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

Introducing Destiny, Sunè and Lady Erin

Bear with me, y’all. As you might have noticed, I have resolved to blog more in this year, but there is much catching up and introductions to do before I can actually settle down and start telling you stuff that’s happening. This should be the last one.

First and most exciting (sorry D and S) is the first little foal that’s been born under the Morning Star Stables prefix. She arrived in October at the extremely civilised hour of 4:30pm, after Milady and I had thrown a pyjama party the night before (thank you Milady for only making me do this once).

The foaling was textbook and Milady was a pro throughout it all. The filly was rather in a hurry and was on her feet and suckling within an hour, little overachiever. We named her Lady Erin. She is by Exavior and is our first and last warmblood foal; it is strictly ponies from hereon out. But as warmblood foals go she is enormous, feisty, and very cooperative.

Lady E has been fooled around with somewhat and will stand for the daily chores and wear a halter, but still needs a bum rope to be led around. For a two-month-old foal this is quite good enough: we’ll finish the last bits of halter training just before she’s weaned. For now she suckers the riding school kids into giving her cookies just so she can chew them up and spit them out on somebody’s shoes.

Destiny has been a resident since mid-October, but only came into training in December because I was totally full. He is a super duper cute little homebred dude with a rather large ego.

D is here to be started, but we’re currently rather stuck on the subject of lungeing; on the left rein he’s lovely, on the right rein he has a whole plethora of tricks to pull out including rearing and smashing the fence. We have seen a vast improvement, though, so I’m sure he’ll get it figured out quite soon.

Sunè is here in Quinni’s place from Arop. She looks like the polar opposite of Quinni, but of course has a similar lovely nature. I’ve only had two sessions on her but our head groom T started her when they were both at the previous stableyard, and she’s pretty ridden in. Just needs some refining and then we’re set (which is a mercy because it’s meant to go to Horse of the Year in February).

taken one week apart: our feeding program + Nooitie constitution = epic win

In other news, I have my results for my stableyard manager qualification and I am now a real proper manager with papers. I don’t quite know how He did it but God somehow managed to help me with the studying (I had like two weeks after the outbreak during a very rough time) so much that my overall mark is 93%. I passed all of them with streets to spare except conformation, which I just barely scraped through, but I’m chalking it down to nerves because normally I’m quite good. So that’s a really epic note to end 2016 on.

Glory to the King.

Faith Goals 2017

Faithy is the very definition of a blank slate: she wore her first headcollar the day we went to pick her up at the breeder’s. Until then, she’d only really known people to wave to. She’d been fed and occasionally put in the crush to vaccinate and brand, and that was it.

Growing up in a huge field with loads of other horses has given her a good brain, good digestion, and wonderful feet. Just the way I like them. Now she’s a two-year-old and after some bribery I have convinced her to like me and let me rub her face and neck (provided I feed her first), so that’s where we stand right now.

also snuggles

Ultimately Faithy is to be a really good dressage horse, God willing, although this year will be about the basics.

  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up.
  • Box well.
  • Be good to bath.
  • Be good to catch.
  • Show in-hand.
  • In spring, lunge.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.

I’ve yet to really get to know this lovely little lady, but knowing Arop Nooities and their legendary temperament, I think she’s going to be just awesome to work with.

All I know now is God made her and I love her. And I guess that’s all I really need to know.

Glory to the King.

On Rainbows

It’s still too soon. It might always be. The pain subsides slowly, but the words still don’t come.

So this is not the whole story, or the whole piece of the story that’s revealed to me, anyway. It’s just the bare bones of what happened so that in the blog as in life I can turn my face to the future.

Rainbow was the incredible gift from God (via Nell’s breeder) that came to keep my dream alive after Nell left. She was one of the most beautiful horses I’ve known. She was undoubtedly the one with the best natural temperament. She had so much love for everyone and something in her heart sang in harmony with mine. I called her Rainbow because she was the beautiful thing that happened after the storm. The symbol of the promise.

I was so worried that she wouldn’t be Nell. And she wasn’t Nell. She was Rainbow, and she was perfect.

But her destiny and mine kissed only briefly in this present world. God called His most willing charger back to the celestial ranks of His army only days after we met. It was His will; it was for the best; it was agony. I thank Him for every moment I had with the horse my heart sang to and I thank Him that He has bigger plans for her, wherever good horses go when they die.

