This past weekend was our first go at SANESA as a yard. I coached a teenager through it last year, but she keeps her horse at home and knows what she’s doing, so this was a whole other kettle of fish – and I was riding two sale ponies myself. So it was a little hectic.
Regrettably, I also have practically no pictures, so I’ll keep it short.
Vastrap and his kid were fabulous in the 60cm showjumping, their first jumping show since his kid’s injury last year. VT was his superb self for a pole in the first class and a very poised 5th in the second. Since I threatened his kid with no-stirrups until she was 80 unless she kept it quiet and controlled, I am happy. We can now move on to adding some speed.
Liana and her kid did not fare quite so well in the 50cm jumping. Ana herself was super, not having a single run-out all day, but they got a bit lost during the first class and then went beautifully in the second until the turn to the last fence, when the kid thought the pony would turn a bit sharper than she did and they parted ways. No harm was done (despite the best efforts of some less well-trained medics – I’m not the biggest fan of the venue where they had this qualifier), but it was a pity because I think they could have won it.
Zorro and Z-kid had their ups and downs. Zorro decided to be afraid of straw bales, the only thing that differentiated the working hunter course from the showjumping course, and got himself eliminated. They came back strong for a third in the jumping despite his napping towards the gate. These two will be a force to be reckoned with once Zorro pulls up his socks and behaves.
Outside lesson kid from last year on her fantastic mare Pennie had an unpromising start in the working hunter when Pennie threw in a stop; she had another stop and a pole in her first jumping class, but then got a hiding and started to make better life choices. Pennie jumped fabulously the second jumping class for an unlucky pole in the jump-off that landed them 4th, and then went on to win the equitation in fine style.
Working student K and Renè were fantastic despite poor K having the sniffles. They won both classes (performance riding and working riding) and Renè was her usual admirable self.
Sunè was also muchly admirable and won her working riding with a score of 81. This pony is amazing.
Sadly I didn’t make it to my performance riding because I was coaching. Or not sadly. I’ve had it to the eyeballs with show riding for this month, thanks. Midas still had dressage and showjumping to do so we were still busy. His dressage felt really good – he was shouting a bit but relaxed as long as he was moving, and had really great moments. I have no idea what we scored (see above re: not my favourite venue), but I liked how it felt.
His showjumping was great. I have a penchant for entering POG or 40cm for a pony’s first jumping class for the simple reason that I can make them walk over it if they stop, but something possessed me to do the 60cm on this chap and he didn’t bat an eye. I overrode every fence mightily and he jumped them all with enthusiasm and a slightly injured air (like, geez lady, I’m jumping, relaxed). He had a green pole in each class, but I’m perfectly happy.
He also rode in a two-berth for the first time when we hitched a lift with the Z-kid’s family, and I kinda want to say he didn’t load well, but basically what happened was he stopped at the ramp and a ten-year-old girl went behind him and slapped him on the bum and he went in, so I don’t think that qualifies.
A busy show but our God went before us. Glory to the King.
After feeling for years that my personal riding skill had just plateaued, it was exhilarating to find that my jumping has taken a huge step forward thanks to lessons with K.
And while Arwen and I haven’t lessoned with anyone since November, today it seems that our months and months of picking away at the stressage is beginning to pay off, too.
Because Arwen was the first horse I schooled, it follows that her schooling has quite a few holes in it. I think schooling for shows didn’t help that too much – we focused mostly on doing certain test movements well for the better half of last year. While it solidified what we already knew, it didn’t leave much time for fixing and learning new stuff. Now, with no dressage being done for January and February, we had the freedom to work on whatever we needed to on the day.
And that has translated into feeling competent at most of the Elementary movements. That much I knew before today. But on Thursday Rain came and took some video of us for the first time in a while, and I am gawping at how well this horse can suddenly canter.
Seems like even without lessons, early mornings, late nights and sweaty numnahs still achieve something.
