Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More Old Pictures

Ellen on Ranger


Stormy, my sister's cat, in a tree


Dante with his little brother, Trey, at his old home

Monday, December 30, 2013

Old Photos

Ellen sent me some old photos
Here is Cole and me

This is Ellen on Ranger

Here I am with Cole

Cole Train when I first got him

Here I am on Cruiser on our first trail ride after he bowed his tendon--that's why his legs are shaved. He just had an ultrasound

Cole and I

My Journey to Quietude

My Journey to Quietude
By Ellen Daly

(Proof that Ellen is a better writer than me)

When you lose someone close to you, it’s incomprehensible. Reality is suspended and your brain won’t let you think of anything else. This happened to me a little over a year ago. My father died after a long battle with cancer. He had Multiple Myeloma, a little known cancer of the blood. He had been diagnosed years ago, went through chemo and had many happy years in between. But that spring, it caught up with him. He became weaker and the pain was unbearable. My normally active dad, who loved to tinker on his classic cars and never woke up in the morning without a plan for the day, was failing.

The big crisis hit when he had a series of bad falls. We gathered as a family and brought hospice in. My dad’s only wish was to die at home. He was funny. He never liked to travel. He said that everything he needed was right at home. It was his kingdom. We all wanted to fulfill his wish. It was the toughest seven weeks of our lives, and the ending was not happy, but he got his wish. He passed away in his own bed. We were left adrift and in despair without measure.

But taking a lesson from my father’s book, it was time to wake up and plan each day. The pain would lessen if purpose was found.

Now, onto the happy part of the story. My sister and I have long been into horses. My horse, Ranger, has been with me for nearly twenty years. They have been wondrous, fun and most of all, challenging. If you want to learn about yourself, get a horse. They humble you as they raise you up. It is awesome. But my Ranger was getting older. His once formidable trot had slowed and his awesome canter reduced to just a few strides. It saddened me, but I knew it was inevitable. To this day, I still enjoy our short, easy rides and no horse is better for teaching the youngsters about trail riding. That includes both equine and human.

The idea of a younger horse had started to take hold in my mind—someone to fill the space Ranger once ruled and keep up with my sister’s snappy Morab, Cole Train.

I started looking more to divert my mind from my grief than anything else. My sister started looking, too—now I knew I was in trouble. Then I got an e-mail from her with a link to a place called Quietude and there he was—a chestnut vision with this white blaze on his face. Quietude Dante. He reminded me of Ranger because he looked sturdy but beautiful.

He was a Lambert Morgan bred by a couple who had single-handedly resurrected the line. Wow. My education had begun about a type of horse who had been lost in history.

I have always loved Morgans. The first horse I every rode was my aunt’s Morgan gelding, Brandy. I was 4 years old. I imprinted. He was a bright chestnut with personality to spare. Many years later, my aunt gave Brandy to my sister. He was her fist horse. At almost 25 years old, he was nearly unstoppable. This started our journey that would lead to Cruiser, Ranger, Mingo and Cole. Would Dante be next?

It was late fall when I contacted the Hanleys at Quietude. A prompt return e-mail gave me Dante’s vitals, but he was in West Virginia and winter was coming. This delayed the trip until spring. I spent all winter looking at YouTube videos of the Quietude horses and reading about Lambert Morgans. Even the name, Quietude, seemed like a good sign. It was an expression my Dad used to use when things got hectic. My dad was never big on horses, but he was not a person to shy away from his dreams; as he collected multitudes of classic cars over the years and much of his time was spent restoring and driving them.

Spring was coming, and it was time to commit to my trip to West Virginia. I decided that around my birthday in April would be a good time just because it was my birthday. I talked to John, my boyfriend, about it. He was on board because he said we could make it a mini vacation out of it and camp. He loves to camp. I don’t like camping, but I would do it to make it fun for him, too

John is a planner so when packages from LLBean started arriving and long discussions about how to stay warm in the van ensued, too, I knew he was doing everything he could think of to make me comfortable in his van. It is a mini camper with a microwave and heater, so it wouldn’t be too bad.

I was very nervous leading up to the trip. This was a huge decision and there was the issue of my little cat, Stormy, to consider. We were taking the dog with us, but Stormy doesn’t travel well, and he is an indoor/outdoor cat. Someone coming over to keep an eye on him was not an option. My sister came to the rescue. He could stay at her house in an empty bedroom, and she would completely spoil him.

