Friday, July 31, 2020

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Bravest Person I Know

The Bravest Person I Know

For those of you that have been following our adventures for a while, you probably remember that Dante will sometimes spook at airplanes.  That is a problem when your barn is about a mile from the airport.

He started doing it the very first year that Ellen had him.  The first time was when I was riding him by myself, and it really caught me by surprise.  After that, he spooked occasionally for years.  My sister got into the habit of stopping him and asking him to stand as the plane went over.

Last year, in the spring, he got really bad.  It seemed he spun at least half of the time--even when he was already at a stand still.  He was  doing it in the driveway and on the trail.  Ellen is anxious, by nature, and it really go under her skin.  To me, it was like the old Godzilla movies that we watched when we were growing up.  Hearing an airplane in the distance was like hearing Godzilla's footsteps coming our way.  The tension would start to build as soon as she heard the plane in the distance.

After a reduction in grain, he improved dramatically.  When he did spook, he would just spin; rather than take off running like before.  It became manageable.  

Ellen noticed that he only seemed bad when the planes were landing.  Since he always spins to the left, she learned to bend his head to the right to minimize the spin.  Her biggest fear was a plane going overhead while she was crossing the river because he might slip if he spooked.  That happened a few times, but he didn't spook.  She was starting to feel better.

The one thing she didn't do last year was go on the trail the other direction where she had to ride up a hill.  When the planes are landing, it looks like they are going to hit the trees--they are that low.  She didn't tackle that problem mainly because we just ran out of time.  Winter came too soon.

She is doing so much better this year with her anxieties.  They are still there, but she is learning techniques to keep herself from distorting reality.  Huge problems are no longer insurmountable.  It is now time for her to expand her horizons.  

When we ride over the hill, the trail splits.  One direction continues on through the park.  The other way is just an access trail that dead ends at the street.  That was our goal.

The first time we rode it, Ellen was very nervous.  There were no planes because Covid-19 is still affecting plane traffic.  The ride was a total success.

The next time, the planes were taking off.  Ellen was very nervous; once again.  This time, 3 planes went over us.  Dante was fine, but that wasn't a surprise since he is really good when the planes are taking off.

The next day, the planes were landing.  I knew it, and Ellen knew it, but neither of us said a word about it.  I wasn't sure if she would try the Access Trail with the planes landing, but she surprised me.  After all, Dante hadn't actually spooked at a single plane this year.  Though her anxieties told her to just go home, she rode on.

Yes, she is the bravest person I know.  She stood up to her fear--and Dante spooked at a plane--twice.

The first time, he was doing all right until he saw the shadow of the plane going across the trees.  He has always had trouble with the shadows.  He tried to do a fast spin to the left, but since Ellen had him bent to the right, it was a slow spin, instead.  He made it about 180 degrees.

We were so disappointed.  In my heart, I was hoping that all of Ellen's work with him helped him get over his fear of planes.  Ellen was also shaken up.

We seldom get just one plane at a time.  In a of couple minutes, another plane approached.  Ellen set Dante up, and this time, he only took a couple steps when he saw the shadow.  I have to wonder if he would have been fine if a third plane flew over.

The big question was how would Ellen interpret what happened?  Would her anxieties distort reality?  Would she be able to look at the whole incident logically?  Ellen is a very good rider with an excellent seat and very good timing.  This is something she can handle with ease.  Dante's worst is nothing like Ranger's worst.  Ranger trained her to handle all sorts of predicaments.  This is a piece of cake for someone as talented as Ellen.

We haven't had an opportunity to test Dante on that hill with planes taking off, yet.  Maybe next week.

The following day, Ellen was telling Shari the story of Dante with the planes.  It made me smile to hear that she didn't blow it out of proportion.  She told the story just how I am telling you.  She faced her fear and Dante gave her his worst--and it wasn't more than she could handle.  In fact, it was easy--and I think she realized it.

She tackled her fear--faced it head on.  She is the bravest person I know.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Sometimes You Just Need to Talk Things Out

Sometimes You Just Need to Talk Things Out

My sister has been crossing the second river crossing on Dante on a regular basis.  Since the incident where she fell on the ford, it just makes more sense.  They will have plenty of opportunities to go across on the ford when the river is higher--since it is very busy with summer traffic, the river is a better place.

But there is a reason that Ellen doesn't like the river there; even when she is no longer nervous on it.  Dante just goes so slow.  He is slow to step into the water, and he stops often.  It is very frustrating for her.  I swear, sometimes it takes 10 minutes/

This river crossing is a little wider and quite a bit deeper than the first one, but there is hardly any current at all.  We do have to maneuver around some rocks if we want to stay out of the deeper area--which can be tricky, but that shouldn't bother Dante any.

