5 Tips to Stay Motivated

No matter how much you love horses and riding, you’ve probably had motivational slumps more than once. You know, those afternoons when you sit at your desk scrolling through Facebook and checking your email 10 times per minute, looking for an excuse to avoid riding. While usually you’d ride in the rain, if there’s a cloud on the horizon, you decide to stay home and watch TV because the weather does not permit. You’re usually happy to scrounge 30 minutes between knocking off and eating dinner to ride, but today you only have an hour… let’s see… 10 minutes to get to the paddock… 10 minutes to catch the horse… 10 minutes to saddle up… 10 minutes to untack… 20 minutes to groom… nah, there’s no time to ride.

Lack of motivation is probably most common among professionals or seasoned competitors who spend hours and hours every week in the saddle. Amateurs feel it too, but pros have the most trouble, because riding isn’t just for fun – it’s their daily grind.

The bad news is, you’ll probably always have unmotivated times, no matter how well you ride or how awesome your circumstances are. The good news is, it’s possible to get out of them and back to your enthusiastic horsy self. Here are five tips that have helped me to stay motivated through the years.

Everything in moderation... but yes... you may treat yourself ;-)
Everything in moderation… but yes… you may treat yourself 😉 baked by Rain Hyde

1. Take care of your body. While most motivational slumps are more psychological than physical, sometimes you just literally don’t have the energy to ride. Eating the wrong stuff, getting dehydrated and not getting enough sleep can make you dopey, irritable, and feeling drained before you even hit the saddle.

For me personally, I have to avoid the slimming diets that are so in fashion these days. I’m active (around 20-30 hours of light to moderate exercise per week), have a fast metabolism, and am slightly underweight. If I was to drink only water, stick mostly to veggies and snack on fruit and nuts, I’d pass out. Most serious horsepeople are athletes and shouldn’t be eating like couch potatoes. I need at least three helpings of carbohydrates every day to keep me feeling strong, as well as a goodly dose of fats and sugars to keep me energised. Fruit and vegetables are essential for vitamins and minerals – you should still get your five-a-day. But if you’re of a healthy weight, generally healthy, and have an active lifestyle, there’s no need to be dead scared of starches and (in moderation) sugars. I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or dietician, but this is what’s worked for me. Trans fatty acids like takeaways are still trouble, though – try not to dig into a pizza for lunch every day or you’re at risk for nasty stuff like heart disease.

Dehydration is probably my number one reason for feeling tired, sick, or weak. Especially for an athlete, getting enough fluids is extremely important. I’m guilty of not getting my eight glasses of water a day, but on the days that I get at least eight glasses of some type of fluid, I can feel a vast difference in my energy levels. Again, I break the dieting rules with my drink of choice: chocolate milk, and please not low-fat milk – only the full-fat creamy Jersey-produced stuff, thanks. The sugars in the chocolate and fats in the milk give me a hectic energy boost. As an added bonus, calcium from the milk is good for bones – always essential for a horse rider to prevent breaking bones in falls. Plus, it’s just so much nicer than water 😉

Staying fit is also important. Fit people generally feel happier in their own skins and are healthier than unfit people. Riding will feel less strenuous, keeping a correct position will be easier, and muscle soreness will be reduced if you’re fit. There’s the added bonus that falling is less hazardous for people who aren’t overweight: bones can only handle so much pressure being put on them, and a fat person falling puts more pressure on their bones than a lean one.

Last, but not least, get enough sleep. I don’t need a lot of sleep, but I still feel it if I don’t get my eight hours in. Sleep deprivation makes you irritable and tired, and leaves you feeling itchy and heavy and generally zombie-like. Yeah, not the greatest mood for hard physical and cognitive activity like horse riding.

Taking a lunging lesson at the SA Lipizzaners
Taking a lunging lesson at the SA Lipizzaners

2. Try something new. Ride a horse you’ve never ridden before, go for an outride somewhere you’ve never been, or just try some new exercises in the school. Too often the boring routine of warming up, putting the horse through its paces, grooming it, putting it away wears us down and leaves us feeling like there’s nothing interesting left in riding. And if you’re bored with what you’re doing, chances are your horse’s training is going nowhere, and the horse is just as bored.

Try going to a clinic or taking a lesson with a rider you admire, other than your usual trainer. Maybe book a pleasure outride at a facility where you’ve never been before and take a friend/family member/significant other along. Teach your horse something completely new and out of the box. Doing something different can revive your interest in learning, which is what you should be doing throughout your riding career.

Or just watch your horses running... that's also plenty inspirational
Or just watch your horses running… that’s also plenty inspirational

3. Break out your favourite horse movie. Sometimes, seeing horses in an idyllic, fictional tale can inspire you and remind you why you actually love these animals so much. Most people have an old favourite – re-watch it and remind yourself of why you actually do this crazy thing called riding. Or try a new movie; Secreteriat, Dreamer, and War Horse are my personal favourites.

Alternatively, read a horse-based novel or some nonfictional work like articles on the Web, a horse magazine, or a horse training manual. You could watch YouTube videos of your heroes of horse riding. All of this will send you back to riding with renewed perspective, respect, and inspiration for this magnificent sport.

