Progress Interrupted

Bravo and I really clicked into a training rhythm in June. We worked in the round pen, lunged in the indoor arena, kept up on our groundwork, learned that fly spray bottles weren’t horse-killing weapons, and had a saddle fitter out to take a look at my saddle. The saddle fitter confirmed my suspicion that Harley’s saddle was not a good fit without some significant adjustment. With riding progress temporarily halted, we trucked right along with bodybuilding so that when I finally had a saddle that fit, he would be even more ready to learn how to correctly bear the weight of a rider. This is something his previous owner was not particularly concerned about. It is incredibly important to me to try to show him this.

 

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March 2019

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June 2019

 

Then, we had a couple of weeks of rain, storms, and flooding. Bravo spent the whole time wallowing in the mud like a pig and being bathed and brushed clean every evening. He got rain rot, a nasty case of scratches all the way up his cannons, his dutifully durasoled hooves started to crumble, and he started showing ulcer symptoms again.

 

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Every. Single. Day. 

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Two. Solid. Weeks.

 

sigh….

 

I am going to try to fix a few of the minor things before I call in the vet to work on what seems to be a full-system issue. My armchair veterinarian guesses are worm issue and/or bigger ulcer issue. My current plan is to continue treating the rain rot, scratches, and hooves topically. They are all starting to clear up now with diligent anti-fungal baths, ointments, coatings, and powders. In the meantime, the only training we will be doing is desensitization to oral syringes. Hopefully, this will set us up better for any vet prescribed treatments that may have to follow. He is currently extremely leery of any syringes or really any unidentified object coming anywhere close to his nose/face. I was told he had a previous twitching incident that may have left him with some negative associations.

I haven’t been able to PowerPac him yet per my vet’s suggestion and I’ve been forced to use alternative ulcer remedies as well. He’s made gains in overall body weight and condition but still not as much as I would have guessed with all of the resources I am pouring into him. He doesn’t seem to be in any immediate danger but I have to sort this all out before we’ll be able to make any progress.

Bravo is wondering if anyone would like to come over to his place for a bonfire- he’ll be burning piles of my dollar bills. BYOB because you know all of mine is spoken for, if not already gone…

 

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I’m lucky I’m cute.

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday

Body wrapping was a complete success. He free-lunged in the round pen like a champ and was nonchalant about the whole process!

Bringing Up Bravo: First Rides!

It took me quite a while to feel like we had built enough trust together through this restarting process to start him back under saddle. I needed this new “first ride” to be a wholly positive experience for both of us. I wanted to wait until it felt right and I knew I would know when that moment finally arrived. The only expectations I wanted to carry into the ride were that it was going to be short, sweet, and success would be defined as keeping the horse between me and the ground.

Sweet Success!

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I lunged him briefly before we started and he was listening and responsive. He stood okay for me at the mounting block and I made some noise and flapped the stirrups but he wasn’t phased. He did walk off the second I had mounted though, so we will have to work on that more. We had a nice loose rein walk around the arena and he wasn’t concerned about anything. Unlike Harley, he barely swivels an ear for the pigeons rustling around in the rafters.

One thing I noticed that he did often, I think it is an unintended consequence from the groundwork I did with him, was to step his back end to the side every time he stopped. Maybe I overdid the hindquarter yields a little? Who knows, but I think I should be able to correct it fairly easily with some firmer leg support into the stops to channel him into a square halt. We walked and tried some steering and I even felt bold enough for some trot. He was great going left but a little sticky going right. I realize I’m probably babying him a little but he is also still super under-muscled. Conformationally, he already has a long back and weak loin so I am taking it slow and and relying more on ground work and nutrition to prepare him better for carrying my weight.

 

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We’ve done a total of three rides so far and I am learning a lot about him. Some things I am particularly pleased about so far are: his minimal spook response; his excellent whoa; the effort I can literally see him making to listen to me; and dat shiny shiny hiney! A few things that are on my list to work on/correct are: standing quietly after I’ve mounted; install a more responsive “go”; and STEERING omg we literally have no steering so we’ll have to go all the way back to flexion and connecting the loin to the rein.  He is also magnetically drawn to the sliding doors of the arena which both baffles and irritates me because he hasn’t worked in the arena enough to think that’s the way out and it irritates me because he will try to scrape me on the wall on that side so this will have to be addressed immediately. Now that I think about it, maybe it doesn’t have as much to do with the doors as the horses that are in their stalls on the other side of those doors….hmmm…

 

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Bend that big ole body

 

Our most recent ride began with the monthly tornado siren test that I had completely forgotten about… my barn is next door to a fire station and the county’s tornado siren. Luckily, all Bravo did was stand there listening with big eye balls and then it took a second to get his focus back to work.

 

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Such a babyface

 

 

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Baby trots!

