2018 Goals: Competing Horses

At the end of 2016, I faced losing the ride on the best horse I’d ever sat on. At the end of 2017, I face, for the first time in my life, regular and serious training on a horse who can go all the way, as well as starting another talented baby. And nobody but God can take either of them from me because it’s my name on the papers. It truly should not be possible, not for an anxious overachiever in the middle of nowhere on a shoestring budget, but God pays no attention to the possible.

When I have finally upgraded my membership (gotta pay Dressage SA first *gulp*), I will share what’s going on in my heart about the upcoming year of dressage, as well as my adventures riding Coach J’s super ultra fancy horses yesterday (squee!). But for today we’re going to be a bit intellectual and look at the things we want to work on this year in terms of the four babies I show myself.

Thunder

Thunder1

The man himself went from strength to strength in 2017, starting off by coming second in his first classes ever with mid-60s scores. He never scored less than 63% through a year at Prelim, then debuted at Novice with scores in the low 70s. We finished by scoring 66s again at CHG Champs despite riding in a thunderstorm with me as sick as a dog.

So his goals for 2017 were:

  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. We have schooled everything. It’s not all polished yet, but he can go into an arena and do any Novice test without totally embarrassing himself, I’m sure. We have not polished all of it, but the movements are installed.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. He’s sometimes a little tense, but there has been no bolting. Yay!

With Coach J’s help, Thunny’s schooling is pretty much on track to continue scoring steadily at Novice at the very least. Our greatest bugbear is tension in the show ring. If he’s relaxed he unfailingly scores in the 70s. He has never been disobedient in the show arena, but he locks up through his back and neck, going from being connected and through (for the level) to simply being rhythmic and on the bit. This is just something that we’ll have to keep competing to resolve, and I’m willing to be patient with him. If it takes him five years to be consistent at competitions, then so be it. The horse is far too good for me to lose sleep over losing points at Novice because he saw a butterfly.

With this in mind, my focus is shifting to schooling correctly rather than winning competitions next year. Of course I would like to compete him at least once a month to work on resolving that issue and, obviously, earn grading points, but we probably won’t be doing CHG Series. We will probably end up going to bigger shows, though, for both of us to get our heads around the atmosphere. (Also because Coach J might be there).

I’ll be real honest, I kind of have no idea what goals I should be setting. In yesterday’s visit Coach J was talking about doing EM this year. I have my doubts, but the oracle knows best. Mostly I’ll keep chugging along doing my thing and watching to see what God does, because He seems bent on blowing my pathetic little expectations out of the water lately.

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Improve all of our downward transitions.
  • Improve our stretchy trot.
  • Improve both lengthenings.
  • Improve the halts, specifically staying connected in halt and immobility.
  • Improve rein back.

Third and fourth quarter:

Introduce all of the Elementary movements:

  • serpentine four loops
  • halt immobility 5 seconds
  • canter circle with break of contact
  • half stretchy trot circle
  • canter-walk transition
  • transition from walk to counter canter on the long side
  • shoulder-in
  • medium trot
  • extended walk
  • serpentine 3 loops with counter canter
  • medium canter
  • leg-yield zigzag
  • turn on the haunches
  • 10m canter circle
  • half circle in counter canter
  • simple change on a short diagonal
  • simple change on the long side
  • E-X half circle, X simple change, X-B half circle
  • collected trot

General:

  • Keep working on quiet little hacks.

 

Arwen

18451330_926248594181875_7155817256365659250_o.jpg

Arwie had another year of doing everything from showjumping to working riding to a whole lot of dressage. She took me to my first ever Elementary and tried her guts out in every single test despite mediocre riding and simply poor schooling, even scraping up a few placings as we went. Most of all, she was the dragon who relit my fire when I needed it, which is what she does best. Someday, if God wills it, I’ll ride the big grades and nobody will remember her – but I will, because she made it possible.

