SD Blog Hop: Feed

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.

each taken one week apart – really good knee-deep grazing plus 2kg Spurwing Tranquilo will do that to you

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.

do those toofers

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.

This chap decided to suddenly go from about a 6 to about a 4 in the space of two weeks. No changes in his lifestyle, teeth and deworming up to date. His coat was really dull too and he was flat to ride. On a gut feel I put him on 1kg balancer daily and he was fixed in two weeks.

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.

the diet of champions

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.

GIGANTIC

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?

He colics on any form of concentrates, so he’s on 250g of balancer and a boatload of supplements

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.

scores a 4 – needs just a bit of help so started on 1.2kg last month, that did nothing so now he’s on 2kg

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.

this one’s on 500g balancer and 1.5kg stud

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.

top was taken in June/July, bottom in October

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.

Supplements

… 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.

Let me just get this off my chest.

SUPPLEMENTS. ARE. NOT. SUBSTITUTES. FOR. GOOD. HORSEMANSHIP. !!!*

“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.

was on Rooibos tea at arrival

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,

  1. Listen to the horse first.
  2. Employ common sense.

And unless your horse is morbidly obese… feed the grass ad lib, please.

Glory to the King.

10 Questions for July

I am stoked to see that Viva Carlos is running their 10 questions again! These are always fun. (Also I have no pictures for recaps just yet.)

1. Do you actually always pick the horse’s feet? Always? Really?

I’m a little freaky about the feet. Always during the daily grooming, always before a ride, always after the ride. On the occasions when I don’t (either when I’m tacking up a schoolie in a mad rush, or when I go to shows and forget my hoof pick like a terrible horse person) it irritates me for at least an hour. Woe betide any unhappy soul responsible for a horse’s feet if I get there and they have smelly feet or sticky frogs or even a whiff of thrush. (My longsuffering right hand man is just as pedantic, luckily for him).

2. What is the biggest obstacle/reason preventing you from becoming a professional or competing full time with ease?

Well, considering I am (kind of) a professional, this one’s a little hard to answer. But the biggest obstacle that might someday force me out of this wonderful life is undoubtedly money. Ugh money. I think my working students earn more than I do at this point. However, it’s God I serve, not mammon, and I know which one of God and mammon is in charge. So I have faith that that will never be my reason to quit.

3. Do you think it will ever not be about the money?

Yes. I think it already is, for some people. Whether or not the sport/career/hobby is going to be about money isn’t something that can be totally controlled by society. Sure, it helps to have a super fancy horse and a super fancy yard, but at the end of the day you can’t buy a horse’s willingness or your own skill. Making it about the money is a choice each of us makes as individuals, and bemoaning those who do make it about the money isn’t going to change anything. It’s only our own choices, our own actions for a higher cause that can change the world.

4. Was there ever a horse that you loved and really wanted to have a connection with, but it just never panned out? Details.

Oh Ryka. I loved that horse. I still do – I just never see him anymore. There was a real connection there, a kind of fairytale compatability that you only see in poorly made girls’ horse movies. He was the crazy stallion nobody could ride, and I was the nervous kid who could ride him. But some of his scars just ran too deep. He flipped out at our first show together and even I couldn’t get him back, and I haven’t been back on him since. Due to circumstances, I don’t even really go to the yard where he is anymore. But he still tips his ears towards my voice and my heart still skips a beat at the sight of him.

AropRyka1
He only pricks his ears for me

5. What is one weakness in your riding that even your trainer doesn’t pick up on, only you?

I don’t think any of my coaches really know how nervous I am. I was never good at covering up my feelings, but since we started the yard, it’s something I learned really, really quickly. Kids don’t like to see grownups scared and it’s made me more confident in a way, but a lot of my nerves are still there – just squashed away somewhere until something flips the switch. If I was as good at being confident as I am at acting confident, I’d be a bronc rider!

6. What is the biggest doubt/insecurity you ask or tell yourself in your head?

Oh, I have classic impostor syndrome. It’s annoying but at least now it has a name.

