Back in the Game

Finally, the six weeks of forced rest is over and the ponies and I have all gone solidly back to work, as well as the ever-increasing string of client horses that seem to have attached themselves to me in bewildering and wonderful numbers. You just have to love the God Who drops horses in your lap.

I have twenty horses in training with me at the moment, although thankfully they are not all at my place; I am a ridiculous OCD crazy horse keeper person and would spend all day every day fussing over their hair or something. It’s getting to the point where I’m going to need a groom to keep everyone as clean and shiny as my picky standards demand.

Arwen had two days off after our impromptu offsite lesson; she looked pretty much tuckered out for the whole of Sunday and I think she would have been okay to ride on Monday, but it rained and I felt sorry for the unfit beast so she got a bonus day off. We jumped on Tuesday, during which she was basically Hickstead and didn’t refuse a thing, including a 1.00m (3′ 3″) parallel oxer that looked rather daunting from where I was sitting and was apparently totally not scary according to Arwen. Both of us have totally messed up eyes at the moment, though, mostly due to lack of practice and (in my case) lack of talent. I can’t see a distance to save my life. At least I’m getting good at not falling off when jumping from horrible distances. Next time I plan to put out a bunch of placing poles at the takeoff point just to help us both hone in on the perfect spot.

Wednesday was also an unplanned day off since there just weren’t enough hours in the day; the Mutterer and I had three horse to transport and a client to go to, which all went very well and raised the current horse population of Hydeaway Farm to nine.

On Thursday we did a bit of dressage. Since having her teeth done, Arwen is pretty much always on the bit. She loses her frame for a few seconds during some complex transitions or simple changes, but the feeling in my hands is just awesome – she has a lovely swinging stride into a supple, steady contact. I am starting to use the French link as my go-to bit more and more since most of the horses, with one or two exceptions, quite like it. Her trot leg-yields to the right are still a bit rusty, lacking some lateral movement, but not bad. Walk-canter and canter-walk transitions were the best they have been, simple changes a little rushed, shoulder-in was awesome. We also adapted the how-many-strides-on-a-circle exercise to a slightly easier version. I used a 20m circle at A to collect her and then counted how many strides I could fit between F and M, then used the M-H short side to extend her and counted how few strides I could fit between H and K. This exercise handily helps for both jumping and dressage by developing a straight, adjustable medium and working canter.

Today was galloping day and the little mare impressed me; she was a little flighty at the start, but steadied after half a mile’s working canter and proceeded to be awesome. We concentrated on both rhythm and speed, getting both of them with minimal effort from me. Then we walked home on the buckle because Nooitgedachters rule the world.

Idyllic. And fat. But mostly idyllic.


Exavior has started a little groundwork to become a good equine citizen. I keep it quite short – 20 minutes is enough for his baby brain – and use a rope halter because it has a little more bite and the horses tend to respect it and not lean on it, a favourite trick of giant warmbloody types. He is quite the big stubborn donkey and I spent some time dragging him around the arena with a bum rope, but he’s getting the whole idea of walking on a loose lead. For one session he also thought it was a good idea to basically crash into me when I stopped, but a few well-placed elbows quickly sorted that one out. We have started with a little turn on the forehand now. He also now drops his head almost to the ground if I insist and he’s concentrating; when he isn’t, he still responds to poll pressure by lowering his head. This will be very useful as when he lifts his head I already have to stand on my toes like a little kid to get to his forelock.

Sleepy sabino-ness
Sleepy sabino-ness

Magic was a complete jerk for the first five or six sessions after his rest. I started by free lunging him and letting him play and get rid of his energy the first time; this proved to be a good idea as all he did was run around and buck like a maniac for half an hour straight. I did not blame him and merely stood in the middle waiting for his brain to come back. There is very little point in trying to get Magic to do anything specific when his brain is being cooked in excess energy; as long as he was going around and around the way I wanted, I was quite happy.

The next session I strapped a standing martingale to him and made him behave himself, which, with some head-tossing but no bucking, he did. After that I lunged him for a few minutes before every ride and got on; he offered to buck once, but thought better of it. We had several frustrating sessions where he fought the bit and I fought with him and it was a general hot, head-tossing, bouncing, squealing mess, but his brain thankfully came back yesterday. I schooled him in his beloved French link, carrying a dressage whip to encourage him forward into it when he loses his mind (hardest thing ever: making a horse go forward when it wants to go nuts and all your instincts scream at you to stop). He was a little heavy in my hand at the canter, but no flailing, no throwing his head, nothing.

