I looked at my list of horses for this show and thought, “Six horses, six riders! What a lovely, relaxed show,” and then contemplated how six riders felt like about a million at SANESA this year. One does get used to things – and better at managing them.
Early sunrises also help; it was broad daylight when we loaded up our six horsies and hit the road for Fourways. For once we were late and had to hurry frantically to get the first two horses and kids ready, but we made it happen. Mercifully ground poles don’t exactly require a strenuous warm up.
Savanna and her kid were doing their first jumping show together. I had my trepidations, but with me being firmly on the ground with them, I knew I’d be there to catch if anything went wrong. I also had Lancelot’s tiny kid on the end of a lead and thus off we went.
Lancelot was, of course, fantastic. I jogged madly, he trotted peacefully beside me, and the little kiddy had a blast. She even remembered most of her track.
I expected a little of the old running backwards drama from Savanna and thus led her in, but once the bell went and her kid kicked her on, she was super. Forward and relaxed, trotted over every pole. She had one little spook, but her kid stayed on and they also remembered their course for a clear round, to the kid’s great delight.
He finished his show nicely with a second round in the 40cm. Savanna was more relaxed by this point and trotted around very peacefully. A confidence-building experience for them both.
Next up was Liana and her kid, Milady and K, and Savanna and I in the 50cm. Liana cheekily stopped at the scary carrot jump, but otherwise had a lovely controlled and smooth round. Milady circled because her steering broke at one point and K had to reinstall it briskly between fences, but she was very brave to every single fence.
Savanna was a bit of a loon. As soon as we started to canter, the sweet horse that packed her kid around was gone, and her pulling, rushing, headshaking alter ego had returned. She rushed a bit and almost threw a cheeky stop at one fence, but we made it around with a pole (or two, I don’t remember). It was her first proper round without any stops, though, so I was happy with that.
The 60cm was more of the same, but with the addition of Lancelot and his big kid, J (Zorro’s kid). Milady had a very green but honest pole down and was well ridden by K, Savanna was a little quieter for another pole down. Liana and her kid jumped double clear, even cutting some turns in the jump-off for fourth place. Lancey was doing his first show under J and J was definitely a bit nervous, but they bounced around beautifully clear for second place.
In the 70cm it was J and Lancelot for it, and they both knocked it out of the park. Lancey loves J and his whole body lit up with happiness as he charged around, quick and clear, winning the class without even trying. J was all smiles. I can’t think of a happier end to Lancey’s last year in training with me.
Then J came back on Zorro and did their first 80cm with an unlucky pole down. Zorro was so good, brave and forward, and J rode him great despite her nerves.
Jamaica and I were up next with our second 90cm. Fourways can always be counted on to build a track that’s fair to the horse but definitely up to height, and the main thing I was grateful for was that it was an accumulator so I only had to survive eight fences. I needn’t have worried. Jamaica was so, so good. I aimed and looked for something vaguely resembling a distance and he jumped everything beautifully for a slow clear round.
Work done, J and I headed down to the cross-country course on Jamaica and Zorro, and proceeded to have half an hour of the best fun you can have on a horse.
Jamaica was superb. A little spooky to start off with, and I tapped him into one or two of the fences, but he jumped nicely without a lead. We did lots of logs, little oxers, a combination, a fairly solid corner, a skinny between two trees, banks up and down, an A-frame, and two little ditches with rails over them. I showed him the ditches and the corner but expected him to jump everything else on the first go. He was looky at a few, but willing, and only threw one stop at a spooky fence with blue drums under it. Then he spooked at the fence next to it and bolted a few steps, for which he got in very big trouble.
Zorro also had one or two stops but seemed to enjoy the whole thing enormously and stayed very quiet for J.
The water was the moment of truth, because Zorro is dodgy about some water and Jamaica has never gone in. At all. Ever. K waded in with her gumboots and dragged Zorro in while I poked him with my whip from aboard Jamaica (I was in eventer mode), and once Zorro was in, K just led Jamaica and I gave him a little tap when he got rude and in he went. By the end of it we were joyously cantering through the water and over the banks.
The eventing bug has bitten me so badly again, and I know this horse would be a most trustworthy partner. Logistics are in the way, but we’ll see how it all pans out. I’m just so grateful we got to go play and school over it all again. Deo volente.
We need grass, desperately. But the grass was shrivelling up and dying, until this week. As prayer meetings were held in Parliament, my own little prayers were answered.
