Friday, December 31, 2021



Leap into the New Year!


Leap into the New Year! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Monday, December 27, 2021

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Friday, December 17, 2021



This is a picture of Cruiser.  I didn't quite get his likeness, but at least I got to spend a half hour looking at the face I love so much and remembering all the good times.  I still miss you Cruise!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Monday, December 13, 2021

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Friday, December 10, 2021

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Friday, December 3, 2021

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Difficulties of December

The  Difficulties of December

Here in Northeast Ohio, December is a transitional month.  No, it isn't a month made for doing trot and canter transitions, it is the month that we go from fall to winter.  We can have gorgeous days for riding and we can have miserable days for riding.  As the month progresses, we have less and less decent days.

All we want for Christmas is some good weather to go trail riding.

Ellen hasn't ridden on the trail in December since--well we can't even remember when.  As her anxieties increased, winter trail riding became nearly impossible.  The best she could do was to trail ride until mid November.  This is no reflection on Dante.  He is a terrific horse out in the snow and cold.  He is careful with ice and sensible all the time.  The snow, the cold and the ice chased Ellen into the arena.  Then there is that river we have to cross.  Once it freezes, we are all limited to riding on the hill.  

When the forecast would start to look bad, Ellen would just quit.

Sometimes I have wondered if she is actually the smart one.  I like riding in the snow, but the cold can really get bad at times.  Often the terrain is such that we can only walk safely--that's when we get really cold.  Ellen would be comfortably riding in the arena, improving Dante's training and her riding skills--and I would be leading Cole just to stay warm.

But, you know me.  If I can get on the trail, that is where I will be.

This year, Ellen's anxieties have really waned.  She was going to see how far into the winter she could make it before calling it quits.  She wasn't going to let a couple bad weather days keep her out of the park, because they are usually followed by a couple good weather days.

She would just take it one ride at a time.

She rode on a day with light rain.  She rode on a windy day.  She rode on a day where the ground was frozen, and we only walked.  She rode on a very cold day where the ground was soft so we really moved out.  Then she even rode when there was a little snow on the ground.  We also had some super pretty days.  Once, the river was higher than she likes, so we switched horses and I rode The  Difficulties of December across.

We went through November day by day.  Thanksgiving came and went--and we found ourselves in December.

Ellen rode on the trail in December--and she is still riding.  

We don't know how long she will make it.  She is just going ride by ride.  Eventually, the weather will be so awful that no one would blame her for staying in the arena.  That's what any smart rider would do.

Cantering Challenges


Cantering Challenges

I used to canter Cole all the time in the park when I rode by myself on the trail.  Since retiring, I usually have someone else to ride with, and I started cantering less and less.  Cole liked to go very fast.  I didn't have that much control of his speed, so I didn't really like to canter with other horses because I didn't want to cause problems.  Sometimes the people I was riding with would let me take the lead and canter (gallop) off if their horses weren't bothered by that, though I didn't do that very often.

After years of cantering only sporadically, I now have trouble with my canter transitions and trouble with keeping him going.

I used to know just how to move my seat to get a horse to canter on the requested lead with such ease.  We would just flow into the canter.  It didn't matter what horse I was riding, he would just move along with my seat and go off into the canter on the correct lead.  Ellen could only get one lead on Ranger, but I got both with just the right movement at just the right moment in his stride.  

Once again, lack of practice was my enemy.  Mingo died and shortly after that, Cruiser had physical issues cantering.  At first, he was more willing to pick up the left lead, but within a couple years after that, he didn't want to do any leads.

Around that time, I got Cole.  Guess which lead was easier for me to get on him?  Of course--the left lead that I still doing with Cruiser--though I wasn't as consistent with it as I was years ago.

Now, with less practice cantering in general, both leads are hard for me to coordinate.  The fact that Cole only wants to go on the left lead is more my fault than his, but even the left lead is tough.  

When I ask him for the canter and he misses the cue, I stop him and try again.  It can take a few attempts before I get a good canter--and then he quits after a short distance.

Sigh...I do love a fast trot, though--and Cole can really fly at a trot.  

Last week, Ellen shared an article she read with me.  It was on how to do the "not-canter."  It was more for the horse that gets resistant on canter transitions; swishing, ears back and other forms of rebellion.  I don't get that with Cole.  I just get the fast trot.

Basically, the article said to ask for the canter, and welcome whatever you get.  Later on, ask again--and still welcome whatever you get.  This isn't for young horses that you are teaching to pick up the canter but for older horses that know the cue and have difficulties.  After some time, the article states, your horse will willingly pick up the canter.  

