Friday, April 30, 2021

Cole doing his silly walk

  Cole doing his silly walk

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Boys out Playing

  The Boys out Playing

Monday, April 26, 2021

Thursday, April 22, 2021

My Silly Horse


My Silly Horse

I gave Cole a day off and thought he might like to go outside to play.  Well, the mud was just too sloppy for him, and he refused to step in the gate.  I could have forced him to go in, but when I have done that in the past, he just stands at the gate and pouts until I bring him out.  That is my Cole--he simply hates mud.

I took him into the indoor arena to do a trick training session.  He loves doing tricks, and since he is a clicker trained horse, there are a lot of treats involved.  He will just cycle through all of his tricks, over and over until I run out of treats.

He did silly walk, but he was so excited about doing tricks, he tried to do it while trotting.  That looked really weird.  I had him settle down by doing a bunch of parking out and bowing.  Then he was ready to work on his proper silly walk with me next to his side.  We also did it with me in front of him, going backwards with him going forwards.  It is a bit trickier because he often just parks out and bows.  When we get it right, he will do a few steps first and then do the parking and bowing.

He was too excited to do any lounging--something he doesn't consider a trick but rather work.  He kept jumping around and trying to rear.  Of course, he used to do that back when I lounged him regularly, too.  We decided to skip that.

I asked him to do some trotting in hand without lifting his front legs up high like in silly walk, and he did great--but he was too fast for me.  I had to catch my breath, and then meant he got to practice parking and bowing.

I really needed a new trick to work on.  Years ago during a very cold winter where I didn't want to ride, I tried to do proper in-hand training.  He was actually doing the simple things very well, but then it got warmer and I switched back to riding.  I never got to anything advanced.  I decided to try a side pass.

Cole side passes very well in the saddle, so that made it an easier task for me.

I pointed my left hand towards the top of his front legs and my right hand towards the top of his back legs--and he immediately took 4 steps away from me in a perfect side pass.  I was astounded.  Of course, I clicked and treated him.  We did it 3 times on his left side and then did 3 times on his right side.  He wasn't quite as good on the right on the first attempt, but he was great on the other 2 tries.

I decided to quit there for the day.

The following day, I was going to go for a ride with Ellen.  I was saddled up before her, and I took Cole in the indoor arena.  He always wants to do his tricks before the ride.  I have to do silly walk, park out and 2 different styles of bowing before mounting.  I humor him because it makes him happy.

When we finished our routine, he side passed all on his own to show me what he learned, yesterday.  He did it perfect.  I had forgotten all about our new trick, but he sure didn't.  I asked him to do it a couple times in each direction on command.  He is such a silly horse.


Monday, April 19, 2021

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Friday, April 9, 2021

Breaking all the Rules


Breaking all the Rules

Ellen broke her first rule--never commit in advance to riding on the trail.  It causes all her anxieties to swell to enormous proportions.  It is better for her to not plan it--and to just do it.  After successfully riding Dante on the trail at the bottom of the hill and her very positive ride in the outdoor arena where she realized that Dante isn't necessarily afraid when his head goes up, she told me she was ready for a trail ride the next time she rides.

I didn't really believe her.  I saw the weather forecast.  Though the day she planned to ride was going to be warm and sunny, it was going to be followed by a rainy spell.  She never wants to go on that first trail ride unless she could follow it up the next few days with more trail rides, so she can keep up her momentum.  It makes a lot of sense, but the weather can be so uncooperative in the spring.  Between rainy days and a high river, it can be impossible to string 4 consecutive days of trail rides.  Just a few days previous, we got more than 3 inches of snow!  That's just how springtime is in Cleveland.

Even Kevin thought she wasn't going to ride, so when I called him to say he could meet us on the way back--he didn't have enough time to get ready to do that.

Needless to say, she broke another rule.  She won't be able to string a bunch of trail rides together.

She was so nervous at the barn, that I thought she was going to cancel, but she didn't.

Even though she didn't ride Dante the day before, and I wasn't able to get him turned out so he would be tired, she still decided to take him on the trail.  She broke yet another rule!

What is going on?

Ellen led Dante along the street and down the hill.  She mounted at the river bank and told me to go ahead and cross first.  Most springs, I am the first to ride Dante in the park, and he could get sticky on the river crossing.  (Though it isn't a rule that I have to ride Dante on the first ride, it is almost a rule--so it is an "almost rule" broken.")

When I got to the other side, I looked back and Dante was already in the water.  He crossed the river like the pro that he is.  He didn't hesitate at all.

Once we got to the other side, Ellen wanted to do a little trotting.  Dante is always better once he trots.  He doesn't go that fast, so I mostly walked behind them.

When we got to a better section of the trail where we often canter, Dante kept trotting faster and faster.  There was no way I could keep up at a walk, so we trotted along behind them.  I was very surprised that she let him trot full out like that.  (Was it another broken rule?)  When I asked her, she told me she was actually holding him back.  

