Aleaha & Showgirl – When does the clock reward you?

Will and work ethic are not enough, but if you combine it with knowledge, you become unstoppable. Samantha Winslow

Celebrating Success – Aleaha & Showgirl

Persistence with work ethic second to none, neatly wrapped up with poise and grace, is how I would describe Aleaha More.

She commands the room when she walks in, but in the most subtle, non-abrasive way, mindful to address everyone, so no one feels left out.  She is well spoken and laughs with ease.

She is a former Miss Rodeo Canada with a successful marketing career, her brain is sharp and details come easy to her.  I have known Aleaha from a distance for about 7 years.  I met her through my other business, which does rodeo scoring & timing leaderboards.  When I first met her, she did post ride interviews with the contestants at her hometown rodeo in Virden, Manitoba (on of the largest, best paying amateur rodeos in Canada).

I always thought how bright she would shine in this role on a bigger stage, like say the NFR, with how at ease the contestants felt with her,  getting them to talk about their run or ride.

Her horse Showgirl is a Palomino with a 14+ hand frame and the presence of a 17 hand Andalusian.  She is vocal when something is not right and if she was a human, I picture that she would tap her $1,000 Manolo Blahnik pumps at you, if you dismissed her for any reason.  She will say it nicely once,  but all bets are off on the 2nd time she has to speak up, there is some sass and maybe some brass coming with it.

Aleaha joined the Performance Horse Academy in May 2020.

When we started on run reviews, one of the first things I mentioned to Aleaha was that her saddle wasn’t working for her.  Although the saddle was a good fit (bar angle, gullet width, etc) for Showgirl, it wasn’t allowing Aleaha to sit in a neutral position.  

The other thing I suggested was that with Showgirl’s build, we would need to consider a bonnet to help her with her turns.  Showgirl has a long stride, a vertical center of balance further back, a horizontal center of balance that is downhill and is a little lighter through the tibia bone and gascon muscle group. 

This build combination is common in barrel horses today with the amount of race horse influence in the pedigree.  Showgirl’s papers say it and her body shows it. 

Why a bonnet is helpful here is, Showgirl was safetying up and shortening her stride, because she couldn’t drive forward, keep her feet underneath her and make the corner with her build and having nothing to balance on.  It has nothing to do with Aleaha’s ability as a rider or trainer, it is simply bio-mechanics. 

Aleaha politely declined my suggestions.  

Rabbit trail off of Aleaha & Showgirl’s story 

If I took offence every time a student declined my suggestions, I would cry in my closet all day and never get anyone faster times or sounder, happier horses.  As a coach, when a student says no, it means I have hit a feeling that they aren’t ready to work through or change yet.

I also understand that someone else has told you to do what you are doing.  Be it a clinician, a family member, a trusted friend – you have feelings associated with these people, which makes the change harder.

Feelings create and stop all of our actions, it is one of the hardest to accept truths in life.

We want to believe logic prevails, but the only time logic wins is if your feelings are aligned with logic.  The more logic tries to bully feelings, the further you get from action, so as a coach in this situation, I have to settle in, let feelings have their say and keep coming at it from a different angle.  At some time, you will find a way to explain the same core concept but touch a different feeling that will overpower the original feeling and change will happen, or the student will quit because they downright refuse to acknowledge the feeling and its limitations.

Change is uncomfortable because it is different.  We are told as riders that we develop a feel through hours of riding, but repetition makes anything feel correct.  In 2021 there is no excuse for feel not to be challenged by video review and should never be used as an explanation.

Another student said it best after also switching out her saddle:
“Whenever I feel like she’s going to break into a lope unasked, I want to hunch over like a troll!! Gah! but then I watch the video and it looks normal.

The retraining part is hard- recognizing what feels normal to me is wrong and what feels not great is right- I just have to get used to the right way and then it won’t be so hard- I won’t have to think about it so much. It’s like- do I love truth or comfort more?”

“It’s hard to love truth! It often hurts and doesn’t make sense until after the crunch period. But in the end, it is better- it’s better to know where I truly am”
Blueprint Participant – Faith Kingston

I have learned that as barrel racers, we often tie up feelings of self worth with our saddle seat size. 

I lived that mantra for a lot of years and it was a contributing factor to me crippling 3 horses in a row. 

It is also a huge contributor to kissing spine and spine compression.  I will be publishing documentation on this in the coming years as I have been following it closely.

We also get told by Clinicians making commission on a saddle brand or a Salesperson who is calling themselves a “fitter” that the saddle fits. 

This was the case for Aleaha – someone she trusted as a clinician told her it was the right saddle. 

