Thursday, June 14, 2012

Arena games

Getting out onto the gorgeous trails surrounding Paradise Ranch on horseback is an unbeatable experience, and the highlight of the week for most of our guests. But it’s also great fun to mix it up in the arena, testing out riding skills with barrel races, bending poles, and of course - everyone’s favourite - team penning.

                                   (Run, Billy, run!)
This rodeo event involves a bunch of young heifers, three horses and three riders. The aim is to cut off three cows, using team work skills to drive them into a pen. One rider cuts, another holds the dregs of the herd back, while a third is a blocker, preventing the cows from escaping. There’s a time limit of 2.30 minutes, though if you can make it under 30 seconds, you’re looking good.
In the real rodeo event, competitors have to cut out specific cows, identified by painted numbers on their rumps. But for our beginner classes, any three will do ... and that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Cows like to stick together; there’s a lot of ducking and weaving, whooping and hollering, and of course inevitable frustrations as a sure thing dodges bail at the last minute.

                             (The kids show it how it's done!)

For the riders, it’s a good test of their riding skills as they practice their neck reining - and unlike on the trails where the horses pretty much follow each other, in the arena, a rider has to actually work at controlling their horse, giving clear directions and aids. And even though it’s just for fun here at the ranch, this event brings out the competitive spirit in everyone ... especially when it comes to guests versus wranglers!

                          (guest Josh getting into the spirit of things)

Barrel racing is another exciting rodeo sport we’ve adapted to the Paradise arena. To watch this at a professional level is sheer exhilaration - and it’s one equestrian sport where women really excel. The skill required to turn your horse on a dime, skimming around the barrel without actually touching it, is unbelievable; and the combination of an effortless rider and an enthusiastic horse is a force to be reckoned with. I once filmed a 10-year-old girl and her champion barrel racing horse - I’ve never seen a horse so into his job. Too much horse for me, I refused to get on him after seeing what he was capable of!
Of course, things are a little more sedate in the Paradise arena ... but it’s great to see the grins on riders faces when they break out of a trot into a lope, beating their own time and achieving what yesterday may have been impossible. That’s one of the great joys of riding - pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, taking on new challenges and discovering skills you never knew you had.

                                     (guest Jim showing some style)

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