Where do I begin!

Wednesday evening I received an email from a friend. She mentioned that she was in the Wind Rider competition in Norwich this weekend AND that it was similar to Working Equitation, right up our alley.

Our computer has been “challenging” these past few weeks. I wasn’t surprised when I found the Wind Rider website and discovered that my computer was unable to show me the application form. I emailed my friend and asked her to forward a copy. Thursday evening her copy arrived and my computer refused to download it.

I found the email address for Wind River (it’s associated with Can-Am in London, Ontario) and introduced Zelador, Zeloso, Bill and me to the information contact: Paul Maguire. He responded the next morning, Friday. Yep, Wind Rider sounded just right for us. The first day there’s an obstacle course. The top three competitors advance to the second day which includes another obstacle course and a freestyle where you show what you and your horse do well together. For the freestyle I could bring things… the bunny, big ball, a pedestal or two. Wow! That would be GREAT fun. Only problem… got to get into the top three placings!

The judges evaluate each team’s performance by the following criteria:

– Did the horse/rider team help or hinder each other?

– Did the rider work with or against the horse?

– How good was the riding?

– Was the horse willing, even if it was afraid?

This is a cross-disciplinary competition created by internationally acclaimed horse whisperers Bob Jeffreys and Suzanne Sheppard. Western riders, dressage riders, hunter/jumper, trail riders, natural horsemen and gaited horse riders are all invited to compete. Where else to you get to see Paso Finos, Appaloosas, Thoroughbreds, Lusitanos, ponies, WHATEVER!!!! compete head to head?

Four hours later I had lined up a trailer (Bill B. would be taking us), convinced my husband, Bill, that he’d LOVE riding Zeloso in Wind Rider and could NOT find a groom or two. (Short notice will do that to you!!!)

Saturday morning I was up at 5:15. Bill B. had originally scheduled us for 7:00, but after I described Zeloso’s recent reluctance to walk onto the trailer immediately, he decided to arrive at 6:45. The horses loaded at 6:50 with only slight hesitation from Zeloso. Bill B. brought his son and daughter with him. Their next stop was to pick up a Thoroughbred, take him to Paris, Ontario, then bring the boys to Norwich. Both of his children were rooting for Z and Z to qualify BECAUSE dad promised them a night in a motel! (Talk about pressure!)

My Bill drove while I napped and we reached Norwich ten minutes before sign-in. We met Paul Maguire and he introduced us to Bob Jeffreys and Suzanne Sheppard. These two were hosting the event. At 10:00 there was a walk-through in the main arena. Bob and Suzanne explained each of the eleven obstacles and reassured us that we didn’t have to memorize them today. During the competition Suzanne would be explaining details on the P.A. system, while Bob would be in the arena with us, eager to help.

Turned out there were six entries: two Paso Finos, a pony, an Appaloosa and the two Lusitanos. The week before in Clinton, Ontario there were twelve competitors. That event was held indoors in a brand new arena. Our event was outdoors in the middle of a rodeo. Yep… RODEO. Our horses have only been off the property for a quiet trail ride or two. I looked around me and tried to soak in what was happening. Here’s what was going on:

– the holding area where the horses waited…some more patiently than others… was ten feet from a huge set of bleachers, twelve feet from a porta-potty (a very BUSY, door slamming porta-potty…), eight feet from the Brahma Bull…

– the chute we travelled through to get into the arena had horses in metal round pens on one side and cattle on the other. The space between the two didn’t allow for three people to walk side-by-side

– lawnmower races

– car park fifteen feet away

– wagon pulled by two Belgians

– tents with flapping roofs and walls just outside the metal round pen which created the main arena

– a dozen signs on the metal bars of the main arena

– huge semi-trucks coming and going twenty feet away

– cattle truck being unloaded

– all-terrain vehicles whizzing by

– BIG P.A. speakers blasting with sound. These were hanging at the main arena fence.

– children with balloon hats, dogs, strollers

– under foot the ground was sandy and WET. As time passed the large puddles became smaller. The forecasted rain did NOT appear.