The time came to transport Stormy. He hates cars and messes in his carrier every time, but we got him safely to her house. Barriers were put up to keep the dog away and her cat, Thunder the Wonder Cat, was too scared to go near him. Stormy was not happy, but he was in the best possible hands.

My trip to Quietude began that night. Driving for hours gives a person lots of time to think. I was thinking a lot. Two horses would be quite a bit of work. Could I handle it? My sister had been doing it for years and rarely complained, so it was possible. A new horse is uncharted territory. Would my anxiety be too much to handle it or would it rise up to the challenge. My head was spinning. Would Dante disappoint in person and would it all be a waste of time? My journey physically and mentally continued. I had many cat updates. It sounded like Stormy was doing okay.

We made it to West Virginia the next day. It’s a beautiful place, especially in the spring; rolling hills and mountains covered in green. This was a good part of the travel; seeing beauty around each corner. We had a day of travel, then we camped that night with a trip to Quietude the next day. I was so excited and so cut off from the world. West Virginia mountains have no cell phone towers. No more cat updates. I was off the grid. One of the biggest decisions of my life and no one to consult except for John, who once tried to feed Ranger a hamburger.

The day finally arrived. It dawned cold but bright. The journey that started last fall was now real. We started out on winding roads up mountains to Hillsboro, West Virginia; the home of the famous author Pearl S. Buck. I saw her house.

We followed Sue Hanley’s careful directions down gravel roads and across creeks. We arrived at the site of the sight of the Highland Trace House--the Hanleys’ daughters’ impeccably restored summer home. Then up the road; horses everywhere. There was a big red barn where I saw some silhouettes of horses in stalls. Dante maybe?

We drove toward the Hanley house, down stallion row. Each stallion gazed at our van as we passed. I tried to identify them from their pictures on the website. There is nothing like the keen gaze of a stallion. We met the Hanleys and the young dog, Colt. He was a silly half-grown dog who was still learning about people. I had been there with our dog, Stubby, who was starting protectively from the van window.

We went into the house to get to know each other. John is an avid photographer, and so is Sue Hanley. They had a lot in common. It was fun. They are nice people. Then it came time to check out Dante. We drove back to the red barn where I’d seen silhouettes. We walked in—and I’d like to say I had eyes only for Dante—but their stunning stallion Quietude Jubilee Kingdom was in the barn. He dominated the scene, and he knew it. Then my eyes turned to Dante stabled next to his pasture mate, Trey. Dante watch us with much interest and was enthusiastic about the attention. He was a brighter chestnut than in the pictures and had thick hair on his legs like a draft horse. They took him out of the stall. He tied well and lifted his feet nicely. They handed me a brush and I worked my way toward his back and stood by his withers. I thought of my sister’s horse, Cruiser. Then I knew Dante was right. He had some professional training and had been on many trail rides. The Hanleys were forthright about his personality and skills. There was no reason to doubt them and besides, he gave me the Cruiser vibe.

After that, it was time to look over the 400 acres of Quietude. I have never seen so many horses and pastures. All the horses love people and are so curious. I met Dante’s father, Quietude Barcelona; a favorite stallion of Shannon and sire to many Lamberts. It is truly a special place where the land and animals are loved and respected.

When our tour was over, it was time to camp for the night. The Hanleys generously let us camp next to their daughter’s house. We had access to the house, electric and best of all—the bathroom. It was a perfect, clear night. We were surrounded by horses and my boyfriend took many nighttime photos of the stars.

Morning dawned and I was able to watch Dante amble about his pasture with his friends. I felt guilty about taking him from this paradise to a stall in Cleveland, but he had a destiny to fulfill. He is descended from a line of working horses who helped build our country. He would be glad to have a job and lots of human attention. He loves people and the trail; a natural traveler with his easy trot and curious eyes.

I was sad to leave Quietude the next day, but my new adventure would be arriving in Cleveland in a few weeks. Besides, I missed Ranger and my silly cat. As soon as we reach cell phone signal, it was time to spread the news. Dante was joining our herd and snappy, little Cole Train finally had a trail buddy who could equal him.

Somehow, I could hear my dad say, “Why another horse?” and see him roll his eyes and smile.

Visit Quietude here:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Surprises

Christmas Surprises

I went out to the barn early and saddled up Cruiser. I like to ride him when it is quiet because he does tend to spook a lot if there is too much going on. I worry about him hurting himself by doing something sudden. We were out about 15 minutes in Ellen walked into the arena. I noticed she was moving funny with her broken ankle—but what I didn’t notice—the walking boot was gone! I knew she wasn’t wearing it in the house anymore, but it turns out she hadn’t worn it since Sunday.

