Saturday, May 14, 2016

NTW Romp in the Willows 5/14/16

Well, that was about as bad at the last Romp in the Willows. Meaning, not the worst show ever, but it very prominently highlighted what happens to O when she is faced with things she is really good at, and faced with things she is really not good at. She is really, really good at going fast, having endless endurance, and tight turns. She is really, really bad at precision work that requires a lot of careful, slow maneuvering and frequent stops. 

There are three parts to the Romp - an obstacle course, a cones course, and a XC course where you have to pick up ribbons along the way and return them to the timer at the finish. O is really good at two of those things. The obstacle course? Oh man. It was total carnage. It was a different course than the last Romp, but we did just as horribly as we did last time. And came in the same place too - dead last.

Since the map looks confusing, I'll explain the course. The first obstacle is a big board bridge which the horses must go over. The second is a narrow wooden channel - you have to drive one wheel into the channel and drive through the entire channel with that one wheel still in it - which is way harder than it sounds. The third was a narrow raised obstacle that you had to drive through without knocking anything down. The fourth was a push through gate made of a pool noodle that was elevated and set between two standards - the horses had to push the gate with their chests and walk through it. The fifth was an alleyway made of flutter flags. The sixth was a tiny little board, like 12"x12", that you had to stop one wheel on and stay there until the judge told you to proceed. The 7th and 8th were a barrel that had mail on it, and a mailbox that you had to put the mail in and raise the flag. The ninth was a back up knockdown U-shaped obstacle where you had to pass it, turn, and back into it, knocking down the back rail (but not the side rails) before proceeding on. The final obstacle was crossing the bridge again, and exiting.

I thought for sure O was going to have a way better time than she did last time. She was feeling zen all morning, taking a nap while we waited for our turn. I thought for sure we were going to be fine. And it did start off fine. O crossed the bridge with no issues, approached the wooden wheel channel, and actually successfully executed it on the first go. It was great! And then, at the very end of the channel, she just stopped dead of her own accord. All I could think was, ohhhhh no here we go. That is her default when she is about to get all kinds of fried. Sure enough, we got into obstacle 3 and made it halfway through, but when we tried to turn to exit, she stopped dead again, backed up, jackknifed the carriage, and would NOT move again. I actually reached out and patted her butt to tell her it was ok, because it was all the way over to my right side and I could reach it. We continued on, went very successfully through the pool noodle gate (which creamed SO many people - I saw SO many horses either freak out or actually jump over it, complete with airborne carriage... not good!!), went through the flutter flag alley fine, stopped right on the square fine, picked up the mail and put it in the mailbox fine. All went fine. Then we tried to back into the U, and.... nope. Unfortunately with the 4 wheeler, it is SUPER easy to jackknife and not back up straight, so we couldn't get it straight. Just couldn't do it. I tried to get her in line, but kept having to walk her forward and straighten her out, which just did absolutely nothing for her brain. Finally, we backed into the wrong portion, knocked down the wrong side, and I just gave up and decided to go on. Unfortunately, she was still completely sulled up and wouldn't go forward again. Eventually after FOREVER I got her going, got her over the bridge, and then tried to get her to trot forward and exit - but halfway between the bridge and the exit, she just stopped dead again when I clucked at her to go forward. She started to back up, jackknifed the carriage again, mowed clean over the entire bridge complex and all the cones and numbers associated with it, and then again wouldn't go forward. She just stood there. Forever. Completely unresponsive to anything I did. Finally, she moved on, but I actually had to get someone to lead her out of the gate because she would NOT go forward. 

It's just her thing. It's why I bought her for $500. She was so fried when I got her that she would not. Go. Forward. You would sit on her to ride, and she would just stop dead and refuse to move every time you would put your leg on. You could thump her in the ribs, whail on her with a crop, or even just pet her and tell her it was all going to be okay. None of it worked. And, none of it works now. When she checks out, she is just DONE and that's the end of it. I can't do anything about it - physically there is just nothing. I just have to sit there and wait for her to come to her senses, and then she will move on. 

This really annoyed me for a long time. I gave you a command horse, you need to listen and do it. I felt for a long time that just letting her stand there was letting her get away with it. But it did not take me long to learn that there is no physical way to manhandle her into compliance. If you try, she is going to rearflail and completely unravel. And you STILL won't get anywhere - you'll just have an even more upset horse. And what good is that?
So, when she checks out to No Brains Town, I let her stand there and completely take the pressure off. I let her try to come back to her senses. And *then* we try again. There is just no way to train a horse whose brain has completely shut down. The only thing that can come of forcing that checked-out horse to do something it doesn't understand is someone getting hurt. 

