Friday, September 28, 2012

House Cat Tip of the Month – The Tower

House Cat Tip of the Month – The Tower

I have always wanted to get Thunder a fancy piece of cat furniture, but my dad didn’t want huge cat towers in the house. When my dad was sick and no longer mobile, I was feeling really down and out (of course.) I splurged and, without telling him what I did, I bought Thunder a multi-level cat tower. It has 5 scratching posts and 3 levels. Thunder was fascinated when I was assembling it. Once I stood it up, it took him 20 seconds to get to the top.

He loves his tower. He sharpens his claws on it all the time, and sleeps on the highest level and is always climbing up and down. He will curl up on the top of it and just purr and purr while I pet him. I put it in front of a picture window, so it has really improved his “hunting.” He has more fun with his tower than anything I have ever gotten him. I’m sure if my dad is looking down at us, he would be smiling, too.

The tip of the month is not necessarily getting your cat a cat tower to play with, but to not wait to get something really fun for you cat—and yourself. I wish I would have got the tower for Thunder long ago…Dad wouldn’t have minded once he saw us.

Life is too short to miss out on an opportunity to have a little fun.

Cantering in the Arena--at Last

Cantering in the Arena--at Last

I know, I know, this is way overdue. We did a little cantering last year in the arena and a little the year before, but I never worked on it steadily enough to get a solid transition. I decided to canter a lot on trail this summer, and I did. We loved it. I figured once we got back in the arena, that it would be easy—wrong. Reality couldn’t be further from the truth. It was just as hard as ever to get him to canter.

I didn’t use the clicker on the trail for cantering Cole because the one time I tried, we went sliding. I realized the footing wasn’t good enough for sudden stops. I did click him for coming back down to the trot when I asked him to, and consequently, he had good brakes. (Except for that one time...)

Last week, he started to work well at the walk and trot in the arena. I decided it was time to try the canter. I got bucking, sudden stops, huge trots, strange gaits and a few times—a canter. I clicked him for the transition, he stopped and got treats.

I was disappointed. I thought he would do as well in the arena as he does on the trail. I then remembered how he was when I first started trotting him in the arena. I discovered my horse has the natural ability to do the Piaffe—a dressage movement where a horse trots in place. I’m so glad I had witnesses that day. It took a number of frustrating tries before he actually took a step forward. I clicked him for the forward steps, and soon he was leaping forward into the trot. That scared me to death. That is Cole Train—always the over achiever.

The next arena ride went slightly better. We got just as much variation, but we did get a few more canters. He knew I wanted something, but he still wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted. I also think that going in a smaller space with corners rather than straight down a trail at incredible speed is a little intimidating for him. Throw me on his back—bracing myself—expecting a buck--doesn’t help. Some of those bucks were huge! Thank you Mingo for teaching me how the ride a big buck.

The third lesson started out like the second one, and then I remembered that I threw some pieces of candy in my pocket. I grabbed a piece and rattled the wrapper. Cole’s head went up, and he glanced back at me with an excited look in his eyes. It was if he was asking me what he had to do for the candy.

We cruised around the arena at a nice trot. When we got to the far corner, I asked him for a canter in the same manner as the trail—and we got it. I clicked; he stopped and got his piece of candy. It was like magic. Of course, we only got a couple strides in because he always stops when I click. We did it again and again and again. I lost count. A few times he bucked, so I didn’t click him. I started to wait a few strides before the click. A few times, he stopped on his own to get a treat. Of course, I didn’t give it to him. Finally, alas, I ran out of candy. When I switched to carrot pieces, he realized he was tired and lost his enthusiasm. I was tired, too, so we did some walking work.

Kevin was cleaning the stalls while we were doing this, and he missed it all. He came by to dump a wheelbarrow, and I told him what I was doing, and then joked and said I couldn’t do any more because I was out of candy. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some Werther’s! I rattled the wrapper, and Cole was ready to go, again. I took him to that same corner, asked for a canter and we did. After a couple strides, he tried to stop, but I encouraged him to keep going with me legs. He did, and I clicked. We repeated it, but went a little longer.

