Last year I got in on a Ronny Clampitt barrel clinic that a friend of mine hosts and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so this year I booked early and hoped to take 2 horses. It was my intention to have Jet and Little John far enough along to take them, but that just didn't happen. So Frosty got the call. Last few times I ran him last winter, he was fading into the 1st barrel and although I did a little work 'fixing' it, I didn't get a chance to compete on him again before coming back to CO. I didn't particularly want to use Moon, but at the last minute, I figured what the heck, I am going to be switching directions on him, so why not just take him. So I did.
One of the things I like so much about Ronny is his laid-back approach to training. He is very much about creating a calm, thinking, work-horse like attitude on a barrel horse. That has always been my goal as well.
I probably could have called it a day before I ever got on a horse. LOL. Ronny spends a little time the first morning talking about movement, shape and position required for a horse to work properly and about 15 minutes into his conversation, he got to talking about horses that start 'cowing' a barrel. And my little pea brain went....ding, ding, ding.
When I was running Frosty at those little indoor arenas, there wasn't a lot of room straightaway for him to have to run to get to his first barrel and even though I knew he wanted to turn that barrel bad...I wasn't having an issue with him. When we moved to the big, outdoor arenas in AZ...Well...That gave Frosty a lot of room to have to run to the 1st barrel and he had plenty of time to lock onto that barrel and fade into the pocket. He was 'cowing' the barrel.
I went ahead and worked Frosty on the pattern for Ronny and before I started he explained to me that to break a horse of wanting to fade in/lock directly onto the barrel, the instant I felt Frosty start to fade/lean, I was to set him down, pretty hard, make him get back (back up a little) and then immediately leave, AWAY from the barrel. Then, I could circle around and start my run to the 1st barrel again. It's a very similar exercise that cutters use when their horses start to fade toward the cow too much. You have to break the lock. There is a definite line between a horse that hunts the turn...a desirable characteristic...and a horse that wants to 'cow' the barrel...an undesirable characteristic.
I was a tish nervous running Frosty to that first barrel. I haven't exactly been riding the hair off of him and didn't do any 'breaking' exercises like I usually do beforehand, but I had stretched out his front legs before riding and he did not seem tight, so I just hoped he wouldn't decide to blow up when he set for the turn.
Started Frosty way back for the run to his 1st barrel, but he ran straight to his pocket and just inhaled the turn. Perfection!! He started to have a pretty good 2nd turn too, but didn't change leads in the rear, so on the way to 3rd, he popped back into the right lead and then didn't even attempt to change at the 3rd barrel. He hopped and flopped around the turn. Grrr!!!
Frosty not changing leads at this point is really just laziness on his part. He CAN change leads and will IF he feels like it, but Meh...sometimes it's just too much work for him. At this point, it isn't really beneficial to break him down so he does it correctly. Changing leads is HIS responsibility and if not changing makes him uncomfortable, stumble, hop or hit himself in the turn...Then the next time it's guaranteed he'll put a tish more effort into making that lead change.
The 2nd time through, Frosty got his lead changes and ran a beautiful pattern. He almost didn't want to change, but at the last instant he decided maybe he better. It's amazing how quickly they 'get it' when they realize you aren't going to coddle them. LOL.
The it was Moon's turn. Moon poked around like he usually does and then we stood and watched until it was our turn. Moon was avidly watching the horse being worked on the barrel pattern and I could just tell he was thinking, 'Oh great, THIS crap again!!'. LOL.
Since I haven't put any real time into working Moon on the pattern to the left, I didn't really expect him to make a smooth run that direction. Once again...That damn dun horse played me. I was just going to long lope him, but he blasted off toward the left barrel, in the left lead and ....inhaled that 1st barrel, came out and headed straight across the pen for the 2nd barrel. *I* however, was NOT expecting him to be so confident in where he was supposed to go coming out of the left barrel first. I expected him to wobble a little trying to decide where he was supposed to go, so right off the bat I was a little behind. Moon wrapped that 2nd barrel and my leg rubbed the barrel all the way around it. I was like...Heyyyy, That's a little much there buddy!! It was a lot more turn than I expected, so I stopped him. It all just happened too darned fast. I needed to catch up.
We finished the pattern and came around for a 2nd go.
