11.15.2016

Zero Fox Given

11

Before we begin, this is the second part in a two part series on Fiction's advancement in training. Click here for the first part.

Also, thanks for the guesses! Most people guessed turnout and ulcer treatment. Fiction's turnout hasn't changed, but his ulcers are definitely gone, and while I'm sure he's more comfortable, it is only a small part to the ultimate solution (as in, ulcer problem was fixed several months ago, work ethic/personality change occurred recently).

I'm going to break this down a bit by explaining what went wrong/right in the three color coded sections of his history.

Red

    • Shitty backwards training. Shitty riding. Shitty instruction.
      • Three years with no backwards/damaging change? Screen your trainers, folks. It's important.
      • I was fucking over-horsed. You all were thinking it. It took me a fair bit before I realized it. Professional training and instruction should have helped, but, well, we all see how that went.
3 years of this. I had to have nerves of steel or I could have never survived riding this horse.

THIS is the jump we nearly had a rotational fall on (and we were trotting it!). That's how much of a flipping crazy idiot this horse used to be.

Yellow
    • New environment - Fiction significantly less stressed. Me too, for that matter.
    • New instructor that fits well with us, but way fewer lessons than we really needed (not by choice, by schedule).
    • Ulcers/barefoot issues.
More agreeable but still tense :(
Green
    • More lessons.
    • Trainer rides.
    • Complete 100% change in attitude and approach towards training/riding.

That last one is highlighted because it is key to the changes I have experienced. I spent three years blundering through, riding my horse like an ignorant dead weight and blindly following advice and training I should not have followed. I got incredibly defensive. The more defensive I got, the more Fiction overreacted. He became bridle-shy.

When I realized how horrible our training situation was and how I had pretty much been complacent in the breaking of my horse, (there is no disputing this - my new instructor has been very candid with me), I broke down. I refused to touch his mouth. I plodded along on his back and treated him like a delicate snowflake. Fear of breaking him or of stressing him ruled each ride. I was afraid to challenge him in any way.

Yeah. No. That shit doesn't work.

Back from our first lesson with the new instructor. You can clearly see just how damaged my riding seat is.
So, Fiction took complete advantage of this. Not touching his mouth and treating him like he's made of glass did nothing but completely ruin his trust in me. How could he trust me to lead him when I was afraid to take charge? Why should he work for me when I can't give clear, concise instruction?

Then he bucked me off. And I got angry. Really freaking angry. I completely disconnected from him. I'm still disconnected - right now he is nothing more than a resale project to me. The thing is, that is the mindset I needed to make this work. The more feelings and fear I put into my interactions with Fiction, the less of a leader I became. The less trust he had in me.
This was us on a good day back in the Red.
I threw my reins at my trainer and asked her to take over. She rode him three times, told me that he is an asshole, and that I need to be an asshole back. That is the only language that is going to get through to him.

But how could I be an asshole without reverting back to what had happened before? Simple. When he's being an asshole, respond firmly, and then immediately release when he gives in.

Let me give you some examples.

    • Fiction spooks at something, per usual. Say it's poles (he abhors poles). Guess what? He gets to trot/canter/walk over those poles in a thousand different directions without stopping until he relaxes. Doesn't matter how long it takes. Doesn't matter if we end up going through them sideways. Or maybe it's a drag mark in the arena he's terrified of. Guess what? He gets kicked over it again and again until he relaxes. Forward, forward, forward. No halting and letting him eyeball it. No pats and scratches as he snorts at the scary shit. No. He goes over it or past it until it is no longer a problem. The firmer I am, the faster he chills out and gets on with his job. I treat it like a life or death situation. He doesn't get to be scared. If he's not in actual danger, he has to work when I say work, no excuses.

    • Fiction flails when I ask him to do something, or shoots forward when I ask for the canter, or kicks out, or something stupid when we are working that was not caused by me. In essence: he acts like an ass because he doesn't want to do something. Too bad. I immediately make the work 100000x harder. If we're on a circle, he gets put on the tiniest circle possible, haunches in, exaggerated inside bend, until he yields. The moment he yields, I yield, move out on the circle, and give him a pat. There is no stopping if he acts up. I don't care if the work is hard (Newsflash - it's not. He's perfectly capable of it. He's just throwing a fit because he doesn't want to do it). I don't care if he gets upset because he doesn't want to move over and I refuse to relinquish my inside leg. If he is not in physical pain he must follow orders. If I stopped working every time my horse threw a fit because the work load was increasing and straining his body or brain, then we would never get anywhere. It's similar to working out with a personal trainer at the gym. You'll never improve if you don't pass your limits. In the case with a horse, you must push them and they must accept it. They don't push themselves (at least, mine doesn't. He would be a pasture puff if possible).

