Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Historic Ride

A Historic Ride

On our second September long weekend, Ellen and I took Dante up to the showring trails. That isn’t historic at all, but we did have a few “firsts.”

As is typical on our vacations in the fall, we tend to run into park maintenance. Sometimes they are fixing our trail, sometimes trimming trees and then there is road maintenance.

This time, the road maintenance was not a problem for us in the least. We rode past it the day before. It was far enough from the trail that the horses didn’t care. The good news was they closed the 2 fords, so there was no traffic between them.

The following day, we decided to ride across the ford. The only risk would be a truck from the construction passing us, but since we hadn’t seen one, yet, we figured we could do it.

This would be the first time Ellen ever rode Dante across the ford. I ride Cole all the time, but Ellen still gets nervous in traffic, so she leads.

Since the road was all ours, Dante was perfect. I didn’t realize it until Ellen told me, but this was literally the very first time Ellen had ever ridden Dante on the street in any way except to cross the road. It was a big step for her.

We rode up to the show ring. At the end of the pine forest, we can either go left to a very pretty trail or right to the show ring, itself. We haven’t gone to the show ring proper all year. The trail loops around the show ring and it is almost all sunny—not something you want to do in the hot summer.

As we neared the intersection, a horse went by at a walk going down the trail we wanted to go, and we didn’t really want to follow her. She was bareback, and it looked like she was out for a quiet stroll. We wanted to trot. Rather than catching up with her and having to pass, we just decided to go the other way towards the show ring. It wasn’t historic, but it was the first time this year.

When we got back to the pine forest, we found Kevin on Starry. We then all continued down the trail that we originally wanted to go on. We got to do all our trotting, and we were happy.

On the way home, Ellen decided to ride down the big hill—for the first time. It is a really long and steep hill. Dante has always been good on it, but she preferred to lead—just to be safe. Cole hasn’t always been good on this or any hill, but I have been riding him down it, and he has proven to be a good boy. Dante did, too. He was so good that Ellen rode him down the next day without hesitation.

Since she was already in the saddle, she didn’t lead through the lagoon, either. That is the part of the trail that is closest to the street for about a half mile. Last year, she was riding through it, but this year she wasn’t comfortable with it. I encouraged her to just keep leading through it until it felt right. Well, this day couldn’t be any righter. Dante was perfect.

Just to round things out, she rode back across the ford on the way home, too.

It was a historic ride because Ellen and Dante did some things for the first time and others for the first time this year—and Dante proved to her that her confidence in him wasn’t misplaced. He was just stellar.

Monday, September 28, 2015


My sister has a great catnip bush growing by her house. Thunder likes her catnip better than the stuff I grow. Her cat, Stormy, likes to hide in it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ranger on Standing and Dante with His Invisible Stall Guard

Ranger on Standing and Dante with His Invisible Stall Guard

I think Ranger is understanding that he needs to stand quietly until asked to go forward, but he still has a long way to go.  He has definitely improved when Ellen takes him outside and runs down the stirrups.  One day, I asked him to stand so I could pet my cat friend, Princess.  He was a perfect gentleman.  A little while later, I tried it—and he realized what I was doing.  He decided to pet her, (chase) too.  Well, that didn’t work.  A few days later, he did stand for me while I petted her.

He does quite well if I am at his side, but when I am in front of him, he wants to walk towards me.  Also, he thinks he is supposed to move when I move—which makes sense.  He is slowly getting better.  I think he will have it in only a few weeks. 

Invisible stall guard is working well.  one day, I was cleaning Dante’s stall when he was in it.  Ranger, who is in the stall directly across the aisle, had his door open.  Dante kept stretching his neck over to engage Ranger in play.  I was worried he would knock down the wheelbarrow, so I stepped out to close Ranger’s door.  As soon as I was out of the stall, Dante knocked down his wheelbarrow.  The way it tipped over, Dante could have walked out of his door, but he just stood there.  Not only did invisible stall guard work, but it demonstrated why it is such a useful skill to teach.

Since I insist that his hooves stay on his stall mat—and he thinks he should stand one half step out of the stall, we still have a lot to practice.  On his last session, he only tried to step forward a couple times, and he even let me stand on the other side of the aisle and he stayed on his mat.

I only work with them on their new projects just a few minutes at a time, but that is how we train horses in their daily routines—and we can either ask for improvements or accept the status quo.  It really depends on what you want.  Ranger isn’t that fidgety with Ellen when she needs him to stand—it is definitely tolerable—but this makes things just a little easier for her.  We could make sure that Dante always has his real stall guard up—but this is just a handy safety feature to have.  Anyways—the big thing is—I am having fun.

