Equine Affair - 2003

Riding CadWhat can I say. This is the most challenging environment possible. You might as well just ride your horse along the busiest major roadway you can find. Doing that should be a breeze compared to EA.

Allie PoseThat said, our horses were brilliant!!!! There we were amongst Olympic caliber riders and horses. Professional riders and horses. Our horses were the most soft, responsive and most of all connected horses on the place.

I arrived Friday night with Crackers and Cad to a cacophony of Mexican/Spanish loud music and a real Super Bowl type tailgate barbecue and 15 - 20 people at (not beside but at ) my barn door. Cad and Crackers peered out of their drop down windows with curiosity and interest calmly eat thing their hay whilst we unloaded the myriad of things one must take to these kinds of events. We needed to thread our way past the party to get to our stalls. Tam had followed in her van to help with the horses.

Cracker and Cad unloaded as nice as you please and we made our way to the stalls. They were calm and happy.

NikitaJulie and Sandy arrived with Allie and Nikita a short time later. I did not see them arrive and I'll let Julie tell this part. But, the way I got it was they got lost in the matrix of buildings and roads and made a wrong turn or maybe not a wrong turn. Everything looked so different one could drive by a place one had just been and not even know it. I understand Tam was jumping up and down waving to get Julie's attention while she talked to Bob on the phone with him saying STOP, stop now you are here!

We took the horses out for a short walk just before the Fantasia started. They were in their stalls when the Draft horses and carriages went thundering by. It sounded and felt like an earthquake. As long as we were there the horses, while nervous, took that in stride.

Later, after they rumbled by on their way back, Cad and I went out and practiced head-down amidst the hubbub of the returning performers.

Dinner was at a Friendly's which started out as not so friendly but we fixed that and had Ice Cream. We got back around 11:30PM and decided to take the horses out again. It was cold. So as we passed the main arena we thought it was a good opportunity to get them into the building for a minute. A very nice worker told us we could practice in the main arena until Midnight. So, we had an impromptu practice session. We told ourselves that it was very nice that our friends had built this big arena and placed all those chairs in it just for us. It really was like being at home.

Then, back to the stalls for the horses and back to the campers for us. Sleep was not yet a necessity or option so we chatted for another hour or so. I think we finally got to sleep around 1:30.

Up again at 7:00. Sandy had coffee waiting for us. I hear she drank 3 cups before we left for the barn. After chores we took the horses out separately for some well deserved grass and a stroll each person/horse team finding their own way.

We had our first organized practice at about 2:30 that day. We walked in a line, stopping several times to do head-down. We carried our mats. As we went past some large waving flags and Cad and crackers showed some concern. We plopped our mats on the ground and practiced standing there with heads down. In no time everyone happy and we proceeded to the doorway where we would wait to be let in the following day. Alex had said we might have to wait for awhile so we thought it was a good idea to practice that exercise. All the horses "stood on a mat" on the driveway between to exhibition halls while crowd of people passed by, ran up to us, asked questions. They were beautifully behaved. Alex took some pictures which I hope she will post on her website. It was quite a picture.

Then we trundled back to the farthest barn while traffic zoomed past us. Big diesel trucks, little carts, and oblivious cars drove past. Our guys never flinched.

Next, we practiced in our venue just before the building closed down. Our plan was to simply walk around the ring. But, since we had the time we lunged and shoulder-in'd and stood head down. We had no props for this practice. It went so well we decided to ride that night for practice in the main arena. This was to be the first riding of the weekend. So, we all went out to a wonderful place for dinner and chatted. We had Sarah B, Mary A, Alex, Ann, Tam, Kate, Julie, Sandy and me. Bob was tired so he napped and waited for us back at the venue.

11:00 PM the main area. Tam took our saddles and tack up to the arena. By this time it was freezing, word had it the temp was in the teens Fahrenheit. Well below 0 Celsius. Anyway you look at it, it was cold!

After Tam left with the tack, I realized that we did not have a mounting block so I snatched a muck bucket and carried it while I led Cad. Clicker trainers are sure not fancy on the expensive gear. Let's see: muck bucket mounting block, plain old web halters, Wal-mart lead lines and our tongues to click with. Now we do practice weight lifting with the treats we carry in our pockets.

Since we were so focused on our horses I cannot tell you what others did. I can only relate Cad's story. After a little ground work, I left him, no mat, standing in the arena about 20 feet from the rail were our tack was. There he stood while I made several trips to and from the rail to tack him up. Then, he stood by the muck bucket while I got on and waited patiently until I asked him to move off.