7. There is a barn fire. You are the first person to discover it and see that the roof is collapsing in slowly, and you can tell that it’s going to come down any time. Do you call people first, or head in straight to save the horses?

Guys, I run a stableyard. Multitasking is my thing. I’ll be clamping my phone between shoulder and ear while leading three horses, one of them panicking. Besides, someone has probably already called me to come fix it, so…

8. What is one event in your riding career/horse/anything that you’re still not over, even though you might tell others you are?

I don’t think I’ll ever really get over Achilles. It was seven years ago, but I still have the same triggers he gave me – stallions, big horses, and buckers. (Also Friesians, but that’s their own fault). The funny part is that he was Thunder’s daddy and Thunder did a lot of healing of the damage Killer caused.

9. If you could tell off one person you just don’t like, what would you say?

Horses and children are not status symbols. Trainers are not crash test dummies. It is not OK to treat any of them as such.

10. Have you ever seen questionable riding or training practices, but let it go/ignored it? How do you feel about it in hindsight?

Not that I can really think of. I can take a view on mild neglect a little if I know the owner and they’ve fallen on hard times/are clueless and are trying to fix it, or I’ll just help them out with education/food/whatever, but physical abuse is never going to be something I’ll be quiet about. It’s explainable, but never justifiable.

ICB Christmas Event Recap: The Course Walk

Our last event of the year was also our first time at a gorgeous old venue right in the deep horse country of Kyalami. It was too beautiful not to photograph, and Amanda from the $900 Facebook Pony and her epic course walks inspired us to try something more imaginative than just taking pictures of jumps.  Hence: the Epic Puppy Course Walk, courtesy of my sister Rain, Ice the puppy, and some mild delirium due to sleep deprivation.

ICB1

Coming out of the startbox, the track went straight towards number one. The top pole was taken off for my class, so it was a very simple little log, but it was a steeply uphill approach. It was a fair preparation for the relatively challenging course, but it rode well for all but one rider, who had 60 penalties here.

ICB2

This was a max height A-frame and looked rather imposing, but as A-frames seem to do, it rode beautifully.

ICB3

Number three rode as nicely as Ice is cute, although it was a fairly wide oxer.

ICB4

Number four was terrifying. After number three the stretch was just long enough for one’s mind to wander, followed by a 90 degree turn and only four or five strides into the shade and to this narrow fence with bales all over it. Unsurprisingly, three riders had stops here.

ICB5

Number five was slightly complicated by a branch that hung in the approach, forcing one to jump at a slight angle. Except if you ride a 14.3hh pony. Then you just go under the branch. (Epic win). All the horses navigated this one just fine.

ICB6

Number six was beautiful – a straightforward log at the end of a long straight gallop, just asking to be jumped straight out of a big stride. It rode like a dream.

ICB7

Number seven proved to be the most problematic fence on the course, with three eliminations. In itself it was quite low and not the widest fence, but the horses could just catch a glimpse of the water as they jumped, so a lot of riders came to grief here.

ICB8

The water was rather a pain. It wasn’t flagged, but approaching number 8 was almost impossible without going through it. Circling would set one up for a perfect approach, but it did mean entering the water twice. Arwen was hesitant to go in the first time, so I made a very tight 90 degree turn to number 8 and made it out that way. If she would trot into water I would undoubtedly have circled.

ICB9

8 was a little step, with a higher section (pictured) and a very low one. The higher section was easier to approach, but because Arwen was basically jogging once we reached it, we took the lower one and the line from 8 to 9 rode just fine. 9 is the double log in the background.

ICB10

Number 9 was unassuming, but it was a short, steep uphill approach from 8. If one lost impulsion through the water and wasn’t quick to get it back, it was very easy to get a silly stop here. Everyone managed it fine, though.

ICB11

10a and b were a fairly terrifying combination for the level. This max height vertical was 10a, with just two strides to…

ICB12

… our first open ditch ever. It wasn’t very wide, but it was pretty deep and I was scared out of my socks. This combination rode well for everyone.

ICB13

Number 11 was set underneath a shed, which was a little intimidating. The log itself was very low, though, so it didn’t cause any issues. It was a very fair question.

