I guess that's where you could say Moon and I are.
We are capable of making awesome runs...
If we can just keep it together.
So this last week, I spent riding and practicing with a friend. It was enlightening. She's an awesome barrel racer, a good horsewoman...and a real joy to spend time with.
One of the (many) things I have not been able to figure out lately is why Moon is running past 1st barrel. He's always had a really good 1st barrel...
That is until he started running to it a little faster. Sometimes we would get it...most of the time lately...not so much.
He still sets into it really well...he just overstrides on the back and then has to sort of rotate around to come out in the correct position.
If nothing else this year...it has been drilled into my head that if Moon makes mistakes...I'm usually the cause.
Rider error is about 99% of mistakes that happen during a barrel run. Rider error causes about 90% of habitual 'problems' horses start having during a run. The other 10% is due to some sort of pain issue with the horse that causes them to have to start compensating during their runs.
So when my friend (L)) asked me if I wanted to come over and ride with her, I jumped at the chance. Her opinion I trust and having a knowledgeable second set of eyes is like money in the bank. Literally!!
Now, when I say 'practice' I should make it clear...I do not do full practice runs on Moon. He doesn't need that anymore. What Moon needs is specific work, at specific spots in his run. Not that making full practice runs is bad...it depends on what works for the horse and where they are at. Moon acts like he is an easy going, dead-head...but he is far from being one. He can go from zero to stupid in nothing flat. So I keep practice work very quiet and very specific.
Since we were over-running 1st, I wanted to practice loping him up to first, bring his rate spot back a little farther and make him stop properly-hind end up under him, with a nice, straight body. Moon likes to lean into his right hand run to 1st a bit...okay...It used to be A LOT. Now it is just a little bit. Now when I feel him start to lean, I stop him, counter arc and lope off again in the correct lead. Upright body, hips underneath him.
The first thing L noticed was that I ride very forward (like you all have seen that in my videos-LOL). The second thing she noticed was that I was not sitting down in the saddle until I got right up to the rate spot. Then I would sit and ask for my 'pseudo' reining horse stop. Mostly I was feeling for the correct time in the stride to ask for the stop so that my horses would be properly gathered and stop on their hindquarters.
It's not just Moon I ride like this...it's all of my horses.
L told me to start sitting at least 2 strides earlier and to perhaps use a verbal cue (nod to kestrel because she mentioned this as well) to help my horses realize they needed to gather for the rate. So I tried it and of course my horses came to an errchy stop way too far back from their rate spot.
So L explained to me that needed to sit, give the verbal cue to rate and sort of push my horses forward at the same time, so that they just kind of glided into that rate spot.
Well, what do you know?
Once I got it figured out and the horses figured it out...Moon, Frosty and Turk were just crawling into their rate spots. Moon immediately picked up his strides around the turn, Turk tried like hell...That poor horse starts his turns so well, but is not yet capable of holding a frame all the way through the turn. Frosty is the one who impressed the heck out of me. Holy crap...Is he going to be a nice barrel horse. I have started putting some serious work into him and all I need him to do is figure out he needs to change his lead between 1st and 2nd barrel and he'll be ready to start running.
The only other thing Moon needs to have reinforced regularly is traveling and rating straight into his 2nd barrel. He still wants to shoulder that barrel somewhat, but with regular reinforcement (at slow speeds), counter arcing every time we stop at the rate spot and making him honor his pocket...he is not determined to smash into it anymore...mostly I have to concentrate really hard during a run that when we leave 1st barrel NOT to look AT the 2nd barrel, but to look at my pocket.
That specific, correct, precise practice and the hint about sitting earlier paid off on Friday night.
Moon ran the 2nd fastest time in the slack (I got stuck there because I entered the rodeo late due to not knowing how much time Moon would need off after his back spasm). It was a 17.63. The fast time was a 17.49. He was smoken'. We ended up 3rd after the performance runs. One gal snuck in there with a 17.58. So yea...we did not get outrun. That was still a nice check.