 

  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Sooooooo close. We would totally have done this if it wasn’t for the issue with her feet that ruined the last few months of the show season. It was God’s will, so I don’t mind admitting that this goal didn’t happen. Still, we have nine points and we need ten. She’s still registered with DSA so I might just drag the beast to one more show, get the last pesky point and then be done.
  • 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. So we didn’t do this either, although not for lack of trying. Still, it’s no biggie.

Arwen tried her heart out for me this year, but we’ve been stuck in a rut for months, making almost no progress on our Elementary work. It’s not surprise, considering that all of her basics are lacking. It got worse when Thunder started to play with some of the movements and they were all so easy on him, which caused frustration with myself every time I schooled Arwie, knowing I could have done better if I’d had her as a youngster now. So, apart from maybe popping out to get that last grading point, dressage is on the shelf for Arwen for now.

Instead, we’ll be making our first serious foray into the world of showing. We’ve done bits, but this year I’m signing up with Showing SA (which is ridiculously cheap compared to DSA) and we’ll be hitting some of the bigger ones. The expensive classes do mean that I won’t be competing her as often, but she’s not a baby, she doesn’t need it that much anymore. I really look forward to it.

2018 goals:

  • Take at least one showing lesson or clinic.
  • Get over my phobia of all showing judges. Show at least once with one of the horrible ones and learn to deal.
  • Improve her rein-back and lengthenings.
  • Get points to go out of Novice.

 

Faith

wp-1510210077875.jpg

Last year this time, it was just days after I’d met Faithy for the first time. On the second of January, she came home – completely unhandled and so fresh off the veld that she didn’t even know what concentrates were and politely declined to eat them.

The little unicorn spent most of the year chilling in a field. The basic ground work was effortless, although loading went a lot better once I discovered that treats can bribe Faith into doing practically anything. I brought her in for backing in November, but it’s been slow progress, mostly because I hit a nasty burnout and non-competing horses went onto the back burner.

  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. Boo. There were no shows we could really do this year, as well as the minor disadvantage that she spent most of it looking like something like an adorable grey camel. Still, she has all the in-hand skills required, so that’s something.
  • In spring, lunge. I planned to start lunging in September/October and back shortly after her third birthday, but she was still such a baby then. I had to wait for the front end to catch up first, and I’m glad I did. She’s a sweetie, but very much immature for her age.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.
    She has worn a saddle, but that’s about it. Smart and loyal she is, but mature, not so much. I’m taking it slow. She could do with some growth and muscle tone before being asked to really do anything just yet.

Faithy is still only a very babyish three-year-old, so 2018 will still be very much relaxed. Our main goal is to be ready for YDHS in 2019 since I absolutely loved it on Nell last year, and since four-year-olds only do Prelim, I’m in no hurry. The main thing this year will be to establish rock-solid basics, and I’m taking the most basic of the basics: obedience, rhythm and relaxation.

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

Complete the backing:

  • long-line
  • introduce pole work
  • introduce the rider
  • introduce walk
  • introduce trot
  • introduce canter
  • move to the dressage arena.

Start preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the figures
  • establish good transitions between gaits
  • establish balanced and united canter
  • introduce hacks, alone and in company
  • possibly ride a walk/trot test at our April show
  • show in-hand.

Second and third quarter:

Complete preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the idea of a long and low, stretchy frame
  • grow the frame upwards to connection
  • improve consistency in the connection in all three gaits and transitions
  • introduce free walk and stretchy trot figures.

Introduce competing (August at the latest):

  • box out to a clinic, lesson or training show
  • compete at least twice at Prelim.

 

Jamaica

wp-1511885120375.jpg

I didn’t even show Jamaica until February 2017, where we popped around something ridiculous like 50cm. We quickly made our way to 80cm, then stayed there forever as I tried to scrape my nerve together. Our move up to 90cm was easy, and I feel nicely set up for learning to jump Module 5 in mid to end 2018.

  • Hack reliably in company
  • School Novice dressage. 
  • Jump 90cm graded. 

