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.
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