Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Next Ride

The Next Ride

The next opportunity I had to ride with Shari, the river was too high to cross, so we had to work the hill.  Going up and down the hill multiple times can get a little boring, so I suggested that we try to make things interesting by practicing the trot with Cole in the lead.  She had had a break of a few days from riding, and her feet showed no sign of tenderness at all.  This would be a good test.

We tried it at the bottom of the hill.  Cole went first and Bella followed.  It was like they had done this for years--not one ride.  I was astounded, and so was Shari.  

We did it a few more times with great results.  Of course, Bella got praise and clicks.  Cole no longer seemed worried to be in front of Bella, either.  

Since that wasn’t much of a challenge, we decided to make it a little tougher.  We tried Bella standing as Cole trotted by, Bella walking as Cole trotted by, Bella standing as Cole trotted away from her and then Bella quietly catching up with him.  We did it at different parts of the trail, and even going uphill which is the direction towards home.  Was this really happening?  Bella was simply perfect.

Shari and I talked about it.  I really don’t believe one training session would cure a horse that was so intolerant of other horses leading.  I think that this wasn’t a case of training as an example of a horse changing her attitude.  She decided it was fine if Cole went first--we showed it to her.

It got me to thinking.  We can know a horse’s actions, of course, and sometimes we know the cause of the actions.  If a loud motorcycle comes tearing down the street and our horses spook, it is reasonable to say they got startled.  Common sense says that it is because they were frightened, but do we really know that?  Is it no coincidence that a horse will spook more at the beginning of a ride when they are fresh than at the end of a ride when they are tired?  How much spooking is caused simply by high spirits and a desire to play.  After all, we have all seen our horses playing that game when they are first turned out.  It can be hard to know of a horse’s motivations for their actions--even in somewhat obvious instances.

So the question is, why didn’t Bella like horses ahead of her.  Was it because she just desired to be in the lead?  That is what I originally thought.  Both Cruiser and Ranger always wanted to be in the lead--making challenging rides for us.  If that was the case with Bella, would we be able to fix that in one training ride?  It seems unlikely.  It took many training sessions, and Cruise and Range were still difficult together.

Bella has a lot of energy, so one could think that it may have been just because she travels faster than most horses.  That may be true at a walk, but Cole can trot as fast as the best of them, so I don’t think that she wants to lead out of frustration that we go too slow for her.

I am leaning towards believing she wanted to be in the lead just because that is what she always did, and that is where she was the most comfortable.  Yet, when she was leading, she would spook at many things.  Cole and I had to be very vigilant so we could stay out of her way if she started dancing around or shying.  It was a common occurrence on our rides.

When she was following us, she didn’t spook once.  In fact, she traveled surprisingly relaxed.  Could Bella have realized that the horse that follows can relax because the lead horse is in charge?  If Cole trots quietly, there is nothing for her to worry about.  The horse that follows doesn’t have as much stress in that position.  She could be just as, if not more comfortable following.  Did she figure it out?  Is that why she took to it like a duck to water?  Does she understand she could trust Cole to take care of her?

It really is hard to know a horse’s motivations for hs/her behaviors.  We can often only guess.  We do know something happened in Bella’s head, and it was for the better.  She trusts Cole to be her leader.  Now, will it work with other horses?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bella's New Challenge

Shari and I were out on a ride with Bella and Cole.  Shari thought that Bella’s feet might be a little sore because she was riding her so much, and she didn’t have her shoes on, yet.  Once she pointed it out, it seemed that Bella did indeed seem to have tender feet.  We were only going on a short ride, so we continued on.

I had one of those light bulb moments.  Our project for the summer is to train Bella to accept horses in front of her.  She loves to be a leader, and if any other horse is in the lead, she does her best to change that.  She does all right at a walk. We practiced that a lot last year, and as long as Cole walks fast enough, she will allow him to be in front of her or next to her.  It is a different story when we trot.

I decided this would be the perfect day to introduce trotting.

Our first problem was Cole.  He insisted that it was wrong for him to be in front of Bella.  It took a lot of convincing to change his mind.  Once he was in the lead, I told Shari to let me know if she was having trouble.  For the most part, I just heard, “Good girl.  Good girl.”  Shari would periodically click Bella, and then I would click Cole, too.

All went well until we got to the section of the trail where Cole and I like to canter.  Of course, we stayed at a trot, but it was a faster trot.  It was time to challenge Bella.  She lasted longer than I thought, but in the end, she couldn’t take it anymore and she scooted forward.

