Thursday, January 18, 2018

NO! Don't Pee There!

Potty training sucks, no matter what. However, there's a lot of articles out there to help you through the process with your baby, kitten, or puppy. There's experts to call, and established training plans that are known to work.
Pictured: My two hardest potty training projects. Ever.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of articles helping you potty train your 5 year old horse. This is especially unfortunate, because I need the help. Badly.
"That wet spot back there? Definitely did not pee there. Nope. Not I!"
Let me paint you a picture in pee. It's 8:45 on a Wednesday night, and I am standing in the barn. It's 19 degrees out, and everything is frozen solid. My baby racehorse is standing in the crossties, patiently waiting for me to make his evening snack and untack him. I walk away to prepare his grain ration, only to return exactly a minute later to him standing in a gigantic puddle of steaming urine with a contented look on his face. Some might call the look smug.
This is not the face of attrition, Bast.
I turn around and grab a shovel to layer sawdust on before what is now steaming turns to ice. Just as I finish cleaning up the yellow slushy mess and put away the buckets and shovels, Bast lifts his tail and deposits steaming pile of a different kind. He proceeds to put his foot in the pile, then walk around in the crossties.
"I would never make such a mess. All these wet spots are definitely not created by my bodily functions."
#liesalllies
It is now 9:00 on a Wednesday night, and I am over this shit... literally.

So, blogland. I have a problem. I need to train my baby racehorse to stop peeing in the aisles. While I know how to do this with a horse who has a stall, I am at a total loss with a horse who is field boarded. I do not have access to a stall, only barn aisles and wash stalls.

Help me! I need your ideas!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Remembering 2017; Looking Forward to 2018

These recap posts have been hard to write, so I'm using them as an excuse to post a ton of photos of this beautiful boy.
Photo by Liz Stout
I'll be honest. I'm not going to dwell much on 2017. I have a yearly recap post in the works, but it's emotionally draining and the work is coming slow. Suffice to say, this has been an incredibly tough year. Let's see how I did on my 2017 goals so I can start looking forward to my 2018.

2017 Riding/Horse Goals
(Ranked on a success scale of 1-5)
The first ride after his last set of stifle injections, and 4 days before his neck began causing severe symptoms.
1. Continue to manage Pig appropriately as a riding horse, and stay within my budget. Research ways to keep me more comfortable while doing his feet, and better ways to keep him pain free while working hard.
(3) -- I did the best I could with this goal. Everything I could manage was done timely and well. I did manage to snag a hoof stand from a friend of a friend, which has made a huge difference to my knees and has made doing feet much easier on me. Unfortunately, nothing could help the progression of Pig's neck arthritis, and I was forced to retire him. I spent more money on vets than I ever thought possible, but he kept giving me his all until he couldn't. At the moment he is as pain free as possible and living a life he adores. I could not do more for him.
Working in the double like a champion.
Photo by Liz Stout
2. Continue to finesse Pig's understanding in the double. He really started to get it this year, and I would like to see how much better he and I can get with the tool.
(5) This was a total success. At the start of the year, Pig was training the best he ever had and doing it in the double. I felt completely confident in it, and he was extremely comfortable with it. In fact, after I retired him his double became his daily bridle for my rides with him!
His changes got so good for a minute there!
3. Get those 3 changes across the diagonal for 4-1 without totally losing our brain.
(3) Oh man, those three changes. I do not miss working on those suckers! To start, I got the changes, but they were a big swerving mess. Then I tried to straighten them and they disappeared completely. Finally in our last show ever, I rode them like I didn't even care and they were pretty solid (for us).
Confirmed 4th level pair!
4. Show 4-1 at a recognized show.
(5) Not only did we show it, but we actually squeaked out a 60%! Yay silver medal score!
Getting that 4-1 score!
Photo by Liz Stout
5. Get the 4th level scores for my silver.
(3) Literally halfway there. The 59% on the better test of our second show hurts. It hurts real bad.
Retirement was a hard adjustment for us both.
6. Develop plan going forward with Pig. Will he be leased? Will he be retired? His work days are still coming to a close.
(5) Successfully retired to pasture and loving his feral life, where I'm the only human he has to interact with. It's heaven on earth for Pig.

