Thursday, November 29, 2018

Cole in the Arena - Part 2

Did I really write about how well Cole was on his last arena ride? 

Yesterday, I rode a whole different horse, though he looked just like Cole.  He lived up to his registered name, Smokin' Cole Train, that is for sure.

I could feel that his mood was very different after about--20 seconds in the saddle.  He felt like he was a horse twice his size and ready to explode.  Cole was a stick of dynamite.

I have been here, before, with Cole.  To be on the safe side, I decided to start with something simple.  We would just walk 5 laps each way around the arena.  At the scary corner, his head was way up in the air.  He wanted to run.  I jiggled the rein to tell him to drop his head, and he did; for which he got praise and neck rubs. 

When it was time to trot, I figured I would just go short distances each time until he calmed down--and I would go in circles for more control.  Upon request, he sprung into the trot.  This is when he really was Smokin' Cole Train.  I can't explain very well how it felt, but if it was physically possible for a horse's back legs to be going twice as fast as his front legs, I swear that's what was happening.  Yes, short distances were enough for me.  I felt like I wouldn't last much past that.

We practiced our walk/trot transitions on a circle, and I started to notice he was settling down.  I wanted to ride at least a half hour, but I was ready to quit after 15 minutes.  He still felt explosive, but at least his back legs were matching his front legs. 

We took a walk break, to kill some time to get me to a half hour.  We wandered over to the scary corner--mistake.  He jumped and tried to take off running.  Since we have been practicing this maneuver, lately, I was able to quickly spin him into a small circle on the very first stride.  Sigh.  We went back to the safe end of the arena.

Since he was doing better at a trot, I decided to integrate some shoulder-ins along the wall.  I like them when he is hyper, because his neck is already bent.  If he should try to shoot off, I already have him in position to spin him. 

I didn't have to.  He was happy to cooperate-and we were getting closer to the wall this time.  By now, we were nearing the half hour mark, and instead of hopping off, I knew I could do the last 10 minutes safely.  We continued more trotting in circles and shoulder-ins, and then we settled down with doing his lateral tricks that he loves so much.

Nobody else was there to use the arena, so I unsaddled him in there and set him free.  He did a quick roll and took off running!  I grabbed a whip to encourage him to continue to run.  On the first wave of the whip, he reared straight up into the air and kicked up off the ground with his hind legs--such elevation.  He would have put many Lipizzaner's to shame!

He did a lot of running and bucking--around and around and around.  It is then that I decided that he wasn't being such a bad horse on the ride,  Actually, he was being very good.  If he felt he had to do all this running after the ride, and he still did his best to listen and cooperate with me for 40 minutes--well that makes a very good horse to me.

I rode him again this morning--and he was back to his old self, again.  He just needed to run.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dreams of Horses

When I was a little girl, I loved to draw horses--dreaming that some day, I would have my own.  My mom just kept saying, "Save your money."  I found an old sketchbook.

I didn't get my first horse until I was 21.  That's a lot of dreaming.

Back in the Arena with Cole

Back in the Arena with Cole

The weather isn't cooperating.  I think this was the worse November, ever.  We have had so much rain, some snow and most days are way colder than normal for this time of year.  I have done some trail riding, but not as much as I would normally do in November.  The river has been too high much of the time.

The rain has kept me in the indoor arena a few times--and now the driveway is icy.  It isn't safe to take the horses out on it.  Now, I am really forced to ride in the arena.

The arena really isn't that bad.  I shouldn't complain.  I have kept my horses at barns that didn't have one--and that was even worse.  It is just that I love riding on the trail so much more.  The arena is more like work.

I have ridden Cole in the arena only a few times this year.  The last time, everything felt like it was starting to come together.  I think practicing on Dante really helped me.  The better I do, the better Cole does.  His trot is becoming more consistent and more powerful--and more amazing.  It is hard to sit, but the stronger I get, the longer we can go before I fall apart. 

His circles are doing better whenever I can keep both my seat bones where they belong.  If my outside one loses contact, he leans into his circle--and then it is too late.  I have to start all over and do it right.  Cole makes me a better rider.

He loves to do shoulder-ins, but we are having trouble with him drifting off the wall.  That gives me a reason to practice more, so he is happy with that.  I'm not going to try leg yielding until we fix the shoulder-in. 

He is misbehaving in his bad corner, again, but I have kept him from bolting.  He gets startled easily in that corner and then wants to gallop to the arena exit.  We have been having trouble with this from the very beginning of his training.  He tried 4 times the last ride, but I was able to spin him around on the first stride each time.  I don't think he is that frightened--he just wants to play.  With a few more weeks of riding in the arena, he will stop doing it.  I just have to catch him every time.

Of course, we always save time for doing tricks.  There is silly walk, turn-on-the-haunches, side pass and backing--and all combinations of them.  I think I should teach him to do line dancing.  He likes them all except backing.  We are going to practice it more this year with clicker to see if he can get a little sharper with it. 