Kevin went to dump the wheelbarrow, and I continued to work. Twice, we started at the first corner and went along the short wall and through the second corner before I clicked him. The second time, all I had was carrots, so I decided to give him a bigger reward. I clicked him, and when he stopped, I dismounted. We were done for the day.

Well, not completely done. He was a little hot, so I led him around and we practiced our silly Cole walk. I kept clicking for it, and he was having so much fun that when I tried to get him to leave the arena to go back to our barn, he tried to go right past the doorway. Silly horse didn’t want to go home. He wanted to keep dancing for treats.

I was very pleased with the quality of canter he gave me. Last year, he tended to bolt when I asked for the canter. This year, he went slowly and carefully. It was so smooth, it was dreamlike. You see, both Mingo and Cruiser would fall apart if they went too slow. My very first horse, Brandy, had a fantastic canter at any speed. It has been a long time since I had a canter like that. Cole is built with the same Morgan proportions as Brandy, so it may not be a coincidence. Brandy was amazingly balanced at all gaits, and Cole is turning out to be the same.

Now, I am sure that some of you are rolling your eyes about all the clicking and treating, but is it any worse than the options for a horse so reluctant to canter. Would I really have been better if I slapped him with the whip or spurred him? I did use light taps with the whip, but nothing other than what I needed to encourage him. Once we got the candy out, I no longer needed the whip. Instead of a horse that got crabby and resistant from the use of force, I got a horse that was willing and delightful once he learned what I wanted.

I need to buy some more candy…

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Challenges of the Arena

The Challenges of the Arena

This year, I had to start my arena work a little early because I have sole custody of the dog. No more running straight out to the barn after work to ride before sunset for me. Well, September isn’t so bad. I have enough time to ride one horse on a quick trail ride. that horse is Cruiser. Two weeks ago, Cole began his arena work.

The first evening, I decided to try the outdoor arena. Usually, there are horses turned out in it in the evening, and this is one of the rare evenings it was free. There was still a little daylight, too, so I jumped at the chance.

It had been over a year since I rode in it, and we weren’t very successful on those rides. When he got to the far end, he would get antsy and sometimes bolt. I didn’t trust him. then, and I still didn’t trust him, now. I decided to start with leading him along the fence.

As I feared, when we got far from the gate, he started to get nervous. In a few minutes, he was rearing and bucking. I just kept leading and leading in circles and back and forth over there. After countless incidents, he seemed a little better. I began leading him on the perimeter. After a few laps each way without incident, (after 15 long minutes of leading) I decided it was time to ride. I stayed on the safe end of the arena. He spooked and tried to bolt, once, but I stopped him immediately. I only walked. When he was calmed, in about 5 minutes, I decided I would take him to the indoor arena to finish the ride.

He did do a little better in the indoor arena, although he was very, very spooky. Every little noise made him jump. Once, a man in the adjoining barn sneezed, and he spooked. We did some incredibly hyper trotting. In the end, the only thing that got him focused and settled down is when we started practicing turn on the haunches and sidepassing.

I was very discouraged.

A few days later, I tackled the arena, again. I gave up entirely on the outdoor arena. This time, he was very crabby—swishing his tail and kicking his belly. I thought something was wrong with the saddle, so I checked everything and even resaddled him. It made no difference. He did stop when we were trotting, but as soon as we walked, he started up, again.

I was still discouraged.

My sister suggested switching the saddle pad. I did, and all the swishing was gone after that.

After another weekend of trail riding, I tried it again.

This time, our work in the arena went better, but he was leaning on the turns, resisting direction changes, cutting his corners and at times, turning when I wanted to go straight. Ugh. I wanted to just go on a trail ride. Oh, and I just couldn’t coordinate the big trot. I was doing so well last winter, but now I was flying all around. So he would quit.

We practiced our corners at a walk and then advanced to a trot. When he did well, I clicked him. He started to get better. I began to ride ahead of us. For example, when we were near a place that he was volunteering a circle when I wanted to go straight, I braced my inside leg—and then praised him when he made it through. I guess it wasn’t only my body that wasn’t used to working in the arena, but my mind, too.

