by Robyn Schiller
Robyn is the wife of horse (and people) trainer Warwick Schiller. She invites you to join her as she journeys through her life as trainer’s wife, mother, businesswoman and Internationally competitive rider.
So, after contemplating what to do with Dale, we made the decision to sell him. We would make sure that the home met our criteria. What we didn’t want for him was to be in full time training nor live in a box stall. Hopefully we could find someone with a horse crazy teenager – that would be perfect. We thought we had a buyer who fit all of this but it fell through – as sometimes happens. My backup plan was to donate him to a college equestrian team – something we did with Cooper last year. It’s a win/win. We are donating to a worthwhile cause, the horse is needed and appreciated and the horse gets all of the above, plus you know they are well looked after on all accounts (vet, shoeing, cleaning, etc.).
California State University, Fresno is about 2 hours away and their equestrian reining team competes throughout the United States on a pretty high level. Their facility is good – horses aren’t kept in box stalls – they have a mare motel setup with larger pens – they can interact with the horses on either side of them. They get to come in contact with many people daily – most of whom are horse crazy young women. There is even a garbage bin full of treats near the cross ties (bonus!).
We’d had good luck with Cooper going there so we thought this was also a good choice for Dale. This is a recent pic of Cooper getting ooodles of attention https://www.instagram.com/p/B2heZvwJnR0 When I went to drop him off there, I did see something that triggered the writing of this blog. I saw them lunging horses.
Let me just say, that I am fine with people lunging horses. I used to do it, my mom still does it, and there are some very good reasons to do so. But, I really think that a lot of people who lunge think that by getting their horse physically tired before they work with them or get on them, the horse will reach the mental state necessary to perform the way the person wants them to.
This used to be my reason for lunging. I thought if I tired my horse out physically that he would also mentally comply with my requests. Did it work? I don’t know, maybe. If I’m honest, it probably worked for my mental state more than the horses. But what I have come to find through Warwick is what I really will call a better way. A better way for the horse to arrive at and maintain the mental space that allows them to perform/learn at their best (not to mention a great way for us to practice mindfulness). Warwick has distilled it down into 3 simple steps, which all build on each other and work together in concert:
- Teach your horse how to find true Relaxation, then building on that:
- Develop connection with your horse. While keeping #1 & #2 in tact…
- Commence with “training”.
Anytime you lose #1 or #2 re-establish before resuming #3. This works on the ground or under saddle. Warwick says that by having the first 2, training is sped up and much easier.
Recently, Dr. Steve Peters gave a talk at the Best Horse Practices Summit and our friend Amy Skinner took notes, here is something she jotted down in her notes from his session:
“The three most important elements of training a confident, relaxed horse are: emotional regulation, safety, and focus. The horse must first learn to relax when worried, feel confident that it is safe, and learn to engage and try. Without any of the three in equal parts, progress is pretty hard to make.”
I think this is the exact recipe that Warwick has formulated and it feels good to hear it from Evidence Based Horsemanship co-author Dr. Steve Peters as well.
If you haven’t read that book – trot on over and get it (or the DVD). We highly recommend them!
Back to Dale – we made sure to send over the Youtube Videos that Warwick made of him – making sure they understand what it is he is wanting if and when he starts being mouthy. It is simply his way of telling them he’s anxious and he needs some support. The way we did that was to remain present, pay attention and to engage with him. Maybe watching that video and having Dale there will help plant a seed in the Fresno State University arena – I’m sure Dale will be a favorite of the team and help the girls grow there for years to come.
I do admit to shedding some tears when I drove away – I will miss him.
Thanks for reading.
by Robyn Schiller
Robyn is the wife of horse (and people) trainer Warwick Schiller. She invites you to join her as she journeys through her life as trainer’s wife, mother, businesswoman and Internationally competitive rider.
There seems to be a bit of a trend going on. I felt it after WEG as well. The post-event mental crash.
After Vegas, instead of feeling energized and inspired, I have been feeling out of sorts and non-committal. As I write this, it’s a month after the event and I have not ridden once. This happened after WEG as well.
I’ve spent the month learning new things, reading books, taking a few online courses and trying to decide where my head is regarding the horses and competition and actually life in general. A total detox, though, from actual riding.
Where my head is.
I love competing – but I’m just not sure about the reining anymore. The more I learn about horses, the less I want them to just be obedient. Reining is the ultimate in obedience. The paragraph that explains what reining is says, “To rein a horse is not only to guide him BUT TO CONTROL HIS EVERY MOVEMENT.” I don’t know how that sits with me anymore.
I guess I care more about how they are feeling nowadays. I’ve concluded that I really don’t want to have to prepare a horse to be perfect, which is what we do in the reining, even though it’s never perfect in the show pen. If they put a step wrong, we fix it. If they don’t spin fast enough we motivate them, if they don’t stop deep enough, we reinforce it. And watching that happen at a show now is hard. It’s hard because there are varying levels of how that all plays out in the warm-up pen and it’s never to the horse’s benefit, mostly it’s just heartbreaking for me to watch.
I am blessed to have horses now that don’t need all of that. We rarely work on maneuvers, we work more on their “gymnastics”. Which is what I want. I guess I’ve figured out some things by just writing this. Maybe our “schtick” is to continue to live up to the meme…”Love the Animal First and the Sport Second.” Showing others that this is doable and you can have success in other ways than winning a blue ribbon.
I’ve been invited to submit a video for another large Invitational Freestyle event in mid-January. Maybe this is a way for me to channel my creativity and love for my horses or to showcase what is possible with the connection I’ve built with them. It’s flattering and tempting…and a very long trip across the rocky mountains in January. I’ll need a good song and routine that I can be inspired from and inspire others. It gives me something to think about anyway.
I do appreciate the opportunity to get this out there, it has been cathartic just writing it down, so for that I am thankful. (I think that word is appropriate here).
Thanks for reading, humbled.
by Robyn Schiller
Robyn is the wife of horse (and people) trainer Warwick Schiller. She invites you to join her as she journeys through her life as trainer’s wife, mother, businesswoman and Internationally competitive rider.
My plan for show day was to get up early and ride – sticking to his formula. I drew number 18, so I thought I’d wash him after my early morning warm up session and then get him back out at about draw 10 and jog him around. Our friend Joe Schmidt was there in case I needed anything (I only needed to have a horse holder while I did my last nervous wee and then put my chaps on).
The early morning warm-up did not go really well. Oscar remained a bit uptight about the gate and I felt like I did not get his worry cup emptied enough. I knew some of it had to be coming from me. So after I washed him, the dogs and I snuck down to the end of the barns where there wasn’t anyone around and I did some QiGong. I did some visualizations (Anticipate Success from Jane Pike) and I texted with my friend Amber whom I’d done the retreat with. She is a theta healer and she tried to help, but she said when she got up to wherever she goes to help, she said that I felt a little bit out of my body. She was right! I think I slapped on some essential oils as well. I used the Bemer blanket and oils on Oscar and got him show ready while listening to Willie Nelson’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” That song has been my horse show song since I was 8. Whenever it would come on when we were going to a show, I would do well!
My beautiful friend Liz stayed away during all of this, only coming to bring me breakfast and coffee (½ decaf) – Much needed! Proof that I’d made the right decision on who to invite for my support crew! I’ve talked about Oscar’s show formula before – not sure if I’ve mentioned mine. Before I show, I need some alone time to sort things out which includes listening to my song and keeping myself busy. Once I’m in the saddle, I’m completely fine. I decided to wear my WEG outfit – it still had good “juju” on it – I have worn it a lot and have usually done well while wearing it.
I felt that Oscar was relaxed when I was jogging him around outside before we went in to show. I was feeling pretty confident, albeit a bit nervous. I did my anticipate success visualization and a lot of focus on my breathing.
When it came time to go in the show pen, I ran in as fast as I’d planned but Oscar didn’t stop really well. I did not shut off our first spin correctly, which was a penalty 1/2. The biggest surprise was when I went to turn left – which is always a +½ maneuver for us, Oscar didn’t respond at all. It was like he didn’t know what I was asking. I still haven’t figured that out. I ended up doing something funny with my hand and bumping him with my leg to get him to turn. It was not a credit-earning maneuver. Our left circles were good, I reminded myself where I was and that I should have fun and smile, which I did. He slowed down well and I loosened my reins to show how well he was going slow, but I wasn’t prepared for what he did in the lead change. My bad.
