Saturday, December 29, 2018

She travels fastest who travels alone...

She travels fastest who travels alone...

That would be me, today.  Years ago, before my sister got her horse, Ranger, I rode by myself so much that some people called me "The Lone Rider."  That name vanished, because my sister and I ride together as often as we can.

I was going to ride with her out on the loop this morning, but she had a terrible headache.  Instead, she let Dante play out in the mud.  It was cold--right around freezing--but nothing was frozen, yet.  Since I would be by myself, I decided to go for a ride in the park, instead. 

Cole used to be very good on solo rides.  When I had 2 horses, I had more opportunities to ride him by himself.  The last few years, he has become rather rambunctious, alone.  He just hasn't been doing it enough.  This summer, it seemed I could get him out alone every few weeks, and he just kept getting better and better.  The novelty wore off.

He has gotten so good, I didn't even hesitate to take him out--even though it was a chilly morning.  We all know how spunky horses can get when the air is frosty.

When I am alone, I like to go faster than when I am with other people.  Cole's speed can cause problems for other horses.  (I actually think that is the root of the problem with him acting up when he was alone--he anticipated the speed.)  The times we have gotten out by ourselves, I have spent much of my time installing brakes--so that we could go fast.  I like to speed along, but I like to know that I am in control.  So, the rides were slower and more careful than I would have ridden a few years ago.

Today was the day that I got to test to see if my work paid off.  The park was very quiet.  There wouldn't be many reasons to stop, but if I had to, I felt I could.  Just to make sure, I tried a few times early in the ride.  Yes, I had Cole's brain.

After a little bit of trotting, I asked for a canter.  He was enthusiastic, but came back to a trot on his own after just a few strides.  I brought him to a halt and tried again from a standstill.  I got it and this time, he went a little further. 

We reached a part of the trail that we always walk because it weaves between trees.  I was alone--so we trotted it.  Cole was starting to have fun.

We walked over some rocky ground.  When the trail smoothed out, I trotted a bit--yes, his mood was right.  We stopped, and I asked for a canter from a standstill, again.  He did beautifully, and we went a good distance, this time. 

Around the corner and down a little slope at a walk, a little trotting to the mud, walking through the mud--and then we got to the place that we love to gallop.  It had been so long since I have had to chance to really let him go.  I have to confess, I was a little nervous. 

Once again, we did it from a standstill--and he was just wonderful.  We went very fast, but it was so much fun that I wondered why I was nervous!  Cole sprouted wings!  We didn't go all the way to the end, because I wanted to test the brakes--they worked perfectly.  What a wonderful horse!  I trotted out to the end--letting him go as fast as he liked.  (Cole's fast trot is faster than a lot of horses can canter.)  It was so much fun.

We turned around and trotted back until we found Ellen walking on the trail to meet us.  That was Cole's ultimate reward.  He loves finding Ellen and walking with her.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

An Evening Ride with Bella

It was a beautiful afternoon for late December.  I was supposed to ride with Kevin in the afternoon, but when I got to the barn, he and Starry already left without me.  He left a note saying that he would meet me on the way back.  He wanted to go on a longer ride.

I hurried and saddled up Cole Train.  As I took him out of the barn, I could see Shari's bright yellow vehicle stopped at the end of the driveway.  That meant she got out of work early, and I would see her on trail, too.  I waved an acknowledgement, and she drove off.

Cole and I headed down the hill.  He was neighing--he knew Starry was up ahead.  He walked much faster down the hill than he would normally walk.  I had one very excited horse on my hands--he felt like he was just going to burst.

Once we crossed the river, I asked him to trot.  Not 20 seconds later, he launched into a gallop!  I got him to stop in about 10 strides and made him stand for a few moments to calm down.  I knew that he was just anxious to catch up with Starry.  We walked a few steps, and he seemed okay.  From there on, we trotted--really, really fast.  Cole Train was full-out Cole "Steam" Train--it was fun.  I was so proud of him--he didn't break out into the canter--he just trotted faster and faster.

