The hermit and the horse.

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Dee Teevee was nothing out of the ordinary, a typical entrant to our retraining program; a four year old bay gelding, 16 hands. He is so typical of the horses we are given. He had run in a few races, actually showed some promise but his owner was only interested in racing in the city and Dee Teevee was really only a country standard racehorse.

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Bradley photography 

There are lots of horses that don’t make it in the city and end up on a downward spiral from owner to owner to provincial races then country then picnics and God knows where else. Luckily for Dee Teevee, his owner didn’t want this for him and handed him over to us at the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust (TRT). He was an immature looking fella and it never ceases to amaze me what babies most of these horses are when they come to us at the end of their racing careers. This guy still hadn’t finished growing, lots of Thoroughbreds continue to grow into their fifth year. He was nothing to write home about, but he had a lovely, friendly temperament and he had not been ruined by his racing experience. In fact, I would say he had been well handled and had obviously interacted well with whoever had looked after him. He was a people-horse, he wanted to be with you. At the time Billy, as he came to be known, arrived at the TRT, we had just formed a partnership with Cana Farm at Orchard Hills in Sydney’s west. Jill, one of our volunteers, had introduced us to Cana as she volunteered there as well.

Cana is a fantastic place, it is a 40 hectare property where people who have, for some reason or other, been separated from society as we know it, come to enjoy the environment of farm life. They are made up of reformed drug addicts, recent releases from prison, long-term unemployed, homeless and people with mental disabilities. Daryl was one such person. Daryl had had a tough life. He grew up in western Sydney with his single mum and siblings. On Fridays, in a strange Fagonesque way, she would send the kids out to see what they could steal; it was part of the family income. No doubt Darryl’s childhood was nothing like yours or mine and eventually Daryl and his brother progressed to armed holdups, with Daryl developing a serious heroin addiction. At some stage, Daryl’s brother, who had been arrested for some other offence, rolled over to the police and handed them Darryl in return for a lighter sentence. Daryl did a long stint in jail. He had to go cold turkey from his heroin addiction whilst locked in Long Bay Correctional Centre.

Once Darryl was released, his faith in everyone was gone. Darryl retreated to a small flat where he became a hermit. For 14 years, Daryl associated with no one, only surfacing to walk the street and do what needed to be done between 2.00 am and 4.00 am daily. There was no meaningful relationship or even conversation with anyone for 14 years.

Somehow Daryl had ended up at Cana Farm, no one can remember how, but thankfully, somehow he did. Daryl was very prickly. He wasn’t at all eager to mingle, so largely kept to himself. Julie, who runs Cana Farm, remembers he didn’t speak to anyone for nearly 12 months. He referred to her as Miss, as is done in the prison system. Now Julie is not ‘Miss’, Julie is Julie, and every time Daryl called her ‘Miss’ he got a kiss – she was soon Julie.

Cana knows how to work with people like Daryl and he received the counseling and support that he so needed and was welcomed into the community. Cana is not a community as in people live there. They don’t. Community is a lot more than living in a group. It’s belonging to a group who don’t judge you, who care about you and are there to help when you need it. So Daryl was on his way back and he needed something to sink his teeth into. He dabbled in many of the activities that the Farm offers – agriculture, woodwork etc. and as the people from Cana unraveled Daryl’s past, it was revealed that he had had some involvement with horses as a kid. His uncle had trained harness racers and Daryl had done some work around the stables, nothing flash but it was one part of his life that he remembers fondly.

When the partnership between Cana and the TRT struck up, the people at Cana realised it would be a good opportunity for Daryl to take ownership of an important part of the daily operations. Daryl was given responsibly of feeding, watering and generally keeping an eye on the horses. Billy was one of the first to arrive. Billy had just come off the track, he had no social skills and was ostracised by the other horses. Daryl empathised with Billy, after all, he had done his time as a loner. Daryl gave Billy special attention and fed him separately so he didn’t have to fight for his food. Daryl took him out for hours at a time to graze on the lush green grass that grew outside the horse paddock. Billy was happy and so was Daryl and they formed a bond. Daryl began to communicate better with people as he was the horse guy and he told people what they could and couldn’t do with the horses. He had a responsibility and Billy had a protector and friend. For Billy, in his hostile new real horse world, Daryl was Billy’s Cana Farm.

I started to give Daryl some instruction on retraining horses and he relished the chance to work with Billy, to help him find a life after racing.

Billy grew from a gangly immature four year old into a very handsome, solid, confident, five year old. Daryl had handled him well and he responded beautifully to training. Daryl decided that Billy was ready to find a new home, he was too nice a horse to just sit in the paddock doing nothing and unfortunately he wouldn’t fit into Daryl’s flat. So the search for a new home began and Daryl continued to care for Billy, whilst we at the TRT began to school him up for his next career; there was no limit to his potential.

Daryl was now being paid to work at Cana Farm and he has also become involved in the woodworking program where they make furniture from recycled timber. Daryl was meaningfully employed.

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Photo eddy furlong 

Billy’s education progressed well and Daryl took on something of a leader’s roll at Cana Farm, even assisting with mentoring one of the young guys. He was still prickly, but would now communicate well with all comers.

After some time, Billy’s training was completed and soon after, a young girl came to look at him as a future partner. Daryl had always had a view that Billy would be great for a young girl, so he approved. The young girl was a very tidy little rider and her mum supported her in her showing so it looked like the perfect match for Billy.

Unfortunately, as is common these days, the family had had a break up, mum was now looking after five kids, all very active in sports. Mum was flat out, the budget was tight so the four wheel drive and float had to be sold and trying to find money for Billy would be difficult. I could see that this would be a good home and more importantly, Daryl agreed.

Daryl was a bit confronting for people from the other side of the tracks, but he soon showed mum and daughter how much he loved the horse and gave them his approval.
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                                                                     Photo eddy furlong

After a few visits the decision was made, Billy would go to his new home, Daryl was beaming, and there was definitely some sense of accomplishment from a fella who had had no sense of accomplishment in his life. Both Billy and Daryl were better for the experience.

Now there were financial issues. We sell our retrained horses for $5000 with the money made going back into the program. The potential new owners couldn’t come up with the funds immediately but asked if they could go on some sort of a payment plan. Unfortunately I don’t hold the purses strings and this is not something that I am able to facilitate.