Some of you (I’m looking at you, Lyn) may know that I’m in charge of the stud side of our Jersey dairy. This started years ago when I was, believe it or not, a really rather successful Jersey showman (woman?).
Anyway, the details are on the Joyful Jerseys Facebook page, but today was rather short on horses because it overflowed with cute kids and adorable heifers strutting their stuff at an agricultural youth show.
They took names, too – first, second and third in one division, first and second in the other.
I only got home quite late, to find the working students (led by the indomitable K) hard at work on the ponies. I felt rather unnecessary, a wonderful thing to feel watching kids one taught much of what they know. Anyway, I tacked up Jamaica and schooled him on the flat. Yesterday’s lesson exercise – two poles set 5 strides apart, 15m half circle, another two poles at 5 strides, 15m half circle, repeat – was still up and I gave Jamaica a good schooling over that. He surprised me pleasantly by being super adjustable, fitting four on the forward stride and seven collected. It’s a quite tricky adjustability exercise but the kids enjoyed it, so it’s staying in my toolbox.
Then we had a bunch of beginner lessons, of which K taught a couple almost by herself with lots of poise and accuracy. The Mutterer rode Exavior, who reared again once to cause another eye-widening but went on to be very good.
And when silence fell, I pulled Magic out of the field and had a session of soul-healing straight from God via that beautiful horse. It’s the most ridiculous thing; the horse who needs constant reassurance that he is good enough, is the one for whom I feel like I’m always good enough. It’s a beautiful thing to be with someone and both be trying with everything we have, even if that someone is half a ton of flight animal.
It was his first time in the new arena, so we started by walking a very tense 10m circle and finished by trotting a relaxed 20m circle. That’s a win in my book.
One perk of long hours and changing seasons is that I get to see the sky changing every morning and evening.
I suppose the sweeping expanse of colour should leave me feeling diminutive. Futile. A dirty, scrabbling little thing cowering on the face of a mighty universe. That’s all I am, after all. But here’s the beauty of the Gospel: the sunrise and sunset make me feel special. I almost blush watching it; it’s like a bunch of favourite flowers unexpectedly sent from my Lover.
I feel like He paints the sky for me. In a way I guess He does: the same way as Jesus died for me. For me in the most intensely personal way, and for all of us in the most magnificently all-embracing and equal way.
The space between this sunrise and sunset was pretty chock full. New junior groom L was kept on her toes, poor girl, but performed admirably. I got the day off to a good start by jumping a full course at 75cm on Jamaica, the easiest fence set to 80cm. I got off twice to check I’d actually set it to 80 because it felt small. Jamaica jumped brilliantly; I held him for a close spot and took the pole in the first attempt, but the second time he went clear and on the correct leads, if getting a couple of dodgy distances (my fault).
Arwen also schooled in the dressage for the first time. It was amazing. I really got to play around and try random stuff without worrying about hills or other horses, and we had a brilliant session. I was pleasantly surprised that she was easily able to complete a leg-yield down the log diagonal. We also did approximately three million simple walk changes. My canter-walk transitions aren’t any good at the best of times, but I struggled at first today until I started to use my brain for a change and squish her canter up to a super-collected little bounce before asking. I was so flabbergasted that she gave me a true, active collected canter, followed by a perfect canter-walk, that we called it a day immediately.
Thunder was kind of an idiot today. He’s spooky and anxious in the new arena and went so far as to bolt a few steps until I caught him, so he’s being grounded from riding school work for at least a month while I sort him out. In his good moments he’s feeling super.
Sunè took a fairly new rider for a w/t/c and behaved brilliantly. I hopped on afterward and ran through our performance riding test for Saturday. She’s getting the leads better, but connection is still a bit of a sticking point.
Destiny is back to work after having had the snot kicked out of him by Starlight, and gave me a really super session including his first canter. Once I did get him to canter he went off so happily and freely forward that I panicked and thought my brakes had left, applying them sharply. He stopped so obediently he nearly catapulted me over his head. Apparently the delinquent can change his spots.
