Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Horse Shows - Not Just About Showing!

Going into the Finals Show this past weekend I wanted a different experience than the one I took away from the Region 1 AQHA show in August. I didn’t enjoy my rides at Region 1 and got really down on myself during and after the show. It was a big part in my decision to not go to Vegas this year for Novice Championships. I stand firmly by that decision and believe that Grace and I are not yet ready for that level of competition. For the Finals show I set a few goals ahead of time in hopes that I could keep my brain working in the show ring and not tune out like I’ve done in the past at a higher level shows. The goals were as follows:

1.       To not compare Grace or I to other riders/horses. I was overwhelmed by the level of horses at Region 1 many of which I believe don’t flick an ear without permission. The same cannot be said about my horse and I honestly don’t think I want it to be. I also don’t ride like the top equitation riders, I need some polish for sure but I think I will skip the Toddlers and Tiaras Horsemanship Class. My goal was to stay in my personal bubble in the warm up areas and in the show ring. What other riders and horses were doing was none of my business.

2.       To be present on pattern, to work the stride I’m currently on and not skip ahead to the lead change 10 strides away or the trail obstacle that we haven’t gotten to yet. By riding each stride I am able to arrive at that lead change or trail obstacle in a better position than when I forgot to ride on the way there.

3.       To have fun! This sounds so simple but I was so locked up in my head at Region 1 that I made myself miserable. I didn’t go out of my way to talk to other competitors and I really missed out on the good time that everyone else was having.

So, how did it go? I would say I hit all three goals over the weekend and had one of the best shows I’ve been to. At one point I said that from now I plan to haul to shows to hang out, wear pretty clothes, have great schooling sessions on my horse and never set foot in the show ring. I accomplished so much outside of main arena at this show that walking into the pen was almost an afterthought.

When I stall with Sarah’s barn at shows we usually stable close to another trainer. He and Sarah are good friends and we all enjoy watching him and his students show. He helped Sarah school her futurity horse and she suggested that I let him ride Grace and have him give me some pointers. I jumped at the chance and was thrilled when after he rode Grace for a few minutes he told me that “all the pieces are here, you just need to rate her lope”. The trainer went on to show me some exercises to unlock Grace’s shoulder and an exercise on the counter lope. He also worked with me on my Horsemanship patterns giving me some great tips.  It has been years since anyone but Sarah or I have ridden Grace. The last male trainer I had sit on her had nothing nice to say about my beloved horse. It made my day to have a trainer that I respected give me hope that my horse may just be as possibly as great as I think she is.

My classes went well; I even placed in a few of them. The trail pattern started off with a right hand gate followed by lope overs. It took 3 classes before the lope work was where I wanted it, but the jog work was the best it has ever been in Trail. There was a set of trot poles in the Championship class that I was concerned about, but we executed them without a hitch. Grace was the best she has ever been in my Horsemanship classes. We were the 27th to go in my first class and 22nd in the second class. In the past Grace hasn’t done well after sitting in the ring all that time waiting for her go. She’s been stiff by the time we start our pattern and often starts her lope by throwing her head and squealing. I made sure to keep her engaged while we waited in line and was able to circle before starting my pattern. The result was a quiet soft horse that executed the pattern when I asked without argument. I walked out of the ring still liking my horse. Showmanship also went well, I had practiced the patterns before the show and for the first time in a long time I enjoyed the class. During the team competition I saw a woman run a Showmanship pattern without a lead, her horse worked entirely off her body commands. Grace and I are SO going to do that

Western Riding gets a paragraph of it’s because it is by far my favorite class. My 3 classes were held first thing on Sunday morning and if I had to do it over again I would have gone to bed before midnight on Saturday night, maybe a little less of my #3 goal above. I only gave myself 15 minutes to warm up and I was first in at 8:00am. I needed more time, Grace was stiff as a board going into my first class and I felt like I was communicating with a brick wall. This wasn’t what I wanted at this show because I know what we are capable of and I didn’t want to go backwards at a show. I had more time in-between the 2nd and 3rd class to work with Sarah to unlock and soften Grace. There were 9 other riders in the class but I didn’t watch any of their rides, I just had to focus on my own ride. My pattern for the Championship was much better; we hit every lead change in the correct spot, loped over the pole as opposed to jumping it and for the most part kept a steady rhythm. I knew it could be better, but it was closer to the ride I was looking for, I scored a 68 and a 70 on the ride. I assumed that I would place at the bottom of the class so I was beyond pleased when they announced that I had placed 3rd and 4th in the Championship class. I know that we can go out there tomorrow and put together a nicer ride than that one so with that in mind I am really looking forward to that class for next year.


Overall I had a great show and learned that there is so much more value to the horse show experience than what happens in the pen. Grace and I had some of the best schooling sessions by far which have continued into the week after. I had a great time with new and old friends and caught up with people I only see at shows.  I am patiently waiting for pictures so I can show you the Diane Olson Show Shirt I picked up for $70 and the beautiful show halter I picked up for a steal! Got to look good for hanging out in the warm up ring next year!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Lope Appears at a Schooling Show!

Today I experienced the best lope that Grace has to offer so far and it happened in the show pen! I could not more pleased with the mare right now. I know the lope I had today was an accumulation of all of the work we’ve done over the last year. Then there were the lead changes that I can only describe as mind blowing. I smile every time I think of them and how amazing they felt underneath me. I am once again in awe of the quality of horse I had in my back yard for all these years. She is just now at 15 starting to tap into her potential. Someone made a comment to me today about her being a push button horse. That might just be the greatest compliment Grace has ever received as we know she is anything but push button.

