Thursday, December 14, 2017

Training Progression of Bast: Part 2, The Early Rides

We've moved on from lunging!
**Almost all photos in this post were taken generously by Jan. This whole set of rides would have been so much harder without her around!
I've already briefly talked about the first night I hopped on Bast, but I wanted to include more detail about the first week of rides on the little guy. My main goal for this post is to set down the basic events and things learned during Bast's first few rides. Again, these training progression posts are really to help me track his progress and remind myself of things we've done, and things we've improved.

To start, our first ride didn't have much information. It was extremely straightforward and low-key. The only real training issue I came up against was Bast's inability to come to a halt long enough for me to get off.
An uneventful first ride is always excellent.
To start, halting was making him very anxious. I needed to come up with something quick to help him avoid getting upset, and also stand calmly. Enter mints. The horse is a mint fanatic, and he knows the sound of a peppermint wrapper from about 2 miles away. I pulled one out and distracted him with it when I asked him to halt. In no time flat he was associating the sound of a mint wrapper with slamming on the brakes and standing expectantly.

I made sure to have plenty of mints in my pockets for training rides after that!

Our second ride was the next morning in the outdoor. The weather was gross, but I didn't want Bast to have to deal with traffic right away, especially knowing his previous issues.
Calm walks make me happy
We started off with another lead from a friend, just to make sure he wasn't going to suddenly lose his mind in the outdoor (despite having been lunged out there many times previously). I needn't have worried. He was perfect. In no time I was walking him around confidently.
First structured trot school
I decided to push some buttons and see what kind of horse I had. The mucky footing and weather didn't seem to bother him, which pleased me. He also went to work quite well, steering better than he had the night before in the indoor. I had very few problems stopping him, and he remembered the mints immediately.

There is a tendency for racehorses to be rather mouthy with the bit, especially when first being restarted off the track. Bast was no exception. He alternated between attempting to pull me out of the saddle, and trying his best to spit the bit out completely.
"Let go!" -- Bast, probably
During these moments, I tried my best not to pull back. He wasn't very reactive to the leg, so I was able to bump my legs slightly on his sides in the moments he pulled. Still, this wasn't an issue I was going to address in a single day. Mostly I just let go of the bit when he pulled for a half second, giving him nothing to pull against and confusing the hell out of his baby brain.

We did end up trying the canter, which was exciting at first. He leapt into the canter in the departs, attempting to jump right into a gallop. Definitely not a bolt, just a misunderstanding between what I wanted and what he expected.
Canter depart on the left, more civilized canter established on the right.
I was able to calm him in just a few strides. I would resist him with fluctuating pressure when he would pull on me, and simply sit up tall and ask him to slow when he was listening. His lack of balance helped me out here, as he was unable to do much of a circle in the ring. His balance would waiver and he would have to slow.
A very gallop-looking canter... no, I don't know why I'm a chicken in the photo on the left. Bawk. Bawk.
Staying calm and positive was the most important thing here, as he was clearly just a confused baby unsure of why I didn't want him to gallop away. I didn't do much more than introduce him to the idea of not launching into a gallop before calling it a day and hopping off.

The next day, I decided to put on even more pressure. I was still trialing Bast, and I wanted to see how quickly he could deal with pressure and think his way through questions. I started by ditching the ground person, and hopping right on. That was no problem at all.
Can we halt? Yes?! What a good baby!
The first thing that impressed me consistently in all of these rides was the calm and relaxed walk Bast offered. While not terribly forward, the walk was fairly free from tension. For the most part, I was able to stroll around with him on the buckle. He didn't understand adding power to the walk, or changing speeds within the gait, because of this it had a lot of lateral moments. However, the ability to relax in between the more stressful trot and canter sessions was invaluable.
Not terribly engaged, but also not stressed. I'll take it! 
However, not everything about the walk was amazing. When I would pick up the reins, Bast would begin to fight the contact. Again, his go to options were to haul on the reins or suck behind the pressure.
(Note, I don't use much pressure in the bit. I can't stand a heavy horse, and do not encourage a horse to take a heavy hold on the bit. When I say pressure, I mean a constant "thereness" of the rein, not actually pulling on the horses mouth to create a pressure.)
Hollow and against the rein vs more accepting and carrying me forward. Again with my elbows being on a different planet from my body. Geesh.
This same theme followed us into the trot. However, the more forward nature of the trot meant I could have more options for breaking any kind of pulling from Bast. One of my favorite ways to subtly encourage him to try interacting with the bit? Adding bend...
On the left, Bast pulling against me. On the right, adding bend to encourage him to break the pressure and instead interact with the bit.
I learned this trick from Pig and a few other TBs who could clench against the bit and hold that inverted position all day long. I found that making their bodies flexible and pushing them forward "broke" the stiffness against the bridle. It really works! You have to be ready with forward aids and a soft hand, but it's the most effective way of breaking that stiff pull some racehorses have right off the track.
Attempting to turn...
That's not to say that I was magically able to bend Bast and achieve perfect contact, because I was not. At all. In fact, our steering was pretty iffy. An opening rein was my biggest friend, as he didn't understand moving off leg aids in the slightest. He also lacked balance, so every turn felt pretty drunk while he tried to catch himself with his shoulders.

