Pre-HOY rocked!

Despite an ominous start on Friday evening, beginning with Exavior rearing repeatedly as I tried to bath him and ending at about 10:00pm after driving up and down and half the horses escaping their stables, Pre-HOY was amazing.

I suspect it was amazing because it started so badly that I immediately realised I was not going to cope and gave the heavy burden to Somebody strong enough to carry it: my Daddy God. And He obviously did what He always does – miracles.

grown up travel stuff

It rained all day Friday, so bathing them all was rather a problem. Mercifully, the pintos scratched, and we had a two-hour window that afternoon that enabled us to bath Vastrap and Midas and do something about Exavior’s grubby socks. At that point, the bays, Liana and Arwen were just going to have to cope.

yeah so they all looked like this

We boxed Midas, Exavior, Renè and Sunè up that evening. They behaved remarkably well and settled in nicely, so while we ran around sorting out our poor junior groom’s tent they were pretty much unobtrusive.

The next morning, their good behaviour had run out. Renè, Sunè and Exavior were busy trying to climb into the resident horses’ stables to steal their breakfast and harrassing the resident grooms while Junior Groom stood shellshocked and stared at them and Midas shrieked with indignation, abandoned by his buddies but unable to climb out because he was too short.

pretending to be good ponies

We stuffed them back inside and managed to keep them there while I scrubbed Sunè’s sock and got Xave plaited up. He behaved remarkably well and I began to think maybe my head wouldn’t be kicked in after all.

Shortly thereafter, Dad arrived with Arwen, Liana, and Vastrap. VT had been turned out in a muddy field all night but miraculously he was positively glowing with cleanliness. Small miracles.

so white!

And with the turnout more or less done and everybody behaving great, off we went to compete.

Exavior, despite my misgivings, was a superstar. I had a very long lead and a whip and a helmet and I didn’t need either of them because he didn’t even think of rearing. He was much too worried about his surroundings to sass his mother, so barring one huge spook, he was respectful and listened to what I said. Everything else in the class being like ten years old and fat, he came stone last, but I was just chuffed with how well behaved he was. Wherever this rollercoaster ride with him is headed, God is definitely steering.

Next there was chaos as the in-hand for the Nooities had been combined, to my great consternation. My kids were on the ball and all marched in perfectly turned out and right on time. I arrived late, red-faced, breathless and having scratched Midas, with Sunè very wide-eyed on the end of the lead, her mane sticking up in all directions.

I was a dishevelled mess. Sunè, however, was a trooper. She didn’t look at anything, she didn’t fidget, and she didn’t bat an eye at being shunted into a new arena with a panicking trainer. She was the youngest and most nondescript in the class so obviously the kids and their gorgeous ponies roundly kicked our butts, but I couldn’t be happier with her. Vastrap ended up coming second and going to supremes, with Liana and Renè third and fourth. (No, my mom is never going to let me hear the end of it).

We went back up for show riding in convoy; Liana and her kid, Renè and yard rat K, and Midas and I. I expected Midas to be nutty because he hadn’t had a class to do in-hand or even get out of his stable all day, but he was phenomenal. Even better than Bruno was at his first show. He remembered his training, he focused, he didn’t spook, and when he got looky he just dealt with it and carried on.

Liana’s kid was very nervous – real little perfectionist, so I sympathise – which made sensitive Liana very nervous too, but with the help of K’s mom they scraped it up off the floor and came a well-deserved second in the strong class. It takes a lot to pick yourself up like that. Renè and K were third, with Renè being completely relaxed and indifferent to everything despite it only being her second outing ever.

Midas remained awesome despite having to do his simple changes in the middle of a giant puddle and he won the class, being the only one in the partbreds. In the enormous Supremes class he was shouting for his girlfriend and got a little strong when all like 30 of us were cantering around and circling and overtaking, but the second I asked him down to trot I got it. I was endlessly happy with him. Couldn’t have asked for better at a first show.

first satin for little palomino dude

Show classes done and dusted, we moved on to the working classes in typical Morning Star Stables fashion; wildly excited riders, Arwen bucking and snorting because she hadn’t had time to warm up, and K running up wailing because her numnah had gone AWOL at a critical moment. In between the madness, Arwen jumped her working hunter round. Well, let’s just say it would have been a good showjumping round. She galloped, sideways, at the fences snorting fire at them; I hung on somewhere in the clouds of smoke emanating from her nose, and she ate up every fence barring the down bank combination. There she had to stop and check how high it was before launching directly forward, almost leaving me behind. Our gallop was blinding but somehow I managed to get her down to a very quiet halt for the judges, who sat there and stared at us, aghast. We did not place well. I had the best time ever, and so did Arwen, who proceeded to merrily chomp on the grass beside the arena when I untacked her for the conformation.
Working riding wrapped up the day with Arwen, Vastrap and his kid, and K and Renè. The course was fairly challenging; beginning with fairly scary raised trot poles, then a line of gigantic white umbrellas we had to weave through, followed by a barrel with a truly scary giant pink cow on it. The cow had to be picked up and carried at a canter the five strides or so to the next barrel. Then there was a highly spooky brush lane with a black rubber mat in it and a small jump made of straw bales. Last, we had to halt and dismount onto a wall of black boxes before leading our horses away.

