Bringing up Bravo: Fiction

Once upon a time, a not so young adult amateur maiden took her very green, oversized, five year old warmblood into the indoor arena for an evening ride. She lunged him both directions while other horse and rider pairs were running around him at various speeds. He listened intently to her quiet commands as she tried not to disrupt the lesson that was going on. Playful and young, he let out one adorably small buck and and kicked at nothing in particular when asked to pick up the trot but otherwise cruised around feeling good and trying hard to please his lady. One of the other riders marveled at his special trick of halting from any gait with the lightest whistle from his person. The maiden told her fellow rider that she wasn’t sure how she managed to teach him that particular trick, but she decided having an e-brake on a horse could be a really valuable thing. After the young steed had warmed up, completed several changes of gait, and released his youthful exuberance, the maiden swapped beating sticks and set off toward the mounting block to start her ride.

The castle that the maiden and her steed call home is also home to two resident sorceresses. One of these sorceresses has extremely powerful magic and rides a giant dragon. The dragon this sorceress rides is an exceptionally sensitive and complex ride. This dragon is so particular that if the slightest thing changes in his indoor arena he breathes fire. The sorceress all but demands that everyone in the realm abide by her strict instructions especially when it comes to the mounting block. If the mounting block is moved even one foot off of the arena wall or is turned a different direction, her dragon threatens to take down the castle. Never wanting to end up on the sorceress’ bad side, the maiden knew she would be responsible for teaching her young steed to follow the rules of the realm.

 

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As the maiden approached the mounting block, the young steed followed dutifully behind her and stopped when she asked him. He was a little worried, though, because before when the maiden rode on his back it was kind of uncomfortable- the saddle pressed into his back in odd places and the whole process usually meant a lot of work. She would push her calves into his sides and then, to top it all off, she wouldn’t even let him choose where they went! The young steed was unsure if he wanted to do what the maiden was asking so when she grabbed the base of his mane and climbed up on the mounting block he took a few tentative steps backwards. The maiden cooed to him and stepped back off the mounting block.

“Maybe that was it!” he thought, “all I have to do is step backwards and she’ll decide not to ride me.” “I’ll be the best lunging horse in all the land and we will just show off the tricks she’s already taught me.” Emboldened that he might have learned a new trick, the young steed followed the maiden eagerly until… wait a minute! he found himself back at the mounting block. She had simply circled him, lined him back up, and was stepping up to try to ride him again. “Okay,” he thought, “this one is easy, I will give her the same answer because she is asking the same question.” The steed took a few steps backwards. Undaunted, the maiden asked him to step forward and tried again. The two went on like this for several rounds before the maiden decided to try teaching a new trick instead. She brought him up to the mounting block but this time did not get on the block. She said the word “stand!” loudly and firmly. The steed was already standing nicely so when his lady gave the command, he wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted. She walked around him and patted him in various places but didn’t get on the mounting block. Then she gave him a peppermint, for what, he wasn’t sure! The maiden said the command again, “stand!” and this time took a slow step up the mounting block. “That’s my cue,” the steed mused as he took a few steps back and casually swung his hip away. The maiden tried again and again to teach the steed to stand. He liked the peppermints very much, but he still wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do to get them.

 

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Twenty minutes had gone by since the maiden had planned to start her ride and she was no closer to being in the saddle. Her resolve wavered for just a moment when she remembered how moving the mounting block so the steed was between the block and the wall had always worked in the past. The powerful sorceress wasn’t in the castle tonight anyway, what’s the harm? She brushed away the invading thought, “No! this is an extremely important lesson, no short cuts,” she lectured herself, picturing the sorceress’ wrath. She took a breath and tried to think of other ways to help the steed understand what she needed him to do. The maiden had heard tales of a wizard from a far away land who tried to help teach lesser magicians understand how to work magic using guiding principles. The maiden tried to understand the situation she was in and how some of the principles she had heard of from this wizard might help her work some magic on her own steed.

She was worried that her application of these principles might not be correct, after all, she’s no magician. She was tired of fighting with the steed and starting to come close to losing her patience- the LAST thing she wanted to do in the situation. Encouraged by the innocent expression of her steed, she found a few more threads of patience within her to grasp for support and tried a new way. She broke the problem down in her mind. “I can’t explain to him that his saddle fits him much better now and won’t be as uncomfortable as before. I can’t convince him that if he just learns this skill I will dismount and be done for the day and nor can I promise him that that would always be the case.”

