Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Last weekend I went to a one day clinic with Tom Neel (TN). He is a trainer out of Texas and was in CA to judge a versatility class at our state fair. The clinic was located in the Napa Valley - Wine Country - about 3 hours from home. The last couple of events I have gone to, my husband has come along. The first few because I was still having trouble throwing my saddle up on my horse - how pathetic is that? These last few because I think he is enjoying himself. At least I would rather think that he is enjoying himself than going along out of some sense of misguided pity. My husband is much more social than I am. I talk way more than he does. How does that work out? He isn't much for chit chat, but when in a situation with strangers he is always the one that strikes up the conversation and gets it rolling. Then he sits back and doesn't say much. When my friends and I are together, he just sits back and listens. They all think he is mute. More on my overly social to strangers, muted to everyone else husband later. He really is a paradox.

Back to the clinic - First off it was supposed to be 106 degrees at home on Sunday. At 8 am at the clinic it was 57 degree. Mr Semper thought the weather was wonderful for riding and was full of himself. Of course that only lasted about 5 minutes then he was ready to go back to his stall and finish his breakfast. The first thing we worked on was lead changes. Semper has his changes down but sometimes he has some issues with kicking out and diving in. I chose to work on the diving in part. TN says that he does practice lead changes in the middle. Not all the time but he does work them in the middle. His thought process was that they need to wait to be asked and schooling changes in the middle gives you an opportunity to change or not change and gets them to wait for you to ask. To fix the diving in he said lope the circle ask for the change and then lope straight to the center marker at the rail and stop. Don't go either direction. Just let the fence stop him. That did work but I'm unsure if this is going to make Mr. Anticipation worry about changing leads every time we go through the center. Everything is good in small doses. So I need to remember to do things different every time. Not every other time, but EVERY TIME!. I'll show you Mr Anticipation - if I can think that fast. While working on the changes Semper was getting a little pushy. TN had me (while loping) pick up on his face, pull his face towards my knee and yield his hind quarters around - pretty forcefully, then push him back out and lope again. After a couple of times of this Mr. Pushy got a lot lighter. I have used that trick several times this week since I have been home and it is making him lighter and lighter. After lunch we worked on the turn arounds and the dreaded stops. Our turnarounds are not bad we need to work on starting them from a stand still but overall the are pretty good. We did a few and TN had a couple of suggestions about how I asked for the turn around. I tried his suggestions and they worked out fine. I could hear TL (trainer lady) in my head saying "raise your expectations" and basically that is what TN was saying out loud.

The dreaded stops. It is all about the run down. I think that I have determined that is where the problems start. TN had me do the same drill and TL. Both had said not to focus on the stop itself. They are getting better and Semper is relaxing in the run down. I normally don't ride "in" my stirrups, meaning that I don't put weight in my stirrups leaving me able to move my legs and feet easily. For some reason riding with TN he kept having to remind me to bend my legs. I was stiff and bracing in my stirrups. His comment was "you can't use your legs if your knee isn't bent". I was also riding very forward. Again, not something that I normally do. I don't know if it was nerves or what. After we did the drill for the stops and got Semper relaxed in the run downs we quit - no stopping at all. Next we went to work the cutting dummy. I have a story about Semper and the cutting dummy I want to share but I will save it for another post. He is absolutely scared to death of the cutting dummy. He thinks it is the devil and blows, snorts and won't go within 10 feet of the thing. We hadn't been close to one in months so I wanted to see if he was over his completely irrational phobia of it. NOPE he wasn't. The good thing was that with all the snorting and carrying on he has a ton of energy to direct. His turns are complete, he watches it like it is a man eating tiger. He rates it well because God forbid that it gets behind him, it might eat him up. As we are working the dummy, TN stops me and says "you are riding better than you have all day, you are using your legs better, your seat is better, you are more relaxed, what gives?" I have given what he said a lot of thought and the only thing that I can figure is that when I was working the dummy I let my nervous, over thinking brain shut off and let instincts take over. I wasn't conscientiously making a decision to ride better or different, it was just me riding, focused on the dummy, trying to stay in the center of a rapidly moving bundle of muscle and nerves. Staying on a big motored horse when they start really moving it is like sitting on the wing of a jet airplane when it is taking off. He has power and sped to burn. Lots of G-force. At my Wednesday night lesson I was telling TL about my experience and she said "you don't usually ride like that". Later on when we were going to work stops, I started the drill that we have been working and found myself getting all bracey and leaning forward. hmmmmm.... Maybe the stopping problem is my nervous over thinking brain... not the horse or the run down. It all starts with me. I sat back and tried to focus on being relaxed. Of course as soon as I relaxed, so did Semper. He rated well, he loped straight, didn't try to anticipate, and all in all did a really nice job doing the run downs. Again, we didn't really practice stopping. But when I did ask for the stop, it was boat loads better that anything we have done in recent months. I am still working on it but feel like I am moving forward again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Last weekend I went to a working cowhorse show in McArthur. McArthur is a small mountain community about 3 hours from home. McArther doesn't have a hotel or motel so we stayed in Fall River. McArthur and Fall River are about 5 miles apart and what one doesn't have the other one does. Fall River is a little bigger but has the same small community feel to it. They are the kind of places that feel like time has stood still. It made me feel like I did when I was a kid and went downtown in my home town. One grocery store, a couple of stop lights, fair grounds, a cafe, no McDonalds, no Burger Kings, no 7-11's. Just nice welcoming people with family businesses. I was ready to move there. Then I remembered. It snows there. Not a whole lot but enough for me to rethink calling the U-Haul moving vans.