Renè was first of the Morning Star horses to go and did us very proud. There’s not a lot of horses that can do working riding at their second show, let alone with poise and composure. She turned up her nose at the poles, plopped happily around the umbrellas, and didn’t mind the lane, the jump or the wall. She did have a very good look at the scary pink cow, but K was patient and let her have a sniff and that was that. They didn’t manage to canter with the cow or I think they would have placed well.

Vastrap coped beautifully with the difficult course. He actually trotted the trot poles this time, had a little look at the lane and took a minute to stand still by the wall, but his kid was glowing when they finished and he took great care of her.

Arwen slept the whole time in the lineup, punctuating this by throwing her head and yawning massively. I was feeling my late night and in-hand classes, so I basically did the same, barely waking up enough to watch the kids go. When it was our turn I made a bleary effort to rouse Arwen for the trot poles, but she still clonked them roundly. Then we aimed for the umbrellas and suddenly she lit up. Dragons to kill! Certain she would spook, I kicked her; she broke to canter for half a stride and then I realised I had to basically just hang on and steer. So that’s what I did. It took all my effort to hold her down to trot for the lane and umbrellas because she was so excited and dragoning magnificently. The cow posed no problem; my steering did, and we overshot the barrel by half a stride, which we remedied by performing a perfect turn on the haunches. Of course, the jump and the wall did not pose any problem for this dragon. I’m not totally sure that working riding horses are supposed to get excited, but at least she wasn’t in the least spooky.

Apparently the judges enjoyed this new take on working riding, though, because beautiful Arwen was reserve interbreed champion in a strong class. I could almost pop. God so knows what He’s doing. I miss Nell, but she’s in a happy permanent home now. And now Arwen gets her chance to shine.

And shine she does.

so much satin

Glory to the King.

Why I Fear Showing

We leave for Pre-HOY tomorrow and I’m terrified, for the dumbest reason.

I’m not worried about boxing nine horses there and back – I trust the drivers. I’m not worried about the horses – they know their jobs. I’m not worried about the kids – they’ve worked hard. I’m not even that worried that Exavior will knock my brains out (OK, so I’m a bit worried about that, not gonna lie).

evil but so cute wow
Oh, no. I’m worried about what they will think.

I’m so worried about what they will think when Exavior loses his brain and pulls away from me and kicks the judge or something. She can’t handle him. She’s no horsewoman.

Or what about when somebody notices how scuffed my saddle is, or how the girth really doesn’t match either the saddle or the horse? What does she know? She’s such a newbie.

Or when everything dissolves into chaos and I arrive in my class with my collar sticking up and Midas galloping about with his nose sky high? She’s not good enough to be a trainer!

And you know, all of the above could quite probably be true. It could be impostor syndrome or it could be sense or whatever because right now I don’t really care. Because I don’t know what they think or how it’s gonna go on Saturday or whether or not I’m coming home with my brains in my head (although that would be nice).

or when they throw the turnout stuff everywhere. Let’s focus on the tail instead cuz I finally figured out how to do it
Here’s what I do know, and these are the truths I will hold up like a shield against any fear or doubt that tries to come between my kids and horses and calling and me.

God made me yard manager. He wants me where I am. I gave my life to Him and this is where He’s put me so by His power in me I’m gonna get this done.

I’m nineteen years old. I’m showing horses I produced, and kids I teach on ponies I produced, against some of the top riders in the country. My best horse was for free. My most promising youngster should have been dead twice over by now. Our yard has faced outbreaks and financial crisis and more drama in a year than some yards deal with in a lifetime and we’re still here, nineteen-year-old wet-behind-the-ears manager and all.

less evil and more cute
So they can think whatever they want. We’ll be late and our ponies will act up and our kids might spill Coke on their cream breeches (just kidding, that’s my signature move, they’re generally more sensible) and maybe Xave will rear and run away too but we’ll SHINE. God got us here for just one reason: to shine for Him. For our King Jesus, we will shine. We’ll keep our eyes on Him and we will shine.

And I’m so excited to go do that.

God’s will be done. Glory to the King.

Chiro Visit

Today was spa day for six of the Horde. I’m very into having chiro done at least once a year where I can; it’s not always financially practical for broodmares and sale ponies, but the competing horses, schoolies or anything with a problem needs doing.

Today’s lineup started with Starlight. She has been girthy since she arrived in December and while I found back pain and put it down to that, the back pain is related to old pectoral muscle tears, not anything sinister like KS or something. Stardust has exactly the same thing so we’re good at managing it and it won’t get in her way. Her hip was also badly locked, something I’d noticed since she is always a little short on that leg. Hopefully we’ll see considerable improvement.

fearless
Vastrap was generally tight especially through his intercostal muscles, which I wasn’t in the least surprised by. This unfortunately is going to be strongly related to how hot and tense he is to ride, so it’s a slow fix. But we’ve already made progress.

Magic has some excellent news. He wasn’t out anywhere, just rather tight in his left hind hip, and best of all his bad wither is not worse – in fact, it’s better. The chiro’s exact words were “Don’t change anything because it’s working.” I’m so relieved that my magical beast is still OK. With his being a bit wacky lately I was half expecting that his back was hurting him again. The chiro also commented on how incredible our bond is, which made me feel so much better about our recent bad days.

