The whole adventure started when I started stalking the internet looking for Ranch Horse competitions in the Midwest. As you may know, Howdy and I are training to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover in the Working Ranch Division. The competition takes place the first weekend in October at the glorious Motherland – The Kentucky Horse Park.
Then I found it – a clinic and schooling competition for Ranch Horses and their peeps put on by the Northern Lights Versatility Ranch Horse Association, a Minnesota club which was putting on the event in Madison, my old stomping grounds! Though it was the Tuesday before the event, I happened to know the venue (The Horse First, a beautiful farm in Brooklyn, WI) and I hoped desperately that the clinic wasn’t full.
I contacted Kelly Messera, who, with her husband Carlos Osorio, owns the property. I enquired if there were openings and there were! I just squeaked in. There was no camping left so I had to suffer in a hotel (kidding, I love hotels at the end of a long day outside, this is one of my secret Princess tendencies) and Howdy had a beautiful 14′ x 14′ stall with lovely rubber mats an auto waterer. These Ranch Horses suffer.
After I got all my stuff set up, which doesn’t look that much different from eventing,
I tacked up and got ready for my lesson with Dave Currin who also happens to be the Founder and President of the National Versatility Ranch Horse Association (NVRHA). Pffft. No problem. Might as well start at the top.
I tacked Howdy up (who was completely unimpressed with the surroundings, even though they looked like this):
and went to my lesson with Dave. I think Kelly clued him in to my OTTB-come-Ranch-Horse mission because the first thing he said to me after telling me to call him Dave and not Mr. Currin, was “Ok, now what are you doing with this horse?” I told him about the RRP Working Cow Horse and he listened politely and asked what the requirements for the competition would be. I said, “Oh, it is run under the NVRHA rules, with only a few changes.” He beamed and said, “Really?” Pretty cool when an organization you helped found is reaching out to other sports that you didn’t even fathom! Huzzah and nice work, Dave.
So we started the work, Howdy and I taking turns screwing up the exercises, the fundamental one of which was “quarter turn, back; quarter turn, back.” Not more than a quarter turn and actual soft back. That took the better part of 20 minutes for us to get a pretty good grip on. Dave was patient, Howdy was game and we laughed a lot. Then we moved on to walking on the rail and turning a 180 toward the wall. This, sisters and brothers, is not easy either, until you and the horse figure it out, and the horse hops up and does a really cool walk rollback. We got it to the left, but right was hard. Jeff Barnes happened to be walking through the arena and Dave recruited him to help with right walk rollback. Jeff had also apparently heard of the RRP mission and seemed amused to join the party. With a few tweaks we had right roll back. We were all pretty surprised at how far Howdy had come in about 35 minutes.
So Dave says, “Let’s go work him on the flag.” I’m like, “Let’s! What’s a flag?” Turns out it is literally a flag on a cable along the short wall of the arena. With a remote you can move the flag back and forth and put in stops wherever you want. You teach the horse to “herd” it or at least to track it and meanwhile you put into practice what you learned a few minutes ago, to turn by putting the butt under and lifting the front end like a canter pirouette, but in one step and much faster. And riders get to learn to sit that. Yay.
Dave was really good at running the flag, so we could start out walking and focusing on how H was turning. That was kind of a mess at first between shying at the flag, turning like a tugboat and Dave and I laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Lots of praise for Howdy and I’ll be danged if something didn’t click and he started to turn correctly and go faster. It was astonishing. (Funny side note, there was a group of about four lovely QH riders warming up in the ring and when they saw H and I doing that, they said, “We didn’t know that was an option!” I just smiled and thought, “Dave likes Howdy best.” Dave’s got a secret thoroughbred love. LOL)
We thanked Dave and left the arena at which point Kelly took me aside and said Carlos wanted to ride with me. I wondered why, but I had taught a clinic at THF last year and had worked with Carlos on his jumping and we laughed a lot so I thought maybe a nice trail ride was in order. I gave H some time to drink and eat back in the stall and then got back on and went to meet Carlos.
For the record, I am so dumb thinking we were going to trail ride. Ha! Carlos Osorio is a very accomplished Cutting Horse rider and he wanted to share some tips with me. I had no idea that he had watched my lesson with Dave, was impressed at what Dave had accomplished with us, and he wanted to add a few things.
There was so much to learn, I might have gotten a fifth of it. First he just rode his well-trained horse for me and I listened to him talk. That horse was as on his aids as a GP dressage horse. Forward, backward, sideways – all easy to access and relaxed in execution. He said that ‘ranch horses are always going somewhere to stop,’ a phrase I heard elsewhere throughout the weekend. He also mentioned that ranch horses don’t just go forward, they take a step back first and then go forward. I watched that fact all weekend. It is true. To an english rider that might sound literally and figuratively backwards, but half halt anyone? It is about balance and using the hind end. So I dedicated myself to doing that the whole weekend. Howdy did not seem to mind.
He showed me about getting the horse to flex his neck without moving his feet before starting a turn (including spins and rollbacks) and to slow everything down and let the horse be relaxed in the movement (sound familiar dressage friends?). Then it was time to give Howdy some rest.
My head full of new information, and after Howdy was hosed off and settled in with much to eat and a pristine stall it was time to meet friends for supper and then crash out. The next day the clinic was to begin! I could have gone home after Friday and had enough to work on to keep me busy for a while!