Today I put his Kimberwick back on and when he warmed up superbly – not a single head toss to be seen, at all three gaits – decided to try a bit of jumping. He was stunning. We started with 30cm and finished around 70cm with not a single stop, rail or overjump. We both picked some horrible distances but all in all it was very quiet and harmonious, so I’m hoping we’ve dodged the dreadful overjumping he used last time he had had a rest.

Throwback to his time off: I was super bored and I did his hair. He was very patient, to his credit.
Throwback to his time off: I was super bored and I did his hair. He was very patient, to his credit.

Skye is very mad at the dentist for saying that she is twenty-six years old, and made up for it by nearly throwing me off two rides in a row. I hack her around bareback because, seriously, who needs a saddle to walk around on a bombproof, arthritic old mare? Apparently I do; she is acting like a two-year-old on the GCS, which seems to make her legs feel much better, and bucked, bolted and reared. So much for being a good influence on the youngsters. I stayed on by the skin of my teeth and could only laugh; I love her so much and she’s doing so well.

One of my client horses also has a little foal, about two weeks old, so Skye is naturally in seventh heaven. She stands with her head over the fence gazing dreamily at little Duke and looking extremely broody for hours.

Exquisite <3
Exquisite ❤

Baby Thunder is being a superstar. His schooling took a few steps back, naturally, for which he can’t be blamed; soon it’ll all come back to him. His spins are a little quicker, but the lope isn’t quite as nice and his rollbacks are very sticky at the moment. On our outride yesterday, though, he was a star. My sister’s mare is quite lively and so she prefers to go in front when we lope, and Baby Thun is totally fine either way; he’s quiet in the back and confident in the front. He was a bit scared of some pigeons in a tree, but this manifested itself only in a shortening of his stride and raising his head, and he went bravely forward when I asked him to. A group of guinea fowl also flew up out of the long grass around him and he handled it very maturely; he startled and had a tiny little sideways shy, then paused and waited for instructions. I do so love it when a horse does that. I said, “Go forward, buddy” and he instantly relaxed and did so.

What a magnificent puzzle horses are; prey animals with lion hearts. Thank You, Jesus. Glory to the King.

I love this view
I love this view

Anne-Marie Esslinger Lesson

Arwen and I recently had the chance to train with one of the highest-ranking showjumpers in South Africa. Naturally, we jumped (ha, ha, ha… yeah) at the opportunity. Never mind that Arwen was fresh as a squirrel on a sugar high, having had only one week of work after her six weeks off, or that the last time I jumped a course was in November, or that she is so fat she wobbles… Nooities are tough, we’re partners, and it’s not every day that top jumpers pop up offering free clinics.
She loaded like a dream and was sweaty but not scared when we arrived, whereupon, with some trepidation, I left my notoriously separation-anxious horse with my longsuffering parents and attended the two-hour lecture first. This proved to be well worth it. The trainer touched on the history of showjumping first and then explained all the bewildering types of competition (I still have trouble with the whole accumulator thing), which was very helpful, and then took us all on a course walk. Now that was informative. Next time I walk a course I’ll be much better able to pick a good line and work out strides, hopefully leading to fewer run-outs.
Both parents and pony were still alive when I returned; in fact, Arwen was mostly asleep when I started strapping tack onto her, scrambled into the saddle and stormed off, terrified I would be late. She was fresh and snorted like a dragon; I rode her up to a random empty dressage arena and warmed her up a bit in there to get the worst of the bucks out. She was silly, skittish and bucked with enthusiasm, but was never dirty and I got what I wanted in the end. We popped over a little cross a few times and then headed for the main arena.
Our lesson consisted of three thoroughbreds and one fat little pony (mine); she gave them an evil sneer and I worried about having forgotten my red ribbon (which proved not to be a problem as she didn’t offer to kick anyone). Our trainer checked our tack and sent us off in a big circle to warm up. She was impressed with Arwen’s walk because the thoroughbreds all dawdled while Arwen marched on. In fact Arwen’s flatwork stood out amongst the other horses’; she was the only one in a plain snaffle and also the only one who kept her head down and could halt from a trot. This seemed to earn our trainer’s respect.
We practiced a new exercise in which we cantered calmly around in a circle, then lengthened the stride on the same circle to see how few we could make it in. Arwen made 27 at a normal canter and 25 extended – definitely something we need to fix. Although I didn’t dare let her gallop because I didn’t want to be bucked off in front of a hundred people.
Next was the jumping. We warmed up over a simple single fence with a placing pole at a trot; we fumbled it the first time mostly because the pole was set for big horses, but the second time we put in a canter stride over the pole and jumped well.
Our next exercise was a related distance, a vertical to a rather scary, bigger oxer. Arwen was over-cautious and chipped in ten strides, but gained confidence and eventually made it in a nice steady eight. She was scared of it, but I also didn’t have to kick her over it; she never really felt like stopping, just looky.
Lastly, we jumped a little course; a vertical, a left turn to the related distance, right turn to another related distance, left turn to a two-stride double that Arwen made in three strides. She was forward and steady and didn’t stop even once. I leaned forward and picked bad lines the first time, but I felt super confident and in tune with the little grey mare, and all in all I couldn’t really be happier. She was a superstar. Glory to the King!