In another turn of events, it has transpired that he may need to be sold in 2018. Thank God (no, really, thank Him), his owners are happy for me to finish Mod 5. It doesn’t really change my plans, since I will not be riding him after Mod 5 anyway. I have zero aspirations to showjump right now. I would really have loved to event the dude, and might still if there’s spare time (ha!), but my focus will have to be on the yard and dressage. Still love him. ❤

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Showjump 90cm at available training shows.
  • Compete at equitation 90cm at SANESA. Score 70% (that’s a 28) or more, if not at the first qualifier, then at least at the last two. 70% is the pass mark for Module 5.
  • Introduce all the flatwork required at Module 5: leg-yield, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, a little shoulder-in, a little travers. (The exam specifies only “lateral work” but I don’t expect to have to do half-pass).

Second and third quarter:

  • In May/June, jump a 1.00m showjumping round. (I would love to do the 1.00m equitation, but it requires swapping horses, and that just ain’t happening, thankyouverymuch. Ask me in a decade).
  • Jump at least one more clear 1.00m round at an appropriate pace. It doesn’t have to be fast, just flowing.
  • Jump Module 5 in September.
  • If we do fail it, jump it again in December.

 

Personal Riding

Thunder4

I didn’t actually set personal goals in 2017, but I did improve my position a LOT. I had a terrible chair seat for years and I feel like this year I finally fixed it. It’s still not perfect, especially not in my current dressage saddle, but yesterday when I sat down in Coach J’s proper dressage saddle my alignment was suddenly perfect without any effort on my part. My hands are also a lot better, as is my core.

I do still have a very long way to go. Riding Coach J’s big horses really impressed on me the amount of strength and suppleness required to keep it up, and I know I’m still severely crooked.

In terms of jumping, my high Module 4 mark shows that my position is pretty adequate. Still, my nerves tend to show when I grab mane and my lower leg tends to swing back on landing, so there is lots to do.

2018 goals:

Improve my own body:

  • Have regular chiro. If my medical aid covers it, I don’t have an excuse not to go, and it doesn’t help that I care about Thunny’s back when my own back is stiff and crooked on top of him. I’m almost permanently body sore, and that’s a disservice to the horses who get to carry that sack of potatoes around.
  • Take conditioning classes twice a week throughout the year. No excuses. My sister is a dance teacher, and nothing in the world compliments dressage like ballet does: it will be excellent for my core strength, body control, and awareness of how I use my muscles. Ballet is kinda savage so it’ll build my cardio for jumping at the same time. Even if my sister has to miss some classes, I have to find somewhere that I can cross-train. Volunteers get discounted membership at the local gym, so I really do not have excuses. I need to be just as strong and supple as Thunny.
  • I’m pretty good about eating and sleeping well. (This week does not count. One of the many perks of being a friendly teacher is large amounts of sweets at Christmastime – children’s love language). Keep it up, especially when I’m on volunteer duty.

Improve my dressage position:

  • Find out what’s going on with my shoulders – probably a chiro issue, but my left shoulder always starts stinging about midway through a ride. I also hang on my left rein a LOT and my left shoulder blade can’t go flat like Ms Ballet Teacher Sister wants it to. Literally, it can’t, not even with her manipulating it. (My chiro will be horrified).
  • Improve on my bad habit of bracing the lower back as soon as I feel tension. That tension is not limited to nervousness – even if I’m just concentrating, the moment I try harder than usual, my lower back arches and braces, and I lose my connection to Thunny’s back.
  • Improve on my bad habit of tipping forward at the hip, especially in canter. It’s related to the back and shoulders issues, but it needs focused attention to fix.
  • Improve on my super bad habit of looking down.

Improve my jumping position:

  • Improve my tendency for my heels to come up on landing. Lots of light seat for me!
  • Improve my release.
  • Improve my tendency to try and jump ahead on takeoff.

wp-1510210107760.jpg

I’ve never been so genuinely and childishly excited for a show season. God has blown me away this year, and I can’t wait to see what He does next. Yet, as always, there is so much possibility for things to not go according to plan. Horses go lame. Money runs out. These things happen. But my Abba, He loves me, regardless of what happens. So I lay down my anxiety, I look forward with joy, and I look up with peace, knowing that whatever lies ahead is part of His plan.

