After yet another jacked up rodeo run, I finally had to call 'uncle'. I was sitting with CZ, a fellow barrel racer watching the rest of the slack and I felt utterly defeated. Girl after girl goes out and makes mostly smooth, effortless runs and I know I have a horse that can run in the top end and yet, I cannot seem to get the same kind of smooth and effortless runs that they are making. I just don't want to struggle with Moon any more and he doesn't deserve to have go through jacked up run after jacked up run. I tell CZ that I think it's just time to go home and take a breather...Invest some serious time getting another horse going and see if I click with that one better. 'Cause this just isn't working. She looks at me with big eyes and says, 'No you can't quit. If you really don't like this one, sell him and buy one that does suit you.'
I had to laugh at that because, although I have threatened to sell Moon a few times over the years, He is NOT for sale. Not at any price. But it did get me to thinking...You know...If I cannot get clicking with Moon...I might be in trouble. Both Bugs and Shooter move just like Moon and just like him, they have uncanny athletic ability. Uncanny in the sense that none of these horses act like they have a desire to move too fast or work too hard, but when you ask for something...They can do it so stinking quick and with so much power that they can unseat you if your not paying attention. If I can't ride Moon in competition mode, what is going to make it any easier to ride either of them?
I sat there and mulled that over for a little bit, and finally had to ask CZ if she thought there was any way to fix my riding problems on Moon. She beamed at me and said, "I thought you would never ask."
CZ and I left the rodeo grounds and headed back over to the casino facility where we were keeping our horses. I resaddled Moon, cleared my head and opened my mind. CZ has an entirely different style of riding than I do, but the one that I keep trying to emulate is not working out for Moon and I. It's not that the Ed Wright style I've worked so hard on is wrong...It's just not working for Moon and I.
CZ says it's just not the right style for a horse that runs like Moon, long, low and level. It's great for some horses. Particularly those that lift their heads up to help them balance for a rate and turn. Which of course is why EW's style worked so well on Spooks. That is exactly how he ran and EW's style felt completely natural when I rode the big black horse.
Moon on the other hand, he stretches his whole body out to run...or at least he would like to...and when he rates, he drops his whole body and would like to lean into the turn a little bit. The reason Moon and I keep getting into fights at the pocket is because I am trying to pick him up and shorten his stride and it's unnatural and uncomfortable for him.
As CZ is explaining these things to me, light-bulbs are flashing in my head. This is all things I know or have suspected about Moon. More and more I have wondered what Moon would do if I just quit trying to lift him up and position him? What would he do if I just dropped my hands and let him make a run?
Don't get me wrong...I think EW's style works and I learned a ton from that man. The problem is, *I* have been unable to get it right on Moon. So while we made a lot of progress thanks to Ed, I have to change tactics on Moon. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That is kind of the loop I was in with Moon and I did not know how to get out of it.
CZ had me switch out my reins to an adjustable length set and I took the tie-down off of Moon and we set to work. CZ watched me ride Moon my normal way for a little bit and then started coaching. We lengthened out my reins to that I could rest them on Moon's shoulder with just the barest of contact with his mouth. She said this gives me a spot to drop my hands to whenever I get the urge to pull and if that isn't enough to stop the urge, to wrap my fingers in his mane. I had to laugh. Poor Moon might end up with a bald spot in his mane over this. LOL.
Next she showed me 3 little maneuvers to do with my hands. When I am running to a barrel, I am supposed to have my hands resting on Moon's neck, with them perpendicular, thumbs on top....
As I am approaching the barrel, all I do is lift the thumb on the inside hand...lifting the thumb sort of automatically makes you move your hand forward a little bit. She said it's basically like 'putting on the blinker'....
Once Moon is where he needs to be to turn, I am supposed to rotate my hand to a perpendicular position (fingers down)...
That tells him it's time to turn.
On the backside of the barrel, all I have to do is bring my hand back toward my hip a couple of inches. Basically, my hand is back in line with where I started from and when he leaves for the next barrel, all I have to do is rotate it back into it's perpendicular position.
I practiced the maneuvers for a little bit and was impressed with how soft and fluid Moon started to feel just circling around. His head wasn't coming up, his nose was just following my hand and then his body would just bend and come on around. So we got out a barrel and I trotted and loped around it a few times. What an amazing difference. Like IMMEDIATELY.
I decided it was worth a shot to see if this would work in competition, most of all, I was determined to get a run on Moon where I wasn't in his face. I just wanted to see if I could keep my hands on his neck and let him make a run all on his own.
The last bit of advice CZ gave me was that I needed to roll my pelvis down and let my back round as I was coming into the barrel. I was glad she told me, but interestingly enough, when I made my run, that came naturally.
To be perfectly honest, the only thing I had on my mind when I lined Moon up to make his run was just letting him run. I would try to ride him with my eyes and body, but I really didn't have any intention of moving my hands off of his neck.
I was almost physically ill when I lined Moon up to make that run. I didn't know if he was going to plow over the barrels or simply run off. I kind of doubted the running off, but I didn't really know what he would do if I didn't move my hands at all.
Coming down the alley way, I made sure to push Moon into the correct lead and kept contact with the reins until I felt him lock onto the 1st barrel, but then I dropped my hands to his neck and let him roll. He sort of veered off to the right, and I expect it was because I have always held him up between my hands to the 1st barrel. He was anticipating having my hand to lean on and it wasn't there. I just kept looking at the 1st barrel and he took off for it. I was really unprepared for Moon to turn that first barrel as perfectly as he did. I mean...he just laid in there and inhaled it. It felt better than any time I have tried to ride him to it. I was so amazed, I just kept looking down at him turning that barrel without a single bit of 'help' from me. CZ was at the fence yelling, "Look UP, LOOK UP!'. I finally did and when I did, I instinctively lifted my hand and pushed forward. Moon hadn't quite finished his turn and I pushed him right out of it.
He blew sideways across the arena and I was struggling to get him back on track with my hands, but it clicked in that I wasn't supposed to be using my hands and I dropped them back to his neck and used my outside leg. Moon made a valiant effort to get back over to where he needed to be, but we didn't quite make it and we tagged the 2nd barrel. Afterward, CZ told me I was still pulling on the outside rein and had my left shoulder forward and braced. Which of course, makes Moon brace his shoulder and that is when he drops it in and we hit barrels.
I had my hands back down on his neck now though and I didn't take them off again. Moon hauled butt to the 3rd barrel and I could feel my urge to sit up and pull kicking in. I wrapped my fingers in his mane and said, 'Nope, not this time!' The second I relaxed...so did Moon and he absolutely inhaled that 3rd barrel. I do not know if I have ever felt him turn a barrel in such perfect form. He was in and out of there in a blink and he never came anywhere close to hitting it. It was absolute perfection.
Every question I have ever wondered was answered in that one run. Without a doubt, Moon does not need me 'helping' him turn the barrels. For the first time ever, I knew exactly what he was capable of doing...all on his own. And it felt incredible. I didn't even care that we hit the 2nd barrel because knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I had just left my hands down and used my outside leg to bring him over, Moon would have made that turn just as easily as he made the other two.
You know that old saying, 'I may be slow, but I ain't dumb?'...Well, that's how I feel. I may have been slow by not changing tactics earlier, mostly because I didn't really know what else to do, but I sure as heck am not dumb enough to go back to trying to do what I was before.
Now I know what EW meant when he was telling me Moon was a 'neat' horse. He is not just neat, he is absolutely incredible. I could hardly wait for Sunday to come. I had one more run to make at this barrel race and I could hardly wait to do it all over again and see if we couldn't make it a little better the 2nd time around.
To be continued...