Saturday marked five months that Fritz has been in the US! I was away last weekend for work and happily the six hour flight allowed me some time to think about our first months together and all that we still have to learn. I must admit, it’s a bit disheartening to realize that he’s been here so long and we’ve accomplished so little. While he is clearly more settled into his surroundings and we’re totes BFFs, our under saddle work has made precious little progress.
In early August, we had some training setbacks so while trying to figure out how to proceed, he had two weeks off then a week of rain. I peppered in a few easy lunges, but he effectively he had much of the last month off. Last week we started back on a newly reduced schedule and after some good lunge sessions under our belt last week, I’m hopeful that the time off was just what he needed to reset.
It’s time to get down to business, kids.
As I mentioned, I’ve decided to blog our progress and training as an extension of my “Pony Log,” which is currently a day planner filled with scribbled notes. The following is a recap of our first few months together. Going forward, I’m digitizing the Pony Log so I can access it at a moment’s notice right here. Naturally, Fritz is pretty pumped.
PS: I found the most amazing app called Horse Notes. You can log training events, feed, shoes, vet visits, x-rays, etc. But what I loved most is that you can enter in “due dates” for vaccinations or shoeing. So today I got an alert that he’s due next week for shoes. So fab.
PONY LOG, FIVE MONTH RECAP:
Fritz arrived from Germany to quarantine on May 7th, then was trucked from Miami to Vero Beach on May 11th. He arrived in good condition but very, very nervous of his new home. He snorted and chortled and paced his stall for a few days until the vet came out the next Monday to check him out and gave him a mild sedative for his first turnout. After being cooped up for a weekend, he enjoyed it immensely.
He had a few weeks off when he first arrived to settle in. And then the week after he arrived, he had a terrible reaction to some ground wasps and had HUGE welts all over so he couldn’t be tacked the week that I thought he was ready mentally to start working. He’s an April four year old, but he’s a very young four who needs to take everything in his own time.
My first time in the saddle was May 31st. He was a bit skittish for mounting but luckily my
non-horsey, very tall boyfriend was able to hold him while I mounted. Once up, he pretty much had no idea what I wanted him to do. He didn’t move off leg, actually turned around and sniffed my boots in response to gentle nudges. So boyfriend to the rescue again, we were led around leadline style. A few trips around the paddock and we called it a day. But I thought, at least he didn’t bolt off!
We had another week of lunging, plus one more sad non-moving mounted day so I scheduled a ride with the barn owner who is also an accomplished dressage trainer. Pony dearest was skittish from the moment I got him from turnout. He spooked so much in the crossties that I ended up tacking in his stall so I wouldn’t lose the wildebeest.
Reflection note: This is when you decide NOT to get on pony.
I lunged him in the round pen with her giving notes during warm-up and then attempted mounting while she held him. He shied again from mounting so we put him closer to the rail. He shied away while I was swinging up and I thought “just get over and he’ll settle under you.” Wrong-o!!! I didn’t have my leg all the way over when he spooked, he stepped sideways into the little portable block, which freaked out his poor silly self and he bolted forward, his hind end dropping and me flying off the back. Third time was not the charm, y’all. I hurt my tailbone fairly badly but nothing permanent. Since I was hobbling along, I enlisted the trainer who I took lessons with last year on a leased a horse and he started the next week.
They started June 12th and the first week and a half was spent desensitizing ponyface to the mounting block. He
took quite a lot of time and patience to make it an absolute non-issue to Mr Fritz. Pony went from bolting off to standing quietly while you flap around all over him, it’s fabulous. They also pranced around the scary sand arena and judge’s boxes, making it a silly fun experience and banging around on things until Fritz realized that all was good in the world. He’s naturally inquisitive and I learned if you play into that, he’ll come around quicker.
The next 5 trainer sessions were under saddle with a ‘pony lead person’ helping on the ground with treats. He still wasn’t moving off the leg and didn’t seem to understand what it meant so we assumed that he didn’t have as much time under saddle as I thought when I purchased him. One of those pitfalls of buying overseas and sight-unseen. We patiently introduced leg and used the ground person for encouragement with vocal and edible praise. I was able to come out for the last lead-line session and he followed me freely from the ground and then he walked and trotted without assistance after that for the next 7 trainer sessions. They graduated to the sand arena mid-July and he was seemingly making progress. Woo!
Shortly after however, he started going backwards. Literally. Like you would mount up, put a little leg on and… backwards. I used a ‘hard rein turn’ to spin him out of the backward-ness and change his focus/balance to get going the opposite direction. That worked well for a few rides. But then at the end of July, he was super adamant that forward was NOT on the menu, my trainer was up and said “um excuse me, it’s the main course young sir.” Dirt was flung, shoes were lost, hopes dashed.
Never in a million years did I think that my main issue with a four-year old horse would be lack of forward. It might be the one thing that I didn’t prepare for, go fig.
After the setbacks and with the encouragement of trainers, I called the vet out. He can be sticky on his RF and we thought perhaps his resistance to work was from discomfort. The vet was not much concerned with his stiffer leg but they flexed, blocked the foot that toes-in (he has two very different sized and angled hooves). She suggested moving his breakover and the farrier came the next day, he was due anyway which might contribute to the leg being stiffer when the toes are outgrown. He flexed well for everything but a neck pressure point and his right leg flexed up at the same time, which he came off very poorly. So while the vet thought all was well except his feet imbalance, I called the massage therapist. Mel Hitchcock came last week and he looooved his massage. I’ll definitely be adding that to his schedule regularly! He was sore in both shoulders and his rumpy and was the most fluid I’ve seen yet when I lunged him the next day. Yay!
He still did backwards dancing under saddle though so the dentist came out and guess what – his little fangs were sharp! I’m hopeful that all of this reluctance could stem from being uncomfortable in the bit as he does tend to duck his head.
He had his few weeks off and started back with his reduced schedule last week. I have to admit that it’s been a bit of a tough ride so far. (Mehehe. I didn’t even see that pun coming.) I’m grateful that he’s so adorable and loving, otherwise the frustration might be overwhelming. But I finally feel good that we have a plan and goals to work toward. Admittedly, it’s a bit difficult to miss work, and easy to get discouraged when I’m at the barn and not actually riding, and it’s confusing to sift through contradicting training theories and make my own choices. But I’m steadfast and resolute with the knowledge that my horsemanship will be worlds improved if we make it to the other side of this little adventure, and I’m thrilled to get the chance. ♥❤♥