Okay...So the 2nd time through, I was more prepared for Moon. He obviously had a clue. I wasn't fooling him in the least by switching directions. I wasn't so much concerned about what Moon was or wasn't going to do this time, I just followed Ronny's direction of; #1-Stay centered. #2-Stay forward and #3-Keep my chin up.
It never ceases to amaze me at how such simple directions can award such a significant difference. No big, long convoluted descriptions of all the little minute details I 'should' be doing. Just stay centered, stay forward and keep that chin up.
Now...Let me add something in here...I have come to a full realization that I ride a left-hand running horse better than I do a right-hand running horse. Or at least...I do when I'm trying to develop a 'feel'. Sometimes I think some of the ideas I get in my head are ridiculous, so when I first started to think I might be a better jockey on a left-hand running horse than I was on a right-hand running horse...I thought I might be 'over-thinking' the whole darned deal. But I just kept kind of popping this idea into conversations with other barrel racers and was astounded at how many girls stated a preference for a horse that ran one direction over the other. In the past, I had never ever really considered that the rider's preference had much to do with it. A horse was run one way or the other based on it's preference and it was just the rider's job to pilot them. Well, with the competition becoming as tough as it has, every single thing makes a difference and girls are actually picking sides based on what makes THEM more comfortable, not just the horse.
I AM a left-handed jockey. I am also a left-handed person...Not that being left handed is necessarily what makes the difference, because there are right-handed girls who prefer left-hand running horses. What makes you a left or right hand jockey is a little bit about natural coordination and a little bit about the style of horse you like to ride. My style of training puts a lot of rate into my horses and I prefer a horse that really hunts a turn. The thing about these kinds of horses is, more often than not, my job as a jockey is to hold them OFF of the turn until they are into their pocket and then just let them turn. That requires a lot of use of the outside rein. I don't have enough natural coordination in my right arm to do that when a horse is running hard. When things start happening hard and fast, I resort to using my left hand and arm to position my horses. This is something I struggled with, with Moon . I knew it was a problem. I worked my ass off to try to correct it...and it was just physically impossible to overcome adequately enough to fix the barrel hitting problem.
This hasn't been a grand revelation to me. It's been a year long, piece by piece, process. And I had to get away from running Moon to finally figure it out. It's something that has bugged me and nagged at my brain for about 3 years now. It has always been a major source of irritation to me since the day that Ed Wright declared 'my horse had a college education and I rode like I was in grade school'. For 2 years after that, I actively WORKED to fix MY limitation...with no consistent improvement to show for it. It was only after starting Frosty to the left and then switching him to the right that the pieces started to come together. I haven't had any problems with Frosty on his left hand turns because I had already established a 'feel' for him. I knew what he felt like when he was getting ready for a turn and when I switched directions, that feeling carried over and I was finally able to control any natural inclination to strong-arm him with my left-hand. Frosty's lack of speed may have played some part in it, but he's cruising right along and I still have no problem. Not only am I not inclined to get in Frosty's face, I have no desire to do so. If I feel him out of position, I find it pretty easy to fix him...and there have been times when I have done nothing at all. My brain simply says, it's no big deal.
I believe that the problem with Moon has always been, I was never ever able to establish that 'feel' that told my brain and body that 'It's okay...He's got this!!', nor was I ever able to develop the combination of coordination, feel and strength, in my right arm, that it takes to keep a dive-bombing turner like Moon OFF of the barrels. And believe me, when you have a horse that wants to turn as hard as Moon does...It takes a lot of feel AND strength to keep him off.
Moon's 2nd run through that first day was incredible. It took a lot of riding to get him around the barrels, but it just came so naturally. First barrel, for me is almost always good. It's VERY seldom that I ever have an issue with the 1st barrel...and that barrel is equally good going left or right. Running into the 2nd turn, I felt Moon drop and start to shut down on me and fixing it just came so naturally. Stay forward, mooch, bumped with my legs and check, check, check with the outside rein. Moon inhaled the turn and everybody watching was like, Whooaaaaa!!! This time, I was right up there with him and we just kept going. Same thing happened...Moon was in the ground, rating hard and trying to die before he ever got into the turn. I did the same thing as at 2nd...Stayed forward, mooched, bumped and gave him a single check with the outside rein.
That's the way I have always wanted to be able to ride this horse and for once...It didn't feel like a fluke. I didn't even have to think about it. It just happened. That is the way it's supposed to be.
Well, it just doesn't get any better than that, so that was it for Moon for that day as well.
To Be Continued...