Monday, July 31, 2017

Dante’s “Problem” Revisited

Dante’s “Problem” Revisited

Poor Dante.  After having some bad experiences where he tried to do his business in the river and got frightened by the plops splashing him, he seemed to decide he just wasn’t going to do it on the trail.

On the shorter rides, he could hold it in and wait until he got home.  We were able to avoid crossing the river where there was a ford, so that his nervousness, alone, didn’t make his digestive system start moving.  Still, that wasn’t the answer.  We wanted to go on longer rides, and when the river is low, it is safer to cross than the fords.

Someone suggested getting a large sponge which, when soaked, would make a perfect plop in the water.  Ellen ordered one.  We knew that we would have to practice it in the river to make it help us out, but to get used to it, a little, when Ellen would sponge him off after a hot ride, she would let it plop in the water bucket.

In the meantime, she decided to give him treats if he did his business on dry land.  Since he had done it once, already, we hoped that we would be able to capture the behavior enough to teach him what we wanted.

After one ride that was on the longer side, Ellen tried talking him into it.  We were on the last stretch of trail--the hill that led home.  She told him she would get off, give him treats and grab pieces of grass for him while she led him up the hill.  Talk about good timing--he did it!  She kept her word and got off, gave him treats and fed him pieces of grass all the way up.

Then, there was a dry spell for a while.  He went back to holding it until he got back to the barn.  We went on a longer ride--with no results--so we passed up home and rode to the dead end trail, again.  It worked!  He got a peppermint.  Peppermints are one of his favorite treats.

The next day, a miracle happened.  He did it shortly after Ellen mounted him.  He got his peppermint, and we were ecstatic.  We went on a very happy ride.  Ellen didn’t even worry when we crossed the rivers.  And then, another miracle happened.  He did it again, on the hill on the way home.  Dante scored another peppermint.

We thought all was fine--that Dante found the key to getting peppermints.  Then, the next day, nothing.  He waited until he got back to the barn.  No peppermints for Dante.

The following day, we went out for another ride in the park.  On the way home, Ellen suspected he had to go, so we did a lot of walking.  Nothing happened.  We came up to the river.  Though Ellen could have crossed on the ford, the water was lower than it has been all year.  She felt that she just had to deal with it.  

I crossed first and waited on the other side for them.  They slowly walked down the river bank--which was a good sign.  In the past, when he was worried, he was reluctant to go down the bank.  They then slowly walked across the water.  He seemed relaxed.  Ellen just wanted to get him past the center point where the remainder of the crossing is sand with no rocks.  If He decided to bolt through the water, he could do it safely.  

Since he looked so relaxed, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a disturbance in the water by his hindlegs.  Yes!  Dante was doing his business--and he just stood quietly to do it.  Ellen was so shocked, that she wasn’t able to give him a treat in time.  He just started walking across.  I may have imagined it, but he sure did seem to have a happy expression on his face when he got to the other side.  Dante figured it out!

We have decided that Dante’s “problem” is now a ‘non-problem”

The next ride--he did it right after Ellen mounted, again...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dante’s “Problem” is Back

Dante’s “Problem” is Back

You may recall that last summer, Dante developed a “problem.”  He randomly did his business in the river for the first time--and terrified himself.  His typical prodigious amount caused a huge splash, and he bolted out of the water.

He managed to work it out by going on land, or on the islands that are part of a few of the river crossings.  

This spring, Ellen and I simply forgot about it.  He did his business wherever he felt like it, and we rode along in ignorant bliss.  That is, until he inadvertently did it in the water, again.  Ellen was unprepared, and he bolted out of the river.

This caused weeks of stress for Ellen.  She worried on every river crossing.  He went only 2 more times--only in the river.  (Successfully, because Ellen got him to stop.)  He used to go once or twice on a ride.  Now he usually waited until he got back to his stall.  Apparently, Dante was traumatized.

What saved him was he got into the habit of doing his business in his stall before the ride.  That way, he could go about an hour and a half and hold it.  

