Monday, December 7, 2015

Slow And Steady Wins The Race

For the first time in a very long time, I'm sitting at home without a horse ready to run.  After selling my rodeo horse this fall and my futurity colt being injured earlier, I'm left with plenty of horses to ride but nothing to run.  Thankfully it's the middle of winter and there's not much to go to as far as jackpots or rodeos in our area.  However, watching the NFR will get anyone's blood pumping and wanting to hit the road.  

Although you could call me "horse poor" in the riding department, (there's plenty of colts here that need to be rode), I've decided to focus my attention on my 4 year old. Since the Futurity Holiday of December 1st has past, she's also officially my new futurity colt as well.  As everyone was posting on Facebook about how excited they were to run for their 2016 futurity hopefuls that week, I was thinking to myself, "Well, I'm excited that we just started to lope the pattern!" Needless to say, we're a little ways off the mark to make any sort of futurity or jackpot debut. 

This filly is maybe one of the most talented colts I've ever rode. With that comes some challenges. She has a big big engine and she's starting to figure out the gas pedal on her own.  My husband when he first started her said that we'd have to keep her pretty slow for awhile. I knew what he was saying but it wasn't until I rode her myself that I really understood his point.  She was almost on the lazy side for most of her two and three year old year.  But she was quiet and she was sure of herself. Confidence will decrease as we speed things up, so it's important to remember the foundation and have it pretty well set.

Last week as I was working her on the barrels here at home I let her pick her pace.  Which may I remind you we have only slow loped at this point.  Loping to the 1st barrel (which has been her nemesis), everything was coming together. She listened to me and allowed me to shape her, the timing just right, she wrapped around it and pushed out like a finished horse heading to 2nd.  I couldn't help myself and although I didnt' let her gain speed, I let her carry that momentum to 2nd. The 2nd and 3rd were such a rush that I can't say that I remember much about them.   Coming home I could feel her wanting to step on the gas pedal even more.   

It would be easy to keep up this pace. Keep letting her cruise through like she did. She's broke enough that she could probably handle it - for awhile.  However, as her trainer I need to recognize what she's ready for.  She has a good foundation but the foundation hasn't been allowed to "set" enough for her to fall back on if things start to crumble.  She needs time. Her in particular, is going to need a lot of it! 

It's a challenge when a colt is all you have and you're wanting to run, to not just let them go. Significantly more so after you've felt the talent behind them. It's easy to get caught up on what big barrel race is coming up and needing to get ready for it.  It's especially easy to get caught up on the futurity trail hype and think about how far behind your colt is and the need to speed up this process.  However, this isn't a cookie cutter process.  Each horse is different. This particular mare hasn't had the time on her like most of my horses do at this point. She's also one that is going need a lot of time letting the foundation "set" aka keeping it slow.  

I have to look at the big picture.  Do I want a futurity horse or do I want a horse for the future? Of course my answer is for the future. I'm reminded of the story of the tortoise and the hare. We all know how that story played out. I could let this mare roll as she's shown me that she's capable of doing, or I'm reminded of the tortoise - slow and steady wins the race!  I don't know if we will make it to the futurities, and that's OK by me.  For now, we'll be keep it slow, gaining confidence and trying to make every experience a good one!  

PA Ivyafrenchiepie checking cows. She'll spend the rest of the year seeing as much saddle time behind cows as possible as well as getting her fair share of "barrel" time. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Letting Her Shine

October 22nd has been a day to remember for me.  October 22, 2000 was the day that I had the opportunity to buy Smoky - the horse who helped me achieve more than I could have ever imagined.  The impact he made on my life is felt every day.  Through the years I remember how great Smoky was, especially on this day.  The partnership we had was special to say the least.  We bought him from Connie Soderholm, who had trained him and qualified him to the Rough Rider Finals. She was ready to see him go on with a high school girl and I'm so thankful that I was the one that had the opportunity to do that!  At the time, I couldn't imagine the pain that she must have felt seeing Smoky load up into our '85 Shelby 3 Horse trailer, (which by the way, I thought was the coolest trailer ever at the time).  Connie had spent years and countless hours in the saddle, training and hauling Smoky, preparing him for the rodeo road.  You don't spend that kind of time and dedication to an animal and not be attached in some shape or form.  Once again while writing this, I am so thankful that she let that wonderful horse come into my life. Now, 15 years later; I know the pain that Connie must have felt.  

Vandy winning her first ever rodeo.
Photo courtesy of Tina Graham. 

Vandy. What can I say about Vandy? If you've read my blog, chances are that you've read about Vandy somewhere. She was my dream horse even though she didn't start out quite like a dream.  Always talented, always an athlete, she's also always had a mind of her own.  She was a natural on barrels but had the "hang on woman" mentality instead of a "let's do this together" mindset.  Sure, she was quick and could turn a barrel faster than I'd ever felt on a finished horse let alone a 4 year old, she did not want any help or any type of suggestions from her rider.  We had to change that! It was one of the most trying times ever in my barrel racing career.  I almost gave up.  Philip encouraged me on.  I have never learned so much or learned so much outside of the box than I did at that time.  Slowly we started making headway.  It was quite the team effort. 

As a five year old, Vandy surprised me as she climbed up the Ds.  In February for her first run she was the top of the 3D with mistakes galore.  She ran in the 2D at a huge barrel race by April and in June, she won her first 1D check, which also happened to be her first jackpot win.  I had never had a horse be that "on" and always show up to make a run like her.  By August, her very first rodeo, which also happened to be during the performance, she won.  She blew me away.

Vandy making a 1D run out of 300+ entries as a 6 year old.
Photo Courtesy of Brenda Rettinger.

Through all of our successes, we've had our troubles too.  Sure we had growing pains, we still had to work on the "lets work together" partnership mindset but no matter what, Vandy went to work every time you saddled her up.  She was a joy to ride on the ranch. An absolute favorite of mine to sort cattle.  Her grittiness on barrels is nothing to what she is on a cow.  With her quick feet and her natural cow sense, she probably should have went to the cutting pen first.  I spent a lot of time and put a lot of miles in the saddle on her those first few years.  

