Friday, June 29, 2012

House Cat Tip of the Month – Picking Up

House Cat Tip of the Month – Picking Up
Some cats like being picked up. Some cats hate being picked up. Some cats don’t care either way. No cats like surprises.
I have found that by warning a cat before picking him up, he is more agreeable to it. My theory goes back to mounting horses. If your horse knows what you are doing, he will brace himself and be less likely to take a few steps when you hop aboard. Experienced horses can figure out when you are ready to mount. Young horses that are new to the riding scene need a little warning if they aren’t standing evenly. It could be just standing in mounting position for a little bit or tugging on the stirrup or repositioning them.
I give Thunder a warning before I pick him up by saying, “up-up.” He braces himself to be picked up and all goes well. He particularly enjoys being picked up because it is usually to put him on his table so he can eat. He can jump, by the way, but he prefers to be lifted. In fact, he will call me if I am in another room and ask me to lift him. He is one spoiled cat!

Update on Life

I try to keep my blog upbeat, but this time, I can’t. My father has been having health problems for some time, and things kept getting worse and worse. For the last month, he has been in hospice care. He is at home with me, and we are giving him 24-hour care. It is a very sad thing for all of us. My sister, my brother, his wife and kids are sharing in the responsibilities.
Ellen and I are still riding, but we are in the saddle far less than we normally are in the summer. Kevin has been helping when I can’t get out for a few days. Cole Train can handle a break, but Cruiser in Insulin Resistant and needs regular exercise. Kevin takes him on walks on the hill.
We figured out, when Cole was cuddling with the farrier after not seeing me for a while, that he missed human attention. A dear friend of ours keeps her horse in our barn. She loves to fuss over horses, so I asked her to spend a little fussing time with Cole. She jumped at the opportunity. She has been grooming him and talking to him, and they are both happy with the arrangement. His mane and tail have never looked so pretty.
With a great support team, we are getting through this, but not without some tears…a lot of tears.
When I get that chance to hop on Cole and take a quick, fast ride, for a little while, I forget, and it’s wonderful.

On a lighter note, Cruiser just turned 25. Where has the time gone? Seems like he was just a colt, yesterday…

The Last Ingredient

The Last Ingredient

Cole Train isn’t afraid of much and is quite a bold horse. He does get worried about horses getting too close to him, but that is fine with me. I don’t want to get close to other horses. The one chink in his armor—getting splashed by other horses in the river.

In the beginning, just hearing splashing behind him caused him to scoot forward. He bolted, once, when horses crossed the water—and they weren’t even close to us. Anyway, I learned to be careful. I didn’t want him slipping on the algae-covered slate as he dashed away from our riding companions. I just had him cross the river last in line. As long as other horses weren’t behind him, he was fine.

A few months ago, I decided it was time to stop avoiding the problem. Of course, I had my clicker handy. My best assistant, Ellen, helped out. To start with, I would go in the water, ask Cole to stand and click him for it. Ellen would then approach on Ranger—not too close. She would watched Cole’s expression and acted accordingly. When Cole gets worried, you can see it on his face. Ellen would judge how close she could get by the way he looked at them. He usually would take a few nervous steps as Ranger went by.

I just kept up with it. When he let Ranger pass without moving, he got clicked. Ellen got a little closer each time. After a few weeks, I started to walk him instead of have him stand. He would be fidgety. When I got to the other side, I would turn him so he could watch. I threw in a lot of clicks when he seemed to be relaxed. I didn’t click when he did anything that I didn’t like. With a clicker, you have to be careful that you don’t inadvertently teach the wrong behavior.

Then, I was ready for the big time. I quit telling Kevin to cross Starry first. He’s not as alert as Ellen when I train Cole—Ellen always knows what to do without me explaining. I was now adding Kevin randomness to the equation. At first, I told him not to cross close to us, and all went well. The last few rides, I have just gone straight into the water with Kevin following on Starry. I am happy to say, my training has worked. I’m not even sure when Cole decided he wasn’t afraid of being splashed anymore—maybe it is when it got so warm and the splashing actually felt good?

I wish I would have done this last year instead of trying to avoid the problem. It really wasn’t that hard to fix at all.

Clicker on the Trail

Clicker on the Trail

For those of you that have been following my adventures on Cole, you know that he is my clicker horse. I bought him as an unridden 4 year old, trained him for the saddle and headed down the trail. I have trained horses for trail before, of course, but Cole is the first horse that I have used a clicker to help me from the beginning.

