Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Nuchal Flip

I posted a while back about the comment Sarah had made to me in a lesson on Milo. She said to get a small "flip" in Milo's neck at (about the C3 vertebrae). It wasnt a huge obvious arc in the neck, just a flip. I didnt visually see what she was describing, instead I have been trying to get a small arc in the neck, not fully understanding why she said that.

Last weekend at the horse show she was describing this same flip to one of her client's parents, and had a student mounted come over to demonstrate the literal "flip" on the horse's neck. The nuchal ligament, which runs from the poll and along the back, actually flips when the horse's head moves from left to right. When Sarah demonstrated this on the student's horse was the first time I visually saw it happen. But I didnt think much about it again until a few nights ago.

I was loping on Milo, loping, and loping, getting in tune with my body in connection to his. That is when I noticed that the arc in his body at the lope to the right was stiff and non-existent. He had trouble balancing on the right outside rein, which seemed to only exacerbate his arc to the outside. After coming down to the walk, I focused on using my body to turn him left and right in short turns (like the snake exercise you might remember us doing - Milo following his nose). And thats when I saw the flip. The subtle but obvious flip of the nuchal ligament from left to right as his neck arced each direction. Now I knew what Sarah was describing, and when I mounted the next ride, bareback, I paid careful attention to it, especially at the lope when it was most obvious of his counter arc.

It took a while of loping before Milo, who had had two days off and had excess energy anyways, finally settled into his stride, and I could work on the nuchal flip. Staying steady but soft on the outside rein, and using my body to direct Milo in the direction of the correct arc, and with only subtle bumps on the inside rein to flip the ligament, he finally arced properly to the left. It would only hold for a moment or two, and we would have to find it again, but I praised him, knowing that this was new for the muscles in his neck.

When he was arced and correct, his lope slowed down and became more balanced. I didnt have to work so hard to hold his inside shoulder up either. And I noted how important the subtle arc or flip was in the lope departure as well. Even with the outside hock loaded, if the nuchal flip was to the outside, he would pick up the wrong lead - naturally because his body was arced that way. Once I noted that I again focused on the subtle flip before loping off, which would yield a nice departure.

It only took me months to finally understand what Sarah was talking about. What else am I going to suddenly "get", months after lessons?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Taking Responsibility - Again

I walked along the concrete, listening to the uneven chink of my spurs hitting the ground. Why does the right one always hit and drag, flopping on the back of my Double H boots, which the spur on the left boot doesnt move? After thinking about this, I was more aware of the way I was walking. I was a little locked in my left hip. I started thinking about each step, left and right, left and right. Up and down the barn aisle-way, every where I moved I reminded myself to think about my footfalls. Now I was getting even chinks and flops from the spurs. Now I was walking even.

I warmed up on Milo the next day, after coming home from a ride that was a little more on the frustrating side then the ride prior, where I felt completely in tune with my body and the ride went great. Besides the fact that each day we are more or less present in our bodies and therefore different in our riding, I wanted to know why I have such an incredible connected ride one day, and about ten steps backward the next. I knew a large part of it has to come from the continued crookedness in my body. I swiveled back and forth in the saddle, left to right, to center and repeat. I focused on the fluidity of the turn through my body. I could easily rotate to the right, but back to the left it just felt as if my left hip was not moving like the right one. I focused on my breathing, and continued rotating, left and right.

I put the reins in my left hand, with only a few inches of tail left to spare. I wanted to ride with no rein tonight. I wanted to ride through my body and show Milo where to go. We trotted around and I had fun in experimenting with how much I could turn my horse through my body alone, no leg, just the presence of my leg, switching positions as we changed directions. Moreso, however, was the focus in my body how I could lift Milo, turn his direction, arc, or go straight.

I tried not to overthink the lope departure, carefully loading the outside hock, and just that small cue led Milo to anticipate the lead change, his head rising into the air and his back tensing. We went back to quiet trotting before he could pick up his pace, and worked on loading the hock, then back to quiet trotting, loading, and repeat, until finally I just turned my hips and smooched him into the lope. Already he was diving his shoulder in the rapid corners, and loping with his shoulder leading. I instinctually picked up on the reins, but upon realizing it, led the reins out more, just keeping a contact on the outside rein, where I could half halt to keep his hock on the ground and make him keep his shoulder up.

We loped, and loped, and loped. We loped a lot longer than we normally do. I didnt ask for circles, or direction, just loping on a quiet but cuing rein, and focusing on my body. I tried to focus on my breathing, and letting out tension in my lower back, but not allowing my seat to pump. I half halted where needed to keep Milo's shoulders in line, and maintained a nice arc to my hips to encourage a subtle bend in Milo's body. Eventually, after I was getting a stitch in my side, Milo consistently loped even, more lifted, and straight. I was finally able to find a small part of my body that rode my horse correctly at the lope. It wasnt perfect, but I felt we were onto something.

For all the lope work we had a lot of walking to do so cool out in the chilly evening, but as I asked my horse to turnaround, he sank back over his hock and turned around, not fast, but strong and correct. From just the day before where I could hear the skid of his hoof in the dirt as he dragged it back in the turn (not holding it down in the same spot for the whole turn, imagine a quarter turn, then a drag step back, quarter turn, drag step back), to tonight where he held it strong and true - both directions - I really felt I was onto something here, really trying to get into my body when riding. Because what Milo does in his body, right or wrong, comes form me. To correct Milo, I need to correct me.

Sigh. Sounds like more work.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Horse Show Time - Video Added

After getting to the showgrounds at around nine in the evening, it was finally time to school my horse. Everyone else had already gotten lessons earlier in the day from being able to get there in the early afternoon. Now, it was late and Sarah didnt really have the focus or energy to give me a lesson. But I didnt blame her for my arriving late. I figured I would at least get to school in the show pen, even though I was hoping to get a lesson on my horse since it had been at least a month or more since I had.