This meant a slow week for lessons, but we managed to cram all the training sessions in, too, sometimes in the restless wind and pelting droplets that precede the real storms so characteristic to the moody weather of this place that I love.
I schooled Arwen in the rain. To all appearances, she loved it. We are working on a much slower schedule lately. God willing, we’ll finally get that last elusive grading point in two weeks’ time. We’re schooling dressage once a week, playing with our showing tests in preparation for next year once a week, and hacking at least once a week. This new schedule is part necessity – new training horses are eating my free time – and part relief; we were both getting frustrated with struggling with dressage. A day of basics every week is doing our relationship wonders.
Then it rained some more. With our rain coming from the south – the direction in which we have the best view – we can see the storms coming from miles way. The sight is majestic, slightly terrifying, and so beautiful it hurts; awesome in the original sense of the word. I wonder sometimes if glimpsing God would be a little like it. Too beautiful to make sense of, terrifying, life-giving.
Poor Faith was utterly neglected this week, with only one session, but it was a good one. We’re getting relaxation in walk and trot now, so we introduced a bit of canter to our lunging sessions. Her canter is somewhat graceless at the moment, but to be fair we have only done two laps on each rein while panicking slightly.
Lovely Lady Erin started to outgrow her ugly stage,
and headed off to her new home. She travelled like a little superstar. I miss her. ❤
The moody sky is absolutely stunning.
Especially as sunset heralds the arrival of another night shift on volunteer duty. I don’t work on the response vehicles, but I do like taking pictures of their pretty lights. For this born-and-bred farm girl, it feels really weird to look up and see streetlights.
Icey helps me teach almost every afternoon, sometimes from the comfortable perch of my left toe.
Champagne has been doing so, so well. Going large is easy now, and she hardly ever spooks properly anymore. Occasionally her ears will look and her head will go up, but she seldom actually jumps. Even then it’s just a jump and then we go back to work. We’re riding full dressage tests and jumping some fences now. Regrettably, her actual dressage schooling took a bit of a knock between having to spend two weeks just lunging and then working so hard on relaxing about the big arena, but that’s an easier fix than the anxiety.
Ashy and Lulu remain two of my most trusted colleagues. Please stay sound, old girls.
This storm came in pitch black, and really soaked the earth at last. It also washed away some of the dressage arena, but c’est la vie. We’ll shovel it up and put it back.
That dark sky was a scary but most welcome sight.
And followed by a fragment of rainbow, blazing in a gap amid the clouds as the storm retreated.
This is Antwone, the new client horse. I do wish I saw him more often, but he’s a clever little biscuit, so we should still achieve something. He may be one of the most adorable little horses I’ve ever seen with the whole Friesian look plus Arab ears, crammed into all of 14 hands. He had his first coltish moment when I was bringing him in for work on Friday and received his first proper hiding, too, so that was the end of that. His lunging is coming on well, he has an obvious understanding of the commands already and three good gaits, but he’s nervous to canter in the small lunge ring at the client’s place. Their big ring is being repaired so that’ll go better soon.
I saved the best news for last. By the grace of God – and the kindness of Coach K, and the steadiness of Jamaica – I passed Module 4. In fact, the riding paper was my highest mark by far. I would have liked to see a better mark for the lunging lesson, but the main thing is that I passed everything. I scraped the group but that was just botched time management that caused me to have to skip some things I really wanted to do. I taught a lesson when I was supposed to be sitting an exam and had to rush through the last half.
If you’d told me that by the end of this year I’d be working on – and helping – severely remedial horses and passing the personal riding section of Module 4 (with its dreaded 85cm jumps) with 91%, I would not have believed you. That’s because I couldn’t do it.
Today was our second lesson with Coach J, and I was nervous. Shocker. I had spent all week on poor longsuffering Thunder, trying to get the whole outside rein thing sorted out, and it just wasn’t working. I hoped Coach J wasn’t going to think we hadn’t been working on it, because we truly had – it just sure didn’t look like it.
Anyway, so we dragged Thunny into the box and headed off to our lesson this morning with some trepidation. At this point, I must pause and shout-out to some fairly wonderful people. First, my family, for obvious reasons. And then, two others who are rapidly becoming part of the family – my mom’s friend Tannie L and her son, D. Tannie L is the reigning queen of moral support and D happens to have a licence to tow a horsebox, so that’s how we’ve made it to our last couple of lessons. They also sometimes let me lie in a heap on their couch while I’m on duty (it’s been three weeks – count ’em – since I actually had a call). Tannie L and D are thoroughly nice and they’re being instrumental in taking the dream further.
