Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dante is Dante

Cole, Starry and even Bella have become consistent on the trail.  Starry was easy--we just had to get used to him wanting to lead.  (What is with that?)  Cole was doing good, but he had a bad ride last week that was right out of the blue.  I'm glad to say it was a one time thing, and he is back to normal.  Bella came around with what Ellen and I call a "5-day blitz."  Shari rode her 5 days in a row, and in the end she was back to her old self.

That left us with Dante.  Due to her nervousness, Ellen had been waiting for the weather to be decent and the river to be on the low side for his first day out.  Those days were few and far between.  This year, spring was extremely elusive.  We had snow just last week!

The forecast is improving, and in a few days, there is supposed to be a perfect day.  She picked out the day for her maiden voyage of the year.  Ellen and I were taking Ranger on his morning constitutional; talking about it.  She told me she almost wanted to do it today since the river was so low, but it was just too cold.  (The temps were in the 30s, and it was cloudy.)  I really didn't blame her.  Most horses are friskier on colder days--making it harder for the first ride out.  She seemed so disappointed, so I told her I would ride him if she liked and she could ride Cole.

She brightened up; immediately.  The plan was on.   We turned Dante out to play in the outdoor arena and let him run some bucks out.  Of course, he had to roll.  I told Ellen she could brush Dante, and I would get Cole ready.

She assured me that she wouldn't want to switch horses during the ride, so that meant I could use my favorite saddle which doesn't fit Cole because he is just too little--the WWII Japanese Military saddle.  I used it exclusively on Mingo, and when he died I used it on Cruiser.  The only thing I don't like about Cole is that he can't wear this saddle.  Ellen wasn't too thrilled about me using it.  It has no knee support at all, and it is easy to come off of.  I assured her I would be fine.

Kevin came out, and we suggested that he ride Starry out ahead of us and meet us at the turnaround point.  Then he could go home with us.  For the first ride, we didn't want Starry to complicate things.

Here is a list of our concerns about the ride.
1. Dante would be nervous around cars.
2. Dante would misbehave going through the giant mud pit that wasn't there last year.
3. Dante wouldn't want to go down the river bank.
4. Dante wouldn't like the mud leading to the river's edge.
5. Dante would refuse to cross the river by doing his slow spin routine--he does that every year.
6. Dante would go into the river, but spook if he did his business while crossing because he gets splashed.
7. Dante would spook near the fence from traffic because it is right by the road--and he does that every year on the first ride.
8. Dante would be hyper and not listen.

Yes, it is a rather long list, but at least he doesn't have Cole bursts--which are when Cole leaps into the air and tries to run down the trail--just because he feels good.  (Why did Ellen really want to ride Cole?)

I led Dante down the street and a couple cars passed us.  He handled them like a champ.  When we got to the start of the trail, he did get nervous when he was in close proximity to Cole, which was no surprise.  This is always a big problem in the spring which improves over time.  No big deal.

As we headed down the trail, Cole took the lead and was walking very, very fast.  Could it be that he knew Starry was ahead?  Dante walked very, very fast behind him.  That was far from normal.  He generally walks extremely slow, and I have to stop and wait for them to catch up.

We went through the bad mud pit as if he did it every day.  When we got to the bottom of the hill, he marched right down the bank, into the mud, swerved off our path a little to where the mud was deeper, started sinking--and froze!  I didn't know what to do!  I wanted to keep momentum up so I could get him to the edge of the river without the slow spin.  Then I realized what was happening.  He was doing his business before entering into the water--as we were training him to do it, last year.  He got a peppermint.  Another problem was checked off the list.

He then went right to the edge of the river with no refusing.  As soon as he got a step into the water, I clicked and treated him.  Then, he marched right across!  No slow spin!  What an awesome horse!

He wanted to trot along the fence like we usually do.  I wanted to walk the first time, and he listened.  A few cars went by, and he didn't flinch.  I was bragging about it to Ellen, and she reminded me that his  yearly spook happens on the way home.

We spent the first part of the time walking.  The trail was recently washed out from the big storm, and it is quite the mess.  Dante was looking at all the changes; as expected.  He is an very observant horse.  He was also tossing his head a bit, but he does that.

When we got to a good section of trail, I put Dante in the lead to do some trotting.  Dante has a much slower trot than Cole, and I didn't want him to get hyped up if Cole got too far away.  I braced myself for the Lambert Leap--something he nearly always does on his trot transitions on the trail.  It was a big one--and then he settled right into his slow, smooth and beautiful trot.  I could ride it all day.

