Thursday, October 31, 2019

Our Successes

Our Successes

The trail riding season is winding down for the year.  Of course, we will still be riding whenever we can, but it gets harder with the weather.  Rain, snow, high rivers, extreme cold, ice, frozen rivers--it gets tough this time of year.  For Shari, it is even tougher because she has to deal with the early sunset.

We have accomplished so much this year.  Thirteen was our lucky number.  Bella, Dante and Cole all turned thirteen this year. 

For Bella, thirteen is the year she matured.  Sure, she still has some "Bella moments," but there are far less than there used to be.  This year, Shari has been able to ride more regularly, and that had really helped Bella.  Her biggest accomplishment was learning to allow other horses to lead.  She never wanted to follow in the past.  If a horse got ahead of her, she would blast past.  We have been working on training her to follow for years--letting other horses take the lead at a walk.  Over time, she got better and better.  This year, she started to let other horses lead at a trot.  Usually, is is Starry in the lead. 

That is the next big success.  Starry is leading whenever we want him to, and it isn't hard for Kevin to get him to take the lead.  Sometimes, he has to circle Starry first, but often they just march right into the lead.  We no longer have to fuss to put him in the lead like we had to in the past.  It is fantastic!

Ellen has got Dante crossing the first river crossing like a dream.  I will never stop appreciating the way he walks right down the bank and crosses the water without a whole lot of fussing.  Sometimes there is no fussing at all!  They are working on the other river crossings to make them as good as the first one.

Ellen has learned a very important thing this year--she has learned to let Dante be a horse.  Horses spook, make mistakes and sometimes misunderstand us.  Ellen has realized that she was expecting too much from Dante--and when there was a hiccup, she blew it all out of proportion in her mind--and would get so disappointed.  Now she is letting Dante be a horse.  If he spooks at something--that is normal--not a crisis.  The best thing about Dante is if something frightens him, he gets over it really fast.  Now, Ellen is doing the same thing.

Ellen spent a lot of time in the last few months working on her riding while on trail.  It is something we all know we should do--but it is hard to focus on our own equitation when there is so much else to focus on out on the trail.  When Ellen rode Ranger, she always posted his trot.  Dante's trot is so much different--it is very easy to sit.  Ellen never learned to ride a sitting trot, before.  She has been trying new things and adjusting here and there.  I saw them riding in the arena--and honestly, Dante never trotted so well and so consistent.  She said it was hard work, but it was hard work that paid off--big time.

And then there is Cole.  What did Cole and I learn--slowness!  We were working on it last year, so it isn't anything new.  What is amazing is how well he did this year.  We want to be able to trot as slow as Dante so we can ride together.  I would position him behind Dante as we trotted.  Sometimes Dante trotted so slow that I thought it was physically impossible for Cole to match his speed.  Well, guess what?  He can do it.  With a lot of praise and some well-timed clicks, he learned to slow his trot down with only light contact on the reins.  I can even sit the trot if I want to. 

When the 4 of us go out for a ride, often Starry is in the lead with Bella close behind.  Way back, Dante trots his slow trot with Cole following him.  A year ago, I would have said this would be impossible  Sometimes I feel like I am in the twilight zone.

It wasn't easy to get to this place, but we are here, and it is a good place to be.



Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Monday, October 21, 2019

All Our Ducks in a Row

All Our Ducks in a Row

Ellen, Shari and I were out for a ride on a perfect October morning.  We did a lot of trotting and Ellen even did some cantering to keep up with us.  Everything was going great.  Though Ellen was nervous about the second river crossing, (for no good reason, since Dante has been crossing it so much better,) Dante crossed it very well.  He was a little slow initially stepping into the water, but after that, he walked steadily across.

We rode on the trail on the other side for a while, turned around and came back to the river.  Ellen was nervous, again.  The previous day, Dante rushed up the river bank.  He only trotted, and she got him stopped in a reasonable amount of time.  Knowing he might do it again, she only needed to be prepared.

Bella crossed first.  There was a group of 5 cute, little mallard ducks just downstream.  When they saw Bella, they floated away.

Cole crossed next.  I saw the ducks had turned around and were coming back.

Ellen got Dante down the river bank without him grabbing something to eat--her biggest problem right now.  When they got to the river's edge, she saw the ducks.  She felt they were the size of turkeys, and they would take off as she tried to cross.  Maybe they would even attack.  They looked vicious.

I reassured her they wouldn't.  They weren't that close to her, and when Bella approached them, they only floated away.  They were probably migrators and were too tired to do much.  The ducks were just floating in one place; watching Ellen and Dante.

Ellen was nervous, and as usual, if Dante senses her nervousness, he turns into a statue.  He wouldn't budge.  He just stared at the ducks as they stared at him.  She couldn't get him to step into the water--and she really didn't want him too, either.

Shari decided to help.  She brought Bella back into the water and scared the ducks.  They floated away.  She turned Bella around and headed up the bank.  Bella charged up the bank.  Cole saw and panicked.  As he spun away, I just kept him spinning until he was facing Bella once again.  He immediately settled down.  We looked over at the ducks just to see them floating back to their favorite spot.  They were there to watch the show.  Dante remained frozen in place.  Ellen wanted to cross on the ford.  I didn't offer to go back across to go with her.