We pulled in on Friday afternoon. Several of the club members were sitting out by their trailers telling cowboy stories, laughing and talking. We visited for a minute then asked where we should put Semp for the night. They directed us to a pen and showed us a place to park. We unhooked the trailer and went in search of our hotel. We came back to check on Semp and feed before we called it a night. One of the draw backs of small towns is the quality of hotels or motels. I like a nice room with a good bed. I don't sleep well in a hotel anyway and when you get a room with poor beds and lack of air it makes it near unbearable. This room wasn't too bad but the air conditioning was really loud - like a generator. Really loud. But it did cool the room down. You know what else was loud? My husbands snoring. Yes folks, he snored all night long. It too was unbearable. I thought about putting a pillow over his face so it would muffle his snoring but he might also stop breathing - yikes! I think that the pressure was getting to me.

Saturday morning came around and we got up and off to an early start. Fed Semp and then went to the local cafe and had breakfast. It was a "greasy spoon" kind of place. Taxidermied animals hanging on the walls, a philodendron that went all the way around the place but the leaves showed it definitely wasn't getting enough water - how could it, it was a half mile to the last leaf! Tables set up to accommodate large parties in the middle of the room and then booths against the walls. The food was good, the waitresses were friendly and the locals were there to liven the place up.

I was showing in two classes each day. The first was a stock horse class. The weather was supposed to be warm and sunny. They had thunder storms and a little rain on Friday night. In the shade it wasn't too bad, a nice breeze was blowing through and it was comfortable, but in the sun it was hot. We did some of our warm up in the outdoor arena while they were doing the herdwork classes and some in the indoor. The footing in the indoor was deep. Mr. Semp hates deep footing. He let me know right away that the footing was unacceptable, but it was what it was and he dealt with it for the duration of our warm up. Besides it was a lot cooler inside than it was outside. Their were 7 riders in our stock horse class and I was 4th to ride. We marked a 68.5. The score was generous. The circles were great, the transitions and lead changes were good, the turnarounds were o.k. and the stops sucked. I bet you saw that one coming. The first two were his usual "hop, skip and slide" stops but the last one... I asked for "whoa" and nothing. He just kept right on going. So I asked again and had to pull him to a stop. It wasn't pretty. Each time as he started the run down, he would get pushy, his head would go up, his back would hollow and he/we would forget everything we had practiced. Did I mention that Bobby Ingersol was the judge. Not something that you want to have happen in front of an industry icon. The next class was the Limited Cowhorse Class. 5 riders. I was 2nd to the last to go. It was the same pattern as the Stock horse class and we rode it about the same. Not bad, but not great either. Stops were about the same. The cow work was a different story. I don't think that Mr. Semp even realized we were working a cow till about 30 seconds into a 50 second ride. Not good. He was behaving and doing what I asked but he wasn't watching the cow. He was looking around and checking out the other horses and the cows on the other side of the fence. I marked a score of 66 and when I looked at the score card we got a minus in "eye appeal". After a long hot day of showing and waiting and showing we went to a potluck that the club sponsored. The club members are so nice and welcoming. They cooked tri-tip and everyone brought something. People talked, laughed and relaxed. It was a perfect evening.

If my husband snored much on Saturday night, I didn't hear it. I went to bed and sleep came fast and sound. Sunday I was showing the same two classes but to a different judge. Again the first class was the stock horse class and we marked a 67.5 - another very generous score. How is it that when you are riding that you know every mistake you make? If I had scored myself, it would have been a 63 or 64 at best. It was the stops that submarined me again. By the time that the limited class came around, Semp was cranky. His white nose was sunburned, he was tired, hot and generally in a really foul mood. He is a funny horse that way. He wears his attitude like a beacon flashing on his forehead. I chose not to do a lot of warm up for the last class and was just going to school him through it. The pattern started off really good. The first two stops weren't too bad but the last one - going towards the gate was awful. Mr Cranky Pants was headed for the barn and he wasn't stopping to pass go or collect two hundred dollars! After I pulled him into the ground, got after him for not stopping, then asked him to turn around and go back to do the cow work, he was beyond pissy. His nose was wrinkled(which makes he teeth show), his ears were penned back and he was moving like a slug. This time he went to the cow and went to work. Almost daring the cow to move. He was tired and didn't want to have to work that hard so Mr Cow was going to do what he said when he said it. It was almost comical until the cow snaked him. He took off after the cow like a F14 fighter jet, of course the cow stopped and turned and Semp was pushing so hard that he got way to far in front and I had to pull him into the ground again and get him back on the cow. Thank goodness you only have to work the cow for 50 seconds. He walked out of the arena with is ears back and nose wrinkled, teeth showing - not a pretty sight. I haven't seen the score cards for the cow work but I think that the eye appeal was probably a minus again.

Things to remember for next time are to pamper him a little more through out the day. He needs to be stalled in the down time if possible. I watered him often and he was in the shade but he was out in the wind and watching all the goings on. Maybe to much for his little walnut sized brain to process. He was like a cranky two year old child that had too much visual stimulation.

Practice stops, stops, and more stops. Practice the run down to the stop, practice, practice, practice. At our lesson on Wednesday we just worked on the run down. That seems to be where all the trouble begins. He puts his head up, hollows out his back, he gets scotchy, he wants to pickup speed before I ask, etc. I worked on the run down again last night. Just want to get him to relax and wait for me to ask him for speed and stop.