During our time together, I've had our three little boys as well as she had some time off to raise a colt of her own.  Life happens and not always do we get to do everything we want to do. There are only so many hours in the day! Finally this year, we got to spend the year together.  We finally got to hit the road and officially season Vandy to rodeos.  Needless to say, just like her first rodeo performance, she ran the same no matter what.  She always gave me her all and took a lot of the hassle and worry out of being on the rodeo road.  Didn't get into the arena before the rodeo? Are there banners and flags by second barrel? Is it a side gate? Is it muddy? Oh look the ground is bad!  Those worries as well as many others were never an issue with Vandy.  She made life fun. I knew when I cinched up and headed for the gate that I had just as good of a chance to win as anyone there that day.  Vandy always showed up for work.

Life isn't always about rodeo and barrel racing though.  As I was out on the road more than I had been in the last ten years I missed out on a lot of things at home - my husband and my kids.  I had unbelievable support from my husband and both of our parents. I couldn't have done it without them all.  However, I couldn't handle being away from my kids as they grow.  Missing out on their stories and fun during the 4th of July was about more than I could take.   

As the summer rolled on, not only was I missing out on my family but I was missing out on my colts.  My futurity colt had only a handful of runs on her and we were paid up into futurities.  I don't like showing up unprepared and I was really unprepared with my futurity colt this year.  I had to take some time off if I was going to get somewhat caught up with my colts.  By August I hit a few more rodeos close to home and as I came home from one of them I decided this was it.  At this time in my life, I can't rodeo pro, ride my colts, dedicate my time to our breeding program and have time with my family.  There were too many irons in the fire and I had to decide which one(s) I was going to pull out.  

Vandy and her 2013 foal, King waiting outside my front door.

Rodeo obviously took me away from home more than most.  I knew that I couldn't be on the road like I was this summer.  But where did that leave Vandy?  She has so much talent and heart and if you've ever been around Vandy, you know she LOVES to run barrels.  I wanted to be selfish and just retire her to be a broodmare but I knew how much she craved the barrels when she was out on maternity leave with her first colt.  I decided that it wouldn't be right to just have her sit in the pasture and it wouldn't be fair to her to just hit a jackpot while I'm seasoning and preparing my colts.  She has too much to offer to go down that route.  I knew at this point in my life that I had taken her as far as I could go.  She deserved more, she deserved to shine.  

There was a lot of prayers.  I had some good conversations with our Lord over this.  In my heart I knew it was right but my selfishness still had a hard time with the decision to sell her.  Vandy was my girl.  She was my dream horse.  She was everything I had ever imagined.  I knew though, I owed her this chance to showcase what she could do.  I prayed that God would provide the perfect fit for her.  And on October 20th, he did.

Tammy spent three days with me and Vandy.  Getting to know us and getting to see and feel Vandy inside and out.  It was a match from the get go.  As I told my husband, it was like I was riding her.  It was such a rewarding feeling to see Vandy, who I've poured so much of myself into go on and ride like she did for someone else.  

October 22nd was the day that Tammy asked me if she could buy her.  Although I knew it was a possibility, I was not prepared for that moment.  It would have felt wrong to have said no.  She rode and treated her as if it were me there.  It was Vandys opportunity to shine.  There were tears when she loaded up into the trailer.  There were flashbacks to our times of success as well as our times of trials.  My selfish heart broke knowing that she wouldn't be waiting for me at the gate in the morning like she always did.  However, through it all. I thought of Connie.  A growing family of her own, she chose to let Smoky go to continue his barrel racing career and helping a little girl achieve her dreams, me.  I hope we did her proud and I hope she knows how thankful I am for him.  I also hope, that I too can see Vandy shine as Smoky did with his new rider.  I know Vandy can help Tammy achieve her dreams.  My heart will be full knowing that I didn't hold her back.

This is how she would always greet me. Ears up and always happy to see me. The feeling was mutual. 

Some day I may be in a position to go down the rodeo road. Until then, I will get to be close to home, with my husband and our boys.  I will get to spend time with our colts from our own program and have the joy of helping them reach their potential.  As a friend told me; "You have stars all over in your pasture.  Just polish them until they shine just like Vandy. "

Let your greatness SHINE Vandy!

Tammy, Myself and Vandy. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Foundation - Part IV - Shoulder Control

Finally I am on the last post of The Foundation series.  I tried not to write a novel but well, if you haven't noticed this is something I'm very passionate about and sometimes I can have a hard time condensing things. As I'm putting the first months riding on a two year old and starting my four year old on barrels, this topic hits home in a big way.  Let's finish things up by talking about Shoulder Control.  

I think barrel racing goes through fads just like everything in life. I used to hear all about picking up that shoulder when coming to a barrel and now I've heard more about tipping in that hip more than the other way around.  I believe both are equally important although it's easier to control the shoulder if you have a good grasp of the hip.  

The reverse arc is something that used to be pounded into my head when I was listening to other barrel racers when trouble shooting.  I actually don't use it that much when working my horses on barrels but it's very vital in helping a horse learn to pick up and move away from that pressure while keeping their shoulder lifted and here's the key, while in forward motion.  If I have a horse coming into the barrel too close and too flat, I want to be able bump (pulse on the reins slightly) with the inside rein straight to my hip and have them essentially do a similar move as a reverse arc to give them enough room to turn the barrel but also get their body in the right position.  Sue Smith has an excellent exercise using tires and the reverse arc that she described in a Barrel Horse News article in March 2012. In addition to that drill, I also will put three cones or even barrels in a small version of a barrel pattern with about 15 feet between each cone or barrel.  I like to take them through and make sorta like a barrel pattern but instead of one right and two lefts, make it all rights or all lefts.  I like being about to keep a horse framed like you'd normally want a horse to turn but I also want to have them be able to do it all in a reverse arc easily and fluidly.  As with anything, it takes time to get them to understand the job you ask of them but I strive to be able to do this basically with one hand and never I repeat never move my hand across the center of the horses neck.  

