Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dante and Kevin

Dante and Kevin

Starry is having some hoof troubles, so Kevin wasn’t able to ride him with me.  Ellen offered Dante, and Kevin couldn’t resist.  He rode him on a trail ride a couple years ago, and he loved him. 

Now, this was going to be an evening ride, and Dante hasn’t been on an evening ride in a few years.  All of our other horses get very excited about going out in the evenings—particularly if they haven’t done it all winter.  Well, it has been much longer for Dante than a single winter.  To complicate matters, Kevin has had so little experience with him.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  I didn’t want to tell any of this to Kevin.  After all, he has enough experience to handle a rambunctious Dante.  Dante at his worst isn’t all that bad, so I kept my nervousness to myself.  (Turns out Ellen was nervous, too.)

I helped Kevin tack Dante up, and brought him up to speed about all the places he has to click and treat Dante if he is good.  The street when cars go by, when mounted, when his first feet step into the river…

We led the horses out of the barn, and Dante was so happy.  He loves going on trail rides.  He is like a dog that looks forward to his walks.  Dante marched right down the driveway.  Cole wanted to park out, bow, do silly walk, and Dante didn’t want to waste time.  There was no waiting for us.  I hurried Cole along, and we caught up with them by the time they reached the street.

Kevin mounted and decided the stirrups were too long.  I told him we could fix them at the bottom of the hill.  I didn’t want to mess around right by the street.  The horses marched on down.  At the bottom, I dismounted, parked Cole out and shortened one stirrup.  Kevin felt better.  I tried to lead Cole to the other side, and Dante kept skittling away.  He is going through a phase of being afraid of Cole being too close.  I don’t know what has brought this on, but it has happened before, and it passes. 

I told Kevin he had to do the other stirrup.  He figured it out and started on his way.  I was still on the ground.  Cole wanted to do his park/bow routine, again, and it took me a bit to get him focused and standing square so I could mount.  By now, Dante was way up the trail.  I started to trot to catch up.  Dante heard us, and he thought it was a great idea.  He took off at a trot with no brakes.  He wanted to pass up the exit ramp and just trot back and forth at the bottom of the hill—one of his favorite games.  I had Cole walk, and Kevin got control of Dante, but he still didn’t want to go down the exit ramp to the river.  Cole marched by and stepped in the river while Kevin struggled.

The ride wasn’t starting quite the way I wanted, but I felt if I could just get them across the river and trotting that things would work out.  Kevin finally got him walking down the bank.  They stepped into the water, and I sighed a sigh of relief. We were on our way.

To make Kevin’s ride easy, he was going to be the leader.  Dante loves to lead, but is a slow leader.  Cole prefers to follow, but he likes to go fast.  If I put him in the lead, he would speed along much faster than Dante wants to trot, and either Dante would get excited, or I would leave them far behind.  We didn’t need that, so Dante was lead horse.

Once we crossed the river, I told Kevin to trot whenever he felt comfortable.  Dante started trotting right away, so I was glad that Kevin was already comfortable with him.  I started trotting after them, and then Kevin stopped Dante.  Turns out that trotting was Dante’s idea, not Kevin’s.  They walked for a little bit, and then Kevin asked him to trot.  With all my instructions to Kevin, I forgot to tell him about the Lambert Leap.  When Dante is excited, he takes a huge first step when he trots.  It did give Kevin a surprise—and then I told him what it was and to not worry about it.  He does it all the time—and then just trots along.

We trotted and trotted.  I watched them the whole time, and not once did Kevin post—not once.  What a difference for him after riding Starry’s Turbulence Trot.  Cole was antsy and wanted to pass so he could stretch his legs.  The weather was very chilly, which only adds to his exuberance.  Occasionally, I would stop him when he got too close, let them get ahead and then let him trot a little faster to catch up. 

We got to the next river crossing where we were going to turn around to go home all too soon.  We turned, walked a bit and then did some more trotting.  Dante went faster, here, since he was heading towards home, and still no posting from Kevin.  We stopped and walked on to home.  Kevin wanted to trot more, but I told him he couldn’t since Ellen wasn’t trotting closer to home yet.  He really, really wanted to trot more, so when we got to our river crossing to go home, I suggested passing up home and trotting out to the street.  It is only about 30 seconds of trotting, but when we do this, Cole gets to lead and I let him go as fast as he likes.  Dante always follows politely.

Cole flew.  He was holding in a lot of energy.  (I loved it.)  When we got to the end, Dante wasn’t as far back as he usually is.  Kevin said it was the fastest he had gone the whole ride.  I didn’t see them, but I bet that Kevin didn’t post.

We walked home, and it was happily uneventful.  Kevin wanted to grade Dante with a A+ for the ride, but I reminded him of how he was at the bottom of the hill, so he adjusted it to an A.  Still, that is pretty impressive for Dante’s first evening ride in a few years, on a cool night with a new rider—only a few weeks after Ellen started trail riding him this year.

Kevin has renamed Dante.  He is now “Smooth as Butter.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Preparing Cole for More Riding

Preparing Cole for More Riding

I’m not sure what Cole’s opinion of my retirement would be if he knew what was going to happen.  It will mean more work for him.  With more work comes more hoof wear, too.  The last few years, we have been getting away with front shoes, only, but barely.  I wore his back feet down way too far, and there is no way that they can take any more riding than he has been getting.  It is time for Cole to get back shoes.

This means preparing him for the big event.  He isn’t bad for trims, but he isn’t happy about the phase when the farrier pulls his hindlegs up and forward.  He is tense and wants to pull away.  It isn’t such a big deal with trimming, but shoeing is more involved and takes more time.  I like Cole and my farrier too much to make shoeing a difficult time for either of them, so I decided to work with Cole on this problem.

Of course, I’m using clicker training for this.  I have found clicker training to be wonderful for any kind of hoof work.

I have 8 weeks.

I started with lifting his back hoof up forward and high, and clicking when I felt any sort of relaxation in Cole’s leg.  I would then put it down and give him a treat, of course.  I was doing each foot about 10 times each session.

After he was getting reliable with that, I started to pull his leg towards the side and set it on mine.  Once again, when I felt relaxation, I clicked, released and treated.  I did this so many times, that by now, when I walk to Cole’s hindquarters and face forward, Cole lifts his foot up for me.

I am only doing this with Cole loose in his stall, and in the first few weeks, he voiced his displeasure with the activity by moving to a different part of the stall after a few pickups.  I just patiently followed him and continued the training.  He no longer does that, so I think that is a good sign.

The next step was adding duration, and I started it on a day that he was eating hay.  I thought that might make him more cooperative, and it did.  I would set his foot on my thigh and do the “good boy” chant.  (Cole is conditioned to know when I do the chant that he will get a treat at the end of it.)  I began with 20 seconds and have been increasing it over time.  Even though he was eating hay, I was still clicking and giving him carrots.

The first time I did it without hay, we did have one silly session.  When Cole wants to ask for a treat, he will park out and bow.  Well, I had his foot up and was rubbing his withers and doing the chant and he decided he would park out.  When he does, he will arch his neck and point his nose down, first.  Cole arched his neck, pointed down and then he tried to pick up his front foot to move it forward and realized that he couldn’t because he was on three legs.  He glanced back at me with a quizzical face that made me laugh.

To kill time, because just standing there with a hoof on my leg is rather tedious, I started to gently rub his hoof and foot.  I was surprised when he didn’t like that and tried to pull his hoof away.  After a few times, he didn’t mind, anymore.  I have added tapping and scraping his hoof with the hoof pick, and he took that in stride.

It is hard to hold this position for long, so I guess I am working on duration for myself, too.  I don’t know how farriers do this all day.  It’s making me appreciate my farrier more than ever!

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Inevitable Uneventful Rides

The Inevitable Uneventful Rides

I don’t know what is happening to my sister, but I like it.  Shortly after her first trail ride weekend, she went on a ride without me!  Yes, it is true.  She went on a trail ride with Kevin and Starry.  Dante was wonderful.

