So, I already had a game plan in play and if Moon's improved attitude on Thursday was any indication...I figured I was at least on the right path with him again.
It's amazing how fast 600 miles can be covered when you spend the whole trip thinking of how you are going to proceed. Moon is such a talented horse and by rights, this barrel racing thing should be easy for him. When he's on target...It is effortless for him and riding him is effortless for me.
The more I thought about all the things I was realizing about him, the more I want to be able to 'fix' him and turn him into the horse I know he can be. I mean, Moon's attributes far outweigh his little idiosyncrasies. And even some of those should be turned into assets, not liabilities.
Getting his mental resistance eliminated at home is just the first step. Moon is confused. Hell, *I'm* confused. I'm trying to do all of this stuff to make these runs happen and really all I want is to be able to just let my horse run. I want to be able to let him do his job. The more I work other horses on the pattern, the more I realize how far I have strayed with Moon from how I've always trained/ridden barrel horses. My premise is, teach the horse what to do, be there to help them if they need it, but otherwise, leave them alone to do their job. It's always worked in the past and I just need to get back to doing things the way I've always done them. I want to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.
Luckily for me, the clinician, Ronny Clampitt, has the same philosophy. I wasn't sure what he was going to be teaching, so I took Frosty with me the first day and told myself, if this guy's way is drastically different than the plan I am working on, I'll just use Frosty and he will never see Moon work. I have learned to be a little more decisive about that. I've allowed to many other people's opinions to influence me on what I should be doing.
I watched him work a couple of girls and one of his big things is exactly what I am working on on Moon...Getting him to travel to the barrel with a straight body, rate square and then make the turn. In fact, one girl had a horse that was all arcing to the barrel, no rate and then blowing out of it's turns. Ronny made her ride that horse AT the pocket. Sit it down, back up and wait. The horse had a horrible, front-endy stop, was stiff in the face and couldn't back straight. Ronny said, 'Now, if that horse cannot stop softly and square and back up in a straight line, how do you think it is ever going to keep it's balance going around a barrel?' The girl was really confused, so Ronny took a long time explaining it to her and telling stories and I could see everybody starting to get restless. I mean, they had been sitting there for over 5 minutes. I had an inkling of what he was doing though and sure enough, pretty soon that horse took a deep breath, dropped his head and licked his lips. Ronny said, 'Now I know that you all have been wondering why I am wasting your time while this horse sits here, doing nothing, but did you just see that? Now this horse is relaxed in the mind and ready to try this again'.
Then he had her start from the beginning. Again, she rode up, stopped her horse, it was better this time, not as bracy, he backed straight and waited. This time it was only a couple of minutes and the horse started looking back at her, gave a big sigh and dropped his head, licking and chewing.
Again from the beginning. This time the horses stopped really, really well, backed softly and willingly and dropped his head almost immediately. He was finally soft in the mind. The clinician told her, at home, right here is where she should quit.
Beings as it was a clinic, he had her go back to the beginning and this time he didn't have her stop, he told her to go on and that horse rolled into the turn and finished it very, very nicely. He was mentally soft, wanting to rate correctly, he was square under himself and therefore physically prepared to make that turn.
One of the things that Ronny was talking about the first time the girl was sitting there waiting, making it more into a story than saying 'This is what you need to do', was how he worked with an old cowhorse guy that after working a cow, would just go sit in the middle of the arena and he'd be stroking his horse's mane. He'd just sit and stroke his horse's mane. Ronny said he finally asked him what the heck he was doing spending all of that time just sitting there playing with his horse's mane. The old guy said, 'Well...Don't you find it relaxing if someone plays with your hair?' Ronny thought about it a little bit and said, 'Well, yes I do'. The old guy said, 'And so does a horse. It relaxes them and gives them time to mentally shut down'.
(Lightbulbs going off in my head)
After watching that, I wondered how long it would take Moon to actually visually show that kind of relaxation. I mean, we all know now, that just because Moon's feet have stopped moving, it doesn't mean his brain is shut off. So I loped him around, working on letting him lope in a loose rein and only picking up and correcting him when he fell out of the correct shape/frame. He was a little 'up', although it was as usual, only something I could feel in him. He wanted to be a bit resistant to just holding himself in that circle, but we just kept loping and I kept correcting him, with a little increasing authority so he didn't just think I would keep correcting him. We still have work in that department, but it's coming. But eventually he held his shape and frame for an entire circle, so I stopped him.
And we sat and I stroked his mane...
And we sat...and I stroked his mane...
And we sat...
It took f.o.r.e.v.e.r. for Moon to take a deep breath, drop his head a couple of inches and move his jaw. I bet it was close to 10 minutes. We sat there for a few more minutes just letting it soak in.
Then we walked out and picked up the lope the other way. I fixed on that until he maintained a full circle on his own and then we stopped.
And we sat...And I stroked his mane...
This time it took considerably less time for him to take that breath, drop his head and he actively licked his lips a little bit. It was a tentative gesture, but he made it.
Big pets on the neck!! Good boy Moon
We rode around quietly for a while. Repeated the stop and almost immediately he gave me the signs.
You know what?...I just learned how to shut my horse OFF! I mean, All The Way Off!!
After that...Whenever I would stop Moon, if he didn't take a breath and shut off, I'd stroke his mane for a little bit and Boom...He's shut off.
Now that is COOL!!!
I've always used the stop and settle as a way to reward my horses and I do often reach up and stroke their manes, but I never actually put the correlation together. Now I realize I wasn't always waiting long enough for Moon to fully shut off after having a mental struggle. It takes Moon longer to shut down than I realized, but in just that little bit I did that day, he was so soft and willing by the time it came time for us to show Ronny his stuff...