As many of you may or may not know, the All American Quarter Horse Congress is currently underway here in Ohio. Saturday started the over fences events, which I have been watching like crazy on the live internet feed provided by the Ohio Quarter Horse Association. You can view the live feeds by clicking here.
Since purchasing Cool (who is actually a registered and well bred from halter horse bloodlines) I have transferred his AQHA registration into my name and joined the Association as well. While there are some aspects/practices within the Quarter Horse industry that I will never agree with or understand the exact logic behind, the over fences and equitation divisions really do interest me.
For a little while, I was wanting to show Cool western as that was the style that he was started (and by "started" I mean someone threw a western saddle on him and w/t/c around a round pen...kind of haha) but since I come from a hunter jumper background with a few years in 4-H as a child, the extent of my pleasure riding knowledge is a) outdated and b) not at the level needed to actually train a horse into a discipline. So, as usual, I went about learning all that I could. I watched videos, attended some clinics, took a couple lessons on a broke western pleasure horse and asked about the training techniques and opinions of people that I knew within the AQHA industry who showed western. I had two friends (one who shows western pleasure and one who shows in the trail classes) ride Cool a few times. I even took a job working part time for a local QH trainer so that I could see what all went into prepping a locally/nationally competitive horse. It has been a very interesting experience. There are plenty of different ways to train and prep a western pleasure horse, but the same basic principles seem to appear in just about everyone's training programs. There are just as many good trainers and good ways to do it, just as there are bad and I have been lucky enough to work for a trainer and have friends to give input who seem to do it more of the right way. In all honesty though, the more I learned about the western riding, the more I knew that it just wasn't for me. Not the western pleasure part anyway. The horsemanship (western equitation) classes are something that still interest me, but the rest of it is out as far as I am concerned. Not only do I think that Cool won't hold up to do western pleasure (he has a longish back making it really hard for him to collect and go slow at the lope) but I just don't think that his type A personality would tolerate what goes into making a competitive western pleasure horse, plus the prepping of these types of horses is just such a far deviation from the world that I know and what I've grown up doing that I don't know that I could bring myself to do it. Let's just say I'm like an old lady who's set in her ways!
Basically, I took into account Cool's strengths and weaknesses (mentally and physically) and my strengths and weaknesses and decided that the western pleasure events wasn't the route that would showcase either of our talents properly. Why try to smash a round peg into a square hole right?
So one night just recently, I had turned out Emmy and Cool into the field and was organizing some things in the horse trailer when I heard farting and pounding of hooves. I looked over to see Cool galloping around the pasture, leaping into the air and bucking. Holy crap does that horse get air...thank goodness he doesn't buck like that when I ride him (knock on wood) because I would be TOAST. I mean, that horse gets vertical! Anyway, after a few galloping laps, he slowed down and and was actually loping roll backs and figure 8s in the pasture...complete with lead changes and sliding stops at the gate when he felt it necessary...then he would wheel around on his haunches and take off galloping up the fence line again, only to slow in the corner, do an lead change and come back the direction that he just came. It was breath-taking and beautiful. (Emmy this whole time was standing in the middle of the field grazing...completely oblivious to Cool...I think she's getting selectively blind and deaf in her old age ha!) And right there I made the decision to never make him do anything that stifled his natural movement. He's not a very graceful or fancy horse like Emmy...he doesn't flick his toes or seem to float in mid-air when he gets that big trot and he doesn't snap his knees to his eyeballs over jumps, but what he does have is consistent control of his body all the time, something that, despite all of Emmy's fanciness, she always had a hard time maintaining. Despite her AMAZING jump and her gorgeous movement, I had to hold her hand all the time in the show ring. And maybe part of that is just their personalities as horses? Emmy absolutely NEEDS me to survive...when I first went to college she worked herself into such a fit that she colicked once a week until I finally took her to school with me. You can look at her the wrong way and she flattens herself into the corner of her stall because she knows she's in trouble. Cool doesn't really need anyone. He's independent, he couldn't give a crap if you brushed him or petted him. When we first got him I had to carry a crop all the time when I went into his stall or was walking him because he was just so pushy and rude. A slap of your hand when he was bad or dragging you around got you no where with him. He barely even blinked. He and Emmy were raised so differently and in such different environments and I think that it really shows in their personalities and interactions with people. It is both a good and a bad thing respectively. While Cool can be an absolute PITA on the ground, I can sit on his back and canter him around with no reins and he just never changes. He doesn't need me to ride him. He just needs me to sit on him.
This is the reason that I think his forte is going to be in the equitation (flat and fences) and maybe the hunter hack. I took him to a local A circuit trainer last winter for a lesson and she had some really good things to say about him, including the fact that she thought he would be competitive on the local A circuit in the low hunters, mainly because he's so bold and just so consistent, and let's face it, the hunters are all about consistency. I think that the equitation divisions will let him shine since he doesn't jump ultra round. His longish back actually is an asset there because it makes for an incredibly smooth ride on him. I mean, you just can't look bad on that horse. Plus, equitation is my forte too. Remember what I said about combining our strengths? I was placed in the top 5 nationally in intercollegiate equitation as a freshman at my college...something that hadn't been done in 13 years. And so, with all of this in mind, my goal is to get him to the Congress in two years. It's going to be a long road with plenty of set backs I'm sure. But if I can maintain his soundness and his breathing, I don't see any reason why he can't do it.
If you're free tonight check out that live feed from the Congress, the hunter hack classes (2 fences + a flat class) are going on tonight. Someday, we will be in them!