This Week in Dressage: Reviewing Basics

Considering our continued success at Prelim, and the fact that he’s cruising through all of the Prelim work, we’ve started to play tentatively with movements from Novice.

But. The idea of moving up stresses me out a lot more on him than it did on Arwen. With Arwen, I never really had a clue what I was even doing (and still don’t really). When we have points for a level, and we can do the movements more or less, we move up. I don’t expect miracles at any level, so I’d rather go and be mediocre at the next level and learn the ins and outs of it for the benefit of the next horse.

But Thunder is the next horse. He is scoring better than anything I’ve had before – better than anything I’ve expected – and he has the potential to go so far and I really don’t want to mess this up. Thun won’t care if he never gets out of Prelim – but I do. Not as much as I once did, but this feels like the shot at this sport that I’ve been hoping for.

It’s not really the placings, and I know everyone says that, but I truly mean it. Of course it’s fun to place, but I’d rather have a good ride and score a personal best than win with a poorer ride – the rider I want to beat most badly is the rider I was yesterday. No, the draw of the sport is in the dance. I want to feel what Medium feels like. I want to feel what it’s like to dance with a horse like that, something more intricate than circles and leg-yields.

And I’m grateful to Arwen for carting my behind up the levels like she has. But she’s bottoming out for one simple reason – her basics just aren’t there.

For that reason, I need to know Thunny’s basics are there before I move him up, so that one day we can move up to EM or Medium – God willing, of course.

So before I start schooling the Novice stuff seriously, as opposed to just playing and showing him the new ideas, I’m taking a big step back to assess our basics. Thanks to my sister, we have pictures to judge!

Spoiler alert: The problems mostly aren’t his. They’re mine.

Most of our trot photos were similar to this one. And here’s my take.

The bad: I have overcorrected my chair seat sooo badly, losing my lower leg completely and nagging him. He’s the typical lazy horse – too much leg is a recipe for disaster. It’s not helping his balance. My hands are in my lap, which is curling him up, causing his stride to shorten and his back to drop somewhat.

The good: Despite my hand, Thunny has managed to engage his back end. He is on the vertical even though the frame isn’t long enough, and his abdominals are engaged. My hands and legs are rogue but my core is engaged for a change and I don’t see any of my old issue with arching my back.

The fix: Thun’s frame will definitely look better and loosen his back once I move my hands forward and use a receiving contact instead of bracing. That will also help him go more freely forward. I need to go back to basics and get my heels back underneath me so that I can be more intentional with my leg.

Here’s a couple of fairly typical canter shots.
The good: Let’s all just take a moment and admire his amazing tail, shall we?

That done, I’m actually chuffed to see the canter quality we’ve developed here. He’s moving so well under himself, his frame is present, and he’s showing a clear uphill balance. We even have left bend! Again, my core is looking fairly solid.

The bad: … but I’ve overcorrected again, now sitting markedly on my left hip. Ugh. That’s causing him to lean to the inside, and probably not helping at all with our left bend issues.

The fix: Sit on BOTH seat bones EQUALLY already, Firn!

Our halts are also still a cause for concern, particularly from walk. Trot-halt-trot is better and very obedient, but those halts through walk are a mess. Obedient but a mess. I brace through my wrists and elbows and he sort of ploughs onto his front and throws a random hind leg out, then wiggles because he knows I’m worried about them and then he gets worried. And don’t forget about diving above the bit.

So we have some work to do. But mostly, I have some work to do. The horse is pretty much there.

The basics we’re solid at:

  • Relaxation
  • Obedience
  • Rhythm
  • Balance
  • Lateral suppleness, most of the time
  • Straightness
  • Activity and impulsion
  • My core

The stuff we need to do:

  • improve my lower leg
  • lengthen the frame
  • lengthen the strides
  • improve my symmetry
  • trust the horse! He’s got this.

Ready for this journey and so grateful for this horse. Glory to the King.

A Taste of Summer

Summer and the return of beauty and freshness and flies and heat. The horses spend all day swatting at bugs and I sweat through my hair, but it’s worth it for the return of four of my favourite things: green grass, gleaming summer coats, the smell after rain, and summer sunrises.

favourite tree

There are little goslings and unreasonably aggressive geese everywhere. The occasional fresh breeze brings the hope of the first rains, and the earth is expectant, ready to receive it and return its vibrant bounty.

peach blossoms in the township

All the seasons have a purpose, and their turning is the rhythm of the yard. But I’ll readily admit that I’m ready for summertime.

