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.
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.