Thursday, May 14, 2020
What Should have been Ride 4
When it came time for ride 4, the river was a little high. Ellen decided to step back and just do the hill to build her confidence back up. I joined her on foot.
There really isn't much to write about. Dante was perfect. They rode down the hill, trotted back and forth at the bottom a number of times and rode partway up. Ellen led the rest of the way. Complete and perfect success. Ellen's confidence was restored.
She joined Kevin and me on our ride. This time, she was the one on foot. When she does this, she drives down to the park to the other side of the river, because it is still to cold for her to cross it, herself. (I really don't know how the horses tolerate the cold water.)
Kevin and I got across the river before she arrived, so we just took off trotting. We knew we would catch up with her on the way back. We had a fun ride, and since it was a chilly morning, we did a lot of trotting to get nice and warm. That way, we would be comfortable when we caught up with Ellen and walked home.
When we did find her, she was so excited. A birdwatcher showed her a tree that had 2 baby barred owls and a parent. She said they were the cutest thing she ever saw. We couldn't wait to get to there, ourselves. We wanted to see the baby owls, too.
She wasn't kidding. They were about the cutest thing we ever saw--just about half the size of their parent and so fluffy! We watched them for a while. The mother flew off to a different tree, but the 2 babies were each on a branch, watching us.
Though originally disappointed that Ellen didn't go on the trail ride with us, I was now very happy that she didn't. We saw the birdwatcher, and he didn't tell us about the owls--he only pointed them out to Ellen. Now we know where they are so we can check them on every ride.
The next evening, Kevin and I were riding with Shari. We didn't see the owls on the way out, and we thought we didn't see them when we returned; until Shari looked at a different tree. There was one of the babies. Of course, she was just as excited as us.
Her phone has a good camera, so she is the one that took the pictures.
Now, isn't he just about the cutest thing you ever saw?
(By the way, Ellen's ride 4 was the next day, and it went beautifully!)
Monday, May 11, 2020
The Three Amigas are Back Together
Unfortunately, anxieties aren't very logical. Ellen gets nervous when any one thing changes in her routine. It could be snow on the ground, wind or adding another horse. Her nerves were very high that morning.
Dante didn't seem to care that Bella was there. We rode down the hill. Shari and I crossed the river and waited on the other side. Last year, that would have meant a long wait, but Ellen worked with improving the speed of Dante's river crossings all summer, and he got so much better. Well, he crossed as readily as he did when Ellen stopped riding him last year.
The worst part of the ride was over!
After we crossed the river, we walked for a few minutes. Bella was in the lead, Dante was next and Cole took up the rear. Dante suddenly and inexplicably took off at a trot. Ellen was able to stop him before he reached Bella, and we continued walking. Ellen thought that I may have gotten too close with Cole, though there were some feet between us.
A few minutes later, it happened again. This was really strange behavior. We decided to put Cole ahead of Dante, too. If Cole was getting Dante nervous, that would fix the problem.
When we reached a nice section of the trail, we started to trot. We asked Bella and Cole to go slow so Dante could keep up, and they more than complied with our request. Ellen told us we were going too slow. We asked for just a little more speed, and that was all Dante needed. He started to accelerate too much. Ellen asked us to stop. This is also not typical of Dante. We could trot out of sight, and most of the time, he could care less.
By now, Ellen's heightened nerves were soaring. I had an idea. Our final stretch of trail is a great one for trotting. She could trot ahead without us. By practicing transitions, she could get him to focus on her, and we would be out of her way. In the meantime, Bella and Cole could learn to allow Dante to leave them. We would all be training.
It worked. Dante calmed down beautifully. Bella and Cole walked politely behind until the end when we politely trotted to catch up with them. All was right in the world again--except Ellen's nerves were shot. She couldn't wait to get back so she could get off. She just felt terrible.
We walked all the way back, crossed the river with no drama, hopped off and we talked about the ride as we walked up the hill. Ellen realized that the things that Dante did--trotting unexpectedly and speeding up his trot were really no big deal. If it was Cole's third ride on the trail after months of being away from it, I would have thought he had a stellar ride--same with Bella. It was Ellen's heightened nerves that made it seem so much worse than it was.
In the end, we congratulated ourselves on the successful ride. Dante was a little hyper, but Ellen was always able to handle him and in the end he came around and was a very good horse. He was super with her big worries--the river and a plane that flew overhead. We know that next time, he will be better.
The Three Amigas are back together, and it is going to be a great summer!
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
The Maiden Voyage
The big day arrived. The river was very low, the temperatures were so chilly that we knew the park would be very quiet, the road was closed to traffic and there were very few planes in the sky. It couldn't be a better day for Ellen's maiden voyage (for the year,) across the river into the main part of the park.
