Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cold Weather Riding

Cold Weather Riding

It seems like just yesterday.  Ellen and I would saddle up Ranger and Cruiser on a brisk fall day and head out for the trails.  They could be very difficult when the weather cooled off.  They wanted to fly down the trail, and we were young and wanted to fly with them.  It would be a blast—and then we would turn around to go home. 

All summer, we would trot much of the way home on our trail rides.  The horses would get a little fast—Cruiser was constantly challenging Ranger for a race.  Ranger would accept the challenge—and we would have to intercede.  Cruiser often broke into a canter, and I would have to struggle to bring him back to a trot.  On some stretches of the trail, we would canter instead of trotting—making them all the more enthusiastic.

When the weather got cold and they would get hyper, we had problems.  I guess we made the problems all summer long with our fun, fast rides.  In the cooler weather, trotting towards home became very difficult; and sometimes even impossible.

We would trot a few hundred feet, and when they either got out of control, or ideally only felt like they might get out of control, we would bring them back to a walk until they settled down.  After a few minutes, we would try again.  When it was really cold and they were super wound up, we ended up walking all the way home.

The big problem with that?  It is hard to stay warm on a cold day when all you are doing is walking.  It is even harder if you broke a sweat on the way out and then had to walk home.  We would often have to lead our horses if we got too cold.

For years, Ellen and I thought this was normal horse behavior.  We figured all horses were that way—until I started riding Mingo.  Then, I thought Mingo was the exception—so quiet.  In the cold weather, he was a lot of fun to ride because he finally woke up and would go fairly fast.

We now know that Cruiser and Ranger were exceptionally spirited and Mingo was exceptionally quiet.  We had both sides of the spectrum, and most other horses fall in the middle.

Fast forward to the present, and we are living in the world of normal horses.  Sure, sometimes Cole can get a little carried away and Dante‘s default trot is very slow, but they are both fairly normal horses.  Starry can move out when he wants to, but he never gets very carried away with excitement like Cruiser and Ranger did.  In fact, he prefers to just follow whoever he is with and seldom challenges our horses to a race. 

Going out on a ride and a brisk morning with Cole and Dante means they walk down the hill to the river just as slowly as they did all summer long.  Once we cross the river, Cole wants Dante to go first.  Dante trots too slow for Cole and he has to keep dropping to a walk when he gets too close to Dante.  He doesn’t want to pass—he just wants Dante to go faster.

Eventually, I convince Cole to take the lead.  He goes at a moderate speed—and we end up waiting for Dante to catch up.  When we get to our favorite section to canter, they both wake up and Ellen and I get a glimpse into the world we used to enjoy so much with Ranger and Cruiser.

If we have any regrets about having normal horses, now, they go away when we turn around to go home.  We can trot safely.  They go faster on the way home, of course, but they seldom get out of control like Ranger and Cruiser did all the time when the weather was cool.  We go fast and steady—and stay warm.  If we are walking for a while and want to get warmed up, we trot a bit.  The closer we are to home, the trickier it can be, but not anything like our other horses. 

Yes, we miss those days.  I talk to Ranger about them as we do our nightly constitutional on the loop.  I think he might miss them, too.  Cruiser and Ranger together were a force to be reckoned with.  But we are all older now, and honestly, this is so much easier.  We can ride in cold weather—even snow—and our horses stay sane and we stay warm.

Still, it is fun to reminisce…I sure do miss my Cruiser.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Is this cat for real?

This is, once again, Stormy, my sister's cat.  She tells me that he has a new way of hunting birds.  He sits in the bird seed and waits for them.

Our Evening Rides

Our Evening Rides

Now that the time changed due to Daylight Savings, it is completely dark when I get out to the barn.  A few times, I have ridden a little bit in the indoor arena, but I just can’t seem to get started in there.  It is a long winter of indoor arena rides.  It may seem funny to someone who doesn’t have the luxury of an indoor arena in the winter to imagine, but I begin to despise it.  I think it is because I feel trapped in it.  Back when I was first working with Cole, I used to take Cruiser on a trail ride and ride Cole in the arena most evenings, even in the good weather.  I didn’t mind it then since I was still getting a trail ride with Cruiser.

So I have been riding the Loop in the back of the property in the complete darkness.  Sometimes we even do a little trotting, but not as much as I was doing when it was still light out.  On a really good night, Kevin will walk along beside us to keep us company.  Cole doesn’t behave any better whether Kevin is there or not, but I like to talk to him as we walk around.

Most of the time he is good, but I do get a little nervous when I hear a noise and can’t see what is causing it.  I then make Cole stand until I feel it is safe to proceed.  I am concerned about a deer bursting out and startling him.  It hasn’t happened, yet, but that did happen when Tommy the Cat was out hunting on the loop. 

Another time, it started to drizzle, and Cole Train simply hates rain.  He decided to high-tail it back to the barn.  I stopped that fairly quickly, but it took a bit to settle him down after that.  The rain stopped a few minutes later, so at least we were able to keep riding.

