Friday, February 28, 2014

Update on Everybody

Update on Everybody

We have had snow, we have had cold and we have had so much ice. I think February was worse than January, but I’m not sure. It all runs together in my head. It has just been a rotten winter.

We had at least 2 more periods of extreme cold this month. Then, we had a brief thaw that melted a lot of it—except for the hill leading to the river. During the thaw, Kevin talked Ellen and me into walking down to the river to see the huge ice jam. It was enormous—huge blocks of ice as far as the eye could see—piled high.

Now that was a depressing sight. We didn’t think it would be gone before June. We walked up the hill with heavy hearts. Thanks, Kevin, for showing us the ice.

The next day—the ice jam was gone. Thanks, Kevin for showing us the ice. We would have never believed it was so high if we didn’t see it with our own eyes. There is still huge hunks blocking us from crossing, but maybe the next big rainstorm will wash them away.

We ended the month with another week of temperatures 20 degrees below normal. Not a couple days of it—a week! Will it ever end? According to the long-term forecast—maybe in April.

I shouldn’t complain. We are still riding, but I really just want to be trail riding—real trail rides—not the multiple trips on the hill that Kevin does this time of year. I am getting rather tired of the indoor arena.

Ellen and I have gotten Cruise and Ranger out on a few rides on the weekends. We have a long driveway that goes to the back of the property and they made a loop there. We can take them out and ride around and around the loop. They love being together, so much. Ranger takes the lead most of the time, but about once a lap, he wants Cruiser to go first. Cruiser happily passes. In less than a minute, Ranger changes his mind and marches past—making evil faces. Cruiser usually doesn’t care, but will now and then throw in one of his evil faces. This is how they have been together for the last 20 years—why should it change now that they are geriatrics?

Kevin, who is retired, usually takes Starry on the hill, and they ride in 5 times, up and down. With the partial thaw, it is now very hard snow with thick ice in many places—not something we want to ride to old guys on.

We don’t want to ride the young guys on it, either. Cole isn’t always the best on the hill in good footing on warm days, let alone tricky footing in the cold. We haven’t gotten to the point of trusting Dante on the hill at all. It is tough for the horses to do multiple trips because they want to go home when they get to the top and can get fractious when they don’t get their way. Consequently, I am waiting for the thaw for Cole, and I think Ellen will wait a little longer for Dante—at least to do multiple trips. Besides, it is pretty cold out—much warmer to ride them in the arena.

Cole and I have reached an impasse, and I very frustrated. I worked hard all winter to prepare us to do the right lead canter—something we have struggled with terribly. We worked on bends, shoulder-ins and my seat. I thought I had it, and I was getting perfect transitions. I was clicking him for it, and it was wonderful. He was doing them from a walk—precisely when I requested it—and it felt great. I had Ellen and my niece watch me on the following Saturday, and they confirmed I had the correct lead—except the one time I knew it was wrong. On Sunday, I had my sister video us—and when I watched—each time was wrong. I don’t know if we were getting them correctly before that or not. I think I was, because I can now tell immediately that he is doing them wrong, and I could tell they were right before. I am confused and disheartened about it. Now, I try it a few times, and when we fail, I just give up and work on trotting. I am sure I wouldn’t be so tired of arena riding it I had succeeded with the leads.

Ellen, on the other hand, is doing wonderful things with Dante. There are a few things that she learned are very handy from watching me with Cole. One of them is “head down.” He seems to have nailed that one. He targets the whip when she puts it in front of him. Another incredibly useful thing is “stand.” She is working with him on that after her rides. He loves to be with people, so it is mentally challenging to him to stay put when she walks away from him, but he is getting better and better at it.

Another accomplishment—which is related to standing—is standing at the mounting block. When I rode Dante, I just mounted from the ground, but that isn’t easy for someone who is recovering from a broken ankle. Ellen wanted him to be perfect with no fussing around. With the help of the clicker, he is perfect. Now they are working on him lining up his body with the mounting block.

As far as their riding is going—it’s going great. Ellen and Dante are both improving with leaps and bounds. Keep in mind, Ellen never sat a trot on a regular basis until she got Dante. Range’s trot is definitely one to post. Dante’s trot is very smooth—quite a pleasure.

