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. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Snow Into Sand

We've all heard the popular saying, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." As many of my friends are in the warm weather of Arizona, playing in the sand and going to barrel races left and right, I was really wishing I was in their position.  The past couple of weeks with below zero temperatures have made me a little bitter about being here.  It's just too darn cold to ride, even to go to the indoor arena.  Seeing those Facebook statuses and pictures of my friends kicking back and riding in the Arizona sunshine sure didn't help my mood either.  Yes, I fully admit, I'm jealous! However, rather than sulk about my residence in cold country Montana (which I love 8 months of the year) I decided to make my snow into sand - sort to speak.

Of course there is no possible way of making snow into sand, I can make a not so fun situation into something productive.  Ironically, my favorite way of legging a horse up is by long trotting through a good 10-12 inches of nice soft, puffy snow.  I loved the winter time while attending college at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT.  Located by the mountains, there was never a shortage of snow and it was always soft, puffy and evenly laid across the pasture. No need for an aquatred, mother nature gave me the perfect situation to get my horses in shape and I took advantage of it!

Unfortunately Eastern Montana isn't known for that soft, beautiful snow, or the tolerable temperatures either for that matter. With it's relentless wind, snow turns into drifts, which turn into bigger drifts, which turn into monsterous drifts (see where I'm going here) and when it's all said in done, the snow's turned into something so hard that the horses can walk on top of snow that is a few feet above the ground.

As I rode this morning I got to thinking, it's really not all that bad. I get a little creative trying to dodge the drifts that I know that are hard and take full advantage of the few areas of soft snow that's like nature's aquatred.  My horses are getting nice and responsive to me picking them up, counter arching away from those pesky drifts and learning how to keep their feet under them when they hit the occasional patch of slick ground.  They're learning a lot on how to work on auto pilot as I'm bundled up in 15 different layers, so many that my range of movement is limited.  Sometimes I think that we as riders think too much for our horses and not let them think for themselves.

The real perks of riding this time of year and in this kind of weather is the sledding. Every year our kids beg us to go sledding.  Life generally is so busy that when it's nice enough to be out with them, we're busy doing something else or when we do have time, it's too darn bitter cold to be out! However, we try to take time to go sledding a few times every year. Now, I'm not talking in sledding as grabbing a sled and going down a hill.  We don't have the best hills or enough even snow to do that much.  I'm talking about the piling the kids in the sled hooked with a rope and dragging it behind a horse. Talk about get a horse a real workout as well as multitasking as a babysitter!  The smiles and the giggles make it a memory that lasts forever.

So I guess it's not all so bad to be up here after all.  Sure, I'm not getting to go barrel race but I'm getting to spend time with my husband and kids, working colts and taking advantage of what mother nature has thrown at me. Which when you come to think about it, snow isn't so bad after all!

Frenchmans Elvis and Philip taking our son Cade for a spin.