Friday, November 16, 2018

Flashback Friday: Trot Evolution

I'm all about that bass trot. We gon' take it to a whole another level...
It's been a year and 2+ months since I brought Bast home, and a year and 3 months since his last race. With that in mind, I wanted to take a moment today to look at how his training has changed him, with a special focus on his trot. Let's start from the beginning now...

September 2017
First week of retraining. 
Bast's trot has always been his best gait. He's overtracked nicely since the beginning and had an uphill balance. Hard to see when his head and neck are extended like a giraffe trying to reach a topmost branch and his mouth gapes like a fish out of water. Understandable if it wasn't obvious then. At this point in his training, his biggest issues were a complete lack of a half halt and a tendency to brace his whole front end against me, pulling me right out of the saddle.

Cool.

Early October 2017
1 month into retraining
After a month under saddle, Bast was starting to figure a few things out. He had the start of a half halt, when paying attention. He still pulled against me, but less often. He had no concept of pushing into the bridle. When touching the bit, he mouthed the bit to an absurd level.

He was starting to elevate his steps already. Unfortunately he was also developing a hell of a bolting problem, which made me defensive and him a ball of nervous energy. Good moments were good, bad moments were common.

Early November 2017
Lovely balanced working trot.
Developing push from behind.
Beginning to learn "stretch".
Two months into retraining, and I was in love with Bast's good moments. He was starting to figure out how to accept my leg (when not bolting from it) and figuring out contact enough to start to stretch. His mouth was still open a lot, but he seemed content to work on pushing into a bit a little. Because of these things, I was able to start working on the concept of loading his hind legs more and asking him to push. He was still very wiggly, and lacked basic control of his parts.

Improving.

February 2018
5 months into retraining.
Behind the bit.
Behind the leg.
By February we were still struggling with Bast's issues. He swung violently from one extreme to the other. For example, during this ride he bolted and sliding stopped into a fence. He also put in super work in the ring. Volatile was the name of the game, and training was falling by the wayside.

With all this difficulty, Bast's outlines veered between either behind the bit or behind the leg. Thankfully he is rarely both (I'm looking at you, Pig!). As long as he wasn't trying to actively kill me, I was kinda fine with both.

March 2018
6 months into retraining.
God he was so good on this day.
On the bit, losing the hind leg and back.
The above photos were taken the same day Bast sprang a splint on the outside of his front right. This injury was more devastating because his attitude had seemed to settle in the previous few weeks. He was so good, and was learning to push into the bridle. I had stopped being a bit afraid of him, and things were progressing. He wanted to be behind the vertical, but was still pushing from behind very well and not completely escaping the bit. Behind the vertical felt like a young-horse appropriate strength issue. When he would come "on the bit" he tended to drop his back and lose the power behind. All of this is normal and just takes time and work to develop. I was so ready to tackle it, but he required time off for the injury.

Early April 2018
7 months into retraining.
Bast came back from his splint at exactly the same training point where he left. I was thrilled. For a full week we kept hacking away at his "on the bit" "on the leg" connection. As this photo shows, we were starting to get there.

A few days later he t-rex'd right through a pasture fence and everything came screeching to a halt. Ugh.

Late May 2018
8 months into retraining
Pushed beyond his natural pace, but engaged!
Ugh. Rooting. Still in front of his balance.
Bast finally came back to work in May. Having mostly recovered from his fence attack bruising, moved facilities, and nearly completed ulcer medication, he was a different horse. He had also lost quite a bit of strength and needed to back up a bit in training.

I made the mistake of allowing him to motor along at an overly fast tempo, for the sake of engagement. While it helped me establish contact with the bit, it did not help him develop balance or confidence in bend. Oops. He often lost his balance forward, due to being pushed past his gait. This resulted in a lot of rooting and pulling. For a horse with a short neck, this is a big no-no.

August 2018
11 months in retraining.
Tempo too fast. Braced in neck.
Overbent. On forehand. Starting to lose right shoulder.
Some magical combination of nearly all the above faults in one photo. At least he's not overbent?
While show photos aren't exactly representative of where we were in August, they're what I have and what I'm going to show you! If you'd like, imagine Bast about 70% less tense over his topline and you have an approximation of what things were like at home.

August was the month Bast really started getting put to work again. I was once again introducing him to the idea of "being in a box," like I had been in April. Only now I was using a slightly different tactic, and not worried about his bolting into the next county. As a result we were actually going somewhere.

Bast is clever and short in the neck, so he quickly figured out he could use his neck and shoulder to weasel his way out of the box. When pushed more forward than he should be going, Bast was easier to ride straight. But again, this was not helping his confidence. Slowing things down made him less likely to feel out of balance. The road toward straightness was starting to feel very long indeed. He bulged and wavered at every chance.

September 2018
1 year in retraining
This photo is really representative of what I was working with for much of September. Bast was learning to accept my leg, and not run through my hand. This resulted in a lot of behind the vertical, but also a lot of dropped shoulders. Nothing to do here but stick to the plan and insist on forward activity from my leg.

October 2018
1 year + 1 month in retraining.
Straightness and engagement. Behind the vertical.
More in front of vertical, but shoulder completely lost and tempo too fast. Also, why am I pulling on that inside rein? Ugh.
Coming back to work in October after a week off, Bast and I were not seeing eye to eye on straightness. He was getting very wiggly in the shoulder, and nothing I was doing (mostly pulling on the inside rein, go figure) was working. Trainer set me up with a lot of exercises to remind him to listen to my seat, and this helped a ton. Still, we continued to lose the shoulders a lot all month. This was especially apparently when his tempo got fast or we went to canter depart.

His mouth started to become a lot quieter.

November 2018
Oh. Hell. Yes. Er, I mean... 1 year + 2 months into retraining.
Forward. Balanced. Straight. In the contact. Over the back.
(Also tense in topline, a bit in front of his balance/downhill, and thinking about bulging through his left shoulder.)
By the start of November, the hard work was paying off. I was able to corral most of Bast's squirrely tendencies. I was starting to be able to catch his shoulders well enough to recycle the energy back into his wayward hind legs. We'd identified in September and October that most of his crooked issues stemmed from unequal push in his hind end. This made sense with his fence injuries earlier in the year, but it was time to really address these strength issues head on.

The change to the new saddle later in the month made his trot even better. In fact, he's become so much more confident now that my position isn't so tense and grabby. His topline tension has dropped considerably, and he now steps nicely into the canter about 80% of the time! We've been playing with bits of collection and shoulder-in, too. I can't wait to see what the next year of training does to the trot!

10 comments:

  1. I love seeing the progress laid out so clearly with great photos. Something about a horses body changing by dressage makes me so happy. Great job.

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    1. Ah me too! Watching his butt change shape has just been the most fun!

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  2. He is just coming along so fabulous! You should be really proud of how he is developing! I have always heard it takes a year for horses off the track to rebuild the right muscles, so really you are right on track (ha, see what I did there) and now you should really be able to start asking for even more!

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    1. Wow a year. I can believe it! It takes a long time for the muscle to rebuild and the brain to settle. I just love them so much.

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  3. Such a great post! So lovely to see the evolution and the hard work it took to get there!

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    1. It's easy to forget the amount of work that goes in to putting on the basics, especially with a tense horse.

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  4. What a cool transformation post! Gosh he's come a long way <3

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  5. I love seeing the progression in all the photos. It shows how things really look as training develops. Carmen is really good at using her shoulder to get out of the box so I hear you.

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