As for my dream, it was dead without a brilliant dressage horse. But we all know what God does to death.
We’ll never forget Rainbow. But we have a new hope for the dream He laid on my heart. A dream I laid down at His feet when Rainbow passed on, and which He lifted up and handed right back to me.

She’s not Rainbow. But she’s also perfect.

I named her Faith: the thing by which we will weather the storms to follow.

Magic’s 2017 Goals (or lack thereof)

Year in, year out, I have faithfully set a careful string of goals for all the horses – as long-term readers very well know. I think this may be the first year ever that I haven’t set any goals for Magic.

And I don’t intend to.

Last year was a rollercoaster with him. It started with his promising comeback after his terrible illness in 2015, winning both his first graded classes in fine style and staying absolutely sane throughout the show. Then it all came down around our ears a bit when I fell off him three times in as many months – my first falls off him, ever. We were heading in the right direction again when he decided he would like to have colic again after all and then the outbreak crashed any plans of returning to shows after that. All in all, he only had seven outings this year – and I stayed on top for five. (Of the ones that I stayed on, he jumped all clear rounds, barring one, which he won anyway). It was an unimpressive year, except that it wasn’t.

We made very little progress, training-wise. 80cm still looks about the size of the Great Wall of China (to me anyway; he’s good). Our flatwork remains low-level but rock solid. We go to shows and jump some jumps, sometimes, or not, as the case may be. But in terms of understanding this shining, suffering enigma of a horse, we made giant, groundbreaking leaps. Subtle, but groundbreaking.

I figured out the most important thing I could have, to help him. I figured out why he has panic attacks and how I can get him out of one when it’s happening. Anyone who knows anyone with PTSD knows how huge that is. To be able to look in his eyes when they’ve gone glassy and the horse I know and love just seems to be gone – and to know why he’s gone, where he’s gone and how to get him back… that’s tremendous. I feel like I can finally help him. I have finally found the hole that he falls into and how to get him out. After years of helplessly watching him leave into a terrible inner world that seemed to mentally torture him, at last I can break down those walls and bring him back to safety.

It’s so simple and self-explanatory that I’m amazed I didn’t see it long ago. Then again, if it was that self-explanatory, horse PTSD wouldn’t be the only thing we can deal with better.

I get in there with him, and I show him the way out.

In the face of discoveries like these – things invisible to man, but oh so important in the sight of God – the goals I’ve been setting just can’t compare.

For my own guts, I think it would be good for me to try and jump him higher. If he was always the Magic he is when he’s okay, he’d pack my butt around and teach me that jumps bigger than 70cm are not deadly and evil. Even when he is having a moment, he’ll jump 90cm as happily as he’ll jump 60cm.

But it’s not about me.

He needs a perfect rider. He needs a rock-steady lighthouse of a rider that can show him the way out of fear. He needs someone who’s never in a hurry, or in a bad mood, or focused on something other than being there for him. He needs someone who cares way more about him than about anything else. I so much want to learn to be that rider, not only for my training skill, but for my living skill. And I’m just not that rider when I’m scared.

Even if I did push him, he’s all of nine years old and already has bony changes in his withers. He won’t be sound forever. I don’t know how many years I’ll still be able to go jumping stuff with him. Maybe three? Four? I don’t want to spend those years fighting in order to jump mediocre heights badly.

I want to spend them listening to that horse’s soul. Because it tells me things about God and people and bullying and mental illness and myself that I really need to learn.

Goals can’t hold a candle to that.

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the day we came third won champion of the universe

Midas Goals 2017

While I didn’t officially do goals for Midas last year, he had a successful three-year-old year despite having a late start. We have lots to do this year to achieve what I like at the end of the four-year-old year, but I’m pretty confident in the little chap. He’s got this.

  • Hack alone and in company. He’s quite brave and obedient, and for a sale pony this is quite a non-negotiable – what kid wants a pony that won’t hack?
  • Be quiet at shows. This includes overnight in the stable.
  • Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. I’m being ambitious now, but let’s see what this guy can do.
  • Compete up to Prelim at training shows. This at least I am good at, so we should be able to do this.
  • Compete at the Nooitie shows. Because Nooitie shows are epic.
  • Go cross-country schooling. I’d love to event him in 2018, either myself or under a child.

The sale pony business is still a learning curve for me, so once again my goal setting is based largely on an educated guess. But we’ll see what happens. Or at least, I know exactly what’ll happen: God’s plan, in all its pure perfection.

Glory to the King.