I expected to see Starry near the second river crossing, and as I rounded the last bend, there they were.  He was just standing and waiting for us.  I stopped Cole before we got too close to keep him from turning into a rocket.

As we got nearer, I could see Kevin was talking to a young lady--and giving her carrots to feed to Starry.  Yes, she was another pretty blonde.  I told him there was a trend, but he denied it.

We turned around to head home--just walking, so that we didn't run into Shari too soon.  I wanted her to have a good trot before seeing us.  We found her not too far off from where I estimated she would be.  Bella was doing her own version of the "Steam Train."  She knew that we were up ahead and was just as excited to find us as Cole was to find Starry.

Kevin is always trying to get out of riding with us because he is worried that Starry will misbehave.  (And it has happened.)  He talked us into turning around and going back to the second river crossing so Shari didn't have to cut her ride short.  He would head on home.  It looked like we had enough time before dark, so he didn't have to try too hard to convince us.

Once we left him and got to a spot where we like to trot, we did.  Bella, as always, was in the lead.  Cole was quite hyper about his favorite mare being with him and tried to burst past her.  I asked Shari to stop.  I reminded her that this happened last time when we were over there after a long time of not riding together  She remembered, and said we had a plan to fix it--but neither of us remembered what it was.  We continued at a walk and chatted.  Then, the plan popped into my head.  We had to "Do the Dante."

All summer, I worked with Cole to teach him to trot quietly behind Dante when he really wanted to go much faster.  All Shari had to do, in theory, was to slow Bella down.  She did--and it worked like a dream.  Cole remembered how to "Do the Dante," and we trotted without incident to the second river crossing.  Success!

We turned around and headed towards home.  They were good, so we decided to try the trot, again.  Cole did even better--and then Bella jumped at something.  We came to a screeching halt and decided that maybe we should just play it safe and walk home.

Bella had other ideas.  She wanted to trot and was jigging this way and that.  Shari decided it was time for a clicker lesson.  She asked for a couple steps of a walk--and when she got it, she clicked and gave Bella a treat.  She repeated this a number of times--adding a few more steps each time before she clicked.  In just a few minutes, Bella was walking quietly with her head low for a National Show Horse.  Clicker worked again.

That is one of the reasons I like clicker training.  It is a way for us to gently show our horses what we want them to do--rather than fight with them.  Bella wanted to trot there--because that is what we usually do, and Shari just had to show her what we really wanted.

The rest of the way home was uneventful, and we made it just before the sun went down.  It was a great ride for everyone--and a real treat at the end of December, here in northeast Ohio.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Christmas Ride!

The weather was just above freezing, Christmas morning, so we were able to take Cole and Starry out for a fun, but uneventful, Christmas ride.  We did a lot of trotting, and once again, I snuck in some cantering, too.  Both horses were so very well behaved--it was such a pleasurable ride. 

It was too cold to take off the dorky helmet cover, though.  You would not believe how much warmer my helmet is with it--I don't care how dorky I look.  My helmet is the kind that has vents in it to keep me cool in the summer--it just doesn't work well in the winter.

Anyway, at least I match Cole.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas is for Riding!

or many years, I have been riding on Christmas, and this year is no different.  All the rides are different.  Sometimes it is too cold to even ride outside, so then we just bop about in the indoor arena.  Sometimes, it is warm and we have a wonderful trail ride.  Other times, we can't cross the river and just ride on the hill.  

Once, we battled the weather and rode in a big snow storm.  I remember Cruiser and Ranger refused to cross the river, that day.  The snow was floating on the river and gathering at the edge.  It looked really funny.   But that day, my little Mingo didn't let me down.  He crossed the river, and we had one of the best winter rides I ever had.