Shari decided to try again.  The ducks floated downstream, and Bella tried trotting up the river bank.  Cole didn't get scared this time--he just watched.  This was a wonderful training experience for Cole!

The ducks started to return, but they didn't get as close this time.  Dante was still watching them.  We were yelling out encouragement to Ellen.  I told her to try to turn him.  She turned his head, but the rest of him wouldn't budge--but I think it was enough to break his duck fixation.  She asked him to cross in a more assertive manner, and he finally took a step into the water!  We knew the rest would be easy.  The first few step were slow, but soon the ducks were forgotten.  (At least they were forgotten by us.  I'm sure Ellen was still thinking of them.)

Once they got to the other side, Ellen just told him to walk up the bank, and he did.  We were all so relieved.  Ellen was very shaken by the whole experience.  Bella was feeling very empowered.  She got to herd ducks.  Cole was bored.  We walked a little ways for Bella, Ellen and Dante to calm down.  The rest of the ride was without incident.

I hope those ducks were migrators, and they plan to head south; really soon.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Tricky Ride

A Tricky Ride

I was out on a ride with my sister, the other day.  Of course, I was on Cole, and she was on Dante.  She was a bit more nervous than she has been because the weather was very brisk--normal for October, but it had been a very warm month up until this point.  Most horses get a little friskier in the cooler weather.  She was afraid Dante would misbehave.

We rode out to the second river, and though a tiny bit faster, Dante was just fine.  Ellen was all set to turn around there and go home, but it was such a pretty day, I convinced her to cross the river and do another section of trail.  Dante has been crossing at that crossing like a champ for weeks, now.  It really was no big deal at all.

I crossed first and waited for her on the other side.  (Ever since the time that Cole slipped and fell in the water--causing Starry to fall, too, we cross one at a time.)  About half way across the river, Dante started to rush.  He was still walking, but really, really fast.  It scared Ellen, but she did get him to walk before he got to the other side of the water.

We trotted to the bottom of the hill and walked up.  I was about half way up when I heard Ellen trying to stop Dante--he tried running up the hill.  It wouldn't be such a big deal on an ordinary hill, but this hill is very rutted.  We have to guide the horses in between the ruts.  Ellen's biggest worry was that Dante would cause Cole to run up the hill, too.  Though Cole wouldn't stop for me, he did stay at a walk.  Dante stopped well before he reached Cole, but that shook Ellen up, too.

We did some trotting and walking up there, turned around and headed towards home.  She was very nervous about crossing the river, but Dante did it in flying colors; making us both proud.  Once on the other side, we heard sirens.  A park ranger's car was coming our way; fast.  Ellen leaped off Dante; startling him, and he inadvertently stepped on her foot--really bad.  Dante's dancing caused Cole to spook, too.  Then again, he may have spooked at the ranger's car flying over the ford with the lights and siren going.  Dante didn't like the looks of that, either.  It took a bit for them to settle down.

Ellen figured, where there was one, there would be two, so she decided to lead until after the second one.  Sure enough, a couple minutes later another patrol car came tearing down the street.  It was too far away for them to see, but the sirens didn't scare them at all.

Ellen decided to get back on Dante.  She likes to mount with a mounting block or log, but if none is convenient, if I get off and hold her stirrup, she can mount fine.  I have no trouble mounting from the ground--Cole is short.  I helped her get into the saddle and was about to climb aboard Cole when we heard loud engines.  We saw a parade of hot rods and old cars coming our way!  Ellen hopped off, and I stayed on the ground.

It was the old car rally.  We have had trouble with them every year, and I think I write about it each time.  Last time, Dante was fine, Kevin took Starry right up to the street to watch them--and Cole had a meltdown.  I thought our ride was ruined.

We weren't close to the street, so we led them.  Where the trail did get close, we stopped them and waited for that cluster to go by.  Cole would immediately park out when he was waiting.  I was clicking him for it, and when he thought the clicks weren't coming fast enough, he would bow.  We worked our way down the trail this way.  At no time did either horse misbehave!  I was so proud of Cole for redeeming himself.

We made it home safe and sound.

The next day, Ellen was all stressed about crossing the river where Dante rushed.  I am glad to say, Dante was fine.  When Ellen replayed the incident in her mind, she realized that she had gotten nervous in the water and started squeezing her legs.  She did the same on the hill.  Since she has been working with Dante to just move off with a light squeeze of the legs, we think Dante was doing just what he thought she wanted him to do!  He was being a good boy.  Ellen was more careful with her legs, and all went well.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Dante and the River

Dante and the River

Dante's river crossings were driving us crazy!  He was just so slow.  Some of the problem was caused by Ellen over clicking him.  When she was nervous, she clicked him, and she was very nervous crossing the water.  Dante just started demanding treats.  He wanted treats every step of the way.  She wouldn't give them to him--and then he refused to go.  When she did get him moving, if she felt nervous in the least bit, he sensed it and stopped.  He has learned that he gets a treat when she gets nervous.  The crossings would take forever.