Exavior was rather, um, interesting. The chiro went to touch his upper neck, which he’s always been touchy about, so he reared and tried to bite us. After a discussion about not biting nice ladies, he cut it out and started to actually enjoy having his bones all sorted out. His back was totally perfect, but his poll was very sore. The fall where he cut his leg open years ago – that catalysed the drama that led to his becoming mine – also damaged his nuchal ligament and it was extremely tight and sensitive. This explains why he’s always so uncomfortable about his head and also some of the rearing (although that can also be explained by his being a brat). It can be managed, thank God. I have to do a little stretch thingy with him to help, and I’ll look into getting him a poll relief bridle. He should be far more comfortable now.

who needs a man when you’ve got this to stare at?
Can we all just stop for a minute, though, and appreciate just how big God’s plan is for this horse? Most horses that fall and hit their polls there die on impact. Not Xave, though. He’s a survivor and God’s got something big in store for him. ❤

Renè had a bunch of lumbar vertebrae out and her hip and shoulder were really locked. I discussed some stiffness issues she had had early on in her training with the chiro, who thinks it’s possibly due to the type of heavy slow twitch muscle she has. Almost like a really mild variant of PSSM. Our stretches and gradual conditioning have practically eliminated it, though, and there’s no major problem so it’s all good.

Last up was little Lullaby, who hasn’t had any problems but is a lifelong school pony so there must be pain somewhere. Sure enough she had both thoracic and lumbar vertebrae out, so that should make her far more comfy. Lumbar vertebrae are typical school pony problems so we’ll just keep having her done regularly to keep those suckers in place.

it’s spa day, Renè, it’s supposed to be fun
In other news, Midas, Sunè, Arwen and Tara are all pretty much ready for Pre-HOY. Exavior is almost ready, I just want a practice run at plaiting him since he’s going to have to learn to deal with me standing on a box and pulling on his hair, which won’t be easy for him.

Faithy moved out to a small group field with Milady and Lady Erin. She’s stayed good to catch and super gorgeous.

created ❤
My writing is as flat as my battery today, but here it is. Glory to the King.

The Countdown Begins

I cannot believe how much effort Pre-HOY is being. At this rate HOY itself is going to be more or less impossible, but as we all know, our God is good at impossible.

So I put my nose down and do what I can, and there might be lots to do but it’s very exciting.

First, I must recap on the weekend, when my buddy Erin came over to hang out and teach us how to plait.

so much focus

Which of course had to be followed by the most awesome hack ever with Erin on Lullaby, Rain on Stardust and myself taking my usual perch on trusty Arwen. She had one wicked buck of pure excitement, but apart from that, she was stellar. She even leapt straight into the water while the two schoolies politely declined to go anywhere near it.

eventers ftw

I am deeply grateful to Rain and Erin’s patience because I insisted on plodding basically the whole way. I’m OK hacking alone, but the kid-with-the-broken-arm’s fall has left me with a thing about leading hacks. I think I said “Please don’t fall off” approximately 80 times, and they very kindly obeyed.

Back to today, I just lunged and rode Exavior because there’s basically nothing to work on with his in-hand. His riding is a different matter. On Friday I lunged him good and decided to just ride him cool. Bareback. With one lead clipped to the halter. Tired and confused, he reared, and when he hit the ground I bailed. Sweaty horses are slippery to sit on bareback, y’all. I get off before I fall off.

I did get back on and make him go, but he was remembering it today with his classic mix of rude and insecure. He was awesome in walk and then nappy as soon as I asked for trot. To his credit he never actually got up on his hind legs, and with tact and my magic pink wand (AKA dressage whip) we did get some trot in the end.

Arwen schooled working riding, which is our great hope for HOY. She had one rider-error stop at a fence that was too big to approach at a showing canter (and admittedly too big to be in a working riding course) but apart from that she just handled it. That’s my Narwie.

Lancey schooled over slightly bigger fences and took it in his stride. Not literally. There was much clonking of poles. Tara was good to lunge and good to ride but a bit mediocre for in-hand, although we did ride our first lap around the big arena with exactly zero drama despite my scary working riding obstacles.

Midas and Sunè both gave me hope by being just incredible today, behaving like real grownup horsies down to balanced cantering and good simple changes. Maybe I won’t make a complete fool of us at HOY after all.

To my great relief, Magic was also back in his happy place and plopped through his flatwork with the cheerful air I love so much.

And Faithy progressed to going walkies outside of her field, since we no longer need the bum rope for forward motion. I’m loving this stage of daily figuring out more about her. She’s quite aloof, but really enjoys attention and grooming. She is sensitive and fairly easily spooked but also good at dealing with fear, and already looking to me for help. And curious. Really curious.

MUST STARE

This little kid made my day by being so so brave. He has been terribly nervous since he started riding, but today he wanted to be lunged instead of led for the first time! Times like these I thank God for my own bad nerves – it means I can get in the hole with them and help them out. Lulu, of course, did most of the work. Our schoolies are worth their weight in solid gold.

Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.

Thank You for Arwen

Sometimes it can feel like the horses in my life never come easy. I’m not complaining, because easy never made a good horseperson (or a good person, for that matter). Hard is necessary. But hard is exhausting and can be demoralising.