It sounded almost too easy.  Yet when I thought about it, it sounded much the same as clicker training.  We make a request and if the horse gets it wrong, we don't worry about it.  If the horse gives it a try, even if it isn't exactly what we want, we reward a try because it is going in the right direction.  So if Cole trots fast instead of taking up the canter, it isn't bad.  He is still going faster.

I decided to give it a try.  What did I have to lose?

Part of what inspired me to try is that on the ride the day before, I was going to ask Cole for a left lead and I got confused--I am never good with my right and left.  I asked him for a right lead by accident--and I did it so perfectly that he picked it up like a dream.  It really made me believe that it was me that was the problem.  (But then again, isn't it usually the rider?)

I was riding with Ellen, and as is often the case, I was way ahead on the trail.  Cole is just a much faster trotter than Dante.

I cued Cole for the left lead, and he didn't pick it up--until a few strides later.  He did a beautiful transition, but it was delayed.  This was very interesting.  I would have been in the process of stopping him at the moment he took the transition.  I wasn't giving him a chance only because he wasn't responding perfectly.  Why should he respond perfectly if we have barely practiced cantering in years?  Duh.

So then I tried it again--same thing.  I tried it again and again and again.  Each time, he did a great transition--just too late.  So then I tried the difficult right lead.  I did do it on a bend in the trail to help him out--the same thing happened.

I was on to something.  

As we practiced, the time between the cue and the transition gradually diminished.  Also, he was cantering longer before stopping on his own.  That might have been because he had a more balanced transition or it could have been his way of skipping to the next thing I want to do.  He is like that.  If it takes 4 maneuvers to get what I want, he will start to drop the middle steps to get to the final product.  He might have figured out that I wanted to keep cantering since I kept asking him to do it when he stopped.  That is a very clicker-trained horse behavior.

(I didn't reward him by clicking because between his worn shoes and all the slippery leaves on the trail, if he stops too suddenly, he slides a lot.)

Unfortunately, with the weather getting crummy in Northeast Ohio, I don't know how much canter practice we will have in the coming months.  I might have to start working on it in the arena on those icy, cold days.

Here is a link to the article on Horse Listening Blog:

Not Canter

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Monday, November 29, 2021

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Thursday, November 25, 2021






Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Monday, November 22, 2021

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Friday, November 19, 2021

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Monday, November 8, 2021

Friday, November 5, 2021

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Best 10 Minutes We Ever Spent

Best 10 Minutes We Ever Spent

Shari and I were riding Bella on a crisp October morning.  The river was a little higher than Ellen feels comfortable with, so she stayed at the barn to work Dante in the arena.  Shari hadn't ridden Bella in a couple of days, and Bella, well she was "Full Bella."  That's all right with us.  It just meant it was going to be a faster ride.

All went well on the first part of the ride.  The four of us were flying down the trail at a fast trot--and having a great time.  We crossed the second river crossing on the ford, went up the hill and trotted on the trail that goes alongside the sewer plant.  Bella was in the lead, so Shari saw the monkey balls, aka Osage Oranges, before I did.  They are large chartreuse green balls that are from the Osage Orange trees.  We see them all the time in this part of the trail, and we have been for years.  That wasn't the problem.  The problem was that someone put them in the shape of a peace sign--almost completely blocking the trail.

There was nothing peaceful about Bella when she saw them.  She stopped, snorted and didn't want to pass them.  Cole took over and led her by   He only sniffed them and wanted to taste one.  I didn't let him, of course. I have no idea if they are safe for horses to eat.  Besides, if he grabbed one in his mouth, who knows what Bella would have done!

Shari turned Bella to get her to look at the monkey balls, and it took her a bit before she wasn't afraid, anymore, but when we tried to continue down the trail, it was evident that the whole incident made her hyper.  She just didn't feel like relaxing.

We crossed the street to the final section of the trail which we call "Flane."  It is actually called "Falls Lane," but Kevin used to abbreviate it when he wrote down on his calendar where he rode, and we all started calling it "Flane" after that.

Flane can be a tricky place to ride.  On one side of the trail, the woods are very dense.  The other side is a grassy area.  The trail parallels the street, so we have to deal with whatever traffic that goes by.  Where the trail begins, there is a low spot alongside of the road that turns into a big puddle after it rains.  All of our horses have spooked at cars splashing through the puddle.  

Many months ago when I was riding with Shari, she suggested that we just stand on the trail adjacent to the puddle to desensitize Cole and Bella.  When the cars went by, we would try to get them to stand still and then click and treat them.  In the beginning, they were spooking, but it didn't take that long before they stood still and waited for their treat.  Since then, we are still cautious there, but neither horse has ever spooked at the puddle ever since that day.