There was another horse in the arena practicing. I think it was a Gypsy horse doing traditional dressage and at times flying around the arena. I thought this might be of some concern to Cad. But, he never batted an eyelash. We walked and trotted. I was very proud of us as a team. 

Saturday night:

Alex filmed the practice so we of course had to watch the tape when we got back to the trailer. The most interesting thing was that when Cad or Nikita trotted by the camera you could hear no sound of their footsteps. When the Gypsy horse trotted by there were heavy thuds.

Off to sleep after a late night again with lots to think about.

Although it got very cold, we were comfy in our warm trailers. We were back up at 7:00 Sunday, the big day.

We planned two practices before the main event. One in the field and the other a second wait at the door. We had not practiced much for "wait at the door" so we thought that would be good to do.

The "field" practice was exciting because no sooner had we gotten under way than a herd of saddle-breds wild-eyed came trotting and cantering by. Allie remembered her old life style for a moment and threw her tail over her back and reared just a little in the "old ways". Julie was brilliant. She never forgot her tool kit, and dropped Allie's head to the ground by having her target her hand. Allie was Allie again.

Cad tensed and looked up but he also targeted my hand to the ground and it was over as quick at it came. Boy we are boring. It sure is fun to be boring!

We practiced standing at the doorway again until we were kicked out of that area. Lots of people, lots of questions.

While walking back, a person came up beside me and told me she had been following for awhile. She mentioned that she had never seen a horse so connected and so soft while being led before. I thought of the old Cadbury for a minute and smiled deeply and thanked her. I could feel a moment of tears. Cad was soft, he was connected and oh by the way, every once in a while he'd throw in a collected, whither lifted, on the hindquarter, head on the vertical, bent at the poll walk all on his own.

The main event:

You know, it is really anti-climactic. It was a simple practice session again. It was just a different ring, and a larger crowd. I almost think you need to hear this from a spectator perspective.

Dave, my husband, organized the toys and props. We had them so the crowd would see what we did and how we got there. We had mats for standing on, tarps, balls, mailboxes, basketball nets and hoola hoops to interact with. Dave also managed our out time. He told us when he would get there and when we should leave. Without him, we would have left too early.

We got to the area with about 5 minutes to go. We waited on our mats until Josh Lyons left and in we trooped. The plan was for us to carry our mats in and start by standing on the mat, head down until Alex spoke. This we did perfectly. Then we did our own thing. I can only relate the Cadbury story as I focused only him. There was nothing else. It was like a camera set to Macro focus. There was nothing else.

Cad was concerned a little but it never showed. He stood and walked over a tarp, stood on various targets, lunged in a circle in a self obtained frame. The big mailbox was in the corner and he targeted my hand to target touching the mailbox. He targeted the hoola hoop. He watched as Allie trotted by wearing a tarp.

One trip to a tarp piled high in a heap from being bunched up to pick up as an example by Alex met with what could have been disaster. I stepped Cad onto the pile and realized in might be a little dangerous to try and cross it. A leg might get tangled in tarp. So, carefully I stopped and asked him to back off of the tarp. The only problem with that was that the tarp stuck to his foot. There he was quietly taking one backward step at a time each time I asked with a tarp wrapped around one foot. It was like the old vision of someone who had stepped on paper with gum on his shoes. Wherever he went the paper stuck, in this case tarp, went. OK, I had to find a safe way to extricate ourselves. Cad's breath never changed. With a tarp stuck to his leg, he was completely unconcerned. So, I asked for one step forward and to the side. Whew! It did not come with us. Two more steps. It stayed, we could walk off the tarp.

Then I left him on a target mat in far side of the arena, and went to fill my pockets with treats as we were ready to ride. After I filled my pockets and clicked Cad, I re-targeted him the mat and left for my tack. My tack was about 20 feet away and it took 4 trips to get everything. On each trip back I put something on and left again. Cad never moved. We walked to the mounting block and I got on never touching the reins. Cad never moved. There we stood, just stood, for several minutes. "No unrequested forward"

Then off we went walking across leftover mats, tarps etc. The demo came into focus once in awhile as Alex would say something to us. "Find something you like and show the crowd how to click and treat from the saddle", Ask for a give, yield the hips and come to a stop. This is a one rein stop clicker style. Its soft, balanced and connected with no jarring of joints and ligaments. No need for protective boots.

None of these exercises are new. The WAY they are done is new. And, the light in the eyes is new. Once you have seen the light in the eyes, you will never give it up.

Dolores Arste