I did accomplish the goals I set out for myself...and in the end got one of those 'magical' runs. I think I am still a little high from it. LOL. It wasn't fast enough for any money. An 18.16 on a full pattern is not exactly smokin, but I was determined not to rush Moon. Pretty much my goal right now is to implement the changes we worked on for 2 weeks and get them to work during a competitive run. It worked out pretty well. Only 2 bobbles over 3 runs and both of them at the same spot...the 3rd barrel.
On the 1st run, Moon came out of the 2nd barrel so straight he was running right at the 3rd barrel and he wasn't moving over. I picked up on the outside rein to move him over and he came, but I didn't let go of the outside rein and we just went flying by the 3rd barrel. LOL. The positive aspect of that is...He was listening to me. Hahahaha. I can't blame Moon for being the only one with 'sticky spots'. I got in the really crappy habit of using the outside rein to keep him from diving on the 2nd and 3rd barrels and whenever I feel like he is too close to the barrel, I lock up and haul on the outside rein. It hurt our time for sure, but Moon wasn't firing anyway and even with a smooth run, we would have been way out of the money.
His 2nd run, he was firing a little harder, but the ground got me. It had rained the night before and after Moon skittered around 1st and 2nd barrels, my brain just panicked a little bit and I checked him down for the 3rd barrel too much and he didn't have enough momentum to get around it. It's one of those dumb things a person does. In my heart I know that the worse the ground is, the more I need to just leave Moon alone so he can do his job, but my head (and hands) over-powered me and I safetied up. That one I probably took us out of the money. We were only 3 10ths out of the money (sans the tipped barrel) and I know we lost at least that much when I shut him down at the 3rd barrel. :-(
If 2 weeks of slow work did nothing else for us, something started clicking in my head....
Moon actually does require 'help' getting shaped up for the 1st barrel. He's much stiffer in the ribcage on that side and not as inclined to shape his body and round into the turn. However, on the left side he is as soft as butter. I drop a leg on him and he just shapes up from nose to tail and can turn around through himself very effortlessly. We actually spent more time working on 1st barrel than we did on 2nd and 3rd. At first I was like, WTH??...First barrel is our 'good' barrel. But then it started making sense....1st has typically been our better barrel because I DO have to ride more aggressively with my leg and hands. The problem is...after we get out of that turn...Moon doesn't need me any more...Yet, I never quit riding in an aggressive manner.
I really clicked in after the first 2 runs. Moon's first and second barrels had been really good both times. I helped him around the 1st barrel and then relaxed and let him do his job at the 2nd barrel, but both times that I got 'handsy' with him at the 3rd barrel, I screwed him up.
So I told myself, for this last run...come hell or high water...I was not going to use the reins to position him for his 2nd or 3rd barrels. All I needed to do was remember to drop a leg on him. I lengthened out my reins another couple of inches and tied pieces of plastic bag around the knots in the rein where I knew my hands needed to be. I wanted that scrunchy feeling and sound there to remind me NOT to slide my left hand down the rein.
Moon hadn't really been firing like his normal self in the previous runs and I didn't know if he was going to keep that up or fire harder than heck this last time. I was determined to continue with the not pushing him method. Even though I had messed him up both time on the 3rd barrel, he was just running so much more comfortably and confidently...and I didn't want to lose that feeling. Getting Moon to fire is not hard, you just have to ask. Getting him to run at a comfortable pace, in a controlled manner...That's way more of an accomplishment. The speed will come back, of that I have no doubts whatsoever...I just want him to turn it on, on his own.
Right when they were calling the first barrel racer in at the last rodeo...The lights went out. I was already on Moon and ready to make my run. If we had known that it would take like 30 minutes for the lights to come back on, I would have gotten off immediately, but they kept saying that they would be on any second. Moon was getting hot under the collar. Finally I did have to get off and just hand-walk him so he would relax. To make matters worse, there was a huge storm rolling toward us. The thunder and lightening was getting bad and you could smell the rain. All of us barrel racers were laughing about making our runs between lightening bolts...but we were definitely a little nervous.
With the storm almost on top of us, the lights finally came back on and you never seen barrel racers move so fast to get through their runs. LOL.
Thankfully, Moon had mostly relaxed. His heart wasn't thumping anymore, but he was still 'up' and ready to go. He was back to charging toward the gate, so I knew he was definitely going to fire harder this time. I was really going to have to control my urge to push him too hard. I'm not going to lie...It's exciting when Moon feels like that and it gets my adrenaline pumping. The problem is, I have been letting my adrenaline get ahead of my horse. Right now, it's time to work on being up with my horse, but letting him take the lead. It's one of the attributes I have noticed about the girls that win...They have such an aura of cool, confidence when they run. They are there, in position and ready to help or correct, but they aren't anticipating. They are just there, where they need to be.
