Q2 Goal Review

So it’s a little late, but better late than never, right?

Nell

  • Qualify for the Provincials at the Young Horse Performance Series.
    – Done! We needed two completions and we have three. So we finished last at two of them (and won the last one! … OK, so nobody else showed up), but who cares? We’re going. The logistics are going to be a bit fun, considering finals are on the same day as the Jacaranda Nooitie show, but at least we can cross this off our list.
  • Compete, graded, at the higher Novice tests.  I’m calling this done. We did Novice 4 and 5 graded and Novice 6 at YHPS, which is a similar standard. We’ll continue to compete higher Novice for the rest of the year to get our grading points (one down, four to go).
  • Go to a jumping training show at a low level. Eh, maybe after YHPS. We at least can jump now, but every time I do a jumping training show I find myself with a horsebox full of kids and ponies, so we’ll have to see.
  • School lower level Elementary successfully. We’ve done most of the movements, but I’m not crossing this off until we’ve done a couple of complete tests at home.
  • Compete in any available Nooitgedachter shows.  In the process of doing! We’ve done two out of the three annual Nooitie shows and are tentatively aiming for the third one – with YHPS finals being on the same day, it’s a bit complicated.

Arwen

  • Go double clear at EV7o – Still aiming for this one. We did go double clear at a stadium event, but that doesn’t quite count. Our next full horse trial in August will be at EV60 to build our confidence, then we’re back at EV70 if it goes well.
  • School Elementary Medium 1 and 2 – We’ve done some of the movements, but not the full tests just yet.
  • Compete Elementary –  Not yet. We have most of our grading points and have happily schooled the level, so it’s just a matter of getting out there.
  • Gallop through water –  Done! At a schooling, not a show, but we came down a bank, through the water and over a fence without breaking rhythm.

Magic

  • Finish getting back the topline muscle he lost when he was sick.
  • School Novice 4, 5, and 6. We’re so close to finishing Novice 6, too. None of our tests are awesome – we’d be very hard put to get 60% – but all I want is for him to benefit from the flatwork schooling, so just doing the moves as well as we can is fine by me.
  • Make 90cm our comfort zone at home.  – We were so close! In fact we were popping 90cm at home and now we’ve taken it back down a few notches. It’s no fault of my precious Magic’s; he could probably do like 1.20m right now with his eyes closed. However he needs his nervous saddle monkey and after our little tumble a few weeks ago, I’m not there yet. So the journey goes, and so God makes something more amazing through His plan than anything I planned for.
  • Show graded at 70cm.
  • Show at 80cm, graded or training. –  We were close to this one, too! We may still do it yet. Magic certainly can. We just need a few confidence-boosting rounds at 70cm first.

Exavior

  • Bathing. –  There’s been improvement, but we’ll finish this up properly in the summer when he won’t hate me for spraying ice water on him.
  • Loading.
  • Continued improvement on injections.  Yay! He is still by no means an easy critter to inject, but we’re progressing. He just had his AHS shot and when my helper and I caught him he smelt a rat and went ballistic, but after about five minutes of reassurance, he decided that he wasn’t going to be injected after all so he stood perfectly still and didn’t even notice when I slipped the needle in. It’s all in his empty little brain. We’ll see how he does with his next shot in three weeks.
  • Lunging over poles.
  • Introduction to small free jumps.
  • Backing.
  • Basic aids in walk. –  Ugh, I so want to get on this horse now! His groundwork is done apart from poles and jumps. I literally just have to throw a leg over him and teach him to whoa, go and turn. But with his still being entire, working him isn’t feasible at the yard right now. As soon as the colt is a gelding we’ll bring him back and I’ll probably be able to finish this in a few weeks.

Taking every second of this year as it comes, hand in hand with the King ❤

Do’s and Don’ts for Advertising Horses

I’m still quite new in the horse sales world, but I’m meticulous about my advertisements. With Facebook, it’s possible to create a classy, far-reaching ad for nothing but the cost of your Internet (and whatever bribery it takes to get someone to take pictures for you). And with just a few tips, you don’t even need a whole lot of skill. So here are some common errors I see in advertising from horse people of all levels, and some tips on ads I like and how I try to give my sale ponies the best possible chance at finding a good home at a good price.

Do: obey the rules of the group you’re posting in. The admins of the group have created it out of their interest in horses, not for any kind of monetary gain. Respect them for that and for creating a platform for you to sell your horse cheaply and easily. Read the “about” section or the pinned post carefully and make sure your advertisement adheres to their rules. Many groups are designed for a specific type of horse or price range – make sure your horse fits in it.

