Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: Back on Track

For 616 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, is underway! The 2020 event will take place at Oct. 7-10 at the Kentucky Horse Park. Between now and then, five eventing trainers will be blogging their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Today, we’re checking in with trainer Kristal Gessler. You can read her first RRP blog here.

Kristal is from Rexford, NY, and operates her business, Kristal Clear Equestrian, a new sport horse training facility specializing in restarting OTTBs, out of Burnt Hills, NY. This will be her second year competing in the Makeover — last year she finished 6th in eventing with her 4-year-old Prolific. This year she returns with Fraternal (barn name “Romeo”), a Godolphin-bred 2017 17-hand Thoroughbred gelding (Into Mischief  x Sister State, by A.P. Indy). Here is Kristal with her latest update:

Photos courtesy of Kristal Gessler.

After a long 60 days of uncertainty as to whether or not Fraternal and I would be attending the Thoroughbred Makeover or having to sit this year out, I believe we are finally back on track and ready to forge ahead in our training.

Back in April Fraternal sustained an injury playing in his paddock, as babies do, pulling some major muscles in his back making it impossible for him to carry any weight on his back at all. Add in a major growth spurt at the same time and this usually wonderful goofball became quite miserable with anything, even a brush, touching his back. After multiple vet visits including x-rays and ultrasounds it was determined he just needed some time and TLC to heal and grow.

As disappointed as I was at the possibility of not attending the 2020 makeover, Fraternal’s health and wellbeing is of the utmost importance. He is extremely talented and shows great potential to be an upper level competitor in the future. So taking a step back was the only option.

During the first 30 days of Fraternal’s “vacation” he spent his time lounging around, enjoying his daily grooming sessions and weekly PEMF sessions.  It became quite clear he was getting extremely bored as he was consistently getting into a lot of mischief and becoming a bit of a handful. So it was decided that he needed to start back into a low impact routine to keep his mind busy and engaged.

While still technically on “vacation” he began spending his mornings turned out in a large, lush green filed with a very dominant mare, who is doing a great job of reprimanding his extremely coltish behavior and teaching him how to be a respectable young man. There is nothing like a good mare to teach the youngsters how to behave appropriately. Along with this new turnout routine fraternal spent a few days a week doing extremely light ground work, including physical therapy exercises such as lots of stretching side to side, lifting his back, walking over raised cavaletti, endless desensitizing, and just hanging out with me as I watched other riders work their horses. This new routine proved to be quite successful as his coltish behavior became less obnoxious and he seemed much more content.

This week was his first week back into a full program. We started our week back, in full tack, working on groundwork both in the ring/round pen and out in the jump fields. While he was quite content in the ring and round pen showing off a new quite, calm and relaxed demeanor, he was quite exuberant and excited when we moved out to the jump fields. After a few days of consistent work out in the field he became much more civilized and showed us how much he really enjoyed being out  of the ring and out in the open fields.

Day 1 back in the saddle. I’m not going to lie, I was filled with mixed emotions. Excited to be back in the saddle on this amazingly talented youngster but terrified that he wasn’t going to be better and we would be back to square one. As I stepped into the stirrup,  swung my leg over,  and quietly sat in the saddle he remained calm, cool, and collected. That alone was a huge step! Before the 60 days of vacation just the weight of the saddle alone would make him dip his back and grind his teeth in discomfort.

We walked away from the mounting block and he continued to remain relaxed, back felt great, he walked freely forward without any protest. I was elated to say the least! That first ride we were able to walk/trot/canter quietly without any issue and he felt great. It was a huge relief, we are finally back on track.

Day 2 back in the saddle pretty much went the same as day 1. We kept everything exactly the same, very quiet and slow. Just a little walk/trot/canter with a few added distractions going on in the back round: dogs running around, manure dump trucks and tractors emptying the manure bin, and he remained quiet and relaxed and completely tuned in to me and our session. I was extremely happy and overjoyed.

Day 3 back in the saddle we decided to take things a step further. No ground work to start our session, instead we went for a quiet warm up hack with a buddy around the farm before our flat work. Success! After a few head tossing baby moments we quietly led the way around the farm and into the ring where we were able to work, walk/trot/canter, with another horse working around us, maintaining his composure and staying focused on the task at hand. When finished we ended our ride with another hack out around the farm, even schooling the ditch on the way back to the barn. Breathing a huge sigh of relief as we are headed in the right direction and ready to continue our journey to the 2020 makeover.

Looking forward and beginning to plan a proper competition program for him is proving to be extremely difficult due to Covid-19. Our season is just beginning to get underway here in New York,  finally. We are a few months behind where I  would have liked him to be at this point, but we will keep moving forward and take every opportunity possible to get out and get as much off property exposure as possible before our trek to Kentucky. Stay tuned for more monthly updates on Fraternal’s journey to the 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover.