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.

Chilling

We have our first show of the year on Sunday; a training show over tiny fences at a venue I’ve only ridden at more times than I have teeth. I’m on Magic, who has done 60 and 70cm ad nauseam, and Lancelot, who is super at shows.

And I’m absolutely dead nervous.

No, the show nerves do not go away. I’ve only been competing for about four years now, but I’ve ridden multiple shows on multiple horses every month and logged a lot of miles. I’ve brought a bunch of babies to their first show and I’m so well versed in boxing horses in the dark that it’s not even drama anymore. I’ve ridden nationals and finals and in the same arena as some of the greats – I should be used to this by now.

But here I am, facing 60 and 70cm training courses on horses I know at a training show, terrified.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think my horses were also subscribed to the Facebook event because the closer we come to the day, the worse they go. Especially Magic. Magic was a pogo stick on Thursday; I couldn’t hold him, I couldn’t turn him, I couldn’t get him to jump in a straight line and after every fence he leapt up and down, striking out with his forelegs in a kind of reverse buck.

Always before a show, Magic? Why?

at least he’s now a fat lunatic

I was a little mad but I patted his neck after dismounting and tried to figure out what was bothering him this time. Food? Teeth? Back? Feet? No.

As usual, it was far simpler than that.

It was me, of course.

So today I climbed aboard and we flopped around like we do any other day. I put on worship music and thought about the latest episode of Chicago Med while I warmed him up, letting my mind wander so that my hands, seat and heart could do the thinking. We trotted a few small fences. Then we cantered them. There was a storm brewing and the wind teased at us, making the horses in the fields skittish and silly, but Magic put down his head and enjoyed his job.

I did the same on Lancelot. I put all the fences and my ego down two holes and trotted a little course. He’d been napping and overjumping. We had the usual little argument or two, but he jumped every fence out of a steady soft rhythm.

So here’s my new resolve: I’m gonna chill out about training shows. I’m going to quit seeing them as shows and start seeing them for what they are – schooling sessions. I’m going to turn myself deaf to the imaginary judgment from the sidelines with which I torment myself, and the pressure of riding a client horse, and the pressure of being coach. I’m going to quit taking myself so seriously, cut a little slack and start riding the horse, for my God.

worth it ❤

I’ll wear my work breeches and a slightly faded shirt. I won’t clean my tack. I’ll sleep a little later than I probably should and when clients or students or chauffeur begin to stress, I’ll breathe deep and slow and calm us all down. That’s my job as trainer, after all.
As for Magic? Maybe we’ll do the 60 and the 70. Or maybe we’ll do the 50 and the 60. Maybe we’ll just hack in the warm-up arena because it really doesn’t matter.

He’s not going to win me ribbons. He’s far too busy being an instrument in the hand of God, teaching me the most incredible things about horses and people and life and God.

Glory to the King.

HOY on the Horizon

I learned my lesson from the disastrously chaotic Nooitie shows last year: now we’re preparing early. Horse of the Year starts in a little over five weeks and we’re already in a flat spin trying to sort everything out for it. We’re going to be stuck there all week, competing every single day with nine horses and five handlers.

Liana, Vastrap and Renè are going with their respective kids. L and VT have done it all before and will be just fine; Renè is a good old Arop Nooitie mare, viz., she will also be just fine.

proud of each other

I also have fair amounts of confidence in Zara and Tara, since they’re just doing in-hand and were ready for it in the end of November (we were meant to do a coloured show, only it cancelled).

Arwen, obviously, has totally got this. Arwen has always got this.

so let’s play in water instead of practicing

No, my worries are the three babies that are just about to start their career with me, beginning with the Pre-HOY training show in a couple weeks.

Exavior is going to his first show ever. Just in-hand, obviously, but six months ago I couldn’t even get him out of his field without him trying to jump on my head. He’s been lovely to handle at home but I’m not totally sure if that will carry over to the show environment. So if you see a giant chestnut streak galloping about with a little flappy rag doll on the end of its lead, that’d be us.

Midas is inspiring more confidence than I’d expected; the poor little chap has had so little saddle time but he’s been entered in show riding at Pre-HOY and hopefully will do show hack at HOY itself, too. But despite my initial misgivings, he’s pretty much there. Three good paces, simple changes, starting to connect himself nicely. Quite good enough for a first show at novice methinks.

can’t stop laughing

Sunè completes the lineup, and I do have some trepidation about her. Since I’m not able to ride two horses in one showing class she won’t be doing ridden at Pre-HOY, but I would really like her to be ridden at HOY so I can sell her easier. In-hand she’s also still very green and wobbly, but that at least should be OK. We’ll see what she’s ready for and take it at her speed.

Glory to the King.

Much Riding

So what’s the most logical thing to do when you wake up really sore one morning? Head off to Springs to ride some really huge horses, of course.

Al is not amused

With Module 4 and its “jump 85cm on a giant horse you don’t know” threat looming, I packed myself off to go get lessons from jump coach K. She promptly put me on literally the biggest horse I’ve even seen in like a year. I quailed, but he was a school horse so I climbed all the way up and off we went for such a productive ride. Kids, buy yourselves schoolmasters. This thing just jumped whatever he was pointed at, even if the pointing was done badly, in this steady ploppy rhythm that just got the job done so smoothly. I almost instantly forgot that he was huge and enjoyed the sensation of not having to micromanage.

Then I got to ride a super fancy ex-international eventer. I was scared I might break him, but instead he patiently humoured me while I delightedly pressed all his buttons. (Flying changes. Shoulder in. You guys. SO MANY BUTTONS.)

