The Big Ride


Last month, I was so frustrated with the weather.  Only once, near the beginning of the month, I was able to ride Cole with Ellen on Ranger past the big river.  From then on, even though we took vacation time, we never had another chance to repeat the ride.  I wanted to do it a couple more times with Ranger before I tried it on my own.  It just didn’t work out the way I planned.


The first weekend of October came and went without us stepping one hoof on the other side of the river.  where is all this rain coming from?  That weekend, there was an article in the newspaper stating that we are nearing the record for the rainiest recorded year in Cleveland. 


I was getting antsy about going on a long ride with Cole.  I decided I would do it with or without Ellen—whichever came first.  As soon as I got a chance, I would take a day off of work and go.


The weather took a turn for the better, and on the first Tuesday of the month, I decided the first Wednesday of the month would be perfect.  I got the day off from my job.  Everything was set.  That is, until I found out the river was still very, very high on Tuesday afternoon.  Ugh. 


I woke up Wednesday morning with a smile on my face.  This was going to be the big day, if I could only cross the river.  I decided to take Cruiser for a short ride, first.  As we neared the river, I couldn’t believe it was still on the high side.  In fact, it was higher than any day I have ever crossed with Cole.  I carefully crossed with Cruiser with no problems, got some good trotting in and brought him back to the barn.


Next horse, Cole Train.  It was cool and sunny; a perfect day to ride. My pockets were loaded with carrots.  I was all set for our big adventure.


The first challenge was crossing the river.  He didn’t like the looks of it and was very hesitant as we neared it.  I asked him to step forward into the water.  As soon as he did, I clicked and treated him.  That got his attention.  He knew the game.


It was well over his knees, which isn’t so bad, butt the current was very strong.  I clicked every few steps.  About halfway across, he plunged his face into the water and started drinking.  This was a first.  He has never drunk from the river before, regardless how hot the weather was.  We walked to the other side and turned left.  This is also a first.  We have only gone solo to the right, reserving the other direction for rides with Ranger to the show ring.  He seemed a little surprised and hesitant to start with, but soon he was walking along happily.


I decided to cross the next river crossing instead of going on the concrete ford like we usually do with Ellen.  (She prefers it to the river.)  I have had a little trouble with him, here, in the past, but he stepped right in.  I clicked him.  It was deeper over here, but the current was very slow, so I wasn’t concerned about it.  Neither was he.  We made it across without any difficulty.


The next section of trail is a great place to trot, so we moved on out.  He was excited and went a bit faster than he typically does with Ranger.  Once, he burst into a canter.  Yes, Cole was in a good mood.


The next big obstacle with another river crossing.  I opted to go on the concrete ford with the cars on this one.  I am just not very familiar with that river crossing to try it on a day when the water was deep and muddy.  Only single car passed us.  I clicked him a lot for walking quietly.


So far, so good.  It was only about 5 minutes later that we reached the “big” river crossing.  It was very deep and ominous looking.  Though we crossed it last time with Ranger, I decided to go on the bridge with the cars.  This is a pretty long bridge, and we go alongside the rail that overlooks the river below.  I didn’t know how he would do his first time, but he proved, once again, that he is a wonderful horse.  It helped that the “horse gods” were looking out for us, and not single car passed us, again!  He got lots of clicks.


Once we got to the other side, I breathed a sigh of relief.  There were no more roads or rivers to cross until we turned back for home.  Now it was just time to ride and have fun.  So we did.


We did a lot of trotting, and after about 5 minutes, he settled down to a moderate speed and a nice even rhythm.  Finally, I was riding the way I like to.  We approached the Brookpark Bridge.  It spans the whole valley and is huge.  I forgot that it looked scary, but Cole told me right away.  One of the legs of the bridge is very close to the trail, and from that spot, we can see the whole underbelly of the bridge.  Throw in the noise of the cars going overhead, and it all looked and sounded like a horse eating monster!  This was the first time ever that Cole was truly afraid of something while I was riding him.  He refused to go under the bridge.  Instead, he showed me how good he has gotten at backing up.


I asked him to stop, and when he did, I sighed and had him stand quietly while I talked to him.  About 30 seconds later, I asked him to take a step, and he did.  I clicked him for it, and I noticed him relax a little as he took the treat from my hand.  I asked for a few more steps, which he took readily, and I clicked again.  We kept this up until we got to the other side.  Since I knew the next bridge is only a half mile away, I decided to turn back and go home instead of overload him emotionally.


I turned, and he said, “No way!  That’s a horse-eating monster!”  We repeated the whole process until we got to the other side.  On the way back, we did short stretches of trotting, and we would stop when he got too excited.  Trotting home always gets horses a bit wound up the first few times.  I want him to form good habits.  So I don’t like him to practice the bad ones.  Besides, I want the walk to be his default gait.  I spent too many rides convincing him that he should walk quietly when he preferred to trot, to mess it up now.  At one point, I gave him a long walk break, and then when I asked him to trot, he was perfect.  I think I just gave him a chance to realize he was tired!


Back at the bridge over the big river crossing—we now had to ride on the other side.  In one sense, it is easier because we can take the paved bike path that is by the side of the road—keeping us out of traffic.  On the other hand, it is a little more complicated because we have to go between the bridge rail on one side and the rail of the pathway on the other.  Some horses are bothered by them. Not Cole.  The other difficulty is sharing the path with bikes passing right next to us.  There, we lucked out, since not a single bike came by.  I think he would have been fine, but it is nice to introduce him to something new without anything else to mess things up.


The rest was easy.  The river ford was uneventful.  A few minutes later, I found Kevin on Starry coming out to meet us, and we went home with them.  Cole seemed tired, and didn’t even care that Starry was there.  He just walked quietly home.  The ride was 2 and a quarter hours of heavenly bliss for me.  I am hoping it is the first of many more.


I smiled all day long.

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