2017 Personal Goals
This is a photo of running. It's just not me doing the running...
Photo by Liz Stout
1. Average 10-15 miles a week when running.
(4) Toward the end of the year, I had this down. I also ran a few really successful months in the Spring. Still, I needed to be more consistent, and December was a total bust. Lyra ended up having dental surgery and we struggled with weather, time, traveling, and health concerns all month. This meant I missed my mid-year goal of running 400 miles in 2017 by about 25 miles. Ouch. So close!
This dude doesn't need the gym to look buff.
2. Average 2-3 trips to the gym to lift, weekly.
(0) Nope. Ended up cancelling my gym membership and trying to get back into doing bodyweight work at home. Lifting is so fun, but I didn't have the mental capacity this year to will myself into the gym.
Another thing I'll never do.
Photo by Liz Stout
3. Run from my house to Meridian Hill Park and back. (12 miles total city running, with several huge hills)
(0) This isn't ever going to happen. The paths are impossible and I don't have the time. Plus, I'm moving.
This guy is way faster than me.
Photo by Liz Stout
4. Improve my running time back to an 8:30 minute mile pace. 
(1) I did have a few runs at this pace, but mostly I hovered around the 9 minute range. I need to lift more to drop my average more, and speed ended up not being my goal. Turns out it was more important for me to just put one foot in front of the other.
I spent a lot of time dreaming of magical times with my best partner.
Photo by Liz Stout
5. Keep average hours of sleep daily above 7 hours for a week.
(4) I actually did much better about this all year. Some months were better than others, but if there's one thing having your life turned upside down and shaken does for you is depress you into sleeping more. Yay?
Okay, fine, I read a lot of shitty fantasy novels that I won't mention....
Photo by Liz Stout
6. Read 12 books this year. 
(5) Huge success! I read 18 books and listened to 20 (including the entirety of Sherlock Holmes, because I drive a lot). I made it a goal to read 10 minutes a day, and that helped me actually make time to read. It's surprising how often 10 minutes of reading can turn into 20, and it feels like a much better use of time than scrolling through social media.
For those of you who like to read, here's a list of my favorite books I read: Hild, by Nicola Griffith; The Books of Ages, the Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore; A Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. My favorite listens included: Watership Down, by Richard Adams; Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy; Sherlock Holmes (the entirety of it), narrated by Stephen Fry; A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge; The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. If you pick one of these up, let me know how you like it!
Try to always take selfies with friends
Photo by Liz Stout
7. Stay open to the moments that present themselves. Don't forget to make time for friends and a personal life. It's necessary to keep me grounded.
(1) I failed big time here, mostly because it was an effort to keep myself going for most of the year. I hope all the time I spent incredibly depressed didn't drive away too many people. This year I hope to do better, but I know it will be a struggle.
The friends I wish I was heading into the new year beside.
It's funny that the start of 2017 left me feeling Pig was better than ever, and only a few short months later he was telling me I needed to start finding him a retirement landing. I had no real idea I would end the year without my best dog and my best horse by my side, but here I am trying to start over and keep a positive face on it. This past year was a bitch and a half, and I'm glad to leave it to memories and instead look forward to 2018.

2018 Riding / Horse Goals
Happy. Healthy. Retired.
1. Keep Pig happy and healthy as long as I can, and not go completely destitute to do it.

2. Take Pig out on the trail system backing up to the farm, which means I need to find someone there to show me the way.
Oh yeah! This guy.
2. Get Bast comfortable hacking on one of the medium length regular trails I would take Pig. Alternatively, hack him out 3x a month and actually leave the barn property alone without a total meltdown.