Since it had just rained the day before, the puddle was there.  I commented to Shari how great it was that we spent that 10 minutes that day.  I then asked her if she wanted to trot.  I didn't know that she was hesitant due to Bella's state of mind.  She just agreed.

Bella was in the lead.  Cole was doing well, but Bella certainly was hyper as we trotted off.  Just when Shari was thinking of walking because of Bella's mood--something spooked Bella.  She spun and tried to take off.  I didn't really know what was going on, because Cole slammed on his brakes and started to buck.  I don't think it was a spook but more of him displaying his high spirits.  As I struggled to keep Cole's head up, Shari struggled to stay in the saddle.  I got Cole to a standstill in time to watch Shari fall to the ground.

She tried her best to hang on to the reins, but they slipped through her fingers and Bella was on the run.  What a helpless feeling it is to watch your horse run away...

Of course, I didn't chase her with Cole because that would have made her run faster.  Cole wanted to follow her, but I insisted that he just walk.  Shari was calling to Bella as we walked as fast as we could after her.  I was so worried about Bella, that I forgot all about Shari falling off.  She told me she was all right.  She fell in the grass, and since we had so much rain, it was like falling on a wet sponge.

As Bella approached the intersection that is over by the puddle, she stopped and started to graze.  On a normal day, the crisis would be over at that point--but she was right by the puddle!  And here came a car!  Talk about feeling helpless...

The car hit the puddle and Bella's head flew up in the air.  She took a couple steps and resumed grazing.  That is when we noticed the big pickup truck barreling towards the puddle.  We both held our breaths.  The truck went dead center into the puddle and spewed a huge wave of water towards Bella.  It was at least 6 feet high.  Bella never even looked up.

We finally caught up to Bella and she was happy to be back with us.  Shari remounted, and the rest of the ride went well.  Bella was much more relaxed--probably because she had a good run.  We were so happy that everything went well.

The time we spent getting the horses used to that puddle was the best 10 minutes we ever spent training them.  

Cole Train

  Cole Train

Monday, November 1, 2021

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Starry Molasses

Starry Molasses

The weather has cooled down and the leaves on the trees are really starting to change.  It is a wonderful time of year for trail riding.  It is even cool enough to chase most of the mosquitoes away--no more bug spray!

Kevin and I went out for a ride over by the show ring.  It is always so pretty over there this time of year.

When we ride together, we usually put Starry in the lead.  If he doesn't do enough time leading on our rides, he will simply refuse to go in the lead.  It took us a couple years to break that habit, and Kevin doesn't want Starry to revert to it.  Also, Cole prefers to follow most of the time.  Since Starry typically goes fast enough at a trot for Cole, it works out great for us.

Well on this morning, Starry didn't want to trot fast.  The slower Starry goes, the harder it is for Kevin to post, so poor Kevin was getting frustrated.  Sometimes he would slow to nearly a walk.  Sometimes, he even did start to walk.  

Kevin started worrying that something was wrong with Starry.  I kept saying that he just wanted Cole to pass, but you know how it is when you get an idea like that in your head.  It is hard to get it out.

I didn't allow Cole to pass, because that would just reward Starry for it.  Every single time Starry would slow down, Kevin said, "Is there something wrong with him?"  I tried to reassure him, but I had to admit, Starry was incredibly persistent.  

In spite of it all, we did have a very lovely ride.  Even when we turned around to go home, though, Starry continued to try to stall out.  Finally, Kevin begged me to put Cole in the lead.  Reluctantly, I did.  I asked Cole to trot, and he sped off like a motorboat.  I guess he was tired of following a slow Starry.  Kevin was laughing with glee.  Starry could go fast, and he was sound.  There was nothing wrong with him.  After about a hundred feet of this with Cole only going faster and faster, I put an end to it.  Kevin was upset, but I returned Cole to his proper position.  We were mostly going to walk at this point, anyway.

Kevin did admit that when he was riding with another horse at the barn, his owner always wanted to ride in the lead.  She wants to encourage him to be a confident leader.  I suggested that they take turns.  (He did talk to her about it, and she happily agreed.)

What we were wondering was why was Starry so bad compared to all the other rides this summer?  As we walked on home, we were talking about how nice it was since there weren't any bugs pestering us.  Starry hates bugs with a passion.  He gets all agitated and if they are really bad, he doesn't even want to walk.  When he does walk, he goes much faster than he does on bugless days.

Then it occurred to us--that is why he kept slowing down and even tried to walk--the bugs weren't bugging him!  We were talking about it as Starry walked home; very, very slowly walked home.

