Sunday, October 10, 2021

Barrel Racing with Tracy Maurer

You run at a barrel and whip around it, point to the next one and circle the other direction, whip around the third barrel, and hand on for dear life as you fly back where you started - how hard can it be, right?  Turns out there is a lot more to barrel racing, and clinician Tracy Maurer did an excellent job laying that foundation!  Step 1, tie the horse at the trailer for a quick overview of the sport and running through the pattern on foot!  

Apparently there are a whole lot of different organizations/associations that run barrel races and their rules vary slightly.  For example, under some rules knocking down a barrel is a time penalty but in others it means you get no time.  But there aren't too many ways to get disqualified - going off course; falling; missing your order of go.  Some orgs will disqualify you for any backwards motion, like the horse spooking.  But for this intro-level clinic we were just focusing on the basics, with a primary focus on good horsemanship.  

Tracy explained that usually there isn't much space behind the start timer.  Some of the associations allow you to circle behind the timer (though the highest levels don't); we practiced with the circle to help set us up for our first barrel.  Especially if you're cantering, to make sure you have the correct lead and to establish your bend.  For our practice we started with the barrel on the right side (right lead / circle to right), but the rider can choose either direction.  Tracy placed a cone several feet from the barrel, and she said to start we would think about leg yielding just before the cone (to help establish the bend we want to go around the barrel) and halt with the horse's nose on that cone.  This is so your horse learns to not rush or get too excited.  Then we covered 3 circles, from biggest to smallest the large fast (just to the outside of the cone); half round (mid-way between the cone and barrel); and regular turn (tight around the barrel).  Tracy impressed upon us that if we lose the horse's shoulder through any of these turns then we need to either go the next size up, or drop to a slower gait.  Even just walking it she reminded us to keep our shoulders even; she said if we walk with a dropped or raised shoulder we will probably ride it that way too!  We practiced the entire course around all three barrels and back through the timer line. 

Then we got on our horses and started with the circle behind the start line - I tried to do mine in the middle but Tracy corrected me to do it on the right side so I have a short path to the first barrel.  Then approaching the cone think a slight leg yield and halt at the cone.  Not surprisingly Cupid was good at that part. =)  Then we started on our large fast circle, and when Tracy was satisfied our circle was even, with the correct bend and not falling through the shoulders we went to the half round circle, then the regular turn.  The regular turn started out really good but got egg-shaped on the other side, I think maybe a bit of a magnetic pull towards the gait!  So we worked on fixing that.  And then Tracy said as soon as I got a good circle move on, don't keep drilling it because then it will quickly not be fun for the horse.

Some of the technique is a bit different then I'm used to - a slight raise of the inside hand, and moving both hands towards the barrel.  But there was also a lot that was familiar, such as using the inside leg effectively - timing the cue before the horse picks up that foot, with enough intensity to get a response then leave the horse alone.  

After completing the pattern at a walk, we trotted in, stopped at the cone, trotted the large fast (if you could do it correctly), and walked the half round and regular turn, then trotted off.  Tracy said our halts were quite good, of course we've had plenty of practice halting at X in the dressage court!  Eventually instead of halting at the cone it was more just a half halt.  We didn't get past cantering a large fast, then trotting a half round and walking the regular turn. 

Then we did a little work away from the barrels, practicing spiraling in and out at the trot and canter, then at the walk we spiraled in eventually to a turn on haunches - which Cupid and I struggled with a bit as he moves his haunches a bit too much.  I told Tracy I will try to work on it in hand and she agreed that is a good approach.

We ended with a few last runs around the course.  Cupid was getting a bit tired at this point so we only cantered up to the first barrel and transitioned to the trot at the cone, did the regular turn at the walk, and trotted to the next cone.

At no point during the clinic did Cupid get lit up, which I was super relieved about!  The slow and methodical approach really just allowed us to have fun practicing the same things we usually practice (smooth transitions, responsiveness to rein and legs, proper bend without losing the shoulder, balance, etc) just in a different way.  I don't aspire to actually barrel race because speed isn't really my thing, but it was super fun learning more about it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Race Horse PTSD

Cupid is so easy going most of the time, people can't believe he's an ex-racehorse.  He's great on trails, my 2.5 year old rides him, etc.  But every so often something can set him off and he reverts to racehorse mode.  It happens so rarely that when it does happen it catches me off guard.  Today was a foggy day, which can make him a bit more looky but usually nothing too bad.  Nevertheless I decided to ride in the covered arena, where he is usually less distracted.  The covered arena is higher then the paddocks and pastures by it, and with the trees and outbuildings around it you can only catch occasional glimpses of the horses outside.  However, we could definitely hear them, and one of the pastures was playing hard.  When Cupid gets excited, 3 things happen:

1) His tail shoots straight up in the air.  This is a dead giveaway something is about to happen!