Bill received a call from Bill B. announcing that he’d be a little late. Turned out that Zeloso didn’t like the Thoroughbred that was added to the trailer and five minutes into their ride the trailer was swaying. Bill B. stopped the vehicle and discovered that Zeloso had put a small dent in the “people” door on the side of the trailer. The good news is: the dent is easily fixed. Both horses are fine. Zeloso decided to be a gentleman and allow the Thoroughbred to ride with him. The altercation lasted less than four minutes.

They were now due to arrive at 10:00. The competition was to start at 10:00. Since 9:15 the other four riders were in the main arena practicing the different challenges and getting used to the surroundings. When Z and Z arrived we had a few minutes to lead them. Zelador got loose as we were walking towards the chute. He walked about ten feet from me, stopped and wondered where I was. In the ring he got loose. This time he was zooming to catch up with Zeloso. At that point I changed the way I held onto his leadline. He didn’t get loose again.

While “warming up” leading these guys Bill and I showed them some of the different challenges. One of them was a very large flag. We were to pick it up, carry it, then give it to Bob Jeffreys. Zelador and I stood beside the flag. He put his nose on it. I gave him a treat. He put his nose on it again. I gave him a treat. Five treats later I figured out that he was WAY smarter than me and moved him to the plastic block that we were to pull with a rope. All of our work with the garrocha pole made this obstacle easy to do. On to the slicker hanging on the round pen. No problem. Our challenge was to pick it up, tie the sleeves around our shoulders and ride. The judges were checking to see if the horse was halted and stood quietly.

Suzanne announced that the event would start in one minute and we exited without any incident down the chute. Whew!

Suzanne had assigned us the last two spots in the competition due to our trailering incident. The time allowed for each competitor was ten minutes. We had four people in front of us which gave us about 40 to 50 minutes to saddle up and get these horses acting like nice, quiet cow ponies (as opposed to leaping Lusitanos).

It would have been nice to join the other competitors in the holding area and watch each rider and horse. Yep, would have been…

Bill B. held Zelador while I fetched his tack. Although the journey from horse to van was short, by the time I returned Bill B. announced, “I’m getting dizzy.” Zelador was circling around him, creating an interesting pattern in the wet, sandy ground. Bill B. is tall, an excellent horseman, extremely calm and a godsend! I told him I had a Bitless Bridle. He told me he felt that he had more control over the horse with the halter. This necessitated scrunching up the Bitless and threading it under the halter. No easy feat!

On to Zeloso. For some reason he had decided to be relatively cooperative. I wondered about this change of roles. Usually Zelador is the calm leader and Zeloso is the easily distracted one.

Rider number four was in the ring. I needed to get into the saddle. The second time my wet, sandy boot slipped out of the stirrup Bill B. gave me a leg up. When I was in the saddle, he still held onto Zelador. Why (you might ask) is this horse STILL having problems after being there for almost an hour? My answer is complicated. First of all he was worried about the Belgians begin chased by the wagon loaded with kids. This was not a “one time” annoyance. The wagon was on a circuit that passed us every few minutes. Secondly, every time Zelador circled Bill B. an entirely NEW stimulus appeared.

We were led over to the holding area. Bill got up on Zeloso and joined us. Bill B. was able to release his hold on Zelador and step away… just a little. Zelador took this opportunity to circle, then stand. He circled. Then stood. With each circle we were inching closer to the other riders. The closest horse was a chestnut Paso Fino mare. On her far side was a black Paso Fino stallion. The Appy was a bit to the rear of those two. The pony was in the ring.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Zeloso taking Bill for a ride. He was headed for the rear-end of the mare. I could see Zeloso rebalancing himself… on his haunches… much like he does JUST before he attempts to breed the big ball we have at home. I called out to Bill. He regrouped and placed Zeloso far, far away from the alluring chestnut.

The pony was done. Bill B. grabbed onto Zelador, led us past the Brahma bull, around the corner, down the chute. No. We had to wait. The pony was exiting and there was no room for all of us. Bill B. said, “I’ll let go of him at the gate.” I said, “No, stay with us. Shut the gate, then let go of him.”

Bob Jeffreys met us and walked with us to Suzanne. She introduced this young Lusitano and I said, “We’ll be walking the course.” She announced, “That’s an excellent idea.” Then she went on to explain that this was Zelador’s first experience in this environment and that it was important that he had a good outing. Bob encouraged me to ride around the arena and case the joint. There was no hurry for me to start and when I was ready, I was to go past the orange cone. At that point my ten minutes would begin.

Zelador and I walked a little. He was listening to me. We passed the orange cone. Our first challenge was to canter left. We walked. The second challenge was to jump a small “x” (about six inches high). We walked around it. Suzanne announced, “That was a good choice. It’s better to keep the young horse calm…”

Our third obstacle was a pole on the ground. The goal was to canter (not jump) over it. We walked.

Number four was: go through two small cones, leg yield right, go through two small cones, go a half circle, go through two small cones, leg yield left, go through the starting cones…at the trot. We walked. Zelador was fantastic. His cross-over was extravagant. Suzanne pointed out his ease of movement and commented that the Lusitano is noted for its lateral work.

Number five was: pick up a rope and drag the block from one cone, past another. We were GREAT! Bob had to tell us to stop because we’d passed our finishing cone.

Number six was: go to the arena fence, pick up the yellow slicker, tie it around my shoulders, ride off. Well, we could NOT do this. But we could do a tremendous Spanish Walk! The problem was… the yellow slicker was right next to four large P.A. speakers. No horse could do this challenge… except the first horse. For that contestant the speakers weren’t working and the horse had no problem standing near the quiet giants.

Zelador, on the other hand, was trying very hard to do what I asked, but every time he got close to the slicker/speakers Suzanne would exclaim, “Look at that horse…”

Each competitor is allowed to do an obstacle as many times as she/he would like. Bob was there to tell us if we were running out of time and had to move on. I approached the slicker from different angles. Zelador offered the Spanish Walk. Well, not QUITE the Spanish Walk. He offered a huge strike, a strike designed to take out any infantry men in his path! (That tremendous strike-out is what the Spanish Walk evolved from. Personally I don’t enjoy watching the softly lifted leg of the Spanish Walk. It looks artificial. I LOVE the bold, high, strike that my boys do.)

Suzanne had a great time describing what Zelador was doing, where the movement came from and why the Lusitano is so good at it.

At one point in our attempt to get to the booming speaker/slicker Zelador offered a few steps of piaffe. And, you guessed it, Suzanne had a fabulous time describing that movement! (Yep, these Lusitanos are nothing, if not entertaining!)

Number seven was: go sideways over two poles that were joined together at a ninety degree angle. The horse’s front feet are on one side of the pole and the back feet on the other. Zelador did bump against a pole and move it. I asked if we could do it again. Bob said, “Yes.” The second attempt was without incident.

Suzanne pointed out the extreme cross-over of Zelador’s legs and mentioned that she’d recently been on a trail ride in Colorado. She was on a Lusitano and would never forget that ride or that horse. The animal was sure-footed in that tricky terrain.

Number eight was: canter to a pole. Stop. The horses feet should be on this side of the pole and his head over the pole. We walked.

Number nine was: pick up the BIG flag and carry it, cantering, around the ninety-degree poles, then hand the flag to Bob. We walked. As we neared the poles the wind picked up and the huge flag flapped loudly. Zelador tensed. I dropped the flag to the ground. Bob fetched it. Suzanne said, “That was an excellent choice. Now she’ll try it again.”

Zelador redid the flag without a problem. When the billowing recommenced (at an incredible rate…sort of took a bit of strength to hold onto the thing!) he wasn’t bothered a bit.

Number ten was: at a walk (yep, we walked) he was to back up between hitching posts, performing an “s” shaped pattern. We knocked one down after we got through it…but kept the others standing.

