There are few things in life as frustrating as knowing what you are doing wrong...but can't seem to stop yourself from doing it.
The last few runs I have put on Moon have not been good. My hands and body are all over the place. I'm too far forward, I'm sitting up, I'm over-rating, I'm cranking him around his 2nd and 3rd barrels...
It's just a big old mess.
I do have to say...I hang around some pretty awesome people though...and I have gotten some advice that I am hoping will make a difference. It's not always, that a person can count on fellow competitors...especially when they are in the same league. The air can be pretty thin at the top...and people that know you can beat them, IF you fix your problems, are not always willing to share the info you need that could potentially knock them out of the money. But, like I said, I hang around a pretty awesome bunch of people. For them, like me...it's about getting the most out of our horses and letting the times fall where they will.
There has always been a couple of girls that I watch as much as I can, because they are riding horses that run very similar to Moon. Long-strided, level toplines and uncanny turning abilities. The one thing that I have always noticed about these girls' riding styles, is that they ride with a longer rein, keep their center of balance back in the saddle a bit more and keep their hands very low. They and their horses always look so confident and comfortable during their runs. I keep thinking this is how Moon and I should look. Him, stretched out and running and me, much more relaxed and confident in letting him do his job.
The whole conversation with friends started, when one of the ladies, shook her head and told me, 'I can't believe the times that horse can turn out and you are jacking with him the whole time.' (Hahaha) I don't take offense at those kinds of comments because #1-I know this lady doesn't have a mean bone in her body. She was more expressing amazement at Moon's ability than my crappy riding and #2-Even if she was commenting on my crappy riding...It's the truth. If I'm mad at myself because I know I'm messing things up, I can hardly be upset when someone points out the obvious.
So I got together with her and her husband for a little training session. Her husband has been helping another barrel racer who has had similar problems to mine...interestingly enough, this girl has a horse that runs almost identical to Moon...and is just as fast. These kinds of horses are very deceiving to casual observers. They never look like they are running and yet riding them is like being on a rocketship on rails. Things happen very quickly from our perspective. Both of us girls have gotten into the habit of overreacting during our runs.
It was an interesting session to me because the first thing we talked about was NOT what I was doing or what Moon was doing (which is nothing except reacting to my overly harsh commands), but what I was THINKING during my runs. The husband had me describe everything I could remember thinking, from start to finish, during my runs.
So I described how when I start my run, I wait until I can feel Moon get straight under me and then let him go, my focus never waivers from my pocket on the run to the 1st barrel, when Moon gets there, I drop the outside rein, go to the horn and focus on driving him around the turn. I have it firmly fixed in my mind now that I have to remember to ask him to keep turning just a little bit more so he finished that turn and comes out straight...
When Moon leaves the first turn, it always feels like he is launching and I get flip-flops in my belly. I try to pick up my pocket on the 2nd barrel, but most of the time I can feel my hands popping up and I start working to get Moon to shape. Things get a little blurry after that, in my mind I know that I just need to let Moon run into his pocket and turn, but I start doing all of these funky things with my body and hands. We are getting around the 2nd barrel, but I never remember Moon's strides the way I do when he is turning the 1st barrel. Now I am starting to have the same problem at 3rd. I can feel Moon wanting to start to rate early and start to drop his shoulder and my hands are getting higher and higher and I am not really thinking about getting him to his pocket.
It's pretty obvious that I have stopped thinking about where I need to go and have become overly focused on all the wrong things. The husband asked me if I was ever worried about Moon not turning the 2nd barrel. I kinda had to laugh at that one...Nope. That has never been the issue. Then he asked me if that has never been an issue, why am I working so hard to set him to make the turn?
To that, I only have one answer...Moon's speed panics me. I have no problem admitting that to people. It's not really that I don't trust Moon to make his runs. I know if I could just learn to control the panic, most of my problems would disappear. I had gotten a pretty good grip on it when we were running on the big outdoor patterns. There was enough time to have that moment of panic and then I could let go and let Moon do his job. Now that we are back to running on smaller patterns, the panic is returning.
So after a little bit of pattern work, this was the suggestions I got...
