Thursday, December 28, 2017

Training Progression of Bast, Part 5: Trying Natural Horsemanship Stuff

When I left you all in Part 4, we had just discovered the nasty bolt hidden in Bast. Unfortunately, while I was resolved to get through the issue, things did continue to worsen before they got better.
Hope you're holding on, cause things are about to get wild.
The bolting was not a one time thing, though it did disappear for a few days. Thankfully, because I ended up rather ill for a week. All I could manage was a few delightful walking hacks with Bast. He was a star for all of them, even though we went out alone.
Such a beautiful and quiet interlude.
However, the bolting cropped up again soon. In just a few weeks, I was unable to ride him anywhere but the ring without a full on brain-dropping scoot-fest. Looking back, I think the initial event was an overload that hastened the dissolution of his fragile confidence. Every bolt was preceded Bast tuning out completely, so I hoped by teaching him to pay attention and working on methods to break his catatonic stare without panicking we could diffuse a bolt before it turned into a big problem.

The plan was to try to teach the baby horse to look to me instead of shutting down or running to other horses for confidence, and learn to be soothed by me in difficult moments-- starting with some time together in the round pen.
This is how you do it, right?
I'm not an expert at round pen work with difficult horses, but I have done it before. Bast, however, was beyond my ability to work with. He was so tuned out, he could not even acknowledge that I was in the ring with him. Almost from the moment I let him free in the ring he began running. And running. And running.

That first night I worked with him, we were in the ring for hours before he calmed down enough for me to catch him and walk him safely back to his pasture. In that entire time, he never once glanced in my direction. While I could walk up to him, the slightest thing would set him running again. I realized then I would need to work more with him on a rope to teach him the rudimentary skills of tuning in.
When I ended with him that night, it was pitch black and the foxes were playing in the woods behind us. It was kind of surreal.
I spent almost a week only working him on a rope in and out of the ring, and eventually he started to play with me a bit. When I put on too much pressure, he would spin away and ignore me, but for the most part we were able to work together. Working with him in and around his pasture while his favorite pacifiers herdmates ran around like idiots seemed to get us the most mileage together. He learned that he couldn't ignore me, even when other horses were doing stupid things. He started to realize that I would keep him safe, and he could start to put some confidence in me.

While I wanted to take even more time on the ground, I had signed up for a lesson with Olivia LaGoy Weltz at the end of October. Time was rapidly wasting away, and I needed to start riding Bast again. I worked on plans to develop his confidence under saddle.
"Oh I am so skeptical of this."
Aside: That new fits him so much better. I am so glad I bought it!
I had made some changes prior to the bolting escapade, namely adding a flash to Bast's bridle. I don't think the flash had anything to do with his bolt, and I continued to use it. I also had his teeth done (they were in great shape, though he is very young and his baby teeth were just finishing falling out). I played around with a micklem bridle and dropped noseband, but he absolutely hated it.
He hated the micklem more than this. I've never seen a horse dislike a bridle set up so much.
So by the time I was getting Bast back to work, I had already investigated some physical reasons behind his bolting and found nothing. In addition, the successes we'd had on the ground left me feeling more confident addressing the issue as purely mental. I realized I needed to start with praise. If his issue was truly rooted in a lack of confidence, praise should help him build up more faith in his and my decision making. Plus, praising him under saddle had the benefit of breaking his panicked concentration, reminding him he had a rider up there.

I specifically set a timer for the first few rides. We would be under saddle 15 minutes and no more, at the walk only. I resolved myself to constantly praise him verbally ("Good boy!") and physically (pats and scratches on the neck).
"I am a good boy?"
This seemed to be the right answer. Gradually I worked our rides up to 30 minutes, which was enough time for us to do a ride around the property line, something completely impossible before I had stepped back. Previously any horses moving around in their fields had thrown Bast into a panic, but now I was able to keep his attention on me with strong pats and babbling praise. I could feel him puff up with confidence and take deeper breaths the more we negotiated successfully.
Yes, buddy. You are a good boy.
While I wasn't fully confident in his reactions, I was getting more comfortable with our path forward. I was hoping I could get through my lesson with Olivia without any major melt downs, and that she might have some advice for me.

