Monday, March 14, 2011

My Nebraska Horse Expo Experience

With a clap of thunder and the roar of the crowd . . . oh no, wait, it didn't start or end that way, and there never was any thunder unless you count hooves, if you do, there was plenty of that, quite a bit of roaring crowds too. Did start early Thursday morning, heading down to help my friend, Brenda Messick set up her tack booth. Even without enough coffee in me, I think I was more help than harm and I fell totally in love with the two year old granddaughter, Mackenzie. Can't wait for baby Stella to be of an age to talk and run about, like that!

Corie brought the horses and we settled her gray Quarter Horse mare, Spirit that I was using in my demo's, and my Ginger into their stalls. Spirit is a true easy going foundation bred QH bred mare, and took it all in stride without much ado, as she continued to do, the entire weekend.

Ginger came off the trailer, eyes, ears and nostrils became huge and they stayed THAT way most of the weekend too. I have used Ginger for all kinds of jobs but none of them required her to walk into huge metal buildings full of horses and people! Even empty, like it was on Thursday, boggled her mare mind and she could not even guess what would be in store for her.

Last year, I was honored to be asked to come do some demonstrations in the round pen. It was the largest venue I have ever worked in, and I was nervous to the point of tears from anticipation. It all went well enough, I learned from the experience and when I was allowed to come back, again, this year, I accepted with happy joy. I decided to talk about how to soften a horse into the bridle. One of my pet peeves on a horse is to pick up a rein, and have the horse either defensively brace against me or ignore me, altogether.

Another is when I watch people on horses with bits that neither one knows how to operate. As a long time horse seller, tack changes are one of the big things people get into trouble with when they buy a horse. For whatever reason, when things go awry, one of the first things people want to do is run down to the local tack store and buy themselves a new bit that will fix all the trouble. Only problem, is bits don't cause or fix troubles, it's the hands behind them.

Somewhere on my rather lengthy peevey list (geez I am a crabby old broad at this stage of my life!) is watching or riding horses that flop along with their noses stuck out in front of them, their backs hollow and their hindquarters stinging along behind, struggling to keep up. I equally detest seeing the movement of some of today's so called pleasure horses that move in gimpy, head down, weight on the forehand, cobbly floppy rear end fashion.

So, the demo emerges. Part One: Introductory Exercises to Soften Your Horse into the Bridle. I use a snaffle bit bridle, always, for these exercises, employed Spirit to show how ground work sets up the riding part, and explained how a snaffle bit is designed to work laterally, and all that kind of thing.

Part Two: On Saturday, I drug out a bunch of bridles equipped with bits I really like and talked about the different action of curb or leverage bits, as opposed to snaffle bits. I forgot my beloved Myler snaffle that I start colts in and the hated Tom Thumb that I won't even allow in a headstall. Talked about when to transition and how all bits speak a language, and one of you better know what it is, or it will not work out real well. I was going to use Ginger for this, as well as Spirit, as she bridles up pretty nice in a leverage bit. However, Ginger had a bad case of Expo fever and was bug eyed, bellering and excited. I was irritated with her behavior and knew I probably would not be practicing my very best horsemanship with her, so left her stand in the capable hands of my loving husband who took the day off to make the trip and support his wife in her insanity.

What insanity, you might ask? Well, gentle reader, just you hang on. More to come.

Anyway, back to the demo. I look up and the stands are FULL of people. There are people standing around the edges, there are so many people. Gulp! Holy cow! Okay fine. I hit the ground running and talked about bits. People asked questions and it was a fun and interested crowd. Too cool!

Now for the insanity. A few weeks ago, we became aware that this year's headliner, Craig Cameron was going to host his famous Extreme Cowboy Race. I thought that was pretty nifty, not really my kind of event, but fun and a good draw for the Expo. While on the phone with a friend, who said, heck yah, I am riding in that, aren't you? the insanity took seed and grew into a full on nut filled flower.

I called Tammy Vasa, in charge of it all, and before I could change my mind back, paid my fee. Now the sick nervousness of last year came back, full force. I TEACH trail obstacle clinics, yes, I have ridden a few Trail Challenges, some of them even timed. Never have I asked Ginger to do anything that was not slow and deliberate, allowing her time to study, assess and think things through. Once that mare has seen a thing, decided it's okay, she can do it with one hoof tied up behind her back. The first time you ask, answer is almost always, nope, no way, ain't gonna. Does not bode well for a race type situation.

