June 14th, 2010 Roller Coaster

I’ve never liked the roller coaster. That queasy feeling in my stomach going up, then down is not something that I enjoy. I haven’t been on a roller coaster in years but this weekend I wouldn’t have known the difference such were the emotional highs and lows of this weekends Extreme Team Mustang Makeover competition.
I left content knowing that my homework was done and that Crockett was as ready as he would ever be.
The last two weeks of riding him he was almost flawless. After giving him 3 days off and 2 days of light riding beforehand, I knew we were both ready!
Riding Thursday on our practice ride I was delerious with joy.
Many people stopped to compliment me on Crockett and what a nice horse he is.
That felt really good!
I worked hard with Crockett and looking at pictures taken by others he looked happy and content under saddle.
Going into the Makeover my goal was to produce a horse that anyone could take and ride and one that was happy being ridden.
Crockett and I accomplished this together.
We had a bit of a rough start during our interview.
Crockett spooked at the clapping and then unnerved, would not listen to me as we worked our 90 seconds in the ring. He blew out from under me and ran down to the end of the arena where all of the other horses and riders were waiting.
The next day we worked in the warm up pen and Crockett overcame his sticky behavior and we completed an almost flawless performance for our Coach Al Dunning.
Al suggested I use a bit more outside rein with him in his spins but otherwise really liked Crockett and said we would be stars.
I believed him!
During the trail course Crockett again executed an almost perfect run except that he missed his rear lead, which he quickly corrected when I asked him too.
Then came the afternoon competition.
I was really excited.
Crockett felt really good and he had done so well during the moring practice that it was a total surprise when he blew out of our pattern into a willful game of “I’m going THAT way even if you want me to go the other way!”.
I was disappointed but determined to find the root of his troubles since he’d executed a beautiful pattern earlier in the day.
I took Crockett back to his stall and stripped his saddle.
I palpated his back and found a small area that was sore. After a good massage he seemed to be perfect again.
Crockett and I warmed up for our second performance without incident. He felt really good.
But the evening performance was worse than the afternoon performance. I felt like he was flipping me the bird!
Needless to say, I was very frustrated.
However, my intution was buzzing.
Crockett was not afraid of the crowd or the arena.
Something was bothering him.
Again I stripped the saddle.
He was little bit sore but nothing alarming.
So I bedded him deeper and contemplated my strategy.
Intuition told me to go slow with Crockett. To hesitate just a bit if I needed too.
That evening we had another opportunity to work in the arena together so I exercised my strategy. Crockett blew it for the first 5 minutes or so but we kept at it and then he settled right in and after a bit of coaxing and some riding he settled down and executed perfectly in the arena. I was really excited!
I speculated that Crockett was a bit stressed over our long day of riding.
We rode in the Coaching session from 7:30 a.m. to noon with just a short break before the actual competition.
Then, during the competition I did something that I never do.
I felt Crockett hesitate for an instant in the first part of our early pattern.
So I pushed him.
Experienced has taught me that when a horse is stressed pushing them is the last thing you should do. Yet I did it because I knew that we were being judged and that we needed to execute a flawless pattern.
Crockett proved me right because the minute I set up to push he set up to push back and thus our public performance was night and day different from our practice in front of the coaches!
Horses need time to make up their minds and some do so more readily than others.
When Crockett is stressed he needes a minute.
He always comes around easily and I recognize that because he is a young horse he is emotionally still maturing.
Chalking all of this up I know my horse so I set out to be excited about the following day.
I had decided that if necessary I would allow Crockett to hesitate so he could get his mind focused even if it meant point deductions.
That split second moment I knew was the difference between a perfect run and one where Crockett would struggle.
But the next day checking Crockett I found his back to be tremendously sore.
It was tough to bein that spot again!
Lucy, my first Makeover horse popped a splint the night before our competition and I was forced to pull her from the competition.
However, that experience shaped this one.
I have always believed that it is best to work a horse at its comfort level.
Crockett and I conditioned to ride our two patterns but not for nine straight hours with only a short break.
That was a bit unexpected.
The heat of competition is strong though and now I can see how easy it can be to ride a horse into exhaustion…if you are so inclined.
I am not so I scratched Crockett.
I would rather preserve my kind little horse than ride him sour.
What kept going through my mind was not only his health and happiness but also the happiness of his future adopter!
My philosophy is to do less to accomplish more than to ride more, harder, rougher to get results.
More equals a sour horse and one that isn’t happy to see me when I ask it to work. Horses that are resistant to working rather than eager.
On the ranch we kept a string of horses. They were ridden hard but cycled regularly to keep them fresh and injury free.
After today, I know I made the right decision for Crockett.
We had a wonderful and fun presentation of him for the adoption and a lovely older couple adopted Crockett!
Just what I had wished for!
Kirk and I were able to take Crockett to his new home and we visited with his new owners and found that we have many things in common with them!
Week after next we will reconnect with them and take them for their first trail ride with Crockett.
After an emotional roller coaster weekend I have to admit that the day ended on a pretty big high.
Crockett was adopted by the perfect people.
I am so excited I can’t stand it!