Over the 4th of July Weekend we packed up the ponies (Boomerang, Blitz, and “sister” Jet) and headed north 5 hours to New York. The plan was to spend the weekend camping with the horses, trail riding, and competing in a Cowboy Race.
While Boomer has competed in a few cowboy races before, this was the largest course we had been on – with a lot of new obstacles our ponies had never encountered.
The way this course was run was that the day before and day of riders could introduce their horses to the obstacles, but you would not learn the course you were riding until right before you competed.
Some of the obstacles were similar to things you might see on a cross-country jump course, while others were designed to look very out of the ordinary (for most horses).
This was Boomer’s first competition since last summer, and the first real event he’s been to since his injuries this winter. We discovered Boomer had been bruising his front ankles on the entrance to our shed all winter (likely for years) every time he backed out quickly (most likely because the other ponies chased him out) as well as inflammation in his tendon sheath on a back hind leg (probably from running around like a crazy pony in the pasture over the winter).
I’ve since discovered that because of these injuries Boomer is now very sensitive to being asked to back up over things, or walk over things that he thinks might hit his ankles (for fear of it hurting). So we will be starting over in a sense on a lot of obstacles that he was once unfazed by, and trying to build his confidence so he doesn’t have to worry that he will injure himself. Not to mention he now wears boots for protection 24/7.
Also because Boomer was just getting back into the swing of competing my plan was to take it easy with him. No racing around, no tight spins, no jumping. Well a lot of the course required some speed, and despite my best efforts to keep him going a relaxed pace….Boomer had other plans. He also decided it would be much more fun to jump the obstacles than trot over them….silly pony! At least he had fun!
I would say Boomer’s favorite obstacle was these “porcupine” noodles. With clicker training I’ve taught him to walk his face through “noodles”, so he loved rubbing his face all over them.
One of the more challenging obstacles on the course was the pinwheel. You had to lift a (heavy) board off a barrel and spin it around. The challenging part was not moving too quickly and keeping the board from falling off the barrel on the other end.
Another challenging obstacle was the trailer load. You had to load your horse into a strange trailer with streamers on the course.
I was proud of Boomer for mastering the tire cross. He was very unsure of it the first day I introduced it to him, but by the time he had to compete he was confident enough to cross it with ease.
My sister’s mare Jet also came with us, and did great on the course! She hasn’t been exposed to as many obstacles as our Chincoteagues, but she tried her heart out on the course and held her own against all the cowboys. Even in english tack!
I’ve found a lot of these courses are designed for riders that ride western – requiring the horn for some things. It’s sort of a bummer that I think a lot of time us english riders (my saddle is a treeless english saddle) are discouraged from participating in events like these (or looked down on because we ride english). But as you can see, just because I ride english doesn’t mean I can’t do all the same things. I ride english to do team penning, ranch sorting, trail riding, mounted shooting, cowboy races and more! I don’t think it should matter what type of saddle (or even bitting too in some cases) I chose to put on my horse.
Blitz also competed in the “on-line” division and did great! He took home first place in his class.
Boomer was all smiles by the end of the weekend adventure! I’m not sure when we will be back to New York again (it was a long long drive!) but it was a fun trip.
On the way home one of our trailer tires burst! Thankfully everyone was ok, and after unloading a pony on the side of the road & popping on our spare we were no worse for wear.
Have you been camping with your horse? Any recommendations on places to go for our next adventure?
P.S. I hope to have a video to share of Boomer on the course soon. Since the grounds were so large a lot of the video is shot far away, so I’ll have to see how much of it turned out (without it looking like tiny little ants are running the race).
A few weeks ago we took Blitz and Boomer on their very first adventure with cattle! Boomer was actually the first to make the leap into becoming a cow pony when I took him to a beginner Ranch Sorting Clinic at Double Rock Farm in Maryland.
This was a first for both me and him, as I really have absolutely no background in western riding (other than the new maneuvers and western riding lessons I took before the Extreme Cowboy Race last year) and as far as I know Boomer has never met a cow in his life.
I really had no idea what to expect, but I thought Boomer might approach the cows quite cautiously at first. But before Boomer could even have his first look at a cow we started out on foot. We went into the pen of cows (without horses) to learn how to move them ourselves. This was a great way to learn which way the cows would go and how they move as a group – something I hadn’t thought much about previously.
Ranch Sorting is an event that pits a team of two riders on horseback against the clock. Teamwork is the key with both riders working in harmony to cut out the correct cattle in numerical order and drive them to the pen while keeping the wrong numbered cattle back.
So after learning more about Ranch Sorting and learning how the cows moved it was time to see what the horses would do. Boomer was the first to go, and I cautiously approached the cows in the pen as they called out a numbered cattle for me to sort out. As we got closer and closer to the cows I was surprised at how calm Boomer was, and when we ended up face to face with one of them I was shocked when Boomer’s first reaction was to reach out and touch his nose to the cow’s face. I asked him to move into the cows and they began to scatter, this thrilled Boomer as he quickly caught on that he was in charge. He began tossing his head and making faces at the cows to move them along faster – and he was really enjoying himself.
