Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Ride

Christmas Ride

Ice  everywhere.  That is how it has been the last couple of weeks.  We had snow, followed by rain and immediately followed by extreme cold.  That left us with a thick layer of ice turned snow--everywhere.  We couldn’t even step out of the barn with the horses, let alone go on the trail.

Things started to warm up, and slowly the ice began to melt.  On Christmas morning, the driveway was passable.  We had checked the hill on foot the day before, and it still needed a little more melting to be safe.

Ellen didn’t plan to take Dante out.  When he is barn bound for a while, he needs a good, outdoor turnout to get his brain back where it belongs.  The outdoor turnout areas were all ice, so that was out of the question.  We didn’t need him running on divoted ice. I was hopeful that I might be able to get Cole out a little bit.

Ellen and I both worked the horses in the arena while Kevin cleaned his stall.  He wanted to join me on the hill with Starry.  When we were done, I brought Cole out to wait for Kevin.  It was about 40 degrees out, which is very comfortable for December.

We got down the driveway with no problem at all.  There was enough dry patches that we never stepped a foot on ice.  The top of the hill was pretty good, too.  Once we got to the slope, it got a little more difficult.  Ellen led the way on foot to check for the best parts of the trail.  Cole was happy to follow her.  She is his favorite trail companion.

When we got to one narrow part of the trail, the trajectory we usually follow was icy.  Cole needed to go to the other side of the trail--but we absolutely never go there because it is stony.  I told him to move over, and he hesitated.  Ellen scooted over to the side and guided Cole to her with hand signals.  He knew just what she wanted and stepped right where she pointed,  the clear part of the trail was only about a foot wide, but Cole is just a pony, so it was effortless for him.

Behind us, we heard Kevin say he was going to turn around and go back.  Starry is the furthest thing from a pony, and Kevin felt it was too risky for the behemoth to squeeze through the narrow opening on the ice.  

The rest of the trip down the hill was fairly easy.  Ellen and I just guided Cole to the best parts of the trail, and he happily complied.  I think he enjoyed being outside, again.  The shore of the river was still piled up with huge hunks of ice from the quick thaw a few weeks previously--a sight we typically see only during the spring thaw.  There will be no crossing the river unless we get large amounts of rain to flood them all away.  

One trip down the hill was enough for us.  We turned around and looked up--there was Starry--just where we left him.  He didn’t want to go home without Cole, so Kevin let him wait.  Going up the hill was easier than going down because Cole could dig his feet into the ground.  

Our Christmas ride was a success.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter has Arrived

Winter has Arrived

We were regularly riding out on the trail and having a great time.  Then, the weather started getting cold.  As is inevitable, the river started to freeze.  Fine, we can just ride on the hill.  Then we had some warm weather mixed with cold weather; causing the driveway to freeze into a sheet of ice.  If that wasn’t bad enough, it got reallly cold, followed by a heat spike which brought a lot of rain on top of all the snow--then the temps plummeted.  We now have an icy driveway, an icy hill and the banks of the river have piles of huge ice chunks that washed up when the flooding broke up the river. The river is freezing over, again, too.

We are officially stuck at the barn.  I can’t even ride out on the loop because of the ice.

It is now time to concentrate on our arena work.  Sigh…

My first 2 rides in the arena with Cole didn’t go very well.  My third ride felt like I was riding a stick of dynamite.  I only trotted a few times because he exploded into the trot.  We just walked about and did tricks.  By the time we were done, I was able to trot a couple controlled steps at a time.  I quit while I was ahead, untacked him and watched him run and jump about.  I guess I should have done that first.

The next time I tried again, I did have him run and play, first.  It paid off.  He felt like a normal horse.We just reviewed where we left off last year.  He seemed to remember it all, and I was very happy with that ride.

I did discover why dressage people love to do shoulder in so often.  Don’t listen to them about suppling.  Remember how I would get nervous on the far end?  When he is hyper, if I trot out of that corner down towards our barn door, he would try to take off for our door.  I tried doing a shoulder in after that corner and it worked like magic.  I felt brave because his head was already bent to the inside--so I could circle him with ease if he tried any shenanigans, and he was focused on the exercise I was asking instead of bad thoughts.  Being a clicker-trained horse, once he knew what I wanted, he had all the more reason to perform it well instead of going of on a literal tangent.  

Since then, he has been fairly well behaved in the arena.  We continue to review old work and try to have as much fun as possible.  Of course, we much prefer to be on the trail.

Ellen lets me ride Dante in the arena a few days a week, too.  I haven’t ridden him regularly in there since she broke her ankle, years ago.  He is so much better, now.  There is nothing to be frightened about riding him, inside.  The worst that he will do is stall out and not want to go forward.  He trots so smooth--it is dreamlike.  Dante is super responsive and very agile.  His legs never get tangled up like Cole’s can at the trot.  He does lack consistent lateral moves, and that is something I can work on with him this winter.

