Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Loop

The Loop

Last year at this time, I tried riding Cole out on the loop—a small track that is about a quarter mile long that is behind the barn—and it was a disaster. I ended up riding him in the arena when it got too dark in the evenings to go on the trail. This year, I decided to try it again.

I began a few weeks ago by going on a short trail ride with the remaining daylight and then working on the loop when I got back to round out the ride. Since we made sure our short trail rides were vigorous, walking the loop was a way for Cole to wind down. Last year, he was explosive when I tried this. This year he was only a little explosive the first time, and he has done well ever since.

As would be expected, he would walk a lot faster on the way facing the barn than he did when he went away from the barn. Consequently, I clicked him for sensible walking when we were going away and for whoas when we were going towards the barn. This kept him focused on me and made it more fun for both of us. When we would make the turn at the intersection of the trail that goes toward the barn and the trail that starts the lap over again, I clicked him, too.

A few rides ago, I had to stop doing the mini trail ride because there wasn’t enough time. Now, we were working on the loop only. It started to get a little boring, so I started reviewing our arena exercises. We were fairly successful with shoulder-in in one direction and not so good in the other—something to work on. I added leg yielding, and he was much better than in the arena—where he wants to morph it into side passing. Since he wants to go forward down the path, it eliminates his temptation to go sideways—into the ditch, woods or fence that go along the trail. Every now and then, we would stop and do some turn-on-the-haunches or backing up.

Last night, I decided it was time to add trotting. This was his 6th ride in a row, and it was a very warm night for a horse with his full winter coat. It was also quiet at the barn, so there were no distractions. In other words, all the planets were in alignment. When we got to the side of the loop that goes directly away from the barn, I asked for a trot and got the most lovely, forward going but sane trot that I could have dreamed of. We stopped at the next corner, walked all the way around the loop and did it again. We repeated it 5 times and he was perfect. I gave him lots of verbal praise. We walked one more lap and then I headed to the driveway and went to the front of the barn where it is wide enough to practice small circles and then called it a day.

At least I now know that if it is a warm night and Cole isn’t in a feisty mood, we can do some trotting on the loop in the dark. Mission accomplished.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Old Poke Meets Mr. Smooth

Old Poke Meets Mr. Smooth

Oh, what a long weekend we had. It was 4 consecutive, sunny October days—perfect for riding. Of course, we had our usual vacation disaster, but this time, it had nothing to do with the weather or a high river. I will get to that, later.

Thursday, we had our plans, but they changed suddenly when Kevin invited his friend, Sarah, out to ride Starry. She used to ride him all the time until she moved to Missouri. She was here to visit her family and had a chance to visit Starry, too. Kevin asked if we could all ride together and if he could ride Dante. Of course, Ellen said yes. Kevin has leant us Starry so many times, it was the least she could do to pay him back. He had ridden Dante in the arena for a few minutes last winter, and he has always wanted to try him on the trail. Now, a reminder—Starry’s trot is a killer. You have to post it, and it is not very easy to do at that. Dante’s trot is fantastic. It is incredibly smooth no matter how fast he goes.

Ellen was on Ranger, Sarah was on Starry and I was on Cole, of course. With Ranger in the ride, it wouldn’t be fast. We are respectful of his age. Also, no one is allowed to pass him or he gets mad and tries to go faster than Ellen wants him to. When we trotted, we would allow Ranger to get a head start, and we would try to stay back. Kevin pretty much stayed in the back. Cole knows the rule when we ride Ranger, so he didn’t have any trouble. Starry is a different story, so Sarah had a tougher time. At one point, we let a lot of space between Ranger, and we all got to canter a bit before we caught up. It was a little chaotic, but everyone obediently stopped when we reached Ranger.

We walked all the way home, and that gave us plenty more time to trot. Ranger may not trot as fast as he used to—and he was really fast—but he still has a super speedy walk. I would look back at Kevin trotting to catch up and there was always a big smile on his face as he sat the trot. Dante and Kevin were very happy with each other.

Everybody was perfect on the ride and all of us were smiling.

Now, it is time for the disaster. After we got back, we were just standing around, talking. Dante has a weird habit of sticking his mouth through the opening of the bars on his stall where we pour the grain. He rests his upper jaw over the metal covered wood of his stall wall—just behind his incisors. We just ignore him when he does it. Well, he was doing it and something happened and he got stuck and panicked. We still aren’t sure what it was, though Ellen and I saw the whole thing. I did see the board go forward and then he tried pulling back. For a long 5 seconds, he struggled and there was nothing we could do—and then he was free. That was a relief—until we saw the blood pouring out of his mouth. It was awful!

