Goodbye Summertime

Summer coats and cosmos blooms
Summer coats and cosmos blooms

Summer did not leave without a fight. At first, when the day began to shorten so that I would open my curtains to the single bright eye of the morning star instead of the fanfare of colour that brought the sunrise, I thought summer would age and fade graciously. But instead, it returned with one last flourish; a final string of those amazing sunny days when the sky was an absolutely unbelievable blue and the breeze smelt of pollen and laughter. It lasted only a few weeks, long enough for the cosmos to bloom, and then summer died in a blaze of white and purple.

Now winter steals across the hills like a stalking wolf in grey and brown. Instead of finishing my evening work before the deep purple twilight, I find myself still working after the moon has begun to smile in the sky. Also, more prosaically, my horses are all as hairy as wild bush brumbies and Magic now has to be followed everywhere by a dutiful human being changing his blankies in case the poor creature catches a chill.

If I’m going to be totally honest, summertime is my favourite. The horses are shiny, the grazing is good, everything is either green or flowering or wet and you can swim in the dam. Also, grooming is a pleasure instead of a dusty chore, your hands don’t get chapped and you don’t have to ride in the semi-dark. Haynets can be thrown back into the foul and demonic lair whence they come and Skye replaces her worrying dust allergies with the merely annoying bug allergies. Oh yes, and no breaking ice on water troughs in the morning with bare, blue fingers. That’s always nice.

Sunset at crescent moon
Sunset at crescent moon

I’m ready for the winter to come, though. The recent outbreaks of African horse sickness throughout the country has made me nervous, and the first frost will kill the midges and signal the end to the horse sickness season. With the midges will die the ticks, the flies, the horseflies, the bot flies (hate those things) and all the other horrible buzzing and crawling things bent on eating my horses alive. I’ll be able to take a break from my ongoing war on parasites.

The parasites will take a lot of the horse illnesses with them as well as horse sickness; biliary and West Nile among them. I’ll also be able to ride in the middle of the day without frying my face and killing my horse. Long, hot, sweaty summer days are the bane of people with epic manes like mine; in winter I don’t have to try and wring out my hair after every ride, or squish the corkscrew curls that appear every time it rains. The horses’ feet, if oiled occasionally, will be healthier because of the drier ground and lack of mud; no more mud fever and thrush to worry about. Oh, and thunderstorms will be gone for the next while, so the risk of lightning strikes will be significantly reduced. Magic’s face won’t get rain scald, either, and hopefully Thunder’s mane will grow back if he quits rubbing it.

For now, my biggest problem is winter coats. I know why winter coats are around and I’m jolly glad they are, or horses would be permanently catching colds. For that reason, I mostly put up with them; Thunder and Skye can be as woolly as they like, no matter how much I hate the dull fuzz and the dust it collects. God made horses fluffy for a reason.

Because purple is so manly, y'know?
Because purple is so manly, y’know?

Arwen and Magic, however, for their sake of their health as well as my sanity, have to have something done about the hairiness. They work harder than the other horses in short, intense spurts, and they both sweat like pigs. In summer, you just hose them off and forget about it. In winter, however, it’s a long maskerade of walking them until they’re dry, choosing riding times carefully and perpetually changing blankets to prevent them from catching cold. Plus, showing a horse in a full winter coat is highly unappealing.

For Arwen, the solution is pretty simple: a body clip and a New Zealand rug. She’s tolerable to clip (although the legs and face sometimes have to be left long, depending on her mood and the behaviour of the clippers) and she always looks nice clipped, being grey. Her sweating virtually disappears, too.

Magic, however, is so ticklish that grooming can be a mission, let alone clipping. Right now, I’m not even prepared to go there. So for him, we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned (and arguably much better) way: grooming. It is possible to groom out a winter coat, with a lot of elbow grease and a sharp shedding comb; the results look far better since the coat is clean and its natural colour, and you don’t have to spend three hours dodging hooves and teeth whilst holding a very sharp, noisy piece of machinery near a very large, nervous animal. It’s a lot more work, but I’m up for the challenge.

