Over the past two weeks I’ve had some incredible schooling sessions with Nakai. He feels light, responsive, and ready to work without the impatience that normally plagues us. Is it possible that at 26 years old he is finally settling down? I’m sure we’ll have a moment or two the next time we do a fast ride out with friends, but for now I’m enjoying his agreeableness.

In fact, with the exception of Maria I haven’t ridden with any ladies lately. It seems I’m on a completely different schedule than everyone else! While I miss catching up with them (I have a bad habit of sitting in the middle with everyone else, chatting away when we should be working), I find myself more motivated when riding alone.

On the flip side, I’ve logged over 56 miles for April so far and the majority has been hiking with Mulder. He has a much higher energy level than Honey, so the plan is to start doing longer hikes (6+ miles) in anticipation of completing Green Lane (12 miles) and Rickett’s Glen (7-12). I’d love to make both of them a regular jaunt, especially since he needs all the exposure he can get. Getting him fitted for a hiking pack, harness, and boots are on the list too.



061. North Side Trails

The south side of Nockamixon is all horse trails. From Elephant road to the dam and back is about 12-14 miles depending on how many loops-within-loops you do. The North side has significantly less trails with the two loops being accessed by the fishing pier entrance.

Thursday I hiked the Old Mill trail with the dogs and ended up doing 5 1/2 miles. The trails were in pretty decent condition despite the rain we had. I didn’t have enough time to do the Quarry trail, so when Maria said she wanted to trailer out again I suggested we go here. I wanted to snoop and it seemed like the perfect footing and distance for Beamer. Plus, it was a trail I haven’t done with Nakai.

You can see a significant shrinkage in his right eye from ERU

It starts off rocky and then opens up enough to ride side by side.  A great canter section runs parallel to the lake and we had a nice hand gallop uphill. Strangely enough, the top trail was by far the wettest. The quarry trail turned out to be a beautiful combination of wooded trails and grassy openings, and we checked out a dead end that overlooked a small cove of the lake while the horses grazed.

Nakai loved being somewhere new! While we only did 8.6 miles, it fell in line with Maria’s goal. Both horses settled quickly despite being a bit up and ready to work. Beamer handled the technical footing at the beginning and end of the trail really well, and I got a chance to work on Nakai’s waiting. I was glad I brought my sponge (and also glad I clipped Nakai). Beamer was super sweaty by the time we finished, so we trotted over to the fishing pier to dip the horses and sponge off.

These past couple weeks have been a bit crazy – I got sick (again), Khoshekh’s been back and forth to the vet for a suspected UTI, and Ben’s truck has been on the fritz. Hopefully I can get back into a regular riding routine soon.

060. Success

 Tuesday evening was spent doing my best to tidy up his body clip and tackled his legs. I need much more practice (and a smaller set for face and legs) but overall it’s not bad. All that’s needed is two weeks of hair growth to hide some of my lines – especially on his white!

Here’s a before / after:

We have a few new spots too:

I always find new spots on Nakai, but these definitely take the cake for being the largest. They’re on either side. At first I was worried these spots were from saddle fit issues (if anyone recalls my worried posts after Foxcatcher). I wasn’t sure what was going on as his summer coat started to become flecked with white all over, and large roany patches on either side of him appeared. He was never back sore, scored A’s on his back at rides, and his many massages found his back/withers in great condition. He moves out beautifully, happily extends/shortens, and at this point I’m chalking it up to appaloosa genetics.

059. Clipping Woes

I should know better than to clip.

It starts out innocently enough. Nakai looks homeless in his 3″ thick winter coat. It’s sunny, the forecast calls for a week of 70 degree weather, and I know if I don’t get that hair off him it will fall out from a fungal growth.  It’s always the worst on his face – it falls out in clumps and doesn’t grow back in until June.

I certainly learned my lesson this time.

I thoroughly washed Nakai, waited for him to mostly dry, and began. He had a trace clip over the winter, but the majority of his coat grew in fully. His white hair is thicker and coarser than his brown. It bogged my clippers down completely; I literally could not get through it.

