This Week in Dressage: Halts Revisited, Working Canter

After last week spent packing a beginner around at pony camp and the training show, it was time to put Thunder back to work. He was so good with his beginner – bombproof really, although he did trot up to each ground pole and then walk and climb carefully over it at the show. I brought him in early on Monday and suddenly was riding a hot, spooky young horse who ran sideways away from a pile of jump fillers. As you do.

He settled quickly, though, and we could get to work on two concepts. Going back to what I said after the last show, we needed to work on our halts, stretchy trot, and lengthened trot for Prelim. I am intentionally not drilling the lengthened trot right now. I drilled Arwen’s early on and destroyed it forever. So we do it once a session or so, but I keep it lighthearted, only ask for what I think he can give me, and only when I think he feels like giving it. We also work over trot poles set far apart now and then to help him figure out what he needs to do.

The stretchy trot is also much improved just by incorporating it into the cool-down every session, so that leaves us with the halts and then schooling for Novice next year.

We started with the halts. They are a lot better since my light bulb moment of riding the walk actively to get the halt square, but about 50% of the time he’d be square in front and then step forward with his right hind. Erin pointed out what should have been blindingly obvious: of course he steps forward with the right hind – I sit so hard on my right seat bone. It’s only because he’s huge and kind and not super sensitive that he only does that instead of swinging quarters to right like Arwen and Nell always used to.

So we tried riding the walk actively and sitting harder on my left seat bone (ugh left hip why must you ruin everything?) and we had consistent square halts at last. Sometimes I overdo it and he steps forward with the left hind, but it’s just a matter of me finding my balance.

Then it was on to working on some Novice stuff. While we have played with basically everything from Novice, it hasn’t been polished or serious. And the biggest problem remains his canter. I can hold it together for long enough in a Prelim test to make it look good, and the transitions are some of our best marks, but it’s still not truly in front of my leg. That means it’s not truly connected or supple or balanced either.

We started with my favourite, bestest, simplest exercise to get the canter in front of my leg.

  • Canter large.
  • Focus on sitting really, really still with the leg OFF.
  • The moment he loses impulsion or breaks his rhythm, touch him with the whip behind my leg. Not leg, whip. Leg is Mr. Nice Guy. Leg is for the transition. Leg is NOT to keep your lazy behind cantering when it’s actually your own responsibility.
  • If the break in rhythm occurs less frequently, give him a break.
  • If the break fails to occur less frequently, increase the intensity of the whip aid.

I had to take the whip aid all the way up to a good smack before the message penetrated and Thun started to do his job, but it did help to reinforce the idea that leg = go and no leg does not equal no go. In other words, he started to carry himself forward.

He was quite stiff during this session, so it was evident that he found the idea a bit difficult and it made him a little tense, so I started looking at ways to help him develop the canter muscles to make his job easier.

The first was my gymnastic line from last week, the one with all the bounces. If you think about it, bounces are just really high canter poles. He HAD to canter forward and engaged without getting strung out to this exercise – there’s no way to just flop through it. And he did! He didn’t touch a single pole. We repeated it a few times, then turned around and jumped it going the wrong way, with the big vertical (80cm) and one stride first and then the bounces. I expected this to be hard because he had to rebalance quickly after jumping the bigger fence, but he just skipped right through. Good chap.

Our next session he suddenly had a CANTER! So much so that I started playing with the Novice 3 canter work: loop through X in counter canter, lengthening, 15m circle. He stayed so connected and bent beautifully around the circle. The loop caught him unawares and he did lose his balance for a couple of strides the first time, but it was clean and obedient. We even actually got a lengthening. The transition from lengthened back to working was not as crisp as I’d wanted, but he kept his rhythm. It all wants polishing but it feels as though he is ready to do the polishing.

His simple change through trot is also OK but can have too many trot steps, so that’s just something to work on.

We ended the week with some raised canter poles. He threw them all over the place at first, but if I rode them light seat he went through well. Getting off the baby’s back a bit can’t be a bad thing over poles, so I was happy with it.

We will add a day of pole work/jumping to each week and I think a day of lunging in side reins in canter especially can also help to strengthen the canter. It’s not bad, really – it just doesn’t feel like his walk and trot, which are both AMAZING.

This horse is amazing. A majestic, powerful, adorable marshmallow.

Glory to the King.

feel free to laugh at this one

This Week in Dressage: Walk to Canter

Trot-canter and walk-canter transitions have long been weak points for us. Mostly because I never developed the canter quality early on, and never prepared or rode the transitions in balance and self-carriage right at the start. I learned to see a canter lead on this horse, and to get the one I wanted – which usually involved a lot of flailing about with my upper body and leaning forward while looking down to try and see the lead.

Poor old Arwen.

derpy dragon

This movement consistently scores low for us, with comment “hollow”. I was originally taught to throw my weight to the inside, to encourage the horse to pick up the inside lead. Top tip: this don’t work. With me fooling about, and the trot lacking power, and the canter lacking engagement, Arwen learned to throw up her head and lunge into canter from the front.
The good about our walk-canter:

  • It’s obedient as they come; I can get it the first time, every time, without trot steps.
  • I can get the correct lead 99% of the time (whether it’s canter or counter canter), even on the middle of the long side or wherever.

The bad:

  • Arwen anticipates the transition and starts to get tense and jogging in walk.
  • I still want to throw my weight to the inside and curl up, especially in a simple change.
  • Arwen gets really hollow and makes a laboured sort of bounce into the canter.

So we set to work on this with riding it “in context”, pretty much as it would be in most tests, trying to figure out where it was going wrong:

  • Medium walk up the short side F-A.
  • Change rein across the long diagonal in extended walk.
  • Transition to canter at C.

The problem started as we transitioned back to medium walk at M. In the double bridle I tried adding a tiny bit of curb during the transition down, but that only made her more tense and caused her to jog and hollow instead of jog and lean. Her anticipating made me tense, too, so my seat was kind of all over the place. It was a hot mess. Sorry, Arwen.

