The Horse’s Default

Recently, I’ve started writing monthly reports for my full training clients. Many of them don’t get to see their horses work much, so to keep in touch with their training, they’d text me for updates and I found myself texting back only short and incomplete answers. Hence, I set aside some time in the beginning of each month to write a comprehensive summary of what their horse was learning. Texts are still welcome, but generally people now have a much better idea of what’s going on.

Writing the reports have proven just as useful to me, as they force me to evaluate and re-evaluate each horse’s personal journey and give reasons for what I’m doing. Not only does it keep me on my toes, it makes me think about what I’m doing instead of running on intuition. Intuition isn’t a bad thing, but it sure makes it difficult to hand the knowledge over to others when all you can really say is “do what feels right” to a person who hasn’t developed the feel just yet.

One interesting thing I found was that most horses have a default. I guess that should be obvious, but it wasn’t, to me. They all have a certain way that they tend to respond to stimuli, and that “default” in large part determines the horse’s trainability.

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should I define trainability for you? Here it is

In general, I’ve found that most horses respond in one of four different ways.

Reactive: When a horse reacts, he flinches away from a stimulus with a swift, jerky movement. For example, on the lunge, he will scoot forward when you pick up the whip. A reactive horse is usually motivated by fear. The horse whose default is to be reactive, is generally a flinchy, hot and spooky sort.

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can still be good kid ponies, for the right kid

Resistant: When a horse resists, he fights against a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will kick out when you pick up the whip. A resistant horse is often motivated by pain or desire to be dominant. The horse whose default is to be resistant is sulky, grumpy, and habitually has his ears pinned back.

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like the majority of old school ponies

Responsive: When a horse responds, he moves away smoothly from a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will move calmly forward when you pick up the whip. A responsive horse is generally motivated by willingness to please. The horse whose default is to be responsive is generally pleasant and comes across quite sensitive.

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yep here it is

Unresponsive: When a horse fails to respond, he ignores a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will stand there when you pick up the whip. An unresponsive horse is generally motivated by laziness or boredom. The horse whose default is to be unresponsive will be dead quiet, patient, and stoic, and can sometimes give the impression of not being “all there”.

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but still *are* all there – you just have to dig deeper, right, Z?

Horses also have a sort of “volume”. Not all reactive horses will necessary scoot forward when you pick up the whip. Some will merely step out more briskly than anticipated; others will panic and plunge through the fence. The vast majority of resistant horses never kick out or buck; they just pin their ears. This is why so many back pain and saddle fit issues go unnoticed. Just because a horse is easy to handle doesn’t mean its default is good, it just means its volume’s been turned down, and that can be a good thing – or a bad thing.

One would also think, looking at the list, that all horses should be responsive by default. That’s not true. Remember that horses tend to react to all outside stimuli according to their default – not just aids. Sure you want a horse to respond to your aids, but you don’t want him to respond to a dressage letter, not even if that just means quietly moving away from it. The best horses are a trained balance between responsive and unresponsive, leaning one way or another according to their job. Arwen is more towards the responsive because she’s an adult’s dressage horse who needs to deal with complicated sets of aids in rapid succession. Bruno was far more towards the unresponsive side, because he had to ignore all spooky objects in favour of keeping a kid safe.

Reactive and resistant horses, however, are almost always unhappy; it’s easy to see why – one is motivated by fear or pain, and the other is motivated by pain or by being in the wrong place in their hierarchy. We all know how gross it feels to be in a place where you don’t belong, even if you put yourself there.

All these types of horses (although many horses don’t fit in any of the boxes) need to be approached differently. That’s the most important part of listening, after all: actually acting on what you’ve been told.

Here’s a few little case studies.

Magic‘s default used to be reactive. He feels things deeply, and he expresses them dramatically. Pushing his limits never, ever works – it just makes him go up like a mushroom cloud. Patience and understanding are absolutely key to keeping him happy. The upside of being reactive is that it’s a small – difficult and key, but small – change to becoming responsive, which he has become by a massive effort.

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just like me, I guess

Jamaica used to be excessively unresponsive – to the point where it became complete disobedience and quite dangerous. His automatic reaction was just to hang on your hands till Kingdom come no matter what you did to him. You could flap, you could kick, you could do whatever you pleased – he’d just plough onwards. Unresponsive horses can be very rewarding because they’re fairly easy and safe to train out of it, and then you can really fine-tune the level of responsive you want. Jamaica proved to be one of those. He still has unresponsive moments, but he’s starting to decide that moving away from pressure is generally a good idea. On the plus side, he’s by default not spooky, and because I never trained him to respond to anything except my aids, he remains non-spooky.

Unresponsive horses can be really, really hard to get a read on. Some unresponsive horses have shut down, like a dog that just takes the kick because he knows it’s coming anyway. They bear pain and ill-treatment because it’s the only way they know how to cope. They can hide a tremendous amount of pain. Mercifully, most unresponsive horses are just really chill dudes at heart, who like to roll with it because that’s the way they are. Bruno comes to mind.

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unresponsive trained to be responsive = happy, and gets ribbons

Destiny is the most resistant horse I’ve ever met, and his volume was turned all the way up to the top. He wouldn’t just kick out at the lunging whip, he’d spin around and fly backwards, double-barreling at head height all the way and bringing to mind the legend that the Lipizzaners’ capriole was developed to decapitate footsoldiers. I sure thought he was going to decapitate me. Resistant horses, although a battle, are still an easier fix than reactive horses. Even though this chap’s problem wasn’t pain (which resistant horses almost always are in), he was more easily fixable than you would believe if you’d seen him at the height of his issues. Unfortunately, they’re not a pleasant fix in any way. There’s really two main ways to respond to resistance; to remove the stimulus so that they have nothing left to resist against, thus taking them by surprise and often removing the bitterness from the situation, or to resist their resistance more strenuously than they can resist you. When it comes to head-height double-barreling, option (b) is the only option that will leave you with your head still on. Removing the stimulus and rewarding aggression is a recipe from disaster. Hence, Destiny got a hiding. A big hiding. Now, his default is still to be resistant, but in the matter of a month we’ve got the volume turned down from enormous violence to merely pinning the ears. It’s not as good as resetting the default, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

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Destiny the Reformed

As for responsive, there’s not a lot of horses that are this way after people are done with them. A surprising number of horses are naturally responsive – they just get made either reactive or resistant, because the best horses are always the easiest to ruin. I love me a responsive horse. Nell was one of them, and we all know that she was just epic. The most responsive horse I have right now is undoubtedly Faith. I never had to teach her to move away from pressure because she had it programmed into her DNA. Once she knows how to move away from the pressure, she just does it without any fuss. She can come across spooky because she’ll move away (not leap away) from a scary thing, but personally, I don’t mind those. Nell was the same and as soon as you’ve got the whole moving-away-from-the-leg thing programmed they respond to your leg instead of the scary thing and do what you wanted. (Assuming you made yourself more important and valuable in their lives than scary things). Responsive + willing + gentle + intelligent = most trainable thing you’ll ever clap eyes on.

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and you’re clapping eyes on it now

Now for the million-dollar question, of course. What was the natural default of the majestic, legendary dragonbeast herself? I bet you’ll all be shocked to discover that Arwen was naturally unresponsive. Yep, you read that right. The dragon was the most unresponsive horse you’ve ever seen, and she still has that tendency lurking inside her. I like it because it makes her a lot more robust to my mistakes and whoopsies. It takes a while to train an aid on her, so while she learns good things a little slowly, she also learns bad things a little slowly, which is quite important when you’re doing dressage by trial and error like I am.

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just when you thought you had me all figured out, huh?

The vast majority of horses are complicated tangles of all four defaults, as well as having splashes of random other stuff thrown in. Many are born with one default and go on to be trained to have several different ones. All of them have reacted in all four different ways at some stage in their lives, for multitudes of different reasons. As an example, Nugget is a naturally unresponsive horse who became extremely reactive (with flashes of violently resistant) and is now gradually being trained to be unresponsive again, but with bits of responsive when I ask for them. And she’s only ever had two different handlers, really.

And to turn everything on its head a little, let me remind us all that people and horses are deeply similar, right at the bottom of things. We also react to the greatest Stimulus of all in different ways. Some of us fight Him. Some of us run from Him. Some of us ignore Him.

And some of us hear His voice, and move forward with confidence to do as He asked.

Glory to the King.

Introducing Midas

So Bruno has gone to his new home with a little girl who loves him to tiny fragments. This may be wonderful for Bruno and his little girl, but it is a little sad for this little girl who loved him to tiny fragments too. Bruno is one of those horses that changed me forever, and through his totally uneventful training process, God saved my confidence, my business, and a great source of my pleasure all in one go.

Never forgotten, little buddy. God go with you. ❤

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Thankfully, the awesome thing about schooling and reselling ponies is that when you sell one, you get to buy another one and start all over again. Meet the tiniest pony on the farm, with the longest name: Morning Star Touch of Gold. Midas to his (many) friends.

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Midas has been at the yard for quite a while now. I saw him advertised on one of the Facebook groups and liked the look of him but had no cash; when his owner contacted me offering him for free, I could no more resist than fly, and he came home in short order. He is a little smaller than I like at just under 13.1hh, but has everything else. Looks, movement, temperament and bloodlines.

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He is by Arop Naka, and I love anything with “Arop” in front of its name. His grandsire on the Nooitie side is Waaksaam Staal, one of the most successful stallions in the breed today. His dam was a Welsh pony who jumped CA named Silver Mystic and he sure looks to have mommy’s pop over free jumps. Plus he is palomino, and the little girl who loves ponies that I still am deep down has always wanted a palomino pony. What’s not to love?

He was quite the baby when we brought him home in February, a rising three-year-old entire colt, so I left him in a field with the Group of Idiots (all colts or geldings, all under five years old – it was chaos) until he turned three. Then we gelded him, did his teeth, gave him his shots and brought him into work about a week ago. So far, he has impressed me greatly. His breeder did a stellar job with him; it is an absolute pleasure to be working with a youngster who has everything done except backing. He’s good to box, bath, blanket, tie up (OK, so he knows how to undo a knot…), groom, and have his feet done. Even stood quietly for his teeth, shots and microchop. He knew how to go around on a circle too, and it took only a few sessions to get three gaits off voice commands. Last week I popped his first bridle on him, which solicited some chewing and headshaking but this is improving every time he works.

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I did some very minimal desensitising before putting on the roller, which was a total non-event, and then the saddle, which was also pretty boring. I think it won’t be long before I’m on his back, and then quite shortly we will inflict the latest Morning Star spectacle on the world: 13.1hh of palomino cuteness galloping through the adults’ classes with my legs waving around his knees.

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even my teeny saddle is so close to being too long it’s not even funny

Gotta love my calling. Glory to the King.

A Happy Place

Guys, they are not kidding about this job being hard. But it’s my happy place.

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Isn’t it wonderful?

There have been a lot of days that I would seriously have quit coaching and training, and just kept my horses to potter on, and gone to be a writer. If I was doing this for the love of the sport, or for my enjoyment, or for money, I would have quit long ago. But my Reason for sticking with it – my Jesus – stuck with me, and here we are. Some hard times behind, and so many (so many!) hard times still ahead. But at the end of the day, when the dust has settled, I am so grateful that I’ve been given a calling that I adore.

Forgive me for my sporadic updates. I’m in a happy place, but it’s a place of transition and it’s hard to keep everything afloat when things are changing. On the surface I suppose that I’m a horse rider who’s continuing to ride horses, but my world is shifting a little because something small is changing – myself. I am no longer “just a happy homeschooled Christian kid”. Happy and Christian, yes, but somehow a lot of people are treating me like an adult, and I’m not totally sure when I crossed that line. Somewhere in the past year, I went from apprentice trainer – the kid that followed the real trainer around, the glorified barn rat – to yard manager. And now people look at me like I’m a real trainer too, albeit a rather wet-behind-the-ears one. So while God’s Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path, right now the path is a little weird for me.

