Monday, January 31, 2011

The Trainer Conumdrum

When I started riding again after 20 plus years everything had changed. I mean everything. I quickly realized I needed help. I started riding when I was 7 and learned to ride by trial and error. Learning to ride bareback and backwards, upside down and what ever else we dreamed up gave me a pretty good seat. That all came back pretty quickly. But a good seat doesn't make a you a good rider. Don't get me wrong, it is a big part - you know - the being able to "stay on" part - but that is about it. In my younger days I didn't start taking lessons until I was in my teens. Even then they were pretty limited. I would guess in the 10-15 years that I rode I only took maybe 20 lessons. And of course I was a teenager when I was taking them so I pretty much thought that I knew it all already and probably didn't get as much out of it as I may today. Back to the conundrum... I love that word. It just sounds confusing doesn't it? I had noticed that a lot of riders bounced from trainer to trainer. This confused me. How could you go from trainer to trainer and learn anything? I have enough trouble absorbing information from one person let alone getting differing opinions and conflicting views on horsemanship. I decided that I wasn't going to be a "bouncer". That I was going to find one trainer and stick with them and learn at my own pace. I wanted to be a good client too. I wanted to be loyal and treat my mentor with respect. I didn't want the reputation of being the flakey client that didn't pay on time, went through trainers with reckless abandon, used trainers and threw them away, or viewed as someone that wasn't serious about their horsemanship and riding.

When I needed to find someone to give me lessons to bring me out of the dark ages of my horsemanship, I found TL. I have ridden for with TL for about 5 years. She has started 5 babies for me and done a fabulous job. She trained the big paint horse to where he is a further along in his training horse than where I am as a rider. She is clear and concise with her instruction and explains things in a manner that even I can understand. She has definitely made me a better rider. I hear her in my head all the time. "Ride the horse you are on." "Raise your expectations." "Leg, leg, leg!" "Don't let him do that" and a myriad of other bits of wisdom float around up there. Sometimes I hear them and have trouble putting them into action, but they are there and I try to put them into practice every ride. I also like to do clinics with other trainers at least once a year. I have ridden in clinics with Craig Cameron, Tom Neal, and Richard Winters. I don't view doing clinics as bouncing from trainer to trainer. They are usually a one or two day event and I don't know that I will ever see or ride with them again.

Life changes for everyone. Goals and life situations change. Incomes fluctuate, jobs get in the way, family situations change, or sometimes you just decide that you want something different. This is true for everyone no matter if you ride horses, race cars, or do patchwork quilting. (Patchwork quilting? where did that come from?)

I attended a clinic with a semi-local trainer for a Ranch Versatility Class. Just for the sake of clarity I will call him TM. I have gone back to him a couple of times to get some experience working cattle. He has expressed to me on more than one occasion that he doesn't like it when clients don't train with him exclusively. His main focus is herd work and he does a decent job. While I enjoy lessons with him occasionally I can't see myself making a commitment to be an exclusive client. I also don't see him turning down my payment for a lesson whenever I want to take one regardless if I am exclusive with him or not.

A couple weeks ago I got a wild hair and made an appointment to take a lesson from another semi-local trainer. He has been recommended to me on several occasions and he is closer to home than TM. He trains cutting horses and has fresh cattle to work all the time. Lets call him CT. His methods are very different from what I have done in the past with TL and TM. Ms Lily took to working cattle with a vengeance. I have had her on cattle a handful of times at TMs and he was never overly impressed with her. While he always says she was doing better ever time he never really liked her. TL was never overly impressed with Ms. Lily. I have to admit, there are days that I am not overly impressed with Ms. Lily. She is tough, stubborn, she can be lazy in the arena, she doesn't like loping circles or doing anything that is generally repetitive. She has a huge attitude and the attention span of a gnat. With all that said she redeemed herself at the cutting lesson. Go Figure. She worked hard and stayed focused. She was actually a pleasure to ride. Although she did get me off center on several occasions when she went to work the cow - damn she can move when she wants to. Is this going to be her thing? I have no clue but it leads me back to my conundrum... finally huh?