I was thrilled he took to the cows so quickly, and I think a lot of it all comes back to our clicker training. When we approach objects or things Boomer is unsure of, I ask him to touch them with his nose – when he does so he’s rewarded for being brave. So his gut reaction to meeting a cow for the first time was not one of flight, but curiosity as he touched his face hoping this was the correct reaction I wanted out of him.
We had a blast at Double Rock Farm, and a few weeks later we returned (this time with Blitz too) for a Ranch Sorting practice. Blitz is a lot more cautious than his younger brother Boomer, but it didn’t take him long to figure out that the cows were not to be feared. By the end of the night both ponies were happily moving the cows around, even in and out of their pens when it was time to bring in a new herd.
Ranch Sorting was so much fun that we’re already making plans to try Team Penning and can’t wait to get the boys into some regular cow work. So what about you, ever try a western sport after being an english rider for all your life? Any other Chincoteague Pony Ranch Sorters out there?
Last weekend we took Blitz and Boomer to the Bucks County Horse Park to compete in a Judged Trail Competition. You get to ride through the park stopping at obstacles along the way where they judge you on your performance.
We attended the event last year as well, which you can check out Boomer & Jet competing here.
We had a blast on the trail, this year I thought the course was a bit easier than last years though, but it was still a fun time and great experience for the ponies. We filmed some of the obstacles – but missed a few along the way, mostly because we forgot!
Hope you enjoyed watching the boys compete – we’re already looking forward to next year’s event!
Over the weekend I packed up Boomerang and headed down south to Maryland to compete in the MGAA Mid-Atlantic #1. It was the first of the mid-atlantic mounted games series for the year and we were excited to attend.
Boomer and I were dusting off the cobwebs a bit as typically I give him the winter off due to being pretty busy at my shop – so this was sort of a “getting back into the swing of things” competition for us.
Boomer was the only pony at the competition to compete in a Bitless Bridle and Treeless Saddle – and you will also notice our treat bag hanging from his saddle, used when I am clicker training him during competition – because the training is never done.
I think one of the common mis-conceptions about treeless saddles is that many people think that without a tree the saddle won’t be stable on the horse’s back. But, all you have to do is watch me play games in it to prove this wrong. All weekend I was leaning off the saddle like a monkey, and vaulting on from the ground.
I’m in love with my freeform saddle for so many reason, but mostly because it is the most comfortable ride I’ve ever had, for me and my pony. And as much as treeless saddle are rare in the mounted games arena (in fact I believe you are not allowed to compete in treeless saddles if you ride with the USMGA organization – why, I do not know!) Bitless bridles are probably just as rare.
I think with equine speed sports especially probably a lot of people think you won’t be able to control your horse without a bit when it’s in racing mode. Now Boomerang may not be the fastest pony out there, but he wants to run towards the finish line just like the rest of them. Because I took the time to clicker train him a really nice stop, and to respect my seat and leg aids just as much as the rein pressure I am able to successfully compete him in his dr. cook’s bitless bridle.
Many riders in the US now compete in hackamores – yet these have a much different way of steering/stopping the horse by using sensitive pressure points on the nose. Bitless Bridles use painless and even pressure to help guide your horse in the direction you want to go and does not interfere with the horse’s breathing.
And while I personally am an advocate for the bitless bridles I do believe that using a bit or not is a personal decision that most times depends on the horse too. Not every horse may be a good fit for a bitless bridle and I think it just depends on what works best for each animal in the most humane way possible.
And finally, here’s a quick video I put together of Boomerang having a blast competing.
We hope to make it to some more MGAA competitions this year – and for anyone who is interested in getting started in the sport be sure to take a look at our upcoming competitions at Iron Horse Farm.
You can read more about mounted games here.
On Sunday I took Boomerang to his very first mounted shooting clinic. My mom and Blitz tagged along too – although they had been to one other shooting session before.
The clinic was held in NJ by the Jersey Devils Mounted Shooters. We started off with a bit of gun safety and practiced firing from the ground at our balloon targets.
Surprisingly I was a better shot from my pony than I was from the ground, ha!
The guns we fired were fairly loud, so I wasn’t sure how Boomer would react. He’s pretty brave, but any horse would be scared if you fire a pistol from their back.
To introduce our horses to the gunfire we rode around as a group while riders routinely shot off rounds into the air. The first few shots startled Boomer as I’m sure he wasn’t expecting it, but being in a group with the other horses that had all done this before – he was quickly put at ease. After a few laps around, and a few clicks and rewards from me, he seemed to hardly notice the gunfire anymore.
Next we each took turns running through a pattern and firing at the balloons. In competition you are scored on speed and accuracy, and in my first run through I shot 8 out of the 10 balloons. I was really surprised Boomer hardly jumped at all – shooting next to the horse is much different than shooting into the air, because the sound is louder and they can see the gun out of the corner of their eye.
Below are two videos I put together of Boomer and Blitz running through the patterns:
Blitz is a little bit more of a nervous horse, but he improved greatly with each time he went.
It ended up being a really fun day and a great experience for both ponies. I don’t have plans to join the mounted shooting club (although I was really fun) but I did it as a way to introduce my pony (and myself) to something entirely new. All of the different things I do with my ponies are helping to make them better mounts. I think if the club wasn’t a two hour drive for me I might have considered joining, because it was fun to wield a pistol!
And Boomerang was pretty proud of himself in the end, evident by his beaming smile!