Nothing wrong with ambition, though - who *doesn't* want to ride like Charlotte Dujardin? (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Nothing wrong with ambition, though – who *doesn’t* want to ride like Charlotte Dujardin? (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

4. Set a goal. Nothing motivates me like an upcoming show. When you have something concrete to prepare for, your drive and ambition doubles. Even if you’re not planning to attack A-Grade showjumping or Prix St Georges dressage, look for a little local show you can take your horse to, and test your training and riding on a manageable level for both of you.

If you’re not the competitive type, maybe you can set a goal in your horse’s training. It doesn’t have to be massive; it can be as simple as having consistent square halts from your dressage donkey by the end of the month, or being able to take a solo outride on your youngster by the end of March. Or it could just be schooling your favourite project five times this week instead of the usual four. Whatever it is, make it achievable and then set out to achieve it. Having a goal in sight motivates you to try harder, and it’s such a good feeling when you reach that goal.

Just playing around with ponies
Just playing around with ponies

5. Prevention is better than cure. While it’s inevitable that you’ll feel unmotivated at some stage or another, it’s possible to try to minimise it. By consistently taking care of your body and setting training goals, you’ll already make a difference. My favourite method of preventing motivational slumps is simply to keep on changing my routines, reading articles and books that will help me improve my riding, and being in a constant quest to ride and train better. Never stop tweaking your riding. Always look for different exercises you can try and things you can improve with yourself and the horses you ride. Never get too comfy or complacent: if you’re bored, chances are you’re not growing, and it’s time to step out of your comfort zone.

I also try to vary my horses’ routines. My two jumpers only actually jump once a week. In a single week, if things go to plan, Arwen is jumped, lunged, schooled, and ridden out. And if even that gets us bored, I’ll play some mounted games on her or try some groundwork. This will keep both you and the horse engaged and interested and always learning.

Riding should be a constant learning curve. Keep that in mind, and you’re set to go.

Pitiful Study-Related Excuses, and also cool photos

Thunder7
Still have time to play with ponies

Dear readers, the ponies and I are still alive and very much kicking. Life happened a little and got in the way of blogging, but thankfully not much in the way of riding, and the horses and I are still plugging happily onwards. You all know the standard excuses for not blogging by now; today I’m playing the “I was studying” card. Cambridge IGSCE, for the record, is not for the fainthearted.

Thanks be to God, I’m still homeschooled, so there’s still plenty of time left over for riding. I started off the week by bringing Arwen back into work. Having taken six weeks after her vaccine off but for the odd hack – if ridden too hard straight after having an African horse sickness vaccine, a horse could potentially contract the virus from the vaccine – Arwen has luckily stayed slim. There is a bit of a hay belly popping out there, but nothing that a few weeks’ work won’t fix. Her muscle tone and condition is still fine, so we’ve gotten off almost scot-free.

With three weeks to go before our dressage show it was time for Arwen’s holiday to end. I brought her in on Monday for my lesson and the Mutterer marked out a 60 x 20m rectangle in the middle of the big grass area I use for an arena. Our dressage letters being anonymous tyres, this makes for a little confusion (“Working trot to B” “Which one’s B?”), but after sniggering at some quite interesting mnemonics I seem to be getting the hang of them. The actual dressage is relatively easy. We’re only doing Preliminary 1 and 2, which are the lowest of the low. About the hardest thing we do is lengthening the reins at the trot, and Arwen stretches beautifully, so even that isn’t too bad.

Rocking the new bandages (and the hay belly)
Rocking the new bandages (and the hay belly)

I rode her in spurs and side reins this week. Arwie has never been the responsive sort and I always carry a whip or spurs when I’m riding her; usually a whip, but spurs actually work a whole lot better. For one thing, they are wonderful for lateral work. There’s a reason why even the most responsive horses in advanced dressage are ridden with spurs. They give you much more accuracy and subtlety with your aids. Arwen’s leg-yield and shoulder-in in trot were virtually nonexistent, but with a pair of spurs she’s quite brilliant.

The side reins were just to help her go in a better frame instead of doing the whole pony nose-out thing. I rode her in them three times and yesterday just warmed up with them and took them off to practice the tests themselves and she went beautifully, just as if they were still on. Most of her work is pretty awesome; she’s forward, responsive, balanced and makes stunning transitions. Even her halts are getting nice and square. The one issue we’re having at the moment is her canter and canter transitions, which is really weird, because Arwen used to have an awesome canter and perfect transitions. I’m guessing she’s a bit rusty after her time off, so we’ll be cantering all week and see how it goes. She does canter and she gets us around the track okay, but she doesn’t strike off on the right lead properly and once even flopped back into a trot, which will destroy our dressage score.

Thunder's first between-the-ears shot
Thunder’s first between-the-ears shot

Thunder has been pretty awesome; I schooled him on Monday under the Mutterer’s watchful eye (this time with a new cinch 😛 ) and even the Mutterer was forced to concede that he’s quite nice. Thunder’s jog is very good and his lope is coming along as well. He went on the correct lead all of the time, didn’t rush as much, and didn’t fall out with the shoulder in his circles as much as he usually does. We even had a good gallop and then a halt from a gallop, not entirely a sliding stop, but heading that way. The trouble is that he still doesn’t neck rein. I only need one hand on the reins most of the time, but I still have to tug on his mouth, which is annoying. It took Skye months to learn this, though, so I’m prepared to be patient.

