Friday, January 30, 2015

Final January Update on Ground Work

Final January Update on Ground Work

Alas, I have gotten lazy. In the last week or so, I haven’t done much ground work. After I ride for a while in the arena, I am taking him right outside to ride in the snow—and skipping the ground work. The weather is going to get very cold, again, so I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon. I will get back on the program.

The shoulder-in on the ground hasn’t progressed that much, but he has certainly improved in the saddle. I can’t believe how well he is doing. I don't know if I got the angle right, but I can adjust it more or less with ease. We can now do the whole long side of the arena. Sometimes, when we get to the corner, I let him just stay on the bend he has from the shoulder-in to do the corner—and then I click him. He can also do a shoulder-in on a circle, but I’m not encouraging him with that, right now. I want to keep my circles proper. He does it at the walk and the trot.

I’ve been considering how to teach the Piaffe. I understand how the dressage people do it, but since I am not going into the dressage arena, I think it will teach it like a dance step. He seems very open to learning like that.

He likes to follow me feet at a walk. I will click him for following my feet at the trot and gradually shorten my steps. I’ll see how that goes. If he gets it, eventually, he may either just mimic me, or I may need to restrain him a little with the reins to keep him in one spot. Instead of doing it after my ride, I may have better results before the ride when he is feeling energetic. It really might take some time, so don’t hold your breath!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Weekend Update

Weekend Update

I decided to give Cole a break on Friday and ride Dante in the arena instead; since Ellen wasn’t able to ride him on Thursday. Wow, was he a nice horse to ride—smooth—responsive and fun.

She took him back for Saturday’s ride. I rode Cole part of the time with her and Dante in the arena, and then I joined her with Ranger out on the loop. Since Cole hadn’t been ridden outside in a few weeks due to very cold weather, I didn’t know how he would be. I certainly didn’t expect perfect—but that is what he was.

On Sunday, the driveway was a sheet of ice and I rode inside, again. Shoulder in is improving at a rapid rate in both directions—thanks to our in hand work. He really likes doing it—actually he likes doing all lateral work. He thinks going straight is boring. Ellen rode Ranger in the arena with us, and he was quite a handful. It was raining part of the time, and he has always been bothered by rain when he is in the indoor arena. He was spooking, bouncing and doing little bucks. I think he was little keyed up by Cole being in there with him. Poor Ellen. I was glad that I was on Cole!

I haven’t been on the trail since New Year’s weekend, but it seems like it has been months. I really miss it, and I sure hope the weather and driveway let us get on the trail, soon, even if it is just going up and down the hill to the frozen river.

I did manage to get Maggie out on some good, long walks this weekend.

Monday, January 12, 2015

More Ground Work with Cole

More Ground Work with Cole

Cole and I have been working on our ground work every time I see him. He is now doing all the simple exercises very easily. It was time to move on a challenging exercise—shoulder-in.

Shoulder-in is a dressage exercise where a horse is put on a bend and then is asked to go straight while still maintaining a bend. I have been working at it in the arena for the last few winters, and we have been slowly getting something. Typically, he can do about 3 steps, and then he starts falling apart. I am at a huge disadvantage when I try to teach him because I have never ridden a horse doing a proper shoulder in—so I’m not sure what it is supposed to feel like.

I was hoping that teaching him on the ground would help us in the saddle. The instructions said it would take 7-10 lessons to get it. I’m glad that the book explained how tough it is for horses to learn so I wouldn’t get discouraged.

The first lesson was an abject failure. I was able to push his shoulder and get a step, but that isn’t the way you are supposed to do it. I still clicked and treated him for that step. I switched from carrots to candy corn—hoping it would encourage him to take that step.

The next day went a little better when we did it to the right—which is funny because the book said the left would be much easier. I was getting 3-4 decent steps, and he was getting clicks and candy corn. We were doing it the proper way using the reins and my body position as a signal. I guess that meant that sometimes you need to give them a push to get the step—just to show what you want. He still seemed clueless on the left side.

Our following lesson went very well on the right side. We could do nearly as many steps as I wanted most of the time. He got lots of clicks. I started to get some proper steps on the left side.

The next day, I rode first. Towards the end of our ride, I asked for a shoulder-in to the right at a walk, and he nailed it! There was no improvement on the left. After the ride, we did more work on the ground, and both sides improved.

On the next lesson, I rode first. This time, he was doing super at the walk on the right side and improved on the left side. It was time to give the trot a try. We have done shoulder-in at the trot in the past, but he was inconsistent. Well, when we did it to the right, he was perfect. Well, as perfect as I could imagine. I’m not sure if our bend was too strong, but I won’t worry about that for now. He held the bend I asked for beautifully, but he moved with balance and grace. It felt like he knew exactly what I wanted. We did it a number of times—and he got lots of clicks. It felt great. The left shoulder-in wasn’t as good, but it was better than in times past.