2) He has to face the excitement, no matter what.  He will pretzel himself if needed to accomplish this.

3) Apparently the ground around us turns to lava, and Cupid must keep his feet off the ground.  He prances like he's on his way to the racetrack.

I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit I decided to hop off.  I know he probably wouldn't do anything that would get me off, but I hate trying to ride out #3!  I tried doing some in hand exercises to get him to refocus, but #2 made it difficult.  

But just as quickly as it began, the horses outside settled down and Cupid did too.  I got back on him, trotted around and he was a perfect gentleman.  We cantered and even jumped a small vertical, mostly just so I can prove to myself that we my original plan for the day included doing some jumping.  Even though it was a bit of a long spot I didn't really feel the need to correct it, but I think it was good we did it.  The rest of the ride was very uneventful.  We did a lot of circling and bending around the jumps at the trot, and did a few walk to canter transitions.  

Today I had the lunge cavesson on, but I did actually get a proper side pull.  It's by thinline, and just all leather (no hard core) with metal rings for the bits.  But I put it on my western headstall with split reins and just didn't want to deal with that extra length while jumping.  But we've had a few good rides with it, and have been practicing our neck reining which is actually going well.  We've gone through most of our training level dressage tests, I think it helps to have something familiar because even if Cupid isn't totally certain about the cue he can fall back on following a familiar pattern! 

Thinline Side Pull, on my old western headstall
We have an appointment with a western saddle fitter coming up.  I don't mind being the odd man out in an english saddle when I'm cattle sorting or doing trail trials, but I also wouldn't mind having a western saddle that fits both Cupid and I because why not.  If we find one that fits, we may even try a little showing of some variety.  I was a little disappointed to see that for western dressage, while you can use certain bitless bridles if I understand correctly the side pull isn't allowed. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021


We originally planned to do one more show this year, but showing is never our top priority and with the way things have been going I think it's safe to say we can scrap that plan.  Instead we're just going to take it a bit easy and just have fun while we figure out if Cupid needs any maintenance, medical help, or maybe just a bit of a break.  So I decided to try riding him bitless for the time being.  This will help take the pressure off trying to ride him a certain way (I can't try to make him "on the bit if there is no bit!) and hopefully we can work on some other skills in the meantime like riding him more off my seat and legs; I can work on my strength in two point without any help balancing on the reins; and it's easier for me to focus on keeping my elbows by my side and hands closed when I'm not trying to maintain contact.  

I don't have a real bitless bridle.  I've ridden him plenty just with a halter and lead rope but I don't like how much the halter moves on his face, often ending up almost over his eye or just awkward.  But I thought we can start with my lunging caveson.  (I did order a leather side pull, which I now got but I realized I need a bridle with shorter cheekpieces, mine are already at the top hole for a bit.)

Riding him in the caveson has been going better than I expected.  We've been having fun cruising around the property, doing more jumping, practicing opening and closing gates.  Cupid's been a really good boy.  Our first ride in the caveson was a foggy day, deer jumped out by us, and there was some tree trimming going on.  I thought to myself that he is finally becoming more like my childhood horse that I could ride anywhere, when it occurred to me that he is still younger than Dee when I first got her.  I never really appreciated that before, and it makes me optimistic that we still have many good years ahead of us.

I was starting to think maybe we're dealing with a hock thing because for a few rides the biggest problem area was having to chase him into the canter.  Once he picked it up it felt okay, but the transitions were not prompt at all.  Then I realized, we are used to the transitions with contact on the bit not a stretching frame.  I decided the easiest place to work on this might be the round pen, and decided to try it from the walk not trot.  As expected, the right lead was easier but the transitions were smoother and definitely more prompt so I think I just need to be more clear in my aids.