Starry is still a little difficult when cleaning his feet.  Maybe this winter…

Friday, September 18, 2015

You Can Teach an Old Horse a New Trick—or at Least Try To

You Can Teach an Old Horse a New Trick—or at Least Try To

Ellen has had Ranger about 20 years, and they have done all sorts of things together. She has done a good job training him to be a reliable and fun horse to ride. Somehow, she did forget an important lesson, and I didn’t even realize it.

One really, really important thing that a trail horse needs to know is to stand still upon request. This includes both in the saddle and on the ground. I never realized that Ellen didn’t take the time to teach Ranger to stand when she is leading him. That explains why he dances around so much when she tries to run down his stirrups when she takes him outside. I thought that he was misbehaving, when actually, he was doing what he was used to doing. He didn’t know he was supposed to stand still for tack adjustments.

Well, now that he is my evening project, I have a goal. I am going to teach Ranger to stand still on command. He doesn’t have to park out like Cole—or bow. He just needs to be still.

I have been working with him for about a week, and he is starting to get it. Things always go quicker with clicker. After our evening walkabout, we stop in the driveway and stand. I click him when he is still. When he moves, I ask him to stop and start all over. The first day, he was very fidgety. Each time after that, he got better.

I noticed that if he is standing balanced, he will maintain his position longer—more clicks and treats. So, even though he isn’t parked out, the squarer his stance, the better he does. It is about setting him up for success. He loves the treats and the attention. I have started to walk from one side of him to the next while he is standing, and it is working.

He is far, far from perfect. About the maximum time he has lasted has been 30 seconds, but he has a lifetime of fidgeting to forget. I’m sure Ellen will be eternally grateful when he will stop and stand still for her until she asks him to go forward, again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ickiest Job of the Year

Ickiest Job of the Year

We have a 20-year-old Thoroughbred at our barn, Star, who has a very bad respiratory infection. They were treating it for a while with antibiotics, and it wasn’t working. The vet put a scope down her windpipe to find very swollen. It was open only about the width of a coffee stirrer.

Star needed a tracheotomy. They made a whole in her neck and put a metal piece in it to allow her to breath. This was weeks ago. The vet did do a followup, and there has been some improvement.

She was always pretty noisy at feeding time—but she can’t neigh anymore. Instead, she blows really hard through the hole.

The other night, her owner didn’t have any help when she came out to clean the apparatus. She begged me to help. I’m the squeamish kind and volunteered Kevin, but then realized I’d probably do a better job.

The metal piece is in 2 parts. She had to remove the part that inserts into her windpipe, and I had to hold the metal washer in place on her neck until she was done.

It was a weird sensation—feeling her breath on my hand while my hand was on her neck. Good thing I was there, because a fly landed near it, and she tossed her head.

It is a good thing that Star is so compliant. We are all hoping that she will recover soon.

Monday, September 14, 2015



Yup, Ellen and I did it again. We took another horsecation—and it was great. Anytime we can get away from work and get some time in the saddle is a good thing. The weather was cool, and the rain stayed away until our vacation was technically over. A special part of this vacation was that we had an extra horse to ride. Kevin was taking care of family business, so we were taking care of Starry.

On our first day, we took Cole and Dante out for lovely ride. There really isn’t much to say about our rides. The horses are well behaved, and we have a great time.

We then saddled up Ranger and Starry. I haven’t ridden Starry that much over the last few years, so he takes a little getting used to. First of all—he is really tall—and narrow. I had to shorten my stirrups to ride him. He has a rather uneven walk, because he has a pretty bad club foot. That is a little weird, too. Then, there is his trot—the worst in the entire world. Bad enough it throws you so far up into the saddle, but it is irregular, too, due to the club. I figured it didn’t matter much, though. We were only planning to do a little trotting. Now that he is older, Ellen asks Ranger if he wants to trot—if he does, great. If not—that is fine, too.

So, we walked and talked and enjoyed the weather. We did trot a little, as expected. Ranger seemed to like the company, and Starry behaved like a gentleman.

The next day, Ellen and I took Cole and Dante on a longer and lovelier ride. We went up to the fields by the show ring to enjoy the goldenrod. The weather was cooler, and we even got to wear jackets. Yes, we like wearing jackets because it is great to have pockets.