 

I know that I am really struggling with some saddle balance/fit issues now because he and Harley are just built completely different- he is downhill with a long wither and an arrow straight flat back where as Harley had a big wither but was uphill and had a curvy back. I have been desperately trying to pad and shim to make my saddle fit as well as it can, but I think the writing is on the wall. There is a saddle fitter coming to my barn on Friday and I am going to have her look at my saddle and give me the hard truth and maybe some recommendations. Ya know, advice that I can throw out the window in 6 months when his entire body morphs again….

 

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Yeah. Not the same…

 

Last Friday, my friend came out to help me with him and she’s the only other person besides me to have ridden him since I bought him. They looked great and even though he demonstrated some of the same training gaps…ahem, steering and door magnetism… he did really well for her and she is such an excellent rider. I hope she is willing to come help me out with him more often this summer.

 

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So much to work on! Any good tips you’d be willing to share to teach steering or to build topline? Sadly, hills are not available. I’ve got a pair of sliding side reins (Lauffer reins) on order to play around with and I want to try some body wrapping stuff I’ve seen to encourage him to lift and engage those abs. I don’t intend to rely much on gadgets, but I want to give him some guidance on different ways to use his body. Are there any you like?

 

 

Barn Culture Shifts

The dynamic at my barn has changed drastically in the past two years. Everything I used to complain about or question (it was a pretty short list) I now look back on with nostalgia like “those were the good old days!”

There are not very many commercial barns in my area and I KNOW I am at the single best boarding facility nearby. So, I’m going to preface some upcoming mild whining by saying that I am extremely happy boarding here even with the changes.

 

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I used to spend long weekend days and weekday evenings out there with my friend and we would often wonder if anyone else ever actually rode their horses. It was always so quiet and it wasn’t uncommon to have the place to myself to take in the sunset with Harley. Even when he was at his spookiest, I could count on the boarders and staff to keep random, scary behavior to a minimum.

The local pros have their lesson days where the arena is “occupied” but anyone is allowed to ride as long as the person taking a lesson gets the right of way. Our arena cannot be reserved unless for a clinic but otherwise anyone is free to ride during working hours and haul-ins are welcome. We have an indoor arena, outdoor arena, a couple of round pens, and trails available for riding. The outdoor riding areas are uncovered and do not have lights so during winter months or when it’s raining we are all confined to the indoor. I’m sure by now you can see where this is going…

A local trainer left her job managing one of the other barns in the area and when that happened, several of those young riders jumped ship and moved out to my barn all around the same time. They are all pretty nice young teens but their previous barn was obviously managed in a completely different way. It’s clear that their old barn functioned much more as a free-for-all babysitting service where parents happily dropped their pre-teens off in the morning with a bag lunch and came and picked them up at night. You can imagine my delight at my barn suddenly converting into a year round summer camp.

 

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But, EquiNovice, wouldn’t you have loved this kind of thing when you were a kid?! Why, yes, yes I would have, but that’s beside the point. It would be fine for me if these young teens humbly came in eager to meet the other boarders and learn the ropes at their new barn but, sadly, that’s not what happened. It would likewise be fine if these year-round “campers” came in ready to do all the grunt work around the barn just to be close to horses but that’s not what happened, either. THESE are the things I would have done if I were these kids.

Instead, the end result is that there is hardly any available time to work, ride, or develop a relationship with a new baby horse without being run over by a tween leg-yielding for a snapchat video. We now have Starbucks cups littering our tack rooms, crossties left hanging down in the mud, ignored arena etiquette, and distracted instructors forced to play air traffic control during paid lessons. I know I have become a crotchety old grandma at the ripe old age of in my thirties but, kids these days, AM I RIGHT??!?!!? ughhh.

It’s not entirely these kids’ fault, just the increase in traffic at the barn is generating some tension. People used to try and avoid posted lesson times but now that riding time is so scarce, I know I’m not the only one who has converted what used to be “oh, you’re riding, I’ll wait and lunge later” into “sorry, I got in here first, so feel free to ride around me while I lunge”. It’s not awful but it is more tense than it used to be.

 

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Last night I had to wait for a boarder to move their horse out of the drive way and stop taking a video of their horse on their phone just so I could enter the property…

Has the culture at your barn successfully weathered a dramatic shift? What’s your standard operating procedure when you move to a new barn? What is the average age range of clientele at your barn? Does age make a difference in how boarders behave?

 

 

 

Bringing Up Bravo: Taking it From the Top

My first ride on Bravo in his new home arena was a terrific letdown. I mounted just fine and started walking him around on a relatively loose rein to warm-up. He was a little fascinated by the other horse and rider pair in the arena with me but wasn’t spooky about it- just curious. I bent him toward the middle of the arena and went to gently ask for a stop to check my brakes. He grunted and lightly bucked. I continued and circled him and he bucked again a couple of times. I flexed him and made him circle in both directions which seemed to get his focus back but I still had concerns. So many concerns. About everything. What if he does this all the time and the people I bought him from swindled me and unloaded him on me? What if my saddle doesn’t fit? What if he doesn’t like the bit I’m using?