If I ever actually do ride Grand Prix, then I will never be able to take any credit for anything, because it feels like there’s been an army of people supporting me all the way. Thank you guys for caring about God’s dream for me ❤
Thunder had a moment’s hesitation as we were boxing him, and I had just phoned working student L to bring us a line and get him in when he suddenly decided he could get in after all. We left Jamaica at home this time, and I was a little worried he wouldn’t travel great. He did paw the floor and shuffle around a bit at first, but as soon as we started moving, he settled right down and spent the trip picking at his haynet.
Once there, we were a little late, so I chucked on his tack, bandaged only his forelegs (the horror!) and scrambled into the arena praying he’d behave. He didn’t just behave, he was a superstar. He did spook at himself in the mirror the first time he saw himself suddenly go past, but after that he was perfect – relaxed and super focused.
He is actually becoming a very pleasant chap to travel with.
Coach J came bursting out optimistically and sent me to “go warm up”. Six years of training for people and I suddenly couldn’t remember how one warms up a horse at all, so he had to come and shout at us to go and do our little serpentine. I felt like it was better than last time, which would be nice since we only practiced it a thousand times, and I hardly used my inside rein at all. Coach J also thought it was good so he started trying to get us to do more interesting things (like, you know, trot in a circle) and promptly discovered that I still haven’t got a handle on the inside leg to outside rein thing. Back on the square we went, doing turn on the forehand to shoulder in to turn on the forehand to shoulder in without our inside rein.
It was a little ugly. Not from the horse; in Coach J’s words, “It’s your lack of coordination, not his.” No kidding. I cannot seem to get my own body to do anything I want it to do. 16 years of bad habits will do that to you. Every time I get a little stuck, my inside hand goes haywire. And my left hand just does whatever the snot it feels like doing. It’s frustrating. Thunder patiently tried to figure out what on Earth I was trying to get him to do, while my own hands seemed much less obliging.
At least today we did graduate to doing the exercise in trot, where he gave me several really nice moments when I started to feel like maybe I have ridden a horse before. We also got to canter a little. Exciting stuff. This was shortly after Coach J asked nicely for “less of the spastic chicken, please”. I doubt I will ever hear the end of that.
So, our takeaways for this lesson:
It’s not so much about not using the inside rein as it is about getting him into my outside rein. Connection on the outside rein is everything.
He needs to be more off my leg laterally. I have to become intentional with the whip so that it’s a learning aid instead of just a punishment.
This exercise is not about the horse being round or bent – it’s just about him being on my outside rein. It’s okay if he bends the wrong way or goes above the bit for this exercise.
I have to “slow my brain down”. It doesn’t make much sense out of context, but as soon as Coach J said it, I knew what it meant.
Coach J is pretty tough. I’m going to have be careful with Thunny’s schedule not to absolutely cook us both on practicing All the Hard Things. However, again, where I need somebody very nice to hold my hand and know when I’m ready to take corrections – like coach K, who is the best – for jumping, I can take a butt-kicking with dressage. Especially now that I don’t take it so seriously, I can take it more seriously. I no longer care too much about dressage; I care about God, and horses, and the dance. God doesn’t really mind if we’re not terribly good at it. I want to be good at it because I want to glorify Him, not because I want to earn my way into His good books. It’s worship, not obedience. He is not commanding me to do it, He is watching in delight.
So I can handle it. Coach J is never down on us, he just knows what he wants us to do and he doesn’t settle for anything less. He expects hard work. He will see it. It’s the one thing I know I can do. He does want us to have this issue sorted out by our next lesson, which prospect makes me a little nervous because I’m not fully sure Miss Spastic Chicken will become at least Miss Coordinated Goose by then, but I know I’m going to do my level best to make it happen.
I don’t want to kill both our relaxation and joy in it, though, so I’ve tweaked his schedule a little bit:
Tuesday: hard work, practicing the exercises from the lesson while it’s still fresh in our minds.
Wednesday: fun work. Warm up with the exercises and focus on the concepts, but do a little bit of test riding, play with our stronger movements to remind us we can sometimes do this, then cool down with a little hack.
Thursday: hard work again.
Friday: more hard work, if he feels OK with it.
Saturday: either off, or a bit of fun work, giving the hard stuff a last little polish.
