Two weekends ago was my first time riding at Easter Fest, arguably the biggest show I’ve competed in (Horse of the Year may be bigger; YDHS more elite). My competition was, of course, star-studded, so I had low expectations, mostly aiming to just go and get that big-show exposure so that I can deal with my nerves now and not when my scores actually count for something.
Sunday was showing day on Arwen. She hasn’t been to a show by herself in a long time, but she’s so grown up now that I didn’t even really worry.
I would have loved to do the working riding, but unfortunately it ended up being on the same day as Thunder’s dressage and I wasn’t willing to deal with Thunder’s girlfriend shenanigans at this particular show, so we just entered the open show hack and show riding.
So my darling, my dragon and I charged off to Kyalami with what I thought was much time to spare, only to discover that my mom’s bakkie is not quite so adept at towing the box as my dad’s, eventually arriving at KPC about half an hour later than I’d hoped. Thankfully, the dragon is very grown up and the darling has cottoned on very quickly to the various horse show SO skills (holding horses, fetching numbers, fetching food, soothing rattled nerves, being slightly neglected [sorry love], etc.) so we ended up having time for a good warmup and arriving in the show arena with only a few hairs out of place.
In short, Arwen was absolutely fantastic and I really actually had fun once again. I think I might even say that I’m cured of my fear of showing judges. Honestly, when you’ve loaded your dying friend into a helicopter right after a horrible violent event, some things really just don’t register on the scary scale anymore, and showing judges are one of them. Life is way too short to worry about what they think, so I just rode my horse, thanked my Jesus and let the rest do whatever it wanted.
She was just amazing. Our classes were quite small, which was nice because I intensely dislike sitting in the line-up for ages, and Arwen really just did exactly as I asked and behaved exactly as she would at home. I swear she knows her individual show by heart.
I didn’t expect placings because the small group of people in my classes were all well-known showing competitors on super fancy big horses and had turned them out really well, while Arwen – albeit at least moderately clean and properly plaited – is kinda fluffy already and I forgot my wet wipes at home so her feet and mouth were pretty dirty. As expected, we placed dead stone last in both, but I was proud of my horse’s performance.
The judge basically summarised why Arwen never does well in open show classes: she’s well schooled, she’s well behaved, she’s correct, but she is a pony and there’s no getting around that. I don’t really mind, though. She did excellently, and it was awesome.
Monday was dressage day on Thunderbirdy. We had a nice late ride time, still managed to get stuck in traffic, and still managed to get there on time because I am dating Superman. Thunny was super relaxed on our arrival and happily hacked over to the warmup arena, where he promptly proceeded to completely lose his snot.
I think maybe he was a little fresh as the week before had been rainy and interfered with his program, but there was also a log next to the warmup that has been spooking generations of horses (including Nell) and it spooked him properly. He was obedient and controllable and actually carried himself really great, but his brain was not with me at all.
Going into the dressage arena he mercifully did not spook at anything, but the damage was done and he couldn’t focus. He had some truly excellent moments for 7s and 8s, and in the photos I love the way he was holding himself.
But he also made a LOT of kind of dumb mistakes, the kind he never makes at home, like fluffing the lead in his simple changes, breaking in his lengthening, and hollowing awfully in his rein back. He was also pulling a bit and occasionally wanted to buck and disunite when the whip tickled him (seriously, bro?).
So our scores were very mediocre: 58% and 60%. I’m a little bummed because if he had gone like he goes at home he would have had another 70%, but the poor guy is still greener than I realise. He just needs more miles. The schooling is there and he will start scoring well when he can relax; but he will only relax when I relax, so I feel God is busy teaching me a very big lesson here.
And as for this man, he is my lighthouse and most willing and able comrade in the heat of battle.
For all the pain of the past few weeks, there has been a lot of joy thrown in there as well.
My precious dance partner has been a huge source of it. Our lessons with Coach J have been fantastic; we’re schooling movements I’ve only ever dreamed of, planning to ride Novice 4 and 5 next weekend and easily skipping through the tests. I’ve never felt so prepared for a competition and yet also never felt less obsessed with it. What God does for me on that horse’s back every morning is incomparable to a simple horse show.
More than ever, it is about the dance, about the land of the threefold cord. About the way Thunder can take me to a place where it’s just him and God and me and the dance, and for an hour I can be in a place where pain can’t find us.
On the schooling front, we’re doing almost all of the Elementary work and some EM too, including our first few tentative flying changes.