I got to ride Starry, again. The cooler weather got Ranger revved up—and Ellen trotted him a lot. I couldn’t believe it. There I was, struggling to get Starry’s rhythm—and I think she was laughing at me. We would walk a little bit and then she would go off, trotting, again. She finally got revenge for the times that she rode Starry with me, and I made her trot. Still, I was very glad that Ranger was having a good day.

Later that afternoon, the rain started. We did get a few breaks and we were able to ride the following morning, but only up and down the hill to the river. The following day found us on the hill, too. We got a lot of rain. Dante and Cole seem to like doing the hill. We usually go up and down it 3 times with a lot of trotting and a little bit of cantering.

We took the extra time we had with our shorter rides to get some pictures of the guys, which I will be using to decorate the blog in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Invisible Stall Guard

Invisible Stall Guard

With more time on my hands since MerryLegs left, no horse in our little herd is safe.  I decided to teach Dante “Invisible Stall Guard.”  It is something I taught Cole a long time ago, and it is so handy.  I can leave his stall door open with no stall guard up, and he will stand at the door and wait for me.  I don’t push my luck and leave him attended for very long.  Still, if I need to dash over to the tack room because I forgot something, I can do it with such ease…

I’m not a fan of crossties, so years ago, when we moved our horses to a barn with only 1 set of lousy crossties, we got into the habit of tacking up in the stall.  We never got out of it.  We have good cross ties at this place, but still tack up in the stalls.  So having a horse that knows “Invisible Stall Guard” is so handy.

It was very easy to teach Cole.  I just gave him treats for standing by his door quietly.  I gradually increased the time.  I don’t have to click him each time we do it—I just tell him he is good.  Every now and then, we have a reinforcement session.  Cole has only sneaked out of his stall once, and I just gently turned him around and guided him back to his stall without even a rope or halter.

Dante has had a few of sessions, and is proving to be way more tempted to wander out than Cole.  I made the rule that he has to stay on his stall mat.  When he stands for 10-15 seconds, I click and treat.  When he steps out, and I push him back in place.  Now, here is the tricky part—I don’t want him to chain incorrect behaviors.  Simply, I don’t want to teach him that if he steps out, gets pushed him back and then he stands for 10-15 seconds that he will get a click.  Yes, horses can do this.  Once I put him back into his stall, I have to wait a lot longer before I click him for staying in his stall.  That is harder, so then he wants to step out again before he gets clicked for staying in—and we are back to the beginning. 

When I clean his stall and he is in it, I trained him to stand back away from the door, so I can get to the wheel barrow.  He does this very well.  I did add a good chain to the behavior.  Sometimes his neck or big head is still in the way, so I taught him to stand quietly, and when I approach with the pitch fork, he will swing his head away from me in the opposite direction to make room for me to reach the wheel barrow.  I click him every 3-4 forkfuls.  This is a good chain.

My last session with Dante is demonstrating to me that he is starting to figure out what I want.  After we did a lot of gentle pushing back into the stall, he started to stand with his feet on the matte—and when I looked at him, he swung his head out of the way like he does when I clean his stall.  Then he looks at me as if he is saying, “I did it.  Do I get a treat, now?’’  Of course, as long as he keeps his feet on the mat, he gets clicked and treated.  He made another good chain of behaviors—even though that isn’t exactly what I intended, it is good enough for me.

I think it will only take a few more training sessions and he will understand.  It will still take a lot of reinforcement until he is reliable like Cole—and I will have to increase the duration, too, but he is on his way.

Long Labor Day Weekend

Long Labor Day Weekend

Hot.  That is the best way to describe this weekend.  Hot.  We did a lot of sweating.

Saturday, the river was too high to cross, so we just rode on the hill.  The biggest event of that ride happened towards the end.  We like to trot back and forth at the bottom of the hill.  Usually, we let Dante lead because Cole gets hyper and will go faster than Ellen may want Dante to go.  When we were nearly done with the ride, I asked if we could do it with Cole in the lead.  We zipped down to the end.  Cole seemed happy to stretch his legs.  We zipped back—trotting over a little dip in the trail.  Ellen didn’t want to trot it, so she paused Dante.  I dind’t know and trotted on.  Well, Dante decided he needed to catch up—and jumped the dip.  Ellen was very surprised, of course, but she was also thrilled.  I wish I could have seen it.