Dante does have a touch of laziness in him. Ellen has to ask him to work, because he won’t offer it. She found that the best way to do that is to ride well. As her riding improves, he becomes more enthusiastic, steps deeper underneath himself and his whole frame becomes rounder. This encourages Ellen to ride well which encourages Dante to move better. It is a wonderful, positive spiral.

Overall, the best word to use with Dante is consistent. He is becoming the most consistent horse in the arena in our little herd. Now, what will he be like on the trail this year…?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Looking to Spring

Looking to Spring

Having an indoor arena is great. We are able to advance our horses’ training and keep them in shape. There was a time when we went a number of years without an arena, and we did miss it in the deep dark parts of winter.

The disadvantage of being at a large stable like ours in the winter is that the driveway and the first part of the trail often get very icy. Between that and the inclement weather, it could be weeks and even several months of not getting the horses outside. Last winter wasn’t that bad, and they were only stuck inside a few weeks at a time. I even remember some January and February trail rides on the opposite side of the river. This year is so much different.

I was taking Cole out on the hill a few times in January, but once the deep freeze moved in, it was over. We were inside. Dante went even longer because he’s not reliable on the hill at all.

So here is where the big problem rears its ugly head. If a horse doesn’t get outside often in the winter, when they do, they get very, very excited. What our younger guys need right now is a good turnout in the outdoor arena to blow some steam off. Unfortunately, it is an ice rink—not the place you want your horse careening about. They do get play time in the indoor arena, but that is no substitute for being outside.

When we had our February thaw last weekend, I was able to ride Cole out on the loop a couple of rides after we worked in the arena. Ellen walked with us, and Cole being Cole, he was mostly interested in showing off his “silly walk” to her. On the second day, he felt very relaxed. This gives me hope that his transition to outdoor riding won’t be that difficult this year. He is, after all, 7 years old, and we have gone through this before. A few good turnouts may be all he needs.

This will be our first spring with Dante. Now, he is a much calmer horse, by nature, than Cole, Cruiser and Ranger ever were. But even my most quiet, little Mingo, could get very rambunctious on his first few trail rides. We have very realistic expectations for Dante. I suppose if we waited until June, it would be very easy, but we have never been like that.

So, we started last weekend during the thaw. After his ride on Saturday, Ellen took him outside and walked him around a little bit and asked him to stand. He wasn’t what I would call relaxed. She clicked him for putting his head down and for standing quietly just like she does in the arena after her ride. After about 5 minutes, she brought him in.

On Sunday, she tried it again. This time, she walked him further, and he definitely looked like he was getting uptight about it. He did have one little outburst, and Ellen calmly held him in place. After that, she had enough and gave him to me. I took him walking on a larger oval, and when we got to the end of the barn and he saw the piece of flapping plastic, he went airborne. He settled down pretty quick—not like Cole in the old days—and we continued walking around.

In 10 minutes, he had many outbursts of dancing, bucking, prancing and general excitement. He also had some quiet moments. He wasn’t bad, under the circumstances, but there was one thing that really bothered me. Ellen, the one who tends towards anxieties, the one who had her ankle broken while leading Dante, saw it all. I was so worried that her confidence would fall to pieces.

She must have figured that out, because when I got home, she had left a message on my answering machine. She said not to worry that she wasn’t afraid, that what he was doing was normal. She was just thrilled to see him jumping around because she got the opportunity to see how beautiful he was, and she was just amazed.

In fact, a couple days later, she had him out for a little bit after his indoor arena ride when I wasn’t there. We are looking towards spring…

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Crockpot Yogurt

Here is one of my favorite recipes for the crockpot—and you never need to turn it on. The crockpot is used to keep the yogurt at the right temperature. I make up a batch every few weeks. It is a great money saver and it’s a fun thing to do.

Crockpot Yogurt

1/2 Gallon of milk.
1/2 Cup yogurt with live cultures (You can use a 6oz package of flavored yogurt—just make sure is says it has live cultures on the package. It won’t be flavored when it is done, though)

1) Heat yogurt to 175-185 degrees. You can heat it on the stove in a saucepan or in the microwave. I use the microwave, and I timed how long it takes to get to the right temperature in my microwave, so I don’t have to keep checking the temperature

2) Pour it into a crockpot and let it cool to 110-120 degrees. I also timed this. It came in handy to know the times when I broke my thermometer. I still haven’t bought a new thermometer, but I have made the yogurt many times, since.