Small tip – if someone is telling you to buy a saddle and they don’t measure your femur & forearm length, assess your pelvis height and the type of muscling you have, they don’t have a hot clue.

I did some statistics after officially tracking our Barrel Horse Blueprints for a full year and there is a 93% chance your saddle isn’t right in some way. 

That is costing every single rider time and soundness right now.  Today.

Back to our regularly scheduled  celebration of Aleah & Showgirl

The summer of 2020 had limited barrel races due to covid restrictions, but every run Aleaha sent in for review, I said my piece and showed her on her reviews how although her path had improved, her saddle was bullying her into the wrong position and how Showgirl was struggling to keep her feet under and driving in the turns.  I tried to tactfully say it as many different ways as I could and just stuck to the facts.  

Another hard truth is the path alone doesn’t make your run fast, good posture is a critical element and neither Showgirl or Aleaha were able to maintain good posture in their run with the saddle that was hindering and the bonnet that was missing.  It has nothing to do with competence.

Aleaha did some more digging on a few other things I pointed out in her Blueprint – Showgirl had some inflammation in the guts/belly/flank area and this will make your horse sore in the stifles, SI, Gluteus Medius and hocks, because it forces your horse to short stride.  Testing showed that Showgirl had ulcers, so Aleaha treated them and has maintained a preventative maintenance schedule which has kept that in check thankfully.  She has also since started her on a GI support system.

I don’t know what the tipping point was in late fall 2020, but she decided to try a different saddle.   The seat size is 1.5” bigger than what she was using, she declared that it.was.great. 

Aleaha is petite and I think about 5’3” tall for reference.  Human height & wegiht have nothing to do with saddle seat size, another common myth.

The saddle change was kind of a delayed exciting moment, as Showgirl was turned out for the winter (which in Canada is sadly 5 months) and she didn’t have any races until Spring 2021, so we impatiently waited for the winter months to pass.

Spring 2021

Spring was dialed into posture based conditioning and Aleaha and Showgirl hit the ground running.  Aleaha finally got to feel how much a saddle can hold you back.

This is a social media post she made after her first spring run in the new saddle.  It was one of the best runs they had made to date.

But the saddle alone wasn’t enough.  We had Aleaha’s posture dialed in and now we needed to get Showgirl a bonnet and get this dialed up to the next notch.

The purpose of the bonnet in Showgirls was to get her full stride length back, confidence and not climbing out of the backside of the turns. 

We need full strides in our run.  The reports and overhead videos show over and over again the importance of full strides.  It is a key element to shutting off the clock with a faster time.

Aleaha had to change cinches and make adjustments over the course of a couple of jackpots, but the difference is remarkable.  Here is video proof that when a tool is used for the right reasons AND you already have the posture correct (a bonnet is for balance, not restriction) it empowers your horse.  Tie Downs and Bonnets have 100% different functions and are not interchangeable FYI.

Aleaha very kindly let me use comparison footage of her runs pre and post bonnet to help other students see the difference.

Here is a small portion of that lesson review:

In the meantime Aleaha has been diligent in documenting Showgirls posture.  

Showgirl has always turned heads with her natural gift of personality and presence, but it has gone to a “snap your neck” to have a look these days.  

Horses bloom when they move properly.  Their whole body becomes so powerful and lithe – no one muscle stands out more and everything moves together.  I have enjoyed watching the social media comments when Aleaha posts updated pictures, when people ask what she is doing, her response simply gives credit to focusing on posture.

One of the most notable strengths the bonnet has given Showgirl is depth through her gascon muscle group.  She is not naturally bulky in this area (as you can see at the beginning of spring training, but because the bonnet enables her to use this muscle group now, it has added so much depth.  Here is the progression from May 2020 starting, then with the new saddle  April 2021, June & Saddle & Bonnet – August 2021.

Another highlight is the difference in height on the point of the buttocks on Showgirl – I see this often in horses and if the pelvis is tilted forward (which brings the point of the buttocks up), your horse can’t take a full stride like this.
This change can only be achieved by rebuilding and conditioning the muscles through proper movement.  Horses that suck wind usually have a forward tilted pelvis as well.

In Showgirls starting posture (the picture with the arrows, I highlighted her atrophy in the loin behind the scapula, the overdevelopment through the Gluteus Medius (which is caused by horses short striding) the flatness through the croup and the under development of the posterior muscle group and the inflammation in the belly/flank area.

May 2020 Starting

April 2021 New Saddle

June 2021 Introduced Bonnet

August 2021 – that booty and gaskin muscle group, insert a hotdog whistle!

But when does the clock show your efforts?

