Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Counterfeit" or "Surviving our worst fears"

After our very pretty but very slow run on 12-2 Trax and I went back to the practice pen.  SS had told us that our patterns are really nice but that it was time to start riding more aggressively.  So that is what I decided to do. 

Sometimes my neighbor uses my arena-vator and whenever he does he works my arena too, which is super nice. However one of the last times he did that my barrels somehow got moved down towards the middle of my arena.  Due to my extremely busy schedule, they have just stayed there.  But at the gate end of my arena there is also a wooden trail bridge.  So "riding more aggressively" has almost gotten me into trouble when that bridge comes up so fast.  SO, I took the time to put my barrels back at the far end of the arena where I like them.  That gives me an extra 20-30 feet to stop before we are forced to jump the bridge. 

It was 6 am last Tuesday morning, there was  pretty good chill but it wasn't even cold enough to need gloves or a jacket.  Just a hoodie kept me plenty warm.   I pulled my mighty steed from his stall, and gave him half a flake of hay to munch on while I tacked him up.  I never work my horses on a totally empty stomach. 

We did our usual warm up routine.  We WTC until he feels soft and relaxed and lopes with his head down.  Then we work on our smaller circles and my body position.  We work on posting, on me relaxing my rib cage so he will relax his.  You know, all the things my great trainer has been teaching me to be a better rider.

We did our usual trotting of the pattern, and then a slow lope of the pattern and every thing was right on the money. 

Now before I go any further, let me back up just a little.  One of the reasons I have always been trepidatious about letting Trax run full speed, is because I have seen him buck.  I'm not talking like out in the pasture buck.  I'm talking about in the round pen, full on blow up and rip the lead rope out of my hands.  I have seen back feet higher than the top of the round pen.  I have always been just a little bit afraid that if he ever took to bucking when we were at a full run, he would kill me. 

Over time and as we have been practicing our sprinting around the arena, I have gotten over that and was finally at a point where I was beginning to trust that he wasn't going to do that.  Granted there are time when he will do a "oh I think I want to buck" crow hop, but he isn't dedicated to the buck and I can always bring him out of it very easily. Usually it is coming out of the 2nd barrel and he is usually telling me to get my spur out of his side.  The fact is, I had laid aside my fears and begun to trust my horse again.

Now back to that morning.

So we were at the point that I was ready to "go for it".  I felt good.  My horse seemed to feel good to me.  We were working well together, the time had come to just do it.  We trotted a circle, and I took a deep breath and pushed him into a left lead lope.  We lined up with the center barrel and I pushed my hand forward and asked him to go. 

We came up to the first barrel, and I waited till the perfect moment to sit down and say "easy" and then we powered around that barrel with what felt like a text book turn.  My hand was right where it was supposed to be and it was flat like it is supposed to be.  My butt was in the saddle and I drove him forward with my seat.  We exited in the correct lead and completed the second barrel just as nice.  We committed to the full turn, powered around the barrel and raced off to number 3.  The 3rd barrel is usually our best so I was very excited for our progress!  We made a beautiful turn and I let go of the saddle horn and we raced for home.

Right about the time we past the barrels my 18 year old broke freaking horse blew up.

This was not "Oh I think i might buck"

This was, "Oh yeah, I'm bucking!"

He bucked all the way to the end of the arena.  Including the extra 20-30 feet I added by moving my barrels. 

I did not come off, but I just barely stayed on.  Luckily it wasn't the 2 hind feet over head buck, but it was the all four feet off the ground buck. 

I finally got him stopped by running him into the fence.  I should have pulled his head around, but to be honest I was just trying to hang on at that point. I yelled at him to knock his shit off, and then took him around the arena at a fast trot for about 20 laps.   Meanwhile I am doing the instant replay through my brain to figure out what it was that set him off. 

I had spurs on, but they are short shanked ball end spurs.  Very mild.  Just enough to get him off my leg when I need.  Maybe my leg went back behind the rear cinch.  Maybe I kicked him to hard (no I wasn't kicking- I don't think).  Maybe it is the cold.  Maybe his shoulder hurts.  Maybe he stepped on a rock. 


Maybe he is just a counterfeit SOB who will never be able to be trusted. 


That one hurts.  It hurts my heart to think that about my favorite horse.  But lets face it, we are not talking about a 3 or 4 year old green horse. 

I stopped and took my spurs off.

Then we kept riding.

When my hands quit shaking we went back to the pattern.  Not quite as aggressively, and we did not race home anymore that day.  He was fine the rest of the time. 

On the bright side I know that my biggest fear just happened AND not only did I survive it....I rode it out.

On the down side, my trust level with this horse took a serious step back. 

Today is Sunday.  I have not been back on him since. 

