“Bazaconi” part 6 ,so close and yet so far.

 

Poor Baz, the memories of racing were going to die hard. Every time I mounted him, the head went up in that same twisted way and he threatened to take off out of control, all it would take at this stage was an unforgiving hand and all of the work done so far would have gone out the window.
He hadn’t bucked at all and considering the tension and weakness in his back that was a fair effort.
He was bold, often horses with all of bazaconi’s issues turn to shying at everything, when they are confused with what is  going on with the rider, it seems everything in the world is scary. Baz had not shied once in all the time I had been working him, he was showing at least a couple of admirable traits.

No, bazaconis answer to any question to which he didn’t have the answer was “run” it didn’t really solve his problem because jockeys don’t often come off, the problem wasn’t going away, “run” hadn’t worked for him, and though I was doing everything I could to convince him there were other alternatives, every time I mounted him I could feel that “run “was his first thought.
All he was doing at the moment was walking off quickly with a rushed panicky feel but to most riders this is a signal to pick up the reins and hold on, for Bazaconi’s education this would have been a recipe for disaster.
Human nature is a funny thing, most cues our brain gives us about riding are absolutely the opposite of what we really need to do. A bit like baz running away we tend to go toward self preservation, not in a considered way but in a a panicky primitive way. We are concerned with regaining our own balance,not considering that of the living creature below us, we grip with our legs, that says to the horse “go!” we grip tighter, “go faster!” we hold the reins tighter and tighter, head In the air, back hollow, more panic,” run away from the lion on your back”
Have you ever tried to paddle on a very narrow kayak or maybe to row a single skull, they are so tippy, very very difficult to “sit up”, most people who would try to sit on one of these craft without instruction and probably someone physically holding on to it, would finish up in the water in less than a second, the boat tips one way, we overcompensate the other and in we go, less than a second. These overcompensation are just as influential to the horse the only difference whilst riding is we don’t finish up in the water, we need to consider our responses or we will, finish up on the ground and the horse at the pet food factory.

What about this example you stand In front of a boxer, he or she don’t have to be very good, “hold your hands up protect your face at all cost” they say, one quick fake to the mid section, you drop your hands to protect you tummy and before you can pick them up again the second punch has bopped you on the nose, they told you what to do and your instinct just wouldn’t let you do it, a little like instructions from a fairly average riding instructor.

So Bazaconis required very considered responses by his rider. To a professional horse person these responses come as conditioned reflex, I can generally ride most horses most of the time with my body reacting as I need it too, conditioned reflex, no more thought involved than picking up food on a fork and placing it in my mouth. This makes riding for the professional much less stressful than for the average rider.
Bazaconi made me think. If I was not constantly on my game he would take advantage of every opportunity to do something unexpected, Rush forward , head up , twist and turn, for every shift in weight or inconsistency in contact on the rein he would punish me, not dangerously but with a loss of connection and control. He was not helping me in any way shape or form. At this stage it was up to me to call all of the shots and ensure I made them very accurate.
The job of the rider is to sit still in a balanced position and give clear accurate aids to the horse, we would like the horse to listen, but in time we should expect him to do more, he should help. By maintaining tempo and rhythm he helps us maintain our stillness while everything around us is moving, if we should momentarily loose connection with the rein contact he should seek it. If we are both working toward the same goal the ride is much more enjoyable for both of us.
Baz wasn’t helping, I needed to get him on my team. The tempo and rhythm were starting to come but trying to build enough confidence in the bit so  that Baz would seek it all the time even when I wasn’t helping, was going to be a fair ask.
Consistency and accuracy are the only answers, keep doing the correct things consistently, let the horse feel and learn that Being ridden is not confusing, in fact done well it is incredibly consistent.

Horses learn good stuff and bad stuff just as quickly, they come from racing with lots of bad stuff, riding horse wise, generally undoing damage done is like starting at -20 rather than zero, Baz started at about -50, it was a long road forward but the same rules of consistency  and accuracy would apply.
Consolidation over and over again. Teach him to relax rather than run when confused, teach him to consider his responses.image
Time passed ,consolidation was gradually occurring, Baz would travel along quite nicely as far as the uninitiated was concerned but look closely, Baz was not particularly happy, it would take some time before he began to find it easy, there was always slight head nodding at any inconsistency, remember I am talking about inconsistency in me! 30 years as a professional rider, riding with all the accuracy and care that I could, totally aware of Baz’s issues, this wasn’t inconsistency as in, riding on the trail and gathering up the reins a handful at a time Whilst talking to the person riding next to me. This was finite inconsistency and he let me know with that little bob of the head at every opportunity that I needed to be better. This may seem pedantic but I was acutely  aware that unless Baz was unquestionably working toward helping the rider, all of the careful work I was doing would fall apart and quickly. Little bobs of the head  and dropping of the bit for me would soon turn into head up and rushing for most riders.

end part 6

“Bazaconi “the instructor . Part 5

 