We've been loping around small courses, and Cupid seems very happy to be jumping and my confidence is getting better as well.  This jump combined several things I don't like: the stone wall; it's skinny (usually we have 2 of these wall panels side by side); and no upright standards to funnel through.  Our first time over it I kind of caught Cupid off guard on the approach, I think he was looking at the crossrail next to it and I almost bailed but managed to straighten him to it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

When Something's NQR

In many ways we've been very lucky this year with no medical problems aside from a few minor scrapes.  No thrown shoes or abscesses, he's been holding weight and building muscle in all the right places, and his coat is shiny.  In the spring Cupid felt light and willing and I saw First level on the horizon.  But for a while I felt like we were just treading water, not moving forward.  And then lately I've been feeling frustrated that we have to work twice as hard and not even get quite the same result.  Cupid is not lame, he's picking up both leads, but something just feels not quite right.  

It may just be in my head, but for peace of mind I scheduled an appointment with our vet.  He watched Cupid trot on hard ground, did flexions, and then watched Cupid on the lunge at all gaits in softer footing.  The vet agreed that Cupid isn't lame but saw what I meant about him looking a bit restricted in the canter.  But nothing obvious about what is bothering him - maybe just unloading his right front a bit early but the vet said that was being picky.  The vet didn't think it was coming from his neck, back, or SI.  Possibly feet or hocks.  We decided to start with a bute trial, and then xray the feet coinciding with his next farrier appointment.

We started the bute trial, and I didn't notice an immediate change.  (Paste bute is really hard to get out of the tube, I'm not a fan!!)  But then I checked my calendar and confirmed with our shoer that Cupid's next appointment was actually that week so we ended the bute trial early.  

The feet xrays actually look terrific - better angles and a bit more sole compared to his last set 4 years ago!  The coffin bone was what we really wanted to see, and it was fine.  So good news/bad news that we could rule that out.  Since the farrier was there too he discussed it with the vet, and they agreed to try setting the shoe back just a hair and try half rounds.  

The vet said if the shoes help he would expect to see a change around two weeks.  OK to ride as usual for now, see how things go and depending on that we might re-do the bute trial, and/or try Legend. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

A Promise Fulfilled

A while ago I promised Cupid if he scored a 65 or higher, our next lesson would be jumping.  I jump him a few times a month, both for some variety and so it remains not a big deal, but we haven't had a jump lesson in over a year (aside from the near-disastrous Bernie clinic).  The truth of the matter is I'm a lot less nervous if no one is watching me, and I can pick my own jumps (which usually means no combinations!) or trot them if I want or change my mind about the course etc.  Even though we've had several good jump sessions recently, I was still a little nervous doing it in front of my trainer!  Which I know is silly, she is there to help me.  

Excuse the poor quality, got this through text message

Anyways I told her I wanted to do a little work on my two-point, and getting the kind of canter I can jump from, and then just have same fun with little jumps.  We start just cantering over a cavaletti, and focused on getting a straight approach and touching my seat to the saddle to avoid Cupid's tendency to go long.  We went through a little bounce a few times, but I think it made me a bit nervous thinking it would get Cupid a bit revved up so my trainer said we don't have to do that today.  Then we did a little course a few times.

It was super fun!  My trainer said my position was a lot more secure, and I could feel I recover after the jump a lot quicker than I used to, probably since I wasn't jumping ahead as much.  My trainer said Cupid has nice form even over tiny jumps, and if we worked on tightening his knees a bit he would be a pretty cute hunter.  Which I agree with, but I just don't think I can get my act together to be able to show over jumps.  At least not any time soon, I'm just now finally starting to not curl up into a ball at dressage shows!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Osierlea - From a New PR to Humble Pie

Cupid and I had qualified for RAAC - our regional adult amateur championship.  However after our last show my confidence was pretty shot and I felt like it wasn't worth going just to be so far behind everyone else.  Even though I had been looking forward to it and it was a goal for the year.  There was another show the same weekend, and I tried to justify going to that one instead because it's closer, cheaper, a place we've been before, and I figured would be less hot and less likely to have bad air quality.  Well it was still hot, but 90 degrees instead of 100 at the RAAC show.  And then the second day, when the actual RAAC classes were held, apparently the AQI was 150+ so from the perspective we made the right choice.

With the heat I decided not to lunge beforehand.  But I still got to the warm up ring way to early, especially after I found out there was a 15-20 minute delay.  The covered arena was being groomed, but as soon as it was ready we went over there for some shade.  Cupid was definitely on the lethargic side so I tried some transitions to sharpen him up, though I feel like our workout could have been a lot better planned.  It was kind of spurts of work followed by several minutes of walking/ambling due to the heat.

