Thursday, October 27, 2011

Goals are moving targets

Meet Copper Kist. He was a red dun Quarter horse gelding, and the first horse I ever showed. Due to the AQHA rules, I couldn't show him in their events because I didn't own him, I only leased him. So I showed him in trail events at PCHA (Pacific Coast Horse Show Association) shows. Their shows have tons of classes for everyone, which is kind of a bad thing because the tendency is to enter all of the classes you are eligible for and the classes for a four-day show run every day, so by Sunday you and your horse are ready to drop.

(By contrast, AQHA shows have very few classes and each event shows two of the four days of a show.)

Showing PCHA was okay for me at the time, though, because I was younger and needed the show experience. After all, I'd only been riding for a year.

Copper, however, was a champion trail horse. I used to joke that I could just show him the drawing of the course and he'd memorize it. It wasn't that far from the truth. All I really had to do was ask him for the gait I needed, point him in the general direction of the obstacle, and he'd do the rest. He'd find the line we needed, adjust his stride to make it look pretty, and keep from clunking the poles.

We showed in Basic Trail for the season and wound up in second place, which earned me a silver buckle.

In the middle of showing Copper, I bought Frostie, intending to transition to showing her. She was so sweet and had such a cute little jog, we were going to teach her to do trail and we'd be able to do AQHA events.

Except that Frostie didn't like being a showgirl. She also didn't particularly like poles. She was never in the mood to learn how to find her own line and adjust her stride - she wanted us to do it for her. And I didn't know how to do that. Copper had taken care of me.

After a couple of years, I tossed my goal of showing Frostie into the Goodwill pile, and bred her instead. It was a foolhardy thing to do. If you have a mare that is not doing what you want, the last thing you should do is breed her and hope for a foal that will do what you want. DNA isn't usually that kind.

But I got Snoopy and he is a showhorse. He loves the excitement of being at a horse show. He loves his work, of going over poles. He loves it so much, he won the Trail Futurity as a 3-year old. After that success, Tina was certain we were going places. She was going to show him in Junior horse and try to get him qualified for the AQHA World Show (an invitational). I was probably going to start showing him when he was five, in Novice Amateur. We'd be in Select before we knew it.

Then, of course, he broke his leg, re-habilitated for a year and a half, and everything was put on hold.

Now he's back, sort of. His leg is as healed as it's going to be, and it's sound, but it's not the same leg he had at 3. There is a fused joint, a plate, and a bunch of screws, and the rest of his body compensates for what it no longer does. While he finds new ways to do old things, he has less tolerance for movements that are too fast or too tight. And he needs the chiropractor on a regular basis.

At first, Tina's goals remained unchanged. The doctor said he could go back to work, therefore we could go back to working toward the World. It was now too late to show him as a Junior horse, but we would just have to get him up to speed as a Senior horse. She was my trainer, so I was willing to go along for that ride.

Then, of course, Tina's grandson got sick, Niki got pregnant, and we all sat back for a year and took a deep breath. While Tina was spending almost every day at the hospital, I was taking lessons from Niki, who was trying to prepare me for when she went on maternity leave. The lessons were grueling, but specific and technical and good. I started to ride better. I started to feel confident on my horse.

We went to a couple of shows, which I've blogged about. I did place in those shows, but more importantly, I had a great time. I felt relaxed and confident on my horse, like I knew what I was doing. I wasn't trying to win, I was playing the "Niki tapes" in my head as I went through the course. Having a nice, slow-legged horse helped, since I had time to prepare for each obstacle.

Now Tina and Niki are back. The Niki at the barn today is the same Niki who left, except she now has a little boy to burble about. Our lessons resumed as if we'd never been out of training. Tina returned with expectations: she was going to resume her training of Snoopy and me and work toward qualifying at shows.

But I had a year to work with Niki and re-assess what I want to do with Snoopy, and suddenly the World wasn't so important. My goals became 1) to keep Snoopy as sound and comfortable as possible for his entire lifetime; and 2) to have fun with him. Neither of these involved campaigning him, or chasing points. The World show became icing on a cake, but the cake, the substance of what I want to do with Snoopy is to go to the shows I can afford (with time or money) and have a good time. I want to feel confident and relaxed and ride my horse pro-actively.

I was worried about telling Tina this. I wouldn't hurt or disappoint her on purpose for anything. But she needed to know what I wanted. I'm the owner, after all, plus I'm the one paying for training. And, even though Niki's lessons can be excrutiating, I end each one feeling proud of what I've accomplished.

So yesterday, the planets aligned to get everyone together, and I had a sit-down with both of them. Tina was much more receptive than I anticipated, and surprised me by agreeing that Snoopy will probably never go to the Open World but we might get to the Select. Maybe. She was definitely okay with my having fun with him, and after a lot of discussion about Niki's lessons versus hers, she agreed that, at least for now, I need Niki's more technical approach to help my engineering mind understand what I'm doing.

Now I'm happy to have everything cleared up and can look forward to the show season without worrying whether I'll be able to meet my goal of having fun. Goals need to be moving targets, because Life keeps adjusting our aim.