Attention gained, check, Foundation more consolidated, check, rhythm and tempo heading toward establishment,check, time to try riding again.
I mounted Bazaconi, immediately he put his head in the air twisted it and hollowed his back he moved off abruptly, I had to stay calm, he was expecting to get what he had always gotten from his rider, a meaningless pull on the mouth and a confusing fight, I gently took up the inside rein and asked him to move his hindquarter to the outside, initially he didn’t respond but I was not being drawn into the fight, I would sit and wait for him to recognise that what I was doing on his back was exactly what I had done from the ground whilst working in hand, finally he dropped his nose to the inside, he kept walking in a small circle but he had responded in a positive way to the bit, I gently took up the outside rein and started to proactively influence him, he would react to me not me by him.
He shook his head violently and put it up in his usual twisted way. Stay relaxed, keep asking gently, reward him at every opportunity. He Softend again poll relaxed, with little to no outside leg I asked him to step in exaggerated way toward the outside rein with his inside hind leg, softer, voice command, .”and halt” this is the voice command I had used all the way along, “and” being the precautionary aid_”get ready get ready”, long and with a downward inflection “aaannnd halt” . He understood and he stopped, he stood in a correct frame and breathed out in a heaving kind of way. It was as if he said “oh I get it”
I picked up the new inside rein and went through the same process again. Now I applied my outside leg and encouraged him to walk forward out of the circle, he did it but with the straightness came tension in his back, he was inclined to rush forward which at times threw me off balance, it was all I could do not to hit him in the mouth with the bit as I regained my position. Had I clumsily taken up the rein, the head would have gone up and the battle would have re started.
Baz needed lots of walking on small circles but I didn’t want to be on his back until it started to ache, it was a whole new way of going and it would take him some time to get used to it, like a swimmer starting running training. Very fit but in all the wrong places for what we wanted.
He would get his physical exercise on the lunge, at the same time developing strength, rhythm and tempo and I would snake around the arena at the walk on his back being very obvious and consistent with my aids for 10 minutes each ride.

Gradually he developed the understanding of the aids, he spent more time in a correct frame than not, I could feel he was starting to reach for the outside rein after all these years of avoiding it he finally reached for it, he was accepting and maybe even seeking the support.

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On his good side I eased him into the trot, immediate tempo and fairly good Rhythm, and still moving into that outside rein, the contact had to be obvious but elastic and sympathetic or he would panic, God he was good for my riding, who needs to pay hundreds of dollars  for lessons. This was his good side and he was happy to step under my weight with the inside hind leg. I knew the other side would be harder, for a start it was naturally his week side, it had been made weaker by years of not using it correctly, secondly, it is his racing direction ,there was bound to be conditioned reflex and bad memories, there was, up went the head and the speed and out the window went the understanding. Again I stuck to my guns “let the horse be influenced by you, don’t be influenced by the horse” I kept asking him correctly and calmly. With his hollow back and head in the air he was very unbalanced, he had struggled to carry a rider on the track in a straight line let alone a 20 metre circle but he needed to work on the circle so I could help him find the feeling we needed. Breaking the alignment of his spine by working on the circle takes away his ability to fight and encourages him to relax. I have felt some unbalanced horses in my time but Baz was so bad he was very close to falling over on many occasions, this just spooked him more, voice commands were overruled by fear and confusion I needed to get his attention I moved his hind quarters across dramatically with my leg, backed up by the dressage whip, he felt even more likely to fall, I had to help him find some comfort by discovering his balance, I asked and asked with the inside rein for him to at least look to the inside, this has to be done without holding, if you hold he will hold back and flex more to the outside, I persisted carefully but somewhat demandingly, riding on the incorrect diagonal will cause the horse to step more dramatically underneath himself as he strives to get his balance, this is a very effective technique in stopping a horse from falling in and helping him take up the outside rein contact, I could feel some improvement .
Finally he dropped his head to the inside and stepped under our combined weight with his inside hind leg, now, weather it was because of the aids or because he could see the ground coming up at him or just by accident, it didn’t matter I rewarded him immediately by taking away all pressure “aaannnd walk” and he walked.
I let him enjoy it for a few moments then went back to the same exercise, this time it only took a couple of circles before he dropped his nose to the inside, he was tentative, no, terrified to take the contact on the outside rein at this stage but he had flexed and bent to a down transition. Back to his  good side, no drama, I gave him a few easy wins in relation to attaining his reward, back to the hard side, better than before, Baz had now worked out that he could let the pressure off by relaxing that’s what I needed. He was learning to relax rather than panic when things got difficult. Back to the walk, piece of cake. Lovely changes of direction snaking around forward into the outside rein, the epiphany at the trot had Helped to consolidate the walk no end.
End of part 5

 

bazaconi”consolidation” part 4

imageAfter lots of gentle work, making the required outcomes very obvious, Bazaconi started to work with me rather than against me. Not many people put the effort into ground work that I do when working with horses off the track. You can’t underestimate the value of ground work and a systematic approach, you need to have short and long-term goals. Up until now the short-term goals and steps of the system for BAZ have been.

Respect my space.
Pay attention
Listen to voice commands
Accept the bit as communication on the ground.

If I had simply jumped on his back without these foundations he would put his head in the air, twisted and turned it to the left and run into the fence.
So now I wanted some Consolidation of all the steps. To this point, Baz thrived on consistency as most horses do, the more sensitive they are the more they need it. Consistency and confidence from the handler, the same as they get from another horse in the paddock. Dominant or senior horses if you like, display a certain confidence to their subordinates, handlers need to have the same thing, you can’t really fake it, horses will catch you out, be confident with what you do.

