Friday, September 29, 2017

Starry Logic

Starry Logic

Dante keeps getting better.  I wish I could say the same about Starry.  He is still inconsistent about taking the lead.  He will follow a perfect ride with a disaster ride.  He just wants to follow Dante so much.  He doesn’t mind leading if he is only with Cole--the problem is the bromance between Starry and Dante.  

It is actually very comical.  The rides are always more entertaining when Starry joins us.  Let’s say Dante is in the lead, followed by Starry and lastly, Cole.  After a while, Cole can’t handle walking that slow, and he wanted to take the lead.  He will try to pass Starry, and Starry will walk faster and block him from getting between him and Dante.  Once Cole gets ahead of him and starts to pass Dante, Starry could care less.  

If Starry didn't trot so fast and Dante trot so slow, none of this would be a problem.  They walk at the same speed.  Cole likes to do everything fast, so it doesn’t matter when it is just Cole and Starry.  Still, when we are riding without Dante, we practice putting Starry in the lead so he is better when we ride with Dante.

Kevin can easily get Starry to go in the lead when we are crossing a river.  Once he is in the lead, he is usually happy to be there.  If Starry has momentum on a hill, we can stop our horses, and often he goes right past.  At the beginning of the ride, when we cross the river, the trail either goes right or left.  We will go one way, and Kevin will go the other way.  Once he gets going, we turn around and catch up with him.

One of the funny ways we can get Starry to pass is to hide our horses.  It doesn’t work all the time, but it is one of our most successful ploys.  We just pull our horses way off the trail if there is a side trail we can go on.  If we are far enough away, Starry will go right past.  We laugh at him whenever we can trick him like that.  It can be a lot of fun to have Starry with us.

And then there are the times when Starry just decides to take the lead!

Starry logic can sometimes be illogical.  Sometimes, Kevin will leave ahead of me.  When he gets to the end of the trail, he turns around to go home--and Starry won’t go!  He neighs for us and waits there for us to catch up with him--even though if he goes towards home, he will catch up with us even sooner.  Sometimes, he has to wait a long time, too.  Starry always keeps us laughing.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Crossing the River on Dante

Crossing the River on Dante

Horse training is never finished.  It goes on and on.  Sometimes you get a horse doing just what you want--and then your needs change.  Nothing stops us from retraining our horses to meet different circumstances.  That is exactly where Ellen finds herself with Dante.

Ellen has been working on getting him to cross rivers faster.  Here is a little background.  When she first got Dante, he didn’t like crossing rivers, so he tried to do it very, very fast.  One day, he ended up tripping on something, falling and Ellen and Dante ended up taking a bath.  Neither one of them got hurt, but they were both shaken up.  It was a bad scene.

Dante then decided he wasn’t crossing rivers any more.  I worked with him a couple of weeks, and he not only started to cross, but he did it slowly and carefully.  Ellen started riding him, again, but she was nervous.  It was a traumatic experience for her--and she didn’t want to cross rivers, any more, either.

Since we use clicker training, she was the most comfortable asking him to stop often while crossing--and clicking him when she did.  The more nervous she was, (like when the river was higher,) the more she clicked.  It helped them both.  Dante liked hanging out in the river eating carrots.  Ellen felt better because she felt she was in control.  Both of them increased their confidence.

Now, a few years down the road, she got tired of long, drawn-out river crossings.  It was time to remove the crutch.  Instead of clicking him for reaching the top of the bank, the edge of the river, putting his front feet in the water, getting to the middle of the river and getting to the other side, she started to take clicks away.

In her early training, she made a classic clicker training mistake.  She taught him to stop in the river--but not to go in the river.  It caused Dante to stall out--in hopes of getting a click.  It is a good idea, when we use clicker, to train a behavior and then train the opposite behavior.  

Ellen began clicking Dante for walking the way she liked when he was crossing.  Now, he knew he could get a click for stopping or for walking.  

Early on, Dante did some protesting.  He wanted his treats--he thought stopping would get them for him.  Ellen held firm and clicked him for walking.  She gradually removed the clicks--but still praised him.  In just about a month, Dante is a whole different river-crossing horse.  He will now walk right across and a reasonable speed without a single stop.  He seems relaxed, too.

I like it because I am no longer on the other side, waiting for them.  Sometimes, it seemed to take 5 minutes to cross when it should take less than a minute.  Our rides seem faster, too.

Dante hasn’t been doing his business in the river as much, either.  Remember how he would do it and get scared when the plops splashed him?  He is just as likely to do it on land and in the water.  When he does it in the water, he no longer panics.  Everything has worked out so well!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ranger Update

Ranger Update

Ellen is riding!  She is even trotting!  The first day was a little scary.  She saddled him, and he acted well behaved, but when she brought out the bridle, he got really, really excited.  Once she mounted, Ranger was all bouncy and prancy.  Ellen rode him about 5 minutes.  I told her to remember this when she claims Dante is acting hyper.  Dante’s hyper is a quiet day for Ranger.