I remembered how honourable and fair to the horse the previous owner, Alec Leopold, had been. He was always very keen to see Dee Teevee looked after and had even paid for his keep until a position came up at the TRT. So I decided to get in touch with him. I sent Alec an email in the hope that he might provide some assistance for Dee Teevee’s future and to Alec’s credit, he immediately came back and said he would cover the cost of Billy’s rehoming. Well, there were tears all around. Mum cried, the girl cried, even Daryl geared up a little. What a great gesture from a good man, if only all owners of racehorses showed this responsibility.
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Just before Billy left, Daryl got the chance to ride billy. He hadn’t had the joy of riding since he worked with his uncle 37 years previously. He was nervous to start, but by the end he was all smiles .
I will always remember the picture of Daryl sitting up there on his mate Billy; this job of mine is so much more than horses.

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                                                               Photo jill Moore

A diamond in the rough. Finding the hidden horseman

 

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When I first started working with the inmates at St Heliers prison, I would go up for a week at a time in order to train the inmates in the skills required for them to do their part in the retraining of the ex-racehorses from the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust. Horses donated to the Trust, go to St Heliers to let down before we commence working them. Most racehorses, when they leave the track, have had no socialisation since they left their mums as foals. Generally, for most, if not all of their lives, they are wrapped in cotton wool, stabled and spelled in individual yards so they don’t get hurt. Because of this, they miss out on learning the critical social skills required to be a horse. Imagine keeping a kid in an isolated room, sometimes letting him see other kids, but not allowing him to play, touch or interact. You feed him what he needs, you keep him immaculately cleaned and healthy in the body, lock him up from say, one until twelve years of age, give him very little education and no communication skills and then send him to high school. The result would be terrible for the kid. Well that’s where a racehorse often is at the end of his racing days. At St Heliers, we have big paddocks where we put five or six horses in together, often with a horse that has already been socialised or better still, an old tough draught horse. Let the old fella teach the young fellas how it’s done.

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Once they have had six months of lessons from the other horses and time to let down from racing, the inmates start to work with them. The inmates do around six weeks with each horse; natural horsemanship for want of a better word. Work in hand and lunging usually, no riding. The inmates do courses at the local TAFE in horse management, stable maintenance, farriery etc. In the first group of inmates I was involved with, there was a guy named Digger. Digger was a nice bloke, very polite and respectful – a fair effort when you consider I am an ex-copper. Digger was there when I gave all of the boys as a group, a lecture on what we do, how we do it and what was expected of them. Digger was quiet when I started to work hands-on with the horses. He stood back and carefully watched what I was doing and unlike some of the other boys, he wasn’t going to tell me what he knew and what he had done. Digger was fit with a hard look about him, and between you and me, about 10 kgs lighter than he is now. He seemed to have respect around the place, he was a trainer who worked out in the gym, did some boxing, and was always eating an egg to get his protein intake up. Gradually I got to work with all of the guys and Digger was one of the last. I asked him what he knew about horses and he told me he had done a bit with them as a kid. So Digger comes into the round yard with a horse they had christened Cranky. Now I knew Cranky’s reputation, the inmates didn’t know that as a racehorse, he was known as Evil. Cranky had his ears back constantly whenever a person was around and he would turn his backside to you if you went near him. He had bitten one inmate on the head, causing a nasty gash and scaring him out of the program. Digger was in the round yard working with Cranky under my instruction. He had chosen Cranky as his horse as he knew he had issues and had felt sorry for him. We were in the yard working on getting Cranky to lunge in a halter; he kept stopping and presenting his backside to Digger. Now Digger was very passive towards the horse and he needed some assertiveness. Eventually, with a bit of instruction, Cranky was lunging around the yard but quickly knocked up and decided he had had enough so he put the breaks on and was going nowhere. Very passively, Digger tried to encourage him forward, I gave him the spiel, be as firm as you need to be but as soft as you can be. Digger was too soft, not what you would expect for a tough bloke who had been in and out of prison all his life. I tried to talk him into a little more assertiveness, but he just wasn’t getting a result. After a while of ignoring Digger’s efforts to get him to go forward, Cranky decided to back up. Well that was it! Digger flogged him with the lunge whip and Cranky surged forward out of control, “Steady mate, steady.” I called to Digger, “Whoa, whoa.” I preceded to explain that there are a lot of grey areas between black and white and you need to just do what needs to be done, not over do it. Digger was red faced, fired up and a little embarrassed. In jail, you can’t let anyone get on top of you. This was the issue I assumed, conditioned reflex when someone is having a go at you, attack is the best line of defence. I went back to the hotel that night and couldn’t get that episode out of my mind. Digger had a very good feel and he could make a horseman but he needed to learn to control his emotions. The more I thought about it, the more I thought to myself, ‘I bet this is the way he leads his life. It’s probably why he finished up in jail.’ The next morning at the prison, I had decided that Digger could make a horseman and I was going to do my best to make it happen. Digger came up to me at the beginning of the day while I was standing by myself and said, “You know what happened yesterday? That’s how I live my life, that’s how I got here.” Who would have thought?…. We sat down and talked about him and where he had come from and Digger started to loosen up. He had a long-term girlfriend, whom he was loyal and seriously committed to and they had a son. At some stage, Digger’s good mates had started to warn Digger that they felt his misses was up to something shifty. Initially they didn’t go into detail, but told him to keep an eye on things. Digger wasn’t concerned, as he couldn’t see any issues and life went on. A mate started to warn him that another mate may be making some moves on his girl and Digger wouldn’t have it, “He is a good mate, he wouldn’t do that to me.” And after all, he trusted his girl. His mates kept giving him the heads up but he didn’t believe it and didn’t want to believe it and he did nothing proactive, didn’t raise it and went on with his life. One night his girl was staying away from home, they had been having a few issues, but she had sworn there was no-one else. Early in the morning, a mate turned up at Digger’s house and forced him to get into his car, “You need to see this.” he said. He drove Digger to where his girl was staying and he went into the house and saw his mate’s wallet on the table. He then found his wife in bed with his best mate, All his denial became an uncontrollable rage and basically he flogged the guy to within and inch of his life. Digger got eight years for the assault, which they also called a home invasion. Some would say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The reality of the situation was that had Digger taken some action earlier, instead of doubting the honesty of his mates, he would probably not be in jail. Sure the relationship might have been over, but he would be out on the street. In a much smaller way, this is what Digger had done with the horse the day before. Digger told me he had worked as a stockman in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, “The things I have seen done to horses I won’t even tell you about, but I always believed there was a better way. I like what you do and I want to learn how to do it.” he said. Digger had committed and I could tell that his loyalty would not allow him to let the horses, or me, down. He decided to stick with Cranky and committed to him as well. Long before I had turned up, even though Cranky had some bad traits, Digger believed there was good in him and he was going to prove it to everyone. It was about a month when I returned to the prison for my next visit and I was working in the yard with a horse. Digger was standing watching from outside, with a horse standing quietly beside him with its head basically resting on Digger’s shoulder.

