Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dante Conquers the Lagoon

Dante Conquers the Lagoon

To get to the really good trails, you have to ride through the Lagoon—a very challenging half mile of trail. On one side of the trail is a 10-foot wall that drops down to the river. On the other side is the park street. Across the street is a busy picnic area. It is a wide out in the open, chaotic stretch of trail—particularly for a horse that has just gone through traffic desensitization. We decided to do it for the first time with Dante on Memorial Day weekend—it can’t get more busy than that. This would be baptism by fire.

We needed to get Ellen and Dante through this in order for us to go on those long, fast rides that we used to do before Cruiser and Ranger got too old. To get to the
Lagoon, we have to cross a river, but we decided not to even try it. The crossing is in bad shape after the big storm. Instead, we would lead the horses over the ford.

First, we went on a nice ride the other direction on the familiar trail to set the mood. We passed up home and headed to the Lagoon. At the ford, we dismounted and switched horses. Ellen was too anxious to be the first person to bring Dante to the new trail. He led just fine across the ford. Shortly after that, there is a pretty busy intersection. We had him stand until we could get through. We then led him to the Lagoon.

Little Dante acted like he had been there dozens of times. At the end of the trail, we crossed the street and looped around, crossed the street and we were back in the Lagoon heading towards home. When we came out of the woods, he got startled by suddenly seeing a car on his bad side and he surged forward. I made him stand and settle down. He was nervous for the next few cars that passed, but he finally relaxed and did well all the way home.

On Sunday, we repeated the process, but Ellen led after we crossed the ford. He did terrific on the way out, but on the way home, he started to act up. After the second episode, I saw the look on Ellen’s face and knew that she had had enough. We switched horses. Dante tried to surge forward once with me, but I circled him and made him stand. I determined the problem wasn’t fear but excitement about going towards home. After that, I worked on walking quietly with lots of whoas to keep him from rushing and focused on me. When he was good, he got clicked, of course. In less than 5 minutes, he was back to his old self.

On Monday, we had a special guest with us—Kevin. He was giving Starry a day off and decided to go walking with us. We repeated what we did the day before, but I immediately noticed a difference. Ellen had become chatty. She was talking to Dante, showing him things and quietly directing him down the trail. Once we made the turn towards home, he walked a little faster. At one point, he tried to dash by Cole and Ellen circled him. She said she thought the problem was him interacting with Cole, and it had nothing to do with the Lagoon. For that matter, we weren’t even out of the woods when it happened. Ellen took it in stride, but a few minutes later, she needed a break and I took over. Dante was perfect the rest of the way home.

Now, this follows Dante’s usual pattern when he is introduced to something very new. He is pretty good the first day, challenging the second and near perfect the third. He wasn’t the only one better on the third day—so was Ellen. She noticed the difference, too. Here is the email I got the next day:

“I think I learned an important thing the weekend. I can’t shut down and stop interaction with Dante when I'm nervous. He needs dialog. He's pretty sensitive and gets insecure when I'm not in the moment with him.”

I think she made a breakthrough.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Big Rain

The Big Rain

Last Monday, it was my evening to feed at the barn. Since it was raining, I was riding Cole in the arena. That’s when Kevin’s phone started to beep—there was a tornado warning for the city just to the west of us. I kept riding, but then his phone stared to ring. First it was his daughter and then it was Ellen. I figured I should take this seriously. I told Kevin, we should feed and get out of there. The rain kept getting harder and harder. I was listening for the freight train, but all I heard was rain on the metal roof.

When we finished, we went to our little barn—and found it flooding. The water was rolling in from the tack room. We started to bail. Then I looked over to the indoor arena. It was rushing in like a river. I had never seen anything like it. It was time to call for reinforcements. When I called the barn manager, she didn’t even say “hello.” She just asked, “Are we flooding?” I told her how bad it was and she said she would be out right away. By now, the water was approaching the front barn from the indoor arena. Kevin and I made a dam of sand, and we were able to contain it, but there was nothing we could do about the back barn. It was too late. I went over to our little barn and started bailing it out, again. We dammed up the tack room, and that helped.

Soon, all kinds of people showed up to help out. All of the stalls in the back barn were flooded and the water was still coming in. For a while, it stopped raining, and I got hopeful, but then it started up—just as bad as before. I just kept bailing our barn by myself. I was able to keep most of the water out of the stalls. The dirt floor isn’t even due to horses pawing in the aisle, and most of the water gathered up there. Ranger and Dante got a little because they have a low spot in front of their stalls, but nothing to the extent of the other stalls in the other barn.

I had to leave about 10:30 because I had to work in the morning. Kevin is retired, so stayed until the end—after 3:00 AM.

We got more rain through the week, and the river was very flooded. Unfortunately, Ellen and I took Thursday and Friday off to trail ride. Sigh. there was no crossign the river. To make the best of it, our goal was to get Ellen riding Dante on the hill.