Speaking of time, this is a picture from 23 years ago. This striking young stallion, Pretman Tornado, is now a 27-year-old retiree with multiple showing championships under his belt. He also happens to be Faithy’s grandpa.

He’s Nell’s grandpa too, unsurprising considering she has almost exactly the same head.

This champion broodmare is Faith’s maternal granddam, Hanu. I didn’t know her, but she has a similar look to Faith’s mom, Luna. These are from a Nooitie brochure from 1994, which Faith’s breeder showed me when I stopped in there last week. Faith’s breeder is like my grandpa and spending time there is always soothing.

These faces make my day. ❤ Lancey and Z-kid’s adorable little sister, who may be doing lead rein at SANESA on him next year. He loves her. Of course he does. Lancey loves everyone.

August marked Lancey’s last month in training with me. After eighteen months, he’s finally all ready for his kids, and I love seeing him with them.

Faithy has become so cuddly. We still do bits of groundwork here and there, much of which is rather pointless because she’s basically good with everything. She loves working and she really deals with new things rather well. I think she will be hot, but I do hope she won’t be spooky and fidgety and maybe she’ll even be good to hack one day. Either way, she’s a unicorn. Six more weeks before we start lungeing.

Olive is doing so, so well. K’s mom has been doing lots of walks and pole work and hills and it’s all paid off. She looks practically sound in the field and on the lunge these days. I still refuse to get on – the last thing I need is a Percheron falling on me – but I don’t think it impossible for her to return to ridden work in the future. Either way, she’s pasture sound and a happy camper, so all’s well.

It’s fly mask time again. Identifying fly masks is a perpetual headache – I’m so OCD about it. Each horse must have their mask and must be turned out only in that mask. The permanent marker thing is regrettably fading already. I used to have handy little tags but they’re a lot of effort and kinda expensive.

Milady’s soundness is giving me grey hairs. If she’s not footsore after a trim, she’s touchy around her wither. She’ll have chiro in October and we may end up nailing shoes on after all. She and K are such a good partnership, I really want to try to keep the creature sound for her. It seems a continual struggle with OTTBs. Nooities ftw.

Eagle is in his last month’s training; he and Blizzard go home in October. He’s more than ready. I ride him once a week myself now, scaling down on the professional work so that it doesn’t all fall apart when he goes home.


Thunny and I have had almost seven years together. ❤ We’ve both grown so much.

Even Renè is struggling with her recurrent episodes of tying up. Ah well. Sound horses do not a grateful rider make. When she is sound, though, she’s starting to show K’s hard work and I’m excited for them with next weekend’s dressage.

Lulu is back in fine form thanks to some saddle fitting tweaks, careful feeding and TLC, and she showed this by bucking off a child. Twice. In the same lesson. Ungrateful brat. She got first me and then Vastrap’s kid schooling her for her troubles, but I am so glad she feels better and is behaving like a four-year-old (worse than my four-year-olds, if we’re honest) instead of like a rising eighteen-year-old who’s tired of life.

I have loads of new pictures of Thunny, which need their own post. Basically, he is fabulous; I have overcorrected myself into a hot mess. Sorry Thunny.

Savanna is finally sound again (pls be sound now horsies) and back in action. Lungeing in side reins has helped her understand the contact better, but there’s still a way to go. Her bend is much better and she seems to get that her job is to jump the jump now, although if she has an excuse she’ll still try and run out.

Her condition is so much better it blows me away. I really didn’t think she’d be this bulky and impressive.

Icey says it’s far too hot to lie on his tummy like a normal canine.

Jamaica has been jumping exercises at 90cm for me. Thanks dude. He helps me out a lot, poor soul, and in return I make him do endless mountains of flatwork. He doesn’t like it, but it is paying off – his muscle tone is so much better.

She might buck with the big kids, but little Lullaby is still our best little lead rein pony. This kid made it to Newcomer’s Challenge on her and nobody is more excited about that than me. ❤

I finished my riding today by hacking Midas for the first time in ages. I’d forgotten how little and comfy he is. He was foot perfect.