I know I will have to buckle down and start schooling in the arena pretty soon.  The weather isn’t going to hold for much longer.  Still, on the snowy, moonlight nights, I can see me cutting my ring work short and taking a few laps on the loop.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Product Review - Two Horse Tack Makes Cole Sparkle

Product Review - Two Horse Tack Makes Cole Sparkle

Two Horse Tack asked me to review one of their products.  I got to choose the item.  I could use new stirrup leathers for Cole’s saddle, and the ones Ellen got from Two Horse Tack for Ranger’s saddle were great.  They were a pretty color, and she was able to get them with the holes 1/2" apart instead of 1" apart.  That makes finding the right length for your legs so much easier...

Stirrup leathers were too practical.  Besides, I couldn’t get them with bling, and I love their tack with bling. 

I threw practical out the window and opted to get Cole a new, bling-covered halter to match his bridle that I love so much.  Just like his bridle, I opted for black  Beta Biothane with dark pink rhinestones, and it looks so awesome on him!

One of the nice things about working with Two Horse Tack is that they custom make their tack right in Kentucky.  Consequently, I was able to get a narrower width halter that shows off Cole’s refined face. 

You would think that it takes a long time to get something custom made, but I received my halter in just over a week.  I didn’t get special treatment because I was reviewing the halter.  Whenever we have ordered something from them, we get awesome service.

The Biothane looks like leather, and it is only upon closer examination that you can see that it isn’t.  It is so nice that I don’t have to clean it.  I used to have a really nice leather halter for Cruiser, and I never managed to clean it.  With this one, I’ll never have to worry.  I can just hose it off if it is looking dirty.  (They do sell leather tack, too, but I would choose the Biothane over leather, any day.)

Now, if I wanted, I could have chosen from a whole slew of colors, but I opted for basic black.  There was plenty of choices in bling color, too.

I know that the halter will still look new at least a year from now, because Cole’s bridle does, and it gets a lot of use in all sorts of weather.

The website is easy to use and ordering was a snap.  I feel the prices are reasonable for the quality of the products, too.  Every month, they have a contest to win free tack, too.  Visit it here: http://www.twohorsetack.com/ When you enter, you get a $5.00 off coupon for your next purchase, too.

By the way, they also sell very nice dog collars.  My sister bought one for Stubby, and just as advertised, the collar doesn’t get smelly.  Besides, doesn’t he look handsome in blue?  I might get one for Maggie, but she has so much fur, that it would be hard to see.  I would have to get a bright color.

I still need new stirrup leathers…

Friday, November 6, 2015


Cole and I are spending our evening rides out on the loop.  The weather has been warm and the nights have been clear.  He has been behaving like a champ.  Sometimes Kevin comes out and walks with us, too.

I have ventured into the arena a couple of times to add variety after doing our loops, and he has been way, way better than he was that first night.  We have just done some walking and a little trotting.  Of course, we had to do laterals.  He just loves them.

As the weather gets colder, I will add more and more arena time.  It is bad enough riding in the dark, but it is even worse riding in the dark and being cold.

Things are different for Ellen during the week.  She can ride in the morning, so she has lovely daylight rides on the loop.  Dante is doing very well for her our there.  Last year, he wasn't consistent.  This year, he is great.

Weekends, of course, we are trail riding.

Ranger and his new girlfriend are working things out.  She greets him when he comes back to the barn.  Yesterday, Ellen heard Ranger squeal at her--and then she squealed back.  Ellen said it was a really cute squeal.

Cuteness Time

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ranger’s New Girlfriend

Ranger’s New Girlfriend

Ranger is a very temperamental horse.  He is in an end stall.  Years ago, my horse, Mingo was in the stall next to him.  They were great friends.  I had Mingo from birth, and Ranger helped raise him.  They always got along.  If Ranger was out on a ride, Mingo would stick his nose between the bars when Ranger came back.  Ranger would ignore him, of course.  They would hang out next to each other, and when it rained, they would both huddle in the corner together.

When Mingo went to the great pasture in the sky, Cole moved next to Ranger.  Cole was respectful of Ranger, but they were never friends.  Cole was only in that stall a short time and then he moved across the aisle and Sam, the Thoroughbred.  Ranger hated Sam.  He would kick the wall, screech at him if he was close by and constantly make faces at him.  We had to be careful when we were cleaning his stall that we did not get in the way of his antics.

When Ellen got Dante, we moved him into the stall next to Ranger so we could keep all the horses together.  Sam moved off to a different part of the stables and Ranger seemed happier—but poor Dante.  We don’t know what happened between them, but Dante just wouldn’t go by Ranger’s wall.  He would either stand exactly in the center of the stall or hang out on the other side.

Once Cruiser died, we moved Dante into his old stall.  The change in Dante’s stall behavior was measurealble.  He came out of his shell, learned to play with Starry and seemed like he was so much happier.

We had anoter horse in the stall for a few months, and Ranger didn’t much care for him.  He didn’t hate him like he hated Sam, but a lot of his kicking and screeching came back. 