And my big-dream horses have all been hard. Except Arwen.

Nell and Reed got sold out from under me. Ryka lost his mind. Magic has different priorities. Rainbow died. Exavior is still a question mark. They all made me grow, as a rider, as a person, and I wouldn’t change any of it, but none of them were ever constant.

And then, there’s Arwen.

Always in the background. Always playing second fiddle. She was Magic’s understudy, then Nell’s sidekick. I didn’t even really want her in the first place, I just started riding her because nobody else was. There was no vibrant, verdant, dramatic love affair or Hollywoodesque magical relationship like I had with the others.

But always, steadily marching on, there is Arwen.

Her championship understated after Nell’s three. Her many wins paling in comparison to Nell’s success in YDHS. Lacking Magic’s jump, Nell’s trot, Reed’s quitness, Ryka’s presence, Exavior’s size. But abundant in the one thing they all lack and the one thing that makes her an anchor.

Steadfastness.

So the dragon pony marches on, undefeated and constant, the one horse I trust to the ends of the earth, the one that doesn’t go lame, the one that shows up every single day for the past eight years ready to do her job.

The one that’s got my back and just deals with it and carries on and never lets anyone tell her what she can’t do. She’s got this. I rely on her, and she doesn’t let me down. She slays those dragons and faces those giants and will not be stopped.

The others have all had their rollercoasters and dramas and disasters and behind it all, Arwen soldiers on.

So Lord, I thank You for all the others too because they teach me so much and they mean so much. But tonight, I thank You for Arwen. A horse who can smell Your plan for her and marches on undaunted. A mare of God that puts this daughter of the King to shame sometimes. Terra firma under my feet when it all slips. But only an instrument in Your almighty Hand.

Thank You God for Your unspeakable gift. I resolve not to be unappreciative of Your blessing again and recognise her for what she is: the best horse I swing a leg over every day.

Good Narwie.

Glory to the King.

Sunburnt

Highveld weather: two days ago we had cold mist and an icy wind straight from Antarctica, and today the heat came. The sun was merciless, so hot and bright it felt like the light was pressing down on us physically. I guess sometimes the real Light can feel that way too, but the fact remains that both are life-giving.

so much air here ❤

Philosophying aside, for us it means sunburn – horses and people both. Of course, the horses with pink noses religiously get cream on so they don’t burn, but us humans are perpetually red, peeling, or gorgeously tanned. (The bits that you can see. The bits you can’t see are positively luminescent).
It also meant that the school ponies were irritable and moody after their first lesson, but on the upside the training horses were extremely relaxed and didn’t have the energy for melodrama.

Exavior was the hero of the day. I didn’t lunge him at all, just threw his tack on and climbed aboard. He was much less against my inside hand today in trot and so good to halt that I leaned down, opened the ring gate and rode him up into the big arena. He was positively angelic. My adrenalin was sky high and I had to pull myself out of that heels-up hunched-over fetal position a few times, and I know my breathing was very sticky, but he just dealt with it and plugged along. He wasn’t spooky at all, just a bit distracted by the others and obviously very wiggly. He’s been such a trooper about my nerves so far, I really owe him one.

After this high pressure ride, we went on the most stunning hack up the koppie (rocky hill). The views are incredible and Arwen was so relaxed and happy.

Jamaica was next. He had his first jumping session under me yesterday. He hasn’t jumped since he broke his scapula a year ago, and judging by his flatwork I was extremely dubious, so when he overjumped the first little fence I promptly went and got a neck strap and my big girl panties. I do not need my arm broken too, thank you very much. But after the first few giant leaps he settled down beautifully and began to enjoy himself and plop along happily. Today was flatwork, and we kept it quite low-key, working on trying to get a connection in the canter circles.

Destiny had been so good last week, giving me two whole long sessions without any napping, that I optimistically stuck his bridle on and took a lunge roller down to the ring with me. He did nap once, at which I was so indignant that I gave him one hiding and he promptly cut it out, so I put the roller on too and he didn’t turn a hair.

no hairs turning here

Zara’s session was a little odd; she was hyper to lunge and I was about to get on when there was a loud twang and Lady Erin leapt up from the wrong side of the fence, having fallen asleep underneath it and gotten up in a panic. Zara was abandoned in the ring while T and I wrestled the baby monster back into her field. We had just succeeded in this endeavour when there was another loud twang and Zara crashed underneath the ring gate, galloping off merrily. Luckily she was quite OK to catch and I patched up the ring and got on her for three gaits without incident. We finished with some more work in the big arena. She wiggled quite annoyingly, but wasn’t at all spooky or nervous.

I only had like ten minutes for poor Faithy (welcome to being one of mine, Faithy) but they were ten very good minutes. She still only suffers herself to be caught for food, but once caught she’s very relaxed about grooming. I picked out her forefeet for the first time today. We also walked twice around her field without a bum rope.

so shiny

Magic finished off my riding for the day, not really on the best note. He kept it together but he wasn’t relaxed like yesterday. He felt hot and a little bit reactive, so we stuck to flatwork until he settled and then I put him to bed.

Also, shout out to Starlight’s mom! Starlight was a sob story on Facebook seeking a new home for a teensy amount of cash. I said no, but Starlight’s mom bought her anyway and that little horse is a machine! God obviously said yes!

wheeee

Glory to the King.

