Planning For Your Show Day…

The farm didn’t get the business that was needed to keep it going so I put it back on the market for sale. So, it looks like there will be more changes in store for me this coming year. I like to think of it as Tiny House Living, horse style. Hey, if life gives you lemons you make the best dang lemon marguerita you can possibly make, right?

While change is never easy, I am looking forward to downsizing and having more time and money to focus on my own horses and compete more when things settle down. For years I’ve been a jack of all trades, going and doing so many things. I’d like to narrow my focus, be more selective about where and who I spend my time on, and just see where that leads. While selling the farm is the end of a dream in one sense, it’s freeing and the start of an ultimate dream in another. I’m looking forward to what the year will hold.

NBHA Barrel Race

NBHA Barrel Race

Since I’ve been thinking more about competing and the coming show season, I thought I’d share some tips for showing that I’ve learned first hand, sometimes the hard way, the last few years.

The first tip, and one that I think is probably the most important is in regards to food. Food has an impact on how you think, how you react, how well you focus and yet it’s one of the most under-rated elements of competition.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to help someone not be as nervous about showing and when food is mentioned they say, “Well, I don’t need to eat. I’m too nervous to eat.” People just don’t think it makes that much of a difference but it absolutely can mean the difference between a good run and a poor run. We plan our horse’s nutrition, especially if they’re in a high performance event. Why wouldn’t we do the same thing for ourselves?

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

The effects of food on the body can last longer than we realize. If you’re wanting to eat better for a show day, you’ll want to start at least a couple of days early. This will allow some extra time to get the bad food out of your system, and will allow your body to adjust to the better food.

I always eat turkey an hour to thirty minutes before I compete. The protein fuels my brain and muscles so I can think and react. Turkey is also a natural source of Tryptophan which has a calming effect on the body so it helps with nerves.

I also make sure I eat some source of protein every couple of hours the entire show day. This helps keep my sugar levels regulated so I can think clearly and not get nervous. If I’m the least bit nervous, my horse will feel it and will react, so the more clear my thinking and the calmer I am the better my horse will behave and perform.

Another thing that I do is load up on water a couple of days before a show. It’s easy to not drink enough during the show day. Dehydration can wreak havoc on your mind and your reaction time just like food. The more you load up on water the day before, the less likely you’ll be to get dehydrated if you’re not drinking as much as you should. A hydrated mind is a clear mind.

Because of the sugar levels in sports drinks, I try to drink mostly water. If I must have something besides water, I’ll drink Powerade Zero that has zero sugar. I’m not necessarily a big fan of the chemicals, but it does have some needed electrolytes. You can also carry lemon water, or some of the sugar-free drink flavorings. Just be sure to read the label to know what you’re ingesting.

Barrel racing in January

Barrel racing in January

Sleep is another thing that can really impact your performance in the saddle. Make sure you get at least seven to eight hours of shut-eye the night before. If you know you’re not going to be able to sleep because you’re thinking about showing too much, give yourself a couple of extra hours to allow for tossing and turning.

Another tip is to take some quiet time the day before and the day of your show. Take the time to just be still and think about what you need to do and what is important. Don’t let your head run wild with fear scenarios. Plan your day and your strategy, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Connect with your goals.

This year has a lot of uncertainty and changes, but the one thing I can do is control is my own mindset, and how I prepare for when it’s finally time to step in the ring and do what I love to do best. The better mindset I have and the better I set myself up, the better chances I’ll have at enjoying my show day.

When it comes to competing, what are some of your fears? What do you think you do to contribute to those fears? How can you change your routine to lessen your fears? What is your strategy for the coming show year?

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The Low Expectations Strategy

LOW EXPECTATIONS…

Springtime is here and show season has begun!

It’s a time to drag and rotate pastures in preparation for summer grass.

It’s also a time to get ready for the first horse show of the year.

It’s also a good time to assess your goals for the year, and your mindset. What are your goals as a rider? What are your goals for your horse? What are you goals for the show season? And, the big question is do all three of those goals align?