ICB14

This skinny was set in the middle of a massive field all alone, asking for a run-out. Luckily for me, Arwen locked onto it as she jumped number 11, so she jumped it almost as well as Ice. It did cause a stop, though.

ICB15

Spooky number 13 (less spooky without a balletic teenager on it) was the culprit of the only rider fall on cross-country, but it was actually pretty low in the middle and the approach was easy enough.

ICB16

There was a long gallop to number 14, the second open ditch on course. This ditch was really very shallow and caused no issues.

ICB18

Number 15 had a fairly difficult approach – a quite sharp turn up a hill. Arwen and I slowed down, angled it and jumped fine, but it was quite big and spooky.

ICB19

16 was an extremely inviting little slanted ladder and rode well for everyone except the resident idiot (viz., me). Its landing was slightly downhill, nicely preparing us for

ICB17

a drop that looked about the size of Pride Rock on the morning of the competition. It rode beautifully for me, though, and all the horses jumped it on the first shot.

ICB20

This branch was another epic win for Arwen and me. We just ran under it like bosses.

ICB21

18 was a last challenge – a max height oxer set on an uphill as the already tired horses headed for home. This caused no issues, though, and rounded off a beautiful and well-built course nicely.

Needless to say, the ditches had me trying to digest some butterflies, but it turned out to be the showjumping I should have worried about…

 

 

 

PBH: Just Keep Swimming

Alli over at Pony’tude made my day when she opened up her Equitation Evolution blog hop. I am kind of a sucker for progression posts. Ever look at pictures of you riding and thought you may as well withdraw from the next show and spend the rest of your life herding cows bareback where nobody can see? Well, it helps to look back and realise that as badly as you suck now, there was just so much more that sucked then. (Hopefully).

Unfortunately right now I only have photos from 2012 onwards (you should see the 2010 ones. gosh.) but there’s still a difference…

Jumping

Probably the second time Magic ever saw a jump, before I even started leasing him. This must have been early 2012.
Probably the second time Magic ever saw a jump, before I even started leasing him. This must have been early 2012.
August 2013. Poor old Magic. Look how grumpy his little face is. Who can blame him? At least I’m still on top.
Magic1
August 2015. For me the most remarkable difference is just in the way Magic is jumping. His knees, always good, are now at an unnecessary level of awesome. He’s also able to actually use his back, instead of just leaping awkwardly. And he looks happy and secure. 90% of this is simply because I’m releasing, not as much as I want to, and not quite as much as Magic needs, but already vastly better. Most interesting is that he looks more relaxed here than in the other pictures, but this is at a show and the others were taken in his home arena.
Hands fail
August 2013. Even stoic little Arwen looks pretty annoyed with my hanging onto her mouth. She’s also jumping with a flat back, but gamely tucking her knees up to make up for it.
August 2014. My first time jumping anything bigger than 50cm in the K&M and it's showing. Already I'm giving her some more space with my hands, but my lower leg is on a mission of its own.
August 2014. My first time jumping anything bigger than 50cm in the K&M and it’s showing. Already I’m giving her some more space with my hands, but my lower leg is on a mission of its own; as a result I’m balancing on my hands.
My favourite photo yet when it comes my jumping position. Arwen's getting plenty of room from my hands, but I'm not all the way up her neck. While I am a bit too far forward, I'm also balanced; my weight is in my lower leg (which is behaving itself for a change) and not on my hands. As a result Arwen is pretending to be a little warmblood and making a bascule.
My favourite photo yet when it comes my jumping position. Arwen’s getting plenty of room from my hands, but I’m not all the way up her neck. While I am a bit too far forward, I’m also balanced; my weight is in my lower leg (which is behaving itself for a change) and not on my hands. As a result Arwen is pretending to be a little warmblood and making a bascule.

