Monday, August 15, 2011

Our First ACTHA Ride

There was an ACTHA ride in our area last Saturday. I thought it would be a good experience for both Jessie and me for a number of reasons. It would be just us. My wife is away on a trip. We would trailer alone to a familiar area, but be surrounded by unfamiliar horses.

The ride was supposed to start at 8:30 to beat the heat. 9am at the latest said the coordinator. Check-in was at 7am. I woke up at 5 am and tossed Jessie her breakfast, then went and had some of my own. I was a apprehensive about how she would be around the other horses and contemplated what I would need to do if she acted up. I thought one of the best decisions was to forego that second cup of coffee so I wouldn't be all wound up. No use both of us having our knickers in a knot.

We loaded around 6:45 and were out the gate for the 25 minute drive. I had had three groundwork sessions over the week and they seemed to be paying off. We got to the venue and there were a couple of trailers already there. Jessie unloaded and immediately checked her surroundings. She was calm and I let her look around for a moment or two. Then I yield her hindquaters with a look to swing her around to the tie rind. A few moments later a gal from the next trailer came over and asked if I followed Clinton. I said yes and she replied, "I knew it by the way you looked and those hindquarters moved."
Trailer Area

We chatted for a bit. Three of them had come from about an hour away and they had DUH halters and leads and three very nice horses. It was their first event and I could tell they were a bit nervous too. We checked in at the desk. I registered under my wife's name because we just have a single membership. Jessie was registered under Dusty. This added a chuckle at every obstacle as I called out my name, "Ranae". There were many suggestions from the other competitors about clothing choices and falsetto voices.

After tacking Jessie up I wondered how to go about spending the next hour preparing her for the ride. I put on her bridle and took her off a little ways to warm up with some bending exercises. We did some serpentines and ORS as well. We worked for about 10 minutes and then I took her back to the trailer and tied her up. I walked around the other trailers talking with the riders for about 1/2 an hour. I'm not usually comfortable in these types of situations and thought this would be a good opportunity for me to improve my social skills. And, I thought it would help me relax a bit. It did.

By now we were beginning to realize the event was not going to start on time. This worked out in our favor. I had left Jessie standing at the trailer. I didn't want my anxiety rubbing off on her and when I got back to her she was very calm and relaxed. Good girl. When we thought we were close to the riders meeting, I put her bridle back on and mounted and walked over to where the horses were gathering. A nice guy, also named John, with an Aussie accent and a bullwhip rode up and introduced himself. He would be riding in the Jackpot run, a classification allowed to those who hadn't signed up in time. He had noticed we were in a distinct majority as the girls outnumbered the guys by a good margin.

The ride starts at a point very close to the highway patrol shooting range. The guys were not supposed to be practicing but we could hear them starting up. Jessie and I had ridden by once before during practice. It was a little nerve wracking, but we did it. One of the gals horses looked a bit nervous and John suggested she let him crack his whip to help the horse get used to it. She was reluctant, but he knew it would help. He started off with just the softest of cracks. We were three feet from him and Jessie gave a look like "You brought me out here to desentsitize me?" She stood there calmly as the cracks got louder and louder. One of the open riders asked if she could get closer. With all the horses standing calmly he cracked it loud (it hurt my ears) half a dozen times.

Just as we were about to have the meeting a trailer pulled up and the coordinator said we'll wait for them. Ten minutes later aother trailer pulled up. Then he went out to check the course. To make a long story not so long, I think we finally left at 11am.

It was warm by now. I was riding between to groups: The two Open riders and the trhee DUH gals. The first obstacle was a section where you walk, ask your horse to trot, then walk again (the Open riders had to lope). Jessie did well on the up transition, but didn't respond to my seat on the down. I cued her ever so slightly and she responded. I don't think the judge could even see the cue.

We had a log jump at the trot, before a downhill. I hung out with the open riders. She is a team roping judge and we had a good conversation about horses. The downhill was easy and then we had to wind along the river bank. We were going through a trail that was recently cut for us. This was the only point in the ride were I thought my fears would be realized. The trail wasn't very wide and I had to duck under some limbs. Meanwhile, Jessie was on the ass of Diesel, one of the DUH gals horses. There wasn't any room for correction. I stopped and backed her up and we moved forward. Bam. Right on Diesel's butt again. I back her up with a little more vigor and her front feet came off the ground a bit. I was able to keep her a few feet behind Diesel as we finally wound our way back up to the main trail.

When we got back out in the open I apologized to the rider (I think it was Deana) and she said Diesel was all jacked up too. Diesel had started to jig on the trail which is what she had hoped he would not do. I put Jess to worked two tracking back and forth across the trail and she eventually started paying attention again.

The next obstacle was dismount, spray the horse with water, and remount. We had a few minute wait as the other horses ahead of us went. This obstacle went very well for us. I considered mounting from the off side for extra points, but frankly I'm not familiar with the rules enough to know if you get plus points.

The DUH gals fell behind and I found myself with the open riders again for the next obstacle. It was an uphill climb. The open riders went first. I didn't know they were supoosed to lope up the hill and it surprised both Jessie and me when rocks went a-flyin'. When it was our turn, Jessie thought she was supposed to charge up the hill too. She went up a bit faster than I wanted her to, but it was at a trot.

We wound our way back to the starting point for the last obstacle: picking up a hat with a stick. The open riders went first and I saw how they did it and then we just mimiced them. Jess did this obstacle very well.

I took Jessie back to the trailer, unsaddled her, and then took her over for some water. There was a hose so I rinsed her off a bit, then tied her back to the trailer. I went up to the restaurant and ordered lunch. It was about an hour and a half before the riders were in and the results were tabulated. I passed the time in conversation with the open riders and the Aussie, John, who had a ranch and was breeding Australian Stock horses. We talked about Camp Drafting, polocrosse, and breeding characteristics. It was very informative. When they announced the winners, Ronnie the open rider won first. When they announced me, yes me, as the pleasure class winner I was stunned. I hadn't seen any of the other riders performance and was certain we had many enough mistakes to let the competition in. I was very proud of Jessie. It was a fun ride and a good experience. Oh, and we won a bucket, some fly spray, mane and tail detangler, a trailer feed bag, some vetwrap, fly sticks, a hoof pick, and a Tractor Supply Hat (very fittingly in pink - how did they know?) all courtesy of the local Tractor Supply here in Bakersfield.

I'm hoping to get together again with John and take some photos of his horses for his website. We may even get to do some cow work in the deal.

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