Whoa! Hold your Horses…

I’ve slacked off so much on this blog it isn’t even funny, and was reminded of that recently by several members of my family, I wasn’t even aware read my blog. When I checked the date of my last post, I couldn’t believe it had been 2 whole months! For the few, loyal readers I have, I apologize and will try to do better. I do have a few reasons for neglecting the blog. I’m proud to say it isn’t some lame excuse that has kept me from the blog…like snowmegeddon hit Texas or what started out as a quick five day, two thousand mile road trip with a toddler turned into a twelve day trip because the roads into Texas were closed or that an integral teammate in my day job left my company to work at Amazon, quadrupling my workload, even though all of those reasons did happen…

I’ve always dreamed of writing a novel, and I started this blog as a way to get back into the habit of writing. For some reason I thought that the year that began topping the craziness of 2020 would be the perfect year to mark this particular item off my bucket list. I did a fair amount of research on self publishing, drafted my story line, and I’m about twenty percent of the way through writing it. In my humble opinion, three hundred pages is the minimum amount required for a well developed plot, an insight that comes from twenty plus years of reading more than two hundred books a year. I won’t even read one under three hundred pages now. So that’s what I’m aiming for in my first novel. If you enjoy this blog, maybe it will be worth the wait to see my first attempt at fiction or it could be a total flop.

That project aside, I’ve been focused on getting a minimum five rides a week on Johnny Cash, while keeping Comanche and Odessa in work as well. After a successful event last year on Comanche, my friend and I made a pact to get our horses out to more events, hopefully do some rated shows, and start moving our horses up the levels. So while I’ve been enjoying the short drive to the Bell County Expo center to compete, if I really want to be competitive and go after my riding passion, I’m going to have to travel a bit more. As much as I love the people I’ve met at the local area breed organizations, trying to show my grade rescue horses in western pleasure and hunter under saddle is an exercise in futility. Neither of my horses are bred for the pleasure disciplines. I don’t enjoy training for them, and love the more objective scoring of a horse trial, where pretty movement is nice but getting around the course successfully is more important. I live for gallops and jumps.

My friend, Dressage Queen, and I started planning our show calendar. We identified rated horse trials in Texas that would be year end goals for competition. I filled out a calendar with thirty some unrated events not super far from us, that would be a good fit for our relatively green string of competition horses. Nine of those events are part of the Greater Houston Combined Training Association, which allows us to collect points for year end awards. I registered all three of my horses with the GHCTA. I figured I would focus on showing two of my horses consistently, but it never hurts to have a back up in the event of injury. Dressage Queen signed up her four year old thoroughbred in training, and is evaluating possibilities for a second horse to compete.

Show partners in crime…

Johnny Cash is my quirky, super green, mustang. It seems like every part of the training process takes triple the amount of time it would any other horse. I know the trainer was concerned that my chances of success were not great, when I brought him home, but unfortunately I was well over budget what I planned for this horse. I had always intended to start the horse myself, but when I realized how difficult a personality we were working with, I sent him to someone I consider to be one of the best. Even after five months with a trainer well versed in training wild caught mustangs, the progress reports weren’t great. However, I’ve been dedicated to consistently working Johnny Cash at the expense of my other horses to ensure that he doesn’t lose ground.

Two weeks after coming back to the GHLHF, I was more confident in Johnny Cash’s reactions to new experiences and my abilities not to die while exposing him to said stimuli. Either Johnny Cash was beginning to see the upsides to the domesticated riding horse lifestyle or he was beginning to trust me, but I felt like we were making amazing progress. I started working him in my dressage saddle, and began to introduce him to the concept of ground poles and gymnastics. Despite being a difficult horse the trainer did give him a really good foundation, and Johnny Cash is really soft in the bridle. After a really good week, I decided to start flipping up cavalleties, and raising the poles off of the ground. We started going over low level poles through jump standards. After two months I thought Johnny Cash would be ready for a Green As Grass combined test which is basically an intro dressage test and a bunch of cross rails at a max height of eighteen inches. On most horses I feel confident in my ability to get them over eighteen inches even if we do it from a standstill or walk. I enthusiastically signed Johnny Cash and Comanche up for their first trial in March. The trainer was pleasantly surprised that Johnny Cash and I were not only doing well, but even making progress. He seemed genuinely shocked when I showed him videos of taking Johnny Cash over jumps through the jump standards.

Everything was going great. I was getting more optimistic every day. Then, I tempted fate. Knowing that the first trial would have all manner of decorative obstacles and jump standards, I began to change up my rather plain standards at home. I have a set of jump standards consisting of solid wood panels with lattice work on top. I have a lattice gate that hangs from these standards to create a “chicken coop” obstacle, which means a jump that is not only high, but has a spread to it as well. For whatever reason Johnny Cash is freaked out by these standards even though he grazes around them every single day. My horse pasture doubles as my jumping arena/cross country course. I figure living around the jump standards is the perfect way to desensitize the horses. Most of our horses view the structures in our pasture as excellent scratching posts. In addition to jump standards, the items sure to give a green horse pause over fences are flowers and shrubbery. Why a few tree branches under a pole or a few plastic flowers in a box freak horses out is beyond me, but I knew if Johnny Cash and I had any chance of success, Johnny Cash needed to see those items at GHLHF before encountering them at a horse trial.