Ellen looked in his mouth, but all we could see was blood, blood and more blood. She got a syringe and filled it up with water and started rinsing it out. It was hard to tell, but most of it seemed to come from his canine tooth on one side. We didn’t know if he cut his gum or damaged the tooth. He didn’t seem upset about it, and when his afternoon hay showed up, he didn’t have any trouble eating it. It still kept bleeding and bleeding but not as profusely as before. We decided that it could wait until the next day when the vet was scheduled to give them shots.

The next day, the vet said the tooth was fine, and it was just a cut on his gum. It finally stopped bleeding, and it didn’t look bad at all. The grain opening of his stall was altered to prevent it from happening again, and all was well in the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Struggling with My First Arena Ride of the Season

Struggling with My First Arena Ride of the Season

The days are short, and by the time I get to the barn, I only have a few minutes of daylight. I have been going on mini trail rides and finishing up my ride outside doing laps on the little track we have, but the other night was rainy. I was thwarted. With much reluctance, I entered the indoor arena.

Just a reminder for my readers—I had issues with Cole in the arena in the early days. He would get to the far corner and try to bolt back to the front of the arena. He did this enough in the first few weeks that I became afraid to ride over there. I would just ride circles on the safe half. This lasted a really long time, but I got over it. Nowadays, he seldom tries that trick—but when I haven’t been in the arena for a while, my old fears show up.

I started out working in his better-behaved direction. After a few minutes, we started walking laps. When I felt good with that, I would trot a little and ask him to stop before he got too close to the far end. Each time we did it, I got a little closer. Within 10 minutes, I was trotting full laps. He was doing his big show trot which is hard to post and hard to sit. I started out with posting and once I got used to it, (he seldom does it on the trail,) I began to sit the trot.

Now, it was time to try the other direction. This direction is more complicated because he likes to take off along the wall to get to the far corner. At the next corner, I have had trouble with him wanting to run down to the wall to get to our barn door which is just off the normal oval we ride at the corner. I began with the walking, again.

When it was time to trot, my nerves got the better of me. I decided to trot on the safe half. More than once, when he saw that far corner, he tried to go straight instead of circle to the center of the arena. I struggled to get him to continue with the circle. Great—he justified my fear of him bolting to the corner. I really hoped he had forgotten this behavior. To prevent it, I overcompensated by bending him too much on the circle and he began to lean. Neither one of us liked that—and finally he voiced his protest by having a temper tantrum when he saw that far corner—bucking and trying to get away. I quickly spun him into the wall and made some small circles until I felt he was under control, again. Now, I really didn’t trust him.

I went back to walking laps. I did some short trot spurts and practiced stopping. He started to get better. When I tried to take him down the wall that leads to our barn door, he braced himself to go straight to the door—rather than turn along the track. I ended up spinning him again. I went back to rotting circles on the safe end, again. He kept trying to get either to the far end or our barn door. When I could keep him from overbending, I could feel my old Cole from last year return to me.

A friend showed up, and we started to talk as I rode. We seemed to relax, then, and I started getting good circles without fighting. It was getting close to an hour of riding, so then I just went and walked the hard direction. At least I was no longer afraid when I reached the far end.

I know it will get better—and probably just in a few rides. I had to contend with my nerves, re-familiarizing myself with his big show trot while he was getting used to working in a manner that he hasn’t worked in since back in March. The challenges did make the ride much more entertaining and the time went fast. We never even got to work on our laterals.

Working on Straightness

I haven’t seen Ellen and Dante work in the arena, lately.  The last time I did, I helped her with straightness and corners.  She tells me she is still having some trouble with the corners, but he is doing well on the straightaways.  She is learning to correct him when he goes crooked. 

Often, from the saddle it looks like your horse is traveling straight along the wall or fence, but upon closer examination, you will see his shoulder is the same distance from the wall as his hip.  Since a horse’s shoulder is narrower than his hip, this means he is crooked.  His shoulder should be directly in front of his hip—making it further away from the wall.  If you are unsure, have someone stand in front of you while you ride down the wall, and that person can tell you what is happening.

Once you know your horse is crooked, you need to be able to develop the feel for when he is crooked and when he is straight.  When he is crooked, you need to adjust him right away and do it every time.  It’s a lot of work just to ride a straight line along the wall!  Corners are even more complex.

No wonder I like to trail ride, but I know that schooling in the arena is important to making a well-rounded horse and rider.  If you are aware of the changes in your horse’s body—telling you he is going crooked, you are more likely to notice any changes on the trail, too.  He may be a little anxious about something off to the side or nervous when you are riding next to another horse.  It gives you an early warning that something may happen and the potential to avoid it. 