The little horse definitely rose to the pressure I put on him the second day of riding, however. He was making me really happy.
Such a silly attitude!
On day three, we pushed the concepts we'd worked on so far even further.  (Note to self, always re-start an OTTB over a holiday weekend. Having three days to ride and lunge multiple times in a day was so beneficial for getting comfortable and evaluating this guy!)
Walk continued to be amazing.
To start, we had traffic in the ring while we rode. This included two riders on rather large horses that make a lot of noise. Neither horse minds coming close to others, either. This meant Bast had to work on his traffic related melt downs. He did pretty well! We also had to pay closer attention to our steering, which was less great.
Turning? What do you mean "turning?"
Bast's favorite steering evasion showed up in all gaits on this day. He likes to throw his haunches and ribcage into the direction you are turning, while pushing out with his head/neck/outside shoulder. As he still didn't understand moving away from leg pressure at all, this could make steering rather difficult.

I noticed over time that he would steer his shoulders away from thigh pressure, so we began working with that some. I also attempted to tap on his outside with my leg to get him to start to push more away from the outside on turns, instead of lean out.
Bulging shoulder and rooting mouth anyone?
The results were not miracles, but overall I thought this was something that could be addressed over time. When he was paying close attention and my aids were timed right, our turns were actually quite tight, though the balance was hard for him to keep, as expected.

Cantering we were able to begin to work on some circles...
Doing my best to try not to pull for a turn.
By this time the canter was actually much more civilized. While the departs could be big and forward, I was trying my best to stay with them and not inhibit his movement. He was starting to process that I wanted something different from a big forward gallop, but wasn't yet sure how to manipulate his body to get that slower but forward canter. Instead, he would end up diving down dramatically.
That moment when you think you might somersault off the horse...
The biggest problem here was the lack of his hind leg coming under to balance himself. He was trying to go slower while keeping that strung out gallop silhouette. It was silly, and impossible.
MUCH better balance here, though still very downhill and pulling himself forward like a gallop rather than pushing forward into a jumping canter.
Downward transitions were the weakest part at this point. His lack of understanding about stepping under himself to balance in transitions reared its head. Rather than just pull for a transition (which rarely works with OTTBs in my experience, and honestly isn't the goal ever), I would sit deep and take/release with the reins. I tried to keep my legs on and think forward in the transitions to avoid a total splat. Bast meanwhile would go into full giraffe mode in the downwards, pulling against the reins to try to balance himself as he tipped forward.
Exactly what I didn't want to do: set up against his pulling with my body, thus also inhibiting him from stepping under and finding his balance. Sigh. I'm nowhere close to perfect, so I can just be happy these moments were few.
As far as contact went, I still wasn't really pushing for anything. However, I wanted to evaluate his reaction to rein pressure. I didn't want to take a horse that would rather flip himself over than experience pressure on his mouth.
Giggling as Bast tries to find a way around my hands always being there. Note to self: keep those hands more steady next time. Geesh.
Bast passed this test with flying colors. Though not comfortable or understanding contact yet, he wasn't upset by the concept. Instead he either flipped me the bird or fought against the pressure a bit. Both of these are reasonable responses I'd expected. Occasionally he would even drop into the contact for a single step, moments that gave me a lot of hope for the future!
Staying positive was key in these rides, though I didn't realize at the time how much that praise was keeping Bast's confidence high.
At the end of the day, I decided to try to leave the ring and test Bast's off roading capabilities. We started with a very short stroll around the paddocks.
Going well so far...
He was perfect for that. So later in the evening I hopped on him again and ended up walking him around the property for another short period of time. Again he was a star.
EXCITED EARS ARE EXCITED
As I put Bast away the night of the 3rd day, I was really looking forward to developing him. He'd shown himself to be a quick study with great mind for pressure. The small glimpses of balanced and forward he'd given me I hoped would quickly grow.
Up next? The rides post Bast's field board introduction! Stay tuned!
For Part 1 of The Training Progression of Bast, click here.

4 comments:

  1. There is so much awesome here. I'm really enjoying hearing about the ins and outs of you working with an undeveloped youngster. The similarities and differences in concepts you discuss with Bast vs. Pig are really fascinating and for the dressage newbie, really testing my understanding as I follow along. Bast is such a cool baby horse!

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  2. He sounds like such a good baby

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  3. steering is so hard tho. so hard. turning right? unheard of.

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