This year, it looks like it will be chilly with no snow.  I don't expect we will even cross the river if the ground is frozen.  The river bank will be frozen mud that is chopped up by horse hooves--not the safest to ride over.  I don't know what we will do, but you can be sure, that my sister and I will get to ride on Christmas.  It is our tradition.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

We Rode Down to the River

We couldn't cross the river, today, because it was too high, but it was still just nice to get out and enjoy the beautiful snow.  There was just enough to be pretty--but not too much to be a problem.

Smokin' Cole Train

I decided to start sketching this winter--and have been doing a sketch a day all month.  So far, I have been doing easy things--cats and landscapes.  This is my first attempt of a horse in many years.  And, it is the first time I ever did a horse in charcoal.  It was fun--I'll have to do some more horse pictures.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Return of Bella

The Return of Bella

I haven't been able to ride with Shari and Bella much in the last year.  Between Shari's work schedule and Bella's bout with laminitis, it has been hard to get together.  The laminitis is under control, now, and Bella is doing very well with her new low sugar diet. 

Shari called and told me she is quitting her second job--which means she will be able to ride with us more often.  Hurray!!  We have so much fun when we ride together.  Bella loves her boys, Cole, Dante and Starry--and they love her.  They may love her a little too much.  Starry doesn't like anyone between them.  He forgets all about his "bromance" with Dante--he will follow Bella anywhere.

Cole likes to be close to Bella, but he knows that she is unpredictable.  He prefers a little distance--just in case.  Dante doesn't seem to care.  He thinks she goes too fast.

Well, Cole and Bella got to see each other this weekend--the first time in a few months.  We didn't know how Bella would be.  Unfortunately, the river was too high to cross.  Shari and I decided that we would just ride up and down the hill together. 

I was just bringing Cole out of the barn when I saw Bella trotting down the street--all excited.  When she realized that she was coming to our barn, she knew she was going to ride with at least one of her buddies.  Cole seemed happy to see her, and we headed for the trail.

As we walked along the street, a jogger came up behind us on the other side of the street.  I warned Shari.  She thought Bella saw him, but if she did, she thought he was a jogging monster.  She jumped and danced in the street.  Yes, Bella was feeling good.

Bella led as we walked down the trail to the river.  On the bottom part of the trail, it is flat and smooth, so we trotted.  Bella was excited and fairly fast, but she listened.  When we turned to go home, she became more energetic.  Instead of walking quietly up the hill, like Cole, she tried trotting up the hill.  We didn't get too far before we turned her around to demoralize her.  If she is going to hurry up the hill, she has to go back down.  (Of course, we were going to go back down, anyways--but she doesn't know that.)

At the bottom, we asked them to trot, again.  This time, about halfway to the end, Bella decided cantering was a better idea.  While Shari regained command, I told Cole to slow down--so as not to add to the problem.  To my delight, he did.  When Bella started trotting, again, I asked Cole to speed up--and he trotted in a quick but gentlemanly fashion to catch up.  I was so proud of him. 

After that, we just kept going partway up the hill, turning and going to the bottom.  Bella continued to try trotting on the way up, but each time, she did it less. 

It may sound like a boring ride, but it wasn't.  Shari and I had a lot of catching up to do, and the time went very quickly.

Finally, we decided we would head home if Bella was good on the way up.  She was.  She only did a few steps of trotting and came right back to the walk when Shari asked her.

We are hoping to do a lot of riding together in the future.  It depends on the weather and the footing of the trail, of course.  Ice is our enemy.  But time goes fast, even in the winter.  I think that we are going to have a lot of fun next spring.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Starry has a Meltdown

Starry has a Meltdown

Late in the afternoon, the other day, I was out riding the loop in the back of of the barn property.  At the beginning of the ride, both horses seemed a little nervous. Cole even did a little hop spook for no reason that I could see and then returned to his normal self, so it was no big deal.