The stall has been empty for a while, now, but we knew that wouldn’t last forever.  This weekend, a pony moved in.  She is only about 3 feet tall.  We are very optimistic that this might work out because she is so small that Ranger won’t feel threatened.  Also, her feed dish that is right on Ranger’s wall had to be lowered so far that it is funny.  I don’t know if we ever had Ranger next to a female, before, so we are hoping that might help, too.

When she showed up, I was told there was a lot of screeching and kicking from Ranger.  She got riled up, too, and they saw her rearing in the stall.  It must have been cute.  The next day, Kevin said he heard some screeching.  By the time I got out, things seemed quiet.  I took Ranger out on his walk.  When I put him back into the stall, I led him to where she was standing so he could see her.  Then she reached up her nose really, really high and barely made it to the bottom of the bars, but it was high enough that he could sniff her nose.  He gave a subdued screech and all was fine.

This morning, when Ellen got back from her ride, she rushed to see him.  He ignored her—just like he used to ignore Mingo.

I think the difference, this time, won’t be because she is small or a mare, but because she seems to like him.  He hasn’t had a horse that genuinely liked him since Mingo.  Hopefully, when he acts out, she won’t cower like Dante or become aggressive like Sam.  If she will be nice to him, maybe he will just calm down.  She sure is cute…

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cole Shows what Clicker Training can Do

Cole Shows what Clicker Training can Do

A couple days ago, a friend of ours who is interested in taking clicker training up to the next level, came out to see a Cole performance.

Julie has a Haflinger mare that has done a little clicker training on the ground. Her trainer, until recently, saw no need for clicker training. The mare had some soreness, due to saddle fit. The saddle was corrected, but they thought doing stretches would help her with the soreness. The trainer told Julie to bring out the clicker to help with the stretches. They used targeting to guide her in the way they wanted her to stretch. Now the trainer is interested in getting a clicker, herself!

Julie felt that though the clicker was helpful with her horse, she is not sure if her mare truly understands it. I will be visiting her at her stable in the future, but in the meantime, I thought it might be helpful for Julie to see what a clicker horse is like.

I put on Cole’s brand new bling-covered halter for his performance. (I will be doing a product review on his halter next month.) Now, it had been a long day for Cole. We took him out for a ride in the morning, and the vet came out in the afternoon to give him shots and float his teeth. I don’t think he was ready to put on a 100 percent performance. Still, he did well.

I brought Cole out in the arena, and he showed Julie how he can stand parked out and bow. I then showed her his silly walk and explained how he got it. I initially taught him to put his head down when I pointed to the ground with a whip. I turned that into putting his head down at a walk when I pointed to the ground. That was for safety. There were many times in the early days that he would get overexcited when I led him. By getting his head down, I got control of him.

Then, for fun, I taught him to match my steps as I walked. Julie wondered how I did that, and I explained that I matched his steps and clicked when we did it. (I did step harder to draw his attention to it.) After a while, when he understood what he was getting clicked for, he started to take the lead and match my steps. Of course, he got clicked for that, too. One day, he volunteered lifting up his feet really high while he was matching my steps—and the silly walk was born. It is his version of the Spanish Walk. (He does it under saddle, too.)

I showed her how easy it is too teach a horse to chase a ball—a game that really might engage her horse into the concept of clicking. I was disappointed that Cole wasn’t as spirited in his chasing as he usually is. He just walked after the ball instead of running and bucking.

I wanted to show how we can affect the quality of our horses’ gaits by shaping what we want. I asked Cole to trot on a lead rope next to me, requested that he lower his head, and he went into his show trot. (It is a very collected trot with a lot of suspension.) Of course, his show trot is something that didn’t happen overnight. I started it on the lounge line—clicking what was pretty—when he held his head at the right level, when he engaged his hindquarters and when he added suspension. Once he learned what I liked, I got to skip all the steps to get there, and I would just ask him to lower his head. Later, he volunteered it while riding at a trot and got clicked for it. The rest is history.

I thought it would be fun to show her that he can do it when he is free lounging when I stomp my feet, but Cole had other ideas. He just decided to run around, bucking and playing. In the beginning, he showed her how he stops when I tell him whoa, even if I don’t have a lead rope or lounge line to back up my command, but once he really got running, there was no stopping him. He was having more fun than eating a carrot!

I put him back in the stall and brought our Ranger to show her what I was doing to teach him how to stand. He did pretty well, and then he demonstrated his other talent.

When we first started clicking Ranger, he got so excited about the treats, he would try to help himself to them. I refused to give him a treat when he did that. Instead, after I clicked him, I would wait for him to turn his head away from me, first. It took him no time at all to realize that was what he had to do to get a treat. Ranger was glad to show Julie how he turned his head away so he could get a treat.

Many people worry that hand feeding a horse will cause them to be nippy and mug for treats. Ranger showed how hand feeding can actually stop such behavior. It is all in the approach.

Julie left that evening a total convert. I hope she can convert her trainer, too. Even if her trainer doesn’t want to use clicker in riding, by teaching “whoa,” “stand,” and “head down, “on the ground makes for much safer handling. Not to mention, all 3 of those cues are super helpful in the saddle.

Julie said she would keep us updated.