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June 15, 2014: Lessons Learned: Competitive Trail Riding Clinic

Today Pete and I went to a competitive trail ride clinic. We took Raudi, Tinni, and Hrimmi. It turned out to be a tough day for Raudi and me. I learned a great deal, but not what I expected to learn. I’m now, as far as my horse goes, infinitely more empathetic.

The clinic was extremely well organized. The local horsewomen who put on this event and the upcoming competitive trail ride are an extremely knowledgeable group of women. I am glad to know them, and glad they are in our community.

Katie discussing a proper camp trailer

The event began with one of the organizers, Katie Carney, providing an overview of the day’s activities, which was followed by a brief talk about presenting your horse to the judges and veterinarian, and a lecture on properly setting up one’s trailering area. After, we (in groups of five) were to go to five stations, where clinic instructors gave us pointers and feedback on going up and down hills, mounting, obstacle work, presenting our horses to the judges/veterinarians, and pulse and respiration particulars. My group consisted of Pete with Tinni and Hrimmi, Heather and Rio, Claudia and Katla, and Frank and Giff.

We retrieved our horses, which were all waiting patiently at their trailers. I followed Pete, who was riding Tinni and ponying Hrimmi, over to where Diane Sullivan (the owner of Stable Minds Stable) was conducting the hill work session. I mounted Raudi. She wouldn’t stand still. I dismounted Raudi. She wouldn’t stand still. Pete dismounted Tinni and assisted me in readjusting my saddle. I mounted again, just in time to have Diane critique me on going up and down a hill. It was a steep sucker. But Raudi, amazingly, was all business. There was a time when she would have galloped up and charged down. But no, she did fine the first time, and even better the second time. Tips: Use my thighs to guide the horse, sit up straight, and look ahead.

We next moved on to the mounting station. Deb Moore (of posse fame) did the instruction honors. Again, Raudi hopped around some beforehand, but when I went to get on, she became all business. Tips: lower myself gently into the saddle and take time in getting Raudi in the right position by the mounting block.

Next – obstacle work. A woman named Nancy was in charge. (I didn’t catch her last name, but I did learn that she’s a student of Deb Moore’s.) There we were, in a large arena filled with obstacles, a bridge, a single pole, a series of poles, an L-turn, and upright poles included. Raudi liked going over the bridge and poles, and as well, catching sight of new horse friends. Ohh, but she did not want to back, half way, or all the way through the L. And she didn’t want to sidepass. All this just wasn’t in the day’s job description.

Nancy was quick to give us a hand, and spent a LOT of time with us. Sidepassing–I was told to chunk this down, to first get her front then her back legs moving. And, as well, I was told to look back at her rear flank when asking her to move her hindquarters. We did get a few steps down. However, my horse was getting increasingly more peevish.

On to the pulse and respiration station. Raudi was extremely restless during the overview, and she would not stand still as the other horses were being checked. But come to think of it, she didn’t do too bad when it was her turn. The checkers were able to get her vital signs in one go around.

Next came presenting your horse to the judges/veterinarian. Katie Carney did the honors on this one. Oh Lord, it wasn’t Raudi’s doing, but now a somewhat rattled me fell apart on this one. Using unfamiliar lunging equipment also didn’t help. I had on hand a thick, long cotton rope and a dressage wand. I ought to have had my own lunging equipment. Unbeknownst to my friend Heather, Raudi lunges like a pro. Not today. Alys was all thumbs. Comments from bystanders made it all worse. Ach, all this is something I am going to practice.

And finally, we were allowed to do an informal practice. I chose to work on sidepassing, first going through a grove of clothespins with flagging on them, then moving them from one tree branch to another. Raudi by now wanted to move forward, not sideways. I can’t say that I blamed her. After all, hasn’t moving forward been our main focus for the past two years? I got frustrated. She got frustrated. I got more frustrated. She got more frustrated. I finally decided to call it good and return to the arena via a trail that paralleled a chain link fence. On the far side was a road. It was then that a child on a bicycle whizzed past. Raudi, startled, did one of her infamous 360s, sending me flying like a red blood cell in a centrifuge, to the outer area. It happened really fast – I recall thinking “I’m falling, hope I don’t get hurt.” And then I hit the ground. Raudi raced back to Pete, Tinni, and Hrimmi. I laid on the ground for a bit, then got up and retrieved my horse. I then lead her back into the arena, and with Nancy’s assistance, I worked on backing, straight and through the L, and on sidepassing. We successfully sidepassed right and left along the fence – the last time very fast because Raudi was really pissed.

I thought before I began writing this that it was not such a good day. But in hindsight, I realized that when Raudi was asked to do the things she knows how to do, she did them, and did them quite well. But obviously, something was amiss. Physically, there are a seemingly infinite amount of things that could be wrong. For example, she might have a bad tooth. Or her spine might be out of alignment. Or the saddle pad might not be to her liking. Okay, so we’ll begin by making modifications to her old saddle pad. Or mentally. Perhaps last night’s jumping session tired her out. Dunno. I so wish she could talk and tell me what’s up. The big question now, at the day’s end, is what could I have done differently? Early on, I should have bypassed some of the clinic stuff and done some bodywork. And all along, it would have done us a world of good had I been more mindful, and stayed calm.

What’s most important, in all instances, is that I maintain a good relationship with this animal, and keep in mind that she’s my best friend. No, I don’t get mad at friends when things are amiss. So why should I get mad at my horse when things are amiss?

On the positive side of things, I did momentarily get this sense that, yes, Raudi and I have come a long ways in our ten years together. I never felt fearful, had no lapses in confidence, and for the most part, I maintained a good seat. We had no problems moving about in open areas with lots and lots of horses, which in the past was something that made me very anxious. I also realized that I love this horse to pieces, and am at least attempting to do good by her.

Next: June 16, 2014: Horse Riding: Long Road Home