TOABH: Buy all the Things!

Beka from The Owls Approve asks: Let’s continue pretending that horse poop magically transforms into money instead of the other way. So money doesn’t matter. If you could buy anything for your horse, what would you buy?

Assuming I’d already bought professional fitted, gorgeously snobbish British saddles for everybody, I think the thing they would enjoy most would be a better arena. They don’t much care what they wear as long as it doesn’t hurt them, and they’re already up to their eyeballs in grass, so the one thing that does seem to bother them is the arena.

Mine has served me extremely well, don’t get me wrong, and we’ve achieved a lot there that we couldn’t have if it didn’t exist. Whenever we do some work on it and render it temporarily unusable, I sorely miss it. But it is on a bit of a slope and it doesn’t have any footing – theoretically it’s grass, but I’ve worn so many different tracks in it, on so many different places, that most if it is just rock hard. This is unkind to their joints and makes life very hard when trying to teach a baby horse to canter round and round without falling on his nose. And something has dug a rather large hole right on the centreline (I presume it was Magic, who can get a bit overexcited when preparing a spot to roll in).

So I would build the most magnificent arena you had ever seen; 100m x 100m with one of those unbearably fancy surfaces that look like golden sand and are nice to fall on (always a plus). With one section of it marked out in a full-size dressage arena complete with judges’ box so that at least you’re prepared for it when they spook at C at shows. It should have a beautiful high roof on it, so high that it allows the breeze through in summer, and walls that can be pulled down kind of like garage doors in winter (I’m not restricting myself to the realms of possibility, okay?). And a huge selection of jumps of all colours and shapes, including a water tray and a liverpool and a wall…

Go big or go home, eh?

One like this would be fine too...
One like this would be fine too…


I shouldn’t be afraid.

Because God gives us a spirit not of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind. Because perfect love casteth out fear. Because fear not, neither be afraid, for I am with you, saith the Lord. Because of the still, small voice that whispers, “Be of good courage, dear one.”

I don’t want to be afraid.

Because I have something better than fear in me. Because I have no real reason to be scared. Because I have a higher calling, and fear is an obstacle in the pursuing of that calling.

I can’t afford to be afraid.

Because I am a child of God. Because to live a pure and holy life is to be fearless. Because fear is not of Him.

I am afraid.

Because when I was twelve years old I thought I was invincible and I tried to break in a stallion thinking it would be a walk in the park. I did it, too. I mean, he was rideable, eventually. But he scared seven kinds of snot out of me in the process. The physical pain was minor and healed in days; the mental scars linger many years later. He was the first horse that truly frightened me beyond the standard beginner nervousness and he drove me to tears more times than I can remember. And I failed him. I failed him, I failed his breeder, I failed his owner, I failed my trainer, I failed my God, I even failed the person I sold him to because I sold them a horse that I could have made better than I did. I could have, if my hands would just stop shaking so hard I could barely hold the reins.

Even years later, I’ve always been haunted by the memory of that black stallion. If I had him today, he would be doing dressage shows. He didn’t even do standard stallion misbehaviours – he just did standard young horse misbehaviours. If I had him today I could school him in eight weeks. Because today I am stronger, better balanced, more experienced; I would have pulled up his head and given him a whack and he would have cut it out.