And I do not dare to dream, for my dreams are foolish. But as He has proven time and time again, He dreams for me.

Glory to the King.

 

Love Lit the Way

Standing at the end of the second year of Morning Star Stables, I look back with inexpressible awe, joy, and wonder at what my God has done. I have never been so tired or so aware of my limitations. I’ve never worked so hard and yet been so aware that it’s not going to be good enough. But this whole year was about God seeing my lack of good enough and saying, “That’s where I work, daughter; just you trust Me and watch this.” And so we saw Him working and He did some amazing, amazing things and poured forth His grace, mercy, love and power right before our eyes.

So before I start on the goal recaps and on looking forward to next year, I want to take a second to look back at some of the things God achieved in the yard this year. These are all only small things. His biggest miracles have been invisible, unfolding in young hearts and souls, continuing to reach out for every person that walks into the yard.


Despite still being on a shoestring, somehow our beautiful sand dressage arena was built. Bits of it tend to wash away in big storms since we’re still figuring out the drainage, but it’s nothing that a wheelbarrow, a spade and some determination can’t fix. This time last year I was still teaching kids and backing horses in a paddock on the side of a hill. None of our dressage kids could possibly have competed this year without it.


On the same note, still on the shoestring, we cut poles in our own woods and put together the most amazing lunging ring ever. Seriously. I love it so much, it’s the perfect size and its slanting poles make my life so much easier when I’m backing babies and giving lunging lessons. Our knees are spared!


I stopped fighting my fears, walked away from them and left them in the Hands of God because no matter how hard I struggled, I always lost, and my bruised and battered soul could take no more. God worked mightily in my heart and sent me Jamaica and Coach K to help, and I jumped my first two 90cm tracks with ease. We’re well on our way to getting Mod 5 next year.


Our group of competing kids grew from three in 2016 to six in 2017 to at least eleven or twelve for the 2018 SANESA team. I used to face shows with four horses with great trepidation. This year we were doing eight or nine horses and we were just fine because God was with us. Next year promises up to fourteen or sixteen!


After fearing and dreading Module 4 all year, particularly the riding, I came down with horrible food poisoning three days before the exam. A trip to hospital later, I staggered off to go sit it, feeling horrible and knowing in my soul God was up to something. I passed every subject, and the riding was by far my highest mark. Morning Star Stables has a qualified coach now.


My training expanded hugely from only doing schooling, to backing only ponies, to accepting almost all backing and most remedial work for good measure. God’s grace wrought in me the confidence to take on Champagne, our most remedial horse to date, and we’ve seen an enormous difference in her.


I started competing my fabulous Thunderbird and he exceeded my every expectation, raking in placings and high scores and prompting lots of encouraging comments from the judges. I have my top horse and he was standing in a field for seven years before I realised it. God had made him an incredible dressage horse before I even knew what dressage really was.


And along with my top horse, God gave me regular lessons with a top dressage coach for the first time in my life. I started the year broke and with zero guidance. I finished it still broke but with two incredible instructors, both excellently suited to what I need in that particular discipline. Both of them read me like a book. Coach K is super, super nice, always knows exactly how far she can push me before I start to panic, and is always ready to go back a few steps without making a big deal out of it. Coach J is much tougher and knows exactly how to make things magically happen, and despite having stables full of amazing fancy horses (as do most of his students), he never, ever makes me feel like we’re inferior just because Thunny is a mongrel from the middle of nowhere.


Our first SANESA season as a yard was awesome, and spectacularly successful. Every single child showed enormous improvement throughout the year and learned important lessons about confidence, faith, and courage. G and Pennie finished off the year by winning at Nationals despite a very challenging season and the odds being stacked against them with injuries.