Eagle wore his first bridle, seeing that his lunging is now quite firmly established in three gaits, minus some anxious moments in walk.
Trooper is slowly improving. I get the impression he’s still kind of immature and needs a little time. I’ll give him another two weeks and see if he perks up about the whole work idea, but if not, I’ll just establish his lunging and give him a month to grow up and settle in some more. He is perfectly delighted to hang out with me – it’s the running about that he objects to.
We finished off with a slew of lessons. I’m particularly proud of Zorro and Z-kid -he’s come a long way from his trademark giraffe look.
Liana also jumped a clear round at 50cm with her kid, a huge relief in light of her recent jumping trouble. I’ll school her tomorrow too, but she’s pretty ready for Saturday.
I’ve wanted this for so long, and it is so worth waiting for. Today, I got to ride on a flat level surface that wasn’t pounding my poor horses’ joints into oblivion. There were no holes. There was no slipping. There weren’t any other horses in the way! Just 20x60m of amazing. Thanks Dad, Mutterer – and Lord!
I was so excited I didn’t even want to use the lunging ring, so I lunged Xave in the dressage arena instead. He was completely wild but happily went around in circles (at light speed). New arena is apparently spooky if you are a baby dumb-blood (I didn’t even come up with that – it’s what the dentists calls them, usually just after Xave tries to jump on his head). Apart from one very rude kick at me as I sent him off, he was actually fairly polite about being worried. Also, he is freakishly gorgeous, did you notice?
I warmed Arwie up in it before jumping and she didn’t spook at all, although she was excited and pulling. Possibly also a by-product of getting last week off. She proceeded to jump a full 85cm course with flair, which felt amazing. We’re getting somewhere!
Lancelot also schooled in it and was impressively calm, and Midas was just as good and practiced both his tests for Saturday really well. It’s only Prelim 1 and 2 but it was wonderful to be able to school the movements exactly as they’ll be in the show arena. He was brilliant. He’ll do really well if he shuts up and concentrates.
Much of the day was taken up in last-minute practices for the kiddies who are showing heifers on Wednesday. In case anyone out there didn’t know, cows are amazingly beautiful. Particularly Jerseys.
Sunè schooled beautifully in the new arena too. She’s still annoyingly one-sided, which irks me mostly because I’m not used to it. It’s one of the first things I try to fix on mine. Bombproof as they come, though. I look forward to her working riding class this weekend.
I also turned Magic out in the new arena in an attempt to let him get used to it without any chance of launching me into the stratosphere. This was a terrible idea. He bolted up and down screaming until I came over and petted him, and then he walked around on a lead as quietly as can be, not spooking at anything. I guess we’ll see how tomorrow goes.
It was a joy to teach in the dressage; the ponies appreciated the easier footing, the riders appreciated the space, and I appreciated being close to the house (and water/food/equipment/loo). My voice, though, is totally cooked. It was fit for shouting across a 15x35m oval, not for this.
After the chaos, just before sunset when the light was turning to molten gold and peace filled every breath, I went out to lunge Eagle (who was great) and breathe in the beauty. The reality. The truth of how much we all are loved.
I deserve death. Instead, I get blessings. Life. The ultimate sacrifice from the One I betrayed.
I pray that every time I step onto that big sand rectangle, it reminds me of that.
Spotted Dressage asked one of the most fascinating questions in the business:
What do you feed and why?
Despite only having passed Nutrition in my yard manager’s with 88%, feeding is a subject I’m kind of obsessed with. I think it’s practically the most important aspect of horse keeping, and I also think it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeding according to conventional wisdom instead of what the horse is saying. And though I say it myself, our yard is locally a little legendary for having horses in good condition. I don’t do ribs. I also don’t do obese. I have once been informed by a client that they think I just whisper something to a horse and it instantly blows up like a balloon into wonderful shiny fatness.
