Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ranger’s Issues

Ranger’s Issues

Ranger, my sister’s horse of nearly 20 years, has developed breathing issues. It was something that occurred gradually over the last year or so, but this fall, it got pretty bad. He wasn’t coughing uncontrollably like Cruiser was, but he was breathing harder going up hills and trotting. He would do better after a good snort, but it seemed like he had trouble getting enough wind to get the good snort.

When the vet came out to give the guys their fall shots, Ellen told her about it and she examined him. She said she couldn’t quite say he had COPD, but he definitely was having problems breathing. Her suggestion was to just dunk his hay in water before giving it to him. In her experience, this was usually enough to correct the problem. She said steroids might help, but Ellen didn’t want to do that unless absolutely necessary.

Cruiser was much worse with chronic coughing, breathing hard in his stall and rapid weight loss. I put him on steroids which only helped a little. I also took him off hay completely and fed him soaked hay cubes. He still didn’t improve until we put him on a round of antibiotics—even though his bloodwork showed no sign of infection. After that, his cough went away and his breathing returned to normal. We do think the steroids may have masked the infection—allowing it to get worse.

We keep our horses at a boarding stables, and Ellen felt bad about asking the feeders to do this extra step. As an experiment, I did it for her on the days that I fed in the evening. She noticed an improvement when she rode him the following morning, so she felt it was worthwhile. She bought a big plastic tub that the feeders could use to dunk the hay to make it easier, and we were on our way.

After a couple of days, he no longer wheezed when going up a hill, and his snorts were more substantial than before. After about a week, it was pretty hard to hear his breathing at all if he was doing light work. When my sister was riding him back and forth at the bottom of the hill a few weeks later, I noticed that he looked really good—and then I realized what the difference was—he was holding his head in a normal position. Previously, he had been traveling with his head much lower so he could breathe better. Ranger was definitely better than he was. The question is how much will he keep improving? When a person quits smoking, it takes a while for their lungs to heal. Ranger is in the process of healing.

When I watched Ellen trot him in the arena last week, not only did he carry his head higher than he had been, he was going faster and stepping further underneath himself. Maybe he wasn’t as arthritic as we thought? Maybe he had slowed down partially due to having breathing problems? He even threw in a kitten buck.

Ellen plans to ride him as much as she can outside to keep him out of the dust, but sometimes the weather and icy conditions will force them into the arena. We will continue to dunk his hay and see how far his recovery will go. I will keep you updated.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dante’s Dark Side

Dante’s Dark Side

Ellen was working Sunday, and I thought I would take advantage of the great weather and ride Dante on the trail. I knew I couldn’t cross the river because I already rode down there with Cole Train. We would have to do the hill multiple times.

The hill can be a tricky place to work a horse. Once they are good at it, it is very easy, but there is a certain amount of training that comes first. We are so close to home that there is a tendency for horses to want to rush home, pout going away from home and not want to turn around to do another trip down. There are flat parts that we can easily trot and canter—the best one is right at the bottom of the hill. We like to go back and forth a bunch of times to give them good exercise.

It took me a few years before I could trust Cole on the hill for one trip, let alone multiple trips. It was always our worst section of trail. He didn’t want to walk either up or down and could get very hyper on the faster work. Even today, he gets faster with each successive trip—very different from the other horses that get slower each trip. Ranger, of course, is the expert. He loves just doing the hill and gets very excited when he doesn’t have to cross the river. Starry just seems bored.

Ellen and I just started working Dante with multiple trips on the hill just this year. We only do it when we can’t cross the river, of course, so the training is sporadic. I don’t think we have ever taken him down there by himself—with neither another horse nor a person on the ground—and asked him to do it more than once. As usual, Ellen finds a way to get me to do everything first.

I led Dante to the trail. Very shortly after I mounted, he neighed, hopped up and tried to turn around to go home. That surprised me, but I had no trouble getting him to stop and stand still until he calmed down. We walked a little further, and he did it again! This was unprecedented!

When we got to the bottom of the hill, I asked him to trot—and he leapt up into a canter! Now, last time we worked him down there with Cole Train, we did introduce cantering, so maybe he just wanted to show me he remembered the lesson. I was able to get him to trot immediately, but he wasn’t happy about it. He was tossing his head up and down and having a little temper tantrum about it. At the end of the trail, I stopped, turned him around, walked back and turned him back around to do it again. I was ready for misbehavior, but he was even more ready to misbehave. I asked him to trot and he launched into a canter—throwing in a huge buck this time. I was starting to wonder what horse I was riding. This certainly wasn’t Dante.

I wasn’t able to stop him until he got 8-10 strides in, and as we trotted to the end, he had another temper tantrum. We turned around and repeated—about 5 more times. He didn’t canter anymore, but the tantrums persisted.