At home, this lead change doesn’t work well. There is still something residual in his body that we haven’t fixed completely and perhaps there is pain there – which we address through regular bodywork, CBD oil, good shoeing, and supplements. He has NEVER missed the lead change in a class, so while I was hyper-aware of what I needed to do to make it work in the show pen, I hadn’t contemplated what Oscar threw at me. I had planned to get around most of the circle and when I straightened up through the middle, I would set him up and really press my outside leg on him to get him to change. I had prepared for it not working and him being late to change or missing a lead, which would both be penalties as well. It ended up that I need not have worried about that, as Oscar changed leads just as I rounded the top of my small circle, very early, which was a full 1 point penalty. Darn it!
Right circles were good and I smiled and had fun with them. All 3 stops were average, not great, not credit-earning. So, my score, when announced was disappointing. I would not be taking home any money from this event.
In hindsight, I feel that Oscar was out of sorts the entire time. He wasn’t tuned into me 100%, especially when I showed him. Whether it was that he was alone or was the venue, or he could feel the atmosphere or feel me being a bit nervous or 1000 other things, I couldn’t tell you. Likely a combination. I am disappointed that it went like this, but in the end, was happy to have been part of such an event. Maybe next year I’ll get chosen for the freestyle!
Speaking of the freestyle, it was after our class and it was really good. My WEG teammate Dan James did a really good Game of Thrones routine, complete with a liberty team surrounding him. He ended up Reserve Champion by a ½ point. Andrea Fappani, who is one of the million-dollar contestants won it on his good horse Custom Spook – doing a brideless routine dressed as a boxer, complete with boxing gloves to “Eye of the Tiger”.
The Million Dollar Class was later and it was spectacular. The line to get in was wrapped all the way to the end of the casino, the stands were pretty darn full. Every single rider had the chance to win it. There was no “underdog” or anything, despite how they might have played it out on the Last Cowboy TV show. They were all capable of scoring the highest. In the end, it was a tie between the youngest rider Cade McCutcheon and Craig Schmersal. They decided to be named co-champions instead of running their horses again.
Confirmation of a 2020 event was made several times. There will also be a season 2 of “The Last Cowboy” along with it. Since I haven’t mentioned that yet, I will tell you a little about that. Taylor Sheridan, who has been involved in writing and directing films like Sicario, Hell or High Water and a few others, as well as being an actor in The Sons of Anarchy, has been competing in the reining for the last 5 years or so. I remember seeing him for the first time at a show that I was judging. I thought, HMMM, he looks very Hollywood. Come to find out – he was. I had not watched Sons at that point, so I really had no idea who he was.
He really loves the sport and wants to expose it to as many people as possible. So as he is directing the new Paramount Network show, Yellowstone, he incorporates as much Reining into the show as possible. It’s been in a couple of episodes. Then he decided to get Paramount to sponsor the Million Dollar Reining and film a reality show along with it called The Last Cowboy. They did 6 episodes, following 8 of the 12 riders in the lead up to the show in Vegas. I think they did a good job of highlighting our sport and the riders. While I think there was a bit of scripting involved, I think they portrayed everyone pretty true! Other than Matt Mills, I was hoping that Craig would win. We’ve known them the longest and they are both truly good people and horsemen!
My next installment will be about the “after” Vegas crash.
by Robyn Schiller
I kept riding both horses until the week before I needed to leave for Vegas JUST IN CASE. I made the final decision that Oscar would be my horse for TRFAM as planned. He was feeling great, both mentally & physically sound.
This is where it gets interesting. At the beginning of the year, I had been invited to co-facilitate a women’s Confidence & Connection retreat – in August. When I agreed to it, the Vegas event didn’t exist. Now the retreat landed the weekend before I needed to leave for Vegas. Warwick was preparing to leave for his England clinic tour so he had a lot on his plate and I had to decide how this all worked in with my show preparation. I had some choices. I could: 1. Stay home and ride early every morning instead of staying at the retreat venue. This meant driving 1 hour each way – getting there by 8AM and leaving around 10PM. 2. I could take Oscar with me and either ride in the arena or participate in other ways like trail riding/meditating, etc. 3. I could leave him home with Warwick for him to prepare – but Warwick had never prepared him and only ridden him a handful of times since we bought him.
I’ll digress a bit here. It really wasn’t until we got Sherlock that I attempted to do any sort of “training”. I do realize I was training them every time I came in contact with them, but I mean legitimate horse training. With Sherlock, I started on the ground. It was the first time I’d really attempted groundwork (actually, I guess I did some in Australia, but not a lot and it was all very mechanical). But what I figured out with Sherlock and then Petey in 2016 was that if I really got to know them and I did most of the riding, that I was probably the best person to keep that up. Granted, they were fully trained reining horses. I was maintaining them and until Oscar, I was not really teaching them anything new as far as maneuvers were concerned. But, there is a bit of work that goes into preparing them to be shown and knowing when to have them “ready” both mentally and physically. I got a lot of experience at that in 2016 when I showed Sherlock & Petey a lot and I did 95% of the riding.
When we got Oscar, he was completely trained, I mean really, he was the teacher. He had taught 2 young girls the ropes and even Chuy – he was one of the first horses that Chuy had a lot of success on! He was good at what he did. When we first brought him home, we had decided that we wouldn’t try to change anything, I would go with what we had and just try to stay out of his way and let him do his thing. However, as we got further down the track and I decided that he would be my WEG horse, with Warwick’s guidance, I was able to change some of the things that we wanted to. I did a lot of dressagey type exercises that completely changed the way he carried his body. Enough that Warwick noticed.
I messed it up, plenty! I’d think I was doing it right only to find out I was putting the wrong leg in the wrong place – but in the end it all worked out and we did change the way he carried himself (I still have to consciously think about what leg to put where in order to do the exercises properly but I think I’ve got it now!)
Back to my decision. The reality was, no matter which choice I made, I was not going to get to prepare the way one should for such a big event. I ended up choosing to take Oscar with me to the retreat. We hung out together a lot, meditated together and did some trail rides through the vineyards. I will say that after 4 days of QiGong and other exercises at the retreat – I felt mentally & physically awesome! I think Oscar did too.
Warwick & Tyler left for England the day after I got home from the retreat (a Monday). I had planned to leave for Vegas on Wednesday, which gave me an entire day to pack and organize for the housesitter. I had planned to drive, taking the 2 dogs and Oscar on our 5-day trip. It is about a 9-9.5 hour drive from our place to Vegas. I always find it difficult to leave our place. It makes it easier when I take the dogs, but to have all of those lives dependent on someone else following instructions always gives me some rabbits. Even if they follow instructions well, they can’t know all the nuances nor share the loving feelings that I have for all of our critters.
In trying to be the best prepared mentally and physically, I was thrown a little curveball before I left. When the schedule for the Paid Warm Ups was put out, they had drawn me for 1:06PM on Wednesday. In order to get there for that, I would have had to leave way earlier than I was comfortable with. It seems the older I get the more sleep I need. If I wake up before 4, I’m jetlagged, even if I don’t fly on an airplane! Luckily one of my horse show friends had her spot later in the day and she was gracious enough to trade with me. It still meant I had to leave early, but not jetlag early. I ended up driving out the gate at 4:53 AM. I arrived in Vegas at about 2 PM. The drive was fine, I took the 2 horse trailer so it was easy to stop and use rest areas and fuel up (and I did stop a lot, due to early morning coffee consumption and trying to stay hydrated – it was a warm drive).
The venue at Vegas is really spectacular. It is held at the South Point Casino & Hotel and the horse show facility is incorporated into the whole casino/hotel. You really don’t ever have to see the light of day once you are there. The horses are in stalls on the bottom floor and the arenas are attached. You access the hotel, and therefore your room, through a corridor from the casino that adjoins the barns.
I had another friend who was going and we had decided to split a tack room since the stalls were quite expensive (the entire show was quite expensive – except for the hotel room – Oscar’s stall was actually more than my hotel room for 5 nights). I got Oscar introduced to his high priced stall and the dogs to their area of the tack room (much to their dismay) and then had to promptly saddle up for my Paid Warm-Up (we “buy” time in the arena – alone – to practice what we need to practice). I rode in one of the other arenas to get him warmed up but hadn’t set foot in the show arena until my “time”.