I’m not usually quite so insecure but during the buying process there were several red flags that I ignored to follow my gut. The sellers were extremely pushy, evasive with information, and clearly on a timeline to get this horse sold. I know what you’re thinking… I should have walked away for any ONE of those reasons, let alone all three. I eventually did enough internet detective work to calm some of my fears that he was a fine horse these people just didn’t have much experience and are not very financially stable which I think was the root cause for the sales pressure. Ah, the internet…

Still, I know some lingering doubts remained after such a sour buying experience. Add those doubts to a bad first ride and it’s a recipe for anxiety.

 

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Throwback to the OG blog logo

 

The first vet visit came a few days later and went a long way to helping me let go of some worry and rationalize. A painful wolf tooth and some ulcers from sharp points sure might make a horse unhappy in the bridle. I also switched saddles to allow me to pad up his complete lack of topline. I’ve only ridden a few times since.

 

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3mo progress    Top: Last night   Bottom: Day he arrived

 

It was a perfect storm of situations,  but a few weeks into working with him on the ground he started becoming grumpy and aggressive at the tiniest of requests. He also started jumping out of his skin in the crossties which was completely uncharacteristic of him. I decided to treat him for ulcers, which eventually made big difference. That couple of weeks where his attitude was crappy, though? I didn’t feel comfortable getting back on him. I decided I wanted to “re-start” him and find out what he knew by working with him on the ground. That way I could still feel like I was making progress and getting to know him even if I wasn’t riding.

I’ve never started a horse before and wanted to bond with him before I would potentially consider sending him off or having a pro put some training on him. I did some research, watched some videos online, and settled on trying some of Warwick Schiller‘s methods. He’s an Aussie cowboy who competes in Reining but has also built a solid reputation training horses of all disciplines. You could call his methods your standard pressure and release, be the herd leader kind of training but that would be a gross oversimplification. His training has evolved to focus much more on building a partnership and reducing the elements of adversarial, predatory behavior that can result from too much of that “show him who’s boss” dynamic. He has some lovely, logical training concepts that are applicable to all horses and riders. His methods are approachable, seem feasible for even beginners, and perhaps most importantly of all, seem to produce some benefits even if the trainer makes small mistakes in execution

I started doing groundwork loose in a round pen and also on a 15’ lead rope. Asking for all gaits (while loose in round pen) by applying pressure with a lunge whip until he gave me what I asked for and then removing the pressure. Since horses are MUCH better than humans at reading body language, the idea is to get him paying enough attention to you to you that he responds to just body language and you don’t have to apply much, if any,  pressure. He is now quite responsive to body language and voice commands- I point to ask him to go somewhere and then one cluck for walk, two for trot, a kiss for canter, and slow whistle to transition down and of course whoa.

 

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Sending him off with body language

 

I started out using Warwick’s method for getting a horse to change directions in the round pen but this particular method didn’t work well for me. He wants them to turn into the center of the round pen and at first Bravo would only turn to the outside when I asked for a change of direction. You are supposed to cut them off immediately and apply a bunch of whip pressure when they do this and make them turn back around in the original direction so they look for a different answer to that question. But because Bravo is 17hh of giant, flight animal, I had some difficulty putting extreme pressure on him- he would have just as happily run me over. So, after a few rounds of losing the game of chicken to a galloping horse I gave up on this method and broke it down into smaller pieces to get it done. I did it on the long line, instead, and moved on to the next parts of the training. Once I taught him to yield his hind end away from me when asked, the turning into the center became more natural for him. It isn’t particularly physically demanding work but it is mentally taxing for a young horse.

 

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Yielding hind end to minimal pressure

 

The part I really like about this type of groundwork is that it has given me a huge chance to hone my observation skills and learn how to read his body language much better. We have a better conversation because he stays more focused on me- anticipating that I might ask him to do something at any time and I have to focus more on him to be sure I am communicating clearly and always working on improving my timing and applying or releasing pressure at the right moment. Warwick has newly included more elements of listening during his training. Horses communicate with their bodies too, and we usually just ignore the more subtle parts of their communications. Bravo was full of emphatic, teenage “No’s” in response to all of my training questions when we first started. He still has those moments but we’ve come a long way with this training.

My current opinion of this stage is that the groundwork is building a nice platform for mounted work. Our trust in each other seems to be growing and that’s really all I care about right now. He seems to recognize me as his person. He meets me at the gate and when I’m working around the barn he is always curious as to what I am doing. He is starting to approach the training the same way.

 

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We are ready!

 

We have been together for three months and only now do I feel comfortable and confident enough to get him back under saddle. That’s real life! This young horse is teaching me plenty about patience and managing my expectations.