Baron: Before and After

I was looking through old blog posts and old riding videos and I have to say we’ve come a long way. When I bought Baron 6 years ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew enough to take good care of him and keep him healthy, but not enough to ride him well. I hadn’t ridden since I was a kid, and even then I rode little horses, nothing big and exuberant like Baron. I still have a long, long way to go and Baron does too, but it’s nice to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come.

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after

Pretty big difference, right?

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New Bit, New Horse

So I got a new bit. I’ve had Baron for 6 years and I’ve ridden him in a slow twist since the beginning. It was recommended by my trainer so that I would have some brakes on him. He was headstrong and fast at the beginning, especially out in the open or on a trail. Now that we’ve been together for so long, he’s mellowed out and I’m a more competent rider. I thought it was time to move to a softer bit so I switched out the slow twist for a plain snaffle.

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I had a feeling his bit was bothering him because he’s been opening his mouth a lot, particularly at the canter. I try hard not to hang on his mouth, but I’m at best an intermediate rider and my hands are not perfectly quiet all the time. He doesn’t try and evade contact by throwing his head in the air or ducking behind the vertical, and I want to reward him for his good behavior. I want him to be as comfortable as possible.

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Yesterday I hopped on him bareback in the pasture with the new bit. HOLY MOLY, what a difference! He immediately lowered his head and accepted the contact. I only rode for 5 minutes, just enough to see how he felt. This morning we did an hour ride alone through the woods, out onto the street, around a vacant lot and back through the woods. Sometimes he gets really strong on the trail, and I wanted to see if I could keep him under control. He also gets strong in the vacant lot. It’s huge and flat and perfect for schooling, but he always wants to canter and take off. I needed to see how he would do with the new bit.

He was close to perfect the entire ride. On the trails he was relaxed with a lowered head and active walk. He didn’t look twice at such terrifying specters as mud puddles and a pack of murderous deer that ran right across the trail. He crossed a rocky, dried up little stream like an old pack mule. We jumped two logs, trotted beautifully and cantered under complete control. It was the first time we had jumped anything in two years!

Once we got to the vacant lot, he trotted and cantered really well to the left. We had some moments of total perfection going left- neck arched gracefully, steady, controlled steps, ears pricked forward like he was having fun. He got irritated about going to the right and I noticed some major counter bending. He was high headed and fussy for a few minutes, but he did calm back down.

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It was such an enjoyable ride. He is FUN to ride. Sometimes I wonder if I should have bought a quiet, lazy quarter horse that would pack me around without as much effort on my part. But Baron is teaching me how to really RIDE! I notice things like counter bending and stiffness to one side. Instead of just trying not to fall off at the canter, I’m actually riding it and influencing my horse positively! It feels good to improve. We have a long way to go, but today I couldn’t have been prouder of him!

Sunrise Ride: Totally Worth It!

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I rode at 6 this morning. I’m not a morning person, so that’s hard for me. But it was totally worth it. First we did our farthest ever off-property ride. About a 10 minute ride from my barn is a huge grassy lot that is currently empty. I’m sure it will be developed soon, but until then it is the perfect riding spot- grassy and flat! Baron was AWESOME. We passed lots of scary things- cars, early morning power walkers, trash cans, church signs, etc… He was very calm and level headed about it. When we got to the empty lot, he amped up the excitement level. There’s something about a wide open space that makes him want to RUN. I kept him mostly to a walk, let him trot a little, but didn’t do any cantering. Then he walked back to the barn like a champ, only bunny hopping once when a trash can fell over.

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Once back at the barn, we did a little trot work. He was moving so nicely after hacking out. He was relaxed at the walk and trot and just an absolute joy to ride. My biggest hurdle today was my fitness level. My legs get tired and my riding gets sloppy! I need to get back in shape in a hurry.

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I’m just so happy with how we’re progressing. He looks like a completely different horse than he used to, and my riding is improving slowly but surely. He’s a rock star. I’m so in love.

Did I buy the right horse?

After my crappy lesson on Thursday, I was a bit disheartened and thinking, I have bought the wrong horse, I am not experienced enough to handle this crazy racehorse, my horse has loads of problems that I am not experienced enough to fix. Oh no, in a nutshell. It seems like whenever I get discouraged and think these kinds of things, something happens to reassure me that I did indeed buy the right horse for me. That reassurance came on Saturday.

I took Baron out to the round pen to lunge him and do some groundwork. He half heartedly walked when I asked him to, but wouldn’t trot more than a few steps. I don’t blame him; it was hot and his back was still bothering him. This was before the chiro had adjusted him. I gave up on the lunging and decided to do something else. I’m not sure how I did it, but I got Baron to follow me around the round pen. I would weave left and right and he stuck right behind me. Parelli calls this the “Stick to Me” game. I was also getting him to back up and move away from me just by motioning with my hands, not actually touching him. He was responsive and listening to me, and following me around because he wanted to. He likes me. I bought the right horse.

I heart the horse chiropractor.

At my last lesson Baron was a pill. My trainer thinks he has a sore back, so on Sunday I got the chiropractor out to adjust him. The chiropractor happens to be my boss’s brother and we were at a pool party at my boss’s house. I talked the chiro into leaving the party in his flip flops and board shorts and driving the 10 minutes to my barn to adjust Baron. It’s amazing what a little flirting will accomplish. 🙂

The adjustment was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I get adjusted regularly and totally believe in chiropractic, but it was amazing to see how quickly my horse responded. The chiro adjusted Baron’s right hip, his knee and several spots in his neck and back. Baron licked his lips, chewed, shook his head and started getting that half-open, drowsy look in his eyes. When the chiro stepped away from him, Baron turned to follow him. I could tell he felt better immediately. Now that he’s been adjusted, I’m hoping our rides will improve and his trot will become more even. I’m going to give him the week off and not ride until Saturday, just do groundwork.