And, it's okay. I understand that these things are very hard for her mentally, and mental overload just shuts her completely down. I know this about her, and I accept this about her. It's something I don't believe can be changed. She finds precision work super mentally challenging, and she always has. She is who she is, and she doesn't make apologies for it. And I can respect that about her, because she is always 100% honest with me. She doesn't misbehave just to misbehave - she misbehaves when she truly and honestly can't deal with something. She is SO very good at the things she is good at, and just SO very bad at the things she is bad at. There isn't really a middle ground for her.

One thing she is great at - total immobility when waiting our turn to go. I could probably take a nap up there

Right from the exit of the obstacle course, we cantered down the road and then trotted right into the cones course. She zipped around it like it was a piece of cake, not terribly fast but completely compliant and willing. She finished 2nd, and then we untacked for lunch and hung around, everyone commiserating about how hard and crazy the obstacle course was.

After lunch was a rather abbreviated XC course. Most of the property is currently underwater; the organizer had to change the location of the XC course and had it significantly shortened. I borrowed the owner of the carriage to ride with me, and O cruised around it like it was no problem, stopping obediently at each ribbon stop (we had to pick up a ribbon at checkpoints and then give these to the timer at the end). She did well, finishing 2nd and being extremely compliant - she listened to every command, everything I had to say. See what I mean? She is totally happy to listen and obey when she understands things - she is all about straightforward concepts. She is such a straightforward cut-and-dried kind of personality herself that I think she is just attracted to the same kinds of ideas - you go fast in a straight line here, you turn fast here. Simple, easy to understand, and completely clear. As soon as you get to nitpicking her, she doesn't take it well - too much sensory overload. Even a jointed metal snaffle is too much sensory overload for her - she needs her Happy Mouth mullen mouth, which is about as straightforward and simple of a concept as a bit can be. In anything else, she gets to rattling and clacking her bit, short-circuits herself, and takes off. I'm sensing a common theme here... 

So, it wasn't a *bad* show per se. The cones and the XC were of course fun, because O is good at those things and does them well. The obstacle course really was rough though. It was just as rough as the last time we attempted it. And I can't say it will be less rough the next time, if I choose to do the next Romp in the fall. (Although maybe I will have a moole to show next time!) To be completely honest the only reason I went to this one was because I am point chasing this year - I want Horse of the Year points, and this is a show that counted. We unfortunately probably were knocked back several pegs after this show, which kind of sucks. I've complained before about the organizer showing in her own shows, but of course she once again was Champion in our division at this show. Again. As usual. The only thing that made the placings less crummy is the fact that the Reserve in our division went to a lady who works really, really hard but has a difficult horse and she always gets beaten by us at every show. Today she beat us, and she looked like she was almost going to cry because she was so happy. The organizer doing all the organizing and then winning it all is annoying as usual, but the other lady getting Reserve gave me the warm fuzzies. I can totally get behind her beating us for once, because she really does deserve it. 

Next weekend we have a clinic, which I am really looking forward to. Then comes Pine Hill and immediately after is Stillwater! Holy crap time is flying by! 


  1. Sounds like a tough go. :(

    I wouldn't be inclined to do the obstacle course, even before hearing how O handled it.

    The way I see it, she enjoys driving. Better to skip the course and a few points than to make her start disliking what she's really good at.

    1. Totally agree. And next time I probably will do that!

    2. Also super excited for when the mules start going :) These might be right up Lendri's alley, since CDEs might be hard for her height

    3. You would be surprised what these tinies are capable of! I always am. At Sunrise Ridge our one and only Intermediate level competitor was a 32" mini! And he rocked it too. Some of them are so strong for their size!

  2. That obstacle course sounds challenging event from a mounted perspective, can't imagine it from a carriage. Sounds like you got a good read on O's feelings about it, and glad the rest went so much better!

  3. You're basically describing Pig here when you talk about O's brains short circuiting and needing time to cool off and reset. Sigh. This type of horse is SO good when they are good, and so crushingly disappointing when they can't mentally handle things. Kudos for you for working with her so well.

    I love the bit about the woman winning reserve. Back in Indiana, our show community was pretty close knit. I loved watching people I know worked hard get recognition at a show. That made the experience so worth it for me, no matter what kind of day I personally had. :)

  4. Aww that sucks about the obstacle course, but it is what it is. I hope it didn't set you back too far for horse of the year! I would love to see you and O win that.