I’ll be honest, I’d absolutely love to run down the alley way at the Thomas and Mack arena at the NFR, or run a cow down the rail at the AQHA World, or jump a course at the Longines FEI World Cup. Actually, I’d love to do all three, but if i start my show season off thinking we’ll be hitting that level by the end the year, I’m going to be sorely disappointed!

The pattern at the State finals. Ground was awesome!

The pattern at the State finals. Ground was awesome!

Joel Sherlin who trained NBHA World Champion and RFD-TV American Semi-Finalist (2014), Bully By Design, has a saying that goes a long ways when it comes to riding horses and horse shows. Joel, who lives in Athens, Tennessee, is as down to earth as they get even though he’s somewhat of a local legend for his uncanny training ability and funny stories that all come from personal experience of course! His saying is, “Low expectations.”

"Team Blowout"!

“Team Blowout”!

You see, just like any great horseman that’s learned from experience, Joel knows you can have the best plans in the world and the biggest dreams, and sometimes things just happen that are out of your control. For instance, you’re riding a colt at a big show and he spooks at the flash on a camera as you’re making your way along the rail and you blow your class. Or maybe you’re riding a horse that’s been hauled a lot but they spook at the second barrel when the wind flaps a banner on the rail. It happens. The key is to not let it deter you from moving forward in your goals.

I’ve hauled with Joel and his wife Nancy quite a bit and I try to learn all I can about this “Low Expectations” strategy. Obviously with their track record and number of great horses they’ve turned out, there’s something to it!

We stayed in the Sherlin's trailer known as "The Double OO". It's famous!

We stayed in the Sherlin’s trailer known as “The Double OO”. It’s famous!

“Low Exepctations” is really a change in mindset that’s usually brought on by the school of hard knocks – sometimes literally – and disappointments. It’s a learning experience.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that when you ride horses that have issues or need some training, you learn very quickly to appreciate the little things. For instance, if you a haul your horse to it’s first show and you stay on, it’s been a good day – never mind you didn’t even place! That’s “Low Expectations” in action right there.

Bubba earned me THE black ribbon for the horse show for his horrendous go in Trail. The following year he won me an All Round for the day!

Bubba earned me THE black ribbon for the horse show for his horrendous go in Trail. The following year he won me an All Round for the day!

When you’re starting a new discipline, or your new to riding in general, it’s the same thing. If you get in your class and you remember your pattern, or you make it around all three barrels still in the saddle, then you’ve had a good ride! Again, “Low Expectations”.

By now, you see where I’m going with this.

Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at where you’re at and what your base struggles are. Do you have trouble getting a lead? Does your horse struggle loping small circles? Do your horse spook every time you go into an indoor arena? Those are the simple things you can focus on now. Fixing foundational problems such as these will lead to much bigger successes later on.

The same thing goes for us a riders. What are some of the things that you struggle with as a rider? Maybe you struggle with getting the correct diagonal at the trot, or being in time over a jump. Perhaps it’s getting left behind when you come out of a barrel headed to the next one, or just not being intimidated with speed. When you break it down, all of these things really relate to strength and balance. Just like working on foundational issues with your horse, you can work on the basic issues as a rider and improve your ability over time.

As riders, we always tend to look at the end picture. What we don’t realize is that it’s all the little things that eventually produce the final success, and that’s a side effect of having a “Low Expectations” mentality. Work on those small things a little at time and eventually they all add up.

If you could do anything with your horse, what would it be? What are some simple things you can do today to improve you and your horse, and implement a “Low Expectations” strategy?

Fireman at Ft. Smith futurity year

Fireman at Ft. Smith futurity year

 

 

Tough Horses Make Good Horsemen

A few days will mark the one year anniversary of Cowgirls With Curves!

It’s been a great year and what started out as simple blog has turned into a wonderful journey for me too as not only a writer and horseman, but as a woman as well. I want to say a special “Thank You” to all the followers out there. You’ve been such an encouragement and you’ve shown me what this is really all about — encouraging other riders and making a difference.