Before Choosing a Ration
Feeding is something one has to be holistic about. You can shove as much food as you like into it, it doesn’t do any good if half of it is falling out from quidding and the other half is being eaten by worms. Dentistry, deworming and mental health are all very important components.
Assessing the Horse’s Requirements
I don’t have a weight tape (because they’re disastrously inaccurate), and feed according to good old-fashioned condition scoring, which is considerably more precise anyway. Condition scoring gives you an assessment of fat and muscle, not just mass. (A well-muscled TB will weigh the same as an obese pony, but their nutritional needs will be leagues apart).
My first consideration when choosing a ration is condition. The second is general health. A ribby horse with a shiny coat and otherwise good appearance probably just needs some extra calories. A ribby horse with a dull coat probably has some form of deficiency, assuming other causes of ill health have been ruled out.
The third is the horse’s job. School ponies can’t get anything heating, but a lactating broodmare needs all the energy she can get.
The Forgotten Nutrient
Water. We all forget to say it in exams, and it can also be neglected in real life, but it’s the single most important nutrient in the horse’s diet.
Now I know none of us go and let our horses stand around for hours without any water, but water quality is also a valid consideration. Dirty, stale, hot, icy or algae-encrusted water will all cause the horse to drink less than he should. Regrettably, in the fields, there’s not much we can do about troughs icing over, except break the ice first thing in the morning.
Our horses also have free access to salt, and consume a rather amazing amount of the stuff.
The Great Secret
There is one ration that has worked reliably on a vast array of horses over the years. Eighteen of the twenty-nine horses at the yard get this, including competing horses in steady work, schoolies, and growing youngsters. It’s the perfect ration for ponies and native types, but we also have thoroughbreds on it, and it works even better for anything with ulcers. Every single Nooitie we took to HOY was on it. All the schoolies are on it. It’s positively magical, and it’s amazingly simple.
Grass and hay.
That’s it. Just grass and hay. But absolutely tremendous amounts of it. It absolutely has to be fed ad lib, and not the standard definition of ad lib. If it’s in a haynet, and I don’t care how many haynets a day, it’s not ad lib. Have you seen what tiny bites a horse takes from a haynet? If it’s in a big pile in the middle of a field with many horses, it’s not ad lib, either. (That’s a particular pet peeve – food aggression is such a behaviour issue, too). If it ever runs out, even during the night, it is most certainly not ad lib.
Ad lib is a big round bale, with the strings taken off and in a very accessible feeder ring, per four horses in the field. When there’s an armful or two of hay left, a new bale gets put in. If a horse is starting to get bullied away from the hay, another bale is added. In the stables, a gigantic pile of hay is put on the floor – GIGANTIC, probably four haynets’ worth.
The hay must be clean, but doesn’t necessarily have to be teff hay. Of course for the colicky types or skinny horses, teff is by far the best, but mine are all on plain old eragrostis (except Magic and Exavior because special treatment). In the drought they even got by on Rhodes grass which is glorified straw if you ask me.
Hay is unavoidable at the moment, but actually, grazing trumps everything else. Kikuyu is best, if supplemented with some calcium because its Ca:P ratio can be off. But whatever is green and growing in the field is better than the best hay (provided it’s not ragwort, obviously). Bonus points to grazing because the horses walk around with their heads down, stretching their backs, gently exercising and building a topline too.
It may sound ridiculous that I can have a top show horse, who is in fairly intense dressage training, on grass only, but the science behind it makes perfect sense. God designed horses to eat grass. The simple action of chewing all day long (they spend more time eating than sleeping) relaxes and soothes them, removing a huge source of stress (thus, excess stomach acid). Because so much roughage is moving along the gut, it’s in optimal condition to absorb the nutrients, too. The food is making the horse’s body more able to use the food. Isn’t that amazing?
ConcentratesWhere unnatural demand is made, unnatural compensation has to be given. Thus, in some situations, concentrates are a very valuable addition to the diet.