If winter keeps going like it has been, I will have plenty of time for practicing.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Cole Loses His Composure

Cole Loses His Composure

The other afternoon, we were out riding Starry and Cole on a short trail ride before sunset.  It was our first really nice day, weather wise, in several weeks.  There was no rain, snow or wind, and it was even moderately warm.

On the way out, we were passed by 2 people riding gaited pintos.  It was evident they were from the fairgrounds, because fairground people who ride as far as our trails are always in a hurry.  We stopped our horses and let them pass.

We had a really nice ride out to the second river crossing--trotting most of the way.  We turned around and started trotting back.  After a couple of minutes, I yelled up to Kevin to stop, because Cole was getting a little feisty.  Starry immediately halted, and we walked towards the next corner with Starry in the lead.

Up ahead, we could see around the corner because there are no leaves on the trees--and here comes the spotted, gaited horses, and they were coming fast.  Through the trees, between the spots and the funny way gaited horses move, Cole thought he saw monsters!  He spun 180 degrees--as only a little horse can--and took off running!

We don't see many gaited horses, and trotting horses sometimes get confused when they see gaited horses' legs going all directions.  I remember when had a similar reaction from Cruiser the first time he saw a one.  This wasn't Cole's first time, but they frightened him, nonetheless. 

I was able to catch him in a few strides and stop him by turning 180 degrees the other direction.  I asked him to stop and watch the monsters approach.  Poor Cole, his head was up, he was trembling and I could feel that any deviation towards the left or right would have him spinning and running, again.  I just kept him facing the monsters, and he stood frozen in place.

Kevin knew I had a problem going on; even though he couldn't see us and asked the people to slow down.  As they got closer to me, I asked them to stop.  By now, I was sitting on a stick of dynamite with the fuse already lit.

They didn't stop--only slowed down a little bit, but they just kept gaiting.  I can't say what happened next--I was too busy trying to contain the situation to bother remembering.  I know it involved Cole rushing backwards a few times, at least one more spin, Cole trying to step sideways into the trees and a mad dash forward just as they got passed us.

They didn't try to stop their horses and said not one word of apology.  If I was the kind of person who cussed, I can't imagine what words would have come out of my mouth.  Good thing Kevin didn't see what happened!  He and Starry stood completely still--facing the opposite way--so they wouldn't interfere or add to the chaos behind them.

Cole was still very, very upset about what happened.  He just wanted to run home.  I asked Kevin to  stand with us until Cole settled down.  After a few minutes, I felt Cole relax, and we went home with no other problems.  You could imagine what most of our conversation was about.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Horse of a Different Color: Riding Dante in the Arena

A Horse of a Different Color: Riding Dante in the Arena

I decided to give Cole a well-needed day off.  I can't remember the last time I did.  Some of the days that I rode him were just around the loop in the back of the property--easy rides that were only about a half hour, so I haven't been abusing him.  Still, I think it is good for a horse just to get a break from riding now and then.

It was my day to feed the horses at the barn.  Two or three evenings a week, I hay and water them, (between 25-30 horses,) to help defray the costs of having a horse.  I also clean our three stalls and take Ranger on his walk.  Instead of just doing chores; I wanted to have some fun.  I decided it would be a good day to start riding Dante, my sister's horse, in the arena.

I rode Dante in the arena about once a week last couple winters.  When the weather gets better, and I started riding Cole out in the park, I quit.  I guess that means I haven't ridden him in there since sometime in March.  Ellen has done a few arena rides, lately, when it was raining.  I did a couple with Cole, too.  She has done well with Dante--Cole was a little tough, but he always is when I haven't ridden him in there for months.

And that was one of the reasons I wanted to ride Dante.  As I have mentioned before, Cole has an incredibly gorgeous, powerful arena trot.  (I'm so glad he seldom uses it on the trail.)  He bounces me all over.  It is hard to sit--even harder to post--and can be quite intimidating until I get used to it.  Plus, he makes me very sore!  I have to build up to his trot.  Not to mention, he still likes jump and run if he is in the scary corner when he hears any little noise. I'm glad to say, he isn't near as bad as he was when he was young, but he does still do it.

Dante, on the other hand, is smooth and quiet--and never does anything sudden in the arena.  He is the perfect horse to prepare myself for Cole.

There is another reason I like to ride Dante--I get to use my favorite saddle.  I have never found a saddle that fitted me better, but it is just too big for little Cole.  The only time I get to use it is when I ride Dante.  I mounted up and the first thing I did was sigh.  Yes, it is the perfect saddle for me.

It is actually a WWII Japanese military saddle I found at an estate sale.  I didn't know what it was when I bought it.  I sat on it when I brought it home and decided it was worth getting repaired.  It has been my favorite saddle ever since.

I used to use it on Mingo.  He loved it, too.  If I tried to use a different saddle, he would become very uncooperative.  When he died, it became Cruiser's official saddle.  I really wish it fit Cole, but it does give me incentive to ride Dante.

We started out trying to walk along the edge of the arena.  He was like riding a snake--swerving this way and that.  Immediately, I realized that, once again, I got into a lot of bad habits riding on the trail all summer.