Don’t: keep on posting and posting in a group if the admins have repeatedly deleted your post for being inapplicable. It’s rude and tactless, and you’re likely to get thrown out on your ear. Also, consider that a buyer doesn’t want to deal with a rude and tactless person. Aside from being inconsiderate to others, you’re just hurting your own interests in the long run.

Do: include photos. Facebook is full of bright, interesting colours and most of us don’t concentrate very hard as we’re flipping through it. Sale posts without pictures are doomed to simply being overlooked. It’s also highly unlikely that anyone will bother to come a view a horse if they haven’t seen pictures of it, and people don’t like to have to contact you just to get pictures of something they turn out not liking anyway. Also, many horse sale groups require photographs.

Don’t: include poor quality photos. And this doesn’t just include cellphone snaps in low light. Selfies with your horse might be adorable but they’re totally irrelevant on a sale ad. As a buyer, I’m looking for someone knowledgeable and professional to deal with, and a teen in a tank top making a duck face while clutching her horse’s nose doesn’t qualify. These photos are perfectly fine to include on your own page or wherever else – but leave it off the ad.

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Cute photo, but useless on a sale ad

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This picture is much more appropriate

Of course, cellphone pictures in poor lighting are also a complete no-go. A high quality photograph can really attract buyers and show off your horse at his best. There’s no lying in photos, but here’s an example of how a quality picture can make a horse look more valuable.

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Happy snap of a sale pony

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The same pony about a week later. This photo attracted the attention of some of the top breeders and dealers in the country, even though this pony was of unknown breeding. She was sold within the week.

However, even a high quality image taken by a professional photographer can be completely useless in a sale ad. Remember that the kind of buyer you want to attract for your horse isn’t simply shopping for something pretty running in the field. A responsible buyer is a responsible owner, and a responsible buyer wants to be able to make some kind of an assessment of the horse.

Exavior2
This picture is pretty, but it’s almost impossible to judge anything about the horse’s stride here

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While not as spectacular, this would be a far better photo to include in a sale ad. This photo shows much more of the horse’s conformation and action. I prefer not to see free movement shots in ads, but as this horse is a youngster, it would be appropriate.

Do: take high quality, highly applicable, clear photographs. Pictures should grab the buyer’s attention, but also give them a good idea of what the horse looks and moves like. For higher value horses, it’s probably worth it to have a professional photographer do this (if you don’t have a sister with mad skillz like I do).

Your horse should also be turned out as carefully, or even more so, as for a show. It should at the very least be extremely clean and well groomed. I like to put on a set of newly washed white exercise bandages (except for the conformation shot), as a clean set of white bandages expertly applied highlights the horse’s movement and gives an impression of the seller as being skilled and professional. However, they will draw attention to the horse’s legs, so if your horse has obvious conformation flaws in its lower legs, omit them entirely. He should at the very least be correctly trimmed according to his breed standard, preferably neatly plaited (except for natural breeds). I’ve never plaited for sale shots because the arena is kind of shabby, so I’ve felt that plaits can look like I’m trying too hard. But if I had a classy arena, I would definitely do plaits and quarter marks.

The rider/handler should also be neatly turned out. Show attire is a bit pretentious, but you should be clean and neatly dressed, with polished boots and long hair put up in a hairnet. I wear my work breeches and a golf shirt with my usual hat, gloves, and boots with gaitors or long boots.

The exact photos you take will depend on the horse, but I prefer to always include:

  • A good conformation shot. Set the horse up against a nice background as you would in the show ring for its breed or type, even if it’s not a show horse. This is a deceptively difficult shot to get right. In my experience, it’s best taken with the photographer kneeling down. It should also be taken directly from the middle of the horse’s side – no funny angles so that the buyer can assess the horse’s conformation accurately. The horse should wear a bridle or show halter, no saddle. Always take the conformation shot first – he shouldn’t be sweaty.

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This is an example of the lowest standard of conformation shot I’d use. He is standing fairly square on a level surface and his handler has asked him to engage his neck, so he can be adequately assessed. However, it lacks a certain sparkle – I would have liked him to be standing perfectly square with the hindlegs slightly less camped out. The lighting could aso have been better, and the background less muddy. I also wish he’d kept his silly tail still.

  • The walk, trot, canter and – if applicable – jump. If the horse is backed, these must be taken under saddle. If you have an elementary dressage horse, nobody wants to see him trotting around in the field. Youngstock should be photographed moving freely in an arena or a field with a nice surface. Ridden horses should be photographed in the nicest arena you have access to. The gaits should be captured from the side in the correct moment, with the inside hind leg coming under to give the best impression of forward, balanced movement possible. Given our scruffy yard, I like to use show photos for this part if the horse has already shown. NEVER use stolen, watermarked photographs! This is ILLEGAL and gives a very, very poor impression.
  • One photo that’s just pretty, just to catch the reader’s eye. Preferably a head shot that shows something of the character and spirit of the horse.