On Wednesday we went for a short hack and he disappointed me a little by being really spooky. It could be to do with the fact that we went past the same place where I came off last week, an unnerving experience for both of us. Or he was just having one of his daft days. Either way, he didn’t bolt or shy seriously; he was just tense and jumpy. He gave me two nice relaxed lopes, but balked at one point on the way home because he saw some mysterious scary object undetectable to human senses. We got home in one piece, he repeated the perfect gate-opening of last week, and there were no serious issues, so no harm done.

Reed was a little on the lazy side this week; maybe he needs a bit of a break from routine. We had a quick schooling session on Tuesday and I was hoping to get his first flying change or two, but although his simple changes were absolutely foot perfect, no flying change in sight. I introduced a little shoulder-in in walk. He wasn’t brilliant, especially to the left (he’s a touch stiff on that side), but something I found rather interesting was how much better he went after the shoulder-in. I’ve noticed it with Arwen, as well; after a little lateral work in walk, even if it is just 20m of shoulder-in or a couple of steps of leg-yield, they suddenly get supple. They arch their necks, step under themselves and get forward, obedient, and soft all along their bodies. I’m not sure exactly why this is – maybe the lateral movement loosens them up and stretches their muscles – but I’m definitely incorporating some gentle lateral work into my warm-ups.

Photo by Colett Janse van Rensburg
Photo by Colett Janse van Rensburg

I challenged Reed on Thursday by putting up a 90cm vertical with a close ground line straight away. Usually I pop him over a cross-rail or two before getting down to serious jumping, and he evidently wasn’t impressed with the new arrangement; he stopped a few times before actually jumping, and seemed kind of hesitant and perturbed once he actually jumped. Something to work on and for him to get used to. I stuck it out with him and didn’t let him get away with it, and when he was jumping rhythmically I changed the vertical into a quite wide oxer with about a 60cm cross-rail in front and the 90cm bar behind. Again he stopped once or twice before jumping, but once he jumped it, he was fine. We cleared it a few more times before I changed the cross-rail in front to a 70cm vertical. This looked much more formidable and I know how much Reed hates verticals, but he was really amazing, didn’t even look at it and cleared it at our first leap. On that high note, I ended the session. The owner of EJ Quarter Horses and Paints was around to take awesome photos, too. This must be the best photo of me riding over jumps I have yet. I seem to be riding a whole lot better than in previous jumping shots: I’m focusing ahead of us (although not quite between his ears), and my hands are following his head a lot better. Looks like I am sort of sticking to my New Year’s resolution.

Pepper, a four-week-old Pekinese and the darling of Ruach and EJ Studs
Pepper, a four-week-old Pekingese and the darling of Ruach and EJ Studs

Tuesday was madness; I had a bunch of horses to work and, while it was a lot of fun, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend on each horse. Titan was a bit of a pain to lead in; he was excited about the three mares on heat around the arena and pranced around accordingly. Once I was on him, he kept prancing for the first five minutes or so, but settled down nicely, and by the end of the session he was giving me the best canter work I’ve ever had from him. To the left his canter was absolutely stunning, slow, calm, balanced; he even gave me some really nice circles. To the right he is still a little unbalanced and tends to rush, and his circles were wonky, but no bucking, tearing off or any nonsense. I was impressed.

Then I was back on a little grey Nooitgedachter crossbred I used to school last year. Tina is about 14.3hh and very adorable. An old hip injury has made her rather stiff and she doesn’t like to canter on the left lead, but she has a beautiful soft mouth and comfortable movement. As she’s a child’s pony, this and her good temper matters most.

Sunshine was my next project; a new little filly I haven’t worked before. She’s not really backed, so I just lunged her, but she was responsive and clearly knew what she was doing. She’s pretty and a comfortable size for me, so I enjoyed her.

Last but certainly not least is dear little Chrome. On Thursday, dear little Chrome decided to show me that he can buck after all, and buck he did. He was not in the mood for loping, especially not to the right, and he even did a handstand or two before settling down to his nice easy lope. He is young and very green and can be excused for having the odd daft day; they can’t be born knowing exactly how to be ridden, even though Chrome usually seems that way. Silly adorable golden retriever.

Sore leg? What sore leg?
Sore leg? What sore leg?

Magic and Skye both had the week off; Magic because his wound is not quite healed (and evidently itches, judging by how often he removes his bandages and turns up with blood all over his nose), and Skye because her poor tender fussy feet are bruised. The Mutterer will trim and treat them on Monday, and she’s not lame in the paddock, but I don’t want to make it worse and cause abscesses or something similarly horrible. She is most unimpressed with me and she and Magic are getting really annoying; the arena is in their paddock, so they like to follow the horse I’m working and gallop around like idiots just to show me how perfectly sound and rideable they are.

Beautiful horses. Long may you remain happy and healthy, you most exquisite and noble of all God’s beasts.

Cowgirlin’ Fail

My Beloved and I set off yesterday evening for a beautiful ride around the mealie* fields on the huge farm Swaelkrans next door. It’s about a 6-8km round trip with miles of flat, quiet paths for loping on, and hence one of my favourite places to ride.