Since then, I have been riding with Cole in the lead a few times during the ride so Kevin can trot faster.  Cole has been quite calm when we do, so it is all working out.  We just have to make sure that Starry in in the lead often enough so that he doesn't get balky about it.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Begone Anxieties!

Begone Anxieties!

Wow, has Ellen been doing great in her battle with her anxieties.  A few weeks ago, she rode up to the trails by the show ring for the first time in several years.  Kevin came with us, and all three of us, (I mean 6 of us--we have to count the horses,) had a wonderful time.  The horses were all great; especially Dante.  You would think that he would be excited to be on less familiar trails, but he took it all in stride.  Our only regret was that Shari and Bella weren't with us.  Maybe next time.

And there will be a next time.  Ellen now realizes how much she blew the whole thing out of proportion.  It is an easy ride in reality.

The other thing that has happened involves that river crossing that she has struggled with the last few years.  Dante would play his little games to put off crossing; causing Ellen to get very nervous.  Now she knows that if she demands that he step into the water, he does.  Once he gets in, she will click and treat him--and then demand that he continue crossing--and he does.  He is now crossing like a regular horse.  She still doesn't like crossing that river--or any river for that matter--that will probably never change--but she can do it.  Now, even on work days when she doesn't have that much time, she will sometimes cross that river and ride for a while on the other side.

Since those bigger problems are out of the way, she is now focusing on the smaller problems.  Dante is a naturally slow, quiet horse.  That isn't such a bad thing, but he usually doesn't keep up with the other horses.  This frustrates Ellen.  Kevin and I have both ridden him on the trail, and he does a little better for us.  He tends to stall out and be slow on his upward transitions, but just for Ellen.  It's all about habits.  When Ellen was anxious, she didn't mind it so much, so she allowed him to do it.  She doesn't like it now.

When he was slow on his transition for me, I observed that Starry got very far from us in that 5 seconds, and Dante never could regain that ground.  When he did a responsive transition, we were able to keep Starry in sight.  When the other horses go out of sight, Dante doesn't care.  He just goes slower.  If she could promptly get him to trot and keep him trotting, they won't get so far behind.

Another thing I noticed when Kevin was riding him was that Dante trotted in a different manner than he did with Ellen.  (He probably did the same when I was riding him, too.)  Much of the time, when Dante trots for Ellen, he goes into his slow, collected arena trot.  Ellen is a very good rider, and she easily brings all of it out of him.  These days, Dante defaults to that trot out in the park.  Kevin was just riding--not asking for anything at all.  For Kevin, Dante was all strung out--but taking much longer strides.  

Ellen's latest project is to find a way to get a ground-covering trail trot instead of a collected arena trot on the trail.  She is going to try to put it on the cue of "regular trot."  Cole has a cue for "regular walk," too.  What is wrong with our horses?  (Cole always wants to do his "silly walk.")

We are thinking that Dante will actually prefer traveling in a "regular trot," and once he figures out what Ellen wants, it will be self reinforcing.  That is how it is with clicker trained horses.  They often do what they think you want them to do.  That is great if that is what you really want, too.  Sometimes it is, but when it isn't, you need a way to explain it to them and convince them to do what we really want.

I think that Ellen might find that retraining her mind to restrain her anxieties will be the easier task then retraining Dante, but at least retraining Dante won't be so scary.

Monday, October 4, 2021



My sister and I were out on a trail ride the other morning, and we were enjoying a good trot.  Along the way, we met a fellow walking a dog that we have seen and spoken to a number of times.  He wanted to ask us a question, so though we were thoroughly enjoying our trot, we stopped to answer it.

He wanted to know our opinion on racing horses.  He had read the book "Seabiscuit," and it got him wondering about it.  Ellen told him that many horses are naturally competitive, and they love to race.  In fact, we used to have 2 of them, (Cruiser and Ranger,) and our biggest problem was keeping them from fighting to be the leader.

That made him feel better about the subject.  Suddenly, Ellen said, "My rein broke."  We use reins with snaps on the ends to attach to the bit, and the metal snap--snapped.

For many years, I used to have a piece of nylon stocking attached to my saddle for just this kind of thing.  I never needed it, and somewhere along the line, it got so cruddy that I threw it away and forgot to replace it.

Ellen tried to tie the rein to the bit, but it just didn't appear that it would hold very well.  She could lead Dante home with the other rein, but that was an option that we preferred to avoid.

I was searching all over for something.  I thought maybe she could pull the strap out of the top of her half chaps.  She gave it a tug, but it was in too snugly--then she noticed her shoelaces.  My boots have zippers, but hers have laces.  She undid one of her boots and used it to attach the rein to the bit.  It was very snug, and we both felt confident that she could ride safely.  She did say it felt funny to ride with a boot with no laces, though.