Moon definitely fired harder this time. He set me back in the saddle his first couple of strides. I let my mind think, 'Whoo-hoo'...but didn't let my body do anything but get re-balanced and get my hands set. I think Moon was anticipating me jumping up and starting to push him and when I didn't he just relaxed and leveled out. I love that feeling too. I don't have to think too much about what to do at 1st barrel. I keep a leg on Moon the whole way and just bump enough to keep his ribcage soft. A couple of checks on the rein and he slides around the turn. The hard part for me is to remember not to jump him out of the turn. So when he hits the backside of the barrel, I have to start telling myself, 'Hold it, hold it, hold it'. I'm really working on keeping my left hand on the horn and using my right hand to hold him in the turn until his hip has cleared the barrel. Keeping my hand down and bringing it back toward my hip is really helping Moon stay shaped all the way through the turn and it's eliminating my tendency to jump out of the saddle before he has finished turning. When I jump up in the saddle too soon, Moon's powerful push off throws me off balance and it takes a couple of strides for me to get back in rhythm with him and the problem is, with the length of stride Moon has...a couple of strides makes it feel like the 2nd barrel is rushing at us and I don't feel like I have enough time to get him ready for the 2nd turn. Panic mode! LOL.
This time I knew I nailed staying sitting through the turn because I felt Moon's hind end slip as he was coming out of the turn and I didn't have to drop my hand to the horn to balance myself...It was already there. Moon caught himself easily and took off running for the 2nd barrel. I kept my left hand down and my right hand on the horn until I felt like I was with him and then lifted my right hand up to the rein. I felt for the plastic on the knot I needed. Three or four strides out, I felt myself wanting to slide my hand down the rein to 'prepare' Moon for the turn, but I instead, I made my hand milk the rein a little bit. That helped control my urge to stiffen up and go to his face. Instead, I kept my hands down, left the rein loose and dropped a leg on Moon. He rounded his body and took the 2nd turn as smooth as you please.
Okay...So that is when I got a little excited. I was like...'OMG...It w.o.r.k.s!!'...and I jumped forward in the saddle before Moon had finished his turn. I was like, 'Oh crap! Now I'm gonna take it with me on the way out?' I lifted my hand up and over Moon's neck and dropped a leg on him. He rounded his ribcage and we skimmed by.
He was running to 3rd and I did remember to drop my hands back down, but about 1/2 way there, I felt that horrible urge to 'do something' start to come over me. My hands were starting to move around and I was drawing a blank about what I needed to do to get him around the 3rd barrel. Fortunately, when my hands clenched on the rein, I felt the plastic scrunching and I relaxed. I don't need to do nuthin! Moon has this. I just need to give him his head, drop a leg on him and let him turn. And that is exactly what he did.
He was running for home so easy, that I relaxed too soon. He set up a stride before the eye and ducked off to the left. We barely made it past the eye and I had to really whip him back around so he didn't run over the flagman. Oops!
I knew that an 18.16 was not going to hold up for a money spot...but that was definitely the run I have been looking for. It was fast enough to be respectable...and yet slow enough that I had time to think my way through it. Moon felt comfortable and strong and he responded every time I asked for something.
it was a huge learning experience for me. I'm always talking about how smart Moon is...head-strong and opinionated as well...
The problem is, I haven't been using Moon's superior intellect to our advantage. I've been fighting letting him take the lead during our runs because I never really felt like I knew what was going to happen. Every once in a great while, I'd stay out of his way long enough for him to make an awesome run and then I'd be like, 'Where did that come from?'. Things that I have perceived as him over-doing my every little request...It's actually been Moon's natural ability shining through. He may need a little help staying shaped to take that 1st barrel, but he doesn't need me to 'help' him when he is turning to the left. It's so effortless for him that he can do it all on his own. All I have to do is remember to give him the room to make the turn and use a little leg to keep him round...Oh yea, and to keep my butt in the saddle until he has completed his turns. LOL.
My trust factor jumped like 10 stories and my confidence level is soaring. I finally have a cognitive memory of EXACTLY!! why this run worked. Somewhere along the line, Moon DID graduate to being the kind of horse I always thought he could be...I just didn't recognize it or was not willing to fully let go enough to let him prove it.
I've always felt that Moon was light years ahead of me in the barrel racing game. He gets it...I'm left trailing behind trying to figure out what just happened. If I was waiting for a sign...I just got it.