Thursday, March 6, 2014

Finding The Niche'

"The horse responds to comfort, they respond to peace better than about anything else you could do. So if the horse responds to you and you give him a little peace and comfort that means more to him than anything."
- Buck Brannaman

I know that all of these ups and downs that I have with Moon is like being on a roller coaster. If reading about it gives a person a headache...Imagine living it!

More than anything, I have come to realize that whether I ever really figure things out with Moon or not is irrelevant. This horse has brought a maturity to my riding skills that I haven't had for about 15 years, and more insight into my chosen event than I've ever had before in my life, if that is the extent of what we accomplish together, he has done his job well.

After the fiasco run at Scottsdale, I drove to Fort Mohave with the thought of, 'If I get there and am dreading running Moon, I am going to run Frosty instead!'. Not that there wouldn't have been a hope in hell of Frosty even coming close to a competitive time, but at least it would have been a fun run. ;-)

But by the time I got to FM, I had come to the conclusion that I have pretty much done everything I can to get Moon around the barrel and he wasn't helping me. In fact, it is his tendency to bear down on my inside hand and dive into the turn too early that is causing me to do all sorts of weird/funky/ugly things to keep him off. I KNOW when he is going to do what he does the instant I make my move to prepare for the turn and I can't stop him unless I do make all of those funky moves. Either reaching way down the inside rein or standing up in my stirrups and heaving on the outside rein.

I decided that maybe it's time to put a little onus on Moon. I'm trying my damnedest to ride him right and he's not giving me anything back in return.

Now, I know why people watch Moon practice and wonder what the heck happens during the competitive run and the fact is...During practice Moon may show his tendency to want to set into the turn too soon, but he is completely correctible. It's only during a real competitive run that he completely ignores me when I go to pick up my hand, drop a leg on him and ask him to roll forward through the turn. THAT'S when that horrible 'bearing down' feeling happens and my panic sets in.

So that got me to thinking...Is Moon just confused about what my cues mean or is he just so set in and determined to make that turn that he is purposely blocking me out?

That kind of sheds a new light on things doesn't it?

It's completely plausible that Moon has become confused about what the exact cues are meant for him to do. After all, we have never been really strong at that 2nd barrel and I have done a lot of crap to try to get it right. But even if I don't touch him, he still wants to duck in maybe he's just confused about exactly where he's supposed to get too.

But Moon being Moon...headstrong, opinionated and determined...Maybe he has just decided, to hell with what she's asking me to do, I'm going to do it the way I want to!

Whatever the reasoning...It finally became blatantly obvious to me after the Scottsdale run that I have no control over Moon and we are simply at war with each other about how to get around that 2nd and sometimes 3rd barrel.

I don't do war with a horse. I will wrestle, argue, coax, and show a horse the same thing over and over and over until I get the desired result and he/she gets the idea and starts to figure out what I'm asking for. And then I am perfectly willing to leave them alone and let them do their job. I really am. I don't pick on my horses. All I want is for them to know the correct response and give it to me every.single.time I ask for it and life is pretty easy for them.

The toughest thing about Moon is, his whole life, he has been a horse who's first impulse is to resist pressure. He's a soft-mouthed horse, but he is not a soft-faced horse and he welds that wedge-shaped neck and stiff jaw of his as his defense. Simply put...He's a 'rooter'. His first instinct always has been to root out against pressure, not give to it. Oh, he will give and he will hold a nice frame, but it's hard work for him and he resents it. He damn sure isn't going to hold it of his own accord.

I came to the conclusion on the drive to MH that it's time to correct Moon's line of thinking. Whether I caused it or whether he is just being a dick. He's doing it wrong and he obviously isn't going to change his mind on his own.

I put his reining bit on him, loosened up his tie-down a notch and made a run. All I wanted to do was be able to pick him up in that once certain little spot and I would try my damnedest not to hit him with the bit anywhere in between. Moon's reining bit is the only bit he respects, although it is not exactly severe...
It's just a broken mouthpiece...since he does have a soft mouth. It's the length of the shanks that gives it it's bite for Moon. He does not resist breaking at the poll and lifting up with this bit nearly as much as he does with anything else. It has the leverage necessary to even us out. I pick up, he thinks about rooting against it and then decides not to.

