Rainy Day Ride

As is much of the US, we have been in a drought. It isn’t as bad as some parts of the country, but it still is pretty bad. Every cloud has its silver lining, and as trail riders, this means we don’t have many days we can’t cross the river. It has been a fine summer for riding. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen the river so consistently low.

When it does rain, we are so happy to get it, that we don’t even complain if we can’t cross the river. This happened the other night. For the second time this year, I had an opportunity to work Cole with trotting up the hill that leads to the stables. Since Cole is can be very enthusiastic on the way home, this is an important lesson. (With a horse like Mingo, who was very mellow, this wasn’t a lesson at all.)

The hill leading down to the river is divided into three level sections. Between each section, there is a slope.

I rode Cole down to the river, trotting on the level sections. He demonstrated to me that he liked how the rain softened the trails by trotting with a lot of energy. I was wondering if trotting up the hill was a good idea.

Where the trail ends, I turned him around and walked him to the base of the hill. It starts out very steep, so I decided we would trot right away to get control of the energy. When I requested the trot, he seemed surprised. We had never trotted there, before. Cole carefully powered up the slope. I loved the feeling of Cole striding deeply underneath me. I forgot what that felt like, it had been so long. I haven’t trotted up such a steep slope in years. I insist Cruiser walk up all hills, and Mingo, being Mingo, refused to trot there. He would wait until we got to the less steep section to trot.

The trick worked, and when we reached the spot where Mingo used to trot (and I have trotted Cole before) he stayed steady and calmly trotted. After a bit, I clicked and treated him for his good behavior. We then started again. We made it to the middle level section. I stopped him, clicked him for stopping, walked, clicked for walking, trotted, clicked for trotting and stopped and clicked for that.

It was a lot of clicks in a short stretch of trail, but I really wanted him to know that trotting up the hill is not about charging recklessly with abandon. Keep in mind, the street is at the very top and the barn is on the other side. Discipline is very important with this training exercise. In fact, I guess you can say that it is the point of the lesson. I much rather do it with clicking than hauling on the reins.

We turned around right before we got to the short slope that leads to the top section and headed back down. This time, he was much more hyper than the first time. (That is exactly opposite of what Ranger and Cruiser do when we work the hill.) We rode to the end, once again, turned around and walked back to the base of the hill.

In the previous lessons we have had on trotting the hill, this is where the troubles would begin. He has never made it up the second time without trying to canter. I think it is because of excitement. Today, he was perfect. I did the identical thing as last time with a few less clicks and more verbal praise. When we reached the spot where we turned around on our first trip, we passed up the neighbor walking her dogs down the hill. I rode Cole at a walk to the top, turned around and headed down, again.

I did click him for turning around. Cruiser and Ranger are so reluctant to turn around. I like Cole to have a reason to do it. Most of the time, we do it as a turn on the haunches.

We motored down the hill. I thought I might run into the neighbor with her down at the bottom, and I was right. She had brought her dogs down to the river’s edge. We were going to trot right past her. Since she is a horse person, I thought I’d let Cole show off. (Okay, maybe I was showing off—but I’m proud of my little horse.) I was hoping this would work as we’ve only had 2 schooling sessions in the arena since April. As we neared her, I sat the trot, asked him lower his head (I just vibrate the rein), squeezed my legs lightly and he transformed right as we got close to her. He went from an endurance Arabian to dressage horse. I was so proud of him.

“He looks good.” she said as we trotted by. It humbly thanked her and continued to the end. I thought that was fun, so we then rode back and forth at the bottom a bunch of times and practiced it. I clicked him for the transformation—asking him to go further each time before the click to get duration.

It was starting to get dark, so finally we headed home. We walked up the hill, and I clicked him a few times for it. It is a nice way to explain that even though we sometimes trot up the hill, we still walk unless I tell him otherwise. Besides, I had a lot of carrots left.

(I usually only use one carrot each time. I just cut it into slivers no thicker than a nickel.)

I can’t wait until we start doing the hill at a canter…

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