But little as I know about adulting, I do know how to train horses, so that’s what I’ve been doing. Here’s a recap.

Magic and I have been scraping back together the confidence that fell on the floor after our somewhat disastrous lesson (yeah, the one where he stopped and I fell off at a 20cm cavaletti) and we are back on (more or less) fine form. Now he’s had his horse sickness shot, commencing six weeks of boredom, but I’m so happy that we really found each other again. The chiro saw him and put all his bones back together, although she had some slightly worrying news that there are bony changes in his wither. Luckily for me (and the yard – my assistant can attest that a daily ride on Magic is essential to maintain my ability to refrain from removing people’s heads) my orders are to make sure he works in self-carriage as much and as frequently as possible. So for right now it just means that he must wear his special princess gel pad, have his saddle checked and chiro done more frequently, and work his beautiful dappled bum off. The greatest damage done is to my bank account, what’s left of it.

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At least now we can sorta dressage

Arwen and I are gearing up for our first full-length event since the catastrophe that was ICB, and she is feeling pretty amazing. We entered EV60 just in case, but since we have successfully jumped around EV80 and are doing 85cm confidently at home, I’m hoping that that was more cautionary a measure than necessary. The downside is that she has become ridiculously hot and fit so some of the poor riding school kiddies had some, uh, interesting expriences.

Nell is feeling very good after her chiro appointment and has magically learned to stretch down. We are preparing her for the finals of YHPS, where we have to ride Novice 4. Insert sad noise here. Novice 4 is my least favourite of the Novice tests; I don’t find it very Nell-friendly. She finds most of it easy, so gets bored and decides to find something to spook at, and as for the lengthen canter – working canter transitions on a 15m circle… stuff that nightmares are made of. We survived it at Hollyberry Hall, though, so we’ll survive it at Fourways.

Bruno competed for the first time in the POG and 40cm at Fourways. He’d done so many shows just as a tagalong by then that he was pretty bombproof from the word go. We had two very tiny spooks (like, slow sideways jog) and a couple of little scoots forward when we nearly got mowed down by giant youngsters, but apart from that I can’t fault him. He stood quietly in the queue, didn’t look at a single fence, and cantered around his courses with floppy ears. I love him to smithereens. He’s been one of those horses that has changed me forever and even when he sells I’ll never forget him.

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That little face ❤

Lancelot is having a six-week break during his horse sickness rest period, which he needed. The chiro pronounced him sound and adorable (he’s a yard favourite), but his baby brain was cooking on the very gentle work we were doing. He does miss the attention, so I’m sure he’ll be happy again when we bring him back to work. I did have him walking and trotting in the big arena and giving a few steps of quiet canter in the ring, so we made good progress.

Sookie sadly has had to go back to her owner, having done a grand total of two walk and trot tests for her competitive career. The chiro found some calcification in her lumbar vertebrae, and while these weren’t painful, I think I’d known she was done before the chiro saw her. I am not an amazing trainer but I do get my horses somewhere and Sookie and I have been stuck in a rut for months. The horse is trying her best and I am trying my best but I always had the feeling like she physically couldn’t carry out my requests. Turns out that the L2 calcification makes her back practically motionless, so she isn’t able to work through her back at all. Thankfully, it’s not a painful ailment. She’s gone home to be a broodmare, and while I know she’ll do fine, it has been a sad ending to a four-year saga that was so full of hopes and dreams when it began. She was the first warmblood I sat on, the first client horse I was supposed to compete and when you’re 15 years old (Sookie and I go further back than Magic and I) and have never had anything bigger than 14.3hh that tends to set you dreaming.