We were on our way home the other day.  I already crossed the easy first river crossing and was watching from the other side.  Dante walked right down the bank and stepped into the water.  He then crossed the river and came up the other side--just like any ordinary horse.

I mentioned to Ellen how strange it was that he is so good with that crossing and so terrible with the other one.  Now, he wasn't always this good on the first river crossing.  He used to do all the same things.  That is when she told me how determined she was last year to get across the water before an airplane came over.  Last year is when he got really bad about spooking at the airplanes, and they are very loud and low by the river crossing.  The bottom of it is extremely slippery shale--not a good place for a spook.

She mentioned that she noticed she is getting distracted by every noise at the other river crossing and wondered if that was playing into Dante's reluctance to cross.  He is very sensitive to her every move.

This gave us food for thought.  Could she improve his crossing by improving her focus?  It had helped her considerably in the arena.  We both pondered it.

My sister and I are alike in so many ways, but this isn't one of them.  I can easily focus on the task at hand and block everything else out.  I don't even have to try--that is just how I am.  I remember when I was in college many years ago and I worked at a gas station.  I used to be able to blast the radio, keep an eye on the self serve and full serve pumps, wait on any customers and study for tests--all at the same time.  I always forget that many people don't have that gift and have to work at it.  It never occurred to me that Ellen might be having an attention problem.

Well, Ellen decided to work at it the next day.  Shari and Kevin rode on ahead of us.  Ellen took Dante down to the river, clicked him when he stepped into the water, asked him to cross--and he did!  Just like that!  He just crossed the river!  I was in shock.  So were Kevin and Shari when we caught up with them much quicker than expected.

On the way home, it went even better.  That time, Shari and Kevin watched and were in awe.  They wanted to know what Ellen did differently, and she told them the story.

I knew Dante would do better, but I never expected such immediate and dramatic results.  We feel that with practice, Dante will simply get into the habit of crossing like a regular horse.  After all, that's what he is!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Thursday, July 2, 2020



June was a great month for riding.  There was a fair amount of rain; but very few days that we couldn't cross the river.  Cole didn't get many days off.  The more I ride him, the better he gets.

That causes a problem--he gives me little to write about.  He has a bad moment from time to time.  This week, he did get startled, took off running, tossed in a buck and did one of his sliding stops when I asked him to "Whoa."  It is the stop that is the hardest to stay in the saddle.  Still, that doesn't give me much to write about. 

Another problem--Bella has been really good.  She was always a great source of writing material.  Not so much anymore.  She is just so consistent.  She has even learned to relax her naturally high head to the verbal command of "relax."  It is amazing what clicker training can do.

And then there is Starry; the horse who didn't want to take the lead.  Last year, he really started to improve.  This year, he is doing great.  He still doesn't want to go in the lead, but he will when Kevin asks him to.  Nothing to write about, there.

Dante has been great, too.  Ellen is anxious about things, but those things are in her head.  He hasn't spooked at an airplane, yet, this year.  He hardly spooks at all and has been terrific most of the time.

That just leaves me to write about Ellen and her anxieties.  Sorry, Ellen.  You are my only good source of writing material.

The park had closed the road where we ride to help people social distance during the Covid-19 pandemic.  That was great because there wasn't any motorized traffic on the street, and we were able to cross the fords instead of the river.  (Except for the first crossing to get into the park--there is no ford there.)  We loved it.

As Ellen started to ride in the park, she was nervous about riding across the ford.  She had always led Dante when the street was open.  After leading him across a few times, she decided to ride across.  Her nervousness was wasted.  Dante was fine.

Unfortunately, she only had one opportunity to try it, and then the park opened up the road.  We were back into traffic.  Our only other option was to cross the river.  That river is higher, though slower, than the first river crossing.  For her first time, she wanted to be able to see the bottom.  We had just enough rain to keep that from happening.  The rest of us could cross it, but she wanted it to be perfect.  She preferred to lead Dante across the ford.

A couple weeks ago, Shari and Kevin were way ahead of us on the trail, and Ellen and I were crossing the ford on our own.  I was riding Cole in the lead.  As we neared the end of the ford, she told me there was a large van coming up behind us.  I was fairly far ahead of Ellen, so I pulled off the road as soon as I was able to and waited.

Behind the van there was a loud motorcycle, too.  As the van passed, Dante spooked and stepped out into traffic.  The motorcycle rider had to have been able to see that Ellen was having a problem, but he kept inching up to pass; he just didn't want to wait.  In frustration, Ellen ended up waving him to  pass--and it caused Dante to spook, again.  