We ran two pony camps, the second one our biggest yet, and our first shows – jumping in July and dressage in December. Both were a roaring success. Our kids all had the opportunity to compete in something this year if they wanted, and they all gave it everything. I am so, so honoured to be a part of their amazing young lives. ❤


Next year we can only go further up and further in. God is on this journey with us. He is here with us in His little stableyard, working the most tremendous miracles. Most of them are inside our own hearts. His Spirit is here, and everyone who walks in is welcome here. We’ve seen Him do great things in unlikely places. And for me the most wonderful thing about the yard is how He works to make it a safe place for everyone. The kids that don’t fit in, the special needs kids, the ones who for whatever reason need more than just being another kid on a pony – these are the ones that flourish here. This is a place where God touches lives.

Not least mine. Glory, glory, glory to the King!

and many thanks to the many, many parents, not least mine, who have helped us all on the way ❤

Dilemma

I have not fallen off the face of the earth. Well – mostly not, anyway. Regrettably, this will only be a very short note to communicate a little mini update on some things (most of which are reasons for my absence from the blogosphere):

  1. I had a flu/cold/sick.
  2. While still flu/cold/sick, I rode CHG Champs on Thunder. In a crashing thunderstorm. He was amazing. ❤
  3. Pony camp. (Need I say more?)
  4. We ran our first dressage show.

All of the above went very well, especially pony camp and the dressage show. I have hundreds of photos, and will share them all, except that I have finally run out of space on WordPress. Considering it took me five years of constant uploading, I’m not terribly upset, but I’ll have to sort out an upgrade real quick before I can get back to proper updates. Maybe soon you’ll return to ridingonwater.com.

It is the time of year for goal revision and setting, though, so don’t go anywhere. There is more longwindedness to come. In the meantime, God be with you.

Glory to the King.

Thunder2

Training Horses Update

The five horsies in training have been ticking over quite nicely.

In fact, for some of them, that’s probably an understatement. Emmy went from accepting tack to going on the lines quickly. During her first session on the long lines I thought she might be going to kill me since she spent quite a lot of time head flipping, running back and threatening to rear. In the next session, though, I saw sense and swapped my favourite backing bit for the thinnest little French link I have and the problem was mostly solved. Most babies like the fat single joint full cheek, but thoroughbreds and their small mouths would have to be different.

She still head-flipped a tiny bit, but I suspect that her teeth want to be seen to, and they will when my dentist comes again. So it wasn’t long before I was sitting on her,

why can’t my leg always be like this?

and then riding around. She had been ridden on the track about seven years ago, so as expected she didn’t mind me being up there, but she had kind of forgotten what aids were, so it took a little while to get her confident and relaxed in walk. But soon we progressed to the big arena in walk and trot.

She does like to fall in quite dramatically on the right rein. I strongly suspect an issue with a left tooth, so I don’t make too much of a scene about it, but it’s already much improved compared to this photo from her first ride. Even the head-flipping is much better, probably because I ride my babies on little or no contact and she’s starting to trust my hand not to hurt whatever it is that’s hurting in there. I won’t be putting this on the bit until we’ve sorted it out.

For now we’re walking and trotting figures in the dressage and had three or four steps of canter in our last session, so I’m pretty happy.

Champagne has been drawing shapes in the sand – even on the spooky end, which seems to be no longer spooky. We had to avoid it the other day because our oldest cow, Fiona, was lying right next to the arena fence, chewing cud and swishing her tail and making little Fiona noises, and Champagne just didn’t deal that day. Otherwise, she pretty much goes like a normal young horse now.

She is doing our in-house show next Saturday, so we’re putting some work into really schooling her now that the worst of the remedial stuff is out of the way. Her bend now matches left and right and since her teeth were done she’s a lot better about taking my left rein, so connection is better too. She struggles with all canter transitions, though, particularly right. She doesn’t buck through them anymore unless she’s very fresh, but on the right she struggles to get the lead, and the first few canter steps are generally rushing, tense and hollow. This has improved as her bend improved, and we were able to try a few changes through trot, but I don’t expect them to be great at the show.

I don’t really know what to expect from the show. I think she may be quite spooky of the new things next to the arena, like the judge’s gazebo, but I think as long as I stay calm we can work through it. Since it’s my show I can also show her the spooky things before having to ride her and schedule her time for when it’s quietest, so that’s rather a plus.