Skye has been there scores of times, but it was Thunder’s first time off the farm in his entire life. He didn’t start out very nice. A lope turned into a breakneck gallop when a duiker, his arch enemy, jumped out of the bushes, and he also shied twice at nothing. I was annoyed by the time we reached Swaelkrans, but my Beloved calmed my temper somewhat, Thunder stood dead still for me to remount after opening the wire gate and we set off in a better mood.

From then on Thunder was stunning. We started by taking a long jog, which already settled him down, and by resolving to lope in single file to stop them from racing each other (Skye takes anything as a challenge). I took the lead for our first lope and it went very well, but was aborted when I noticed my saddle slipping and looked down to see, with horror, my cinch swinging loose. Somehow the saddle stayed on throughout our abrupt halt even though it was held on by nothing but luck, and I hurriedly dismounted and fastened it rather tighter, assuming that the knot on the right side hadn’t been tied properly.

Remounting (and thanking God for Western saddles; in no other saddle can you ride in shorts, unless you are my Beloved, who rides in shorts all the time because he’s superhuman), we continued. We jogged, loped and met several duiker; Thunder didn’t misbehave at all except for loping a bit too fast, but he never overtook his mom and stopped when she did. We took a long route between the mealie and soya bean fields before reaching the tar road. We pulled up a good 50m from the road and let Thunder have a look at the traffic – I didn’t dare ride along it yet – but he just stared and didn’t bolt.

Going home, he was equally well-behaved. We had several long, awesome lopes and Thunder stayed obediently behind his mom without any bucking or nonsense. Skye had no such reservations; when Thun and I took the lead again she promptly blazed past up next to us. To my surprise Thunder kept pace along his mom, Skye stayed in a slow lope (thanks to her rider) and we kept on for a good kilometre at this pace with no issues at all. I was thrilled with Thunder, and we walked most of the way home on a happy, chilled loose rein.

I had clean forgotten about my treacherous cinch and only remembered when we took our last lope, only about a kilometre from home. Skye and my Beloved were having a run, Thunder was staying nicely under control in a lope behind them, and then with a sickening lurch my saddle tipped up and the cinch swung wildly loose. Something – whether it was the flying cinch, the tipping saddle or my squeak of alarm – spooked Thunder and he swerved, and the next thing I knew I was cursing my carelessness and disentangling myself from my saddle, with the sound of Thunder’s receding hoofbeats in my ears.

My Beloved paused only to check that Thunder’s reins were still over his head before teleporting to my side and rescuing me. Thunder was amazing; he bolted in panic halfway up the road, then turned around and bolted back to stand beside me. Nobody could train a horse to be that loyal; he was just born that way, sweet thing. My knight in shining armour put his whiny and slightly battered girlfriend on the comparatively safe Skye, and insisted on riding home on a nervous young horse with a hazardous saddle. (Chivalry is not dead). To his credit, Thunder was calm all the way home. To hers, Skye rescued me yet again, plugging calmly homewards with the reins loose on her neck and me holding the pommel like a total noob.

It turns out that the cinch I have for my Western saddle isn’t long enough, and so the saddle straps are run through the fastening ring only twice instead of three times on the right side, which means that there’s a huge amount of strain on the knot and it pops loose rather too easily. Note to self: get a new cinch.

Never fear, I live to fall another day. Despite its bad ending, it was an amazing ride, and it won’t be long before my Beloved and me ride again. Praise the Lord for good men, good horses, and whatever dutiful angel it is that keeps catching me and breaking my falls. God rides with me even on the days that I fall, and He will always ride alongside.

On a December ride
On a December ride

*Maize/corn in South African English, viz., a mixture of badly pronounced English and any Afrikaans word that appears handy at the time, usually misspelt.

More Cowgirlin’ (and a little bit of jumping too)

Only too happy to be playing with my new saddle, I spent Wednesday morning charging around on Skye and Thunder. Skye was in a very fiery mood and enjoyed herself thoroughly; we went for a long outride which basically went like this:

Skye: Let’s run!

Me: Not right now. Walk on.

Skye: How about now?

Me: Nope. Still walking. Sorry.

Skye: And now?

Me: Fine, you can jog a little.

Skye: Whoohoo! *breaks into a jog that goes more upwards than forwards*

Me: Maybe you should have been a dressage horse after all.

Skye: Can we run now?

I love those chestnut ears
I love those chestnut ears

We stopped over at the dam to strip off saddle and boots and swim across the middle; I intended to wade, but suddenly the water came up over Skye’s back, I planted my fists in her mane and she paddled happily across, snorting every now and then. The swim cooled us both down and refreshed us enough that it was worth riding home in wet jeans on a new saddle. I did eventually give her a run by cantering the kilometre or two home without a break, which I hoped would satisfy her, but oh no, not Skye. She danced the rest of the way home, snorting, prancing and generally telling the world how amazing she was.

Thunder was in a less wild-eyed mood and impressed me no end by being absolutely perfect with both gates today. Being able to open and close a gate whilst mounted is a really useful and surprisingly difficult skill. Skye and I do it virtually in our sleep, having had plenty of practice, but Thunder still finds all the maneuvering kind of hard, thanks to a tree standing right next to the gate. This time, though, he was perfect; he went exactly where I wanted, turned on the haunches, turned on the forehand, backed up and stood dead still while I leaned down his side to latch it. I was sufficiently impressed.