At any rate, I saddled him up and headed into the show pen. The arena now pretty familiar to the both of us after an entire series last winter there, and the last schooling show there last month, he wasn't excited or spooky, even with a few other riders schooling in there as well. From laziness and lack of energy, I hadnt cared to change out of my Georgia Romeos and into my Double H's with the spurs attached, nor did I feel like moving my reins from the snaffle bridle to that with the lifter bit. I felt a little stupid knowing that I should school in the gear I knew I would ride in the next day, but figured Milo would be fine. I go from spurs to no spurs and snaffle to lifter bit all the time at home. I think he's pretty used to it now.

Our ride that evening went really well, actually. I felt really connected to Milo in the saddle, my cues came from my body first and rein only after leg. The main thing I noted from the ride was how stiff Milo is on the left side. Especially at the lope, he had a really hard time arcing his body to the left. I had noticed this subtly at home, but with the luxury of the large arena I could get him on a longer straight line and note how his body was without an impeding corner. He was eventually getting dull to my lope cue, and I definitely could have used a motivator whip or a spur, but I would just bring him back to a trot and find rhythm in our bodies again, then load the outside hock and was able to get good lope departures even after the partial refusals (trotting through the cue).

I was really happy with the schooling and was able to at least fall asleep that night without pre-show nerves, one benefit to not worrying about a reining class coming up the next day. This show was just going to be about going out and schooling, and having fun. I would have loved to go into a reining class, but it was a good opportunity anyways.

The next morning we were greeted with more rain, which lasted the duration of the day. I signed up for my classes after tending to Milo, and based off of the schooling at home and the night before, opted out of signing up for the western pattern lope class. We were having too hard of a time with our lope to trot transitions again, and I figured that the western pattern trot class and one western pleasure rail class would be enough to school with. I had also signed up for showmanship 18 and over, later deciding however that we should have gone into the novice showmanship - those 18 and over people were darned good! As were most of the competitors, actually, this show series being one that many of the breed show people use as their winter schooling. It was tough competition. But I didnt worry too much about placings at this show. We were here to school.

I brought Milo into the warm up pen, and began working on some showmanship. The quiet, complacent horse I had ridden the night before was gone, and snark was apparent on Milo's mood today. I tried not to blame him, however, knowing that the weather made everyone (myself included) feel tense, cold, and achy. Our first trot off yeilded some resistance from Milo in the skyward direction, with a shaking head and grumpy demeanor. I continued trotting him hoping it would work out of his system. But he only got more snarky, biting at the lead chain (which was only doubled over on itself, since he doesnt need a chain nor had I schooling in one, I didnt want to use it), dangling down and apparently begging Milo to chew on it, which he obliged to for the duration of it's use.

Our showmanship schooling didnt go as well as we had been performing at home, but it was ok. He bothered me to no end with that darned chain, but we readied ourselves at cone A, third into the class. I wanted to just get showmanship over. The pattern was friendly and one we had been able to school on the week prior to the show. Trot from cone A to halfway to B, break to walk for two strides, trot to and around B and straight to the judge. Set up for inspection, when excused, perform ninety degree turn, back two horse lengths, perform one hundred eighty degree turn and walk straight away. I was most concerned over the initial trot from A and around B, knowing that about eighty percent of our trot departures had yeilded one with an attempt from Milo to bite the chain. But no matter, at A we trotted away and Milo pleased me with a nice departure and continued with a nice flowy trot around B. I was pleased with his even pace, with our previous schooling having much faster tensed trotting. We stopped at the judge and my fear of running over the judge subsided as we stopped well enough in front of her. We quartered (I think I did it right) and as I went to turn Milo ninety degrees, he reached for the bit again, making the turn crooked through his body. From this, the back was crooked and the remaining 180 degree turn crooked as well. He thought we were supposed to trot away after the turn and began to, although the pattern called for a walk.

Added: showmanship video. Dont know why I didnt upload it when I originally posted this!

Haha, only noticed now after watching it that Milo didnt even go down to a walk when we were supposed to, he just jogged really slowly. I didnt even notice the little sneak! Better keep an eye out for that...

I was happy when we were done. Even though we placed fifth out of six, I was happy with the pattern. Milo had trotted out nicely and was relaxed through the beginning of the pattern. More schooling and proper work on showmanship would provide a more crisp presentation, particularly since I now Milo can do showmanship really well. But I was just happy to have it over and relax a little before our first under saddle class - western pattern walk jog. Again, this pattern had been posted previously and we had been able to school at home. At home, we worked it really nicely, and I was extremely happy with our schooling at home.

The next class was western pattern walk jog, again the pattern being posted beforehand so we had a chance to school on it at home. I really liked the pattern, which required a three turn serpentine around the cones, with a jog to extended trot back to jog. It was a great pattern. Unfortunately, we were the very last ones to go, which meant we stood in the line up of about 18 people for a long time. By the time we got to cone A, our  previous schooling had faded. But the pattern wasnt that bad, in fact after the initial jolt to the jog, I felt we extended the trot really well and he really stretched into the bridle. I was happy with the pattern but we didnt place, not surprisingly with the many breed show equitation riders on the pattern. But again, I was happy with it.

Just a few of the people in the pattern class.

At cone A, ready to start on pattern. 
We had a few classes between the pattern class and my last one of the day, western pleasure walk jog. Yep, I only went into walk jog classes for the day. But I discovered something in that last pleasure class. After the break in the jog for about a half stride right behind the judge and of which I was certain the ring steward saw, my mind allowed myself to focus on my riding instead of the class, certain that out of the fourteen riders I wouldnt place. So, for the duration of the class, I focused on my breathing, and keeping Milo at the slow jog through my body. I was actually having a really fun time, my Milo jogging around on a loose rein quietly and with the subtlest ease. I felt I could jog all day long in that class. The icing on the ride was the sixth place calling we were given, out of fourteen!

All in all, the show itself was a lot of fun, even though I cant necessarily say that we placed well. But I felt we accomplished what we needed to for the weekend - just going out and riding instead of competing, and allowing myself to make mistakes and correct them in the show pen. It was a good show. Although now I am really broke and not sure when I can show again, I am looking forward to when we can again! And redeem ourselves in the reining pen.

Milo rockin' his camo. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Stranded on the way to the Horse Show

Well, the weekend didnt start out very well.

