Monday, November 27, 2017

Training Progression of Bast: Part 1 Lunging

I knew from the day Bast got off the trailer I wanted to make sure I chronicled what it felt and looked like to ride and work with him. From my time working with Guinness, I know how hard it can be to even remember what the daily struggles were in the old days. Having something to point to showing our improvement makes it much easier to plot the path forward and celebrate the achievements of today. With that in mind, here's a glimpse at some of Bast's first work.
Photo by Liz Stout
Lunging
Bast figured out the basics of lunging very quickly. Verbal commands for gaits were solid after day one, and he had a great halt. In fact, he was so good with the basics, I sent a text to his breeder to ask if he'd been lunged in his training. She wasn't positive, but said she didn't think he had been. Good pony!

We did basic lunging in a rope halter only for a few days, gradually adding in more "stuff". This was for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted him to get used to a different routine from the track. Tacking up with me means a different type of workout. His time on the track was extremely stressful for him, and I wanted to break that routine to start. (Note: not all racehorses are like this. He seems to have been especially sensitive and stressed out by life as a racehorse.)
Fancy prancin'!
Photo by Liz Stout
At first we worked only in the round pen, but eventually used the time lunging to get Bast used to working in different locations. While always tense in a new place, I realized if I could keep his attention on his job he would relax and be fine. I also found out I needed to use boots/wraps to keep him from clipping himself in front or brushing behind when he would invert/scoot. Leg protection all around is definitely a need for this little guy until he builds more body awareness.

I added in loose side reins on a surcingle first. When I lunge with side reins, I like to put a rope halter over the bridle. This keeps the horse from being confused by tugs on the bit when he's working with the reins. I felt it also gave me better control.
Pictured: Rope halter over bridle. Side reins not yet attached.
I actually kind of hate side reins and feel like they are mostly useless when it comes to teaching a horse about contact and the bit. However, they're a tool I have and thus one I thought I would try with Bast. Needless to say, I don't think they necessarily contributed anything to his development. I'm sure if I worked with them more we could achieve the right effect, but I'm not convinced a horse that goes into side reins actually translates into a horse that goes into contact. Mostly I used them to set boundaries on how high he could put his head in the air or twist away from me to try to leave the circle.
... because throwing his head in the air and attempting to leave the circle was definitely a thing he was trying. Related. Why was I not wearing gloves? Srsly.
Eventually I added in tack to see what he thought of my dressage saddle and stirrups flying around. Turns out he didn't care a thing about either.
Stirrups banging around while you lunge? Bast says "NBD folks!"
I won't lie, early lunging was really easy. Again, I'm not a lunging pro. I almost never used it in my training with Pig (because Pig refused to balance himself on the lunge and it got ... interesting), though I have used it with other young horses and OTTBs in the past. Even though basic, this work taught me a little about Bast's mind and work ethic.

Early on I learned that picking a fight with him on an issue without clearly explaining it to him would end with a panicked horse who was totally checked out. (Learned this when I tried to get him to move out away from me on the circle and he turned and fled.) I have to be careful getting his attention back when he's focused on other things (mostly other horses), because he'll go into fight or flight mode and can quickly decide things are terrifying and panic.
"Who me? Panic? What?! Never!"
Photo by Liz Stout
I also realized that he was terrified of other horses moving around him. Another horse cantering in the ring would leave him scooting forward or shaking. The first day I hand walked him in the indoor while a few other horses were riding, I had to make myself a human anchor lest we both quickly exit stage left.

However, not all the learning was negative (though I think there's a ton of value in learning the weakest spots early on in training, as you can turn them into strengths with enough work!). Bast's quick brain was evident, and the fact that he is a curious and energetic learner. When he understood what was asked and was paying attention, I was able to put on quite a bit of pressure with success. These two things I knew would stand me in good stead as we developed a relationship.
"I am the smartest! Also, is that horse being walked to that turnout field over there so it can be murdered?! Because I am pretty sure there's some horse murder about to happen!"
Note: No horse murder happened.
And that panicking about other horses? He got over that pretty fast. By the next day, he was able to be walked around the ring while strange horses trotted by. A week later and cantering didn't send him spooking and scooting away. In a month he was calmly being ridden around while multiple lessons happened around him. This continues to get better, and has proven to me that he is learning and improving all the time. It's also a big reminder of where he started and how far he's come.
Photo by Liz Stout
While I haven't lunged Bast much at all since I began riding him, I have done a ton of work in hand with him. I have some lunging ideas in mind to try over the winter to see if I can help him create even more relaxation in his work. Fingers crossed! I don't see lunging ever being a big part of his education, but I think it's a valuable skill for many reasons and a good way to evaluate a new horse's reactions in a safer way.

What do you think? Do you use lunging a lot? What are the values you see in lunge work?

22 comments:

  1. I am not a huge lunging fan--I feel like it adds a lot of potential for repetitive stress injuries without providing enough value to compensate for the risk.