The only thing that can rescue us from the arena right now is a huge thaw or a huge snowstorm to cover up all the ice.  I prefer the thaw, of course.  Until that happens, we will just make the best of it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Bella’s First Trail Ride in the Snow

Bella’s First Trail Ride in the Snow

We got just about an inch of snow overnight.  Suddenly the bleak December landscape looked just a little bit prettier.  We were going to meet Shari with Bella for a trail ride.  I took Cole to meet her at the trailhead closest to her barn.  We saw her prancing down the driveway and when she reached the street, she slammed on the brakes.  She got startled by going from a white driveway to the black top!  We knew that this was going to be a challenging ride for her.

She pranced over to Cole--and then refused to step onto the trail unless he went first.  Bella was afraid of the snow.  Bella, the horse that insists on being leader, now needed Cole to show her the way.  Shari told me that this was the very first time she rode Bella on the trail in the snow.  Bella thought everything looked different, and it just wasn’t safe.  

We caught up with Kevin on Starry.  They were about halfway down the hill, poking along.  Bellas still followed Cole.

The trail was frozen solid from the day before, and there really wasn’t enough snow to soften it.  There would be no trotting, today.  Our trails freeze like cement, and though we see some people trotting and cantering on them, we are concerned in protecting our horses’ long-term soundness.

There was no ice on the river, so we crossed with ease.  Well, Bella was worried about it, so Cole went first.  Bella was looking at everything.  On the other side of the river, Cole had to lead, too.  It was like some sort of “Twilight Zone” ride.

As we rode along the fence which is right by the road, I told Shari we needed to be on the lookout for snowplows.  If we heard one coming when we were in a bad spot like by the fence, we would need to scurry towards safety.  Between going fast, making noises, spraying snow high into the air and scattering salt--they were just too much for the best of horses.

As soon as we got into the woods, Kevin warned us that a snowplow was coming.  We stopped the horses and waited  The plow was far enough away, but it made a loud noise and all of our horses jumped.  Yes, snowplows are a risk.

Bella gave one big spook when she approached a large boulder that was covered with snow.  Of course, she knew that rock quite well, but it was different now.  It could have been a horse-eating monster.

As we rode along, Bella would walk next to or follow Cole.  Starry was thrilled, because now he could follow his girlfriend without Cole in the way.

About halfway down the trail, I stopped Cole to see if Bella would take the lead.  Not only did she refuse to pass Cole, but she started to go backwards.  Was this really the horse who wouldn’t let any other horse take the lead all summer for more than 30 seconds?

After some disagreement, Shari was able to get Bella to take the lead.  Starry then insisted he follow her.  Cole happily trailed behind.  That lasted for about a minute, and then I found myself leading the pack, again.  When we approached the next river crossing, where we planned to turn towards home, Bella happily took the lead.

We figured she would do better on the way home, and she did.  Most of the time, she was either next to Cole or right ahead of him.  Now, the biggest issue was Starry crowding Cole, so he could get to his girlfriend.

Once we started heading up the hill, Bella was more than happy to lead, and she got well ahead of us.  She was going home.  I’m sure our next ride in the snow will be back to normal with Bella leading the way the whole time.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Winter Friskiness

Winter Friskiness

The temperatures plummeted into the 30s for both our rides last weekend, but that didn’t stop us.  Each morning all of us went out--Ellen on Dante, Shari on Bella, Kevin on Starry and I was on Cole.  We hadn’t ridden with Bella in a couple weeks.  Shari keeps Bella down the street, and the trail entrance is between our two barns.  As we got to the end of the driveway, we could see Bella prancing down the street towards us.  The boys were just as thrilled to see her as she was to see us.  

On Saturday, when we were getting all mounted and assembled at the trailhead, Bella sniffed Starry’s nose.  Ellen and I both saw a softening in Starry eyes.  It was as if he fell in love with her at that moment.  Over the summer, Starry seldom rode with us when we were with Bella,  so this was his first close encounter.  After that, he forgot all about his bromance with Dante--it was all about Bella.

That did offer a few complications because Cole and Dante feel Bella belongs to them.  They all tried to be the one to follow Bella, but Starry kept working his way up to her.  She didn't seem to care; as long as she had her boys with her, she was happy.

She was also a little wound up about being on the trail for the first time in a while in the cool weather.  Most of the time, she seemed alright, but she did do a fair amount of prancing.  The boys just quietly followed her.

When we trotted, Bella led, as always.  Starry trotted along, right behind.  I usually take that position.  It can be a tricky one.  Ideally, you don't’ want to be too close so that when Bella spooks or misbehaves, we can stay out of the way.  Kevin started to learn that.  She is only disruptive for a few seconds.  Sometimes, we need to stop for her to work it out, but there are a lot of times that we just need to slow down a bit and Shari gets her straightened out in no time.  Kevin was learning how to do it.  Bella was doing lots of spooking this weekend.  Shari seems to have nerves of steel--she literally takes it all in stride.