To start, three days before the horse show I found out that they were not adding reining to the show roster this time. What? No reining...? What was the point of going now? But, I had already secured the day off of work, and arranged to have Melissa haul Milo to the Tacoma Unit while I would drive there after work. Next I tackled switching shifts on Friday to get off work early. But now there is no reining? How can I redeem myself from the mess I made at last month's show?

I figured it would just be a good opportunity to go down the road with the gang and have some fun. Not to mention, the classes we would enter would not me mine and Milo's event, so it would really just give me an opportunity to school and have some fun.


I got off work at 3:30 and headed to the gas station. I filled the truck, checked the oil, stopped at the bank and was on the road. I got about twenty minutes from the show grounds (after taking a wrong exit and stopping at a Walgreens for directions) and my truck decides it will not turn back on. No matter what.

My truck pulled this B.S. twice before in the last two weeks or so. Once at the barn at 9:30 (the night I had to doctor Milo's small cut on his face), and again last Monday fueling up after cleaning at Sarah's. Both times, I waited and tried again and again and within about two to three minutes, it would turn over and go. That night I finally told Boyfriend he needed to check it out when I got home. This was not cool. Check he did, but find the solution he did not. Nothing seemed wrong with the starter, the battery, or lines. Boyfriend's guess was that a sensor was out or some connection from the ignition. It would have to get looked at.

Unfortunately, stuck in Tacoma an hour and a toll bridge away from home (and in a bad part of Tacoma, I might add), my truck refuses to turn back on. A half hour goes by of my trying to turn it on before I finally call Boyfriend, not sure what he can do from miles away or even if he was off of work yet. Off he was, and he talked me through a few steps to try and get it on or check what was wrong. Unfortunately, he concluded, he would have to find a trailer and come and get the truck. Great.

A few minutes go by as I start to settle into the truck (tears flowing constantly), and a hear a guy outside my window ask if I needed help. He, bless his heart, tried to jump the truck, and tightened some lines, but to no avail; the truck still would not start. He wished me good luck and I thanked him for his effort. I settled into my cold truck (did I mention it was a torrential downpour outside? Yeah, I was soaked. Thankfully, I had my blankets with me for the sleep over at the horse show, so I wrapped myself in those and grabbed the book I had in my purse. I settled into the book for about an hour, before Boyfriend called saying he had the trailer but was about an hour or so away. It was dark out and getting late, and he did not want me sitting alone in a stranded truck - in Tacoma. He asked if I could call to the gals at the horse show and have someone pick me up. At least they werent too far away.

I had already called them and asked to continue looking over Milo, who had been there since early in the afternoon (that alone was a huge deal to me, never before having someone else haul my horse somewhere without me, I was stressed at work all day), and asked if they would throw him some hay. But now I called again, asking if someone could come get me. Now I had figured out which roads exactly I was sitting at, and it turned out I was only down the road (albeit a long ways down the road) from the showgrounds. They were already done schooling, unpacked, and were now heading to get some Mexican. My boss and friend whose daughter rides with Sarah, said she would come and get me. So I settled into the book once again.

Just as I was starting to really freeze over, their white Ford pulled into the Walgreens parking lot. I was saved! We headed to the dinner and later the showgrounds. Would this show, one meant to be entirely for fun and schooling, even worth it now, after all of this? And what was going to happen to my truck situation once I came home from the show? What was I going to do?

Truck on at home.  Sure looks small behind Boyfriend's diesel. 
:( Will it turn on again?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Listening to MIlo

The last couple of days I have been again inspired by the work of Linda Tellington-Jones. Let me begin; last week I had a lesson on Wesley, using something Sarah referred to as a "Root Rein". This Root Rein used the same concept behind Tellington-Jones' Balance Rein, only it uses an elastic band along the base in connection with the neck. The idea, as Sarah described it for my purpose, was to not only help solidify the concept behind the outside rein for me, but it encourages the horse to lift at the wither (or the root as Sarah put it, since in Yoga our root (pelvic area) is where we lift in the saddle). I had an incredible lesson and discovered the benefits of utilizing that Root Rein.

After that lesson, I not only have a more invested interest in using this Root Rein on Milo, but diving back into some of the work from Tellington-Jones. I was reviewing her book, as well as exploring her website and YouTube. The following day, I returned to the barn with a bit more clarity as to the connections available between my horse and I. Not only through touch, solidifying the positive mirror neurons connected between he and I, but remembering the importance of listening to my horse, not just running through the motions.

I arrived at the barn, eager to use some of Linda's methods to reconnect my horse to his feet, and to try the Tellington Touch on Milo. When I arrived at his stall, things changed. Instead of the ever eager and cheerful Milo greeting me, he had half pinned ears and a less-than-enthused look on his face. "What's the matter, Milo?" I asked as I haltered him and put him in the cross ties. After grooming all of the mud off of his legs and haunches, his demeanor still had not changed. I thought I should spend some time trying the TTouch with Milo, and see what it might do.

Surprisingly after only a few touches along his back, he breathed out a little bit and his eye got softer. I continued with the touch along his haunches and his neck. Milo relaxed his head and neck and licked his lips. I repeated the touch all over his right side as well.

Content that Milo was on a happier note, I went to the tack room to retrieve my saddle pad. I wanted to use my Dressage Whip to run along his legs and give him more awareness of the ground beneath his hooves as well. But first, I gently tossed the saddle pad onto his back. Milo's reaction was huge. He lifted and tensed his neck, pinned his ears and glared at me. I rubbed on his neck a little but it didnt do much. "Are your ribs out again, Milo?" I unclipped him and lifted his leg, asking him to turn his head around the opposite side and push his rib back into place. I repeated on the other side, then stretched both front legs forward as well. I patted him and put the pad back on. Much less resistance was displayed this time, so I proceeded with the saddle, still taking my time. He wasn't content, but certainly not upset like before when I put the saddle on.

I cinched him up loosely, then used the dressage whip to run up and down all four legs a few times, as he relaxed a leg and licked his lips again. I momentarily thought about putting my boots with the spurs on, but instead kept my Georgia Romeos on, and reached for the snaffle bridle instead of the lifter bit. I had been wanting to go back to the snaffle for a couple rides again, and today felt like a good day to use it. I led him up to the arena, not exactly having a plan in mind, but I wanted to stay soft and responsive to Milo's needs. I got in the saddle and breathed in and exhaled through my mouth, trying to release any tension in my body with each exhale.

