Friday, July 25, 2008

My Not to Shabby Abby- Part Three

Within the first few weeks of owning AbbyI developed quite the habit of mulling over her progress. Once a week I would make the hour and half hour drive across the border to watch her go under saddle and was always happy with what I saw. Over the passing weeks I noticed how little interest my trainer had in Abby and how much concern and affection her assistant Kari seemed to have for her. I had felt an affinity with Kari from the moment that we met. A blond haired, light skinned woman of about the same age as myself with a pretty face, easy smile and friendly manner that made me feel welcome when I arrived at the barn each week. She would call my mare, "Miss Abby" and often stroked her neck or give her a gentle rub as we spoke. I stopped thinking of the trainer as my trainer and started looking to Kari for updates on Abby's progress.

And Abby did just that, she progressed. Little by little, step by step, she softened. Kari stayed off her face and never once gave her something to worry about. She tried to make each new thing positive, gave her every opportunity to relax and kept the pressure level at a simmer. Not once did Abby take a step backwards in her training. Her feet still hit the ground hard enough that one could hear her loping from a mile away but she was showing less and less anxiety. Never one to hide her feelings, Abby would flap her mouth (or talk as I call it) or she'd bite down on the bit hard enough that her mouth would appear to be set in a grin. If pushed past her comfort level she would develop a very huffy style of breathing and would grunt with each stride. Using body language, she'd keep up a running commentary on her current state of mind.

About a week into her training Kari had given Abby a full body clip to remove the thick winter jacket she had arrived in. The deep russet of her chestnut coat peeled way to a soft apricot fuzz and the true shape of her body was revealed. Her sleek new look showed off the fineness of her throat latch, the cute shape of her face and eye and showed off the fattest arse you have ever seen on a horse! We also discovered that there was not a square inch of her flank and girth area that was not pockmarked with a rowel scars. I wondered at the forgiving nature of these animals. Abby was soft, sweet and willing but it certainly appeared that she had every reason not to be.

Over the next two months Abby developed body control and started to turn around a little. Her head set came down a notch at a time and leveled out around her wither. The trainer felt that Abby's weakest maneuver would be her lead changes because she lacked coordination. She also felt that Abby would be unable to turn around well due to the fact that she was too wide in her chest to get around herself. Three months later Abby could change leads at any point in a circle and while her turn arounds were slow to improve, her roll backs were the tightest and snappiest in the barn. She clearly could get around herself, just fine. Abby's movement had improved by leaps and bounds but was still way to tight jointed and hard footed to be called pretty. Kari started asking her to push up into the bridle and Abby stepped up willingly.

All was going well except for one thing. When Kari would sit down and say "the word" (that would be "whoa" to all you non-reiners) Abby would, in mid stride, straighten all four feet at once and then nearly fold in half before hitting the ground in what can only be described as a splat! "I damn near burst my ovaries on that one!", Kari would exclaim with a smile. Eventually Kari managed to get Abby to actually bend her hocks in her stop, which may have proved a relief to Kari's back but did little to make Abby's stops any less painful to watch.

After only four months of training Abby finally started to look like a reiner. She had slow, basic and correct turn arounds; Pretty and low headed small slow circles; Auto lead changes; and some wickedly tight roll backs. Her large fast circles were still slow and her stops were still inconsistent, deep and stiff up front but she could run a pattern and do all the parts.

I couldn't have been happier with Kari. She seemed so tuned in to my little mare and personally invested in helping her past every hurdle. To this point Kari's ability to read Abby had been our greatest asset. One week I came down and for the first time noticed that Abby appeared to be loosing interest. She no longer seemed to be as engaged as she once was and I wondered if maybe she had finally become so relaxed and comfortable, that she was actually a little bored! I decided to talk to Kari about it.