Most horses, 90% are followers, they thrive on confident leadership. In a herd there is the stallion and the lead mare everyone else is a follower. A healthy happy herd environment is determined by the success of the stallion and the lead mare, they will both be far more dominant than you can ever dream of being and will receive unquestionable respect from the followers.

All of the work I had done to this point was consolidated every day with Bazaconi, to this I now added steady correct lunging.
Lunging is an extension of the work I had already carried out whilst training in hand except now it would be done from five metres away, Baz would feel he had a certain degree of freedom so it was imperative to maintain his attention. I started lunging him on a very short lead so if need be I could touch him gently with the whip. As I was confident I had his attention I gradually let him out onto a longer rein. At times it got too much for him and he would become over excited, slow him down shorten the rein and gradually build up again.
In time I could lunge him on the long lead his attentiveness was crazy and so my control of myself needed to be immaculate. One false move and he would react too dramatically.

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Lunging is a good magnified reflection of how a person rides. I can usually predict what kind of rider you will be based on how you lunge. Clumsiness, carelessness, over reaction, too much hand, too much leg, or not enough will all show up on the lunge.
I could tell by the way Baz lunged that he was going to test my riding and concentration, I was starting to look forward to the challenge, I now new Baz understood the basics, applied correctly on his back they should transfer to the same result I had from the ground.
Lunging was going to help Baz develop physically, the muscles which had not be developed in racing and atrophy those that had been developed that were not required as a quality riding horse.

 

Calm lunging for short periods in each direction in a correct frame developing tempo and rhythm, this was the next step and short-term goal in the system. For a horse like Baz who couldn’t run on a straight line, a 10-20 meter circle is a major effort. Horses never travel on a circle this small in the paddock, it’s not natural, the strength to do so for an extended period must be developed slowly and sympathetically, no more than five minutes at a time in each direction for as long as it takes for the horse to really relax over the back and seek the rein contact. Often with Baz I would feel like I had almost achieved the goal only to have him excited by some outside influence which would add another 10 minutes to the process. It’s funny, 40 minutes seems to be the magic number with horses with real issues, be they physical, mental or emotional.
Once I could get reasonable periods of quality work on the lunge it would be time to get on and ask for the same thing carrying my 90 odd kilograms.
End of part 4

A lesson for Wal Wallace, you can’t beat experience.

Wal Wallace bred himself a bull,
A picture of a beast.
You’d find no better, so he said
From way out west to east.

He bragged, “Im gonna take this thing
To every country show
And of my breeding expertise
The cockies all will know.”

But really, when its said and done,
If one should know the truth.
Wall Wallace couldn’t’t tell
between a cow’s horn and its hoof.

His luck was running good one year,
When his shire held its fair,
He won a service in a bet with some
Bull breeder there.

Turns out, that the bull at prize
Had won at Sydney show.
Its pedigree and family tree
all bull breeders would know.

And Wally’s bull, well really,
It would take no expertise
He’d take first prize in any show,
Would beat rest with ease.

Now jimmy smith, who lived next door,
Gave Wallace some advise,
A green horn with a beast like that,
Just wast very wise.

“It might be best to get some help,
Find someone who would know
Of how to handle beasts like that
When taking them to show.”

But Wallace scoffed at smithies words,
“You’re such a bloody sook,
Ill sort it out, Its all in this here
BULL EXIBITORS BOOK.”

Well he read the book from front to back
And what do you suppose,
It said he had to take the thing
And ring its mighty nose.

Now it wasn’t all that difficult,
It hardly even bleed.
This preliminary victory
Went straight to Wally’s head.

“As if I need a bloody hand,
I knew that id succeed,
The only thing that left to do
Is teach the thing to lead.”

So the very next task he undertook
With his confident persistence
Was to tie a pole to the bulls nose ring,
So as to lead it from a distance.

I seemed a fairly easy ask,
Wallis attached the stick.
The drama that unfolded next sure
Left him looking thick.

The bull began to shake his head,
He thrashed it side to side,
The timber swinging from his nose
Was tanning Wally’s hide.

It chased and pounded poor old wal
Across the cattle Yard,
He ducked and weaved and did his best
To dodge the the swishing shard.

But the bull was deadly accurate,
He flogged wal black and blue
His misses dear, who came to help
She copped a flogging too.

Now Wallis lies in hospital
As well his misses dear,
The bulls show days are over
He’s a handsome lookin steer.

So we should heed the lesson here
And take a closer look
There’s one way to get experience
And it’s not from a bloody book

Don’t be too smart to ask for help
It might just save your life,
Or at the barest minimum
Spare you a load of strife.

By Scott Brodie

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“Engagement ” engage Your brain before your opinion

 

Now just before all you “know all” dressage experts reply emotionally to this blog, Please engage your brain before your emotion. You won’t!
imageThere is conjecture at the moment about some things that are currently occurring in high level dressage. The one I would specifically like to discuss is the newish phenomena of the exaggerated high front leg action of horses particularly in extended trot.

The FEI rules state 4.5. Extended trot.                                                              The Horse covers as much ground as possible. Without hurrying, the steps are lengthened to the utmost as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The Athlete allows the Horse to lengthen the frame and to gain ground whilst controlling the poll. The fore feet should touch the ground on the spot towards which they are pointing. The movement of the fore and hind legs should reach equally forward in the moment of extension. The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition to Collected trot should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters.

Now I have had some awesome classical instructors who have given me the classic descriptions of what is correct , theoretically the upper arm of the front leg above the knee should be parallel to the hind cannon bone when the extended trot is executed. As in seen in the bottom photo
Now I have been taught exactly this, but most importantly I have always been taught that the extension is initiated from the the hind quarter, the horse moves in front of the engine which is behind the rider, with ultimate enguagment of the hindquarters the front legs can lift off the ground they are not needed “levade”

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It was always pushed to me by my wonderfull instructor,Tina womelsdorf, that the horse can only reach as far as his nose with his front legs. That is to say, he can reach further than his nose whilst the foot is in the air, but it will return to under the horses nose prior to reaching the ground.
I was always warned about being deceived by Flicky front legs as opposed to correctly engaged hind legs when looking at the extended trot. You often see Flicky front leg action in the hack ring which is often not supported by correct hind quarter engagement.
I suggest that anyone who is competing internationally at grand prix level has had at least as much classical education as me and much more than most of the readers of this blog.
I suggest that they have a fair idea of the concept of engagement of the hind quarter.
Let me raise this view for consideration.
If you look at the two photos attached and carefully study the enguagment of the hindquarters you will note that there is very little difference. The angles of the hocks of both horses, are almost identical. Don’t tell me the horse in the top photo is not engaging his hind quarters.
So the top horse has a crazy front leg action the leg is extending forward and out from the elbow. The bottom horse has correct parallel lines from front leg to back leg. Both have fantastic engagement of the hind quarter.
If the most important prerequisite of a properly developed trot is engagement of the hind quarter, why does it matter so much what the horse does with his front legs. There is no doubting that both horses have developed their extension based on the theory espoused by the classical school.

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The high front leg action is shown in the Spanish trot which is excecuted at the Spanish riding school in Vienna a bastion of classical dressage. I was always taught this is not a dressage movement but more like circus, this is stated by Franz Maringar in his book “horses are made to be horses” . Is the parallel theory relevant only, in relation to the rules of competition dressage, as some comity has seen fit to declare?

I’m not sure. I’m just thinking. I think a lot. I never accept anything just because someone said it, that’s not what being a horseman is about. Horsemanship is about problem solving as much as anything else. It would be good if more horse owners engaged their brains and got a thorough education on a subject before they spruke some view that was spruked to them by some other horse owner who probably didn’t engage their brains.

As for my opinion, I don’t know, but I do think about it, I do question it, I need a practical mechanical explanation for all things riding, if you can’t explain the mechanics and the purpose don’t raise it with me.
As for the high leg action, it looks pretty flashy but doesn’t seem to promote the same flow and rhythm as the parallel lines. I have however seen horses perform the high knee action in the paddock. So it’s not un
natural. I THINK A LOT.

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Now I have to put up with the opinions of all the arm chair experts

For those who keep telling me I should write a book ! “Horses from courses” re training a horse off the track.

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Every year thousands of thoroughbred ex race horses, often referred to as OTTB, (off the track thoroughbreds) retire from the racing industry, their future uncertain. Many well-meaning horse enthusiasts seek to take these horses and retrain them for sport and recreational purposes. This book takes the accumulated experience and knowledge of horse trainer Scott Brodie—manager of the New South Wales Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust, re-trainer of hundreds of ex racehorses—and allows the novice trainer to tap into this valuable source of information previously unattainable for the average horse enthusiast. The book is available in E book format from Apple I books and Amazon for under $10 

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Scott Brodie is Manager of the Racing NSW Thoroughbred Retraining Program. A NSW Mounted Police horse trainer and classically trained rider, Scott has a unique spin on the retraining of retired racehorses. Utilising a surprisingly smooth synergy of natural horsemanship and the practical application of classical dressage, Scott’s systematic approach to this often difficult and dangerous endeavour ensures the smoothest and fairest transition for the horse from racing machine to a pleasurable riding partner. 
 
A qualified Instructor with the Equestrian Federation of Australia, Scott has trained under many Olympians and world class instructors. He has competed to Advanced level in eventing and has schooled horses from break-in to the Grand Prix movements in dressage. Scott is an advocate and accomplished practitioner of ‘Natural Horsemanship’ techniques.
 
As a serving Mounted Police Officer, Scott was selected to represent Australia in the Royal Pageant of the Horse, at Windsor Castle for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He won numerous police horse events at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, and was presented the prestigious “Silver Spurs Award” for outstanding horsemanship and service to the NSW Police Force by the Police Commissioner. Scott was also the recipient of a Bravery Citation for incidents that occurred in 1999. Scott is currently a contract horse trainer and instructor with the NSW Mounted police, implementing his training system for the education of police re mounts.
As Thoroughbred Retraining Manager with Racing NSW, Scott has appeared on television and printed media as spokesperson for the program and held demonstrations statewide. He mentors a first class team of horse trainers who implement the program on a daily basis, as well as supervising the training of corrective services staff and inmates involved in the program. Scott is also the facilitator of a program of equine assisted therapy for returned service personal recovering from Post traumatic stress disorder. He has personally overseen the retraining and rehoming of hundreds of ex race horses

Scott Brodie is far more than an outstanding horseman. He has dedicated his life to coaching not just in many sports but for many people in life skills

