It's a coin toss. LOL.
I honestly think Moon holds his breath too. I've long noticed that when Moon and I have a good run, he is never breathing hard afterward. He comes out, takes a breath and that's it. You would never know he just ran a race. Here lately though, he has been breathing heavy and even shaking in the stifles after a run. At first I thought it was from a condition thing and I have been focusing on conditioning his stifles a little more. Now?... I'm not so sure it had anything to do with the condition aspect of it. I think Moon is holding his breath and he's shaky afterward because his muscles are depleted of oxygen.
I was telling Ronny this that morning and he was like, 'Man, you really think about this stuff don't you?'. But he didn't have that tone that implied that I was OVER-thinking it all. He said, 'I will have to remember to look for that in the horse's as well as the riders'.
Another thing we talked about was the use of different pieces of tack...I should probably mention here that I have been working Moon on the pattern with a snaffle bit and a much shortened tie-down. Way shorter of a tie-down than I have ever used on him before. One of the things I have always noticed about Moon (and told to ignore) was the way he 'turtles' his neck when he gets excited. Turtling is when a horse sucks their neck back at the base and even if/when they break over at the poll, they are NOT getting soft in the face. It's an evasive measure and from what I have noticed is also related to conformation. A long-necked horse, when they want to evade pressure...They 'giraffe' their neck...Stretching their neck out and pointing their nose to the sky. Horses with shorter, more base-heavy necks...Well, they 'turtle'. They simply suck that neck in, brace on the bottom of their neck and the jaw gets stiff. To me, a stiff jaw reflects a resistant mind. I was explaining this to Ronny, not that he had mentioned anything about me using a tie-down on Moon, but I wanted to see if he thought my reasoning was sound. He did and we talked quite a bit about how many horses we have watched run that would have truly benefited from the addition of a tie-down.
The use of the curb bit on Moon was mostly for my benefit. I needed to feel like I had some sort of control over this horse during a run and it served that purpose well. I can actually feel Moon slowing down when I get to pulling on him and that fact alone has helped restore my confidence during competition runs and I am much more willing to let go of him. Lack of feeling like I had any control is what was causing those awful panic attacks I was getting. The one thing I have long felt in Moon was the way he would root his nose out and get stiff in the jaw right when he was setting into a turn. He gets in front of my hand and once I felt him do that...I'd panic and fight to get some control back. I tried explaining this feeling to Ed Wright and he brushed it off and told me to simply get my butt up there and ride. Well, that hasn't worked for me. I was telling Ronny about the getting in front of my hand thing and stiffened jaw and he said, 'Well, of course that would cause feelings of uncomfortableness/panic and although most people don't recognize THAT is why they start pulling on the horse...It's almost always the reason they do'.
The nicest thing about Ronny was, he didn't scoff at what people said they thought was happening. He acknowledged it and then showed us how to work through it. His whole premise is...This is a partnership deal and you and your horse need to learn to work together.
While warming up, he watched Moon closely. I tried to keep things as close to what I usually do, but did spend some time trying to shut Moon off here and there as we warmed up. Moon was definitely closer to his usual competition mode, but a little uncertain if he should be or not. He wasn't really getting excited, but he refused to shut off the way he had the day before. Ronny noticed that. I had told him to watch how observant Moon was to everything, even though he may not necessarily react. Moon simply sizes up the situation and wants to decide if he should or shouldn't be getting nervous. And Ronny laughed and laughed when I told him how Moon could be sound asleep, but the instant he heard my name announced...He immediately went into competition mode. Ronny said he didn't believe that happened to horses for for the longest time. Like so many others he believed that the rider must be doing something to cause the horse to suddenly get anxious. Then he had a horse that did the very same thing, now he fully recognizes that a horse is fully capable of recognizing their owners names being called in the line-up.
I let one girl make a run before me, so Moon could see that there was indeed going to be a run involved here. The whole time he was watching her make her run, I kept stroking his mane and just seeing if I could get him to shut off. He didn't until he watched Ronny talking to the girl who had just finished making her run for several minutes. Then he must have decided that this really wasn't a competition and he dropped his head, moved his jaw and licked his lips a little bit. When Ronny called for us to make our run...Moon popped right back into mode.
