Monday, June 18, 2018

The Chinks in Their Armor

Now that Dante's abscess is fully healed, he is back on the trail.  This spring, when Ellen first started to ride him, he began doing something new.  On the way home, as we crossed the river for the last time, he began rushing out the last 4-5 steps.  In the beginning, he only walked very fast, but before the abscess halted her riding, he was trotting.  She tried spinning him when he got out of the water to no avail.  He would just do it the next time, too.

On our first ride out after the abscess, he did it again.  She really wanted to solve the problem--particularly after Cole and Starry fell in the river.  It was a reminder why they shouldn't rush--the slate is very, very slippery.

We think that he started doing it because the river changed since last year.  He now needs to step up a little to get to the land.  It isn't much at all, but it is different.

Another possible cause, or at least something that encouraged him to rush is that I would wait for them on top of the riverbank; in the shade.  Cole wouldn't be very visible to Dante from there.  Ellen suggested waiting on the shale island where Dante could see him.

On our very first training attempt, I had Cole in position.  Ellen asked Dante to walk, but then she would stop  him every few steps to break his momentum.  She did click him for stopping to encourage his good behavior.  When he got to the spot that he tries to trot, he did anyway,

The chink in Cole's armor is simple.  He doesn't like to be splashed!  We were far enough away that the water wasn't splashing him, but he saw Dante trotting and water spraying all over.  He did what any self-respecting splash-hating horse would do--he spun and tried to take off to get as far away as he could! 

I was able to stop him right away, but not before he caused Dante to expose the chink in his armor.  Dante is frightened whenever a horse does something sudden.  He can't abide a horse swishing at a bug.  A belly kick at a bug is simply not acceptable in his world.  A horse passing him too close can send him flying into the woods.  At this moment, he must have thought that Cole was going to attack him--as Cole was trying to run away from him.

Dante jumped in terror!  Ellen got him under control quickly, and we started to laugh.  We wondered if Cole just solved our problem.

The next day, we set everything up the same way.  Cole was on the island.  Ellen was stopping and clicking Dante as he was crossing the river.  Ellen told me that Cole's expression was hilarious.  He was glaring at Dante--warning him that he better just walk.  When Dante got to the spot where he was used to rushing, Ellen felt him pause--and then he walked out of the river.  She clicked and treated him. 

We tried it again the next day.  This time, Cole didn't have to glare--he just stood there.  Dante did a tiny pause and walked out of the river again.

We believe that Cole did solve the problem--he trained Dante to walk out of the river.  We didn't plan it this way, but it worked.

We will keep doing this for a while, and Ellen will positively reinforce good behavior, and then we will try it with us on top of the bank; in the shade.  At that point, we are hoping the positive reinforcement will be the driving factor.

For once, Cole and Dante's armor chinks worked in our favor.

Monday, June 11, 2018



Kevin, Shari and I were having a great ride the other day.  We were on our way home, and Kevin wanted to try to put Starry in the lead.  We worked it out and once Starry was where Kevin wanted him, he wanted to trot.  Shari and I were on the top of a little hill, and we didn't want to trot until we got to the bottom.  We told Kevin to go on and trot.  We talked it over and decided that we would stay walking.  We had some trouble with Bella last time when she kept prancing to catch up with Starry when he was in the lead.  We worked it out that time, and we wanted to see how Bella did this time.

I am glad to say that Bella was great.  We walked a while, and then we did some trotting, too.  Kevin was no where to be seen.  Our horses were acting like they forgot all about Starry.

When we got to the river that we cross to go home, there Kevin and Starry were--standing in the water.  They both seemed so relaxed.  Since Starry was so content to be in the river, Bella crossed.  Starry just stood.  I brought Cole into the water.  We passed up Starry.

I felt one of Cole's back feet start to slide under him.  Before I knew what happened, he lost his balance and down we went.  The water wasn't deep at all, but the bottom of the river there is smooth slate with a layer of algae.  It is very slippery.  As I hit the water, I looked over to Kevin in time to see him doing the same thing!  Unlike me, who slid out of Cole's way, Starry landed on Kevin's leg.  It was awful to see.

Everybody was on their feet, quickly.  I don't even remember standing up.  I just kept Cole in the water as I looked him over.  Every time Cruiser fell in the river, I would have to retrain him to cross.  Cole is a much bolder horse than Cruiser was, but I still wanted him to not associate the fall with water in general.  I don't know if it did one bit of good, but it was the best I could come up with.  Kevin did the same with Starry.

Throughout all of this, Bella just stood and watched.  At least Shari stayed in the saddle.  We were all able to walk out of the river and I breathed a sigh of relief.

We all walked up the hill.  What a relief we could all walk!  I was completely unscathed.  Other than the fact that I was soaking wet, I would have never known that I fell off.  Kevin was very sore, but he was mobile.  The horses seemed fine.

The next day, Kevin was too sore to ride.  Shari and I went on a ride, even though we saw the storm clouds coming our way.  I wanted to see if Cole would cross the river. 

We got to the water's edge, and he stepped right in!  Not a single bit of hesitation.  I clicked and gave him a bunch of treats.  We went on a fast and fun ride.  Right as we were about to turn around, it started to rain, but it wasn't a bad rain for a warm day.  We trotted most of the way back.  When we crossed the river on the way home, I clicked Cole for going in the water.  He didn't stop for his treat, which told me that he was a little anxious and wanted to get to the other side.  I asked him to stop--and clicked him for that.  He got a handful of treats, again.  We took a few more steps, and I asked for another halt.  He did and got a click.