The Flowers of Death

The Texas sun, donkeys, and Darling Husband’s mustang, Koda, had destroyed last year’s plastic flowers. They love pulling them out of the boxes and running around the pasture shaking them. So, after purchasing new flowers and sticking them in boxes and on the sides of my jump standards, I decided it was time to get Johnny Cash working around them. Now every other horse I’ve trained to jump, usually balks or may come to a dead stop in front of new obstacles, but with a little coaxing can be convinced to go over. After one or two times, they realize the new items are not that scary and move on with life. Johnny Cash had already done this when presented with his first raised pole and cross rails, but after the first time over the cross rails he was good. There’s a saying about the word assume, and I made the mistake of assuming going over cross rails with a few flowers in front wouldn’t be that difficult. I seriously misjudged the situation.

In hindsight a windy day wasn’t the best time to introduce flowers, but Johnny Cash will have to be capable of performing in all types of weather. He also has flags blowing in the breeze all around his corral, not that different from flowers. I took Johnny Cash over the same cavalleties, he had been jumping for the past two weeks to get him in a jumping frame of mind, then made a huge circle to approach the jump standard equipped with the new flowers at a steady trot. Sometimes just riding forward with confidence is enough to transfer confidence to the horse. Now Johnny Cash has been going through these jump standards sans flowers for a month, but with flowers, I couldn’t get him within twenty feet of them. He took one look at the yellow plastic daffodils swaying in the breeze, and bolted. So we circled back around at the walk, again twenty feet out, he threw on the brakes and attempted to go backwards. I nudged him forward with my leg, at which point he jumps sideways and attempts to bolt again. Thus began an hour long session of approach and circle in both directions. Every circle, I would give him the option of getting closer to investigate with a loose rein, and Johnny Cash would bolt, back, or some combination of the two.

An hour later….we were finally able to stand still less than a foot from the jump standard. Since the pole/flower combo was literally like six inches off the ground, something the horse or even I could easily step over by barely lifting a leg, I urged him over. From a standstill Johnny Cash rears and launches himself through the standards, over the flowers, and felt like he landed hind legs first. I’m not sure how I sat it, but miraculously I did. Usually after the first scary jump, the second time around is much smoother. After all, the horse survived the first one without dying, so every successive time should be less scary in theory and in all my previous experiences teaching other horses to jump. In Johnny Cash’s case, true to his difficult personality, we do three more rear/launch maneuvers. This type of jump is awkward and scary as hell to ride, and after four times I tap out. I pat him for a job well done and walk him out. I realized that even though Johnny Cash is making amazing progress, that I may be throwing too much at him too soon, and my dreams of a 2021 show year diminished slightly.

On Sunday, Dressage Queen hosted a Grand Prix USDF Silver Medalist clinic at her farm. It was the perfect opportunity for some seriously good instruction from someone riding at the top levels of the sport and another opportunity to expose Johnny Cash to the process of loading up and performing some place new without the stress of competition. I loaded up Comanche, Johnny Cash, and brought Odessa along to keep whichever horse I wasn’t riding at the time company by the trailer. I was pleased with Comanche’s performance and super excited when Grand Prix Princess told me how much she liked Comanche’s movement. Considering he’s an appaloosa, generally considered a pariah breed in the dressage world, this was a HUGE compliment. Johnny Cash was extremely brave even with the big scary jump standards lining the far side of Dressage Queen’s arena. He didn’t freak out, slide to a halt, or bolt away from them. While I personally believe Comanche is an awesome mover (even before Grand Prix Princess’s assessment), I thought Johnny Cash may surpass him despite being a full hand shorter. With his two white socks on opposite front/back legs accentuating his movement, he’s certainly flashier. However, Grand Prix Princess felt that Comanche was the one with potential to go highest in the dressage levels.

SAMSUNG CSC

One of Dressage Queen’s clients had signed up to take a lesson with Grand Prix Princess on DQ’s newest school horse. Even though he was completely sound during his lesson on Saturday, he was most certainly lame on Sunday. With no other horses available I offered up her royal fatness, Odessa for the lesson. I did not tell the client until after her lesson that Odessa had only been ridden once in the past month. DQ had talked to me on multiple previous occasions about this client’s riding abilities, so I felt safe in letting her ride Odessa. As I watched the two of them, mulling over my conversation on Friday with Johnny Cash’s trainer and everything Grand Prix Princess had said during his lesson, I realized I was asking and expecting more out of Johnny Cash than he may be capable of giving.

Since I’m never going to be a professional competitor, whose livelihood depends on the ability to move a horse up the levels quickly, and I’m not in the business of building up a horse’s show record in order to sell the horse for profit, there is really nothing to be gained from pushing Johnny Cash. Slowing down and taking more time, will most likely yield better results in the long run. Plus I could only listen to DQ gush over how cute Odessa’s big spotted bum was before wondering why making Odessa and Comanche the main horses on my eventing string this year with Johnny Cash as back up hadn’t occurred to me before. Odessa isn’t a pretty mover, she’s built down hill, and if you can imagine what riding a rhinoceros would feel like, you have a pretty decent concept of riding Odessa. But, she’s consistent in her dressage work, and when pointed at a fence she’s fearless and keeps a steady rhythm in the approach, which gives her a leg up over my both my pretty moving geldings, one that completely lacks confidence and the other that loves to charge his way through dressage and jump courses. I’m a mare person. Even though Odessa gets the least amount of my riding time, she is probably my favorite horse.

How can you not love that large and in charge bum?

So I will now be contacting some venues to modify my show entries, but overall I’m even more excited to compete. There’s no feeling quite like galloping a confident horse over a cross country course let alone two. As rewarding as a successful trial with Johnny Cash could be, a not so successful run would be equally disappointing not to mention it would carry unnecessary risk. People and horses suffer fatal injuries every year in this sport. I like a little adrenaline rush, and there’s plenty of danger galloping a solid confident horse over a course, no need to throw an insecure, green mustang at it. So the count down is on…T minus eleven days til show time!

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