Monday, February 23, 2009

An Affair to Remember

Every year, I spend thousands of hours alone with my horses. I prefer it that way, but the truth is that it occurs as much by default as by choice: None of my equestrian friends live nearby, and the only stables in my area zero in on the bling and cha-ching of reining, cutting, and reined cow horses. (No offense, but if I wanted to go around beating up two-year-olds' knees, I'd dispense with the snaffle-bit futurities and buy myself a crowbar.)

Training solo has myriad advantages, including plenty of independence and time to build deep relationships with my horses. The downside is that it's easy to become myopic. My methods are effective, but they're not the only ones out there. Furthermore, I spend so much time with ungentled and green horses that I tend to forget what a finished horse looks like...and it's mighty hard to hit a target you can't see.

So, every February, I look forward to Boise's Horse Affairs. It's the usual equine expo featuring tack and supplement vendors, shiny horse trailers that cost more than my car, vet lectures, a rodeo clown, local stallions, and a few rare breeds. All that's fine (except the clown -- shudder), but it isn't why I attend. I go for the trainers.

This year's lineup included Julie Goodnight, Charles Wilhelm, Richard Shrake, Stacy Westfall, and a mixed bag of other trainers who have yet to achieve household name status. I spent half of Friday and all day Saturday with a liberally highlighted show schedule in one hand and a notebook in the other, plowing through the crowd between round corral and main arena in accordance with my pre-determined agenda.

I made it to at least one seminar by each presenter, with the notable exception of Richard Shrake, who I avoided like the plague. (Sorry, Shrake fans, but that guy has one of the biggest, false-humility shrouded egos I've ever had the misfortune to meet.) As usual, there was a heavy emphasis on natural horsemanship. As usual, I was already familiar with most of the concepts presented. And, as usual, I came away with a few new techniques that made the 2009 Horse Affairs worth $20 and a severe case of bleacher-butt.

Three Horse Affairs ago, when I started my tradition of spending all weekend at the expo as a kickoff for my own training season, I had a farm full of completely unhandled horses. I attended that year's expo with a laserlike focus on gentling techniques and came away with an enhanced understanding of pressure and release as a cornerstone of training.

Two years ago, I gravitated toward information on early groundwork and took home a new appreciation for lateral and vertical flexion that has served me well both on the ground and astride.

Last year, I was all about starting horses under saddle, particularly translating groundwork into mounted work. I came away duly reminded that the slow way is the fast way, and just about everything I want to accomplish in the saddle can and should first be introduced from the ground.

This year, I was drawn to training techniques for basic under saddle skills, particularly shoulder control, leads, and collection. I added a number of exercises to my training toolkit and, more importantly, I found my training theme for this year: Expect perfection.

I'll write more about that later. For now, my point is simply that none of these lessons are rocket science. They aren't even front-page news. But they are easy to forget or lay aside unless we grasp the occasional opportunity regain perspective. Next time you get a chance, take some time to step above the trees. There's a beautiful forest out there.

Speaking of broadening perspectives...

Every year at the Boise Horse Affairs, I observe the sea of cowboy hats, sequins, belt buckles, and lariets and wonder what equine expos are like in other parts of the country.

Our expo features western art, western saddles, and at least 95% Quarter Horse types. I struggle to imagine all those rowel spurs and appaloosas loping around, say, Boston, but what do I know? Do your vendors sell breeches instead of bandanas? Do your presenters talk about cavaletti instead of cows? Can your announcers pronounce the word "dressage?"

I'd be much obliged if'n you folks back east could enlighten me. Thanks, y'all. ;-)

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Carol said...

I love your poster!!
I enjoy horse fairs as well and have been part of ours for 2 seperate years (representing the adoption program I got Grif from). You definitely can learn a lot from the different clinicians.

Our horse fair is fairly large and they try to represent all disciplines from dressage, hunt seat, and jumpin to western pleasure, reining and cutting. They even have driving and sidesaddle demos.

Personally, I enjoy working with my horse by myself. I can concentrate much better than if I have someone distracting me and I don't miss the little things that Griffin does to communcate back to me.

I left an award for you on my blog, so come and check it out when you get some time!