Scott has been attending the St Heliers Correctional Centre for numerous years, working with inmates including some violent offenders, and coaching them in horsemanship skills. Many of these inmates have never had role models in their lives and look to Scott’s mentorship as an opportunity to help them become better people and productive members of society. The skills in horsemanship taught by Scott transfer into life skills as the men learn empathy, commitment, control, and communication skills.
The training system utilised and designed by Scott is easily passed onto inmates and returned service personnel suffering from post traumatic stress disorder ,who Scott also works with, some of whom have had very little to no horse involvement previously.
Some of the skills taught in Scott’s training system relate to day-to-day life skills include reading body language, utilising body language as a means of communication, problem solving, patience, and calm decision making. The transformation from hardened, career criminals or damaged service personnel into caring and responsible community members with focus and direction is amazing and the recidivism levels of inmates completing the program is zero.
The experienced gained though all of the previously mentioned fields along with a 30 year history as a coach and mentor have given Scott a great insight into how horses can improve lives.

Bazaconi “language and communication class” part 3

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So, “Bazaconi gump” had finally stopped running. There  was no doubt he now recognised me. He new ,when he was with me, he didn’t have to gallop, that was a start but there was no doubt the running thing would raise its head again.

With all the handling and a basic education on, what was my space and what was his, Bazaconi seemed to be settling whilst in my company. Race days were still going to be an issue_ more than likely for ever.

Back to the round yard. As he had settled considerably I decided to give the saddle another go, no problem, though a little anxious he stayed on his feet. When I let him go he through in a couple of bucks, not unusual with this bigger heavier saddle, then off he went, back to the gallop. This time he lasted about 10 minutes before he came to me, today was the day we were moving on.
The first thing I needed was to have his undivided attention.
This time when he came to me I sent him back out again pushed him for a lap and then sat down again, sure enough he came back. Now I could get rid of my milk create. I sent him out invited him back, sent him out invited him back. With a little adjustment of my energy levels I was able to have him walking stopping, trotting walking, changing direction, his focus was incredible no matter what he did he always had one ear on me. Often I will use a lunge whip to create some energy when working with green horses with Bazaconi all I needed was my finger. It’s imperative at this stage that the horse believes he is moving because you have asked him to ,you have to be honest with yourself as a handler, if the horse is running away from you you haven’t achieved anything. Even if the aid to go forward is as fine as raising your finger you need to believe you are making the decisions. Never underestimate how closely they are watching if you have truly gotten their attention. Horses in the paddock communicate through body language, a slight change of posture, ear position, body position even facial expression “never underestimate what they notice” all of your movements become part of the language between you and you horse, when you are with him make your language clear and concise, talking on the mobile phone whilst lunging is confusing, not having accurate control of you lunge whip is confusing sometimes even swatting at flies is confusing, if you are in a bad mood and your shoulders are tense, that is confusing. Baz wouldn’t have coped with any of these, I really needed to be on my game.

So with baz responding to my body language and now voice commands I began preparing him for the lunge., there is no better way to passively  start to develop the muscles required to carry weight than by working the horse calmly and correctly on the lunge. It give you the chance to develop your voice control, asses the horses movement, pick up physical issues and develop calm tempo and rhythm.
It was also the opportunity for Baz to have the bit in his mouth and work with out having to fight.
Well, Baz was not a great fan of the bit. As soon as it went into his mouth he started to chew and grind, wrestle with his tongue,  his head twisted up and to the left, that was his preferred position whilst the bit was in his mouth, no rein or riding pressure required, head up and to the left.

When I stated to ask him to accept some contact it was total confusion, now most race horses have no idea of the grey areas between stop and go when it comes to the bit. It’s very simple in the racing world ” bit off” = go “bit on” = stop,if you like. Stop, if not understood can become 50kg of angry rider leaning back with all their might. An old bushy once said to me “those track workers have hands like black fellas feet” referring to the hard calloused feet aboriginals develop from years of walking bear foot in the bush. Not particularly politically correct but it paints a picture.
I don’t think baz was there the day they learnt stop. He defiantly had the go thing down pat.

The bit was a total mystery and misery to him he twisted and turned his head trying to avoid it, more contact resulted in more twist and more again meant go harder. He gaged and worked his tongue with his mouth wide open. He really did seem to resent the bit across his tongue. I decided to try something different I purchased a bit with a large port that avoided tongue contact at all, it still worked on the bars of his mouth as required but left space for his tongue to sit commortably “hey presto mouth closed” shame that wasn’t thought of 5 years ago, once again, one size doesn’t fit all.
So, working against him had been, a poor basic education, very uncomfortable mouth, conformation that led to head in the air and hollow back, in the racing stable that equates to “that horse is a bastard I hate riding him” mmm that’s not gonna fix it.
Now Baz was more comfortable in the mouth, he had stopped fainting, he knew about my personal space he was starting to understand my body and voice language. It was time to re introduce the new bit in a new simple, understandable way. After a number of weeks of gentle instruction Baz started to get it.