The breeze has teeth today. Goodbye, summertime.

Arwen and the Folly of Mankind

Or womankind, in this case.

See, I’ve been reading horsy stuff. If my horses knew this, they would run away. Unfortunately, the poor unenlightened creatures have to suffer the effects of me reading horsy stuff, which usually include more/harder/new work for them.

First, I watched with great interest as my favouritest horse blogger The Sprinkler Bandit rocked around a cross-country course on her cute OTTB. Then my almost favouritest horse blogger The Rubber Curry Comb was having fun over sunken roads and other exciting obstacles. Not along ago I published a blog post on eventing at eQuest for Truth.

And then I was like, well, why not us? I mean, the Horse Mutterer had even given me a body protector (which I, eyeing the numerous unbacked horses at the stud, filed under “very ominous”). Plus, Arwen has been schooled for showjumping as well as dressage. Why, the Mutterer himself said she would be a nice little eventer.

Arwen’s infinite trainability always makes her the guinea pig. She’s done dressage, showjumping, outrides, some rather peculiar groundwork, and Western mounted games. By now, she’s pretty used to her human trying get another fool idea and saving aforementioned human from making an idiot of itself.

So yesterday I built us a log pile. Not a proper one, unfortunately. I took a couple of tyres and then lined up four unpainted poles on top of them, stacked another three on top of those, then two right on top, creating about a 50cm solid-looking heap. (50cm is a baby jump, but it was quite big enough for me given what could happen if she decided to crash into it. Besides, I was running out of poles). I grabbed the unsuspecting Arwen and we charged off to get to work.

We warmed up quickly because we were losing the light; a couple of walk circles, some working trot laps and circles (with a bit of light seat thrown in cuz I need leg muscles), and then a few laps of a nice, relaxed, forward canter. She rushed through the lead change, but I decided to choose my battles and focus on the jumping. We warmed up over a 1.10m vertical. I brought her in too close for some really dorky rabbit hops a few times, but she took everything in her usual willing way. Her canter was miles better than last week; she was relaxed, responsive, calm but eager. In fact, by the time we were done jumping the vertical, Arwen felt amazing.

Just because I love this photo
Just because I love this photo

There’s a certain feeling you get when you’re riding your best and your horse knows it and gives its best for you. You feel utterly in balance and poised upon the movement of your horse, which is calm and focused, every ounce of its attention on the job. The horse is perfectly on the aids, and so you feel like you’re just sitting there, guiding it with the merest touch of your leg, squeeze of your finger or shift of your weight. This is the time when voice commands seem utterly ridiculous; you communicate effortlessly by touch and in silence. Best of all, there is absolutely no resistance in the horse towards you. None. Your aids just flow through it, and it does exactly what you want, but willingly and eagerly, as if that was what it also wanted to do all along; its whole body is working and supple. You two work as one. In dressage, this is known as losgelassenheit, but whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty awesome. Arwen gives me moments of it now and then, and yesterday we had it.

With this awesome feeling, I took my wonderful, losgelassenheity horse towards the log pile. She cantered towards it happily until about two strides out, where she went “OMW lady why all the poles???” and hesitated. “Just jump,” I ordered, firming my legs around her. She shrugged equinely and popped over without a problem. The next time we circle around, she had a look, I ignored the look and she jumped again, no worries. After that we just had fun gliding over the tiniest log pile in the universe like it didn’t exist; eventually each jump was barely a break in her stride and I decided to call it a day before she got too blasé and tripped over it and broke our silly necks.

Looking for cross-country facilities in our area now. Eventing world, here we come.

Because we could totally do this
Because we could totally do this (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Arwen’s Little Secret

I know Secret wasn’t ever really supposed to be born; in fact, I didn’t even know he was on his way. On the evening of December 1, 2011, there was one round horse and the next morning there were two flat ones. Hence the name: he was Arwen’s little secret.