We practiced, a couple times at Chance Ridge (one of my favorite places in life), jumped a few jumps, decided we would not die in the attempt, and I asked her for a flying lead change for the first time ever. She caught it, but I figured, in the race, I would go the safe way, and break down to simples, just to be safe. We have only worked on lead changes about 25 minutes in an arena setting, and that does not really prepare a horse much for any kind of anything.

During our walk through, Mr. Cameron admonishes us sternly that this "ain't no trail class. If I see you lollygagging around, I am going to whistle you out. These folks came here to see some SPEED." Well hell. So much for my game plan of being slow and deliberate at the obstacles, and then trying to pick up a little on the in betweens. We are going to go fast.

Here's a side note: Never EVER change your game plan at the last minute. It will not work out. Never sacrifice your horsemanship principles for an event. The people who placed, except for the guy who won it with a show stopping fabulous ride on an incredible Paint reining horse, were slow and deliberate in the obstacles and picked up their time, between. They rode well and deserved their wins.

I had a great time, and Ginger and I did go faster than we ever have before, and, while I will change some things when we do this again, we went in with what we knew, did the best we could and survived to tell the tale. She refused to go anywhere near a barrel that had rope on it, to drag a log, and afterthought says I could have got off, grabbed the rope and salvaged some points, and she refused the bridge. The bridge. Yep. First time she saw that particular bridge in that particular place. Again, I could have jumped off, led her through, went back and we'd have loped it, again, making up ground. I didn't know you could dismount, but people did. I got pushy with my spurs, and upset her at the bridge, and that's the biggest thing I would change. It's not what I teach, and I am not proud I pushed on her like that.

The scariest thing we did was jump some big ass metal, (yes, freaking metal, for heaven's sake!!) barrels. Ginger said, I don't think plus size girls have to do that kind of thing. It was not the tense worried resistance I felt at the bridge, and I popped her on the butt with my mecate. Oh! She says, you mean it! Well, okay, then, and up and over we went. Not graceful, not pretty, and thank the watching gods I didn't fall off on the other side.

The coolest thing we did was on the second loop of the figure eight, I asked her for a flying lead change and she nailed it cold. Thank you Ginger. I heard the surprise in Cameron's voice "She got that lead change!" and I thought something quick and uncomplimentary. I don't think he liked draft crosses in his race much, and he didn't care for my snaffle bit bridle, but whatever. I was not his largest fan prior to this weekend, and I saw nothing from him, from his clinics to his people skills that improved my opinion at all. I am thoroughly grateful for all of the good teachers I have had and will continue to have that teach me to know that difference between who I want to learn from and who I do not.

We had great competitors in this competition. Vanessa Butterfield, 13 years old, made it into the top ten with her speed horse, holey head Buck, who we all thought might just fly around and trash the whole place. She handled him beautifully, and they were magnificent together.

Dana was there with her mustang, Gypsy Boone. They also rode and did well.

I had friends from my Horsetale group that gave Craig all the speed he could ever want to see and rode to the best of their abilities.

Colleen, we missed you and Smore. You would have been a heck of a threat. As fate would have it, the friend who inspired me to ride scratched her horse due to colic. He's doing okay now, and that's the most important thing, but DARN it!!

It was a super great time, and I absolutely will seek out opportunities to do this again.

Back to the not insane part of of Expo 2011.

Sunday was very very quiet. I think the economy took it's toll on Expo attendance and the people who really wanted to be there but were watching pennies showed up on Saturday. I tacked up for my third demo, Self Carriage vs Forced Headset, and the only person in the stand was the young lady manning the round pen that had to be there. Okay, says me, I'm a'gonna do the whole show, anyway.

I had Ginger. We had repaired our relationship Saturday evening in the warm up pen, prior to the race and I was in love with my husband's mare again. I knew she could demonstrate self carriage nicely, she comes by it mostly naturally anyway. One of the things I touched on Friday was how conformation can help or hurt a horse, but they can all collect, can all learn to drive from behind, round and supple up. Ginger is one of those that does not have to work hard for it, and is a smooth sweet ride from the get go. Normally, she loves to round up, drop her head and jog around. Wull . . . we ran fast the night before. Fast for us, that is, and I think she liked it. I spent most of my demo, talking from the saddle, doing the softening and suppling exercises I showed about on Friday, with a little bit more advanced stuff thrown in as Ginger knows shoulder in, out, haunches in and out, she counter bends nicely, and we got in some pretty nice movement before it was all over.