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This cute little diamond in the rough gave us a hint of his kindness in his lovely soft eye here

Do: write your advertisement in clear, correct English. If that’s not your strong point, get someone else to do it or just proofread it for you. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation aren’t overrated. There’s no need to try to be Shakespeare – don’t go overwriting or using inappropriate long words. Buyers don’t want to read a poem, they just want all the horse’s information in a format that’s clear and easy to read. SMS slang is not acceptable.

Using the right jargon is also important to come across as knowledgeable. Of course, the best way to come across as knowledgeable is to be knowledgeable – learn the terms for what you’re trying to say and apply them right. Common mistakes include writing out the horse’s height incorrectly (e. g. 14.5h or 14.2″) and using the wrong term for the gender (e. g. saying stallion instead of colt).

Don’t: write extravagantly. You really don’t need to call your horse “priceless”, “SPECTACULAR”, or “perfect”. (“Perfect conformation” is something that doesn’t exist – put it on your ad and a good buyer will immediately be suspicious that you’re either clueless or dishonest). It’s okay to throw in a few positive adjectives about things that really are positive about your horse (“outstanding temperament” or “incredible jump”), but don’t try to make him a unicorn.

Do: include all the relevant information that you have on the horse, paying special attention to the information required by the group rules. This will include a minimum of height, age, gender, location, level of training, breed, contact details, and price. If he has any real vices, say so. But don’t be scared to include the things he’s really good at. I like to add the horse’s ground manners (“good to box, clip, bath, and tie up”), something about his temperament (“easygoing and willing”), the ideal situation I’d like to see him in (“best suited as a first pony for a nervous child”), and what kind of maintenace he needs (“lives out, barefoot, unshod, no concentrates” – LOL you can tell I train Nooities).

Don’t: try to sound like you know everything. Present the information you do have in the most accurate and professional way you can, but don’t add in information that you’re only guessing at. It’s okay not to be an expert. Put in everything you know for sure, leave out everything you don’t really know. If you’re not an experienced horse person, it’s worth having a vet or yard manager in your area just measure your horse and check his teeth for age.

This is especially true for breed and height. Don’t just take a wild guess at how tall your horse is. If he’s a farm horse whose parents were both descendants of semi-feral crossbreeds, he’s not 16 hands, and most buyers will know that. Use a measuring tape – even the type you use for sewing or measuring an area – to measure him in centimetres, then put that height on his ad as approximate (“+- 150cm”). Better yet, ask Google to convert it to hands for you, but unless he was measured with a proper stick by an experienced horse person, always give the height as approximate. It’s also not a great idea to guess at your youngster’s expected maturation height if you don’t know how big the parents are. If he’s a 13.3hh two-year-old, he’s not going to be 15.1hh no matter how badly you want him to. It’s generally safe to give the height of both parents or give the expected height as being somewhere in the middle of the height of both parents. Huge foals do not necessarily grow into huge horses.

As for breeds, everyone has an opinion about what breed their crossbred is, but unless either or both parents were registered, it’s not a “Friesian cross” or a “Boerperd cross”. Calling your vaguely Nooitgedachter-shaped mongrel a Nooitgedachter is inaccurate and insulting to the true Nooitgedachter breeders, no matter how pretty he is. Just say “crossbred” on the ad. There’s nothing wrong with a crossbred, and buyers will appreciate your honesty. If your horse does bear obvious resemblance to a certain breed, but you can’t prove his lineage, it’s perfectly OK to call him a crossbred of a certain type (e. g. “crossbred of Basutho type”).

Do: reply as promptly as possible to any correspondence. Once you’ve hooked a buyer, you need to continue to impress them with your service. Be prompt and polite. Many of us have a life outside of horses, so we can’t always respond immediately, but answering within 12 hours makes a good impression. If you’re doing this professionally, responding within the hour is my ideal. Learn where all the hidden inboxes are on Facebook and make sure all the relevant notifications are turned on.

Don’t: engage in battle with trolls. You will lose. Some people take pleasure in commenting on advertisements, especially those of amateur or inexperienced horsepeople, to provide their unwanted opinions. This is best avoided by following the tips above to ensure your information is correct, but sometimes it’s merely a personal opinion that someone will choose to vent on your post. Fighting with them in the comments of your sale post isn’t going to give a very professional impression, and it’s probably not worth your energy anyway. Delete the comment, report to the admin or Facebook if necessary, and move on. If you really do want to speak to this person, inbox them.

