Thursday, February 25, 2016

Here We Go Again

Here We Go Again

I have spent a lot of time bragging about how wonderful a horse Dante is and how perfect he is for Ellen.  All of it is true, except for this time of year.

It seems that when Dante doesn’t get ridden outside for a while, he turns to the darkside.  He gets so bad that it is a challenge to even lead him outside.  consequently, Ellen just relies on the inside arena to exercise him.  He is fine in there.  Where some horses get hyper in very cold weather, Dante is the same consistent Dante he always is when he is inside the 4 walls of the arena.

It would help if he could be turned loose to play outside on a regular basis in the winter, but we battle ice so much—including in the turnout area this time of year.  We are reluctant to use it for turnout when it is frozen with deep divots—everywhere—and sections that are all ice.  Maybe we seem overly cautious, but we personally know of 2 people whose horses had to be put down from breaking their legs in conditions like that.  If we get loads of snow, it would be fine for turnout—but this hasn’t been a year with a lot of snow.  We do turn the boys out to play in the indoor arena, quite often.  Cole will run around like a nut.  Dante—not so much.  He doesn’t see the point.

Our other horses would get excited when they haven’t been outside much, but not like Dante.  I couldn’t trail ride Cruiser in the winter until he was 6 years old.  He would get so would up, riding him was like riding a stick of dynamite.  But as he got older, he would at least walk on a loose rein like a gentleman when we got outside.  Trotting was crazy for at least a month, but walking was fine.  Ranger was similar, but not as extreme as Cruiser.  Mingo—he was great.  Since he was such a quiet horse to begin with, in the spring he would liven up and become the horse I always wanted him to be.

Starry has never been a problem.  Cole was a little difficult the first spring I had him, but he has never been pretty good, since.  When the weather locks us in for a while, he isn’t much different when I get him back out than he is in the summer—and he is a very, very spirited horse.  Cole should be our problem horse; not Dante.  Dante is a quiet horse—but if he is stuck inside for a week or two, we are stuck with re-familiarizing him with the great outdoors.  At his age, (9), you would think he would be done with this.

Keep in mind, Dante broke Ellen’s ankle when she was leading him.  She gets very nervous if he misbehaves while she leads him.  This puts the responsibility on me.

I was hoping that this year, due to maturity, he may be different.  A few weeks ago, we had some mild weather, and Ellen rode him in the arena.  When she was done, she gave him to me to take outside.  We weren’t 10 feet out the door when he got excited and started bouncing around like a colt.  We quit after a few minutes.  Just as I was afraid of, he wasn’t going to be any different this year.

We then had some cold weather, so we gave up for a while.  When it got warmer, Ellen started his outside therapy.  After his rides, she would bring him outside and stand him in one place—clicking for good behavior.

Last weekend was really nice, and since it is getting closer to spring, it seemed like it was time to get serious about re-acclimating him to the great outdoors.

Friday evening, I had Kevin chase him around in the indoor arena.  He actually did a lot of running and playing for a change.  The next day, Ellen rode him in the arena—mostly trotting.  With any of our other horses, this would have set us up for success.

When she was done with her ride, she rode out the arena and to the loop in the back of the property.  I was right there by her side.  She got all the way to the farthest point of the barn and dismounted—handing the reins to me.  She has a halter bridle, so I clipped the reins on the halter part so I could lead him around.

He started out good.  As we continued walking around the loop, I told her that I knew what would happen when we made it around the corner to start the second loop.  I have been through this before with Dante.  I figured he would throw a temper tantrum when I ask him to go around the loop again.

Now this is the horse that Ellen rode on the loop all fall—even into December—with not a problem.  There is no reason for temper tantrums.  Why does this happen with him?

I hoped that if I acted like he would be a perfect gentleman, he would pick it up my demeanor and actually do just that.  It didn’t help.  We made it around the corner, and he threw a temper tantrum.  He barged forward, tried to turn around, stomped his front feet and was generally—well—awful.  I thought, “Here we go, again.”  When he tried to turn towards home, I just circled him back the way I wanted to go and worked with him to settle down.  By the time we got to the next corner, he was fine.  He gave up and was going to do another loop.

Of course, he was good all the way around—until we got to tantrum corner.  The second time, he threw a temper tantrum, but it was much smaller.  He was back to normal by the next corner and all the way around.

I decided to do one more lap.  Ellen was going to click him and give him—not a carrot, but a peppermint if he was good.  He didn’t immediately throw a tantrum, but he was pushy and rude, so he didn’t get the peppermint.  A little way further, there was a big gust of wind that blew at the arena gate and electric wire that startled him.  He gave a big spook and then went into a tantrum.  Cole and Ranger have both spooked at that in the past, so we couldn’t hold it against him, but he wouldn’t settle down.  I just couldn’t get him to walk quietly.  Then, Ellen realized that it was the construction at the barn that was getting to him.  They started using a nail gun.  He was jumping each time.  Once we realized what was going on, we decided it was time to quit.  He was awful leading back to the barn, too.