The Backing Process

I’ve started a lot more horses in the past year than ever before, and it definitely shows in the techniques I’m using now compared to early last year. I thought I’d outline the process here both to monitor its progress and for interest’s sake.

First, the most important thing about the process is it isn’t an important thing. It’s fluid and adaptable and changes to suit every horse. The majority stick with the same principles and on most completely green horses it stays the same. But a tricky temperament, physical issue, personality quirk or remedial problem demands flexibility. It varies according to age, maturity, type and intended future use. Like everything about horses, it’s about listening, not teaching. All I’m sharing is a general pattern, not a one-size-fits-all quick fix.
So here it is.

Pre-Backing

On my own horses, good citizenship is required before backing can be done. They have to lead, load, tie up, stand for dentist – the whole nine yards. On a sale pony or client horse, to save time we do a day of “citizenship” between backing days, so it’s not a prerequisite for the horse to get in a box before I get on its back.

the earlier the better

There are a few prerequisites, though. First, he needs to be comfortable with human contact. Ideally he must crave it. He needs to be good to groom, not flinchy in any way, and enjoy being touched. He can’t spook at sudden movements or noises from us. He needs to be happy around us, but not ever aggressive. No nipping and no turning bums on us.
Second, he’s got to be good on the halter – not just halter trained but good. Good halter training introduces principles he’ll always use: obedience, carrying himself forward, the first voice commands and pressure and release.

Physically, I want him healthy and in good condition, at least three (preferably three and a half or four) and having just had his teeth done and any wolf teeth pulled.

Then we can move on to the first stage of backing.

Stage One: Lunging and Desensitisation

The first step is lunging. I put boots on from the word go because they’re usually a non-event, but apart from that he just goes in a headcollar.

Again, lunging can’t just be done, it must be done very well. It doesn’t help much if he just tears around at a mad trot. I only consider him trained to lunge when I have three forward, balanced and rhythmic gaits from voice commands. This develops the horse’s brain and body together. I may also begin to play with poles or free jumps – whatever the individual needs to improve his way of going. I certainly don’t mess with gadgets at this stage. I’m fixing the back end now; the front comes later.

pole work?

The walk and canter are immensely important. He needs to be comfortable walking or he won’t be when you get on him. I also like my babies to learn a really balanced canter now so I never have to fight with them when I’m on them later. Mine lunge for 20 minutes once a week long after backing is done; 5 minutes trot, 5 minutes canter each rein. The canter needs to be done all at once when the horse is fit for it. Cantering for this long on a 15m circle makes him very strong and balanced.
I make exceptions for young or immature horses. Mature horses that are well into their third year and four-year-olds can do it, but not babyish ones or newly three-year-olds.

When lunging is well established we begin to desensitise. I don’t do much. No tarps or bouncy balls unless the horse has a remedial spooking issue. You don’t have to do much if you do it right and become your horse’s anchor. I’ll flap a numnah at him and that’s it. Then I add the bridle because it takes the longest, lunging him wearing the bridle but with the line on a cavesson or headcollar at first and only adding bit pressure later, and then the lunge roller and finally the saddle. If he ever freaks out, I’ll know I’m going too fast.

lunging with bridle demonstrated by Destiny

Manners also have to be maintained here. If he’s jumping around while I tack him up, I shouldn’t be tacking him up yet!
Once he’s happy lunging in tack, we move on.

Stage Two: Riding from the Ground

Incremental steps are absolutely key. It’s vital to introduce only one thing at a time, and never more so than here. When I introduce the rider, I don’t want to be adding aids at the same time. I want him to have whoa, go, and turn aids before I ever sit on him.

Go aids have been established during lunging with the voice, but they have trouble making the connection to your leg. I use a funny exercise the Mutterer showed me to help with that. Standing beside the saddle, you hold the reins as if you were riding and give the horse the voice command to walk on. If he doesn’t, apply your heel to his guts (softly at first, obviously). Looks awkward but works beautifully.
Whoa and turn is established by long-lining, as well as rein back. It’s extremely important to make your aids soft and light. If you do that now, you never have to go back and fix it later. Again, absolutely no gadgets. Teach whoa before you try and teach frame.

Lastly, I use a turn on the forehand from the ground to establish the leg aid for turning.

Stage Three: Backing

Now for the fun part. This is important: at no point should the horse melt down. If he melts down, I know I’ve messed up. Bucking during backing is not normal. It means you’re going too fast.

First, and I start this right after adding tack, I stand and jump up and down on a block beside him until he’s cool with that. Then I start to put weight in the stirrup, lean over him, and stand up in one stirrup.

When I can lie over him without holding the reins and pat him loudly all over with both hands, then stand up in one stirrup and swing my free leg up and down along his butt, without anyone holding him, then he’s ready to be sat on.

A lot of trainers like somebody to hold the horse when they have their first sit. I used to, but since the yard was opened I don’t really have experienced help and began starting them on my own. I found this works far better. It removes a distracting variable. My new rule is that if I feel it needs to be held, I probably shouldn’t be sitting on it yet.
The first sit should just be another day in the life. I do my leg swinging thing and then I just swing my leg over and sit for a couple of breaths. Then I pop off and we’re done for the day. Walking off is NOT allowed at this stage. He must stand dead still as I mount and, in the next few sessions, wiggle my weight, swing my legs, pat his neck and bum, and bounce (gently). Once he’s cool with that we get some motion going.