Titan also finally got over his nerves with the saddle and graduated to the long lines. Like most unspoilt youngsters, he handled these with aplomb and quickly learned all the aids, including halt from any gait. I don’t get clean halts from canter, obviously, but for me it’s just about knowing that whoa means whoa forever and always.

Somewhere between accepting the saddle and long lining, he also finally relaxed about – well, everything. One day he came into work and he was just totally chill and pleasant to be around, like he’d grown up overnight. He stood loose in the stable to tack up, he walked into the wash bay like an old hand, and he stood quietly when I had my first little sit on him. This has since become the norm, and it makes everything much more pleasant for both of us.

Yesterday we did the ride-from-the-ground exercise, and while he had a few moments of tension at first, he cottoned on very fast. Intelligent, willing horses are so easy when they quit panicking. So I hopped on and we did a few steps of rein back and a few steps forward. He was totally relaxed by the whole idea and much more concerned with staring at other horses in the field than with me on his back.

Antwone has been super. Three natural gaits made lunging fairly simple. He is very fresh since he only works once a week when I see him, but once we’ve gotten over the first five minutes of mad running, it didn’t take long to get the voice commands installed. He had one more colt moment where he thought maybe turning his bum on me would be a good idea and was very rapidly convinced otherwise.

So yesterday we moved on to the bridle. He was a bit of a pain to get it on, first because as colts do he was chewing the straps, and then because he put his nose in the air and with that fat little Friesian neck there was no way I was making it come down – highly embarrassing at somebody else’s yard – but once it went on he accepted it pretty quickly. He’s good to lunge in three gaits now (except he can’t really canter left in their smaller ring yet, but it’s like 8-10m so I don’t expect him to) so hopefully his people can put in some lunging and make all our lives easier.

no pictures of Savanna, sorry girl

Savanna has been back on track again. She was getting very much against my hand, both in the contact for connection and when I ask for whoa. Now I know technically I should school her to be more off my seat, but let’s be real. It’s a kid horse, it needs to stop when you pull the reins, the first time, every time. So I employed a pulley rein every time she wanted to rush or ignore my light whoa; if this was right before or over a fence then so be it. She can’t run at fences with her kid. This worked well, and yesterday she and her kid cantered quiet circles over a fairly big fence (for them) without any mad running at all.

For the pulling I was getting in response to asking for connection, I used a trick I learned from Coach K and held the numnah with my outside hand alongside the rein. This anchored my hand in place, so stopping me from pulling back, but also making it harder for her to pull forward. It kills the forearms but by the end she decided that not pulling was just a much easier option.

some of the happy group: Sunè, Renè, Lullaby, Midas, Nugget, Trooper and Titan

We also have grazing for some of the horses at last, which makes my heart very happy. If we’re honest, it’s mostly (non-harmful) weeds, but they’re ponies, they like weeds. Lulu and Trooper have already visibly gained weight after a week in the grazing. Thanks to the abundant provision of rain, a gift straight from the Hand of God.

Glory to the King.

Training Horses Update

The four horsies in training have been ticking over quite nicely.

In fact, for some of them, that’s probably an understatement. Emmy went from accepting tack to going on the lines quickly. During her first session on the long lines I thought she might be going to kill me since she spent quite a lot of time head flipping, running back and threatening to rear. In the next session, though, I saw sense and swapped my favourite backing bit for the thinnest little French link I have and the problem was mostly solved. Most babies like the fat single joint full cheek, but thoroughbreds and their small mouths would have to be different.

She still head-flipped a tiny bit, but I suspect that her teeth want to be seen to, and they will when my dentist comes again. So it wasn’t long before I was sitting on her,

why can’t my leg always be like this?

and then riding around. She had been ridden on the track about seven years ago, so as expected she didn’t mind me being up there, but she had kind of forgotten what aids were, so it took a little while to get her confident and relaxed in walk. But soon we progressed to the big arena in walk and trot.