My pet peeve is this idea that people have of feeding considerable amounts of low quality concentrates to everything. I’ve seen it so often – feeding 2-4kg of that real, cheap riding school food. It’s fluff. Heating fluff. Why??
The math is simple: double the quality allows you to halve the quantity, thus placing half the stress on the horse’s digestive system. As a struggling little yard there’s a lot of things we have to compromise on, but feeding isn’t one of them.
I add concentrates to anything that needs to gain more than one condition point (out of 10). I don’t increase feed in anticipation of work, but I do push it hard when a mare hits her third trimester. It’s ridiculous how much food a broodmare needs – triple, quadruple the amount that horses in heavy work need.
My go-to feed for working horses is Spurwing Tranquilo. It’s super non-heating but does put on weight. No good for very skinny horses, but where a couple points are needed, it does the trick just fine. I start them at 1.2kg daily, pushing it up to 3kg in extreme cases.
For anything under three years old, anything that’s had a hard time at its previous home, anything with a condition score less than 3, or anything that just looks a bit poorly, I turn straight to Capstone Lifetime Balancer. Some horses need persuading to eat it (mixing it with a hay replacer pellet helps), but this stuff packs some serious punch. Feeding more than 1kg daily is a recipe for disaster, but in appropriate amounts it just fixes everything. I also feed this to a foal starting a week before weaning to help them over the bump, no more than 500g at first. It’s 25% protein so can be heating and needs to be treated with respect.
For lactating mares, really skinny youngsters, or when all else fails, I turn to Capstone Stud Time. It costs approximately an arm, a leg and both kidneys, but it sure works. Plus it looks like muesli and this amuses me greatly. It is extremely high energy and cannot be fed to working horses (unless you have a serious death wish), but it packs on the weight. We fixed Tara on a combination of Capstone Stud (2kg) and Capstone Lifetime (1kg), split into three feeds a day.
A last note on concentrates is that you have to play by the rules. No more than 2kg per feed (I don’t do more than 1kg a feed for anything that looks horrible). Don’t feed (unless your feeds are less than 500g) within an hour of work. Keep the buckets and things clean. Don’t feed anything that has clumped together or has fluff growing on it. Feed according to mass, not volume (a scoop of Spurwing weighs 400g, the same volume of Capstone Lifetime weighs 600g). Common sense goes a long way.
… are violently overrated, and do not magically fix anything. The number one reason to give a supplement is to make yourself feel like you’re doing everything you can. I will make a begrudging exception for quality joint supplements and good probiotics, but neither are a substitute for other, more effective care.
“All-round” supplements cannot replace good feeding. “Calming” supplements cannot replace good training. “Coat” supplements cannot replace good grooming.
That said, I do have three supplements that I tend to use. GCS-Max is the only joint one I’ve found to actually do anything, and I keep Stardust on it to help support her glitchy leg and because all her legs have variations on windgalls and capped hocks. Protexin is a probiotic that you know a horse needs if they’ll actually eat it – it’s truly disgusting, but it does help a bit. And Rooibos tea, while not magical the way the salesmen say it is, does appear to give the system a little boost.
Of course, I give Magic a ton of random stuff to make myself feel better, but I am an unmitigated idiot when it comes to Magic.
* And bold type and all caps aren’t a substitute for good grammar, but it’s 3:00am as I write. Bear with me.
The Bottom Line
As with practically everything, there isn’t any magic trick when it comes to nutrition – brilliance is in the basics. Sticking to the rules we all learned as kids goes a long way to excellence. As with anything,
Listen to the horse first.
Employ common sense.
And unless your horse is morbidly obese… feed the grass ad lib, please.
A nice, relaxed little jumping training show was exactly what we needed after a long, stressful HOY. And this outing proved to be exactly that.
It was rather a pleasure to just chuck the tack into the box and take the day off yesterday, instead of frantically scrubbing horses and trying to find my show tie. We were meant to take Starlight, Jamaica and Lancelot, but Destiny chose Thursday to pick a massive fight with Star. She kicked the living daylights out of him and taught him a good lesson, but did end up getting a nice fat bruise on her leg for her trouble. It’s minor, but still a bit sore, so we headed up to Midrand with only the two geldings this morning.