Then came the morning that he didn’t do it pre-ride.  It wasn’t that long of a ride, but by we got to cross the first river on the way home, Ellen was suspicious.  He refused to step into the water.  He would try to spin and head up the bank.  Ellen had me go first.  He didn’t want to follow and still continued to try to spin.  Finally, he succeeded in his spin and ran up the bank.  He adamantly refused to step down.  Ellen decided to take him across the ford.  Kevin was with her on Starry, so they went together.  I was already on the other side, waiting.

We now realized that the “problem” really was a problem.  As we headed home, we talked it over.  Since it was a lovely day and we had the time, we decided to pass up home and keep going at a walk--hoping he would do his business.  Then, Ellen could click him, treat him and praise him like crazy.

It took a long time, but the plan worked.  We were so happy.  Hopefully, it made an impact in his brain.

The next day, we planned a ride up to the show ring.  It is a longer ride and crosses the river at  different spot.  Once again, he didn’t do his business in his stall before the ride.

We had a lovely ride.  The weather was comfortable and there were hardly any bugs to pester us.  

On the way back, we arrived at the river.  This is the crossing that last year, Dante figured out that he could walk over to the island off to the left, do his business and then cross.  Ellen figured she would take him there, and hopefully he would remember.  I crossed to get out of the way.  Dante was happy to go down the bank and to the island.  There, Ellen waited and waited…

On the other side, I saw a group of four dragonflies that I never saw before.  I have developed a fascination for these amazing creatures over the last year or so.  When I am out and see a new one, I memorize the markings and head  home to check my dragonfly guide.  It is often hard to see the marking when they are flying around.  One of these guys landed on the ground, and I hopped off Cole to get a good look at him.  He was small, with a blue head and a blue tip on his tail.  His wings were clear.  (Turns out he was a blue fronted dancer.)

I looked over to Ellen, and she was still on the island.  She was getting frustrated and decided to try crossing.  As she walked off the island, he spun and ran back up the river bank.  I couldn’t see them, so I waited a few minutes and decided to ride back.  

Cole didn't mind going back across, because he was going to help Ellen.  I found her--stuck.  Dante wouldn’t move.  We discussed our options.  

We can cross on the ford, but the traffic was ridiculous.  There were so many cars and bikes--after all, it was a perfect day to be in the park--we really didn’t want to cross that way.  Besides, it wouldn’t be helping with the problem.  He would just hold everything in--and we still had to cross the river by the barn--where there was no ford that we ride over.

The other option was to cross the river.  I asked her to see if he would walk towards the bank now that Cole was here.  He took a step in the right direction.  That was hopeful.  Still, Ellen hesitated in making a decision.  I asked her if she wanted to switch horses.  This is a good crossing.  The bottom of the river is sand--or slippery slate--and Kevin had cleared all the rocks away.  If he bolted--he was just bolting.  Still, I didn’t want to deal with it any more than Ellen.  I was just less intimidated by it.

She said I could give it a try if I wanted.  I was going to march him down the bank and go straight across.  I braced myself to keep him off the island.  I thought he might get stuck on it.

My bracing did no good.  Dante is so strong.  He bullied his way to the island and marched down it.  It is just a narrow strip of shale that is about 15 feet long.  He went to the end, I turned him around and started bringing him back.  Before we got back--we had success!  My first thought was, “ I sure did get out of this easy!”  We were all happy.

He then willingly crossed the river.  Ellen, unfortunately had a bit of trouble with Cole.  For some reason that we haven't figured out, Cole gets stuck and backs up on her.  He never does that for me.  She worked him through that and then he tried spinning on the bank.  That is a problem I have with him.  He doesn’t like going down banks since the time when that mare freaked out on a bank right by him and terrified him.  

Dante and I were on the other side.  We got to watch Ellen ride Cole across the river; giving him a lecture.  Well at least we got both horses on the right side of the river-finally.

Dante’s “problem” has become a problem.  It wasn’t our imagination.  He is definitely reluctant to do his business on the trail because he is afraid he will suddenly get splashed.  Not only is he worried in the river, he doesn’t seem to understand that the way to avoid it isn’t to try to wait to get back to the barn, but to just do it on the trail.  