I had known what pattern we would run for weeks. It was Pattern 12, what they call a “run in”. Meaning, the first maneuver is running in through the gate past the center marker, stopping and backing up. Then it is 4 spins to the right, 4 ¼ to the left. Then 2 large left circles and one small slow left circle, change leads, 2 large right circles followed by a slow and lead change. Then there are 3 more stops, the first 2 have rollbacks and the last one is just a stop.
There were 2 things I’d never done with Oscar in the show pen. I’d never started a pattern with a run in and I’d never changed leads from a slow left circle. The first thing, I’m not very good at and the second thing Oscar is not very good at. Using hindsight now, I think I gave too much energy to these 2 things, to my detriment. I actually said it to a couple of people out loud!
The main show arena is a coliseum with lots of seating. The judges usually sit in the stands, but there were chairs in the arena indicating that they would be in the arena this time. The far end of the arena can be kind of scary for the horses because it is draped with black drapes and sometimes the tractor is parked there and people walk around there. Because of the darkness of that end, it creates suspicion in most of the horses. This time, they had a stage set up, which didn’t make it any less scary! They had put up a giant “ceiling” over the entrance to the arena as well, which is not usually there.
In any case, for the paid warm-up, I thought I had better practice my run in and stop. If I could do it over, I would not choose that option. He’d never been in the arena and even though he was warmed up and was feeling pretty laid back, the running in and stopping in a brand new arena gave him a good dose of worry. I spent the rest of my allotted time trying to get him back to a good headspace, mostly by loping quiet circles. I spent most of the time opposite the far end of the arena. Overall I thought it went ok, not good, not horrible, but some things to work on for sure.
After I rode, I went and checked in, went up to my room and then grabbed something to eat on my way to meet Greg & Jill from Therasage EMC. They had very generously said they would work on Oscar while we were there. The first night Greg used hands on massage, cold laser and the Magna Wave (PEMF). He also used some Physio Tape on Oscar’s sacrum that night. By the time they were finished, we were all beat and it was time for some sleep. I admit to sneaking my dogs up to the room in a very covert operation which entailed dragging my suitcase and 2 pups in a shoulder bag covered by a backpack. They were good though, not a peep. Of course, Drover promptly jumped all over the beds when we arrived, which meant I had some cleaning to do. The hotel had removed their carpets, however, and replaced them with wood floors. This was smart not only because I’m not the only one who sneaks their dogs in, but the amount of shavings and hay that come out of hiding when undressing must have necessitated the replacement. I wonder how many vacuums they ruined before the change.
We did not have to get up super early because according to the schedule, we couldn’t ride in the show arena until 7:30AM. However, because I had been awake since 4, tossing and turning, so I was ready to go earlier than that and we were actually allowed in. I remember working on the running in that day and we nailed it. I was really excited about that. I verbalized to more than one person, “now I just need to do that in my class.”
I did have to work on standing outside of the arena in the “chute” where you run from and into the arena though. The one thing about Oscar is that he wants to be good. This is his blessing and his curse. If you show him something a few times, in his head I’m sure he is saying, “Got it. I know what you want. Sit back and let me do it.” So, after running him through the gate and into the arena a couple of times, he knew what was next and he got to anticipating it and collecting some worry. I ended up sitting right outside the gate for quite a long time which is something I usually don’t do because normally they are attracted to the gate. He felt good everywhere else in the warm-up.
I’ll talk a little about the atmosphere now. Usually, at this venue, the barns are full and there is a certain energy about the place. When you ride in the arenas, it’s chock-a-block (full) and it feels like everyone has their competition hat on. This environment had a more social feel, more excitement, fewer horses and more people. That part was cool – I was warming up with some of the million-dollar riders (which I do a lot anyway since we go to the same shows) on their million-dollar horses but to me, it didn’t feel as competitive. Maybe we were all just happy to be there or maybe I wasn’t in tune with what everyone else was feeling – haha.
Anyway, I decided that Oscar didn’t need to be ridden again that day, but that I’d walk him around a bit outside later in the afternoon before Greg worked on him again. I also made an appointment for him the next day at the “spa” which is a Cold Salt Water therapy unit where the water goes up to their gaskin. Really good for their legs! I wanted to give him every opportunity to feel his best.
I passed the time during the day playing with the dogs, cleaning Oscar’s stall and a bit of shopping. We had our draw party and I was doing a little behind the scenes work for Horse & Rider Magazine’s Instagram story so I filmed a bit. Once that was over, Greg worked on Oscar and the dogs and I snuck up to the room again. I think my dinner was a plate of nibblies at the draw party and ½ a chocolate chip cookie when I got back to the room (better than the fried horse show food!).
The next day, Friday, was pretty much the same thing. It was the day before my show day. In my warm up I did a lot of walking in and out of the gate and quietly loping in and out. They changed a couple of things in the arena. The judges’ chairs were now up on platforms and the far end stage had instruments and lights there. Oscar didn’t really care about these changes, he seemed not to notice too much.
After I rode him I took him for his spa. He was a little concerned about this. They basically put a diaper on them and it is awkward. Then walking him into the chute and when the water started filling up and swirling around, Oscar was not a fan. It was not exactly the calming, relaxing experience I had hoped for him. He did settle in, and his legs felt great afterward.
There was a big class on this day, the $100K Open Shoot Out. So anyone could enter and compete for a purse of $100K (if they wanted to pay the hefty entry fee). We would come to find out that the top 5 from this class would automatically be entered in the Run For A Million class in 2020 (up until this class was running, nobody knew there would be another event in 2020 – most of us thought this was a one-time thing). I went and watched this class until my best friend arrived from Texas.
I thought it would be good to have some support since Warwick wasn’t there. I had other friends there, of course, but having Liz there was awesome. She is not a horsey person, she is just a great human. After she arrived, we went back and watched the remaining horses in the 100K class, there were some very nice horses and big scores. Then we walked around the casino and played a few slot machines – where she won $385! Very exciting! She thought I was a really good friend when I told her, “that’s it, let’s go cash in” instead of playing any more! We went to the Run For A Million draw party, went to dinner and then to bed (with the dogs). By this time my covert operation was pretty standard and nobody looked twice.
Continued in Part 2
by Robyn Schiller
We first got whisperings about a Million Dollar reining early this year (2019). In late February, I got a text from Dan James telling me about a $50k Invitational Freestyle that they were going to have in addition to the million dollar class in Las Vegas. All I had to do was submit a freestyle video! It turns out that my better freestyles were done when VHS was the way to record such things, so I didn’t really have a good recent one. I ended up sending a phone video of The Angry American (a song by Toby Keith) that I did at The Mane Event in Scottsdale in 2017. They let everyone know by June 1st who was chosen for that class – I was not one of them. But by then, they had also added a $50k Non Pro Championship to the event – all you had to do was show in a qualifying class and lucky for us, one of the qualifiers was right up the road from us in July – Reining By The Bay.
In order to qualify, you had to be in the top 5 in one of two non pro classes at that show. Once qualified, you could pick whichever horse you owned to show in Las Vegas. In other words, you didn’t have to show the horse you qualified on.
My horse situation:
After Oscar hurt himself in March, we x-rayed and ultrasounded and couldn’t find anything. We changed his shoeing thinking it was a bone bruise so he had no sliders, he had wedges on his hinds. He was not really lame, just slightly off.
By June, he was much improved but still not 100% so we had a nuclear scan done at the beginning of June. The vet didn’t really find anything in the area of the injury – he reported that Oscar looked good for a 15 year old reining horse. Some heat in all the places you would expect – he suggested injecting his hocks and giving Tildren as maintenance, so we did that.
I had decided that my plan would be to show Petey and Dale at Reining By The Bay and try to qualify for the Run For A Million $50k Non Pro Championship. I would then get Oscar ready to be my horse for that class which was 3 weeks after Reining By The Bay (as long as he recovered to 100% and stayed that way). That would be 9 weeks after he had the suggested treatments. (I felt that Oscar was my best chance in that class after he showed me what he was capable of at WEG last year. I felt that Petey was capable of that too, but it would take more of a toll on him mentally then Oscar as Petey is far more sensitive of a horse than Oscar).