Just the same, she did awesome.  Our hopes are that the next time that we try this--regardless of the state of her feet--she will remember her positive experience.

We didn’t try it on the way home, because it is unlikely she would tolerate it.  Will our training ride help us in the future?  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Next Days on Dante

The Next Days on Dante

Ellen wanted me to ride Dante the next day, even though she was very sure he would be fine.  Dante had showed a pattern, over the years, of acting terribly the first day we try something we haven’t done in a long time--and then being perfectly normal the next day.  Ellen thought this would be the case.

It happened to be Easter Sunday morning, so the park was particularly quiet.  This time, it was only Ellen and me; going out alone.  We mounted at the beginning of the trail and headed down the hill.  I could immediately feel the difference in Dante’s manner.  This was the horse I knew--not the tense creature of the day before.

Cole was a different case, altogether.  Not that he was tense--he was just happy to have Ellen aboard.  He tried to do his silly walk numerous times--in hopes of getting a click.  Sometimes he just stopped and said he deserved a treat.  When that didn’t work--it would be time for the silly walk, again.  He had me chuckling all the way.

We crossed the river without much ado.  I put Dante in the lead, and we trotted off.  Dante is much slower, naturally than Cole.  Cole just can’t trot as slow as Dante.  Ellen would hold Cole back, click him, trot to catch up, stop, click him and repeat.  Cole thought it was a great game.  Finally, he got Ellen to give him a lot of treats!  Dante just trotted happily down the trail.  Sure, he tossed his head around a bit--he always does when he is excited--but his feet just trotted on, steadily and smooth.

He had one minor spook--but that was no big deal.  We continued on this way to the next river crossing, turned around and walked home.  This was the Dante we know and love!

The next day, I wasn’t going to ride until the evening and Ellen could only be there in the morning, so she rode with Kevin and Starry.  This was very, very brave of her, since if she had a problem, she couldn’t switch horses with me.  

Of course, they had no problems.  Once again, she put Dante in the lead, and they trotted most of the trail--except where they cantered.  Dante volunteered the canter, but Ellen insisted he trot--but after he trotted a bit more--Ellen asked for the canter.  They did great.

I was able to ride with Ellen the next day.  This time, we made things a little tougher.  About half of the ride, we put Cole in the lead.  Cole sets a faster pace.  It did cause Dante to break into an unwanted canter with a little buck, but it wasn’t anything Ellen couldn't handle with ease.  Towards the end of the trail, we put Dante back into the lead and Ellen asked him for a canter.  He did great.  Cole just trotted along behind him.  We walked home.

We are sure that there will still be hiccups in our rides, but things look pretty good right now.  Ellen is quickly getting her confidence back--for good reason, too.  She’s got a great horse.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dante’s Debut

Dante’s Debut

All the stars were in alignment--the river was low, the weather was warm and Ellen and I were both able to ride on the same day.  Dante was going out on the trail for the first time since February.

Shari and Bella were joining us.

Shari rode over to our barn to meet us.  As Ellen led Dante down the driveway, we could see he was very, very excited.  Usually, he just plods down, quietly as Bella prances and Cole tries to do his silly walk.  Not this time.  Dante was very tall with a lot of spring in his step.  Ellen asked me if I could lead him on the street.  Of course, I did.  Dante was just fine.  When I got to the trail, I gave Ellen the reins, we mounted up and headed down the hill.

Bella went in front because that is where she is happiest.  Dante was still excited, so he followed Bella and I brought up the rear with Cole.  About halfway down the hill, The spring in Dante’s step came back, and I watched as his tail slowly started to rise into “Arab” position.  The first thought that came into my mind was, “Uh oh.  We are in trouble.”  It is rare for Dante, unless he is out playing, to do that.

At that moment, Ellen asked to switch horses.  She didn’t see his tail, but she could feel the electricity flowing through his body.  She was getting too nervous to handle him.

I gave her Cole and then led Dante down the hill.  He was very hyper, and I preferred that he settled down a little before I got on him.  By the time we got to the river, he seemed a little better, so I mounted.

Ellen brought Cole to the mounting block and told us to go right ahead and cross while she mounted.  Bella willingly walked down the bank and into the water.  Dante trotted down the bank, (without permission) until he reached the deep mud and then he got serious and walked carefully.  This was very unlike Dante--he is usually slow in approaching the river.  I think Bella was already across by the time Dante got all the way in the water.