We worked in the arena for a bit, and I was surprised by how responsive Milo was and how quickly his demeanor had changed from earlier. He had been so grumpy when I first greeted him, and now we loped around the arena and his ears were pricked forward, swiveling forward and back listening but content. I then worked on the walk jog western pattern I planned to go into at the schooling show this weekend, and was incredibly pleased with how responsive Milo was, the first time running through the pattern. I dismounted and put the halter on, working on our showmanship pattern (thats right! This horse show (unfortunately) is not offering reining like they did last month, so instead we are going into showmanship, pattern classes and possibly a western pleasure class. Definitely a show to have fun at and not worry about my lead changes). Again, Milo pleased me with a responsive pattern and seemed to remember everything spot on from three years ago when we last worked on showmanship.

I was so pleased with my horse, and equally amazed by how his attitude could turn around. From sour and in a mood to pleasant and willing,  the only changes from me were that I actually took those cues in from Milo instead of going about my routine. Listening to the horse certainly pays off, as well as staying soft in my mind and body.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Texas - the Road Trip

Texas - the Travel

Texas - the Tournament

I awoke to my Dad tickling my face in the early hours of the morning. This was the wake up call he had used many times as a kid growing up under his roof. I blinked the fog out of my eyes and looked outside. It was still dark. What time was it? I fumbled for my phone and saw it was just past 5:30. Dad and I were heading to the National Reined Cow Horse Association's World Show in San Angelo today, some four and a half hours away. We needed an early start since we would be making the same trek home from the show this evening. I heard some muffled movement at the top of the balcony stairs. A little giggling girl peered from around the wall, and stared me down. I wasnt sure if she knew that I saw her or not, but I pretended not to notice her and rifled through my bag for some clothes.

I got dressed in the guest bathroom and opened the door. Directly in front of me was the bottom of the staircase, and the same little girl sitting on the bottom step looking at me. After making eye contact she giggled, and raced up the stairs.

"Is Kaylee ready to go?" I asked my Dad after finishing my glass of Emergen-C. Just before leaving home I had felt a scratch in my throat and started loading myself up on the cold prevention. This morning it so happened, my throat felt worse.

"No, she is going to stay home and go to church," was the reply, and a small wave of relief came over me. I wasnt sure I would have been able to handle the long trip with Kaylee's constant babble, or the hand holding at the horse show, or the continued loud questioning when watching the classes. Finally my Dad and I could have some alone, quiet time, to catch up on some needed adult conversation. I was looking forward to the trip when I sat down in the black Mountaineer, but wasnt quite sure how the conversation would go, being as I usually only get a five minute conversation on the phone when I can. Not quite enough time to really expand on any conversation, especially with loud kids echoing in the background.

We hit the road, but stopped at Dad's auto body shop. The reason why they moved down here in the first place, Dad had gotten an opportunity to manage a body shop down in San Antonio. He had dabbled in a few other professions the last few years, but his really specialty, and joy, was in managing body shops. When the shop in San Antonio just wasnt working out with the owners anymore, they moved to Dallas and got in on a sweet deal for a mange-to-own situation for a Maaco business. The shop needed a lot of improvement to it as the previous owners didnt exactly know how to run the business, but in the short three months that Dad and Rena had taken over, the building, the business and the employees were greatly improving.

We walked into the office and the all to familiar smell of "auto body" hit me. I had grown up with this dusty, stinky atmosphere, suddenly remembering the old body shop Dad and my Mom had owned back when I was only a few years old, playing in the upstairs with my brother and sister and watching Disney movies. I suddenly was taken back to the memory of playing in an RV in the back parking lot, and forgetting my much loved teddy bear in it for the night. I was convinced I would not be able to sleep that night without him, and was so relieved the next afternoon to retrieve him from the clutches of the RV.

Countless weekends of riding on Dad's GoldWing across the Puget Sound and onto the other side in Seattle were re-awakened as I continued to smell this familiar paint scent. McDonald's and coloring were typical events for the Saturday trip I would make with him. Jolting out of my walk down memory lane, my Dad asked me to type in the address of the horse show so we could print directions.

Printed and ready to roll, we locked the gate of the yard and got back into the car. The sun was starting to come up as we hit the highway again, but after about forty five minutes on the road, we werent able to find highway 20 that we needed. The map showed that 35W would intercept directly for 20, but it just wasnt the case. Hungry anyways, we went through the drive-thru at Jack-in-the-box, and asked the hispanic girl serving us which way to go. She recommended highway 35W to get to Fort Worth, not totally understanding that Fort Worth was just a pass-by on our way to San Angelo. We thanked her anyways and decided we needed to find 20 still.

We continued down the direction she didnt advise for about ten minutes, then finally found the on-ramp for highway 20. Now the map started looking correct. I ate my mini pancakes carefully, trying not to spill the syrup I was dipping them into. It wasnt until I was finished with my pancakes and orange juice that I discovered a huge glob of syrup had landed squarely on the center of my new shirt. I used some water we had in the car to try and scrub the sticky mess of my shirt. It only worked somewhat.

Dad and I chatted lightly about things; the body shop, my job. But my eyelids were getting heavy again from the lack of sleep I had gotten on the couch last night, as well as the rough day of travel I had had the day before. I leaned back on the seat and nodded off, feeling bad for my Dad who I was sure must too be tired, but needed to stay awake and drive. He was in a talkative mood as well and I didnt want him to feel that I was hushing his conversation. But I slipped off into a brief sleep rather quickly, waking to a sudden feeling of cold air blanketing over my legs. I stirred as I came back more upright and looked at the clock; about forty minutes had passed. We had been driving now for about two hours, but with the breakfast stop and some of the turning around we had made trying to find highway 20, we were still probably three hours away.