I never thought I would reap such rewards in just a few weeks’ time. We work no more than 10 minutes a lesson, too. Cole is still enthusiastic—probably because the treats keep coming.

I just need to come up with a practical use to shoulder in on the trail!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ground Work Lesson Day 4:

Ground Work Lesson Day 4:

I rode Cole in the indoor arena for a half hour. The thermometer said it was only 20 degrees—which isn’t bad for me, but it turned Cole into a frisky colt. He was like riding a stick of TNT—very volatile. We didn’t get much accomplished other than reinforcing “whoa” and convincing him that bolting to the doorway wasn’t a good idea. We did get some very elevated trotting!

I was more than ready to dismount and work on our ground work. First, we reviewed move forward from light tap on the hock and croup on both sides. He is now a champ with that. It was time to focus walking small circles. I think the exercise is for teaching a bend on command and lightness with the reins. You aren’t supposed to force him into the circle but guide lightly. This is a step to get us prepared for shoulder-in.

He was perfect in both directions. We did more practicing with clicking—and then something happened. He started changing things. First, I noticed him watching my feet and trying to match my steps. I had to cross my feet over, and he tried that, too. He started to do his high-stepping silly walk on the circle. That wasn’t enough. He leaned way to the outside and started lifting his inside leg really high in the silliest way. He became so enthusiastic with the exercise that I couldn’t help but click him for his creativity.

And then in a flash, it hit me—we weren’t learning dressage exercises—we were learning dance steps. This is so cool! We are going to have so much fun with this—who knows where Cole will take me?

In the meantime, I will learn the technique to do this with my future colt—who is bound to be a normal horse.

I then tried to introduce a new exercise where the horse circles around you similar to a turn on the haunches, but the front legs move, too, just in a smaller circle than the back legs. He did start to step a little with the back legs, and I clicked him for that, but I don’t think he really understood it. I didn’t get to work on the other side because my hands got too cold. It was time to go in. when we got to the barn door, he didn’t want to go in—he planted his feet and refused. I think he wanted to continue the game. I tapped his hock, and he took a step forward and I got him inside.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ground Work Lessons 1, 2 & 3

Ground Work Lessons 1, 2 & 3

For those who have not been following my adventures with Cole Train from the beginning, let me bring you up to date. When I got Cole, he was an untrained 4-year-old. He was halter broken, had round pen experience and had a saddle on his back. My first couple of months were spent leading on the trail and lounging. We were a complete failure as far as lounging was concerned. He was mostly horrible on a lounge line—and still is. We have a miserable first 5 minutes with bucking, rearing (lots of it) and general hyperness. We then have a good 5 minutes followed by 5 minutes of refusing to go at all.

I gave up on lounging and just started to ride him. I now only try it occasionally when I can’t turn him out to play and I think he might be too spunky to ride right away—usually in very cold weather.

So, I would say that Cole really hasn’t had much ground work. It hasn’t been a problem, but in my search to make winter more interesting, I decided to add a little to his repertoire—just for fun. It is more practical than teaching tricks. Cole loves learning tricks—why not learn practical tricks? With the aid of clicker training, I think this is going to be fun for us both. Besides, it will give me something to write about.

Years ago, I bought a dressage book with an extensive chapter on ground work, and I decided to use that as a basis of our training.

Day One:

After our ride in the arena, I was ready to introduce our first lesson—and I think it will be the hardest—though it is technically the easiest. You see, the first lesson is to step forward on command to a light whip tap on the hock. The problem—Cole loves to park out and bow. He tends to get stuck. If he is parked out, he thinks all commands mean to bow. I had to get him to see things in a different light.

I dismounted, and Cole immediately parked out. I lightly tapped his left leg by his hock—continuing until he took a step forward. It only took about 10 taps. I clicked and treated him. By the third attempt he got it right away!

Now, I had to do it on the right side. That was a whole different story. I would tap and tap and tap. It seemed like forever before I got the first step. I clicked him for that and started all over. He parked out and it seemed to take just as long on the second request, and the third request. Whenever he took the step, I clicked and we started all over—and he was just as reluctant as in the beginning. Finally, I started seeing improvement and since I was nearly out of carrots, we quit.

Here is the sequence of his behavior. I tap, he parks out, I continue to tap, he bows, I continue to tap, he steps forward and I click and treat. It’s not what the book says, but it works in the end.

Day Two:

I rode Cole in the arena for a while with Dante, and then we went outside to wait for Ellen to get Ranger ready. I decided to do his ground work while we waited. Since he is used to playing “Park and Bow” whenever we wait for horses, the first step on the easy side was really, really tough. I remained patient and just kept tapping lightly and he finally got it. Subsequent steps were much easier. I switched to the hard side—and he got it immediately! Cole is a genius. I think once he realized we were playing a different game, he just knew what to do. I was so proud of him. We then took Cole and Ranger down the hill.