“The problem is that he wants to move his feet.” The words of the foreign wizard echoed in her mind: “make the wrong thing hard, and the right thing easy.” She told the steed to “stand!” and slowly stepped up the mounting block. This time when the steed stepped backwards the maiden said to him, “okay, you want to move your feet? Let’s move them, then!” Calmly, but insistently, she backed the steed quickly for several steps and then flexed him and made him disengage his hind end several times in both directions. The steed thought the flexing was pretty tough! He half-heartedly resisted a few times but the maiden was swift and firm in her corrections. A couple of times when she tapped him with her stick he gasped and grunted, completely aghast that his lady would do that to him. But he kept his cool and tried harder to please her and puzzle out how to make the pressure stop. Finally she took him back over to the mounting block and commanded him to “stand!”. He gulped and took a deep breath. She stood still for a while, then patted him and he lowered his neck. But, old habits die hard and when she went to step up the mounting block he swung his hips away again. Feet wanting to move again- wrong answer- but it’s your choice. She kept the steed moving and took him back out in the arena insisting that he flex and yield his hind quarters and shoulders around her several times in both directions.

She returned him to the mounting block, asked him to “stand!” and then just breathed with him quietly for a minute. He seemed to be starting to sort things out. This time she was able to step up the mounting block without him moving his feet. She gave him a scratch and stepped back down. She climbed the block again and grabbed the base of his mane. He shifted his weight and took a half step back.  A couple more times she made him work really hard every time he stepped away from the mounting block. Each time, though, the maiden would bring him over to the mounting block and she wouldn’t ask him for anything there. “Oh, okay,” he finally conceded, “I’m beginning to think that just standing here has got to be easier than all of that work I just had to do!” And so the steed planted his feet at the mounting block and stood like his maiden had asked. She mounted from the mounting block and still the mighty steed remained like a statue. The maiden beamed. She stroked the steeds neck and purred praises in his ear. She tapped his neck and reached down to give him a peppermint.

 

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With one final scratch to his withers, the maiden and the steed set off on their ride. The maiden was calm and quiet asking only that the steed walk on a long rein. He marched around the arena loose and swinging with an even rhythm. The maiden was grinning from ear-to-ear because even though she only got to ride for 15 minutes, she fell in love with her noble steed all over again. She realized that the 15 minute ride was the most relaxed she had felt on a horse in years. Despite him being young and unbalanced she was able to breathe deeply, swing along with him, and try to get back the feel of her own seat. Eight months off of riding takes its toll. For the first time since she bought the steed, she felt at home in the saddle with him. The maiden had to marvel over the amazing things she and the steed had accomplished that day. She was proud of him for being so well behaved on the lunge line; for keeping a cool head and not reacting aggressively when her corrections were firm and she put a lot of pressure on him; and also for not shutting down from the pressure- he stayed present with her in the moment and tried to listen to what she was asking. She was also quite proud of herself for not losing her patience and keeping negative emotions out; for working through a problem and being fair but firm; and for being able to see the beauty of the moment.

Intent on ending on a good note, the maiden decided to leave all other plans for another day. She halted the steed and softly dismounted. Giving him a scratch on the wither and a kiss on the nose, the two walked side-by-side out the back gate into the starry night and they lived happily ever after.

 

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Bringing up Bravo: One of a Kind

All of our horses are as unique as we are. I want to share some of the things that make Bravo…well…Bravo! He is a plain bay gelding with few markings, completely unknown history, and no voice. At first glance, all of these characteristics might make him disappear in a crowd.

In no particular order, here is my top ten list of unique characteristics that make my Bravo unforgettable.

 

10. He’s a shameless mudder

Some horses don’t like getting dirty, other horses seek out low-lying, poorly-draining areas of the paddock to construct a personal mud wallow.

 

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Pig’s gotta wallow, lady…

 

9. He has HUGE ears and loves having them scratched and rubbed

This was a selling point for me when I bought him- I love big-eared horses. It is also a plus that he permits me to mess with them and actually enjoys it. He will press his face into my chest and close his eyes for as long as I will scratch and massage his ears.

 

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Very expressive ears, too!

