This is a long story which will end up in two parts. I hate cliffhangers, so I will share the ending: Izzy has a serious wound on his hind leg that will require several months to heal. The vet feels confident that it will heal and there that there will be no soundness issues. Shall I start at the beginning?
[Before I begin, I would like to state that I make it my policy to write only positive things about people. If I need to share negative things, I avoid using names and do my best to protect the identity of the people involved. In this case, I have already publicly used names, so local people will no doubt recognize the place and people to whom I am referring. If you comment, please avoid using anyone's names.]
When I went to look at him, his pleasant personality won me over. He was gentle, inquisitive, and very willing. He stood quietly for saddling and bridling although he avoided the bridle by raising his head, but it wasn't done in a fearful way. His owner and I worked with him for a few minutes in the round pen, and then I got on him. He stood quietly. he never bucked, spooked, or acted fearful.
I asked him to walk around and quickly realized that he had no understanding of the basic aids. He had no steering and didn't know how to move off my leg, but he wasn't fearful and didn't panic. I got off him after only a few minutes in the saddle of walking and turning.
His owner shared his life history with me which included hundreds of photos of his life since birth. He had been started by a professional dressage trainer and then ridden by his owner briefly. She became pregnant so back to the pasture he went. He was well cared for, just not worked. Izzy is now six years old.
I wanted to be involved in the training process, so I made a plan to visit several times a week for the last two weeks of his stay. I asked for periodic updates with photos or video so that I would know how the process was going. More than anything I wanted to know how easy or difficult he was being about the work.
After a week or so, I received an update that made my heart sink. According to the trainer's daughter, who was doing the riding, Izzy was being terrible about everything and was very difficult to handle. There was even a subtle suggestion that Izzy might have been drugged when I went to see him. She didn't state this directly of course, but she "wondered at the circumstances at how he was so calm when I went to see him."
And then different things started to go wrong. He came up lame which was attributed to being barefoot. He missed many days of riding as they got him shod and waited for him to be sound again. When I went to see him on my first planned visit, he was lame due to a whack on the leg that required several more days of rest.
And then the trainer said that she and her family, including her assistant/daughter would be going on vacation for a week. This meant Izzy would be doing nothing unless I wanted to come up and work with him. To make up for the lost week, she would keep him one additional week at no cost to me and ride him.
My best friend made the journey with me. We didn't choose a very good day as it was bitterly cold (for here, anyway), windy, and drizzly. These were certainly not ideal conditions for working with a green horse. We persevered though as I wanted to see him and see where he was in his training.
We haltered him with no issue and then walked up to the round pen. The gardener was using the weed-wacker very near to the round pen which had Izzy a bit concerned. The facility's volunteers asked the gardener to move to a different location so that Izzy could be worked. We spent a few minutes in the round pen working on turns and focusing his attention on me. Given the weather and his freshness, I was actually pleased with how he worked.
We walked down to the barn where I rinsed off some mud that was covering some wounds on his lower legs (probably from whacking himself during work), groomed him, hammered on his feet, and saddled him. While he was distracted, he certainly wasn't terrible to handle, and in fact, he acted like most 3 or 4 year olds who are just getting started.
We moved on to the bigger round pen where I used the side reins as the trainer had instructed. I am not a fan of side reins myself, but I went with the trainer's recommendation. Izzy never got soft and round, but he behaved himself and even showed a few moments of excellent critical thinking. Even though the trainer had said I shouldn't, I got on him anyway. My friend was standing close by, and she's a knowledgeable rider.
Izzy started to go forward, but then he got that look that said a temper tantrum was on its way. We had already been working with him for a while, and I knew I didn't have time to work through a fight. Since he was dancing already and looking as if he might explode, I kicked my feet out of the stirrups and did a quick dismount. It scared him a bit that I hit the ground so suddenly, but he quickly came back to me.
We finished the session with me standing on the mounting block rubbing his body all over. I laid over his neck, patted the saddle, all things that you do when desensitizing a colt to being ridden for the first time. He got more and more relaxed as I worked.
I asked my friend for her honest assessment. Did Izzy seem like a horse that was difficult to handle? She liked that he thought things over and was careful about where he put his body. She also liked that he never ran me over and was actually respectful with just a halter and lead rope. She admitted that he was definitely green, but that in her opinion, he just needed more time and work. Through our conversation, we decided that he needed more of a cowboy-type trainer who would work on desensitizing rather than trying to put him in a frame and make him go "correctly."
Coming to that conclusion lifted all of my worry. According to the current trainer, Izzy had so many issues that no one was going to be able to work with him. And yet, each time I handled him, he simply acted like an immature horse who didn't yet know how to be a good citizen. In many respects, he had shown himself to be quite well behaved. I just couldn't understand how the horse she described was the horse I had seen and handled myself.
And don't get me wrong, I am not so infatuated that I can't see reality. But seriously. Every time I've handled him (less than 10), he's done what I asked of him with little or no fussing. I've been able to catch him in a large turn out, he loaded into the trailer with no issue (he has very little trailering experience), he stands in the wash rack for bathing, he can be saddled without a rodeo, and he takes the bridle. The thing this horse seems to need is time and someone who can get on him and show him that he can be ridden without the need for tension.
I sent the current trainer an email thanking her for all of her work, but I explained that the drive was just too much. We had discussed the possibility of leaving Izzy with her for another month, but after seeing so little progress combined with a complete lack of faith in my abilities, I knew I wanted him to come home. I didn't tell her that I wasn't happy with the lack of progress. There was no point burning any bridges.
Three days later I got a phone call that Izzy had been injured and that the vet had been called.
Continued tomorrow ...