Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Wild Ride

A Wild Ride

I guess I should really title it “A Wildlife Ride.”  Ellen, Kevin and I went out on an early morning ride.  It was one of those brisk, sunny days that you get in October--made all the better by the lovely fall foliage.

As we started down the hill, I saw something up ahead on the trail.  It was the fox!  We have been seeing one on the hill in the last few weeks.  A woman a few houses down said that a pair of baby fox grew up in her backyard, and they used to play out in the horse pasture.  Consequently, they are not one bit afraid of horses.  Instead of running away from us, the fox will actually approach us, and one day he even followed Kevin when he was on Starry.  This only started a few weeks ago, so seeing the fox is still a very special event.

No sooner did the fox trot out of sight, but the flock of turkeys strutted over the trail.  We see turkey often enough, but it is still neat to see them, too.  I think they are just so beautiful, and I sure can understand why Benjamin Franklin wanted to make them the national bird instead of the eagle.

Not a minute later, a few deer crossed the trail, too.  Deer are as common as robins, so that wasn’t such a big deal.  As soon as they were out of sight, we saw a fox squirrel followed by a black squirrel.  This was all before we even crossed the river.

We were only going to be out for about an hour because Ellen had to go to work, so when we crossed the river, we went right off in a trot.  The horses were feeling frisky because of the weather.  At one point, Ellen spotted more turkeys on the other side of the river.  We seldom see more than one group on our rides, so that was a surprise!

We did a little cantering, and when we got to the section of trail that we usually canter, we galloped, instead.  It was quite a gallop, too.  

We did some trotting on the way home, and then we slowed it down to a walk.  Good thing we did, because Ellen spotted a blue heron very close to us sitting on the bank of our side of the river.  Because we were so close, the heron took off to fly to the other side of the river.  We love the herons.

If that wasn’t good enough, on the way back up the hill, we saw the fox trotting right towards us on the trail!  He went off to the side of the hill and sat there for a few minutes while we exclaimed how pretty he was.

We don’t know if our little fox friend is going to stick around this winter or move on, but in the meantime, we will thrill every time we see him.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Rainy Day Ride

Rainy Day Ride

I was going to give Cole the day off, yesterday, until I saw the forecast.  They predicted several rainy days in a row.  I took him on a quick, fast ride and figured he could have the day off today.

I woke up, and it was raining.  I knew Ellen was going to ride, so I decided to go out to the barn and see if we could salvage the morning.  When I got there, the rain stopped for a few minutes and there was some hope--and then it started up again.

We decided to take Ranger for his walk outside, anyway.  The rain wasn’t that hard, and the temps were warm.  He is still healing from his abscess.  When it burst out, it came out in several places and compromised his hoof.  Five years ago, when he had an abscess on the same foot, this happened too.  It will take him a while to fully heal--just like last time.  Today, we saw a real improvement, so that was hopeful.

The rain stopped, so we decided to take Dante and Cole out on the loop in the back of the property.  If it started to rain hard, we could always come back in.  As it turned out, just as we stepped outside it started drizzling, again.  We rode just the same.  After three laps, the rain quit and we did three more.  We did a mix of walking and trotting.  Riding the loop is rather boring by yourself, but it can be a lot of fun with company, and it was.

I was glad I came out to the barn and was able to ride a little bit.  Cole can have the day off, tomorrow.  We have already gotten about an inch of rain, and more is coming.  The river will be too high to cross, even if it stops raining in time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cole and Bella

Cole and Bella

Monday evening, we had a super fun ride right before dark.  Bella and Cole were awesome--except for the Cole Burst that Cole experienced crossing the river when he saw another horse on the other side.  He ended up spooking Bella and scaring me as he trotted across the very slippery river.  He likes to make sure I never get too complacent.

Shari and I have had so much fun riding Cole and Bella together this summer.  Not only do we ride with Ellen on the weekends, but we have been riding once or twice a week in the evenings, too.  Sadly, those days are soon to end.  Once Daylight Savings goes away, we won't have enough daylight after Shari gets out of work to get a ride in.  Since I am retired, I will just ride earlier in the day, but I sure will miss our evening rides together.

Cole gets along beautifully with Bella.  She likes to lead, and Cole likes to follow.  She goes fast enough that Cole has no trouble with her in the lead.  If she dances around or spooks, Cole takes it all in stride, and that may help Bella settle back down.

Bella does not like other horses leading, and that will be something we will definitely have to work on next summer--regardless what Cole thinks.  We want Bella to be an all-around excellent trail horse, and being able to follow is an important aspect.  Some day, she may find herself with a like-minded companion, and that can cause trouble.  I am speaking from experience because Cruiser and Ranger both like to be the leader.  Usually, it worked best if Cruiser would follow, but he could only handle it so long.  Suddenly, he would burst past Ranger; who would get so angry!  What fun Ellen and I used to have...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Slow and Steady

Slow and Steady

Dante likes to trot slow and steady.  He can go trot like that all day.  Cole goes quite a bit faster and he can trot like that all day--but you can see that it can cause a problem if Ellen and I ride together.  I spend a lot of time waiting for her.