Liana did her first show with her new little rider, popping through the POG and 40cm. I was extremely proud of the redhead – she has come such a long way from the anxious horse she was when she arrived. She packed her little kid around like an old hand, and the kid did great, remembering (most of) her courses and steering very well.

Quinni has progressed slowly but steadily, getting over some jitters during her third and fourth rides – nothing violent, I just had the feeling she wasn’t quite happy in her own skin – and is now walking fairly well around the ring. She is very obedient to all my aids, I just need her to really go forward confidently and then we’ll move on to trot. I’m excited for that because it trots like a Dutch warmblood.

Olive has been awesome. She is still a bit mouthy and uncertain of the bit, but she took the long-lines without incident and the rider with even less incident. She is such a friendly floofy. Now looking for a lease home, we’ll continue her training and hopefully have walk and trot before too long. We do have walk, kind of, although she requires a lot of motivation – either lots and lots of flapping and kicking, or her favourite person standing a few feet away and calling her.

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Hullo. Wuv me.

All glory to the King.

 

Meet the Starters

With Bruno and Lancelot being well started, nevertheless I haven’t run out of unbacked babies. I have a queue of starters waiting for me (two Appaloosas, an Arab, a rather interesting crossbred, a Welsh pony and Exavior himself – and those are just the ones actually at the yard) but I have only so many rides in me every week, so right now I’m working on two of the loveliest grey ladies in the world.

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This is Olive, our first draft at the yard. She is a bit of a crossbred but there is a whole lot of Percheron there, which makes her fluffy and huge with extra helpings of adorable. She arrived in June with only very basic work done – a bit of halter training and a lot of friendliness towards people – and has made good progress.

True to draft form, she is the sweetest thing on four legs, which has made her trainable despite not being the sharpest knife in the drawer. We started out with basic lunging, where she proved much more forward-going than I expected of such a big floof,

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and now we have moved on to the roller and desensitisation and pressure-release exercises and finally, weight. (Although I don’t think my mass compared to Olive’s can really be called “weight”.)

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As expected from a homebred, she was pretty cool about being desensitised and not bad about weight. It took a few sessions for her to stop mouthing the bit incessantly, but I finally reverted to an old trick I learned from the Mutterer (AKA king of starting youngsters) and just left her in the round pen with the bridle on for half an hour. With all her brainpower free to figure out this new question, she was relaxed about it by the time I returned and we haven’t had a hitch since.

The second starter is the drop-dead-gorgeous Quinni.

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Quinni is impeccably bred, with some of the best Nooitgedachter blood in history blended with her Anglo-Arab sire to create one of the nicest young horses I have ever seen. She is drool-worthy from her impressive size and conformation to her wonderful floatiness. Add in a dash of cuteness, a high IQ and a darling personality, and you have me sold.

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Sadly for me, although I am casually on the lookout for a fancy dressage horse, I am broke and Quinni is older than what I was looking for. Also, her owner is set on keeping her for a broodmare, a decision which I wildly applaud. Lots of baby Quinnis running around can only be a good thing.

This has not prohibited me from enjoying my time with her. We had a bit of a sticky start when she came down with a horrific acute biliary, but she’s a fighter and kicked that bug with a vengeance. I had started her on the lunge and popped a saddle on her at her breeder’s, so she bounced back quickly from her illness and waltzed through her groundwork without apparent effort. The horse is naturally balanced, intelligent, eager to please and sensitive – what more could you ask for? I was expecting a little fireworks when I sat on her the first time, as she does have that sensitive streak that can cause issues during starting, but I needn’t have worried. Her first three rides were among the easiest I have ever had on a baby.

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my face says it all

After getting thrown from Dirkie last year I truly thought it would be more than a year before I pulled myself together enough to get back on a baby, especially a bigger baby like these two. But of course, God is faithful and the power of Christ is in me.

And I had help.

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one of those ponies that I know I’ll never forget

April/May Recap

So April and May happened.

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The Head Groom and Arwen, Bruno and I

There’s a lot to recap, so we’ll keep it short.