You may have noticed that the tone around here is a little more cheerful this week. I had managed to burn myself out again. At least it’s happening less frequently these days, and I’m learning what steps to take to keep myself away from the brink.

I’d forgotten how much I love this place and how sure I am that God sent me. That I belong here.

Thank You, Abba. Glory to the King.

Introducing Emmy

Our latest arrival came on Sunday a week ago, and is already becoming a firm favourite. Blogosphere, meet Once Upon a Time – stable name Emmy.

Emmy is a 2004 OTTB mare by Anytime out of a Northern Guest mare. She ran her last race in 2009 and disappeared from any formal records for a while, resurfacing a couple of years ago with her current owner, where she was used as a broodmare. The winter was not kind to Emmy and her condition is a little horrifying at 2/10, but her owner had already taken some steps to improving on it before she arrived.

She is a very kind little soul, the type that comes up to you in the field. She’s also spent the past 10 days eating incessantly, and it’s beginning to show already. I have to be cautious with concentrate feeding to avoid colic, but we’ve been slowly notching it up with my beloved balancer and Capstone’s Stud Time.

She also had a bit of a worm burden, which will hopefully be resolved now that she’s had a dose of Pegamax, but the next FEC will tell.

Once Emmy’s reached about 4/10, she’ll go into training and be rebacked and schooled with an eye on reselling her as a happy hack or SANESA pony. Her nature is ideally suited; it remains to be seen if we have any unsoundness or remedial vices to contend with, but so far, so good.

Honoured to be entrusted with another of God’s amazing creatures.

Glory to the King.

More Photo Dumping

It’s an unashamed photo dump. But it’s long overdue. Besides, a) I’m almost out of memory, b) the Internet needs more pictures of Morning Star horsies.

This is Bahroe, an Arab gentleman that I had a temporary ride on.


Bahroe lives at a beautiful yard, which was fun working at. Here he’s being watched from the stable by Sevita, who I also got to ride.

August came and went, bringing with it the atrocious combination of winds and shedding. On the bright side, Nugget took her first selfie. ❤

Eagle and L have been on a few hacks, kitted out in Eagle’s new stuff. He’s become something of a plod – anybody can hack him.

Blizzard also got new stuff, which fits him like a glove. I also love the cage stirrups for novice owners, especially considering Eagle’s mom had a stirrup-related crash. We don’t need any more of those, thanks.


I have given Milady to K for next year (and afterward). Ash is the priority to get in foal this year and K needs something for when Renè sells, and the two of them get along famously. So I took the two OTTB mares on a hack and they were both fabulous.

Thunny gained most of his condition back after taking a bit of a hit during August, as they often do. His coat testifies that it wasn’t all that much of a hit, too.

Blizzard and I did hours and hours of hacking, usually accompanied by Eagle and L. Blizzard is such a steady little chap, although he occasionally thought of kicking at Eagle, but never got as far as actually doing it.

My very nervous kid still hasn’t been back on a pony. I don’t push the issue. We spend a lot of time playing with in-hand utility and lungeing and grooming and herding cows. He’ll be ready when he’s ready.

These two little nuggets about 75% killed me going on a solid hour’s hack, accompanied by yours truly afoot, and constantly wanting to go up hills and trot and stuff. One of the most wonderful and painful hours of my life so far, methinks.

Beautiful Lisna found a new home as a happy hack for a truly lovely lady. She landed with her bum in the butter, but we definitely miss her – not least me because she was amazing in the riding school.

K and her mom still squeezed in a last hack on Eagle and Lisna as I tagged along behind on Savanna, to date the only TB I’m comfortable hacking.

I do still ride Eagle myself, too, and he’s angelic. The yard looks so manageable from here. Pocket-sized, as if I could scoop it all up in my hand and keep it safe. I can’t, but I’m glad I know Someone Who can.

Magic’s last day turned out without overreach boots – this was shortly before I found him literally covered in blood. It was all over his belly and hindlegs in great melodramatic splatters. It speaks to the horse’s action-prone nature that I wasn’t even panicked, just relieved that he was upright and still had four legs glued on. He’d overreached horrendously and it bled and bled. Now his special expensive booties stay on 24/7 and he refrains from ripping off his own coronary band.

Hacking with this lot. Fellowship on horseback under the glorious sun. ❤

I tried to give Faith an apple. She had no idea what it was, even after I bit a piece off for her. I feel like a horse mom failure.