4 weeks post treatment Oscar looked good so I started riding him as well as Petey. This was the second week of July (he had been on our Eurocizer so he was not completely out of shape). I alternated between him and Petey each day, so they each got ridden every other day until the week before Reining By The Bay when they both needed to be ridden daily to ensure they would be fit enough for the stopping part of the patterns. Warwick rode Dale for me the entire time. As Oscar continued to feel great, I had decided that unless something happened, I would show all 3 of them in the qualifying classes and see if I could make it in the top 5 on one of them. Since there were 2 qualifying classes, I figured I had 6 chances – a lot more than most others!
This also would give me insight as to how Oscar would handle minimal preparation vs. the months of preparation he had last year.
Luckily for us, Reining by the Bay is the closest big reining show to us. It is a little over an hour’s drive. It is also held at one of the biggest outdoor arena venues and it just so happens to overlook the San Francisco Bay. You can actually see the chapel at Stanford University from the arena. We love showing there and I’ve had a pretty good track record there except the time I got vertigo at the show and couldn’t show (2016)!
Instead of keeping the horses in stalls all week at the show, we planned to fight traffic and drive back and forth from home going up on show days and hopefully once the week before. They would be setting up for the show, but we were able to get some time in the arena. We ended up going twice the week before.
We took Dale & Oscar on Tuesday and Dale & Petey on Thursday. The arenas were not busy at all, and they got to have a look around and feel the ground. I would show the following Tuesday and Thursday.
On the following Tuesday, when the class order was drawn, I was to show Dale before Petey and then Petey before Oscar. I had plenty of time in between Petey and Oscar, but not so much between Dale & Petey. Warwick prepared Dale for me and I warmed up Oscar quite early. I was sticking to his formula of ride early then just walk/jog around before going in his class. For Petey, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked and I didn’t get him stopping very well in warm up. Everything else felt great. I’d never had 3 horses to show before, let alone in the same class. It was a little hectic.
When I showed Dale, he felt pretty good. He had been shown a bit last year by a big time open (professional trainer) rider, but in watching the show videos, he kept him very contained and rode with a lot of contact. This is not really my style and so by riding on a looser rein, there is a lot of margin for error. I had a couple of penalties and ended with a score of 70 on Dale.
Petey was as good as he’s ever been in his spins and circles, but I did not get him stopped very well. Another score of 70.
At this point, the day was not going as I’d visualized. I didn’t have any expectations for Dale, but I thought I could do well on Petey. I thought he was my qualifier since Oscar had not had that much preparation.
After jogging Oscar around a bit, I took him in and he was amazing. He was right there for me, only going as fast as I asked and the judge rewarded us with a top score of 73.5. That score held for the remainder of the class and we ended up winning over the entire qualifying class. We were qualified for Vegas! I decided that we did not need to show in the second qualifying class since I attained my goal. To do so would just add another hard run before Vegas, something he didn’t need.
I did want to keep riding Petey as well just in case something happened to Oscar. We decided to go back to the show on Sunday and “school” in another class. Schooling means that we enter a regular class, with the intention of staying close to the pattern but fixing things that need to be fixed without offending/disrespecting the judge’s time. We intend to receive a 0 score. To participate in this class on Sunday meant getting up at 5AM and driving to the venue, preparing the horses like they were to get shown and then fixing whatever I needed to in the arena. Both of them just needed to have a nice soft experience in the show pen, so that is what I did.
by Robyn Schiller
I am preparing for an upcoming Women’s Retreat (www.womensconfidenceretreat.com) and so I’m reviewing the Brené Brown curriculum from my recent Dare to Lead™ Facilitator Training.
I get to speak about the unspeakables – Vulnerability & Shame and the antidote to it – Empathy.
As I was revisiting the 5 parts to Empathy, I thought that Warwick could easily rename the “Focus work” to “Empathy work.” I was specifically thinking this when I was reviewing the 5 attributes of Empathy but then as I was typing this, all of it resonated with me in context of our horses (of course, Brené is speaking of Daring Human Leadership).
The thing about empathy is that you don’t have to have experienced the same thing. You are not responding to an event, it’s not responding to an experience. It is responding to the emotion that underlies the experience or event. With empathy, you are connecting to the emotions. Brené does this little exercise where she asks: “Raise your hands if you know what Love feels like? Hate? Surprise? Fear? Shame? Curiosity? Disappointment? Confusion?” When everyone raises their hands for each one, like you probably did, she exclaims, “You Pass!” We have all felt those things, we know what emotions feel like even if we haven’t experienced every single event.
So, you have the ability to be Empathetic because you’ve felt those emotions before. You have the ability to connect to the emotions even if you haven’t had the experience. However, while you may be inherently kind, empathy is a practiced skill.
Here are the 5 attributes of Empathy and kind of my mashup as to where it relates to our horses as well as humans. Brené puts them in this order. I interpret it in this order 1, 3, 4 and use #2 and #5 throughout (hope that makes sense):
- Perspective Taking – To see the world as others see it – you need to listen to a person’s story and honor it as truth even if it doesn’t fit with your experience in that situation.Another way that I just saw this written in context to horses from Kerri Lake’s “Listen Like A Horse”- ‘This is what it feels like to be me in this situation’~ Love, your horse.
- Stay out of judgment – Kerri also talks about judgments in the way that I wish I could convey. She says: Judgments are not truths, they are opinions. Judgements that show up as negative or positive are creating limiting barriers for our awareness. They create obstacles for communication. Judgment leads to fixing problems rather than creating effective and elegant responses.In reference to people, Brené has found in her research that we judge in places that we are susceptible to shame and we judge those doing worse than us in those areas.The beautiful thing about our horses is that they don’t judge us. Not many places we can go for that in this world!
- Recognizing Emotion – Emotional literacy is hard with people and even harder with horses. This is why just observing them and “Being” with them is so important. One of the ways your horse communicates with you is the way that he presents, “Here’s how it feels to be me with you when you show up like that.”I think Warwick’s sentiment of “Take everything as valuable information not as a personal insult” is right on here. We have to recognize their emotion without judging it. Once we judge it, we create our own emotion and horses can read that vibration from us. That is one of their superpowers, so we have to be very careful that it doesn’t influence the next skill.
- Communicate Emotion – Communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings. This is the beautiful dance of the Focus work with your horse. Keeping stress indicators in mind. Balancing the drive and draw. Waiting for them while they process. You are communicating to them that you hear and understand them. The way that we do this is through the next skill.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. It involves acceptance, which means that we pay attention to those things without judging them. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. **This excerpt is from the definition of Mindfulness from the Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.I love this piece because we get so caught up in the past with horses. We create stories around what has happened to the horse in the past instead of just listening to their truth. I love what Kerri Lake says, “Those stories are largely of misunderstanding and misinterpretations of people, of their judgments and fears of their own ability or inability to be in control, to perform, to create a certain outcome.” Their truth is simply who they are and how they are showing up right now, at this moment, standing in front of you.
Well, that got a little more in depth than I had envisioned. I was simply thinking of the straight 1-5 list and let you make up your own parallels but I felt compelled to add my thoughts. I don’t think we will change the name of the Focus Work, but I think it really speaks to what we are doing with our horses when we are being empathetic (you can say Empathetic or Empathic – they are the same).
We are honoring them. We are respecting them. We are listening to them. We are loving them.
I for one, can never go back to the horseperson I was before. I was well on my path when I bought Dale, but he has really shown me what can be accomplished through being empathetic. To say he is a completely different horse now is the truth. In this case, doing the Empathy Work is a double-edged sword though – since the plan was to show him and then sell him. Now that I’ve seen the horse he can be, the decision to sell him will be harder knowing what he will likely revert back to. I struggle with that – the practical (we don’t need 8 horses on 6 acres) versus the emotional (how can I sell him knowing he will revert back to the horse he was before in the absence of empathetic handling). I guess I’ll figure it out eventually.
Thanks for letting me share my musings.
by Robyn Schiller
Not that I think you shouldn’t check on your horse’s physical wellness, but when I hear someone dismiss working on a behavioral issue with a horse and instead focus on soreness or a feed to give them instead, I think you are doing not only a disservice to your horse but yourself as well.
Read my first sentence – it’s not that I don’t think you should be on top of those things – you certainly should be. I just don’t want you to let yourself off the hook.