I found this exercise on the Internet, and during our next session we started trying it out.

  • A turn up the centerline.
  • L leg-yield to the track.
  • Track straighten, then transition to canter.
  • Canter to M, transition to walk.
  • C turn up centerline and repeat.

Right off the bat this started to work better for Arwen. Her walk leg-yields are supple and I can get them very steep (L-B for instance) so whenever she’d start rushing, instead of getting in her face, I’d increase the steepness of the leg-yield so that she had to focus on that instead of on getting all dragonish. With her flexed to the inside, I also didn’t worry as much about the lead, so that mitigated my flailing a bit. As we returned to the track she could start anticipating but then I’d put her in slight shoulder-fore for a few steps and then ask for the canter.

This exercise took my mind off the anticipating and made me concentrate on the preparation – actively ending the leg-yield, keeping my upper body in line, going into shoulder-fore, half-halt, outside leg back, inside shoulder up, canter on. Arwen was rounder going up but added some trot steps. In the third session, I carried the dressage whip and gave her a touch as I asked the first few times just to make it clear we needed to canter on without kicking.

By the end of this I had a much more powerful transition, using the hindlegs to spring up to canter. I do have to half halt on the curb rein to prevent the head from flying up. Old habits die hard. But the more connected I can keep her, the more engaged the transition, the more engaged the resulting canter.

We went back to the medium-extended-medium walk and then canter exercise just once or twice and the difference was substantial. It’s still not going to be her best movement, but it’s an improvement. It’s not going to be brilliant until I can discipline my own body better in all the canter transitions and the canter itself, to stay tall (well, as tall as 5′ 4″ gets) and strong through my core instead of crumpling.

Dancing with this dragon was exactly what I needed this week. How great is the God Who turns our worship of Him into His healing of us?

Glory to the King.

Marching On

After the emotional and spiritual high of last week, this one has left me a little flat. Make no mistake, we had good progress this week, including a lot of good rides and lessons and wonderful preparation for Finals tomorrow (these kids are amazing!), but I think we all felt a little rough around the edges after putting everything into pony camp.

I will give absolutely everything tomorrow, too, because my kids and ponies have been doing exactly that. Vastrap and his kid were so amazing on Tuesday that yesterday I just took them on a hack. They are so more than ready for whatever Finals will throw at them.

And after a bit of an unpromising lesson on Tuesday, Liana’s indomitable kid showed up to work on Thursday and gave it everything she had. Liana is hot and not always easy to keep rhythmic throughout a test but this kid absolutely nailed it. She’s going to ride her heart out at Finals because she always does.

Purple gloves make me happy, and so does Savanna. She is such a sweet, nonviolent, willing soul. She is desperately uneducated though, and it shows, but already after two or three weeks of work she’s starting to understand that there is no need to rush fences or cut corners. We still have a long way to go in terms of developing self-carriage and any form of technique, but obedience is already improving. From next week she’s in full training and competing with me, so that’ll be fun.

Champagne has been out of work for the above reason. Ah pony. Why? Six stitches and a week later and it’s almost healed, but it’s a pity we’ve lost that training time.

Magic is better at teenage girl selfies than I am.

He’s just better at selfies generally, really.

Skye has a nicer winter coat than anyone. She is really contented at the moment. Looking after Lady Erin seems to be all the stimulation she really needs; the old girl is happy to stand in a peaceful field and come in to do the Scripture reading before shows and get stuffed full of cookies. Especially the cookies, if we’re honest. She doesn’t crave people, although that’s not to say we don’t both enjoy grooming (and cookie-feeding).

Magic, on the other hand, is by no means ready for retirement. I had been toying with the idea a little. Riding has been either anxious or boring of late; I don’t want to push him with the flatwork, I can’t cope with the jumping, and he can’t cope with hacks. We lunge but that’s just exercise. We both really need a conversation; we need to spend quality time and not just be together, but talk and interact and learn things.

So, because he really enjoys groundwork, we’re playing with liberty. I know – I rolled my eyes reading the websites, too. (Ignore bad behaviour? So what do you do if it charges/bites/kicks/rears/pushes you around?) But it’s what Magic needs. He never gets stroppy. He never gets domineering. He needs something where there’s no pressure and lots of affirmation and this seems like fun. So here goes nothing, I guess.

I’m just gonna leave this right here because it makes me so happy seeing them regain their shine here.

Pretty Ash has been doing so well with L. Sound for 15 minutes’ trotting for several weeks now, we’ve added in some canter. It’s rather more canter than L is used to but Ash takes care of her. She is such a classy, attractive pony – I kind of wish we’d had her when she was younger and sounder and ready to take on the world.

I bought the dragon a nametag. Try not to laugh.

Speaking of dragons, we have been dressaging. More to come later. I’m using the double on her most of the time now. She does go better and yes, she should be able to do it in a snaffle, but the horse didn’t get a good foundation and right now we’re just muddling along trying to find what works for where we are now. Dressage coach S might come see us next month, then we can ask her opinion.

Nugget is incredibly content living with Magic. She’s in a better condition than ever before and even runs around the field playing with him – something I’ve never seen her do before. Unfortunately, after my week off and then pony camp, we’ve taken a bunch of steps back in handling. I haven’t gotten a halter back on her again. We’re making progress back there every day (I can rub her neck and shoulder now), so we’ll regain the lost ground quickly. I’m trying to make a point not to be upset about it, because there’s just no way I would have coped without the week off. And if I don’t cope there’s no yard and if there’s no yard there’s no safe haven for Nuggets.

On the jumping front, this was our exercise of the week; canter pole, couple of bounces, one stride, vertical. I added V-poles to the vertical later on. It was very challenging, especially for the kids, because they had to really ride the ponies up into their hands and get them to use themselves instead of just point and go. But it was confidence building for the horses and helped sharpen reflexes and round jumps nicely.