Of course that isn't all due to trust.  Part of it is time related, and to be honest, he jacked my back up a little bit and it took me a few days to get over it. 

I had planned on racing him yesterday.  The only reason I didn't is because BEC texted me and reminded me that there was a buckle run at my favorite sorting facility that day.  So I scratched the race and went and chased cows instead. 

Today I will ride him.  I have decided that I will go back to round penning him before we ride for now just so he can get any of that crap out of his system before I get on.  I used to do that before every ride.  But he has been pretty good so I stopped.   Maybe some horses always need that.  I don't freaking know. 

I will try to figure out what caused it.  If he pulls it again.....I just don't know what I will do. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Getting our Groove Back Part 2

The race we went to was part of a 3 day event.  We entered in 2 of the 3 days.  Part 2 is what happened on day 2.

Day one was pretty decent.  I was so happy with how calm he was and how well he ran.  I was super excited to get out there again, and not mess it up.

Saturday I went out early and fed the horses, in order to give Trax plenty of time to eat.  I came out later and he had not touched his food.


I threw some hay to him instead of pellets and he went to munching so I knew he wasn't sick.  But now it was time to go, so he was forced to eat his breakfast on the go.  I put him in the trailer and off we went.

This time he was quite a bit more nervous, where as I was totally calm.  We did our time onlies and they were fine but I could tell he was wound up.  I put him back at the trailer and let him munch for most of the day.  As always we were at the end of the pack so we had plenty of time.

About 30 riders before us I usually get back on and start walking him.  I don't work him to death, but moving his feet keeps him calm so we walk.

It was pretty warm that day so we stopped in some shade next to an unused announcers booth next to the warm up arena.  Some one on the other side made a noise and my "broke horse" lost his shit.  First he went sideways, then he went straight up.  I had my hat in my hands and my silver and leather hat band came off and bounced against the saddle a few times which set him off even more.

I finally got him calmed down.  Got off of him and side passed him from the ground about 20 feet in both directions.  Then I got rid of the hat band, and got back on him.  We rode around until it was our turn to go.  He seemed pretty chill other than continually asking to leave the staging area. But he asked nicely so I didn't get too concerned about it. 

Once again we started off looking pretty good.  My confidence was up so I was going for it!

We got to the first barrel without mishap other than me forgetting where my hands should be

At this point I was still really happy with how things were going

I like how we are both looking for the next barrel.
Still feeling good about it all

came out nice and strong

And still felt ok at this point

I didn't recall being so wide on the second barrel

But obviously we were

This is where things all went wrong

This is where he decided to show me a short cut to the gate

This is where I said, "Oh snap! He's headed towards the gate!"

"Sorry Buddy- Still have one more barrel"

He is clearly not happy with me hanging on his face
Look at where his eye is looking even though he has started to give in.
Finally got his attention back
I love those butt muscles! 
We went in to #3 kind of ok

Until I went blank and forgot every bit of training.  Talk about money  not well spent!
I guess neck reining your way around is the new "thing"  LOL
Then I finally regained some sense and we got moving again. 
Of course racing home is what he does best.  
In the end, that attempted short cut ended up costing us dearly. We ran even slower than the day before.  24 something.  But we never broke the pattern so I guess that is a plus.

Back to the practice pen we went.  We had another lesson and cleaned some things up.  The biggest one being where my hands are. 

When I look at these pics I totally cringe.  I feel bad for my horse, and wonder if I should give it up.  But I won't give up.  As much as I hate seeing myself dragging him around by his face, on the other hand I know that he isn't helping matters some times by trying to do things his own way. 

We raced again a few days after our lesson. It was a real pretty correct run and where as we are usually about 6-8 seconds off of the fast time.  On that run we were only 5.  So that is major improvement.  Our last race with this particular club is in 2 days. 

I have high hopes for that day.  I probably shouldn't, but surely at some point it has to get better...doesn't it???

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Getting our Groove Back part 1

Many of us are friends on Facebook as well as blogger so some of this may be redundent but for those of you who don't do facebook, here is an update.

For years I've tried to figure out what it is that my favorite paint horse is good at.  I mean he is a great trail horse, but I've always felt like with his build and his energy level, there must be some event or physical task that he could excel at.

We tried Ranch Versatility and while he didn't totally suck at it, it was pretty clear that he didn't enjoy it either.

We tried sorting.  Again...he doesn't suck, but he doesn't enjoy it.  He gets pretty nervous in a small pen with a bunch of cows.  Like feet stuck, can't move, going straight up in the air type of nervous.   He really just isn't very cowy at all.  Where as Melody will stomp the crap out of cow if you give her the chance, Trax likes them very much and really just wants to be friends with them all.