If you see something on a sale ad that is truly a concern to the welfare of horse and/or  rider, commenting on the post isn’t going to help. All that does is make the OP defensive and cause a flame war, probably ending in the removal of the ad and the horse going to slaughter or being given away to the next person that comes by. Beware spouting self-righteousness in the name of “education”. If you do truly want to help the horse, report it to the relevant welfare organisation. If the seller really is abusive or neglectful, they’ve provided you with all the information required for an investigation by animal welfare. Screenshot the ad and report them. That’s how horses will be helped, not by preaching on Facebook.

 

Ultimately, the best advertisement for your horse is a good horse. Have your horse in good condition, wearing well-fitting tack, and being correctly ridden. Do some research on what kind of price you can expect to get for him, and price him fairly. If you are in dire financial need and trying to get rid of your horse as quickly as possible, the most humane option for all concerned is to take him to your nearest equine shelter (Highveld Horse Care Unit for most of us in Gauteng) and surrender him. It is highly unlikely that your underweight, unbacked, R1000 horse is going to end up in a good home.

Just be honest, be kind, and do your best.

 

The Best Way

In short: there isn’t one.

Gasp! How could you say that? Obviously only [insert guru here]’s Miracle Way of the Horse is the only right way to do [insert training obstacle/goal here], which of course you can’t accomplish without [$$$$$ glorified lunging whip/bitless bridle/neck strap], and all other ways are Wrong.

Bitting up is Wrong. Bitless is Wrong. Draw reins are Wrong. Whips are Wrong (but not carrot sticks or whatever). Or maybe the One True Way involves a magic gadget of magicalness. And don’t even think about deviating from the training scales!

Um, guys. How many horses do you know that read Principles of Riding or watch YouTube?

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Snaffles are kinder than Kimberwicks the book said

Magic5
he didn’t read the book

The funny thing about these methods is they all work. For certain people and certain horses in certain circumstances, they work. The better ones work for the vast majority of horses. But nobody would be peddling these methods, or accepting them for hundreds of years, if they didn’t work.

There are only two wrong ways. The way that really hurts somebody (equine or human), and the way that doesn’t work.

Take Magic, for instance. Magic will curl up, flip his head, invert and flail to the best of his ability if subjected to the horrible cruelty of an apple mouth snaffle. I did the Wrong thing and bitted him up to a Kimberwick. He almost instantly transformed into a horse that could go forward into a steady contact in a relaxed and more or less graceful manner (most of the time).

Flare3

This horse had been trained (badly) for polo and was the most extreme case of head up = adrenalin up I have ever seen. Her rhythm and tempo were appalling and she had no concept of suppleness until one day she nearly broke my nose with her permanently raised head, so I put a martingale on in the interests of my nasal well-being. She put her head down and suddenly she could float and bend and relax. We turned the training pyramid on its head, starting with something a little like connection, which is Wrong. She is now being a riding school pony that competes in dressage with kids. It was Wrong but it worked for Flare.

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Liana had similar problems to Flare, being extremely tense with a very high head carriage and tiny, piggy little strides. Her flatwork sucked so I did only jumping and relaxed hacking for nearly six months. Which is Wrong. Everyone knows you need to have solid flatwork before you can jump. But Liana adores jumping. She became so relaxed and happy over fences that when we returned to flatwork, she was suddenly and magically a dressage horse.

So my horses got happier and better thanks to my incorrect training, but that doesn’t make the training scale wrong.

Nell4

I trained Nell according to convention and she earns her highest scores for the basics and her lowest for connection, as according to the training scales. It worked for her, and for Arwen and Whisper and Sookie and Reed and half a dozen other furballs I trained “properly”.

OK, so how about starters? Surely a clean slate should always come out the same way when a certain method is applied?

Bruno1

Bruno was fresh off the veld – cleanest slate you could find. I never did Join-Up or desensitisation on this pony. I started him bareback and spent most of my initial groundwork just hand grazing him, and he’s a relaxed, happy, obedient, responsive and laid-back ride.

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With Quinni, on the other hand, I did practically everything by the book – Join-Up, despooking, pressure-release exercises, the works. She is also a happy, relaxed, responsive horse to ride.

Ultimately it is very easy to get bogged down in a method or a way. We all say we train dressage, or soft feel, or Parelli or whatever. But realistically, we all train something Handmade – a unique, created being that, just like us all, has emotions and quirks and sensitivities and vices and scars and secrets and baggage.

What we all really train is horses.

And they all train us.

