Monday, March 31, 2014

R.I.P. Cruiser

R.I.P. Cruiser

On Saturday, March 29, Cruiser passed away due to colic at the age of 26. He will be missed by many, because he touched many—but mostly, he will be missed by me. No words can describe how I feel about my 24 years with Cruiser, so I won’t even try. My father used to call him SuperHorse, and he was.

He will live on in my heart, forever.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trail Ride!

Trail Ride!

The park cleared up the ice chunks at the river crossing—finally we can trail ride? Kevin checked his calendar. The last time we went on a ride across the river was January 1. No wonder I was longing for trail riding so much—it really has been a long time.

In the evening, I let Cole play a few minutes in the arena to get his bucks out, then we saddled up quickly and headed out. Kevin rode Starry, of course. He had crossed the river the day before on him, so it wasn’t there first day out.

We did have to thread through the remaining ice chunks, but they didn’t’ seem to bother Cole at all. We waited at the river for Starry because Kevin wanted to show us the best place to cross. The water was low enough that we could see the bottom and go around some large rocks. Cole went right in the water. I was happy he didn’t hesitate, so I clicked and treated him. He took a sip and then we crossed to the other side.

Since it was so cold, (25 degrees) the ground was rough and frozen in most places. We planned to stay at a walk. Cole was so excited that he walked very, very fast. Starry doesn’t believe in fast walking, so it wasn’t long before I was far ahead of them. We reached a spot that the sun thawed out the trail, is I couldn’t resist the temptation. We started trotting. That didn’t last long and Cole was cantering. In my heart, I wanted to keep cantering, but that’s against the rules. My horses have to stay in the gait requested for at least the first 10 years, so I made him trot. It wasn’t long before the trail got bad, again, and I asked for a walk. he dropped right into it, so I clicked him. We did a few short stretches of trotting whenever the trail looked good.

Soon, I could hear Kevin in the distance. Starry knew what we were doing and he was getting all wound up. I stopped Cole and waited for them. The trail was pretty much frozen from then on, so we just walked.

At the next river crossing we turned around to walk home. I kept having to wait for Starry, so I was clicking and treating Cole for walking quietly. When I first started riding Cole on the trail, he had the hardest time with just walking towards home, and this I how I taught him to. It never hurts to review the lessons. Anyway, it gave Starry a chance to catch up.

There were a few times when Starry got feisty—wanting to play with Cole. When he did, we just put him in the lead. He hates leading, so it actually is a punishment. It would only last a short time, since Cole was walking so fast, but it would get Starry to settle down. When Cole misbehaves, we put him in the back of the line for the same reason. We got back to the barn at dusk.

As soon as we got back across the river, we dismounted to lead. We were pretty cold, and walking up the hill really helps warm you up. Overall, we were happy with both horses. For the first time together in months in very cold weather, they were very good.

We had a great time riding out on the trail and riding together, again. We are looking forward to many such evening rides in the months to come.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Clicker Training Fun – Cole’s New Tricks

Clicker Training Fun – Cole’s New Tricks

Some of Cole’s best tricks are the ones that I don’t train him for. (Silly walk, parking out, bowing.) He is always trying to learn something that will get him a treat.

When I first started cleaning Dante’s stall, if he was in it, he would keep playing with the wheelbarrow until he ended up dumping it. Ellen solved the problem by giving him a little hay to nibble on while she cleaned. This is what we do with Cole to keep him out of the way, too. Of course they love it. I decided I would try teaching Dante to stay away from the door with clicker training.

First, I taught him to back up away from the door. Of course, I clicked him. The next step was to teach him to stay away from the door. I clicked him for it and in about a week, he did pretty well. I would click every 3-4 shovels full. He didn’t get consistent, but he didn’t dump the wheelbarrow anymore, either. I had to reset him, a lot. Ellen didn’t do it, so if I didn’t clean his stall on a regular basis, he would get rusty and we would have to start all over. There was one side effect. He wanted to back up all the time whenever Ellen was doing something with him. Mounting became a problem. (Which Ellen fixed admirably with clicker training so he now lines up with the mounting block perfectly.) Cleaning Dante’s hind feet in his stall was sometimes a problem because he would back up to the wall. Ellen wasn’t too thrilled with me.

I was playing around with Dante for a few months before it occurred to me to try it with Cole Train. Wouldn’t you know it; he was perfect from the very first day. I just backed him away from the door and told him to stand. We do it this way most of the time, now. He just stands and watches me. Sometimes, he will park out, and now and then he will throw in a bow. Just like with Dante, I click and treat every 3-4 shovels full. Typical Cole—he seems to just love it. Actually, I’m not sure if it is the treats or the attention. Cole loves attention almost as much as he loves food.

I have spent a lot of time outside the stall reinforcing the “Stand” command, so it should be no surprise that he could do it in his stall. I guess the real surprise is why it took me so long to give it a try.

