I have lots of news to share – including riding Arwen at a showing show this week where she won practically every class she walked into, in true Dragonmare style – but being a little pressed for time at 5:44am on a Saturday (freelancing means you work your own hours), here are ten questions by the lovely L. from Viva Carlos.
1. Favorite quirk your horse (or a horse you’ve spent time with) has?
There are many! For Thunder, though, I love that he always comes up to me in the field -always has, ever since he was just a foal. And I also love that he poops right before going into the wash bay, every single time lol. It’s better than pooping IN the wash bay!
2. Three adjectives that perfectly describe your horse?
Kind. Willing. Loyal.
3. Plan your next ride. What will you do/work on?
My next ride will probably be on Tilly, doing a ton of transitions to get her a little more relaxed and into the bridle than she has been of late. Balance is always a thing for Tilly. If I have time, I’ll pop on Lancelot as well and we’ll do what we’ve been doing all winter: trot in figure-eights trying to find balance.
4. Have you ever trained an OTTB? If yes, what was the biggest challenge?
A few, but not with as much success as bringing on the babies. Magic, obviously, was a complete disaster, but that wasn’t all my fault. I also did the first few rides restarting Milady after the track and being a broodmare. Honestly, to my mind the biggest challenge is that almost every single one of them has some kind of a physical issue. Not all of them are chronic, although I think a huge proportion come off the track with KS, but honestly I think all of them have ulcers and tightness through the body at the very least. They can still make fabulous horses but retraining an OTTB is a very different beast from bringing on a baby, and I definitely prefer the babies.
5. Have you ever groomed or worked for a professional rider?
No, unless you count exercising horses for K in exchange for lessons – which was awesome and the only reason I made it through Module 4.
6. Favorite horse and rider combination?
Oh, it would have to be Charlotte and Blueberry, wouldn’t it? Despite her recent oops at Rotterdam, Charlotte remains one of the quietest riders out there in the ring today. And my favourite thing about watching Valegro isn’t really the fact that he’s utterly perfect (which he is), but his expression. I love his floppy ears and quiet tail. He’s just a happy bro doing his thing.
On the local circuit, I like watching K ride – she is picture perfect.
8. If you could experience the equestrian community (i.e. ride and compete) in another country, what country would you choose and why?
Definitely the UK. It’s turned out some of the best riders in the world, with some of the kindest philosophies. For good stable management, the British are kind of unrivaled.
9. In your opinion, what is an item of tack that is given unnecessary hype?
The crank/flash combination that’s so “in” in dressage right now. I like the crank look, and truly if you’re going to pull a crank too tight you’d probably pull a cavesson tight too (just don’t be a cow to your horse and pull on the noseband, m’kay?) but the flash is just a truly useless piece of equipment. You can’t put it on kindly because it drops off the nose. If the horse really does resist by opening the mouth (and not just because you have ugly hands), then I find an old-fashioned drop to be a much kinder option. It can be loose enough to allow plenty of movement and just discourage really gaping and taking off like some horses regrettably do.
10. What was the first horse you rode called? Are they still alive?
I have a picture of a pony that I rode at a party when I was super tiny (like, not yet walking), but I don’t know his name. The first riding school pony I rode with any regularity was called Prinsie. I think he’s passed on by now, but I had the chance to ride him a few more times when I was a teenager and he was still joyously running away with everyone who rode him.
Soon I’ll have show photos of Arwen to share along with her latest collection of accolades, and then Thunder, Christopher and I have a lesson at J’s tomorrow, so many stories to follow.
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):
I had a flu/cold/sick.
While still flu/cold/sick, I rode CHG Champs on Thunder. In a crashing thunderstorm. He was amazing. ❤
Pony camp. (Need I say more?)
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.
Sorry for the extended silence, y’all. August has been one of those months that you tell kids about when they think they want to be stableyard managers. Somehow I managed to overbook the training at exactly the same time of year that the SANESA season gets serious, the seasons begin to change, and everything promptly either catches flu or colics – horses and people. None of which I’m really complaining about, because God has been with us, and the extra business was a blessing – but I hope you’ll forgive the fact that blogging fell by the wayside.
Mercifully, it is now September, my schedule is pleasantly full but no longer physically impossible, and it’s not so windy and I can blog again. When Rachel kindly tagged me in her post, I knew it was just the thing to get my feet wet once more.