She does like to fall in quite dramatically on the right rein. I strongly suspect an issue with a left tooth, so I don’t make too much of a scene about it, but it’s already much improved compared to this photo from her first ride. Even the head-flipping is much better, probably because I ride my babies on little or no contact and she’s starting to trust my hand not to hurt whatever it is that’s hurting in there. I won’t be putting this on the bit until we’ve sorted it out.

For now we’re walking and trotting figures in the dressage and had three or four steps of canter in our last session, so I’m pretty happy.

Champagne has been drawing shapes in the sand – even on the spooky end, which seems to be no longer spooky. We had to avoid it the other day because our oldest cow, Fiona, was lying right next to the arena fence, chewing cud and swishing her tail and making little Fiona noises, and Champagne just didn’t deal that day. Otherwise, she pretty much goes like a normal young horse now.

She is doing our in-house show next Saturday, so we’re putting some work into really schooling her now that the worst of the remedial stuff is out of the way. Her bend now matches left and right and since her teeth were done she’s a lot better about taking my left rein, so connection is better too. She struggles with all canter transitions, though, particularly right. She doesn’t buck through them anymore unless she’s very fresh, but on the right she struggles to get the lead, and the first few canter steps are generally rushing, tense and hollow. This has improved as her bend improved, and we were able to try a few changes through trot, but I don’t expect them to be great at the show.

I don’t really know what to expect from the show. I think she may be quite spooky of the new things next to the arena, like the judge’s gazebo, but I think as long as I stay calm we can work through it. Since it’s my show I can also show her the spooky things before having to ride her and schedule her time for when it’s quietest, so that’s rather a plus.

Titan also finally got over his nerves with the saddle and graduated to the long lines. Like most unspoilt youngsters, he handled these with aplomb and quickly learned all the aids, including halt from any gait. I don’t get clean halts from canter, obviously, but for me it’s just about knowing that whoa means whoa forever and always.

Somewhere between accepting the saddle and long lining, he also finally relaxed about – well, everything. One day he came into work and he was just totally chill and pleasant to be around, like he’d grown up overnight. He stood loose in the stable to tack up, he walked into the wash bay like an old hand, and he stood quietly when I had my first little sit on him. This has since become the norm, and it makes everything much more pleasant for both of us.

Yesterday we did the ride-from-the-ground exercise, and while he had a few moments of tension at first, he cottoned on very fast. Intelligent, willing horses are so easy when they quit panicking. So I hopped on and we did a few steps of rein back and a few steps forward. He was totally relaxed by the whole idea and much more concerned with staring at other horses in the field than with me on his back.

Antwone has been super. Three natural gaits made lunging fairly simple. He is very fresh since he only works once a week when I see him, but once we’ve gotten over the first five minutes of mad running, it didn’t take long to get the voice commands installed. He had one more colt moment where he thought maybe turning his bum on me would be a good idea and was very rapidly convinced otherwise.

So yesterday we moved on to the bridle. He was a bit of a pain to get it on, first because as colts do he was chewing the straps, and then because he put his nose in the air and with that fat little Friesian neck there was no way I was making it come down – highly embarrassing at somebody else’s yard – but once it went on he accepted it pretty quickly. He’s good to lunge in three gaits now (except he can’t really canter left in their smaller ring yet, but it’s like 8-10m so I don’t expect him to) so hopefully his people can put in some lunging and make all our lives easier.

no pictures of Savanna, sorry girl

Savanna has been back on track again. She was getting very much against my hand, both in the contact for connection and when I ask for whoa. Now I know technically I should school her to be more off my seat, but let’s be real. It’s a kid horse, it needs to stop when you pull the reins, the first time, every time. So I employed a pulley rein every time she wanted to rush or ignore my light whoa; if this was right before or over a fence then so be it. She can’t run at fences with her kid. This worked well, and yesterday she and her kid cantered quiet circles over a fairly big fence (for them) without any mad running at all.