This has been the hardest part of summer 2021, was being patient to let the muscles retrain and not to force more speed.  Speed is there when the posture is right, but if you force it, you will have bigger problems to fix in a run or 2.

I appreciate Aleaha for a lot of things, but her trust in the program and process this summer was a shining example of her natural poise and grace.  We had more than 1 review where I voiced that I was getting impatient for the clock to reward Aleaha and Showgirl’s hard work and effort.  They were running similar times to 2020 with some small gains on the clock, but there were a few things that still didn’t have the ease and smoothness they should, so we kept digging and working.

The addition of the bonnet got the line to 1st ironed out nicely, we had full strides, the 1st barrel turn and departure out of the 1st were good, but going into 2nd was still not flowing well and Showgirl was vocal about her disapproval about the positioning.

2nd barrel issues were put on the back burner for the beginning of 2021 while we worked on Aleaha and Showgirls line to the 1st barrel and 1st barrel turn.

9.9 times out of 10 riders that have 2nd barrel issues actually have 1st barrel and line to 1st issues that compound AT the 2nd barrel.  While Aleaha and Showgirl started in that category, there was definitely something we needed to dig deeper on to get the 2nd barrel turn lined out.

We changed the camera position for Aleaha’s slow work and the problem revealed itself.  Showgirl’s posture is outstanding, but biomechanics are still the biggest factor – I went back to her Barrel Horse Blueprint and realized I had not adjusted her approach into the 2nd barrel in our pattern modifications to accommodate her build completely.

3 days of diligent riding ensued and without even a practice run to test their work, they absolutely nailed the line into the 2nd barrel and around the 2nd barrel turn this past weekend, securing them the 2D win with ½ seconds splits in the open jackpot and a 4th place finish in a breeders incentive program she was competing in.

This is the 3rd Barrel view of the Overhead views

This is where interval timing can be so important – that line between 2nd & 3rd doesn’t look that fast – but it is – it is full strides the entire time because she left 2nd in the correct posture and position and that line was straight as an arrow.

Aleaha and Showgirl ran FASTER between 2nd & 3rd than the top horse average by over a tenth and a half at the race (it took her 2.931, the top 5 average was 3.094 – the 1st column of data)

She doesn’t need to go faster here, and asking for more, she might not make the 3rd barrel turn – which you can see is right on track with the top horses.

Excitingly, her full interval report and 1st and 2nd Barrel overhead video revealed a couple of other exciting changes we can make to shave another half second off the clock.  We have faster runs brewing!

This is where you want me to tell you exactly what we changed so you can do it too and this is where we are broken as barrel racers.

There is no cookie cutter for barrel patterns and what we did was for Showgirl because of HER skeleton and muscles.  

There are varying degrees to the change we made to the approach and if it isn’t correct for your horse, they are going to do a big ugly swoop or your horse is going to shoulder and you are going to be mad at them, wondering why this was magical for this horse and not for you.  

This change was magical only because it was EXACTLY what was needed for Showgirl.  

The other very important factor is the lines and turns that match your horse’s biomechanics don’t work unless the posture is correct and they have built up their coordination, timing and strength with that posture.   

This progress was a summer of diligence on Aleaha’s part and the willingness to work and keep changing as Showgirl’s posture allowed that allowed us to make 1 small final adjustment for them to clock their fastest and best time.

This Program isn’t about quick fixes and
this wasn’t an overnight transformation. 

But now these changes will stick and she will remain faster, solid and sound. 

As a rider the easiest part is for our minds to accept the changes but then we have to be patient while we rewrite muscle memory that is thousands of repetitions deep.  

It isn’t hard work – what I teach is much easier than anything you have ever done up to this point on barrels, but old muscle memory is a bitch and she jumps up like a jack-in-the-box, sometimes when you least expect it.

I appreciate Aleaha as a student, her athlete mindset and now as a friend.

I appreciate earning her trust to be her and Showgirl’s coach and to be part of her support team.

I appreciate the thoughtful questions Aleaha asks on behalf of her horses, she never follows advice blindly.

I appreciate that she has never thrown Showgirl under the bus.  She doesn’t blame the ground, the setup, or any of the usual scapegoats we as barrel racers too frequently use.

I appreciate the diligence at which Aleaha describes her run, her planning, her documentation, what she took into consideration, what she struggled with and what went well when she sends it to me to review,  I can see the run in my mind before I watch the video.

My goal in writing this was the celebrate her effort first, her horse looking and feeling outstanding and of course to faster runs!

Cheers to Aleaha & Showgirl.

I am at the edge of my seat with a bowl of popcorn, ‘cause this show is just getting started.