Am I bouncing trainers?
Am I being the person that I didn't want to be?
Is this being fair to TL, TM or CT? Is it even my job to worry about being fair?

My goal is to find the niche that these horses fit into and that is my first priority. Can I do that riding with one person? TL is an awesome reining trainer and I believe that if she had cows she could be the whole package. TM has cows sometimes and has the cowboy skills to get the herd work done. In my opinion TM can't get the reined work done. CT has cows all the time and has a different approach to working them. I don't know enough about CT to know if he can get the reined work done. These are just my opinions. They aren't etched in stone or the end all.

So Friends....What is acceptable or etiquette in the world of trainers and clients? Is it acceptable to train with more than one? Is it proper to disclose the trainers you are riding with to each other?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Judges Seminar

Yesterday I spent the day in a Reined Cowhorse Judging Seminar. It was a really good day and there were several industry icons in attendance. Ron Emmons, Bobby Ingersole, Andy Anderson, Bill Enk to name a few. My husband and I went as auditors with no plans on taking the test. Even though you know what you are supposed to be doing when you are in the arena showing, you really don't get the full picture until you sit in the judges chair. Riding today I could hear them saying "check minus" "check" etc. It made me realize that I was giving away 1/2 points all over the place. Semper can do the maneuvers at least average and some above average, there should be no reason for him to ever get a check minus. Maybe the stops are an exception to that but if he stops clean, even if he doesn't stop big, they will be a check and not a check minus. I need to work on "raising my expectations" (Thank you Regina). The clinic was free with my paid club membership, I learned a lot, got to visit with some awesome horse people and came out with a renewed attitude about where I want to be.

Scooter and I spent some time together today. I took him out to give him a second dose of his strangles vaccine and thought that I would just let him graze for a few minutes while I brushed him. He seemed to enjoy the attention. He was quiet and relaxed. I slipped my spurs off and asked my husband to give me a leg up. Scooter had a halter on and I just pulled his head to my left side and laid my body across his back. Just hung out there for a few minutes and let him have his head back. He went back to grazing. So I wiggled about, patted his butt, flanks, neck and wiggled some more. He didn't even move. I asked him to stop grazing and I swung a leg over, fully prepared to swing off at the drop of a hat. He let out a big sigh and just stood there. I let him have his head and he went back to eating. I wiggled around, rubbed my hands and legs all around and he just stood there lazily grazing. I asked him to lift his head and walk off and he did. Turned when asked. Stopped when asked. I was on him for about 20 minutes just goofing around. I slid off and petted and brushed him some more. The strange thing is that when I was sitting on him bareback, he felt relaxed. It made me feel relaxed being up there. I have ridden all my horses bareback and usually the first time they aren't really sure about being ridden bareback and you can tell they are nervous and unsure. He was relaxed, he was quiet, he didn't tense any muscles, didn't gawk around or skid or scoot off. So far everything that I have put in front of him (with the exception of being tied) he has accepted without a fuss and remembered the next time around. What more can I ask for?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Scooter side note...

On a side note about Scooter. He is getting better about tying. He will fuss for a few minutes but then he quiets down and just stands there. Lately when I have been tying him in the barn to saddle him he has been really good. No fussing, just standing patiently. The day that I put the first ride on him, I asked him to stand tied when we were done. He was his old usual fussy self. Dug a hole to China, bucked in place, etc. I just ignored him till I was done. I brought him back to the barn and tied him up. I had he and Ms Lily to unsaddle etc. I started with her first. He threw a fit. Started kicking the aisle walls. I picked up a brush and tossed at him and told him to knock it off. I was a good 20 ft away and he turns his butt to me, parallel to the aisle wall and started kicking the crap out of the wall. I just lost it. He knew exactly what he was doing and he definitely was doing it on purpose. I took him outside and knocked the crap out of him. Made him move those feet that he was so intent on using to destroy the walls. After about 10 minutes he came in and stood tied quietly. His expression was more like "I want to be invisable".