I’ve spent the winter doing the bare minimum and packing on a few pounds. Bad news is that I put on 6 pounds of that 20 pounds I lost last year. The good news is I’m still 14 pounds lighter than this time last year – so I consider it a bit of a success!

With show season right around the corner, I’m starting to feel the itch of riding more and warmer days. I’ve always said there’s nothing like a colt or green horse to make me start working out. The last couple of years, I’ve not had to worry about that too much. This year is a little different!

Back in December, Willie Kamps came to farm to live. Willie is an interesting horse. He’d been ridden by a kid, and I believe even roped on. I hauled him some last year to a few barrel races and even a sorting. Although he was easy to put where you needed him when it came to tracking cows, he still had a few gaps.

For instance, we sat a friend’s helmet on a barrel when she was done riding. I went to go around that barrel a few minutes later, thinking nothing of it since we’d worked around it a few times already, and suddenly it became a fire-breathing dragon we couldn’t get within ten feet of!

Although he’s a bit calmer in the arena, he’s a completely different horse out in an open field by himself. He’s got a lot more energy and is constantly looking for things to spook and bolt at. You’d better have your heels down or you’ll easily be left behind!

I also have an off the track retire thoroughbred, Dynamic Host, that I’ll be re-schooling as well as an eventing prospect. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of similarities between he and Willie Kamps when it comes time to ride out in the field!

While some folks steer clear of horses like that, I tend to love a good challenge. I also see them as an incentive to get stronger, in addition to an opportunity to improve as a horseman. Becoming a better horseman is important to me.

Having two tough horses to ride and train and train – in two different disciplines – this year is most definitely enough of a reason to get me up a little earlier. I’m getting older and I don’t like to hit the ground — the best way to avoid hitting the ground is to get strong and balanced!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what inspires and encourages you. What is it that makes you want to get stronger? What is it that makes you want to become a better rider?

Winter Hibernation

file000107589351The cold, wet and gray days, along with less hours of sunlight have taken their hold on me. I’m in hibernation mode where all I want to do is sleep and eat!

This happens every year, and every fall I fight it saying to myself, “I’ll do better this year. I’m going to ride all winter, go to some shows and just keep chugging right along. I am NOT going to be lazy this year.”

Well,  you know what? I have failed again this year! With a new horse in the barn, and another sale prospect on the way, the guilt of riding less and eating more gets pretty heavy sometimes. I know I should be riding, eating better, working out, writing more, etc, etc etc… But I don’t.

While I do battle those twinges of guilt, at the same time I know that my horses and myself really do need a break. It does them good to just be a horse for a while, and they usually come back fresh minded and ready to work.

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It’s not uncommon for colts to get their first few rides in the fall and then get a break all winter with riding resuming in the spring. Many trainers believe that colts benefit from having that long winter break. I believe that’s true with colts and mature horses alike, especially if you’ve worked them pretty hard or hauled a good bit throughout the year.

Depending on weather and motivation, as well as the horse themselves, I’ll still do a little ground work throughout the winter. For instance, the OTTB we have gets some ground work once or twice a week, and sometimes I’ll do some ground work as I’m turning him out just to keep him tuned. He tends to get a little cranky if he’s not handled on a regular basis.

The same goes for me. By early spring, I’m ready to start riding and hauling and looking forward to the coming show season. As the say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and being away for a while from the hustle and bustle of going down the road makes me ready to haul again when the weather breaks.

As far as working out, although I do cut back quite a bit I don’t quit completely. I’ve found that the less I move, the more achy I get. So I still try to incorporate at least few weekly core exercises to keep me feeling better. At least that way I don’t turn into a total couch potato, and that’s less conditioning I have to do in the spring as well.

There have been years I’ve ridden all winter. Years where I body clipped and blanketed, rode in the dark, and lunged at 4am in the mornings just to get a horse ready for an early season show. I would most definitely do it again, if there was a show I really wanted to go to. However, that’s just not the case this year.

While I’ll still struggle some with those twinges of things I think I should be doing just because, I’m not going not focus on it too much. I figure my body is telling me I need a break physically and mentally. Besides, life is too short to beat yourself up too much. Really, it is.