That’s when I remembered that I had some candy corn in my pocket. I decided to employ clicker training. I would click him as soon as I got several decent trot steps in a row. We tried it again, and he was tossing his head like a bratty little colt. Then, he gave me 3 good steps. I clicked, he stopped, 1 gave him a piece of candy corn and asked him to trot again—he was perfect the rest of the way. Dante had magically transformed into his old self with one piece of candy corn. I couldn’t believe the dramatic change. All the trotting we did the rest of the ride was normal.

Now, I have to be careful with Cole when I give him really good treats—he is the quintessential overachiever. Once he knows there are good treats, he will try all sorts of things to get them—silly walk, laterals, more speed, more and more impulsion until I can barely hold on—all without me asking. Getting him to walk like a normal horse in a straight line is a huge challenge, if he thinks there are good treats in my pocket. I like to save them for when we are trying something new—he will then learn very quick. Dante, though, had a different reaction. He just became focused on what I wanted instead of what he wanted. I always find the contrast between our 2 horses to be very entertaining.

My problems weren’t over, yet. It was time to go back up the hill and do it again. Dante was fine on the way up, but when I turned him around to go back down, he planted his feet and refused. I did some very assertive kicking, got a few more steps and he balked again. At least he wasn’t trying to turn to go home, but he sure didn’t want to go forward.

Now, I could have clicked him for taking a step forward, but horses are smart enough to chain several actions together, which can be used to our benefit, but we have to be very careful. I didn’t want Dante to think, “If I stop and refuse to go forward, then finally do, I will get clicked.” There is another thing I have learned—if you want your horse to go forward to light aids and he ignores them, use heavy aids, stop and repeat with light aids—then praise. What I decided to do was to get him going, stop, repeat and repeat until he goes for a light squeeze and then click. I think it took 4 more times before I got a good one. I clicked him, and since I was in a trottable section of the hill, I asked him to trot. He was fine the rest of the way down, but I figured out that this is a lesson that he really needs to know. I interspersed it throughout the ride after that and later told Ellen to work on it.

At the bottom, we did more trotting back and forth. By this point, I was able to trot both ways with ease. I decided to try for a canter, and I got it on the first request, but he stopped after a few strides. When I tried it a second time, he picked it up and held it. I then did a few more back and forths at a trot, so he would hopefully understand that cantering is with permission only.

We walked back up the hill, and when I got to the turnaround spot, he refused to either stop or turn. Even a strong leading rein didn’t work—he just belligerently braced against it. Well, he isn’t the first strong-necked Morgan in my life. Years ago, my horse Brandy taught me the only way to win with an iron horse is to outsmart them. As Dante braced on my right hand, I switched to the left and easily turned him. He wasn’t too happy about it, but I didn’t get any balking as I asked him to go back down the hill. He just pouted by walking slow. I started to work on walk/halt/walk transitions—clicking for good ones and that changed his mind.

This time, when we got to the bottom, I just turned him around to go back home. When we reached the turnaround spot, I asked him to stop. He didn’t, so I asked him to turn—which he did. I then dismounted and walked him home. Over all, it was a very productive training ride.

When I called Ellen at work and told her about the ride, she said she wasn’t surprised and now I knew he had a dark side. Mr. Perfect isn’t perfect, after all. I’m glad to say that his worst is nowhere near Cole’s worst, and look how good Cole is now! It won’t be long before we get these little problems corrected and then Dante will shine; whether he is with another horse or all by himself—because underneath that dark side is a heart of gold.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Night Ride

I think I am getting used to the colder weather. When I was out at the barn last night, it was in the 20s and I wasn’t even cold. I realized that if I rode, it would be Cole’s 8th day in a row—mostly in the arena. I thought that he might need a break, so I decided to do a light ride on the loop outside. The ground was frozen, and there were patches of ice and snow, so we had to keep it at a walk. I figured that should be easy on Day 8.

Wrong. I wasn’t in the saddle 3 minutes, and he was tossing his head around in excitement. I managed to keep him at a walk nearly the whole 25 minutes I was out there, but it was getting harder to do; not easier. I decided to take him into the inside arena and do some trotting. He was very happy to move around, and he trotted pretty scary in the beginning. He did settle, and we worked another 20 minutes. He only had one bad snorting episode, and I got him straightened out in less than a minute.

Tonight, he is getting his shoes pulled, so the snow won’t be a problem, anymore. Of course, the temps are going to rise this weekend, and the snow will melt. They are talking rain. With the snow melt, I bet I won’t be able to cross the river. I hope the weather is good for Thanksgiving, because we will be out there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Here are some pictures of Starry and Dante on the trail. In rotten weather like this, it is nice to see green trees and ground that is not covered with snow.

January in November

January in November

That’s our weather, lately. Yesterday, it was like a very bad January day in November—and I happened to be off from work. Ellen got called in, and she didn’t seem to mind much. We were able to ride together in the morning—in the indoor arena. It was 11 degrees when I woke up and never got past 20. The wind was extra wicked, too. Maggie didn’t even get her long walk that we planned. I just wasn’t ready for this.

