I tell my students it takes a year to get to know a new horse. Some behave differently in response to the weather, so taking all four seasons to get to know them is important, plus it just takes a year to accumulate enough experiences on and off the property to learn who they are and how they think. But I’m learning a bit about Puck already.
There are pros and cons to the green 6-year-old. There are things about him that are very mature, including his body, which is nice; I don’t have to worry as much about overtaxing him with introducing collection as a concept, something I always fret about with the terribly athletic 4- and 5-year-olds.
He’s also quite balanced, and wonderfully straight at the canter. I can make him shoulder fore and renver at the canter (and at the trot too, but I’ve found canter harder in young horses) with the greatest of ease.
But there are things that are very baby: he wasn’t terribly strong over his topline when we met in Holland, but certainly after the two+ weeks it took to get him on the plane and get him through quarantine, he lost a lot of both fat and muscle. That’s fine, that’s how it is.
But I have learned that he’s not an amazing eater, so we’ll have to play a bit with how we manage him, so that he’s got enough of a cushion to get him through stressful travel, like to Florida.
But I also know that he’s from a flat place, because watching him walk up and down hills is hilarious. There’s a relatively significant incline to get into our round pen, and riding him down out of it felt like riding an octopus on roller skates. That’s a skill he’s just never had to build, and I am confident that his future contains lots and lots of work outside the arena, on my wonderful Virginia hills.
He’s not yet strong. What he is, however, is brave. Hills everywhere mean these little grates across our various pathways, to control where rainwater goes, and they give a lot of horses pause.
Not Puck. He marched right over them like they weren’t even there. And while he needed a second to think about my indoor arena mirrors, it was just that—a moment of hesitation, and then right to it like it weren’t no thang. While I was away at a show over the weekend, one of my assistant trainers hacked him around, and other than his butt falling off up and down hills, he acted like he owned the place.
Day 1 I lunged him first in the round pen, and then got on in the round pen. He was terrific, and on Day 2 I only lunged him for a moment before hopping on in the round pen and then going right to the indoor ring, and then for a short walkabout with Lisa, my assistant trainer, at his shoulder, just to be safe.
On Day 3, I just got on in my indoor arena, and I made my first mistake. I’d noticed that he was a little insecure about the mounting block, something that’s a very American phenomenon. In Europe I mounted using a little stool that was quickly moved out of the way; at home, we have a big plastic three-step black block that Puck had crashed into a little bit on Day 1 and startled himself, but I’d had Lisa standing with him, so he didn’t go very far.
I got cocky on Day 3 and just got on by myself, and he bounced a hind hoof off the block as he walked off, and it made a noise, and we were off. Fortunately we weren’t off very far or very fast or with any bucking—he just scooted for a bit—but he’s a powerful guy, and had he wanted to wreak some havoc, I’d opened the door for him.
Fortunately I learned something else that day: he’s a good dude.
I hopped off, grabbed Lisa, put the mounting block in the middle of the ring, and hopped on and off three or four more times until it was easy. He took a breath, worked like a champ, went for a walk around the barn without a human helper, and got lots of cookies. He is all about carrots and apples; sugar and peppermints are uncharted waters for him, but he’s a gelding, so I bet he’ll figure them out.
Mounting may require some baby carrots in hand for a little while longer, so hopefully he’ll embrace those. I spent the first day giving him a carrot every time I walked by his stall (I’m 100 percent OK with buying his love), and he seems to like me for it.
Puck is terribly sweet. He’s very handsome—blaze, three tall socks, GIANT belly spot, enough mane for two—so all my clients wanted to visit with him, and he let them all come right in his stall for scratches and smooches and he loved it. He’s pushy to lead, but doesn’t get mad when he’s corrected, and it’s already gotten better in just few days. He loves his chin scratched; he doesn’t love his belly brushed. And he has no idea how big of a dork he looks in his long-nosed fly mask.
He’s charming, he’s rideable, and he’s taking it all in stride. 357 days to go!