Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Don’t get me wrong, we are making progress. It’s just been slow, in stops and starts, and is being constantly interrupted by minor health issues. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this is all a phase. I don’t know much about my boy’s story but it’s safe to say he had a rough start. Surely it’s not unreasonable to assume that hoof issues, stomach issues, and a general lack of strength could be attributed to a poor diet and mild neglect, right? And none of those issues would immediately vanish upon correction but would take some time to improve. Sigh…well, we’re working through it all one day at a time.

 

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After missing most of August with an abscess, we got back to work in September and put some good hours in under saddle and in the round pen. Bravo is an interesting fella to ride so far. I am still getting to know him and his quirks.  Oh boy do we need help with steering.

 

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He is quiet but nicely responsive to the leg and I like what I’m feeling there. He has been really reluctant to trot nicely under saddle, though. Last time I rode, the friend I have helping me with him asked if he was just being lazy. I told her before she got on that it doesn’t feel like that. From the saddle he feels coiled, ready, possibly tense…but not at all dull. She mounted and rode him around for a bit and then agreed, it’s not laziness. My friend weighs much less than I do so he doesn’t seem to protest as much for her. She can get him to trot nicely without throwing his head around but still has the same difficulties with steering. I think he is uncomfortable with my saddle arrangement but the fitter can’t get to my area until October 25th so he’ll have to struggle through until then. For the time being, I promise to keep the under saddle work light with a lot of walk and some work on steering. His acceptance of contact, in general, needs work.

We’ve started to add in some training elements like ground poles and cones. For a big guy, he is remarkably sure-footed and never trips or stumbles. Lateral balance is a pretty big issue, though, and that part about working with young horses has been a little unnerving. It is something I’ll have to embrace because we have a long way to go in that regard and it will be quite ugly for awhile.

 

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His body condition has improved so much since I got him, but there are still quite a few gaps or parts of him that seem very underdeveloped. There are several other young horses at my barn and it has been really tough for me to avoid comparing. I have struggled with negative thoughts that other people seem to not have this many issues with their young horses. So I’m trying to get it together and remember that he’s a giant, male warmblood and he may have several years of growth and development left. We’re on our own path and it’s going to be very different from any other horse and rider.  The sooner I can convince myself that I’ve CHOSEN this path, the better. This is not a derailed path, not a slow path, not a wrong path, it’s just OUR path.

 

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Horse ownership has been a goal of mine since I was little. It’s tough when you’re knee-deep in vet wrap and ulcer meds to see the forrest through the trees. I need to take a moment to do some visioning for Bravo and me. I’m a very strategically minded person and a creative problem solver at work. I think I owe Bravo a little more of that kind of thinking for our relationship and our future. It feels like we are right on the edge of that next phase. Green horses, man, what a ride…

 

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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. 😉

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.

 

 

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?