Still, I won’t say that I minded the sight of this gentle little dark bay creature gambolling around at his mother’s side, and as time went on I had to conclude that Secret was the easiest foal I ever had the pleasure of working with. Yes, he was even easier than Thunder. He was infinitely trainable; smart and willing in equal amounts. I could not have faulted his temperament.

Sadly I had eight horses at the time as well as a job at the stud and I couldn’t keep up with all of it. It was still with a heavy heart that I sold the little bay colt after he’d been weaned, but I knew he’d gone to a good place. His new owner was about nine years old and utterly in love with her new baby horse. They would grow up together. With that temperament and his size, Secret was the textbook perfect child’s pony. I could see him becoming to that little girl what Skye had been for me – the playmate, confidante, best buddy during childhood, the steadfast friend during adolescence.

A gentle soul

It is with an aching heart that I say that it was not to be. Secret was killed by lightning on Monday night. Sometimes the best horses leave us soonest; it is God’s will, but it is still hard. Hard for me, who hadn’t even seen Secret in a year, because I remember his gentle eyes and his quiet manner and the way he stretched out his little brown nose for his new young owner to feel its inexpressible softness. I remember his milky breath and tangled whiskers as a baby and I remember watching him play with his little brother and chew his mother’s halter and sleep quietly with his head in my lap. But oh, so much harder for the little girl who loved him.

Every horse deserves, at least once in its life, to be loved by a little girl. I thank God that Secret knew that love so early. And I thank God that He is a loving God, and cares for whatever happens to the souls of horses when they die.

Rest in peace, Secret. Your life was good, your death, painless; and even in your short two years, you were a great little horse.

You will be missed.


The Leather Dressing of Awesome

I am truly horrifying about cleaning my tack. I know I should wipe it down after every ride and scrub it and oil it once a week, but I’m afraid rinsing the bits after every use and a good cleaning once a month or so is as far as it goes.

That said, I really love the feeling of leather when it’s been looked after. I wouldn’t call myself a leather snob because I own some real el cheapo leather, but I definitely adore good leather. Especially good reins – I don’t have a single set of those cheap and nasty nylon or rubber reins. They give me the willies. Mine are all leather, either plain or braided, and well oiled.

Recently, I’ve been using Dubbin to condition my leather. I had always used Trident’s leather oil, but I’m really not a fan of anything Trident – it’s really not that cheap and most of the stuff is sucky. The oil was no exception, leaving the tack feeling saturated and smearing oil on my hands whenever I touched my bridles afterwards. And yeah, slippery, oily reins aren’t a great plan.

Dubbin was an improvement on the Trident oil. In fact, quality Dubbin was amazing: never slippery or oily and it was great for waterproofing and conditioning leather. It wasn’t the best for softening new or hard leather, but a great day-to-day thing.

I think my last tub of Dubbin was poor quality, though. It left the leather feeling tacky after a few uses and collected a lot of dust, and after each ride my hands were sticky and oily. Besides, new Dubbin tubs were about $8 each, and that’s when this little beauty caught my eye.

Whoever Moore was, they're is my new tack hero
Whoever Moore was, they’re is my new tack hero

I hadn’t used oil for ever, I was tired of Dubbin, and the price tag on this was R37. To the foreigners, that’s less than four US dollars. I plonked down this exorbitant amount of money and went home in an experimental mood.

Today I tried it out on a brand new show halter that was so stiff it held the shape of the loops I’d been holding it in. And guess what? I LOVE THIS STUFF. It has absolutely no odour, you just put some on a cloth and rub it in, and it absorbs instantly. Yes. Instantly. The difference is immediate. I think it’ll need a few coatings to make the leather perfect, but it was a massive difference. And the best part? No oil residue anywhere. I didn’t even smell like I’d been cleaning tack afterwards.

I’ll be interested to try this stuff on well-oiled tack, since it worked so well for thirsty leather.

What about you, fellow leather obsessees? What’s your favourite leather care product? Why?