At least this time, I wasn’t so discouraged. I saw improvement.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to ride in the outdoor arena for a little before it got dark. I wasn’t going to try it again, but my teenage friend, who always makes me brave, was going to ride in there, too. She was on a quiet Thoroughbred. I led Cole around a couple laps—with only a single grunt in the far corner accompanied by a head shake. I then rode for about 10 minutes on the safe end. He did well at the walk, but was TNT at the trot. I couldn’t relax, so I brought him to the indoor arena to finish the ride.

There, he had his best ride this fall. He was paying attention and staying in his big trot for longer periods. The corners were improved, and there was less all-out trying to take control of the ride situations. I was having an easier time with coordinating my own body, too.

Towards the end of the ride, I switched from carrots to candy—leftovers from the cold I recently recovered from. I was clicking him for the big trot. It kept getting bigger and stronger—and he was experimenting with different dance steps. That’s when I decided it was time to switch to quieter work. Besides, we were nearing the hour mark, and I still had to feed the horses their hay. We went to working on our newest project—backing up. We did work on it last year, but with only intermittent success. I decided to approach it with “walk-whoa-back-click.” It seemed to work better than anything I worked on last year, and he was consistently taking a step back. As always with Cole, the first step is the hardest—the rest are easy.

This is a reminder for those of you that are like me and primarily work on the trails. When you are forced to stay at the stables and ride, it may not go so well, at first. Don’t give up! Keep working at it. It should get better.

I wonder how Cruiser will be when I start riding him in the arena again…

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I have been riding, but I have been having trouble writing about it. This grief thing is a horrible place to be, and I can’t wait to leave it all behind. Sometimes if feel normal. I managed 2 days in a row last week, and then I fall back into the abyss. I miss Dad so much. Unlike my sister and brother, I lived with him. The house is so empty without him. I am forming new routines for myself, and I miss the old ones—but they don’t work without him.

For years, I centered my life around taking care of Dad. Going to the grocery store, now, is so tough—I only buy food for myself. Instead of cooking things that will make him happy, I only have me. It just isn’t the same. I planted my vegetable garden for him. Now I have beets that I don’t know what to do with. I have given away so many tomatoes. I don’t know what I will plant next year—it’s just me. The center has dropped out of my life.

And then there is Maggie, the dog I never wanted—and still don’t want very much—but when I had a chance to give her away, I couldn’t. She annoys me all the time. Why did Dad want a dog? Since she is home alone a lot, she really wants to be with me—very close to me. I can’t get away most of the time. Thunder the Wonder Cat doesn’t like her, and is pouncing her more than ever. Poor Maggie is very intimidated. I must say that I usually laugh when I see Thunder go after her.

Thunder has been the most fun. I think he is intentionally trying to cheer me up. As I glumly eat my supper, alone except for Maggie who only wants food to fall on the floor, he calls me from the other room and runs around. I have to go see what he wants—and the dog doesn’t follow me! She won’t leave my supper. He is thrilled—he has me with no dog in sight. Usually, he charges up his tower, flops over and starts to purr.

I threw out the loveseat. It was disgraceful—decades old—and a remnant from when we didn’t know that you could get cats scratching posts. This opened up a lot of room in Thunder’s “Play Area.” He loves it. We have tents, boards to jump, boxes and scratching posts. Don’t forget the tower by the window. I’m so glad I bought it for him. I think he must sleep on it most of the day.

So, my advice for anyone that is grieving—hang out with a great cat. It takes time—you will have good days and bad, but your cat will always be there for you. He will wait until you get better and try his best to speed it up.

Dogs, well, they are just waiting for your supper to fall on the floor.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cole is a handful

I only had enough daylight to ride Cruise on trail. We went with my boyfriend and Starry. It was a very nice ride.

When I got back, I decided to try the outdoor arena with Cole. I haven’t ridden in there in over a year. It is huge and Cole gets very strange in it. I started by leading him until he settled down. When we got to the far end, he got wild and was bucking and rearing. He did this a number of times. I just sighed. This is what happened with him last year on the far end. I use the arena for turnout, and I think he wanted me to set him free so he could run.