4 hours later and I had done the majority of his coat, minus the legs, and managed to butcher his hindquarters. I’d eaten my body weight in hair. Two days later and I’m still picking hair out of my eyeballs.

It’s supposed to hit 80 today, so Round 2 is tonight. Wish me luck.

058. Towpath

It feels like ago since Maria and I first made plans to trailer out. Inclement weather and other obligations made it impossible to do so – until yesterday. Naturally, mother nature dumped a few inches of rain on us Friday. Knowing the local parks would be a muddy, swampy mess, we opted for the canal.

It was a gorgeous day, sunny with temperatures in the upper fifties. The towpath travels along the Delaware Canal and features incredible views and homes. Some of them are built right into the rock. I would never feel comfortable living so close to the river (especially having seen how hide flood waters have been in years past), but the people who do keep up immaculate properties. Thankfully, it was not yet congested and we were able to get some fantastic stretches of trot and canter. We even managed to sneak in a 1/2 mile gallop.

We were tentatively worried when Maria pulled Beamer out and noticed he stocked up a bit on his right hind. It started coming down within a few minutes of cold hosing. Worst case scenario – if he feels off we head back. She put the compression sock on for the trailer ride and off we went.

Beamer looked great! He tracked up well and Maria said he felt awesome. She wanted to keep the ride around 8 miles since this was the first time he had been out since Spookarama and she wasn’t sure how fit he was. Nakai was thrilled to be out! He felt wonderful and rated well with Beamer. There wasn’t a single trace of competitiveness. Nakai doesn’t feed off Beamer the way he does with Rose, and they also have very similar strides. It was wonderful to cruise down the towpath in stride, laughing and talking.

Both horses devoured their post-ride mash and I spent the next hour brushing his winter coat. I cannot wait until temperatures stabilize enough to clip!

Here’s a 2 minute video of our ride today:



057. Mulder’s Fear Aggression

When I adopted Mulder from the SPCA they mentioned he was adopted out once before and returned a month later for “nipping”. As the story goes, the person who adopted him kept trying to keep him off the couch. After the fourth time of him jumping up onto the furniture, she grabbed the scruff of his neck and he bit her. The shelter said he immediately went into quarantine and they hired a trainer to work with him. They hadn’t seen any aggressive behavior and felt confident that it was more of a play nip than anything else.

Mulder gets the zoomies on the bed. He loves to spin and spin, bouncing into the pillows and jumping to the edge of the bed where he play bows, barks, and tries to get you to play with him. He is mouthy (and a staffy), so I have experienced the hard grabs with his mouth to my arm when I want him down and he doesn’t want to stop playing. This is easily stopped with a firm “No!”. Part of his training is learning on/off. I cue him to jump on the bed and he zooms for a minute. Then, I cue him down while saying “Off!” and he gets a treat when he immediately pops down. This has transferred over to our couches. I say, “Mulder, off” while pointing from him to the floor and down he goes. He is learning he doesn’t get to play when he is mouthy and he responding well when we tell him “easy” and to “be gentle”.

With other dogs, he is mildly fearful and pushy. I don’t believe he was socialized much, and he doesn’t seem to understand social cues or behavior. He tries so hard and wants to be part of the play, but the majority of his actions have a defensiveness to them. He will come running over to play with Honey but will incessantly bark at her. Those barks are matched with fearful body language – he comes forward but twists his body away from her as he barks, arcing his chest, neck, and head away from her.

This picture gives you an idea of his interaction with other dogs. Honey’s the lab, and Grissom is one of my family’s GSDs. Grissom is a very confident, silly male, and I did the majority of his training when I still lived at home. He had no time for Mulder’s obnoxiousness and otherwise ignored him. Here, Mulder was very interested in what the pack was doing. He came running over, waited until he was a couple strides out, and started barking up (his head is thrown back and he literally barks up toward the sky). As soon as any of the dogs made movement he perceived as coming toward him, he would veer away to retreat, still barking.

I’ve always had that little tidbit from the shelter in the back of my mind but hadn’t seen any human aggression – until last night.

