Sunday, January 26, 2020

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Cole in the Arena

Cole in the Arena

It has been a wonderful winter for trail riding--one of the best.  Cole and I have only been in the arena a handful of times. Sometimes, I can’t cross the river because it is high or there is ice forming, but I can still ride on the hill, up and down, or ride outside on the loop. (That is a quarter mile, rectangular track behind the stables.)

I don't mind riding in the arena.  I just prefer the trail. I really enjoy riding Dante in the arena, and Ellen lets me ride him in there whenever I like.  Cole is different.  As I have mentioned in the past, sometimes I have a tough time with him in there.  He can be so unpredictable inside; compared to out on the trail.  Any sudden noise can set him off; running.  Of course, one particular corner is the worst.

Back in the early days of riding him, he was terrible, and I was very intimidated by his bolting.  I spent the longest time just staying in the safer areas of the arena.  Eventually, I got over my nervousness, and he bolted less often.

To make things even more complicated, he has a completely different trot when he is in the arena.  It is extremely powerful, very showy and quite beautiful.  I call it his show trot.  Thankfully, he seldom does it on the trail.  It is difficult, though not impossible to post to.  I prefer to sit, though, in the arena.  I like the feeling of being connected.  Also, I find it so much easier to influence him with my weight, seat and legs at a sitting trot.  It is hard work, though.

Consequently, dealing with an unpredictable Cole with a hard-to-ride trot--I would rather just go out and ride in the snow.

Even after all these years, when he hasn't been ridden in the arena regularly, we still have an adjustment period.  I am very cautious, and he usually bolts a few times in the scary corner.

We had some rainy days that turned into icy days, so I had no choice.  I had to ride in the arena for the first time in about a month.  Ellen was slowly gliding around on quiet, smooth-trotting Dante.

I started out doing a lot of walking around the arena.  We had to get used to the scary corner, all over again.  Yes, he bolted.  I was able to stop him in a few strides, but I sure was disappointed.  Why do we have to go through this every year?

I then moved up to transitions on the safe end of the arena.  From there, we would trot to the scary end, walk until the safe zone and trot some more.  He started to settle down, and I started to relax.  I still felt I was all over the saddle.  I just couldn't get coordinated.

Ellen took Dante out of the arena, and we were on our own.  I started to trot out of the scary corner and go immediately into a shoulder-in.  I love shoulder-in when I am nervous, because Cole is already in a bend.  If he spooks or bolts, we are set up to go into a small circle.

But he didn't.  We just worked steadier and steadier.  Eventually, I was exhausted.  Did I tell you how hard it is to ride that trot?

We ended the ride with practicing our line dancing.  This was the first time I really let him do it since last winter.  First I reviewed each of our moves; reinforcing them with a click and treat.  Our moves are side pass, turn on the haunches, backwards and forwards.  Then I started to pick 2 moves before a click.  By the time we were done, we were doing 3 moves before a click.  He just kept getting better.

The next day, I had to ride in the arena, again.  We were a completely different partnership.  I felt like we were working together.  I was less nervous--he was less distracted.  Ellen said we were starting to look beautiful.  It was a much more satisfying ride.

The following day, I had every intention of capitalizing on our success.  I arrived at the barn, saw all the other boarders' horses turned out in the arena.  I didn't have the patience to wait, so I went out and rode on the loop.  Sure I was cold, but it was easier.

The next day, I was determined to ride in the arena.  I shouldn't be so lazy!  We were doing quite well, and I needed to keep up the momentum.  I was about to put the saddle on Cole, when another boarder asked to cut in line so he could turn his horse loose in it.  I agreed to wait.  I didn't wait very long, though.  In a few minutes, I put on the saddle--and rode down the hill to the river.  My momentum was gone.



Monday, January 20, 2020

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Chaining--Good and Bad

Chaining--Good and Bad

I have written about the clicker training concept of chaining in the past.  It takes simple clicker training up a level.

Simple clicker training is clicking for a behavior and giving a treat.  You ask your horse to stop, he does, you click and treat him.  (This is Cole and Dante's most reinforced behavior--for safety reasons--but we still don't click every stop.)

Chaining a behavior links multiple behaviors to a single click.  All the behaviors have to be properly taught individually, first.  This is actually what I am doing when I work on Cole's line dancing.  If I clicked after every behavior, how would we be dancing?