I looked up from time to time, and people slowly trickled in. Someone, up on top of the stands, even videotaped me. That about made my millenium, that someone I don't even know, thought my information was cool enough to want to take home. Yay.

While I was not super impressed with our headliner, I got to see some people more than worth the time to sit and pay attention to . . . Van Hargis returned, and he's even better than he was two years ago. Super nice guy, too. A fellow named Monte Bruce did some reining horse stuff and since I bought a Quarter Horse (I think, she's grade so who knows) instead of an Arabian, I am intrigued that western way again. I LOVED his demo's. I also loved the credit he gave to his gorgeous bay filly on Saturday. "This is a real talented filly, " he tells us, "and she is going to make me look good." She did, too, finishing up the demo with some flat, fast sweet spins that make me swoon with envy. The next day, he brought out a greener filly (and good for him, that he didn't just ride on around on the finished horse he also brought and show us how cool he way) that was not all that interested in the lead changes he wanted to teach her. We got to see what happens when what you want to happen doesn't happen, and that's what I want to learn, in the first place. Then, he showed us grand tempi's on his finished horse, a knock out roan, and, again, I am swooning.

I got to meet the legendary Jimmie Munroe, a barrel racer who's been world champion a few times over, I believe, and she and her husband started the Cowgirl Hall Of Fame. She's the real deal, and you'd never know it from her sweet friendly way of dealing with people. I wish I'd seen more of her stuff, and I hope she comes back.

Saw so many friends, I can't possibly list them without leaving out someone important, and you guys, your support for my insanity, and my demo's is worth more than you will ever know. Made some new friends, too, and I hope those relationships continue to grow and grow! Talked to a couple of people about possible barn situations, and who knows what direction all that will take. Kind of enjoying the lower pressure of riding one at a time, and I signed up with a temp service to pay the bills.

Walking through the aisles, killing time before my Sunday demo, I stop dead in my tracks. There in a stall before me is the spitting image of the Arabian mare I had on trial that did not work out. She was unbelievably lovely, and here is her twin, only in 15 year old gelding clothes. I talked to his owner, he's bred almost exactly like the mare, so I wonder if there is a connection. Anyway, in the course of conversation, she asks if I would ride him in the arena for her, as they are short a rider. I am sometimes a couple posts short of a full corral, and I say, well, sure (I mean, 15, he's broke, right?) and I didn't stop to wonder WHY we were riding in the arena in the first place.

Turns out, it was for their breed demo, in the big arena. Big guy, probably all of 15.2 or maybe 3, does turn out to be broke, though he is in a leverage bit that he wants to brace on, sigh, and we go do our turn. I felt a huge pang of sadness for the mare I sent back and wished . . . well, it is what it is and there is a new horse in my pen now.

Picked up a coming three year old grulla filly at the sale a few weeks ago. All I know about her is that she rides, as I watched her do that all day long. I will play with her this week and then I signed us up to ride with Kerry Kuhn on Saturday. My days of standing with my nose pressed up against the glass at these clinics are over. I'm going to ride!!

Thanks so much to the Nebraska Horse Expo for putting on an amazing show. There is no way, in the course of this one blog that I can remember to say everything I want in any kind of economical fashion and my husband's delicious dinner is growing cold on the stove.


Cat said...

Thanks for filling me in! Now I know what I missed...I feel so proud that you are doing what you have dreamed of doing. Remember all those years ago when we talked about what we wanted to do....GRRRLLLL, you are doing it! Now, if I can just get!

Tammy said...

That barrel jump would have scared the bejeezes out of me, too. Good job & great report!

Cheyenne said...

Loved this post! Felt I was there! At the very least on the ringside! Nicely written and very well described! Thanks for taking me there!

Good Hands said...

Thanks you guys! I am truly living my dreams. Cat, we started setting a lot of things in motion, way back when and every single one of us are now living those lives!

Shoofly said...

Testing testing! My comments keep disappearing!