Brene Brown says that Blame is just the discharge of discomfort or anger. I found that definition very enlightening. Now, when I find myself teetering on a blamefest, I try to become curious about the underlying feelings and examine them further. At first it was just the act of identifying that I was using blame – you know what they say – you have to be aware of the problem first. I’m not saying I have this mastered, blame is something that has a pretty good hold on me. I’d like to think it’s getting better though.
When we see our horses respond or act in a way that we’ve decided is not right, I think too many times we want to blame soreness or feed or equipment or the weather or the change of scenery or ANYTHING BUT US. I touched on this in my earlier blog You are the constant factor. There is one story I wanted to share that prompted me to write another about this subject.
We were at a horse expo – Warwick was working with a “problem horse” on the ground and the owner was having some trouble. The owner had described her horse using a couple of different names (stubborn was one). She was having trouble getting her horse to go off around her. It turned out that she was asking the horse to go, but stepping back at the same time. This resulted in a horse that was confused – not stubborn. This is one of the most common problems that we see horse owners do with their horse. The result is that the horse gets mixed signals and often doesn’t know what to do. They get confused. It’s not the human’s intention – having a rather large animal in front of us causes our body to react all sorts of ways.
To describe this a little more – because this is definitely something to understand about horses. Horses are very good at letting you know if what is on your inside doesn’t match how it comes out the outside. A good word to use is Congruent. They know when your thoughts and your actions are congruent or incongruent. In this case, consciously, the person was wanting her horse to go but unconsciously there was something that did not match that and it came out as stepping backwards. Maybe she was thinking, I want the horse to go, but……what if he does this or last time he did this or I don’t want to get run over or kicked or whatever. The point is, the horse picked up on the incongruence and was confused.
As if he was sprinkling his fairy dust around, the minute Warwick took a hold of the lead rope, the problem went away. He explained what he saw her doing, why it didn’t work for her and showed her a different way. The horse responded immediately. Warwick didn’t really do anything except act with congruence. His internal intention and thoughts matched what he asked the horse to do. He didn’t need a rope, a stick & string, nothing but the ask, because it was clear to the horse. The session ended with the horse showing it was capable of going off with energy and relaxation. It was really cool.
The owner came up to the booth later and said that another clinician had approached her after the session and told her that her horse was sore and that she should have it worked on. Now, that is fair enough, I’m never going to tell a person NOT to do something that will benefit the horse and we are huge advocates of body work on horses – we get ours done all the time. It was how I heard the owner of the horse communicate it to me. To me, it was like she had forgotten that Warwick had shown her that her horse didn’t really have the issues she thought that it had. I believe she was convinced that the answer was that the horse was sore and that is why it was not working for her. It’s like she did not see the horse “not be sore” with Warwick and respond to what he was doing. It was like she was holding onto an answer that let her off the hook.
I bring this up because this is a common occurrence on the Facebook group. People want to first blame the feed or the body or the teeth or the feet or the equipment (not that you shouldn’t be on top of all of those things to begin with, you totally should). But, what you should also be cognitive of is you and how you affect your horse. Are you bringing in the baggage of your day? Using the time with your horse as your release? Are you mentally present and ALL IN? Are you making tiny little mistakes that confuse your horse? (Not being consistent is one of those little things – think of a person you’ve known in your life that was inconsistent and how you responded to them – Warwick had a boss like that. Every morning it was a guessing game as to what mood the boss would be in and that would determine the day he’d have.) Be aware of it, don’t beat yourself up over it, but also don’t dismiss the fact that you are probably a bigger factor than food, equipment, etc. Maybe some days it is better for your horse if you don’t show up or maybe just hang out with them instead of working with them.
Hopefully I can persuade you to FIRST look at how the horse is being handled and what it is being taught (whether you mean to or not). When you are handling the horse, you will notice if there is something physically wrong. In doing the first parts of either the SKILLS or RELATIONSHIP path – you are observing your horse intensely. If you notice something “off” ask yourself: Does he do this when I am not around/attached to him/riding him? If the answer is yes, then perhaps you should investigate further. But if your horse has done something 1 time or doesn’t do it when you are not in the equation, then perhaps the only investigation you need to do is with yourself.
The more and more I learn about energy, the more convinced I am that I am the one that needs to change to suit my horse rather than the other way around (the way I have conducted myself up until this realization.) This journey is really a self-development one and I am learning so much!
Thanks for reading – I hope it didn’t come across as a rant!
by Robyn Schiller
Continued from Arizona Show Report
SHOW DAY 1 – Wednesday
I woke up at 4 and thought I could sleep for another hour, but that did not happen. So, I got up, made coffee, did my Ziva Meditation and was out the trailer door by 5:15 to ride. I had decided that I’d ride Dale first, then put him away and get Oscar out and ride. Then I’d get Oscar spiffied up and go show him. Oscar is better if you ride him early, put him away and when you get him out before you show you don’t do anything except walk around. That is his formula. It works. Every horse is different. Some are good if you ride them, prep them and then show them without a break. Some need for you to ride them, put them away, ride them again, prep them, show them. This is one of the things you have to learn about your horse. We were lucky that Chuy had Oscar and told us what his formula was! I was told what Dale’s formula was, but I will find a different formula and that is all I will say about that.
They were both much improved in the early morning riding sessions. Neither of them were calling out to each other now and I just saddled up and got on without doing anything on the ground. While I didn’t feel like they were “ready ready” I didn’t feel trepidation either.
Oscar was first to go in the show pen and even though he wasn’t super chilled out before the class, he was a little “up”, when we went into the show pen, he waited for me and listened to me very well. This made me very happy seeing that the last time we were in a show pen was in Tryon at the World Equestrian Games and we were both going faster than we’d ever gone in a show arena! I was really happy with him and only had to fix a couple of things. We actually got a decent score of 71.
Dale seemed ok when I took him in, he was a little distracted as I jogged to the center to start my pattern. The turns went ok. It is when I loped off that I had to go to schooling him. The pattern calls for a small slow circle first and he thought he needed to do a large fast! So, I went to 2 hands and corrected him and went back to one hand when I thought he was “with me”. The biggest surprise was when I went to run to my stops. At home and in the warm up pen, we have been struggling to get him to go forward enough. So, I was prepared to have to encourage him. I needn’t have been! About 4 strides into it, he took off! Well, that is what if felt like. It felt like I had totally lost control of him and my neck was snapping back like he hit the turbo boosters. Watching the video back, it didn’t look that bad (it always feels worse than it looks). I controlled the second run down and stop and by the 3rd, it was actually kind of good! Glad that the maiden voyage on Dale was over – Now I had identified what I had to work on!
I had decided to go to the store and do some Cryotherapy in my downtime, which I did. When I left the showgrounds, I was still in the lead on Oscar! Upon return, I had slid into a tie for 3rd and that held up for the class. Not bad to go through and fix some things and still get a paycheck – good ol’ Oscar!
I rode Dale again that afternoon after getting some advice via telephone from Warwick. I fixed some leaning issues I had encountered in his circles. He didn’t really give me an opportunity to fix the running fast to stops issue, so I just had to focus on straightness.
SHOW DAY 2 – Thursday
The next day we were showing again and I decided that I’d let this be the decision maker on whether I tried to show Dale in the big Derby class on Friday. It was a big entry fee (which also meant you could win big money) and I wasn’t sure we were going to be ready. Warwick was flying in on Friday and there was another class I could show in that morning if I decided not to show in the big class.
This day, our draws were 30 on Dale and 109 on Oscar and it was in the big coliseum arena. That meant about 8 hours in between! So, I decided to get up and ride Dale early again and he improved more. I wanted to go in the show pen and show him without having to fix anything – basically I needed to test out if I could get through a pattern one handed so I could decide if I was going to show the next day. I did get through it, he did improve in some areas, but I didn’t feel confident enough to justify the high entry fee for the big class. I guess I’m glad that my entire 2019 monetary goal had changed to “experiences” (as explained at the end of my Breaking Old Habits blog).
I rode Oscar during the day and got him out later before we went in the show pen keeping to his winning formula. He was good again, we showed at about 8 PM and although he was a little more forward than I wanted him to be in the circles, I did get to fix another couple of things and still got a score – another 71. He is consistent! It was good enough to tie for 3rd again and get another paycheck! Our big class was Saturday, so I was going to use Friday’s class to really school him and make him be perfect with no intention of getting a score.