We jogged up to the rocky hill known as the Unchartered Territory and walked along beside the public road; a truck blared past when were about 50-100m from the road and Thunder didn’t turn a hair. A guinea fowl leaping out of the bushes was a life-threatening danger, though, and he leapt into the air and bolted one step before I got him under control, turned him in a circle, gave him a smack and told him exactly what I thought about that kind of behaviour. Thunder, to his credit, stood dead still, watching the guinea fowl fly away. Once he was standing still on a loose rein I gave him a rub and told him not to be so daft again, and he relaxed completely. That’s the nice thing about Thun – his spooks last a few seconds and then they’re over. He doesn’t stay nervous for ages the way some youngsters do.

In fact we had a nicely relaxed canter on the way home and he didn’t even look at the handful of scary things we encountered. He just needs to get used to birds and duiker jumping out of bushes. They’re his one weakness.

Beautiful sweet filly by Amor
Beautiful sweet filly by Amor

Thursday was a hectic day; I barely had time for school, a quick blog post and to change Magic’s bandages (his wound is on the mend without any infection) before it was time to rush off to the stables for work. We were on quite a tight schedule with four horses to work within two hours, and two new foals having been born that morning. One of the mares wouldn’t push out her afterbirth and needed veterinary attention, so it was general madness.

Reed and I had time for a really good session, though. I set him up a double of two crossrails with about 8.5m in between them (I never know how to distance a double for Reed; they say a stride is 3.5m, but possibly not for a 14hh pony), theoretically two strides. I wanted to see how adjustable he was and how we could improve our rhythm. Reed definitely benefited from our transition session on Tuesday; especially his halts were much sharper and cleaner than usual and he didn’t fall onto my hands so much. His frame was a bit worse, probably because I didn’t lunge him first, but otherwise he was pretty nice.

We jumped the double a few times and we both started off extremely crooked; we would wobble along to the first jump, jump it at its highest point, veer wildly off course and then somehow scramble over the second one. This happened two or three times until I got fed up, shortened my reins and took control over him. I’m too used to Arwen and Magic, who both approach extremely straight, although Arwen drifts sometimes. Reed is the opposite; he approaches in a squiggle and then jumps dead straight. When I took control and rode him assertively throughout, though, Reed jumped beautifully straight and lost his crookedness almost completely.

Filly by the little man Reed himself
Filly by the little man Reed himself

We ended up jumping the double with both jumps 90cm uprights, and he didn’t have a single stop. I experimented with adjusting his strides. He started off putting two strides into the related distance and then a nasty little half-stride before jumping, so I sped him up and had him lengthen his steps until he was putting in two big strides and then jumping smoothly. He had to stretch a bit, but he made it. Because he had to stretch himself so much I tried asking him for three very short strides. Poor Reed shot himself in the foot. He jumps exactly where and when asked, and won’t save himself the way Arwen does, so we jumped, put in three strides and then found ourselves right on top of the second jump. I gave him my heels and hands but no horse could have jumped that from there, so he crashed through it, poor dude. I thought he might lose his nerve having rapped his front legs on the pole, but instead he just jumped hugely with his knees tucked right up once or twice before going back to his usual self.

We finished off by jumping a 1.00m upright a couple of times and then calling it a day, with a very tired Reed and a very happy rider. Poor Reed, he will eventually get fit, although our sessions are hard workouts for him at the moment.

Because I was schooling stallions, I cooled my heels for half an hour while a client had a lesson on his beautiful Arab stallion Galeel. That’s the big pain with stallions – we can’t have two people in the arena at once, unlike with mares and geldings. (Well, with Reed you usually can, but we weren’t taking chances as Galeel is still very young and green. We’re not Lipizzaner riders!). Once Galeel had gone off to his paddock I fetched cute little Chrome for his third time under saddle ever.

Chrome and I last week
Chrome and I last week

Chrome is one of those dreamy horses who seems to be born knowing the aids; he doesn’t really neck-rein yet, but he’s just as responsive to my hands as to my legs, and apart from the occasional slap with the end of the reins he doesn’t need a lot of encouragement to go forward unlike a lot of these relaxed horses. We walked in circles, walked and jogged figure eights and worked properly on loping for the first time. Chromey gave me six laps of the arena without a single real buck. The worst he did was to plunge into a gallop from a jog for a few strides before settling into his beautiful smooth lope.

He’s just a really nice, straightforward, down-to-earth, easygoing little dude and a joy to work with. Add to this the fact that he is chestnut with socks and a blaze and you have me thoroughly enchanted with him.

It was quite a scramble to get Chrome unsaddled – I had worked a bit late with him; unfortunately, when I’m schooling a horse, the rest of the world kind of disappears for me -and we charged off to art class just in time to meet Galeel’s owner at the church/studio. Galeel’s owner is also one of the best equine artists in South Africa, and I was stoked to be getting art classes from him.

Poor old half-drawn Arab
Poor old half-drawn Arab, pardon the smudgy fingerprints

Okay, so the shading sucks and my poor horse doesn’t look anything like he does on the photos, but he’s a lot of fun to draw. Hopefully I’ll finish him in the next class or two, and do the next one rather better.