Meanwhile, Kevin was out riding behind us with the intention of catching up to us.  He saw the man with the dog, and he asked if we were up ahead.  He told him that we had a problem with a strap breaking.  Kevin always used to carry an old shoelace in his saddlebag for just this kind of thing, but when he switched saddlebags, he didn't put it in the new one.

I guess I don't have to tell you the moral of this story.

Anyway, we made it home safely.  The best thing about the whole incident is that the rein broke when we weren't doing anything!  It is good to stop and talk to friendly people even if it does break up some good trotting.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Dumbest Thing Bella Ever Did!

The Dumbest Thing Bella Ever Did!

Bella is a National Show Horse, and she is known for having a lot of energy.  As is often the case, energetic horses tend to be more reactive than lazy horses.  They spook a little easier.  In the early days when we first started riding with Shari, it seemed like Bella was spooking at everything and often nothing at all.  Shari was so brave.  She did just kept riding her--and that is what she needed--lots of time on the trail.

She is so much better, now.  She still spooks at dumb things but not nearly as many of them.  Strips of bark laying on the trail gets her nearly every time.  We just laugh.  

The other day, she did the dumbest thing, ever.  

Shari was in the lead, followed by me and finally Ellen.  Bella reached off the trail and grabbed a branch to munch on.  It was a big one that Kevin cut back in the spring and threw off to the side.  The leaves were dead and noisy.  When Bella pulled the branch, it moved and all the leaves rattled.  Bella stood there with the branch in her mouth.  Most horses would let go, but Bella didn't want to give up her snack.  Shari warned us to get out the the way.

I turned Cole and started walking back go Ellen.  She circled Dante out of the way.  Shari asked Bella to move, and she hung on to the branch; dragging it with her--and then she panicked.  (Bella, not Shari.  Shari has nerves of steel.)  I didn't see it because Cole tried to high-tail it away--at a zigzag.  I started to go over his side, but I was determined to hang on because I wasn't going to let such a silly thing make me fall.  I hoisted myself back up and brought Cole to a halt before we reached Dante.  (Dante was far enough away from Bella and only took a couple steps.)

Shari didn't know how many times Bella spun around before she dropped the branch.  Then, Bella wouldn't pass the branch which was now blocking the trail.  Cole had enough with all of it, passed Bella right up and marched right by it.  The other horses followed.

Once everything settled down, all we did was laugh at Bella.  If you are afraid of something that you are pulling in your mouth--you should just drop it.

It did remind me of the dumbest thing Cruiser ever did.  At the time, he was just a youngster, and it was one of my early rides with him.  At least he had an excuse; unlike Bella.  I was riding in the arena and stopped to talk to Ellen by the gate.  (I'm so glad there was a witness.)  He reached back to sniff my foot.  Somehow, he got a hold of my stirrup, and it slipped behind his teeth where the bit sits--and got stuck.  He panicked and started spinning--around and around.  I didn't know how to stop him, and hit him in the neck with the whip.  That startled him, he opened his mouth and the stirrup fell out--and he stopped spinning.  He never sniffed my foot, again. 

Now, the question is--will Bella learn from this?

A Tale of Two Rivers

 A Tale of Two Rivers

Ellen finds crossing the river to be very intimidating.  It's not surprising.  All of us have had horses fall in the river at least once.  Cruiser did it at least 3 times, Mingo, Cole, Starry and Dante at least once and Ranger fell at least twice.  Some of the falls have been when the water was too high, but sometimes the water is low and they slip on the algae.  I really don't blame Ellen at all.  Myself, I try not to think about it when I cross.  We do cross the horses one at a time ever since the day that Cole fell and he scared Starry--causing him to fall, too.

Ellen has mastered the first river crossing, and she only gets really nervous with it when she hasn't crossed it in a while.  All of the other crossings we can avoid by going on the road, but it is safer to stay out of traffic, so we prefer to cross the river.

The second river crossing to the south is our most challenging one--and the one we cross the most after the first crossing.  We have 2 routes across.  The one that Ellen likes to take is more shallow but there are a lot of rocks to walk over.  The way that Kevin and I prefer to cross is much deeper, but the bottom is smooth.

Dante isn't afraid to cross the water, but he feels he doesn't have to because Ellen is afraid.  He draws out the river crossings to the point where Ellen is so frustrated that she doesn't even want to do them.  Last month, we switched horses a few times to see how Dante did with me--and he crossed really well.  I took him the deep route direction.  Even though it was new, he was still willing to cross.  

When it was time for Ellen to start crossing again, Dante returned to his wicked ways.  He stalled, he balked, he tried to turn around--he just didn't want to do it.  After a few more rides, he started to get really good on the way home, but crossing on the way out was ridiculously slow.