So what mode are you in for winter? Are you riding or taking a break?

Barrel racing in January

Barrel racing in January

 

 

The Days Are Getting Shorter…

Being the horse girl that I am, I can’t post without sharing the latest horse news!

Beavis, the young Dash For Perks barrel prospect that I posted about last time, is back home at the Sherlin farm where he’s being used for riding lessons. The horseman in me wouldn’t let him go back until I got one last decent run actually around all three barrels. So we ended on a good note and I feel truly blessed to have gotten to borrow such a terrific young horse to ride. Lots of great lessons learned!

My mom & me with Beavis in the barns

My mom & me with Beavis in the barns

At the end of September, I wound up with Dynamic Host, aka “Louie” thanks to Prancing Pony Farm owned by Julie & Justina Faunt in Riceville, Tennessee. He’s a 17.1 hand, 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding by Dynaformer. Dynamic Host won the Tokyo City Cup while in training with Art Sherman who trained California Chrome. I’ll be putting some foundational training on him as an Eventing Prospect so it looks like I’ll be pulling those breeches back out that haven’t seen the light of day in several years!

With an added horse that’s big and needs a lot of training, and days that are getting shorter, I’ve been thinking a lot about time management and how to save time. With a 45 minute commute to a full-time job, giving lessons, and 9 head of horses – 6 are stalled – my days are always full.

My husband has to be at work at 5am so most mornings I’m up at anywhere from 3:30 to 4am. The mornings are usually when I’m catching up on social media and book promotion. Sometimes I’ll get in some writing. That’s also when I fix my lunch, get in a real quick work out, and fit in my prayer time. If I’m really industrious, I might even throw in a load of laundry or unload the dishwasher! Then I’ll start feeding and cleaning stalls, which normally takes about an hour to an hour and half – it depends on whether or not everyone cooperates coming in! Donkeys can be cantankerous at times!

On the days that I don’t get up early, not only do I not get as much done, I also feel like I’m running behind. So getting up at least a little earlier not only helps me accomplish more, it also helps to keep me more focused and prepared.

Doing all my barn chores in the morning is a critical piece  of the day as well. Sometimes my husband will pick stalls in the evenings but most of the time I’ll pick stalls and spread manure in the mornings. This frees up my time in the evenings to ride.

I also try to prep in the mornings for the evening feeding as much as I can. I feed soaked cubes and beet pulp before evening turnout so I’ll pre-load the feed tub with the dry cubes so only water has to be added. I’ll also mix feed for any horses that get special feed.

I do my feeding out of a wheelbarrow — that wheelbarrow was the best investment ever! Instead of making multiple feed trips to the feed room, I can just load up and dump feed as I go down the hallway. This saves a ton of time!

I usually don’t get home from work until a little after 6pm, at which time I’ll quickly get in a few updates for the social media pages before I start working horses or give a lesson. I’ve learned to give myself a time limit on the evening updates and usually try to keep it at around fifteen minutes. Otherwise, I’ll spend too much time on that and not get my riding done!

Horses learn by repetition. So even if they’re only learning something for ten minutes, if they do it the same way three times they’ve usually got it. Over the years, I’ve learned you can accomplish a lot of long-term training  in short intervals, which works great for people who are busy, or if you’re like me and have a lot of horses to work. Those short sessions over time add up if you’re consistent with what you’re doing.

I try not to do long marathon sessions with a horse. I’ll set a goal for the ride and the second that horse meets it, we’ll quit and either take a little trail ride around the pasture for conditioning, or we’ll quit for the day. Not only does that save on time, but it gives me a better chance of ending on a good note with my horse.

There are three tools that I use as time savers for working horses – ponying, lunging & ground work, and riding bareback. All three of those allow me to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time:

  • Ponying not only allows me to condition two horses at once, it also helps them to learn to traffic, and work on their reining skills.
  • Lunging is more than just getting the edge off of a horse. You can work on things like balance with transitions, speed control, and just paying better attention. Working on lateral movements from the ground can definitely help improve the lateral responses you get under saddle.
  • Riding bareback saves a lot of time because you don’t have to tack up. You’ll also improve your riding and your horse’s responsiveness.
Trailer load demo at Circle C Cowboy Church colt starting competition and clinic 2011.