The reason it works, is because after doing behavior #1, asking for behavior #2, another clickable behavior, is a reward in itself.  You can link multiple behaviors, mixing up the order or keeping the exact order--whichever works best with what you are trying to teach.

This happens even if we aren't clicking.  If you have a dog that you take on regular walks or any fun thing, they will learn all the things you are likely to do before you give him the ultimate reward.  We can see them get more and more excited as we go through our steps--until they can barely contain themselves with excitement for the reward.

Chaining can be a useful tool in all sorts of ways; not just line dancing.  In fact, it is essential for many things.  When I started reinforcing Cole's amazing arena trot, at first I just clicked for a great transition.  Then, I clicked for a few steps.  After that, I kept adding steps.  In essence, each step is clickable, and asking for another step is chaining.  Trotting around the arena is a long chain of steps.  This has always been hard for me to wrap my brain around, but by putting it into action, I have proved that it works.

An example of something more complicated is riding a dressage or reining pattern, you can perfect the basic elements--and then put them together.

The reason I have been thinking about chaining is because I was riding with Shari on Bella on our hill the other day.  Because Shari had been very sick, Bella hadn't been on the trail for a while.  She was "Full Bella," prancing, dancing, wanting to trot and not paying much attention to Shari.  To be safe, we just walked.  Well, Cole just walked--and watched Bella's antics.

After a while, Shari got tired of it.  It was time to bring out the clicker.  (Not a real clicker, we use our tongues to make the sound.)  She decided to click for stopping.  She only clicked her for good stops.  She would walk 4 steps and stop, click, treat and repeat.  In no time at all, Bella was paying attention to her.  Soon, all of her stops were good; and she was walking.  Shari walked her for longer intervals, and she listened well.  I explained to Shari that Bella chained the 2 behaviors.  (Shari has clicked her for good walking in the past.)  Finally, we were able to do a little bit of trotting, and Bella was great.  We ended the ride on a good note.

That is an example of a good chain, even though Shari didn't plan it.

There are bad chains, too.  Clicker training is so powerful, that we have to be careful we don't fall into a trap.  Ellen realized that she did with Dante.  Since she broke her ankle years ago leading Dante, she was nervous leading him.  She knew that when a horse's head went up, that they are on alert and something could happen.  When Dante lifted his head up, Ellen would feel a wave of anxiety. 

She also knew that if you could convince your horse to take a more relaxed position, they start to feel more relaxed.  She taught Dante to lower his head with clicker training.  It is a great thing to teach horses, and it is one of the first things I taught Cole.  Not only did it seem to relax him, but he would be paying attention to me.  Ellen did the same with Dante.  It was one of the ways we desensitized him to traffic.  We taught him to lower his head when a car approached. 

Here is where Ellen went wrong.  She is an anxiety clicker.  Since she got nervous every time Dante lifted his head, she asked him to lower it and she clicked him.  Dante is too smart by half, and he figured out that if he raised his head, Ellen would get anxious, she would ask him to lower it, click and treat.  Dante didn't have to be worried about anything at all to raise his head.

I had thought that something like this might have been going on, but the most important thing I wanted was for Ellen to not be nervous.  As she was leading him, they would be doing it without even stopping.  I really didn't even know how much it was going on.

Not long ago, Ellen figured out what was happening.  She decided to try to ignore him when he did it and only click him when he lowered his head on his own.  All this was going on when I wasn't there.  When I did finally get to go with her and Dante, as they walked around the driveway, I saw a completely different picture than the one that I was used to seeing.  Dante was walking with his head as low as a Quarter Horse--and Ellen was walking far more relaxed, too.  Dante wasn't triggering her anxieties!  It was very amazing.  Here we thought he was a high-headed Morgan.

Dante had a bad chain going on.  Ellen made it a good chain, because she soon made him go many steps with a low head before she clicked him.

Next, she decided to try and change his behavior when she was riding him.  She didn't have many problems in the arena, because she wasn't very nervous in there.  Once they would come outside--up went the head.

She tried it one day when I wasn't there.  The following day I came out to see her ride before I went on my trail ride.  She finished up her work in the arena, and we went outside.  He was a different horse--after only one lesson!!!

Something like traveling with a lower head is more comfortable for most horses.  I call it a self-reinforcing behavior.  Once they get used to doing it, being more comfortable is a reward in itself.  That might be one of the reasons that Dante got the hang of it so easily.

So the end result of breaking the bad chain is a more relaxed Dante and a more relaxed Ellen. 

We just keep learning...