I found it confidence building too – so much so that the last vertical ended up at about a metre. My first in years, and Jamaica’s first under me. He just loped right on over and didn’t take it seriously enough to give it much scope, so it’s comforting to know he can do it and with such quietness.

He is such a blessing. If I had unlimited funds I would have bought him long ago. As it is, if I do pass Module 5, it’ll in large part be due to what God is doing for me with this funny-looking little horse.

Arwen has a jumping day each month, and she charged through it as well,

as did Destiny, Savanna (a simplified version), Thunder, and Lancelot. Lancey particularly impressed me because carefulness has been something we’ve long struggled with and he didn’t knock a single pole, except for rubbing the last vertical so that the V-poles fell off. He was kind of dorkward about it but he did the thing and I’m so so proud of the little chap.

I also started playing with an automatic release. My crest release is really good when it’s good, but disappears as soon as I’m nervous. I feel like I have to keep my hands back to keep my weight back in case the horse stops. It isn’t true, but it’s how it feels. The automatic is harder so it makes me concentrate on my lower leg and hip so that I can pull it off, but psychologically it’s significantly easier to follow the mouth slightly rather than toss my hands up the neck. I kinda like the result but I’m not dead sure yet.

And I’m throwing this in here too – G wasn’t able to exercise Pennie much last week, so I got to borrow her for a day and have some fun. Love this pony. She’s epic. Pictured: reason why I must learn a better release.

Eagle is going much better. He can be tricky to train for his novice owners; he’s never naughty, but he is responsive and forward-thinking by nature, so when you’re a novice trotting along and you panic and grab with your legs he’s probably going to go faster. We spent a lot of time installing some very sharp brakes and a relaxed halt, and he’s doing great.

They harvested the maize last week. The world suddenly looks bigger; and there’s not as much to spook at. I borrowed Dusty from the kids for a hack and remembered why I trust this little pony like nobody else.

This is Troy, who is my current favourite schoolie from Winstead. He is large and round and lazy but also jumps anything if you get him to go fast enough, so he’s my type. We were jumping over 80cm in fairly tricky exercises last lesson and he gives me a lot of courage. Thank you Troy (and coach K of course).

This cheeky adorable Faithy thing has been getting ideas above her station and picking fights with herd members, so now she has one kick on each hock. One more kick and I’ll move her out, but I suspect she’s doing something to provoke getting bullied. Bratty 2yo thinks she can rule the roost down there.

We have been having more conversations about the horsebox. She doesn’t walk right in yet, but if you show her you have cookies she’ll go in. She’s still learning about the world and I’m still learning about her, but I love her so much. Also she will do anything for cookies.

This is Meatlug (after the dragon – a greatly inappropriate name) and I think she’s beautiful. Those eyes…


Destiny has his ups and downs. Our personality clash makes for a difficult relationship, but we have been making really good progress. He’s so good on hacks now, jumped the difficult gymnastic, and is learning to move laterally off my leg.

Blizzard is trotting laps in the (amazing, new) ring now. Slanted poles are amazing, by the way – I haven’t had my knees smacked even once. He was scared of me posting at first, but his reaction to being scared is to stop dead, so that’s quite OK for a novice horse. We have some confidence building to do in trot but it won’t be long before we canter.

Lullaby has been a bit flat lately. I’ve tried the usual tricks – decreased workload, time off, a fun jumping session with a big kid – to no avail. She doesn’t seem unsound or in any physical trouble beyond the usual stiffness that we’re controlling with joint supplements, but there’s just a lack of her usual sparkle. I really hope her age and many years in the riding school aren’t catching up to her. I need her – we need her. But I’m her advocate. So we’ll try hacks and different food and so on until my stalwart little colleague is herself again. She has served so well for so long at such a thankless task.
My job is easy by comparison. It’s the least I can do to be as faithful as my good little ponies.

Glory to the King.

all ready for tomorrow

So There Was This Training Show…

… and I kinda forgot to write about it. Two Sundays ago, a little spur-of-the-moment, we threw Vastrap and Jamaica into VT’s kid’s dad’s horsebox and went to Fourways. VT’s kid wanted practice for Finals, and I had to be there anyway so I figured I may as well ride.

Jamaica had had the whole week off, so I sort of centered him around on the Friday and then popped through a simple gymnastic line that happened to be up on Saturday and off we went. He was so good about everything, too. Good to box, got out and looked around and sort of shrugged indifferently, and when I threw him in a paddock and abandoned him, he merely smelt some poo and then ate hay. How cool is it to have a really easy, ordinary, uncomplicated horse? It’s a new experience for me and rather refreshing.


Then VT and his kid promptly had a brilliant, blistering round in the 60cm, winning by streets.

They got a bit flustered and had a pole in the 70cm, but it didn’t bother either of them much, so it didn’t bother me either. It was their first 70 this year and they’re only doing 60 at finals.
Jamaica just totally showed up to work that day. He was calm, relaxed, focused and absolutely point-and-shoot. We went faster than usual, too, and cut all the turns in the 70cm speed for 5th in a class of 26.

The 80cm didn’t even look big. He was careful and clear in the first round. In the jump-off he overjumped an oxer that really was rather big for the class and I took a second to get my act together on landing so we lost a few seconds making a squiggle to the next fence, but it was still good enough for 3rd out of 18. And I didn’t even hold the neck strap.


God is way too good to me. Glory to the King.

Small Victories

This week was… incredible.

It was pony camp, which I always love because I get more than that single golden half-hour once a week with each child. I get a chance to listen. I get a chance to learn.

We had many kids, for us (12? 13? I’m honestly not sure) and I can confidently say they all impressed me this week. For sure some of them got told off rather sternly but they are all lights in the world. They all have their futures thrown wide before them and the knowledge that I had a whole week with them – a week that God could use to influence their lives – was a tremendous thing. Terrifying at times, but tremendous.