We did some more trotting, and Dante was traveling at a decent speed.  As we neared the next river crossing, I saw her signal Dante to canter.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  They broke another rule.

He cantered lovely and stopped when she asked him to.  She said she knew he would settle down if he got to do some cantering.  She was right, because we then turned around to go home and he trotted slow and careful the rest of the ride.

What a great ride it was.  The whole thing went superb.  He was a perfect gentleman when we crossed the river on the way home, though last year he galloped up it when I rode him.  I think he likes her better.  He was great on the hill, and Ellen broke one final rule--she led him on the street on the way home.  She always has me do it the first few times in the spring.

I am so glad she broke almost all of her rules, because we had such a nice ride.  Who knows when we will be able to ride across the river again, but when we do, Ellen won't be quite as nervous.  

It's going to be a great year for trail riding!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Getting Ready for the Trail


Getting Ready for the Trail

Ellen has come far this winter with Dante in the arena.  Now, it was time for them to get back on the trail.  She just had to conquer her anxieties--just like she does every spring.

One day, she led him down the driveway and along the road to the trail.  I took over from there and led him to the top of the hill, turned him around and brought him home.  He was really good.  Ellen was thrilled.

The next day, she led him the the trail, again.  She handed the reins to me, and I took over.  I don't like to lead Dante because he tends to get annoying.  He likes to grab at the lead rope or even an arm or hand.  I told him to put his head down and keep it there--and he did!  I was amazed, and then Ellen told me that I taught him that over the winter.  Then, I felt stupid.  I did teach him that.

On those icy, cold winter days that Ellen couldn't make it out to see Dante, she asked me to do something with him.  Sometimes it was just too cold to ride another horse, so I would lead him around the indoor arena.  He was just too obnoxious, and I always believe that if you can make a horse better, you should.  With the help of clicker training, I asked him to put his head down.  Ellen had already taught him that, but I took it a step further.  I wanted him to put his head down and keep it there for a while so he wouldn't bother me.

I used his cue of pointing to the ground and kept my hand in that position.  If you do that with Cole, he will do the silly walk.  As he was walking with his head down, I chanted "good boy, good boy..."  

At first I clicked him for 5 strides.  After a while, I increased it.  I kept gradually increasing it until we did a full lap.  The next day, I got us up to two laps.  I even had Kevin do it as a test, and Dante listened.  As long as I pointed and kept the chant going, he walked with his head low and still.  I worked on it a few more lessons, and then I forgot all about it.

Now, here I was, leading him down the hill--holding his head low and still with an invisible lead rope--my pointing hand.  I gave Dante to Ellen, and he did it for her, too.  I was simply amazed at how well he did when I taught it to him months ago and never did it again.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, Ellen was going to mount, but she really didn't feel comfortable.  I told her just to lead him back and forth until she felt better.  There is a short section of flat trail that dead ends.  After a few minutes, she was going to mount and just sit there.  She was nervous, but she did it!  When she looked less tense, I told her to ride him to the end of the trail and turn him around.  She did.  Then she asked him to walk back to me, and she even went a little past me!  After going back and forth a few times, she was ready to go home.  She dismounted and led him up the hill.  I led him along the street.  It was another successful lesson.

The next day, she didn't want to go back to the hill because the park was doing some trail maintenance fixing a river crossing, and she didn't know if they would come to our river crossing.  She opted to ride at the barn.

Dante and Ellen are getting really good at riding on the little track behind the barn.  In fact, that is getting rather boring.  After about 20 minutes, I suggested that she ride in the outdoor arena.  It is very large and imposing.  She has ridden a little in it, but not enough to get comfortable.  In fact, she was very nervous about it.  I told her to just do circles by the gate.

The most amazing thing happened.  She finally was able to see that Dante isn't always afraid of things when his head goes up.  She only learned how to lower his head by maintaining her seat just a few days before, and that is what she was practicing.  As she walked around in circles, Dante kept lifting his head up.  After all, he was in an unfamiliar place.  There was so much to look at.  Ellen saw him, over and over, lift up his head and turn his ears back to her.  She realized that if he was afraid, his ears would be pointed toward the object of his fear.  Dante was looking back to her!

Their circles gradually got larger and larger until she was riding half the arena.  I saw her transform from fear to confidence.  By the end of her ride, her face was beaming.

Cognitive distortions--it was all about cognitive distortions.  Just as a thin anorexic person looks into the mirror and sees a fat image, Ellen saw a frightened horse every time Dante lifted up his head.  For the first time, she saw him clearly.  He was just begging for treats or attention--or wondering what she was going to do next.

Later that morning, she told me she felt like a weight had been lifted from her.  Then, she told me she thought that she might go on a trail ride for her next ride.  

Monday, April 5, 2021

Ellen's Feral Friend, Rainbow

  Ellen's Feral Friend, Rainbow

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Journey Continues...

 The Journey Continues...