 

He started to trust and respect me, he new I wouldn’t hurt him but he also new I was in charge of the partnership, yep, it was definitely becoming a partnership. Gradually he started to seek out the bit, recognising it was one of our important means of communication, finally he reached for it, in doing so he lowered his head and released the tension in his tangled back, it must have been such a relief. You know that feeling when you have pain some where and feel like you have to walk around tensed protecting the effected area, its exhausting you finish up angry and irritable. “Bazaconi”

End of part 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The fairytale that became a nightmare”

Once upon a time there was a beautiful young racehorse he was purchased by horseman who was a racehorse trainer. He didn’t cost much because he hadn’t been very successful. The trainer saw something in him and believed he could get the best out of him.

Horses are expensive to keep, trainers often pass the cost onto owners by selling the horse or a share in it. Thats what this trainer did, he convinced some friends to purchase the horse so he could train him and hopefully have some success for everyone concerned.

The trainer discovered that the horse did his best when allowed to race out in front, so thats what he did. The horse went to the front in all of his races and left it to the rest to catch him. Sometimes he held on, sometimes he didn’t. It is a tough way to race, it knocks horses around. The horse was very successful, he won around 20 races and over a million dollars. Every one was very happy, the owners told everyone what great horsemen they were, because everyone knows, if you own a horse you are a horseman, and if he wins a race you are a good horseman.

The horse raced until he was 8—thats pretty old for a racehorse, the average retirement age is about 3. The horse had done his bit. Eventually the hard work of being a front runner for so long caught up with him. After winning big races in the city he finished last in a country race. The trainer said “thats it he has had enough, he has looked after us, now we should look after him, its time to retire”.

 

The owners didn’t agree, they still hadn’t won the big race they wanted to win. They told the trainer they wanted him to race on, the trainer said “he can’t, based on his last race, there was something wrong with him”. The owners had a vet look over the horse, his joints were fine, the vet said he could see no reason why the horse couldn’t continue to race. The trainer stuck to his guns, he wouldn’t train the horse “I don’t understand” said the owner “its only a race horse and not the best in the world either”. The owners took the horse to another trainer. Aware that the horse may have had a heart or breathing problem, the original trainer was very disappointed, he unfriended the owners never to deal with them again. Only time would tell the fate of this wonderful horse, we could only wish for the fate of the owners. NOT THE END!!!

“Bazaconi” friend of foe ? Part 2

I know there are plenty of readers out there who will say, “oh that’s like the thoroughbred I had”, “that’s what so and so used to do”. No, this horse was different. I think I could confidently say that anywhere else he would have been euthanised at best, at worst sold for pet meat.

We have had almost 300 horses enter the TRT and I have trained many more. This guy was different, very lucky to have had such a caring owner. I guess when I started with Bazaconi we had trained around 100 horses at the TRT, I thought he was pretty tricky. Now we have had nearly 300 and I know he was very tricky.

Some horses are limited by their conformation—certain types of confirmation lend themselves to certain training issues. Looking at Bazaconi as a horse, his neck is set very high, that is, it seemed to come up steeply out of his withers so before a rider even gets on, his head is carried high.
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This is fine if he is just to live in the paddock and eat grass, but to carry weight the horse needs to develop the muscles in his back. When the rider jumps in the middle of the back of a horse with this confirmation, his head will go up further, his back is more uncomfortable, and he panics. What do horses do when they panic? The same thing they have done for 50 million years, they run. Panic, fear, discomfort, pain and confusion from all of these things and the horse will run. It’s what he is designed to do. Once he starts to run, he is not designed to assess the situation, he does that when he has run away from the issue. If the issue is on his back, he keeps running and panicking, then the rider tries to control him, so he pulls the rein this way and that, resulting in more confusion and more panic. With a sensitive horse this situation is magnified. This was Bazaconi—he had been head-in-the air confused and running away all his life.

Now I had to gain his confidence, convince him that the lion on his back was not going to eat him and that the pulling, seesawing piece of steel in his mouth was trying to tell him something. If I was breaking him in as a clean slate, I would consider his sensitivity and his conformation and choose my methods of training carefully. Unfortunately, most racehorse breakers have a one size fits all philosophy it certainly didn’t fit Bazaconi. It has never ceased to amaze me that people will pay $1,000000 dollars for a horse and then $1500 to have him broken in, in just 2 weeks.

Bazaconi’s first struggle was coming to terms with the fact that though he was at the racecourse he didn’t have to race. The TRT operates from Canterbury racecourse in Sydney, and race meeting are held at least fortnightly and weekly at times during summer. Baz didn’t cope well at all. On race days he was a mess, he walked his box until he was a lather of sweat, he refused to eat or drink and by the end of the day he was a mental wreck, standing with his head in the corner of his stable he would then scour for the next two days.

Early in his ground work period (which with the TRT generally lasts about 6 weeks) he struggled with being tacked up, believing he was going down to the track. Now I’ve seen cold backed horses fall to the ground when girthed up too tightly. I’ve even seen them damage themselves fatally in the process. I am always careful to girth horses very, very carefully, particularly if they are showing signs of stress. Racehorses are girthed up very tightly by stable hands for track work or racedays—the life of the rider depends on the person who has tacked the horse up. This tight girthing often stays with racehorses for sometime after retiring from racing, some for life.

