A couple weeks ago I went on my first AERC 25 mile endurance race with Aspen!
The race was held in the beautiful national forest just east of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. In addition to the 25 mile race there were also 50 and 75 mile races.
For those of you that don't know Aspen is my Right Brain Extrovert (RBE) Thoroughbred mare. Being a RBE horse it doesn't take much for her to become unconfident and worried and therefore the need to move her feet (fast!) arises.
During the race Aspen struggled with maintaining gait and speed within the gait, not rushing up on or past the horse in front of us, spooking, being heavy on the forehand with her head in the air, jumping and leaping over bushes and puddles when she could have easily gone around, watching where she was putting her feet, and being generally out of control and afraid.
At mile 13 she finally had a slight mental shift and became somewhat manageable. It seemed that she realized that she might not be able to maintain this level of energy she was pouring into her right brain behavior indefinitely.
At mile 18 she really made the mental/emotional change I was waiting for, turning into a thinking and left brain horse that might be interested in conserving her energy. Between mile 18 and 23 she was a gem - I could ride her without risk of becoming jostled off or having to constantly bend her in some fashion to control the forward. I could steer with my legs and we could maintain gait while doing so.
When we reached mile 23 she crashed. She was so exhausted from her antics that we just walked back the last two miles, on a loose rein I might add. She had expended all of her energy into being afraid and running on instinct rather than thinking about where she was going and managing herself through time and space.
The reason I share this with you today is because this experience gave me a huge BFO (blinding flash of the obvious) moment!
I have always struggled with finding calmness, connectivity, and responsiveness on the Parelli Cloverleaf pattern. I've never been able to ride the pattern on Aspen without huge impulsion issues. I've never been able to do even a single lap without having to touch my reins.
I figured I was doing it wrong but I didn't know what the problem was. I would go until she was hot and sweaty and wanting to stop in the middle - looking for "X" - but she really never connected to the pattern.
After the endurance race was over it dawned on me... If she could be impulsive and fight me for 18 miles (6 hours of riding) then just 20 minutes on the Cloverleaf certainly may not have been enough to find that calmness and connection I was looking for!
I realized how much energy she had and how strong and committed Aspen could be to her feelings and ideas over my (lack of) dedication to something like the Cloverleaf pattern.
I haven't had the chance to do try the pattern yet since the endurance race but I can't wait to do the Cloverleaf again with a better understanding of what "out-focus your horse" truly means. It may mean 18 miles on that pattern (but I sure hope not!). If it does though, I am ready to commit to it. To promise her and myself that we will stick on the pattern until she truly understands it and is THINKING about staying on it without constant corrections to speed or direction.
Moral of the story? Stick with those extroverts! They need to move their feet before they can think which means that for every step they take you have to be prepared to use a ton of willpower and even more focus to keep on track, on your pattern, at the speed you want, and in the right direction.
It may have taken us 18 miles to find calm, connected, responsive but I bet it won't take that long next time. Maybe 16 miles, then 10, then 7, then 3, then pretty soon I can just get on and have it right away because she knows I am there for her, as her leader and alpha, and am willing to stick with her until she TRULY finds peace within herself and her brain kicks in.
Go with your extrovert, every step, every mile. It will be worth it when you win their mind and emotions!