Rachel’s 10 Questions
1. What is your impression of Australia?
Never having been beyond the borders of South Africa, much less all the way to Australia, I wouldn’t really know. The Australians that I do know tend to be no-nonsense, fun-loving and don’t give their left sock what anyone thinks of them, so there’s that. There are kangaroos. That said, Australia doesn’t seem to feature in many of the major worldwide dramas – so it’s no surprise that so many South Africans are immigrating there.
2. How did you start blogging?
I’ll be honest that I don’t even remember. I had a subsection on a tiny family website we had years ago, where I started blogging as early as 2009 or so – I was all of twelve years old. Maybe even earlier. Like many writers, I journal obsessively. I always wanted to capture the breathtaking experience of life, and as I met my Jesus and gave my life to Him, that blossomed into an opportunity to spread the Word.
3. What is your favorite animal and why?
It’s actually a tougher question than you’d think. I have to go with horses, but dogs come a very close second. Horses, because they are such deeply emotional beings, with such intricate social and emotional lives. I have found that their emotions are the closest we find to ours in all domesticated species. Through them God teaches me such profound lessons; through them He speaks to me. They are His megaphone into my heart.
Dogs, on the other hand, just love you forever. Sometimes it’s through puppy dog Ice that God makes me feel better when nothing else can.
4. How has God blessed you this past week?
I woke. There were sunrises. Birdsong. Fresh air. Music. Horses. A great, steadfast Hand holding mine when it all became too much. Volunteering. I spent time on my knees. Horses smell amazing. Jesus loves me. I could go on.
5. What is you favorite recreation?
Dressage is where my soul worships, but not where it rests. I like sleeping and TV, as anyone does, I suppose. When I’m burnt out on horses and the yard – much as I love it, it can become so consuming – working with the medics or taking Ice to touch therapy refreshes my soul and gives me perspective.
6. Do you have a story you can share?
For the first time in years, I finally do again – I have, at last, began to draft a novel. It’s been years, probably four or five years? But I’m five weeks and 12 000 words in. It’s slow progress but it’s finally happening. The Defeat of Isaiah Abilene has a far darker and more broken tone than anything else I’ve ever written, but I feel like God wants to tell this story through me. It’s therapy, too, as service often is.
7. What is your passion?
I’ve long since found that nothing but my Triune God is worth pouring my fire into, and that He is the One Who stokes that fire when it burns low for everything else. Everything loses its allure sooner or later – everything but Him. It’s only when I find Him in everything that I can believe in it.
8. What is your favorite Bible story or verse?
Ooh. There are so many. Psalm 107, the story of my wandering soul and the God Who just won’t let it go. The Gospels, all of them, front to back. I have always loved 1 Samuel 17 because my own giants can be enormous and I stand before them with a sling and a stone. Moses parting the Red Sea because I’ve seen seas step aside for my Abba Father. All of it, really, all of it.
9. What brings you inspiration?
God, in various ways; in His Word, in prayer, in the heartbreaking beauty of the world He made and we are destroying, in dancing with horses, in good music, in films and stories, in friendship. But whenever I lack courage, I pull Arwen out of the field and we dance. She reminds me that we are the dragonhearted.
10. Can/do you draw?
Surprisingly, I used to be able to sketch well when I was taking lessons from an incredible artist in exchange for riding his little Arab mare. Now, I sketch when I have the energy. A good sketch takes me 12-16 hours and I just don’t have that anymore, so these days I just line draw, often from memory or imagination instead of the photorealism I was trying for.
I closed the yard for this week to give all of us a little break.
I did debate whether this was a good idea two weeks before SANESA finals, but the kids and horses are ready for it. I, on the other hand, was most certainly not. I would probably have strangled somebody and then run screaming across the Bob Charter. Such is burnout, friends (don’t do it).
Four days in to the longest break I’ve had since September 2015, I’m back on track and ready to give the kids and horses what they deserve next week – the absolute very best of everything I have. And no matter how much my heart and soul wants to do that, this is still Earth, I’m still stuck in a mortal body, and it still needs down time in order for that to happen.
So this has been the week of doing nothing. Well, I suppose that isn’t strictly true.
Fergie was born on Monday, and instead of just cooing from a distance as I swoop by, I could actually help to care for the cow (our 2015 champion and my personal favourite, Merida) and feed the little monster and so on. I’d forgotten how cute they are.