Champagne continues to work on her cow phobia. I actually managed to lead her into the field with the cows; she did panic and bolt at one point, whereon I received a well-earned bruised knee and wrenched shoulder for pushing her too hard, but we got it together. Now she’s still got a bit of an obsession about the spooky end at C, but most cows are OK.


Eagle and L, Ash’s old owner on Ash, and Blizzard and I herded our cows a bit as we came across them on a hack. Blizzard was fantastic about it, except when one of the cows didn’t want to move he nibbled her bum.

I think this is Skye’s first selfie, too. She was not amused. Apparently old battle queens don’t do the selfie thing. She is so well. ❤

Nugget does do it now though, even without a halter and lead. I can pick up her hind feet with a rope and L can even put bug stuff on her in the evenings. Progress!

Arwen’s herd got out into the passageway one morning and I felt like an epic horse whisperer when they all followed me back in. (It was feeding time).

My last ride on Destiny. Content with his training, his owners took him back to their nearby stableyard, where he and his mom both seem to be thriving. It was an incredible journey with this little brat and I thank God for it.

Blizzard is getting pretty ammy-proof. Toodling bareback in a halter? Check.

Almost nine years into our relationship, this horse still makes my heart skip a beat sometimes. ❤

She turned eleven on the first of September. The world is a better place for her being in it – I know my world is.

My comrade, my crazy dragon friend, and the one who’s got my back – I thank God for my Arwen.

More recent updates to follow. Glory to the King.

In Honour of the Anxious Horse

Suicide prevention awareness month is here, and this topic has been stewing in my head for a long time.

I’ve long held that horses are among the most emotionally complicated of all domestic animals; possibly the animals that come closest to our own emotions. We relate more easily to dogs, who are generally more expressive and whose body language is universally well understood. But very few of us can ever hope to attain that permanently happy outlook that seems to characterise the canine psyche. Of course dogs have phobias and develop problems with bad handling or circumstances, but on the whole, if you feed and walk and snuggle your dog enough he’s as happy as a clam.

It is yet to be determined if cats know that people have feelings. (Joke). Either way, they’ve got a pretty good handle on theirs and don’t need much of our input, thankyouverymuch.
Well cared-for cows are by default deeply content creatures; if you don’t believe me, do yourself a favour and sit among a herd of cows at dusk when they’ve all gone to bed and lie there chewing cud and contemplating the mysteries of the universe. They’re so well grounded, you’ll feel your own soul being stilled.

But horses are completely different. Horses have the ability to be unhappy even when circumstances are excellent. That sound familiar? It should, because we humans have the same ability.

So today I’m going to talk about the anxious horse and how those of us who suffer from the wide range of anxiety disorders – and, crucially, those of us close to such sufferers – can learn from them.

The most insecure horse I’ve ever handled?

She’s insecure/don’t know what for/she’s turning heads as she walks through the do-o-or…

This is Champagne. Champagne was brought up at a beautiful stud, from solid pony bloodlines. She was purchased by my lovely client for her gentle, experienced child, a good match for the pony in terms of personality and ability. She was taken to a well-established yard and there fairly appropriately cared for, better than most horses. Champagne has consistently been handled and cared for by good, experienced horse people.

 Champagne also has a terrible case of anxiety. When faced by any of her numerous triggers, she starts to breathe in rapid, shallow flutters, punctuated by loud and ripping snorts as she desperately tries to use every sense she has to identify the threat. Her topline becomes rock hard. She is hyperreactive to any stimulus, specifically my aids, and any touch can send her deeper into the meltdown. She begins to sweat profusely and shiver violently.

The anxiety attack she had when she arrived lasted, with fluctuating severity, for almost a week.

Champagne has no “reason” to be afraid. But she is.


In contrast, this is Trooper at his first show. Trooper grew up in a township somewhere, where he spent the first two and a half years of his life half-starved. Nine horses were rescued from the same property as he was; he was the only survivor. His herdmates all died. He almost did, too, suffering from septicaemia in all four his legs and his sheath. After nursing him back to health, his rescuer sold him on to me.

Trooper is one of the most trustworthy ponies we have in the school. He is patient, kind, and never frightened by anything very much. In the field, he’s a happy and content little chap despite rejection from his herdmates, and he loves people.