Bible study was something else. The first three days felt like they weren’t really going anywhere – I was preaching the Gospel, and they were listening (most of the time) like good little children. But such is Bible study, I’m finding. It takes a while to build the trust that makes it a conversation. On the last day, we ended up running 45 minutes long because the kids weren’t running out of questions. We sat together and had an open, candid, non-judgmental, honest and sincere discussion about God. Jesus was there and the Holy Spirit was working! It was a day that reminded me of what I’m here for.

Of course, much was learned about horses, too. We rode bareback (a first for most of the kids) and played that game where you give each child a coin under each lower thigh and the kid who manages to keep their coins the longest wins. This was to much hilarity, but regrettably, we lost almost all of the coins in the arena sand.

We also learned how to turn out a pony, to varied success. This was less of a hit with some of the boys, but for the most part they pulled together and did some rather stellar work. Trooper especially looked more dashing than I expected.

We also learned about the points of the horse, parts of the saddle and bridle, and colours and markings. The ponies were as usual entirely accepting of having stickers stuck all over them.

They also did an awesome job painting and decorating all our jumps,

and Kindness Rocks, which are now littered all over the yard. Some have rather imaginative spelling (and others are teetering precariously on top of poles, on the brink of falling upon somebody’s head like a bolt of divine inspiration) but they make me smile.

We jumped some jumps (pictured: head groom L winning at this) and limbo’d under others (not pictured: head groom L falling on her head trying to win at this).

There were no falls or serious injuries at all this pony camp, to my great relief. One kid did cut his finger on the fence, whereupon it bled magnificently, but it was nothing that making a big fuss, pulling on my blue gloves and sticking a Star Wars plaster couldn’t fix. I also got kicked halfway across the arena (walked behind a sleeping pony and touched its bum like an idiot) but luckily I went flying and skidded several metres so that seems to have taken the worst of the impact out of it. Young muscles do have their advantages.

The week culminated in today’s training show, our first ever. It was an outrageous success – by the grace of God. Literally. He was so with us. And I have no pictures. Sorry.

We opened with Scripture reading, a la Lipizzaners, by bringing in old Skye and reading Job 39:19-25. Not gonna lie, standing next to my brave old friend and facing the crowd (more than 80 people – it was quite the crowd) and the powerful words straight from my God’s mouth rolling over us, I got a little teary-eyed.

The POG class was enormous and consisted of basically everyone whether they could jump or not. But I only had two on the lead rein and everyone else remembered their track perfectly, even if they walked the whole thing. Lulu, Trooper (yes – the 3yo; ridden off lead by a 6yo kiddie. He was good except once he walked into an upright and it fell over), Stardust, Midas, Sunè, Renè, and Thunder all packed their kids around without putting a toe wrong. Starlight had a spook and cantered off causing a little panic, but the kid got her back and she was fine after that.

Lisna and E also trotted around the POG and 20cm effortlessly. Lisna didn’t look at a thing and E handled first-show nerves brilliantly.

Most notably, David and his person went around the POG in hand. A mighty feat considering all the fears that horse had to conquer to get there. I gave him a show name and it says everything about him: Facing the Giants. He has faced some incredible Goliaths.

The 20cm was more of the same, with the addition of Savanna and her teenager. Savanna has been SO naughty of late (used to following other ponies over jumps + now feeling rather too good = naughty) but she was super and her teenager rode her really, really well for clear rounds.

Rain and Arwen also popped around the 20cm and 30cm, to general applause. Arwen also packed another rider who she’s never seen before in her life around the 60cm and 70cm, kicking all of our bums in the process. That’s the dragonbeast for you. I love that about my dance partners – they can dance with me one day and carry random people around the next.

In the 40cm, Destiny got his first jumping win under his mom. Sunè and her kid also popped around beautifully and Starlight came second with a kid that will hopefully become her kid eventually.

In the 50cm, Liana and her kid charged around brilliantly for second place. Midas and his new little rider had their first show together and came third, and Pennie’s mom G jumped her young horse, Saartjie, for first place. When G got Saartjie about a year ago the pony had never seen a fence before in its life and I’ve never been on her so I am VERY chuffed with both. K and Renè also had a great clear round.

It was more of the same in the 60cm, with Arwen first, Saartjie second and Lancelot third – albeit having a rather gawky round because I was in the dressage saddle (the others were all taken) and mainly focused on not losing my stirrups. Lancey was amazing for the whole thing, jumping all clear rounds. We were all expecting Vastrap to win because he is awesome but he got a bit wild and threw in a stop – luckily for his child because I don’t think she could have sat the only distance available to him at that pace. He won the 70cm, with Lancey second and Arwen third.

The 80cm was only Pennie and G and Jamaica and I, and Maicy totally showed me again why I lease him. I was exhausted by this point and just sort of hung on and pointed him at the jumps. The distances were ugly, the rhythm was off, and we’d had one minute to warm up – but Jamaica just took me over each fence despite my mistakes. Good boy. He won it despite a rail down because Pennie got somewhat overexcited and crashed through a bunch of jumps.

The last class was called the 85cm but only because I didn’t want to say out loud that Jamaica and I were jumping a 90cm track. I needn’t have worried, though. Jamaica was superb. Both G and I had a pole down but Pennie was like 15 seconds faster so they won.

I am so happy with it – all of it. I feel so honoured to be among this group of horses and riders and to feel the buzz that was at this stableyard today. It’s more than just a good atmosphere brought about by mutual goodwill. It’s in me but not of me. It’s the Holy Spirit at work.