This meant she could walk with us in the arena. Well, she walked, but she couldn’t get up to horse speed. I’m sure she was much warmer than when she could only sit on the mounting block and watch. It was a lot easier to talk to her, too.

I then rode Dante and led Ranger (with Ellen, again.)

Now, for the second surprise. Kevin showed up, and we decided to take the horses on the hill. The day before, we led them because it was very cold and we couldn’t cross the river. I suggested we put saddles on this time—just in case the river was low enough to cross. Much to our happiness—it was! I was able to cross for the first time in about 3 weeks. There was only a light coating of snow, and the ground was frozen just way too hard to trot, so we did get cold. I led Cole about half the time, but I could use the extra exercise after the way I have been eating…

Since we have been keeping the horses on the wrong side of the river, we can only get a Christmas trail ride sporadically. We have trouble with high water, ice on the river and the most frustrating thing—ice on the driveway. This was a real treat for us.

Kevin did his family thing for Christmas, and Ellen and I went to my brother’s house. We had a terrific meal, and then since it was my night to feed at the barn, I gathered up both my nieces and took them along. Since I wanted it to be more than just work, I turned Cole out in the indoor arena, and he put on quite a performance. He did his usually roll, buck and run. He then came back to me and he started up on his tricks. He parked out, bowed, picked up my gloves when I threw them, did his silly walk—mixing in more running and bucking—and a few unasked for rears. Cole is a tremendous rearer. I’m sure I could teach him to do it on command very easily, but I just don’t want him offering it to me when I don’t want it. When I quite playing the games and left him alone, he got upset and ran laps at top speed—I think to get my attention—and it worked.

After we finished feeding and watering, I took my nieces home and spent the rest of the evening snuggling up with Thunder and a good book.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Quick Update

Quick Update

I haven’t been blogging, but I have been riding. Since I am taking care of my sister’s horses, I can barely keep track of everything we have been doing. I have gotten Cole out on the hill a few times in the last few weeks. Yesterday, after a seriously rainy few days, we ended up riding the hill in sunshine! The temps were in the 50s! All the snow was gone and the river was roaring. Kevin joined me on Starry, and we did 5 trips up and down—with lots of trotting. We have winter weather, again. It was nice while it lasted. It would be nice if the river got low enough to cross on Christmas, though it will be very cold.

Cole has consistently been doing his new trot. My sister said it looks very pretty. We are both happier with it. Dante didn’t like the warmer weather we were having, and he got a little unenthusiastic about his arena work. I have been riding Ranger around the property whenever I have daylight—same with Cruiser. They both do great in the snow. The warmer weather worked well with Cruiser because he wasn’t as hyper. When he settles down at the trot, he does pretty well. I only trot him about 5 minutes, and the rest of the time we walk.

Ellen is getting better all the time. She thinks she may be able to help with the stalls next week. I would push the wheelbarrow, though. She is able to spend her time in the house without her walking boot. She still wears it out of the house for now.

Two more months of winter to go…

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Big Show Trot

The Big Show Trot

I have mentioned before that when I work with Cole in the arena, he has a huge trot. I am not exaggerating—it is huge. His suspension is incredible, and it looks nearly like the dressage movement called the passage. It is hard to ride. I can’t manage to post it because he nearly throws me on his neck, and I just can’t get the timing right. I have a very strong sitting trot, so I sit it. It is tough, and I usually can’t manage more than a few laps.

Now that I am riding most of my rides in the arena, we are having trouble. He is reluctant to trot well. Instead, he gives me his “stupid trot.” It is short-stepped, very slow with his head up in the air and his back is hollow. If I ask him for a better trot, I either get the big, show trot, he continues to do his stupid trot or he stops. Lately, he has been stopping way too much.

After a number of rides like this, I have had enough. Sure, the big, show trot looks impressive, but I don’t have fun riding it. (I have been riding Dante’s smooth trot—and I live it.) Maybe Cole is telling me he doesn’t have fun doing it, either. If I get exhausted doing it, maybe it is tiring him, too. The big, show trot had to go. I no longer wanted it as his default gait.

How do I get him to trot like a normal horse? I spent several days thinking about it.

He trots like normal horse on the trail, and if it is fast enough, I post it easily. If it is a little slower, I sit it easily. I decided that this would be my starting point—I would post.