#1-Change nothing on the 1st barrel. There are no problems there. But, as Moon is leaving the turn, instead of picking up on the reins, I need to simply drop my hands onto his neck. Grab the mane if I have to.
#2-Think about nothing except picking up my spot at 2nd barrel and do nothing except R.I.D.E to that spot. Do not pick up my hands, try to shape or even think about the turn. Just focus on riding straight into the pocket. Both the husband and wife have seen Moon run enough that they believe that if I just ride him straight into the pocket, without fighting with him about the arc thing, that he will just run right in there without shouldering and then set and turn, just like he does on the first barrel.
Rinse and repeat on the 3rd barrel.
You know...I'm game to try this. It actually makes total sense to me. Since I have started contorting my body and my hands are flying all over the place...it stands to reason that maybe I should try under-riding Moon a few times to see if I can get control of my movements again. I couldn't help but ask, if I should do anything if Moon does start to shoulder the 2nd or 3rd barrel. The wife laughed...she said it is unlikely that I will actually be able to stay as immobile as I hope to, chances are it will be more of a struggle to remember to NOT do anything than it will to do something to 'save' the barrel. She says I am a good enough rider if I just focus on getting to where I need to be, that my body will automatically make adjustments that will keep Moon square under me. It's the lack of focus and thinking about all this other stuff that is blocking my feel for what is actually happening and causing me to flail around.
#3-I need to lengthen my rein out a bit and place a piece of colored tape more in the center of my rein, so that it's more like I am neck-reining Moon around the 2nd and 3rd barrels, rather than pulling him around it. Both the husband and wife noticed that I am fairly immobile with my left arm. This is something that frustrated Ed Wright about me. He had a hellava time getting me to push that arm forward in left hand turns. I have a horrible habit of reaching down and cranking Moon around the turn. I don't mean to do this (or need to)...it's just become a habit to reach down on the rein,where EW told me to, and then when my arm doesn't move forward like Ed teaches, I end up cranking Moon into a super tight turn, which is slowing him down...and is more likely to cause a tipped barrel. Since I seem to unable to control this, the couple thinks I just need to stop fighting it until I get control of my hands and body again.
#4-Bit change. I used to run Moon in a simple gag, but when I started having problems with keeping him off of barrels, I switched to the bit I use now, which is a Jr. Cowhorse with a jointed mouthpiece that is square. It's not a severe bit cause there is not a lot of leverage, plus I took the chain chinstrap off and just use a very mild, flat double chain, but the square mouthpiece dang sure got Moon's attention and has really helped me get him over throwing himself on the barrels. Of course, it was my fault that started happening...that rate spot thing again...but he got pretty insistent about it for awhile, regardless of what I tried to do...and that is how I started getting all cock-eyed in the body. However, Moon is a lot more solid now and it's probably time to lighten up in the bit department again. I am going to try making some runs on Moon in the gag bit again. I have made one run in it already and it seems to be working the way I want it too...which is Moon flowing through the turn in a much more forward manner. Moon doesn't need a lot of room to get around a barrel, but he is dang sure quicker in his turns when I am not binding him up, and I can actually feel his strides. I was kind of worried about Moon trying to drop out from under such a light bit, but it's really about just keeping him straight until he starts his turn...and that is more about keeping my body straight, than it is about lifting and shaping him.
Here's the thing though...Most of what's going on is caused by nothing more than me letting competition adrenaline get the best of me. While we were messing around, I took Moon's bridle off, slipped his halter on and made a picture perfect run. I can do that on him every day, all day long. It's kind of beyond stupid that it's that easy to just let him do his thing when there is no adrenaline attached....and yet, I can't seem to make myself just let it happen at a competition. Before anyone suggests I start running him in his halter...which I probably could...Moon is different at competition time too. He knows when it's time to turn it on for real and that is really part of the problem...he is such a quiet, docile horse 99% of the time. Even when I make practice runs...which I know are just as fast as his competition runs...they lack the 'oomph' he gives during competition. It's that 'oomph' that is kicking my ass and jumping my adrenaline level over the top and making me all whack-a-doodle.
Two over-achievers is not always a good combination. LOL...But we'll get it together again.