This weekend is Outride Weekend; maybe my longsuffering boyfriend and I can take Thunder for his first outride on our neighbour’s farm. I’m rather looking forward to that!

Dressage Day

Tuesday is flatwork day for Reed and Titan. Because I only have two days a week with them, I tend to spend one day on flatwork and the next on jumping to balance their education.

Check those muscles!
Check those muscles!

First I helped out with another QH, Jenzo You A Honey. Honey is one of my favourite mares, a flashy chestnut three-year-old with a butt the size of a double-decker bus. Seriously, for her age, the filly has super muscular hindquarters. I was lunging her and it took me a while to get used to the short, smooth Western movement, as opposed to the floating extension of the warmbloods, Nooitgedachters and thoroughbreds. She was really good though, and effortlessly picked up the correct lead whilst loping on both sides. Honey’s not backed yet but she looks like she’ll be an awesome ride.

Next, it was Reed’s turn. He was happily stuffing his face with hay when I arrived, oblivious to his impending workout, and looked delighted to see me, as usual. All I ever do is make him work his spotty little bum off, but I’m human, which is enough to make Reed happy. He walked next to me as quietly as a gelding, being stunning little Reed.

Cute little guy
Cute little guy

I want to improve Reed’s frame and acceptance of the bit, so I started by lunging him in side reins attached to the cavesson. Weirdly, Reed didn’t seem to understand the pressure on his nose at all. He braced his neck against it, almost strangling himself, and tore around leaning on the cavesson even though the side reins weren’t that short – his nose was still well in front of the vertical. Puzzled and not wanting him to learn to lean, I took the cavesson off and replaced it with his bridle, attaching the side reins to his bit. Immediately, Reed dropped his nose, arched his neck and carried himself properly with only a light contact on the side reins. Strange – I’ll have to ask the Mutterer about that.

I gave him about ten minutes’ walk, trot and canter before saddling him up and putting the poor guy to work. Today was transitions. Transitions, transitions, transitions of every conceivable type, repeated as many times as it took for him to get them right. It was only about forty minutes’ work, but Reed had to focus for every moment, and it tired him out thoroughly. His walk-canter-walk transitions are brilliant, so I focused on the smaller transitions from gait to gait and within gaits. Trot-walk-trot, trot-canter-trot, walk-halt-walk, and then a variety of transitions within gaits. We worked on collected, extended and medium walk; collected, extended and working trot; and extended and working canter. I got about a circle of something that might someday be a collected canter, but to be fair we’re both a bit new to that one.

Throughout, I focused hard on Reed’s frame and broke up the routine with halts from walk going straight into rein back to teach him not to flop onto my hands the moment he stopped. We also cantered a few figures of eight to practice simple changes of leg, since after all the transitioning he was still focused and willing, before ending the day on a high note. Poor Reed was dripping with sweat. I was pleased with what we accomplished; on Thursday we can have a nice pop around some jumps to take a break from all the focusing, and maybe I can beg for a hack sometime to vary his routine a bit.

Hello, human
Hello, human

I only had time for a short session with Titan. There was a lot going on around us with a photo shoot in a paddock near the arena that had all the mares running about with excitement, and Cointreau d’Or in the paddock nearby decided to take a long pee right near the fence (nothing is more attractive to a stallion than a urinating mare; thank heavens men aren’t the same), so his mind wasn’t really on the job. Still, he didn’t buck or run away. We warmed up quickly in walk and trot; his halts were really awesome today and he stood still for a few seconds on a loose rein every time I asked him to. We did a bit of collected and extended trot – Titan has the most amazing extended trot, it feels like he touches the ground every ten metres or so – and moved onto canter.

To the left, Titan was really awesome. He kept it slow, stayed off my hands, and performed a series of nice, calm, consistent circles. Going to the right he picked up the right lead a lot easier than normal, but he flopped back into a trot a few times and rushed a bit, leaning on my hands. He did give me a few circles to the right quite willingly, and he bent correctly with his hind legs following straight after his front legs and no mad unintended leg-yields or that kind of nonsense. It’s just a matter of doing some polishing to get him going nicely to the right as well. Then, we can work on shortening and lengthening the strides and he’ll be ready for canter work whilst jumping.

As for my own Horde, they had the day off and lolled about eating grass and being horses. Magic is bored out of his mind after a long two months of inactivity due to his injuries. He chews stuff, chases dogs, runs about like a mad loon and occasionally removes his bandages, just for entertainment. Methinks we will have some fireworks when I get back on. His wound is healing nicely though, should be fine in a week or two, tops.

Magic tagging after Skye and my boyfriend, begging for a ride
Magic tagging after Skye and my boyfriend, begging for a ride

Arwen is enjoying her last day of rest; tomorrow I will be back her saddle and we’ll start working hard on dressage. We’re going to our first dressage show in February to ride Preliminary Tests 1 and 2, and while they’re well within Arwie’s abilities, I need to learn my tests. I find memorising a jumping track an absolute nightmare, so dressage tests will probably be a bit tricky, especially with two such similar tests. Perhaps I will be able to recruit a reader from somewhere.

Watch out, dressage world. Here we come.

Cowgirl Up

The long-awaited, much-dreamt-of Western saddle finally arrived on Thursday afternoon, to my absolute delight and somewhat juvenile excitement.

