Friday, October 26, 2012

It's A Mess

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.




Sunday, October 14, 2012

Spooks' Finale


He did it....

Spooks is the Year End High Point 4D Champion...


I am so proud of the big black horse...


In spite of some treacherous ground due to rain...we had a great final run together. 

After the awards ceremony, I delivered Spooks to his new family and he sauntered into his new life...

It won't be the last we hear of Spooks though. I have no doubt that I will get to continue reporting on his winning ways, with his new little rider, in the not too distant future. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Round 'Tuit

It's officially fall here in the high desert...we got a couple of nights of hard frost and even though I covered a lot of my garden with whatever I could find...it's officially done. Tippy, the gardening kitty is heartbroke.

The good thing is...the mosquitoes and flies have retreated to almost nothing and the horses are happy, happy, happy.

I have been making some headway on the youngsters. The last time I started working with Beretta, she was fine with everything until I pulled the cinch tight...and then it was bucking bronc city. This time around...she has been fine...
It's amazing sometimes what a few months of maturity will do...but I still suspect that last spring she was having heat cycle problems and that is what was causing her to spazz out when I would tighten the cinch. Beretta is a hot, reactive, little thing...but no one else in her family is broncy...so such drastic bucking was totally out of character.

I was going to have this Sharon Camarillo saddle professionally cleaned up and sell it..but it fits Miss B perfectly (for now)...so I guess it will get professionally cleaned, reassembled and keep it.

Gunner has proceeded to be as calm and quiet as he was before and I have gotten a couple of rides on him now...

I have been saddling and ground working Shooter, have stepped up both sides and sat in the saddle, but I wouldn't qualify him as having had a 'ride' yet. It's not that he does anything wrong...In fact he is so easy going that I am kind of just hitting him with some work in passing. Gunner (and maybe Beretta) are only here for the next few weeks. I am focusing my time on them. Gunner will definitely be riding well enough by the time he goes back to SD. Beretta...well, I hope so. But I'm not going to rush her.

I also finally got around to taking Frosty to some team sortings.

Oh my...the first time...he stared so hard I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head. It just kills me that, here is a horse that was raised on a ranch...around cows...and he is scared to death of them. All we got done at first was help move everything back and forth between the pens. The second night I managed to get Frosty to actually approach the herd. It took A LOT of encouraging to get him to ease in there and get those yearlings to move. Once they started moving though...he would lock on and track them out amazingly well.

There was one black, brangus, looking one that got into a stare down with Frosty though and it was hilarious. Everyone was laughing...Me too. That heifer locked eyes with Frosty and I thought he was going to lose it. Frosty's eyes were bugging out, his neck was arched and he was quivering and making all of these cutting horse moves back and forth in front of this little heifer...trying to get away mind you...NOT trying to work the cow. All that little heifer did was stand there and stare at him. I finally managed to get him to step into her and make her move. It was kind of a break-through for him. He finally grasped that HE was capable of making the cow move and after that there was some dramatic improvement. Me and another gal got all 10 head sorted in perfect order in a minute and thirty seconds.

If nothing else...Frosty is learning he can move his feet quickly. LOL...

Frosty is a big horse. But big doesn't and really shouldn't mean 'clunky'. Being clunky is Frosty's biggest problem. He has spent too much of his life overweight and underworked. Even when I did have him in pretty good shape earlier this year he struggled to lighten up and move his feet. Now that he actually has a reason to move those feet...he's really coming around.

Not to mention...I'm having a blast too. I was getting so tired of just riding to be riding...and getting really bored with just thinking about 'barrel racing'. Now I can work cows a couple of times a week...get Frosty going, give Moon something else to do and then I'll work Bugs into the mix too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

We Cannot Forget Mr. Consistent

It is horribly unfair of me to not include a post on how Mr. Consistent did at the CWBRA Finals...

Yea...Spooks finally gets his very own post. LOL

I tell ya...the closer it gets to the end of the season...only one more race for me and the big black horse...the more sentimental I find myself getting about the big lug.

Spooks is not fast. We all know that. He's not even all that agile. What he is though, is a supremely honest horse who gives it his all...every. single. time. I don't care who you are...you have to respect and appreciate him for that. I know I sure have. That is why, regardless of his lack of speed...Spooks has received the same high level of care that Moon gets. The feed, the conditioning, the feet, the grooming, the massages, chiro, you name it...Every bit of it is earned and deserved!!!

Which is why I am happy to say that Spooks won't be retiring just yet...

I am lending him to a friend for her 10 y/o step-daughter. Spooks will continue to receive the same high level of care that he so deserves and yet not have to work quite as hard as he does for me. This little girl needs a step-up horse so she can become a better rider and maybe even start competing. I am thrilled!! The best part is...Somebody will still get some use out of him and when they are done, he comes home permanently. They aren't stuck wondering what to do with a horse they have outgrown and I never have to worry about what happened to him.

I know I always talk about Spooks as if he is 'old'. Truth be known, he is only 14. He's not old. He has many good years left. He's just an old soul.