Something I’m just starting to get accustomed to in Thunny’s temperament is how hard he can be pushed. He’s a gentle soul, but robust, much less sensitive than other horses I’ve had. He doesn’t get anxious like Magic, offended like Nell, or overexcited like Arwen. He just sort of stays at the same level. Of course he has his green and spooky moments and can be a little separation anxious (increasingly less so), but in terms of work itself, as long as I’m not in a flap he doesn’t really get into a flap.
He has the work ethic to be able to take a heavy workload and enjoy it without getting frustrated, as long as I keep it varied and stay relaxed. He also focuses hard and tries hard, but unlike me, he seldom overthinks things or gets into a panic if he can’t figure it out. He just keeps trying, patiently and calmly, to get it right. I love it. I feel like I can’t mess up too much because he won’t take it personally; he just keeps on trying, ever longsuffering when I bumble, but ready with a moment of brilliance when I finally get it right.
He’s not like me, but he’s exactly what I need. Isn’t God amazing?
If I could choose between anxiety and burnout, I’d choose anxiety. Every time.
But sometimes this life takes everything I’ve got and requires me to spend myself well beyond my limits.
I do what I can to prevent it, but sometimes I can’t. And it’s worth it.
Some days I stand in front of the whiteboard and I don’t know how I’ll give my kids what they deserve: the very best, and nothing less.
But then the first child arrives and I take a big breath and start to teach. And no matter how exhausted I am, no matter how weary my soul, five minutes in, the miracle starts to happen.
I step into another place where the tiredness can’t keep up. My aching legs suddenly find their strength. My heart just lifts at the first child’s smile. It all falls away, the world condensing until all that matters is this child, this pony, this moment and my God.
I ask for strength so I can teach. But I think I teach so I can be strong. The Kingdom of Heaven comes to me every afternoon with sticky fingers and tousled hair and wide eyes, and after hours of work, I can feel my body aching, but I can also feel my spirit floating.
These kids thank me after every lesson, sometimes with heart-lifting smiles, sometimes with little arms around my legs, sometimes with a temper tantrum because they don’t want to get off. And every time they do, I feel vaguely guilty.
Because I have been receiving in far greater measure than I have given. I give everything I have, but somehow every time more just comes right back at me.
Burnout is ugly. That’s why I’m being more diligent about taking down time than before and why I don’t find myself here as often anymore.
But the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and God is amazing, and that’s why when I do slip up, or when circumstances do require more from me than I have to give, it’s the very work itself that drags my soul back out of it.
Sometimes I yell at them. Sometimes I misunderstand them. But there’s never been a moment when I haven’t cared. I’ve so often spoken about my love and appreciation for horses, and so seldom written about how I feel about my kids.
I think that may be because it’s much too big to put into words.
Sometimes running the yard still feels a little impossible. But God is good at impossible.
And every day I know I can contribute to something more precious, more valuable, more important, more world-changing than anything else on Earth. Something with eternal relevance. Something pressing, urgent, vital. Something beautiful.
Champagney has been in training for almost five months now. At times the pace seems almost glacial – as it generally is, with remedial horses. Her owner has been utterly fabulous. Between injuries and the simple reality of working with a profoundly anxious horse, there have been many setbacks.
Nonetheless, we have seen significant progress. The horse who used to be tense 100% of the time is now a happy, relaxed creature with occasional moments of tension. If I can put it this way, she used to be 8/10 anxious permanently, regularly spiking to 10/10 especially during work. Now she’s a 0/10 most of the time, spiking to maybe 3/10 once or twice a ride. Very rarely having a moment that shoots her back up to maybe 7/10.
She stands at the mounting block. She has a concept of relaxed connection and right bend. She’ll even jump fillers, if you take your time and remember to breathe down. New objects beside the arena that elicit a hairy eyeball from Savanna or Zorro often don’t even get a response from Champagne. She ties up and hangs out contentedly beside the stable to be tacked up, and cheekily grabs mouthfuls of grass while standing in the wash bay after work.
But up until Thursday, there was one topic we just hadn’t been able to tackle, and it was the scary end of the arena. For the first two months I worked this horse on a 20m circle at C and even that was a bit much sometimes. I used a lead horse to get her around the whole arena and tried that for a while, but every session still involved fear, tension and escalating anxiety about it. So I went back to my 20m circle and grew it ever so slowly. Eventually we established a 40m rectangle that she was fine with, so we stayed there for months, just working on suppleness and connection.