Bazaconi’s issue with saddling up was very unusual. On regular occasions he would freeze as a cold backed horse often does, then he would faint. Yes, I said faint. He would just drop unconscious to the ground, he would lay there for a number of seconds then get up and he would be fine. At that time I had never seen this—I since have on occasion. I had the vet come and told him what was happening, he asked if it would happen if I saddled him now so I took him into the arena saddled him up and sure enough down he went. The vet had never seen it before, he went over him, checked all his vitals, nothing out of the ordinary, he had just fainted. I assume like a soldier on parade, in coming to attention and standing in this state for a long period the blood vessels to the brain are constricted, this limits blood to the brain and the soldier falls over. I’ve seen it plenty of times in the police service while some dignitary makes a speech that seems to go on for days but never in a horse. To say he was tense was something of an understatement.

So back to work on join up. No saddle, no bridle, just me and the horse at liberty in the round yard. Baz wanted nothing to do with it, he galloped out of control around the yard, often to the point where I feared he would fall over disunited in his cantor/gallop or completely on the wrong lead, head turned as far away for me as he could get. At one end of the round yard he could see the race track, and here he would accelerate sometimes with his tail tucked between his legs. Just me standing in the yard was way too much for Baz to cope with. Usually in join up, the idea is to place pressure on the horse, keep him moving and each time he faces you, let the pressure off, however with Baz so fired up and galloping so hard, this wasn’t going to work—the potential for him to hurt himself was too great. I took a milk create and sat on it in the middle of the round yard and just let Baz go. Thoroughbreds have great endurance probably because of the strong Arab influence in their bloodlines, obviously a great benefit to the racing fraternity. Baz went around and around and around, rarely changing direction. For a week of more all I could do was take him into the round yard and sit on my milk crate while he burnt off steam. In the early sessions I would have to bring him out before he ran himself into the ground he didn’t seem to have any respect for fatigue and I was sure he would do himself damage if I let him go until he could go no more .

Each day I got him out groomed him, let him run around washed him and put him back into his box. He was a bugger to wash, wouldn’t stand still, head as high as he could put it or rubbing it vigorously on anything he could reach. He danced and stomped, striking for minutes on end on the concrete ground and then at every opportunity tried to rub all over you. This is not on, rubbing all over you is a mark of serious disrespect with a sharp jerk away from me on the rope halter I let him know I would not accept the rubbing. Every time I led him he tried it on and every time he got the same result from me. He picked it up in a couple of days and understood not to come into my space uninvited. So many horse owners love the horse rubbing all over them, I can assure you the dominant horse in the paddock does not let other horses rub all over him uninvited. By letting him do this he puts you below himself in the pecking order, not to mention the potential danger of having your head split open by an over enthusiastic rubber with a steel bit in his mouth.

So the first thing Baz learnt was to respect my space. I extended this into don’t rub on anything when I am in control, “you get what you accept so only accept what you want”. Smart horse, he now stood like a statue when I told him to and the second I relaxed or walked away he would rub like a maniac over whatever was closest including people. No one was to handle Bazaconi but me.

One day in the round yard Baz just stopped. It was like that scene out of the movie Forrest Gump when Forrest after running for years just stops, for no apparent reason he has just finished running. Baz looked out at the race track, looked back at me sitting in the sun on my milk create covered in flies, walked straight to me and stood quietly in front of me. Sounds a bit like a scene out of some corny horse movie, like he had made a decision, was it to be racing or me, he chose me. Yeah, that’s a bit corny but he finally stopped. I stood up, put his halter on and took him straight from the yard, that day he stood more quietly in the wash bay. The next day he galloped for two laps and came straight to me. He had worked out that he didn’t need to gallop, there was nothing to fear and nothing to be gained, he had learnt that by coming to me he could stop and I would take him out. Finally, some sort of mutual connection. Yes, there was something in it for him, but he wanted to be with me. Now we could really start to work.
End of Part Two.

The story of “Bazaconi” part 1 one out of the box,

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The thoroughbred horse is an exceptional animal, a supreme athlete with considerable intelligence, agility, strength, endurance and beauty.
I would personally describe the thoroughbred as a moderately sensitive breed of horse. Sensitivity, in my opinion, equates to intelligence so far as training is concerned.  A sensitive horse will respond to minimal aids which makes it relatively simple to influence, this sensitivity also lends itself to confusion when faced with an inaccurate, clumsy or inconsistent handler—less sensitive breeds tend to put up with more clumsy lines of communication.

The thoroughbred, thrives on consistency and is easily influenced by a
confident, accurate and assertive handler. Unfortunately not many horse handlers possess all of the aforementioned qualities. The thoroughbred race horse, whilst in the racing environment, receives little consistency  in the way of handlers and is, most often, handled only in such a way as to get the days work done in the easiest and most time efficient way possible.

Horses in racing are given limited education and are often ridden by whoever is available on the day. Many track riders possess rudimentary riding education at best which in general is sufficient to carry out the task at hand, to get the horse fit enough to run the required distance at maximum speed. One could debate, that better preparation, in relation to education, balance and strength could provide a better result from the race horse.

I have become very proficient at re training horses off the track and I can assure they all have issues that need to be fixed if they are to become quality riding or competition horses. Most are pretty standard, but
occasionally one comes from the racing industry which has been so affected by the experience that is not suitable for re training as a riding horse. They are either physically or mentally damaged to the extent that they will either not hold up to work or pose a danger to someone trying to help them through their issues. Generally these horses don’t come to me—as a rule we won’t take them on. Most race trainers recognise the horses issues and don’t pass them on, unfortunately sometimes euthanasia is the safest and or most humane answer.
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Bazaconi came to me at the end of his racing career, a beautiful dark bay horse with that intelligent looking white eye that seems to say I’m watching you at every moment. He was a striking horse with incredible movement. A glamour.