Bella trots a little bit slower than Cole would if he is in the lead, and I have spent the summer encouraging Cole to match her speed and give her plenty of space.  Since Bella likes to throw in an occasional dance step if she sees a stick that looks funny, it is always best to give her room.  Cole seems to have mastered the lesson.

When I am riding just with Ellen, Dante will trot fast enough on the way home that Cole can physically match his speed without having to come to a walk, but it is hard for him.He tends to get a little too fast and trot up behind Dante much too close.  It then have to slow him down so Dante can have space.  In a minute or so, Cole will be too close, again.

I decided that Cole can learn to match Dante’s speed just like he learned to match Bella’s speed, and keep enough distance between them.  It won’t work when we go away from home--Dante is much too slow, but when Dante is a little zippier on the way home, there is simply no reason that Cole can’t learn.

The other day, we were a long way from home and wanted to trot.  It really is much nicer to stay close to Ellen so we could talk.  She took the lead.  Cole, as usual, rushed up and was too close.  I slowed him up and talked to him with the reins to correct him when he accelerated.  I managed to get about 20 seconds of perfection, so I clicked him.

I told Ellen to keep going.  I quickly gave Cole a treat and we then trotted fast to catch up.  I didn’t think of it at the time, but catching up was a good technique because I then had to ask him to slow down and match his speed.  When he did, he got another click.

I did this a few times with success, and then switched my tactic because he was getting good.  Instead of clicking him, I went into the “Good boy” chant.  I have taught Cole, over the years, that if I do the chant, he will most likely get a click at the end of the chant.  It is a “keep going” signal for him.  This isn’t something he automatically knew, but something I trained him to know.

Now, we were successfully trotting at Dante’s speed with a comfortable distance between them for longer distances--all in one ride!  Why didn’t I take the time to teach him this long ago?

The next day, Ellen and I were out again.  On the way home, she took the lead.  Cole knew what I wanted right away.  I did click him a couple times to reinforce the behaviour, and after that, I used the chant.  I was so proud of him.  We will continue to practice in the rides to come, and I am sure it will soon be an automatic behavior--just like it is when we ride with Bella.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Relief at Last

Relief at Last

It was a terrible weekend for Ranger.  The vet came out to try to drain his abscess on Thursday, and she wasn’t successful.  She poulticed it and wrapped it up and told us to see if that would help.  There is no soaking Ranger’s foot.  He doesn’t allow such things, so we avoid them.  The big problem, these days, is his breathing.  He has COPD, and anytime he gets really stressed, his head goes up and he has difficulty catching his breath--then he really panics.  We just do our best to keep him from becoming stressed.

We were able to bring him out to graze on Friday, but he was very, very lame.  Saturday, he was even worse.  He couldn’t put any weight on his foot, and he became reluctant to eat. When he tried to move in his stall, he had to shift his weight way back off both of his front feet and sort of hop.  It was horrible to watch, to say the least.  He was in so much pain that his body looked contorted.

Sunday morning, we found him with his good front foot underneath his floor mat.  He tried to move, and his feet got tangled in the mat and he nearly fell down.  We pulled that mat out.  It had a corner that didn’t lay flat on the ground.  After that, he was still standing with his bad front foot way in front of him so he wouldn't have to put any weight on it.  He hadn’t eaten his grain, but he was still nibbling on his hay from hours before.

We went out on our ride, and when we came back, it seemed like he didn’t have his bad foot so far forward, anymore.  As we did our chores, we noticed he was moving around a little more than the day before.  Could there be an improvement?  I suggested to Ellen that we go on a little walk and then come back and check on him.  Twenty minutes later, he definitely was putting more weight on it.  I reached down to feel how hot his foot was under the bandage, and started to push in the heel area where we suspected the abscess would burst out.  It seemed soft under the vet wrap.  I then sniffed my hand, and it smelled like hoof drainage.  I told Ellen to try, and she felt the same.  Could it be that he finally busted the abscess?  

He stopped nibbling his hay and just stood there.  We watched him for a few minutes and then realized that he was starting to fall asleep.  Poor guy was completely exhausted.  We left cautiously optimistic, but not positive.

Monday morning, Ellen went to the barn by herself to check on him.  She took the bandage off, pressed his heel and a whole bunch of puss came out!  He was standing much better and seemed more relaxed.  The worst is over.  Ranger has relief.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Waiting on the Vet

Waiting on the Vet

Ranger has been having some trouble with his right front foot.  We are fairly certain it is an abscess.  His frog split badly and was draining, so we assumed that it was an abscess that was already draining and treated it as such.  It seemed to get a little better, but it made a turn for the worse, so it was time to call the vet.  It either never started to drain or the hole plugged back up.  We need the vet to create a better hole for it to drain.