Dad and I chatted a little more, still keeping it light, and I felt only slightly uncomfortable. I dont usually take long road trips, and when I do, it is with my Boyfriend whom I feel totally comfortable with. It felt like I hadnt caught up on things with my Dad, and wasnt sure what all he knew about going on in my life. We saw a rest sign two miles ahead and decided to stop. Relieving ourselves, we looked at the large map. We were just outside of Fort Worth, but were heading in the right direction. The directions printed from Google still seemed correct, so we continued to follow them down the highway.

The four lane highway turned to two, and the sides of the road were becoming more barren; we were starting to make our way into the smaller towns of Cross Plains and Coleman. We were just over halfway there. I felt a bit guilty as my Dad read a sign stating the miles of how far away San Angelo still was. He finished with a very quiet sigh, and I felt guilty knowing he would never had made this trip without me. The horse show, after all, was for me and my Dad was simply acting like the taxi for me to get there. Although I was really happy to be spending this alone time with him, I still felt that the long drive, the gas needed to get there, and the whole event was not going to be as fun for Dad as it would for me. For him, it was just another horse show, he had seen plenty of those back in Washington watching me compete in 4H and the County Fair. For me, this was more than just another horse show. This was a National Association's World Show. Some of the best of the best would be competing, trying to make it into the finals later on in the week. These were big named people I only recognized from watching the Association's webcasts online. Plus, this was my event. There are never any reined cow horse competitions held at home, certainly not of this caliber. I would never again have an opportunity to watch one of the NRCHA's shows live, at least not until I would compete in one. :)

This thought process led to a long conversation about horses between Dad and I. Dad was always the supporter of my horse endeavors, not like my Mom who thought it was nothing but a money-pit. Only until a few years ago did I finally feel as though my Mom finally came to terms with the knowledge that this obsession and lifestyle was not going to go away. Now she seems to whole-ly embrace it, not look down upon it. Although my Dad is not horse-savvy, only in the small details he had learned from me over the years, he said he was happy to take me to this important horse show because it meant he would be able to spend time with me.

I continued to drone on about saddle fitting, body mechanics, things I felt were ary in the horse industry, horse ailments, lessons from my trainer, philosophy and training practices, and more. I knew I was starting to babble on as there were fewer and fewer interjections and questions being asked by my Dad. I feared the conversation on horses got too deep for his uneducated self on the topic, like sitting in a classroom listening to the process of the scientific method describing black holes or something. I shut myself up really quick at this realization and tried to wrap up the final thoughts. We sat quiet for a few minutes, I wasnt sure where to direct the conversation next.

Dad did though, lightheartedly, and commented on the condition of the highway, although it seemed more of a back country road now. Only one lane in each direction, bumpy conditions, and no traffic, he questioned if this was the right road. The map said it was and we continued on to the single stop light ahead. We were only two towns away from San Angelo now.

The miles shortened rather quickly, and we reached the city limits of San Angelo. I looked at the Googe directions in my hands again, and directed Dad which turns to take. We took 43rd street as Google said, but didnt see any big signs or obvious buildings. The show was held at the 1st Community Bank's Spur Arena. There had to be some sort of sign, or visible horse trailers. Suddenly I feared that we had made this long trip for no reason. Maybe Google had taken us to the wrong place, it had happened to me before.

We pulled up to a lonely looking building with about four horse trailers parked in front of it and a cowboy on his cell phone. Maybe I had overestimated the caliber of this show. Maybe it was just a backwoods kind of event. We got out of the car and walked into the building. There was a small arena directly inside with two riders in it. There were no bleachers or people watching, just a single lady sitting in what looked like a judges booth. I walked down the stall aisles a bit, trying to find someone. Sad simply walked up behind the lady sitting on the stand and poked her. "We are looking for a big horse show," he said. Oh my God, I thought, how embarrassing. Trying to cover it up I said, "the NRCHA show. Is this the right place?" The lady smiled and said it was in the big building next to us. I felt like an idiot.

Dad and I walked out of the building and suddenly saw a huge one with tons of horse trailers. "I can't believe you poked her." I said to him. He laughed.

We entered the backside of the building by the cows. This was starting to look more like an event. Lets see if there were bleachers and things inside. We didnt see a big main entrance, but walked through the man door which brought us right into the holding pen. I looked around to see if anyone would tell us to leave. There were only a few people standing around and a couple guys on horses. But we were definitely in the right place now; there was the competition arena and the bleachers and judges stand right across from us. Dad and I walked through the holding pen and found our way up the bleachers to watch the show. I sighed a breath of relief.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Texas - the Tournament.

Texas Series - the Travel

We all took seats in the white Minivan, and Dad pulled out of the airport parking garage. He asked what to do next; go home, grab some dinner, start some sight-seeing? I mentioned I was hungry with just the three peanut bags in my stomach, but no sooner were we on the highway and he pulled off at a castle.

Seriously, a castle. The building was called Medieval Times and they held a dinner and tournament show. Tony, the adopted little boy, had wanted to see the show a month prior for his birthday. The tickets were rather expensive though, but Dad ran inside to grab a schedule for upcoming events. A few minutes passed as small talk was passed throughout the car. I was still having a hard time figuring out how to talk to these small people. Kaylee had already warmed up to me and asked lots and lots of questions about myself and my horse Milo.

Dad came back out to the car and said there was a showing in an hour. He wanted us to watch the show. Not sure what was in store, I was only mildly hesitant. But there were horses and jousting in the event, and dinner would be served in an hour. My grumbling stomach made no complaints of that knowledge. We entered the castle, Kaylee grabbing hold of my hand. It felt strange holding the hand of a kid.

Tickets paid, we entered into a grandly decorated and acted room. Our photo was taken with a man and a falcon and we were all given paper crowns to wear for the duration of the evening. We walked around the crowded holding room, and went to the viewing windows of the stables to see some of the horses. I was blown away by the amount of stalls the barn held, all with beautiful stall fronts. I was a little smitten with the black horse in the window, aptly named Blacky as his stall plate read, who was tied to the wall and I assumed would be used in the performance.