Sometimes Cole gets upset when other horses are close to him.  When he “tells” me, I move him ahead or behind.  If I’m not paying attention, there are times that he will bolt forward or sideways to get away.  (Cole is a big sissy.)

Learning to straighten your horse easily can be handy, too.  Let’s say there is some mud and your horse doesn’t want to get his feet dirty—but by going around it, your knee is aiming for a tree.  By making a slight adjustment, you may save your knee and maybe still stay out of the mud, but you need the ability to make that adjustment—and your horse needs to know what you are asking.

So, working on straightness in the arena is a worthwhile endeavor—as are many other things that we do.  I know this is the truth, but why is it so hard for me to get used to riding in it now that the evenings are dark and I can’t go on the trail?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pretty October Rides

We had some great riding this weekend. It was rainy on Saturday, but not too rainy to ride--just rainy enough to keep the tourists out of the park. We were nearly alone--except for the usual joggers.

On Saturday, Ellen and I took Dante and Cole out on the short ride (5 miles) and they were great. Since Cole’s weekday rides have been shortened due to the early darkness, he was a bit full of himself. We let Dante lead for a while, but we couldn’t take the slowness any more. When we took the lead, Cole flew along the trail. We did some terrific trotting and had a great gallop. We can get away with it because Dante remains calm. We just wait for them to catch up. Ellen did canter Dante a couple times, too. Ellen did insist on leading the way home because she wasn’t so sure that Dante would tolerate Cole vanishing from sight.

Cole did get frightened by a loose dog. The dog was Daisy, one we know well. She jogs along with her owner, and is one of the best behaved dogs we have ever encountered. She just started running around like a nut--to the embarrassment of her owner. Once I got Cole to stand, he just froze until she settled down. Dante was fine.

Sunday's ride was a little challenging. It was sunny and beautiful. We headed up to the show ring trails. They started off both walking dreadfully slow. By the time the trails improved and we could trot a lot, Cole came to life. We had one leap into a canter accented with a buck at the bottom of the big hill. That completely took me by surprise. He stopped readily. They both handled the hill beautifully. Once on top, Cole led at the trot. He was rather spunky, but he was reasonable. I kept looking back to make sure that Dante wasn’t upset when we got too far ahead. There were muddy patches on the trail that we stopped to walk through, and Dante would catch up with us.

All was going well until we got to the end of the trail by the street. I heard some odd bird noises coming from a tree right by the trail. As we neared to a stop by the tree, Cole flew sideways—away from the tree in alarm. He settled down, Ellen caught up with us, and Dante got startled by the tree, too. We turned them around and asked for a walk and Cole leapt up and said we should just get away from that tree as fast as possible. I calmly circled him back under control. Dante was also nervous. As we walked down the trail, 2 hawks were flapping and calling from tree to tree as if they were following us. I don’t think they were—it was probably coincidence. The only thing we could think of is that they were having a territorial issue.

Once we got away from them, we trotted with Dante in the lead. Ellen got him to go fast enough for Cole to trot comfortably and they were great. We decided to pass up the trail leading home and ride out on the front loop that goes around the show grounds. This was the first time we ever did it with Dante. Most of the summer, it was just too hot to go out into the sun and just walk around. Being right out in the open, we have found our horses can get pretty excited the first few times. We were right—they were both keyed up, but all went well.

I had one more problem spot with Cole. When we went down the big hill, Cole decided to trot. The big hill is very, very steep and it has a large rut that was caused by erosion going down the center of it. It wasn’t a place for rambunctious. I asked him to “whoa” which is something he is very good at, and he ignored me. I resorted to bending him sharply—not something I wanted to do on the hill, and finally he stopped. I made him stand quietly for about 30 seconds and then decided I was better off leading. He did better, but he had one more bad moment when we got close to the bottom. That time, it was a little easier to stop him. He hasn’t pulled anything like this since back in the spring. I think it was just his mood. We rode at a walk the rest of the way home, and other than refusing to stop and stand—which is pretty bad for him—he was fine. Dante did better on the ride, overall.

I my issues with Cole are related to cool weather and shorter, less vigorous evening rides. We do have another long weekend coming up—that should help a lot.

Both days, Ellen rode Ranger on a short ride while I walked with him. He was in a great mood.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Long, Overdue Update

I haven’t blogged for a while because I have had a cold, and it has taken away my creative energy. It hasn’t stopped me from riding, of course.

