Thursday, April 23, 2020
It has been an amazing month just watching Ellen's progress on the trail.
As I have said in the past, Ellen has a mostly great horse, but she is plagued with anxieties. Her cognitive distortions make her see Dante through black-colored, (rather than rose-colored,) glasses. Maybe it has something to do with all these pictures I keep posting of his rambunctious behavior? This is what she imagines he will be like when she rides.
This is the reality. She has a horse that just likes to stand in one place and look at things.
This year, she had decided on a completely different approach to preparing herself and Dante for spring riding. Instead of working out on the driveway and the loop trail around the property, she is working with him on the hill.
Last year, he was spooking at the low-flying planes. (We ride very close to the airport.) Most of that went away when we reduced his grain, but the memory of it stayed with her. In fact, they planes still frighten her, but thanks to Covid-19, the planes are few and far between. So instead of trying to work with her plane fear in the driveway, she can go down the hill, and on most days we don't even see a single plane.
She started with leading him to the mounting block, mounting, dismounting and leading him a few steps and then turning around and taking him home Each day she would try to do a little more than the last one. She would ride a little more and lead a little more. One day, she rode 1/3 of the way down the hill. The next, she rode halfway down and led the rest. Before we knew it, she rode all the way to the bottom of the hill. Each time she would try to go further. Some days, she would have a set back, but she would still try to see how far she could make it before her heart rate got too high.
Today, she rode all the way down to the bottom of the hill. There is a short stretch of trail at the bottom that is very suitable for trotting. I brought my helmet along so I could trot him there to show her he would be fine. Over the years, he did take off a couple of times down there, and that memory has gotten stuck in Ellen's head.
She rode to the end of the trail, turned him around and rode to the first muddy section. It is about 20 feet from the end. She turned him around and trotted him 5 steps! Of course it doesn't sound like much, but that is huge. (I guess I didn't need to my helmet.)
Even more huge is that she didn't get off and take him home. She did it a few more times. Then, she started to increase the distance a few more strides. He was doing great. She was doing great, too.
Off in the distance, we heard an airplane. It was landing, and it is the landing planes that bother Dante the most. Plus, without any leaves on the trees, he could see it. She panicked, and said she was going to get off. She must have seen the dismay in my face, because she then added that she would get back on once the plane has past.
She stood next to Dante; waiting for something to happen that never did. They both watched the plane fly by. Dante was as calm as a cucumber. I wish I could say the same about Ellen, but at least she could see with her own eyes that Dante didn't care about the plane, and Ellen's racing heart didn't scare him, either.
She kept her word and got back on to continue her ride. The last time they trotted, she much have gone at least 20 strides. Ellen loves trotting, and if there is anything that could lure her to cross that river, it is the image of trotting quietly down the trail on her beloved Dante.
She did admit that she kept glancing over to the river. I don't think it will be long, now.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Thursday, April 2, 2020
This isn't a big deal with ordinary horses, but this is the first spring since he has been diagnosed with Cushings Disease. Cushings is a tumor on the pituitary gland. The most obvious symptom is a thick coat that doesn't shed out in the spring; but just keeps growing. Ranger actually didn't grow near as thick a coat this year. It is probably because he had low level Cushings going on for a while that caused a thick coat, but it still allowed him to shed. It is the only reason we can think of. Anyway, his coat is still much thicker than the average horse, but it always has been.
He shedded out last spring, but then he immediately started to grow a new coat. That is when we got the vet out and put him on the medicine. He then shedded to is normal summer coat.
Over the winter, he did end up going on a hunger strike. We had a lot of trouble getting him to eat anything except hay which he had trouble chewing. Out of desperation, Ellen stopped giving him his pill for a week. He started to eat again, so she started to give him half a pill. He has continued to eat, and his hair is coming out in gobs.
It isn't the hair that we worry so much about. The pituitary gland is the master gland that runs all the glands. It does more than control seasonal shedding. If that is working, other things are working, too.
As he sheds out, we can see that he did lose some weight during his hunger strike, and that is problematic. Unlike many Cushing's horses, he doesn't have insulin resistance. Those horses tend to be overweight.
He has been perky and cantankerous, and that makes us happy. When Ranger isn't cantankerous and demanding, we worry. Well, we worry anyways, but we worry less.
It is time to bring everyone up to date on Ellen. She has been doing great with Dante in the arena. When I think back to where she was with him last year at this time, it is hard to believe that he is the same horse--and she is the same rider. They have worked so hard on all of their problems--which mostly consisted of his reluctance to go.
And now they are bored.
That is no surprise. Cole and I would have been bored, too, if we weren't able to get out in the park so much this winter. Ellen is more than ready to join us, but she has those annoying anxieties. They always try to hold her back.
This year is going so much better. It all started one day when she had a revelation. She doesn't have to ride outside the barn on the driveway and the 1/4 mile loop in the back of the property to prepare herself for the trail. She doesn't need to get through those anxieties at all. Once she starts to ride in the park, she never rides on the driveway or the loop. It is all about going on the trail. For years, she has been starting in the wrong place. She thought as long as she was still too nervous to ride on the property, how could she ride on the trail?
After her arena rides, she has been bringing Dante out to lead around. I was walking with them, one day, when she led Dante right out of the driveway, onto the street and turned in the neighbor's driveway. They allow us to use their driveway to go back to ours, so she made a loop. I was shocked, because she didn't tell me she was going to do that.
What a surprise! Dante was good. Of course he was good because he is a good horse, but Ellen had to see it for herself. Remember, she has trouble with cognitive distortions. In her head, the horse that will walk quietly down the street 99 percent of the time is the one that she sees spooking at every car that goes by. She has trouble grasping the reality that she has a great horse.