Sunday, we decided to go on our usual shorter ride because of the heat.  It was just so uneventful—but nice.  I talked Ellen into passing up home and heading for an access trail a short distance away.  We often use it to lengthen out the ride a little bit.  We were walking down the hill towards it when the airport fired a shot.  They shoot to scare the geese when they block the runways.  Ellen and I both jumped.  Dante lifted his head up a little higher.  Cole didn’t seem to notice.  A minute later, they fired another shot.  Ellen and I spooked—Cole lifted his head a little higher and Dante ignored it.  They must think we are way too spooky.

Monday, we would have gone to the show ring, but it was still so hot.  Much of that ride is in the sun.  it seemed so unappealing, so we just did the same ride as the day before.  The ride was slow and steady, due to the heat.  On the way home, we met Kevin and Starry.  We opted to cross the river via the ford because it is deeper there, and the water was very muddy.  We couldn’t see the big rocks we have to thread through.

Ellen and Kevin were ahead of us, and Cole had dropped behind a bit.  They were already off the ford when I looked back and saw a large truck pulling something.  We are riding right in the street with no place that we could move to give traffic room.  I didn’t know how Cole would react to it, so I stopped him and asked him to stand.  The truck was actually pulling a large boat.  They passed within a couple of feet of us.  I clicked Cole for his marvelous behavior, and I was giving him his treat when the motorcycle following the trailer passed him.  Cole was so awesome.   Poor Ellen—she was shaking.  She said Cole looked so small next to the truck.  Of course, Cole looks small compared to just about everything.  He’s a big horse in a pony’s body.

A picture is worth a thousand words—a video even more.  I was looking at the latest sales video from the place that took MerryLegs.  There he was, in the background, being lounged.  He looked quiet, relaxed and obedient—just as good as when I would lounge him.  Later in the video, the sales horse is going through his paces in an indoor arena, and MerryLegs is tacked up, tied to the wall.  He appears calm and well fed.  Good for MerryLegs.

In other news, I saw 5 monarch butterflies migrating; 3 on Sunday and 2, yesterday.  I don’t see as many as I used to, so I was pleased to see some.  This year, my milkweed patch did attract 1, but I got no caterpillars.

One of my night-blooming Cereus bloomed last night for the first time in years.  It was quite pretty.  The flower only lasts for one night.

Kevin and I celebrated our 19th anniversary.  He took me out to dinner, we fed the horses and then spent the evening watching “Shameless.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ranger Lesson #1

Ranger Lesson #1

This is not about me teaching Ranger something, but Ranger teaching me something.

Lesson #1—do not, repeat, do not clean feet out of order.  It is left front, left back, right back, right front.  Don’t even think of starting with the right front.  I usually just grab the hoof that is closest—my mistake.  It actually took me a few days to figure out why he was so snarky when I was cleaning his feet.  When I realized my mistake, all was well with the world.

Ranger absolutely does not like any change.  Things are done a certain way—his way or the highway.  Well, after 20 years in our family, he has earned the right to be a tyrant.

Left front, first, always…

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My New Horse

My New Horse

One of the reasons I got MerryLegs is because I missed my Cruiser.  I thought a new horse would help me miss Cruise a little less.  Well, that didn’t go as planned, but Ellen recognized the situation and gave me Ranger.  Well, I should say that she is sharing Ranger, but as far as I’m concerned—when she isn’t there, he is mine.  If I can’t have Cruiser, I can have his best friend.  (This doesn’t mean I am sharing the cost of his upkeep—I can’t lose with this situation.)

Ellen thinks that the more he gets out and moves, the better it will be for him.  In his mid-twenties, he is arthritic and has breathing problems.  Still, in his head, he is a young horse with too much energy, but his body just doesn’t want to cooperate.  We think that more exercise sessions of short duration is just what he needs.

I plan to take him on walks around the property in the evenings.  He is a great horse to walk, and goes so fast that I will get a terrific aerobic workout—just like when I used to lead Cruiser during his last few years. 

He will occasionally spook—more so now that he is older.  It is probably due to the cataract in one of his eyes.  It takes him a bit to settle down, and sometimes he doesn’t settle down at all.  You must remain calm and get him to a safe spot to relax. 

Once the weather turns, we will be stuck in the indoor arena.  I will still walk him, but that gets a little boring in there.  Ellen did tell me I can teach him some tricks.  Ranger loves clicker training, so I think he will be a quick study when it comes to tricks.  I just have to make sure that none of the tricks are too obnoxious.

So my new horse is our old horse, and I am fine with that.  Ranger and I get along great, and I am glad I get to spend extra time with him.

I always wanted a horse like Ranger—now I’ve got one.