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Eventually, my focus went from the horse I was working on to Digger. “That’s not Cranky?” I enquired. “Yep,” came the reply with a cheeky proud smile, “that’s him.” “No way!” I replied in awe, “I can’t believe it!” This guy was a horseman, some people are born with it. Digger had been taken off track by outside influences and he would always have to control his temper, but he had what it took, he could get inside a horse’s head. Digger became the backbone of the program in prison, as he was passionate and committed.

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I decided that when he got out, I would employ him immediately, but I hadn’t seen him ride. When Digger had about two months to go on his sentence, I turned up with a saddle. “I want to see you ride.” I said. He was apprehensive about getting into a dressage saddle as he was used to a big western or stock job. Digger had become an expert at working in hand and I knew all he needed was to learn to sit still and he would ride as good as anyone. I put him up on Cranky, “Okay, put your legs here, sit up straight, relax your shoulders.” he did this well, “Now just do the same things you have been doing on the ground.” Cranky rounded into a nice frame, he bent calmly around Digger’s inside leg and walked off in a dressage frame. By the end of the lesson, Digger and Cranky could have won a preliminary dressage test – really! This was the horse’s first ride off the track and Digger’s first time in a dressage saddle and I couldn’t have been prouder. Digger now had two months to work on his riding before he would be released. I left Cranky with him, I couldn’t have done a better job myself so why would I take the horse away? Digger came to work with us at the TRT.

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                                                    Digger part of the team

On his first day, we did an exhibition at Equitana Sydney, what a culture shock. From the prison with a few inmates, all just existing from day to day, to assisting in front of a crowd of hundreds in a team that was earning respect. Digger took it in his stride and I think he felt he had arrived where he needed to be. Digger worked with us for two years, training dozens of horses.

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                            Digger re trained dozens of ex racehorses with the TRT

He finished Cranky’s training and we found him very good home. Digger had completed a farrier’s course in prison therefore saving us tens of thousands in shoeing costs. Unfortunately, we don’t pay that well.

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                                       Cranky once his retraining was complete

Digger had a new girlfriend who had a couple of kids. She had been the wife of a mate whom he was looking after, who had died of cancer. She was a great lady and really good for Digger, eventually one thing led to another and they became a couple. Digger was being loyal to his mate in looking after his wife and kids and she had a good man. They had a child and eventually Digger had to move on. He needed to make the money he could, working for himself. He had given me two good years on the outside and became a great mate.

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Digger would do anything for me as I would for him. I wished him all the best and off he went, he now works for himself as a farrier and horse trainer. Recently he helped me out at a course for soldiers coming home from conflict with PTSD, I can’t tell you how proud I was of him. He was a teacher and I heard him give the same advice that I had given him, “Be as firm as you need to be, but as soft as you can be.”

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                               Digger up the front with the soldiers he is a teacher

“Bazaconi” part 14 finding his calling.

We had set up a portable round yard very similar to the one at home and I had seen Bazaconi

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gallop around in there a hundred times, so I knew he would put on a spectacular display when we put him in and let him go. After reassurance to some of the participants that I wouldn’t over face them, and that no-one had to do anything they weren’t comfortable with, we got hands on.

I did a little demonstration using Baz. By this time, with me, our join up sessions were not all that exciting. If I didn’t chase him away he would stick to me like glue. I gave the soldiers a rundown on how it worked. I sent Bazaconi out by creating some energy, in this case I used a lunge whip, but what you use to create energy is irrelevant, throw your arms around, chase them, use a Parelli carrot stick or even a dressage whip with a plastic bag tied to the end.

Keep the energy levels up until the horse believes you are pushing him, not him just running away from you, there is a huge difference.

Bazaconi was great, not too crazy and still having a nice canter, he had one ear on me at all times waiting for a command, pretty good in a strange environment. There is a school of physiology called “gestalt” put forward by a guy called, you guessed it, Gestalt. It revolves loosely around how all creatures are affected by our environment and in part, it concluded that we are instinctively relaxed in our most familiar environment with constant cues and surroundings. With Bazaconi, I had become his gestalt, it didn’t matter where we went as long as I was there giving the well worn cues and constant aids, he could relax, he was safe. This is how you need your horse to be if you want to have him with you when you go out to competitions and such. For instance, this is super important for a police horse. So as soon as I stopped applying pressure, Baz came running to me. As I walked around the arena giving my description on how things worked, he was constantly within touching distance. I watched an awesome example of this once with horses in the paddock and I wish I had videoed it.

I have a big Warmblood gelding named Snippy, posh name, Millfield Samurai. He is
17.3 hands and 700kg. Snippy is very dominant and is often in the paddock with the thoroughbreds and does a good job of teaching them manners. Most have no idea of paddock etiquette. When they come of the track, most have never been on their own with an adult horse in a herd situation since they left their mothers, maybe as long as 10 years. Snippy is a very good teacher as he does a lot of biting around feed time. No-one questions him but they all want to be with him – normal herd behaviour.

On this one occasion, I put a pretty little mare in the herd and she wanted nothing to do with the geldings, turning and kicking and squealing every time they came near. She did it to Snippy once, and then he went to work, giving her a hard bight on the rump when she presented to kick. She kicked again, he bit harder and off she went with Snippy giving chase. Now with Snippy’s size chasing a nimble little thoroughbred filly around a two acre paddock is bloody hard work, she must have been a real good sort. Every time she kicked, he raised his head to avoid getting hit and bit her bum at every opportunity. He chased her for about five minutes flat out, eventually she started to get sick of it, but Snippy persisted in making her run. It’s about this time that most horse owners panic “quick get her out, he is going to kill her” two more bursts of chase and then Snippy let her stop. The mare walked briskly up to Snippy putting her nose into his shoulder, and she was never more than touching distance
away from Snip for the next two months. A perfect join up, she was distraught every time I took him to work.