Trooper has every “reason” to be afraid. But he isn’t.

You see, for Champagne, it’s all in her head. There isn’t really anything that’s going to hurt her. Cows are not out to get her. Birds do not eat horses. It’s all in her mind. And that’s a very valid and noteworthy place for something to be.

Let me repeat that. “In your head” is a very valid and noteworthy place for a problem to exist.

I was told so many times that my riding nerves were “all in my head”, or that I should “just get over it”. And you know what? So was Champagne. Her previous trainer was a better one than me by a very long shot, but when the pony spooked the trainer put her gently but firmly between leg and hand and got back to doing what she wanted. Which works for 90% of horses out there.

With the merely spooky young horse the dialogue goes like this:

Horse: Eek! What’s that? [wiggles and looks]

Rider: It’s nothing. Look, I’m not worried. Let’s do this. [Half-halts, bends the horse away from the spooky thing, reapplies the aids]

Horse: OK. [forgets the thing]

But with an anxious horse, the conversation becomes completely different.

Horse: Oh no, no, no, no, no, it’s a bird, it’s a bird, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me! [Loses rhythm, topline becomes tense, breathing changes]

Rider: It’s nothing. Look, I’m not worried. Let’s do this. [Half-halts, bends the horse away from the spooky thing, reapplies the aids]

Now before we go into the horse’s response, let’s look at two characteristics of most deeply anxious horses that are still rideable.

  1. They are intelligent overthinkers. Things can be blown way out of proportion in their heads because they are smart enough to imagine things and go one step further than simple animal reactions.
  2. They are very hard triers. They generally want so much to please their riders and are well aware that spooking does not please them. These horses are exhausted from trying all day long to please people despite their struggles; when they fail, it creates a downward spiral.

So here’s what this type of horse responds with:

Horse: I can’t, I can’t, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me but you’re saying to go past it so I’ll try but I’m so scared! [Moves forward, but with choppy steps, losing the headquarters, begins to snort]

Rider: Get over it. Come on. Don’t be silly. You’re fine. [taps lightly with the whip]

Horse: I can’t breathe. I feel funny. I can’t do this! [Freezes to the spot, tries to run backwards, holds breath]

Rider: Do it now! [Firm reapplication of aids]

Horse: [explodes – runs back, rears, spins, bucks, bolts, or all of the above]

The thing about this conversation is that both horse and rider are right. There is nothing that will hurt the horse. It is all in her head. She is fine.

But the horse is stating facts, too. The horse is genuinely terrified. The threat is not real. It doesn’t have to be. Her fear is real, and that’s valid.

Let’s go back to Champagne. In her introduction, I described her anxiety attacks as they were when she arrived. These days, faced with more than what pushed her over the edge initially, her anxiety attacks last under two minutes. Even when pushed too far (as I admit to having done by accident) I can talk her down in five minutes or less. She no longer sweats or holds her breath for extended periods. It has been weeks since she last ran backward or reared. She looks at things and then deals with them.

She’s better, and here is how I changed the conversation to try to help her.

Champagne: [sees a bird] Oh no, no, no, no, no, it’s a bird, it’s a bird, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me!

Me: OK, love. Let’s back it right up. [Halts, goes down to walk, or even dismounts] Just pause here and have a good look. I’m right here for you. [Even when nervous myself, control my breathing. Sigh, shift the weight, keep contact with one hand on her neck. When mounted, relax the lower back and shoulders. Breathe into diaphragm].

Champagne: OK, I’ll try. I can go a little closer now, maybe. [Volunteers a step further. Sniffs at the bird.]

Me: That’s fantastic. Well done. [Gives vocal praise, keeps pressure off except for slight rein contact in case of emergencies].

Champagne: Hey, you know what, I think it’s actually fine. [Licks and chews, looks away, sighs]

Me: Good job. Shall we go back to work? [Leg on again, contact, half-halt]

Champagne: Yep, that’s cool, let’s do it. [Obeys the aids]

It’s not the heroic approach. It doesn’t look very good, I can tell you that much. My clients pay me an awful lot of money to sit on their pony scratching its neck and not doing anything for several minutes at a time. I don’t astonish anyone with my ability to sit through drama and there is no magical quick fix. The process takes months – years, even.