So anyway...Spooks was tied for Reserve High Point 4D horse in the CWBRA this year. I missed too many races in the beginning of the year to catch up to the leader. So I was shooting for the reserve position. All I needed was for Spooks to go in and make his regular run...

It all started out that way. I have been working a little bit on Spooks' first barrel. He's picked up a little more speed going to it and I realized I hadn't really bothered to instill a proper rate in him. We touched that up a little with some practice and this time I felt Spooks rate and shape nicely...

He started the turn in good form...


I felt him sort of lose his position on the backside of 1st (Spooks is a 'lefty'...he runs to the left barrel first), but didn't think much of it. Spooks has an old scar across the inside of his left hock, a cut that damaged the ligament. He can't pull that leg up as effectively as he should, so very often I get a little 'hop' from him so he can get his hind leg up pulled up where it belongs so he can push off. I didn't realize at the time that he had slipped badly on the first barrel...

All I felt was, as he was going across from 1st to 2nd, I felt him keep wanting to shut down on me. That is not like Spooks, but I couldn't really afford to let him slow down...so I went to the bat and spanked him back up to speed...


And as Julie Robert's told the sales lady in Pretty Woman...'Big mistake! HUGE!'

Spooks laid into his 2nd turn, shoulder first...

And the next thing I know, I feel his front feet skittering out from under him...

Spooks panicked! He doesn't slip going around barrels and he decided he was out of there...

I was trying to keep him from running toward the gate, but I also knew if I just let him get straightened up and get his feet under control that he would turn and head for the 3rd barrel. That's exactly what he did too. And finished his run properly...




I was sooooo mad at myself. I have never had that awful of a run on Spooks before. I knew I did it to him by spanking him instead of keeping him between my hands as he was starting his 2nd turn. But...Gahhhh...He was going soooo slow. :-/

Once I felt his feet skittering out from under him in that turn, I knew why he had been shutting down on me between barrels...Even though I did not feel him slip on the 1st turn, I figured he had felt the sand shifting under his feet in the 1st turn and wasn't taking any chances. Spooks is a cautious soul. He was trying to prepare himself for that slippery footing in the turn again.

The thing about Spooks though...the whole time he is running...he's waiting for any indication that you want him to stop. You literally have to ride him every. single. stride.

'Cause if you slow your body energy even the tiniest bit...he'll just slid to a stop. THAT is probably the biggest reason Spooks is not much faster on the pattern, cause when you watch him run...he's actually striding out...he's just not flowing forward. He's waiting...hoping...for any indication that it's okay to stop. THAT is going to make him a perfect kids horse!!

Since I had run Spooks toward the beginning of the race, according to what times had been running...I figured I was screwed. Spooks usually runs a 20.1-20.4 in this arena and this time his run has been a 21.197. But the more I was listening to times, the more I got to wondering exactly how this was going to play out. Sometimes crappy ground works in funny ways...it will slow the fast horses down, but the slower horses handle it just fine and run their 'normal' times, so there is actually less of a gap in times. That is exactly what was happening too. I lost track of everything when I was getting Moon ready to run...and of course, he set the fast time...so then I just had to wait to see how it broke down...

Moon set the fast time of 17.840 and won the 1D. Our associations run on 1/2, 1/2, 1 second splits...so technically the 4D 2 full seconds slower than the fast time. The weird thing was...the majority of the girls ran well within that 2 seconds. Oddly enough, only 4 of us, with some kind of messed up, but clean runs ended up with times that was greater than that 2 second split. So Spooks placed 2nd in the 4D and picked up an awesome check too. Hahahahaha... He was 4 seconds off of the fast time and still placed...

I have always said that horse had the luck of the Irish.

He also picked up the necessary points to break the tie for Reserve...so he won that title and this beautiful headstall and breastcollar set...
                                              (Of course I would be looking down. LOL) 

I'll get better pics of the headstall and breastcollar after I get all of Spooks' prizes for the year and can show them all at once. ;-)

One last run on the big guy...and it's for the Champion 4D position for my district NBHA. We are leading by a slim 4 points so I can't screw this one up. Nobody gets that lucky twice. Hahahaha

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

They Call Me...

The Spider Monkey....



Hahahahaha....This is pretty much what Moon does to me on his 2nd barrel. He turns soooo hard, that he just about ejects me. I have no doubt that one of these days, Moon is going to make that turn...and *I* am not. ;-)

I don't know what to do about it, except just keep going and hope that at some point we get it smoothed out. Until then...if this is what it takes to win...I just have to go with it.

'Cause Moon did win this race. By a full 2 tenths of a second.

This was the CWBRA Finals race. Moon ran a 17.840 and the next fastest time was an 18.059. It was a particularly exciting win for me because the horse that ran the 18.059 was a horse that has been to the NFR recently. Now, I'm pretty sure that the Pro rider wasn't asking this horse for a 'rodeo run'...but up until I ran Moon, her time was spanking the local girls, as the next fastest time was an 18.228. The 18.228 time was run by a girl that has been consistently winning our local barrel racings all summer. Moon has run behind her all this time...so it felt darned good to finally come out on top.