Flatwork

May 2013. Yeah... moving on...
May 2013. Yeah… moving on…
May 2014, winning our first dressage show. We look better, but my toe and my eyes and my hands and my shoulders... And Arwen is quite far on her front end and quite heavy in the contact.
May 2014, winning our first dressage show. We look better, but my toe and my eyes and my hands and my shoulders… And Arwen is quite far on her front end and quite heavy in the contact.
June 2015. Not Arwen, but a far younger and less experienced horse also doing her first Prelim test. Much of the niceness here can be attributed to Nell simply being fairly amazing, but I'm at least looking up, my legs are kind of behaving and, while my arms look awkward here, it's actually a good thing; it's just the moment of the rise that makes them look stiff, because they're really being supple and keeping my hands as still as possible.
June 2015. Not Arwen, but a far younger and less experienced horse also doing her first Prelim test. Much of the niceness here can be attributed to Nell simply being fairly amazing, but I’m at least looking up, my legs are kind of behaving and, while my arms look awkward here, it’s actually a good thing; I’m at the top of my rise and my arms are straight, keeping my hands low and still.

Ultimately it goes to show that we should all just keep on swimming and take the little steps forward, because they do add up. Nobody is going to wake up one day and be able to ride. If I can improve my release by half an inch once a week, then in a year I can go from having no release at all to having a good one.

And we are all still learning, and will keep on learning for as long as we can find someone to heave our ageing bones into the saddle. Glory to the King.

ZBHBH: Everyday Fail

For me, this title can probably be changed to “Fail Every Day”, but I digress…

I failed to see a distance. Magic failed to see a height.
I failed to see a distance. Magic failed to see a height.
Never mind the solid oxer! Photographers are TERRIFYING
Never mind the solid oxer! Photographers are TERRIFYING
How not to dressage. (Proof that Arwen is a saint. Don't worry, we don't do this thing anymore).
How not to dressage. (Proof that Arwen is a saint. Don’t worry, we don’t do this thing anymore).
Mane eating. Third photo from this show that demonstrates epic failure, but really, this was the awesomest show ever.
Mane eating. Third photo from this show that demonstrates epic failure, but really, this was the awesomest show ever.
Down banks: Where horses go horizontally forwards and riders go horizontally backwards.
Down banks: Where horses go horizontally forwards and riders go horizontally backwards.
How not to calm down a panicking baby horse
How not to calm down a panicking baby horse
Poor Magic
Poor Magic
I realise I failed at remembering the halt at the start of Prelim 3. Reed fails to stretch in his stretchy trot.
I realise I failed at remembering the halt at the start of Prelim 3. Reed fails to stretch in his stretchy trot.
That time I paid lots of money and called in lots of favours for a lesson with an international dressage instructor and then we shied at baboons for an hour.
That time I paid lots of money and called in lots of favours for a lesson with an international dressage instructor and then we shied at baboons for an hour.
I don't even know
I don’t even know
Staying in the warmup arena: FAIL.
Staying in the warmup arena: FAIL.
HATE SNAFFLE. SNAFFLE EVIL.
HATE SNAFFLE. SNAFFLE EVIL.
Um...
Um…

I love this blog hop! This must be hands down the funniest one hosted… and it’s given me an idea that may just have to become Riding on Water’s first blog hop.

Praise God for the horses that keep the best of us humble.

SFTSBH: Heart Horse

Jen from Stories From The Saddle asks:

Do you currently have your “heart horse”? What makes a “heart horse” to you? If you don’t own a horse, have you ever leased a “heart horse”? 

I encounter so many horses, with up to 20-25 different ones to ride in a week, that I’ve learned two things: 1) All horses are amazing, 2) regardless, certain horses just click with certain people, irrespective of whether they are actually that person’s favourite colour/breed/age/level of training.

So for me a heart horse is literally that horse that makes your heart turn a cartwheel and stop in its tracks, that makes it beat slower and faster at the same time. For those of us who are a little besotted (i. e. me), a heart horse makes you hot and cold all over and yet when you’re in the saddle you feel like nothing is too hard for God and you and that horse. It’s a lot like falling in love with exactly the right person (I imagine, anyway), only without having to make coffee and remember birthdays and run the risk of them suddenly not being who you thought they were. Horses don’t lie.

To me a heart horse is simply, at its core, utterly compatible with me, no matter how wrong the size or level of training. For me obviously they’ll all share similar characteristics because I like certain things in a horse. They’ll all be generous, with a good eye, a good walk, tremendous loyalty, and a big heart.All of my own horses are heart horses for me, and I was just ridiculously blessed because I only ever picked out one of them. The rest just sort of fell in my lap, as perfect as they are. But you’ve all heard so much about them that today I’m going to describe three horses that are absolutely heart horses, which I don’t own and never will, but I’m quite happy to run the risk of heartbreak rather than keep these bright spirits at arm’s length.Double Reef was probably the first OTTB I ever rode and, unlikely as it seemed at the time, I loved him. He was 16.3 hands of dark bay moodiness who didn’t think twice about aiming me a kick or a bite, but once I was on him he carried me as proudly and as carefully as if I was made of fine china. Once a top racehorse, Reef was sold on after racing to an owner that severely neglected him. When I met him he was the most pathetic, skeletal sight I’d ever seen, and his perfect legs, enormous eye, and chiselled features only made it worse; he was the stern sad ruins of a castle, not a tumbledown shack. With care, the Mutterer nursed him back to his fiery dark finery and he went on to teach countless kids how to ride. He taught me leg-yields and everything I needed to know about thoroughbreds and ridiculously long takeoff distances. He never shed his characteristic grumpiness, but we used to trust him with our four-year-old Down’s syndrome student because Reefer would have broken his own legs rather than allow any harm to come to that little boy.Double Reef was grumpy enough but in his heart he loved his job and, above all, he loved to run. It was easy to see why he campaigned successfully until the age of seven. There was nothing he relished more than snapping out his endless legs to their full length and eating up the ground in gigantic strides that left me breathless and clinging to his torrent of dark mane. He had an enormous heart.Reef is now semi-retired and I haven’t ridden or even laid a hand on him for years, but he’s one of those horses I’ll never forget.Not long after Reef left my life, I met Reed, who was his carbon opposite on the outside but within he was very similar. Reed was a 14.1 pony stallion and may have been nothing to write home about if it wasn’t for his amazing temperament and his dazzling colour. He was the most golden palomino I’ve ever seen, dappling gloriously in summer, with an attractive little head. And I’m not a pinto fan, but his white patches just made him prettier. He was almost excessively polite and friendly and didn’t have a grumpy hair on his head. But he too was gentle, willing, and loved his work. He had a surprisingly long stride and stylish bascule for his size and conformation, and I trusted him with everything in me. Beginners could ride him, and frequently did. In the time when he was in regular training, he would have done anything for me. He even cleared 1.20m with me once, which he really shouldn’t have been capable of. If I’d had more time I could have helped him become an awesome child’s event pony.Reed was the first client horse to break my heart and I don’t think he’ll ever be the last. After a super summer of steady training, the influx of young horses his owner needed backing pushed him off my schedule a little and a few months ago he was eventually sold on to the other end of the country. He’s gone to a high-profile home, but I’ll always miss him.wpid-img_48255714538967.jpegSurprisingly enough, for all my fear of stallions, my third client heart horse is also a stallion. We call him the Storm Horse: a magnificent grey tempest of a horse, a Nooitgedachter stallion of the highest standard, standing nearly as tall as the top of my head and appearing four times bigger from his sheer overwhelming presence. When he walks in, you know about it. He has a commanding presence, a regal power about him that you can’t help but notice. And he wasn’t piece of cake to train: smart and tenacious as he is, as a colt he used all of his intelligence and resilience to resist everything the Mutterer wanted him to do. It took quite some time for him to decide to use his powers for good, but once he did and the stud could show him he raked in National Champion Nooitgedachter stallion in-hand and under saddle without apparent effort.
But somehow (and how the Mutterer predicted it, nobody knows) the big stallion just decided to give me his gentler side. He has a reputation for being dangerous, but he’s never attempted to hurt me. He moves around me with a half-awkward carefulness, akin to the way a big man holds a baby, and has never put a foot wrong with me on his back. That gentleness, the obvious joy he takes in his own power, and his faultless fidelity must be what attracts me so much to him, but one thing is obvious: the Storm Horse chose me for his human, and it doesn’t look like he’s going back on that choice.Thanks be to God, and glory to the King.

