This year I attended with the goal being to actually RIDE through all of the obstacles. They had a different course laid out this year, with a few of the same obstacles and several new ones. I saddled Diego up in the parking lot and then headed over to the arena. We did ground work over all the obstacles first. Unlike a couple of weeks ago, this time Diego pretty much went right over or through what I was pointing him at, with maybe just a bit of a hesitation to smell and check it out first. Unknowingly, this would be one of the biggest disasters, and highlights of my day. One of the obstacles was a frame of PVC pipe that had five foam pool noodles dangling straight down from the cross-bar, a horse "car wash" if you will. I stepped through and then was using my stick to drive Diego through the obstacle from the ground. But as he went to come through, he stepped too close to the side frame, and caught the pole under the stirrup of the saddle. The entire obstacle started to tip forward and collapse on him! Diego bolted forward a few steps, but I was able to get him turned and was telling him "Easy, whoa" and after a 180, he stopped. The people who build the course know how to do it safely, and the poles pulled loose from the buckets they were set in by design. The top cross-bar was also not glued into place, so one of the "legs" had come off as well. Diego stopped with the remaining L-shape balanced across his withers, with the pool noodles dangling around his legs, and stood there while we were able to extricate him. The female clinician came over with high praise for both of us on handling the situation so well. After a few more confidence builders, I was able to take Diego back over and go through that obstacle successfully.
After getting through all the obstacles on the ground, I decided to mount up and tackle them under saddle. There were about four other horses sharing the arena with us, one of which was a newly adopted prison trained mustang who was being taught to load into a trailer. Several of the other horses were also BLM mustangs, I was the only one that was riding, everyone else was doing ground work.
Diego ended up being a Rockstar! He did so well with everything! We went over, under, or through every obstacle on the course. He was a bit hesitant to go through both of the noodle obstacles, the earlier car wash one and another where the noodles were sticking straight out and you had to ride through them, 3 on each side. He rushed a few times through that, and several times would stop and balk at it, but with persistence I could get him through again and again.
One of the scarier incidents for me came when we were navigating a flagged alleyway with a tarp to cross in the middle. We had already ridden through several times, but the mustang they were attempting to load was being worked with the trailer not to far from the end of this obstacle. Suddenly, the horse came flying back out of the trailer and got away from the handlers. I froze with Diego, hoping the now loose horse wouldn't come our direction. I was trying to figure out if I should do an emergency dismount, or just wait it out. It could have been a big wreck, but Diego and I just stood there and they caught the horse pretty quickly.
One of the last things we did was to load into the stock trailer they had parked in the arena. Dig loads very well into my 2H slant load, I generally just stand at the back and he walks himself in to the front stall and waits while I close the divider. So I sent him into the 4H stock trailer, and he walked in and stood in the middle. After about 15 seconds, still standing at the rear of the trailer, not touching him at all, I told him to "Back, back" and he proceeded to calmly back all the way out of the trailer. A lady who was standing there spectating commented, "Nice job." He really did just perfect with that
Attending the clinic this year, Diego and I received a ton of compliments. Again this was a huge bonding experience for us. We really have become a team and we're placing our trust in each other. The relationship that's starting to develop is very special, made even more so by all the challenges we have overcome. I can't wait to see what adventures lie ahead!