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Monday, January 6, 2020

Friday, January 3, 2020

Dante's got a Brand New Game

Dante's got a Brand New Game

Well, it isn't totally new.  Ellen started teaching it to him last year.  I just forgot all about it.  Well, when she reviewed it, this year, he remembered it, (his memory is better than mine,)  and took it to a whole new level.

Dante learned to chase the ball.  Actually, he doesn't really chase it.  Ellen throws it, he watches it fly through the air and land--and then he goes running and bucking to it, stops, touches it and looks at Ellen--to ask for his treat.

Cole learned this game, too, but it isn't such a big deal for him. 

This is why it is so important for Dante.  When the weather is inclement, we don't have a good place to turn the horses out to play.  We do have the option of letting them loose in the indoor arena.  Cole will run on his own, and he loves when we chase him around, too.  He will get all of his excess bucks out--and he has a lot of them.

Dante will run all about if he is outside, and he enjoys us chasing him, too.  Inside is a different matter.  He might roll, run a bit and maybe toss in a buck, but that is it.  If you try to chase him around, he just looks at you--he just doesn't want to play inside.  Consequently, it is hard to get his bucks out if he can't go outside.

To make it worse, he is not the kind of horse who works hard in the arena.  Cole can work enough to break a sweat in the winter.  With Dante, only the rider breaks a sweat.  He is naturally a slow horse.

Now, we have an option.  We can just play ball.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Riding the Trails in January

Riding the Trails in January

January is a tough month for us.  If the river isn't too high, it is frozen.  The weather may be too cold and snowy, too.  The driveway might be too icy to even leave the barn.  To have a great trail ride in January is as rare as ...well, it is just rare.

I have had two of them.  New Year's Day wasn't a bad day to ride, at all.  Ellen has given up trail riding until spring.  She rode in the arena in the morning, and then I headed for the trail on my own.  Kevin had decided to wait until it was warmer and Shari was sick. 

Ellen drove down to the park and met me on the other side of the river.  Cole wasn't happy to be going on the trail by himself.  Half way down the hill, I told him, "Find Ellen."  I tell him that every time when Ellen is waiting for us.  He immediately lifted his head up and neighed.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but don't forget that Cruiser actually learned it.  He would lift his head up, look to the left, look to the right, look straight ahead--and start walking faster.  If I did it multiple times, he would end up gaiting.  He was not supposed to be a gaited horse, but whenever he was in a hurry and I didn't want him to trot, he would gait.  It was fast and smooth, and I loved it.  (I really miss Cruiser.  He was such a wonderful horse.)

Back to Cole.  He found Ellen on the other side of the river, and he was so happy.  Since it had been so cold the night before, much of the trail was frozen, and there were a lot of sections that had ice.  It was great to have Ellen with us to talk to as we went around the ice and tried to find the softest part of the trail.  Cole loves it when she is there.  All the horses do.

I was hopeful that the last section of the trail before the second river crossing might not be frozen, and I was right.  The thicker trees insulate it, so that it takes longer to freeze and longer to thaw out, too.  I left Ellen, and we trotted off.  I stayed towards the edge of the trail where the fallen leaves were the thickest, and we just flew along at a trot.  It was one of the best trotting we had done this year.  (Okay, this was New Year's Day, and it was the only trotting I had done in the year--but it was great.)

We turned at the river crossing, and I asked him to trot towards Ellen.  She wasn't in sight, of course.  Well, Cole knew she was out there and took off like a bullet, though he was still trotting.  I struggled to get him to walk.  We walked for about a minute, and I asked for a trot, again. The results were the same.  We walked until I could see Ellen, and then I asked for a trot.  This time, he was fine.  I think that he trotted very fast when he wondered where she was, but once he knew, he relaxed and trotted like a regular horse.

We walked back home.  What a treat for New Year's Day.

The following day, I had to take Thunder to the vet in the morning, so I missed my sister's ride.  I came out in the afternoon, instead.  I seldom ride in the afternoons--preferring mornings and evenings, but it was partly sunny and in the 40s.  I couldn't miss it.

Kevin had a teenager riding Starry.  They weren't going to cross the river.  He was going to have her just ride up and down the hill where he could keep an eye on her.  I rode down the hill with them and kept going.  Once we got across the river and Cole realized that Starry wasn't with him, he got really balky.  I asked him to trot, and he seemed stuck in one place--and kept stopping.  I kept insisting, and finally, we got some rhythm. 