Dante has a pattern with his behavior.  If he followed his pattern, I figured we would have one very bad day on the loop, and the next day will be significantly better.  If we could do a third consecutive day, on that day, he would be perfect.

The next day, Ellen rode him in the indoor arena, again.  Since we had had a thaw, we then decided to turn him loose in the outdoor arena to roll and play.  Then, we would take the big, sloppy mess, formerly known as Dante, for a walk on the loop.

Thanks to the run, he skipped a day in his pattern of behavior.  He was perfect on the second day.  He got plenty of praise and clicks with treats—even peppermints on tantrum corner.  We were so glad to have our old Dante back.

The big question—with a week between walks, would he revert to the Dante of the Darkside?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Challenges of Riding Starry D.

The Challenges of Riding Starry D.

Kevin will not be able to ride Starry much for the next week or so, so he offered Lisa a chance to work with him.  Lisa recently lost her horse and is looking for a new one, and he thought she might like to do some riding, in the meantime.

Lisa confesses that she is not a winter trail rider, and the trail is where Starry shines.  The arena is another story, and that is where Lisa plans to spend her time with Starry.

Kevin simply doesn’t ride Starry in the arena, ever.  Kevin also doesn’t school Starry in the finer points of riding.  Essentially, he is a 15-year-old, green-broke horse.  They just go out on the trail and have fun.  It works for both of them, and they are happy and safe.  That is what matters.  It doesn’t make it easy for someone to ride Starry in the arena, though.  My niece has struggled with Starry in there, so I knew what Lisa was in for.

Kevin arranged a test ride for them on an evening that I planned to ride Cole in the arena.  When I arrived at the barn, Lisa was already plodding around with Starry.  I asked if she had trotted, yet, and she said she was just about ready to try.

As I mentioned in the past, Starry has the worst trot—ever.  It is not just really bouncy.  If it was, posting would solve that problem instantly.  Starry’s trot is bouncy and uneven.  It is very hard to get the rhythm.  Kevin finds the best way to even out his trot is to encourage him to go fast.  Of course, going fast is the last thing Starry wants to do in the arena.  In fact, Starry would prefer to not go, at all.

I got to see Lisa’s first attempt at the trot, and she was able to post, but she said it was hard for her.  Starry didn’t get very far, and he started walking.  I suggested trying to post on the very first beat.  It helps Ellen and me when we ride him.

I then left and saddled up Cole.  Kevin went to clean the stalls, giving Lisa some time to herself with Starry.

When I brought Cole in, Lisa was struggling to get Starry to trot.  When he did, he would go about 5 steps and quit.  That’s about how her whole ride with him went.  I did explain that Kevin typically asks Starry to trot by a light tap with the whip instead of using his legs, and Starry may not truly grasp that a leg squeeze is a cue to trot.  Kevin brought out the whip, but that didn’t help, much. 

I suggested tapping his flank instead of by his leg, like you are supposed to, because that is what Kevin does.  Kevin heard this and was dismayed.  He didn’t know you are supposed to tap by your leg.  I explained that it helps reinforce the leg cue, but since Kevin doesn’t use a leg cue, it doesn’t really matter.  Besides, it really doesn’t matter much what cues are used as long as you horse understands what you want.  The only complication comes when someone else rides your horse and doesn’t know which buttons to press.

By now, Lisa could get Starry to trot, but he didn’t stay trotting.  It is hard to say that Starry was stopping out of laziness or stopping because Lisa was struggling to post to his difficult trot.  I did point out that Starry hates to pass another horse on the trail and take the lead.  Sure enough, he would stop whenever he approached Cole.

At one point, I was trotting Cole and heard Starry behind us—coming fast.  I didn’t know what was going on, so I stopped Cole and looked back to see Starry walking.  Lisa told me he went after the Princess, the tyrant barn cat.  I yelled to Kevin that Starry was being bad.  He came rushing in—in a panic.  When I told him what happened, he relaxed—he thought Starry was really bad.  He wasn’t worried about Princess.

Lisa asked if Starry understood he should walk faster when asked, and I explained that he is a naturally slow horse who only walks fast when he is bothered by bugs.

I could tell, through the frustration, that Lisa was still having fun.  I asked her if she felt safe on Starry, and sure enough, she did.  Starry is a wonderfully safe horse.  Sure, all horses have their moments, but Starry’s are few and far between.  That’s the best thing about Starry, and I am so glad that he’s Kevin’s horse.  They take great care of each other.

Their ride ended, and I suggested that Lisa may want to take some Tylenol.  He makes us very sore when we ride him.  Then I realized—they probably didn’t trot enough to make her sore, after all.  It could be a blessing!