 

8. He’s a mild roarer so he has no voice

I may have to deal with this at some point down the road, but it is a non-issue with everyday work. He lightly whistles when he breathes as he starts to get tired and he does not call or whinny to other horses. I miss the nickering a little, but he still does it, it’s just whispery. He can still grunt with the best of them and does quite often. Overall, (excepting legitimate breathing issues) it’s actually quite nice to have a horse that is seen but not heard.

 

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Not yelling, just yawing

 

7.  He LOVES food and all horse treats but is particular about human foods and certain textures

I tried to test a few theories to see if I could sneakily use treats to deliver meds. My experiments always started with a dry run (no meds) and nearly every human food I tried was promptly rejected. Oatmeal creme pies, nutri-grain bars, fruit roll-ups, bananas, granola… he says no thank you!

 

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Conned me into giving him a second helping of dinner the other night…little shit

 

6. He is the Alpha in his gelding herd

This surprised me a little when I first got him because he is so mild mannered in general. But you never know how herd dynamics will shake out- I do love watching that process, though! It fascinates me how their instincts take over and I love watching him puff up and prance around. So fancy!

 

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Not the oldest, nor the biggest in the herd but somehow the boss

 

5. No chrome, only two white markings

His only white markings are a Harry Potter-esque lightning bolt star and a leaf shaped snip which I took as a sign because my last name has the word leaf in it so I always say he was meant to be with me. The stem on the leaf disappears in the summer but comes back in the fall. It gets kissed literally ALL the time.

 

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Yer a wizard ‘arry!

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Return of the leaf stem- must be fall!

 

4. He is a social butterfly and just the friendliest boy

Bravo is a favorite at the barn because he spends all day (while they are turned out at night in the summer) with his head hanging out of his stall watching everything that’s going on, greeting everyone who walks by, and begging for snacks and snuggles. He’s very much a people horse. Seeing those giant ears prick right on me when I arrive at the barn is everything to me. May I never take for granted that he comes to me when called in the field and eagerly drops his nose into his halter when I come into his stall. He is the friendliest horse greeter- never bites or squeals. I can ride with anyone because he never even pins his ears around other horses.

 

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Hello! Welcome to PRF, my name is Bravo. So pleased to meet you!

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If my giant ears, giant head, and kind eyes don’t rope you in- you’re in the wrong place.

 

3. He’s number 211

I have no idea why anyone did this to him, but he has a large numerical hot brand on his high hip. I have heard varying stories on his history. The people I got him from said he was rescued from a warmblood hoarding situation in New Jersey and they branded him in the rescue process. I tracked down the person they bought him from in New Jersey and she said he was from Texas originally and the video she posted of him as a three year old on youtube looks pretty great and not at all like a hoarding situation- so who really knows. My farrier took one look at him and laughed at me and asked why I bought a bucking horse. He’s been branded high- like rough stock often is- so you can see their hip numbers when they’re in the chute. Bottom line, I own a branded warmblood- just not at all in the traditional sense lol. For some, this is a huge turnoff. The numbers burned into his skin are large, unsightly, and leave his rider with no way to seamlessly blend him into the group of high-bred warmbloods that dominate her chosen discipline. His brand offers no elite club, no special sense of identity, nothing. There’s no “demand the brand” situation happening here. All we have are scars. Lucky for him, I am damn proud to show off number 211!

 

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Sidenote: he’s so tall that nobody notices the brand at first. Heck, I literally bought him before I noticed it…

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Second foal out of mare 11? 211th horse seized? #of licks to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? The world will never know.

 

2. He is a total goofball and loves to be silly and play tricks

He gets into everything! If I leave a lunge whip with him in the round pen and leave to go grab something, I will come back to him swinging the whip around with his mouth. He dumps my grooming bag every chance he gets. If someone loses a flymask or halter in the field it becomes his toy. He chases the killdeer around the pasture for sport. Sometimes when I pick out his feet he will pick up his foot and place it back down slightly forward. I’ll ask again and he’ll move it a little to the side. Again, and he’ll cross it over his other leg and stand that way. It’s a game for him! Sometimes he’ll lift the opposite leg and hold it up. He snatched my friend’s riding glove from her breeches pocket the other day and shook it around in the air before trying to eat it. He’s undone snaps and zipped zippers on clothing. And last night he got to second base with a fellow boarder without even taking her on a date first…