The other man in my life arrived at a time where happiness was hard to come by, but as the wounds heal I am starting to discover how ridiculously happy I can be just because God made him. It’s quite astonishing how one smile can light up a goodly chunk of the world.
Arwen and I are in an amazing place right now. I could never possibly ask for a better partner, a better comrade through my struggling first years in the competitive arena, and it feels good now to be able to repay her with a gentler attitude in the saddle. We mostly hack these days, schooling seriously mostly before shows. Finally taking the time to just enjoy each other, enjoy the shows, enjoy the fact that God brought us here together. The fire in her belly still fuels mine.
I’m riding Faithy! She is still a pretty ungainly beast, particularly struggling to find a truly balanced canter, but in terms of temperament I couldn’t have asked for better. We are doing walk/trot in the dressage and she doesn’t seem to know how to spook. She likes working and trying to figure things out, and is a forward-thinking lady. I also just find her really comfortable to be around and ride; she’s my type, the size and shape that I grew up with, and reminds me deeply of Nell. It feels like we’ve been friends a lot longer than we really have.
Moos make me happy too, particularly super well behaved ones like Fergie and Sarah. The day after the one month anniversary of my friend’s death – an inexpressibly difficult milestone – was the annual Boer and Brit day with my family and it was just super awesome. God sent that day for a reason; it nursed my soul.
God’s provision has been so great this summer. My parents have graciously allowed a few pastures to be opened for horses, and the grazing is fantastic. The sight of healthy, grazing horses among the green abundance just soothes a horsewoman’s very soul.
I keep feeling this increasing awareness of the time we waste. We don’t have time. We don’t have time for anything but loving God and loving people and looking for heaven. We can’t afford to take the time for granted. We need to follow Him now, make amends now, ask forgiveness now, show our love now.
We only already have now and eternity. And eternity – our own and each other’s – hinges on now. We cannot waste it on hell’s schemes.
We need to follow Him now, wherever He leads. We need to live our lives before it’s too late.
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.
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.
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
transition from walk to counter canter on the long side
serpentine 3 loops with counter canter
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
Keep working on quiet little hacks.
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.
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.
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.
Be good tobath.
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.
First and second quarter:
Complete the backing:
introduce pole work
introduce the rider
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
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.
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. ❤
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The arrival of some beautiful rain has transfigured the face of our landscape from the dormant browns of winter to vibrant life.
And no matter that I’ve been living here since I can remember, it still takes my breath away. So do these, my three dance partners. Faith must be about Arwen’s height already. I expect her to mature about Thunder’s height and probably also quite solid.
The damp earth has helped eliminate the various coughings, sneezings and nose-runnings of all the allergic horses.
Longer days make for those stunning late afternoon rides in the golden light. I teach until at least 5:30 most evenings now.
Lullaby is back on fighting form, her old, happy, bouncy self. She’s even off her joint supplement. She led the way on this hack up the big hill.
Liana and her kid followed. I’m so honoured to be a small part of providing kids with experiences like these.
Jamaica also went hacking with Vastrap and his kid, and behaved impeccably.
The big hill is my favourite place for hacking. It’s interesting, has amazing views, and is good work for the horses too.
Clouds have changed the skyscape, making the world seem bigger. I don’t know why, but the sky is a deeper blue in summer around here.
We now have a sign. Each step forward feels like a miracle, probably because it is one; we depend so entirely on our Jesus, and He never lets us down. This year testifies to that.
Our yard is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
This is the place where my soul can’t sing loud enough to Abba Father. Where the miracle happens. As an aside, the footing held up impressively well in the rain. We’ve been able to jump every day.
For some reason the sky is a lot smaller in town, but it’s still beautiful. My personal space is about 228ha.
That’s more like it.
Sunrises haven’t quite reached the height of splendour yet, but there’s something more subtly majestic in their muted colours.
The jacaranda tree is in bloom.
The long one-sided love story of God and I starts with sunrises. Years and years ago, since I can remember thinking about bigger things, it was the beauty of the world that convinced me that there had to be Something out there. I felt its presence; something dynamic, vibrant, powerful, and very much alive. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have a name for it, but I found it utterly irresistible. I longed to know it. My longing was inexpressible; I wanted to feel it, to be drawn into it.
And the greatest miracle of them all was discovering that this amazing Thing was not only alive, it was Someone, and He had a Son, and He had given that Son up for me. The power that made the wind and stars, He wants me to talk to Him, to cry out to Him, to love Him. The sunrises stopped being splendid creations of some distant and mysterious magnificence and became something more: an intimate, personal expression of love from the God Who never lets go.