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Winstead Stadium Eventing

Can I just say that stadium eventing is really fun? It’s like eventing, but with less hard. Hence I was very excited to go to Winstead for their stadium event the weekend after a cross-country schooling in the same arena – a perfect opportunity to start rebuilding Arwen’s confidence after our ignominous failures earlier in the year, and for Liana to go across country in competition for the first time.

Liana did the 60cm and 70cm and was stellar. I had her back in the snaffle after using a sweet iron gag for a while, and my coach’s suggestion proved to be right on the money. She was much less fussy in her mouth and gave me two very sane and relaxed rounds. Ana is just a pleasure to have at shows – she walks into the arena all business and happily packed my butt around.

Liana2

I did have my neck strap, though, because Liana has quite a pop and tends to use it over scary fences. She only threw one overjump all day, though. In the 60cm we had a very foolish little stop that was more of a steering issue than a disobedience and finished with a very reasonable time, too, even though I was letting her set the pace. (Or maybe because I was letting her set the pace…). The course was inviting but not soft and she really rose to the occasion.

Liana1

The 70cm was a definite step up, with this being my rider frightener of the day. This little trailer/table was quite low but looked max width and I do so love staring down into spreads. Liana, however, didn’t have a qualm about it and jumped it already angled for the next fence – a drop, which she was excellent about. She was gutsy to everything except a white skinny in the shade, where she had a look and I booted her over, taking the pole for four penalties that just kept us out of the placings. This was probably our last competition together for some time, as two days before her new little person had signed the papers for a lease with option to buy, praise God!

Arwen was also extremely spooky to the white skinny, but apart from that she ate the course alive. She had warmed up a little spooky, but something about walking into the arena engaged dragon mode and it was all I could do to stay on and steer. I don’t think I have ever ridden a course that fast in my life and I spent most of my time sitting back yelling “Steady!” while she tore around like a maniac. It was good enough for a clear round with no time penalties, though, so we very merrily went through to the jump-off.

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It was just my coach and I in the jump-off, so it followed that of course we would make two newbie errors to the absolute delight of the spectators. Coach went first and rode a stunning round on her youngster apart from completely forgetting about the last fence, ending up with four penalties for her circle. She had handed it to me on a silver platter, except that Arwen tore around the course and then threw in a rebellious stop at the white skinny, making us a few seconds slower for second place. I was not too upset – I’ll come second to my coach any day.

I had also (somewhat reluctantly) entered the 80cm on coach’s urging, but I’ll admit it was one of those courses where you stay as far as possible away from the jumps when you’re walking just in case you get close enough to see how big they are. This course was again inviting and started gently but built up to some very legitimate challenges for EV80, including a dyke, drop, max height rolltop, and a scary related distance of a hanging log down a steep bank to a large house in about four or five strides. And of course the showjumps were 85cm, the biggest fences I’ve ever jumped in competition.

Arwen was still on fire after her victory lap, so we came thundering at number one and then spooked violently. I applied whip, spurs and voice with alacrity and Arwen popped over and then hit her stride and started to settle, taking the fences more in her stride. The hanging log to house proved to be one of her nicest and quietest efforts on course – she didn’t turn a hair. We had a look at the dyke, but I brought her in very quietly so she had enough time to process it and popped neatly over. The max height rolltop was cause for absolutely no drama,

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and we were charging merrily along when I forgot my line to number 14 (still kicking myself) and sliced a corner too fine, presenting Arwen at the biggest fence on course at an angle. Arwen was like um no and threw in a stop, which wasn’t that dirty but I gave her a smack anyway because she has no need to get ideas about stopping. We reapproached and she popped over just fine, had another look at the last fence and tapped the pole. That finished us with 8 jump penalties and 10 time, which I did not think was too shoddy for our first EV80 considering our history with eventing.

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I think Arwen may have enjoyed it more than I did

This show really kind of confirmed the change I’m trying to make in my attitude. We rode into that arena with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our goals to do with hearts instead of ribbons, and the horses and I were all just happy and comfortable in our own skins. It turned out, as it so often does, to be one of our most successful shows, too.

He meant it when He said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” Glory to the King I seek.

Meet the Starters

With Bruno and Lancelot being well started, nevertheless I haven’t run out of unbacked babies. I have a queue of starters waiting for me (two Appaloosas, an Arab, a rather interesting crossbred, a Welsh pony and Exavior himself – and those are just the ones actually at the yard) but I have only so many rides in me every week, so right now I’m working on two of the loveliest grey ladies in the world.

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This is Olive, our first draft at the yard. She is a bit of a crossbred but there is a whole lot of Percheron there, which makes her fluffy and huge with extra helpings of adorable. She arrived in June with only very basic work done – a bit of halter training and a lot of friendliness towards people – and has made good progress.