To be perfectly honest...I about fell off Moon when they announced my time. I did NOT think he was making time at all during his run. The ground was weird and everyone was running much slower times than normal. In fact, the ground was so weird that poor Spooks slipped horribly on his 2nd barrel and Spooks never slips in his turns. Moon lost his grip on the ground at both his 1st and 2nd barrel as well. So when they announced my time, I thought they said 18.8. That's about what I thought it should have been, so when everyone started cheering, I was a little confused. I asked someone standing beside me what time they just said and when they told me a 17.8...I was shocked.

I have figured out two very, VERY!!! important things about Moon...

He makes his fastest runs when he is so quiet before the race that you think he is practically in a coma. I mean closed eyes, dropped head, hind leg cocked...that kind of a dead quiet. It has taken up most of the year to really figure out what is the best warm-up/get ready to run approach and I had to deal with some gate issues along the way. We are over the gate issues, but I still spend a lot of time working on that. Camping by the gate as much as possible well before Moon's run and then again after, walking him back into the arena whenever possible, waiting until he is relaxed, getting off and loosening his cinch and then just hanging out is all working to help teach Moon how to handle his adrenaline pumps and also that I just want him to approach the gate in a relaxed, confident and focused manner...every.single.time! He is learning that *I* will tell him when it's time to make a run and until that time, there is no sense in getting excited. When he starts his runs dead quiet...he's deadly fast. :D

The other thing is...Do NOT use the bat on Moon's butt during a run. Moon doesn't need any encouragement to run, but I have popped him on the butt a couple of times as he is running into his pocket because I can feel him wanting to turn too hard and too early. MOST horses respond to a little pop on the butt by shooting forward just that little extra bit. Popping Moon on the butt just makes him want to work that much harder and in Moon's mind...working harder ='s turning harder. What is most effective on Moon, is if I just keep my bat in my left hand and lay it along his shoulder. When he starts to turn too hard/too soon, I just have to roll my hand and tap him...when he feels the bat touch his shoulder, he doesn't drop into the turn as quick.

That is the ONLY way I kept him off of the barrel in those photos above. ^^^^ It makes for some ugly-looking riding...but we ARE getting around the barrels and I think that it will eventually all smooth out. Moon is an over-achiever....always has been and probably always will be...but I do think we are getting to the point where I know exactly what and where the problems arise and if I can just circumvent him from making the same mistakes over and over...eventually he will start to relax a little bit and just let it flow.

My goal is to get him to just flow forward through the turn like he does on the first barrel.

But as always, part of the problem is me. I cannot seem to find the right 'feel' before Moon gets to that second barrel. There is an oh-so subtle shape and softness that I am not getting from Moon, even though I am working hard to get it...
I had people tell me I 'rated' Moon all the way across from 1st to 2nd barrel...and while that may very well be what it looks like...it's not at all what I am asking him for...I am asking for SHAPE. Moon has it in this picture ^^ and as you can see from the bit shanks...they are not pulled back, so all I am doing is lifting and shaping...not pulling. But right before we set into the 2nd turn, we are losing shape and Moon just dives into the turn. My guess is that I am dropping my hand and shoulder...which is encouraging Moon to drop and turn out from under me as he did in the pictures above.

THIS is what Moon looks like when I rate him too soon...
I have no idea why I did this. Moon was running to 3rd and was in the perfect position and had great shape, but one full stride too soon, I set him for the turn and dropped the outside rein. Moon started to turn and I went, 'Oh shit' and just pushed my body forward to keep him going. It was nip and tuck, cause right here...
I thought that barrel was toast. It was will power, sucking my knee into him and sheer luck that got us by it.

And finally...this is a picture that clearly shows why I have to work so hard to control Moon's shoulder...
Do you see the neck on this horse? More specifically how deep he ties into the shoulder? He's like a darned bull. When Moon stiffens his neck and shoulder...trying to get him to unstiffen is like trying to get a 2x4 to bend. I can only do so much to correct him because Moon's first instinct is ALWAYS to stiffen into pressure even more. It's just his personality, always has been and most likely always will be. What I am searching for is a happy medium. In a way, Moon very much reminds me of Carlee Pierce's horse, Rare Dillon...
Rare Dillon has a rather unorthodox style of turning...especially his 2nd barrel. Carlee says she has to just ride him deep into the turn and then let him turn. This is not how EW likes a horse to turn, but it is becoming such a struggle between Moon and I to get the EW kind of shape on him going into that 2nd barrel, that I may have to give up on getting that perfect shape and just figure out what works the best for Moon. Another barrel racer whose videos and pictures I have been studying is Christie Peterson on Bozo. LOL...I used to kind of laugh at Christie Peterson...I mean, here is a woman who made it to the NFR multiple times and if you watch her runs...she is slopping around in the saddle like a wet rag, when Bozo turns the 2nd barrel. NOW I KNOW WHY!! and will never make fun of her again. Some horses just turn so stinking hard that it's impossible to actually look GOOD when you are running them.

I have just come to the conclusion that I am no longer interested in staying home and running locally until my runs become 'pretty'. Right now Moon can win/place against some very tough horses...it's time to just go for it and make it work for us however we can.