My entry video for the 2014 American Horsewoman’s Challenge is done! Whew! What a process! I’m so glad that I entered this competition BECAUSE I viewed lots of footage of me riding. I haven’t had myself filmed for years (except at the fundraisers) and seeing my position, hands, feet was a nasty eye-opener. We did a few retakes! When I looked closely at the initial footage I thought to myself, “My instructors are very kind and diplomatic when they work with me.”

This past year I’ve been filming four people with horses at Winsong Farm during their lessons. Because of the cold weather I haven’t filmed or watch any of them ride for a few months. This past Friday I saw Allen ride. He was preparing an exhibition he’s doing for the March 8 Schomberg Agricultural Farm Tour here. I told him at least four times, “Your position is wonderful!!” Back at the barn I added, “Having someone film you riding is so beneficial.” He instantly agreed and said he was eager for the weather to improve so that I’d start filming him again!

Back to the Horsewoman’s Challenge. The first time I rode Zelador doing the Cowboy Dressage test I was very pleased to just survive, doing the figures almost perfectly. During our second outing I asked for a smidgeon more balance from him. Before the third Cowboy Dressage session I realized his teeth weren’t 100%. The vet was due in five days and she would float his teeth then. I put on the Bitless Bridle. I was suspicious that the discomfort in his mouth was on the left side and I wondered if the cheek straps or nose band would aggravate the area. I was very happy to see that it didn’t bother him.

Over the next few practices Zelador morphed into this gorgeous, balanced, happy, eager to be perfect horse! Every time I look at the footage I’m amazed!

I really wish I’d included a blooper section. But the cold weather got to me and curtailed much of my creativity. Bummer. Kye (24-year-old Appaloosa) is a CUTE horse. He did not disappoint. I decided to use him for the liberty task: send ten steps backwards, draw to you. Outdoors the temperature was below minus twelve. The arena wasn’t much warmer. In the barn it was plus four. I decided to film him in the barn. All the horses were in their stalls, munching on hay. I brought Kye into the aisle, removed his halter and asked him to step backwards. His first few steps were pretty good, then he got a bit crooked with his head to the left and his hindend to the right. I was on his right side. I brought my right hand near his nose, then moved my hand more to the right. He followed my hand, turning his head to the right. This straightened his body. We continued backwards. After ten steps we stopped. I turned my back to him, returning down the aisle to our starting point. I turned to face Kye. While I was walking away he’d discovered a bale of hay against the aisle wall. Kye dropped his head a few inches and snatched a big mouthful of hay. I laughed. I called him to me and he happily came…leaving the hay bale!!!!!

I had other film clips of Kye performing the back-up task very nicely (minus the snack). The Horsewoman’s Challenge application does mention the judges are looking for horses/humans doing the tasks well. After quite a bit of thinking and considering, I decided to include the “munching on the hay” footage for the back-up task. After all, this horse at liberty could have stayed at the hay bale, instead he happily came to me. From where I stand there’s more to life than blind obedience.

Sunday it was very cold in the morning with the thermometer registering below minus twenty. I took Zelador to the arena to play, sort of a celebration of finishing the Challenge. While we were there I said, “Zelador, we’re going to do something new.” I don’t think I’ve ever said that to him even though we’ve done lots of “new” things. I explained that I was going to call him to me and ask him to WHOA when he was quite far away from me. I moved away from him, called him, said “Whoa” and he walked a bit slower. I repeated, “Whoa” and he stopped. I told him he was brilliant, walked to him and gave him a treat. We did this twice. Now for some GAP time during which we walked here and there. Zelador had an opportunity to process our “new” activity and I remembered I had the clicker in my pocket, duh!

I stood still. Zelador halted and I said, “I have one more new thing for you to do. I’ll stand here and you’ll back up. I won’t walk with you.” With the clicker at the ready I stood in front of Zelador and said, “Back”. He stood still. I repeated “back” and added a pushing movement with my palms facing him, but not touching him. Zelador gave a hint of thinking about perhaps backing up. Click treat.

Off for some more GAP time.

We repeated the two new tasks with the accompanying GAP time. Then we walked around. At one point I stood still and Zelador was beside me, to my right. He looked at me and I swear I got the feeling that he wanted me to pay attention because HE had something new for me. Then, much to my surprise he dropped to his knees, right there, on the spot. Then he lowered his hind end. He was on the ground with his front legs tucked close to his body (hind legs close, too) with his neck and head raised looking at me. He was in a position very much like a dog has when doing a down stay: down, but alert.

I gave Zelador a treat and stood there. He stayed in the “down”. After a little while I walked away and filled in a few divots in the nearby footing. He stayed there. I came back and gave him another treat. He stayed “down”. Hmmm…for a brief moment some disconcerting thoughts flashed through my mind, “What if he’s got a tummy ache? What if he has hurt himself?” I looked closely at him. He looked peaceful, unconcerned, but, perhaps, hopeful I’d figure out the “new” thing he wanted to teach me.

I returned to smoothing out divots in the arena footing. After a while I approached Zelador and asked him to stand up. He did.

As I returned with him to the barn I thought about his “down”. When I ask him to lie down I’m quite far away from him. I move the wand above the ground and talk out loud about lying down. When I ask for the bow I’m on Zelador’s left side. I motion towards his left front leg and start bowing myself. When I ask for the kneel (I’ve probably asked five times in his entire life) I stand on his right side and move the wand quickly back and forth in front of his knees. I’m very careful about asking for a kneel. I check the landing spot and make certain it’s soft.

None of the cues for lying down, bowing or kneeling happened when I was standing on Zelador’s left side. In fact, I was doing nothing. Not even thinking about anything in particular. Interesting.