After a couple minutes, he jumped up in the air and took off.  I stopped him, walked a few steps and he did it again!  After that, all of our trotting was very enthusiastic.  Too enthusiastic, actually.  I think he realized he was alone--and then remembered that it meant he didn't have to follow the slower horses.  He loves speeding down the trail!  We don't do it often, because I prefer riding with Shari, Ellen and Kevin.  It is so unusual to be alone, that he tends to get hyper.  I didn't have this problem when I used to ride him alone most of the time.

Once again, we trotted to the second river crossing; very quickly.  We turned around and walked for a bit to get him to settle down.  I knew that he would be in "search mode" once we turned around--either because he remembered Starry was back there, or thought Ellen was on the trail like the day before.  I decided to see what he would do if I asked him to trot.  I just started to gather up the reins, (I ride with a very loose rein at a walk and with light contact at a trot,) and before I was ready, he leaped up into the air, reached back into his Morgan ancestry and sprouted wings on his feet.  He went into a turbo trot!  I stopped him, barely, and we walked a while.

Me, being me, I had to try it again.  The second time was super, dooper fast, but I felt I had some control.  We went for another minute.  It is amazing how far you can go in a minute when you are on a Morgan trotting champion.  After that, we just walked, and I enjoyed the ride back to Starry on the other side of the river.  These days in January are as rare as...just rare.  And I wanted to savor it.

Thunder has a Tummy Ache

Thunder has a Tummy Ache

Thunder, my cat, is my little best friend.  When he doesn't feel good, neither do I.

He has always had a very sensitive digestive system.  It doesn't seem to take much to cause diarrhea, and he seems to vomit a lot, too.  Once, I tried a new kind of treats.  He loved them, but his digestive system didn't.  He didn't have any trouble with Party Mix treats, but when I gave him too much, that upset his tummy, too.  When a friend gave us samples of some fancy cat soup treats--well, that didn't agree with him, either.  As he has gotten older, he has become more sensitive.

On the Monday before New Year's, he got very sick.  His diarrhea was so bad, that after a visit to the litter box, he threw up.  Then, he went off his feed, hid a lot and didn't want to talk to me very much.  The following morning, New Year's Eve, he was worse.  I called the vet, but as these things usually seem to be around the holidays, he couldn't get an appointment until January 2.

This time, there was no change in diet to cause it, it was far more severe than it has ever been in the past; and longer, too.

Over the next 2 days, he did get a little better.  He started eating, again, but not as much as typical.  He still had a lot of diarrhea and threw up once more.  He felt terrible.  I felt terrible.

I hate taking him to the vet, but I hate having him in discomfort.  He needed help.

The initial exam went well.  The vet checked his teeth--no problems.  (A couple years ago, he had to have 6 teeth removed.)  He didn't feel an irregularities in his abdomen.  Not surprisingly, he was dehydrated.

The vet suggested blood work, which I agreed to, as he hadn't had any in a year.  Blood work is so important in older cats.  Often it can give you a heads up to problems before they get serious.  Then, we get a head start in managing the problems.  He also thought an x-ray might help rule out other things.  I agreed.  This wasn't my first rodeo.  I know how useful an x-ray could be.  If only we could do a full body xray on horses!

They took him away,  I paced and paced in the exam room.  I couldn't bear to have him out of my sight.  We have such a relationship, that I believe Thunder thinks likewise.  What was probably just ten minutes seemed like hours.

The vet called me back to see the x-rays. This got me worried.  If everything was normal, I would expect he would just bring Thunder to me and send me on my way with some medicine.

He pointed out that his stomach and colon had a lot of gas, and that is probably one of the reasons he was in discomfort.  He explained that his small intestine was a little enlarged, which was indicative to the problems he was having.  There were no tumors or scary stuff like that.

Then, he pointed out something unusual.  There were some white lines and white spots in his stomach.  The spots were also in his small intestine.  This was not normal--for an inside cat, that is.  The vet said that they looked like mouse bones.  Thunder ate a mouse.  Mr. Sensitive Digestive System ate something he shouldn't have!  That explains why he was so obsessed with the basement for a while...

I knew I had mice because sometimes I can hear them in the walls.  The vet said that there are mice  in every one's houses.  The vet tech in the other room chimed in, "You don't have any mice anymore!"

The vet gave him some fluids to help with the dehydration and a couple shots.  I took home some pills to give him for the next 5 days.  Hopefully he will be feeling better, soon--and he stops eating mice.