Kaylee was still attached to my free hand, and jabbered and talked away to me. Her spunky personality was starting to be revealed, and some of her practical jokes were displayed as well. She was awfully amused with herself. We stood around watching birthday kids and even a seventy year old adult get their dream come true being "knighted" by the king. We stood together closely and I felt only slightly uncomfortable with the situation. It was a strange situation to be put into seeing my Dad, his wife, and their two newly adopted, and very small children all in tow. This new family unit I had not seen before or been a part of made me a little nostalgic, and somewhat out of place being a grown up and distant biological daughter.

The doors opened to the arena and tables and by the color of our crowns, we were directed to our seating locations. Yellow was ours, which meant that the yellow knight was who we rooted for. We took seats, and by only paying for three adults and one child, meant that one of the kids would be sitting on laps throughout the tournament. Guess who wanted to sit on my lap.

She poked at my face and said jokes, all the while asking more and more questions of me. Talk about feeling really awkward now. As someone who doesnt connect with children anyways, having a strange one sitting directly on my lap and completely fascinated with me was a strange event in and of itself. I quickly had to come to terms with my personal bubble space as it had been invaded long ago.

The tournament started with a beautiful free display of a man and a white horse, an Andalusian it appeared. I tried to take pictures but the child on my lap made it difficult and the camera was handed off to Rena who took on the role of photographer. The knights were soon introduced by the chancelour riding a beautiful black Friesian. Our knight, as it so happened, was aboard the black one I admired in the stable, Blacky. The yellow knight threw a white carnation into our crowd which fell just behind Kaylee. I reached behind and grabbed it for her, and she was really smitten. There was another display of horsemanship through "the Guard" running a drill pattern set to music, and another single man with a bay Andalusian displaying a typical Dressage pattern. There were elements to it I could tell weren't running according to plan, the horse was giving him some minor difficulty, but I tried not to nit-pick the performance. Finally, a group of four white Andalusians or Lipizzaners, were brought out being handled on the ground. Here they displayed some of the medieval war tactics taught to them including the well known Capriole. Dinner was being served simultaneously, and we were given an entire half chicken to eat individually, without silverware provided. Kaylee needed to dismount my lap at this point so I could actually satisfy my grumbling stomach.

Now the events were really beginning. Each knight ran through a series of different tasks; retrieving a ring on the end of their jousting lance at high speed, hitting a target with said lance, and others. All were doing well and would advance to the jousting portion. Throughout the tournament, the event kept a story line going, with the King and his Princess leading it, and even an "unknown bad guy" coming into the picture to challenge whomever won the tournament. At each interval between events where the audience was expected to root and holler for their knight, we all raised hands and cheered for our yellow knight. I couldnt help but look over two seats away from me and watch my Dad, arms raised and totally supporting the event for the children. Crown worn and all, I saw the big kid I always knew, but somehow the familiar feeling was still tinged with some pain from our own history and the knowledge of the new family he had.

The jousting now began and in each round one knight was eliminated. Each round not only had the horseback jousting part to it, but at the end a sword fight on foot was enacted. Sparks flew from the hitting of their blades and it was quite a performance. Kaylee now seated back on my lap, but she annoyed the heck out of me rubbing the white carnation in my face. My words of distain only seemed to fuel her fire and seemed to encourage her to continue her antics. I was getting weary of her constant need to me, and questioned how long I could hold my patience with her.

The end of the tournament drew near and unfortunately our yellow knight, who had made it into the final round, fell to the blade of the green knight. But no one had forgotten about the unknown bad guy who made his final appearance and spectacular display against the tournament winner green knight. Of course, however, good triumphs over evil, and the green knight finished in glory. We all stood at the end of the performance and exited the arena.

Walking back to the van now in the dark of the evening, the children were deep in questions and comments on the tournament. Kaylee still needed to be attached at my hip as we walked across the parking lot, and I was getting tired from my day-long travel and weary of her high pitched voice demanding my attention. I couldnt help in the car, however, smirking at some of the questions she asked of me. Like how come I hadnt brought Milo along with me to Texas. She had wanted to see him so bad, why didnt I bring him? Logistics of how far away we live just didnt get through to her and she insisted. Moving away from Milo, the question now was how come I didnt just move down to Texas and live with them forever? I asked if she would pay for me to move down and find me a job. "Ya" was the confident and unwavering reply. She had a whole seven dollars. She had money. I couldnt help but laugh at this innocent comment. Five year old minds can converse and talk, but certianly could not grasp distance, time, money, or anything substantial like that.

After driving through downtown Dallas, we started on our way back to Lakewood Village, the small suburb that their house was at. Kaylee pointed out and described each important landmark; her school, stores, and finally their house. As we pulled into the drive and I got my first look at my Dad's new home, I suddenly became washed in emotion. This entirely new family unit that my Dad was a part of. The new life and routine he shared with these kids he adopted. The drives to school, to church, and to work were all a part of the daily happenings of his life. Far away in Dallas. Not inclusive of myself or my brother and sister, all states away from him. I couldnt help but feel some pain at this knowledge that was now before my eyes, not in some distant location only known of by talking over the phone with him. It was real now.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shenanigans - of the Destructive Kind

You might remember last month the post with all the pretty (wet) snow photos. And my comment on the torn neck cover and heavyweight blanket? You do, fabulous. Well before leaving to Texas I dropped the blanket and cover off at the local tack consignment shop, a drop off location for our equine laundering service locally. I used them last spring to clean all my blankets and they did a fantastic job, even doing minor repairs I hadnt asked for for no extra charge. I was eager to drop off the blankets and get them repaired before they got any worse.

Friday I picked them up and inspected them over - they looked great and the laundering service even washed them for me with no charge! I was eager to get the heavy blanket and cover back on Milo, who had been sporting a lightweight blanket over the midweight blanket, and no hood. The temperatures are still dipping into the twenties here overnight, and I didnt want him without his winter-wear for too long. But work kept me away that evening so it would have to wait until Saturday after a six hour cart shift to get the newly repaired blankets back on.

So, what did I find when I got to the barn that evening? Can you guess?

"Are you kidding me?! Well. That's just lovely, Milo," I glared at him leading him out of the stall. "Just lovely."

Thank God he didnt tear completely through the lightweight and into the midweight. But goodness sakes, I just bought that lightweight blanket in September!

