Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Second Attempt in the Arena

Second Attempt in the Arena

A few days later, I was out at the barn in the evening.  Originally, I planned to give Cole the day off, but there was nobody there.  Even Kevin wasn’t with me.  Such quiet nights at the barn are rare, so I decided to ride Cole, after all.  I set my goal at only 20 minutes.  I would do 5 laps each direction at a walk.  

The first lap was the worst, of course.  When I got to the far end, Cole raised his head.  Did he hear something I didn’t hear?  Or was he sensing that I was nervous?  On the second lap, he did it again and this time, I couldn’t take it.  I asked him to stop for a few moments so we could both relax.  It worked.  We proceeded without incident.

He lifted his head up on the next lap, too, but I just vibrated one rein; which is his cue to lower his head.  It worked.  I started to feel so much better.

The next lap, the same thing happened.  My confidence started to soar.  This wasn’t going to be bad, after all.

On my fifth and final lap, I could hear that the neighbor on that side had her dogs turned out, and they were barking, as always.  I gave myself a mental pat on the back.  Neither one of us were bothered by the dogs.

And then, it happened.  He bolted at the beginning of the short end of the arena, and he had no intention of stopping.  I bent his head to the inside, and I got no response.  He just kept going like I wasn’t even there.  I then bent his head to the outside, and he fought the bit, but I felt him slow down, a little.  By the time we got to the next corner, he was back to a walk.

The first words out of my mouth were, “Thanks, Cole.  That is just what I needed.”

That meant we had to redo that lap from the beginning.  As we walked around the arena, I played the incident over in my head, and realized that this time, his “bolting” was about 5 huge, out-of-control trott steps, and I was able to get him to stop before he ran off towards his barn door.  He may have been bad, but I handled it--as I should be able to after all these years riding.  Cole isn’t near as bad as Cruiser was in his youth.  The only difference is that Cruiser would spook in all places of the arena.  There was no safe side to retreat.  I just had to deal with it.

That made me feel better.  I then walked the other 5 laps in the opposite direction without any incident at all.  That brought me to about 15 minutes.  There was still some time to do a little trotting.  As in the past, we began by walking through the bad end and then trotting along the wall once I felt safe.  I was clicking him for good transitions in the beginning, and then I started clicking him for maintaining his rhythm.  Finally, I did some clicks for stopping from a trot.  If never did trot the full arena, but did practice some good circles on the safe side.  We quit at 25 minutes.

If things work out the way I want them to, I will be still riding in the arena only sporadically.  That doesn’t help one bit with the confidence, but I don’t want to miss any of the last good trail rides of the year.  At least I know that I am on my way to regaining my arena confidence.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

First Attempt in the Arena After a Long Trail Riding Season

First Attempt in the Arena After a Long Trail Riding Season

If you have been following my stories with Cole for a while, you may recall that we have problems in the arena.  It started when I was initially training him.  Though he is hardly what I would call a spooky horse, he was consistently having huge spooks on the far end of the arena--causing him to bolt back towards the door.  Any little noise would set him off--or no noise at all.

I was training him for the trail on the weekends and working him in the arena during the week.  He barely spooked at all on the trail.  There, my biggest problem was getting him to walk quietly.  He wanted to trot, instead.  We managed to work through that, but the arena was much more difficult.  Not because of Cole, but because of me.  Since the bolting kept occurring in the same area, I was getting nervous whenever I approached it.  I would get so frightened, I would become paralyzed.  I remember trying to ride there on my own, and having to stop and call someone to walk back with me.  Even though he got better, I got worse.  Eventually, I couldn’t even ride on that side of the arena.  I spent most of the first winter riding only one half to the arena.  

That spring, I started trail riding, again.  I still rode a little in the arena in the evenings, but I still stayed on the safe side.  Eventually, I was so determined to vanquish my fear, that I decided to work on attainable goals.  I would ride the full arena at a walk for 5 laps each direction.  If anything caused me to abort the plan, I had to start over at the beginning.  It worked like magic.  By starting my rides like this, I was able to conquer my fears and soon I could trot and canter, too.

That is, until I took the whole following spring and summer off from arena to ride on the trail, exclusively.  When I went back in the fall, the fears came back.  I had to do the 5 laps routine, again.

Same with the following fall…

And the next one.

This year, I was determined that I would just ride like a normal person.  After over 5 years of riding Cole, I didn’t need to go through all that, again.

Ellen and I had our first arena ride on a cold and rainy weekend morning.  I hopped on Cole and rode a few laps--and felt great.  Then I decided to try the other direction.  It was the easier one--piece of cake.

That is, until I got to the far end of the arena and involuntarily broke out into a cold sweat.  It was back.  Sadly, I rode to the safe end and did circles.  After a while, I started to do some trotting--but only short distances.  His arena trot is so dramatically different than his trail trot, that it takes me some time to get used to it.  It is big--really big--and scary, too.  Once I get used to it, I manage pretty well, but if I am too scared to walk to the scary end of the arena, the last thing I am going to do is trot there.

