I headed over to a barrel racing practice in the evening and although I had intentions of taking LJ and The Big Bay, I got left late, so I knew I wouldn't have time to work them before the arenas got busy. Which is no big deal to LJ...so I'm not sure why I didn't throw him in the trailer too. I have an awful tendency to lump him in the same green category as TBB and Shooter...and he's not. I need to start remembering to take him every place that I take Moon and Frosty because he can handle it.
Anyway, so I started with Frosty and worked him on the pattern slow a couple of times and the 3rd time my name rolled around, I asked him for a run. He's feeling awfully comfortable just loping through the pattern in that 21 second region and really?...I mean come on. I know he's got more than that. I figured a good practice session like this would be a good time to bring out the bat and give Mr. Pokey a little pop on the butt coming out of that first barrel. I had a good idea it was going to freak him out a little...and it did. He got all concerned and couldn't get set up for his 2nd turn, so we circled that barrel a few times until he got his composure back and then I let him roll for the 3rd barrel. He was running a little freer, turned the 3rd barrel nicely and when he was clear of it and lined out for home, I gave him another couple light pops on the butt. Frosty grabbed another gear.
He was a little bug-eyed after that, so I asked the next girl coming in if I could just sit in the arena while she worked her horse and she said yes, so I just let Frosty walk around and calm down in the corner. It took a couple of minutes, but he finally relaxed, although he never did get quite as sleepy acting again as he was before I popped his butt. LOL. It's good for him to have to wake up a little. I guarantee, the rest of the night, when I mooched...He m.o.v.e.d.
Obviously that was not the kind of run I wanted to leave off on him with, so when my name rolled around again, we went back in. Again I asked him for a run...and this time, he was giving me a taste of what he has to offer.
He settled into that 1st turn just beautifully, I looked up to my next barrel and Frosty powered out. I was grinning from ear to ear. THIS was more like it!!
And then all hell broke loose. Frosty bogged his head, sucked back and blew straight up in the air. And here I am leaned out over him, getting ready to bring my hand up and get both hands on the reins. :-O. That dirty bugger broke plumb in half and I just knew I was bucked off. I managed to get a hand back on the horn, busting open a knuckle and jamming my pinky in the process, but I got ahold of the horn, pushed on it and kept myself from going straight out in front of him. Lucky for me, that was about all he had. He gave one more stiff legged jump and and then just went to hogging around until I got his head pulled up.
Without missing a beat, I pointed him at the 2nd barrel...he hadn't even bucked off pattern. LOL. And we finished our run. The gal in the announcer stand says, 'Nice bronc ride, wanna go again?'. I couldn't help but laugh and said, 'Sure'. So we did. Turned right back around and made another run.
Frosty finally broke out of the 21 second runs. He ran a 20.9. LMFAO!!!...And he didn't buck again!!
I had an inkling this was going to happen again at some point though, so I can't say that I was entirely surprised. He took me by surprise, but I wasn't shocked that it happened. Remember how I mentioned how strange Frosty's stride felt? I know the horse is uncomfortable stretching out and running, but it's not the same as a horse that just doesn't know how. It's like at the end of his stride, he is getting yanked back. A horse that is just uncomfortable with speed will stretch out and run and then shut down, stretch out and run and then shut down or they'll feel a little panicky and sort of want to run off. What I feel in Frosty is completely different. It's my hope that it is mostly some residual musculature tightness from the long-term IR, but I know there is something not quite right about his hips as well and I don't believe it is correctable through chiropractic work. We are going to just keep working through this though. It would be a real shame if the horse is permanently limited, because he has, by far, the nicest turns I've felt on a horse in a long time. I would give anything if Moon's turns were 1/2 as smooth as Frosty's. :-/.
After I got my good run, I made Frosty go through again at a nice, long-trot the next time. Mentally cooling him out and then he was done.
