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.
This week has been a little wild. I’ll recap in pictures, because forming a coherent post is a little much to ask right now. (Writers all say that writing something badly is better than writing nothing at all, right?)
We are currently without a head groom; it’s junior groom T and I for it, with Mom helping us out with the cow guys, which has saved our bacon.
I love the show horses, but it was sooooo good to be home and leaning against Mr. Failed Showjumper again. This horse. ❤ Thanks Lord.
Eagle came into work for the first time. He is as expected; sensitive, but willing. A joy if you’re tactful; a danger if you’re not. He’s cottoned on to the basic voice commands but still kind of anxious about staying in walk.
Magic began his return to work with a lunging session, which was a good thing because he spent it leaping about spooking at stuff that’s been there for ever. Seriously, bro?
Trooper also started work this week and is also as expected – dead lazy. The thing about horses that are unresponsive to spooky things is that they’re generally unresponsive to aids, too. I’m going to tweak his diet and see if I can fizz him up a bit. Otherwise he is adorable and follows the kids around everywhere.
Magic developed an allergic reaction to not getting enough attention last week. I gave him cortisone which did not help at all. It’s bugging me more than it’s bugging him, and is gradually going away, so I’m not panicking. Yet.
Exavior has been a total sweetie to work with and lunge. I finally enjoy hanging out with the dude again, mostly because I don’t have to deal with his bad side. The poor Mutterer does, however, and on Tuesday the dude reared so high that even the Mutterer looked momentarily concerned.
On the plus side, those sabino splashies on his tummy are still too cute for words.
Sunè did lots of hacking, even past the woods, which are usually quite scary. She’s been a superstar. Coolest little horse, this. She’s going to be real dependable.
Faith is now super easy to lead, tie up, and groom, including picking out the feet. She still has her fairylike, gossamer prettiness, but I do wish some of the expensive food I shove into her would start to go sideways instead of just up and along.
The dressage arena is rideable at last!! I’m so, so happy. Thanks Lord! It is an inexpressible pleasure to have that beautiful, flat surface free of obstacles and distractions to school on. There’s even a fence. No more baby horses running to Timbuktu when spooked! I spent yesterday morning riding the schoolies in it, so hopefully today I can teach most of my lessons up here too. Its proximity to the tack room and loo is also a definite advantage.
For the first time in her life, the champ herself is being stabled long-term. I’m trying to keep the coat short for Nationals (Arwen + body clip = disaster – she can’t have her legs done without sedation, and last time we gave her enough to geld a Clydesdale colt and she still went across the stable on her hindlegs with the Murderer hanging from her head). I also think, given how many overnight shows she has to do lately, that having a routine of sleeping in at night will make her happier at shows. Plus then I can limit her hay intake a little without separating her from her buddies. Maybe then we can finally shake some of the chubbles… or she’ll just eat some dirt and get even chubbier.
It’s good to be back. Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.
Nooitie day was, as usual, complete and utter chaos. This was no fault of the organisers – they had done a fantastic job of keeping things doable for all the riders. We had a class every 20-35 minutes like clockwork, so we were hectic but managed to get where we had to be on time and warmed up.
Liana had a MUCH better show than Pre-HOY, thanks to a bitting change and a valiant effort by her little person, and the two of them put in good, relaxed efforts in hand and show riding. Ana fluffed her leads in the ridden class so they didn’t place, but I’m so proud of their progress.
Poor K was running around turning out everyone else’s horse all day, but she still managed to turn Renè out beautifully. Renè was a superstar all the way through. Although she didn’t place in hand (losing condition from fussing in the stable all week didn’t help), she won the novice show hunter, and placed third in a big working riding class.
Vastrap’s kid couldn’t make it to HOY, but Rain stepped in and showed him beautifully in hand to supreme champion partbred gelding. We took him back on supremes day, and though he didn’t make it into the top ten, it was pretty incredible to see our little white pony standing amongst all those top geldings.
My threesome were also very good, barring one very bad moment from Midas. He was as usual shouting his head off because his girlfriends hadn’t come with him (Vastrap apparently was not good enough), and while I was tightening my girth (mounted), he decided he’d have a tiny rear. Ever tried to sit even a tiny rear with one leg hooked over the saddle flap? I almost pulled him over on top of me. A hurried semi-intentional dismount, good hiding for Midas, and girth-pulling from the ground later, I got back on and he proceeded to be very good for the rest of the show. A few whinnies but considerably less than before the aforementioned goodly hiding. Only one cure for boys that think too much of themselves, I’m afraid!
He did his individual show beautifully and got most of his leads, so I was really happy with how he went in the end. He won the sport horses in hand and didn’t place under saddle.
Sunè was amazing. Really – for a first ridden outing, she knocked it out of the park. We hacked the long way from the stables to the show arena alone and she only gave one tiny whinny when she saw Renè in the warmup (watch and learn, Midas). Despite having had the week off at home, she was calm and collected the whole day. She did fluff her leads properly in the show hack, but in the working riding she took everything in her stride. I’m really impressed with how quiet she was about the obstacles, including a scary covered lane. She even trotted over the jump.
Arwen was also on her game and ready to impress. After a week in a stable she was a tiny bit fizzy, but she handled it well, and dragoned merrily around her show hack class without missing a beat. She did lean on my hands a bit, contributing to our not getting a very good placing. Working riding was even better and it was a challenging test, including cantering over a covered lane and cantering a figure eight with a simple change one-handed (carrying a basket). Arwen rocked that simple change through walk, basket and all, and launched onto the covered lane with a little more enthusiasm than we actually required. Regrettably, she also completely forgot how to stand still. She’d stop all right, but I had to scoop the basket off the barrel while my dragon piaffed merrily. This meant we didn’t get to go to supremes for working riding, which is a pity because I think she could have placed if she’d just stand still.
Working hunter unleashed her inner dragon fully and she devoured the course and galloped beautifully, so this time the judge did let us go to supremes. We shipped her over on the Sunday and just had the best time ever. She was horrific to plait and we picked an argument about that, but once the hair was done and I was in the tack, all was forgiven and she was just beyond amazing to ride. She felt bouncy and fresh despite her long week, but manageable, focused and filled with that enthusiasm only Arwie has.
We warmed up over 90cm fences and went in blowing smoke and snorting defiance at anyone who dared point out that, actually, she is far more of a hack than a hunter, chips at most fences and just madly flaps her little legs instead of really galloping. We jumped the 80cm fences and she was game for everything and such a joy to ride. Obviously, we didn’t place, but it was incredible.