His second trick caught me by surprise, too. I have often clicked him for picking up his feet. When I first got him, he wasn’t good about it and gave my farrier a very tough time. I decided to use clicker to improve his hoof handling, and the next time the farrier came out—he was perfect. Since then, if I have some carrots at the end of the ride, I often click and treat him on the last hoof. He doesn’t need the clicker to do it—he is wonderful with his feet—I just do it to be nice.

All my life, I have always said, “Up” before lifting any hooves. I guess I do it to tell them I will be lifting a hoof up, presently. A few weeks ago, I said it and was slow in touching Cole’s leg—and he lifted it up before I could. I was surprised. I then tried it with the other three legs, and on each one, he lifted up his leg with a verbal request only. I clicked him and gave him carrots on the last one. Ever since, if I just say the word, he lifts his foot. He learned to anticipate my request. You can be sure I will save him carrots for hoof cleaning for now on.

What trick will Cole teach himself, next?

News Flash!!!

News flash!!! I left a Facebook message on the MetroParks page about the ice jam in blocking our river crossing—and they cleared it! the power of social networking!!! Kevin just called me from the trail to let me know. He seemed so happy. So am I. Trail riding season has begun!

Weekend update

Weekend update

We were rained out on Friday. By the time the rain quit, there wasn’t enough daylight to ride on the hill. I took the few minutes we had and rode Cole on the property. Then we worked a little in the arena.

On Saturday, my niece came out and rode Dante in the arena and then we took Cole and Ranger on the hill. This was Ranger’s first time all the way down to the bottom. He was very, very excited, but he controlled his emotions—channeling them into fast walking. My niece rode him and Ellen walked alongside. Cole behaved. We did 3 trips at a walk. We only had one incident. The huge piles of ice shifted and made a loud noise when we were right next to it.. Both horses spooked, but not badly. Who could blame them for that one—hard to desensitize them to shifting ice piles.

Sunday, Ellen rode Dante in the arena and took him for a walk outside, but we got cold, fast. We didn’t want to be totally frozen, because we then took Ranger and Cole on the hill. The ground was frozen, so we kept it at a walk and did 3 trips, again. They were both very good.

Finally, on Monday evening, Kevin and I took Starry and Cole on the hill. Once again, it was frozen so we stayed at a walk. At least it wasn’t windy so we didn’t get too cold. We did get to see the flock of turkeys, and that was neat. I love seeing turkeys. They only moved back into the area a few years ago, so they are still novel to see. Cole behaved, but Starry had a few feisty moments.

Of course, I didn’t ignore Cruiser throughout all this. Each day, he went for a walk with me. He has been incredibly energetic and has been giving me excellent workouts. He certainly keeps me warm on these chilly days.

Friday, March 21, 2014

More “Trail Rides”

More “Trail Rides”

My next opportunity to ride Cole outside came last Friday. This time, I used what I learned the last time and turned him loose to play in the indoor arena. When I thought he had sufficient bucking and galloping, I saddled him up and we headed for the loop. I led him for the first lap and rode the following 5 laps and he was just great. It was hard to believe he was the same horse from earlier in the week.

On Saturday, I started out by riding him in the arena for 10 minutes. I then got really brave and took him on the hill for the first time in several months.

We quietly walked down the hill until it got very icy. The lower you go, the less sun shines on the trail. We made it about two thirds of the way down. He behaved lovely, but it was just too short of a ride. We went partially up the hill to the beginning of a level area, turned around and trotted up to where the trail starts going down, again. We did this about 5 times—walking towards home and trotting away from home. He was fast, but well behaved.

We then rode back home and went to the back of the property and rode the loop four times—without a single misbehavior. All was good in the world.

Sunday was much colder, so Ellen and I did most of our work inside. We then took Ranger and Cole on the loop together for a little while, but the wind was so wicked, we didn’t last long. Still, they were as good as they would be on a hot July day.

I was feeling really brave on Monday. I let him play for only about five minutes before heading for the hill. Once again, we rode down to the ice, turned around, went to the beginning of the level section, turned around and I asked him to trot.

Away we went on a fast canter. I tried to slow him down, but he was oblivious to me. When we got to the slope, I finally got him to pay attention and come back to a walk—mostly because he is used to walking there. I asked him to turn around to do it again, and he fought me about it. He wanted to keep going down the hill. I won, and we went back and forth a few times at a walk and then we did it at a trot. He was very, very hyper—not at all the horse he was a few days ago.

I brought him back to the barn to do the loop. When I was the furthest away from the barn, I saw someone turn her horses out in the outdoor arena—which is between the barn and the loop. It was just the quiet Thoroughbreds, so I wasn’t too worried. They usually just stand around.

Not this time. Sam decided to run. Cole became hyper alert, so I decided I should dismount and try to lead him back. Sam saw Cole and got very wound up. I asked Cole to do his silly walk, and he did, so I clicked and treated him. Now, he was paying more attention to me than to Sam. We would walk 10 silly steps, and I would click him. We managed to get all the way home without any real trouble. Sam never did settle down—very unlike him.