We all went to bed a little tired that night!
SHOW DAY 3 – Friday
I had drawn up 7th on Oscar and later on Dale in Friday’s class. I got up early again for a ride on Dale but Holden was acting sick. He and Drover had gotten into the horse’s Camelina oil late Thursday while they were in the tack room. I guess the lid was not as secure as it should have been. Without knowing how much they had ingested, I had been keeping an eye on them (they have been known to get into it and it sometimes gave them a tummy ache, but usually it’s just a little bit of oil on the ground). That morning Holden’s tail was down and he was ultra clingy. So, I loaded him up and hit the ER Vet. We called poison control for dogs and got a good prognosis. He said to expect some explosive pooping and maybe some vomiting but that it was not life threatening. Luckily there wasn’t either of the expected things and he improved all day. Better safe than sorry – I love that little dog more than anything.
I got back in time to get on Oscar and warm him up a bit before taking him in the show pen. We weren’t able to do the whole formula, but enough that he thought he was going to be shown – which is what we want to do – kind of like the Do The Opposite principle. Prepare him to be shown, he thinks he’s going to be shown and then don’t show and fix everything. Then next time, he won’t know if he’s going to get shown or fixed so he waits on me 🙂 I got some good corrections in.
Then I immediately got on Dale and got to warming him up since I missed the early morning riding session. When I got in the show arena I needed to fix him pretty much the minute I went in which made me very happy that I had decided to not spend the money for the big class. Here is where I will share all my disappointment. I had bought a very cool horse whom we all thought would be ready for me to go show. It was now that I realized I had set my expectations way too high. Maybe I overestimated my showmanship abilities. Maybe I needed my horses too perfect before I went to show them – Chuy alluded to this and also assured me that he had a buyer for Dale if I wanted to sell him. To be honest, I entertained this thought. In the 4 short months since I bought Dale, I’ve changed. My priorities have changed, I’ve leaned into some meditation and belief stuff and my goals have shifted. Maybe I should sell him, we have too many horses anyway, etc. etc. I hit a frustration/disappointed level that surprised me. I’ve been on such a high since WEG that this was a bit deflating. Normal. Life. First World Problems. Yep! Also, totally predicted by the Ziva Meditation chick. ‘Better out than in’ she says. She says that the unstressing process can feel the same as stress feels going in – Wonky! She suggests not making any big decisions in the first month – I’ll take her advice – Dale is not for sale.
Now that the pity party is over…Warwick arrived later and we went out to ride both horses again. He had me fix a couple things with Oscar that I had missed and he fixed the things I couldn’t on Dale. Couldn’t = beyond my breadth of knowledge in preparing a horse like him. He made some corrections that I had forgotten and their session ended very well. Warwick was pretty jet lagged and the early mornings & emotions were catching up with me too. I think we were both asleep by 8PM.
SHOW DAY 4 – Saturday
The big Maturity class for Oscar was first thing. I had drawn up 13th so I got up at 5 to do my coffee, meditation and ride routine. Warwick coached from the sidelines. We put him away to get BEMERed and eat and then got him shined up and ready to roll. In the show pen, the first 2 maneuvers were spins and while he spun very well the first way, I did not get him shut off at exactly the right moment, so there was a penalty. So, on the scorecards the 3 judges marked me a +1 maneuver/-½ penalty +1 maneuver/-1 penalty and +½ maneuver/-½ penalty (the penalties can look different from where the judge is sitting). Which basically means I didn’t get much credit on that maneuver because I didn’t get him shut down correctly! It’s important! The rest of the pattern was pretty good until the last stop, which he did well, but when I went to back him up, he resisted which is not like him. Then when I walked him off to leave, he was limping. Not cool – I broke my horse!
We decided to give him some Bute and see how he was in a couple hours. It seemed to help. We debated whether we have a vet there look at him or wait until we got home for our regular vet, who knows him, to have a look. Since it wasn’t life threatening and he could be in a stall for the remainder of the time anyway, we decided to have our vet look at him when we got home, I made an appointment for Tuesday. I used the BEMER on his body and his leg. He improved but was still slightly lame.
As far as the results of the class, we ended up pretty much top 5 in all 4 divisions and won some money. We could have been higher in the placings if we hadn’t had the oopsie in the turn, but that is the way it goes. I love that little horse.
Warwick rode Dale again and made more progress. I wish we had had the time we usually do at a show, because he was almost ready!
SHOW DAY 5 – Sunday
We had the opportunity to do a Paid Warm Up which is paying for time in the arena to do whatever you want to do. I had Warwick take Dale in so he could feel him under those more show-like circumstances. Dale was great. He really did well – so now we know that we may need more time at the horse show before we show him.
I had already decided to scratch out of the next big show in Houston, Texas. It is a biggie. It is also a 3 day drive there and 3 day drive home and 2 weeks at the show. I had decided before we left for Arizona not to go to it – maybe next year!
Driving Home – Monday
Driving home on Monday we left at 3:30 AM. Pretty uneventful until a tire blowout at hour 9. It was the best case scenario for a blowout though, as it was inside so there was no damage to the fender. You might have seen Warwick’s post about it – we were prepared, so it was just a slight inconvenience. I’m really glad he was there though! I think I could have handled it, but I’m glad I didn’t have to find out!
Vet came and did lameness exam on Oscar. We could not find anything with x-rays or ultrasound, so the thought is that he just jammed himself pretty good in a stop on his back leg and we will be giving him some time off and reassess.
I’ll be getting Petey out and leg him up – there is a local affiliate show over the first weekend in May. I think that is my next outing. We will arrive 4 days early so I can get the best Dale prep possible and see how that goes!
I’m continuing with my Ziva meditations and I’m dragging Warwick along to see Denise next week – I can’t wait to see what the stars say!
Thanks for letting me share. It sure is a journey!
by Robyn Schiller
I thought I’d jot down some thoughts from the first show of the year in Arizona last week. It was a big show, not just a local affiliate show. In the lead up to the show, I had high expectations even in light of my weak preparation due to weather and my lack of experience getting a younger horse ready to show (Warwick was in Australia for 3 weeks leading up to the show).
However, the week before the show, I was having real doubts about going. I felt that we weren’t ready, I was concerned about driving 13 hours by myself with a new trailer and horse and it’s always hard to leave home and the animals that stay. For me, no matter how good the people are that help us out, it’s still stressful to drive out the gate and turn it over to someone else.
I told Warwick about my doubts and he supported whatever decision I made. Please don’t laugh when I tell you how I made my decision. A little backstory first.
I am working with 2 incredible women to host a Women’s confidence retreat later in the year – where people bring their own horses and we get to work on ourselves and go on trail rides, eat great food, and really delve deeply into self improvement. They are both Theta Healers, amongst other awesome credentials they possess. They referred me to someone locally to go and have “a session” with. I’m pretty open to new things lately, so I thought that if they recommended it, I’d go! I didn’t ask many questions beforehand. When I made the appointment, Denise (https://deniseelizabethbyron.com/), the lady I was to go see, asked me my birth details. No problemo!
It turns out she is an astrologer/business coach/numerologist type of person (I still can’t really explain what she does). When I got there she had a print out of how the planets were all aligned when I was born. Then she proceeded to describe me to the very Nth degree just by reading my chart. A few hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. Then she asked about Tyler and his birth details and described him to the Nth degree. It was crazily accurate. We talked about the future and I left with another appointment scheduled.
So, what did I do when I was having doubts about going to this show? I texted Denise! I basically asked her to tell me if the stars said I should go or not! She replied an emphatic YES! She said that the energy for Travel & Competition was high and that if it was going to be FUN then I should go. Go I did!
I think I’ll have to make this a series because to go over everything is going to take awhile. So, I will cover travel through arrival day and then continue in subsequent posts.
I decided to break up the drive and I found a horse hotel about 8 hours away, in Palm Desert near Palm Springs. Most of the drive is down the very straight and flat Highway 5 which is pretty boring. Then up the “grapevine” and over through some little towns – which bypasses Los Angeles – which is never any fun to drive in. I had planned to leave by 9AM so I could get things situated here first and not surprisingly, was out the gate at 9:01AM (I’m very punctual – which was verified by Denise – I think she said “You get shit done” – ummmm, yes, yes I do).
