I have to admit I'm a sucker for shiny things. You wouldn't think it to look at me since I don't often get to wear jewelry or "blingyness", but just walk with me through a trade show and the shiny sparkly belt booth will draw me like a beacon. Dan calls this my raccoon tendency and so I'm going to have to admit it, I guess. My name is Jenni Grimmett, and I suffer from Raccoon Syndrome
I know I am not the only one that suffers from this. I think all horse folk like shiny stuff. We admire pretty and not just function and if we were all honest I think we would all prefer to be riding the prettiest horse in the arena. If you aren't owning up to it, you aren't being honest. I recently had the opportunity to ride the amazing Santa Fe Renegade and that horse is drop dead gorgeous. He draws folks like a shiny belt, even with just little ol' me riding him. When I finally looked up and around at my surroundings instead of just loping around grinning like a fool I noticed the side lines were packed with folks watching and I know dang good and well it wasn't ME they were looking at!
It's the prevalence of Raccoon Syndrome paired with the competitive nature of all equestrians that drives us to show our horses. It's amazing what pains we will go to to earn a 50 cent scrap of pretty shiny ribbon. Then add other shiny things like buckles or pretty tack and we stand there drooling in envy imagining jogging around with the sun glinting off our shiny new prize.
It's well known, if not largely admitted in competitive venues that competition can screw up horsemanship. The more money at stake or the higher the prestige the more short cuts likely to be taken in order to stay in the running for the big prize. It's human nature and it's hard to fight it. Cowboy Dressage is trying very hard to keep that from affecting the competition side of this new discipline. Doing away with competition sure isn't the answer because riding in front of a Cowboy Dressage judge is of immeasurable worth. Here you have a knowledgeable person scrutinizing every aspect of your ride and your communication with your horse so that you can improve your ride. How can we ever really improve without the crucible of competition? Because Cowboy Dressage has 30 points of your score wrapped up in Soft Feel and another 20 in harmony and partnership, they are trying very hard to keep those things at the forefront even in the face of competition.
But, we can all fall victim to the raccoon syndrome. Recently at the Cowboy Dressage World Finals show where there were many, many buckles up for grabs you could see some folks that were definitely entering classes just for the purpose of buckle chasing. My Morgan and I entered all of our classes in a single division instead of spreading out our tests into different areas were he may have been more likely to excel because we were hoping to stay in the running for a buckle. We started out our weekend in pretty good shape placing first and second on our very first ever dressage tests. Suddenly that gorgeous buckle for the Vaquero division seemed like it might just be within grasp. Enter raccoon syndrome, exit responsible horsemanship.
The next day my horse was quite nervous and uptight and unwilling to settle on the court. Because I was still chasing a buckle, I didn't want to change anything that might take me out of the running and so I kept my horse in the one handed bit. He looks finished and pretty when carrying that bit. The problem is that if he gets into trouble or gets tense I can't really help him out. All I can do is put more pressure on that bit and make him more and more tense. When he is relaxed, listening and with me it takes a mere change in my body position and very little signal with the bit. When he's completely distracted and out to lunch he cannot "hear" my body and I end up "yelling" with my hands. Well, you can imagine how my soft feel scores suffered. We got through our tests all right, and survived the day and even placed but my horse was getting more and more upset. Finally on day three he blew a test. I couldn't get him quiet enough to even back up for a maneuver and he tried to exit the court as we free jogged past A making me grab him to keep him on the court. Well, that day I placed 5th in one of my classes and got a 7th in another with the lowest scores of the weekend. Now I was thoroughly and completely out of the running for any of those shiny pretty buckles.
That was probably the best thing that could have happened to me from a horsemanship standpoint. It was like somebody walked up and dumped a cold glass of water on my head and said, "What the heck are you doing? Can't you see your horse needs you right now?" So I took off the big pretty bit and but him back in the hackamore where I could support his insecurity. I lost my pretty formal flexion and finished look but in exchange I got quiet easy mind. I got some of our bend working for us again. I stacked the deck in his favor for our last day of tests. I kept him as quiet and calm as possible even walking him out onto the court during a break and letting him stand at 8 eating treats with no pressure. When it came time for him to ride his tests we lined buddies all up down both of the long sides of the court so he felt supported. He rode beautifully. He was quiet, responsive and happy. Lo and behold my soft feel and partnership scores came back up.
I was berating myself a bit for getting sucked into raccoon syndrome so easily and was thinking maybe just doing away with buckles and shiny things was the way to keep this out of Cowboy Dressage right up until I watched the award presentation and watched all those folks graciously accept the shiny buckles I had coveted and they had worked so hard for. How could I justify doing away with their prizes just because I had a moment where I lost focus?
Just like finding a chink in the foundation of your horse's training, I found a chink in my own this weekend. Chico has a nervous active mind that needs support from me at all times. I have a competitive drive that craves recognition and shiny things. It's a bad combination and will be a struggle for us in our partnership, but Cowboy Dressage is the very best place for us to be. When we get off track and my horse needs help and I need a wake up call there are folks here that are ready and able and willing to help us reach our goals. Maybe we will win a shiny soft feel buckle someday; maybe we won't ever even get close. That doesn't matter. What matters is that the two of us continue to build a partnership where we can rely on each other in times of need in all situations not just at home on our own court or out on the mountain trails we love. If I support him and he can trust me, this partnership will grow. I just might have to not walk by the awards table before the end of the show!