After that ride, he did much better.  The first day she asked him to trot, but was super enthusiastic about it, but he has mellowed out about it, since.  We take him for half hour walks, and she has been riding about half of his walks.  Early on, he was insecure and wanted me close to him.  (He has vision issues.)  Now, he doesn’t seem to care where I am.  When she is out at the barn without me, she feels she will be able to ride him alone.

Ellen trots just short stretches--asking him to go a little longer with each ride.  She will click him when he is moving the way she wants him to.  Of course, he stops to get his treat, but it just gives her a chance to do it, again.

They both seem to be having fun, so if all goes well, Ellen plans to continue at least until it gets really cold.  It is much warmer to lead than to ride a horse that is mostly walking.

Ranger’s status has changed from retired to semi-retired!

Thursday, September 7, 2017



Ranger’s breathing is so improved, that Ellen decided to try riding him, again.  She rode him a few times in the spring, but that has been it.  Remember, she retrained him for saddling.  Though he isn’t perfect, he is so much better than he was--it takes the saddling obstacle out of the picture.

Her first time up, she planned to ride him a few laps in the arena, and if that went well, they would ride outside.  He was fine for the saddling.  When he saw her bringing out the bridle, he got so excited!  That certainly wasn’t what we were expecting.

He charged out of the barn on his way to the arena.  She led him around to get him to settle down.  Once he seemed a little better, she mounted up.  Her plan of riding a few laps in there failed.  When he saw the open gate, he bullied his way to it, and she conceded.  

She stayed in the saddle about 3 minutes.  He was so wound up.  Though he stayed at a walk, it was a bouncy, prancy walk.  Ellen decided she would be safer on the ground.

The next day, we decided to try, again.  This time, she led him one lap around the loop and then brought him back to the mounting block.  He was so much better.  Ellen was thrilled.  She went 1.5 laps and then led him the remaining 4.5 laps.  All went well.

The next day was the day after Labor Day.  Here in Cleveland, Labor Day Weekend is Air Show Weekend.  We know how to avoid the jets--which can scare horses--on the weekend, but last year, Ellen was walking him the day after and the jets flew over to go home.  Ranger had a panic attack and could barely breathe.  She didn’t want to risk that, again.  Instead, she just walked him close to the barn, so she could duck right in if necessary.

There were no jets, but after Ellen went home, Kevin was still at the barn when they came over.  THere were 8 of them, and they came one at a time.  We are so glad that Ranger was safe inside when that happened.

The next ride went lovely, again.  She did nearly 2 laps, and she only quit when he started to get a little anxious when he heard some distant machinery.

She is planning to continue to ride him on part of his walks.  He seemed to like it, and Ellen certainly does, too.  I will keep you updated.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Mud Rush

Mud Rush

Mud rush is a phenomenon that I have been experiencing for a long time, but I never knew what to call it.  Ellen came up with a perfect name for it.

When you are riding on the trail and encounter some mud, an excited horse tends to speed up when he goes through it.  Not only can they speed up, they may change gaits or even explode!  

It is, of course, a bigger problem with young and green horses.  When I am out on a new horse, and I come to mud that is trottable--if I am trotting, I come down to a walk.  If I am walking, I am vigilant and I certainly won’t canter through it.  After I get to know the horse’s tolerance to mud rush, I adjust what I do.

Even though Cole is very, very familiar with mud, if he is hyper--I walk.  Muddy river banks may cause Cole to burst up.  (Cruiser used to do the same thing when I wasn't  paying attention.)  When I think Cole may act out, I will have him stop at the bottom and ask him to walk up like a gentleman.  That doesn’t always work, so if he is in a “mood,” I make sure there is no one directly ahead of him that he may startle.

When he is in a steady mood, I don’t worry about muddy river banks, and I let him go through the mud.  I may give him a half halt if he is in a borderline mood.  It’s all about knowing your horse and knowing his mood at the time.

Now, mud rush isn’t always such a bad thing.  Dante is a quieter horse, and Ellen uses the mud to her advantage.  He will speed up when he feels the softness under his feet.  She will even use light mud as a good spot to ask for a canter transition.  She has another technique.  If she has gotten far behind Cole, she will trot right through the mud to catch up with us--knowing I will either stop or take a longer route around the mud to avoid mud rush with Cole.

As far as I know, Starry is completely unaffected by mud, and I don’t even know if Kevin is aware that we can have problems with mud rush.  He walks through bad mud and trots through the rest.  If we are following him, we will ask him to stop at the mud, and of course, he does.  I don’t know if he knows why, though.

So, if you have a wonderful horse like Starry, please keep in mind that other horses you are with may have a case of mud rush.