We always hear about how we need to "lift" a horse's shoulders but one thing I think people really over look is a horse pulling or reaching with their shoulders.  We love to see those horses run up in there to a barrel and drop their butt come around it, but what do you think keeps that forward motion? The shoulders play a vital part in that style to work properly and efficiently.  When I turn a barrel or even if I'm just trotting in a circle, I want to be able to feel that inside shoulder reaching forward and out, pulling itself forward.  There is a fine line between reaching and a dropping shoulder though. 

If you remember from the last post I broke down Direction into two stages.  Well I've added another stage - stage 3. Stage 3 is all about putting the first two stages together while finishing a turn.  I still look for that eye to be soft and brown, I still will have them collected and drive them between my hands, but here's where I add the next challenge.  Basically I will be riding my horse like Stage 2 of Direction. However, I will drop my outside rein slightly, shift my weight in my hip to the outside while opening my hip to the inside signaling my horse to turn sharper, almost like that second to last stride of finishing a barrel.  I want to feel that inside front leg reaching out and pulling.  I'll keep my horse in a smaller and smaller circle until I feel that shoulder the way that I want.  Once I do, I release and have them come back into a bigger circle.  Sometimes I will just ask them and it takes them a stride, other times it takes a couple strides before I feel that action I want while other times it takes several progressive smaller and smaller circles to achieve the right feel.  Make sure once you feel it, you instantly reward them by letting them move out into a bigger circle.  You must keep forward motion and not let your horse do a roll back kind of move in order to get the reward - all four feet must be moving forward. 

This exercise is not something that I do often because I don't want them anticipating it and getting into a habit of dropping their shoulder.  Proper position of their body as we talked about in stage 2 applies and is vital to keeping your horse correct and getting the most out of this exercise.  

After my last post, I had a lot of requests for a video on Direction and the Jaw exercise.  Here's a video I did for those visual learners on all three stages of Direction and the Jaw exercise.  I hope you enjoy! 

Well there you have it! I truly believe if your horse can do all the things that I outlined in The Foundation series that not only will you be able to fix problems as they arise but that you'll avoid problems because you've prepared your horse for the job that you're asking them to do.  You'll notice that I didn't have a section on stopping.  Although stopping correctly is very important, I don't focus on having my horses stop as a Reiner.  What I do want, which I talked about when I was writing on Speed Control, is for the horse to respond to my body whether my body is saying walk, trot, or stop, I want that horse to respond accordingly.  

I hope that you've enjoyed this series as much as I have writing it! I'm not claiming to be the best horse trainer or even close, but I do hope that everyone who has stuck with me and read these posts will be able to take at least one thing home to add to their tool box.  I have loved hearing everyone's feedback.  Please feel free to hit me up if you have any questions! 

Thank you again everyone for reading my Foundation series! 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Foundation - Part III - Collection, Direction and Jaw Softness

We are on the back stretch to my Foundation Series.  If you haven't read the previous parts to this series, you might want to take a look back at them but this is the post that I would say you don't want to miss.  I will try my hardest to not turn this into a novel but no promises.  This is a lot of information to try to condense.  If I had any secrets to how my horses ride the way they do, here's your chance to read them for yourself! 

Collection if I were to describe it in the shortest terms, it's where the horse is in the "athletic position."  The horse has shifted his weight to his hindquarters, elevating his forequarters, rounding his back and reaching up and driving forward with his hind legs.  If the horse is not in this position it makes it very hard to do any sort of athletic maneuver, especially turning a barrel.  

Collection can be misinterpreted as just the softening poll and dropping the nose.  A low head set doesn't equal collection.  You must have the rest of the package to have collection.  I remember watching a friend ride one of my colts and coaching her a little telling her to ask the horse to collect.  When asked, the horse dropped its head and she released.  When I told her to collect her again right away she said, "oh you want her nose to her chest." That is not what I'm asking for.  The headset in collection is a small part of the equation.  However, whenever I pick up a rein whether it's just one rein or both, I want them to drop their head, but most of all round their back, elevate their front quarters and be driving or reaching with their hindquarters.  I want them to automatically be in the athletic position whenever I touch their face. 

Direction, this is something I work on from the very first day I ride a colt all the way to when they are finished horses.  This is something that is always in my toolbox.  There's the age old argument that barrel racing is won or lost in the turns.  Regardless of what side of the coin you favor, turns are no doubt a huge part of the equation.  When I start my horses on the barrels, if they have a good foundation with direction, it makes things so much easier! So what is direction? Here's an explanation of the exercise pulled from an earlier blog post I wrote back in 2012.

Stage 1
I ask my horses to start out walking a small circle. What I'm looking for is my horse to have softness in the poll, the nose directly under the eye and to see the corner of the horse's eye.  Showing too much of the eye ultimately will put your horse off balance and out of position so you don't want to over do the horizontal flexion.  If you attached a pole to the horse's nose so that it made a line in the sand, you would want the horse's feet to walk slightly to the outside of the line or directly on it.  The horse's body should be in a C shape - soft and flexed in the poll, shoulder, and loin. All of this you are wanting to do under willing submission.

I find the eye is a huge part of this exercise. If your horse is showing white, it is looking straight ahead rather than where it is going to go (circle) becoming unbalanced. This ultimately causes the horse's whole body to tense and not be working under willing submission. When the horse shows brown in it's eye (corner), release and let the horse walk straight for a few steps. Remember, it takes pressure for relief to be effective and relief for pressure to be effective. Ask the horse to come into a circle again, making sure to "release" the very instant when he shows brown in his eye. Start building to holding that circle for one stride to two to a full circle keeping that brown in the eye. Once they have it down at a walk, work your way into a trot and lope. You want to keep their feet moving forward and not pivoting so don't be afraid to use your inside leg although you want to be able to use less and less as you progress. You should be pulling the rein towards your hip and you should be putting your weight on the outside and "opening up" the inside to turn. Smaller circles are easier to master, but with added speed, you'll want to increase the diameter.  To get a visual, think of a dog chasing its tail.  It's always looking for its tail while doing its circle, the same is what I want our horses to do, I want them to be looking where it's going to go around the barrel. 