After a few laps, Starry suddenly freaked out--big time--about something.  His head was up; he was snorting and frozen in place. Kevin wisely got off, but he couldn't get Starry to take a single step without him panicking and trying to get away.  They just kept circling and circling. After a few long minutes of this, Cole started to get upset, too. I got off. Cole relaxed, so I brought him over to Starry to see if he could calm Starry down, and it didn't work.  I could see Kevin was getting scared. He was worrying that Starry would knock him down, and he was letting the reins get longer and longer--losing what little control he had of him. (Ironically, it is when you are worried you might get knocked over that you are most like to be knocked over.)

Starry was still trying to take off whenever Kevin tried to get him to move.  He was simply terrified. They just weren't getting anywhere. By now, Kevin was holding the very end of his reins.  I was close enough that I grabbed Starry's reins by his mouth. Now I had both horses.

I told Kevin to take Cole, and I would take Starr.  Fortunately--and unfortunately--I have had way too much experience in situations like this.  Cole did bounce a few times with Kevin, but soon, he was doing tricks, instead. Once Kevin got Cole doing his silly walk, I knew they would be fine.  They did the silly walk almost all the way back to the barn.

Starry did circle a few times with me, but somehow, I got him to take one straight step.  It probably helped that by now, Cole was silly walking home. I stopped Starry, gave him a carrot and asked for another straight step and asked him to stop, again.  Even though he was hard to stop and it took more than one step, at least he wasn't in a total panic. I kept repeating this, and eventually he started to settle down, and we got back to our barn safely.  

Kevin quit for the day.  I took Cole back to ride some more--and that is when I saw the coyote.  It was just a little one. Cole saw him first, but he wasn't afraid. He is a very bold horse.  We watched him trotting around. Starry might have caught a glimpse of it--or even just smelled it.  Some horses can be very troubled by them--like Ranger. I'm just glad it all worked out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Big Arena Problem

The Big Arena Problem

Ellen has been having some trouble with Dante in the arena.  Not dangerous trouble--but annoying trouble. 

It started showing up last spring before she started trail riding, again.  Dante was stalling out.  If he was walking, he would stop.  If he was trotting, he would slow down to a walk.  Then, she had trouble getting him going, again.  Talk about frustrating!

Well, in the last few weeks, he took it to a whole new level.  I rode with them in the indoor arena one morning last week, and it seemed like she was fighting with him the whole time.  They couldn't even trot a full lap around the arena.  Now, Dante is always worse if Cole is with him--he likes to stall out whenever Cole comes close to him.  I tried my best to stay away from them, but Dante still kept stalling.

My sister was really blue about it.  We walked Ranger after this horrible ride and did some brainstorming.

I had ridden Dante a few weeks ago, and I didn't have a trace of stalling out.  Now, it could have been the novelty of having someone different ride him at a different time of day and with a different saddle.  Sometimes when you change things up--horses' behavior's will change, too. 

Ellen was all stressed and anxious about it.  Was she doing something wrong?  Was Dante ruined?  Does this mean she won't have any good arena rides with him this winter?  Is it going to be a long winter of frustration?

We needed a plan.

First, we decided that I would ride him the following evening.  She would ride him the next day with me on Cole.

I carried a whip on the ride--something we haven't been doing in the arena.  Basically, the only time I use a whip these days is to keep bugs off Cole's neck and belly and to discourage him from eating branches on the trail. 

The plan was that I would ask him to go forward nicely with my legs and seat.  If that didn't work, I would boot him with my legs--and if that didn't work--I would give him a firm; but not painful--pop with the whip.  If he stalled when I was already going forward--I would jump straight to the whip to discourage him from doing that.  Clarity and consistency--that is what it was going to be all about.

I started the ride at a walk; asking for walk/stop/walk transitions.  They were sticky--so I did what we planned.  I think I only had to resort to the whip 3 times.  After that, I still had to give him a solid boot a few more times.  Then, I started to get decent transitions.  I didn't click him and give him a treat--I just rubbed his neck.  We did a lot of them.