Day One: She was very nervous. We put his halter on over his bridle, and I led them 3 trips on the hill. On the last trip at the bottom, I let her loose. She walked off. When she was nearly to the end, she trotted. Dante was perfect. We then rode Cole and Ranger on the hill, too.

Day Two: I walked next to them with the lead rope in my hand—ready to hook him up if she needed me. She didn’t. we did 3 trips on the hill. She trotted to and fro at the bottom. The only time he was bad was when she got to the top and wanted to turn him to go back down. I had to help her the first time, but she handled it the second time. We then rode Cole and Ranger on the hill, too.

Day Three: As she led him down the street to the trail, a car approached. We realized it was Kevin. So did Dante. Kevin allowed us to cross in front of him and Dante stopped and stared at him. Remember, we used Kevin’s car to begin his traffic desensitization—which culminated with Kevin in feeding Dante carrots out the window. We weren’t positive about the recognition—until Dante neighed at him!

Dante was pretty excited, and right after Ellen mounted, a woman on a horse trotted up to us. He wanted to follow that horse home. Ellen managed him well. he did rush a little on the way back up the hill and didn’t really want to turn away to go back down. Ellen handled all the issues like a champ. We did only 2 trips because it was raining. Ranger got the day off and I rode Cole 3 trips on the hill in the rain.

Day Four: We decided Ellen didn’t need me any more on the ground, so I rode Cole with her and Dante. It was a perfect 4 trips on the hill. Poor Ellen lost count. She wanted to quit after 3. I told her when we were nearly at the bottom on the last trip. She thought it was funny. We trotted each time we got to the bottom. The hill has been conquered. She rode Ranger by himself on the hill.

The aftermath from the storm doesn’t end there. By Monday, the river was crossable. I was out riding after work. The damage to the trails is extensive, to say the least. We met up with a friend and rode with her for a little while. There was one bad log blocking the trail that Cole stepped over like a champ. She couldn’t get her horse to cross, so we were on our own from there. There were lots of logs, washed out areas leaving piles of gravel, huge ruts to negotiate, a bare culvert pipe and even one section that looks like the trail may collapse on the river edge. Cole handled each obstacle like he had been practicing all weekend instead of going up and down the hill. The last one was an easy log to step over—that I didn’t notice until too late that it was covered with poison ivy! Once we were over, we rode the trail to the end and had to cross it again to get home. He tried to sniff the log, but I think I kept his nose from touching. I won’t risk that, again!

I’m sure the park will take care of the logs in the next few days. I hope they make other repairs, too. I have never seen them so bad. On the bright side—at least we didn’t get hit by a tornado.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ellen Rides Dante on the Trail

Ellen Rides Dante on the Trail

Ellen hasn’t ridden Dante on the trail since she broke her ankle. By the time it healed, we were in the middle of one of the worst winters in years, and we could only work in the arena. When winter finally ended, she was too nervous to ride him on the trail. I happily volunteered to do it. I rode him 5-6 times, and he did very well. It was time for Ellen to take up the reins.

She was riding Ranger on all those rides, so she saw how good he was, but sometimes your brain is your enemy, and her brain was. She was very anxious about the ride. The biggest obstacle was the river. Last summer, he fell while crossing it, and she has been nervous about it since.

I had reviewed Dante’s lessons from last year. He is supposed to walk slowly and stop whenever asked. He was a little rusty the first couple times, but by them time Ellen was ready to ride, he was an angel.

I was going to ride Cole. This would be the first time they were ridden together since that fateful day, last fall. They are a very good combination together. Both of them are afraid of Ranger. He is a big bully, and he has managed to intimidate them. Cole is afraid of most horses, but he isn’t the least afraid of Dante. Dante moved into Cruiser’s old stall that is next to Cole, so they are really good friends, now.

Ellen successfully led Dante down the street. He was perfect, but that was no surprise to me. I have been spending a lot of time with him playing “bus stop.” She opted to lead him down the hill and mount on the bottom to cross the river, so I did the same with Cole. Dante crossed like a dream, and then we were on our way. Ellen has never been nervous about riding him on the trail itself. It was just the road and river crossings.

We passed up a couple of horses, and Dante did something he has never done before—he tried to turn around and follow them. Ellen circled him back to the right back to our direction.

One very pleasant thing happened over the winter—Dante sped up his trot! We allowed him in the lead, (something isn’t allowed to do with Ranger,) and he went at a very good, steady speed. He really likes to be in the lead. If Cole is following, he will just match the horse he is with. This way, Ellen got to control the speed. She even asked him to go faster at one point.

In no time at all, we got to the next river crossing. This one is tougher. It is deeper and the banks are muddy. The bank on the far side is very steep, too. She told me later that she didn’t want to do it, but did it anyways—that is real bravery.