True to draft form, she is the sweetest thing on four legs, which has made her trainable despite not being the sharpest knife in the drawer. We started out with basic lunging, where she proved much more forward-going than I expected of such a big floof,

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and now we have moved on to the roller and desensitisation and pressure-release exercises and finally, weight. (Although I don’t think my mass compared to Olive’s can really be called “weight”.)

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As expected from a homebred, she was pretty cool about being desensitised and not bad about weight. It took a few sessions for her to stop mouthing the bit incessantly, but I finally reverted to an old trick I learned from the Mutterer (AKA king of starting youngsters) and just left her in the round pen with the bridle on for half an hour. With all her brainpower free to figure out this new question, she was relaxed about it by the time I returned and we haven’t had a hitch since.

The second starter is the drop-dead-gorgeous Quinni.

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Quinni is impeccably bred, with some of the best Nooitgedachter blood in history blended with her Anglo-Arab sire to create one of the nicest young horses I have ever seen. She is drool-worthy from her impressive size and conformation to her wonderful floatiness. Add in a dash of cuteness, a high IQ and a darling personality, and you have me sold.

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Sadly for me, although I am casually on the lookout for a fancy dressage horse, I am broke and Quinni is older than what I was looking for. Also, her owner is set on keeping her for a broodmare, a decision which I wildly applaud. Lots of baby Quinnis running around can only be a good thing.

This has not prohibited me from enjoying my time with her. We had a bit of a sticky start when she came down with a horrific acute biliary, but she’s a fighter and kicked that bug with a vengeance. I had started her on the lunge and popped a saddle on her at her breeder’s, so she bounced back quickly from her illness and waltzed through her groundwork without apparent effort. The horse is naturally balanced, intelligent, eager to please and sensitive – what more could you ask for? I was expecting a little fireworks when I sat on her the first time, as she does have that sensitive streak that can cause issues during starting, but I needn’t have worried. Her first three rides were among the easiest I have ever had on a baby.

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my face says it all

After getting thrown from Dirkie last year I truly thought it would be more than a year before I pulled myself together enough to get back on a baby, especially a bigger baby like these two. But of course, God is faithful and the power of Christ is in me.

And I had help.

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one of those ponies that I know I’ll never forget

10 Questions for July

I am stoked to see that Viva Carlos is running their 10 questions again! These are always fun. (Also I have no pictures for recaps just yet.)

1. Do you actually always pick the horse’s feet? Always? Really?

I’m a little freaky about the feet. Always during the daily grooming, always before a ride, always after the ride. On the occasions when I don’t (either when I’m tacking up a schoolie in a mad rush, or when I go to shows and forget my hoof pick like a terrible horse person) it irritates me for at least an hour. Woe betide any unhappy soul responsible for a horse’s feet if I get there and they have smelly feet or sticky frogs or even a whiff of thrush. (My longsuffering right hand man is just as pedantic, luckily for him).

2. What is the biggest obstacle/reason preventing you from becoming a professional or competing full time with ease?

Well, considering I am (kind of) a professional, this one’s a little hard to answer. But the biggest obstacle that might someday force me out of this wonderful life is undoubtedly money. Ugh money. I think my working students earn more than I do at this point. However, it’s God I serve, not mammon, and I know which one of God and mammon is in charge. So I have faith that that will never be my reason to quit.

3. Do you think it will ever not be about the money?

Yes. I think it already is, for some people. Whether or not the sport/career/hobby is going to be about money isn’t something that can be totally controlled by society. Sure, it helps to have a super fancy horse and a super fancy yard, but at the end of the day you can’t buy a horse’s willingness or your own skill. Making it about the money is a choice each of us makes as individuals, and bemoaning those who do make it about the money isn’t going to change anything. It’s only our own choices, our own actions for a higher cause that can change the world.

4. Was there ever a horse that you loved and really wanted to have a connection with, but it just never panned out? Details.

Oh Ryka. I loved that horse. I still do – I just never see him anymore. There was a real connection there, a kind of fairytale compatability that you only see in poorly made girls’ horse movies. He was the crazy stallion nobody could ride, and I was the nervous kid who could ride him. But some of his scars just ran too deep. He flipped out at our first show together and even I couldn’t get him back, and I haven’t been back on him since. Due to circumstances, I don’t even really go to the yard where he is anymore. But he still tips his ears towards my voice and my heart still skips a beat at the sight of him.