I led him for 15 minutes, and when we were able to make it a lap without incident, I decided it was time to ride. We stayed at a walk and stayed near the gate. He did spook once, but I was able to stop him on the first step. Five minutes was long enough for me. It was getting dark, anyway.

I brought him into the indoor arena so we could do some trotting. Trot he did. He did the fast trot, the big trot, the high stepping trot, and every now and then, a quiet trot. He was totally unpredictable. He spooked when a horse was banging in his stall a number of times. He spooked when a man sneezed. I kept on riding. Eventually, we were able to trot a few decent laps. I then had him walk to relax. He did some marvelous turn on the haunches in both directions and side passes. Maybe I should have started with lateral work earlier to settle him down and focus him on a task?

The ride was challenging to say the least. I do remember when Cruiser was his age, the first few arena rides, after a summer of trail riding, were very exciting. I have ridden him a few times in the indoor this year, but none of them on such a cool night. We’ll see how he does tomorrow…

Monday, September 10, 2012

High River Rides

Another rainy weekend here in Ohio. I think the drought is over. Anyway, the river was too high to cross on Saturday and Sunday. while everyone else was riding their horses in the indoor arena, we were riding up and down the hill that leads to the river.

On Saturday, I started with 3 trips on Cruiser. My sister didn’t ride Ranger due to his abscessed hoof. She thought she would give him one more day for recovery. Instead, she walked next to Cruiser.

I then brought Cole out for his three trip. Remember, we are still in training on the hill. It is just across the street from our stables, so the horses have a reason to rush home. We have been working sporadically on trotting up the hill. Saturday, Cole did awesome. The only time he seemed to get excited was on the central level section, so we would start walking at that point.

On Sunday, My sister rode Ranger for the first time in a week. He went on Cruiser’s ride and we just walked the three trips. I expected Cole to do better on his ride since it was the second consecutive day, and I was right. on the first trip up, we trotted from the bottom all the way to the end of the center section. This was the furthest we ever trotted. We walked up the next steep slope because of stones and we even trotted on the top section, in view of the street, a couple times. I would ask him to stop before he built up momentum and click him for it.

The second trip up went well until we got to the center section, and then I felt his excitement. I thought I would see how far I could get before I needed to stop him. There was a muddy spot up ahead. I thought if we could just get through that, I’d be happy. Wouldn’t you know it—he chose that moment to throw his head down, do a tiny buck and break into a canter.

“Great,” I thought, “the street is just ahead. I hope I can get him to stop before it.” Then, I decided to say, “Whoa.” It was that simple. He slid to a stop, I clicked him and gave him a bunch of carrot slices. I have tried this before when he has taken off, but it has never worked. When it happened, I was astounded—and pleased. I usually don’t click him after he’s done something bad and then followed it by something good. I don’t want him to decide that if he does his bad behavior, it will lead to a good behavior and then a carrot—but this was extraordinarily good—he deserved that carrot.

We walked to the top, turned around and headed down for one more trip. That time, I walked up—because I always walk the last trip.

In retrospect, since he wasn’t in a panic, I think he would have stopped at the steep gravelly slope with very little encouragement. He hates stones, and I don’t blame him. Still, he wasn’t thinking of that at the time—he was having fun and going home.

Tonight, I will start our arena schooling since, with the early sunset, I won’t have time to take both of them on the trail. Cruiser gets priority for trail riding.

Friday, September 7, 2012

1953 Ford for sale

1963 Chrysler 300 for sale

Edsel for Sale

1957 Chevy Hardtop for sale

1953 Chevy truck for sale

My sister has fun with Cole

My sister took Cole Train out on a solo ride, yesterday. She said she had a lot of fun. They did plenty of trotting, and when she was real careful with her posting—timing it precisely to his footfalls, he went into his show trot. (You got to see it to believe it. We need more video.) He kept doing it for her—he’s such a silly guy. She did try to do some cantering, but he just gave her a faster trot—but she liked that, too. They trotted a lot on the way home because of the bugs, and he went at a relaxed speed.

