6 weeks ago I decided to do something I’ve never done before. I knew it would be hard, I knew it would be stressful, I knew it would make me stronger.
Last weekend I competed in Craig Cameron’s Extreme Cowboy Race.
In the 6 weeks leading up to the competition Boomerang and I trained intensely. We took western lessons, I transported him to every arena in our area that I could so that he got used to new surroundings, we practiced new obstacles, and tested our abilities to focus in stressful situations. But I knew going into this that there would be elements we couldn’t prepare for. The unknown was scary.
We arrived at the Horse World Expo in Harrisburg PA on Thursday. I had never been there before as a “participant”, and let me tell you, it’s a scary scary place for a horse.
Winding halls lined with stalls, electric “garage” doors, echos, loud noises, carts, dogs, and people – everywhere.
Boomerang handled everything pretty well. Immediately I began schooling him in the indoor arenas every chance I got. I wanted him to be comfortable with his surroundings before the preliminary race on Saturday. The indoor arenas at “schooling time” were an obstacle in and of itself. Not only did LOTS of horses and riders attempt to use them at the same time, but there were teams hooked to carts, horses being lunged, as well as the horses that freaked out as soon as they entered the arenas. Navigating around in them was an obstacle in and of itself. The only thing that I couldn’t prepare for was the noise of a cheering crowd. As the days went on I saw many horses freeze in fear or bolt in any direction possible after hearing their first round of applause. I’m not gonna lie, it made me nervous. I had no idea what Boomer would do when we had to walk into that arena on Saturday. Would he bolt, would he buck, would he refuse to listen to my commands, would I be able to regain control?
If you follow along with the Painting Ponies on our Facebook Page, then you already know what happened. But for everyone else, here is the video of our preliminary round in the Extreme Cowboy Race:
If you look closely in the beginning of the video, you will notice what did happen when the crowd applauded for the first time – Boomer had a little “fear reaction”. But at about 0.34 seconds you can see what I did to refocus him. I asked him to halt, and when he listened and stopped moving his feet I clicked and rewarded him. And that’s all it took to remind him that listening to me was much more worth it than worrying about what the crowd did.
Our preliminary ride actually put us in 2nd place out of 23 riders and earned us a spot in the Finals on Sunday (where only 11 were chosen).
I was so proud of Boomer. Our ride was far from perfect. I almost fell off when he spooked at something in the beginning of our lap around the arena, my roll backs were a little disappointing – considering Boomer can do them soooo much better, I could have cantered the barrel pattern, my sidepassing started a little sticky, and my keyhole pattern could have been done WAY faster. But it doesn’t matter. I accomplished something. I rode against (and beat) several professional horse trainers, I did western reining patterns in english tack, I rode in a Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle (we were the only pair to ride bitless), and I competed in my very first Extreme Cowboy Race.
Craig Cameron (the announcer and organizer of these events) and his crew were impressed to say the least. I don’t think expected what they saw, heck I didn’t even expect it.
But it really didn’t matter what anyone else thought. It mattered that in a mere 7 minutes I had managed to challenge the relationship I shared with my pony, and we came out the other end victorious. I felt like if we could accomplish this, there’s not limit to what we can do. Not only did I teach Boomer some of these western maneuvers in a mere 6 weeks – but I did it without spurs and without a bit. yeah!
You can see more photos from our first round on the Painting Pony Facebook Page, and check back tomorrow to hear all about the Finals!