Every July the Arabian Youth Nationals come to town for a week of wonderful events. Yesterday morning were the trail classes. I convinced my neighbor Lisa to go with me. I remembered how challenging the classes used to be. Monster eating obstacles that only the best trained horses would endure. For example, they used to ride thru wedding arbors, water obstacles, or move aside shower curtains. Not anymore. Due to time constraints, or lack of skilled horses, the trail class was pretty ho hum. There were lots of rail obstacles to walk, trot, canter, or back thru along with the bridge and gate. We watched for a while and I got some ideas for training at home but then we began watching the warm up in the area behind us more than the class.
So we decided to wander. Next door they were starting a western pleasure clinic with Elizabeth Bentley, so we sat down for that. She only had four horses in the clinic but she gave a pretty good lecture. She explained how some show clothing can detract from the horse, which you never want to do in a pleasure class which is judged on the horse. She said that western pleasure is very difficult for most Arabian horses to perform well for a long time because they are so alert and spirited that it's hard for them to basically shut down and play dumb. (my words) She suggested training the horse in a variety of activities to keep them interested. She said teaching lateral movement (sidepass) and turns on the forehand and hindquarters are important for improved performance. She explained how the rider should push the horse forward with their legs without increasing the speed of the gait so there would be more action in the hindquarters.
She explained a little about the weighted reins that Arabians use in western classes and how there is a deceptively loose rein because one actually still maintains contact with the horses mouth. (If you ever get the chance, check out the bits and reins they use- they're incredibly heavy! and expensive. The reins I liked were $695.00, the bridle $295.00, the breastplate $395.00, and the saddle $2895.00. And that saddle is cheaper than others I've seen.) She also said to work your Arabian in various patterns and keep him busy rather than always riding the rail. That way, when they enter the class it is a relief to just move along the rail and they behave better. I agree. (I'm always saying that, do serpentines, figure eights, ride point A to B, etc; exercise them in such a way that they are so busy listening to you, the horse doesn't have time to think about acting up.) One other point she made was to train the horse in a light snaffle until they are very soft in the mouth before fully bitting them up. Too often the horse is not ready for the curb and weighted reins.
One thing Lisa and I noticed was that the pretty pinto being ridden seemed very stiff in the front legs. The legs were tightly bound with bandages and I wondered if they were too high up and maybe constricting movement. The clinician worked them quite a bit on getting a balanced lope. At the end of the clinic she commented to the rider about the stiffness and uneven gait. The girl responded that the horse had strained tendons. Strained tendons! Riding?? Is that stupid or what? What a shame!!!
After the western pleasure clinic, a hunter pleasure clinic started up with another woman, Virginia Godwin. There were 10 horses in this one. She discussed traffic and how at National level the classes can have 25 - 40 horses in them. It was interesting, especially when she had the kids team up and ride in pairs and then fives. They had to turn together. It was a good lesson because many of these kids had not ever had to do this sort of thing. Then she brought out volunteers and a couple dozen kids ran out and demonstrated working like horses along the rail and passing. This was funny and chaotic. It proved that horses can naturally find their herd place but need to be directed when ridden and humans do not follow directions well at all.
Because of the monsoon season or maybe Hurricane Dolly, it rained a lot! We wandered through the vendor hall and coveted a few things for sale. I even got to sit on a side saddle! Then around 5:30, four and a half hours after we'd got there, we decided to leave. I took Lisa to my favorite Mexican fast food place, Acapulco Tacos and Burritos and we fed our chili fix. She had carne adovada (pork) with red chili (of course) and I got a beef machacha(shredded) with green chili and beans. Then we went home to our water saturated mountains.
All in all, after the morning news of Annie's pregnancy, it was a wonderful horsey day! Later in the week expect more from the show. We are going back on Friday and Saturday afternoon and evening for working cow horse classes and finals in Native Costume, Freestyle Reining, Park, Sidesaddle, etc. :)