Last weekend, Ellen tried once again.  After some hesitation, Dante made it clear to her that he would cross if she let him go the deep, smooth way.  It had rained recently, and she couldn't see the bottom, but she realized she had to "trust the process."  Though Ellen was terrified because the water was well over his knees, Dante crossed like a champ!  We were all in shock.

Today, I decided it was time to try the river crossing to the north.  Ellen hasn't crossed it in at least 2 years.  She tried it a few weeks ago, but she only got about 5 feet in and lost her nerve.  I had her hold Cole for me, got on Dante, marched across the river, turned around and marched back.  

This crossing is the easiest of the river crossings.  The water isn't very deep, the bottom is mostly dirt instead of slippery slate and there are very few rocks in it.  After crossing the deeper river crossing, this one should be a piece of cake for Ellen and Dante.

I told Ellen we would ride to it, switch horses and I would ride Dante across.  She could then practice crossing it with Cole.  She started whining that she wanted an easy ride today, but I held firm.  

When we got to the river, she just kept going.  I was waiting for her to stop so we could switch, but it just didn't happen.  In no time at all, she had all 4 of Dante's feet in the water.  She clicked him, treated him and told him to march across.  A few times, it looked like he was going to stop, but she just hit the gas and told him to continue.  He made it across just like a regular horse--no muss, no fuss.  We rode a little bit on the other side, turned around and she rode him right across in the other direction.  We were both in awe.  It was so easy!

The best part was; she said she had very little anxiety about it.  I guess when she crossed the deep river crossing, it made this one look easy--and it was.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Taking a Ride on Dante


Taking a Ride on Dante

Kevin wanted to go riding with me, but Cole really needed a day off.  Ellen wasn't able to ride, so she suggested I ride Dante instead of Cole.  It was a perfect solution!  She didn't have to ask me twice.

She likes when I ride Dante because it gives her insight into how she can improve his training.  He is a good horse, but he really has her number.  We really don't know if he senses her anxieties and acts accordingly to help her, or if he is simply taking advantage of her.  For example, she worries about crossing the river, so he says, "Fine.  Lets just stand at the water and look at it.  Ellen is safer over here."  Or is he saying, "She is afraid to cross, so I just won't because I prefer standing."  Honestly, after riding him, I still don't know the answer.  What I do know is that there is a very good horse in there.  I can easily get him to express himself.  Ellen cannot.

There are some things that are an easy fix for me.  Dante is a notorious branch grabber.  All I need to do is yell at him in a mean voice and keep him from getting anything, and the constant urge to grab branches goes away.  Ellen doesn't have much of a mean voice.  It just isn't in her.  Just the same, after I take Dante on a ride, he is much better for her for quite a while.  I have a really good mean voice.  (It doesn't work on Cole.)

Dante gives me no real trouble with the river crossings.  This day, it had just rained and the water was higher than Ellen would have crossed it.  He went right in, walked carefully and emerged on the other side nearly as well as Cole.  I swear the water was going up as I was crossing, and when we came back to cross the river to go home, it was higher.  In fact, it was higher than he has ever crossed it with Ellen--to the top of his knees; with a strong current.  He crossed it like a dream for me.

Dante is a naturally slow horse, and that really aggravates Ellen.  I know what she feels like, because that is how my horse, Mingo, was.  He had a decent canter, but his trot and walk were caterpillar speed.  Dante is a little better, but his problem is stalling out, and he is very slow on his upward transitions.  We are often way down the trail before Dante gets trotting.  With his slower gait, he ends up getting far behind us.  I don't complain.  Ellen used to have to wait for me when I was riding Mingo, and she was riding Ranger.  Still, it bothers Ellen.

I was going to work on that on my ride, but the problem was nonexistent for me.  Could it have just been the excitement of having a different rider?  The trails were soft, too.  That helped, I'm sure.  Dante hates the harder trail.  I'm afraid I couldn't discover any insight to help Ellen with this problem.  He never stalled, and his transitions were very prompt.

Dante occasionally spooks at airplanes.  It is only the low planes that are landing.  (We ride very close to Cleveland Hopkins Airport.)  This really bothers Ellen and causes her much anxiety.  She taught him to stop for the airplanes whether they are likely to spook him or not--figuring that he will then stop and stand for the scary ones.  This usually works, but he doesn't always start walking promptly after she stops him.  Also, as soon as he hears a far off plane, he stops on his own.  This whole procedure really slows down the already slow horse.  I thought it would be nice if he only stopped for it when the plane was right overhead.