This evening I had one last job – herding the members of field A (Arwen’s group) back to their field, which was being used as a warmup. It was a short way along the corridor so I elected to just shepherd them along rather than catching each one. I whistled them up and Arwen led the charge, snorting fire. Magic caught on and started bucking in the neighbouring field and then suddenly they were all running – thirty-one shining, happy horses – each a thunder-clothed collection of graceful curves bursting with life and exuberance, the sky and earth trembling with the power of them. I was caught breathless in the whirlwind of it, and I understood what the psalmist meant when he said: Let everything that has breath praise the name of the Lord.

No eye has seen what He has prepared for us, but perhaps sometimes we catch the edge of Heaven’s melody, curling on the cusp of hearing.

Thank You Father. Glory to the King.

The Week of Doing Nothing

I closed the yard for this week to give all of us a little break.

schoolies too

I did debate whether this was a good idea two weeks before SANESA finals, but the kids and horses are ready for it. I, on the other hand, was most certainly not. I would probably have strangled somebody and then run screaming across the Bob Charter. Such is burnout, friends (don’t do it).

Four days in to the longest break I’ve had since September 2015, I’m back on track and ready to give the kids and horses what they deserve next week – the absolute very best of everything I have. And no matter how much my heart and soul wants to do that, this is still Earth, I’m still stuck in a mortal body, and it still needs down time in order for that to happen.

any excuse to use this photo

So this has been the week of doing nothing. Well, I suppose that isn’t strictly true.

Fergie was born on Monday, and instead of just cooing from a distance as I swoop by, I could actually help to care for the cow (our 2015 champion and my personal favourite, Merida) and feed the little monster and so on. I’d forgotten how cute they are.

This is Garfield. He is quite sick of me by now.

And this is a rather sucky selfie of me riding in an ambulance car for the first time (well, the second time – the first time was lights and sirens and wearing gloves). I have better photos but, you know, patient confidentiality and stuff.

I have loved working at events, but dreamed of riding in the real nee-naw, and obviously God decided to drop the opportunity in my lap at exactly the time when I could actually take it. So two of the real medics were stuck with me for two days while we charged around doing epic stuff. I learned many things, including:

  • People blood even in copious amounts is not that different from horse blood and does not ick me out. (Rather a relief to discover on scene of a car crash, I can tell you).
  • “S— magnet” is a compliment when you’re trying to make a target in a sleepy little rural town.
  • Put on the gloves en route.
  • After day one, I wear my hair in a bun. Unless I actually want to dunk the end of my braid in somebody’s bodily fluids.
  • Driving on lights and sirens = BEST. THING. EVER.
  • I will always be uncool because I can’t drink more than two cups of coffee a day.
  • God absolutely sent me to do this and gives me exactly the strength I need in the moment that I need it. And I am totally doing it again! 😀

There have also been large amounts of doing nothing. Which has also suited me juuuuust fine.

Resting in the Lord’s embrace. Glory to the King.

This Week in Dressage: Halt Through Walk

So we all know that Thunder’s tests at the last show were both pretty good. The first one was somewhat tense, and I rode conservatively because I was waiting for a spook, so we had a modest 65.91%. The second one was actually kind of brilliant – the horse relaxed and I rode him forward and asked for the beauty I know he has inside him, and by the end of it the judge was ready to fold him up, stick him in her boot and take him home, awarding him 72.5%.

cannot stop looking at his lifted back

So obviously we had mostly 7s. The judge could have been a little generous, but she hammered Arwen for her mistakes, so I doubt it. We also had three big beautiful 8s – free walk and both canter-trot transitions. (Finally winning at a downward! Whoop!)

There were two movements that were consistently 6s and could be 7s, though:

  • Halt through walk
  • Stretchy trot circle
  • Lengthening (not in those tests, but I know it’s not our best).

    but working trot? #nailedit

    All three of them carry over into Novice (although the halt is from trot) so we’d best get to perfecting them.

    We started with the halt through walk. It begins in Prelim 1 and 2 as a walk starting at least 12m before the halt. By Prelim 3 it’s a proper halt through the walk (“between L and I”) and by Prelim 4 it’s an accurate one at X.

    Thunder’s is really not horrible. Comments are usually “steady and straight, but not square”. He is relaxed and will stand even on a loose rein for as long as I want. He halts the moment I ask, so the obedience is there. He maintains a rhythm and straightness. The legs just go everywhere in an unflattering heap. Not exactly the way to begin and end a 70% test, Thunder.

    blurry video screenshot picturing: not square

    We started to play with it last week and I particularly noticed that halt from trot was dead square almost every time, while halt through walk was a consistent mess. We did my favourite centrelines exercise to figure this out:

    • Down the long side, halt at B. Proceed to A and turn down centreline. Halt at X. At C turn left. Halt again at E. A down centerline. Halt at X. C turn right. Repeat. If the horse loses impulsion and starts to anticipate the halt or get behind the leg, replace some of the halts with little trot lengthenings. The halts on the long side help to keep the horse straight.

    We repeated this exercise a few times and his halts just stayed the same – obedient and steady and straight and not square.

    Back to my old friend Google. I eventually found out that square halts are linked to activity and impulsion, and that made perfect sense. Thunder is not exactly the world’s most forward-going beast and he was halting square from trot. So we played with an exercise we found on the Internet:

    • Going on the track, ask for four steps of a smaller trot at A, B, C and E. Focus on prompt transitions up and down. We did almost collected trot, but I wasn’t pushing for it, just keeping him in front of my leg in the smaller steps.
    • After a lap of this, do four lengthened steps at A, B, C and E. Thunder struggled with this, but it improved as we went on and he began to anticipate a little.
    • Then start randomly throwing in a halt through walk, combining the forward from the lengthenings and the half-halts from the shortenings. As long as I kept driving him in the walk, and kept as few walk steps as possible (3 or 4), we suddenly and magically had a square halt.

    activity and engagement and tail ftw

    After that we just did a bunch of halts on the centerline and while the exercise hadn’t taught him to halt square, it definitely taught me how to ride him correctly for the square halt. He really does have a brilliant walk (an 8 on the collectives) so I can get it as long as I hit the right buttons and really ask him to maintain the activity all the way down into halt.