All is well that ends well.  Since most of our river crossings are short, we decided that we will cross the water one at a time--just in case.  We did this a lot, anyways.  Cole doesn't like a horse behind him--splashing.  Dante is usually slow to get into the water.  It really won't be much of an inconvenience.  On the larger crossings, we will just put a lot of space between us.

We think that Cole just hit a slippery slope in the river, and I will avoid that area in the future.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A Different Trio

A Different Trio

So much for being the reunited trio of horsewomen.  Dante seemed lame, and we were worried.  My gut said it would just be an abscess, but we didn't know for sure.  For a few days, it was so minor that we didn't even want to call the vet.  Once he was obviously lame, he obviously had an abscess.  Instead of calling the vet, we decided to wait the few days for the farrier to come out.  Dante blew out the abscess the day before, and he is well on his way through his healing.  Unlike Ranger, whose last abscess took weeks to work out (and we did call the vet), or Mingo, who took years to work out his abscess, Dante acquired and got rid of an abscess in relatively no time at all.

But that didn't help with Ellen's trail riding!  She missed the whole long Memorial Day Weekend.  I've looked forward to trail riding with Ellen so much, that I was extremely disappointed that we couldn't ride together.

I wasn't alone, though.  I still had Shari, and our rides keep getting better and better.  Bella has calmed down, a lot.  Cole can still be fractious, but we have more good times than bad--by far.

I also have Kevin and Starry.  We were already doing well--and then the bugs came out.  This has been a very bad year for mosquitoes in Northeast Ohio.  Bugs make Starry crazy--literally.  We were having some miserable rides.  Starry would just take off!  I then had to struggle to keep Cole calm.  We spent some rides leading them.  Kevin started going by himself because Starry was so bad.

So then came a weekend when I both Kevin and Shari were available.  I wanted to ride with them both.  Kevin had been avoiding ridintg with us because he didn't want to ruin the ride.  I thought it was worth a try.

On Friday evening, Shari and I went out towards the Lagoon.  There is always less bugs that way, and we wanted to avoid them just as much as Kevin.  This was only my second trip that way this year, and it was Shari's first. Cole was a bit bouncy--Bella was better.  We went to the end of that trail, turned around and started heading home.  It wasn't long before we saw Kevin on Starry in the distance.  We rode up to them, and then they joined us on the way home.

Starry simply loves Bella.  He loves her more than Dante.  Once he saw her, he seemed to forget about his bug phobia.  He was happy just to follow her home.  He didn't take off to get away from the bugs a single time.  I saw a few belly kicks and head tosses, but that was it.  Single-minded Starry could only think of Bella.

This gave me hope.

The next day, Shari and I headed the other direction on the trail.  We didn't get too far when we came across a huge tree over the trail.  We could neither step over it or go safely around it.  So, we had to turn around and go the other way.  As we passed our river crossing to go home, we found Kevin and Starry.  We invited him to come along with us as we headed the other way towards the Lagoon, again.

He came.  Bella led with Starry right behind him.  Cole stayed in the back; out of the way.  We did some walking and some trotting.  Things went very smoothly.  Once, Cole got revved up and wanted to shoot past everyone, but I warned them, and we all stopped before Cole could do it.

We went farther down the trail, this time.  When we got to the big hill, we talked it over and decided to ride up.  Kevin had been up there this year, but Shari and I hadn't.  In fact, Shari didn't make it up last year, either.

Sometimes, Starry gets feisty about going up the hill--he doesn't want to.  Not this time.  He followed Bella right up.  We walked through the pine forest, and once we got out, we started trotting.

Starry just followed Bella--he showed none of his bad bug behaviors, at all.  We got to the end of the trail, turned around and basically walked home.  It has been impossible to walk home with Starry for the last few weeks.  Kevin was delighted.

We were able to get Starry in the lead once.  The rest of the time, he resisted.  That frustrated Kevin because Starry has gotten so much better when he goes out with Cole.  We had a training project.

The next day, we decided to do it all, again.  This time, Kevin left with us.  He wanted to see the tree that fell, so we trotted that way.  It was still there.  We turned around and headed to the Lagoon.  Bella led, Starry followed right behind and Cole stayed in the back.  This time, Cole was much more relaxed and happy to stay where he was.

The first step of Starry's training was to get him to stop following directly behind Bella.  It is dangerous becasue Bella could stop suddenly and Starry would run right into her.  Our trails are wide enough that he could position himself to one side and Bella can take the other side.  It isn't as easy as it sounds with a horse like Starry who is determined to stay directly behind his friend, but Kevin was just as determined.  In my position in the back, I could easily watch the progress.  In the beginning, it was a big fight, but after a while, I could see both Kevin and Starry relaxing and trotting along behind Bella--offset.

We got to the end of the trail and turned around.  Since I was in the back, when we turned, I was in the front.  We walked until we got to a spot where I could pull off the trail.  Starry walked right past us!  We all started to trot, and we got pretty far!  Bella followed Starry--which is another training project we have been working on--getting Bella to follow.

Eventually, we decided it was just time to walk to cool them off.  We used our walking time wisely.  We just kept putting Starry in the lead.  Since Bella is a faster walker, it never would last long, but then Shari would just turn around and go behind Starry, again.  We did this a number of times, and each time it got easier.

Throughout all of this, the bugs hardly bothered Starry at all!  It is all about Bella, now.