Last week I took Disco to a reined cow horse clinic in Nunda NY to meet up with a great friend of mine, Kevin Meyer of Mantz Creek Horses. Kevin is a great trainer, horseman, and friend whom I have known since my sophomore year at Colorado State University. Our relationship started out as one of student and mentor, but as time has worn on I am honored to be considered a peer to him. Even if I do sometimes feel like the redheaded step child of his family :)
Anyway, Disco and I left early Friday morning and picked up a friend of ours many of you may remember… Indian Rain Dance! It was great to see him again, and his new Mom Nicole has been doing great with him. Once we were all loaded up it was off to NY.
When we arrived the mood was rather somber. Overnight the hosts of our clinic Luke Therrin and his wife Kelly had a major barn fire. They lost horses, livestock, dogs, equipment, tack… yet despite their loss they were still determined to put on a great clinic. I give them a lot of credit for that. As we all introduced ourselves and our horses, and said what we wanted to work on for the weekend, it got me thinking about what I really wanted to get accomplished. I recalled the trouble I had with Disco a few weeks ago regarding his loping pace. I thought about how I was still having trouble keeping his attention and thus his tongue inside of his mouth. What did I want to accomplish… I did not even know where to start!
As we got into doing simple yet important basic exercises, 10ft circles at the walk, backing straight, backing circles, and trot stops, I kept thinking about making it all perfect. The looming date in October that has been hanging over my head since I got Disco was thumping in the back of my mind with every cue I gave him. I felt we got a lot done on day one, we found some holes I need to continue to fill in in our basics, but it was not until day two that I got that slap in the face that made everything click.
On day two we did some great stretching exercises for our horses to start. Followed by more basics, and we ended the first half of day two doing a mirroring exercise which I will talk about in another post because of how handy it is. As everyone began to disperse to sit down for lunch, Kevin and I were chatting in the arena with a few of the other participants. I bought up again the issues Disco and I had at the lope the other day, and his response was “Go lope him off.” So I did. Sort of. I bought him into a jog and started to pick up his shoulders and get him set up to go into a lope and I just heard from the center of the arena “Doesn’t matter if he is ready, just ask him to lope.” So, throwing caution to the wind I asked for the lope without any more fussing. To my surprise, it was better than I had thought it would be. But I was still having to hold him in the slower pace I wanted. Then I hear “Now speed him up.” I look over my shoulder, with a rather questioning look, but follow the instructions I am being given. When asked for a bit more speed things got sloppy. Disco dropped his shoulder and away we went. Never out of control, but I could tell his mind was just focused on the green light to increase speed. Then I hear Kevin say “Now take a hold of him and slow him down, if he comes to a jog that's fine.” So I take a hold of him, he takes a stride of a slower lope and then comes down to a very quick jog. Immediately I hear “Let Him Go.” So I release my hold and simultaneously Disco picks up the lope again. Kevin said “That's fine Let Him Go.” After a few more circles, he had me once again bring him down. This time he stayed in the jog when I let him go after the downward transition. So Kevin told me to bring him to a walk. Then after walking a bit, he had me take him right back into a lope. We repeated this exercise for a few minutes. With each downward transition, regardless of if he came down to a slower lope or to a jog, I released. And with every time I released, he held the slow pace for longer. Finally Kevin had me stop. I walked into the center of the arena where a few other participants were still gathered and I got my lecture. Kevin looked at me and said “I have never seen you ride this tense in the entire time I have known you. You are putting so much pressure on yourself and this horse because of this competition. You need to let him make the mistake so you can correct it. You can’t hold him forever.” I knew he was right. And then to the melody of Frozen he chimes in “Let it Go, Let it Go.” And all I could do was laugh. When an honest to goodness cowboy, with buckaroo boots and spurs, a hat, and a mustache sings Let it Go… I mean come on. What better way to make someone loosen up. My response to that was “How many times has your daughter made you watch that movie?”
As we went to lunch that day I thought about what we had just gone over. I thought about how right Kevin was and how nervous I get before I show, and how I have let my show nerves sneak into my training with this horse. So I told myself that I do need to Let it Go.
So what does a clinician do when they have a tense rider? Let me give you some one liners that broke my RBF and tense riding throughout the weekend…
“Look like you enjoy riding.”
“As a judge, don’t make me think you want to eat my children.”
With every remark I would laugh to myself and simultaneously in that moment, something would improve. It really is amazing what happens when you relax. All I needed was someone to remind me of that.
After lunch on day two we worked cows. Disco and I mainly tracked our first two cows, but by the end we did get one to go in figure eights. We kept it simple for him, and he really started to latch on and enjoy it.
On the morning of day three we got to lope more circles! But let me tell you the difference in Disco from day one to day three was night and day. I was more relaxed, we loped off ten times better than we ever have, and our transitions were completely transformed. Not perfect, but we had building blocks set up to make them into what they needed to be.
That afternoon we got the cows out again. This time after I tracked the cow, I drove it down the fence and then circled it. The cow was a bit flat by that point, but we got some neat photos that reiterate the point I have been making in this entire post… When you relax, your horse improves. If you look at separated two photos below, in one I am tense and Disco looks the same. He is bracing against the bit, his shoulder is bowing out, and it is unorganized. In the other photo, I am laughing. Probably at the fact that we had all just talked about how if a cow lays down in your pattern, if you just circle it both directions you still get your points… So I yelled “Lay down cow,” and all of the participants and Kevin all began to laugh with me. In that photo you can see how much improvement there is in Disco. He his holding himself better, and he is softening to the bit. So I guess the point I want to make here is this… Live a little, laugh a lot, and enjoy the time you spend on your horse's back. Even if you have something you are working towards, if you focus solely on where you need to be, and not on the enjoyment of what you are doing, you will never get anywhere.
With that I will leave you with a bunch of great photos and videos from the weekend. Thanks again to our gracious hosts for putting on a great clinic, and to Dream Valley View Ranch for allowing the use of their facility and for putting us up for the weekend.