The first plane came over and he didn't stop on his own, so I waited until it got loud to stop him.  When it did, I decided to see what happens if I don't ask him to stop.  He just kept walking--something he would never do with Ellen.  I told him he was a good boy, and we just kept going.  After that, he didn't stop for any of the planes.  He wasn't afraid of them, either.  They were taking off--not landing--so he had no reason to be afraid.  If they were landing, I would have told him to stop.  Sometimes they are so low, it looks like they are going to hit the trees--plus the shadows look like they are going to attack. 

The second river crossing was too high to cross, so we crossed on the ford, instead.  I led him across, just like Ellen always does.  He is actually very good on the ford.  A few years ago, he had a very bad incident, but from that day on, he has been perfect.

Kevin and I trotted the Sewer Plant Trail, turned around and headed home.  It was very humid and the mosquitoes were terrible.  Starry was in a hurry, because he gets frantic when there are bugs.  While he pranced, danced and rushed, I enjoyed Dante's slow trot to keep up with him.  There are times when a slow trot is just lovely.  Cole struggles to go that slow, so I was really enjoying it on Dante.

Once we got back across the ford, we decided we should both do some trotting.  Starry took off at a nice speed.  There is one thing that Ellen has been trying to teach Dante with varying success, and that is to speed up his trot on command.  She tries it on the way home when he is the most likely to want to go faster.  (He will trot pretty fast on the way out on the parts of the trail where they sometimes canter, but she doesn't canter him on the way home, so he isn't hyper.)

It isn't often that I have to tell Cole to go faster.  He is the opposite of Dante.  I work on slowing him down, instead.  When I do want to go faster, I remove my legs from his side, then close them around him and squeeze.  It isn't a kick or a strong squeeze, but it is a very definitive, purposeful contact.  It is like squeezing toothpaste from a tube.  You don't want to do it hard and fast or you will squirt the toothpaste all over.  Well, that is what would happen if you signaled Cole too hard.  You have to squeeze just so you get enough pressure to get the toothpaste on your brush--and just the right amount of toothpaste.

Now, I have to be honest--I never thought much about what I was doing with Dante--it's just that when I thought of asking for more speed--I just did it the way I am used to doing it with Cole.  It just so happens that I never thought to tell Ellen to try it.  I always do it this way so I don't get too much speed, and that isn't a problem for Ellen.

Much to my surprise, Dante sped up measurably.  I praised him and let him keep going as a reward.  (This was a gamble, because I didn't know if he would really think of it as a reward.)  About 30 seconds later, I repeated it--and got more speed.  I praised and repeated it.  By the end of the trail, we were keeping up with Starry.  Kevin stopped to let us catch up, and I think I surprised him when I was right behind him.  We stopped at the corner, and then started trotting again.  It worked again.  Dante was very enthusiastic about the game.  

The rest of the ride was mostly at a walk to cool down with a little trotting to catch up with Starry and Kevin.  I continued to walk through the planes, we crossed the river, rode up the hill, and I was so tempted to ride him home on the street--something Ellen never does--but I thought I might be pushing my luck.

I hope I didn't mess him up for her, and she will still let me ride him in the future.  That is something I should do much more often.  We had fun.  Maybe Dante didn't try any of his games because he knew they wouldn't work with me, or maybe he was just happy to have a rider he didn't have to take care of.  I got back from the ride with no new understanding on how he thinks.  I guess I will just leave that job to Ellen.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Someone Really Likes Clicker Training


Thunder sitting in the middle of his hoop.

Someone Really Likes Clicker Training

The first animal I ever tried clicker training with was my cat, Thunder.  He learned how to follow a target, jump obstacles, jump on boxes, go through tunnels and walk through a hoop.  He seemed to enjoy the games, but once his belly got full, he walked away.  With a tiny cat belly, that didn't take very long.

I then started to use clicker training with my horses.  Anything that can work so well with cats has to be good for horses.  I often recommend that people practice training their cats before trying clicker training with horses.

When I got my dog, Maggie, I used clicker training with her.  She was such a very bad dog in the beginning, that without clicker, I probably would have sent her out to live with the coyotes.  Clicker training was the only way I could reach her.  She was a rescue dog, so I have no idea how she began her life.  I do know where she was found, though.  Years later, I figured out why she may have been so clueless to everything--she came from a neighborhood that had a lot of Puerto Ricans.  I think I may have been talking the wrong language, and she was just very confused.  She must have come from a Spanish-speaking household.

She learned the language of clicker very quickly.

The problem was that when I would try to play it with Thunder, she wanted to be involved.  If I put her outside, she would just bark at the door.  I tried to do it with both at the same time, but Thunder kept getting distracted by Maggie.  Eventually, I gave up.  There were a lot of other games that Thunder liked to play that Maggie didn't.