I thought I would write a book on clicker training and trail riding, but then I realized I didn’t quite have enough material. It all seems to boil down to—if your horse is doing well, click him. If you want to say “good boy” or “good girl,” do it with a click and a treat. They learn so much faster this way.

In the very beginning, before I started riding him, I would take him for walks in the park. At first, he didn’t want to walk down the hill. He wanted to wander around, looking for something to eat. When I realized the reason, and that he wasn’t afraid, I had to tap him with the whip to get going. When he did, I would click him. Soon, we were able to leave that lesson behind. We then had a new problem. He wanted to trot instead of walk. It took me some time to figure out that I not only had to click him when he was walking nicely, but I needed a way to get his mind on something different. Since he would lift his head up in the air and try to trot, I taught him to put his head down as he walked with me. That worked remarkably and has evolved to him timing his feet with mine and lifting them up into a small Spanish Walk if I do the same.

That trick has become very useful. Whenever he gets distracted or worried when I am leading him, I point to the ground and he starts his silly walk.

The clicker was a great help in teaching him to cross the river. I led him to the river and clicked when he put his head down to look at it. I clicked him for standing quietly by it, and the day he stepped into the water—he got a jackpot click. Each time he added another hoof, he got clicked again. When he walked in all the way, he got clicked, of course, and when he crossed, he got lots of clicks all the way.

He hasn’t always been a perfect crosser. There was a time when he would only cross from that certain spot and I had to teach him other places were good to cross, too. Except or the time when we crossed the first time, the only occasion that he was frightened to step in the water was that day when I tried to cross back to go home the first time. It is so nice to have a horse that is a bold river crosser. I never had any trouble at any of the other crossing on our rides, and I think that clicker helped with that. I still click him now and then crossing the river—just because he is a good boy.

I used the clicker extensively on the trail when a scary monster approached. I would ask him to stop and click him when he did. I would then click him for standing patiently, too. When the noisy motorcycles come tearing down the adjacent street, he stands for them to pass or I can just keep riding him. Cole spooks very little on the trail. He will stand quietly for any distraction.

I used the clicker to reinforce anything that he did well. If he approached a scary obstacle with confidence, he got clicked. If he let a group of horses pass without a fuss, he got clicked. Anytime he did anything well that a young horse may not have, he got clicked.

He is a very spirited horse, and I knew I may have some problems when I introduced the trot on the trail. At the time, we were barely trotting in the arena—he was that green. What I did was have me sister walk a short distance up the trail. I would ask him to trot towards her, and then when he reached her, I asked for a stop and clicked him for it. Since he wanted to stop there, anyway, he was willing to stop. This way, I could get him stopping well. Then, when we went off alone, I knew he was conditioned to stop quickly. There were only a few times that his excitement the got better of him. Eventually, he would stop. We practiced stopping from the trot a lot.

I handled the canter in the same way. Of course the excitement level is much higher with the canter. Using Ellen as my target, we cantered to her, and then I clicked him for stopping by her. He loves cantering on then trail, and does it with much enthusiasm. Still—I seldom have trouble stopping him.

There is another thing that my sister and I trained him for—not to pass other horses without permission. It may not seem like a big deal until you ride horses together that are competitive. We have struggle with Cruiser and Ranger for years. They both want to be leaders. We have various techniques that work—the best is riding many, many miles. Anyway, we wanted to avoid all that.

Last spring, I started to ride him with Ranger on a regular basis. Until then, I mostly rode him alone. They were fine at a walk. Cole was very respectful, so that helped. When we started to trot together, Cole wanted to go faster than Ranger. When he would slow down with his nose lined up with Ellen’s leg, I clicked him. By now, Ranger was a clicker horse, too, so they would both stop to get their treats. After a while, Cole decided he didn’t need to travel next to Ranger. He was happy to follow. I would click him when he matched Ranger’s speed about a horse length behind. I now have a horse that is happy leading or following. I seldom click for it anymore. It is something that he is very content with.

When I introduced trotting towards home, I discovered that the clicker didn’t work so well. He wanted so much to trot towards home that he didn’t want to stop for his treat. In a sense, the click became a punishment. Instead, when he trotted steady and calmly, I used vocal praise and rubbing his withers as a reward. The other reward was just to allow him to continue along. If he starts to act in any way that I don’t like, I stop him, walk a bit and restart. I will still click him for a good downward transition—which is something he doesn’t want to do when we trot on the way home—a good one should be rewarded. He still needs more work with that—or maybe better treats!