Since Ellen and Dante have been practicing on the hill, leading along the road and riding down the hill were no big deal at all. This made it much easier than in the past. Everything went perfectly.
She wanted me to cross first as I always do. I rode Cole across, turned him around and waited anxiously on the other side.
Ellen rode him to the edge of the river, let him look down at it and asked him to take a step. He did without any hesitation. He didn't even try to attempt the slow spin that he usually does on his first ride. I started to do the "happy dance" in the saddle, but then I stopped abruptly. What if I startled Dante?
Then I watched Dante step very carefully but steadily across the water. I have never seen him cross so well. Truly, I was in awe. Ellen did click him because he was so good, but he ignored her and didn't stop for a treat. Crossing was more important to him, but since he was doing so well,we didn't worry about it.
He got to the other side and Ellen had a look of disbelief on her face. I had a look of great joy. We did it!
We walked for a little bit. Dante looked all around. Things have changed since the last time he was in the park back in December. There is now loads of wildflowers and the trees are starting to get leaves. I know there were some new logs, too. He did look crooked at the sign in the grass that says to stay 6 feet apart. I guess he didn't know we were supposed to do that.
Ellen asked him to trot, and away he went--in his quiet, steady manner. He was back to his old self. This could have been July--that's how good he was. We turned back at the next river crossing and headed home. To be on the safe side, we kept it at a walk. Besides, it was just such a wonderful ride, we didn't want to shorten it by going too fast, after all. The only thing left to worry about was crossing the river to get back home.
Of course, Ellen was concerned. She wanted to go first, like we always do. Her biggest concern is that he would try to run up the bank. He did that a few times early in the season last year.
Once again, he went into the water willingly and walked like a gentleman. This time, he did stop for his treat when she clicked him. When they stepped out of the water, she stopped him and clicked him for it. She gave him his treat and asked him to go forward--and he refused! At that point, she realized that running up the bank was very unlikely. She persisted in asking him to walk. When he went a few steps, she got off him and led him the rest of the way.
The ride was a total success! Everything went so well--Ellen seemed to be in shock. All of her anxieties were for nothing. There were even a couple of planes that went over us, and Dante didn't care!
She said that her nerves were really doing a number on her before the ride, but she came up with a visualization to help her shut them down. She pictured a brick wall with her anxieties on one side and her on the other side. Once she started picturing the wall, she was able to settle her nerves down.
I hope that wall is so strong that it will keep those anxieties where they belong!
Monday, May 4, 2020
Shari and I are starting to integrate something new into our rides--cantering. I have cantered Cole plenty on our own and fairly often with Ellen and Kevin. When I ride with them, I take the lead at the canter because Cole is so fast. He can be like a bullet when he canters. Without a doubt. he is the fastest horse I have ever ridden. (Keep in mind, I have had just about no experience with Thoroughbreds.)
Bella likes to be the leader, and Cole has no trouble being a follower, so I decided it was time that he learns how to follow at a canter. One day, when the horses were being very good, I suggested to Shari that we try it. We did it on a particularly good, but short section of trail. They were fast, but they were good. It was only when we were finished that Shari told me that she hadn't cantered Bella on the trail in years--since the one day she was cantering her in the arena and Bella fell and Shari broke her shoulder. That is when I told her that Cole never cantered behind another horse before. We were both working on something very new for us.
Since then, when it is just the two of us riding and the horses are in the right mood, we have done little sections of cantering. My biggest problem is getting Cole to take up the canter. It seems he prefers to trot really, really fast. Since I love riding a very fast trot, I am still enjoying what we are doing. Bella is cantering fast, but not crazy fast. We have no trouble keeping up with her.
The problem that Bella was having was that she got very excited after cantering. She would be doing the Bella dance/prance. She wanted to canter again! Shari just wanted her to walk and settle down. This was happening every time.
You can't put two clicker trainer in the same room, (or on the same trail,) with a problem without them trying to find a solution. I suggested that Shari click Bella the moment she quiets down. I felt that Bella might not know what Shari wants of her, so she is suggesting what she wants. This way, Shari can explain it to her. Walking quietly with a lower head, (remember, she is a National Show Horse,) is what Shari wanted, but Bella didn't understand. Shari decided to call it "relax mode."
It only took a few rides for us to notice a huge difference. We would canter, Bella got wound up, Bella put her head down and walked, Bella got clicked--and Bella remained walking with her head low.
Shari practiced this only a couple of times that last ride, and then Bella just decided to keep her head relaxed all the time when she is walking. She went from National Show Horse to Quarter Horse. The transformation is amazing.