Stage Four: Establishing Gaits

I start with rein back, for two reasons. Partially because from my long lining I know it’s an aid he 100% understands, and mostly because I lock up frozen stiff when presented with the first step forward. I nearly got killed by a youngster I pushed too fast a couple of years ago and that memory is not leaving anytime soon. The last thing he needs is for me to be nervous, so I keep it low key and take a step back. This reassures me that he’s not going to blow and reassures him that he can in fact move with me aboard, so then off we go.

The walk takes forever and a day. They’re usually not at all sure that it’s a terribly good idea to cart your butt around and convincing them otherwise cannot be rushed. I refuse to ask for trot until I have an excellent walk. In the walk I establish all the basics; at the touch of my leg he must flow freely forward and stay forward until I say otherwise; he must halt responsively from my seat and stand dead still until I say otherwise; he must turn with reasonable balance.

standing!

It is vital to ride him from my seat and leg now. Teach him that he never halts off my hand alone and he’ll never have to. Midas could halt and turn with both reins floppy in a couple of sessions. Taking the time to implement these responsive aids and forwardness saves months of work later.
Once a quality walk is firmly established, the trot comes quickly, and as soon as we have a good trot with good transitions we move on to canter. These days I do this in the ring, but I used to love the 35 x 15m oval we had at Ruach. They have to have their lunging really good to canter with a rider on in the ring.

If they are going to buck, this is when they do it. I’ve found it’s usually not a fear issue; they’re just figuring out their legs and sometimes it’s easier to try and throw a buck than to actually think about it. These bucks are very minor. They usually do it only once, you pull up his head and shout at him, and that’s an end to it.

It’s also important not to accept the wrong lead once the horse is confidently giving a few strides around the ring. Punishing him for picking up the wrong lead achieves nothing. I just bring him back and quietly ask again. Once again, get the leads right now and it doesn’t become a fight later.

Once we have three gaits in the ring or oval, then congrats, pony is backed! We move on to riding in open spaces and beginning proper schooling. Which, once backing has been done so painstakingly, is just fun.
Now for the million dollar question: how long does it take? As long as it takes. I no longer train a timeline, I train a horse. It certainly doesn’t take 6 or 8 weeks, that’s for sure. But the extra time is well, well worth it in the long run to create a willing, obedient, physically fit and well-rounded partner.

like this one ❤

Glory to the King.

Escape

Electric fences are the best, when they work. Unfortunately, they’re also notoriously cantankerous. While our perimeter fence is fairly impenetrable, our inside fences don’t always hold up to the steady abuse they’re subjected to by creatures of all sizes, and Field A’s gate decided to fail me this morning. Thankfully, the only casualties were the jumping exercise I’d painstakingly set out the day before and our mounting block.

moos in pony field

ponies in moo field

This was not my problem however as I merrily charged off to Springs for my weekly ride-big-horses session, leaving the poor grooms to sort out the epic mess. On arrival I was vastly relieved to be given a cute little grey pony to ride and felt like I actually achieved something on him, which made me feel better about flopping around on coach K’s amazing schoolmasters. Thereafter I got to ride a beautiful white Lipizzaner gelding. He promptly bucked, and I promptly hit him, but Lipizzaners stay Lipizzaners.

yay neck

To my great delight I was also allowed back on Kardinal AKA Giant Fancy International Pony. I don’t know what it is about him, but despite his being like as big as a mountain and rather on the spooky side, he inspires endless confidence; he doesn’t worry me one bit despite having spent a total of about forty-five minutes together. We played dressage and I had to roll K’s stirrup leathers so they’d fit (the apex of humiliation).

unamused Kardinal; amazing bridle

My jumping lesson didn’t go so great today. I was on a different horse, who really wasn’t bad at all, but he had a teeny look at something outside the arena and I immediately melted down. I forgot every trick I’ve taught myself to get my guts back instantly and became a trembling little heap again. This did not sit well with the poor horse, understandably, but he did his best to bail his frozen saddle monkey out. I don’t even really know what went wrong. Kardinal spooked far bigger and I was fine. Coach K is worth her weight in gold though, she seems to magically know what I can take on the day and gets a read on me really fast which is invaluable. I was kind of disappointed with myself, but on the way home when I got to talking to God about it, I was filled with the overwhelming realisation that He’s not mad. His strength, after all, is made perfect in my weakness. I’m just gonna keep fighting until the sun comes up.

See, this is why I don’t get mad at Magic. How can I? I’m just like him.

Speaking of Mr. Quirkypants, when I got home I hopped on him and he was back to his normal adorable happy self. He did have a good long look at Tara when she decided to spook wildly through the arena, but he didn’t leave at all. We even trotted a few little fences and he could barely be bothered to pick up his feet. At least his meltdowns definitely wear off really fast now.

Sunè was in heat which made recent gelding Midas lose his mind, but I explained my opinion on that kind of behaviour (forcefully, with a jumping crop) and he decided she wasn’t that attractive after all. He went on to have a forward and bold, if a little tense and rushy, jumping session. We popped over a bunch of little crosses including his first combination and finished with a slightly bigger spooky oxer, about 50cm. Little chap was fantastic.