Ellen just glided along on Dante.  He did some of the nicest trotting I ever saw him do.  Eventually, I just had Cole stand so we could watch.

And then, I noticed it stopped raining, so I suggested we go outside.  Ellen was a little nervous about that, and where I was relieved.  We are riding opposites.  We did go outside and ride on the loop, and both horses were terrific.  I was just very bothered by what happened to me in the arena.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

My First Wintery Trail Ride of the Year

My First Wintery Trail Ride of the Year

It is no secret that I prefer a trail ride over an arena ride any given day of the year.  When the weather gets crummy, I still try to eke out a trail ride.  For that matter, so do Ellen and Kevin.  That is how you would have found us a few days ago--freezing on the trail.

Actually, the temperatures weren’t that bad.  It was in the mid 30s.  The ground was covered with a light snow and though it was windy at the barn, there wasn’t that much wind in the valley.

Ellen and I left before Kevin.  This was the horses’ first day out after the farrier visit.  Cole had his shoes pulled.  Dante is barefoot year round, so he just had a trim.

The ride started out slow.  Once we crossed the river, we were off trotting.  When we got to a decent spot for cantering, I let Cole give it a try.  It could sense the moment he realized he no longer had those worn out, slippery shoes on his feet.  We had been sliding enough on them that we both became cautious.  Cole, realizing he wasn’t slipping, adjusted his gait and moved off with much enthusiasm.

When I slowed him down and let Ellen catch up, I told her we were done cantering for the day.  We would stick to a fast trot.  She understood.  Cole was getting hyper.

We fast trotted all the way to the next river crossing--the spot we planned to turn around to go home.  Dante fast trotted to us.  He did well, but seemed a bit excited.  The cold weather was putting some spring in his step.  I suggested that we might be best to just walk home.  Ellen agreed.

We started with Dante in the lead.  Cole immediately started marching past him at a very fast walk.  I think Dante might have felt threatened by Cole because he jumped in the air and took off running.  Cole thought that was a terrific idea and followed him at top speed.  It didn’t take long for us to get them under control, but it reaffirmed our idea of walking all the way home.

We didn’t walk far when we saw Kevin and Starry trotting our way.  He asked if we would join him to the river, and then he could come home with us.  We turned around.  Cole was in the lead.  I asked him to trot, and he squealed and started trotting airborne.  I heard voices behind me, so I stopped Cole right away.  As it turned out, Starry was pulling his head back and forth; threatening to buck and Dante leapt into the air.  Needless to say, we walked the rest of the way.

The night before had been very windy, so I ended up dismounting to throw some branches off the trail.  I decided to stay on the ground for a while because I knew I would be warmer and that there were a lot of other branches I could clean up.  I probably led about 15 minutes, so when I did mount, I was warm the rest of the way.

That is one of the hardest part of cold weather riding.  We have very spirited horses that can get very excited on those chilly rides.  That usually means we can’t do as much trotting as we like.  Often, it is the trail conditions that keep us at a walk.  We don’t like to trot on frozen ground, and of course, ice is an issue, too.  It is easy to stay warm if you are trotting--impossible to stay warm riding at a walk.  Many of our winter rides are spent leading, but at least we aren’t in the arena.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Adventures on Flane

Ellen and I went out for a morning ride, and we had a great time--until we got to the turnaround spot.  It is a section of the trail that we call Flane.  It is actually called Falls Lane because there is a small waterfall at the end of it.  The bridle trail doesn’t go to the falls, though.  It turns there and joins up with a paved all-purpose path that goes along a street and under a couple of very scary train bridges and then crosses a busy road and still parallels the road and goes under more scary bridges.  So we use it as a good place to turn around and go home.  Ellen and I used to ride through all that with Cruiser and Ranger about once a year or so, but we have decided it really isn’t worth the hassle, anymore.

The trail got its silly name because Kevin writes on his calendar where he rides, and he would abbreviate it as F. Lane.  It didn’t take long for us to call it Flane.

The problem with Flane is it has woods on one edge of the trail and a road on the other side with houses facing the trail.  There is a section of grass between the trail and the road with a few trees that the park planted.  The road can be pretty busy at times with large trucks coming from the close by water treatment plant. Often, people are doing yardwork in their yards with mowers or blowers or other scary things.  It can be a tough section of trail to ride on.  In other words, if the horses are feeling overly spirited, we often skip this quarter mile trail since we are going to turn around at the end, anyway.

The horses weren't frisky this day, so we definitely wanted to ride Flane so we could go a little further before going home.  We trotted to the end of it, turned  around and started trotting back.

We were about two thirds of the way back when a big buck did something in the woods.  It was literally right next to Dante.  Ellen doesn’t know if it was running toward him, or if it was laying down and leapt up quickly.  There may have  been more than one deer, too.  I never saw a thing, but I heard the commotion that the deer made.