Cole stood like a statue.  One more car came past, and Dante pulled Ellen into the street, her legs got tangled up and she fell right on her tailbone.  Dante immediately calmed right down.

If you have ever hurt your tailbone, you know how painful it can be--and it takes forever to heal.  It is still hurting Ellen just as much as the day she fell.

Shari heard the ruckus, and they turned around, headed back and got there in time to see Ellen on the ground.  We were all shaken up.

Dante was fine on the way home until we got to the end of the trail and dismounted. There were several other horses there, and once again, Dante scooted out to get away from the horses--just like he did on the ford.  He even had the same expression on his face.

Later, as Ellen and I played the incident over and over; trying to figure out why Dante was so bad; we had an inspiration.  The spot that it happened had a barrier on Dante's right side.  Ellen was on the left.  Most of all Dante's problems stem from the fact that he is claustrophobic.  He can't abide being crowded by other horses.  He thinks he can't fit through door ways and he doesn't like being crowded by the traffic.  Normally, he would have just scooted forward--but why didn't he this time?  Because I was standing with Cole; blocking his path.  I almost never ride in the lead across the ford, but this time I did and when Dante felt crowded and wanted to rush forward, there I was--and Dante hates to pass other horses.

We had the solution.  Dante needs an escape route.  I will not block his path, anymore.

Unfortunately, Ellen's anxieties don't care if we have a good plan.  They caused her much anguish until the next opportunity to ride across the ford.

Well, she isn't the only person nervous about going across the ford when there are cars--Bella used to be very bad on the ford, and Shari doesn't like it, either.  The first day that Ellen was going to lead Dante after the fall, Shari was going to try to ride Bella across, too, for the first time since it opened back up.

Good thing Cole is pretty reliable.

On the way out, Shari hopped off Bella about halfway across because there was a fisherman close to the road.  Bella was fine.  There were no cars, and we made it across with no incidents.

On the way home, Shari decided to try riding, again.  Ellen went first, followed by Shari and I took up the rear.  There was a fisherman that cast his rod.  It caused Bella to jump. Dante took a fast step, but since no one was blocking his path, he relaxed quickly.  There were a number of cars that then passed us, but everything went perfectly.  We breathed a sigh of relief.  What happened with Dante on the previous ride was just a fluky thing.

That still left us with the river.  When the river is low, it is by far the safer way to get to the other side.  That is particularly so in the summer when there is a lot more traffic than in the off season.

One day, Ellen rode to the edge to look at it.  It was too muddy for her to try.  The next time, it was clearer and she decided she would cross.  She carefully rode down the bank to the edge.  Dante stopped and stared.  He didn't want to cross.  He tried to do his slow spin to go home.  Ellen kept him spinning.  She told me to go ahead and cross to the other side, which I did.  

Dante still just stood there.  He wasn't going.  The longer Ellen waited, the more nervous she became.  The more nervous she was, the less Dante wanted to cross.  When she was literally shaking, she told me she couldn't do it.  I told her to at least try to get all of his feet in the water so he didn't learn that turning at the river's edge is an option.  She did, and I rode back over to her and we went home. 

She felt terrible.  After much discussion, we decided that the only way she will be able to do it is to get him to march down the bank and right into the water with very little hesitation.  She had to get him in before she lost her nerve.

We had a series of days where we didn't have any rain.  The river was in a very crossable state.  It was time to get it over with.  She had to ride him across the river.

Shari and Kevin crossed first.  I stayed with Ellen and let her cross ahead of me.  She got Dante to march down the bank.  He kept trying to grab things to eat, but other than that, he did well.  At the river's edge, she let him look at it and asked him to go forward.  He did and then stepped into one of his slow spins.  She kept him spinning until he faced the right way then tapped him with the whip.  He stepped in and stopped.  She tapped again and he started across.  He walked slowly and carefully and before she knew it, she was on the other side!

We had a nice ride, turned around and headed home.  It was time to see how he would do on the return trip.

At the top of the river bank, he refused and went into his slow spin.  As he was turning, he grabbed a branch.  A light bulb went off in Ellen's head.  His stickiness there in the past has never been about him being afraid to cross--it had been about food!  She got tougher, he walked down the bank, into the water and crossed to the other side.

The horses were great on the way home.  When I talked to Ellen about how she felt after the fact, she said that she was surprised how easy it was and realized that there really wasn't anything to worry about.

Seems to me that I won't be getting many more blogs about the scary river crossing from Dante, anymore