Of course, the biggest thing I was concerned about was the way my hands have a tendency to fly all over with him and I haven't even considered using a harsher bit on him, I keep trying to go lighter, because of it.

Funny thing is, that run, my hands didn't fly all over. I knew full well that Moon was not going to get the chance to bear down on this bit and my only goal was to get up there, drive him into his pockets and tap him with it IF/when I felt him starting to bear down on my hand. First was better than ever. Second was really, really good. A little bit of hesitancy when Moon started to bear down on my hand and I just tapped him once, he lifted up and snapped around that turn like he should. I knew I took him a bit by surprise at the 2nd though and he would try a little harder to bear into my hand on 3rd...and he did, but I kept him off the barrel, even made him over a step in the turn. He was quit surprised and on the run home, I could feel him thinking.

Moon thinking is a tough call. I could tell I had disrupted him during a run, but since the turns were a lot smoother than usual, I was hoping that he was putting 2 and 2 together that THAT is what I was after and not sitting there thinking of ways to circumvent me the next time we made a run. I never discount Moon's ability to reason through things anymore. He is without a doubt the smartest horse I have ever ridden. He's not a dishonest horse, but his tendency to lock onto doing things the way HE thinks they should be done, regardless of whether it feels good or not, is what makes him a tough horse to ride. I have absolutely no doubt that if I had been prepared for a horse like Moon when I started competing again, he would have been a freaking rockstar.

I was really hoping that that run wasn't a fluke, just another, 'I got him that time', but then he would outthink me the next time kind of deal that seems to happen to us so frequently, so I decided to put a run on him before the Queen Creek pro rodeo. That's why I was at Dunn's when the horse broke his leg. I didn't get my run in and part of the reason I pulled was because I didn't have my tie-down. I thought since I had loosened it up so much at Fort Mohave, that I could do without it. I was not like the way Moon warmed up without the tie-down and I realized that even with it loose, I should have brought it and kept things exactly the same as they were at FM. My bad. Jumping ahead again.

I did decide to take him to Rancho Rio today though. I really need to make sure we are still on the same page. This time I had the tie-down on and even though it is very loose, Moon warmed up better. He was really good at the gate. No spin outs, no resistance. I really want him to travel straighter to the gate, he was canting off to the left and that makes him pick up his left lead and not his right, but the fact that he was moving forward and wanting to go right in the gate kept me from picking on him to straighten out.

He was in the wrong lead when he left and was wanting to run pretty stiff, but again...Not the time to pick on him. I didn't throw the reins to him though. I made him stay as straight under me as I could get him and tapped him a couple of times coming into the 1st barrel. He was still pretty stiff upon entry and got a hair bound up on the backside. But that was his own doing.

All the way to 2nd, I just kept thinking, drive him in there. I picked up my hand, felt him want to bear down on the rein, but remembered to tap him and drop a leg on him and he made a pretty nice 2nd turn. Whew!! It's a whole lot easier to look up to where you want to go when you KNOW your horse is going to clear that turn.

He was still running easy and felt good. We rolled into 3rd and I'll be danged if I didn't bring my hand back and lock it down. I was a full stride from the barrel and thinking, 'Move your hand forward dummy!!', but I didn't and we brushed the 3rd barrel over. And we high loped home

Moon ran an easy 18.3, even with the hang-up behind 1st and rating him down at 3rd and high-loping home. So I know he is clocking again. Tagging the 3rd barrel was totally pilot error and even though my mind was telling me to move my hand forward and let him go, I couldn't do it.