    • He is never allowed to lean on me. Ever. He's a big boy. He can carry himself. My arms and hands are not there to carry him. They can support him from time to time, but they are not a security blanket. Every time he attempts to lean, I change the bend for a few strides and then change it back. This helps unlock his neck and jaw. He's barely leaning on me anymore and it's only been two months of reminders.

    • We do a lot more lateral work now. Over-exaggerate the bend but make sure he doesn't start using that as an evasion as well (he's so freaking smart it boggles my mind sometimes). Warm-up is nothing but lateral work. Shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, leg yield, side pass, etc. This gets him off my leg. If he doesn't respect my leg, we get absolutely nowhere. Light touch, followed by stronger touch, followed by kick if he doesn't comply. Leg isn't removed or relieved until he yields. Two months in and I no longer have to use spurs or a whip. He went from being a dead-leg horse to a horse that responds very quickly to a leg aid.

    • Lots of walk breaks. His work is mentally taxing now. That doesn't at all excuse any tantrums he throws, but I recognize this problem and I make sure to compensate with lots of walking. Some trot work, walk. Some canter work, walk. This keeps him happy and calm and acts as a reset button. However, under no circumstances do I stop if he throws a hissy fit because he is mentally tired. He must first yield and give me one or two good strides, and then he can have a break. It's important to be able to recognize the signs. I keep track of how he is feeling. It's not hard - I know him extremely well after four years.

    • I trust him. Trust will never be 100% with horses, but if I don't put faith in his capability to do something, or in his capability to expand beyond his current mental and physical restrictions, then how will he have faith in himself? This horse has a huge history of just bolting off at the cantering and careening around. By learning to trust him to handle himself, he in turn trusts me to not ride defensively. It's a win-win.

And that's it. Applying these principles has effectively changed my horse into a completely new animal in two months. He is happy. He loves greeting me in the field now, cuddles with me in the crossties, stands still for me to get on him in the saddle, doesn't pin his ears at all while under saddle, no kicks, no bucks, etc. Floppy ears all the time. Not all the kinks are worked out, of course, but we have years of crap to undo, so I don't expect over-night miracles.

Just a filler pic haha.
I've redefined our relationship. I'm the drill sergeant and he is the private. He does what I say, when I say it. He's not allowed to be scared. He's not allowed to spook. He's not allowed to act up. He's not allowed to quit. He is to work.

That being said, I make sure to praise him liberally. I also keep an eye out for when he's just not in the mood to play. For example, the other night he was obviously in a bad mood, but he did everything I asked without a fuss. So I cut our ride short and gave him lots of love. If he tries and isn't an asshole, there is no need to push him when he isn't feeling well mentally. Still, if he had acted up under saddle, I would have followed all of my above advice until he yielded. He can be in a bad mood, but he still needs to work when I ask him to work. And in return I will respect his mental well being and refrain from working him hard when he is having a bad day.

In the end, Fiction must work when I ask him to work. If he doesn't the workload increases and increases until he yields and works. I cannot tell you just how more relaxed Fiction actually is now. Why? Because he finally recognizes me as a leader. He can trust me to relay instructions with absolute confidence. I only deal in absolutes. And, because of this new mindset, we have developed a stronger bond than we ever had before.



So, while I still joke every day about selling him, in my heart I know he's here to stay. We've finally developed mutual respect for each other. I'm still reconnecting with him in a way, but it is nice to have a partner that shows up ready to work and ready to please.

It's a type of serenity I never thought we would achieve. And it's all because I decided to stop treating him like a delicate little snowflake and started treating him like the smart, capable, beautiful animal that he is.

This probably wasn't the answer anyone expected. And my situation is different from a lot of people. But, basically, I have found that the more I treat the relationship with my horse as a work relation rather than an emotional relation, the deep our partnership grows. This sport is too expensive and dangerous to not be 100% in charge, especially with a sensitive jerk-horse like Fiction.

Note: I'll be recruiting someone to video me this Saturday, so I will have comparison videos up hopefully next week.

11.11.2016

Four Years With an Overreactive OTTB

16

I'm going to try and make this short and to the point.