Trailer load demo at Circle C Cowboy Church colt starting competition and clinic 2011.

Getting up early, preparing ahead of time, and maximizing your ride time can all help you to be efficient in working with your horses.

What are the special things you do to help save time and be more effective with your horse? What are the things that you struggle with?

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Enjoy The Journey

I just returned from the Tennessee NBHA State Finals in Franklin, Tennessee. Although I’m wore slap out, and we didn’t have the perfect runs, I had a wonderful time.

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I can’t go any further without giving some extra kudos to our NBHA State Director, Kenny Lane. Putting on a show of any caliber is an extremely hard job as people like to complain, and there’s a large amount of money that comes out of your own pocket with the hopes that you’ll make at least some of it back. Even in the midst of catty comments made about needing some extra help covering the $500 a day air conditioning expense, Kenny was gracious and put on a terrific show that was well run and had plenty of added money and prizes. The ground held beautifully, the holding area set up was very efficient and safe, and the alleyway was long enough to get a horse stopped. The air was cranked up too so we were all cool, which was a real treat considering most of our shows are either outside or in an arena without air conditioning! Plus, my mom came to see me ride and she never would have lasted if it hadn’t been that cool. Good job Kenny!

My mom & me with Beavis in the barns

My mom & me with Beavis in the barns

My barrel horse, Fireman, has been going through some corrective shoeing since spring. I had hoped he would be ready by the State finals but unfortunately he wasn’t. I had another horse that I’d hoped would be a possibility as he has a ton of potential but by mid-summer it was evident that he wouldn’t be ready in time either.

So, in August I borrowed a Dash For Perks bred gelding that was a sale prospect from my farrier and friends, Joel and Nancy Sherlin of Athens, Tennessee. Having bought a couple of horses from them and having ridden with them a good bit, I knew anything they had would have a phenomenal foundation. Their horses are light and effortless to ride.

I started riding “Beavis” at the end of July. He’d been used for lessons on their farm and had been running a good pattern in their pen. The catch? He was only four and had never been hauled…anywhere!

My goals for the State finals suddenly changed! They went from having a good time and drawing a check to challenging myself even more as a rider and helping a horse get some seasoning so he’s more marketable. It wasn’t about winning anymore.

In the weeks that led up to the State finals, there were more times that I can count that I felt like a complete idiot riding Beavis. Having broke a lot of colts, and shown in everything from hunter and western pleasure to trail, I tend to be a pretty quiet rider most of the time but there were times I couldn’t even get Beavis to the first and second barrel-and it was MY fault for picking up too much or not using enough leg!

It wasn’t the horse – I needed to step it up as a rider. I begin to doubt if I was cut out for barrels, thought maybe I needed to quit barrels and just pursue those things that I’ve already done well at. There were plenty of crying, snotting, mental breakdowns right in the practice pen. There’s nothing like a tough to ride horse to make you doubt your ability, or to show you the truth.

Quite frankly, as I was hauling a green horse, I wasn’t sure what to expect as our trip didn’t start off well. Then again, every trip that’s memorable has to have a story to tell, right?

The first hiccup was that as soon as we reached the interstate, one lane was shut down and we had to take a detour. Then we barely made it to the next county before we had a blow out… and my husband broke Joel’s lug nuts on the tire and then hit himself in the jaw with the wrench! That story will be around for YEARS!

"Team Blowout"!

“Team Blowout”!

We stayed in the Sherlin's trailer known as "The Double OO". It's famous!

We stayed in the Sherlin’s trailer known as “The Double OO”. It’s famous!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, when we pulled Beavis out of the trailer his nose was four times bigger than it should have been, and he was swollen clear up to between his jaws. We suspected he’d been stung by a wasp in the trailer. Fortunately, a few hours later he was back to normal.