She did this a few more times over that week. The following weekend, she walked Dante past the neighbor's drive to the trail head. I don't remember if it was that time or the next time that she brought him to the mounting block, mounted and sat on his back for a few minutes. She realized that the safest place in the whole world to sit in the saddle with Dante is the mounting block. Most times, she has trouble getting him to leave the block. All he wants to do is stand there. She only lasted about a minute--her heart was racing so much. Dante just stood there.
This progressed as time went on. One day, they took a couple steps. The next it was a few more. And then a few more...
I started to add leading him a little ways down the hill, turning around and going back home. Now, this is really a big deal. It has been years since I have worked with Dante to go down the trail by himself. I gave up with that work since Ellen never would take him by herself. When I did do it, the first few times he would be calling and calling for his friends, and he tended to throw some temper tantrums. As with everything with Dante, once you get through things a couple times, he is great. I just didn't see any reason to go through the agony with him if Ellen wasn't riding him alone.
The first day we took him any distance away from the mounting block, he did throw a temper tantrum at the street on the way home. I just circled him a number of times and told him to stand until he decompressed, and then he was fine. Today, Ellen, (yes, Ellen,) led him about 2/3 of the way down the hill. She wanted me to lead him back. I did part of the way then handed the lead rope back to her to go the rest of the way. She didn't feel able to lead him on the street, so I did. The whole time, he was perfect.
If he is this good by himself, imagine how he will be when his buddies are with him!
There are way less airplanes this year, and that is what terrified Ellen the most. Last spring, Dante was spooking at them. Most of that behavior went away when we decreased his grain. He was starting to get portly. He did do it just enough to keep the anxieties going in Ellen. Well, there are less planes, there is no traffic on the first part of the trail and Dante is doing great on his hill walks.
Maybe Ellen will get on the trail a little sooner this spring? Stay tuned...
One day, Ellen, Shari and I were in the park talking about Covid-19. We all quickly agreed on the one thing we were worried about the most, and that was not being able to see our horses. We could live with any other rules they imposed on us, but if we couldn't go to the stables, we would be devastated. We all board our horses. Shari is at a different barn down the street.
Ohio was quick to start implementing restrictions. First, all large events were cancelled. It seemed inconceivable in the beginning that the big St. Patrick's Day parade in Cleveland would be cancelled, but just a few days later, it seemed inconceivable that it wouldn't be cancelled. Each day, smaller and smaller events were cancelled. Just about the time that Kevin and I were worried about going out to eat, they closed the restaurants. We started to hear about "Shelter in Place" orders in other countries and soon in other states, and we started to worry. What about the horses?
That is when our barn manager approached us and told us that if anyone gives us any trouble about coming to our barn to explain to them that we are a co-op barn. We do everything for the horses except feed and water them. She said there would be no way that she could do it all. Also, that taking care of livestock is an essential business. That sounded good to me.
The next day, Ohio issued their "Stay at Home" order. Our governor seems to appreciate the importance of getting outside for exercise and to walk our dogs, (he must have a dog,) so he said the parks would still be open. If we can walk our dogs in the park, we didn't see any reason that we couldn't ride our horses in it, too.
We could live without restaurants--we still had our horses and we could still ride in the park.
There were other complications to work out. We aren't supposed to have gatherings of over 10 people in one place. If we did, the government could shut us down--and then who would clean all those stalls? We tried schedules, and that was a disaster. It didn't even last a day. I don't think it lasted an hour. We do have a rule that only one person per horse is allowed out at a time. That is working, I'm glad to say. When we finish with our horses, we don't hang around but go home.
My farrier had to postpone his visit due to his wife worrying about his safety, so Cole won't be getting shoes for a few more weeks. That might be a problem, but we could end up with more rain. Our vets have a rule that only one person can be there for a visit; regardless how many horses they are going to see. I will be taking care of spring shots for our herd and one other horse; a Morgan aptly named Justin. Ellen seemed rather happy that she was getting off the hook.
And then there is the quiet skies. We board our horses very close to the airport. The planes are so loud that often we can't even shout to each other--and there are so many of them. Sometimes it is just one after the other. Well, there were so many. Now there are just a few planes, and it is so peaceful.
An even more unexpected thing happened. When we go in the park, we ride down the hill, cross the river and then we can ride either to the north or the south. The trail roughly parallels the street and the paved all-purpose trail--sometimes very close and sometimes fairly far away--but we always know the street is there. In both directions we end up having to cross the river. The cars cross the river, not by a bridge, but by a river ford. When there is a lot of rain, they close the fords.
Since one of the few things we are able to do away from home here in Ohio is to go in the park, you can imagine what it is like there on a pretty day. The kids and many of the parents are out of school and work. The parks are becoming very chaotic. That isn't the problem, though. It would be fine if there are a lot of people in the park, as long as they kept their social distance. Apparently, they weren't.
To enable more space between the users, the park has chosen to close some sections of the roadways. One of the easiest places to close is right where we ride when we come down the hill. They closed the fords. It is wonderful. I hope they never open them, again.
We no longer have to hear the loud traffic. No longer will Cole be startled by a sputtering Harley Davidson. There will be no more hot rods to destroy the peace and quiet--and we don't have to cross the rivers at the fords. We can ride over the fords, instead. That is really nice in the evenings; during rush hour when those river crossings are too high. What am I talking about? There isn't any rush hour, anymore.
Are we supposed to be enjoying this pandemic so much? Should we be feeling guilty about it? It is hard to feel guilty when the rides are so very quiet.
One thing that didn't work out so well is the big flood that we had. It was way over the trail in many places, and it damaged the trails a lot by washing up large gravel. We can no longer trot or canter over some sections of the trail. In fact, I'm not too thrilled about even riding over them at a walk. Then again, we can go around them by going on the street...