The drive was unremarkable – I listened to The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh. Highly recommend it. The horses traveled fine, I found good places to fuel up (the trailer is pretty long, so it is a bit tricky to maneuver into fuel up).
We arrived at the horse hotel around 5 pm, got the boys settled in their outdoor pens, got the trailer parked and had time to turn them both out to let off a little steam after their trailer confinement. They only had little automatic waterers which neither of the boys liked (I had Dale and Oscar with me), so I just dug out a couple of our buckets and filled them up.
I did a quick Ziva Meditation, ate some dinner, cuddled the dogs, tucked the boys in and went to bed. I wish I could say it was a restful night, but I had more anxiety that night then I’d had in awhile. I was parked right outside of the facility, in their parking lot. It backed up to the desert basically. Nothing behind us but open land with Joshua trees and scrub. Coyotes were howling and I thought – “Great, just great. What if there are people wandering around out here. What if there is a serial killer in Desert Hot Springs (seriously, I actually contemplated the serial killer scenario). Yada Yada Yada” I remember waking up, thinking Ok, I’ve just gone through 1 sleep cycle, now I need to cool off, go into another and repeat that a couple more times! My mind did calm down a bit but sleep was still restless and I woke up pretty early – good time to do my Ziva meditation, make some coffee and because the sun came up earlier there I got on the road by 6:07AM!
It was only a 4-5 hour trip into Scottsdale so not too bad. I re-listened to the Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton – fascinating stuff! I felt like I had a bit of an anxiety hangover (I haven’t been drinking so it wasn’t a traditional one). I think the restlessness during the night really had an effect!
I arrived at the venue and was able to pull up right outside the barns, unload and get everyone situated. I set up the trailer, put the Air Con on, because it’s Arizona and went off to ride!
This is where it got a little interesting! Both boys were now calling out to each other! I started with Dale and my intention was to take the time it takes. This horse show usually allows us to arrive 4 or 5 days before the actual competition starts, but this year, we were only allowed to arrive the day before! I was scheduled to show both horses the next day. The plan was to “school” meaning I’d go in with the intention of showing where I could in the pattern and fixing what needed fixing. This should mean not a whole lot of expectation.
Anyway, I started well with Dale, doing a little focus work but he was definitely not responding like at home. I decided, well, he is good at it when I ride him so I’ll just get on. He actually did do better once I was on him. It only took about 10 minutes for him to settle in. I rode him in a couple of the arenas because they were all open and he took that in his stride.
We haven’t been able to do much stopping at home because of the weather and our arena being outside has been too wet to do much of that. So, I needed to work on this. While we have made progress with some of the “tightness” that Dale exhibits, on this day, Dale held onto it like a pacifier. When I say tightness, when we run down for a stop, he is tight in his shoulders and he runs downhill and has been known to porpoise a bit (have a hump in his back and his neck down while running, not really bucking, but not really not bucking). Instead of driving from behind, running free and loose, he can run tight like this. This does not set us up well for stops. After a little while, I thought about it and decided to go back a couple steps! I had to establish more forward period. So, that is what I did. I got him more forward at lower speeds and then he loosened up on his run downs. A small victory, but I was feeling very smart. I knew I had another ride on him in the morning before the official class and my expectations were still high.
I rode Oscar, who was a little more “up” than usual. He called out to Dale several times and wasn’t his usual chill self. As I mentioned, usually this is not anything to cause concern because we have days to figure it out and let them settle in. I tried to convince myself that this was going to just be a “I guess we’ll see how they are when they aren’t very well prepared” show. “You need those sometimes”, I told myself. “It can’t always go to plan”, I tried to convince my brain. It was a struggle because I knew I didn’t believe any of those things – I wanted to do well. I wanted them to show well. I wanted to have fun in the arena without them doing anything wrong. You know what they say – Expectation is the root of all disappointment or something like that…totally!
I took them both down to the washracks and gave them a good bath – something they desperately needed after the winter we’ve had. The Arizona sun felt good on all of us! I also gave them both a Bemer (PEMF) treatment and they got their yummy grain and dinner. I went to bed that night excited to get up and ride them again before the show started. I was draw 2 on Oscar and 17 on Dale, so it was to be an early morning and I’d be done by 10:30 AM which gave me all day to play in the desert!
Next blog will be about DAY 1 and 2 of the horse show.
by Robyn Schiller
Written in December 2018.
I thought I’d share a little of what’s been happening with my new horse “Dale”. We purchased Dale a couple weeks ago at the NRHA Futurity show – Chuy shopped for me, as he knows my style and abilities quite well. We had chosen a mare that he really liked but unfortunately, she had a little issue on her stifle that I was not willing to risk. When he found out Dale was for sale (his name was Fabio then), he called me straight away. Dale was an “open” horse, meaning he was high enough caliber for a really top professional to ride, but Chuy felt he’d make a good horse for me.
After exceeding our goals at the World Equestrian Games, I felt the need to set new ones and Jane Pike had encouraged me to aim high. So, I have. Currently, my total NRHA earnings are a bit over $56,000 USD. It has taken me since 2001 to accumulate those earnings (I have only showed consistently about 4 of those years – meaning shown all year vs. one or two shows per year). In 2016, I doubled my earnings because I showed 2 horses and showed a fair bit. So I went from $22,000 to $44,000. Well, the new goals are:
2019 – Get to $100,000 in earnings
2020 – Win the AQHA Select Amateur Reining World Championship (for 50 and over non-professionals)
In order to reach my goal for next year, I needed a younger horse so that I could show in the categories that had more money. The classes for the oldies like Oscar don’t provide enough money for me to reach my goals in one year. This is why I was searching for a younger horse. Dale will be 5 on January 1st (like all horses in the Northern Hemisphere). We will show in the “Derby” classes next year. These are for 4, 5 & 6 year old horses and have significantly more money than the Maturities (for horses over 7).
Anyway, when we flew back to Oklahoma City to meet Fabio/Dale at the show, I was at first a bit disappointed, honestly. He was really not very good on the ground. He had to chew on something the entire time – including us if he could reach. I am going to go out on a limb here and admit that, in my head, I thought he was a bit scary. He was one I was not going to turn my back on. This was my first impression of the horse I’d already paid for! I was able to think more logically about why he acted this way: 1. Dale/Fabio was a horse in a big trainer’s barn/program – one of probably 30-50 horses the trainer rode. An assistant had done all the work on the ground with him – saddling, grooming, preparing, etc. The trainer had gotten on, ridden him, gotten off and handed him to someone else for everything else – unsaddling, washing, etc..Usually in programs like this, that person is one of the least experienced 2. I don’t think he had a very high opinion of humans. and not surprisingly 3. He was anxious. But even though I knew logically what was going on, my heart was a bit heavy (for many reasons) and I sure hoped that we could help him once we got home.
So, while I was in OKC, I didn’t try to change anything – he was very good under saddle. “Good” meaning obedient. He did what I asked for without appearing anxious or defensive or resentful. Talent was not an issue either – he is a great reining horse.
We got him back to our place last week and today will be session 6 with him. I just want to talk about session 1 and 5 so that I can talk about breaking old habits.
The first session was in the round pen. He was turned loose. I was doing the work under Warwick’s watchful eye (and camera – we are videoing the whole thing). I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit anxious. I don’t like when horses bite – it is scary. In the past, biting was met with an elbow. Not in a malicious way, but as an “oops you just ran into my elbow” way. It usually worked, but in hindsight it can also make a horse defensive and just obedient. You probably have not taken away their desire to bite, but they know there will be a repercussion if they do, so they don’t.
I went to the middle of the round pen and when he finally engaged me and came up to me, he started to chew. My instinct was to throw the elbow in to protect myself. Warwick suggested a different idea after my first flaying elbow – he told me to just increase my energy – not AT Dale, just in my space. Start small and increase until Dale steps back. At first I did too much, because, as I said, I don’t want to be bitten. After a while I got the hang of the new response and started more slowly and then intensified until he stepped back. The most amazing thing happened. He stopped trying to bite me, he licked and chewed and started to nuzzle me instead. Instead of pushing into me, he was asking if he could share space with me.