The numbers were small at the schooling show today. The 4-H kids are off at state fair and I think other families are done for the season. I like this show series, they offer a good selection of classes at different levels including trail, advanced stock seat equitation and a pattern class. Grace was great in trail; I was thrilled with her lope transitions and lope overs.  She just stepped into the lope, and hit her lope overs in stride never making a big deal out of them. It was during one of our rail classes that I realized the nice lope was there to stay. It was great during the warm up, but I didn’t expect in the class. Again she just stepped right into it, no head toss, swish of the tail or squeal. I was able to ride her on a loose rein while she kept the same rhythm all around the arena, both directions. It was just a lovely ride! Throughout our classes the lope was asked for out of the walk, jog and halt, every time it was there; just stepped right into it. Where has that been?

The lead changes came in both the pattern class and the advanced stock seat class. After a counter lope the judge asked for a lead change, ok it was a simple and we did a flying I’ll take the heat for that one. After that flying change the judge asked for an actual flying change on the long side of the arena. I set Grace up like I had with Sarah out in the field as if we were doing a line change; I half passed her a step to the left, created a wall with the rain and asked with my seat.  The change was so nice the people in the crowed started hooting; we got to do another one for them which was just as nice. Grace’s pace never changed, not after the change, not during, not when the little kid came running down the hill next to the arena. It was a nice ride!

The one thing I focused on at the show today was to “keep the bones moving” just like Peggy said. I felt the change in my seat she had talked about the first time I walked through the in gate, it was me not the horse that was initiating the tension! I adjusted my seat many times in each class kept my thigh bones moving and at times rotated my torso. Not enough that anyone could really see it, but enough to keep the lines of communication open with my horse. I need to work on getting some updated video of our rides. I would love to compare it to where we were a year ago. It feels like I am sitting on a different horse, maybe one that might get accused of being push button!

Coyote Alarm Clock

We have a pack of coyotes that moved in behind the house when I was at the Region 1 show. I heard them that night when sirens went by on the highway. Belle my cattle dog went nuts barking her head off at them. I could hear young pups below the adults cries and yips. This has become a daily occurrence since they showed up, every time a siren goes by on the highway they erupt along with Belle. They don't bother me at all, they don't mess with Grace, Belle or the cats and they keep the varmint population under control. Our house is nestled in a grove of old cedar trees, our nearest neighbor is 1/4 mile away and there is a 120 acre heavily forested park right outside the front door. I consider it paradise!

This morning the adult coyotes started to carry on around 4:30am. Belle jumped out of bed and went flying out the back door when my husband let her out. I brought her in a few minutes later and had to make her settle down. The coyotes kept howling as they traveled through the park, this was something I hadn't heard them do before. I was able to follow their voices and know where they were in the park, they were on the same trails that I ride Grace on. Within 30 minutes they had finished the 2 mile trail circuit and were camped outside our bedroom window. I stated to wonder what they were waiting for. Where were the pups? Then I heard them, just a few little yips and barks in between the adults. I believe it was their first time out of the den and they had met up with their parents outside the bedroom window. The pups where then silent while the adults carried on. I heard the sound of a cough, like the one a dog makes after it vomits. Oh, feeding time!

The adults kept up the vocalizations which is when I pulled out my cell phone to record them. One of them moved closer to the front of the house, so I stepped out on the front porch for the second recording. I am assuming it was the male, the female staying behind with the pups. I could hear him rustling in the bushes just on the other side of one of our vehicles. He continued to communicate with the female. I finally turned on the porch light, which bought his barking to a abrupt halt. I heard him trot through the woods in the female's direction making a low chuffing sound as if to tell her to keep it down. That was it, not another word out of them after that. Pretty amazing way to wake up in the morning.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cross Country Western Riding

I was excited when I hauled out to my lesson with Sarah today. I really wanted to show her all of the progress I’ve made in the last week. When I first saw her Sarah let me know that we would be riding in the grass field not the arena, oh well so much for showing off. That is one of the things that I appreciate so much about Sarah, she continually challenges me. Riding over poles in the grass field brings out a lot of the same tension that creeps up at a horse show. The rolling hills are nothing like riding in a flat arena, if I tune out and don’t ride it becomes dangerous and my horse had better be on her hind end riding across the grass. We worked on adding leg at the base of the poles, leg to slow down the horse, straight lines to and after the poles and keeping my back soft. The thing I like best about lessons in the field is that Grace has no idea that she is working. She forgets to suck back and resist it’s more like asking her to work during a trail ride.

When we were done with the poles Sarah brought me out to the expansive yard where she had set a line of cones.  The cones were set on a line of level ground, which sat between two hills. I walked Grace through them over and over again while Sarah had me work on the body position for line changes. I couldn’t imagine loping in this place even though Sarah had set the cones with a very generous amount of space between them. When we moved up to the jog she had me also throw in the cross lines which meant going up and down the hill. Sarah talked me down off the ledge and reminded me more than once to stay off my horse’s face so she could find her balance down the hill. When I finally let go, rode with my body and corrected my horse only when needed I started to have fun! I was preparing my left hand turn to come back up the hill when Sarah told me to lope. It wasn’t a big deal since Grace was already moving so well from behind. I was able to stay out of her way, execute the cross change and prepare for the line changes. When my right foot lined up with the cone I half passed Grace to the right, I then stopped the half pass with the right rein and changed the bend to the left – bam beautiful flying change. When my left foot lined up with the next cone I half passed to the left, stopped the movement with my left rein and changed the bend to the right – bam another beautiful flying change! OMG I just did cross county western riding! If I keep riding in those situations horse shows in a flat dirt arena will become downright boring. Ah I see what Sarah did there, well played!