At least, if I had no confidence issues, that’s what I would do. Currently, there are certain horses – always the ones that remind me of him – that turn my usual cool, calm professional self into a trembling beginner. I can’t handle them. It’s like I instantly forget what I know about horses.

I fight so hard.

I try every trick I know; I breathe deep through my diaphragm, I use a firm tone of voice, I force myself as much as I can not to use jerky movements, I wear a helmet even on the ground to make myself feel safer, I force myself through my comfort zone as hard as I can, every single time. Every. Single. Time. I push until I break down and freeze and in that moment those horses know they’ve got me, know that their leader does not have the confidence to lead them, know instinctively that they have to dominate me or die because in a horse’s mind that is how it works. Only the strongest ones lead. So they walk all over me, and learn nothing, and I fail.

Over and over again.

I am afraid.

I fail.

And that’s okay.

Because God, Who is the only One that really counts, knows everything that goes on inside me in those times. He knows how hard I try. He knows the shame I feel. He hears the desperate prayers. He knows – and how true, how true it is – that the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And that is how my God saved the world; with weak flesh, and willing spirit. Sweating blood and weeping tears. Broken. Crying. Too afraid to be alone.

He knows what it feels like, even better than I do.

There will be no fire-and-lightning miracle. There will be no sudden change, no roaring spirit suddenly bursting loose inside me and banishing all fear forever. There will be no overnight makeovers of my soul. But day after day, millenium after millenium, into all eternity, there will be the God Who knows what fear is, Who has felt it, Who has irrevocably and utterly and triumphantly conquered it. For it was that same willing spirit with the weak flesh that went as a lamb to the slaughter and saved the world forever.

So I walk hand in hand with the King of Kings. One day at a time. No more pushing until I break. No more pride. No more peer pressure. Just the King and I, and His marvellous, deadly, heart-changing creature, the horse. One session at a time. One positive experience at a time. His arms around me, His encouragement, His eternal love. For He knows – He knows, He believes – that the spirit indeed is willing. And if the flesh be weak, let it be weak; for His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

If this is Gethsemane, then it is not long before the great conquering. There will be no giving up. Glory to the King.

TOABH: Our Wildest Dreams

Hallelujah for blog hop hosts. I had thought of several awesome ideas, mostly about the horses’ dentist visit on Monday, but it’s late, I’m tired, and everyone had kind of a bad day (suffice it to say, it stinks when anyone gets hurt at work, and it happens so quickly). However, no lasting harm has been done, so without further ado, my response to the wonderful Beka’s latest blog hop:

Let’s pretend that financial restrictions don’t exist and logistics isn’t a nightmare.  If you could do anything with your Ponykins, what would you do?

Arwen. I’m at least the third person to say this, but drag hunting. Absolutely. I mean, what could be better than sprinting in a pack of speed-drunk horses, following a set of baying hounds, over solid obstacles? It’s not something I would easily do on any other horse, with the possible exception of everybody’s favourite pinto stallion, but on Arwen, it would be insanely fun. And she’d love it, too. And possibly kick everybody else, come to think of it, but it would still be a fantastic adventure. As a matter of fact, there is a Hunt led up in Kyalami, which is not very far; if we can find time and cash, it’s something we’re actually likely to try, preferably when Mom isn’t looking.

As an aside, I’d also love to breed her one day. If I could find myself a nice, tall, leggy stallion with high withers and a lot of pop, I think she could breed a pretty awesome little junior event horse. Or I’d go purist and put her to a Nooitgedachter stallion with a truly excellent head and good withers and breed a pure Nooitie show pony to die for.

Exavior. Since Mr. Spastic Giraffe is not yet showing the signs of being able to perform Valegro’s Grand Prix freestyle on the How To Train Your Dragon music someday (c’mon, a girl can dream), I’ll stick to my other favourite dream for him: teaching him to kneel down when I need to get on. He’s a hair under 14.3 now, but he’s going to be 16.3+, and I look like a dweeb trying to get on big horses (and have a passionate hatred of mounting blocks). Imagine pausing at the opening of the warmup ring, having him drop obediently to one knee, and mounting up. A vain little dream perhaps, but it does score on the coolness factor.

