Friday, May 23, 2003

Clinic Daze, Day One
Wildflower and I had already been a participating team in a Level One clinic, so I pretty much thought it was old hat. Wildflower, however, had other ideas. That first morning at Bruce Logan's Level One clinic was a real test of my mettle and it deep-sixed my confidence in my abilities as a horsewoman because my typically angelic equine turned into a whinnying wiggly mess the moment we entered the arena with the other 11 horses. Nothing that I knew to try was successful in regaining her attention.

So the first three or four hours after bringing in our horses felt like a complete waste because I couldn't get her attention nor could I pay attention to what Bruce was teaching on other horses because she was so jiggy she was trying to run me over. It was like being in the grocery store with a hyperactive toddler in the middle of a temper tantrum or one who's running all over hell distracting everyone.

When we broke for lunch, I almost went into the bathroom and cried. She was so awesome in the days prior, when we went through all the assessment tasks and practiced, and now it looked like neither one of us had ever seen PNH. It kind of pissed me off because we needed help on our FQ yields and I couldn't get her settled long enough to work on them.

But during lunch, Nicole helped me analyze the problem and I regained my confidence when I realized I just had to wake her up, do whatever it takes. I went back determined to get her to lock on that afternoon.

One of the first games we played after lunch was a driving/follow-the-feel game where we focus on a point across the arena and ask our horses to follow our lead and walk with us... then we suddenly stop and flap our elbows like doing the Funky Chicken and start walking backward. The object is to get the horse to respond by immediately backing off when we flap our arms. It's a safety device. If you're leading your horse and an emergency happens, they might otherwise run you over in an attempt to protect themselves, so the Funky Chicken is a maneuver designed to teach the horse to back off! right now! in case of emergency.

The first time across, I stopped and flapped and ran right into WF. She was not impressed. Bruce suggested if she doesn't back up after a couple flaps, use the carrot stick for emphasis (tap her in the chest until she backs up). The second time I did. She had two or three nice flaps as opportunities to move, didn't, so THWAP!!! and she backed up with a surprised look. I rubbed her and rubbed her, then we tried again. This time, when I stopped and flapped, she was already backing up.

And suddenly, she was very much awake and listening. AHA! I found the key!

The rest of the day went pretty well from then on. By the end of the evening, WF was tuned in completely and we looked a lot better.

Clinic, Day Two
The next morning, on the way into the arena, I used the Funky Chicken technique all the way in to wake her up and get her listening, along with sending her in circles, disengaging, and backing her up. She was much more attentive.

The second day, we finished up the Seven Games On Line and moved into the Freestyle/Finesse segment, which involves riding. We learned a saddling method that eliminates sore arms—gee, why I never thought to balance it on my hip and use my hip to help swing it up like a discus thrower is beyond me. Riding went pretty well. Since I've already been to one L1 clinic, I already knew the drill. I knew going in that it probably wouldn't be a lot of new information, but that was ok because I was hoping to tighten up my problem areas and review everything before the assessment.

That evening, after the clinic, I and two other participants went through our L1 Assessments with Bruce. (If that link doesn't work, visit this one.) I was a bit nervous. This was the Big Test to see if we were any good at this or not. The first task he asked for was picking up their feet, from one side of the horse. (We don't do what most "normal" people do, which is pick up the two on this side then go around and pick up the two on that side.) Well, WF and I had nailed that task beautifully at home. I thought, this is going to be a breeze. And naturally, she walked off in the middle of it.

I felt my stomach start to clench. I kept trying. I rubbed and rubbed her to get her to stop and got a bit frustrated in the middle. Bruce heard me growling and asked what was wrong. I told him. "She does this perfectly at home, but now can't even get her to stand still, and I'm frustrated." He said, "Don't be. Just relax." Well, we didn't pass that task. I suddenly dreaded the remainder of the assessment: would I wind up looking like a complete incompetent fool? Was I really cut out for this?

The next game was Friendly. That went really well. All that is is rubbing her all over, petting her softly, then gently tossing the savvy string over her body in imitation of another horse's tail. She softened and stopped moving immediately. Well, why couldn't we have started with THAT task? We would have passed feet if we had.

Everything from that point went great until we got to our FQ Porcupine. She Porc'd in every direction except FQ. Same with Driving. Well, needless to say, Pre-Level 1 on those. And Sideways, too, because it's dependent on FQ and HQ yields being in place because it's basically FQ-HQ-FQ-HQ yielding all at once.

I thought we'd pass Squeeze except we'd never practiced over a jump before.

We passed everything else except Saddling, Sideways (in the saddle), Figure 8 at a trot on a loose rein, and canter and bend to a stop. Not that I couldn't do those last two; they just didn't look second-nature, need major improvement. Saddling was just stupid on my part. Got tired, confused, and couldn't figure out which way to hold the darn saddle OR the lead line. Oh, well.

The end result was that we passed 16 out of the 25 tasks, or 64% of the assessment. That was actually much better than I'd expected and I was thrilled. Besides, some of the tasks are easy-fixers; just have to practice them a few times and get it locked in.

May I just say that she Trailer Loaded so beautifully that Bruce used us as the example? She must have thought she was going home because she loaded so smoothly and stayed put. I was tickled to death. Also, she backed through that gate like a knife cutting through butter. Wow. I was beaming with pride. And she nailed Controlled Catastrophe without hardly flinching (thanks to all that trail riding, and deer and other woodland entities leaping out in front of us).

We hitched a ride home with Mike, who was also assessed, and whose trailer it was. It was unexpected but a blessing because it saved me another night of stall fees, and WF was so happy to be home. Even though she was quivering with eagerness to get back to the grass of the pasture, she stood patiently even after I took off the halter and waited until I nudged her and said "Go ahead" before running to the field.

All in all, good days.

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