Afterward, I was standing around talking with some friends and I asked them, 'HOW do I make myself stop pulling on him? I am thinking well enough to know what I should do, but I'm still doing something wrong and can't undo it once my hand comes back'. There was a lady in the group, well in her 80's and kind of standing back and just listening and she says, "Leg!". I've seen this lady at some of the barrel races, but I don't know who she is. Seems to know everybody...everybody seems to know her, but I wasn't introduced and she wasn't exactly partaking of the conversation. I wasn't sure if she was talking to me or what, but I turned to her  to see if she was talking to me and she was smiling at me and said, "Leg!" again. I was like, 'I'm sorry? What do you mean?'.

She said, 'You can't move your hand because your leg is not on your horse. You have to get your leg into him and that will free up your hand'.

The gal that was standing closest to this lady, nodded agreement and said, 'Leg before hand. Or if you get stuck, squeeze as hard as you can with your legs and your hand will free up'.

I stood there for a minute thinking about it and sure enough...When I remember to ride hard enough to get Moon into the 2nd turn, I can clearly remember dropping a leg on him either just before or simultaneously as when my hand comes up. I barely remembered to do it at Fort Mohave and did not even think of my leg at the 3rd barrel in this run.

I looked up from my thoughts and the older lady was still looking at me, still smiling and she said, 'You got it now don't you?'. I said, 'I believe I do'.

On the way home I got to laughing at myself. Moon and I have been in a war with each other. I know how he is about his face and yet I got sucked into trying to get him to 'shape' for his turns through his face. I know the concept in it's entirety is to get barrel racers to shape with hands AND legs, but since Moon is such a pig about getting soft in the face and shaping that's where my focus has geared toward, cause I just knew that if we mastered that, everything else would fall into place. Using my legs as much as I should became an afterthought.

The more I thought about it, the more I laughed at myself. Apparently both Moon and I are a little confused. He does think that when I pick up my hand it means 'turn right now', which is not correct. But I have been giving him cues that are backward, especially for him. I have been trying to pick up, drop my leg on him and then move my hand forward (as simultaneously as possible), which works on some horses...but what I need to be doing is dropping my legs into him, with a little extra pressure on the inside and then just pushing my hand forward with only a tiny bit of lift and letting Moon roll on through the turn. He'll shape himself and with my legs on him, that frees my hands up so they can just stay forward. And that makes perfect sense to me. That's exactly how I ride him into the 1st barrel and that turn is almost always perfect. Funny how I have always wondered why my 1st barrel is so good on all of my horses and never did figure out that it was because I remember to use my legs to drive them into it and my hands are almost always completely freed up to move around at will and I can look wherever the horse needs me to. Now I know. It's all about the leg. LOL


Unknown said...

So did anyone ever introduce you to the older woman?

I sure do like it when you break down all the details. I may not always understand all of it, but I'm learning.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

No, and you know how bad I am. I just get to visiting and don't even think to formally introduce myself or get their name. I'm sure I'll see her again and remember. I have a feeling I am going to be extending some more 'Thanks' for her little tip.

You know, running around a barrel is almost like turning a cow on the fence. Ed Wright uses the analogy all the time. I try to keep that in my mind when I'm running, but barrels don't move, so I really struggle to 'read' them as well as I do cattle. If those darned barrels would just twitch a muscle or flick an ear, I'd be rocking it. LOL

smazourek said...

Hmm, I think Moon is related to my gelding. He's a good horse, but everything with him is a fight.

How lucky for you that lady was around, eh?

Sherry Sikstrom said...

cool, that simple word , and a little explanation and ding ding sing! you got it. So looking forward you it all coming together for you , and I know it will

kestrel said...

When you have a smart horse, they sure make you work for it! my old Morgan gelding always worked better in a bit with some leverage, because it took away his tendency to argue every. single. point. Since he knew he'd have to cooperate, like it or not, he simply gave it up and cooperated. And then we started to get along! Glad it's coming together so well!

Cut-N-Jump said...

Kat I smart like that too. Although he has been easy to train, he isn't always easy to handle. If they had only taught us half of what we know now because of them, it is still a lot and their job has been done.

It's amazing how sometimes the simple fix is the solution we overlooked for so long.

Shirley said...

My reining trainer always emphasised that I have to ask first with the legs and then with the hand, so I get what the lady was saying. Sure glad it is working for you!