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He only pricks his ears for me

5. What is one weakness in your riding that even your trainer doesn’t pick up on, only you?

I don’t think any of my coaches really know how nervous I am. I was never good at covering up my feelings, but since we started the yard, it’s something I learned really, really quickly. Kids don’t like to see grownups scared and it’s made me more confident in a way, but a lot of my nerves are still there – just squashed away somewhere until something flips the switch. If I was as good at being confident as I am at acting confident, I’d be a bronc rider!

6. What is the biggest doubt/insecurity you ask or tell yourself in your head?

Oh, I have classic impostor syndrome. It’s annoying but at least now it has a name.

7. There is a barn fire. You are the first person to discover it and see that the roof is collapsing in slowly, and you can tell that it’s going to come down any time. Do you call people first, or head in straight to save the horses?

Guys, I run a stableyard. Multitasking is my thing. I’ll be clamping my phone between shoulder and ear while leading three horses, one of them panicking. Besides, someone has probably already called me to come fix it, so…

8. What is one event in your riding career/horse/anything that you’re still not over, even though you might tell others you are?

I don’t think I’ll ever really get over Achilles. It was seven years ago, but I still have the same triggers he gave me – stallions, big horses, and buckers. (Also Friesians, but that’s their own fault). The funny part is that he was Thunder’s daddy and Thunder did a lot of healing of the damage Killer caused.

9. If you could tell off one person you just don’t like, what would you say?

Horses and children are not status symbols. Trainers are not crash test dummies. It is not OK to treat any of them as such.

10. Have you ever seen questionable riding or training practices, but let it go/ignored it? How do you feel about it in hindsight?

Not that I can really think of. I can take a view on mild neglect a little if I know the owner and they’ve fallen on hard times/are clueless and are trying to fix it, or I’ll just help them out with education/food/whatever, but physical abuse is never going to be something I’ll be quiet about. It’s explainable, but never justifiable.

What Really Matters

[Side note: I will write a brief recap of June at some point, I really will. Bad blogger! But for today, here’s some drivel that’s been floating around in my head for a while.]

My own riding has me a little disheartened lately. I have never been the most confident rider or someone that finds riding easy, but I have always been ambitious. And lately, that’s led to a whole lot of disappointment.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying my guts out to get better at this. I was the kid that was forever drawing pictures of her first pony winning the Olympics. I’ve had goals and plans and lofty dreams all my life; since I was seven years old I would watch the pros on TV, then close my eyes and picture me riding that perfect 1.60m course or Grand Prix freestyle on old Skye. I want it so bad I can taste it. It’s not really about the victory, I just have this craving to be so good at it. I really want to feel what it’s like to ride a 10 for a half-pass. I really want to go double clear at 4* with the grace of a dancer. And I’ve been working for that since I can remember. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t riding at least 6 days a week, and since I was 12, that’s been multiple horses a day. That’s a lot of saddle time and a lot of blood and sweat and tears, and all I have on my show record is one grading point at Novice, one at 70cm, and one at EV70. I have been eliminated repeatedly and dramatically in every discipline I ride in with the exception of dressage, and I know that’s only a matter of time. The only graded classes I’ve won have been ones where I was the only one that showed up, barring one, where my 8-year-old was competing against a real greenie. It’s not exactly the kind of show record you expect from a trainer, much less a coach. Horse riding takes years, this I know, but at every show I see juniors and pony riders doing medium and 1.20m and EV100 and they’re winning.

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adult riding for a living, losing at EV70

The last thing I can blame is the horses, because I have some really, really incredible horses. These horses have more scope and talent than I do, and they try their courageous hearts out for me.

And that is kind of discouraging sometimes because I have many shortcomings, but lack of drive is not one of them. Every year, I ride more horses, I take more lessons. I ride when I’m sick and hurting, I ride in the rain and the cold, I get back on over and over. For the last six months of 2015, I have 569 sessions recorded in my logbook, and I ride a lot more now than I did then. I did my stint as a working student and I did my share of falling off wild ponies for peanuts. I have never quit on riding, not once; the longest I have gone in my memory without riding has been two weeks – the two weeks that Magic was sick. And sometimes it’s like it’s just not achieved anything. And that was so painful and confusing. I keep wanting to ask God what I did wrong. Why hasn’t He taken me up the grades? What have I missed? Where did I mess up? Is this not His plan for me after all? Why don’t I have anything to show for it on paper?

And God said, “I wasn’t looking on paper, daughter.”

He opened my eyes to what really matters and it hasn’t been the destination or the dreams I’ve been chasing. It’s been the things that matter to Him, the things He has been calling me to all this time, this time that I’ve been trying to follow His light through the dark glass of my own ambition.

Because looking back, the changes in my horses’ training and ability haven’t been huge. But the changes in their minds and emotions? They have been enormous.

