“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 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 “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

“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.

Horses with accents, fact or fiction?

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Tina Womelsdorf still enjoying her wine these days

I spent all of the 90s with Tina womelsdorf as my instructor, to me it was like some kind of religious experience when I found her, she was amazing. She is now in her 90s I recently shared a bottle of wine with her, and I must do it again. Tina once said to me, though she had been in Australia for 40 years or so, that she still thought in German, occasionally in a lesson when she was thinking fast I would cop a German expletive I’m sure. She used to call me a “blighter” when she didn’t like what I did, who uses the word blighter, I’m sure it wasn’t so polite when translated to German.
Tina’s language discussion got me thinking, Ebony who is one of my students and staff is Finish, she said the other day that she now confuses Fin with English and sometime there is no translation from one to the other so she speaks some mongrel hybrid, finglish it isn’t quite that bad but it is interesting.
Last week ebony came with me for her first lesson with Miguel Tavora. Now Miguel is Portuguese and though I wouldn’t say it to his face, (he can be a fiery little rooster), it is sometimes very difficult to work through his accent, so when hybrid finglish speaking ebony met the difficulties of “kunter, kunter ” (translation “counter canter”) with Miguel it was quite an amusing experience.
Ebony was riding down the long side. “Too straight” said Miguel ebony rode onto a curve” too straight “called Miguel, ebony rode a small circle “too straight!!!” demanded Miguel.
I have to say I was totally confused, Miguel jumped up from his seat “stop stop stop stop Ebony”. Ebony stopped “kin you no ear mi” now I’m sure ebony could hear him but I knew she wouldn’t say she couldn’t understand him, “sometime it is not so issy mate” replied Ebony, Miguel turned on his sound system, now she was in real trouble, the Sound system is a shocker, it distorts every word and the louder he yells the worse it gets, to make it worse still, some times when you are at the far end of the arena and you are following the odd sentence it cuts out, Miguel keeps talking like a character in a silent movie for the next 10 seconds and your lost again.

“Ok, ride de diagona let im stretch”, ebony responded “too straight ebony”, ebony rode a curve “relax ebony too straight” called Miguel. Well at this point it dawned on me what he wanted, Ebony was too stiff in her position, he wanted her to soften and relax, “too straight” yelled Miguel. Ebony rode onto another circle she was exasperated and gave up trying to understand, she shrugged her shoulder and slumped in the saddle her legs hanging relaxed on the horses sides,” that’s eet that’s eet vedi good eponi vedi good” Ebony turned to look at him with a confused expression, anyway the lesson progressed Miguel weaved his magic and ebony left very happy and motivated.

It got me thinking about how when ex racehorse come to us they come with a language, let’s call it “racing” now if the horse is not taught another language he will speak racing for the rest of his life. If he is ridden spasmodically he may pick up a little ” pigeon trail” but raceing is still his preferred tongue. If some one rides him regularly but they are uneducated as riders he will start to speak some broken “Equis” somewhere between human and horse. Remember as with Tina womelsdorf and German, his first language is” racing” and under pressure that’s what he may speak. Most riders who haven’t ridden track work don’t understand “racing” and they have no idea what he is saying, so they get frustrated yell and scream in broken “equis” and an argument ensues. Someone may get hurt simply from bad communication it can be a very serious issue. I wonder if that’s what happened between Turkish air command and the Russian pilot ?
Anyway if we take the ex race horse and put him through a systematic Language course, start with ” how do you do” and gradually, without over facing him, lead him along on the course of “classical equis” he will eventually get it, we both will, he may still have a “racing” accent but with careful work on his pronunciation we can have him fluent. Just like our own Pygmalion or for the younger readers “women in red” if you are too young for these use google.
So now he speaks fluent “equis” and life is good but remember we have a responsibility to speak clearly and eloquently as well, if we don’t he may well scream” you blighter!!!!.

 

finglish v spanglish

Scott Brodie author of” Horses from courses “is Manager of the Racing NSW Thoroughbred Retraining Program. A NSW Mounted Police horse trainer and classically trained rider, Scott has a has a generously empathetic philosophy to handling horses and 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. 
Purchase as an e book from Amazon or I books store. Under $10