I wasn't very impressed with the ground at this rodeo. I watched the first 10 barrel racers and most of them were having problems with 1st. It just didn't look like their horses were setting into the ground. It was kind of shallow and somewhat cloddy so they were kind of skittering across the top. It didn't help a lot of them that 1st barrel was set very close to the bucking chute either. So my game plan was mostly to let Moon coast and really work on sitting earlier to see if we could improve our turns. It didn't feel like Moon was running at all. We just glided to 1st barrel, I sat a couple of strides earlier and gave him a 'hup, hup' and he whipped around that barrel in perfect form. Second and 3rd were exactly the same. When they announced our time...I was really surprised...cause like I said...it didn't feel like Moon was running. He was just effortless and didn't waste any time.
I'm hear to tell ya...the hardest thing in the world to follow is 'a good run'. I've had so many 'what the hell was that all about' runs, followed by some 'those were pretty decent but room to improve', followed by 'what the hell was that runs'. I was a nervous wreck on Saturday. For the life of me, I KNOW what I did on the first run...I just wasn't sure if I could do it again.
Moon was hotter than a firecracker on Saturday as well. I spent most of the waiting time, hand-walking him around and around the arena. He was walking all over the top of me, spooking at everything and just generally being a pain in the butt. When I got on, I stood him as far away as I dared and didn't take him into the entry area until the girl before me was running. I stood him at the back of the entry area next to the fence. Moon likes to have something...anything next to him when he is nervous...and boy was he nervous.
Yep, I know nerves from the rider pass to the horse. I am always very aware of that and don't pick up on the reins, make sure to keep my legs loose and don't squeeze my butt muscles. Sometimes it doesn't matter. I think more than anything Moon could sense that I wasn't mentally ready for this run and it was freaking him out.
When they opened the gate, Moon headed in, but kept ducking left, then right. He always kept moving forward...so it wasn't resistance to entering...he was just amped to the gourd. When we entered the arena, he would not turn his head to look at the 1st barrel. He just stuck his nose straight in the air. (I took his tie-down off after Montrose because he just wasn't clocking with it on...I could control him...but what difference does that make if he won't run?)
When he pivoted, he took a couple of trotting steps...saw first barrel and just shot off like a rocket. He was on that 1st barrel before I ever had a chance to sit down...and of course...blew it out. I knew at that point he was going to shoulder 2nd and I really started to get ahold of him. I shut him down a bunch, but kept him off that barrel. The rest of the run was fine.
I was trying really hard not to think about the average, but you know what...after Moon blew out 1st barrel...I knew we just needed to keep all of those barrels up and we would most likely pick up an average check. I safety'ed up. The thing is, it felt like Moon was running way harder this run than he did the other run...he never clocks when he feels like he is running hard. He looses that effortless stride that covers so much ground and makes good time.
He only ran an 18.01. There had already been a 17.10 and a 17.20. We were sitting 3rd after the slack, with 10 runners in the perf to go. I knew that 18.01 most likely wasn't going to hold up. That is just too big of a gap in times not to have some of those other girls slip in there. I was actually quite surprised that only 3 did. There was a 17.3, a 17.4 and a 17.63 in the perf and that was it. So we ended up with the 6th fastest time out of 45 barrel racers...which considering I thought our run was horrible...wasn't so bad after all.
I picked up a check for being 2nd in the 2D and ended up 2nd in the Average.
So ya know...I'm not really complaining. It was a lucrative weekend...finally.
I will say this...I think Moon and I have reached a break-over point...it's time to back off and make each run count. Moon is in there. He can finally run with the big kids...but he's not solid enough mentally to handle a bunch of back to back runs yet. Nor am I apparently.
I think the best course of action for awhile is go to my weekly local rodeo (there's not many left) on Tuesday and pick one run for the weekend. That gives us a chance to run...take a deep breath, relax a little and reinforce correctness before we run again.