I decided to finish my ride in the arena, but it was really dusty and I was feeling discouraged.

I guess the moral of the story is, “A well-behaved horse one day is no guarantee of a well-behaved horse the next ride.” The inverse of that is a badly-behaved horses is no guarantee of a badly-behaved horse the next time out.” Maybe he will be great the next time I take him outside.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Another Blizzard

Another Blizzard

I wanted to ride, yesterday, but there was yet another blizzard. It was my night to feed, so I battled the weather to get out to the barn. The snow wasn’t as bad as the wind. That meant the doors of the arena were banging like crazy—not a good night to ride. Kevin and I cleaned our stalls and let the horses play in the arena. Then, I led Cruiser on his therapy walk, and the doors were still banging. I gave up—figuring I could get home a little earlier. They actually stop plowing the roads in my city at 10:00. On snowy days, I don’t like to get home much past that. Usually, they do keep the big hills plowed.

So I jumped right into feeding. We hay and water around 30 horses. Would you believe by the time I was done that the wind stopped—the storm was over. I didn’t want to take Cole from his hay, so I just spent some time grooming him while he ate. He has finally decided to shed a little. Cruiser and Ranger have been shedding for a few weeks. Dante is still holding off. Maybe he knows something we don’t—or else horses from the mountains of West Virginia have evolved to wait to shed until it is really spring.

The weather in the future is going to be above freezing, but not enough to thaw the ice on the trail. I miss trail riding so much. It has been since early January. Right now, it looks like it won’t be until April. At least it won’t be so cold.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Our First Evening “Trail Ride” of the Year

Our First Evening “Trail Ride” of the Year

Day Light Savings is like a holiday for me. Finally, I have enough daylight after work to ride outside in the evening. To me, it is the beginning of trail riding season.

Not this year, though. The hill at the beginning of the trail is still a sheet of ice. Even if we could make it to the bottom, we can’t cross the river because huge chunks of ice are blocking the trail. We have never had this problem before. I don’t know when we will be able to cross the river. A huge rainstorm that raises the river to flood level may wash them away.

So my first evening trail ride meant riding the short loop on the property. I have ridden Cole on it a few times over the last few weeks. It has always been after working in the arena and with Ellen by my side. He has behaved well—mostly trying to get Ellen’s attention by doing his silly walk.

This time, I was on my own. The weather was warm, and I just didn’t feel like riding in the arena, first. The outside arena was very muddy with a lot of standing water. I could have turned him out to play, but Cole is such a prima donna that he won’t run around if it is too sloppy.

I just saddled up and headed outside. I thought I would start by leading to get a feel for his mood. I’m glad I did. It only took a couple of minutes for the fun to begin. Instead of walking, he decided prancing and trotting would be much more fun. I would circle him until he came back to a walk, stand a moment for him to calm down and try again. This happened over and over on the first loop. (Each loop takes about 5 minutes.)

He got very upset when we made the turn for the second loop—lunging forward and doing a little buck. He got 3 circles that time. After that, he was demoralized. He thought he was going back to the barn, and now he had to do the loop, again. He had a couple small outbursts, but he behaved well enough that I was able to start clicking him for good behavior. Once he started to get his carrots, he improved very quickly. Clicker can’t make a horse behave properly, but when they do, it will encourage them to keep behaving.

On the third lap, he had only one small outburst and lots of clicks and verbal praise.

The fourth lap was perfect. It was time to ride him. I planned to mount right after we went around the bend. Literally moments before I was going to ask him for a halt, he went airborne—throwing a huge temper tantrum. Once I got some sense of control over him, I saw what the problem was—two doors down, a couple of people were leading their horses around in their backyard. This shouldn’t have been a big deal—they weren’t even close to us—but it was.

It was time to take him back to the barn. It wasn’t an easy task. He was prancing, barging and totally focused on those other horses—instead of getting back to the barn. It was a long 100 foot walk. Once inside the arena, I closed the gate and climbed aboard. We mostly worked on quiet things to get him to settle down. I think I was in there about 15 minutes when a couple young ladies came in to ride. I knew it would get dusty and crowded, so I decided it was time to quit.

On impulse, I decided to try riding outside again. I checked and there were no horses in sight, so I mounted and rode to the back of the property. He was just fine. I gave him plenty of praise and clicks.

I now see that for the time being, he will need some work inside before going outside for a ride. As he gets more accustomed to being outside, I won’t have to worry about it anymore.

I then saddled up Cruiser and took him for a ride on the loop. He was just happy to be outside and walked fast—looking around. I know that Cruiser would have been just as silly as Cole when he was younger. Cole just needs to get a little bit more mature.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dante the Beautiful

Ellen took this picture of Dante, yesterday.  I think he is such a lovely horse.  We still can't get on the trail because of icy conditons on the hill.  The river bank is also blocked with ice chunks, so if the hill was all right, we still couldn't cross.  This has been an awful winter.  We are back into the single digits, again.