I go to a lot of barrel races.  I watch all my friends race.  I've taken Melody a few times and while she runs a wickedly pretty pattern, she is sloooooowwwwww.  So slow that when you watch the video you have to look to see if it is set to slow motion.  She does love barrels though and really believes that she is running as fast as the wind.  She redeems herself in the sorting pen though, so its all good!

Anyway, I digress.

A year or so ago I thought that maybe Trax would enjoy barrels and gymkhana type events.  So I let my young friend O work with him a little and run him a couple of times.  They did ok.  I even ran him myself a couple of times.  It was ugly.

I admit to not having a clue how to teach a horse to get around the barrels correctly.  I had no clue how to get myself around that barrel correctly.  AND the biggest issue of all.....I was afraid of my horse.

I have not been able to trust him ever since the day he bolted with me out the arena.  That was, what...3 maybe 4 years ago?  I made the mistake of researching his ownership and heard of all the bad things and then had our own mishap and I was terrified of him.

Well maybe terrified is the wrong word.

I darn sure didn't trust him.  Every time he got a little ancy, I freaked out.  I was afraid to let him go fast for fear of losing control.  When I freaked out, he freaked out and it was a recipe for ugly runs, and lack of partnership.

So I made a commitment to him and to myself.  We were going to get past it.  We were going to rebuild the relationship.  I would let go of the past and focus on each day as if he was the best horse in the world.  Which really  he is.  He is a good boy with a lot of try and he really wants to get it right.  He wants to get along.

So we started our patterns slow.  I got advice where I could but mostly we just practiced being calm.  And then we would practice sprinting around the arena.  Each time I let him go faster and faster.  And every single time, he paid attention when I said it was time to slow down.  He didn't run off, and I didn't get hurt.

So we started going to some time onlies.  They were still ugly, but we got used to being in strange arenas and we got used to getting over all the eyes watching us (and quit worrying about being judged).   We started having fun....sort of.

It was becoming apparant that Trax actually had a knack for this sort of thing.  Let's face it, he darn sure isn't slow.  He has the hind end that a horse needs to really be able to power around the barrels, and he was actually starting to hunt for the next barrel.  But I didn't know what to do next.

There is a gal I know who gives barrel lessons to so many people in my area, many of them are friends of mine, and I have watched them go from total beginners, to bringing home checks on a regular basis.  I  shot her a message and asked if she would be willing to work with Trax and I.

"I thought you would never ask."

So now we do lessons.

I don't get near enough practice in between lessons, and that is seriously slowing down the process, but it is still helping.....A LOT!

My trainer is SS, and working with her is like being under a microscope.  I don't even know how she sees all the things that she sees.

"Hand forward, watch that pinky, chin down just a little, not so far, flatten your hand out, relax your rib cage, now your hand is too far forward, put your heel down....." on and on it goes.

and we are getting better.

At this point in my life, my favorite words in the world are, "Oh my gosh you guys look so pretty!"

And with each lesson I hear them more and more.

Our first lesson I started to tell her our history and she cut me off, "Nope don't tell me, it doesn't matter.  All that matters is today and where you are going from here."

SS does not allow for negative self talk, or for saying negative things about my horse.  Even when he is being a turd she has me correct him and then love on him and we just go back and do it again.  It is always positive, it is always progress...even when it isn't.    Even when I go and do the EXACT thing she says not to is progress because it is a lesson learned and I don't do it again.

She will not let me stay stuck in my comfort zone.  She makes me push the envelope just a little bit further every time.  Sometimes it is scary, but because of it, I am learning to trust my horse again.

So last weekend we went to a 2 day race.

The first night I was so nervous my hands were shaking.  My horse was as solid as a rock.  He was calm, he was focused and he was ready to race.

So here is the play by play of our run. 

Check out how focused we both are coming out of the gate.  

Then my stupid hat came off and in my mind
there were all kinds of crazy scenarios.  I should have just let it go.  

We ended up walking around the first barrel- cost us a good 2-3 seconds if not more

But then he was ready to go and came out pretty strong

This time I did let my hat go and he was all about the second barrel

We did pretty good on the second barrel at first

SS says that I have a bad habit of not making him commit to the full turn
on barrel #2 which lets him run wide coming out

I was using a lot of rein and not enough leg to get him back in line for #3

But I did get him back in line again

We looked great coming into the third barrel

And he came out soo strong and straight

Then he poured it on and raced home.  
I was so happy with him that night.  He really went out there and did his best.  I messed us up and we ended up running a 23.something.  But the run was pretty and that was all that mattered to me.   I just knew that if I came back the next day we could do so much better. 

I will talk about that in my next post.

I also want to give big props to Vin O'hare from Southwest Barrels, who does all the photography for these barrel races.  He takes the most amazing shots.  You can follow his facebook page here.  A mere 20$ gets all your photos dropped into a digital file for you to use how ever you wish.