Here. Have a puppy picture.
Timeline
    • Fiction purchased September 2012. No formal training. Off the track, sitting for a year in a field. I hadn't ridden in 5 years. I'm green & Fiction is green.
    • Two months after purchase, Fiction goes into three months of professional training with my last trainer.
    • Two and a half years pass of mostly once-a-week lessons, sometimes once-every-two-weeks lessons, with two more months of professional training interspersed.
    • I stop taking lessons & stop training for 6 months.
    • November 2015 - move to the new barn. Take a couple lessons with new trainer before she leaves to go down south.
    • Marchish 2016 - Trainer comes back. We take lessons 1x month (not by choice) for a while. Halfway through the year we change to 2x a month.
    • July 2016 - Fiction goes barefoot for a month.
    • August 2016 - Fiction bucks me off for the very first time.
    • August/September 2016 - Fiction gets three trainer rides.
    • September to Now - Lessons 2x a month.

Color Code

Red - Fiction is an absolute nutcase. Constant flailing/tossing his head, pinning ears, mini-bucking, running off on me, etc. Jumping is dangerous. We nearly have a rotational fall over a tiny log. People are constantly amazed at how I managed to stay on this psycho horse. Every ride is a battle. Trail rides are nightmares. (Summary: approximately 2 1/2 years)

Yellow - Fiction is calmer. Trail rides are amazing. We've quit jumping for the most part, but when we do, he is pretty chill. We still struggle in our lessons because he is a hot nightmare, but we begin to see very minute improvements. He is dead to my legs and heavy in my hands and rides are still an exhausting battle. He also manages to still overreact to every little movement I make. (Summary: A bit less than a year)

Green - Fiction is a flipping saint. Easy on the legs. Light in the hands. Soft, flexible, and responsive. He listens to me, enjoys his work, and is happy. (Summary: A couple of months)

So WTF changed?

If you want, feel free to take your best guess and leave it in the comments. I'll be going into depth about this topic in the next post, but it is likely to be long and detailed, so I wanted to break it up a bit.

11.10.2016

What We've Been Up To

13

I apologize for the lull in posting. I'm still reading blogs (and sometimes commenting), and I'm still riding and taking lessons, but blogging hasn't really been a priority lately. Primarily because everything is going so wonderfully that every post would be 'Fiction was amazing today.' Those get exhausting to read and write haha.


So, let me recap the last month or so.

    • Fiction has been amazing. People stop me at the barn all the time to comment on the change. I have a completely different horse. Long gone are the days of 20 minute warm-ups just to get to a spot where we can work on something. Now I can hop on and he's agreeable, flexible, and ready to go. I can canter on a circle on the buckle with his head practically between his legs while I work on my seat without a care in the world. (This actually brought tears to my eyes a few weeks ago). I would now consider us relatively competitive at First Level (though he needs quite a bit more work done, for sure), if he behaves at the show as he is doing at home.
    • The change in my seat and riding has been dramatic. I can feel things I never felt before. I can apply my legs in the right areas without even thinking. My arms/wrists/hands are no longer overly busy and rigid. My back is flexible and my sitting trot has vastly improved. I need a lot more work at the canter, but part of that involved improving the gait too.
    • Fiction got some new clothes - a new cooler and new set of blankets. He's also getting some fancy shoes put on soon. And he got clipped, but I can see now that I'll be clipping again in a month. He's still growing an annoying amount of hair.


    • Battling accutane has been exhausting. I have no appetite and no will to ride. I have to force myself to go out, so riding dropped from 4-5x a week to 2-3x a week. I've been on accutane nearly a month now and I'm finally regaining my energy and appetite, but the dosage will be upped in a week so who knows how that will effect me :(
    • I've been taking a lot of me time. Playing video games, reading books, buying things I want. It's amazing how I struggle to spend money on myself but don't bat an eye on dropping $300 for new blankets for my horse. I recently had a Treat Yo'self day at a comic con where I spent about $250 on semi-custom art pieces. It felt nice to indulge in something for myself for a change.
    • And, this is no secret to people at my barn, but riding horses just isn't my priority in life right now. I'm still not sure if this is an accumulated effect from drugs/SAD/a current restlessness in my life, but it's there. I'm trekking through it.



Anyways, I have a fairly interesting reflection post coming up, but I hope to have video comparisons of Fiction loaded first so that I can better support some of my points. I need to find someone to video me though, which is easier said than done!