But there is no horse that will try harder for you than the anxious horse, who has been trying harder for you than you know.


So in honour of suicide prevention awareness month, let me say this to everyone close to someone suffering with anxiety: Thank you for trying. It can be so frustrating and heartbreaking. But please remember that you can’t really fix it. Trying to fix it will kill you. Fixing it is between that person and God. Just be the safe place, be the place where the pressure’s off, because anxiety is living under unrelenting pressure. Be the break from that.

The only reason why I can help Champagne is because, perhaps to a lesser extent, I am Champagne. (Except not so leggy and blonde). I heard all those voices telling me to get over it and that it was all in my head for so many years and it was killing me.

And then, one day, I heard that Still, Small Voice, the only One with the right to really condemn me for the way I am. And the only One Who never did. Because God stepped in, the God Who keeps me safe, the God Who gives me a spirit not of fear but of power and love and a sound mind, the God in Whom my faith should be stronger than anxiety, the God Who said so many times not to be afraid, the God Who should have thrown me aside for my doubt and disobedience – and He is the only One Who never devalued the way I feel.

God stepped in and said, “I’m here, daughter; I love you anyway; I have a plan with this; My grace is sufficient.” And because He loved me anyway, I could finally breathe and watch Him work in me again.

Let’s all change our words and speak life like Him.

Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 5 (finally)

We set off to Fairfields with three bays and one dragon. The dragon was plaited, which was a good thing because we were very late. I had enough time to warm up a dressage horse; I did not have enough time to tame a dragon, and thus resigned myself to riding Elementary 1 and 2 on a feral dragon.

However, when we unloaded Arwen, she took a little look around and then went to sleep. I was able to toss on her tack, hop on and warm up a sane and well-behaved animal that actually felt like it had been ridden before.

We had fun. Our warmup was just perfect, complete with four good simple changes in a row, and I was walking her around on the buckle when the steward called us.

In the tests themselves, she felt good but not quite like she is at home; not tense, just a bit scattered and distracted. I think it’s a result of just not competing as much as we always used to. She has never been the quietest and most at ease at shows – always trustworthy, and always does her job, but there is often a bit of dragonishness lurking.

This time, it manifested in a couple of silly mistakes. Our first change was an unmitigated disaster – she trotted down, trotted hollowly up into a disunited canter, flailed around a bit, trotted a step to fix it, and then plopped forth, earning a well-deserved 4. Her second change was very solid for a 6 and the rest of the test was smoother and more consistent. We even got the halt immobility for 5 seconds without any trouble. Mostly sixes and a few 6.5s earned us 62%, our second time breaking 60% at graded elementary.

The second test was judged by a lady who is always very, very strict, so I was not expecting any miracles. But our shoulder-ins were 6 to the left and 6.5 to the right, both of which had been under 6 with the same judge, with comment “good position”. And both our simple changes were tense and messy. She jogged through one, then stopped in the other and trotted up, so those were 5.5s. Still, the trot work was good enough for 60%, making it our first time getting over 60 for both tests at a graded show. And 60 from this judge is not to be sniffed at – not for us, anyway.

I’ve long since made peace with the fact that we are never going to be brilliant at Elementary. In fact, Arwen will probably not even be brilliant at Prelim. The basics are mediocre, so nothing can be really good. But I’m also over obsessing about it because to be fair I produced her myself with a total of maybe four dressage lessons together in our entire career. I have no experience at the level and I’m riding based off trial and error, guessing at how to improve things, guessing at how to train the new movements, reading stuff on the Internet and trying to make that make sense. And I think considering that, Arwen tries very hard, and has done more than most horses probably could.

She’s the best dragon and a gift straight from God. ❤

We had like 3 hours to wait before Thunder’s turn, so K, Dad and I put the horses in stables and plaited leisurely. At this point I must confess that Fairfields has become my second favourite venue ever (after Winstead because I love Winstead). There are many reasons why:

  1. Stables. And they weren’t even expensive.
  2. The people are SO friendly and helpful.
  3. It has a good vibe. I feel at ease there, and as a rule, so do the horses. The judges seem to feel it and be friendlier, too.
  4. It is super super close – 35 minutes’ drive.
  5. Did I mention everyone is nice?