Everyone was in the kitchen, and I gave the boot to dogs, kitty, and humans. Honey left the kitchen immediately, but Mulder didn’t understand what was going on, Ben was yelling at him “GO! GO!” over and over, and Mulder skittered around both of us and toward the back, where the dog’s station is. I snaked my hand out quick to grab his collar, missed, and followed him into the corner (not thinking anything of it). When I went to grab his collar, he twisted and repeatedly tried to bite me. I got a hold of him, gave him a whack on his muzzle was sternly said “NO”, and tried walking him out of the kitchen. He reared up, continually growling and trying to bite my hand. I twisted my hand in his collar so it was underneath his muzzle, straightened up, and walked him to his crate and put him inside. His eyes were glazed over and his whole body screamed fear during this. He had 20 minutes to chill out in his crate and to think. I immediately regretted whacking his muzzle, as punishment doesn’t do anything but encourage fear aggression. Later that evening, he had a session working on our “Go” cue. Mulder thought it was great fun to trot into the living room after being cued to receive a treat.

Having no background on him, I have no idea if he was truly a stray from Conshohocken before arriving to the shelter. I believe he was someone’s dog once. He flinches badly and tries to run off a few yards if anyone picks up a stick and throws it. We’re working on this with the help of a chuck-it stick. My gut says he was beaten at least a few times in his life. I’m also not sure if he’s ever had a trusting relationship with his owner(s).

I feel he’s made good progress for only having been here for a month. I got my fist Mulder kisses a few days ago, and I think he’s a good egg despite whatever has happened in his past. It’s my job to make sure he feels safe, and through training I can give him to tools to manage his fear. We are practicing a lot of “come” and “go” to teach him that it is OK to leave a room or situation when I give the cue. Eventually, I should be able to cue him to go and use it to help diffuse any future potential scary situations.  Giving him an immediate release as soon as he tries is probably the most important thing I’m doing right now with him.


Is blogger’s block a thing?

I’ve sat down to write this post a dozen times. The cursor blinks and the page remains empty. There is much (and nothing) happening.

I’ve continued to give Nakai a semi-vacation, enjoying light riding 2-3 times a week. I’ve jokingly called it “Endurance Detox” but in reality I am hoping this helps temper his competitive streak.  Nakai and Rose are fairly mismatched riding together; their preferred way of going and their stride lengths makes it tricky to pace. It was a great activity to help his adjustability and his trot has improved incredibly, but I won’t pretend that it they didn’t feed off each other. His desire to “win”  became my biggest issue with Nakai.

The weather’s been on-and-off crummy. The footing stinks with this last snowfall and subsequent melting. On our loop yesterday everything was snow, slop, and mud (in that order). It looked pretty until you squished through it.

A few other ladies are getting their feet wet with endurance riding this year, and with the start of the season fast approaching I’ve kept to ring schooling and trail riding alone or with Maria. Some nights I pointedly avoid the barn, choosing instead another night I know we’ll be alone. It sounds antisocial (the introvert in me approves), but I remember the whirlwind of preparing for a ride and want to stay out of the way.

It also makes me sad. I’m facing the reality of it being many years before I’ll be able to endurance ride again. Nakai’s officially retired, and he’ll stay with me until he’s ready to cross the bridge. Apps wear like iron, and he could be with me for another 5 years. Or 10, if I’m lucky. It’s bittersweet to have found something we both love only to have a stop a year later.  Having to fully acknowledge Nakai’s age (and everything that comes with it) has left me with a fluctuating mood and an irritability that I know stems from fear and the selfish wish for him to remain ageless.

On the home front, Mulder is settling in well despite Khoshekh being a complete and utter terrorist.

I’m having a bit of a difficult time connecting with him. I like him, I enjoy him, training is going well, but we haven’t clicked yet. It’s an odd feeling since I immediately connected with all of my animals, Khoshekh included. It’s only been a month, though, and the bright side is that I don’t have any expectations. Mulder’s job is to learn to be a dog and a well behaved member of society.