Both, incidentally, boxed really great. I was ready before the Mutterer arrived so, with Mom holding one outside, I just put them both in, tied them up and closed the partitions myself. A major perk of the four-berth – there’s no having to get out and go round to close the partition.
Sunlands habitually runs a little late, so it follows that I’d arrive super early and there’d be absolutely nobody in the parking lot. We got a good parking spot and leisurely tacked up the two boys, who were very chill. The Mutterer headed off to get our entries done and I took both boys for a walk around the empty warmup. They were looky but I mean, I was leading them both at once, so obviously they weren’t too bad.
When the Mutterer got back, I jumped on Jamaica and set off with a little trepidation. He’s always been very good with me, but I always have it in the back of my head that he was a wicked and unpredictable buck, so I always approach new situations with considerable caution. I’m glad I was careful, but he was stunning. He was maybe a little too relaxed – I had to grab my whip from the Mutterer and give him a few taps to wake him up. I was expecting a rocket launch over the warmup fences, but he barely noticed them.
The only complaint I have is that he felt a bit disobedient and wiggly much of the time. Not naughty exactly, just a little rude – drifting slightly towards the gate, tugging on my hands to try and graze when we were waiting. Every now and then, especially in new situations, he has a tendency to revert back to cheeky-kid’s-pony mode.
Once we were on course, though, this guy was all business. He took me boldly over every single fence and didn’t even think of overjumping or stopping. I had my neck strap, but I didn’t need it. He didn’t touch a pole, either. It helped that for the first time in my life I was actually able to think on course at a show. I made decisions, and most of them were good. I counted strides. I looked up and rode my lines and breathed without having to recite Psalm 23 at the top of my lungs – it may be the first show I’ve done in years that I didn’t recite at all.
That’s not to say I didn’t need God for every moment. Simply that the truth of the beloved Psalm sat so deeply in my heart today that I didn’t need any reminding. I know God is beginning to make a mighty change in me, praise Him, and He’s done much of it through fantastic coach K. Her lessons have made a massive difference already.
So Jamaica jumped all clear rounds today, and came third in the 60cm. I think he could have won it if I’d taken a few chances and cut some turns. The jump-off was simply over fences 1-6, and I rode exactly the same lines as I did in the first round, just put my foot down a little bit. Still, I’m glad I rode nice lines and gave him a good experience – it’ll stand us in good stead at the next show when we both trust each other better.
Lancelot was also a good boy, much more grown up than at his last show in January. He started out a little looky and tense over his back in the warmup, but didn’t ever actually spook. I only had 10 minutes to warm him up after jumping the 50 on Jamaica, but it turned out to be quite enough. He wiggled into the warmup fences a little bit, but I just made it clear that running out wasn’t an option and he gave up on the idea.
He was a bit heavy and leaning in my hand the whole day, something we’re struggling with at home, too. He doesn’t ever run away, he just hangs. I can get him back easily off my seat, but to be totally kid-safe he needs to come off the hand considerably. I’ll try popping him into a French link for a bit and see if the different feel gets him to back off a bit.
His jumping was still really impressive. At his last show he’d stopped at the first fence and wiggled at all the jumps. This time we did snort and look at stuff in the arena as we headed in, but as soon as he was aimed at a fence he was like “Oh, I know this!” and took me fearlessly over every fence. His steering was a bit glitchy now and then, but we got where we needed to be and jumped everything in a sturdy rhythm. In the 60cm he was even giving me lead changes over the fences, which I actually haven’t even taught him yet.
We did lose balance and fluff one distance in the 60cm, causing him to roll the pole down with his hind feet. I don’t really mind because it meant he wasn’t overjumping – rather a perk there, the chap can overjump properly when he wants to.
Thanks Lord for a great day out. Glory to the King.