K and I quickly scrubbed our horses’ socks and then hopped on and headed to the warmup. Regrettably we had ended up with only one horse going between Thunder and Renè, but we figured we could make it; I just had to switch my bridle number onto Renè, give K my whip (shoestring budget = everyone shares everything), and call her test.

Thunder was both better and worse than he’d been at Weltmeyer. He never spooked or bucked or bolted, but he screamed. all. the. time. Separation anxiety is strong with this one. It was annoying, I’ll be honest, but as always he never, ever quit on me. He stayed obedient, he stayed willing, he even stayed on the bit even when he was screaming. I resigned myself to poor scores, but I was grateful for how hard he was trying for me despite it all.

He called through the whole first test, but he did everything I asked almost as nicely as he does at home. Because he was tense he got really tight and short in his neck – the Friesian was showing a bit – but didn’t go against my hand, so the frame was present but not supple. We held it together and the worst he did was move during the halt.

He was much more relaxed when we headed into the second test, albeit wanting to get stiff laterally now and then because a horse in the field nearby decided it was going to shriek back at him (thanks for nothing, horse). He was still calmer, so I expected a better test and came optimistically down centreline. And then I looked up at the other arena, and it all came to bits. K was about to go in – sans number, whip, and caller.

It turns out the horse that was meant to go between us didn’t show up and K didn’t know she was allowed to wait for her ride time. Thank God, a nice random person called her test (what did I say about Fairfields again?) and they were fine but my world came crashing down. I felt terrible letting the poor kid down and my whole test all I could think was I should have given her the whip. Poor Thun basically had to do everything by himself, with me reduced to kick or pull. He managed, though, and we finished the test, and I got off almost in tears and abandoned the poor soul with Dad to sprint over to K. Who was utterly unperturbed because caller and whip or no, Renè had just pulled out the best test of their career so far for 61.9%. Guess I’m not so essential, after all.

Their second test was going so well until Renè broke in the second canter set, then picked up the wrong lead, then broke again. That cost them, but they still got 58% from strict judge lady, so that’s fine.

It was good enough for third place in test 1, their first real placing in dressage, hard-earned and well-deserved.

don’t judge the cream; shoestring, remember?

To my great shock, Thunder was second in both. He had 71% for his first test and 64 point something for the second, getting hammered with a couple of 5s for the final stretchy circle (it didn’t) and the halt (he moved). Those are both just a matter of show nerves, and I’m so happy that he could pull out those placings in good company even when he was tense. Thank you Thunny dude, I owe you one.

We were beaten by coach K’s mom, who also won the Elementary and has several decades more experience. She got like 76% so that was fine by me.

I actually can’t believe how brilliant our floofy homebred beast has turned out to be. He exceeded all my expectations and that’s saying something. This was a school pony for more than a year. I wish I’d given him a chance earlier, but I’m grateful now that he gets his time to shine. ❤

Last of the day was Trooper, three hours later. I’ll be honest, once I got on him, I was kind of tired and over it, but he was amazing. Just like he is at home. He napped toward the gate a couple of times, but otherwise warmed up beautifully.

We doddled down centreline and I was thinking I might stay and get my test after all because he really felt good. All was peachy, we even had bend on our circle, and then suddenly as we headed into the F-A corner, the steering broke. We fetched up just outside the arena at F. He didn’t jump, he didn’t duck, he just sort of kept on going when turning was supposed to happen.

I may have squeaked in horror. The crowd (who loved him) may have laughed. But the bell didn’t ring, so I put him back in the arena and went on. He promptly napped out at K, almost falling onto V, but then got a bit of a hiding and proceeded to finish his test in fine style.

Turns out the border of the arena was less than 25cm high, so even though he put all four feet out, it was a 0 instead of an elimination. The rest of it was good, but by that point I was ready to ride him up the ramp and home without bothering to get off, so I have no idea what he scored.

I’m still happy with him, though, because flopping out of the arena is really not the worst thing a four-year-old with practically no training can do at its first show.

Further Trooper news is that Lisna has been sold to a lovely forever home as a hack, so we have decided to keep him and give him to E. He is much better suited to her than Lisna was and they look amazing together. So I’ll ride him at the next show and then hand him over.

And, as another win, I finally rode all five tests from memory without making any mistakes. Which is always good.

So excited for what God has done, is doing, and will do. Glory to the King.