Ellen and I had a 4-day weekend, last weekend. The park was paving the road by the northern trails, but we still had the southern trail. It isn’t as long, but we were just glad they weren’t paving there, too. The weather was nice and the horses were great. We had lovely rides.

On Saturday, we were able to go north, so we decided to go on a long ride. We hadn’t done it for a while because of everything going on in the park and all the paving. This is the ride we used to go on with Ranger and Cruiser in their youth. For the first time, Ellen was brave enough to cross the big river on Dante. The only time I handled him was to lead across the busy ford. He was perfect for everything, of course.

The whole ride went well, but we were still disappointed. Now that we didn’t have any new goals to accomplish over there, we were just frustrated. These used to be awesome trails that we could trot and canter most of the way. It was a thrill to go ride fast and far. The problem—the trails are still a mess from the big spring flood. There is gravel, everywhere. We would trot for a minute and walk for a minute. This went on most of the way. Towards the end, it got better, but we were anxious to get home. We had to turn before we got to the best part of the trail. It took us 3 hours to do a ride we used to do in 2 hours. We got back right in time for the horses to get their noontime meal—and Ellen wasn’t able to ride Ranger.

It was disheartening to look forward to being able to go on the long, fast and far rides and find out that we can’t do it anymore. We can do really long, slow rides where we feel guilty with every bad step the horses take on all the stones. We can’t have what we used to have until they do some repair work, and they are too busy worrying about repaving the road. I don’t know if anything will ever happen. They did do a little repair work on the other short trail, but not all that much—though we will take anything we can get.

The next disappointment of the weekend happened on Sunday. Our niece, Missy, was home from college and was supposed to ride with us. She called me in the morning as sick as a dog and cancelled. (Turned out she has mono—no wonder why she felt so horrible.) We did the ride that we planned, just the same. It was time to go to the show ring. Missy never went up there before, and she would have loved it. We had a great ride. The weather was perfect for October, the trees were lovely and the trail up there is far from the river, so it’s never harmed by flooding. We trotted and trotted and trotted. It was fun. We met Kevin and Starry on the way home. It was the best ride of the weekend.

My evening rides have been short. I just don’t have much time before it gets dark. I rush home, eat, feed Thunder and Maggie, take Maggie on a short walk and rush to the barn. I can saddle in less than 5 minutes and be on the trail, but I can’t go far. When I get back, I ride the loop in the back of the property in the dark. I was unable to do this with Cole last year due to misbehavior, so I am happy I can do it now. I am just not ready to ride in the indoor arena—maybe next week if the weather is bad. I just can’t do it, yet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Arena Update

Arena Update

Dante has been sound, but the wound on his heel where the abscess burst out became aggravated the week before—probably from crossing the river, so we decided to keep him dry until our 4-day weekend this week. Consequently, Ellen rode him in the arena this weekend.

She has been having problems with him drifting off the wall and cutting the corners. On Saturday, I let her warm up and watched what they were doing. I saw some very lovely trotting, but she was having problems. I haven’t ridden Dante in the arena in many months, so I thought I would take a spin on him. I wanted to determine if the problem she was having was rider error or an evasive horse. Dante is such a cooperative guy, I really thought it was Ellen. So did she.

I cruised around for a while and had no trouble at all. That meant, I had to figure out what I was doing right.

Now, confession time. Ellen and I never had a real lesson. (Have you seen the prices of lessons? We have horses! How can we afford lessons!) We are self-taught with the help of books and a few DVDs. Our favorites are Mary Wanless and Jane Savoie. Mary to help us with the riding and Jane to help us with the training. Overall, I think we’ve done pretty good.

I have had way more arena experience than Ellen because I have had more horses, and I can’t ride on the trail much of the year because of the dark evenings. Ellen is able to ride in the morning. I have been forced to spend the more time in the arena than her. Besides, I’m the big sister.

I realized that the aids I used to keep Dante on the wall and in the corners were a strong thigh when I felt him deviate and an indirect inside rein combined with my thigh as I approached a corner. I explained what I was doing with Ellen, and then it was her turn. She walked him around in the more difficult direction, and not surprisingly, Dante understood what she wanted. I had her trot a lap—and wallah! It was like they had been doing it all along. She wanted to quit, but I told her to do one more lap to get the feeling in place. She repeated her success. She found out she just needed to work a little harder.

On Sunday when she rode him in the arena, she didn’t even need me. They trotted around like a dream. Of course, when you work harder, you get warn out. Once she reached the exhaustion phase, we went outside to walk around. She now has something to work on when I’m not around.

We took Ranger and Cole on lovely rides each day.