Example of Stage 2 of Direction while at a lope.
Photo by Tina Graham

Stage 2
Originally Direction consisted of just as described in Stage 1.  I've added another element to it and that's by riding two handed. I ask them to drive into the bit or collecting them and have slight pressure on both reins at first until they frame up and collected.  My hands stay square in front of me but I will have a little more pressure on the inside rein to ask for a circle.  I want their movement to be the same in the circle, the eye is equally important but what I'm wanting for them to do is ride between my hands and body.  I shouldn't feel them drop their shoulder, get tight in their ribs, disengage this hindquarters or be pushing on the bit.  Although I have contact with the bit, it is slight and the horse should be putting slack in the reins but yet not hiding its face.   I want to be able to move them in or out of the circle while keeping my hands relatively still and in the same position.  This is great preparation for when I start them on the barrels.  When I ride to the pocket of the barrel, I will ask for this same motion but will adjust the circle according to which barrel I'm turning.  I don't want to have to make many movements with my hands, I want them to stay within the frame of my body.  Less is more, however the more that we prepare them, the less that we will have to school them when we get to the barrels. 

If we have Direction down in both Stage 1 and Stage 2, turning the barrel correctly will be a breeze.
Photo by Tina Graham 

This is a topic that really deserves a blog post all in itself but I'll do my best to explain it for the purpose of The Foundation. If I ever have a problem with the barrels, you can bet that if I went back to working on Direction or checking how soft the jaw is, I'd find the problem.  Whether they are being stiff in the body or the mouth, I find that the Jaw is a huge contributing factor.  

I'd never heard of jaw softness until working with Wade Black.  He opened my eyes to just how important this was and it was like the last piece of the puzzle was put together for me on many different areas I was struggling in with my horses.  I really believe that if your horse is stiff in the shoulders, it's going to be stiff in the jaw. If they are having troubles collecting, I look at how stiff they are in the jaw.  If they are diving into a barrel despite your best efforts to keep them in the correct position, I look at the jaw.  So you're probably wondering, how do I know how tight or soft they are with their jaw? 

It starts with an exercise that I just simply call the "jaw exercise". I know, how creative right? I'll ask the horse to back up while having their nose slightly tipped to the left or right. When backing up I don't mean the dragging your feet - a snail is faster then you kind of backing up.  I don't mean the NASCAR equivalent to backing up either.  I want the horse to be light on it's feet and pulling with it's hindquarters backwards.  It neither needs to be fast or slow, just light on its feet.  As we are backing I will ask the horse to turn on it's hindquarters the same way that I'm asking for its nose.  The key to this is that I want the horse's first step in its turn to be with that inside front leg. After that step I want the horse to back up again in without pushing forward or leaning against me.  So for example, I'll ask the horse to back up while tipping it's nose slightly to the left.  When I feel that it's light on it's feet and pulling with it's hind end while backing, I will tip my weight to the right (not in my stirrup, just my hip) and bring the left rein to my hip and ask it to take a step to the left while keeping it's hindquarters planted.  Remember, the first step I want them to take into the turn would be the left front leg and I want them to reach across and pull or stretch with their shoulder, not the baby step that a horse would make if they were locked or stoved up.  I want them to be reaching across.  In one motion I want the horse to back, turn and automatically back again.  The transitions from backing to turning to backing again is where you'll feel how soft or tight the horse's jaw is.  Right after I ask them to turn and they are supposed to back, if I feel the horse lean forward, they are tight in the jaw.  They are not waiting on me, but simply taking matters into their own and taking charge.  I'll repeat this exercise until after they have turned are are to back up again they automatically shift their weight back and are soft in the jaw, poll, shoulders, and loins. It's important that you do this on both sides.  

The jaw to me is the hidden key.  If I have a soft jaw, I have a soft body.  With a soft body, you can do anything.  

I have tried to explain the best that I can of these exercises but for those that are more visual learners, feel free to hit me up and I'll see if I can't track down some video of direction and the jaw exercise.  

Thank you for staying with me through all of that!  Stay tuned for next week's and the last of The Foundation series, Shoulder Control.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Foundation - Part II - Leads and Speed Control

As I continue on in my Foundation series of what I expect my colts to be able to do before I start them on the pattern, you're probably thinking "Why a section just on leads? Kinda no brainer, right? You either have the correct lead or you don't."  Well, I want to break it down a little more and show the importance and maybe give you something more to think about when it comes to leads.  It's pretty easy to see why leads play such an important role in barrel racing.  If you're not sure why, try to turn a barrel to the right in the right lead and then again in the left lead and see which one your horse is able to turn the barrel easier. 

It is more natural for the horse to take the correct lead in a circle.  After all, it's more work for them to be in the wrong lead than it is in the right lead.  However, I want my horses to be able to pick up their leads on a straight line.  Often times I will be riding in the pasture and will ask for the horse to pick up their left lead, lope a few strides and then drop down to a trot and ask them to pick up their right lead.  Not only is the picking up the lead that I ask for important but the transition from a lope to a trot and back to a lope again is as well.  I want the horse to slow to my body as well as pick up speed with my body's motion.  This is the beginning of speed control.  Think of when you come into a barrel, you sit and slow your body's movement wanting the horse to rate or slow down.  I don't want to be having to pull on my horses head to get them to rate, I want them to be in tune to my body and slowing down themselves.  

Everyone has their way of asking for a horses lead but I tend to ask them the same way I'm found when I'm running barrels so that they automatically take that lead and keep it because my body isn't telling them to do something else.  I'll ask by shifting my hips so that my weight is in the outside, so the opposite of the lead I'm asking for.  For example, for the left lead, I'd shift my weight to my right back hip pocket, bring my right leg in to "engage" the hindquarters and pick up my inside rein or left rein to shape them and pick up the shoulder as well as open up my left hip and picking up my own shoulder encouraging them to take the correct lead.   With their hind quarters engaged, it's very hard for them to take the wrong lead. 