When we got back, Cole wanted to practice standing ground tied in the driveway. We do that after most rides. Just as he parked out, I noticed a car coming our direction, and I had to move Cole. I lightly tapped his hock, and he stepped right out of the way. In the past, this situation could be a problem with Cole refusing to move in a timely manner. Ground training is already benefitting us! We then practiced ground tying, and he was happy.

Day Three:

Ellen and I rode Cole and Dante 3 trips on the hill. The rain from the night before turned our frozen river into a raging torrent. When we got back to the barn, I took Cole in the arena to work on our ground work.

He understood stepping from a single light touch on the hock with the whip on both sides. He is skipping most of the parking out and all of the bowing! He realized he will get the treat faster if he just steps forward. I love working with him.

It was time to move on to the next step—moving forward to a touch on the croup. I was doubtful that this would go smoothly, because I have tried to use it in the past when Cole was stuck in a parked position and didn’t want to go forward—and I would end up with a bow. To my delight—he understood immediately! I guess the previous work put the idea of moving forward in his mind, so it was an easy mental leap.

Ellen came in and wanted to see what we were doing. I showed her the hock tap move from both sides and the forward on the croup tap. I then told her I was going to try the next step. By holding both reins on 1 side of his body (one by his mouth and one by his lower neck), I would ask him to go forward in a small circle. This involved a certain amount of awkward coordination on my part with a signal forward with the whip. In less than a minute on each side, he understood.

On his next lesson, I will practice this maneuver until I feel he is ready to move on.

My goal is to spend 5-10 minutes each time I am with him to build on what we are learning. We will both have fun—because Cole loves stuff like this—and I will also learn new skills and coordination to use with my future colt.

My ultimate goal—Piaffe—which is trotting in place. I know this will come physically easy to Cole when he is ready. When I first started riding him in the saddle and asked him to trot—he gave me a Piaffe instead. I had the hardest time moving him forward. I am hoping that as I progress through the program, we will learn to communicate well enough that he will understand what I want. The joy of working with Cole Train is that he tries so hard to get to that click. He is creative and likes to volunteer his ideas.

Stay tuned…

By the way, Ellen is inspired to start doing this with Ranger. He started his intro lesson after his morning stroll, and is just starting to understand it.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Trying to work in the Arena

Trying to work in the Arena

Since Ellen and I took so much vacation time in November and December, combined with conquering the loop in the back of the property, I have never ridden so little in an indoor arena since the years when we didn’t have one. This is a good thing—and a bad thing. It’s good that I have been able to ride so much outside, but it’s bad because I am having such a problem getting my brain in the place it needs to be to ride inside.

I won’t have any more vacation time until spring, and I’m sure that the weather won’t be so cooperative now that it is January. I face weeks—even months—or working in the arena. Soon, we may not even be able to get outside much on the weekends. I have to get focused.

Ellen usually rides Dante in the arena on the days she has to go to work. She rides Ranger outside, so she isn’t so compelled to ride Dante outside, too. I used to be like that when I had 2 horses, too. She is doing so well with Dante. Every time I see her work him in the arena, and can see improvement.

She does have an advantage, though. Dante is a much easier horse to ride inside. He doesn’t have the “big trot” that Cole has, so he is less exhausting. They don’t have the “snort issue,” either. That is when Cole refuses to go if he has to snort. We have arguments about it all the time. Once we get through the snort, he does fine, but if I take a break—and I often need to because I get so tired from “the big trot”, the snorting problem starts up, again.

I think I just need to build up my stamina, but that has been hard to do when I only ride in the arena once a week. Last year, I had plenty of stamina since Ellen broke her ankle—and I still had Cruiser. I was riding 4 horses.

I guess, a long-term solution to this problem is to get another horse to build up my stamina. So, I’m looking. Well, actually I have been looking since Cruiser died. Ideally, my future horse should be around 2-3 years old. That would be easy if I wanted a common breed, but what I would like the most is another Morab. Sadly, I just don’t think that is going to happen. No one seems to be breeding them anymore.

My second choice is a Morgan. To make things more complicated, I really want an old-style Morgan. There aren’t that many of them. I’ve never been a big fan of the ones that look more like Saddlebreds. My first horse, Brandy, was an old-style Morgan, and so is Dante. Actually, Cole’s Morgan side is, too. There are some out there, but there aren’t many. I feel by spring I will be able to find one. Having a new horse to train will spark my ambition, too. I think is may be just what I need.

That doesn’t solve my problem of sparking my ambition, right now. I just have to get right in there to start working, setting goals and improving my riding.

I guess I am at that stage of winter where I simply won’t have any choice…