Monday, May 9, 2016

A Test of Training

I will be honest, there are many times that I find myself wondering if I have done a good job with a horse or is what I am doing with that horse productive, am I good enough to be training horses? Usually these thoughts are when I am falling asleep, or driving somewhere. Or after a bad ride, almost always on one of mine. (hardly ever a bad ride on Quick oddly enough) My inner critic has gotten worse, I used to not worry about that sort of thing. Now that I am upping my game it is happening more often. Sometimes I reach that moment of wanting to quit, then I look a one of the horses and know that I could never do that, that the thought itself is silly.
On Sunday I shut my inner critic up. There was not a bad thought she could pull out. Nothing. Silence.

In a last minute decision I took Foo to Grizzly on Saturday night. It was my first time hauling over the pass in my new truck! Entirely nerve racking until I was actually doing it, then I had to laugh because pulling my aluminum straight load with only one horse in it was so much easier than driving Paula's 3 horse gooseneck with two horses and all of the stuff we needed for ride camp. I love this truck. I am still horrified that my trailer was quite green, I didn't have time to clean it. I got done my lesson, and hooked up and left.

I got there as they were having the ride meeting. Set everything up for Foo, registered and vetted her through. This was not only a huge test of Foo's future as an endurance horse, but also a test of how well I had trained her. Foo loves trail work, compared to the issues I have had in clinics and shows, all of the time spent on the trail has been different. Last year at this time she could barely handle a dressage show, intro- walk trot level. Yet it was in an arena, and she is not an arena horse.

In the few short years I have been in endurance I have come to want a few things in the horse I ride. That does not mean that Quick is there yet, he had a lot of deep emotional and mental issues to work through. Foo did not.

First I want a horse that walks out of camp on a loose rein. One day she might get ot the point of racing with someone, but before that she MUST walk out on a loose rein.

Second, I want a horse that listens, that I can rate with just my seat on a loose rein. I know there are times when you need contact, but generally, loose rein and listening.

Third, I want a steady tempo. Especially with the longer distances the more consistent pace you have the better.

There are more, but that is what you can train into a horse.

Foo camped well. I wasn't sure how she would do completely alone. I braided her and dressed her for the cold evening. She kept asking for more food. Which isn't a bad thing, a good eater is awesome.

"I know you are in there, feed me!"

In the morning Foo was once again asking for more food. She said she knew I was in there and needed to hurry up with her food! She wasn't upset when the neighbor horses left. I watched the time and saddled her up. I planned to start behind everyone. 

We milled around camp, running into people I know. We stopped to talk to Brenda about Badger. I learned more about his sister Bonnie who Brenda had owned. I had to cut out conversation short! I had to leave!
We made our way over to where Anna was taking numbers. It was 7 minutes after 8. Everyone else was pretty much gone on ahead. 

Foo walked out of camp on a loose rein. 

Walked. On. A. Loose. Rein. By herself. 

At the end of the pasture where the trail heads out there is a fenced off circle that you go through with a cattle trough. Now that was terrifying. But we skittered past it giving it a snotty hairy eyeball. Off we went. It took Foo a mile or two to settle into her stride. I could tell when she was getting a little overwhelmed, her head would go up and she would start to bounce at the trot. A little leg and asking her to drop her head and she was better. She did spook a few times, which is very unlike her, but given the situation I felt she was doing really well. They only happened when she was feeling insecure.

She was quite funny when she saw horses ahead of us. Her head went way up and she stopped, as if to say I have never seen horses before!

The only time she got really forward was when we caught the two chestnuts on the first loop. She wanted to take off at a canter to catch them and try to race them. I was able to really sit and keep her slower, even if she did break into a canter. They stopped to let their horses eat and we continued on. Back to the steady pace.


I wondered how she would react to the water crossing. I didn't really want to be like the horse that jumped over it last year, we had done little water crossing but not something big. She was a little snorty at it, but went in with little encouragement.

 As we came back into camp I expected her to try to take off to get back to the other horses. Instead she walked in on a loose rein. She hadn't drank much the whole first loop, she had found those metal cow troughs to be a bit scary. She really tanked up at the regular rubber troughs in camp. She pulsed down right away and vetted through. Back in camp she chowed down her food and kept asking for more. Apparently Quick had told her at rides you get lots of chow.

We left for the second loop the same way we did the first. At a nice walk on a loose rein. Foo acted as if she had done this every day of her life and it was nothing new. I could hear a horse calling to Foo behind us as we went along. As we neared Lone Pine i could see signs of cows. Once we passed the huge Pine and came around the corner there they were! Right in the middle of the trail. Foo's head went up and I could tell she was a little bit upset. The cows were right in the middle of the trail and on both sides. There wasn't really a clear way to get around them. So I asked her to move towards them and then started calling out to the cows to move. I figured they have probably been herded by horses before, Foo was asking if I was crazy but wasn't resisting moving forward. Once the first cow started to move she was surprised, cows would move for her! She started moving forward more confidently then. The horse that was behind us caught up with us at that point and we both went on the way.

After we crossed the road the chestnut went on ahead at a faster pace. I had no problem rating Foo and keeping her where I wanted her. We continued on by ourselves. When we went through the next gate I noticed the gal coming back towards us, she had missed a turn. We rode together the rest of the way. At one point I heard a horse coming up fast behind us. Wait, GALLOPING to catch up. Foo was upset by this and started dancing. I had to tell the gal to SLOW DOWN THIS IS A GREEN HORSE. Even if I am riding to top ten on Quick I still slow down to pass horses, especially if these are horses on the tail end of the LD or 50 (depending on what distance I am doing). The gal apologized saying she didn't know. I mean there was a red ribbon in Foo's tail, mostly because she doesn't like to be crowded, but that doesn't mean much to some people. We were sandwiched in between the two chestnuts, and Foo didn't like it. She was fussy and hard to keep at a steady pace. So I pulled her off to the side and got behind both horses. That was much better. She drank at the water and off we went.

Mile after mile she kept up a steady pace. She averaged 5.3 mph the whole ride. I was quite impressed with how well she did. We ended up 7th out of 14 with a time of 5 hours and 41 minutes. A solid middle of the pack ride. We did show for BC, but because I had to be up for work at 4:30am the next morning, I left before getting her ride card back. So I do not know her vet score.

Overall I was very impressed with how well Foo did. All of the work I have done the past year to keep her calm, thinking and not reacting and consistent has really paid off. In many ways she is an easier ride than Quick is, well for one thing she is very obvious when she is going to spook, unlike the Spookaloosa. Quick still has things he needs to work through, plus I did train him to be a trail monster. I feel Foo is well on her way to being a long distance horse, keeping with the same quite consistency at rides would solidify it. Sadly there was no ride photographer since the two that were there last year (Jala and myself) were riding, so no ride photos!