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Hooked on Mountain Trail

With my half-Quarter and half-Morgan horse, Cash, loaded in the trailer, I headed toward the ferry. The air was brisk and the water on the Columbia River that morning twinkled from the sun that promised welcoming heat by mid-afternoon.

Blood pumped through my veins from a mix of excitement and nerves. My first Mountain Trail Competition put on by Wild Cowgirl Enterprises on my five-year-old ball-of-fire was the next morning in Walla Walla, WA. Previous weeks proved spooky for Cash as we herded cows up Highway 21 in the San Poil Valley on their way to summer grazing. I was uncertain how he would perform on the southern side of the state. Aerial view of Maxon-Box Stables Ranch.

I’d been training this colt for five years for this type of competition and I had no idea how he’d do. To relieve some of my mental stress from an overly busy spring, I decided to treat this competition as a clinic and gauge Cash’s progress. I hoped to place him in a clinic before Walla Walla, but due to lack of participants, the clinic fell through.

So we were on our way. I looked forward to meeting my dad on site. In five hours Cash’s world would change––I hoped for the better. I’m thankful I had my dad for support.

Upon arrival, I unloaded cash, parked my trailer and settled in. The wind was warm with a slight breeze. On the horizon, and as predicted by the Weather Bug app on my cellphone, storm clouds floated on the wind current, headed toward Maxson-Box Stables where the competition was held.

I figured I’d get my horse saddled and warmed up. There was a practice course on the west end of the indoor arena. By the time we hit that course, rain drizzled, lightning split the sky, and thunder boomed south of us. I learned early on in horse training that once you start something, you MUST finish!

Cash liked the teeter-totter, bridge, step-up, and downfall obstacles. But the mushroom table and gulley he was having nothing to do with. By the way he refused the gulley, I’m sure he was convinced it would gobble him up to never return to green pastures. Once in, the edge was back high, after all.

So knowing the rule about not giving up until the horse relaxed and accepted the obstacle, we did ground work and rode in the rain, wind, thunder, and lightning (yes, we were safe). I was nothing short of a muddy, drowned rat by the time I put Cash up and returned to my horse trailer.

But since he’d finished on such a great, soft, acceptable note, I had no doubt my quiet, red steed would perform without a hitch the next morning.

I woke early, fed Cash and myself, and tacked up, pining number 404 on each side of the saddle blanket. He sailed through the warm-up course. Time crawled forward as I waited for the class to be called. At this time I wished I had my seasoned Paint I had competed Extreme Cowboy with. When the Novice Ranch (for horses age 3-6) for was called, I handed off my handsome gelding to my dad and walked the course on foot with fourteen fellow contestants.

My confidence soared, knowing Cash could perform each obstacle with grace and style, as he did every ride at home. Keywords––at home.

I was first up in the first class of the day and couldn’t wait to show the first of three judges (and all other contestants) how well trained my boy was. The first obstacle was to ride down into a boggy pit with a log to my left that lay partway down the side, turn around in the bog, and exit the pit on the other side of a log.

Fury and frustration hit me like a sharp slap in the face as my “well-trained steed” refused the pit. It wasn’t his pit at his home! It was not his boggy soil. It was not his log dangling down the bank, crowding his space. He got part way down, reared up, climbed up the side of the pit like a cougar was on his tail, and shook his head, wide-eyed.

You guessed it, our score on that obstacle was a big fat “0”!

He did make it through the rest of the class, dodging ditches and walking through downfall and rushing water. He did live to taste green grass. In fact, one judge gave him a “9” (ten is high score) and “best yet” during his water crossing the second time through that day in a different class.

The good news: Cash went from a 0 to 8s and 9s in three-days’ time. The novice courses consisted of 15 obstacles: boggy pit, gullies (that felt like the Columbia River Basic Coulee to Cash I’m sure), ditches, mountain bike camp, downfall, waterfall, creek, rocks, gates, 360 degree turn-around on elevated box, side-passing over logs, drag fallen branch, back up ditches and trails, walk, trot, canter (next to the covered wagon is scary––never know when a renegade is going to hop out and start shootin’), deer hide on a pulley, up and down hills, through a scary tunnel, and over bridges.

Whew. He survived!

His score jumped from a 43.5 on his very first mountain trail course to a 91. He would have scored higher than 89.5 on his best-ranked course that Sunday if I hadn’t get off course twice. But that is part of it. The rider has to memorize the course and I can tell you, things look different from the back of a 16-hand horse.

In track athletes PR, meaning they look at improving their own performance and not compare themselves to others. If you look at Cash’s scores, from a 43.5 to 61.5 to 85.25 to 89.5 to 91, I’d say my red, handsome steed had quite the PR.

It is hard to train for these type of competitions. We can do most to all of these obstacles at home. But the best thing we can do for our horses is to take them away from their comfort zone and help build their confidence at additional venues.

I watched Cash stretch and grow, at times a painful process, over a four day period and I look forward to future growth until he shifts from a spooky colt to a seasoned companion. A journey we will happily continue.

I would love to answer any further questions you have about training, Mountain Trail Competition, or Cash.

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  1. Jean Sutton says:

    Great story, Carmen, I can just see Cash on the trail. Glad Dad was there with you.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you, Mom! We had a great time. My boy is a work-in-progress!

  2. You and Cash have put in a lot of work for your well deserved outcome! I just want my 17 year-old to be relaxed whenever I ride him alone. If I ride with someone he rarely flinches at anything, ride him alone and he’s scared of everything! Great job!

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you, Paty! My Paint gelding is the opposite. We ride alone, he’s a jewel. He gets with other horses and can’t stand to be left behind. They do have their quirks, don’t they? Keep riding!

  3. Wow! I loved following your video progress, and this recap gives me a great sense of how you and Cash both grew through obstacles. Thanks for sharing, dear friend!

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you for following, Kelly! It’s been quite the ride.