So that’s how it worked with Baz and I. Bazaconi would be suspicious of the soldiers when
they came into the yard and if they didn’t take control of the situation, he wouldn’t respect them. Too passive no result, too aggressive no result. I stood with the first girl when she came in so I could talk quietly to her and direct her. With two of us in the yard, Baz’s gestalt was broken and I got my student to cut him off and make him change direction in order to regain his attention.  Initially when she went toward the side of the round yard to cut him off, she didn’t allow enough time to get in front of him and he rushed past even faster. He, felt like he was running away from her, it was imperative that he believed she could direct him. In a small round yard with Baz cantering pretty fast, she needed be looking at Baz, turn at least 180 degrees and head quickly to the far side of the arena. Don’t worry that you feel like you are moving away from the horse, he will very quickly be there. Create energy in front of his eyeline and send him back in the other direction, she couldn’t believe how much influence she could have on such a powerful wild looking creature. A few more quick changes of direction and then the tell tale sign of Bazaconi’s inside ear came to her – he was listening, concentrating. He started to anticipate her changes of direction, she now only needed to threaten to move to the side of the arena and he responded. Her energy and anxiety levels were able to drop and as she was becoming constant with her communication, Baz focused more. Now, by relieving the pressure by turning away, lowering body height, relaxing shoulders, and talking in a calming tone, she could show Baz that she was no longer making him run, Bazaconi stopped and faced her. She was relieved and a little exhausted. Baz was switched on, focused with both eyes and both ears. She sent him off again, stopped him again and Baz came to her. You have never seen such a smile; she looked like she would burst with pride.

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I was proud of Bazaconi, he followed her around like a puppy dog. She gave him a good old pat, first lesson complete. Bazaconi’s increasing intelligence and focus made him a great teacher and he responded immediately to every minor cue either correct or incorrect.

One soldier down, six more to go. I decided I would use Bazaconi for all of them. Yes he knew the game better and better with each soldier, and he penalised them if they got it wrong, but he rewarded them generously if they got it right. Just like a good horse trainer, Bazaconi had learnt well how to train his humans. Every one of the soldiers got a good join up by the end of the session and Baz seemed to love it at the end of each job as he got real love from someone who felt they had made a real connection with another creature. Some soldiers had not had this connection since they had returned from their armed service. Wow, they were all beaming. What a great start to the week. Baz was a star.

End part 14

“Bazaconi” part 13 a devil in paradise ?

I arrived at “The Cedars” at kangaroo valley with Bazaconi and young lucky. Seriously you have to see this place to believe it.
It’s like a landscape out of Jurassic park, emerald green fields, lush sub tropical rain forest all framed on both sides buy an incredible stone escarpment, cliffs hundreds of meters high, the valley is so deep the sun rises there hours after the rest of the world. Wildlife abounds, if you ever had to take a tourist anywhere to show them Australia this is it. Kangaroos wallabies, echidna, wombats, platypus and the most incredible array of bird life, in the morning the kookaburras are deafening, latter in the day it’s the shrill of the bell birds and at night I have sat and identified 10 different frog calls with millions of them calling at once. It’s somewhere most Australians won’t get the chance to see.

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To top it off they breed prehistoric looking shire horses up t0 19 hands and 1000kg, absolutely magnificent. If you ever get the chance to check it out do so, in fact I might run a horsemanship weekend down there at some stage. Seriously, any interest ?

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So. nice place!.
The soldiers i would be working with had fought in various theatres of war, they had a variety of issues, they had all been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and where at different places in dealing with their issues. These guys and girls go off to war after being trained to firstly keep themselves alive and secondly kill when required. They are brainwashed to be good at what they do, they need to be, its life and death. One of them described the stress of being in Afghanistan when things were at the worst he said ” if you sleep, you wake up stressed, everything you do throughout the day is stressful, if you leave the base you are constantly on guard, if you are in the base you are constantly on guard” now we all have stressful days but try and deal with that for 6 months, every minute of your waking day stressed to the max, not one minute where you think I can finally relax.
In my opinion, anyone who goes to an active war zone is effected, as are cops, fireys and rescue personnel it’s just a matter of how much.
The soldiers, when they return, are constantly on guard, the instinct to be watching all the time, assessing, never leaves some of them. Everyone is a potential threat as is every circumstance in our, day to day boring lives, your nerves can only deal with this for so long, many withdraw, we have had guys that haven’t left there houses in 3 years, alcohol and drugs become a crutch, marriage breakdown is standard, I in 10 homeless people are ex service personnel.
Their issues effect at least an entire generation after them. My dads dad came back from Borneo at he end of the Second World War in a hospital ship suffering battle fatigue, he had been following the Japanese army as they retreated and was often the first to come in contact with the atrocities they had committed on Dutch settlers in that region, he saw stuff we aren’t meant to see. He spent two years having shock treatment, he never came back to dads mum, he went off married again, to wives at once, was a terrible womanise,r alcoholic and brutal to his children his children suffered, I think my dad was lucky he left, his children’s children had issues and his children’s children had issues, one was one of the most difficult juvenile offenders in the state. So,four generations effected, most of us are effected in some way by the Second World War, imagine places where they have constantly been at war for hundreds of years? What a mess.

Most of the guys had never dealt with horses before, when they saw Bazaconi and his mate galloping around like wild crazy things, I’m sure their stress levels went through the roof. I hoped I hadn’t bitten of more than I could chew bringing Baz, these guys needed to finish up feeling good about themselves not come away worse then when they arrived.

We talked through general horse and herd behaviour and spent the night at he camp fire getting to know each other. I recited a little banjo Patterson, we had a lovely dinner, they were starting to relax, this was all out of their comforter zones, as I said, just being out of there homes was a big deal for some. Pills to go to bed, pills to wake up, and god knows what other pills, most of our first night revolved around discussion about the best pain killers you can get.