Cole didn't like it, though.  Ellen was having trouble regulating him.  He was trying to charge up and pass.  It just wasn't working.  We returned to a walk.  I got what I wanted--to see if Dante would do a safe trot--and he was marvelous.

We walked on until we met Kevin on Starry at the next river crossing.  We turned around and headed home at a walk.  The big question was--will the bromance between Starry and Dante continue?  Remember, Starry has had trouble leading when Dante was there to follow.  Lately, he had been very willing to lead with Cole.

Then we realized the truth.  Starry isn't fixated on Dante--he is fixated on Ellen!!!  He willingly passed Dante so he could follow Cole, but he didn't want to pass Cole.  If I am riding Cole, he doesn't care.  It is all about Ellen.  (And Bella, if she is there.)

The trip home was uneventful, except that we all got cold.  Dante was fine along the fence and didn't give us his yearly spook.  The only unexpected thing; which was expected was when Starry started to act out and scared Dante.  Dante spun and tried to run away from him.  Starry has the same effect on Cole, so I was used to the sudden spin.  Only thing was that Cole spins left most of the time, and Dante spun to the right.

Cole was much better with Ellen than he has been on her last few rides with him.  She enjoyed him, thoroughly.

The whole ride went so well.  Dante didn't do a thing that was on our list.  Even with the cold weather on his first trail ride of the season, he acted like it was in the middle of the summer.  The only out of the ordinary thing he did was walk faster--and we wish he would do that all the time.  What a wonderful horse.

I am happy to say, Dante is Dante.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Try Something New

Chances are, you have read about me clicking and treating for a behavior.  Those of you that have tried clicker training will nod in agreement.  Those of you that haven't tried it probably roll your eyes and think, "Not again."

I say, try something new.  Give clicker training a try.  It is fun, and it does no harm.

Clicker training has proved successful in all other species, so why not horses?  When I was at the Cleveland Zoo, I watched them move the elephants from one pen to the other with the handlers on the outside of the fence.  They told the elephants where to go, and when they did, they marked the behaviour and gave them a treat.  They didn't lure the elephants the way we often (and sometimes unsuccessfully) try to get horses to load in a trailer.  Instead, they ask for a behavior and them gave a treat.  (The click is merely a message that tells an animal that they got it right and a treat is coming.  It is an accurate way to communicate--where just handing a treat is not.  The timing may be off--causing confusion.)

I first started clicker training when I saw the great success that my sister had with her dog.  I decided to try it with my cat and Mingo, my horse.  Starting with a cat is a great way to begin.  Since most cats don't have much training, you are working with a blank slate.  The only good way to train a cat is with positive reinforcement, period.  If you have a cat, I'd advise you to get a clicker and a bag of cat treats--and have some fun.

Dogs seem to be naturals for clicker training, and it is the only way I seem to be able to teach my slow-witted Maggie.  I don't think I could have lived with her without being able clicker training.  She still isn't a very good dog, but she is a better one.

Back to horses.  I started with Mingo because Cruiser was insulin resistant and couldn't have treats.  After initiation--which only took a few short lessons, Mingo got it.  I started to use it while riding, and I could see it working.  Unfortunately, after a few lessons, he got sick with a mysterious illness.  That is when I discovered the true value of clicker training.  The illness caused many things, including an abscess in his hoof which caused his leg to swell up and become very sore.  I couldn't touch his leg to try to soak his hoof.  With clicker training as a tool, I got him to lift his leg up--without me touching it--so I could put a soaking boot on his hoof.  A week later, the farrier was able to trim the foot with ease--even though Mingo still didn't want anyone to touch that leg.  Clicker training helped him overcome the pain and cooperate with me, instead.  I was sold on it.

Poor Mingo didn't survive the illness, and that is when Cole came into my life.  He was unridden when I bought him, and I decided to train him primarily with clicker training--and it worked like a charm.

But, you don't have to go that route.  If you have a horse that is already trained like Mingo, you can just do some clicking for fun.  Is there a trick you want to teach?  Clicker training is the best way to go.  Tricks should be fun.  I taught Cole to park out, bow and do a silly walk.  He learned to chase a ball, but I never could get him to pick it up and return it.  When I first started riding him, I taught him to pick up a mitten if I was in the saddle and threw it on the ground.  I haven't done it in years, but a few weeks ago, I had to take my mitten off when I was riding and accidentally dropped it.  Wouldn't you know, he remembered and picked it up for me! He got clicked, of course.