3) Remove one cup of milk, add ½ cup of yogurt to it, stir it together then mix it in with the remaining milk in the crockpot.

4) Cover crockpot and place a large towel on top to insulate the crockpot. Keep the crockpot off but make sure the milk is staying in the 110-120 degree range. Maintain this temperature for 6-8 hours. The longer you go, the stronger the yogurt tastes. I just let it alone overnight.

5) Once the time is up, you can scoop out any extra liquid and stir the yogurt together or pour it onto some cheesecloth and strain it for an hour to make a thicker yogurt (Greek yogurt).

7) Flavor it however you like. It will keep in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.

8) Save ½ cup of the yogurt in the freezer for the next time you want to make it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Update on Thunder

I think I might have figured out Thunder's problem. He has been pouting sporadically when I am ready to leave for work. It is a fairly recent occurance. I thought and thought about anything that could have changed to bring this on--and I determined it might be the weather!

Not directly, but indirectly. This has been the coldest winter in his life. On the very bitter days, I haven't been opening all the curtains. I will open the one where he likes to hunt the birds, but only partially. I think Thunder has been bored, and so he wants me to stay around and pay attention to him. Since it has been warmer and I open the curtains all the way, he is much happier and hardly pouts.

I hope the real bad cold is a thing of the past. It was minus 8 at my house this morning, but it is now in the 20's and the temps will be closer to normal this week.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Few more photos

Here's a few more photos for your viewing pleasure. We have Dante, Cole, Ranger and Starry crossing the river, my sister's adorable cat, Stormy, and her dog, Stubby, playing in the snow.


Ellen keeps sending me miscellaneous photos. Here is Cruiser when I first started riding him after he bowed his tendon.  Below, there is Dante, Cole and Thunder.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

More Problems with Thunder

More Problems with Thunder

I thought I had the Pouting Thunder Problem solved. When it would nearly be time for me to go to work, he would go sit on the saddle pad in the dining room and pout. He was simply inconsolable. I started to give him treats right before I left. That went well for a week. I thought I was training him to just go and wait for treats before I leave—not much different than Maggie, aka Dumb Dog, waiting for her treat-filled Kong toy with excitement.

Today, he jumped off his tower about 3 minutes before I was going to leave. I straightened up the kitchen while he waited for his treats—I thought. The microwave timer went off—signaling it was time for me to go. Maggie got excited. I gave Thunder a handful of treats and went to give Maggie her Kong. When I got back to Thunder to say goodbye, he was sitting there on the floor—his treats untouched—pouting.

I didn’t know what to do, so I grabbed his treats and put them on the top level of his tower. I brought him over and put him by the treats, and he started eating them. I then said goodbye and left.

He is not making it very easy for me to go to work. It’s hard enough to leave without him pouting…

Cole Train in the Snow

These are old pictures--we have way more snow than this on the ground right now, but they fit the winter theme that has been around here, lately.

They are predicting a warm up next week--and I can't hardly wait until then.  Everything will start to melt, and it will be a total mess, but it will be worth it.  I want to be able to ride outside, ride on the trail, hike with my dog and not endure outrageously cold temperatures that make the simplest tasks miserable!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Not much of an update

Here is a picture of Ellen on Ranger--her first time in the saddle after she broke her ankle.

I haven’t been blogging too much because the weather has been horrible and I don’t have much to say—except to complain about all the snow and the extremely cold weather. Today, the average daily high went up to 37. it is supposed to be 15. We are happy when the temps get up to 20. See, all I do is complain about the weather.

We have been riding in the arena, since the driveway is too icy to take the guys out. Everyone is doing well, but we are bored and restless to get back on the trail.

Kevin spent the weekend babysitting his grandkids, so I spent the weekend relaxing, reading, cuddling with Thunder and watching “Person of Interest.” Yes, it was a cat party weekend. I got caught up on my sleep and even got the house a little cleaner. I missed Kevin, but I would be a liar to say I didn’t enjoy myself. Thunder was in heaven. He barely left my side. Oh, and I made a big pot of---spaghetti. Heaven.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

More Tummy

Too much nip, again

This is Stormy with too much nip.  He drools...

Storm Tummy

This is my sister's cat showing off his tummy. Isn't he irrisistable?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Who is Fatter?

My sister sent me this picture of her cat and dog, and asked, "Who is fatter?"