Friday, September 28, 2012

Another Very Good Day

Okay, so I know I've been AWOL for awhile.  It's been a busy summer, and there really is a composite post waiting to be finished on all the various goings-on.  But if I wait any longer for that post to finish itself, this one might not see the light of day.
Last weekend, to bracket our summer of grandkids and projects and experiments with Maddie, with another trail competition, Kate and I took off across the state to Hooper's Crossing Ranch, in the middle of the Palouse (just a bit upstream from the Palouse Falls State Park), for a mini-clinic and "Cowboy Mountain Trail Challenge."
Keith Danielson was one of the big winners at the Walla Walla "Wild Cowgirls" event, including the sportsmanship award, as he is just a natural helper and encourager to many competitors.
The three and a half hour mini-clinic on Saturday was in the arena, as Keith did not want to give us an unfair advantage in the next day's competition on the outside course.  We did use a few portable obstacles, and a lot of poles and barrels to practice our body-control skills and build the trust between us and our horses.
I spent a fitful night, first on the back seat of the truck, and when that didn't work, about midnight I moved into the trailer tackroom, laying down a "bed" of saddle blankets under my sleeping bag.  Kate, on the other hand, behaved herself very well for her first night away from home ever.  Of course, she had a full, slow-feed haynet, so she managed to keep herself occupied.
The next morning, when we went out on foot for the course walk, I just about died!  Some of the various obstacles were HUGE, and some were things neither Kate nor I had ever attempted.  I didn't have the money to post-enter the in-hand class, to give her a confidence building introduction to the challenges--and the hill side of the course was so steep, I would have been exhausted afterward anyway.
One thing that surprised me (and was a little discouraging) was that the "non-pro/pleasure" class was over the exact same course as the "pro/open" class (the youth class did use a slightly easier adaptation of a few obstacles).
But folks encouraged me to give it a go, and said I could just skip or simplify any obstacle that I felt I needed to, for training's sake.
So I got up my gumption and determined that Kate and I would at least give it a valiant try.
First obstacle: Across a somewhat elevated bridge, with a 5-second stand-still half-way across.  Almost no one did the full five seconds, so at about 3 seconds, when Kate started leaning like she might step off to the side, I went ahead and walked her off.  She got counted down for not being quite centered on the bridge.
Turn on the forehand.   Kate had done this very well in the clinic...until she caught her pastern in the ring once and flipped it a bit.  Then she didn't trust it anymore.  In the competition she again didn't trust it.  We got a couple of decent forehand turns, we just didn't keep our forelegs in the ring.
Two turn-arounds each direction.  It was big enough that Kate didn't fall off (as she sometimes does), but we need to develop more shoulder control (and less rubber neck).
We trotted over three logs,

... then walked over this big one.  It was all supposed to be loped, but we're still working on that, and decided not to shake things up so early in the course (several others did the same).
Into the water box...or not.  This surprised me, as Kate is usually so good about water.  It just didn't look right to her.  (She did cross it later in the course, the other direction.)
After exiting the water box (she went around) they were supposed to jump the log, onto a box, jump down a level, do a turn-around, the jump down to the side.  At the end of the course, we came UP the three BIG stair steps, jumped down into the water box, then were done.  Kate did that perfectly, but alas, no pictorial evidence.
See the hose in the foreground?  Kate is dropping into a good sized pond, up a muddy "creek"--but she paddled right up the creek and over the logs.
I was truly amazed that Kate did this obstacle.  Unfortunately the lag time on my new camera caught my volunteer photographer by surprise, and she didn't get the actual crossing of the "squishy box."
That 4' X 8' water box, about 6 inches deep, has a 4' X 8' sheet of plywood floating in it, covered with 1 inch holes.  So when the horse steps on it, the water squirts up through the holes, and the plywood sinks!  Kate hesitated, which probably lessened the height of the squirt, then walked right through!
The mattress did just about everybody in.  It was super squishy, and billowed dust as soon as any weight was put on it.  A few horses that made the effort, totally freaked when it did that, but Kate touched it with her nose, stepped one foot on it, and....
...politely went around.
Trot a serpentine of stumps--Kate broke to a walk on the tight corner.
Then up and over TWO teeter bridges!
Both had to be climbed on to from the "up" end, but this didn't bother Kate at all.
 At this point, the course drops down behind the hill, and my volunteer photographer had her horse in hand, so couldn't move to a better vantage point.  The rest of these photos are of her and her little reining-horse-developing-into-a-trail-horse, on the rest of the obstacles.
Down three stair-step tractor tires.
Turn-around on the middle tire.  Kate did this pretty well, though her back end "fell off" the tire once.
Walk through the tunnel--which Kate hesitated at, then went--then dismount on the stump, drive your horse around you in a circle, over the barrels, and remount.  Kate earned a "Very Good" comment from the judge on her walk-around.
Down to the bottom of the ditch, turn left up some rock steps, then a fairly complicated set of walk-overs of the three logs in the background (start with the left foreleg, hold, then back it off, change to the right, do second log right foot first, then the last log left foot again), then side pass off the last log.  Kate got a little frustrated with my seeming confusion (all the backing-and-forthing), so I finally gave up on which foot was where, and just walked nicely through.  She also side-passed off very nicely.
Up the three big railroad tie platform stairs at a trot,...
...and then down over the log into the water box, and through it to finish the course.  Where Kate had refused going through the water box from ground level, she never hesitated going into it from above!
All in all, I was very pleased with Kate's go!  In reality, nothing seemed near as big from her back as it did from the ground.  She gave every obstacle at least a try, which is more than some of the other horses were willing to do.