Ellen's journey into deeper horsemanship this winter was very interesting to watch.  When she used to ride Ranger in the arena, he just did what he was going to do.  That isn't saying that he was a bad horse--not at all.  It just means that you were the passenger.  The rider could tell him where to go and at what gait, but he did it the way he wanted--at the speed he wanted.  He always looked lovely, but riding a horse like Ranger meant that the rider never had a chance to learn very much.

I was able to learn a lot with my horses, and they improved both my riding skills and my training skills.  When Ellen broke her ankle, and I had to take care of her horses for 6 weeks, I rode Ranger in the arena a few times.  When I did, I was just the passenger, too.  That was the sort of horse that he was.  

We miss him so much.

Fast forward a few years, and Ellen is riding Dante in the arena.  Dante is such a good horse that he likes to take care of Ellen.  He never wants her to be scared.  He learned to stop for her when he hears a noise that might spook her.  This worked out great, since Ellen wouldn't spook.  Ellen allowed it because she felt safer.

The problem is that Dante is also a smart horse who learns to twist things all around to his benefit.  Soon, he decided he had to stop for all distractions--and that standing still is the easiest thing to do.  This only happens in the indoor arena.  Out on the trail, he will stop on his own for some things, but not for everything like he does inside.

A few years back, Dante devolved into a horse that would barely walk in the arena.  Ellen had ridden him into the deep pit of frustration.  She worked hard to get him out.  Eventually, she could walk him all around, but trotting is a different story.  There was a time when she could only get a couple steps of trotting.  He is better, now, but he still stops way too much--and he is reluctant to start back up--though not even close to the way he used to be.

Dante is such a smart horse, that he learned to do this only with Ellen.  If I ride him, we can trot all about.  Even Kevin can ride him and keep him trotting.  This was something she had to work on all by herself.  I was just there to give her suggestions and encouragement--but not too much because he sometimes stops when he hears my voice.

One morning, Dante was particularly bad about stopping, but he was also acting odd.  He always gives you a warning that he is going to stop by lifting his head up.  Sometimes Ellen could give him some gas to keep him going, but this morning he was determined to stop.  Also, he was very tense and wouldn't go along the wall.  Something really seemed wrong.

The first thing that came to my mind was a tack problem, but Ellen assured me that he was tacked up correctly.  Then, we both wondered if he was hurting somehow.  I carefully watched him trotting--when she could get him trotting, and he appeared to be moving fine.

We wondered if there was something making him uneasy that we didn't know about, so we observed his behavior to see if there was some clue, but there wasn't.

Ellen kept him working, and in the end he started to get a little better.  By then, she was exhausted.  I told her that I would ride him to see if the problem was rider or horse related.  If it was horse related, I would have the same difficulties.

I started by riding him along the wall for a couple laps to get him focused on me.  He resisted in the beginning, but quickly gave up.  When I asked for a trot, he was a little slow in picking it up, and he did stall out a few times, but I just asked him to trot, again, and he did.  The problem was the rider.  (It usually is.)

As we went to the corner where he was most consistently stalling out on Ellen, I was on alert to see if there was something external that was disturbing him.  On the corner, he raised his head.  Now, Ellen gets worried when he raises his head because it might mean that he is afraid of something.  She tends to lean a little forward when he does.  When she leans forward, he stops because he thinks (or hopes) that she is scared.  

I wasn't concerned that he was afraid of anything.  I rode Cruiser for too many years.  The hardest thing with him was getting him to pay attention to me.  He was always lifting his head to look this way or that.  Sometimes he lifted his head up just to evade the bit, too.  He was half Arabian--and a high head was a very natural thing for him.  

When his head went up, I knew I had to hold my seat steady with my legs and core muscles.  If I didn't, I would slip down his back which became concave when his lifted his head.  I had to hold my position and then he would lower his head and lift his back up to me.

When we got it right, riding him was like a dream.  In fact, I still dream at night about riding him.  After a lot of work, he decided he liked it, too.  That is when he would try to get me into the proper position instead of the other way around.  I learned so much from him.

So when Dante's head went up, I did what I used to do with Cruiser--and his head went down--and he kept trotting.  Eureka!  We found it!

I showed Ellen what was happening, and she saw it with her own eyes.  The more I did this when his head went up, the less he tried.  Thank you Cruiser.

We quit for the day.

The next day that Ellen rode Dante, she had a plan.  She needed to teach her body to stay in position--not lean forward when his head went up.  Not only did she have to keep her back straight, but she needed to hold her body from slipping back.  It took her a bit to get the coordination.  When her back was straight, she felt like she was leaning way back.  It is funny how the body thinks that little changes are huge changes.

In about 15 minutes of working, Dante was barely trying to lift his head.  When he did, it wasn't hard for Ellen to maintain he seat and his head came right back down.  Ellen was trotting full laps and stopping when she got tired.  

They are on the brink of beginning trail riding season.  The nice thing about what she learned is that it is something that she can practice in on the trail for miles.  By next winter, she won't feel like she is leaning back when she is really riding straight.  Riding straight and keeping that position when Dante tries to knock her out of it will feel like normal to her.

Thank you Cruiser, once again.