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? 


  1. Finding someone to help with the groundwork is a great idea. I don't know what it's like in your area but here we have a bunch of people who can. Some are far too harsh (IMO) but there has been a growth in really good ones. I was fortunate to find someone who could come to my place and work with both of us to help. I have to say that it has made the biggest difference. Bast looks really nice at moments and I'm betting he will be a whole new horse in a couple of months.

  2. That's great she was willing to work with you guys and actually give you some really useful stuff!

  3. Lol this sounds way more useful than getting jogged around in hand when bringing a too-green horse to a clinic.

    1. I just laughed out loud Emma at your reply here. I forgot about that. Austen I think that was so great she helped you guys so much! I mean you are paying for her time so i am glad she made it worthwhile. YAY Bast (and you). I see moments there, shining moments are coming! :)

  4. I love groundwork for letting the horse figure it out, without the added worry of balancing a rider, and allowing the horse to use and develop the proper muscles. It totally transformed my Tesla :)

  5. Really cool lesson and what a great experience!

  6. Hahaha I took my baby mare to a clinic with possibly less training than Mr. Bast and yeah, it ended up being a great experience.

  7. Fascinating to watch - and I wouldn't ever feel weird bringing a green horse to a clinic with a top rider - you're just at a different place on the training scale. So important to start them correctly, why not ask for help from the experts? I used ground work with both my ottbs. One was a lot like Bast - a bit insecure- and I did ground work with him to teach him to seek confidence with me. My current ottb ( my first one has since passed away) thinks he is lord and king of the world and we do groundwork before each ride to lay down the law a bit, that I'm actually in charge. So much can be communicated by just moving their feet -I am a huge proponent of ground work. It a good way to communicate with them before every ride. You guys are doing great - love watching - thanks for sharing.

  8. That sounds like a super helpful lesson! Love the progress that you made!

  9. I love when a clinician listens and is so super at not having a prescribed lesson for the day. It sounds like she was really able to help you! Bast looks great and I agree with her that he looks fantastic for just 2 months off the track!

  10. My first clinic with my baby race horse I felt totally under prepared and scared I was going to hurt him! I had only cantered 2 times with him before the clinic. It was helpful to have a fresh set of eyes being willing to tell me what the foundations needed to be with my new guy. I found it very beneficial.

  11. It says a lot about Olivia as a horsewoman and clinician that she's able to work with vastly different skill levels and leave everyone with the feeling that something was learned and accomplished!


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