I could have done all of this without the help of a clicker, but it helped him learn faster and kept his good attitude. He is quite a joy to ride, and I will continue to click him.

Now if only my dog would learn so quickly…

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cole Train's Trot

Rain ruined one of the few chances I had to ride this week. I started with Cole in the indoor arena, rode down to the river—didn’t dare cross because I knew it would be rising soon and then did a little more in the arena. I couldn’t do too much trotting because of the dust. They don’t water it this time of year since most people ride outside. Of course, the outdoor ring was too wet. Anyway, all I could say is the little guy didn’t forget how to do the “Big Trot.” All the work on the trail with a regular trot has only made him stronger and more balanced. He gave it to me on the first request, too. It was amazing.

Hopefully, it will be a while before we are stuck in the arena. As much as I love what he can do there—the trail is still the place for me.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Life Stinks, but Cole Train Doesn't

My life stinks, right now. I won’t go into the details—those who know me well already know. But due to great tragedy, my riding has been curtailed. Instead of ridiing 5 days a week—I went 5 days without riding. I didn’t even get to see my boys. My sister and boyfriend were able to pick up the slack—keeping the stalls cleaned, turnout and leading Cruiser for me. I am grateful for their help.

Here is what I learned. Cruise doesn’t mind being in semi retirement. He adjusted fine. Cole Train had no real exercise in 4 days when my farrier came out to shoe him. I was concerned he might be antsy. I will never worry about him with the farrier, again. My sister said he was simply perfect. He was just thrilled to have the attention. She suggested having one of our friends at the barn groom and fuss over him. She loves grooming horses, and her horse is always spotless. I asked her when I went to ride on Saturday. She loved the idea of being able to help out with something she enjoys so much. When I came out the next day—well I never saw Cole look so lovely. He has the thickest, longest mane around, and it looked perfect for a change. His tale was combed out completely for the first time in a year and he shone so brilliantly, I swear I could see my reflection. He also seemed content. Cole loves people time.

When I rode him Saturday, for the first time since the Sunday before, he was wonderful. I was able to take him out with my sister and boyfriend. I was so pleased how well mannered he was in spite of the time off.

I rode him by myself on Sunday, and wow, what a ride. That is the one thing I am delighted about with Cole. I can ride him with other horses, and he is a gentleman. He follows along at their speed. If I take him out alone, he will fly like he has wings and give me the kind of ride I love. Cruiser was always fast, so I would have to calm him with other horses. Cole is the horse I want for the situation. We can tear up the trail with our zippy canter and our ground-covering trot, or we could just plod along with the old horses. He is amazing.

Cruiser did well with his rest. We went on a walking ride on Saturday and adding trotting on Sunday.

This week, I should be able to get regular rides. If there is any silver lining to the cloud hanging over us, it is that I truly found out what Cole Train is made of. I got myself an awesome horse.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Resource Guarding

I am sleeping on the couch in the living room outside my dad’s room, so if he has a problem, I will know about it. My bedroom is upstairs—up the circular metal stairs that no dog should travel up and down—particularly a clumsy dog like Maggie. She falls on the regular stairs. I have the stairs blocked off, so she is safe and Thunder has a place to get away from her. Well, now that we are sleeping downstairs, Thunder, my cat,  has a new job—keeping the dog from sleeping with me.

We sleep on Maggie’s couch. Maggie has to sleep on the floor or the loveseat on the other side of the coffee table. I put Thunder’s water dish, that used to be in my bedroom, on the coffee table. He likes to drink before bedtime. Well, last night, he was having his drink, and Maggie saw a perfect opportunity to climb on the couch with me. She headed my way, but just as she reached us, Thunder intercepted her and said something nasty in cat language. She backed up and walked away. He then climbed up on me to cuddle. When she came back into the room—he got alert and watched her every move. When she obediently climbed onto the loveseat, he put his head down to sleep—with one eye open.

Thunder takes his job seriously, and Maggie takes him seriously, too. She sometimes sneaks up onto the couch when he is doing his early morning patrolling, but she never stays long. She doesn’t want to cause the “Wrath of Thunder.”