Every horse is going to favor a certain side or lead.  They might take the left lead easily the first time asked, but the right lead might take them a few times to get right.  As colts this is very common and to be expected but it's something that should be pretty well over with before we start the barrels.  Teaching them to engage their hindquarters will be a great asset to you for those horses that struggle with their leads. 

For anyone that knows me well, they know that I despise the loping a circle before heading to the first barrel.  I feel that it's a crutch that too many people rely on and in turn horses learn to rely on as well instead of doing what you ask for when you ask for it in the first place.  Now I will say, there is a time and a place for the "crutch circle" but I try not to use it in my program.  Although there are several reasons why people will use it, a big reason is it's a way to insure the horse picks up the correct lead before going to first barrel. As I strive to make rodeo horses I know that they don't allow you to do this so I just don't ever learn to rely on it among many many other reasons.  Okay....time for me to get off this little rant before a lynch mob comes for me! 

Because I am against the "crutch circle" and know that at a rodeo I will have to keep forward movement and usually down some alley way or tight space, I want my horses to go from essentially a standstill to a lope in the correct lead. I don't mind if they walk or trot a stride or two but I expect when I ask for them to do something, they do it.  I also don't get in too big of a tizzy if they take the wrong lead when I'm first starting them but I expect to be able to sit down and for them to slow down to a trot and then they take the correct lead when I ask for it the second time.  This will also be instrumental when you're preparing them for the lead change before the second barrel. 

 I don't really ask my horses to do flying lead changes in dry work.  Some people can get caught up on flying lead changes but I don't want my horses to get to free with their lead changes to where every time I put a leg in them they change a lead.  I want them to use the momentum of leaving the first barrel be what changes their lead verses me having to tell them they need to change their lead.  So when I've finished the first barrel, I will slow my body down and ask for a trot and essentially do a simple lead change before I head to second barrel.  As your horse progresses it's okay to let them lope out of the first barrel and figure it out on his own.  Just remember to ride him with your body the way you should for each lead and soon they'll get the picture! 

Who knew that I could talk so much about leads.  I'll leave you with a few exercises.  Take your horse out to the pasture and ask him for the left lead, after a few strides bring him back down to a trot using your body (not your reins) and then ask them to take the right lead.  Try to trot for only a few strides at first and work your way to trotting only one stride before changing to the other lead.  For a challenge, ask for a left, trot, ask for a right, trot, and then ask for another right.  Keep the horse guessing and waiting for you. For some this will be hard. For others it will be a good refresher. If you've mastered that, try having your horse lope from a standstill in the left lead and then in its right.  We don't want them to run out of the standstill like a rocket but a nice easy loose reined lope. Pick a lead in your mind that you want them to take and ask for it and go! When I ask them to lope, I don't want it to be five or ten strides later, I want it now.  Of course the younger and less experienced horse it is perfectly acceptable for them to take a few strides before taking the lead, but the fewer strides is something to work towards as they progress.  

I hope you've enjoyed this "Foundation" series.  Stay tuned next week as I talk about Direction, Collection, and Jaw Softness. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Foundation - Part 1 - Hip Control

The Foundation - Part 1 - Hip Control

In last week's post I touched briefly on willing submission.  I want to stress the importance of this.  If you don't have this, or a good grasp of it with your horse then what I will outline as the foundation will mean nothing.  Sure, you may be able to do the tasks that I talk about but it will be forced and will lead to troubles down the road.  I also want to stress that there will be times of unwilling submission.  Horses are just like us, they have attitudes all their own and have bad days too. There will be days that things just won't go right.  Horses will have unwilling submission due to miscommunication.  If they don't understand what you're asking of them, don't be surprised to see their heads in the air, their eyes wild and their jaw rock hard.  It's a defense mechanism.  However, we need to make sure that we keep willing submission as our goal and when it happens, it's a reward to not only our horses but ourselves.  If you've rode a horse under willing submission, it's sure hard to ride one without that in the fore front of your mind. The feeling of it is something that I crave and work for whenever I ride. 

Okay, now that we have that down let's move on.  I'm not going to list the tasks in order of importance because they are all important to me.  Nor will I order them in the order that they are taught because each horse is different.  So bare with me if I jump from one thing to the next.  

Back when I was in college the one rein stop was popular. Maybe it still is, I don't really follow Clinton Anderson or clinicians like him as much.  We used to do it a lot with our horses teaching them to not only stop, but give us their nose while disengaging their hind quarters at the same time.  Well, after these horses that we started got that down pat and we eventually started them on barrels, I started to see some problems. Such as, as soon as I would come into the barrel and ask for their nose, they disengaged their hind end. Not much when going slow but as I started asking for speed, watch out!  Talk about polar opposite of what I wanted to achieve! So we quit the whole disengaging thing for awhile.  Don't get me wrong, the one reined stop has its time and place and is a great safety mechanism but I was not seeing how it was helping me.  However, I've come to realize that not only did it have a place in our program as a good safety mechanism but also a stepping stone to a horse learning to "engage" their hind quarters. 

 The one rein stop is a great way for a horse to learn to disengage their hindquarters.  If you are not familiar with it, the horse will be asked to stop forward movement by giving its nose to the riders leg as its hindquarters move away from its nose. So for example, to disengage the hind quarters with a one reined stop, say I'm trotting a straight line. I would ask the horse to stop by bringing his left rein to my hip as I tip my weight forward and over to his right shoulder while putting leg pressure with my left leg to make his hindquarters swing to the right. When the horse stops his forward motion and moves his hindquarters over (disengages) then the rein is released.