She’s taking some vacation time without me in the next few weeks, so I told her she is welcome to ride him all she likes. I hope she takes me up on it. With the short daylight, I don’t have much time to trail ride, so if I only have to ride one horse, it makes it easier for me. Next month, I won’t have any time at all and we will be working in the arena during the week. I have saved my vacation days for next month.

Looks like a rainy weekend in store for us. I don’t know if we will be able to cross the river at all. My sister will probably start to ride her own horse lightly and see how he does. She could still ride Cole if she likes. That way I get to look at him. He is such a pretty little horse.

Thunder the Wonder Cat

My sister's toothless tiger--really--no teeth

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

1961 Corvette for sale

Since I figured out how to put pictures up, here is a picture of the Corvette we have for sale. 


Soggy cat

My sister's cat got caught in the rain.

More Thunder Pictures

I figured out what was going on, and now I can post pictures, again. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Maggie aka Dumb Dog

Thunder Pictures!!!

Antique Cars for Sale

For some reason, Google won't let me post pictures on my blog--which makes for a pretty boring blog. 

We have a few antique cars for sale.  I know most people who are interested in my blog are here for the horses--but some of you might be married.  Think how happy your husband would be with one.  You have horses--he could have horsepower.

Anyway, you can see pictures on my brother's blog.

Best Laid Plans

Best Laid Plans

My sister and I were planning long rides on this holiday weekend. Saturday morning, we headed out on the first one with Cole and Ranger—and when we started trotting, Ranger was lame. Our hearts fell. It’s bad enough to have a lame horse, but it is way worse when the horse is on the older side. The anxieties are multiplied a hundred times. Could this be the big one? Is it something chronic that will limit his use?

We watched him and discussed the problem over and over. The best case scenario—a bruise. He was a little off a few days before, but had the day off on Friday. A bruise wouldn’t get worse with no work. Yes, but an abscess could. Could it be a hoof abscess? When we got back to the barn, Ellen led him in the soft indoor arena, and the lameness was gone. It was evident the hard ground was a factor. He had been a little reluctant about cantering the previous week, but Ellen thought it was the hot weather or hard ground. Maybe it was an abscess all along? We decided to wait and see. We predicted an emergency holiday weekend vet visit. Nothing like the emergency charge?

Then next morning, Ellen was looking at his hoof and saw something that wasn’t there before. She called me over to see. I looked at the gash on his heel, pushed down and he said it hurt. I heard a squishy noise, but nothing came out. I smelled my finger.

I am to hoof abscess expert—having dealt with Mingo’s chronic abscess for years. I would recognize that smell, anywhere. I assured Ellen that Ranger had an abscess that blew out overnight. The worst was over. No vet—we could take it from here.

She led him around. Some people make their horses rest when they have an abscess. I like them to move. It helps them drain. He was lame, but he improved as each minute went by—just like a typical abscess. She walked him for a half hour and then poulticed and wrapped his hoof.

She got to ride Cole Train and I rode Cruiser. Since they are both my horses, they don’t get out together, often. They traveled beautifully together. Cole gets frightened by any aggressive moves from other horses—no matter how subtle. Cruiser is the most non-aggressive horse, ever. Cole hardly knew what to do with himself. He just trotted happily next to Cruiser. He gets nervous with other horses when he is right next to them. Cruiser liked that Cole didn’t challenge him to any races. Well, I should say that I liked it. Cruiser loves to take up a challenge. I feel he is too old to go racing around, and I strive to keep him at a reasonable speed. Cole and Cruiser were awesome together.

On Monday, Ranger was even better. He only appeared lame at the very beginning of his walk. At the end, he even trotted decently. My sister wrapped and poulitced, again.

She could have ridden Starry, but she chose Cole, again. We went on the same ride, and it was just as pleasant as the day before. She will be riding Cole by herself one day this week and maybe with me on the weekend. I’m not sure when she will be riding Ranger. The gash in his heel is on the fleshy part, and she doesn’t want it to get wet or muddy until it is healed. I somehow think that she will keep riding Cole as long as she can. She really likes the little guy.