I was just amazed at his attitude. He looked right at me, flipped his butt around (as if to say F-you) and went to kicking the walls. I know he wanted my attention. And he got it. Maybe not the attention he was looking for. He reminded me of a spoiled rotten child. I am going to resume tying him up in an effort to fix the fussing issue, but I have to wonder if even after he learns to stand tied patiently if this behavior is going to rear its ugly head when he doesn't get what HE wants immediately?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Semper, Scooter and the big dilemma

I have been working with Scooter about 4 days a week. Lunging, round penning, leading, saddling, bridling, etc. A couple of nights ago when I was working with him, the asst. trainer was in the arena and offered to work with him a little. We took him in the round pen and he put a foot in the stirrup and bounced around for about 15 minutes. Scooter could have cared less. He didn't want to stand still at first but he really didn't get stupid, just fidgety. It took about 5 minutes for him to just stand there and take it.

I decided it was time for me to get on so I enlisted Laura's help and off we went. Laura's job was to call 911 if I got bucked off! I took him out, saddled him and off to the round pen we went. I worked him pretty hard in the round pen. First just moving him around, then I "bitted him up" a little and worked him, then a little more and worked him around. I figured this was as good as a time as any. I put a foot in the stirrup and bounced around and stood up. Then down, then up, then down. He stood still and gave me the "just do it already" look. I went to the other side and did the same thing. Again - nothing. So I put a leg over and relaxed in the saddle. Sat still for a minute and let him think about me being there. Pulled his head from side to side. Scratched and stroked his head, neck, and butt. Nothing. He was enjoying the attention and just stood still and relaxed. Next I ask him to move by banging his sides with my legs. His feet were stuck to the ground. He had a bridle and halter with a lead rope on. I took the end of the lead rope and gave him a light over and under while I kicked him and he walked off. We walked around the round pen both directions and he was as quiet and relaxed as could be. When he would start to stop I would bang his sides or use the lead rope and he would keep moving. I asked him to speed it up and he trotted off. Nice and smooth without any silliness. He was a perfect gentleman. After about 20 minutes of him walking and trotting, I got off and let him stand tied. He was a total brat about having to stand tied but I just ignored him and went on with the rest of my ride on Lily. I was so pleased with his performance in the round pen that I was willing to forgive the rest!

Semper is a big baby. Huge. He lost a shoe and he walks with an extremely exaggerated limp and thinks that his life is over. He is out on pasture, there is lots of mud, and it is rainy and cold. He has a blanket on and is still filthy. He is not a happy camper. He has a dry place to eat and get out of the rain and mud. But I can tell he is miserable. Him being home didn't work out as well as I had planned. Him being home was the only way that I could have Scooter at SCR and work on him. I had to take Semper back to SCR so that the shoer could replace the missing shoe and decided that he was just going to stay there and that Scooter was going to have to come back home. I am kind of disappointed because he was coming along so well but I just can't work it out to keep both of them and Ms Lily there. Ms Lily is doing really well and she has NO winter coat. I really couldn't bring her home even if I wanted to.

Of the positive side, Semper is very happy to be back at SCR and to have his shoe on. On the negative, Scooter is not a happy camper. He got a taste of the good life and since he has been home I don't think that he has come out of the barn.

My New Years Resolution is to get Scooter and Bob Harley going. Scooter - I am going to continue working myself and Bob is going to go to a trainer. If I am successful I will have 5 horses under saddle. There is no way for me to keep 5 horses going. Along with my New Years resolution I am going to have some hard choices to make in the next 12 months. Who to keep and who to part with. They are all so much a part of me that I feel like such a dirt bag even thinking about selling one.