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Tomorrow would be the beginning of the rest of their lives for as many of these guys as I could get hooked on horses, hopefully Bazaconi was going to help not hinder. The mental health of these good people was relying on us.

end part 13

“Bazaconi” part 12, a new direction

When I got bazaconi Home we went back to work.
It was like he hadn’t left. I was considering prepairing him for a dressage competition, I had decided that if I couldn’t tie down a future for him immediately, I would start to compete him. It would be good for the the TRT, it would bring further credibility to the program and improve Baz’s chances of finding another home.
I continued to consolidate his work, the period of light work with the failed new home had been good for him, his back had relaxed, it would be in better physical condition to move on with his education. I started to work on more accurate two track movements, I began to encourage some extension in his trot. He still needed to be ridden proactively at the canter but as long as he felt he was being ridden forward he was pretty good. Eventually his back got strong enough to cope with some longer periods of sitting trot.

At about this time I was due to hold a week long course for ex service personnel suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, it was to be held at the glorious “Cedars at kangaroo valley” I run these courses from time to time it’s considered experiential therapy and helps these guys and girls dramatically, it is quite inspirational. Horses are great teachers

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Bazaconi’s new students, ex service personnel from the “the Cedars equine experience ” kangaroo valley. With facilitators Scott Brodie and Barry digger on the beautiful shire horse, bred at the stud on the property. The equine assisted therapy sessions at the cedars are creating new hope for service personnel suffering the depilitating effects of PTSD. 

How can horses help soldier with PTSD ?
The horse is a social animal existing in extended family groups with complex friendships and relationships. In many ways equine society mimics primitive human society though, unaffected by our modern emotions, 1st world problems and preconceived moral and community boundaries.
Many of our raw natural instincts are still present, bubbling below the surface of the superficial day to day issues of modern life.
Instinct never ceases to exist unless there is a reason for it to do so.
For instance body language which we still use extensively, sometimes subconsciously, is still exhibited and deciphered every day of our lives. Our fight or flight response which is rarely called upon in our daily existence is still strong, under pressure it will rise to the surface.
Horses exhibit and survive by these instincts which for 50 million years have served them well.
There is ample opportunity for humans, when placed in a position where they have to communicate with these majestic, and on the surface completely different beings to get in touch with their primitive, but incredibly similar and influential instinctive responses.
When communicating with horses, humans are forced to get in touch with there ability to read subtle, but once recognised, obvious body language, they need to understand the effects of applying and relieving pressure with a prey animal, who has existed for millennia constantly under the threat of attack by predators, their senses adapted to detect the slightest change in environment or attitude.
The social hierarchy and order in the equine world is complex, for humans to interact successfully we need to slot ourselves into that hierarchy, portray ourselves as leaders and partners rather than threats and danger.
The rules are complex, horses thrive on leadership, contrary to common belief herds are lead by dominant mares they make the decisions and demand the most respect, this respect is often obtained in what we will perceive as extremely violent and aggressive fashion. Strangely this assertive behaviour draws horses to it, earning a strange but powerful reverence.
Working with horses, and recognising the strengths and weaknesses we live with on a day to day basis, helps us to unravel who we are, how we tick and how things that have effected our past lives influence and effect our here and now. Empathy, confidence, communication, assertiveness, respect and friendship are all things taught well by horses with their unaffected way of being, a portal to our long forgotten past which lies just below the surface of our modern un perceptive existence.

I would take a couple of ex racehorses with me to use on the course. The soldiers relate to the issues of the former race horse, both have been trained for a specific purpose only to find at the end of their careers that the training done in the past is negative to their ongoing lives.
I guess you could say Bazaconi suffered from a form of post traumatic stress, certain situation triggered negative reactions which he had no control over,I’m no therapist but I could see the similarities, I knew the soldiers would. Bazaconi would be a great candidate for the course he would be difficult for the soldiers to work with but they need to see some contrast, I decided to take another young horse who was super quite and very easy to handle, this would allow the soldiers to get a win and feel like they had achieved a result. Bazaconi, though difficult, would invoke empathy one of our goals in the course, even if most of them would fail to join up with him they would defiantly recognise and empathise with his issue.

end part 12

“Bazaconi” part 11, false start

 

 

After Bazaconi left, I went back to working some our other less chalanging horses, the lessons I had learnt from Baz would help every horse I trained from this day forward.
12 months had passed and I always say “no news is good news” wrong !
I got as message from Baz’s new owner saying she was having some issues.  ASAP I went out to see if I could help. I always make myself as available as possible to new owners, I am happy to ride the horse in the new home for the first time, I am happy help out with a tune up from time to time at the beginning of the new partnership, I am always available to answer questions and give direction.
When Baz had arrived at his new home he had been in work for 6 weeks and was jumping out of his skin. I advised that he should be let down for a few weeks. I always give fit horses coming out of the stable at least a two week break. In the first week they gallop around like maniacs and just get fitter, in the second week they start to relax, they get rid of any training soreness, their heads get a break from the mental work of training and they always come back better for the rest.
Baz had his two weeks break, coming back into work in the new environment needed to be done carefully, work in hand, lunging, systematically bringing him back to where he had been when he left me.
He would then need to be ridden calmly in the marketharborough. Any way!  the new owner had the support of the high level eventing instructors, they would help her get things on track she had all the information and I had told her so many times to take things slowly.
Issue number 1 the instructors had fallen through.
Issue number 2 marketharborough’s aren’t always readily available and everyone ” who knows” , will tell you “they do the same thing as rings/martingale”, wrong wrong wrong, the marketharborour used correctly on a horse trained for its use is way more effective than a martingale and works very differently.

So, no instructor, plus no marekharborour, plus no support = trouble for Bazaconi. Without instruction, the new owner had lunged Baz for couple of weeks, solid start, apparently he had been “up” in the new environment, expected. She hadn’t been able to get his attention on the lunge as he needed, correct answer, “call Scott” incorrect answer,  “just get on with it as he is.”

After two weeks of bringing  Baz back to full fitness rushing around on the lunge she got on, wrong!
If you don’t have their attention from the ground what makes you think you will get it on their back.
Anyway as you would expect, head in the air, no steering or breaks, now first you have to stay calm, Could you ? No. Off she came, broken arm and broken confidence.” Better call Scott”, No.
To her credit she battled on, got him working at the trot and walk but her nerves were shot.

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Baz with his new owner, if things had gone more smoothly at the start I believe she could have gotten the job done, I’m convinced my original opinion was correct regarding her suitability.

So she worked on for some time with out support. It was a big effort but doomed to failure without help. Eventually she moved Baz to an equestrian centre where she could get some assistance,  with the damage to both her and Baz’s confidence she was really behind the 8 ball.