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For past editions of The Training Progression of Bast, check out these links:
Part 1: Lunging
Part 2: The Early Rides

26 comments:

  1. I love this! There is so much to be gained by taking steps backwards and going slower!

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  2. I love the use of the timer! I've never thought of that but your story makes me realize there are oodles of ways that could benefit horse time.

    Can't wait for the next installment!

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    1. Oh man, the timer is my best friend. It's the best way to ride 2 horses on a night I work without staying at the barn all night. I also used it to keep me from picking fights with Pig. Haha

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  3. There is nothing worse than when a horse shuts you out completely. good for you for breaking it down.

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    1. It's probably the thing that annoys me most in animal training.

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  4. holy cow. You really have had a time havent you? Can't wait for the rest of the story !:)

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    1. Haha, yeah. I wasn't kidding about the bolting.

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    2. i think he is adorable and so worth the effort. And I think where he is shorter coupled he has a tendancy to be able to go fast. Hence the bolting. Where some horses can't get out of their own way! LOL Not Bast :) I am loving following along with you and can't wait to see where you and Bast end up! And you my dear have the patience of a saint :) keep on doing!

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  5. I'm loving every one of these posts. And also, I'm probably going to reference this post a zillion times to start building confidence with my OTTB. She doesn't bolt like Bast, but she has her own vaguely terrifying way of tuning out and trying to murder herself and me. Fun times!

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    1. Yes! Please do! I think horses are so much easier to handle when they're confident! Best of luck!

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  6. The timer thing and praise has been a huge help for Scout and I too! He shows tension by teeth grinding, and he's learning that he gets scratches and praise anytime he's not grinding them and it's working! I'm loving this early journey with you guys:)

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    1. It's so great when they puff up with pats and praise, isn't it? I love it!

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  7. This is so interesting! I've never dealt with a horse with confidence issues before, but I love how you've been approaching all of it. Sounds like it really worked for him!

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    1. I'll be honest, it took me awhile to figure out how to adjust my approach. Pig was born with a massive ego and a giant pool of self confidence. I was a at a loss for a bit when I had Bast with zero self confidence. Haha.

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  8. Can't wait to hear how the lesson goes! Those OTTB's are fast learners and I have a feeling he will end up being a star for your clinic :)

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  9. I also love this! I use a timer as well but it's to make sure I ride long enough since my internal clock thinks that we're done at about 25 minutes haha

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    1. Haha. I definitely don't have that problem! LOL

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  10. thanks for sharing this. i think people only post the good stuff which makes horse training look much easier and more straightforward than it really is. and its hard to take a step back when you want to succeed but well done!

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    1. and by succeed i mean progress. but you want to succeed too. im quiet now.

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  11. Thanks for sharing your training journey. It brings me back to when I used to start OTTBs. Bolting is truly the most terrifying issue a horse can have. Good luck with him, and be safe! :)

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  12. As a fellow horse training nerd who spent a lot of time with a hot, sensitive horse, I absolutely LOVE this series. The process is completely fascinating to me.

    One of my favorite things about the Tik Mayard clinic was his emphasis on thinking laterally--when one method doesn't work to explain something to a horse, it's on us as trainers to find another path to the same result. It's definitely something I play with all the time and I really love watching you do it in your way.

    AHHHHH NERD MOMENT.

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  13. This is such a cool series - thanks for sharing this and being honest about your experiences with Bast. It's so interesting.

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  14. Niko really responds well to verbal praise as well -- I need to get better about using my voice more frequently with him

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  15. I've really enjoyed reading along with Bast's training! I think one of the most frustrating parts of training horses is when you have one that can just shut their brain off. I'm looking forward to seeing how you work through it!

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