Magic. He’s a bit too old now, but I would have loved to put him in a free jumping competition for up-and-coming young sport horses. He has amazing technique – really, I’m not just being a proud horse mom, he jumps like a superstar – and absolutely loves it. I think he’d be able to relax, enjoy himself, show everyone what a stunning creature he really is, and probably kick some considerable butt while he was about it.

Skye. According to the dentist, Skye isn’t 16-18 years old, she’s 26. 26?! She didn’t get the memo. Anyway, seeing as long trail rides are kind of out for her in that case (she’s like 80 in horse years!), I would love for her retirement to be as a weanling mom. She would love it so much and be so happy bossing around and looking after the babies, and those young horses would grow up with a social security and authority that would impact their training for years and years to come. Every horse she’s been in a herd with has benefited from her strict but sympathetic leadership and it’s been reflected instantly in its interactions with humans.

Thunder. Two words: Cattle drive. He has the kind of personality that would love, and be lovable on, a week-long trip to herd cows. I mean, he’d get to be with people, cows, and horses all day – Thunder paradise. I would adore being in his saddle all day every day and sleeping out under the stars with my head pillowed on his saddle blanket and him grazing nearby. Of course, I doubt real cattle drives are quite as idyllic, but it’s an experience him and I would both absolutely love.

Their current favourite pastime: Cowpoking. Their stable shares a side with the exit of the milking parlour and these three hooligans stand here waiting for a cow to go by too slowly for their liking, upon which they poke it.
Their current favourite pastime: Cowpoking. Their shelter shares a side with the exit of the milking parlour and these hooligans stand here waiting for a cow to go by too slowly for their liking, upon which they poke it.

So Far, So Good

The Horde and I are all getting rather bored and irritated with walking.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy groundwork; I like watching them think and learning about the differences in how each horse’s brain works, and it is a great opportunity to learn more about each individual horse’s body language. For example, when Baby Thun’s lips twitch, he’s usually relaxing and on the brink of licking and chewing. But when Magic’s lips twitch, he’s annoyed and will either explode or figure it out in the next few seconds.

Still, there is more to a trained adult horse’s life than walking around on the end of a lead, and they’re starting to get antsy and hyper. Especially Magic, of course; working with him is rather interesting because his agile mind seizes any problem and solves it with gusto just for something to do, but allow him to trot two steps and his brain evaporates into a leaping, bucking frenzy because he is just SO HAPPY TO MOOOOOOOOOVE. Even Thunder and Arwen, normally the quieter types, are starting to want to drag me around on the lead rein and everyone regularly charges around in their pastures like a bunch of total idiots.

I am still putting their downtime to good use by refining everyone’s groundwork. Magic has so far been a resounding success; one more session with the pressure halter later and he now ties up without any brain evaporations. We also talked about plastic bags, which he was completely fine with to my surprise until he got bored and started randomly spooking at them just for something to do. Arwen and I went for a slow little hack, practicing long steady stretches of shoulder-in, some collected trot, and tight little leg-yields. She was so hot it was like riding a stick of dynamite, but it did make her really use her bottom and as a result her collected work was superb.

Thun and I can work marginally harder as he is in the third week following his shot, so we can add in a little bit of lope and some more jog. We had a lesson with the Mutterer, during which I borrowed a pair of his awesome Western rowelled spurs. Firstly, they make you sound cool when you walk (come on, they do, admit it) and secondly, they seemed to make a lot of sense to Baby Thun. At one point he was reining back at speed, nose on the vertical, a loop in the reins, just responding to my dragging the spurs gently down his ribs. Apparently the spinning rowel makes more sense to him than just my dressage spur or boot heel. We also did a few rollbacks, during which I appreciated Thunder’s awesome butt; he has the strength to leap into a gallop from a dead halt with one powerful lunge. He slid a little into one stop, but because of our (nonexistent) arena surface, proper sliding isn’t an option right now.

And today it was everyone-gets-into-the-horsebox day. I was really hoping to get Magic walking right up next to me, since last time I managed to load him alone with the bum rope and walking right on is the next step. He refused to load at first, looking worried but not exploding, so I put the bum rope on and we had to talk about that for a while. He obviously hates the sensation of the rope around his haunches and cow-kicked a few times before he gave up and stepped forward. I released the pressure, and he resigned himself to his fate and got on. Once we had loaded with the rope once or twice he started to take it as a game and then I knew he was going to be fine. Indeed he was; in the end he was walking on, standing still, and walking calmly off like an old hand, although I have to hold my hand up beside his nose as he unloads in case he tries to leap off the ramp. It would be such a typical Magic thing to do.