Chelsea said...

Any horse expo I've attended in Michigan is largely western, but it does manage to get a good dose of dressage in and a sprinkling of other disciplines as well. Love your blog, keept it coming!

Andrea said...

Oye, Michigan horse expos! I went to one last November and it was.... well, a bit scary. It was mostly western, which was not the scary part - the scary part was the other disciplines that were utterly failing to make any sense at all during their demos. The most horrifying one was a woman doing 'dressage' - wearing a cowboy hat and riding a completely panicked horse in an Aussie saddle and a snaffle bridle with no noseband (horse was violently gnashing his teeth the entire time) - and taught such things to the audience like, "You should test your horse sometimes. Get on him and trot or canter right off, right away. There's no reason he can't do that." Or "To make a horse passage, take the reins in one hand and tap the horse on the croup with your whip." And the worst part was that the people all around me were going, wow I'm going to go home tonight and teach my horse to passage! I could only imagine a million galloping horses with novice riders flying off in all directions after THAT attempt.

SO glad to hear your expo was much better!!!!!!!!!! I've always wanted to go to the REAL Equine Affair - I bet one of those would be AWESOME. said...

This post had a belly laugh in every paragraph. And I needed that today.
Thank you.
I also appreciate your leaving the crowbar at home. I know your horses do.
Our expos are divided. Being the south, we have plenty of would-be cowboys who wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of white Pikeurs. The goods on the western side are pretty limited: hats, tack, etc.
The focus here in most of the central east coast states has been English riding, but I'm starting to see a lot more endurance fun.
We get all the same clinicians as you do, with some added dressage types thrown in, and we get the most amazing array of clothing and tack from England, etc. Lots of cool foxhunting gear and some really pretentious stuff as well.
It's an insane people-watching experience.
I have to say, though, that I've never ever seen a sequined cowboy hat on a real live person. I might have to be restrained if I did. (no offense to anyone out there).

ellescee said...

Tamara--I could swear I saw you at the Fred Meyer across the street from the expo on Friday night. I couldn't be too sure, and I'm not the type to randomly approach strangers, so I wonder if it WAS you! It was just as we were going in, you were just ahead. I was with my hubs and two girlfriends from school. Hmm...



Horseartist said...

Our Expo here in OR is mixed. We have the standard western NH types, but also dressage, driving, jumping, etc. And we have all sorts of breed represented from Gypsy Vanners to Canadian Horses, mini donks, Andalusians, Haflinger, Curlies, etc. It's one of the things that I like most about it, the HUGE variety.

This will be our 4th year with a booth and demo for the SMR. Most of the exhibitors are really nice, as it's a non-competitive event, unlike a show.

Oh, and this will be the second year of Craig Cameron's Extreme Cowboy race and the first year of the Mustang Challenge. Those two events are certainly upping the western representation. Though last year a girl and her very cute mixed breed pony nearly won the ECR! We were all cheering them on. :)

Tamara, If you want to take a weekend road trip, come out and see us!

Jonna said...

Good thoughts on the expo. I second the bleacher buns! I had the Shrake experience as well at an expo they had here several years back. I wanted to walk in there and beat him, but I refrained..and walked away. Lucky you to have access to such a range of trainers at that expo. If you ever get the chance to go see a clinic , go see Alice Trindle.She is in Oregon. She does some amazing things with ground work and I have implemented some of her methods in my training. It has helped tremendously. I think you might like her approach.

ellescee said...

I'd only heard of Richard Shrake in passing before the expo, so my friends and I attended one of his talks. Firstly, I didn't understand what he was talking about AT ALL, either because the sound was bad or he just wasn't very clear. It seemed as though he was speaking to fans already who had a background in his training method already. I consider myself to be moderately smart, and his concepts flew right over my head. Secondly, he was working with a woman and her National Reining champion quarter horse, so when she'd do something he described, it was like, "Well, yeah!" I just wasn't impressed. Be happy you didn't miss out on him, I'll know now to avoid him in the future!

I thought Stacy Westfall had really great information! She explained things in such a nice, non-gimmicky way and I really enjoyed all the fun stuff she did. I'll be keeping an eye on her in the future!