Why is it, the plans that seem the easiest are the hardest to stick too?
Moon needed 5 days before I could put the plan of using exhibitions as schooling for me...and him. So Wednesday rolled around and Moon has been feeling so darned good these last couple of days, I really, really wanted to just enter him in the barrel race and forget all that nonsense about wasting a good run in exhibitions.
Well, Thank God I stuck to the plan because...
Moon was good at the gate, came right up the alley and I let him fly. I mean really F.L.Y. I chucked the reins to him and he kind of hesitated like, 'What?' and then he just dropped and ran. He started leaning before he got to the turn and when I picked my hand up, he just dropped on his front-end, almost stumbled and sort of blew out the backside of 1st. After that he was just plowing and freight-training and when I realized he was not going to get his shape back...I just hauled him to a stop before the 2nd barrel. I let him stand there for a few minutes, letting it register with him that NO, We are NOT going to just plow through the pattern. When he finally took a breath, I turned him around, went back to the 1st barrel and made him lope around and around it until he stopped being stiff and wanting to shoulder in. Then I let him come around and asked him to run to 2nd. This time he made a pretty nice 2nd turn...but I felt a few things going on. He ran on to 3rd and I felt him want to really leave the pocket (horses will do this in an attempt to lean into the turn), so I stopped his butt again, backed him up, let him stand and then asked him to drive into that pocket and round through the turn.
I know it's probably not right to laugh at my horse, but Moon was in full one competitive mode and he got s.c.h.o.o.l.e.d! He was not anticipating that at all and the confusion on his face was so clear, I busted out laughing at him. Clearly, I am not the ONLY one who is not thinking their way through a run very well. By then a couple of other girls had come in to do their TO's, so I walked Moon into a corner to let him sit and think about this for a minute. Even though by this point he knew it was not a competition, he was not wanting to drop out of competition mode. Good enough. I need to get familiar with THIS horse. That is what this whole 'plan' is about.
The next time up, he didn't want to take his right lead. We stopped and started, stopped and started all the way up to the 1st barrel. Stopped. Sat for a minute and then turned around and went back to the starting line. The girls told me to go ahead and keep working, so we headed for 1st again. This time the 2nd time he had to stop and start, he stopped pushing his hip to the left and simply picked up his right lead. I let him run to the 1st barrel on a free rein, but the minute I felt him drop to his front-end and get stiff, I hauled his butt to a stop, backed him up, making him move his hip to the right and get squared up, sit for a minute and then right back at the barrel. He was in position to take the turn better this time. I let him run hard to the 2nd and felt him wanting to drift out of the pocket and kick his hip to the right.
I hauled him to a stop again, backed up, making him get his hip back up under him, waited and then asked him to make the turn. He did the same thing at third and we repeated the exercise.
It took FIVE tries to get him to drive into those turns while keeping his hip up under him and he was really rating down and hesitant...but at least he was trying to do it right and his reward was me just letting him work. If he is doing it right, then go on with your bad self.
We BOTH needed that. We'll do it again tomorrow and again on Friday. By Saturday morning, we should be able to put a rodeo run together. At least I know I CAN get him around the pattern, even if he is trying to cheat me by drifting out, kicking that hip out and wanting to get front-endy. All I have to do is ride harder!! LOL
After that last and much improved 'run' (I use the term loosely because Moon was definitely approaching things a little more cautiously by then. LOL), we sat in the alley for a little bit, watched a couple of other girls go and when Moon finally turned around and looked at me and shut off. I got off, loosened his cinch and stood there petting on him a little. Like any horse, Moon needs to be told when he does good and he definitely needed to know this (what we had just done) was good. All horses remember when things are good and right, but Moon...as smart as he is...He's a doer. He'll try his guts out for me every single time, but thinking about doing something correctly is not his strong suit. He has uncanny athletic abilities that make it just as easy for him to do things incorrectly as it is for him to do the same thing correctly, so he often fails to see the distinction. He's not deliberately trying to cheat, he's just trying to do what he thinks I want him to do as efficiently as possible. Realizing that makes me feel much more magnanimous towards him. It's hard to get mad at a horse that you know is just trying too hard.
Then it was Frosty's turn. I haven't run Frosty for awhile now, since I realized his hocks were bothering him...and during this time off I switched him back to being a right hand horse. I started him to the right, then switched him to the left...and for the life of me I couldn't remember why I had switched him to the left...but finally remembered that it was because I couldn't get him to change leads from right to left, only from left to right. Well, the more I ran him the more I felt that rubber-band thing at the end of every stride. I got to paying attention to his stride lengths when loping or running him and he is definitely longer strided to the left than he is to the right. So I switched him back to being a right hand horse. He has learned to change leads both directions now, although he is still sticky going from right to left, so we do have that to work on. He isn't quite the clodhopper he used to be and I have felt him change from left to right and then back again a few times during his other runs, so I know that once he 'gets' that he HAS to change that lead to make the turn, he'll start doing it.
Having to switch a horse from one direction to the other makes you realize how valuable patterning both directions from the start is. Frosty accepted the direction change with no confusion, turned the right barrel first with his usual beautiful form and galloped easily toward the 2nd barrel.
He didn't change leads and floundered around and blew out the 2nd turn. I got him into the correct lead and he made his usual beautiful 3rd turn and then wanted to run for home...So I let him. He definitely does not have that odd jerk a the end of his left lead stride and he is much more confident about running in that lead.
I let him run on down the alley and gently eased him to a stop and then waited for him to catch his breath and relax before asking him for his 2nd run.
The 2nd trip out, again with the beautiful 1st turn and this time when he had cleared the 1st barrel, I asked him to rate down, change leads and then let him take off again. Awesome 2nd turn and for a hairs breath I thought, 'Uh-oh, he's gonna blow on me' and he did grunt a couple of times and I felt his back bow, but I just let him feel his way through it and by two strides out, he lined out for the 3rd barrel and really took that turn and ran for home.
You know...For as awful as Moon makes me look (as a rider and trainer), with his charging and thrashing around...Frosty makes me look and feel like I know what I am doing. He's just looks and feels so effortless and pretty. I'm telling you...I have doubted this horse in the past. I seriously didn't think he was e.v.e.r. going to be a barrel horse, but now that he is getting it...He just feels amazing. We will have to sort this lead change thing out, but a few more trips around the pattern and he should have it and then I can't wait to start running him again.