it.

On the way back to the barn, he timed his steps with mine and suddenly, he lifted his front legs really high! I clicked, but realized I didn’t have any treats left. I rubbed his neck as I searched my pockets. I found crumbs and gave them to him.

I went back to the barn, unsaddled him, grabbed more treats and brought him back into the arena to work on our dancing. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. If he wanted to dance, we were going to dance.

The dancing all began when I started to click him for putting his head down. Now, I just point to the ground, and he drops his head. Somewhere along the line, I realized he was timing his footsteps to mine when he lowered his head. I started to click him for that, and he got very good. I could slow my steps or speed my steps, and he matched me.

We have been doing that for weeks. It’s just something fun to do when I lead. Well, after his little demonstration that showed he wanted to do more, I decided to find out what he would give me.

I led him, but this time I lifted my feet higher. Cole threw in a step that was higher—so I clicked and treated. We did this for a few minutes, and he started to offer a higher step consistently. I then started asking for more. I didn’t click him for one step—I clicked him for several. After a while, I waited until he got a little higher.

Soon, he was doing a very, very low Spanish walk. Sometimes, my silly, little pony threw in a tap-tap with his left hoof. It was cute, but I didn’t click him for it. I wanted to keep him going forward. He has done that tapping in the past, so I can see adding it in at a later time to a different cue.

All in all, I think we worked 10 minutes—and had loads of fun. He can be such a flamboyant, expressive horse, at times, and he showed it in this little exercise. I don’t know where this will develop, but it will be fun to find out.

i'm back

I think I am back!!! I haven’t been able to post in months and months, but look at this. I tried it and it worked!

So, what is there to update. All the horses have been doing well. It was an easier winter than most, as far as the weather, so we were able to get on the trail a few times. now that it is spring, we are battling the high river. At least we can work on the hill leading down to the river. That’s mostly what we have been doing.

Cole learned a lot in the arena, but we haven’t solved the cantering problem. I still can’t consistently get the tradition, and I go from being determined to not feeling like trying. Everything else is going well. Cruiser did better in the arena this year than last. Ranger was the same.

I have been posting blogs, elsewhere, so I am going to try to put some here.

Now, I will attempt this and see if it works…