I didn’t see anything because both horses decided to hightail it out of there.  Dante was more startled than Cole, of course, so he really panicked.  When there is a monster in the woods, the logical thing to do is to run for the street, and that is just what they did.

We both started to circle the horses to stop them before they got to it. I would guess the road was about 25 feet from the trail at that spot.  I was able to get my less panicked horse under control, first, which allowed me to watch Ellen and Dante.  She was doing the best to bend him, and he was fighting her with his iron (Morgan) neck.  As the street got nearer, she leaned over to one side in a final attempt to circle him away in time.  He was down to a very slow trot.  Her saddle started to slip to the side, and I watched in horror as she slowly rolled off onto the pavement.

Dante was stopped in the middle of the street.  I yelled to Ellen that I was coming over to help.  She responded with, “I’m all right!”  I sighed with relief.  She quickly stood up, holding her stirrup leather in her hand.  If you have an English saddle, where the stirrup leathers thread through the saddle, there is a safety mechanism that, if it is open, will allow the leathers to slide off in an emergency.  Be sure to make keep yours open for situations like this.  Once, I was trotting down the trail, and a branch somehow hooked my stirrup leather.  It pulled it right off the back, and Cruiser was none the wiser for it.  If it had gotten stuck to the branch, we could have had a panic moment

I hopped off and held Dante while Ellen pulled herself together.  The oncoming traffic was all stopped, and they waited until we got off the street to proceed.  She led Dante back to the trail.  I asked her what she wanted to do, and she said she just wanted to lead for a little bit.  They started marching down the trail, and I said, “Don’t you think you should fix the saddle?  I think it is making Dante upset.”  

She looked back and couldn’t believe the saddle was halfway down the side.  She laughed and replied, “Now I know why I fell off.  I didn’t feel like I was going to fall until it was too late.”  In the excitement, she didn’t realize the saddle was slipping.

She explained that she had been riding with her saddle a little looser lately because she felt sorry for Dante.  I had been guilty of the same thing.  With their winter coats, it seemed like raising it up that last notch was just a little too tight.  Well, that certainly is going to change.

Her worst injury was where her hand hit the pavement.  Good thing it was a cold day, and she  had gloves on.  Since Dante was going so slow and she was halfway down his side when she came off, it made it one of the better falls.  We were very please that Dante settled down and just stood there when she fell.  I think he was puzzled.

Even the best horses will spook at times, and Dante is one of the best.  Not much bothers him, and he seldom over reacts.  Poor guy thought a deer was going to attack him, so we sure don’t blame him.  We were just glad Bella wasn’t there...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Something Different for a Change

Something Different for a Change

Ellen and I were going out for an early morning ride.  It would be a short one due to time constrictions.  As we were leading the horses down the driveway, a thought popped in my head.  We should switch.  I could ride Dante, and she could ride Cole.

We haven't switched horses in a really long time.  When she first started riding Dante, there were times when she would want me to ride him when we were doing something new.  Dante has turned into a “Seen everything; done everything,” kind of horse.  I don’t even remember the last time I rode him on the trail.

Not to keep you in suspense--it was a completely uneventful ride.  That certainly wasn’t a surprise to either one of us.  It was simply a chance for us to enjoy the greener grass on the other side of the fence.  I was able to have a relaxing, lovely ride, and she got to ride a faster, more exciting ride.

Ellen would trot on ahead of me and wait for me to catch up with them--just like I always do with her.  I would just relax on Dante’s slow, but very smooth trot.  We looked at the scenery and enjoyed the weather.

When we got to the section of the trail that we like to canter, they took off at a swift trot.  We went a little faster.  By the time we got around the first corner, they were long out of sight.  I asked Dante to canter.  I have only cantered him a few times, so I really didn’t know what to expect.  He gave me a fairly fast, but quiet canter.  It was lovely.  I wasn't’ able to get him to keep it up very far, and I couldn’t get him to pick it back up, so I just enjoyed a moderate trot from there.

I caught up with Ellen at the next river crossing.  I think she had been waiting for me for a while.  She said she did a mix of fast trotting and cantering, and she thought it was so much fun.  She kept telling him to go faster and faster.  Cole was very hot from his exertion as it was a warm morning and they have thick winter coats.  We walked most of the way home.  Cole tried doing silly walk and side passing to extort treats from Ellen with little success.  He tried giving me “the look” to extort treats from me, too.  Now I know why it is so hard for Ellen and Kevin to resist when he does that.  I had to stop looking at him.

I got to experience a Lambert Leap from Dante.  He does it often with Ellen, but it caught me by surprise.  If he is excited, his first step of a trot transition is a big leap.  Then he proceeds with his slow, quiet trot.

When we were nearly back to the river, we did trot the short section of trail by the fence.  This time, Dante kept up with Cole.  He is even super smooth when he is going faster.

We both had great rides, and I am sure we will do it again in the future.