I started our riding session with posting right from the start. Within 10 seconds, we found a nice rhythm, and I was posting easily. Of course, you can guess what happened next—I clicked.

He stopped and got his treat, and we did it again—over and over. Usually, I was clicking in the first 10 strides. I wanted him to be clear with what I wanted, since it was a totally new request. After a bit, I had him go longer before he got the click. It was working.

I don’t know if Cole is a particularly quick learner or if it is the clicker, but within 5 minutes, he was consistently trotting in a new way. (Why did I wait so long to do this?) I could either post it or sit it. The trot was much more comfortable. (Still not as smooth as Dante, but he is exceptional.) He was carrying his head in a lovely position—not with his nose in the air. The trot felt balanced, and I could tell there was more suspension than he would have on the trail. I was able to trot full laps without exhaustion, too.

It was time to get a second opinion. I called Kevin out to see us. I explained the problem I wanted to solve, and then I showed him our new trot. At first, he thought it was still the show trot, so I knew he looked good. Upon further observation, Kevin could see that it wasn’t as extreme—and he liked it.

Cole and I have a new trot, now! I think one of the reasons that he took to it so quickly is that he wanted a new trot, too. Once he got it, it was self reinforcing. This was just the first lesson, though, so we will see where we go from here.

I am sure that big, show trot is still there, and I will teach him a cue for it so he knows just to give it to me when I ask for it. In the meantime, I will encourage Cole to make the new trot his default trot. I think I am going to like this.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Update on winter rides

It’s snowy, it’s cold and the river is freezing. Trail riding has suddenly become very limited—and I have 4 horses to ride. The arena is starting to bore me—it has driven me out into the elements—at least when I can ride in the daylight. On the last few rides on Ranger, I have ridden him around a little trail going around the barn property—6 laps to equal a half hour. He was really happy to be out. I took Cruiser out for a couple laps at the end of his ride, yesterday and I also rode Cole on the hill leading to the river 3 times. They weren’t fabulous rides, at all. I just wanted to get outside.

That leaves Dante. I have kept him in the arena because he is such a joy in there. He has started to power up more with his hindquarters at the trot. His accuracy keeps improving and our circles are getting rounder. I like how he focuses on me—unlike Cruiser who’s mind tends to wander. Ellen is very happy with his progress.

I am having problems with Cole. He isn’t thrilled about doing his big trot—and I don’t blame him. I’m not thrilled about it anymore, either. It tires us both out too much. I want to do an ordinary trot. He has only been giving me 2 trots—his big trot and an awful, pokey, short-stepped trot with his nose up in the air. I want something like he does on the trail. Tonight, I am going to see if I can get it by posting—since that’s what I do on the trail. If I do, I will click him for it to encourage it. I just want a normal horse for a while.

I have been trotting Cruiser more and more and he is getting strong and more consistent. We are up to about 5 minutes. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but for a horse who hasn’t trotted in a year, it is a lot.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winter is Here

Winter is Here

We had some lovely spring-like weather last week—and then it happened—winter. We are having very cold weather, and the forecast looks colder. The driveway was too icy to take the horses out on Sunday, but I barely minded—it was in the low 20s when we were riding. With all this cold weather, I am sure the river will be freezing. We may be out of good trail rides for weeks or even a few months—very depressing.

I have been staying very busy working the horses in the arena. Each week, I am taking a day off to help manage all these horses. Only 4 more weeks before Ellen will be able to help out, again. My riding is improving, and that is a good thing. It is one thing to practice circles on one horse—a far different thing to practice on four.

Here is a brief update on each:

He went through a phase where he just didn’t want to work. I adjusted our workout by starting with a bunch of tricks—side pass, turn on the haunches, transitions and leg yield attempts—with lots of clicks. It seems to be putting him in the right frame of mind, so when I start to really work, he is more enthusiastic. We have been attempting to do a leg yield at a trot, but since Cole is an over achiever, he is doing a sidepass at a trot. I have been shaping him to go more forward, and I think I will have it by spring. Last night, I introduced shoulder in at a walk, and he seemed to get it right away. I have taken him out on the trail whenever I can, and he has had some hyper moments to say the least, but most of the time, he has been terrific. A few of the days had very bad footing due to snow and ice, and he trotted very carefully when I needed him to.

I am riding him about 3 times a week, and leading him the rest of the time. Most of the time when I ride, I do a little trotting. He has been improving, and he feels stronger and more balanced—even though it has only been a couple weeks. He seems happier now that he is working, but I might be just projecting my feelings to him. No further signs of digestive discomfort, I am very happy to say.