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Few weeks after coming home. Not a happy camper.

When I got this horse he was relatively fresh off the track, but he could walk and trot and canter and whoa and go and turn and pop over little crosses. Almost four years later, he’s doing 70cm with mixed results. You know how long it takes a pro to take a baby off the track to 70cm? We’re not even using the same calendar here.

But when I got him he was also a hypersensitive, neurotic creature you couldn’t sneeze near or his brain would exit stage left. You literally could not move your hands too fast or he’d jump up in the air like you’d hit him with a cattle prodder. He was anxious to box, he was anxious to saddle, he didn’t tie up, and his frequent and relentless panic attacks would have him a trembling, eye-rolling, lip-poking, leaping mess for an incredible amount of time. If something set him off, he’d literally be highly strung for days afterwards – days. He wasn’t just a silly baby off the track, he had horse PTSD. When his switch flipped, you could forget it, you weren’t getting him back that day. Maybe not even the next.

You know he’s now one of the quietest horses to handle at the yard? You can park him wherever, chuck his lead rein over his neck and he’ll just stand there looking adorable while you flap around looking for his boots. He ties up. He loads like a charm. He travels perfectly. He doesn’t hide from rain anymore, he runs and bucks and plays in it. He is just this giant happy puppy dog of a horse. Magic still has his edge, he’ll always have his edge. Like humans, horses get some scars that won’t ever heal perfectly. He still has all the same triggers and they still set him off just as quickly, but I can talk him down off his ledge in minutes. Minutes. Yesterday we had an off-site lesson and something set him off and he stopped at this 20cm cavaletti and I ate a little dirt, but I got back on him and in 30 minutes we were jumping the biggest fences we’ve ever done off property. He was so happy. He was just cruising. And I am his anchor. Nobody else in the world right now would have gotten him back so quickly, nobody else can ride him like I can. And it’s not that I’m a good rider. I’m not even a good trainer and I’m really no good at baby racehorses. But I am the world’s leading authority on Magic because I really truly care about him and that’s turned him right around. Magic does not care that we’re only doing 70cm. Magic cares that his spinning world has stilled. Magic cares about cookies and ear rubs and that I never, ever push him past what he can’t handle, even if that means we’ll do 70cm until I’m 40.

Magic cares about the love in me, and we all know that the other name for love is God. And if you put it like that, I’d take it over A-grade any day.

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Three years later at a show. Jump the same height, but the happiest eye you ever saw.

He hasn’t been the only one. Arwen was a promising but unbacked two-year-old. She is now a nine-year-old that gets extravagantly eliminated at EV70. But she was also a skittish, insecure, lazy, excessively herdbound filly. Now she is a wonderful, confident, enthusiastic fireball of a horse that loves galloping away from home on outrides and kicking the butts of anyone who thinks they can stop her.

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Nothing insecure here

Nell was hypersensitive, resistant, and amazingly spooky. Her first dressage tests are a long string of 3’s and 4’s with comments like “tense” and “very uncertain”. Now she comes down that centreline like she owns it and judges call her “obedient” and “willing”.

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Floppy ears

There have been still more. Horses you couldn’t touch, now shoving their noses into your hands, asking for attention. Horses that leaned on all your aids, wringing their tails with frustration, now stepping forward with an easy, swinging, enthusiastic stride. Horses that were so tense they had their ears up your nostrils and jumped at every touch, now packing nervy kids around at shows.

My horses are not particularly well-schooled horses. I am not “one to watch”. I am not the next Charlotte Dujardin or Monty Roberts. But after enough of my work, my horses are really, really happy, healthy, relaxed, enthusiastic, confident horses. They love their work.

One of Nell’s first dressage tests, when she was jumping like a gazelle and my heart was sitting somewhere in my boots, holds the greatest compliment I have ever received as a rider. “Empathetically ridden.” And I have my impatient days, but I do everything I can to understand these most wonderful of God’s creatures.

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Even the crazy babies have happy ears

I don’t think it matters to the Olympic committee, or to anyone that reads my show record, or to prospective clients. None of the top riders I see at shows notice me for it and it definitely doesn’t win me any ribbons. But it matters to me, it matters to the horses, and it sure matters to God.

So yeah, I would still love to ride Grand Prix and I’m still going to work hard and dream and God willing someday a happy athlete will carry me down the centreline at a collected canter. But mostly, I’m just going to love my horses and my people. Jesus loves when I do that, and it’s the only thing I can do that has any real consequence. All the rest is just fluff. And fluff is cool, but it’s still just fluff.

I love my horses. Nobody can ever take that away from me. And for God, that’s enough. So right now, I’m deciding that it’s enough for me, too.

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