Introducing Lullaby

Nine months down the line and I once again found myself in the position where I had more kids to teach than ponies they could ride. Both Stardust and Thunder were starting to look burned out again, and I frequently had to rope Arwen in for lessons (she was not popular; apparently super-fit event ponies do not make awesome schoolies…). When Bruno was sold, my lesson situation went from just making it to somewhat dire and something had to be done.

This time I had a little cash on hand from the sale, but I knew we’d barely broken even on Bruno and his money had to stretch really far. It’s amazing how expensive the dentist gets when it goes from four horses to twenty-four… Either way, I put up a wanted ad and started shopping. We spent an exhausting morning in Pretoria trying ponies that were so almost perfect, but just… not quite. Then one of the yards right here in Heidelberg put up an advert for one of their schoolies. I gave it a cursory glance and decided to go have a look, mostly just because it was close by. The pony was smaller and older than I wanted, but I was getting desperate. As always, it’s at this point that God stepped in – right where desperation meets necessity.

I tried the pony. It was adorable, but violently spooky and well into its teens. Driving away, I knew the sensible decision would be to say thanks but no thanks. I’d seen better ponies in Pretoria. And yet… something kept me from making that call. There was just something about her that I couldn’t ignore and I didn’t really know what it was. A vibe, a gut feeling. She just felt quiet and gentle even though she hadn’t acted like it. Honestly, though, I believe that feeling wasn’t all about the pony. The other ponies had been quieter, but they hadn’t had the irresistible attraction that this one did. I texted the owner and asked if I could view her again.

The endlessly patient seller agreed to let me ride the pony again, so I arrived, not totally clear on why exactly I was doing this, and remounted the pony. She started to nap near the corner she’d spooked at last time and overjumped a little cross extravagantly, but her rhythm was excellent. She had that I’ll-do-this-all-day, stuck-to-the-track patience of a real riding school pony. She was also sound – sound as a brass bell, healthy as could be despite her age. And adorable, obviously used to children, easy to tack up and handle, and thoroughly experienced. But I was still kind of undecided about the whole thing given the spookiness. What kind of a yard manager buys a spooky schoolie?

Eventually, I couldn’t resist the pull anymore. Nothing else felt right. So I threw up my hands. “Lord, as Thou wilt.” We bought the pony. The poor little soul was shunted straight into my lesson program the next day and became an instant hit. Kids started to fight over who got to ride her, whether they were tiny tots or already jumping. That weekend, I put her and Stardust in the horsebox and shipped them off to do pony rides. It was at the back of the feed shop, with a busy road next door and vehicles coming in and out to be noisily loaded; at one stage an enormous trailer drove in and started to offload 5000l tanks with a tremendous racket.

The new pony was unbothered by the traffic, unphased by the vehicles, and merely walked a circle around me at the offloading of the tanks. She didn’t spook. Not even once. I could almost hear God saying, “Do you trust Me now, daughter?”

She came with the name Lulu, and remains Lulu to friends. But I named her Lullaby, because like the song*, she’s become a reminder of True Love.

* WARNING – mild profanity in the song. Sorry about that, but its message makes it worth the listen.

YDHS Finals

This show was perfect chaos, but by the grace of God it turned out to be one of our best shows ever.

We started our preparations with a lesson with S., one of our favourite coaches ever and also our saddle fitter, at the actual show venue a week beforehand. Despite having no other horses around, Nell was ridiculously quiet and settled and we had a very productive lesson that helped us out a lot the next weekend. The general theme of the lesson appeared to be “more”: more bend, more swing, more straightness. After having chiro Nell’s walk was about a thousand times better, though. We also learned to make our halts less abrupt in order to give her a second to step up into a square halt instead of fussing around and stepping back, which was a very valuable one.

The first day of the finals was the qualifying class; the top five young horses in this class would go through to the championship class the next day. I had exactly zero expectation of going to championship since we are so reliably always last, but I didn’t mind. Just being there was an honour. Although we arrived in a ridiculous hurry (Jacaranda Nooitie show was on the same day, and Nell had been champion mare in-hand that very morning – more on that later), Nell walked into the arena with her game face on. This on a horse that couldn’t be persuaded to get all the way to C in Prelim last year. I was desperately grateful. We had one hairy moment when my hastily buckled right rein popped off and Nell obliging turned sharply left, almost crashing into and killing Chere Burger (who went on to win basically everything in amazing style, no thanks to my rogue Friesian-squashing pony). Nevertheless, we survived this and when we walked off to introduce ourselves to the judges she was feeling pretty fantastic.

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This was a good thing. The chaotic morning, alongside the stress of having to get back to a yard full of kids and ponies at the Jacaranda Show, had taken its toll on me. I was trying my best and God is my peace, but I was undoubtedly not on my game. When we came down the centreline all I could think was I’ll forget the test, I’ll forget the test. Which is not ideal to be thinking in front of three top judges. I nearly did forget my test, too, getting my walk transition a few steps after C even though Nell was as obedient as they come.

