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.
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.