For the pulling I was getting in response to asking for connection, I used a trick I learned from Coach K and held the numnah with my outside hand alongside the rein. This anchored my hand in place, so stopping me from pulling back, but also making it harder for her to pull forward. It kills the forearms but by the end she decided that not pulling was just a much easier option.

some of the happy group: Sunè, Renè, Lullaby, Midas, Nugget, Trooper and Titan

We also have grazing for some of the horses at last, which makes my heart very happy. If we’re honest, it’s mostly (non-harmful) weeds, but they’re ponies, they like weeds. Lulu and Trooper have already visibly gained weight after a week in the grazing. Thanks to the abundant provision of rain, a gift straight from the Hand of God.

Glory to the King.

And Suddenly There Was Shoulder-In

By the end of last week, it was beginning to feel like things were starting to come together with Thunny and I. And by that I mean that the spastic chicken had finally developed the ability to let go of its inside rein.

pictured: superstar photobombed by groupies

So we headed off to our next lesson with optimism, which was rewarded when Coach J only made us do the turn on the forehand exercise like three times and moved on to other work – still on the same theme.

Straightness and connection and bend. We did alternately long stretches of trotting large, pushing for something like a medium trot (pls Coach J we can barely do lengthenings), focusing on having Thunder really forward off my leg and into my hand. “Use his bum to push his head down, not your hands to pull his head down,” intoned the oracle.

To do this I also had to give my inside bend fetish a rest and straighten him considerably, even on the corners, allowing both hind legs to push evenly forward into my hands. I struggled with this because all I really got from him in trot and canter was to run onto his forehand. In walk we got something much nicer, a massive active walk that I could feel over his back.

Then we’d move on to long stretches of shoulder-in going large. And I had my doubts because shoulder-in hadn’t really been on our radar – shoulder-fore had been a big ask for preparation for walk-canter – but what do you know? I popped on inside leg and outside hand and we had something like shoulder-in.

It wasn’t terribly good shoulder-in, though. I generally was too quick to reward Thunny for running out through his shoulder instead of being straight and stepping across, mostly because I have no idea what a proper shoulder-in feels like. More outside rein (always more outside rein) mitigated this, but we both began to degenerate into a bit of a mess about it, so Coach J ordered me off and got on the steed himself.

I neglected to take photos so here’s a gratuitous selfie

Nobody has ever trained Thunny other than me, so I’ve never really seen him being ridden in a true connection in real life. It took me a few seconds to get over how majestic he is and start to listen to Coach J. Who magically got my horse to shoulder-in. By the end of it he was doing shoulder-in in a long and low frame with a floppy inside rein.

I got on again then, but he was quite tired so we just did a couple more and then called it a day. It did feel better, though, and having seen it, I had a better idea of what it’s supposed to be.

On Tuesday our session was a bit of a mess. Thunder seemed to have forgotten everything he’d learned about connection and retained only the ability to run onto his forehand. We tried to do some stretchy trot but all he did was run. Then I tried to do some lateral work to re-engage his brain, starting with a little leg-yield, and the whole mood changed when I touched him with my inside leg and he gave me the best leg-yield I’ve ever ridden on any horse, ever.

After that we did leg-yield all over the place until I was happy as a bird and, thus, he was happy as a bird. Apparently inside leg to outside rein fixes everything. His shoulder-in was better then, too, although he was still quite hollow.

Every session since has been better. He does want to run forward in stretchy trot, but the trot itself is better, with much more stretching over his back. We just have to address the break in rhythm. His shoulder-in in walk has been long and low and relaxed, too. In trot I still lose the shoulder now and then, which makes me go tense in my lower back and then makes him hollow. So the connection hasn’t been good at all, but the straightness has improved.

The thing I can’t get down at all is that lengthened/medium trot. He either doesn’t lengthen much and falls on his forehand or just runs forward. I have never been able to ride a good lengthening unless the horse had a naturally big and flashy trot (I’m looking at you, Nell), so that’s a me thing, I think.

It’s so reassuring to know that I don’t have to have a meltdown over something I can’t get right, because now by God’s provision, we have Coach J to help us.

Glory to the King.