We rode Training 1 and 2.  We only had about 15 minutes in between tests, so we grabbed some water but didn't get to see the first test sheet or scores before our second round. They felt okay to me, but I thought maybe a bit more like a pleasant hunter under saddle style then dressage.  Plus we had a rare off course in Training 2, which considering how many times I've ridden the test shouldn't have happened but I think the heat melted my brain a bit! Scores from the morning varied from mid 40s to low 70s, so I figured this judge was not overly generous but rewarded when appropriate.  But I guess they looked better then they felt as we got a new personal record of 66.7% for our first test!  And 63.9 for the second (if only we didn't have that darn penalty!)  Not only that, but we got our first ever 9!!!  On reviewing the video I think that was rather generous since the hind legs weren't square, but I'll take it.  I was a bit overwhelmed and had literal tears when I saw my test sheets, feeling like our hard work the past few months has paid off.

It's been a while since we've stayed at a show overnight.  Well, Cupid did, as I drove the ~1.5 hours home to have dinner with my family.  I know a lot of people like to go to the showground a day before to settle in, but I've always felt like for whatever reason we've always struggled a bit on a second day.   Cupid had a large 16x24 stall and seemed quite content.  Our classes the second day weren't until the afternoon, so I spent the morning taking him for walks, letting him roll in the lunging area, grooming, and braiding.  It was hot again, though a bit cooler then the first day.  We were lucky though because a bit of smoke came through in the morning, but it cleared up.

I didn't want to start warming up too early again and got on about half an hour before our first ride time.  When I got to the warm up the steward told me they were about 15 minutes behind again so we were kind of just ambling around taking our time.  The steward confirmed the delay a few minutes later.  We just started putting it together when someone else came to the ring and said no, everything is on time and the rider before me just finished so I need to get there immediately and as I was approaching the ring someone said they already rang the bell so hurry straight in without circling.  I tried not to feel flustered and tried to recapture the magic of the previous day, but I knew it wasn't coming together as easily or well.  The day 2 curse struck again, and we were (deservedly) in the high 50s for both tests, with the same judge.  I don't know if it's fatigue or what because Cupid doesn't seem upset being there, he is very relaxed in the stall and eats and drinks well.  So I guess we have to either do it more often and get used to it, or not at all. 

In the end I'm happy with my decision to skip RAAC.  I kind of regret my decision to show 2 days because the first day ended on such a high.  But progress is not always linear, and we are lucky we get to do what we do so I'll try not to complain too much =)

Thursday, August 19, 2021


It's probably become an annual occurrence that I come to the realization that Cupid likes to ignore my leg and I should probably do something about it.  So we (mostly) fix the problem, and then over time let standards slip again.  So it's that time again.  Ask with a light squeeze and follow with the whip if I don't get a suitable response.  To start we mostly focused on accelerating out of the corners.  I'm trying to really feel the push from behind, which is a bit difficult for me.  I can feel when the front end gets lighter but have a harder time feeling the rear. 

 Riding Cupid this way is definitely more work for me - but actually not as much work as I thought.  I was expecting him to get a bit more pissy about we expecting more from him, but he is actually quite agreeable.  If I was able to ride him more effectively, he'd be quite a nice horse 😂

I feel like I've made good progress with my upper body, and some progress with my legs though as you can see in the picture below I still end up bracing on my stirrup a lot.  And also in the photo, I still have a bad habit of throwing my hands forward when I'm asking Cupid to go. I still have a hard time keeping my fingers closed on the reins, the rainbow reins are very helpful for me to see when they slip but I was thinking of trying a few rides with a stopper like for a running martingale where I keep my hands.  If I can get the darn things on my reins!

We also did a bit of stirrup work our last lesson.  I've been trying to ride without stirrups about once a week, but I still find it a bit harder to sit while maintaining the stirrups. 

We've also been doing a bit of jumping.  Last week felt really great - Cupid found the sweet spot carrying me to the jumps but not rushing.  The first time over the stone wall was a bit of a flyer that jumped me out of the tack, but our second time over was much smoother.  This week we did a little 2'-2'3" course.  I'm still not planning to show over fences, but it's fun when I can control the jumps and course!