While all of that was going on in the front, we had a different drama going on in the back of the pack.  Dante has been getting wound up about horses getting too far ahead, and it has been intimidating Ellen.  She isn’t used to it.  She asked me to keep Cole slower so he could be closer to Dante.  Cole, not a slow horse by nature, preferred to be up front.  I told Ellen that he would do it for her, though.  Sometimes it seems like Cole would walk through fire for her if she asked him to.  I told her to keep talking to him and praising him.

What followed was the most amazing thing.  We trotted along.  I asked Cole to slow up his speed, and he reluctantly did.  Then, Ellen started talking to him and telling him how good he was.  Every time he heard her voice, his ears would turn back to listen to her and I would feel him willingly cooperate with my request to stay closer to them then his friends up ahead.  I think he just wanted to be by Ellen.  When she would stop talking, his ears went forward and he picked up the speed--until he heard her voice, again.

On Sunday, Bella got just a little too excited while trotting, and we decided walking would be the smarter gait.  Shari brought Bella back to Dante, and they were able to successfully work with Bella at a walk--following Dante.  Clicker helped, of course.  Next summer, that is going to be our big project--teaching Bella to quietly follow other horses.  We know it won’t be easy, but with clicker, anything is possible; given time and patience.

The rides were cold, of course.  I ended up getting off and leading to stay warm.  Everyone else was tougher than me, but I was warmer than them.  Winter riding offers its challenges, but as long as it isn’t too cold, it is still better than riding in the arena.  And since we have a river that freezes and blocks us from most of the trails for weeks or even months at a time, we have to get out there when we can.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ranger’s Hoof

Ranger’s Hoof

I wrote some time ago about Ranger’s hoof.  He had a terrible abscess that the vet wasn't able to drain, so she poulticed it and several days later, it drained on its own.

That wasn’t the end of the story.  Over the next few weeks, he improved a lot, but he never completely recovered.  I have had way more experience with abscesses than the average person because of Mingo’s chronic abscess, so I knew this wasn’t normal.

We continued to take him on his walks every day, but he still wasn’t quite right.

About a week before the farrier was supposed to come out to trim him, he took a turn for the worse.  We decided not to call the vet out, again, since she wasn’t much help the last time.  Instead, we waited to see what Ken would say when he trimmed his hoof.

Ellen was at work, so I handled it on my own.  I explained to Ken the problem.  It took him all of 20 seconds to find the cause of Ranger’s discomfort.  Ranger had a pus pocket between the inner sole and the outer sole of his hoof.  Ken trimmed back his outer sole about a half inch and the fluid drained out.  There wasn’t much there.  It probably got caught there when Ranger was abscessing and the pus was trying to find a way out of his hoof.  It busted out the heel, but this bit in his sole didn’t drain out.  This is why we were so disappointed the vet didn’t establish draining out the bottom of the hoof.

Ken said he should be significantly better in a couple of days.  Of course, he would have a tender foot because Ken took so much sole off.  There was actually a slit about 2 inches long between the soles.

Well, Ranger didn't get much better at all.  A hole formed at the tip of his frog that led to the gap between the soles.  That whole area seemed tender.  He got so bad, that we couldn’t take him on any form of a walk.

Ellen didn't know what to do.  Was it another abscess?  It seemed serious enough to be one.  After 2 weeks, she decided it was time to call our farrier and get some advice.

Better than advice, the farrier came out that very morning to look at Ranger’s hoof.  He checked it with hoof testers and ruled out another abscess.  He ended up cutting off all of the outer sole in the sore area; thinking that stepping on that remaining section of hoof was causing the pain.

Ranger was instantly 15% better when they put him back in his stall.  Of course, he sole is now very, very thin in the sore area.  Ellen wrapped it up with vet wrap and a stall boot.  Ken said to call in a week and let him know how he was.

I was out to see the boys that night, and I took Ranger for a short walk in the indoor arena.  To me, he seemed at least 20% better, but 20% better was still pretty bad.  He was walking fast, though, and that was a good sign.

The following morning, Ellen and I took him out of the stall and walked a few laps around the indoor arena.  We saw real improvement!  He wanted to go outside, so we cautiously bought him out on the hard ground.  Yes, he was up to 40%

The next day, we took him outside and walked him about 15 minutes.  Ranger was so excited, he even tried trotting.  This was more than he had done in at least a week.   He only had a slight head bob.

We are going to ease him back into his old program of hand walking every  day, again.  He needs the boot to protect his sole, and he is wearing it in his stall, too.  Eventually, we will only put it on during his walks.

Ellen is thinking of riding, again...