This is Garfield. He is quite sick of me by now.
And this is a rather sucky selfie of me riding in an ambulance car for the first time (well, the second time – the first time was lights and sirens and wearing gloves). I have better photos but, you know, patient confidentiality and stuff.
I have loved working at events, but dreamed of riding in the real nee-naw, and obviously God decided to drop the opportunity in my lap at exactly the time when I could actually take it. So two of the real medics were stuck with me for two days while we charged around doing epic stuff. I learned many things, including:
People blood even in copious amounts is not that different from horse blood and does not ick me out. (Rather a relief to discover on scene of a car crash, I can tell you).
“S— magnet” is a compliment when you’re trying to make a target in a sleepy little rural town.
Put on the gloves en route.
After day one, I wear my hair in a bun. Unless I actually want to dunk the end of my braid in somebody’s bodily fluids.
Driving on lights and sirens = BEST. THING. EVER.
I will always be uncool because I can’t drink more than two cups of coffee a day.
God absolutely sent me to do this and gives me exactly the strength I need in the moment that I need it. And I am totally doing it again! 😀
There have also been large amounts of doing nothing. Which has also suited me juuuuust fine.
(Technically, us being in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s winter, but I’m a rebel.)
What is your earliest, clearest horse memory? Definitely coming off a pony for the first time. I was four and taking lessons at a local riding school (the same one where I bought Lullaby for our own riding school, some fifteen years later). The pony, Prinsie (“little prince”), was a small, hairy brown object of indeterminate age or breed. It was trotting along in one of their odd little double-fenced lunging rings and I just sort of poppled off. As you do.
Describe the perfect summer day. A self-confessed hater of hacking, I find myself forced to admit that it would be one of those fly-ridden, deep green hacks that you only ever get to have in summer, with the horses’ coats all on fire from that relentlessly bright sunshine that is characteristic of Africa. The green world thrown wide before us; pools of still water, watched by dragonflies, to splash in; the birdsong so prevalent it’s practically deafening. But then again, when I think of summer I think of HOY – all the spotless summer coats and the green, green Bob Charter and the horses all surrounded by a cloud of mixed hairspray and bug repellent – and that’s pretty perfect too.
Are you reading anything right now? Tell me about it! The British Horse Society’s “Coaching and Teaching Riding” and the German Equestrian Federation’s “Principles of Riding”. #nerd Also the Bible, although I guess that’s pretty obvious.
Do you follow a celebrity (horsey or non) that you’re embarrassed to say fascinates you? Tell me. NOW. Well, I wouldn’t say follow, but I also cannot confirm nor deny that when Chris Hemsworth pops up onto any screen anywhere, I am not able to look away.
What is your single most biggest horsey dream or goal? Oh, we all know I leave the dreaming up to God most days, but there’s something in equine-assisted psychotherapy that won’t stop calling my name. Probably God, too. I start my course in 2018 and I can’t wait. Dressage too, obviously. I have no delusions of riding overseas someday, but I sure would love to go down centreline in a Grand Prix test. I just want to feel what that feels like – I want to know how it is to dance like that.
If you were at Starbucks right now, what would you order? I’ll just slink away in embarrassment because, once again, Africa. Never been to Starbucks. But if I did, there would be chocolate in it.
What is your biggest equine pet peeve? Evolution. Need I say more?
With everything going on politically and in the media, tell me, do you follow it religiously? Tune it out? Or something in between? Y’all Americans think you’re having political fun, try Africa sometime. I avoid reading about politics like the plague, beyond the essential basics. My entire country appears to be addicted to whining about our politic situation, usually on social media, using their freedom of speech, their privilege, and their literacy. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t achieve anything and things could be a whole lot worse. Whining (especially from Christians) is in very poor taste when people are getting their heads blown off in public for what they believe in elsewhere.
If you had to show your horse to a song, what would you choose? Just covered that… for all of them, here.
What are you most looking forward to this summer? Well, it’s winter now, but for this upcoming summer, definitely the SANESA Nationals if some of the kiddos go through. They’ve got a fighting chance!