It was not a good run...
Ater the first run, Ronny acknowledged, 'Yea, that's not the same horse that I saw yesterday. But you aren't the same either. But...(he continued) that is relatively easy to fix' (Whewwww...That's nice to know). Ronny asked me how much I exhibition Moon and I said, 'Almost never. I have been doing a little exhibitioning to work on his gate anxieties, but otherwise it's been a couple years since I have actually exhibitioned him before a run. At that point, Ronny simply reminded me to keep my chin pointed at Moon's poll, keep my hands down, relax my death grip on the reins and b.r.e.a.t.h.!!! He said, Go Again.
So we did...
It was a lot better and we didn't tip the 2nd or 3rd barrel. Actually Moon didn't want to get anywhere near the 3rd barrel. LOL.
After that run, Ronny said, 'Come here'...So I rode back over to let him tell me what he thought. I was thinking, 'Man, his first barrel was all wonky and he was so wide going into 3rd...', but Ronny said, 'Now...That's the way you need to ride that horse every time. All of that other stuff will smooth out, the more relaxed you get and the more relaxed he gets'. I said, 'Well, that's great, but since I cannot seem to get it right the first time and I can't get Moon to feel this way unless he thinks it's a competition, how do I get used to riding him in competition mode?'. Ronny said, 'I want you to use your exhibition time. Don't go there with the intent to work on gate issues, go there with the intent to train yourself to get used to how this horse feels when he is ready to work'.
The next girl ran and while Ronny was talking to her, I mulled over what he had said. I took the time to trot Moon through the pattern, setting him down and waiting for him to relax, then moving on, just like I had the day before. By the time I finished, Ronny was ready for the next girl and I just went over and sat by him. I figured it was good for Moon to just hang out in the arena until he completely shut off (which he had not done yet) and I wanted to make sure I understood Ronny. I took him to mean, That instead of going in and doing all slow work with Moon, what I should do is just go in and make a run. If it went good, then just do a cool-off slow pattern and call it a thing. At least that was what I was hoping he meant, 'cause I could see the value in that. I cannot always count on Moon being totally relaxed in a run, so instead of just focusing on getting him that way, I needed to learn how to ride him better when he wasn't the way I want him to be.
When Ronny had a minute I asked him if that is what he was thinking and he smiled, 'You're a pretty smart cookie.' he said, 'That's exactly what I meant. You need to learn to ride this horse's competition mode the first run, every time. That doesn't mean go out and do 3 slow 'warm-up' patterns, that means trying to make that first run count. If you don't get it the first time, then give him a minute to air up and then come right back around and make the 2nd run count. THEN go to your slow work, so your horse leaves with a clear conscious and a quiet mind'.
THAT actually made perfect sense to me. I had thought about doing something similar to that previously, but I wasn't sure if that was an appropriate tactic to take with a horse that was having gate anxiety. I really think that most of Moon's gate anxiety comes from the fact he KNOWS things are not going well in the competition pen and even though I don't get after him for it, the tension we create trying to put a run together has not abated. You would think that as much as I have run Moon, I would have been able to create some muscle memory for how he feels...but I think knowing there is an entry fee on the line...and knowing we can't come back and fix it is just too much pressure for me. I need to work on my own mental aspects, as well as getting Moon over his. We need to work on developing our partnership.
It's funny how my little affirmation cards I make and carry have changed. Now I have 2 new ones; Focus my chin on his poll and Breath.
Ronny said one of the coolest things about Moon...And yet one of the most difficult things to make happen is the fact that he is so well-patterned and cognitive of what he is supposed to do that I really don't have to cue him to do anything. He said with a horse like this, just stay centered (which is what focusing on lining your chin up with your horse's poll helps you do) and then just let him work. No more of thinking about trying to shape him, lift him, rate him...None of that. Just drive him straight forward and hold on for the turns. LOL. I think I can learn to do that. ;-)