Skye loaded without incident as usual, and Thunder did not improve on his previous attempt at loading. Considering the previous attempt was absolutely foot perfect, I don’t mind. The dear daft animal loves to load because it involves being near his person and the prospect of carrots.

Arwen disappointed me slightly by refusing to load at first, then, with the bum rope, loading and flying back. I honestly thought we’d solved that one. I was a bit firmer with the rope and more or less dragged her on, through and out of the front ramp once, and after that she was back to her usual easy-loading self. Arwen is a horrible traveller, so I think these monthly loading sessions without going anywhere are essential to keep her loading well. She can hardly be blamed for not wanting to load if she travels each time she loads, considering how deeply she hates travelling. Because she has such separation anxiety, I do suspect that the worst thing about travelling for her is just being alone. Since I’m hoping to take her and Magic to shows together in the coming year, I suppose we’ll find out. Maybe Skye can play travelling companion to her herdbound grey friend.


TOABH: Their Favourite Things

Beka at The Owls Approve asks: What is your horse’s absolute favorite thing?  Outside of riding!  Are there treats that instantly convert your pony into an addict or liniments that leave him yawning and chewing?  What does your horse just love to have?

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I do not consider my horses to be adorable. Well, not most of the time. Not always, anyway. They’re not pets, they’re partners. Well, apart from Thunder, and he made himself a pet.

Still, there’s few things cuter than a horse begging for what he likes best, so without further ado:

Arwen has a particular weakness for being sweet-talked. She is ordinarily a brisk, businesslike horse, so much so that her partnership with me can almost be described as “cold” from the point of view of an outsider, and responds well to a correspondingly brisk and businesslike voice, but if she doesn’t want to be caught or is being a jerk then I baby-talk her for all she’s worth and she melts into a puddle of mush. I accidentally taught her this behaviour by sweet-talking her repeatedly just before giving her a carrot, but now the sweet-talking itself appears to have grown on her. If you want to see Arwen make a total idiot of herself, just pitch your voice high and say, “Whosa pretty Narwie then? Are you a Narwie-warwie ponyfacey?” and she’ll do this:


Magic LOVES to run. Of course, most sound horses do. It’s in their very DNA. But he has a passion for movement that I’ve never seen before. He’s already seven years old and by then most working horses settle for just the occasional run when called or when it rains, but Magic will run for no apparent reason; he’ll just kick up his heels and take off like a shot, not going anywhere in particular, just running for the sheer wonderful enjoyment of it. He varies the running with leaping into the air with all four feet at once like a goat, rearing, bucking, falling over (he doesn’t always keep good track of his legs), trotting with the kind of floating elevation a Lipizzaner would be jealous of, and stopping dead to throw up his head and tail and stare into the distance as if he hears the horizon call his name. Of course, he occasionally gives me minor heart attacks when he wipes out full-speed and slides across the wet grass neighing loudly and waving his legs around in an attempt to get back up, and he frequently has little scrapes on his silly pasterns from over-reaching, but who am I to stop him? It makes him so happy.

This is his I’m-gonna-run-now face

Thunder is so in love with life that it’s surprising that I can pick out one thing he adores above all else, but really, it’s easy. Thun loves all living things. Horses, donkeys, dogs, geese, cows – he’ll run up to anything in an attempt to get it to play with him. But above all else, he loves humans of any shape, size or description. This can be very annoying when the vet is vaccinating horses and Thunder is following him around so close that his nose is almost bumping the vet’s back, going “Pick me! Pick me!” when the vet asks “Who’s next?” But most of the time, it’s pretty special to walk into the paddock and see those two little ears pricked up as he runs towards you. He is especially fond of the Mutterer’s two-year-old daughter, and the feeling is mutual; several times we have had to leap to the rescue as she toddles off almost under his feet. Once I was perched upon him when suddenly his head dropped down and when I peered down his neck the little girl had her arms around his nose and was hugging him and chanting “horsie”. And when the Mutterer plants her in the saddle in front of me and Thun and I take her for a spin, that big horse walks as carefully as if on eggshells, for all the world as if he’s entirely aware of his precious burden. Even when the precious burden flaps her legs and clicks her tongue loudly to him, he refrains from obeying her and sticks to a steady plod.