This is the weirdest thing we have ever heard, and we aren’t really sure what to do.  I will keep you updated.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Quiet Month

A Quiet Month

Yes, there really isn’t much to write about, this month.  Shari is working different hours, so we haven’t ridden with Bella hardly at all.  Not that Shari needs our help, anymore.  Bella is doing awesome whether she is with us or by herself.

Starry--well, he is Starry.  He is still having a little trouble passing other horses.  Some days, he is great--and other days he is terrible.  It frustrates Kevin so much!  It all depends on who he is riding with.  The biggest problem for Kevin is riding with Dante.  Starry has a Quarter Horse friend, Archie, that he has been riding a lot with, and he does pretty good being a lead horse with him, but if Dante is around, it is a whole different story.

One day, he was riding with just me and Cole.  We were heading home, and Starry refused to lead.  I suggested turning him away from home and going down the trail a little ways, turning back and then asking Starry to pass Cole.  After three attempts, it worked.  We tried later on, and it worked in one attempt.  Unfortunately, we haven’t had much opportunity to try that solution, since.  We don’t think it will help much if we were riding away from home, though.  Then, Starry would be punished by turning around and going towards home--and he may not think that is a punishment.

Cole has had some difficulty on solo rides.  The source of the problem is simply that I don’t ride by myself much, anymore.  I have managed it about once a week, this month.  Cole always has a tendency to get excited and just want to run.  We call them “Cole Bursts.”  Usually, I can get him to stop in a few strides, but lately, on solo rides, he has been bolting and fighting me when I ask him to stop.  The first ride, he did it just once, but it was a very short ride.  I didn’t think much of it.  The next ride, he bolted three times!  That is when I knew I had a problem.  

After that, when I rode by myself, I stayed aware of his excitement level.  Whenever he seemed to get over enthusiastic about going fast, I either intermixed walk/trot transitions or simply walked until he settled down.  Since then, he has improved.  The last time I took him on a ride by himself, there were no “Cole Bursts” at all, and we did plenty of fast trotting and a little cantering.

Recently, I was on a ride with Ellen.  We were planning to cross the second river and go further, but the water was on the high and muddy side.  We would have had to ride across the ford.  We didn’t really feel like dealing with traffic, that day, so Ellen suggested heading towards home, turning around and doing the last section of the trail, again.  

It is a fine section of trail that we call “The Canter Stretch,” because we often canter there.  We had just trotted it with Dante in the lead. That meant that it was a slower, controlled trot.  Ellen said Dante was going to be very upset about doing the trail, again.  We have done this in the past, and Dante seems to think it is a dumb idea.  Not a surprise, since most horses would agree.

That is not the case with Cole, oddly, at all.  I have done this many times--usually by myself--when I don’t feel like crossing the ford on my evening rides when there is so much more traffic.  He seems to really, really enjoy it.

I suggested that we let Cole lead.  I would just do a fast trot.  Ellen could canter if she likes.

We turned.  Dante made the turn very, very slow.  Cole seemed eager.  I asked her if she was ready, and she said she was.  I then asked Cole to walk.

Cole was so happy that we were doing the trail again--I got a squeal and a “Cole Burst;” big time!  He was off like a rocket.  Cole is truly the fastest horse I have ever ridden.  I know there are faster horses out there, but for a tiny horse, Cole can simply fly!

But that is not what I wanted!  I struggled to slow him down.  In my head, I wasn’t worried about myself.  I was worried about Ellen.  I pictured Dante, the horse that is afraid of any sudden movement made by another horse, spooking and running into the woods, spinning and running towards home, bucking and dashing off after Cole…

After about a two hundred feet, I got Cole to trot and shortly after that, he stopped.  I looked back--and burst out laughing!  It was the funniest thing I ever saw.  Instead of any of my scenarios that were flashing through my head, there was Dante--frozen in place!  He didn’t move a muscle.  He thought it was a dumb idea, and didn’t want to go at all!

As I was laughing, Ellen got him to move, and we tried, again.  This time, Cole trotted very, very fast and Dante cantered behind us.  Once she asked him to canter, he decided it wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.