I am supposed to go on a trail ride Saturday at a trail near my barn. I’m going with my friend Gary and his wife who also board at my barn. One of their horses is Brooke, the black paint mare that is Baron’s best friend. Their other horse is Rumble, who was with us when I fell off last time. I have some strategies to keep Baron under better control this time. First, I bought a western bridle with a curb chain. Gary recommended this to me since I know nothing about western tack. The curb chain is supposed to stop a horse on a dime. So I’ll be riding my English saddle with a western bridle, which is tacky, but oh well.  I will also make sure that Baron is at the back of the line so that he can’t take off. Some people would say that I shouldn’t trail ride, but how is he ever going to acclimate to trail riding if I never take him on a trail? I have to start somewhere and I’m taking all the precautions I can think of.

Horses will teach you patience.

I rode Baron on Tuesday and then had a lesson on Thursday. The ride went very well, the lesson not so much. On Tuesday, I rode in the round pen and did walk/trot transitions. It was probably the best ride I’ve had yet. I took him out of the pasture to ride, and sometimes this gets him agitated to the point that he spends the whole ride calling to his buddies across the fence. On Tuesday, however, he was relaxed and focused on me.  He wasn’t rushing at the trot; he settled into a nice, even pace and paid attention when I half halted him. I was thrilled!

On Thursday, I trailered to another barn for a lesson in their big arena. He loaded onto the trailer perfectly and was much calmer than last time when we arrived at the other barn. That part went well. Trotting on the lunge line did not go well. He was rushing and seemed agitated. He was also holding his head up to avoid contact with the bit. The whole point of the lesson was for me to learn how to ride with contact. He was throwing his head in the air and hollowing out his back. At first my trainer, Mary, thought I was being heavy handed with him, hanging on the reins, and that this was causing his head to go up. So she got on him, and he did the same thing with her. So at least it wasn’t my poor riding ability that was causing him to evade the bit.

Mary’s first thought was that he has a sore back and is uncomfortable when being ridden, because he has not always done this. The evasive action would be a by-product of general discomfort under saddle. Her first advice was to get him adjusted. I got right on that; I’ve got a chiro scheduled to come out to the barn this Sunday.

Secondly, Mary suggested that I ride with a martingale for a while. I had some hesitation about this. I asked, “Does that really correct the problem or is it just masking it?  When we take the martingale off, won’t he just go back to his bad habits?” Her answer was basically, “Not necessarily.” A martingale will help teach him to accept contact with the bit and help him learn how to move in a frame.

Mary’s other advice was to change my bit. I’m riding in a loose ring snaffle, the wimpiest bit out there. She said it’s like having a noodle in his mouth. This is the same bit I used on my lease horse, a 22 year old, perfect, bomb-proof mare. Riding Baron is a whole different ballgame. She suggested a slow twist, which isn’t a harsh bit, but will get his attention if need be. She said that my current bit is actually dangerous because I can’t stop him with it if I need to.

The lesson was somewhat discouraging. I basically have a horse I can’t control. I’m not going to get discouraged though, because I love a challenge. If I can turn my rushing, somewhat spastic, bit-evading ex-racer into a calm, forward, and straight dressage mount, that will be one of my biggest accomplishments EVER!

Meet Baron

I recently bought my first horse, a 5 year old Thoroughbred who came off the track about 6 months ago. This blog will record my efforts to re-train him as a show horse. Like I said, he’s my first horse so I have a lot to learn. If you have an ex-racer or a green horse, this blog may be of interest to you. (Or if you just like reading about horses, like me!)
Now, a little more about my horse. I bought him from a woman who buys racehorses off the track, rehabs them a little bit and then sells them as sporthorse prospects. His registered name is Storm Ballad and his nickname at the track was Chip, short for “Chipmunk Cheeks.” He does have very full cheeks! I renamed him Baron because I think he is too gorgeous for a name like Chip. He is a 16 hand chestnut with a fantastic pedigree which includes Bold Ruler, Secretariat and Northern Dancer (not that it matters much, now that he’s gelded!). He’s a very handsome boy, very flashy, and perfect for the show ring.
He is boarded at a barn very near my house so I see him every day and get to take an active part in caring for him. I muck his stall, feed him and see to his day to day needs. This has given me a chance to see his personality a little quicker than if he were at a barn where someone else is paid to take care of his daily needs. I have already seen some areas we need to work on. First, he is a little pushy at feeding time, especially with his water. If he’s thirsty, he sticks his head in the bucket before I can get it hung up. This means I have to stand there and hold the heavy water bucket while he slurps away. Second, he crowds his stall door when I’m coming in and out. Third, he does not know what “Whoa” means. On the lead line, if he sees something of interest, we are both going to see it whether I want to or not. This is an 1100 lb animal and I am not a very big girl. He pulls me around like a rag doll, so we’re going to have to do something about that.
On the positive side, he is submissive. He is a wuss in the pasture and if he is firmly given a command he understands, he is quick to obey. Second, he likes people and likes individual attention. I wanted a horse that I could build a relationship with, and he seems to genuinely enjoy the time we spend together. Finally, did I mention that he is frickin’ gorgeous? When I see him cantering around the pasture, tossing his head and doing Grand Prix dressage moves for fun, I am so, so glad I bought him!