His previous owner and racing trainer was a friend of mine and she was forthcoming with Bazaconi’s issues. He had been an erratic racer, very difficult to handle at the track and very inclined to take the bit at the end of a race and continue to go, sometimes for another full lap of the track before he wore himself out. Now I often get these stories only to see horses come to hand very easily with  constancy of handling.

Bazaconi’s previous owner had trained Baz off the track because of his anxiety issues, unfortunately galloping him on bush tracks had resulted in two broken clavicals. Prior to coming to this owner, Bazaconi had had a short racing career interstate, he had not been very successful and was then used as an extra in a racing movie “The Cup” unfortunately, many many takes of short sprints up the home straight didn’t agree with Bazaconi’s sensitive and intelligent temperament, why would it, it just didn’t make sense, gallop for a couple of hundred yards as hard as you could, fight with your rider for a couple of minutes and then gallop a couple of hundred yards again. I’m sure Bazaconi wasn’t the only horse that came out of this experience with issues. After the film Bazaconi found himself at the tried horse sales he was purchased for $300, the going rate for the pet food market.

Luckily for him he was purchased by my friend who could see where he was headed should she leave him at the sales. His second racing career followed, he found some minor success in country racing, luckily for him he found an owner who was determined to see that he got a fair chance at life after racing and he came to us at the Thoroughbred  Rehabilitation  Trust.

When Bazaconi arrived he was not recognised by his action or demeanour as a horse that would cause any more drama than the next. There was no doubting his outstanding movement and striking presence. I was recovering from an injury when he arrived so I had little to do with his initial ground training—we do several weeks of ground work before we start riding them. He was a little rushy on the lunge and did not accept contact well when worked in hand. Had I had more involvement with Baz I would have recognised his issues in the early stages.

At this time we had a 100% success rate in the retraining of horses off the track and I assumed Bazaconi would just be another, maybe a little tricky but just another horse. I was wrong. The first time I mounted Baz, he put his head in the air as high as he could, twisted his neck and took off across the arena crashing into the fence on the other side. I don’t know if you have ever ridden a camel but as a horse person I found it a horrible experience, the camels neck reaches off into the distance, it weaves and bends like a snake and there is no senesce of connection or oneness, such that you feel when riding even a moderately educated horse. That’s what Baz felt like though he was endowed with a little more power and grunt than the average camel.

He was a mess. Normally when we ride our horses for the first time they work well, their frame and posture has been established and they are ready to go on with. The correct frame is imperative, it gives the horse the correct posture to carry weight. No one rides a horse at our training centre unless it has an understanding of maintaining correct posture. It’s not fair to ask a horse to carry weight and be expected to work with his back hollowed and his head in the air. I would not allow a young weight lifter to lift any serious weight without developing his technique, so why would I ask it of a horse ? The classic round dressage frame, developed through the action of a horse engaging his core and back muscles, is the correct frame for the horse to carry weight on its back. We don’t work them in this frame because it looks good, it has practical foundations. It just so happens that it looks beautiful as well, an old saying is “you will know if you are riding your horse well because he will become more and more beautiful if he doesn’t you aren’t”. You might see the correct classical frame in a magnificent statue or painting of horse and rider.

Horses weren’t designed to carry weight, they were designed to eat grass. We weren’t designed to carry weight either probably less than a horse with our upright stance and bipedal walk, however some people carry weight for a living and do it until a ripe old age, if they develop the correct muscles it is possible, if they don’t they will finish up on workers compensation. We don’t want our horses on workers comp before their time so we need to help them develop the required muscles to do the job we want them to do. Horses trained correctly will work well  into their twenties, horses not conditioned for their work will break down too early. They may not necessarily break down in the back, but by compensating for poor posture they will break down somewhere.

Bazaconi’s posture was appalling, that of most race horses is poor but this guy had spent so much time resisting and twisting that he had built muscles that were working against him, his carrying muscles had atrophied, his body was twisted, his neck was twisted there was no way of creating a decent connection to allow communication. No wonder he was hard work on the track, all his pre race photos show him being led. He really couldn’t be ridden, just loaded into the barriers, pointed in the right direction and fired.

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Now, loads of horse owners would say get a chiropractor, acupuncture or massage… my experience tells me that the best thing for horses with these kind of issues is quality and correct riding. Get the muscles to work the way we want them to work and just about all muscular damage can be reversed.

He was going to need unusually extensive ground work to prepare him for riding. I took him on personally. I went way back to the beginning of his re training. He needed to understand that the bit was not an enemy but a means of communication, he needed to get to the point where he sought the bit rather that avoiding it. This was starting to look like a real challenge, not just gaining his confidence but getting past real physical issues which had developed and consolidated over a number of years.

Thoroughbreds are smart, they pick things up very quickly so communication wouldn’t be a problem. Once clear lines can be established, muscle takes time to build, there are no short cuts, it’s one thing knowing what the rider wants, it is another thing being able to physically do it consistently and with ease. There are plenty of people who can espouse the correct theory of riding but very few can physically do it.

The groundwork would start in earnest and only time would tell.

End of Part One.