The State show was Beavis’ fourth show, his first long over night trip, and his very first indoor pen. I’ve taken a lot of young and seasoned horses on their first trip to an indoor and had many that couldn’t make a full lap around the pen. On his very first trip into the arena, Beavis didn’t hesitate or spook, and did whatever I asked him to do. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.

The pattern at the State finals. Ground was awesome!

The pattern at the State finals. Ground was awesome!

Although our runs weren’t perfect, with the exception of the last Sweepstakes run, we made every barrel, improved our time every go, and he ran harder than we ever have so far. Our very last Sweepstakes run was a disaster but it was completely my fault and wound up being a learning opportunity in the end.

At the end of the weekend, instead of choosing to focus on our slow times, wide turns, or that last disastrous Sweepstakes run, I chose to focus on the positives and the lessons learned. I had ridden a young green horse that had never even seen an indoor arena that ran down the alley way without any hesitation and did exactly whatever I asked. He’d worked well, ran hard, and had been an absolute dream to haul and because of that he was going to make an awesome youth horse some day. That’s what mattered.

I also learned the value of eating well. You see, prior to every run but the last one, I had made it a priority to eat a good source of protein to make sure I was focused and thinking clearly – and it worked! The last run I didn’t do that because I didn’t want to take the time. As a result, I wasn’t focused and paying attention and it most definitely effected my ride.

Another lesson I was reminded of was the value of close friends and good times. I won’t ever forget that this race was the first time my mom ever saw me ride, let alone run, and all the memories of the weekend.

Beavis was hungry!

Beavis was hungry!

It’s hard to imagine as I look out the window at Beavis grazing with my mares, that just a few weeks ago I was ready to shut the door on barrel racing and instead focus on something I’m already decent at. I’ve shed a lot of tears, and still have a ton of work to do to improve but I know in the long run Beavis will make me a better rider and he’ll make an even better youth horse for it.

Beavis did say he was wore out!

Beavis did say he was wore out!

 

 

Just A Few Minutes

Is your horse getting enough time from you?

With working and taking care of family, sometimes spending time with your horses takes a back seat. Sometimes you feel as though you’re lucky just to get them fed and turned out all in one piece. The thought of catching, grooming, saddling and riding is just too daunting a task.

Toad tied out at a barrel race.

Toad tied out at a barrel race. This is one horse that I’ve done these exercises on a lot!

Fortunately, there are things you can implement into your daily routine that will help you and your horse stay tuned up even though you may not get a chance to ride. The best part is that it only takes a couple of minutes every day to see a big difference in how your horse responds.

Most likely you have the same routine every time you feed and/or turn out your horse. You do the same thing every time you do your chores. The good news is that horses learn by repetition and you can use your routine to make a difference in your horse and not spend that much time.

For instance, every time you go to feed your horse you can ask them to move over or do a side pass before you give them their feed. This only takes a couple of seconds to do, but when it’s done every day the benefits add up.

Another exercise that I implement into my daily routine is moving my horse’s hips and shoulders over while they’re eating. I’m not quite sure why, but there’s something about working with a horse while they’re eating that helps them to learn quicker. Again, it only takes a few seconds to do but  you’ll see a huge improvement in the lightness of your horse.

If your horse is grumpy while they’re eating, then you definitely want to spend the time working on your horse while they’re eating. Not only is it a chance to bond with your horse, but it’s also an opportunity to address respect issues that may not come up any other time.

Turn out time is an excellent opportunity to get your horse moving their shoulders and hips. Instead of pushing your horse over like you did during feed time, you can work on getting your horse to move without having to touch them. You can also work on flexing and getting your horse to give side to side through their face. With time, you can get your horse extremely light and that will most certainly translate to under saddle.

When you’re leading your horse in our out, instead of just going straight to the pasture or barn, take a couple of minutes to move the hips or shoulders.Ask them to move the shoulders and then quit – make sure you quit on a good note.

It only takes a minute or two, five at most, to implement these exercises into your daily routine. Not only will your horse get some much-needed interaction, but because you’re doing it every day and it’s repetitive, your horse will catch on quickly and improve.

Done with our ride.

Done with our ride.