When she got hurt, I started lunging her on a circle at R, then a circle at C. Some days she took off and we had to back it up to B again, but most days she was relaxed and stretching over her back.
When I got back on board this week, we first just worked on our 40m safe zone again, re-establishing basic facts that she’s had to re-learn over and over: no, I won’t hurt; no, obedience isn’t optional; no, I won’t make you do it. Then on Thursday, she just felt great. I was able to get shoulder-fore anytime she felt a little tense, which was rewarded with a tiny release in her loin every time. And eventually, we just did it.
We went walk, trot and canter on the track. Relaxed and forward. She had one teensy spook, and her tension lasted about five seconds. The rest of the time, she just did it, no resistance, no tension.
I guess you could say our progress has been glacial. But glaciers last.
Our plans are for Pagney to do our yard dressage show in December, then to start going out and competing in January. I’d like to try take her to SANESA qualifiers since she’s supposed to become a SANESA pony, but I’ll need to see how she handles short warm-ups first. It’s already been a journey with this special, infuriating, generous, good-hearted drama queen, and there is a way to go yet.
The other remedial beastie in training showed enormous progress, and then had something of a relapse. Savanna practically stopped running out at fences, but suddenly realised she could go forward and started going very forward over the jumps whether I liked it or not. (Hint: It’s not). Out of the frying pan and into the fire, rather, because to me – a trainer of SANESA kid ponies – “whoa” is never, ever optional. I need to know that I can get a halt, or at least walk, within seconds in absolutely every situation. Such is not the case with Savanna currently. She blew hard through my aids and I’ll be real honest, my seat and hands do not make as much of an impression on a bulky 16hh thoroughbred as they do on my usual honies.
She is improving, but without bitting up, I’ve had to try and save our butts with a strong pulley rein quite often. Which has led to tension. Which has caused the running out to rear its ugly head again. I’m having to rethink how I approach this problem. I have to figure out a way to reinforce my whoa aid without escalating her tension; and it really has to work, or it will escalate mine, and that will escalate hers.
That’s just a temporary fix to keep us from dying mid-course, though. In the meantime, we’re doing hundreds of transitions. Especially trot-halt, canter-trot, and canter-halt (obviously not cleanly, but within a few strides). Jump a fence, walk. Jump another fence, walk. She still feels like she can only make it over if she gallops.
I always used to say I’d never train remedial horses again, but I’m so thankful that God’s grace rebuilt my nerve to the point where I’m not only doing it, I’m loving it.
Not having backed anything since July, I suddenly find myself up to the eyeballs in babies. Something for which I’m more than grateful – I love them, I feel like I have a vague idea of what I’m doing with them, but every single one is something totally new. And there’s always a leap-of-faith element to tossing a leg over a young horse for the first time.
Faithy is the greenest of them all, and thus progressing the most slowly of them all. I’m also taking it more slowly because I’ll expect more from her someday, and also because, as usual, I find myself crippled by doubts and fears just because it’s my horse. Somehow client horses just seem to be easier. It’s all in my head, of course. They go better because I chill the socks out and do what I know how to do without emotions getting all in the way. I worry far too much about my own.
Faith, however, has been fine. A quite normal three-year-old filly. Less wiggly to groom and bandage up, easier to get to go round in walk and trot. Still separation anxious, and the other day focused so hard on screaming at a buddy who was being brought in for work that she fell through the ring fence. As you do. Mercifully she’s a Nooitie and suffered only a minor bump to her fetlock, some bruises and a cracked ego.
I really need to sort out my own head space before we can make any real progress. It’ll be a matter of going to my knees and giving it to God; as usual, Satan is trying to hit me right where God can most mightily use me. That’s when I know the fight is getting real.
Teddy is by turns effortless and very challenging. He is a hard-trying horse and bright as a button, so intellectual training is dead simple. He’s also a very anxious horse who’s been both hurt and spoiled in the past, so emotional training is a lot less easy. The bridle was a complete non-issue after the usual mouthiness during the first session.
The saddle is also fine until it slips, then we can get quite a melodramatic and frightened little crow-hopping fit. I really hate to see a young horse doing that. It’s very hard to sit out, for one thing; it’s also almost always out of fear, for another. So we’re taking the whole backing thing very, very slowly.