Forgive the short note – there will be pictures of all your favourite South African brat ponies in the next one. For now, a brief explanation. I’ve picked up some part-time proofreading and transcription sort of work. I like it; it pays better and doesn’t hurt as much as the horse thing. Never fear, however – the whole purpose of the writing gig is to bring in some extra funds, especially to expand the yard’s facilities, I hope. There will certainly be no less to tell about the horses, just less time to tell it in.
I’ve scheduled myself three blog posts each week and I hope I’ll be able to stick to it, but the paid writing work has to take priority. I would say it’s regrettable, but in this country, gainful employment is good reason to be grateful to God. To be gainfully employed in more ways than one is even better.
Stick around, we’re still here, adventuring in full force.
Spotted Dressage asked one of the most fascinating questions in the business:
What do you feed and why?
Despite only having passed Nutrition in my yard manager’s with 88%, feeding is a subject I’m kind of obsessed with. I think it’s practically the most important aspect of horse keeping, and I also think it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeding according to conventional wisdom instead of what the horse is saying. And though I say it myself, our yard is locally a little legendary for having horses in good condition. I don’t do ribs. I also don’t do obese. I have once been informed by a client that they think I just whisper something to a horse and it instantly blows up like a balloon into wonderful shiny fatness.
Before Choosing a Ration
Feeding is something one has to be holistic about. You can shove as much food as you like into it, it doesn’t do any good if half of it is falling out from quidding and the other half is being eaten by worms. Dentistry, deworming and mental health are all very important components.
Assessing the Horse’s Requirements
I don’t have a weight tape (because they’re disastrously inaccurate), and feed according to good old-fashioned condition scoring, which is considerably more precise anyway. Condition scoring gives you an assessment of fat and muscle, not just mass. (A well-muscled TB will weigh the same as an obese pony, but their nutritional needs will be leagues apart).
My first consideration when choosing a ration is condition. The second is general health. A ribby horse with a shiny coat and otherwise good appearance probably just needs some extra calories. A ribby horse with a dull coat probably has some form of deficiency, assuming other causes of ill health have been ruled out.
The third is the horse’s job. School ponies can’t get anything heating, but a lactating broodmare needs all the energy she can get.
The Forgotten Nutrient
Water. We all forget to say it in exams, and it can also be neglected in real life, but it’s the single most important nutrient in the horse’s diet.
Now I know none of us go and let our horses stand around for hours without any water, but water quality is also a valid consideration. Dirty, stale, hot, icy or algae-encrusted water will all cause the horse to drink less than he should. Regrettably, in the fields, there’s not much we can do about troughs icing over, except break the ice first thing in the morning.
Our horses also have free access to salt, and consume a rather amazing amount of the stuff.
The Great Secret
There is one ration that has worked reliably on a vast array of horses over the years. Eighteen of the twenty-nine horses at the yard get this, including competing horses in steady work, schoolies, and growing youngsters. It’s the perfect ration for ponies and native types, but we also have thoroughbreds on it, and it works even better for anything with ulcers. Every single Nooitie we took to HOY was on it. All the schoolies are on it. It’s positively magical, and it’s amazingly simple.
Grass and hay.
That’s it. Just grass and hay. But absolutely tremendous amounts of it. It absolutely has to be fed ad lib, and not the standard definition of ad lib. If it’s in a haynet, and I don’t care how many haynets a day, it’s not ad lib. Have you seen what tiny bites a horse takes from a haynet? If it’s in a big pile in the middle of a field with many horses, it’s not ad lib, either. (That’s a particular pet peeve – food aggression is such a behaviour issue, too). If it ever runs out, even during the night, it is most certainly not ad lib.
Ad lib is a big round bale, with the strings taken off and in a very accessible feeder ring, per four horses in the field. When there’s an armful or two of hay left, a new bale gets put in. If a horse is starting to get bullied away from the hay, another bale is added. In the stables, a gigantic pile of hay is put on the floor – GIGANTIC, probably four haynets’ worth.
The hay must be clean, but doesn’t necessarily have to be teff hay. Of course for the colicky types or skinny horses, teff is by far the best, but mine are all on plain old eragrostis (except Magic and Exavior because special treatment). In the drought they even got by on Rhodes grass which is glorified straw if you ask me.
Hay is unavoidable at the moment, but actually, grazing trumps everything else. Kikuyu is best, if supplemented with some calcium because its Ca:P ratio can be off. But whatever is green and growing in the field is better than the best hay (provided it’s not ragwort, obviously). Bonus points to grazing because the horses walk around with their heads down, stretching their backs, gently exercising and building a topline too.