3. Take Bast off the property 2-3 times, including to a show. He needs to start figuring out how to travel to a new location and be a good citizen away from home.
More of this!
4. Take 4-5 dressage lessons with Bast.
We have a square ... ish halt.
5. Show Bast training level at 2 schooling shows, aiming for scores above 64%.
6. Find a saddle that actually fits Bast and myself, and procure it.
7. Develop Bast's connection so that he is working over his back and salivating on the bit regularly, aiming to have him ready for 1st level by the end of the year.

2018 Personal Goals

1. Run 500 miles.
2. Downsize the house and move into a 1 bedroom apartment, consolidating commutes and improving commute/life balance.
3. Read 12 more books (maybe less trashy fantasy this year, if I'm feeling up for it).
4. Keep on top of my health. I need to stop the pattern of getting laid out by a really horrific illness once or twice a year.
5. Maybe get a second dog, and if so successfully assimilate it into daily life.
6. Stay open to the moments that present themselves. Don't forget to make time for friends and a personal life. It's necessary to keep me grounded.
Come on 2018, we've got things to do!
Photo by Liz Stout

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Bast and the October Olivia LaGoy Weltz Lesson

I felt a little dumb bringing a barely broke baby thoroughbred to a lesson with a big name dressage rider. I mean, he could barely do a 20 meter circle without falling on his face. His brakes were non-existent. He had developed a tendency to panic when working away from his herdmates. Plus, we had only worked back up to 30 minutes of riding, mostly at the walk with a little trot. There was no way we would even manage to canter. Yet here I was, walking into the ring to meet Olivia LaGoy Weltz.
Olivia, meet Bast. Bast, meet dressage lessons.
I started my description to Olivia by saying "We are probably the greenest pair you're going to see today." I then started in explaining how Bast had just under 2 months of retraining from the track under his belt, and had recently begun exhibiting an inclination toward severe buddy sourness. I explained his lack of self confidence and tendency to tune me out completely, withdrawing into himself just before making exceptionally poor life decisions.
"Hai. This is my baby with baggage. Plz halp."
While I'm pretty sure Olivia thought I was insane for bringing such a mess of a young horse to a clinic, she was gracious and complimentary of Bast. She liked his build and seemed impressed by how far along he was in his retraining already. She watched us walk and trot around the ring some with minimal input, then set to work.

She started by suggesting I contact someone to help me do more groundwork, an idea I heartily agreed with. I am not an expert in groundwork, and definitely think it's important to admit where our weaknesses are as riders and trainers.
I am definitely not a pro rider or trainer.
In the meantime, Olivia settled on a set of skills we could teach Bast to help me communicate with him more effectively. She zeroed in on his resistance to bending and the tension he carries in his neck when asked to turn or give to pressure.

"Can you try turning his head a little to the inside and gently putting pressure on, sort of thinking of doing the world's biggest turn on the forehand?"
"Uh? Sure?"
So off we went working on exploring reactions to bend and leg pressure. To start, things were really simple. All I needed to think was "push the butt out and bring the head in." It was a bit hard for me as a rider, as Olivia wanted me to forget my more advanced turning aids. I needed to use only the inside rein, and forget about the outside rein for a bit.

The goal was to teach him to give to the rein pressure and release the base of his neck, starting to swing over his back and reaching up under himself with his hind end.
Resistant through the neck, and dropping through the inside.
Beginning to give through the base of his neck and lift through his inside to keep himself from falling in.
Bast proved, again, to be a very quick learner. We worked to be very obvious with the pressure and release to teach him that giving to pressure is the easiest option. He started to figure out pressure from the rein fast, but pressure from the leg seemed harder to comprehend.
"What is this leg you speak of?"
In the video below, you can see how we started working with Bast on this project:
Once he was getting the hang of working a the walk, we experimenting at the trot. Olivia was really considerate before asking me to trot, making sure I would be okay with him going faster. I was interested to try applying pressure at the trot, especially because I wanted to see how we could handle his tendency to speed up and try to straighten himself out.