10 Questions from Me, My God and Maverick

Sorry for the extended silence, y’all. August has been one of those months that you tell kids about when they think they want to be stableyard managers. Somehow I managed to overbook the training at exactly the same time of year that the SANESA season gets serious, the seasons begin to change, and everything promptly either catches flu or colics – horses and people. None of which I’m really complaining about, because God has been with us, and the extra business was a blessing – but I hope you’ll forgive the fact that blogging fell by the wayside.

Mercifully, it is now September, my schedule is pleasantly full but no longer physically impossible, and it’s not so windy and I can blog again. When Rachel kindly tagged me in her post, I knew it was just the thing to get my feet wet once more.

Rachel’s 10 Questions

1. What is your impression of Australia?

Never having been beyond the borders of South Africa, much less all the way to Australia, I wouldn’t really know. The Australians that I do know tend to be no-nonsense, fun-loving and don’t give their left sock what anyone thinks of them, so there’s that. There are kangaroos. That said, Australia doesn’t seem to feature in many of the major worldwide dramas – so it’s no surprise that so many South Africans are immigrating there.

2. How did you start blogging?

I’ll be honest that I don’t even remember. I had a subsection on a tiny family website we had years ago, where I started blogging as early as 2009 or so – I was all of twelve years old. Maybe even earlier. Like many writers, I journal obsessively. I always wanted to capture the breathtaking experience of life, and as I met my Jesus and gave my life to Him, that blossomed into an opportunity to spread the Word.

3. What is your favorite animal and why?

It’s actually a tougher question than you’d think. I have to go with horses, but dogs come a very close second. Horses, because they are such deeply emotional beings, with such intricate social and emotional lives. I have found that their emotions are the closest we find to ours in all domesticated species. Through them God teaches me such profound lessons; through them He speaks to me. They are His megaphone into my heart.

Dogs, on the other hand, just love you forever. Sometimes it’s through puppy dog Ice that God makes me feel better when nothing else can.

wp-image-931019775jpg.jpg

4. How has God blessed you this past week?

I woke. There were sunrises. Birdsong. Fresh air. Music. Horses. A great, steadfast Hand holding mine when it all became too much. Volunteering. I spent time on my knees. Horses smell amazing. Jesus loves me. I could go on.

5. What is you favorite recreation?

Dressage is where my soul worships, but not where it rests. I like sleeping and TV, as anyone does, I suppose. When I’m burnt out on horses and the yard – much as I love it, it can become so consuming – working with the medics or taking Ice to touch therapy refreshes my soul and gives me perspective.

6. Do you have a story you can share?

For the first time in years, I finally do again – I have, at last, began to draft a novel. It’s been years, probably four or five years? But I’m five weeks and 12 000 words in. It’s slow progress but it’s finally happening. The Defeat of Isaiah Abilene has a far darker and more broken tone than anything else I’ve ever written, but I feel like God wants to tell this story through me. It’s therapy, too, as service often is.

7. What is your passion?

I’ve long since found that nothing but my Triune God is worth pouring my fire into, and that He is the One Who stokes that fire when it burns low for everything else. Everything loses its allure sooner or later – everything but Him. It’s only when I find Him in everything that I can believe in it.

wp-image-1959723521jpg.jpg

8. What is your favorite Bible story or verse?

Ooh. There are so many. Psalm 107, the story of my wandering soul and the God Who just won’t let it go. The Gospels, all of them, front to back. I have always loved 1 Samuel 17 because my own giants can be enormous and I stand before them with a sling and a stone. Moses parting the Red Sea because I’ve seen seas step aside for my Abba Father. All of it, really, all of it.

9. What brings you inspiration?

God, in various ways; in His Word, in prayer, in the heartbreaking beauty of the world He made and we are destroying, in dancing with horses, in good music, in films and stories, in friendship. But whenever I lack courage, I pull Arwen out of the field and we dance. She reminds me that we are the dragonhearted.

wp-image-91411038jpg.jpg

10. Can/do you draw?

Surprisingly, I used to be able to sketch well when I was taking lessons from an incredible artist in exchange for riding his little Arab mare. Now, I sketch when I have the energy. A good sketch takes me 12-16 hours and I just don’t have that anymore, so these days I just line draw, often from memory or imagination instead of the photorealism I was trying for.

Update on the horses and things to follow.

Glory to the King.