It may sound ridiculous that I can have a top show horse, who is in fairly intense dressage training, on grass only, but the science behind it makes perfect sense. God designed horses to eat grass. The simple action of chewing all day long (they spend more time eating than sleeping) relaxes and soothes them, removing a huge source of stress (thus, excess stomach acid). Because so much roughage is moving along the gut, it’s in optimal condition to absorb the nutrients, too. The food is making the horse’s body more able to use the food. Isn’t that amazing?
ConcentratesWhere unnatural demand is made, unnatural compensation has to be given. Thus, in some situations, concentrates are a very valuable addition to the diet.
My pet peeve is this idea that people have of feeding considerable amounts of low quality concentrates to everything. I’ve seen it so often – feeding 2-4kg of that real, cheap riding school food. It’s fluff. Heating fluff. Why??
The math is simple: double the quality allows you to halve the quantity, thus placing half the stress on the horse’s digestive system. As a struggling little yard there’s a lot of things we have to compromise on, but feeding isn’t one of them.
I add concentrates to anything that needs to gain more than one condition point (out of 10). I don’t increase feed in anticipation of work, but I do push it hard when a mare hits her third trimester. It’s ridiculous how much food a broodmare needs – triple, quadruple the amount that horses in heavy work need.
My go-to feed for working horses is Spurwing Tranquilo. It’s super non-heating but does put on weight. No good for very skinny horses, but where a couple points are needed, it does the trick just fine. I start them at 1.2kg daily, pushing it up to 3kg in extreme cases.
For anything under three years old, anything that’s had a hard time at its previous home, anything with a condition score less than 3, or anything that just looks a bit poorly, I turn straight to Capstone Lifetime Balancer. Some horses need persuading to eat it (mixing it with a hay replacer pellet helps), but this stuff packs some serious punch. Feeding more than 1kg daily is a recipe for disaster, but in appropriate amounts it just fixes everything. I also feed this to a foal starting a week before weaning to help them over the bump, no more than 500g at first. It’s 25% protein so can be heating and needs to be treated with respect.
For lactating mares, really skinny youngsters, or when all else fails, I turn to Capstone Stud Time. It costs approximately an arm, a leg and both kidneys, but it sure works. Plus it looks like muesli and this amuses me greatly. It is extremely high energy and cannot be fed to working horses (unless you have a serious death wish), but it packs on the weight. We fixed Tara on a combination of Capstone Stud (2kg) and Capstone Lifetime (1kg), split into three feeds a day.
A last note on concentrates is that you have to play by the rules. No more than 2kg per feed (I don’t do more than 1kg a feed for anything that looks horrible). Don’t feed (unless your feeds are less than 500g) within an hour of work. Keep the buckets and things clean. Don’t feed anything that has clumped together or has fluff growing on it. Feed according to mass, not volume (a scoop of Spurwing weighs 400g, the same volume of Capstone Lifetime weighs 600g). Common sense goes a long way.
… are violently overrated, and do not magically fix anything. The number one reason to give a supplement is to make yourself feel like you’re doing everything you can. I will make a begrudging exception for quality joint supplements and good probiotics, but neither are a substitute for other, more effective care.
“All-round” supplements cannot replace good feeding. “Calming” supplements cannot replace good training. “Coat” supplements cannot replace good grooming.
That said, I do have three supplements that I tend to use. GCS-Max is the only joint one I’ve found to actually do anything, and I keep Stardust on it to help support her glitchy leg and because all her legs have variations on windgalls and capped hocks. Protexin is a probiotic that you know a horse needs if they’ll actually eat it – it’s truly disgusting, but it does help a bit. And Rooibos tea, while not magical the way the salesmen say it is, does appear to give the system a little boost.
Of course, I give Magic a ton of random stuff to make myself feel better, but I am an unmitigated idiot when it comes to Magic.
* And bold type and all caps aren’t a substitute for good grammar, but it’s 3:00am as I write. Bear with me.
The Bottom Line
As with practically everything, there isn’t any magic trick when it comes to nutrition – brilliance is in the basics. Sticking to the rules we all learned as kids goes a long way to excellence. As with anything,
Listen to the horse first.
Employ common sense.
And unless your horse is morbidly obese… feed the grass ad lib, please.