It had been a busy but good day, starting with a jumping session on Reed. He was in a bit of a lazy frame of mind, but I put up a 60cm cross and a 70cm upright and took turns jumping those until he was confident; he only ran out once. By increments, I raised the upright to 80cm, then 90cm and Reed popped over without protest.

Reed after our ride
Reed after our ride

As resolved, I was experimenting with my position, concentrating on letting my hands follow his head instead of using them to keep my balance. I notice that on landing I lose my balance slightly and my feet tip up along the horse’s sides a little. It only lasts a stride, though, and I’m back in balance and ready for the next fence almost immediately. I suppose it’ll take some practice to perfect. Once I gave Reed too much rein too suddenly, giving him a fright and making him take down the pole. He did this twice, but kept jumping well, so I put up a 1.00m upright to challenge him a little. Reed was a star. He was slightly hesitant, but I rode him right up to it and he obliged by jumping beautifully.

Titan was next. I brought him in myself this time, albeit using a stud chain to make sure I kept control over him (I can just picture him breaking away from me and galloping off to damage himself or cover someone else’s mare), but he was fine and didn’t do any acrobatics. I saddled him up and got on without lunging him, and although he did his usual trick of missioning off as I mounted, he was absolutely wonderful for the rest of the ride. His working trot was calmer and more balanced, he pulled much less, and his canter was a little slower and more controlled.

I was just thinking that next time I would introduce him to a few little crossrails at a trot (I had already done some trotting pole work with him) when the Mutterer put up a crossrail, about 40cm, and said, “Go for it.” Titan doesn’t like the stripy red-and-white poles and stopped the first time. I knew the jump was small enough to step over, so I plunked my heels in his sides and he popped over, looking shocked that the scary poles hadn’t eaten him.

After that he was just dreamy. We stuck to a trot and went up to 60cm crossrails, and he jumped every time with no bucking or bolting. He broke into a canter for a few steps after some of the jumps but was easy to get back to a trot. He also didn’t panic, and stayed in a settled working trot without running about pulling on my hands the way he used to. I was extremely pleased with the big boy.

It. Is. So. Cool.
It. Is. So. Cool.

Then, finally, I was allowed to play with my glorious new El Paso saddle. I learnt to ride Western in an El Paso, which I loved, and this one was no different. It’s not the highest quality leather, but it fits on virtually anything with four legs and a tail, and it’s incredibly comfortable even for my short legs.

I was surprised but delighted when the Mutterer brought in one of the quarter horses for me to test my new saddle on. Tees Custom Chrome has a very cool name and thinks he is a golden retriever or, possibly, a baby spaniel. A three-year-old chestnut colt, he has brilliant breeding, a beautiful temper, and a rich, red chestnut coat. Chrome has not officially been backed, but he’s been ridden bareback to and from his paddock for ages, so neither of us had any reservations in plopping my new saddle on his back. I followed, and took him for a spin. Perhaps it’s true that quarter horses are born with an aptitude for Western, because Chrome seemed to know instinctively what to do. Apart from a dramatic but short-lived bucking fit when I asked him to lope the first time, he made no protest at this new human fallacy, and he is one of the most comfortable horses I’ve ever ridden. I love him.

A perfect fit
A perfect fit

As soon as I got home I was dragging the Western saddle down to my own horses. To my delight, it fits both Skye and Thunder like a glove, and don’t they look like real cow ponies! I hurriedly put together a black bridle for Thunder from a bunch of spare pieces I had lying around – his brown bridle was poor quality anyway, and looked atrocious with a black saddle – but I’ll be looking for a proper Western bridle shortly.

Thunder went for his first proper test drive in the Western today. Accompanied by the Mutterer on a disgruntled Skye (she hates all men apart from my [awesome] boyfriend), we went for a nice, long, slow hack around the farm. Thunder was amazing. He had two little spooks – both at holes, which, for reasons unknown to the human mind, are terrifying – but apart from that walked briskly but calmly on a loose rein the whole way. We had a short jog and an awesome canter that (intentionally) turned into a mad gallop. Thunder didn’t even think about bucking and stopped the moment I asked him to. He was fantastic, and I was loving the new saddle.

The only problem is, the thing makes more noise than an asthmatic elephant. Its new leather groans and squeaks so loudly with every stride that I could barely hear the Mutterer talking. Perhaps that’s why Thunder was so well behaved – he couldn’t hear any scary noises above the saddle’s deafening racket.

Thun models his new outfit
Thun models his new outfit

I don’t enjoy going deaf on outrides, so as we speak the saddle is soaking up the last rays of the summer sun alongside a generous coating of Dubbin. Hopefully that will quieten it down a little.

Praise the Lord for all the small blessings He mixes in with the big ones. He knows our hearts’ desires, and it is His joy to grant them whenever it is in line with His will. And as His will is what is best for us, and is formed based on His mighty love, there are few things we wish for that He won’t give us, if we ask Him humbly with faith in our hearts. Blessed be His merciful and loving Name.

In Which Stallions are Awesome

Yesterday I was off to work at the livery stables, where Ruach and EJ Studs arecurrently based, as well as the Mutterer, who usually has an extra horse or two in training – always a breath of fresh air.