The next weekend, she rode with me, again.  Each day, we went a little further and a little faster.  We are now trotting and cantering as much as we were at the end of the year, last year.  She’s been leading Dante on the street to the trail—last year, I think it was June before that happened.  There are days during the week when she is alone where she rides to the end of the driveway and plays bus stop.  All of this is happening and it has been so uneventful—giving me nothing at all to write about.

It’s great!

Trail riding, at least in a very urban setting like ours, is one of the hardest equine sports.  A horse has to get used to so many stimulating experiences and learn to handle them in a calm, matter-of-fact way.  Even a horse like Dante, who had trail experience before Ellen got him, had to adjust to our difficult trails—and adjust to Ellen.  At the same time, Ellen, had to learn about him.  Some people are lucky and get a great horse right from the start like Kevin did with Starry, but most horses have an adjustment period.  (Starry did have an advantage that he was born at a place close to our trails and had experience with them.  I can recall seeing a cute buckskin colt being ponied with his palomino mother on our trails—I am certain it was him.)

The ironic part of training a horse for trail riding is it can be so very difficult—and then it suddenly becomes very easy.  Once everything falls in place, it is effortless.

So, if you are still in that difficult stage—if your horse seems to be spooking at everything like Cruiser did the first year I was riding him, or he just doesn’t want to settle down and walk—the way Cole started out—take heart and keep trying.  If traffic bothers them like Dante—or they just want to run home like Brandy, keep trying.  Things typically get better and then they get wonderful!

Now, what am I going to write about in the months that come?  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Future Looks Bright

I was planning to retire this summer, but my employer made me a very good offer if I would stay on part time.  It was a sensible thing to do, and I would be starting in March instead of waiting until summer.  That was the biggest draw.  I was excited.

Well, we go so incredibly busy at work that that plan was put on the back burner.  I have been working full time all along.  Since we were so busy, I think that made them re-evaluate things—plus there are other things involved—and they changed their mind.  They decided to hire a replacement.  Since the replacement is someone they laid off a couple months ago from a different department, I am thrilled for him. He needs a full-time job much more than I need a part-time job.

Also, once the weather started getting nice, I started to question my decision about going part time.  In my head it was for 3 years, then it went to 2 years.  I was down to one year when they told me they changed their mind.  The last week or so, when it looked like they would make me work full time up until my retirement date, I was wondering if I made a mistake.  When they told me what their new plan, I was smiling

I will be full-time until July--then freedom!

This Time Last Year…

This Time Last Year…

This time last year, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my new horse.  Well, we all know how that turned out.  Believe it or not, my tailbone still hurts from being bucked off.  I am glad to report he is still at the trainer that I gave him to.  I saw him in the background of a video for another horse that was for sale.  He looked healthy and happy.  Since they still have him, he must be working out.  I know they put many months of training on their horses until they offer them for sale, so I am sure they have a long way to go.  I’m glad they must have worked through the bucking problem.

I was so disappointed with the whole experience that I put all my plans of buying a second horse on hold.

And now, I am happy it all worked out the way it did.  I was so upset about everything that I asked Ellen if she would let me take care of Ranger when she wasn’t there.  I have enjoyed taking Ranger for his walks so much.  I always liked Ranger, and this has given me more time to get to know him.

He has benefited, too.  With his breathing problems, Ellen can’t always give him all the exercise he needs.  I am able to help fill in the gaps.

Ranger loves going on walks with me.  When I reach for his halter, he starts neighing and carrying on.  He just can’t wait to get out the door to walk around and around the loop.  I don’t know what the attraction is, but he does get clicks and treats. 

I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, but it sure seems like it this time.  If I would have had another horse, I would have never had this opportunity to spend precious time with Ranger in his golden years.  This time is golden to me.

The story had a happy ending, after all.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dante is Back Where He Belongs

Dante is Back Where He Belongs 

It was time for Ellen to take Dante on a trail ride for the first time of the year.  I had taken him out for a fantastic ride on Easter Sunday, but after that, the weather got cold, rainy and even snowy—preventing her from riding him on the trail.