He also has an issue with standing in the wash bay. He likes to fly back as an answer to everything and can be quite impossible to get in without help, but once in he is OK, although I take the precaution of closing the gates in case he wants to wiggle. Most of ours plop in and then graze while I chuck the lead over the fence and do my thing (including Champagne), but he’ll get there.
Emmy has gone a bit quicker. She does have some racetrack baggage, but she’s older, more sensible, and more experienced. She is obviously backed since she raced a bit, but I start from scratch anytime I’m slightly doubtful.
As expected she took the bridle effortlessly. She doesn’t mind the saddle but can be very touchy about having the girth tightened – somebody obviously had the girth yanked on quite often in her past. (Pet peeve.)
Today I fooled around with hanging over her, flapping the stirrups and patting her all over loudly and she went to sleep, so I put a leg over and had a little sit. She was dead quiet, completely relaxed. I won’t actually ride her until I’ve done the long-lining to check that whoa is a thing (and rearing is not), but I think she’ll be quite nice. She’s a gentle soul.
I totally failed to get photos of starter #4, but he is adorable. He stays at another yard and I only see him once a week, so his progress will be slow. The yard is actually where I was a yard rat in my preteens, so I helped to back his dam and knew his sire well and knew him as a tiny foal (by then I was riding for Ruach). The sire is a Friesian and the dam a little Nooitie/Araby thing, and he is basically a 14hh dark grey Friesian with a dish face. His name is Antwone and I’m not quite sure yet if I’m OK with his being a colt, but he’s only three and doesn’t know it yet, so we’ll take it as it comes.
So happy to have a full training schedule again. Glory to the King.
Every time I enter a dressage show I feel vaguely guilty about spending time and money on something that isn’t expressly helping other people. I know, intellectually, that God wouldn’t have sent me Faith, or made my scruffy homebred really quite talented, if He wanted me to stop. I know I gave it to Him. But knowing something in your head and having faith in it in your soul isn’t always the same thing.
But these past few days have been one step deeper into faith.
The dream team set off: Superdad, Wonderbird and the Dragon, at a leisurely hour on Sunday morning (things I love about dressage). We were there in good time and I plopped Arwen’s tack on and off we went. I was expecting a dragon, but she was really, really good. Relaxed and quiet from the word go, but forward and enthusiastic. Our warmup was very relaxed, but as mediocre as usual. I was focusing hard on trying to develop an actual medium trot instead of a piggy little run, and she was focusing hard on bucking through the counter canter at one point, but then we were off and I was cautiously optimistic.
Our first halt felt OK, it was steady, square and on the bit, but it was 5.5 for quarters to left. The serpentine XA felt good as well for 6.5, which is about as good as we get. I’ve been working hard on the leg-yield and FX felt good – and was good, for 6.0 – but it all came to bits XM and I tried to sort it out but couldn’t really so that was a 5.0: “too much sideways”. At that point I started to realise that Arwen, while not exhausted, was slightly tired. After so many years of having her so, so fit, I’ve forgotten how flat she can be when she’s not jumping out of her skin. Arwen has to be hot to be her best, and she didn’t have the oomph.
Still, she didn’t feel at all reluctant, just a little tired, so I felt it was OK to finish the test and we soldiered on. We picked up a few more 6.0s for the halt and rein back (“steps not quite clear”) and the two turns on the haunches (“little too hurried”) – both better than before. The extended walk was 6.0 too, “lacking purpose”. She has a fabulous walk, so I blame that on being a little flat, too. And then at A she struck off on the wrong leg for a well-deserved 4.0. Really, Arwen? A wrong lead, in an Elementary test? But once again, she never, ever does that at home. Her brain was tired.
We got it together though for our best marks of the test; 7.0 for both the 10m canter circle and – get this – the simple change! I suppose we can cross “survive the simple changes” off our goals list. The counter canter was back to 6.0 for lacking engagement, and then the medium was a 4.5. I thought it was OK, but this judge evidently laid great emphasis on correct extensions/mediums, so that’s fair. Our circle at R was down to a 5.0 (“more jump”) and then the next change she picked up the wrong leg again, for 4.0. The counter canter was another 5.0 with “more jump”, and then the medium trot, obviosuly, was a 4.0. I didn’t let her hurry this time, but we didn’t really do much medium-ing, so yeah. The halt was fine except she fussed and made herself extra-square at the last moment, earning a 6.0, “not quite steady”.