I pretty much figured all of the gate-work I had done on Moon the previous week was shot after last weekend's rodeos and sure enough...He did not want to go in the gate. I finally ended up having to back him in and then we just loped circles at the corner of the arena for our 1 minute and did not attempt the pattern. The next time around, Moon still didn't want to go in, but finally did and then pulled that, 'I'm not looking at the barrel' thing again, so this time we loped circles at the other corner of the arena for our 1 minute. The 3rd time, I'd had about enough of his crap, I could tell by then, he wasn't stressed, he was just being a butthead, so I grabbed my bat and when he spun away from the gate, he got a couple of good swats on the butt. I let another girl go ahead of me, while I continued to convince Moon that his antics were no longer appreciated and after he got the idea that I COULD keep swatting on his butt and wasn't going to stop until he faced up and walked in the gate...He walked right in. And I never had another issue the whole night.
See...I know the rules that we have to live by at competitions were put in place for a good reason, but it does make it tough when you get a smart horse that figures out you really CAN'T get after them too much. We can get fined or even DQed at rodeos for whomping on our horses at the gate, but at the same time...they time us and if we aren't in the gate within 2 minutes...which feels like eternity to the people watching the events...we are flagged out and can't run. So...as you can see...This gate issue with Moon is serious business. It's more than just being able to get set up properly to make a run, he could cost me an entire entry fee.
As you all well know, if I think the issue is stress-related, I'm perfectly willing to figure out whatever it takes to work through the mental block and make it as un-stressful as I can, but I also know Moon well enough to know when it stops being a stress issue and becomes a 'I don't wanna and you can't make me' issue. As Moon found out tonight, there are times I darned sure can MAKE him and once he realized the gig was up...That was the end of it.
After that, we got to work on some slow work on the pattern. I really just want to figure out where Moon is at, what's going on in his strides and test the waters to see if I can trust him. I know I have to get to the point where I'm not pulling on him as soon as possible. Because THAT is also part of the gate issue. *I'm* stressing Moon out during competition runs and he's getting more than a little tired of it.
We worked on perfecting his entry to the 1st barrel. He's getting really stiff on me and not rounding and wanting to kick that hip out. So we corrected that a couple of times and when he would relax, I'd just leave the pattern and wait for our next turn. The 3rd time through, he stayed correct and I let him make the turn. While we are working on these things, I work on perfecting my 'look'. And this time when he came around the 1st barrel in good form and I was looking and everything felt right...I just let him go.
I used my hands like I was supposed to to straighten and then reshape him and then just set them down on his neck and let him make the turn. It was a little abrupt, but I never touched his face. I just looked where I wanted him to go and he did. Between 2nd and 3rd, I did the same thing, made sure he was shaped right, guided him into the pocket and let him turn. I never touched his face.
Goll-dang it...THAT'S how I want to be able to ride him in competition!! And I think I can...If I just remember to do a couple of little things that I noticed I was doing wrong in those pictures. I was very stiff in my lower back in those pictures, so during practice, I made sure to not sit up before Moon got into the turn, I just curled my lower back a little and relaxed my hips and that was all it took for me to keep my butt in the saddle and yet stay forward and with Moon when he was turning.
I would have liked to have made another practice run, but since I accomplished what I wanted to, I just used the rest of my time to keep working on relaxing and softening him and loping big circles around the barrels until he maintained a nice, flowing stride and then moved on to the next. I kept practicing curling my lower back and looking though and by the end of the session, Moon was back to his normal self...Walking in and out of the gate, standing, looking at and moving in a straight line toward the barrel, picking up the correct lead and that is where we called it good.
I think we're ready for our first Pro Rodeo of the year though. I told myself, that even if Moon goes blowing by every barrel, the only goal is to try to maintain the correct position, keep my hands very, very quiet and just look where I want him to go. It might actually take a few competition runs for Moon to relax and run the same kind of pattern he can in practice, but I'm prepared to let that happen. As long as he doesn't duck in, I really just need to focus on leaving him alone. Obviously, the hardest part is ME, learning how to maintain that same relaxed and trusting state of mind I have with him during practice. Moon isn't the only one who needs to learn to relax. LOL.