I firmed up my seat and focused my energy into straightening him out.  It worked.  I brought him to the arena wall and made him walk straight.  It sounds like such an easy thing, but it really isn't.

After a warm up, I asked for a trot.  Ahhh, so smooth, so lovely--we just slowly glided along.  After a few minutes, I realized that Dante, amazingly, was picking up exactly where we left off last spring when I quit riding him.  No horse does that!  I spend weeks reviewing our old lessons with Cole before we start to move on.  Dante is truly a special horse.  And then he decided to stop.  He might be good, but he isn't perfect.  Like with most horses, there is always something to work on--and right now, Dante thinks that whenever he is doing well, he should stop.

We worked on nearly perfect circles--perfect for him.  My body, used to just trotting down the trail, didn't want to cooperate with me.  I was losing my connection on the saddle, my legs weren't going to the right positions and I was having trouble finding the rhythm of the sitting trot.  Another thing for me to focus on.  We practiced until it started to become automatic.

And this is one of the big reasons I like to ride in the arena with Dante.  With his slower, smoother movement, I can work out all my own personal problems on him--instead of Cole.  It is hard to work on my body when I am flying around on Cole.  If I can get control of me, first, I have better control of Cole--and I am more confident, too.

I only rode about a half hour, but it was a very satisfying ride.  A few more like that, I will be ready for Cole Train.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

My Lame Attempt at Poetry

Riding Cole on the Trail

My feet are cold,
Slow down.
There are some deer.
I hope they don't run and startle my Cole.
It looks like rain.
Slow down.
Just go through the mud; it won't hurt you.My hands are cold.
Slow down.
The river looks pretty.
I think I am having a problem.
Whoa! Whoa!
Just walk.
Look at those pretty ducks.
Steady, steady, easy.
Good boy.  That was beautiful.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dante Challenges

Our ride on Saturday didn't go very well.  Kevin, Ellen and I rode down to the river.  It was extremely cold and windy for this time of year, and Ellen was filled with much trepidation about the ride.  Cold weather sometimes brings the worst out in horses, and this was our coldest day in a long time.

At the bottom of the hill, Starry had one of his unreasonable fits about not walking in front of Dante--he wouldn't even follow Cole.  Dante was behind Starry--afraid to pass him--and Starry wouldn't budge.  We worked through that, but not without Dante trying to high-tail it back home.

After that, I started to cross the river.  It wasn't too bad, but when Ellen saw it, she decided it was too high to cross.  I didn't want to turn Cole around and go back because I didn't want him to learn that was in the realm of possibility.  We continued to the other side.  Ellen thought she would try, but when she got to the edge of the water, she changed her mind.  She decided to go home and work Dante in the arena.

Kevin crossed Starry, and we went on a short, cold ride.

The next day, the river was lower, so Ellen thought she could cross it.   Starry was banned from the ride because of his bad behavior.  We rode down to the river, and Cole and I crossed to the other side.  Ellen rode Dante to the river's edge, he stopped and refused to take a step forward.  I found a sunny spot and had Cole stand and wait.

Ellen got Dante to put his front feet in, and she clicked and treated him.  So far, so good.  She asked for another step--and nothing.  They were stuck for a while, until Dante did one of his slow motion spins to get out of the water.  She kept him spinning and they ended up at the water's edge, again.

This happened a few times.  Finally, she got all 4 feet in, and he stalled out.  She asked for step forward.  He put his left foot in, and then took his left foot out.  He took his right foot in and his right foot out.  He then did the "hokey pokey," and turned himself around.

Okay, this wasn't working.  She tried again.  Once more, all 4 feet were in.  Dante decided to play in the water.  He kept sticking his face in the ice cold water and shaking his head around.  Ellen was so puzzled about his behavior.  He didn't act like he was afraid to cross--but he wouldn't cross.  He didn't fight--he just refused.  He tried another slow spin, but Ellen used all of her strength to keep his incredibly strong neck from bending the way she didn't want it to go.

I told her to try and walk down stream a little to cross in a different spot.  I have found that that sometimes helps.  This had taken about 15 minutes, so far-it seemed like an hour.  I was getting bored and cold.  Ellen certainly didn't want to give up.  What did she have to lose.

And then an idea popped into her head.  The last big rain storm changed the river a bit.  The current looked funny.  There were ripples were she wanted to cross him that weren't there, before.  Could that be why he was putting his head in the water to test it so much?  She rode him downstream about 10 feet where there weren't any ripples.  Within less than a minute, he was marching across the river.  She didn't want him to lose his momentum, so she didn't stop him to give him a treat.  Instead, she scratched his neck and praised him.  Once she triumphantly got to the other side, she gave him a handful of carrots.

So, we think that between the new ripples and the fact that he didn't have to cross the day before, convinced Dante that he didn't have to try to cross.  He, wisely, (in his mind,) decided it was safer for both of them to stay where they were at.

We had a great ride, after that.  On the way home, he crossed the river without hesitation.

I am so proud of Ellen's fine display of horsemanship.  She never lost her temper, she stayed determined and she used the most important tool we have to solve the problem--her brain.

Saturday, November 10, 2018