Anyone who didn’t know the effort that had gone into Baz would think he was a hopeless case. And seeing the new owner with her confidence down would give anyone the impression this combination was not going to work, they would be right.
So 12 months after he had left, with a lot of water under the bridge, I turned up to see what I could do. I expected a mess. Bazaconi looked well, he had no doubt been looked after. This was his second or third home since he left me so he had never really had the chance to settle into a routine. Prior to my arrival he hadn’t been ridden for weeks.
I took him into the arena, it was out in the open in the bush, with horses in yards and paddocks all around, his next door neighbour was calling to him. Hardly the perfect environment to investigate, and or sort out issues. Bazaconi’s concentration was all over the place, I took the lead and gave it one quick firm tug, immediately he focused on me, both eyes and both ears fixed in my direction. We went to work, exactly what I had done with him the last time I had worked him. Straight back into it, he was focused, he obviously recognised me and I still had his respect. I was so pleasantly surprised, I had expected a handful of tangled fishing line, the work we had done had not been undone, what an intellect, but so sensitive to inconsistency, I think he was pretty happy to see me.
The owner of the equestrian centre seemed shocked at what he was capable of, reasonably so ,they had never seen him work as he could. The new owner was releaved that he had worked well, she conceded that she had bitten off more than she could chew, not only that, her circumstances had changed substantially from the day I decided she could make it work, she offered Baz back to me.

Baz was coming home and I would get to spend more time with him, I was now more certain he had a future.

 

 

 

 

 

“Bazaconi” part 10,If you love them let them go.

 

When I finally let a Bazaconi go. He would go with loads of verbal and written instruction.
I tell you, I live this stuff. If I have given a recommendation as to how a horse should be managed, it isn’t just some throw away line, it is very considered sometimes agonised over, I can assure you, horses keep me awake at night. Bad management, feeding, handling on the ground, training regemes, ruin more horses than poor riding.

I use as much emotional and mental energy on every horse as I do with every one of my trainers. Every horse is like a good friend that needs a hand. In every  training session I carry out or observe, I watch like a hawk, I don’t miss much!

If a new owner gets advice on a horse from me, I have thought it through thoroughly. Taking into account the horses training and temperament, the riders abilities and weaknesses, the riders support structure, age, experience,fitness, mum and dads knowledge, where they will keep the horse, what they will feed the horse what are their ambitions ( not to be confused with capabilities😀 they often are) what kind of float do they have and on and on and on.
This is not like some passing advice you get from a mum at pony club, who is really only interested I her kids horse, or some horse bitch at he stables who takes delight in seeing you struggle, or even some well meaning cowboy who learnt to ride from an 80 year old aboriginal stock man, roping steers in the Northern Territory . I am giving advice on this particular horse in this particular situation, I know the horse intimately, hopefully, I have a pretty good understanding of the new rider, I’m a pretty good judge of a rider and read between the lines very well, remember this has kept me awake at night.

When bazaconi’s time had come I was full of hope for his future, the girl who was taking him was intelligent, mature and had some fairly good riding potential. Most importantly she assured me she had a strong support base, people who were eventing at the highest level would instruct her and Baz, she had full confidence in them, they lived just over the back fence. Though I knew of them ,I didn’t know them personally, if they were competing at the level they were and instructing and training for a living I couldn’t ask for much more on Baz’s behalf.

I would like to introduce the last important piece of the puzzle that I believed would get the combination across the line. I have no doubt this will cause a little controversy amongst the less thoughtful and know all section of the audience, but I think I’ve made my point, I don’t do anything lightly.
The marketharborour is a piece of harness I was introduced to me at the mounted police. For the. Mounties it is compulsory equipment whilst on patrol, it has been in use there for at least 30 years probably much longer, you would like to suppose they would have ironed out any issues with this priece of equipment in 30 years don’t you think. Well I think they had a pretty good idea of how useful the marketharborour could be and I reckon I have put hundreds of hours since leaving the Mounties into what I think of it and it’s pros and cons in relation to helping riders and horses.I could write an entire book on the use of the marketharborour, I personally don’t use it as general rule, either do my staff, we don’t need to, except to ensure the horse can work safely in it but with good knowledge and understanding it is an exceptionally useful tool and piece of safety equipment.

The marketharborour attaches to the horses girth via a strap an inch wide, it travels forward between the horses front legs where it then splits into two thinner straps which pass through the rings on the side of the bit, it then runs along the reins where it attaches to small rings fixed to the reins, say a third of the length of the reins up from the bit. The market harbour can be adjusted to the particular horse so that the horse carries himself in a correct frame. The marketharborour doesn’t come into play unless the rider or horse make a minor infringement in relation to maintaining the correct frame it then makes an instant correction, much more quickly that most riders can, as the horse has been trained to respond to the correction he does so and life goes on safely, the marketharborour releases immediately, it is no longer engaged, this all happens in a split second, most of the time the rider won’t even recognised it has occurred.

Horses should not be put into a marketharborour until they achieved the ability to carry themselves in a good working frame, the market harbourour used in this way is a safety net not a training device.
Now, when a horse goes into a new environment he will be less attentive than he has been in his regular comfortable daily working environment. It might take a month for horses to settle into their new environment, the market harbourour takes the rough edges off nervous riders and helps the horse by guiding him with the established non confusing aids he has learnt in his training to this point.
Put shortly, it is a great bridging tool to help horses and rider get to know each other in less than perfect conditions. It has saved the backside of many a mounted police officer when things go pear shaped, and the you know what hits the fan.

I had introduced the marketharborour to Baz and his new rider in the last weeks of his training and recommended, with loads of other advice, that he should be ridden in it until it was absolutely boring for both horse and rider.

Finally the day came, I loaded Baz up and drove him to his new home. I really did love this big fiery bastard, I hoped things would work out for him. I don’t generally get sad when I let horses go, after all this is my objective, it’s a happy day for me, or so I kept telling myself, I send them off with hope that they will be happy, healthy and loved for the rest of their days. Bazaconi had become one of my i portent equine teachers, you get them in your horse life, I’ve had several but he was right up there. The process we had gone through was not far removed from my normal day to day work but his issues tested my knowledge,skill  and instincts at every turn. I owed him and no doubt he owed me. I can asure you Bazaconi would never be let down by me .

end of part 10

 

Bazaconi just minutes after arriving at his new home.I send them off with hope that they will be happy, healthy and loved for the rest of their days I can sure you Bazaconi would never be let down.

