Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rainy Day Ride

Rainy Day Ride

As is much of the US, we have been in a drought. It isn’t as bad as some parts of the country, but it still is pretty bad. Every cloud has its silver lining, and as trail riders, this means we don’t have many days we can’t cross the river. It has been a fine summer for riding. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen the river so consistently low.

When it does rain, we are so happy to get it, that we don’t even complain if we can’t cross the river. This happened the other night. For the second time this year, I had an opportunity to work Cole with trotting up the hill that leads to the stables. Since Cole is can be very enthusiastic on the way home, this is an important lesson. (With a horse like Mingo, who was very mellow, this wasn’t a lesson at all.)

The hill leading down to the river is divided into three level sections. Between each section, there is a slope.

I rode Cole down to the river, trotting on the level sections. He demonstrated to me that he liked how the rain softened the trails by trotting with a lot of energy. I was wondering if trotting up the hill was a good idea.

Where the trail ends, I turned him around and walked him to the base of the hill. It starts out very steep, so I decided we would trot right away to get control of the energy. When I requested the trot, he seemed surprised. We had never trotted there, before. Cole carefully powered up the slope. I loved the feeling of Cole striding deeply underneath me. I forgot what that felt like, it had been so long. I haven’t trotted up such a steep slope in years. I insist Cruiser walk up all hills, and Mingo, being Mingo, refused to trot there. He would wait until we got to the less steep section to trot.

The trick worked, and when we reached the spot where Mingo used to trot (and I have trotted Cole before) he stayed steady and calmly trotted. After a bit, I clicked and treated him for his good behavior. We then started again. We made it to the middle level section. I stopped him, clicked him for stopping, walked, clicked for walking, trotted, clicked for trotting and stopped and clicked for that.

It was a lot of clicks in a short stretch of trail, but I really wanted him to know that trotting up the hill is not about charging recklessly with abandon. Keep in mind, the street is at the very top and the barn is on the other side. Discipline is very important with this training exercise. In fact, I guess you can say that it is the point of the lesson. I much rather do it with clicking than hauling on the reins.

We turned around right before we got to the short slope that leads to the top section and headed back down. This time, he was much more hyper than the first time. (That is exactly opposite of what Ranger and Cruiser do when we work the hill.) We rode to the end, once again, turned around and walked back to the base of the hill.

In the previous lessons we have had on trotting the hill, this is where the troubles would begin. He has never made it up the second time without trying to canter. I think it is because of excitement. Today, he was perfect. I did the identical thing as last time with a few less clicks and more verbal praise. When we reached the spot where we turned around on our first trip, we passed up the neighbor walking her dogs down the hill. I rode Cole at a walk to the top, turned around and headed down, again.

I did click him for turning around. Cruiser and Ranger are so reluctant to turn around. I like Cole to have a reason to do it. Most of the time, we do it as a turn on the haunches.

We motored down the hill. I thought I might run into the neighbor with her down at the bottom, and I was right. She had brought her dogs down to the river’s edge. We were going to trot right past her. Since she is a horse person, I thought I’d let Cole show off. (Okay, maybe I was showing off—but I’m proud of my little horse.) I was hoping this would work as we’ve only had 2 schooling sessions in the arena since April. As we neared her, I sat the trot, asked him lower his head (I just vibrate the rein), squeezed my legs lightly and he transformed right as we got close to her. He went from an endurance Arabian to dressage horse. I was so proud of him.

“He looks good.” she said as we trotted by. It humbly thanked her and continued to the end. I thought that was fun, so we then rode back and forth at the bottom a bunch of times and practiced it. I clicked him for the transformation—asking him to go further each time before the click to get duration.

It was starting to get dark, so finally we headed home. We walked up the hill, and I clicked him a few times for it. It is a nice way to explain that even though we sometimes trot up the hill, we still walk unless I tell him otherwise. Besides, I had a lot of carrots left.

(I usually only use one carrot each time. I just cut it into slivers no thicker than a nickel.)

I can’t wait until we start doing the hill at a canter…

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Crazy Day in the Park

Crazy Day in the Park

My sister and I planned to take Cole and Ranger up to the show ring area for a ride, but it looked like rain. She checked her smart phone, and sure enough, rain was on the way. It was hard to tell how much time we had—maybe and hour or maybe two?

We decided to take the chance and ride, anyway. We would keep an eye on the sky and turn for home if it looked bad. The ride we were planning takes about an hour and a half if we do a lot of trotting.

Ellen also told me that it looked like the Susan Komen Run for the Cure was coming through the park. We had more than potential rain to deal with, but that didn’t put us off, either.

The trip up to the show ring area wasn’t too bad. The park was pretty busy with a lot of traffic and people all about, but once we got up the big hill, away from the main trail that stays close to the rode, it was quiet. We usually take the back trails, but Ellen suggested we take the front trail, instead. It goes around the field, and we would have a clear view of the sky.

We got out into the open and saw the big clouds. It was only a couple minutes later that we heard the first thunder. It was time to go home. We were about a half hour away from the barn.

We got the horses back down the big hill and re-entered the busy part of the park. I saw through the trees a woman on a paved cross trail wearing a long, white cape that was billowing in the wind and warned Ellen. We stopped and let her pass before we got too close. The horses did pretty well with that.

We crossed the street and rode on the trail that parallels the road. The paved trail on the other side of the street is where all the action was, and there was a lot of it. There were women all over. With the threat of imminent rain, they put on their plastic ponchos. Cars were honking them encouragement. People were yelling. There was one conglomeration where a large group of participants were clapping and cheering. Ranger started to prance. It started to drizzle. Cole is still funny about rain, but usually only for the first few minutes. After he gets wet enough, he takes it all in stride. (With the drought, this year, we haven’t had many chances to practice.) Cole decided it was time to high-tail it to shelter. Ellen and I thought it was time to dismount.

I know a lot of people will stay in the saddle in these kind of circumstances—feeling they have better control there—but Ellen and I find we do better on the ground. I immediately pointed towards the ground. Cole dropped his head and started to do his silly walk. He forgot about the rain and excitement in just a few seconds. My sister told Range to put his head down, and he did the same, stopped prancing and just marched quickly towards home. The horses were now more relaxed than we were. It started raining harder.

We kept leading, though. Ellen prefers to use a mounting block, as Ranger is much taller than my pony. The honking, clapping and cheering continued. We rounded one corner to find a car by the side of the road with the driver standing outside in the rain shouting encouragement to the women as they went by. More honking…people everywhere…

Right before the next river crossing, there are a bunch of boulders. Ellen picked the smallest one and mounted up. I climbed on Cole, and we crossed the river. We went up one hill and then had to go down a short, steep hill that ends with an intersection with the road. Halfway down the hill, we saw the woman on the bicycle going along the road with her huge plastic poncho blowing in the wind. If I have ever seen Horse-Eating Monster, this was one. By my estimation, we would be just about to the bottom of the hill when she would pass us. Roadside spooks are bad news—particularly with the amount of traffic there was.

Then a miracle happened. Not only did she see us, but she must have known something about horses because she stopped well away from us to let us pass. We thanked her so much, crossed the street, and went into the woods; away from the chaos. We could still hear the honking in the background. The rain was letting up and though we were wet, we weren’t soaked.

We got back to the barn. Eventually, the rain did stop and I was able to take Cruiser for a relaxing ride.