Shari called out, “There’s a goose coming!”  Sure enough, a Canadian goose was in the middle of the river floating quickly in the current straight toward us.  I didn’t want to rush Dante across because he has been taught to walk carefully through the river for Ellen's sake--yet I did want him to rush across because we were on a collision course with a goose.  Shari kept warning us about the goose as he got closer and closer.  Dante decided to rush across, all on his own.  

The river bank on the opposite side is currently very muddy.  When Dante reached the bank, he leapt up it at a gallop and kept going.  He actually made it about 5 strides down the trail before I could stop him.  I tried to spin him at the top of the bank, but he used his Morgan “iron neck” against my efforts.

When I got him to a standstill, I could see Ellen still on the other side of the river with Cole at the mounting block.  She saw the whole thing.  Now, I would have to ride Dante for the next 2 weeks to prove to her he was safe.  Sigh…

We headed down the trail.  Dante was still an excited bundle of nerves.  I never rode him before when he felt this way.  We tried a little trotting to settle him down, but that had the opposite results.  It was going to be a walking ride.  

After about 10 minutes, his head started to lower and his rhythm started to get regular.  I felt like he was coming back to me.  We did try trotting a second time, but that got him all wound up, again.  We rode out to the next river crossing, turned around and headed home.

He was very good on the way home--much like his normal self.  We crossed the river, and I led  him up the hill.  He was feeling spunky on the hill, but he only showed it by walking faster than normal.

Throughout all this excitement, what was Bella, our problem child doing?  She was the perfect angel.  Not once did she misbehaved in the slightest.  We were so proud of her.

I asked Ellen if she was worried about riding Dante after seeing his unusual display of badness, and she said she thought he would be just fine because she saw how his behavior improved over a relatively short time.  She was sure he would be perfect the next time--I rode him.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Chink in Starry’s Armor

The Chink in Starry’s Armor

Shari and I were riding Bella and Cole on the hill because the river was too high to cross.  We had been on the the hill for about an hour and heading up for the last time when Bella started to get all bouncy.  Shari thought that another trip down was in order so that Bella learns that rushing home wouldn’t get her home any quicker.  

As Shari turned a bouncing Bella around, she got a little too close to Cole.  Cole is very sensitive to other horses getting into his space--particularly if they are acting fractious.  He decided to hightail it out it of there.  He dashed up the hill.  Bella thought that was a great idea and followed.  I spun Cole to get him under control--and that was when he saw Bella coming up behind him.  He felt threatened again and tried to resume his run.

All of this took place in just a couple seconds, and in a couple more, we had Bella and Cole standing still.  They were both still agitated, and Shari suggested dismounting.  I was already jumping down before the word, “Yes” could get out of my mouth.

At that point, we saw Kevin, riding Starry, approaching us.

Kevin asked me to ride one more time down the hill with him.  Shari checked the time, and realized she had to get back to the barn.  I told Kevin I would go with him, and Shari left.

It was an uneventful ride down to the river.  We were about halfway up when we spotted the turkeys close to the trail.  Ten hens and one gorgeous Tom were strolling by.  We often see turkeys when we ride, but this time, for the first time ever, we got to see a Tom fully displaying his magnificence.  He was all puffed out and pretty.  We were fascinated and just stood there watching.

As they got closer, the Tom noticed us.  He would turn to us and puff out even more.  Oh, was he pretty  He kept doing it.  Maybe he thought we would take his girls away?

Starry, the horse who is afraid of just about nothing, was all alert.  Starry, who would let a semi pass him without batting an eye, was raising and lowering his head to try to get a better view of the turkeys.  Starry, who quietly watched a coyote chasing some deer just the week before, was standing there as tense as could be.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Starry was frozen.  When Kevin tried to turn him away to proceed up the hill, Starry tried to scurry away.  This is normal behavior for a spooky horse, but it was bizarre behavior for Starry.  Kevin decided he was safer on the ground.  Starry was still dancing about.  I told him to face the turkeys before trying to dismount.  Kevin turned him toward to the turkeys, and Starry froze once more.

Kevin safely dismounted.  I was already on the ground.  Once Starry started to act up, I got off to prevent a repeat of what happened with Bella.  Cole is very reliable.  When I dismount, he parks out like a proper Morgan and won’t budge--even if I want him to.

Starry was still scared, of course.  We carefully led them up the hill, and I don’t think Starry relaxed until we were about 50 feet away.  Cole wasn’t worried about the turkeys at all.  For all the excitement with Starry, we were happy we got to see the turkeys.  That Tom was just so pretty.

And I got to see Starry acting like a real horse, for a change.