I was so disappointed with my own riding at the trot, though. Especially to the left, I found it very hard to stay straight and with the motion as we worked on the exercise. Clearly I need more yoga and ab building time. I hate being a weak rider.
Stiff and trying to be straight.
I knew teaching Bast to accept bending aids at the trot would really help me teach him to listen and relax in tough moments. Plus, it's kind of important for beginning his education as a dressage horse.
So cute when he's not stiff as a board and resisting.
Just like every brand new OTTB I've ever worked with, Bast was pretty resistant when we began this exercise. He would do his best to stiffen his neck and rip his head to the outside. Staying quiet and patient was key here. Plus, every time he would stiffen and twist away, I would apply my leg and weight to encourage him to step under to the inside and have to balance himself the right way.

Not allowing him to simply escape the rein was also key. I wasn't rough in the slightest, I simply did not allow the reins to be pulled from my hands and kept the pressure as steady as possible when he was not giving. I was also very generous with the praise and release when he would get things right.
Keeping the head turned.
Once he started to give some, we were able to identify his unique issues. No horse is the same on the left and right. One side is always more hollow than the other. One side is always more stiff.
With Bast, we discovered he tended to be much more hollow to the right. He would bulge his shoulder and over bend his neck, not allowing the bend to travel through his body. Olivia had me work through this with more inside rein, but she did say I should start working on getting him to accept outside rein more to the right.
Note the shoulder falling out.
At the moment of training he was in during this lesson, she was cautious about adding too much outside rein. Instead we both preferred to use inside rein and inside leg to allow him to have an "out" and not feel too trapped in the aids.

As we went on, Bast grasped the idea so well we were able to add a bit of outside rein with good effect. I really only added it to the right, but started to get the idea and felt capable of adding it on my own.
Outside rein to the rescue!
One thing I liked about this lesson, it gave me a great way to diffuse Bast when he got going too fast. When we worked at the trot, he would get faster, but turning him in steeper caused him to slow gradually in a more thinking fashion. Olivia encouraged me to praise Bast during these slow downs, and allow him to rest when he slowed on his own to think. He hadn't quite figured out the link between slowing and praise and rest by the time we quit, but I knew a little more time could get him to think positively about those two things.

Toward the end of the lesson, the next horse came into the ring and Bast tried his best to melt down. He screamed, and wiggled, and his attention kept completely fraying. However, the tools Olivia had taught us continued to keep him rideable, and brought his attention back to the task. While frustrating he kind of lost it at the end, the event gave me a lot of confidence in Olivia's methods.
Good baby pony
I left the lesson feeling good about this baby horse. I had been so worried it would have been a pointless lesson, as Bast was so green. Instead I left with a really useful tool and a clearer view of how to shape my little horse's training in the time ahead. Olivia helped me shape how to use pressure and praise to shape Bast's behavior without leading to fights or stress. What more could I ask for?!

Anyone else have a similar experience when taking a lesson you came into totally unprepared? 

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Training Progression of Bast: Part 4, The Problems

As I alluded to in the last post, this recap of Bast's training progression is not going to be a lot of sunshine and rainbows. Every training process can expect to hit some bumpy sections, and a retraining process can often experience more issues. Horses relearning a career can get frustrated or lose confidence. As such, I wasn't surprised when a lot of the issues I've run into with Bast have dealt with insecurity and a tendency to be a bit herd bound.

However, I can't say that lack of surprise has meant I haven't found some of his issues to be challenging and a bit scary.
Are you ready for drama?!
The insecurity has been apparent since day one. Bast hasn't been quick develop a trusting relationship to the human on the other end of the line, in addition his ability to "self soothe" seemed limited. Any situation that made him uncomfortable (a horse in turnout trotting the fence line toward him, his pasture mates spooking and making a ruckus) would cause him to withdraw inside himself. He would get very quiet, and his body would go rigid.

Thankfully, he is not a very spooky horse. (As an aside: Pig by contrast is a spooky horse. It's funny how spookiness alone does not define how dangerous a horse can seem to a person.) We ran across very few situations where Bast struggled in an uncomfortable place when he first arrived. Perhaps this was because everything was overwhelming, and he was basically in solitary confinement and had only myself to rely on.

