Friday, December 31, 2021
Friday, December 17, 2021
Thursday, December 2, 2021
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.
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: