So after our run in Eagle Mountain, I took care of Moon and decided to take the opportunity to put a little experience training on Bugs. The wind was blowing like crazy and the arena was lined with banners...
See where this is going?
Bugs is a spooky little dink and I thought, rather than beat Moon to death (that thought was foremost in my brain most of the weekend), I might as well go torture Bugs with some blowing, flapping banners. Oohhh boy, was that fun! (full sarcasm intended)
So I am riding Bugs around the arena and he is blowing and snorting this way and that way in pure terror of all of the blowing banners and I am rather enjoying his discomfort. Why yes...I DO a bit of have a mean streak in me. In all seriousness though, Bugs is really going to have to learn how to get over some of his spookiness. He's absolutely no good to me if every little thing continues to bother him...a blowing banner, a dirt clod on the ground, some imagined vision out of the corner of his eye...It doesn't take much to make him booger. It's getting old. Time to just learn to get over it and learn to focus on more important things...like ME and turning some cans!!
There was another lady riding around as well. Doing the same thing I was doing with Bugs...Just letting her green horse get used to the distractions of the real world. Her's was going much better than mine. LOL.
Eventually though, Bugs did settle down and I could walk him up to and along the fence with all of the banners flapping and whipping in the wind. And me and this other lady got to talking. I never did catch her name, but I gathered that her daughter had made a run as well, but all she said was they didn't win any money either. She remembered Moon's run though and thought he was a pretty neat horse. So we got to talking about that. I lamented on how hard I was working to perfect my riding and the changes I had made and the help I had gotten that had worked, but now I was running into the same problem with him wanting to run over the barrels. I told her I was about at my wits end because it sucked having a horse with Moon's potential and not being able to get any consistency.
Then she said something very profound...She said, "It doesn't sound like he has very much honor."
In the past I have accused Moon of being a cheating sucker and Ed Wright told me that was absolutely not the case. There was nothing wrong with Moon. I just rode like shit. I took that to heart and stopped blaming Moon for things going wrong and started working on myself. For the last 2 years I have done almost nothing but work on myself. My hands, my legs, my timing, anything and everything I could think of to make myself a better pilot. It all worked for a run or two and then I'd start having problems again. I pattern Moon a couple of times a week, but to be honest, I think harder about what *I* am supposed to be doing than what he is doing...outside of feeling for when he feels right...but I'm trying to remember what I did that got him to do that something right. Know what I mean?
Believe me, at this point, I am ready to listen to what anyone, who seems to know what they are doing, has to say. Listening to CZ was tremendously beneficial. So I was ready to listen to what this lady had to say too. Running with these pro girls, I have figured out that very little of what they do and how they run corresponds to what EW teaches. There is absolutely no time to do all of the little things EW teaches. Everything just has to be automatic and click if you want to pick up a check.
Again...I want to make it perfectly clear...I am NOT bashing on EW!!! What he teaches is absolutely necessary to know. I just look back and think that because I respect EW so much, I took some of what he said too much to heart. I know he liked Moon a lot. I don't think he liked me much though because what he saw is a horse with a lot of talent and his rider who keeps getting stuck in defense-mode on said horse. I tried to explain to EW that Moon is more than what he seems...ie-the continually outthinking his rider thing...and he told me I was full of shit. I do however think EW severely underestimated the kind of horse that Moon is in the smarts category. Moon may look like he is trying to get a long, but he has always been the kind of horse that puts a lot of thought into figuring out if he can get away with something. Give him an inch and he's going to take a mile.
So for someone to finally say that, "Yes, there are horses that lack the desire to honor their rider's requests." was a very welcome opinion. So I asked this anonymous lady, 'Can you fix that?'
She starts telling me that she has bought and fixed a lot of problematic horses and that most of the problems revolve around one of two things; Either the horse is hurting somewhere or they simply lack respect and are running around the pattern doing whatever they damn well want to. We went over my health care routine for Moon and she agreed that pain is probably not the issue. However, I am going to have my chiro out to work on Moon just to make sure there is nothing going on.
The next thing she told me to do was to get Moon on the pattern...EVERY DAY...twice a day if I need to for the next 21 days. This part will probably freak a few people out...but she also told me to put the biggest, meanest bit I owned on him and to get an over and under or a long chunk of lariat rope. It's time to get Moon to thinking about doing things the right way, not the way he thinks they should be done.
Every day, I am supposed to start the pattern at a walk, on a loose rein. I can put cones out if I want to to help us judge our distance from the barrel. She said with a horse that wants to duck into the barrel, work them on the outside of the cones. For a horse that wants to blow out of a turn, work them on the inside of the cones. I told her I thought Moon needed about a 4 foot pocket coming into the 1st barrel and a 5 foot pocket coming into both the 2nd and 3rd barrel and asked her if she thought that was too much. She did not think that was overly wide and with a horse that is inclined to drift in anyway, it's better to give them a little extra room to start.
Funny thing is, as soon as she mentioned the lack of honor, I knew exactly what I needed to be doing with Moon. I have used this tactic before, but because EW told me Moon had waaayyyy too much rate, I stopped because he said it was what was causing him to overrate before he turned. I asked anonymous lady about that and she shrugged. She said right at this moment it was more about getting Moon to respect and honor the pocket...and me...again, than it was worrying about his rate. He would quickly find out it wasn't about rating, it was about honoring the space I requested he have around the barrel.
I am to let Moon walk the pattern and while I can pick up on the rein to shape him, I am not supposed to add pressure or guide him. It is Moon's job to walk around the pattern exactly where I want him to go, while holding his shape. As soon as he holds his position/shape through the entire pattern, the next time through, I am to trot him. Again, all I am supposed to have to do is pick up the rein to shape him, no pressure and no guiding. If Moon tries to fade in at any point, the first time I am supposed to stop, back up and then counter arc him in a full circle, bring him back into position and ask him to finish/repeat the turn...He HAS to maintain the position on his own. If he holds his position, go to the next barrel, but if he falls into the pocket the second time around, this time I am supposed to get active with my inside hand and then spank him either on the shoulder or the butt, ONE TIME and counter arc him around again and bring him back into position. The more persistent he is about fading into the pocket, the more aggressive I need to get about correcting him until he finally stops fading in and figures out he is just supposed to pick up and hold that shape until I say differently.
The point is not to beat him into submission, but to wake his mind up and get him thinking again, not just wallering around and pushing on the rein every time I pick my hand up or move it. That cue is supposed to tell him to get prepared to turn...NOT lean into the rein. He cannot leave that turn until he maintains his position on his own at whatever gait I am asking of him. Each time he goes through the pattern and holds his position on his own, I am supposed to increase the speed the next time through. Walk to trot, trot to lope, lope to a slow run. But a slow run is as fast as I am supposed to go. When he can make a slow run through without me touching him. Quit for the day.
She said we might have to go around that pattern 50 times the first day and I might have to really get after him. But do not stop until he will carry himself around the pattern without guidance. And no slacking off. I feel like he is even remotely thinking about fading in or he puts so much as a single pound of pressure on the inside rein, I have to get after him and take that out of his mind. As aggressively as I need to.
Repeat the exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY!!! for the next 21 days. She called it the '21-Day Rule'...You know the one about it taking 21 days to make or break a habit??...
Now, here's the thing...The goal is to get Moon to honor the pocket (and my hand) the first time at every gait. She said the exercise not only teaches a horse to honor the rider, it firms up in their mind exactly where they need to be in the pattern and once they KNOW where to be, they will try harder to maintain that position during a run because it feels natural to them. She said a lot of times when horse starts ducking into the pockets they have become uncertain about what position they need to be in. They aren't exactly sure where to be in the pocket, but they know they need to turn the barrel and that becomes their major priority. Thinking about the rider doesn't even enter their mind anymore. Once it has become a habit, they will literally fight to get to that position during a run.
Well, that sounds exactly like what is happening to Moon and I. He knows he has to make the turn and that is ALL that is on his mind. And then I had to resort to riding defensively...which is just a nightmare. When I would change things up, it would confuse him just long enough to get a good run or two out of him, but then he would just revert back to ignoring me and deciding he was going to make that turn the way that had become a habit for him.
I might add...This exercise is ONLY designed for horses that have become problematic. It's not what you might call a 'training' technique. It's a wake-up call and after that it's about re-establishing a firm understanding of exactly where they need to be...and stay! when they are running in competition. Like I said, I have used this tactic before and I think the reasons it didn't work was Moon was not as advanced as he is now, he was still a little green and was just starting to pick up speed (speed we weren't really ready to handled) AND also I didn't stick with it long enough to make a lasting impression.
I headed back down the road, still a bit heartsick over that tipped barrel...but still tingly from how fast Moon had clocked on that run. I don't have any doubt that he has what it takes to win...I feel loads more comfortable running him in the style CZ showed me and now it's just a matter of getting Moon to hold his position and/or move if I need him to.
The next morning, I opted not to enter the barrel race at the facility we were staying at. Instead I got Moon out, warmed him up for a long time and put him on the practice pattern, exactly like I had been told. The only bit I have with any 'bite' to it is Moon's reining bit, so I put that on him. He's used to it and respects it. We walked the pattern. Perfect. We trotted the pattern. He did want to lean a little on the way to 1st. Cleaned that up no problem. Wanted to drop into the pocket at 2nd. No big surprise there, but he cleaned that up pretty quickly. Man, he did not want to hold a position going around that 3rd barrel and that was were I had to resort to swatting his butt. At a trot mind you. :-/. After that, he decided maybe he would hold his position.
Then we loped...Oh crap!! Charge, lean, duck, dive...He was all over the place!! We worked at the lope for quite a long while. Moon was pretty sure he was just going to charge up to that barrel and dive around it. That was not happening!! Not even a smigeon!!
We stopped, backed, counterarced, he fought the counterarc and I had to alternate swatting him on the shoulder and on the butt, he charged around and got goofy and I was getting a little embarrassed. There were a lot of people around and I wondered if maybe this was too much going on at once...or if I really wanted this being observed...and then all of the sudden it was like something clicked in his brain and out of the blue, he loped a perfect pattern. Nice, collected and relaxed...and he held his position without me even touching the reins.
I stopped right there. Got off, loosened his cinch and cooled him out. That was the moment I had been looking for. Moon finally relinquished mental control and decided to play nice. The first day was as ugly as it got. Since then it has just taken minor touch-ups to get him to perfect his position and we are on and off the pattern in about 15 minutes.
The funny thing is...This is the 2nd time I have gotten schooled on things I already knew. If anyone had come to me and asked me what to do about a horse that was persistently tagging barrels, this is the exact technique I would have told them to do. I also fell right into the trap I get after other people for...Don't let your horse be the boss. LOL!
I'll get the chance to check out his progress this weekend at a couple of local jackpots. We are going to need to reaffirm that he is listening, in a competitive setting but without the pressure of a rodeo. Now it's Moon's turn to prove he can run with some honor.