The Mane Event Trainer’s Challenge

“My Point of View”

When Ron Barker, the promoter of “The Mane Event” discussed details of the Trainer’s Challenge with me, I was excited. His priority was the welfare of the horse and to accommodate this concern he allotted an extra hour of round penning for each horse. The other thing that impressed me was that he wanted the very core or essence of the Trainer’s Challenge to be “educational”.

I accepted the Trainer’s Challenge based on these priorities!

For each and every step of the way, I put the horse first; there would be no over exposing the horse in order to win! I put my integrity on the line, demonstrating professionalism and respect for my peers. I was also honest with myself, my fellow competitors and to my horse.

Allow me to share some of my personal experiences, challenges and rewards.

The Horse

My wife Caroline had been asking me for months if I was nervous about doing the Trainer’s Challenge. I kept saying no, but this didn’t stop her from asking me several more times. Finally, minutes before walking into the round pen at the Mane Event, Caroline asks me one more time – are you nervous?

I told her that my worst fear was drawing a horse that lacked forward impulsion. I related that in my career with horses, some of the most difficult horses I worked with were those that did not want to go forward. It’s not that you can’t teach these horses to respond obediently to your go forward cue; it’s just that it takes a lot of time and patience. Point being, since I only had four round penning sessions to work with, time would not be on my side.

Then the moment came – there I was in the round pen, and as I tossed my lariat out at the hindquarter to ask for movement – my horse just stood there! Could this be true? Did I have a horse that lacked forward impulsion? Was my worst fear truly becoming a reality?

Still in denial, once again I tossed out my lariat, and then again, but my horse barely moved. My heart sank as I stood there in the round pen at the Mane Event.

My horse was telling me, I will not move forward for you – I only do what I want, when I want and nobody can make me do anything different. However, because I am not afraid of you I will be friendly and rub my nose all over your shirt, walk on top of you and use you as a scratching post if I get itchy. So, go ahead and shower me with pets and murmur words of sweet nothing into my ear as I totally ignore you. I will do all these things because I am dominant! I have no respect for you and if you even so much as think about challenging me in any way, I will resist and fight you.

Being aware of this, I was careful not to put too much pressure on my horse in order to re-enforce my go forward cue. But, even though I did not raise my pressure above three or four – on a scale from one to ten – my horse immediately got resistant and started to kick out at me with both hind feet. He was warning me that if I continued to challenge his dominance, those back feet would connect with me next time. Bottom line, my horse not only lacked forward impulsion, but he was also very dominant and ready to fight.

Force and intimidation does not work on any horse! And, this is especially true with horses that already have built-in resistance. In fact, I have seen these types of horses get so willful, stubborn and oblivious to pain, that all the pressure in the whole world couldn’t get them to move. Instead, with each stroke of pressure they just became more and more resentful, defiant and tuned out. If you were to continue adding pressure, this horse would eventually have a mental break down, become totally enraged, and then fight back with nothing less than pure survival. To say this horse could be dangerous – would be an understatement!

I needed to earn some respect and I needed to do it in a way that was non-confrontational and safe. This is when I turned to the audience and said – If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something different. That is exactly what I did.

The Audience

Stage fright is real!

I really don’t think there is any cure for stage fright, however, a receptive audience can do wonder’s for a person’s confidence. I should know – the audience at the Mane Event proved this to me.

I was rewarded with encouragement and appreciation for the slightest try – this made my confidence soar like an eagle. Enthusiasm out-powered doubt and I begin to perform with zest.
Isn’t that interesting – this is no different for a horse!

The audience truly did allow me to get into “the zone”! This is a mental and emotional headspace that allowed me to get focused and have some “serious fun”! And I truly did get serious about the physical, mental and emotional condition of my horse, but at the same time, I got serious about having fun with both my horse and the audience.

As I looked out into the audience it was encouraging to see so many of my friends who had made a special trip, just to come out and support me. To all of them, I say thank you!

Naturally, there were also a lot of people in the audience that I didn’t know, but to my surprise, a staggering amount of these people knew about me! I had numerous people saying they “religiously” read all of my articles in Pacific Prairie and Horse Journal and that they even cut the articles out and saved them or sent them to friends who didn’t have access to the magazine. I had other people tell me that they had heard about me from a friend or from a friend of a friend.

A steady stream of positive feedback was flowing my way! So many people believed in my training program and the way I worked with my horse in the Trainer’s Challenge. They knew I had a sticky horse and they saw first hand how I got results without force or intimidation – they saw a better way and they liked it.

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