I have to wonder if she is simply just happier with her head lower. It makes sense. It may be a self-reinforcing behavior. Once Shari was able to show her that it is a more comfortable way of going and it was something she wanted her to do, Bella agreed with her. Bella likes "relax mode."
Saturday, May 2, 2020
It is with much sadness that I tell you that we lost our beloved Ranger last week.
Over 25 years ago, my sister, Ellen, was looking for her first horse. A friend of ours told us about a horse that was for sale at her barn. She didn't know much about him because he came from the Sugarcreek auction.
His current owners saw him at the auction and liked him, but they were too slow in making a decision and he was sold to the meat man. Afterwards, they found him in a pen. It was the wrong pen. When the meat man's horses were loaded onto the truck, he wasn't with them. Ranger must have been born under a lucky star. The women thought that he was a Tennessee Walker, so they offered to buy him from the meat man.
A Tennessee Walker he certainly wasn't. They took him out on the trails, crossed water and discovered he had a fast, ground-covering trot. Now they were looking for a home for him.
It would be nice to say it was love at first sight for Ellen, but she was hesitant. He was the best horse we looked at, and when we asked his owners if he had a fast trot, they assured us he did. This was important because my horse, Cruiser, could really trot fast, and we were looking for a good horse to go with him. It was another big plus with us that he was willing to cross water. He seemed like a good horse, so she took the chance.
We didn't know how old he was or what kind of horse he was. Since he came from the Sugarcreek auction, there was a chance he was Amish. He did have the Amish haircut of a very short tail and very little forelock. Also, it was evident that he didn't have a lot of gentle handling in his background. He was terrified of vets, hated farriers, impossible to paste worm and not very friendly. He tossed his head a lot in the warm weather. At first, we thought it was bugs, but we later determined it was his sinuses. That alone would make him a lousy buggy horse and could be the reason he ended up at the auction.
I always have said that he was "Such a singular horse."
Within a few months, Ellen and I were riding together all over the place. Not only could he trot as fast as Cruiser, but sometimes he was even faster. The miles would just melt away. His canter was even awesome. We had so much fun out on the trails--they were the best times of our lives.
Over time, the head tossing became a distant memory. He became very friendly with us and he really seemed to enjoy his job. Cruiser and Ranger became best buddies. Mingo was born the spring that Ellen got Ranger, so Ranger helped to raise him. (He couldn't trust Cruiser with such an important job.) After all, Ranger was the king of our herd.
Ranger loved to be the leader on the trail. The problem was that Cruiser did, too. If Cruiser tried to pass Ranger, he would snarl at him. That wouldn't keep Cruiser from passing, though. Then, we would stop and return Cruiser to his proper place.
Range's favorite game was to slow down and tempt Cruiser to pass--and then make faces at him as he did. Cruiser fell for it every single time.
If Ranger ever got worried about something on the trail, he would send Cruiser in front to face it; as if to say that Cruiser was expendable, so he should go first. Once Cruiser cleared things up, Ranger would take the lead again. Unless there were a lot of bugs. Ranger liked to walk close behind Cruiser with his face in Cruiser's tail to keep the bugs off of it.
Did I mention our trotting races? Cruiser always lost, eventually, because he would start to canter.
They were so much fun to ride together that when Mingo was old enough to go on trail rides, I would take him out by himself or have someone else ride him. It wasn't until Cruiser bowed his tendon and I had to ride Mingo with Ranger; that we did very much of it. Ranger was in his teens at the time. Mingo was a very slow horse, and that is when Ranger learned that he didn't have to go so fast, after all.
Mingo died, and I brought Cole into the herd. Ranger taught him to stay in his place. To this day, Cole is happy to follow the horse ahead of him and is even a little afraid to pass other horses. A few years later, Ellen got Dante and as she did more with him, Ranger gradually slipped into retirement.
And it was a retirement that he thoroughly enjoyed, too. When Ellen first got him, he was a quiet horse. Over the years, he found his voice and became the most talkative horse I have ever known--and it wasn't only at feeding time. I loved hearing him talk. He made his wishes known--after all, he was the king.
He kept the other horses all in line--particularly Starry. They would bicker all day, but when Starry went out for a ride, Ranger was so upset that we had to put another horse in Starry's stall to quiet him down.
We miss him so much--words can't even express how we feel, so I won't try. He was such a lucky horse to escape death at the auction, and Ellen was such a lucky person to find such a perfect first horse. Those 25 years he almost didn't have were 25 spectacular years filled with exciting rides and tender moments--and they were too few.