Neither were the horses. Cole, Starry and Ranger still have shoes, and the snow kept us at the barn this weekend. Dante doesn’t, so when Ellen had to work on Sunday, I took him out by myself on a trail ride. We had a very lovely time. on the way home, we found Kevin jogging. He walked back towards home with us. After a couple minutes, he asked to switch places. I was getting a little cold, so I was happy to walk while he rode. We passed up home and headed for the access trail. Kevin did some trotting and I struggled to keep up. We then swithched and I rode the rest of the way. Maybe it’s not so bad when Ellen works…

I have been struggling in the arena. Cole’s problem is consistency. We will be trotting about—just fine—and then he needs to snort. Instead of just snorting, he stops and may or may not snort. If he doesn’t, I get him going and then he will go fast, go slow, try to stop and on and on until he finally snorts. Then, he will do better, but if I take a break to do something else, he needs to snort when we start trotting, again. If I drive him forward too hard with my legs or whip, he gets mad and bucks or kicks out.

This isn’t a new behavior. I have been having a problem with it from the beginning. It is just more of a problem because I want to do more trotting now than I used to. Also, since I only have one horse, I want to ride him longer than before.

Here is what I do to try to change his behavior. We start with walk/trot transitions—and I click him for them. I then add more and more steps before clicking to reward him for good trotting. We can do this for 10 minutes, sometimes, and then the urge to snort starts. Why he can’t snort while trotting, I just don’t understand. This will even happen on the trail.

I am still struggling with the right lead. I can often get it the first time I ask if neither one of us overthinks it. If I put him on a bend at a walk and just ask at the magic moment, we will get it, and I immediately click him for it. The next time I ask, he is ready for it and insists that I really want the left lead. Since I have him on such a strong bend, he has a horrible time taking the left lead—I don’t’ know why he tries it. I think the next time I succeed, I won’t click and just let him go with it and see what happens.

I miss the trail…

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Another uneventful weekend update

I’ve done plenty of riding, but I don’t have much to write about.  Last week, I took a couple days off and got to ride with Ellen—and the horses were great.  We then rode on the weekend—and the horses were great.  On my own, I have ridden Cole out on the loop a couple times by myself in complete darkness—and he was great.  I love these rides, but what’s a blogger to do?
The weather is  going to change dramatically by tomorrow, so I think I will then just write about how the cold is shortening our rides… Sigh… Maybe we will have a warm December that will make up for it.
Ranger is having some difficulty with COPD.  He isn’t coughing much at all, just breathing louder.  We talked to the vet when she came out to give him shots, and she suggested just dunking his hay.  It is helping, and his breathing has already improved. 
My vegetable garden is complete except for a couple more kohlrabi.  It was a great year, and my freezer is packed.  My challenge will be to use everything up by next year. 
With the dark evenings, my dog walks are getting very short—and Maggie is getting restless.  She is already starting to drive me and Thunder crazy.  She’s not  the kind of dog who wants to play with people all the time.  actually, she doesn’t seem to know how to play with people.  Whenever I try, it just doesn’t seem to work.  She will climb all over you, try to gnaw on your hand, roll around and make strange noises—but fetch and tug-o-war barely works.  She ends up staring at you, puzzled.  Oh the trials and tribulations of a rescue dog.  What she wants to do is be in the way, beg for food, lick your face and disturb cat games.  It’s going to be a long winter…
Thunder is doing well.  Leaf hunting season is going strong.  He spends much of his free time sitting on his tower—stalking the blowing leaves.  It is serious business.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Weekend Update

Weekend Update

Bad weather weekend. It was rainy and horrible on Saturday, so we ended up riding in the indoor arena. I think it was Cole’s fourth time, this fall, and he showed significant improvement. In fact, I quit after a half hour and walked around in the rain for the rest of the ride. I wanted to end on a good note. Dante did great in the arena, but that is because Ellen has been working with him all summer. We just led Ranger outside for his exercise.

Of course, if it rains all day—the river will be too high to cross the next day. We did the hill with Dante and Cole together. We trot back and forth on the bottom, and Dante thought it was great fun. He behaved fine, but he started to anticipate the trot as soon as we got to the bottom. Of course, if you always do the same thing in the same spot, your horse will want to do that same thing all the time. Ellen immediately asked him to stop—and he didn’t. Dante lost his brakes. That meant it was time to reinstall them. It took a few trips going back and forth, and then Dante saw the light.

She did try to do some cantering, too. We trotted with Cole in the lead, and since Cole is the faster horse, it was just enough to tempt Dante to canter. She got a few successful transitions. We did the hill a total of three times and who knows how many times we went back and forth on the bottom.

Ellen then rode Ranger on the hill.

We really wanted to get across the river. The park finally fixed some more of the trail—and we wanted to give it a try. That section of trail has been in sorry shape since the big storm back in the spring. I took a few days off work to ride this week, so I should be able to get there. Cole will be so happy?

With the time change, Thunder has been serenading me an hour early. He got quite frantic this morning, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up 10 minutes before the alarm, so I guess he won. Ellen’s cat, Stormy, doesn’t speak. He knocked books on the floor to wake Ellen up.