The final mark was 54.1%. I do wish we’d gotten 55% and that final grading point, but it was fair, and I loved the judge’s comments. He asked for more jump, more engagement, noting that she was a little flat and lost unnecessary marks (two incorrect strike-offs – ya think?). But he also said “Rider tried hard on an obedient horse”, which I felt was true and complimentary.
Ultimately I think she could have done better and will once she is fitter. I think she did go better in the double, especially in her changes and transitions and rein back (we almost got our goal of more than 6.0 for the rein back). I also think she will never be competitive at Elementary because I was twelve years old and entirely clueless when I started riding her, with practically no guidance. She’s done wonders considering the hand she’s been dealt, and I remember thinking as we walked out of the arena that this horse would run through fire for me. I’ve given her second-rate training and she has given me her heart, and that’s what makes it worth it despite the occasional disaster.
Moving onto Thunder, we decided for my dad to stand by the warmup and the show arena with Arwen this time. I wanted to give Thun the best possible chance at a good test considering it was a level up and I wanted to build his confidence with the new movements, and I knew Arwen would be impossible alone anyway, so it was just easier.
Warming up, I knew immediately he was going well. He was relaxed and forward, going down into my hand instead of having to be held at all, and there was a suppleness in his back that makes me excited. As we went on, I noticed that a rider who had also ridden in the Elementary had just come charging into the warmup, looking a bit flustered. She was number 113 and we were number 114, but had already been warming up for a little while. I had done my basic warmup – large, lengthenings, a stretchy circle, some transitions and circles and lengthenings in canter – and was just about to start riding my test movements to finish the warmup when I heard the announcer calling number 113, who hadn’t even cantered yet.
“Can’t you go?” she asked me.
It was a knee-jerk reaction. “No, sorry. I’m not quite ready.”
I headed off, leaving flustered lady to her warmup, but something didn’t feel good in my soul. I paused, and I reluctantly listened to that still small voice. I really wanted a good mark. I really believed Thunder would go better if I could just have another ten minutes. But I knew what Jesus would do, and we dance for Him.
“It’s OK!” I yelled, inelegantly booting poor old Thun across the warmup. “We’re going!”
I don’t write this to boast, because what’s one tiny kindness compared to the ocean of my sin, or to the extravagance of the Love that went to the cross for it? I write it because I want to tell you all how big my God is. I felt His pleasure, and we went in and I rode the best test of my entire life. And my horse was right there with me, doing his very best.
The first centreline and halt was 7.5; he was a little unbalanced, but stepped forward to a square halt. Then our turns at C and B and walk/trot transition at X was an 8.5. Yup. Comment “obedient”. So he is; I wish I was as obedient to the call of my Master as that good-hearted horse is to the touch of my hand. The serpentine was a 7, comment “needs to show more change of bend in body; accurate”. We had a 6 for the stretchy trot, a better mark than before; he maintained his rhythm and did actually offer a tiny stretch for the first time ever in the show ring, so I was happy. His stretchy trot is getting good at home – it’s just a matter of time before he relaxes in the ring.
We were back to a 7.5 for the free walk and a 7 for the first transition and canter circle. Our lengthening wasn’t terribly good, getting a 6 with comment “could be more balanced”. He was on his forehand and stayed there for the transition at A. I panicked about the lengthening and kicked him, so he gave half a canter step and I took a few strides to sort myself out and get a bit of lengthening, so that was a 6: “could show more balance at A and more ground cover”.
The canter transition at C and circle at B was a 7, asking for more uphill and jump. And our last halt was an 8. The final mark was 72.5%. You could say I was quite happy with that.
The second test started with a 7 for the centreline (“straight; halt could be more balanced”) and for the rein change with half circle (“could show more bend through body”). I fluffed the second rein change with half circle for a 6 (“not quite to X, could show more bend through body”). By this point my brain was also getting kinda tired – I had vowed to focus this time without being nervous, and I did, but it was starting to take a little strain. Our lengthening once again started with a tranter step and got a 6.0, comment “needs to show more push from behind to cover more ground”. And then we had our free walk. And then we got our first 9.0.
Not even kidding. It was fantastic.
The canter transition at M that I had been dreading was an 8.0, “obedient”, and the 15m circle was a 7.5, “could be more uphill”. I got the geometry right this time, though. The KXM rein change with a trot at X and canter at M was a 7.0, again asking for more uphill, but it was better than our downwards from canter to trot have been. The next 15m circle was another 7.5, the canter lengthening another 6.0. By the half circle onto the centreline, I was cooked. I sort of pulled him around any old how and we fell in a heap for 6.5.