Finally, we got perfect weather combined with a low river.  It was time. 

Ellen has anxiety issues, and although Dante is a tremendously well-behaved horse, she worries that things will go wrong.  It isn’t an easy thing for her to just saddle up and trot down the trail.  She needs to psych herself into doing it.  It takes a lot of courage for her, and I give her credit for doing it.

The logical part of her head knew that Dante should be quite good on the ride.  The emotional side didn’t agree.  We kid ourselves if we think the logical side rules over the emotional side of our brain.  If it did, we would all be driving small, economical cars and eating a healthy diet.  In fact, if we were logical, we wouldn’t even own these large, unpredictable and very expensive animals.

Ellen came up with a wonderful idea to trick the emotional side of her brain.  (If her emotional side could trick her logical side—why couldn’t it work the other way, too?)  She just pretended winter never happened—that she never took a break from riding him—that he would be as good as he was last December when she stopped trail riding—because she never stopped trail riding him. 

I thought the idea was brilliant.

The two places the Ellen is the most nervous is leading on the street and crossing the river.  I was willing to do both for her—letting her have Cole—but I didn’t offer it.  If she needed the help, I would step in, but I wanted to see if she could do it on her own.

She did.  She tricked her brain into believing Dante would be good—because he was last year—and he was.  He was good the whole ride.  And it was no fluke.  He repeated the performance the next day.  Dante is an awesome horse, and my sister is so brave.

Dante loves the trail.  He was very excited and enthusiastic, but that didn’t translate into hyper behavior like Cole (Cole bursts), racing like Ranger would have, spooking like Cruiser definitely would have or bucking like little Mingo.  No, it just meant that he walked a little faster and trotted a little faster.  He tossed his head around and took a few large trot transitions.  (We call them Lambert Leaps.)  He was just as good as Starry—but smoother.  I call him the Dante Dream Horse.

Ellen enjoyed every minute of it.  On the second day, we did more trotting, including trotting towards home, and she did a little cantering, too.

I was happy to be able to ride on the trail with Ellen, again.  Kevin was banished from the rides because Starry can complicate things.  It works out all right because I can ride with Kevin in the evenings.

I can’t wait to ride with her next weekend…

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Princess, Barn Tyrant

Princess, Barn Tyrant

Here is a picture of little Princess.  I have mentioned her before.  She is the cat who loves to come running when we call her, loves to help me clean stalls and feed the horses, loves to sit on my lap and purr, loves all kinds of attention—until she doesn’t—and then she attacks—only to ask for more attention.  She can purr and growl while sitting on my lap at the same time.  Sometimes, she will get really mad and walk away in a snit—swishing her tail back and forth.  In fact, her tail never stops swishing.

It is for all these reasons that the only people who pay attention to her, other than her owner, is Ellen and me.  Everyone else is afraid of her.  She loves us all the more, because of it.  She just delights in the attention we give her.

There has been a new complication.  Last year, a feral tom cat moved in.  The old ladies have been feeding him, and he has started to become tame.  He noticed that Princess spends time with me.  I would see him just watching us as she purred and growled on my lap.  Over time, he got closer and closer.  A few months ago, he started quietly following me—quietly watching.  I started to call him my Stalker Cat.  (Better than Blackie—which is what the old ladies call him.)  Eventually, he let me pet him, and now that’s all he wants.  He gets so happy.  He now helps me feed, too.   

Princess is not happy about this.  Whenever he is close to me and she wants my attention—she has been attacking him.  He doesn’t fight back, but holds his ground and quietly waits; watching; stalking.  When Princess gets tired of me, I will look back and see him following me.  Finally, I am able to talk to him and tell him what a handsome fellow he is.

The old ladies have been talking about trapping him and sending him for the operation.  I certainly hope that they are able to.  He has been getting in fights and is all beaten up.  All of our females are spayed, so I don’t know where he has been fighting.