Unofficial Blog Hop: Instructors

Emma first brought my attention to the discussion of the various trainers – instructors, in the more British dialect we use in South Africa – we’ve chosen, and why we picked them and stick with them.

If you’ve been around Riding on Water for any amount of time you’ve undoubtedly become acquainted with the quirky but inimitable Horse Mutterer, my instructor of eight years – amounting to the vast majority of my riding career and not far from half my life. Geez, the Mutterer has been teaching me ever since he was just a pair of nostrils and a ponytail floating somewhere above my head. Although, come to think of it, that’s still a fairly accurate description of my view of him, minus the ponytail (to my mother’s unspeakable dismay).

My mom first recruited the poor unsuspecting young Mutterer – then only a few years older than I am now, but already boasting a total of over 700 horses he’d put under saddle and innumerable blue ribbons won in the showing arena – to teach my sister and I when I was ten years old in the spring of 2007. How exactly she stumbled upon him, I don’t remember. I was too little to care.

We then owned two horses that had been running around in the veld for several years; a goldenhearted old chestnut gelding by the name of Rivr, and Skye. Poor Mom had been dragging Skye and I around our little round pen (the remains of which my current ring is built from) for months and I was still refusing to suffer her to let go of Skye’s bridle. I also rode (for want of a better word) bareback, mainly because none of us had the foggiest idea of how you put on a saddle. The Mutterer arrived and promptly strapped his virtually indestructible trail saddle onto Skye’s back, plonked me unceremoniously upon it and sent us forth, sans lead rein. I was much more afraid of the Mutterer than I was of falling off, so I obeyed, clutching poor Skye, doing splits on his saddle (I was much too small for it then, and always will be) and, after a few minutes, enjoying myself hugely.

Whereupon the Mutterer summed up what has been basically my entire riding career to this point, with characteristic accuracy and economy of words: “She rides good, but she’s scared.”

In a matter of two years, buoyed by a tide of my unquenchable enthusiasm, under the Mutterer’s guidance I went from jumpy beginner to fearless kid who could, and would, ride anything with four legs and stay on top. It was four years after my first lesson with him that I landed my first paycheck – from one of his clients.

The Mutterer is about as atypical and yet exemplary a riding instructor as you can get. At shows people don’t spare a second glance for this tall, silent man leaning on the rails in jeans and sneakers while everybody else’s trainers are running around screaming “MORE LEG!” in their white breeches and long boots. Shouting has never suited either of us well; it makes me nervous, and it makes him hoarse, besides which the Mutterer seems to consider that once I’m in the show arena his job is done – it’s up to me then. He was also deeply disinterested in teaching me forward seat, rising trot without stirrups, or diagonals as a novice. Instead I learned how to warm up and cool off my horse by myself, how to mount without a girth (the one lesson where I came perilously close to finding a ladder and strangling him), how to work my horse equally on both sides, and what to do if she started bucking. Later on he would never teach me the aids for shoulder-in, travers, half-pass, or turn on the haunches. He taught me how a horse responds to pressure, and how to teach him to do so, and from that I’ve often believed that I could teach my horse basically anything.

Why do I stick with the Mutterer when I think I could learn more about seat and technique from a top competitive rider? For two main reasons; the first being that as a horseman, and in his understanding of the mind and body of the horse, I consider him utterly unsurpassed and have never had a reason to revise this theory. And secondly because the Mutterer and I just really get along. Over the years we’ve built a student-teacher relationship that blurs the line into friendship despite the gap of thirteen years between our ages. His oddball teaching methods are absolutely compatible with my even odder learning methods. A lot of students who would have been surprised by how far he could have taken them have quit after a few months of lessons because it’s just too hard. You need to half kill yourself trying before he considers you worthy of any form of encouragement. He doesn’t want you to ride for his praise, but because you cannot imagine not riding. For me, who rides for pretty much this reason, and to whom praise in the mouth of strangers always tastes of arsenic’s sickly tang, it works.

And I thank God that it does.

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