I took a trip up to the Midwest Horse Fair (my first time attending) to see my riding instructor’s trick riding drill team perform. She rides with the Midwest Renegades. Wow is all I can say about trick riding. Most people would be happy if they stayed in the saddle, but the trick riders have all kinds of fancy moves that have them dangling from special straps, doing shoulder stands off the saddle, and vaulting off and back on their horses WHILE GALLOPING in patterns.
They weren’t performing until later in the day, so I was able to check out a bunch of other sessions that were going on around the Fair. I caught most of Jessica Blair/Madison Macdonald’s session on trick riding, which was nice since I know next to nothing about trick riding and they demonstrated basics and talked about how it’s usually done. They also had 10-year old Jess with them whose trick riding skills were pretty amazing already and she and her gypsy pony flew around the arena. I think 10 is actually a better time to learn some of those skills – while you are still small, light, and flexible. Impressive. One of the things they mentioned was training their horses to run a pattern so that they could focus on their tricks and safety rather than horse control. And trick riders generally perform one person at a time. This was not at all true for the Renegades who performed with 10 or 12 (I was so busy being amazed I forgot to count) women on horseback who had CHOREOGRAPHY of their horses to orchestrate as well as any tricks they were performing. And they encouraged lots of cheering and clapping as they rode around. Their horses must be bomb proof.
I also saw Stacey Westfall do a training session with a severely uptight horse who could not relax. He was so anxious and stiff, you could just feel nervous energy radiating off of him. Stacey spent a long time just irritating him into paying attention to her, which is what I do to my rabbits, so I can now say this is a valid “training method.” I’m not sure why he was so uptight – his owner/rider said he is ALWAYS like this. He was somewhat calmer after Stacey worked with him for awhile – getting him to walk around a terrifying hula hoop, and having him lunge in circles around her to wear off some of that energy. He seemed to really want to please her, but was super terrified of not giving her the right answer, or maybe it was more that he just dreaded the whole exercise completely and couldn’t wait for it to be over. But, Stacey showed that underneath some of that stiffness and poor emotional control was a very smart horse who had the potential to be very trainable, but his owner is going to have to do some hard work getting him to trust her and be comfortable with both her and in his own skin.
I caught part of Guy Mclean’s (Australian equine entertainer/trainer/bush poet!) work with a young horse who had never been worked or ridden before. He spent an hour getting the young horse comfortable with saddle and bridle and doing some groundwork with him to establish trust and boundaries – a lot of this involves lunging the horse and using body language and touch to get him to move in certain ways (away, toward, in circles, at different gaits). It’s a warm up of sorts for the things he intends to ask of the horse when he gets into the saddle. Really fascinating to watch and Guy has a great sense of humor and attitude – he manages to be present for the horse and the audience at the same time in a calm and relaxed way. It’s no wonder that his horses love and trust him. I got to see his more performance-based session with his team of horses where he rides a “stock” horse and the other 4 are “at liberty” without any saddles, bridles, or other means of controlling them. Guy uses his body language, a long whip (which he only uses to touch them, not to hit or strike), and his mount to get them to line up and run with him. He’s also able to get individuals to sit and lay down and remain still while he has his mount sidle sideways over them. It’s some pretty amazing control. He WAS able to ride for a few minutes at the end of the hour and nothing terrifying happened. The horse he’d been training seemed a little nervous about this new thing, but accepted Guy so quickly. The continued training of this young horse will be featured in 2 other sessions Guy is doing this weekend. One of the things I really liked about Guy was how he views the horses he works with – they are his family. He said he had always loved horses, but when he considered careers he found he preferred the entertainment circuit (even though he didn’t really have the showman personality) because it meant that he got to keep all the horses he trained with him and continue to love them as family. Training other people’s horses meant he had to give them up eventually.
There were/are a bunch of other big names in the horse world on the schedule for this weekend. I probably should have done more research beforehand! But I really enjoyed the sessions I mentioned above. Also, it was interesting to watch other people ride and see what corrections their instructors gave them (during some of the clinics) and realize that they have a lot of the same problems I do, and know that my riding isn’t completely broken. Cuz, you know, sometimes I wonder.