It was around the big long M-X-K free walk that I breathed for the first time, because Nell was being an absolute trooper. As I lengthened the reins she put down her head and swung through her back and gave a huge relaxed sigh, which was when I realised that the horse was fine. All the hours and hours we had put in had paid off: for the first time, Nell was holding my hand, instead of the other way round. The realisation was a gift from above and more valuable than any win could have been. So by the time we reached K I was grinning like a pumpkin, and when I asked for the walk-canter at C she gave it to me like a breaking wave. The canter work was just awesome. The best it’s been. When we came down the final centreline I was breathing again and could halt nicely, look up, and salute my King Jesus in gratitude.

We scored 66%, a personal best at any graded show; we also scored our first seven in YDHS – for the walk! It has always been our worst mark and the improvement meant a lot to me. This was good enough for fifth place, squeaking us into the championship class the next day. Poor Nell was pretty tired and I debated going, but in the end we decided to go with the proviso that if she warmed up flat, instead of just tired, I would scratch. She was very perky in the stable that morning and warmed up pretty awesome, a little dull on my aids, but happy and relaxed. There was no resistance or unhappiness in her, so we went with it.

Things went a little sideways when we walked past the judges’ box. Not expecting to get into the championship, I hadn’t familiarised myself with the rules and it was only the kind photographer that saved me from going down the centreline with a whip like a total newb. That shook me a little; I school her without a whip most of the time, but with her being quite pokey on the day, I would have liked to have had it. In the end, though, she was excellent. She was tired but she tried her guts out every step of the way and gave me every single transition so obediently, even the walk-canter. I couldn’t help but fall on her neck and squish the life out of her when we’d finished. This horse has come so far from the spooky baby I had under me last year to being a resilient adult, full of try. I knew that whatever we’d scored, I’d already won the jackpot when God dropped this incredible partner in my lap.

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We had 63.5%; I think we could have done better if we both had more energy. The judge complimented her attitude (everyone does), but Nell was also very on her forehand and her walk was decidedly mediocre on the day. I know our balance is a weak point, but I think she’s not nearly as bad normally. We also came last, but even from a rider’s point of view I can’t be anything but happy with it; I was on the only non-Friesian or Warmblood in the field for the entire day, and half the horses were imported, and I believe the majority of the other competitors had about ten years on me, too. It was an honour just to be riding with them.

It was even more of an honour to go down that centreline on Arop Nianell and salute my beloved, beloved King. Thank You Sir. ❤

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Introducing Midas

So Bruno has gone to his new home with a little girl who loves him to tiny fragments. This may be wonderful for Bruno and his little girl, but it is a little sad for this little girl who loved him to tiny fragments too. Bruno is one of those horses that changed me forever, and through his totally uneventful training process, God saved my confidence, my business, and a great source of my pleasure all in one go.

Never forgotten, little buddy. God go with you. ❤

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Thankfully, the awesome thing about schooling and reselling ponies is that when you sell one, you get to buy another one and start all over again. Meet the tiniest pony on the farm, with the longest name: Morning Star Touch of Gold. Midas to his (many) friends.

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Midas has been at the yard for quite a while now. I saw him advertised on one of the Facebook groups and liked the look of him but had no cash; when his owner contacted me offering him for free, I could no more resist than fly, and he came home in short order. He is a little smaller than I like at just under 13.1hh, but has everything else. Looks, movement, temperament and bloodlines.

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He is by Arop Naka, and I love anything with “Arop” in front of its name. His grandsire on the Nooitie side is Waaksaam Staal, one of the most successful stallions in the breed today. His dam was a Welsh pony who jumped CA named Silver Mystic and he sure looks to have mommy’s pop over free jumps. Plus he is palomino, and the little girl who loves ponies that I still am deep down has always wanted a palomino pony. What’s not to love?

He was quite the baby when we brought him home in February, a rising three-year-old entire colt, so I left him in a field with the Group of Idiots (all colts or geldings, all under five years old – it was chaos) until he turned three. Then we gelded him, did his teeth, gave him his shots and brought him into work about a week ago. So far, he has impressed me greatly. His breeder did a stellar job with him; it is an absolute pleasure to be working with a youngster who has everything done except backing. He’s good to box, bath, blanket, tie up (OK, so he knows how to undo a knot…), groom, and have his feet done. Even stood quietly for his teeth, shots and microchop. He knew how to go around on a circle too, and it took only a few sessions to get three gaits off voice commands. Last week I popped his first bridle on him, which solicited some chewing and headshaking but this is improving every time he works.

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I did some very minimal desensitising before putting on the roller, which was a total non-event, and then the saddle, which was also pretty boring. I think it won’t be long before I’m on his back, and then quite shortly we will inflict the latest Morning Star spectacle on the world: 13.1hh of palomino cuteness galloping through the adults’ classes with my legs waving around his knees.

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even my teeny saddle is so close to being too long it’s not even funny

Gotta love my calling. Glory to the King.