Sunè herself was blissfully unaware of the chaos she’d been causing. She has quite enormous wolf teeth, which I will have removed, but they made her very fussy so I tried my favourite starting bit on her in the meantime. It’s huge and fat and full cheek and it was a huge success. She went much better today. In sharp contrast to my usual task of reinforcing the aids, I’m almost having to desensitise her a little to contact and leg. She gets reactive instead of responsive and instead of thinking about inside leg to outside rein she just gets stroppy because I won’t let her do what she thinks she should be doing. Totally nonviolent, though, and doesn’t know what a spook even is. We finished with some better canter. She is still unbalanced but it’s gone from feral pony gallop to unbalanced baby canter, so we’re getting there.

also unamused; also favourite bridle

After a brief round of lessons (srsly lessons please start picking up!) it was off to Heidelberg for a first aid exam. I’m trying to volunteer with some local (awesome) medics to help at events, thus gleaning more experience for when I have to scrape someone off the floor again, and maybe lending a hand somewhere it might be needed. Assuming I pass, obviously. But God’s will be done.
Glory to the King.

Midgets and Giants

So y’all (okay, Emma) asked for more pictures of my beautiful Africa, specifically the 228ha that I call earthly home. I need no further excuse to fill my posts with pretty nature spam.

I love this place so much. I don’t remember a place before it; in a climate that can go from waving green fields bathed in golden sunlight to the savage majesty of a breaking thunderstorm in minutes, I know the swing of its moods almost subconsciously. Old Skye and I explored every hollow and rock; its beauty has ripened with age, grown up as I did, an unfading splendour that never disappoints. It was here that I first felt the inexplicable, mighty, dynamic, overwhelming presence that in my early writings I called “the magic” and that I finally found a name for years later: God.

This very earth runs in my blood. And like blood, I’ll leave it behind, but for now in my heart it’s the most amazing place in the whole world.

This morning was nippy as we headed out to feed, with a kind of shy, patchy mist as the sun came up.

On a far less poetic note, Lady Erin has entered the bug-ugly but button-cute stage. She still has nice legs and an impression of athletic quality, but it’s like someone took a baby warmblood and dressed it up as a donkey. A mangy donkey. The colour is very odd and don’t ask me about those floofy ears.

hello person hand, I eat you now

Faithy has happily adapted to the more domestic life and is milking it for all it’s worth. She’s perfectly happy to come over and let me do whatever with her, but only if I have a treat. And it has to be the right treat. She’s meant to be on a balancer to help her grow but she prefers the lucerne pellets, and will only deign to eat the balancer if I beg.

She has me all figured out and she knows it. It’s so adorable.

Also, Olive is doing great! She’s still not safe to ride because her neuro thing hasn’t quite recovered yet, in that the feet do not always go where they are meant to go, but she’s not complaining.

 

T was kind enough to get some pictures of Exavior’s session today. He’s been such a good chap lately. I tried to get some more canter on Thursday, but he again only managed one floundering stride. He seems very willing to try and didn’t resist at all; I think balance is a problem and the 15m ring that works so well for the ponies is not ideal for a big giant warmblood.

I don’t even look small on him right now but just you wait until he’s six or seven and as big as a bus

So we’ve made cantering on the lunge a priority. He just needs to build some muscles so he can hold his giant coathanger self up properly. He usually only works for 15-20 minutes at a time, but it’s amazing what you can achieve in 15 minutes if you do it often enough. Far better I think than doing an hour and frazzling a baby brain and body.

I like when the whoa button works

He feels so much less huge and impressive than I expected of him that I thought he was going like a real school pony, but on the pictures he actually looks pretty good. Even in the halter he has the obedience thing pretty down.
I like this picture a lot. I know he looks like a giraffe, but he’s supposed to. We haven’t even approached the whole connection conversation yet. I want him flowing freely forward and straight from behind at the touch of a button first. And here he’s actually doing well; he’s going forward by himself without my hands or legs even touching him, he’s tracking up, he’s even in a level balance. Not doing so bad after all.

Ignore me, I do weird things aboard babies, it’s kept me alive so far.

Then I rode a bunch of the others who were all very solid. Arwen jumped fine. Midas, Jamaica and Sunè schooled well. I petted Nugget’s neck and Faith exhibited some very athletic drama queen spooks upon being introduced to the bum rope when we talked about halter training. 

To finish the post, I must brag about this one amazing kid in the riding school. She’s five and she rides better than I did when I was ten or eleven. Seriously. Look at those adorable little independent hands. She takes exactly zero nonsense from Lullaby and I spend much of our lessons trying to think of a reason not to let her canter yet (apart from the humiliating one, which is that my nerves will not survive). This, kids, is what happens when you show up to all your lessons and try really hard.

I want like ten of them

Glory to the King.

Fourways Training SJ

Going out at 5:00am to get horses ready for loading really isn’t so bad when God turns the whole sky into yet another masterpiece. ❤

Of course, we had a full horsebox for this show; that’s been our MO lately. Today it was a box full of geldings, about which I had my reservations. Having a sturdy old mare around does tend to make everything a little more low-key. To add to the difficulty, we didn’t even have dear gentle Vastrap. We had Zorro (whose behaviour can be hit-and-miss), Lancelot (second show ever), Thunder (never ridden in a box before), and Magic (need I say more?).