Now this is coming from a horse who hasnt even scratched any of his blankets in three years. Last month's "inconvenience" I tried to blame on catching in the stall, the fence, or anywhere. But I think I know who the real culprit here is ...

... Cabo.  You little poop stain.

In all fairness, Milo had a hand in this too. After all, it takes two rotten boys to face fight. 

Ok, well, they aren't rotten. But still!

Milo: anything Cabo can do I can do better!
So, I think I want to move Milo out of the #2 stall. Which makes me sad. I want Milo to be happy and he loves Cabo and Torik, but I can't afford $40 on blanket repairs every other week. This is just ridiculous. There is an empty stall on the other side of the barn, #6 stall, that I could move him into. He would have quiet Colby and old mare Anna. I dont think face fighting or blanket tears would happen from those two. Milo could still see his buddies across the aisleway too. In fact, it might help him get over Torik and Angel leaving the barn...

Here is his current paddock:

And the potential new paddock:

It's a tad shorter at the end with that weird covered thing and the run down to the pasture. I liked that about his current one with it expanding on the end how it does. I really like the stall he is right now as a matter of fact. Good lighting and an easy door (the #6 stall door sticks a bit). that worth blanket repairs?

The turnout schedule will be the same, with the pasture behind the barn being split in two; one for the left side and one for the right side. 

I left a note on the white board for the B.O. to get his opinion on the situation. There are opening in the upper barn too if it comes down to it...but I do prefer the lower barn. Hmpf. 

At least the heavy blanket is cleaned and repaired now...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Texas - the Travel

A feeling of sadness and uncertainly washed over me as I saw the twinkling lights of Seattle start to fall below me. The force of the plane pushed me back against the seat as we took flight into the air, bound for Dallas. I was sitting on the outside seat and looked over at the man sitting next to me.

"I'm feeling a little nostalgic leaving. Its been something like ten years since I left home".

A bit of a home-body, I suddenly wasnt sure whether or not I could do this. My throat tightened as I thought about the unknown lying ahead of me, and the long flights it would take to get there. This flight was ultimately heading to Dallas, but taking a stop in not only Denver, but Kansas City as well, two cities (two states) I had never been to before. I hoped they would let me know what to do when we would land. Sit tight? Change planes?

My uncertainty was still present, but my eyes were becoming heavy from the early 2:30 wake up Wes and I had made to get to the airport on time. Four hours later now and still dark outside, I was feeling it. I let myself nod off, dreaming of a mixture between my horse, Milo, my Dad, and my Boyfriend, Wes.

I jolted back awake and saw daylight out the small window. My seat neighbor was still sleeping, but the flight attendants were now serving drinks and peanuts. I pulled out my book and read for a while.

We landed in the cold city of Denver, and I leaned forward in my seat to try and catch some glimpses of it outside the airplane window. A city I had never seen before, but Denver looked rather flat and boring. My seat neighbor and others left the plane and only myself and a small group of people stayed aboard. We were allowed to disembark the plane, but were recommended to take our photo I.D.'s for re-entry back onto the plane. I feared somehow getting abandoned in Denver so decided to sit tight on the plane. I scooted into the inside window seat, snagging it before the plane re-loaded, heading to Kansas City.

The wheels came off the ground again and once more we were sky-bound. This flight was completely full and a kind older lady took seat next to me. A talkative woman, but somehow I managed to close my eyes and doze off once again. Attendants came through again serving the same snacks. Not one to ignore free hand outs, I took peanuts and a drink again. The sun shone through the window next to me, and the talking woman next to me disallowed sleep to continue. This time I retrieved my crochet from my purse and set to work. This sparked more conversation from the sweet old lady, and we chatted of crafting, housework, and her grandchildren for the duration of the flight.

Our descent into Kansas City was uneventful, thank goodness, and I gazed out the window on a foreign landscape once again. It boggled my mind how in just under four hours time I was now farther away from home then I had ever been. Again I feared leaving the plane, and took advantage of the empty seats and snatched the emergency exit seat. If I was going to have to ride this plane for another hour and a half, I was going to enjoy some leg room.

Waiting for the next passengers to board, I chatted with another traveler staying aboard, who too had gotten on in Seattle. Another older lady, but this time our conversation was on horses. She too was going to Dallas, but heading down to Fort Worth for the Stock Shows held at the Stockyards. I told her I was not only heading down to visit my Dad whom I had not seen in nearly two years, but also to attend the National Reined Cow Horse Association's World Show in San Angelo. I further said that an acquaintance I knew from Washington had driven herself and a client to the very event, and I was anticipating meeting her there in person this time, not through online conversation. Turned out, the older gal knew this very trainer, and asked that I give her a hello if I found her. I mused at what a small world it is, for two strangers to know the same person, but converse over it in Kansas City, very far away from home indeed.

We climbed into the air once more, but no nostalgia was felt when watching the building and landscape of Kansas City disappear into the clouds. This time I felt excitement, as our destination was finally Dallas. I was so close to seeing my Dad again. But I rested my head against the wall and slept for a few moments until the new crew asked for my drink. I took the free hand outs for the third time. Peanuts and soda were fueling me through the flights, as it had now crept into the one-o'clock hour.

After finishing my snack, I managed to doze for the remainder of the flight until the captain announced the beginning of out descent into Dallas. Still a half hour away, but I peered through the window and scanned the landscapes of Texas. I felt butterflies find home in my stomach, as I continued to look out the window. Texas wasn't what I envisioned, with many houses, buildings, and trees dotting it's flat lands. It looked much drier then Washington, but not barren like I was anticipating. Where were the expanding ranches and fields?

The plane circled over downtown Dallas before starting to drop down onto the runway. Now I was downright giddy as the vantage of the building turned from rooftops to walls. We were now on the ground and I couldnt wait two minutes longer to be off of the aircraft. The seatbelt sign blinked off and everyone stood in unison. My strategic inside window emergency seat didnt provide for an incredibly fast exit, but eventually I did retrieve my carry on from the overhead stowage and I raced off of the plane as fast as the people in front of me allowed.