Photo from more than four years ago
Photo from more than four years ago

Skye’s favourite thing is obviously going on outrides, but apart from that, she loves foals with a fiercely protective passion, demonstrating this by lactating every single summer whether there are foals around or not. When she had Thunder, she never let another mare babysit him; she was always fussing over him, licking him, playing with him, following him around, calling to him. And when the other mares had foals, Skye was permanently babysitting them. Two mares grazing happy and alone at one end of the paddock, with Skye standing fiercely guard at the other end with two sleeping foals sprawled beside her, was an everyday sight. She has even adopted Exavior despite his being a yearling already, which he appreciates endlessly.


Exavior, like most colts, likes all types of attention but despite being very touch-sensitive, he loves to be touched. It took me a while to figure this out because he’s very picky – don’t tickle him, finger-comb his mane, scratch his withers, or run your fingertips down his coat. But rub him firmly with a flat hand or scratch his forehead with your knuckles, and he groans with pleasure. His all-time favourite is simply for you to stand next to him with your shoulder or back touching him. Something about it just makes him calm and relaxed. He doesn’t lean – I don’t need to be leant on by a potentially 17hh monster – just stands there in contact with you and loves it. I’ve seen him do it with Skye, as well; he stands right next to her, shoulder to her flank, leaning his little head on her ribs. Even if I’m standing a foot or so away from him and talking to him he likes to come up, lower his head and lean his forehead on my chest. He doesn’t rub his head on me, he just wants to stand there like that. Which is frankly too cute for words, a gesture of trust. At first he would pull away if I moved, but now he lets me very gently run my hands up his ears. I think it’s safe to say that this is one of my favourite things, too.

Glory to the King.

Discussing Pressure

Since Magic just got his second horse sickness shot on Saturday, and the dentist is only coming next week so I can’t put a bit in his mouth, and our brief attempt at bitless went very well right up until the part where we cantered with him pretending to be a terrified giraffe and me clinging on grimly until it was over… I put him in a pressure halter and decided that it was time for Mr. Quirkypants to face his biggest demon.

Tying up.

Honestly, there’s a reason why I have had him for two years and never tried to fix this before. Frankly, it’s terrifying to see your horse zoom backwards at a million miles an hour and hit the end of the lead with enough force, you feel, to break his neck. To make it worse, this is Magic we’re talking about. Most other horses would fight the pressure for a few minutes and then give up and try something else. Magic would fight until something broke; either the halter or his neck. Evidently, just attaching him to a sturdy pole and waiting for him to realise that nothing was going to eat him was not going to be an awesome idea.

First we went off into the arena and talked about pressure, which is what tying up is all about. Horse that always yields to pressure = horse that ties up. That is the beauty of tying up; it’s instant pressure and release. Magic understand pressure a lot better than he did; when I started with him, “pressure” meant “MAJOR FREAK OUT OH MAH WORD IT’S THE APOCALYPSE RUN FOR YOUR LIVES”. Now, he’s usually accepted that “pressure” means “yield”. Except when I tie him up. Then he’s fine until he turns his head to shoo a fly, realises he’s tied up, and has one of his brain evaporations.

I put a helmet on and did some of the exercises that an American dressage trainer (the same one, incidentally, who taught me to one-rein stop for those moments when “the cliff is here and the canyon is here and no seat aids are gonna stahp* ‘um”) had taught me back in August in between Arwen shying at baboons. First I had him lower his head, then rubbed his poll a bit until he was relaxed, then did some yielding of the hindquarters/disengaging the haunches/turn on the forehand/as you like it, a bit of yielding the shoulders, and backing up in a straight line. Then, my personal favourite. Backing him up one step, taking him forward one step. Eventually he gets so used to backing up with one diagonal that he steps forward with the diagonal legs simultaneously

instead of the normal walk rhythm and you can rock him back and forth with two of his legs never moving at all. With a nerd like Magic, I soon had him rocking his body back and forth at a touch on the lead without moving any legs. I get such a kick out of that one.

We rounded off by making his brain work a bit with backing up in a circle (“Dude,” said Magic, “you keep saying ‘FORWARD’ when we’re working, what’s the big idea with this backing up thing?!”) and then I girded up my loins and took him to the round pen. I had, typically, forgotten to bring a lunging line, so I improvised with a couple of long leads tied together. I had him stand a couple of steps away from the fence, ran the makeshift long line around the horizontal pole just once, held the end, stood at some distance and put pressure on him.