My fears, however, were unfounded. Zorro boxed the worst, and that just means I had to get to his shoulder and give him a whack with the end of the lead before he jumped in with alacrity. The others all marched straight in and Magic immediately started to pull at his haynet, always a good sign. In fact his mood looked excellent; despite our rocky week, I was feeling confident.

the road leading to our yard. Beautiful Africa ❤

Everyone travelled great and got out with their brains fully on, even Thunder, although he was quite wide-eyed. We were of course late (always) so I abandoned the Mutterer to babysit Zorro and Magic while we smacked tack onto (very, very grubby) Lancey and Thunder and head groom T and I headed down to the arena.
Lancelot proceeded to be brilliant for the whole show. He hacked along to the arena without drama, had one spooky first lap of the warmup, and then settled right down. We obviously had to stop and sniff the first cross before we could very carefully step over, but then he started to jump in a beautiful relaxed rhythm. At the gate, he waited on the buckle, occasionally stopping to graze.

Going in for the 40cm he had a big look at everything as we headed down to the start and then wiggled up to the first fence and stopped to gawk at it. I let him sniff and then applied whip and leg and he sort of semi-launched over and wiggled off to the second fence. This one was much better, and by the third one he’d figured out his job and went on to doddle happily over all of them. He didn’t even overjump. He cantered off from most of them but I held him down to trot for the approaches, except the combination, where he awkwardly added a stride and bailed us out.

Going in for the 50cm, he was much more workmanlike having been allowed to have a look. We approached the first fence in trot and he had a little wiggle but then took me right over and cantered off. I stayed light and just pointed him at the fences and encouraged him, letting him figure out rhythm and distances by himself. Of course he made a little mistake at one fence and forgot how many legs he had and took it down, but the rest was excellent. Forward and relaxed. I am very much chuffed with him.

Thunder and T started out both looking very wide-eyed; Thunny was shouting and practically piaffing with nervousness and T could feel she was sitting on a ticking time bomb. At which point I bellowed at her to ride him forward and she looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Nerve-wracking as it must have been, she chased him forward and found he was still rideable as long as she gave him something to do. He settled as the day went on and ended up looking relaxed and professional, toddling over the 60cm like an old hand without so much as an overjump. They had a pair of stops in the 40cm true to baby horse form, but the 60 was flawless except for getting a little lost and having to make a squiggle to get to the right fence which did get them four penalties. T rode him great, and I was so proud to see the giant baby in the show ring at last. (Show photos to follow, not that the budget really allows for any).

jump Thunny jump!

Magic was in a fabulous mood tand after my excellent rounds on Lancey, so was I; I came over to him certain that this was going to be a doddle, seeing how I’d only entered 50 and 60. I pulled up his girth, got a leg-up and plopped happily down the long side of the warmup. He was super, swinging along on a loose rein and looking around merrily, and then a big horse passed him at high speed. I felt his back muscles lock and started to talk and breathe him down but then a pony almost sideswiped him and he looked up and saw that the fairly small warmup was in total chaos. Everyone was obeying the rules but it was crowded and everyone seemed to be cantering. His neck went rock hard in front of me and I heard him take one big breath that seemed to get stuck in his throat with a little hiccup, and then he just left. He didn’t get mean, of course. But he couldn’t cope, either. It was a full-blown panic attack/Magic meltdown and even after I got off and led him around he was still blank-eyed and leaping wildly.
I think I could have talked him down given enough time and going into the empty arena nearby. But I looked over at T and Thunder and saw that Zorro and Z-kid were about to come in and I didn’t have time. Rather than try and hurry him, or talk him down while I was distracted, or focus on him and forget the students, I made the call to untack him and call it a day. As soon as the tack was off he gave a big sigh and came back as suddenly as he’d left. Food for thought… is it really the riding at shows that’s putting this much pressure on him? Or maybe just the overflowing warmup? I know this time it wasn’t me. Either way, the dude was quite happy to stand by the box eating hay and his stomach continued to be excellent, so all is good.

That left Zorro and Z-kid, whose saddle held up this time resulting in yet another win in the 70cm. These two are going to smoke them at SANESA this year. Zorro was jumping out of his skin but I think I slipped up and had them warming up much too early, not considering that he’s just had a long holiday over Christmastime. As he was warming up for his second class I could see he’d run out of puff, so the second class didn’t go quite so well. He wasn’t bad but he had an unlucky pole and then fluffed a turn heading towards the gate, necessitating a four-penalty circle to get back to the fence. Poor chap was so flat coming out I couldn’t be mad. He’ll do better by SANESA Q1, and I’ll be more careful not to warm them up for too long.

 We’re all pretty much geared for SANESA Q1, my only remaining worries being two outside horses that haven’t been in a box since September, but their kid has been working really hard and I think they’ll be just fine.
As for Magic, he didn’t deal that day. And that’s OK. I don’t always deal either, and we all know he can do no wrong in my eyes anyway, so we’ll just keep taking it one grateful day at a time.

Glory to the King.