Carrying my bag in my arms, not holding my the handle because the zipper decided to break when leaving the house in the morning and now only two side buckles kept the baggage closed, I raced down the airport aisles, my cowboy boots pounding the ground. I called my Dad who said he would meet me at Baggage Claim. I had no bag to claim, but stood at the carousel, looking from the exit doors to outside, scanning for sight of my Dad. Minutes passed by and I started getting anxious mixed into the excitement. I hear voices chatting behind me and looked to see what balloons they were talking about.

Dad! Right behind me stood my father, his wife, and two new children, conversing lightly with someone asking about the balloon animals in their hands. I ran into his arms, hugging him like old times. He looked the same and felt the same, but attached to one of his hands was a shy little boy, trying to hide from my gaze to behind my father. My stepmother, Rena, held onto another child, a little girl I recognized from visiting me at my old job a year ago. She was shy but handed me my balloon creation, a big flower. Dad tossed a heart over my head and instructed Tony, the little boy to give me the last balloon, an attempted horse. He continued to hide from my smile, but held the horse thing out to me.

We talked lightly as I followed them to the parking garage, bags and balloons in hand. We arrived at a white Minivan.

"A Minivan?" I questioned. Not exactly the ride I always knew my Father to have. Suddenly I started to feel a little uncomfortable with the situation. The two knew adopted children, and the minivan and their father to tote them around. We made light conversation as we entered the highway. What had I gotten into? I wasnt sure I could handle these children and this new life my Dad had.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Texas and the NRCHA World Show

I've been silent the last couple of days, and silent about the upcoming trip I was about to take. Not for any particular reason, but just so you know, I took a short trip down to Texas for four days and just returned last night. Why Texas? Well, besides the fact that it is awesome and I have always wanted to visit, but my Dad just moved down there over a year ago and I hadnt seen him since the move. Originally in San Antonio, three months ago he moved north to Dallas and wanted me to come visit him, so that was my Christmas present was the flight down and back. After coordinating with work and getting time off, making sure Milo was all prepped for my absence, it was time to make the trip.

You might be able to tell, but I am a homebody. I dont have a desire to travel the world and see new places. I want to stay home and see my horse and my Boyfriend everyday. Leaving them is too much of an undertaking. I dont even like driving on the other side of the water in Seattle! Let alone going to a completely foreign place.

But, nonetheless, I was really excited to see my Dad, visit Texas, and watch the NRCHA World Show. When planning the trip I asked my Father if he minded coordinating the visit with the NRCHA World Show. I figured if I was going to be in Texas I wanted to make full use of the visit, and see something I never will see in Washington State. He thought it was a great idea and something we could do together. Also San Angelo, the show's location, was four and a half hours away from Dallas, Dad didnt complain of my request.

I saw a lot of really cool things during my short duration in Texas. But this post is going to be about the NRCHA World Show, considering it is the one truly horse event I attended, so it's most suiting for the blog. Surprisingly, I knew of a trailer from Northern Washington (relatively my area) that trailered down for the show. Talking on Facebook and browsing her website was the only way I personally knew her, but I was eager to meet face to face - in Texas of all places! Dad and I left early Sunday morning to make it to the show grounds with most of the day left for watching.

When we arrived, I could hardly believe I was at the venue. Although San Angelo seemed rather bare and a little run down (although we never went through downtown), the Fairgrounds was nicely kept up and teeming with horses and competitors. A few booths were set up with merchandise and the event was held in a main arena with lots of seating. Although the event is the Association's World Show, it was odd how much it felt like a regular horse show. Just the people were well known, the horses were well bred, and we were in Texas. There were no strict regulations on where spectators could or could not go, unlike rodeo events or things geared towards the spectators. Like most horse shows, this one was geared towards the competitor, which was refreshing. Dad and I had full access to the grounds, walking through the holding pen, the warm up arena, the backside where the cows were housed, and through the exhibitors horse stalls. I took it all in, and enjoyed the familiar horse show atmosphere.

We watched the Circle Y Derby Open, Int Open, Limited Open, and Novice Horse Open Rein Work. I hoped that my Dad, someone not knowledgeable in horses except what I have told him, let along reining or reined cow horse, wouldnt tire of the endless competitors running the same pattern again and again. But he was receptive to all that I educated him on, and was more interested in knowing the scores of each competitor and how they were determined. He got more savvy on what were good runs versus poorer ones as the say went on. I enjoyed seeing the young but incredibly well trained horses, and some of the riders whose names I had recognized. 

During arena drags and the lunch break, we made our way through the vendors and I enjoyed seeing handmade pieces of art and enjoying the horseshow environment. I indulged on a couple of sweatshirts that had the NRCHA World Show title and logo on them, and one in particular reading World Show and San Angelo, items I would never have received otherwise. We then made our way around the grounds, seeing the cows and watching people in the warm up pen. I saw things I liked, and saw a lot of things I didn't like. And although there was a fluorescent sign reading the NRCHA's policy on abusive and unacceptable practices, I saw a lot of hard spurs, heavy hands, and careless acts. It reminded me the level of competition we were at and what people will do in the name of money and glory. 

But I didnt want to focus on the negatives of how some people rode. I appreciated the extremely well bred and well maintained horses, and walked through the stalls seeing the lovely (and shortly statured) horses dozing in the warm stalls. We made our way to the two stalls housing the horses from the trainer in Washington I was hoping to meet. Unfortunately, neither her or her client were around, but we visited with the horses anyways and I hoped there would be another even, maybe in Washington that I could really meet her at, face to face. 

The day was creeping into the evening, and Dad and I faced the reality that we still had a long drive back to Dallas. I took a final breath in of this big horse venue, and climbed into the Mountaineer to head back. My visit was short-lived, but even now as I watch the continued showing of the World Show on the NRCHA's live webcast, I feel a little more attached to it, knowing I was sitting in that venue watching those competitors live and being so close to the horses I could hear their breathing, just three days ago. 

Todd Crawford

Holding Pen
The Warm Up Pen...
Lovely Appaloosa, and a quiet rider. 
Cute horse in a stall. 

Warm up Pen, back of main arena. 

If anyone wants to see more photos from my Texas trip, leave a comment and I'll give you the link to my Facebook Album.