    Mission accomplished. Glory to the King.

    This Week in Dressage: Shoulder-in Left

    It’s no secret that our Elementary needs work – our Elementary everything, basically. My first impressions from our last show was pretty much that everything sucked and would suck forever, but this time I have been able to be a little more objective (numbers don’t have so much bearing on a dance, you see) and pick out the things we really, truly have trouble with.

    wp-1499104280227.png

    I came up with six. One for each working  week between now and our next show. The beauty of schooling a movement is also that you don’t just improve the movement; in order to improve the movement you dig up a crookedness or a lack of impulsion or whatever it was that was causing the trouble in the first place, and so we improve.

    This week’s movement was shoulder-in left. We had a 7 for shoulder-in right and a 5 for shoulder-in left on the same test. Ouch. I used the following exercises to work on this:

    • Warmup with leg-yields in medium or even free walk, usually on the long diagonal. Transition to long easy leg-yields in working trot, then more difficult (usually just F-X-M) in collected trot. This got her off my inside leg and started to warm up whatever muscles make the leggies cross.
    • Elementary 5 shoulder-in set in reverse: M-B shoulder-in right, B turn right, E turn left, E-K shoulder-in left. This one was to give me a feel for what was going on in the test itself and where we were going wrong. She felt very dull to my inside leg, so I headed for my next exercise, a favourite to get her off my inside leg.
    • Circle 20m in working trot. Spiral down to 15m, then to 10m in collected trot. Complete the circle, then leg-yield out to 20m circle and immediately go to working trot (if her medium trot was any good we’d use that instead). I love this exercise because the horse really wants to get off the tiny circle, so there’s motivation to leg-yield. The upward transition on the bigger circle also creates some anticipation, increasing the energy in the leg-yield itself.
    • Then we did the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins again. They were better, but still not super.

    Arwen had felt SUPER responsive to my inside leg in shoulder-in right, the spiralling exercise, and the leg-yields, so I knew it wasn’t that that was causing our shoulder-in left problems. Back to the drawing board. Time for Googling and reading all those long dull classical descriptions of what the shoulder-in really is, and then the little light bulb went “bing” in my head when I was reading troubleshooting somewhere (EuroDressage, I think).

    Now I know I have the seat crookedness issue, but I always underestimate how often it comes back to bite my bum. The descriptions mentioned that failure to sit DOWN on the inside seat bone could cause quite a bit of difficulty for the horse. BING! My left seat bone used to strenuously resist being sat upon. Lots of stretching has finally worked it so that it’s not sore anymore, but the old habit remains and my muscles are still trying to protect it. So I can sit on it, but it takes focus.

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    pictured: focus… on carrots

    I went back and did the Elementary 5 shoulder-in work at the next session, this time really, really sitting on that inside seat bone (while maintaining the straightness across my shoulders and evenness of the distance between hips and elbows). Lo and behold, she slipped sideways like water. She established the shoulder-in well, but we had some trouble maintaining the position all the way along, so we started to play with some more difficult exercises.

    • Shoulder-in down the long side. As soon as the quality of the position deteriorates, ride a 10m circle in slight shoulder-fore, re-establish shoulder-in and continue down the long side. We were popping 10m circles twice or three times in a long side at the start, but as she figured out that it was actually possible now that she no longer had to scramble to try and stay under me, and things got a lot better.
    • M-F shoulder-in right; A turn down centreline; A-X shoulder-in right; X change the bend; X-C shoulder-in left; C turn left; H-K shoulder-in left. This is a SUPER difficult and challenging exercise and I didn’t get after her too much if we ended up in shoulder-fore somewhere along the way as long as she stayed rhythmic, but you can’t beat it for getting the horse off your leg and correctly positioned without using the wall. The quick little change of bend really helped to get her listening, not unlike the B-X half circle left X-E half circle right thing.
    • Back to the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins and voila! We have ourselves an equal shoulder-in left.

    Forgive my nerd splurge. I was so excited to figure it all out, and Arwen felt pretty awesome by the end of it.

    Dancing with dragons. Glory to the King.

    wp-1498933071818.jpg

    Q2 Goals Recap

    Oh, but first I must tell y’all that the kiddies are incredible!! But you knew that, right? We are taking FOUR ponies and their little riders to Gauteng Finals and I am so proud of them I might just explode. 😀 Best of all, my riders that didn’t make it to Finals are just as talented as those that did, so it’s only a matter of time before they get there, too.

    So Liana, Vastrap, Zorro and Pennie have all made it and they are all going really very well, particularly Zorro (but don’t tell the other ponies I said that). Their kiddos have put in a lot of work this season and I’m so happy to see them being so richly rewarded. But of course we can’t lose sight of the real Reason why we’re here: they planted, I watered – and our Abba Father gave the increase.

    Well, now back to goals. Let’s have a look.

    Arwen

    Arwen1a

    • Get points for Elementary Medium. Still chipping away at this! It’ll pick up now, hopefully, that we’re going to more dressage and fewer showing shows. Either way, last quarter we had two points, and now we have five. It is possible to get points one class at a time.
      Our Elementary work is slowly improving. The horse is starting to touch the limit of her physical ability (not necessarily her natural talent – but her ability combined with dodgy schooling due to being my first project ever when I was, like, 13) and I don’t think we’ll ever show seriously at EM, but there’s no reason why our Elementary can’t be solid. To be fair, though, the problem is more mine than hers. I flounder at the level. I don’t know what anything is really supposed to look like and I don’t have the opportunity for lots of dressage lessons, so the tests are basically our lessons. I even struggle to remember the longer tests. But it’s all a learning experience; my next Elementary horse will be better and this one is a whole lot of fun. Our next show is CHG Leg 5 in the end of August. We have eight weeks before then, including one week off and one week of test riding right before the show, leaving the remaining six weeks to work on our six lowest marks (shoulder-in left, walk-canter transition, medium-working canter transition, turn on the haunches, 20m circle with break of contact, rein back). One movement each week. It will take an art to keep this from stealing the joy of the dance, but one breath at a time, God is taking over the artist inside me.
    • Don’t mess up a show riding/show hack class. 
    • Jump a graded 80cm round.
    • Do some cross-country lessons and/or go drag hunting. I doubt hunting will be on the calendar this year, but we might just make it to xc lessons at President’s Park. Which would be absolutely fabulous (and disgusting preparation for our August show, but whatevs).