Dante decided he didn’t want to cross and tried to cut out to the street to go to the ford. He has done this with me, too. He prefers the ford—they all do—and he remembers using it last year when the river was high. We prefer the water because we don’t want to ride with the traffic. Ellen circled him back to the river bank.

I rode Cole into the water, first. Dante was rather slow on the river bank, and that got me worried he wouldn’t step into the water. Ellen kept urging him forward, and they made it! She clicked him and gave him a carrot. Cole proceeded a few steps, stopped and waited.

This is where Dante did something very unusual. He didn’t want to go forward. Ellen, who told me she was shaking when he first stepped in the river, was no longer afraid—she was frustrated. She was kicking and kicking and kicking. He would take a step and stop—then she had to go through it all over.

We were stuck. Then I had an idea. She had taught Dante to touch his nose to her whip with the clicker. She didn’t have a whip, but I brought mine. It has a white handle. I reached the handle back as far as I could. Dante saw it—and stepped forward to touch his nose to it. Ellen clicked. I took a few steps and repeated—more success. It worked all the way across the river.

Now, it was time for the steep and muddy river bank. None of the horses like it. Cole went first and Dante followed. When Dante got to the top, he did another inexplicable thing—he tried to turn around to go back down the bank. Ellen just spun him—something pretty scary on such a steep and muddy river bank, but she did not want to go back into the water. She got him turned around and we were on our way, again.

Poor Ellen was at the end of her nerves—and her horrible sister made her keep going! We didn’t go that far. We mostly walked for about 10 minutes and turned around for home. This meant we had to do the river again.

She afterwards told me that she kept trying to come up with a reason to get me to switch horses. She was really nervous about going down that steep and muddy bank into the water. I went first with Cole. When we got into the water, we waited for them. Dante handled it quite well. I told her to jack pot him with carrots. He then crossed like a gentleman.

We walked on home and crossed the final river successfully, too. Ellen then immediately dismounted. She was exhausted and had enough stress for the day. I think she did awesome.

We were perplexed about the river crossing where he stalled. He has been fine for me. We came up with 2 theories. The only thing Ellen did differently is that she only gave him one carrot with his click. I have been jackpotting him. This happens with Cole if I give him a carrot he deems too small. He will protest—pretending that he had dropped his carrot—and I have to kick him to get him going.

The other possibility—Ellen’s nerves confused him. Remember, she did say she was literally shaking.

Unfortunately, she had to work the next day, so she couldn’t try again—but I could. I took Dante out with Starry, and he was nearly perfect on the ride. I really liked his faster trot, too.

I called Ellen at work to tell her the good news and the bad news. The good news was Dante was good. The bad news—it had something to do with her. She had to go back to work, so we couldn’t discuss it too thoroughly. After talking to her, I was concerned that she would be upset that Dante was good for me and not as good for her.

She called me a few hours later when she got a break. I asked her if she was upset, but she said she was relieved. She was afraid Dante was backsliding. I know she will get better. On a horse as good as Dante, it is inevitable.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Weekend Update

Here is an old picture of Cruiser. Ellen is riding him. She sent it to me, today. It is nice that I can replace the images in my head of him being old with the images of him in his prime. He was an extremely fun horse to ride—as you can see in the picture.

With all the rain, the river was too high to cross on Saturday. Too bad, since we had our niece out to ride, and she hasn’t crossed the river since last fall. she rode Dante in the arena and then 3 laps on the loop out behind the barn. Then, we saddled up Ranger and Cole and did 3 trips on the hill with a lot of trotting back and forth at the bottom. Ranger did throw a challenge in once when he did 3 of his “kitten bucks” in a row. He was definitely feeling good! We had a nice time, but it sure would have been nice to cross the river with her.

Sunday, the river was low enough to cross, but too high for Ellen to feel comfortable on Dante—so I rode him. I certainly don’t mind riding him, but I am looking forward to her happiness when she starts to ride him on the trail, again. He crossed like dream—stopping when I asked him too. A few times, he slipped but didn’t panic. Once, we stepped into some rocks we couldn’t see, and he stopped on his own and carefully picked through them. He is a champ—and ready for Ellen as soon as she is ready for him. She was on Ranger; watching Dante do both crossings and was very impressed. We had a nice ride with a lot of trotting.

The only unusual thing about the ride happened on the way home. Dante put his head down to sniff the ground, and he became glued in the spot. He didn’t want to go forward. At first, I thought he wanted to roll, but then I glanced over to the side and saw a dead coyote. Once I saw it, Dante seemed satisfied and walked on.

I like that Cruiser’s old saddle fits him. Well, actually it is Mingo’s old saddle. It’s my WWII Japanese military saddle. I think it is just so comfortable. It is too long for Cole’s short back.

I then took Cole on a nice ride with Kevin on Starry.