We are now waiting to hear back to find out when the vet will be here.  They will also give fall shots and do the teeth of anyone who needs it.

What I didn’t expect is that I would miss our walks so much.  We take him for a walk everyday, and they aren’t what I would call fun--usually we are just doing laps on the loop around the back of the property.  This last week, we have been doing shorter and slower walks with him.  Instead of him cheerfully begging to get treats, (Ranger is a perfect example of clicker training gone bad,) we are watching him limp--hoping for the limp will improve.  (Until a few days ago, it would get better.)  I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed our walks until they were gone…

Hopefully, the vet will be able to make his foot right, again.  This happened four years ago to that foot in the same place, and it took a while to heal, but it did heal.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Starry is a Superstar!

Starry is a Superstar!

I try to ride with Ellen when she rides in the morning before she goes to work, but I had to feed in the evening--and it is a long drive to go out twice a day.  She was on her own.  I thought it would be a good day for Kevin to see how Starry would do with Dante all by themselves.  Would Starry insist on following Dante?  Would he get stuck on the river bank, again, when he realizes that Dante isn’t in front of him--blocking the river bank so Dante can’t pass to get in front of him?

Starry crossed the river, went up the river bank and waited for Dante to follow.  Then, Starry took the lead at a trot for the whole trail.  He led on the way home.  One time, he did get fussy about leading, so they rode a bit and then asked Starry to pass Dante.  He did.  He got clicked and a whole handful of carrots.  Ellen suggested letting Starry follow the rest of the way home to give him another reward.

Kevin is as happy as a clam.  All of his hard work payed off, and Starry is back to his old self.  Ellen told him that he will probably still have setbacks, but the worst is over.  Starry is a Superstar.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Starry Triumphs

Starry Triumphs

I mentioned in the past that Starry has developed a very annoying habit.  When he is out on the trail with Dante, all he wants to do is follow him--right directly behind him.  He refuses to pass.  Instead, he will back up and throw a tantrum.  Though Kevin had some success with getting him to pass Cole a few times, with the help of clicker, it didn’t stick.  It got worse.  He no longer wanted to lead with any horses.

You can’t imagine how upsetting this was for Kevin.  After 11 years, Starry went from an excellent horse to a real lunkhead horse.  He was disrupting all the rides.  It wouldn’t be so bad, but Starry has a very fast trot--and Dante has a very slow trot.  It is impossible for Starry to go as slow as Dante--and uncomfortable.  Starry has a must-post trot, and if he doesn’t go fast enough to post, he is miserable to ride.  Kevin had to hold Starry back, let Dante get up the trail, trot to catch up and then walk, again.  It was no fun for anyone.

I told Kevin to take Starry out on some rides by himself and work on asking him to walk forward and rewarding him with a click.  I emphasized that he had to do it a lot.  Most people don’t realize how many clickable behaviors it takes in most circumstances to solidify a behavior.  Our goal was to make it an automatic behavior, and then replace the clicking with praise and wither rubbing.

The first day they did it, Kevin rode out ahead of me on the trail, and I caught up with him.  Starry did take the lead a few times on that ride on the way out and a few more on the way home.  Horses are always more motivated on the way home, and Kevin thought that was the only reason Starry was doing it.  I had to keep reminding him that we had plenty of trouble this summer trying to get Starry to lead on the way home.  Kevin has a very short memory.

The next time we were with Dante, Starry was as bad as ever.  Kevin got discouraged.  I told him that this could take a while.

He continued to work on his own and practiced with Cole.  He started to get consistent on the way home.  When Kevin rode with other people, Starry started to improve with their horses, too.  He finally had a terrific ride with Cole where he led much of the time and never showed strong resistance to passing.

Last weekend, Kevin intercepted us on the way home.  He wanted to continue his ride and Starry wanted to go home with us, as they often do.  They had a big fight--and Starry won.  Kevin was more discouraged than ever.  I told him that he asked Starry to do the very hardest thing for him.  Starry is learning basic math and he just failed a calculus test.  It wasn’t any surprise.

A few days ago, Kevin took Starry out by himself, again, to practice.  The day before yesterday, the three of us were stuck on the hill because the river was too high to cross.  Cole was in a perky mood, and he was walking really fast.  The other two were rather slow, so I got all the way to the bottom and they were nowhere to be seen.  We waited--and I was shocked to see Starry in the lead!  Starry then passed Cole up and trotted to the end of the trail.

We practiced going up and down the hill with Starry leading.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but he was so much more improved, it was amazing.  Hopefully, Starry realized that his friends were still with him--just behind him instead of in front of him.

Yesterday, the river was still too high for ponies like Cole and Dante to cross, so Ellen and I were doing the hill, again.  We were on our way up--which is the direction towards home, and here comes Kevin on Starry.  He had to pass us to get down the hill.  We all thought that Starry would try to follow us towards home, instead.  We were all so happy to see Starry first pass Cole and then Dante and continue down the hill without a single resistance!

He is on his way to becoming the horse he always was.