When we moved on to the trot, he really did pretty good.  I only had to use the whip a couple times before he realized that it was better just to keep going.  I trotted all about the arena.  Towards the end of the ride, I practiced transitions and clicked him for the good ones.  This was not the same horse that Ellen rode the day before.

The following morning, I told her all about it.  To help her out, I let her ride the first 20 minutes without Cole in the arena as a distraction.  She did exactly as I did, and her troubles just vanished.  Once I brought Cole in, Dante continued to behave like the well-trained horse he is.  Ellen was able to reward him for good behavior, again.  Finally, she was getting it consistently.  The next day, we did the same thing with the same results.

We decided the whole problem was--as it usually is with horses--operator's error.  Ellen was too slow to correct and not consistent with her corrections.  Dante was confused and did what he did the best--nothing.  When Dante would stall out, Ellen's brain would flash all kinds of things--he was being bad.  He will always be bad.  Is he sick?  Maybe he is hurt, and on and on and on.  She would then miss her opportunity to correct Dante and poor Dante probably thought that he was doing what she wanted him to do.

I didn't have those thoughts in my head.  When I ride, I have very little inner dialogue.  I just ride.  Actually, I think that is one of the reasons I like riding.  It clears my head and puts me in the moment.  It is just me, my horse and what we are doing together.  Ellen is very different than me, and it worked against her.

Once we set the rules, he changed his whole attitude.  He just needed to understand what we wanted.  After all, Dante loves to trot--there was no reason for him to want to stop trotting.

Ellen was so happy!!!!

I asked her what her final sum up of the whole experience was.  I was hoping to get something thoughtful and insightful from her.

Instead, she sighed and said, "It's going to be a long winter of boring arena rides.  I had a problem to work on for a while, but now that's gone."

So much for thoughtful and insightful!  But, it is great that the problem vanished in only 2 rides.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Birthday for Ranger Around the Corner

The big day is coming up--January 1--official birthday of all horses.  Cole's birthday is April 27, and that is the day I celebrate it, but we don't know when Ranger was born.  We don't even know the year, let alone the date.  So, Ranger's birthday is January 1.  It works out really well since Ellen got him in January.

We don't know how old he was, then, but he was a fully mature horse.  No vets could look into his mouth to see his teeth. without tranquilizing him, so we didn't even have a vet guess.  We guessed he was around 5 years old.

Since Ellen will have had him 24 years this January--that makes Ranger--old.

I asked her if we should add a year to make him 29, or if we could keep him 28.  Twenty-nine sounds so old.  She said that she will add the year to make him 29.

He is doing well for a big, old horse.  After the mild colic scare a few months ago; where we adjusted his diet, he looks like he is putting on some weight.  We are still taking him on his walks, every day.  She would be riding him if he didn't have his breathing issues--he certainly has a lot of energy on his walks!  It is just that when he starts trotting, he has trouble with his lungs.  We do trot him in hand for short distances.   Ranger just loves that!

And, I am glad to say, Ranger is as cantankerous and also as lovable, as ever.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Pumpkin Seeds

Did I ever mention I make the best pumpkin pie?  I just love it.  I make it from fresh pumpkins, and I found a really good recipe to use--not the one every one else uses that is on the can of pumpkin.

I made a bunch of pies over the last month or so, but now I am all out of pumpkins.  I have a few winter squash that I grew in my garden this summer, and I think I might turn them into pies.

Anyways, the reason I am writing this isn't to make everyone hungry.  I save the pumpkin seeds for the horses.  All you have to do is wash them off and let them dry.  The horses--particularly Cole Train--love them.  The best part about it?  They are a low carb snack for those insulin resistant horses.  Cole looks like he might be, so we have switched his grain to low carb a few years ago.  I still give him treats, so when I can give him healthy treats, like pumpkin seeds, I do.

Sadly, Cole's friend, Bella, who contracted insulin resistant laminitis this summer doesn't like pumpkin seeds.  She is doing well, and Shari has been riding her--but not with us--because of her schedule.  That will be changing soon, because she quit her second job.  Hurray!