 Maybe it's just me but teaching a horse to engage their hind quarters vs to disengage is much harder.  In regards to engaging a horses hindquarters in barrel racing, it requires forward movement.  For example, to engage the hindquarters, as you're walking in a straight line, you would lift the left rein slightly forward and up (note: never over and across the center of the horses neck) to where you see the brown of the horses eye, you put your weight on your right pants pocket and bring your right leg back and put pressure on the ribs to ask them to move their hips to the left essentially walking a straight line but with the body in a "C" shape.  I want to be able to shift my weight and put pressure with my leg and have them engage or "tip their hip" at a walk, trot, and lope easily.  

So how does disengaging help with the engaging? Well, with the help of a one rein stop, it's fairly easy to teach them to disengage.  However, to teach them to engage I will have them standing still and essentially disengage and then shape them with the reins as if they are engaged and ask them to move forward taking care that their first step is not to shift their hind quarters away to make their body straight but to go forward in that "C" position.  Their second step should be with the inside hind leg and should be reaching up and over, not back and away.  If they take one step in the correct frame, I release them and let them walk straight bodied. I keep building on this from one step to two to three, etc, to where even in forward motion the position of your body will engage the hindquarters.  

Where does this apply to barrel racing? Well disengaging, I have no clue.  There for awhile after our colts were riding nice and we didn't have to worry so much about using the one rein stop for safety purposes, I quit doing it.  It wasn't until I realized why I was having problems getting my horses to engage their hindquarters that I had the "ah ha" moment on its usefulness to my training program.   Engaging the hindquarters to me is a huge part of barrel racing.  They say if you can control the hip, you can control the shoulder.  When I bring my horses to the pocket of the barrel, I want them to engage their hind quarters and be reaching up with that inside leg to use as a driving force when turning.  In short, with an engaged hip you get the 4 wheel drive turn.  I expect my colts to have a good grasp of this before I show them the pattern as it is used the very first day in my program. 

As I close this week's post I want to clarify something.  Because I start a lot of our colts on barrels with only 30 days on them, a lot of the tasks that I want them to know beforehand will not be set in stone. However, each and every ride I make with them we will be progressing on the foundation and working hard to make it solid.  I will stress though that before my colts are loping the pattern, these tasks will be fairly solid and will be relatively easy for the horse to do. 

So much for not turning this series into a novel!  Kudos to any of you that made it through that!  I hope you stick with me for next week's Foundations post about Leads! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Foundation - Introduction

Wow! Summer has flown by at an alarming rate of speed. I wonder if anyone ever has a summer that drags by though.  When I started this blog I had a vision of writing a post at least every week.  I wanted to share my struggles and triumphs in my barrel racing journey, share some inspiration and motivate individuals who might be able to relate and maybe throw in a training tip or too.  Needless to say, this summer I failed miserably at my blog upkeep.  I've had tons of thoughts but never could really get the words to flow when I finally sat down to the computer.   You see when I actually write a blog post, the words come flying out at my fingertips.  Many times what is published is a rough draft as by the time I'm done writing there's a baby that's woke up from his nap, a mess to clean up, or a horse to be rode.  I write what I'm passionate about and wear my heart on my sleeve.  So why am I having this funk of a writers block? I'm not sure.  However, I started thinking of answering some of most popular questions I've been asked with barrel racing and most of them all stem back to what I expect for a colt to be able to do before I start them on the pattern.  So in an effort to break out of my writers block funk, I'm going to do a series of blog posts of just that, what I call the fundamentals - the foundation. 

As a disclaimer, I'm not claiming to be the worlds best trainer, a world champion or any one worth noting really.  I'm going to share my thoughts on training and what works for me.  It might not work for everyone.  It's up to you to decide if it will work for you or even worth your time to read through in the first place. However, if it could help even one person, then my goal has been accomplished. 

I do not know how many posts it will take to get through it all.  If anyone knows me, they know how much of a fanatic I am when it comes to this subject so please bare with me as I try to condense these next posts so that they do not turn into a novel.  
I'm going to end this post with the foundation - the first brick - willing submission.  If you're a follower of my blog, you're familiar with this term.  I use it regularly but I will try to explain it for those that are unfamiliar with the term or concept or for those needing a refresher as it will be used multiple times over the next series of posts. 

I learned about willing submission while in college taking a colt starting class with Wade Black.  Although I had a very good grasp of horsemanship and the concept of willing submission before, there hadn't been a term linked to it.  So what is willing submission? Willing submission as defined by Wade is when a request is made, the horse willingly performs the task requiring little to no pressure; it is the horse's idea. After initial contact, the horse performs the task on a loose rein with no leg pressure.  Willing submission is a horse seeking relief rather than just giving to pressure. The horse chooses to do what is asked and tries to please their rider. This is achieved by feel, timing, and balance.  You can judge a lot if you have willing submission just by looking at the horse's head. Is it high?  Is it chomping the bit? Is it's mouth open as you're asking it to turn or stop? There are tons of indicators of unwilling submission, but our goal is to work towards willing submission every ride.  We look for their poll to be soft, their head down, their eye soft and relaxed, their jaw soft, the mouth closed, etc.  We want the colt to work with us, to have trust in us and most of all, enjoy us and the job that we are asking them to do. 

I hope that you enjoy the rest of this series of The Foundation as I continue next week! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Positive Thinking

Riding and running colts can be a humbling time.  Well, really horses in general can be a humbling experience.  They always keep you on your toes but it seems with futurity age colts, you have to ride the lows to be able to get to the highs and then when you least expect it, you hit the lows again.  This roller coaster ride comes with the territory and isn't limited to just colts. Not everyone can handle it, which this includes myself sometimes.

Whether you're naturally a pessimist or an optimist; when things aren't going right, it's easy to get into that "Negative Nelly" kind of attitude.  However, you won't ever get ahead of the game if you keep that kind of attitude.  When you have a negative attitude, you've beat yourself before you ever make it to the arena, and many times before you even leave the arena.

It's easy to come out of the arena and think of all the bad things that happened.  Your horse tipped a barrel, you sat down too soon, he shouldered, etc. etc.  In fact it's so easy to think of all the bad things that it's hard sometimes to think of the good things.  When these negative thoughts flood our minds when we leave the arena, they start to infiltrate our minds before we go into the arena next time - setting us up for failure.