Once he was turned out in field board, however? Issues started to manifest.
"Bletch. Changes."
When I bought Bast, his owner/breeder disclosed to me that he had a history of bolting on the track. I dug up his old racing videos to see if I could find mention of what she meant. While bolting mid race can be hard to spot (uh, hello, isn't the point to go fast?), there was plenty of evidence:
Check out that little #1 horse in the bottom left corner. Notice that jockey almost fall off the back of that little bastard in an attempt to slow him mid-bolt. Yee. Haw.
In almost every single one of Bast's races, he seems to break from the gate in a sheer panic then bolt headlong down the track. Usually he would wear himself out before the actual race began, and would finish last. When his jockey would ask him to swap leads, he would clearly be unable to listen-- instead he was just completely shut down mentally and running.

So, uh, that's cool.

I had figured most of this was due to anxiety about other horses, and I figured I would work on that and see how he handled things. The de-sensitization to working around other horses was going fantastically, and Bast had never shown me an indication to bolt. He would get fast sometimes, or bulge a bit. But that was really the worst he'd ever shown me.

Until that day in early October when all hell broke loose and he started running...
I don't know what you're talking about, Lady. This looks fine to me..."
Okay... I feel I should back track.

See, before there was bolting, there was another problem. Remember when I talked about introducing Bast to field board? I mentioned he became besties with one of the other horses in his field?
Look at them. They're so cute... sorta.
Well, actually. Bast decided their relationship went beyond besties and he went full on stalker. I'm not sure if he became so attached to his new turnout friend because he hadn't been turned out much in recent years, or because he was stressed and this horse matched his nervous energy. What I do know is that Bast morphed into a confirmed Stage 5 Clinger practically overnight.
Sigh.
 Things got so bad that my barn mate and I joked Bast had his head up Ari's ass. Then, of course, this happened...
Are you fucking kidding me horse?! That is not a good place to take a nap!
Which of course led to this ...
No. You're shitting me. Omg. What even is this life?
Things would break down when I would take Bast out of the field. He would scream constantly. He would overreact every time the horses in the field would move. He would tend to drag me around trying to return to the safety of his best friend's side. One particular day I ended up getting dragged across the property at the end of a lunge line, ripping off several nails because I refused to let go. Yet, he was still okay under saddle for the most part.

However, all that ended the day we went out into the nearby field along with my friend and Bast's favorite (and literal, sigh) butt buddy. When my friend and her horse (you know, the light and peace of Bast's heart) walked away, Bast literally dropped his brains out onto the floor.
I felt his hind end drop and his head came back into my lap and he squeezed his eyes shut and started running. My first thought as we began hurtling across the field?

"Welp, I found the bolt."

My second thought?

"OMFG HOW DO I STOP THIS THING?!"
Actual footage of me trying to pull up Bast.
See, there's one thing about a true bolting horse: You can't stop them. Sometimes you can steer them, but you can't just pull them up. So, thanking my stars that Bast is a smallish horse, I proceeded to tell the screaming child in my head to shut up a minute and attempted to influence his trajectory. Thankfully, I was able to turn him into an ever tightening circle until he had to stop.
We ended up staying out in that field for a long time, going through several all out bolts. Finally I managed to get a bit of civilized walk that didn't morph into a mindless race to oblivion and shakily dismounted.

Guys, it's confession time. See. I have this secret: I. HATE. BOLTERS.

I have this theory that everyone has at least one thing that makes them wet their pants in pure terror. For me? That's bolting. If I feel like I don't have brakes on a horse, I immediately break out into a sweat of pure fear. I contemplate leaping off, no matter how fast the horse is covering ground. It's my biggest fear.
Pictured: the most fun horse in the world with the absolute best set of brakes around.
So, over my beer and shaking nerves that first night I thought over my problems. While the bolting scared the crap out of me, I knew Bast had it in him to be a sweet and thinking baby horse with a lot of potential. Maybe it was the beer talking, but I decided not to put him aside just because of some bolting.

"With some work," I thought. "We can get through this." So I started thinking of a plan.
"Come on, little man. Work with me here."
... To be continued

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