    Arwen is laying the foundation of my own education. If I ever do go up the grades (and that’s really up to God; my dance with Thunder on Sunday showed me that it’s not the level that matters, but the threefold cord) nobody will remember Arwen – but I will. Because she went first, and she paved the way.

    As we start to see 2018 on the horizon, I am also pondering a foray into another discipline with her next year. Part of me just yearns to go event again, but another part can’t justify the expense for a discipline the horse won’t excel in. Probably showing. Maybe it’ll be time to gird up my loins and face my fear of showing judges.

    Exavior

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    we all still miss him

    As y’all know by now, I had to make the decision to sell the big guy. He’s with a trainer in Brakpan right now (something I’ve been too raw to write about – the trainer is lovely and I know he’s a lot happier with a job to do, and God sent that miracle for us just like He’s sent everything else in Exavior’s life) and hopefully he’ll met his person soon.

    Midas

    Midas1

    • Hack alone and in company. Done! With a child on board (in company), too. He loves his hacks.
    • Be quiet at shows. 
    • Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. Still winning at 60cm (and kinda bored at the level, too) but I don’t think I should make him haul my heavy behind around 70cm. He pops around it at home with kids, and he has a new little partner to finish bringing him on, so as soon as little partner is ready, we’ll do it.
    • Compete up to Prelim at training shows.
    • Compete at the Nooitie shows. We did all the ones that seem to be happening this year, and he came home with some ribbons, too.
    • Go cross-country schooling. Fingers crossed for this month!

    Faith

    wp-image-405865475jpg.jpg

    • Stand for grooming and farrier.
    • Lead and tie up. 
    • Box well. Almost almost there – we can box without a bum rope, but with cookies and with some hesitation.
    • Be good to bath. 
    • Be good to catch. 
    • Show in-hand. Spring Show was cancelled, but we’ll probably send in a video for the E-Show in August because then at least nobody can tell me I have a hairy yak in person, right? She behaves nicely in-hand, trots up and stands square, just needs a polish.
    • In spring, lunge.
    • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.

    Ah, the joys of the long and dull two-year-old year while your precious, promising creature’s withers slowly catch up to its behind. She is wonderful though. I can’t wait to sit on her.

    Jamaica

    Jamaica11

    • Hack reliably in company. We haven’t hacked much, with most of the focus on jumping, but he’s never put a foot out of line in walk and trot – I’m quite happy. I still wouldn’t lead a long hack on him… but to be fair, I’ve got hacking nerves, so I wouldn’t lead a long hack on anything very much except Arwen (and Trooper).
    • School Novice dressage. As evidenced by the appearance of a topline, he’s carrying himself a LOT better. Still not brilliant, but to be fair to him, with his body shape and previous schooling brilliance on the flat is going to be a lot to ask. We have most of the Novice 1 to 4 work down. Trot lengthenings and free walk are still a sticky point. His canter work is lovely.
    • Jump 90cm graded. Heading that way; we’re doing 80cm at shows and popping over the odd 90cm height/width fence at home. The horse can do it – he just skips along. It’s my nerves that are the problem and that’s just going to be a step-by-step process.

    So grateful for the spotty one – he has done so much for me already, and continues to do so much with every session.

    Lancelot

    Lancelot1

    • Reliably do long hacks alone, in company, and wherever without any drama his kid won’t laugh off. Very, very close to finishing this one – we haven’t been on a super long hack yet, but he’s done 45 minutes or so in w/t/c, even with a novice rider. He’s lovely.
    • Do a training show or two at Prelim dressage. Done! With 65% and 67.3% in Prelim 3 and 4, too.
    • Consistently jump graded at 70cm, preferably clear. He’s completing his 70cm rounds, but he still has the odd stop that he likes to throw in, and I just want him to be rid of that habit. I’m not too worried about poles – that’s just greenness in his body. I just want him to hunt down the fences.

    Lancey is so close to being handed over to Z-kid for good. He just needs to be a little braver at shows.

    Trooper

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    • Do training showjumping shows, up to about 60cm. He is still struggling to figure out that jumping is a thing, but he’s very sweet about it.
    • Do training dressage shows, up to Prelim.  Schooling Prelim at home all right.
    • Be as safe as a house on hacks, mostly in company.  You could literally be a one-armed two-year-old with ADHD and hack this thing out without being in any danger.
    • Be as safe as a house on the ground. Just need to box, then we’re good.
    • Be fully quiet at shows. We haven’t been on an outing yet, but I’m aiming for August.

    I’m hoping we’ll be able to afford to do all the competing we’re hoping for – the sale ponies often end up a bit sidelined in favour of the more lucrative training horses. That said, I’ve given him six weeks off anyway. He’s three and a half and has all the basics; I can’t expect a whole lot more from him right now.

    Thunder

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    Thunny spent the first half of the year competing under K at SANESA, but their season is done now, so it’s  time he and I started to get our duckies in a row.

    • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. Our Prelim is solid; the only movements we have a little trouble with are halting (steady and straight but not square), stretchy trot, and lengthenings, all of which are Novice work anyway. He’s played with leg-yields, counter canter and simple changes, but I expect difficulty with lengthenings, so this goal will start with strengthening the basic gaits first.
    • Jump 70cm courses with confidence. Anybody can see that he’s no showjumper, but he’d make a really fun working hunter once he’s settled at shows. Since I drag Arwen to HOY anyway, I don’t see why he shouldn’t come along and plop around the in-hand, show hunter and working hunter.
    • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. These are hit-and-miss at the moment. He’s either perfect, or he sees a terrifying sparrow and bolts. He has a proper Friesian bolt too – no bucking, but practically impossible to stop except by means of a vicious one-rein, which I don’t really want to do to him. I don’t want to get killed either though, so he’ll have to have a few until he learns that whoa means whoa.

    Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.

    Moving Forward

    C. S. Lewis wrote that it doesn’t really matter how many times we fall; it’s the getting up each time that counts. Some days I feel very like those “muddy and tattered children” he wrote about, but I still know my heavenly Daddy is just waiting to wipe the mud and tears away and welcome me Home. Every day is one step closer – sometimes a stumbling, fumbling, floundering step. But a step nonetheless.

    So, too, our journey to excellence in horsemanship is heading tangibly in the right direction, marred but not stopped by the odd mistake or bad day.

    In anticipation of one day finally moving up to 90cm, I’ve been slowly picking apart my fears and working on them one by one. I’ve found myself almost entirely comfortable at 80cm at home, but absolutely entirely uncomfortable at 90cm. It’s all in my head, of course, but that’s fine. So is all my skill, dreams, and resolution to stick with my God. One’s head is a valid and important place for something to be. Abba is being patient with me and so is the horse; it’s the least I can do to return the favour.

    In the past if I wanted to move up I’d set up a course at that height and jump it. It hasn’t worked. Right now I’m taking the idea to pieces and tackling each one individually. The first order of business was dealing with my thing with combinations, starting with this gymnastic line – pole, bounce, one stride, one stride. The ones were very long and the last oxer was about 75-80cm. I had to ride Jamaica forward at this or he’d throw in a nasty chip or a valiant leap to try and help me out. So that helped for my terror of getting the horse forward (which I must do because I can’t expect him to keep saving my bum at 90cm).

    Then we jumped a single vertical in my comfort-zone dressage arena at 90cm. Then an oxer, only 60cm high but 100cm wide. So far, I’ve been OK. Not quite comfortable, but definitely not in the fear zone.

    The horse is wonderful. I want to poke my eyeballs out with a fork when schooling him on the flat sometimes – but that’s also improving. Over fences he just goes in the same rhythm at every single jump even when I’m messing up and it’s amazing.

    Savanna started to be very cheeky with her teenager, so she has been dumped into boot camp with mean Auntie Firn, as naughty ponies are. She is very sweet and levelheaded (especially for a 6yo thoroughbred) but there’s just no real schooling here at all. We spent a whole session just talking about rhythm. Then we spent another session trotting the same 50cm fence. She had two options: run sideways from a mile away, or gallop at the fence. The mare is not spooky but she doesn’t know where to put her feet and the running out has caused her rider to chase her at everything, so now she chases herself.

    I explained to her that she really just has to go quietly over and by the end if it, she did. Then she went dramatically lame with an abscess. As thoroughbreds do. 😦

    Miss South Africa here has settled in much better and seems quite happy and relaxed in her stable and field these days. Work, regrettably, is another story. This horse’s anxiety levels are through the ceiling and she seems completely uneducated on how to actually deal with it. She is nice to ride in her comfort zone with three balanced, obedient and connected gaits, but we have just been walking and walking and walking. Trying to show her where to find the stillness in the storm. I should know. Her ground manners are getting better (it’s amazing what a well-placed elbow can achieve) and we’ve come to an agreement: I don’t push her into the fear zone, she doesn’t rear up and strike at my face.

    Liana has also developed a cheeky run-out at oxers. Only at home, of course – this pony doesn’t know how to stop at shows. I’ve passed Midas on to a new little rider so I’m giving Liana to Vastrap’s kid to school a bit. Her little girl is doing better and better, and always manages to get her over on the second or third go despite being very little.

    Lulu has been having a bit of a break after working very hard for the past two SANESA qualifiers. Much pampering has helped children back into her good books.

    Magic is so well and happy. He was a bit lost without Exavior for a while, but I moved Nugget in with him and he is now back to full happiness again. He was wonderful to ride last week and much better to lunge – we can now canter on the lunge without having any wild moments.

    Faith’s front end is finally catching up to her back end. She’s become so trusting of people. Definitely has an opinion and can be spooky, hot and quite pushy – but we’re working on that. This unicorn has an inner dragon. Besides, so far my spooky dressage horses have done all right.

    Destiny’s focus has been on hacking. He’s nice in company and manageable on the trail alone, but nappy heading out. A well-placed dressage whip has sorted some of that out, however.

    Arwen and I headed into the woods for the first time in – well, long. A year or more. I used to ride in these woods all the time before old Skye retired, but the string of young and/or spooky horses that have followed have kinda ruled that one out for me. But Sunè’s kid and I finally did it again and it was really rather amazing. You’re in another world in the woods. And even with Ice bounding in the bushes, Arwen never turned a hair.

    As for Sunè and her kid, what more can I say? They’re a match made in heaven. She’s developed a cheeky little run-out, but nothing a session with me won’t fix.

    Champagne makes for amazing photos.

    I love how the trees dapple her twice in this one. Also she is now OK with chickens.

    Last week ended refreshingly slowly, with dressage to look forward to, and lots of these special little moments scattered throughout. Chocolate froyo and my loony sister – as well as finally making my first foray into Francine Rivers when I found Redeeming Love on special for peanuts – are a good combination.


    So are cats in boxes,


    and rare moments of creative energy,


    and dogs on laps,

    and perfect plaits,

    and dressage-sculpted dragon butts all in blue.

    Blessed beyond all expectation. Glory to the King.