re training the ex racehorse part 10

 

Once the work in hand and lunging are established it is time to start the horse under
saddle. All of the systematic work previously carried out has led us to this point.
If the horse is working with the four essentials, forward contact on the outside reign,inside flexion, tempo and Rhythm you can be pretty certain that there will be a smooth transition to the ridden work.
By this time, any idiosyncrasies the horse may have should have been exposed, if at any time you are uncertain about mounting the horse seek experienced assistance.
Every workout at this point should move through work in hand into a minimum of 20
minutes lunging or however long it takes to have the horse traveling as you would like him to whilst ridden.

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“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 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.

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.

A solution to “Windsucking” ??? A miserable obsessive compulsive habit

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Windsucking is a debilitating obsessive compulsive condition exhibited by horses of all breeds, it is particularly prevalent in horses who have spent extended periods locked in small stables or yards with no mental stimulation. The horse places his top front teeth on a hard surface and sucks air into his stomach in an obsessive manner similarly to obsessive habits in humans, chain smoking obsessive cleaning irrational phobias.

Over  the years I have seen many miserable examples of horses wind sucking, the anxiety it causes me personally never ceases to catch me by surprise, it really does make me feel physically ill.
It’s not the action of the horse wind sucking, it’s the thought that humans have put young horses in situations where they are so mentally stressed that they resort to this disturbing behaviour.
From my experience Young horses so mentally effected rarely recover to any great extent.
Owners try all sorts of draconian methods to stop the incessant unconscious habit of Sucking air into the horses stomach. A surgery has now been used with some success in stopping the action but the surgery and collars and electric surfaces don’t deal with issues which have caused the condition.
Often with riding I see people working feverishly on symptoms rather that eliminating the causes. People spend so much time for instance trying to stop a horse falling to the right whilst on a circle, the symptom is falling to the right, the problem is not going forward straight on the ridden line, fix the problem and there is no symptom.

Recently in our thoroughbred rehabilitation program at St heliers prison in the hunter valley, we had a young horse who was as bad a wind sucker as I have ever seen in my nearly 30 years as a professional horse person. He stood constantly sucking on poles in his 5 acre paddock stopping so rarely to eat that his feed was taken by his paddock mates and his condition dropped to a miserable level. Collars were tried to no avail and he was placed in a paddock by himself which seemed to stress him even more, he still did not eat well and did not graze, preferring to suck poles all day. He was starving to death. The vet and our staff were very concerned and at a loss as to how to solve the problem there was no way we could place this horse, there was no interest in taking on such a bad case of mental scaring.
Consideration was given to euthanising this horse who was basically dieing slowly and miserably.

On one of my visits to the prison to work with the inmates a young cowboy came to watch me work with the inmates and horses in the program. He was a tough looking guy as many of the inmates are, he had the look of a fella that was comfortable in the prison environment. He sat on the top rail of of the round yard as I worked the horses, he did ask if it was ok but no doubt it was a challenge to see if I could cope with the distraction to the horses,” no worries” I said.
He watched for an hour or so as I instructed one of the newer inmates as to how I wanted the horses worked and what his objectives were.
After I had concluded the cowboy came to me, “I like what your doing” he said “I learnt a bit there” not an easy admission for a guy who had found his place in the works as the “tough cowboy guy” who new his stuff.
“I’m working with a young horse, will you have a look at him ?” “Sure” I said “go and grab him”.
He came back with a chunky young bay thoroughbred saddled in a stock saddle. “He goes alright but he’s got a few issues, I’m helping the old bloke over there with him.” a thin face older inmate stood intently in his prison greens at the side of the round yard his eyes wide, he was struggling to listen to every word of the conversation. Let’s call him Con. “Old con wants to ride him” said the cowboy. “Good stuff, lets have a look at him”. “Can I have a feel of him before you start.” “Sure” said the cowboy.
I worked the horse in hand, he was a lump of a thing with a good temperament, fairly relaxed about what I was asking him to do considering he hadn’t done anything like that before, it’s interesting how real horse people know what they need achieve to get the best out of their horse it’s amazing how close different styles of riding, done well, really are .
After I worked the horse the cowboy jumped up on his back, he cantered the horse off rolled back on the fence, slid to a fairly, mouth opened halt, and reigned back. Not my idea of a warmup but it’s not my roll to lecture people on how to ride their horses. I gave hIm my thoughts on preparing the horse for Con. ” what’s the horses back ground ? ” I asked “this is the wind sucker they were going to put down”. I was in shock I had seen this horse standing in a yard for over two hours and hadn’t seen him wind suck once, I couldn’t believe it was the same horse, I was beaming ” how did you get him to this point ? ” the old blokes done all the work” replied the cowboy.

It turns out that on  the day a decision was to be made on the fate of the wind sucker Con put up his hand to take the horse on and give him one more try. Though all and sundry thought there was no hope for the improvement of this horse no body wanted to see a young otherwise healthy horse put down.
Con was an elderly man, an ex Vietnam vet. He was in jail for a particularly violent and harrowing crime of passion. Con had suffered terribly from post traumatic stress syndrome as a result of situations he had found himself in whilst in the armed services.
At the time of his conviction he had not been diagnosed with PTSD though he was being treated for depression.
Other inmates had spoken of how, even now he screamed at night in his sleep haunted by his past no doubt compounded by the remorse and memory of his crime.
With my recent involvement with ex service personnel retuning from conflict with PTSD and Equine assisted experiential therapy, I had run a number of week long courses and was daily involved with people in Cons situation. I understood where Con was, 50 years on still suffering and untreated.
Con though not a trainer but was part of the thoroughbred retraining program he had a love for horses and liked to be around them they helped him hold some of his demons at bay.
Con had had a fairly solid Involvement with horses as a younger man, he recognised the mental anguish of the young wind sucking horse and convinced the vet and staff to allow him to work with him.
Con had no strategy, he would spend time with the horse, hand feed it sit with it while he read the paper, talk to him, groom him, walk him like a dog, con lived with him as often as he could, he had no shortage of time or empathy.

I have never seen a horse truly stop wind sucking. But in the two hours I was with this horse he did not wind suck once that I observed. As I new him previously he wouldn’t have lasted two minutes without attaching himself to a pole. The horse had gone from a bag of bones with serious mental issues to a solid healthy relaxed useful animal and Con had gone a long way to dealing with some of his painful baggage , he had a purpose and a mate.
The old man had produced an amazing result, his goal on release from gaol is the ride this horse from Sydney to Melbourne to raise funds for thoroughbred rehabilitation and ex serviceman suffering from PTSD. I personally will support him, he is currently considering an appeal to reduce his sentence and charge on the grounds of PTSD.

Wind sucking is a miserable symbol of how we sometimes disregard the welfare of horses, I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to fix but now I can say I’ve seen it done.