“Bazaconi” part 9 ,trust and canter

 

Ok. With full confidence in my training program and instincts it was time to get this party started.
Each of Baz’s sessions commenced with at least ten minutes of work in hand, in this way I could put him under graduated pressure, ask him to compress and then reach, halt calmly, work in a deeper frame, rein back and reward him for every incremental improvement in his attention and obedience, it was a great way to re enforce our relationship and his trust in the fact that there was an answer to every question that I asked,  I wouldn’t ask him to do something he couldn’t do.
He had awesome focus, if only this had been done when he was broken in what an amazing horse he would have been.
The next part of Baz’s workout was to work on the lunge, increase and then decrees the size of the circle asking for more then less engagement of his hind quarters, transitions, walk to trot, trot to walk, trot to halt, halt to trot. Keeping him mentally and physically with me. Canter transitions on the lunge had become fairly good by this time, consolidating the voice command was of the utmost importance as this would give him a Cue which he understood, to be coordinated with the physical aid for the canter transition which at this point he didn’t understand. They would gradually join and become part of the same aid.
Under saddle, some bending and flexing consolidating his understanding of, and desire to reach for, the outside rein more trust that I wouldn’t smack him in the mouth. Walk trot transitions, at this stage he didn’t have a great understanding of lengthening his trot, if I asked to lengthen the trot too much he would threaten to jump into canter, if I felt he would cope with it I would have let him go, but I knew he needed more support and guidance than this.
Now that the preparation is complete here we go, I expect this to work, I’ve done everything right. A steady rhythmic trot, good contact and attention. Reduce the size of the circle, not more than he can cope with easily, I don’t want to loose the tempo and rhythm, leg yield out at my speed, not falling but moving forward sideways at my rate this is done on the incorrect diagonal, it makes him step under himself that much further with the inside hind leg toward the outside rein contact. I need to be able to release that inside rein and still have him maintain the bend, flexion and forward I have set up, as well as the connection between the inside leg and the outside rein. I know If I push the trot gently, ask him to extend a little, he will be inclined to canter, I need to co ordinate the voice aid, “canter up!” With the leg aids and the increase in lengthening, in this way I am giving him a number of cue’s for the same thing. One more important Cue for an ex racehorse at this stage is for the rider to take a light seat, most won’t cope with deep sitting at this point and the movement forward to the light 2 point seat is similar to that made by a jockey when he wants the horse to move forward out of trot when on the track. All this on Baz’s better direction, set him up for success not failure.
Pop! away he went calmly and controlled I could feel some enthusiasm bubbling underneath but if I stayed calm so would he, half a lap, gentle voice command ” aaand trot ” done! Mission accomplished, call this a win and a big step forward.
The next several rides were exactly the same, gradually working to the more difficult side, never asking for too long, ensuring it was my decision to come back to trot while things were going well, always walking away when I felt like I wanted to do some more. If I walked away thinking I had gone too far it would be a very negative experience for me and Baz.


How rewarding, knowing where he had come from, I only wish I had some footage of the first few dangerous out of control rides, no one will ever understand what this fantastic horse had achieved, I couldn’t be more proud of him and more satisfied with my commitment. I could feel a real bond forming with Baz, I really liked him and I could see that he trusted me, I could actually keep this one, we would be great for each other. But the job was to find him a home and hopefully. He was now ready to move on.

end of part 9

“Bazaconi” part 8 , Racehorse to riding horse, the boringly technical solution.

So canter??  For a Bazaconi this could mean only one thing, we are about to gallop.
Racehorses gallop in a straight line, jockeys just barely steer at that speed, and usually ride until breaks aren’t that hard to apply, fatigue does the job. It’s a bit like getting in your car, getting it up to sp@eed and then not using the break but waiting to run out of petrol, not a massive deal on a straight line but try and drive around the streets like that see how helpless you feel until it ends badly!!!.
This is what you have if you canter a racehorse without giving it some serious re education, too much go and not enough whoa.
I have lots of strategies for moving horses into the canter, it depends on the horse but it all starts with developing quality trot work and an understanding of the aids.

Gallop is what the thoroughbred is bred for. For 400 years they have been systematically bred to gallop faster and faster. They do it well, canter is not far removed from gallop, gallop is a four beat stride with a moment of suspension canter is a three beat stride with a moment of suspension.
Bazaconi could gallop, out of control head in the air like he was being chased by a T Rex, he had great endurance, another purpose bred trait of the thoroughbred. When he went to the barriers he would have been led by a guy on a pony head twisted to the side fighting all the way. He would have gone into the barriers, he is very bold, but from the moment the gates opened he would have been out of control, madness at 65 kph, head in the air no steering, hind quarters under like he had just received an electric shock, flat stick to the finish line then a mad fight with the jockey to get some semblance of control, falling sideways, mouth open the full weight of the jockey hanging off his head which he would toss from side to side in discomfort/pain and confusion, adrenaline pumping like fire hose through his veins he did on occasion need to go another lap before they could pull him up.
So canter?? A controlled strike off and transition immediately the correct aid is applied, “inside leg on the girth, outside leg behind the girth” a clear strike off from the two beat trot calmly into the three beat canter. Maintaining rhythm and tempo correctly flexed in the direction of travel, steady and consistent head carriage and contact on the bit. Waiting for the next sensitive direction from the rider.
These two pictures are a long way apart aren’t they. For most thoroughbreds it is challenging, for Bazaconi it was near impossible, I’m pretty certain that without me it wouldn’t have happened. Very few people would have put the effort in.

The trot work was getting there. Sometimes horses can just fall into the canter one day and never look back, without proactive riding, Baz was liable to break into canter at any moment, “let’s try! let him roll into it”, flat stick in our 25×15 metre indoor arena totally OUT Of CONTROL, head in the air galloping side ways about four strides to cover the length of the arena,  At every crazy zig and zag he came perilously close to falling over it definitely felt like driving a car through the city with no breaks, very poor steering and a Jammed accelerator.  Even with all of the previous foundation work and decent canter on the lunge, OUT OF CONTROL. I should have known better but I had to give it a go and I got pretty much what I expected. At every crazy zig and zag he came perilously close to falling over definitely felt like driving a car through the city with no breaks and very poor steering.

