Bringing up Bravo: Ramping Up

Bravo’s new diet is going well and he seems to be a little less on edge. Despite the ridiculous weather around here the past month, Bravo is sound. So, it’s time to get back to work training this little guy to become a trustworthy riding horse!

 

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I have only been able to free lunge him in the round pen one time in the past two months due to weather and he was pretty distracted and unruly. A friend of mine offered to help me out with Bravo and even ride him in some of her lessons. She is a very talented rider but does not have her own horse so it is a great exchange with mutual benefits. I wanted to get together with her and tag-team ride Bravo at some point so she could get an idea of  where he is right now in his training. I was open and honest about how green he is and left it up to her to decide if it would still be worth it to her to ride him in some of her paid lessons.

 

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We met up at the barn last Friday and I reminded her how feral he was so we decided to play it by ear. I started out lunging him and he was WILD. Staying in a circle around me was not a concept he was familiar with anymore. He played a bunch and every time I asked for a trot he would ramp himself up to a canter and threaten to bolt away and squeal and buck. Eventually, he settled a bit and held a nice trot and started listening to my commands. My friend asked me when the last time I lunged him was and I told her that I haven’t lunged him in the arena in at least two months. We both agreed that given that scenario, he really was being quite a good five year old. She was definitely still game to get on so we got everything adjusted and she climbed aboard. It’s a lot of fun watching your horse be ridden by someone else- nerve-wracking- but fun. He had one moment as they were starting where he thought about playing while under saddle. He didn’t really do anything but he squealed and she just calmly urged him forward and he knocked that shit right off. I breathed a tentative sigh of relief and realized I had been holding my breath.

 

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She handled him so well and we kept it light and easy. He is still a very green bean, unsure in his rapidly changing body, but he tried hard and took care of us both during our rides. He’s quirky and wiggly but I know with consistent riding he’ll improve quickly. I’m super grateful for the help and I am also committing to ride him more consistently this year. Even though I know there will be a whole lot of ugly to ride through, I was bursting with pride watching my friend ride him. I can see flashes of the horse I hope he grows up to be when he really learns to carry himself.

 

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Word Wednesday

I basically need this tattooed on my forehead in order for it to sink in. I am settling for keeping this passage available for reference at regular intervals especially during tough times in training or moments of anxiety. Time can either be my greatest ally in this process or a source of pressure- the choice is mine.

 

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-Jessica Jahiel, The Horse Training Problem Solver

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.