 

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I just took a DNA test turns out I’m 100% that goober

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He thinks he’s hilarious

 

1. He’s a Holsteiner, Quarter Horse, …Missouri Fox Trotter cross?!?!

Many of you know your horse’s background, maybe even their entire lineage. I know nothing. The only thing I have to go on is the DNA ancestral breed testing that is currently being offered by the animal genetics lab at Texas A&M. I submitted a hair follicle sample for Bravo and these were his results. I definitely see his number one result: Holsteiner- he seems built for jumping in a lot of ways, he’s 17.1 hh of hugeness without being draft bulky. I don’t really see any Quarter Horse, per se, but QHs are so varied and versatile that it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Missouri Foxtrotter though?!!?!? WTF!?!!? That came out of left field. I thought sure he would be part draft because of his size, so it was a surprise to not see that in his main results. That does not mean he doesn’t have any draft in him, it just doesn’t make up a significant portion of his breeding. I take these results with a grain (or maybe a handful) of salt, but the reality is, they are all I have. It seems plausible that these results support the story of him being rescued from a janky “warmblood” breeding turned hoarding scenario. I definitely think they disprove the idea that he was ever bred for bucking- rodeo folks using much Holsteiner blood these days in their rough stock? lol Whatever kind of backyard breeding produced my beautiful monstrosity, I’ll never know, but he sure is unique.

 

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To me, he’s very special and definitely one of a kind! Blog hop this if you’d like, I’d love to see your horse’s top ten list!!!

 

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Braveheart 211 (Bravo)

 

Bringing up Bravo: Seasons of Change

So, July was a total wash. Aside from celebrating 6 months together, Bravo mostly took a training sabbatical and focused on gobbling up my money ulcer meds and gastric supplements to treat undiagnosed, but highly suspected tummy troubles. The bad news is: this is the second time I have treated him for ulcers in the 6 months I’ve owned him. The good news is: it worked… again!  My personal anxiety had rocketed in late June as training progress screeched to a halt and even felt like it switched into reverse. We were just at a critical juncture where I was very worried that the regression was a direct reflection of my training abilities- I suddenly found myself with a giant, grumpy, aggressive, nearly unridable horse.

As I mentioned in my last post, I created a short list of corrective actions to try- starting down the medical route first. I had already purchased the blue pop rocks from back in March when I treated him with Nexium. We’ve just finished a 30-day full treatment and I am tapering him off of the omeprazole and crossing all of my digits that the gastric supplement he also started will be enough to keep his gut happy. Okay, yeah, I didn’t consult a vet about any of this. Irresponsible? Maybe. Gambling? Definitely. The encouraging notion here is that if I can figure out what he needs to stay ulcer-free, we are going to be just fine! It was never a training issue- the behavior was purely pain/discomfort related. The last two weeks I have had my smart, sweet, brave youngster back and we have been able to make HUGE training strides in a short amount of time.

 

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Airplane ears for front end lift?

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Another thing the health setbacks threatened to derail was the significant growth and development Bravo has shown since I got him. I’ve never had a young horse so watching him grow has been nothing short of mind-blowing to me. Social media friends of mine will have already seen these, but I’m afraid it’s 100% a ‘sorry-not-sorry’ scenario because I simply cannot get enough.

 

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PROGRESS EYE CANDY

 

I can’t stop, won’t stop looking at photos from February and thinking what on earth did you see in that malnourished toddler?!?!?

 

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Baby Derp

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Looking like a proper adolescent!

 

I am still hard at work on building top-line and improving posture but we have made enough progress here that I have felt comfortable adding in riding sessions! We mostly just walk and I keep them short and sweet. We have successfully weaved cones and walked ground poles in addition to always schooling mounting block etiquette, square halts, and prompt responses to my leg. No cantering under saddle or lessons with a trainer yet, but I think we are getting close to being able to do both!

 

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No longer malnourished

 

Reflecting upon six months of horse ownership, I can only say this: we never had a honeymoon period and I expected one. It feels like we’ve been through a lot, even though I know it pales in comparison to others. I am very tentatively starting to let my mind wander towards hopes and dreams for us in the future.

Maybe we’re just the kind of couple that has to save up for their honeymoon. 😉

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?