Back in the Game

Bravo has been knocking it out of the park lately in so many ways. A few weeks ago we hit a snag due to some less than ideal pasture conditions, an excess of energy, and too much lunge line exuberance. Multiple fixes helped smooth out these issues and even though nothing could be done about the pasture conditions, we have been reaping the benefits and really making progress since making some changes.

I returned to our roots with a groundwork refresher, per Tracy’s suggestion, and closed down the barn a few nights so I could allow Bravo some free time loose in the arena. He responded well to the groundwork but surprised me by not getting wild at all when I turned him loose in the arena. There were much less theatrics than he had been delivering on the lunge line.

 

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Fun with props

 

Heeding Austen’s advice, I have completely omitted lunging and took a chance that he would keep a better lid on the crazy while being ridden. It worked!! He has been perfectly well behaved ever since. We can revisit lunging when the round pen finally drains (probably sometime in June…at the this rate). Can’t say that I miss it from our pre-ride routine but I do want him to know how to do it and behave. We did make it out to the round pen one day when there wasn’t standing water and I got to take another update shot. I love looking at these and seeing how he is changing.

 

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1 year difference, top is most recent

 

He saw the chiropractor and I think that may have helped make him more comfortable while working. It feels so amazing to have the “problems” that we have now under saddle. He has always been great for the walk but had been pretty resistant to trotting and we hadn’t cantered since I bought him. Now, our “go” button is working much better and he only takes exception to being asked to trot the first time in the ride. His resistance is nothing major- a head toss or running out through his shoulder. As his strength improves and he adapts to consistent riding, I’m confident this will fade, too. The newest issues are leaning and running through his shoulder while trotting and not yet understanding a cue to move laterally. We are cantering a little but he is lacking strength and coordination. He has been stumbling behind occasionally especially in the down transition so we will take this slow.

 

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Always up for a walk

 

The best part about all this progress is I think we are officially ready to start taking  lessons together! He has been ridden by my friend in three lessons so far, but he and I have yet to take our first lesson.

For documentation purposes, here’s a list of what’s going well and what needs work:

What’s Working

  • He’s so chill- he doesn’t spook at the crazy arena pigeons
  • Doesn’t mind the radio playing in the arena
  • He reacts but doesn’t overreact to the whip
  • Forward and responsive to the leg (most of the time)
  • He did really well with three other horses in the arena, multiple times
  • No bolting, bucking, or ear pinning
  • Swinging, forward walk is default

What Needs Work

  • Standing still at the mounting block (he doesn’t walk away, he moves his hip away)
  • Lunging
  • Focus- very short attention span
  • Whoa (a bit swap helped, but I want him to react to my seat/tone)
  • Accepting contact
  • Beginning lateral work- moving away from one leg
  • Steering
  • Shoulder control- bulging and leaning everywhere
  • Balance especially in transitions

 

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The magnesium supplement seems to be helping, too

 

My diligence and patience with him is finally paying off right now. We feel ready to consider the next level, which, in our case, is actually tackling some of the things listed above! What fabulous “problems” to have, all things considered…  YOU GUYS! We have RIDING problems to fix. 😀

 

 

Lunatic Lesson Pony

My friend C took her first official lesson on Bravo last week and although things started out rocky, they ended very well.

 

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I lunged him before her lesson and he was insane. Our trainer even left the arena for awhile because he was so ill-behaved on the lunge line. He bucked, squealed, bolted around and mostly ignored the small, unimpressed human clinging to his face via a kite string from the center of the arena. He’s completely forgotten how to lunge like a normal horse.

I am having to sort out some facilities issues at the moment as well as balancing training philosophy. I wouldn’t say I’m juggling these two very well and half of me still thinks waiting until spring to get going again is just fine for both of us. The main issue is that there are way too many horses at my barn. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in barn traffic which would be totally fine if everything else about the facility remained consistent. The horses are turned out everyday, rain or shine, and the paddocks are like an acre for 4-5 horses. Naturally, these paddocks are complete mud pits this time of year and we have had a very mild, wet winter. The horses mostly just stand around all day in mud halfway up their cannons and then come in to their stalls at night. The past several times I have taken Bravo into the indoor arena he has been a completely unruly fire-breathing dragon.

 

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Uh, I’m sorry, you want me to run around in this!?! 

 

I totally get it- but I don’t know what to do about it. There is one spot on the entire property with footing dry and safe enough to allow a horse to move and that is a 60×150 indoor arena shared by all boarders and haul-ins. This is frustrating when you are trying to train a young horse. I do not want him to keep bolting around and playing on the lunge line but there is no other option. The round pen and two outdoor arenas are completely waterlogged and unusable for the next 3 months and he may as well be standing in his stall all day for all the movement his turnout allows. It is against the barn rules to lunge when there are people riding and it is against the rules to turn your horse loose in the arena if anyone else is even on the property.

These rules and conditions seem to be literally only working against me because everyone else who is able to ride their trained horses rides whenever they please. I’m not particularly interested in climbing aboard an out of control, 17.1hh greenie, just to have to weave in and out of four other horses in the arena every night.

Thankfully my friend C is not as much of a weenie and despite being a full witness to Bravo’s lunge line antics, she still chose to go through with her lesson. They worked on steering and getting Bravo to balance himself better into turns. She rode him quite well and he did behave much better under saddle than he had on the lunge line. She is either really brave or really desperate because she asked to ride him again this week in her lesson.

 

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I’ve popped him on a calming supplement hoping that might take a little of the edge off, but I really don’t have a good fix for my current situation. For everyone’s sake I need to be able to give him an outlet for his energy without him picking up the notion that arena=always be crazy or lunge line=free for all.

Any ideas?

 

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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