After a very slow morning (the in-hand class took forever!), the non-pro was done about noon, there were four youth riders who took a while, but then the open class moved pretty quickly.  I was waiting around, because the course was going to be open for schooling after the classes were done, and I figured Kate and I would go in and practice on a couple of our weaker obstacles, before heading home.
About 2:00 o'clock, however, a twist was put in our plans:  There were to be ride-offs of the top five competitors in each class!
After watching most of the other non-pro goes, I had figured I was somewhere in the middle of the pack of ten riders, but now I wondered just exactly I where I might have placed.  Did I want to do another run?  Or did I want to be the lower half of the group, and just get on the road for home?
As Keith and his crew of hardy volunteers made adjustments for the new course, his lovely wife Carla read off the results:  Highest score (out of a possible 160) was only 110 or so, so you know it was tough (the pro class leader had closer to 130, if I remember right).  When they got to the fifth place...Kate and I were IN!  Yikes!  Was the final course going to be an abbreviated one?  Nope.  Another full sequence of obstacles.
By then we were all so tired, and my friendly photographer would be riding much closer to my turn, so I have absolutely no photos to show of our second effort.  Here's a quick synopsis:
First, we had to ROPE A STEER!  (Okay, a roping dummy.)  I've swung a rope over Kate once or twice, a few years ago, so she did fine with it.  I missed the dummy, but managed to drop the loop on my head, at one point. (I guess I could say I roped the wrong dummy...)
Lope a figure eight pattern over three logs (I figured if she offered the lope after the first jump, we'd try it, but she didn't, so we trotted the pattern).
Walk over the big log again, and down the hill to a narrow bridge over a gully.  No problem.
Through deadfall.  It turns out that this obstacle may have cost us a placing:  where Kate usually aces this type of challenge, she decided it looked too weird, and incurred a refusal, before trundling right through.
Then through a pool-noodle curtain (really, Keith?), no hesitation.
Then we were supposed to walk up and over a small stump, leaving Kate's hind feet on the stump, and executing a turn on the haunches.  Kate decided she wanted nothing to do with the stump (why step on it, when one can just as easily go around?).  So I finally just did the turn on the ground.
Next we were to lope around the pool noodle obstacle and back up the hill, then over a yawning chasm of a ditch.  Kate tried to offer the lope, but it was accompanied by her "I'm done with this nonsense and want to get outta town" attitude, so we trotted up and around the ditch.  (Of the ten adult riders in the finals, only three attempted the ditch, and two of those were anything but pretty, with one almost unseated when her horse did a "hail Mary" leap over.)
Up , over, and down a rocky hill, then backing back up the trail again, part-way, to a three quarter turn, up and off the log platform through the water box again, down the muddy creek with a zig-zag pattern (Kate groused at this, as by now she was ready to be DONE!).
Down the hill and side-pass a log, while looking over the X-ditch (this unnerved Kate a bit), then down into the ditch, turn around at the bottom of the X, and back ourselves back out.  Kate did this really nicely.
Up the tractor tire steps (she rushed a little), and over the teeter bridges, this time pausing to teeter-totter on each bridge.  Again, Kate nailed this, but then, it was the final obstacle and she was aimed at the out-gate.
While they finished up the other class, I took Kate back to the trailer, stripped her tack, and got everything loaded up but her. I left her to munch on another bag of hay, and walked back to the arena.
When the results of the second go were finished, Kate had moved up to fourth, and was only a point and a half behind the third place finisher (remember that refusal at the dead-fall?).  I collected her pretty pink ribbon, loaded her up, and started the two hour trip home just at dusk.
At home I turned her out for the night ("No grazing muzzle, Kate.  You were a very good girl!"), took a quick shower, and collapsed into a real bed.  I had a kindergarten class to teach first thing the next morning....