#celebselfie

Back home today, I was greeted with the consequences of pushing off to Springs for a morning – catching up on the sessions I’d missed. This meant twelve horses on my list today, which made my back hurt just to think about. But on the plus side I had the rare and deeply satisfying opportunity to ride every last one of my full-time training horses in one day.
Ten of them were excellent. We kicked off the day on a wonderful note with Exavior being just awesome. I only lunged him very briefly and he was forward but sane to ride. He did kick out in protest at my dressage whip once but neither my seat nor my confidence wobbled so we ended on the very high note of taking two (truly appalling) canter steps. We’re confined to the ring until his wolf teeth get taken out, but we’re sure making progress!

Then Arwen rode an excellent flatwork session, nailing her simple changes even on the long sides and offering some nice shoulder-in of her own, not to be outdone by no giant fancy international horse.

fancy fatness

Tara followed it up with being so relaxed and confident that we established a really nice forward trot including responsive, relaxed transitions. Her anxiety has been put behind her, it would seem. Unfortunately Zara now seems to be in the anxious, stuck-behind-the-leg stage but with quietness she’ll figure it out in a couple of weeks.

majestic ❤

Destiny managed to only nap violently once today, and gave me three gaits nicely lunging left and three gaits begrudgingly lunging right. We’re finally back in the right direction. Sunè has also made up her mind to use her powers for good; after a dreadful session on Monday she stepped up to the plate and did great in walk and trot, large and figures, in the big arena today. The canter isn’t there yet, but it’ll come.
Faithy has discovered that I have food. This momentuous revelation means that she now comes over to be caught and fussed over, although our training sessions mostly consist of me combing her (AMAZING) hair and cooing about how awesome she is.

like I said. AMAZING.

Then Magic and Lancelot just had to throw a spanner in the works. Lancey was plain not in the mood and decided to nap, resulting in a battle of wills; we’ll have to kiss and make up tomorrow. Magic wasn’t exactly bad but he was full of beans and jittery, which was hard to stay calm on. We popped a few fences and called it quits without picking a fight or having a meltdown, so I’m calling it a win anyway.
Midas succeeded in scraping the day off the floor and ending on a lovely note by jumping absolutely everything I aimed him at with poise and enthusiasm. This was only a tiny cross and a 30cm upright, but for his second jumping session ever, I’ll totally take it.

Crazy day, but God was with every breath. Glory to the King.

First Aid

*** Disclaimer – this post is not intended to give medical advice nor seek it – merely to discuss! ***

I had my first fall in six months today. It was rather a relief and very minor; the last time I came off was in July, which is ages ago for me, and I knew it was coming. Arwen and I were jumping a course of fences (and she was jumping absolutely fabulously, I may add) when as we cantered around a bend suddenly there was no more Arwen under me. I did the tuck-and-roll move my body learned when I was falling off a lot of buckers as a yard rat; Arwen hit the deck next to me but simply bobbled back to her feet like a little rubber ball and cantered off with her tail in the air like a middle finger. It was nothing, but it did get me thinking again about the perils of the sport and, more importantly, what we can do about it.

None of us really ever want to think about it, but as a riding coach – or as any horseperson – one always has to have the possibility in the back of one’s mind that everything could go sideways in a split second. And with a half-ton flight animal and a child involved, it can go really, really sideways.

Of course most coaches have first aid training. But what about the average ammy just hacking with buddies? I never really gave it much thought, but now that I have had a little training, I would argue that everyone involved with horses should have level one, at least. Horse injuries are terrifying because usually they could be spinal injuries, which is where you can mess things up really fast if you’re well-intentioned but just don’t know what to do.

Just before I had my level one, I had a kid come off at fairly high speed right onto her head. She was, of course, wearing a helmet, but in hindsight I think she must have been mildly concussed. Despite having done extensive research on first aid I promptly proceeded to do almost everything wrong. I bumped her back onto her feet, plonked her back on the horse and finished the lesson because she wasn’t seeing double, she wasn’t disoriented at the time, and her mom encouraged her to. It all turned out OK, but I shudder in retrospect to think of what could have happened, had God not been looking out for her.

In sharp contrast, less than a month after getting level one I witnessed my first proper serious fall. I was leading a hack and the next moment a pony came by me at high speed with flapping stirrups. This fall was a LOT more serious than the first one – we had broken bones to deal with, but this time my training stood me in very good stead. I did all the primary survey steps, held C-spine, called for help, reassured the kid – the only thing I didn’t do was splint the suspected break, mostly cuz I didn’t have any out there in the fields. The kid was turned over to qualified hands and made a full recovery. If I hadn’t had level one – well, I would probably have shunted her back onto her feet just because people look so much less injured when they’re at least sitting up, possibly complicating the fracture in the process. I thank God that we never had any drama like this before the level one.

I find now the hardest thing to do is to decide whether or not your rider needs a medic or ambulance. As we know, most falls are decidedly minor, and it would be wasteful of valuable resources to call out a medic for just a little tumble. But where is the line?

Personally my rule is if they don’t sit or jump up before I get to them, I’ll ask them to hold still, hold C-spine and probably call the medics. Most of the time when one falls the adrenalin rush is such that you’re at least back on your knees before you can really think about it. In my experience most people sit up at once; if they don’t, they could well be hurt somewhere, and then I’d far rather be safe than sorry. That’s not to say somebody that stood up immediately might not be injured – sometimes the rush is such that they could still have hit their heads, so I would probably still at least check them out myself and have a parent take them to a doctor for checking out if I had any doubt at all.

Magic2
that time I faceplanted off a kid pony