We've all heard about the power of positive thinking, but how many of us put that to use?  There are many exercises to do to help you achieve a higher power of positive thinking.  I'm by no means an expert but here is one thing that I will leave you;  Instead of thinking of all the negative things that happened in a run, I want you to also make sure you count and credit the positive things too.  It might be as simple as I stayed on! or my horse was quieter at the gate.  It doesn't matter how big the positive it is we need to make sure we acknowledge it.

Now, I'm not going to say that we are supposed to forget the negatives.  Looking back on what went wrong in a run is just as important as what went right.  We need to look at the negatives so that we know what we need to work on to turn that negative into a positive the next time.  However, too often we focus solely on the negative.  Try to have a time frame after your run that you're allowed to dissect and think about the negatives AND the positives.  For me, I will allow myself five minutes.  It might not be right after a run since often times I'm riding more than one horse, but I will pick out five minutes when I will go through my run.  I'll pick out all the negatives, not forgetting about those positives too, and will form a game plan for the next run or what I'll do in the time I have until the next run to turn those negatives into positives.

Too often we overlook the positives.  My challenge to you is the next run you make, as soon as you come out of the arena, think of at least one positive thing in your run BEFORE you think of the negatives.  Get yourself out of the negative mindset and start working towards one that is positive!

Photo by Tina Graham

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Don't Settle

The past couple of years I have had the pleasure of having one solid horse and the rest  have been colts.  Thank goodness for that solid horse that allowed me to keep somewhat what's left of my sanity.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE riding and training colts.  It's what keeps me going but if I never get to jump on those solid horses, I can't keep myself up to snuff and it allows me to breathe and just enjoy the moment.  My solid horse right now is one that went through the ranks here as a just started colt to futurity colt to now my solid #1 horse.

Now, what do I classify as a solid horse?  Well, for me it is one that I can spend most of my time riding to get in shape.  There is little to no tuning and the pressure is taken off as to if I need to get to the barrel race early and exhibition, see the arena, how many times have I gotten to the barrel patch since the last race, etc.  The mare that I have now is definitely one that I know will show up to work as long as I've gotten her in shape.  It doesn't matter if I get there too early before hand to see the arena and she allows me to spend more time on my futurity colt that does need those things.  She allows me to breathe.

However, I have found that although we clock, there are still mistakes being made.  We are not at our full potential and as solid as I thought she was, I'm realizing that she has her holes.  In my time on my colts and needing that breather, I've become lenient. I've over looked this or that because well she was further than anything else that I had (and still was pulling checks).  I've spent most of my time just riding her and not fine tuning things that are rough around the edges.  I settled.

I think about how well we've done despite not being completely tuned up and realize how lucky we are to pull checks despite this. Just think of what could be if we were as tuned up as my colts were? If my colt were to come into a barrel and get stiff, you can bet that I'd be doing something about it.  Why don't I hold the same standards to my solid horse?  The answer is that I've been lazy.  I've taken the easy way out and just went to ride rather than put in the extra effort.  Now, don't get me wrong, those solid horses don't need to be tuned and tortured and those quiet rides are great for them, but they need to be tuned enough that they hold the same standards as your colts.

So, my poor, sweet, beautiful mare that thought she had this whole game figured out has come to a world stopping reality check that although she may be "all that", she's not quite "all that and a bag of chips" just yet.  No more free passes no more get out of jail free cards.  If I expect to be better, then we need to go the extra mile and take the extra effort.  In the last few months of working harder and figuring this and that out and just holding her to a higher standard, it's been fun and rewarding to see the changes.  Not only has it helped her but it's helped me grow as a horsewoman.

My challenge to you is to not get lazy.  Don't settle. It's okay to go out and breathe and enjoy the horse on a nice ride because those horses need that too, but don't forget to put in the work and reach for the stars!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Stay True To Yourself

Barrel racing is my passion.  Besides my family, I live and breathe it.  I watch barrel racing videos, read articles, talk to people and basically try to learn everything that I can.  At a barrel race you will see me watching people work their horses, trying to pick up any tidbit that I can. I'm not afraid to ask people for advice and as far as I'm concerned, I can never learn enough. Every day is an opportunity to learn.

I've never participated to a barrel racing "clinic" although I have years of private instruction from my great friend and mentor Mary Ketchum.  The foundation she gave me is incredible.  However, in my quest to learn more, I decided to go to my first barrel racing clinic.  At the time, I was in a very low spot in my confidence and having trouble.  I was willing to change everything because what I was doing just wasn't working (in my low self esteem mind).  

I learned a different style and changed how I worked my horse.  This style is proven through and through with champion after champion winning from it. However, it wasn't me.  The rest of that summer I tried and tried.  I worked and worked.  In my desperation, I flung almost everything I knew out the window and adopted this new style.  Now, I'm not going to say it screwed up my horses or me, but it just wasn't me and it wasn't working for me. 

I see fads all the time in barrel racing.  People will flock to those that are winning and just like me, forget their foundation in a sheep - follow the flock - type of mentality.  There is much to be learned from everyone from those winning to those that are not. I decided to go back to my roots and incorporate tidbits that I'd learned from the clinic that I felt would be useful to my style.  The reality of things hit me like a slap in the face. I realized that I needed to stay true to myself.  After all, my foundation was what got me to where I was - I was just needing help to build to the next level.   

My training is made up of my foundation from Mary Ketchum and has been tweaked and tuned and turned into my own through trial and error and learning from other people and horses. What I've realized most is this; Be the best version of yourself and never quit working or most of all learning. Find what works best for you and throw out what doesn't.  Don't be afraid to pick up bits and pieces from someone else to help fill in the cracks or to build you to the next level, but never lose track of your foundation. I'm excited to go to another clinic, work with another person, work with Mary but I'll always keep in mind this - Stay true to yourself and don't become a victim of a "fad". 