Number eleven was: pick up the jousting pole (it had streamers at the handle) and canter (we walked) to Suzanne who was holding a ring which was about four inches in diameter. The pole was thick. I missed the ring. We tried again. (And I mean “we”.) Suzanne adjusted the ring, I adjusted the pole and the two met!

We were done! Bob announced the time: 9:30. We were under the time limit. (And when you consider how many times we attempted the slicker, that’s saying something!)

Bill’s turn.

Bill B. led us out of the ring, down the chute and into the holding area. I got off and held Zelador. Bill B. led Bill and Zeloso into the ring.

I was sort of hoping that I’d be able to see Bill’s ride. That didn’t happen. Zelador returned to his favorite geometric figure and I tried to not get dizzy. One Paso rider suggested I walk him. I said, “When I walk, he takes off to the right.” She agreed that standing/circling was perfect for this situation.

Although I couldn’t see the ring, I could hear the loud speaker. “What a lovely jump.” (Hmm…Zeloso has only free-jumped. He’s never been jumped under saddle.)

“Now THAT’S why you need to have a good seat. He stayed in that saddle!” (Not exactly what you want to hear while you’re circling for the fiftieth time. But Suzanne did say “stayed”).

Time passed. Bill B. led Bill and Zeloso to the holding area. We were DONE!!!!

As we led the boys to the trailer I commented, “I’ll bet that Zeloso will be very happy to get into that trailer.” He was. The boy loaded without hesitation.

With the boys safely stowed away Bill and I walked around the area. We watched the sheep herding and marveled at the handler who never said a thing. He didn’t whistle. He didn’t gesture. The dog read his mind and herded those sheep.

As we were walking towards the food area we noticed the fireman with the big hose. Kids were taking turns trying to direct the stream of water at balls placed on large cones. Just beyond the cones was the parking lot. A yellow rope marked the boundary. Just beyond the yellow rope was our van…being sprayed…now coated with sloppy sand. Bill decided to move it.

We stopped at the Wind Rider booth and thanked Paul for the great job he’d done. He presented us with t-shirts. The Paso ladies asked who the top three were. Both of them qualified for the Sunday event and so did the Appaloosa. I didn’t ask if the fifth and sixth riders were also fifth and sixth!

Last weekend the Paso ladies watched the event in Clinton. They went home and tried the different challenges with their horses. One of them commented, “The things I thought my horse would have no problem with were a HUGE problem. The things that I thought would be impossible to do were easy. It took four days for my horse to be able to drag the block and the streamers on the handle of the joust were incredibly scary!” After talking with the other contestants I learned that each horse had many experiences in unusual situations. Some had been in parades; others had performed at county fairs. And there we were, leading our youngsters like lambs to the slaughter and they survived!

Bill B. and his children stayed at the rodeo for a while. Z and Z chilled out in the trailer, soaking in all the wildness while in a safe spot! Bill and I left. As we were driving off the grounds we were surprised to see a steady line of cars coming in. This was definitely a good time to be leaving.

When Bill B. brought the boys home he said, “What a great rodeo. There are lots of things for the kids to do. At one point the announcer in the main ring invited all the children into the arena. The object was to catch the calves. I’d guess that seventy-five kids were in there. The announcer said, ‘Lie down on the ground. Roll around. Get up! Go find you mother and give her a big hug!!!’

“When we left it took half an hour to get off the grounds. The place was packed! I’m taking the kids back next year, even if I’m not trailering anyone!”

It’s Sunday. I sent an email to the Paso ladies asking for details on the event today. Can’t wait to hear about the obstacle course (which they had to memorize on the spot) and learn what each rider did for the freestyle.

Bill and I have decided to take Zelador and Zeloso to the next Wind Rider competition. It’s September 19, indoors, in Niagara Falls. We’re not going there to WIN. We’re going there to celebrate our horses! We’ve finally stumbled on an event that’s perfect for our philosophy: have fun, try new things and show people what you and your horse love to do!