Dante is doing very nicely. He is a very steady and consistent horse to begin with, and that is only improving. He is starting to understand inter-gait transitions. The neat thing is—if I get him to go faster or slower—he then stays at that speed until I ask him to change it. I am getting more precision with him. He bending and circles are improving. Ellen is pretty happy with what he has been doing. We still haven’t gotten the canter in the arena, though. I hardly care since his trot is just so nice. My niece has been riding him about once a week, and he is really helping her learn to ride. Last week, I did bring him on a trail ride, and he was a bit excited since another person that we never met joined us, but he still contained himself.

Ranger is tough because of his arthritis. He needs a long warm up, and he isn’t too enthusiastic about the work. A couple rides ago, I thought of clicking him when he trots a little livelier, and that is helping. I will keep up with it, and maybe it will make a difference. I did take him out on the trail before the weather turned and we had a great time. Some days, I just take him on a walk on the hill—and we have fun. He is a very pleasant horse to lead and since he has a terrific walk in spite of arthritis, you get a good workout with him.

He is completely recovered from his hoof abscess! Kevin has been riding him whenever the weather is nice.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Long holiday weekend

It was a nice 4-day weekend. I was able to get Cole out on the trail 3 of the days. On Saturday, the driveway was just too icy. We were alone on our rides since Starry is recovering from a hoof abscess and my sister broke her ankle. My niece came out on Saturday and rode Ellen’s horses. I rode them the rest of the time—all in the arena. I have also been riding Cruiser a little, too. I am having fun, but it is exhausting.

I thought I would work on circles for all off them. I had my niece do circles, too. I need the practice, since one of my seat bones doesn’t listen to me and tends to float off the saddle unless I am really concentrating. I also forget to use that outside rein for support. Since I get to practice on 4 horses—each with their own way of going on circles, I am hoping to instill good habits in myself.

Ellen came out to watch us ride her horses on Saturday and Sunday. So far, she approves of what I am doing.

Kevin rode Dante a little bit in the arena this weekend, and he fell in love with the way he trots. Kevin has never been able to sit a trot in his life, so he was so surprised to find out that he could on Dante. Dante even listened to him—something my horses never do…

Back to Starry’s abscess. I had Kevin poulticing it since Starry wasn’t cooperating with soaking. I think a poultice is better, anyway. Yesterday, he thought the leg was swollen. I looked at it later when he wasn’t there, and it didn’t look swollen to me, but I figured it must have been stocked up and since Kevin was hand walking Starry, the swelling went down. His leg didn’t seem hot or sore. Starry has been walking well for the last couple days, and when I changed the poultice on Friday, there was evidence of draining. Starry was very fractious in his stall, too. He wasn’t acting like a sick horse.

When I got home, I called Kevin and told him what I thought. He went back out to the barn, thought it was swollen more and started asking everyone about it. One person touched his leg and Starry picked it up, so she assumed it was sore. Another person sprayed liniment on it to reduce the swelling. Kevin started to get confused.

When I went over Kevin’s house for dinner, he wanted me to go back to the barn with him to check Starry. By now, he thought the leg would be swollen up to the top. He thought the infection got into his bloodstream and maybe we would find him dead in his stall. Sometimes Kevin’s mind gets a little out of control.

I looked at it, and it still didn’t seem swollen to me. One leg has a stocking and the other is a grayish brown color (he is a buckskin) so I was thinking it might be an illusion. I told him to go lead him. He walked sound. I touched his bad leg, and he did pull it away. I touched his good leg—and he did the same thing. I reminded Kevin that we teach our horses to pick their legs up when we touch them. It wasn’t hot, and when I firmly felt along his leg, he didn’t react.

I tried to trot him in hand, but he wouldn’t. Kevin thought that he couldn’t, and that we shouldn’t even try. I told him—how else do we know how bad it is? We need to trot him every day so we could see if there was any improvement.

Kevin saw my logic. I was sure he was still lame, and I told him that so he wouldn’t be disappointed. We set Starry loose to free lounge him.

Starry went crazy—trotting around like a maniac—never taking a single bad step. He is as sound as a dollar. We were both laughing with joy. He trotted both directions with a lot of bucking and some cantering, too. I was surprised that the boot that was covering his poulticed hoof stayed on through it all. Kevin was acting light hearted for the first time in days.