Early this year, she tried to cross him to go home, and he got stuck on the bank.  She got so nervous that we switched horses.  He then crossed immediately for me.  After that, we switched to cross on the way home for a number of rides--and he barely stalled out for me.  He did bolt up the bank on the other side a few times, but we worked through that.

When it was time for Ellen to start riding him across, he just kept getting better and better for her.  We couldn't believe it.  She can now just ride him down the bank and across the water without him stopping.  No longer am I waiting up to 5 minutes for them on the other side.  We are so happy about this, and we both agree that we will never stop being grateful for Dante's wonderful river crossings.

That still left us the next river.  It is wider and much deeper.  Early in the year, the river was too high to cross there, so we were using the ford.  (There is no ford for us for our first crossing.)  We really don't like riding on the ford because we have to share it with the cars.  Eventually, Ellen had to tackle the river.

The first time she tried, Dante was just as bad as ever.  Same with the second time, the third time...   Ellen was still avoiding crossing the river whenever she could get away with it.  She simply hated it.  At first she was afraid, but the fear was replaced with annoyance.  It just took too long.

She tried different things--more treats, less treats, more kicking, less kicking...Would you believe that is what worked?  Less kicking!  In fact, she is best with no kicking at all.  She learned to squeeze her legs and if that didn't work, she tapped him with the whip.  He started crossing faster and faster.  The last few weeks have been outstanding.  He just goes down the bank and steps into the water.  She clicks and treats him for that, then asks him to proceed--and he does!!!  It is amazing!!! 

After years of struggling to cross that river, he is walking right across like a normal horse.  Sure, sometimes he likes to pause to stick his nose in the water.  They all do.  But when he is done, she just squeezes, and he crosses.

Kicking had become a poisoned cue.  (She has been having trouble with getting him to go in the arena, too, if she kicks.)  Poisoned cues are a cue that used to work that the animal associates with something unpleasant and refuses to listen to it.  We don't know what went on in Dante's mind to cause this to happen, but it did.  Once Ellen removed kicking--even though she replaced it with a whip tap which would seem to be worse--Dante progressively improved.

I seriously think that one of the reasons he improved so quickly is because he is now doing what he really wanted to do--get across the river to be with his buddies who are waiting on the other side.  So once he started to get better, the whole process was self reinforcing.

Now her river crossings are a thing of beauty.

Bomb Proofing

Bomb Proofing

The bomb proof horse.  We have all heard of that term, but does that horse really exist? I was reminded of some old friends that adopted a couple retired police horses.  Desensitization to sights and sounds are a big part of their training.  My father was a policeman, and he told me how they would get a bunch of police together to be a crowd--to teach the horses to stay calm in chaos.  Those horses have to learn so much to patrol the streets in the big city.  My friends' horses were afraid of trees, rocks, grass...  (Of course, their horses may do well with bombs.)

We try to expose our horses to all sorts of things and to teach them to stay calm in difficult situations.  It is never ending.  The trails that we ride on are particularly tough because we ride in an urban area and have to share the trails with so many other types of users.  Plus, we are always fairly close to the street, so there is traffic to consider, too.  For all our work, they all will spook at something.

With Dante, it is airplanes.  He is getting much better, but he still isn't trustworthy.  We ride very close to the airport, and when the airplanes land, it often looks like they will hit the tops of the trees.  This has caused more than a few Dante spooks.  Ellen has learned to ask him to stand and turn his head to the side.  (Lowering his head was not consistently effective.)  The direction she tells him to turn is head is the opposite from the direction he likes to spin.  This has been working very well, and it seems that Ellen is more nervous than Dante, now.

Cole is most likely to jump when he hear loud cars or motorcycles.  The worst motorcycles are the ones that backfire.  That can set him off running.  When I hear a loud one, I just ask him to stop until it passes--or at least walk.  If we are trotting or cantering, he is much more likely to run off.

Bella seems to be afraid of nearly everything, but not all the time.  It all depends on her mood.  Anything out of the ordinary can really get her going.  One day, I bike with a flag went by, and she spun on a dime.  Good thing Shari spun with her!

Starry seems to be afraid of nothing at all--except turkeys fanning out their feathers.  That strikes terror into his heart!

There is one other thing that spooked Starry, once.  And here is the reason you can't bombproof your horse for everything.  Kevin and I were trotting on the trail in a spot that parallels the street.  The only thing between us was a fence and the all purpose trail.  In the middle of the street was a pizza box.  I was looking that way when a car hit the box.  It flew up 10 feet in the air, spun around and landed.  Cole also flew up 10 feet in the air, spun around and landed.  Unlike the box, though, he hit the ground running.  Inexplicably, when he got to the end of the fence, he went around it and started heading for the street towards the killer box!  I got hem to stop before we reached the pavement.  Starry also jumped when he saw the pizza box go flying.  We just can't prepare for everything.