Fast forward many years later, I remembered how much Thunder seemed to like to play clicker.  He was going through a phase where he wanted to spend a lot of time upstairs where Maggie isn't allowed to go.  Maggie doesn't hear as well as she used to, so I thought that maybe we could play up there.

I use a tongue click with Maggie; just like I do with the horses.  I lost my real clicker long ago.  I asked my sister if she had an extra one, and she gave it to me.  

I got out Thunder's old target toy with a handful of treats, and I was ready to go.  He touched the target, I clicked--and he got scared of the sound!  This never happened before!  I quit and went back to the drawing board.  I decided to try and muffle the sound of the clicker in a sock.  It didn't work.  He was still getting startled by it.

A few days later, I read online that some cats are afraid of the sound, and they recommended using the clicker from a ballpoint pen.  Thunder was downstairs when I tried it, but since the click was so quiet, Maggie couldn't hear it!  

It worked.  I started some simple targeting--and Thunder burst out into purrs!  He never used to purr during our clicker sessions in the past.

We practiced every day for about a week.  I gradually added in more and more of his old tricks.  He was sitting up, doing slow spins, going through his hoop and his tunnel, jumping over his tunnel and going from box to box.  Each time, he would purr the whole time--talk about positive reinforcement for humans--I'll do anything to make him purr--the greatest sound in the world.

One morning, he was sitting in the area of the living room that we use for our clicking, and he started to roll around to get my attention.  I went to see him and told him how cute he was and walked away.  I was watching him.  He started going from box to box.  I thought it probably meant nothing.  Maggie went to see him, and he pounced her, turned around and jumped his tunnel.  He ran about, came back, pounced Maggie again and ran through his tunnel. 

It wasn't my imagination.  Other than the Maggie part, he was doing the tricks we were had been practicing.  I grabbed his target toy, the pen and a handful a treats--and he burst into purrs.  He got his way.  How could I resist?  We played a session of clicker.

The following morning, I had a few minutes before I had to leave the house so I went to talk to him in the living room.  He got up and went through his tunnel.  I went to get his treats, the pen and his target.  He burst into purrs.  He now has me completely trained.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

A gorgeous day for a ride.

  A gorgeous day for a ride.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

My Artwork


My Artwork

I have been putting my artwork here for quite a while, but I never gave any explanation.  I was one of those fortunate people who was born with artistic skills, but never had a chance to do anything with them.  They basically lay dormant for decades.  I never went to art school, so other than some very good art classes in high school, I am very untrained.

Since retirement, I have decided to wake up those dormant skills.  I'm not a very creative person, but I can draw from photos and that is what I do.  I like to think I am improving with all the practice.  I really like working in charcoal--and that is what this is.  When I want to use color, I have been experimenting with pastels, colored pencils and watercolor pencils.  Lately, I have added oil pastels, too.  The colors are great for flowers, and by practicing on flowers--I get better with colors.  Besides, I love flowers.

Not all the pictures are good.  In fact, I don't think many are good at all, but I am my harshest critic.  I just keep practicing.

If you are interested in seeing the rest of my pictures, here is a link to my blog:

Tevis Fun

Tevis Fun

My sister and I signed up for the Virtual Tevis Cup again this year.  It started on July 24th, which is the same day as the real Tevis Cup.  Where they do 100 miles in a day, we do 100 miles in 100 days.  

On the day of the real Tevis Cup, I was watching the coverage online.  Wow, those are some amazing horses.  Most of them are Arabians or Arabian crosses, of course, but there were some other breeds and one mule.  All of the horses looked so fit.  They were just a joy to watch.  I wish I could have been there on Cole.  

But I couldn't be, so the next best thing is the Virtual Tevis Cup.

It won't be difficult for us to complete in the required time since we ride so much, but it is still nice to have a goal.  As you ride along on your trails, you log the miles in their website, and they will send you emails whenever you reach a milestone.  If you click on the links, the website tells you all about the milestone, shows you pictures and you can even see a 360 degree view from Google Maps.  

I just reached Watson Monument, the first milestone.

We have also joined the Facebook Group.  It is fun to read the stories that the other riders post.  They are from all over the world.  Some are very old--some very young.  Some are doing it slowly on older horses, and some are doing it slowly on very green horses.  There are so many different types of horses, too; not just Arabs.  Many of them wouldn't suit endurance riding, but they are certainly suited for this.  The Virtual Ride gives everyone a chance to participate, and I think that is so neat.

You can still sign up if you like, but you will have less than 100 days to complete the ride.

Sunday, July 25, 2021