Chico is a wonderful, magnificent, gregarious horse with an amazingly engaging mind. We have a true connection like old friends. I've had Chico since he was a very green 3 year old and have put all of the training past his first 60 days myself. I've come quite a long way since I started trying to figure out how to finish a horse. Chico was the first horse I had to finish on my own and honestly, though I have been riding since I was 8, I didn't really know how to go about it. So, I started muddling and trying things and feeling my way along. Every bad habit that Chico has is thoroughly my fault. He has a brace on his left side thanks to my tendency to bend him more to the right. He walks off when mounting often because I trust him and don't make him stand still like I should. I've ridden him in every conceivable bit, bosal and contraption and tried almost every discipline with him trying to decide both where I wanted to go as a rider and where he should go as a horse.
What I've created is a pretty brave, quiet, fairly broke horse with some well ingrained quirks that I just put up with in him that I would have NEVER allowed in my hackamore horse. While I can ride Chico in the bosal and have attempted to "restart" him that way he will NEVER be a true bridle horse in the traditional vaquero way. He's never quite figured out responding to signal but is pretty light just off pressure most of the time.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to ride in a Cowboy Dressage clinic with Dale Partee. It was a great weekend to spend with Chico and I looked forward to the opportunity to spend time both with my best bud and all my good girl friends as well. Cowboy Dressage is wonderful for many reasons, but the true Jack Palance "one thing" (A City Slickers reference, I'm sure many of you will get it) that I took away from this past weekend was to hold myself and my horse accountable. Cowboy Dressage is an exacting discipline. Because you are riding straight lines and circles on a fairly small court accuracy and timing is a must. We've been riding on the cowboy dressage court for two summers, playing in the dirt as it were. But this weekend "sorta" round and "sorta" straight and "almost right" wasn't good enough. Dale was so good about making sure we did it again and again until we got it right.
And you know what? Chico can do it. Even if he's wiggly sometimes and opinionated and not always perfectly bent around my leg, if I don't accept that as the answer and continue until he has it right, viola!, there it is! I'm so in the habit of close is good enough with Chico because of all of the mediocre training we've done that I've created a mediocre horse. But, he doesn't have to be that way. I can raise the expectations for both Chico and myself and he will rise to the occasion.
I don't really have a good reason for why Chico has always been allowed such leniency in our training while I was so strict with Moony. Perhaps it's because I was too close to him or felt unsure with what I was asking. The good news is that that can change. I don't have to "retrain" him, all I have to do is ask for precision. He knows dang good and well what I am asking. He knows how he is to respond. What he doesn't know is that "meh" isn't enough. Dale reminded us of a quote she picked up from Buck Brannaman that I will have to paraphrase here because I didn't have a pen. Don't ride your horse the way he was or the way he is. Ride him the way you want him to be.
The vaquero journey and Cowboy Dressage are natural partners. Even though the traditional vaquero never had a need to ride patterns in an arena, the tradition of horsemanship, soft feel, and taking your time to make things perfect are all the essence of both the vaquero tradition and Cowboy Dressage. The vaqueros didn't just strive for pretty dog gone good, they wanted perfection and precision in their cues creating a trigger fire like response in their bridle horses. A good vaquero will communicate with his horse so subtly that you will never see what he is asking. You don't get that level of precision with "sorta" right answers. You get that with striving for perfection every single time you ask your horse to do something. The vaqueros used cattle to train their horses in percision. I'm using the Cowboy Dressage court.
You know, when you really think about it, it's a good motto for life as well. Don't live your life the way it was, or the way it is, but live your life they way you want it to be. Strive for perfection in all things and with grace and a good heaping of try perfection can begin to happen.
A moment of perfection from this past weekend.