Magic no likey
Magic no likey

Instantly, his head shot up, eyes snapped wide and ears laid back. I soothed him with my voice a bit, trying to prevent a brain evaporation, and kept the pressure steady and constant. Step by step, with a little encouragement from me (i. e., waving my arms and smooching at him until he stepped forward and was rewarded by a second’s release), he walked/staggered over to the pole and I let the pressure off him and gave him a rub. We repeated this until at the first touch of pressure, he went straight up to the fence and got a pat. I tweaked my position, standing beside the fence instead of off to one side; I would of course like him to tie up alone but if he needs his little human comfort zone nearby at first I won’t begrudge him that.

Then I made him back up and let him hit the end of the rope suddenly enough to spook him, but not to hurt. Cue instant brain evaporation. He shot back, I let the rope run out (keeping the pressure constant), and after a few flying steps backwards a little light bulb went on over his head and he walked straight up to the pole, getting lavish praise for this. He really is a smart guy when his brain is present.

We repeated this a couple of times and then I called it a day. All in all, it could have been a lot scarier, and I think we made good progress. Maybe this year we will meet some goals, after all.

*She was from Montana. I was from Gauteng. I bet I sounded just as odd to her as she did to me.

Happy New Year! Have a minor heart attack! In fact, have two!

This was how my horses wished me “happy New Year.”

The day started out just fine and continued happily with me taking the Mutterer’s white gelding for a hack, which turned out to be an awesome first ride of the year. The white gelding is taking long to sell for reasons I cannot imagine because he really is the most enjoyable little horse and with plenty of talent to boot. Anyway, I shall not complain because I get to ride him in the interim, which is no great burden whatsoever. He was his usual steady, gentle, comfortable self and we had a lovely long hack through the summer grass.

Then I took my sister and her QH mare to go and swim in the dam while I perched myself on an absolutely rotund Arwen. She had a nice two weeks off, which were very well deserved because she worked hard this year, but now that she’s starting to get very hyper I’ve put her back in as much work as the vaccination will allow (we have three more weeks to go). She looks beautiful, shiny, glossy and healthy, but also extremely fat, which has always been her downfall. The fat beast and I both need to get back in shape (although, in my defence, I am nowhere near as fat as she is).

The walk down to the dam was quiet and uneventful and Arwen even stood very still for me to strip off her saddle and my boots (thank you Arwen, I hate hopping around through the burrs trying to mount an errant horse bareback). I scrambled on and we set onto the banks. I gave her as good a kick as my bare heels could give and she went straight in without hesitation. I had just enough time to praise her when suddenly, with a horrible sensation that I have no desire to ever feel again, Arwen’s legs vanished into the mud. In a matter of seconds my feet were dangling in water that should have been knee-deep. Ten seconds of absolute terror ensued during which Arwen floundered valiantly and I, clinging to mane and kicking for dear life, egged her on at the top of my voice. If it had been anything but strong, stoic little Arwen we would still have been trying to dig her out of the clay. But she put down her hindlegs until she found solid ground, coiled up her big (fat) haunches and launched her way out. By the grace of God, we found ourselves on the safety of the bank. I was much to terrified and grateful to do anything except hug her wet neck and tremble; Arwen took a few seconds to get her breath back and then nearly catapulted me off by putting her head down to start grazing. Thank God for tough little Nooitgedachters.

She was as sound as a brass bell all the way home and we shall never, ever be swimming in that particular dam ever again ever, but it did start the year off with a shock. I foresee some trouble trying to get her to go into water complexes again, unfortunately, but I’m sure the brave little grey mare, my King and I will overcome that as well, eventually.

My heart rate had just started to slow down when Exavior came in for supper with his superorbital fossae (temples, to you and me) all swollen up (a typical symptom of the dreaded African horse sickness). His appetite was good, manner perky, mucus membranes nice and pink, capillary refill time normal, temperature slightly elevated at 38.4 degrees Celsius. We came to the conclusion that he was either reacting to a bug bite or to his vaccine, which is known for causing the mild swelling and fever in youngsters. Today the swelling is unchanged but his temperature is down to a dead normal 36.8 degrees. God willing, he’s just being a daft sensitive baby warmblood.

What a way to start the year. Thanks, ponykins.