Still, it was 71.8%, with super collectives: 7.0 for paces, 7.5 for impulsion (on Mr. Lazybones nonetheless), 7.0 for submission, 8.0 for rider position and aids. I have no idea where he placed because two tired Hydes really wanted to go home, so I just asked for my tests and they were nice enough to give me a couple of placed ribbons (cheers, Equivest!). “What a super horse,” the judge wrote. “Well ridden.” I was so chuffed.
But the story doesn’t end there. Oh no! There were a few more miracles in store for us. As we were waiting for my test and lunch, the owner of a top Friesian stud in our area beckoned me over.
“Who teaches you?” he enquired.
“I jump with Coach K,” I said, “but I don’t really get dressage lessons.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I can see that.”
I was just about to feel hurt when he offered for me to come over and join his riders in a lesson with their Very Big Name Trainer. Around this time Very Big Name Trainer popped up (I almost wet myself) and announced that this was a good idea and I could even get a very good price “if you do your homework”. I vowed to do my homework, and the next thing I know, this morning Thunder and I found ourselves in the middle of the very fancy arena at very fancy Friesian place with Very Big Name Trainer – OK, fine, I’ll call him Coach J – yelling at us.
I originally wanted to cry because I thought we’d never get good lessons ever again except once a year with Coach S when she fits his saddle, and here all of a sudden we were getting lessons from Coach J and cheaply and I was a little overwhelmed by what God is doing for us. But within the first two minutes I was way too busy to feel anything very much.
Despite seeing mirrors for the first time in his life, Thunny was perfect. We dragged Jamaica along to babysit but Jamaica chilled in the fancy stable and Thunder didn’t miss him at all – he didn’t even whinny once. And Coach J totally failed to hate my fabulous purple bandages. He did, however, roundly kick our behinds.
We didn’t actually do anything that hard, except that we had to do everything perfectly so it was all ridiculously hard. Once Thunny had walked around to have a look at everything and been asked to go long and low and a bit deep to stretch his back, we did a tiny little serpentine down the long side. And then we did a square with turns on the forehand that almost killed us, and then we trotted a 15m circle. That was it. My brain is overflowing with new stuff, and also I am very uncoordinated.
Inside leg to outside rein.
When Thunder wants to be looky, put him in shoulder-fore, flexing him away from the scary thing. This worked well for him because he isn’t really that scared, and being given a job and asked to soften helps him relax.
Inside leg to outside rein.
Tiny, tiny turns to help him bend through the body more (seeing a recurring theme yet?). They don’t have to be perfectly balanced, but 5m or smaller circles/serpentines in walk to help him release his back.
Inside leg to outside rein.
On small turns, inside hand to my belly button, not to my knee, to lift his shoulder.
Inside leg to outside rein.
Absolutely no seesawing on the bit; only solid contact, or small sponges within the contact. I say this to my kids about four thousand times every afternoon. I can’t believe I actually still do it myself. Urgh.
INSIDE LEG TO OUTSIDE REIN.
At this point Coach J had had enough of yelling at me about my inside rein and started the turn on the forehand exercise. We walked a little square, with a quarter turn on the forehand at each end. The catch? No inside rein. NONE. He wanted it hanging, to show me that I don’t need to pull it the whole time. It was at this point that my brain started to fry. It’s so automatic to hang on that inside rein – poor Coach J shouted about it like a million times. Eventually we were doing shoulder-in to turn on the forehand to shoulder-in to turn on the forehand with the inside rein dangling completely loose. Well, most of the time. Except when I was panicking and Coach J had to start all over again.
We moved on then to trotting a 15m circle, spiralling it in and out now and then, with no inside rein – but with bend and connection. It was so hard, but it so worked. Thunder was super willing – as soon as he understood, he obeyed. My inside hand, less so. It’s amazing how one’s own body parts can be less obedient than the half-ton prey animal that is my dance partner.
With that, we were done, and given loads of homework, and sent off ridiculously excited. Thunder has done so well all by himself, with only one lesson ever. Imagine what he can do with the help we have now. We might even do the bigger levels someday; Coach J seemed to think we could do more than EM. I would love so much to even do EM!
Thanks to our beloved King, Whose mighty plan prevails. I am so excited to see where my God is going with this. No detail is too small for Him. I have long since stopped dreaming: I have found that He dreams much, much bigger than I ever could.