The horses had all had about a month off because of their AHS vaccinations and the holiday season, so it was not without a little trepidation that I faced my usual ride, Titan. Titan is only four years old, but he is a magnificent stallion. His flashy looks (smoky black pinto, anyone?), strong baroque-type conformation and movement to die for give me goosebumps. He also has a gentle temper, for a stallion; when I first met him about eighteen months ago, when the stud first bought him, he was an unhandled young colt who had no experience of people at all, and now he is successfully under saddle.

However, stallions will be stallions and four weeks’ rest does tend to make them a little ants-in-the-pantsy, so I wasn’t sure how the big guy was going to behave himself.

Reed after a good jumping session last year
Reed after a good jumping session last year

First, though, I helped out with my personal favourite, Reed. Reed is a tiny little stallion, no bigger than 14.1hh, thanks to a rough foalhood. He doesn’t have Titan’s stunning presence, but the one thing Reed has on all the other stallions is pure temperament. Reed is the only stallion I know who is almost as safe to handle as any mare. He has never tried to bite me, not even nibble, and he hardly ever even neighs at mares, despite being a successful breeding stallion. Plus, he’s plain adorable: dark palomino (dappling in summer) with pinto patches.

Anyway, I have a soft spot the size of China for Reed and had been schooling him intensely for a few weeks before the holidays, so I was pleased to be on him again. I warmed him up for his little rider of the day (a competent girl no older than eleven; Reed can be trusted with even beginners) and took him over a few jumps. I have jumped him up to about 90cm and he is a willing little jumper. Last time I jumped him he was in a bad mood and turned out a few times, and this time he turned out foolishly at a 50cm upright, but I gave him a scolding and rode firmly at it the next time and he popped over happily afterwards.

He was very good with the little girl and cantered placidly around the arena for her, albeit needing a whip at one point when he was feeling lazy. He was also superb taking her over a small crossrail; Reed has never gotten over-excited or been the type to over-jump, and he went over beautifully with no fuss at all. Such a good little boy.

Titan being friendly
Titan being friendly

Then it was time to get the handsome young prince of Ruach Stud. The Mutterer led Titan in for me; it’s a most embarrassing fact that sometimes my size doesn’t stand up very well to a 16hh stallion when he’s feeling a little fiery. I usually go around armed with a stud chain, helmet and whip while everyone else is just dragging them around by their headcollars.

Titan seemed to be in a good mood, but I took the precaution of lunging him for about 20 minutes to get the tickle out of his feet. He was good, but had trouble cantering in the 10m ring; he is a big horse with a big stride and not very balanced yet. Something to work on. He has a silly habit of walking off the moment I’ve mounted, without waiting for me to get my stirrups, but we’re working on that. We set off around the arena without any drama.

In fact, throughout the ride, he was really, really well behaved. He didn’t prance at the mares, buck, or chuck his head at all. It was one of the best sessions we’ve had. He was a little upset over being asked to pick up the right canter lead, but I insisted, and he eventually went around nicely on the right lead. In trot he can tend to rush a lot and pull on my hands but I got him into a working trot after a few laps. His frame was stunning as well, he has this fantastic giant arch of a neck and he sure carries it nicely; I love it.

After Titan, I was brought a new ride: a young Friesian gelding named Oscar, whom I hadn’t met before. Oscar is about 15.2hh and one of the most striking horses I’ve met, with an endless mane, thick tail and that trademark jet-black Friesian coat. His movement is also very eye-catching; he always holds his head in and his neck arched, and when he trots his knees seem to almost hit him in the muzzle. Unfortunately, despite its beauty, this gait is extremely uncomfortable. He was super responsive – especially for a Friesian – and quite well-behaved, but that trot! After a few laps my kidneys were on their way out of my ears, even though I was rising.

At least the owners and miscellaneous spectators had their laugh of the day when I tried to get him to canter and Oscar promptly shot into a super-extended trot with a machine-gun type rhythm much too fast to rise on. I slapped on the saddle like a beginner and everyone howled with laughter.

At last I got Oscar into a canter and, whilst he did tear around a bit like a typical unbalanced baby, he didn’t buck or do anything too daft, so I pulled him back to a walk (no extended trotting allowed, this time) and called it a day since my kidneys were ready to hand in their resignation.

Thunder and his mom during a break on a New Year's Day ride with my boyfriend
Thunder and his mom during a break on a New Year’s Day ride with mybeloved boyfriend

Today, it was Thunder’s turn to work. Arwen and Magic are both still off for the next three weeks because of their AHS vaccinations, so I’m taking the opportunity to work on Thun a lot. The Mutterer came over for my lesson, and under his watchful eye Thunder and I practiced some basic reining patterns. He was very good and his canter is starting to improve, although he does gallop a bit sometimes when he feels unbalanced. He also refused to canter on the right lead once, but after a lap of the arena he got the idea and went nicely after that. His rollbacks need work – I only get about two easy steps back out of him, having to pull him back a bit to get anything more out of him.

Hopefully I’ll be getting my Western saddle (Western saddle!! Squeeee! 😀 ) tomorrow, which will definitely be something to blog about! Watch this space. With any luck, in the next few days you’ll have a post of bored pony photos with Skye modelling her new outfit.