Right!  the most important thing in being ready to introduce the canter is a good consolidated trot with obedience to, and acceptance of the aids, rhythm and tempo, contact on the outside rein with the horse flexed to the inside, most people try to hold the horse bent and on the line by holding the inside rein, holding is never the answer, they must be ridden forward to the contact. This in itself is a difficult concept for most people trying to re train a thoroughbred,  a lot of people rely on the horses natural forward in doing this the only way you can influence the forward is by holding  this is always wrong except in an emergency. You have to get to the point where you feel like you could push at any time, you may not need to push but if you don’t feel like you could if you wanted to you are a passenger not a rider.If you have all of this consolidated the canter will be there. Baz was on the way with this but the reality of it was, that all of this would need consolidation for at least another 12 months. In the meantime if he was to leave me, he would need to be able to be ridden at the canter, that is one of my un movable boundaries.
To get a reasonable, workable and safe canter he needed to learn to balance himself and his rider, the rider can help the horse find his balance by sitting still, keeping his weight in the centre but a horse needs to trust this and find the best way to be balanced. A law of physics is , the load can’t balance the support. In the case of horse and rider the load can assist the support in finding how to balance himself.
all horses are crooked, raceing makes them more so,  along with all of his mental and emotional issues Bazaconi was inclined to carry his hind quarters to the left.

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With his hind quarters carried naturally to the left Baz would be inclined to fall out through the right shoulder when traveling on a left circle

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To the right Baz would fall in through the right shoulder, same issue, hind quarter carried to the left power driving through Baz’s incorrectly aligned back and out through the right shoulder.

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This is how Baz needed to travel with his body aligned with the line on which he was traveling, hind quarters driving toward the fore through the supple correctly aligned spine. This would be the best position for him To be balanced with the rider on his back and would encourage correct muscular development.

For Bazaconi to get past this mechanical issue I would need to be able to push him, he had never been pushed, only held. I was able to push him at the trot that was a start, my plan was to get him more bent to the inside than he needed to be, have him working reasonably well at shoulder fore or better still shoulder in, on the circle, this would ensure he was stepping under himself with his inside hind leg and forward into the outside rein. If I could get this happening he would be in the correct position to canter, he would be balanced, I could control his enthusiasm with the breaking of the alignment of his spine the bend would also allow him to go forward with more speed but not be panicked  by the compression of the driving and restraining aids, he could allow some energy to dissipate out through the outside shoulder if need be and then I could shape the canter into something workable.
Boringly technical isn’t it ?
If you want a more thorough description of how to get to this point get my E book Horses from courses . All the detail is in there.

This method was always going to work it was just a matter of whether or not I had the persistence to stick to the plan, I can assure you I did.  I just had to stay in one piece.

end of part 8″

“Bazaconi” part 7. A new home ?

 

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It’s around this stage of a re trained horses education that I start to search for a new owner. I don’t like to get stuck with them once their training is complete, this ensures I have space for another horse to enter the re training program at the first opportunity . I try to match them with an owner while they are still in training. If possible once the horse has reached a reasonable level of ridability I want to get the new owner involved in the training process, I would like to see them ride the horse as many times as possible to try to build a workable relationship before they take the horse home. It’s just as important for me to check out the new owner as it is for the new owner to check out the horse.

Bazaconi had some potential. He had movement to die for, he was certainly good looking enough and had the presence to be a show hack, he was bold enough to jump, it would all be about finding the right owner/rider to deal with him.

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Most riders experienced enough to take him on aren’t looking for a horse off the track, if they are are they have their own connections to find one and are good enough riders to safely re start them.
Baz needed a committed rider with good basic skills and strong support around them to continue to take his education forward. When I advertised Baz I got dozens of enquires immediately, most were not good enough, not brave enough or not committed enough to do the job, a few came to look at him but on enquiry I knew they were not right. Baz would not go until I was confident the required elements were in place, the new owner was aware of his issues and my gut said it was ok.

Finally a girl with loads of enthusiasm, enough basic ability and a good support network stepped up. She loved all the things I loved about Bazaconi. I warned her, he would be a challenge for anyone, she rode him and was confident she could go on with the job, based on her support network and the fact that she was looking for a challenge. I was cautiously hopeful that this might be a match.
The girl came and rode Baz several times and though she was just getting back into riding after a break I could see her getting her legs back with each ride. She handled Baz well and I kept reminding her of the importance of taking things slowly and consolidating the work I had done.

She may have ridden Baz 10 times or there abouts as his training progressed, I saw nothing that made me think she could not do the job, certainly under my instruction she could. A careful and skilful instructor should be able to make it work.

My goal, is to train horses to the point where they could compete at preliminary dressage level and pop over a few small jumps if that is the new owners wish.
Bazaconi’s work gradually consolidated, his education progressed more quickly than his physicality, this is is often the case with off the track horses I train. There is no shortcut when it comes to physical development.  Thoroughbreds are incredibly intelligent they learn quickly, limited mostly by emotional baggage from their racing days. Strength and musculature need to transform from that of racing horses, carrying minimal weight for very short periods, to that of riding horses carrying up to a quarter of their body weight sometimes for very extended periods sometimes many hours, they may have to jump jumps that they would never even consider in a natural environment, you could put your horse in a yard with 1.5 metre fences, put water outside and none inside and he would die of thirst before jumping the fence, yet, jumpers can be trained and conditioned to jump much higher and harder obstacles than this as a matter of routine, “what incredible athletes they are” Baz would continue to need loads of rising trot work again and again until it was so easy it was boring. He need to initially get his muscles working correctly and then let them build and strengthen. The canter would be a totally new challenge.

I’ve said it before but I will say it again horses were not designed to carry weight, we need to help them develop the posture strength and endurance to do what “we” want from them.
So, though baz was developing basic education which would need to be carefully continued, the tangled weak mess that was his back would need careful management lest, with muscular discomfort, he fall back to his conditioned racing reflex of “run away”. Once he had slipped back into that mode it would be difficult to convince him to give a considered response.
All this was impressed upon his potential new owner. A decision was made, assuming all progressed as expected, she would take Baz when I was happy with his level of education.
Baz had, with some strict conditions, found a new home fingers crossed!

End of part 7