All good things take time, and for sure, turning little Jacko from crazy little stallion to a national level children’s endurance pony, not only took time, but perserverence too!
You simply couldn’t believe how difficult it is to find a decent children’s riding pony in Bulgaria. While there are a ton of Shetland Ponies around, finding something really ‘ride-able’ between a Shetland and the average 14hh ride and drive work horse- is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. So when a friend advertising a little 10hh native cross, with very few Shetland-ish traits, we knew it was now or never. However, with so many things in Bulgaria, it was never going to be a simple as just ‘bringing him home and plopping kids on,’ not only was he unbroken, but he was also an eight-plus-year-old stallion.
The process of gelding is not always routine, and there’s a growing body of contemporary research on the development of chronic pain and behavioural issues post-operation, especially when the horse is gelded late. With this all in mind, we set about planning his operation and recuperation with care, with an eye on best-practice and positive outcomes.
To reduce the chance of infection, successful gelding requires cool weather and minimal flies. As we bought Jacko in May, this meant we needed to wait until at least November before we could even think about the procedure. So we had seven- months of controlling and containing a tiny Houdini-esque stallion.
To minimise any complications we asked Dr Sasho Sabev, resident equine veterinarian and professor at Stara Zagora Veterinary University and Hospital and international FEI vet to ‘do’ the procedure and the operation finally went ahead in late November.
After a few months, Jacko was not only showing signs of a total recovery, but his ‘stallion-ish’ personality had significantly diminished at the same time. A huge relief for us all as he was clearly no ‘spring chicken’ and we knew he had covered mares in the past. We all had had their doubts that he’d completely loose all his ‘bolshy’ behaviour.
Without doubt, one of the most incredible parts of Jacko’s journey, was being able to turn him out with the herd living on the track system. He had never been socialised, never had the opportunity to be with other horses, never reciprical groomed another horse or even just mooched about. After several days of ‘fence-line introductions,’ he was added to the track and his clear joy at being a genuine horse made everyone a little tearful.
Getting Jacko riding was another challenge. Initially, just getting him to focus and move away from the other horses was hard work. We first used 10-year-old Eva who races ponies in the UAE, to work him. As he began to listen more and understand what was being asked off him, we started Deni riding him. Between the two 10 year old girls, he was worked daily, at first under instruction, but later as he found his confidence, they would take him out and do the things little girls do with ponies, (jumping logs, playing in the river, exploring and playing.)
By mid-September he was fit, happy and confident and ready to join Deni in their introduction to endurance: a 15km children’s ride. We chose the Bulgarian National Junior Championships held in Asenovgrad for his first outing. Not only was it a relatively doable drive (2 hours away), but the hilly terrain and strong focus on children, seemed a really good fit for his debut onto the endurance scene.
Jacko performed fantastically. Not just in the competition, completing the 15km course in the time planned, but also in transit, in his temporary field, socially- with the other horses, throughout the vetting process and he even gave several tiny enthusiasts some pony rides after his competition- in short, he was an all-round tiny rock star- and we couldn’t be more proud of him!
For sure, its been a long journey, and of course it was a gamble. Geldings dont have much value or interest in Bulgaria when compared to stallions. At eight-plus years old, we could have ended up with a ‘riggy’ gelding, who still had to live in isolation and was not ideal as a small child’s riding pony, but we didn’t. And both Jacko and the human residents at KBS are hugely relieved that this gamble paid-off.
Read more: Meet the other horses at Konna Baza Sakar
Read more: Find out about our kids camps
Read more: Learn more about our KBS riding lessons
Read more: Discover the benefits children receive when they learn to ride