Now, I know I’ve heard and seen the most incredible things from the focus work and Oscar is awesome at it. But I guess I’d never truly FIXED something that I thought needed fixing with it until this moment. It freakin works!!!! In the subsequent sessions – Dale has progressed and while in my presence he has not tried to chew on things or me anymore as long as I can get his focus.
The second day under saddle was another opportunity for me to break a habit. The habit that I had before was to lead the horse into the arena and get on. I did some focus work online just to see how that was and after I bridled him, I noticed that when I went to get on, he blocked me out. In the past, I would not have seen this display and would have just gotten on. Instead, I did the whole calming signals thing. When I went to approach his near side and he blocked me, I stepped back, saying to him with my body language, “I saw that.” It took a couple times and then he let me around to mount. It’s not fixed yet, but I think we are making progress and I know he is feeling good about the relationship that is developing between us.
I have a long way to go, but they say you get the horse you need – I guess I needed Dale!
FOLLOW UP – I wrote this next blog, forgetting I’d written the one above, so this is an interesting Post Script – Written March 6th, so about 3 months later!
After the World Equestrian Games (WEG) last year, I thought about how I was to top that? What could possibly be better than the entire experience in Tryon? I wanted to ride the high and I set out to establish some really lofty new goals.
The biggest one was to double my NRHA earnings in 2019. I had done it once before, in 2016 when I showed both Petey & Sherlock. Of course it was a smaller number then. To accomplish it in 2019, it meant I needed a horse that could show in some of the premiere events and my horses were too old for those divisions (even though I will show them in some other classes and plan to show Oscar early in the year and Petey later in the year after Bella has her baby). This is why I bought Dale (formerly known as Fabio).
My plan was to bring Dale home for a couple weeks, get to know him and then send him to Chuy’s to stay in full time training. (Dale was the last name of his previous owners and the name went well with my other boys Petey & Oscar). I rationalized that we didn’t have the room (we only have 3 stalls and we needed them for Bella, Petey & Oscar) and I didn’t have the time to ride 2 horses every day. He would just be my show horse, I thought, I won’t get attached. Then I’ll sell him at the end of the year so that he is still young enough to get what we paid for him and I’ll have reached my goal and YES – that is an awesome plan!
Then I brought him home.
He’s a talented reining horse. He’s a successful reining horse – he won 2 Reserve World Championships in 2018.
But man was he anxious. That chewing – all anxiety/disassociation stuff.
He didn’t know how to interact with us.
It took me 3 days of sitting on a bucket in the round pen for him to be curious & confident enough to want much to do with me! After that, everyday our relationship deepened. Oh boy, I’m in trouble! I think my horse purchasing should be stopped. I cannot keep collecting these horses!!!
So, Bella moved in with Petey (yes, they share a stall and paddock when it’s raining and it’s been raining a lot here) and Dale joined them and Oscar in the barn and took the 3rd stall. I’ve shifted my schedule so that I’m riding more – it’s good to have Oscar be the second horse I have to ride since he just needs to be kept fit and happy.
The past few months of riding Dale and getting to know him, my opinion of him has only grown better and better. Warwick loves him, he says, “Well maybe he’s a 2 year horse now.” Translation: maybe he is never leaving!
I think my whole competition mindset has shifted as well. WEG was such an awesome experience that now when I start thinking about a monetary goal, I’m not sure I want to continue towards it. You see, WEG was not about money. WEG was about the experience of representing a country and going out and having FUN and of course, doing the best we could in the arena. It was about spending time with people we love and respect. It was about so much more than winning anything. Hard to explain when all of my life, the showing has been about competing and winning.
I’m pretty sure I won’t ever have another WEG experience. I’m just as sure that I’ll spend a lot of time chasing that feeling. I don’t think it is attainable if I only focus on the competition instead of the experience. I think I want the experience more now. I never thought I’d be saying that.
I leave for the first show of the season in 10 days. I feel like a weight has been lifted after this realization and new focus. I’m looking forward to spending time in the desert (there is something magical about the desert) with my 2 horses and my dogs and my friends (Warwick arrives on show day). I plan to keep all the practices that I did at WEG with me and even add some new one’s like meditation into the mix. I’ll be the one going for a walk amongst the cactus before my class and smiling all the way through my pattern and hoping like HE## that when it comes down to it, I can remain in the moment and grateful for the experience that is presented to me!
Thanks for reading.
The 8 skills your horse needs to know:
Everything we do is a combination of these 8 things.
- Bend laterally on both sides – (1-2).
- Bend laterally and disengage at same time both sides – (3-4).
- Go forward – (5).
- Go backwards off hands – (6).
- Get off inside leg both sides – (7-8).
You can see how to teach your horse these on our video site: videos.warwickschiller.com Just follow the First Rides and Basic Body Control videos.
MAKE THE WRONG THING HARD AND THE RIGHT THING EASY
The basic tenant of this principle is leave your horse alone while he is doing what you want.
DON’T GO TO BED ANGRY
When your horse is no longer relaxed, you need to get him relaxed again before proceeding. (Like a married couple, if
anything has built up during the day, get rid of it before you
go to bed.)
CREATE A TOOL BEFORE YOU USE A TOOL
When solving a problem you need to make sure the tool or exercise you are using to solve the problem is fully functional
before you use it.
APPLICATION OF YOUR AIDS
Also known as order of cues, this principle is very important in teaching a horse how to respond to subtlety.
DO THE OPPOSITE
As the olde English saying goes “You ride a slow horse fast and a fast horse slow.”
THE DONKEY KONG PRINCIPLE
This horse training principle, like Donkey Kong or any other video game, relies on the idea that whenever you get something wrong, you return to the beginning and start all over again.
CHOOSE WHERE YOU WORK AND CHOOSE WHERE YOU REST
Be aware of your horses internal GPS and their ability to recall places where no rest occurs. An amazing tool to that is one of
the foundations of Warwick’s training.
THEY NEED TO KNOW THE ANSWER BEFORE YOU ASK THE QUESTION
Similar to how we teach children to count before they add,
and add before they multiply, because the answer to the current question lies in the previous teaching.
ISOLATE, SEPARATE, RECOMBINE
Anytime you are asking a horse to do two or more things at once they need to know them perfectly well separately.
When you put them together and it is not working you need to mentally isolate the one that is not working, separate it and correct the issue before recombining them.
ANTICIPATION IS YOUR BEST FRIEND OR YOUR WORST ENEMY
Horses are masters at anticipation and knowing when to enhance it and when to suppress it is a key element of training.
CHANGE ONE THING AT A TIME
When it’s time to add something, make sure you only change one thing a time so you know what works or doesn’t work.
WORK WITH THE HORSE YOU HAVE TODAY
No two days are the same, do not work with a horse with any preconceived notions or expectations. Work with the horse that is in front of you right now and do what that horse needs.
You can see all these videos on our online video library: videos.warwickschiller.com
Click below to read a great article by Warwick that was featured in the Horsedeals January 2019 magazine.
by Robyn Schiller
I was listening to the Bulletproof podcast a while ago and Dave Asprey was interviewing Esther Perel (whom I’d never heard of but have since looked up). She was talking about human relationships, but I think we would be well served to consider it for our horses TOO (what I’m suggesting is that you also consider it in the context she was talking about.)
“We all have relationship issues that we’re going to need to work on. All of us. It’s just part of human nature. The only question is going to be with whom. You don’t want to work on them in this relationship, you’re going to have to work on them in the next relationship because you’re the constant factor. At some point you’re going to have to look at yourself, my dear.”
It reminds me of a session that Warwick has done at a few of the recent expos called “The One Thing that Will Change the Relationship You Have with Your Horse”. He starts by telling everyone to take out their phone and point it at him. Then he tells them to use the button that rotates the phone to take a selfie. When everyone sees themselves on their phones he pronounces – “You. You are the 1 thing that will change the relationship with your horse.”
It’s so true. We look at the bit and change to bitless. We look at diet and give them a supplement. We look at the training we are doing and change it to the newest thing or a different trainer. We get the vet out, or the shoer, or the body worker and we get them to change things. We change disciplines or EVEN sell the horse! But, all the time, we are not looking in the mirror at the one thing that can make the biggest difference.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t examine the things I mention above. Of course, you should be assessing the well-being of your horse constantly. But don’t forget to assess the one.constant.factor = YOU.
Just thought I’d share that ah-huh moment with you.
Thanks for reading.