    That said, I (clearly) used it a lot with Courage and had some interesting breakthroughs. I found conventional side reins to be clunky at best, but had really good luck with Vienna reins. Courage was a horse that held his tension right in front of his withers and they are fantastic for that. If you want to borrow them, let me know. ;-)

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    1. Thanks! Vienna reins make a lot more sense to me when it comes to teaching a horse to unlock the back/base of neck than side reins. I think the success you had really speaks to the hard work you put in and the way you used your tools.

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  2. I've used lunging and long lines a lot with Stinker. It helped put some muscle on him while he was recovering. I never do it for long periods, usually only about 10 minutes lunging or 20 for the long lines since I have more options for directions and straight lines.

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    1. I always found after 10 min I had barely gotten the horse settled and moving. Haha! I'm so mystified how people manage to keep their times so short!

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  3. I used lunging a lot with Carmen to get her to focus on me and learn to work through things without losing her shit and bolting. I found it easier then i the saddle. I don't lunge as much now because she understands better.

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    1. I tried to use it to work with Bast on similar things and ended up getting dragged around. Whoops. So glad you had better luck! Carmen seems like she's really coming along!

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  4. I lunged Miles a decent amount and it definitely helped with certain things... although I didn't feel like it translated to our under saddle work as well as I would have hoped. But I'm really inexperienced with groundwork and lunging, so I'm sure that was a big part of the problem.

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    1. It's interesting to me how different disciplines use lunging more or less. Like hj seems to use it a lot, but not always very structured. And dressage often uses it a ton in the early training, but very structured. Then eventers ... they kinda do their own thing. Lol! I think we're all basically trying to achieve similar results, but it kinda seems like something where a lot of people have a gap in their education.

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  5. Lunging is a great training tool, I've used side reins before (on Ramone and Carlos - no side reins at the new barn but we do have a Pessoa system) they can be used incorrectly or ineffectively. When used properly they add just another option in the training of horses. Installing those voice commands is so good and important. Glad things are continuing to progress with Bast!

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    1. So true! There are definitely a million ways to use tools lunging, and I am definitely no expert! Voice commands are super useful and something I am good at installing, so we've been using those a lot!

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  6. I definitely use longeing less as a means of rumpus time and more of a "this is a long rope in which to do ground work" which sounds just like what you're doing! I love me some good ground work.

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    1. Ground work is so life saving, especially when you own little assholes who tend to think paying attention to human gnats is optional.

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  7. I like to use it as a tool in the winter months more than anything. In the summer I use it sparingly and usually just to get eyes on the horse in motion from the ground because I'm always alone. I've used various gadgets not to try to achieve magical end-goal but mostly to try to instill some boundaries on movement (Q, do you even possess the ability to look like a horse and not a llama if there is contact on the bit any more?) or work out shenanigans without a rider (like when Griffin thought any pressure on the bit warranted an explosive reaction). The majority of the time I lunge these days though is to let the horse figure out balance without a rider through a ground pole exercise or jumping exercise that is very different from what we've tried before. I don't have eyes on the ground to help me fix myself in the moment, so I try to give the horse as much room to find success and understand before I add all of my mistakes to the equation lol

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    1. Yeah working through explosive reactions is DEFINITELY much better done on the ground. Really amazing how far that little horse has come with you!

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  8. Lunging and side reins are a favorite tool of mine. However, it's not for every horse. But i do have lunging to thank for helping to teach a certain Porkchop horse how to balance his giant ass awkward body at the canter.

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    1. Haha! I used it to teach another baby thoroughbred similar things. Oddly, Pig straight up refused to balance himself at the canter on the lunge... going so far as to literally fall down. Old man would actually canter around on a tiny circle in complete counter bend. It was amazing, but fucking pointless.

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  9. I think lunging definitely has its place in winter months and with young/untrained horse. Sounds like Bast is doing well trying all the horse stuff!! I never lunge Remus but I totally see where people would do so if needed. Enjoy him he is very very cute Bast is!

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    1. I definitely have seen it's use with young horses before! And if you have no other way to get the energy out, it's definitely a must!

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  10. ahahahah, "horse murder" - My mare saw a car muffler on the ground and thought it might do her in. The immobile muffler, completely in view, we'd been walking past for a half-hour that she only noticed when we turned around. Those and deer. Deer are horse murderers, allegedly.

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    1. Omg. I mean. Maybe she was scared some loud car would come out of nowhere looking for said muffler? I'd worry about that...

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  11. I use it occasionally either for days where I can't ride or to help her stretch. Sometimes she get's so tight during a ride that she won't allow me to help her flex and stretch and the Vienna reins not only really help but help both of us to not get into a fight about relaxation which is fairly counterproductive it turns out.

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    1. Ugh fighting is always so tempting, but the wrong choice! So awesome you found a way around that fight and to a positive solution!

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