Even better, you can use clicker training to help you along if you have a problem area that conventional training doesn't seem to be working well enough.  Just break the task down into little pieces.  Do you have a horse that just doesn't seem to get backing up?  Start by clicking for a shift in weight.  When that works, wait until you get a backwards step--no matter how tiny it may be.  When your horse understands that really well--go for the second step, etc...

When your horse backs well, you can fade off the clicking--or add going forward after backing.  This winter, I worked with Cole to back up--and then trot forward.  He thought it was fun--because he got clicked.

If you only use clicker training to help with one task or trick--that is great!  Even better, you may see how useful it can be and use it for other things.  You don't have to convert your horse to a complete clicker trained horse, like Cole, but you just might.  It is fun for the trainers, too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"Trail Training for the Horse and Rider"

My book, "Trail Training for the Horse and Rider" is officially out of print! I got the last 2 cartons from the publisher, so you can still buy it new from me. If you are interested in buying my book, let me know. It is $19.95 plus shipping. We could work out those details when I find out how you would like me to ship it.

Third Time is a Charm?

Third Time is a Charm?

Bella, the beautiful, high-energy National Show Horse, had a bad spooking incident with Shari a few weeks ago.  They parted ways and both of them got hurt enough that they took a few weeks off from trail riding.  We weren't there when it happened.  In fact, I haven't ridden with them all year.  Circumstances and the weather just didn't cooperate.

That changed Easter weekend.  Shari and I had our first ride of the year on Saturday.  The river was too high to cross, so we were stuck on the hill--but that actually can be helpful on the first ride, because we can work on demoralization.

Demoralization is what we call doing the hill multiple times.  If they are in a hurry to get home--we just do the hill, again.

For our first ride together, we decided that staying at a walk was the best choice.  Generally, I feel that we shouldn't trot until they walk well and shouldn't canter until they trot well. 

Walking well was a challenge.  We spent much time standing until she relaxed.  We then would walk some more.  Gradually, she settled down and listened to Shari.  After 4 trips on the hill, things seemed hopeful.

Our next ride was the next day, Easter Sunday.  We thought we would be stuck on the hill, again, but the river surprised us.  We were able to cross!!!

We knew we would only be walking, but it was a pretty morning for a walk in the park.  Bella didn't have a crazy look on her face.  She walked fast and insisted on being in the lead.  She did try rushing towards home, but Shari was always able to talk her down.  Though she showed some nervousness, there was improvement from the day before.  Things were looking up.  We figured one more day of consecutive riding would be all she needed.

The following evening, Shari and I met for a ride.  The river was now in great shape for crossing.  Kevin and Starry were already out on their ride.  As we went down the hill, we could see them on the other side of the river; coming home.  Cole crossed first, and I was talking to Kevin as Bella crossed.  I wasn't watching, but apparently she turned into a crazy horse--trying to run across the river.  She charged up the bank.  Maybe it was because she saw Starry, but she isn't near as attached to him and Starry is to her.  She passed him up with barely a glance.  She wanted to go!

Starry went home, and we went on our ride.  We trotted short stretches--each time going a little longer.  The trotting went fairly well.  Bella wanted to go fast, but Shari kept her at a moderate speed.  Though Bella was a bit spooky and nervous, she wasn't that bad.  Our problems showed up on the way home.  She was rushing and anxious to get back.  All she wanted to do was trot.  Shari was constantly correcting her.  And then the spooking!  Everything bothered her.  She spooked at a falling leaf--that was the kind of mood she was in.  Poor Shari.  It was an exhausting ride for her.  The third ride wasn't a charm.  It was the worst ride of the three. 

Cole, on the other hand, just walked along behind her--just as he had the whole weekend.  He didn't bat an eye at any of Bella's antics.  He seems to know that he has to stay quiet and give her space.  It's a good thing, too.  We don't need him to add fuel to Bella's fire.  I don't know if he helps quiet her down, any, but he doesn't make anything worse.

We made it up the hill and dismounted with a sigh of relief.  The early rides of spring can be tough, and we just had one of those rides.  The good news is that they get better.  Bella was a good horse, before, and she will be a good horse, again.