Disclaimer: I am by no means saying or meaning anything negative about any clinician, especially the clinician that I went to.  They are a wealth of knowledge and their clinic is a great opportunity to take their knowledge and apply it to our own.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Greatest Competitor

Barrel Racing as we all know is a very competitive sport. The magnitude of how far barrel racing reaches world wide is simply amazing.  One of the reasons why I was drawn to barrel racing was the fact that it was not a judged event. The only thing that I had to prove was going to be reflected on what the timer said.  Barrel racing should not be political or judged, however I've found over the years that behind the scenes that it is more and more.  With making a business in our horses with raising, training and selling barrel horses and prospects, it is hard not to worry about what another person think's about our program. After all, if no one likes or believes in our product then we are out of business.

As our young program is growing and reaching new stages, the importance of our performance is directly correlated in the future of our program.  Our first foals are reaching performance age and we will be hitting the arena.  Although I believe with all my heart in these colts, it's hard not to feel that outside pressure of what other people will think of them as well.  Remember, this is our business.  

I was really beginning to feel that pressure as I was sitting on the sidelines waiting until I could get back on my colts. I watched all my friends and fellow competitors making their strides with their colts and thought there was no way that I could catch up.  As I worried about where I'd end up with my own colts I came across this quote.

"If you continuously compete with others, you become bitter, but if you continuously compete with yourself, you become better." ~unknown 

I've always believed in this idea, but it's hard not to get caught up in the politics and have the "What did she think?", "How did he do?", "What time did they run?" etc, etc going on in the back of your mind.

Since getting back on my colts, I've focused mostly on myself and trying very hard to make up for lost time.  It's been great just seeing the difference in my colts after getting to ride them consistently as well as the change in myself.  I have tried hard not to put my thoughts on others and what they are doing.  They may be my competition on the weekend, but day in and day out, my biggest competitor is me! Myself of today is competing against myself of yesterday.  

If I can make improvements each and every day, I won't have to worry about the competitors of the weekend.  That doesn't mean that I will win the barrel race, but it does mean that I will beat my main competition (myself) and in that, is a win win situation.  If you continually better yourself, then the results will be reflected in the results of the barrel race.  As one of my favorite sayings goes, "The proof will be in the pudding." 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Broke Or Too Broke?

I have always been one of those people that thought that you could never have a horse "too broke".  Especially when it came to barrels.  I wanted to be able to move my horse this way and shape him that way and be able to do it with just my finger tips.  Last winter I spent most of my time focusing on just getting my 2015 futurity horse "broke" and being able to ride her where ever I wanted her to go.  I have to admit, my time was well spent and she's become one of the handiest horses I've ever rode.  We work well together with willing submission being the cornerstone of our foundation.  With her, I got one of the biggest compliments that I've ever received, "If you're not careful, she's going to be too broke to run barrels."

At first I just took it as face value that it was a compliment and to me, a dang good one.  However, as I'm returning to riding after my maternity leave and like you've heard me over and over trying to find my feel, timing, and balance again, I'm realizing that it might not have been the greatest thing to have this little mare this light and "broke".

Obviously if you've followed my blog, you know that returning from having kids is a struggle and something that I talk about a lot on here.  It's the story of my life right now and one that I wouldn't have changed for the world.  I envy those that can just jump back on after having kids and ride off like they've never skipped a day. However, in the effort to get it all back, I'm learning and appreciating things so much more than ever before.

I'm fortunate enough to live just a mile from an indoor arena that although I try not to work my young horses on the barrels in there due to it being so narrow, I do have plenty of room to set up drills and work on stations.  I realize the importance of working on barrels, away from the barrels if you know what I mean and on those cold days that I wuss out from riding outside at home, I take full advantage of working on these drills.

One of my favorite drills is just using a single barrel and setting it up anywhere in the arena and I can approach and turn it like it's the 1st barrel, 2nd, 3rd, from any direction of the arena.  Reiterating to my horse to listen to me and follow my body to turn the barrel.  I'm realizing that the more time in the saddle is the best thing for me, but with each horse I'm having to figure out my timing and balance again.

I decided that I was going to work my mare as if it was a first barrel.  Going slow she nailed it. Staying balanced and smooth.  I added some speed knowing full well that things weren't going to be quite as nice as they were going slow.  What I didn't realize was the fault would be solely on me!  I added some speed and came into the barrel in very good position and on the backside I barely moved my hand, (I'm talking an inch at most) and she spun around like it was a reining competition.  Whoa! We went through this process several times before I realized that by moving my hand an inch or less is what caused the reaction.  She wasn't being bad (which I knew she wasn't, I just couldn't quite figure out why she was doing it), she was just doing what she was asked to do.  So finally with my good friend Amanda coaching me, I made the turn and focused solely on my hand and not moving it.  She came around the turn smooth and effortlessly just like she had when we were going slow.

"If you're not careful, she's going to be too broke to run barrels" came flooding to my mind. Sure enough he was right about that that particular day and situation.  However, I still strongly believe that no horse can be too broke to run barrels.  The problem lies with the rider such as myself.  When the horse is cued into our every thought, movement, and feel it just makes it that much more important to be at the top of our game in order for the horse to be at the top of theirs.  Horsemanship can be summed up riding a horse with willing submission by mastering feel, timing and balance. Every day that I saddle up, I try to work on these things with my horses. It's a team effort.  However, we need to realize what we're asking our horses to do. Right now my horse is holding her end of the bargain and I need to uphold mine.

 To me, a broke horse isn't a horse that it on auto pilot. It is a horse that when watching it with it's rider, you see a dance.  A horse reading the rider and the rider reading the horse so that the horse puts the slack in the reins as you take it out.   So no, I don't believe a horse can be too broke to run barrels, but I do believe that as the level of brokeness increases, the importance of the rider's feel, timing, and balance increases as well.

One of the best feelings I ever felt was in this run where Holly and I were running on willing submission  - a team. Holly is the dam the my 2015 futurity colt that I talk about in this blog.