The last thing in the world I wanted was for Kari to think I didn't appreciate how caring and dedicated she had been in getting Abby over the mental blocks she had started with. We had both focused for so hard and so long on giving Abby the confidence she needed that we maybe didnt catch the exact moment that it had finally happened. Kari had done her job well- Abby was confident and ready to kick it up a notch. The next week, after watching her go around a few times, I brought my thoughts to Kari and asked her if she would try picking up the pressure level and start getting into her a little more. Kari was all for it. She loped Abby off and put her through her paces with gusto....and....

Abby stepped up. Big time. She ate up everything Kari threw at her and then some. She stunned us both with her speed and agility. Kari didn't step a hair out of line, she simply asked Abby to go harder and faster in one step than she ever had before. When Kari rode back to where I was standing I was tried not to smile as I said, "Jesus Kari, I told you get into her not to kill her!" Kari's face fell as the color instantly rose into her cheeks. I had been joking, of course, but she had missed the sarcasm in my voice and thought I was being serious. I felt horrible and apologized profusely. I really can be such an ass! She laughed it off but I could see she was worried that there was a little truth in my tease. I left that day and wondered how thing would be between us next week. I shouldnt have worried. Despite what anyone else said, Kari never once doubted the potential of the horse she was sitting on.
Meanwhile, I mulled over the sneak peak I had gotten of Abby. There was a hell of a lot of horse in there yet to be unleashed. Kari had given Abby the confidence in herself and in her rider to finally let go of her inhibitions and begin to blossom in earnest. We were nearly five months into what was suppose to be a three month commitment and I had yet to so much as sit on my brand new horse! I was worried and started to wonder if I had lost focus. While I was taking lessons on a schooling horse, it seemed that in my eagerness to see the promise of Abby's breeding come to fruition I had stopped looking at her as my future mount. Was she ever going to be something that I could use? And so, I continued to mull over Abby.

To be continued.


  1. I truly believe that some people and horse just don't "click", they don't get along for whatever reasons. Just like some people don't get along for what really seems like no good reason.

    Reining question: if a horse does something correctly, for example a spin, but without a lot of speed, do you lose points? (or marks, whatever they're called) I know you are judged on each individual manuever of the pattern. But if something is executed correctly, just missing a little "flash" such as a higher speed spin or a longer slide to the stop; do you get docked?

  2. Cnd- I agree about horses and riders either fitting or not. I do appreciate though that most successful trainers dont have time to give a hore the benefit of the doubt. They have to work with the ones that they feel has the most promise. I actually respect the trainers decision with Abby, she was totally honest in every respect and was concerned that I was stayed focused on working towards my own goals. The only thing I found disappointing was that she didnt tell me that she was not riding my horse at all and that Kari was doing everything on her. But that worked out being in my best interest so I can hardly complain.

    I tried to write out how the scoring of reining works but it is pretty involved. Here is a link that explains the basics. The bottom line is that if you do something correctly and as it stipulates in the rule book you will not get plused or minused any points. You get a zero. If you do it better and faster than average with more style while remaining entirely correct, you can plus anywhere from 1/2 to 1 and half. If you do something incorrectly like slowing down half way through or stopping a quarter of a turn off where you were suppose to, you can get marked down by up to 1 and a half points. When you walk in the arena you have a score of 70. Everything you do after that is marked plus or minus from that number. There is a definitive correct and incorrect way of doing each maneuver and how you transition into each. Basically every step you take in a pattern is judged, not just the turn arounds, stops or lead changes. Your transition from fast to slow circles, your lead departures, you run downs, the way you build speed in a large fast circle, it is all judged and there is a correct, an incorrect way of doing each. You have less opportunities to plus things in your pattern than you do to be deducted points. I personally feel that most reiners dont understand the scoring system of reining very well. I dont see how you can excel when you dont even know what the objective is. But, thats just me. I have sat for hour and hours at shows trying to get the scores I tally to match up with what the judges call in the end. If you cant recognize a good pattern when you see it, how are you going to execute one?

  3. That sums it up pretty well. Even more surprising... its also pretty much on track with what I had thought! I have read the odd bit here and there about reining, so that I was that close to understanding the scoring surprised me. lol

    I agree, if you're going to compete you should at least know what's expected. ESPECIALLY in a scored event!