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The matchy ladies winning their pairs class

Magic went to his second graded show; I made a whoopsie in the first class and landed feet-first in the oxer. Then I made exactly the same whoopsie in the second class and landed bum-first in the combination. Apparently one shouldn’t drop Magic at the scariest fence on course. Who knew, right?

Poor old Magic was unphased, albeit somewhat confused about why Mom had so suddenly dismounted. After a lesson and a mild scolding from my coach about the fact that perfect horses must be ridden perfectly, we went to a training show in May and jumped two perfectly clear rounds without batting an eyelash.

My confidence suffered only the most minor of knocks. Magic is that one horse that always has me smiling – even in this shot taken in the second class of our disastrous show.

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This horse ❤

Arwen went to Nooitie Nationals and proceeded to win every class she entered.

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Showjumping at Fourways earlier in April (which she also won)

The showjumping. The dressage.

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Novice 5 like a boss

The pairs. And then, National Champion in hand.

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The Head Groom was handling

The only thing she didn’t win was the show riding, which she could have if she hadn’t had a violent head flip in the rein back. Well, we won’t be showing a rein back again… despite getting a 6.5 on the same movement in dressage.

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Silly beautiful mare

Nell also went to Nationals and raked in her fair share of ribbons. She won her in-hand class,

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Cuz judges like pretty floating ponies

the pairs, one of her two dressage tests, and the novice show hunter.

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With grass in her mouth, because that’s so showing-appropriate, y’know?

Then in May we went to Hollyberry Hall for the third leg of the YHPS and completed with 64%. As usual, we were dead last, but considering that the second-to-last horse had 64.1%, I won’t complain; she’s a pony with a green rider and she’s standing her ground amongst the best. Also, that’s a 4% increase from our last YHPS. I’ll take it!

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Good Nellie

Exavior was turned out to pasture to await being gelded, whereupon he will be brought back into work and backed. He put on an inch to reach 16.0 hands and became more gorgeous than ever.

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The pregnant fairies, Cherry and Milady, continue to glow with pregnancy. Milady was briefly brought back into work when she had a client interested in her and behaved impeccably for a 6yo thoroughbred that had been out of work for half a year, but sadly it was not to be. Or not sadly. I still get a cute baby in October, so maybe we shouldn’t complain too loud.

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Cherry (the Mutterer’s mare and evidence of his impeccable taste)
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Milady

Bruno went to his first show at Nationals and took everything in his stride. He loaded, travelled, and behaved perfectly. He only did in-hand, during which he was so relaxed that the ring steward had to hit him with a clipboard to make him trot up. Later in the weekend I hacked him around an empty warmup arena and he barely bothered to waggle his giant ears. He also did a few lessons with the smaller kiddies that are just off the lead and trotting on the lunge line. Albeit having slightly erratic steering, he proved to be as safe as a house and his slow steady rhythm was perfect for the tiny tots.

Lancelot had his first ride, a momentous occasion that turned out to be a non-event. He was very stuck with going forward when asked, but followed the Head Groom around with myself on his back without batting an eyelash. I was chagrined; I had expected some craziness from him, but he was as quiet as they come.

Big old Sookie’s tripping improved, so  we were able to move on to cantering. Her transitions were truly dreadful (ever tried flailing *and* being crooked *and* almost falling *and* crashing onto the forehand all at once?) but the canter itself is her best quality gait. We also shipped her out to Hollyberry Hall for a schooling session when we took Nell; she loaded great and travelled fairly well (a little anxious but very well behaved). At the Hall I took the precaution of lunging her – she is huge and I still don’t quite trust her not to fall on her nose if she decides to jump or spin – but it wasn’t necessary. She was looky, but sane, controllable, and totally nonviolent despite being in a big and quite spooky indoor. Good Sookie!

Whisper had her photo shoot done and was snapped up in short order. Before she went, we progressed to cantering on the correct lead and then to jumping. We even took her to her first show and did ground poles. The organisation and layout was terrible, so the round didn’t go too well, but despite being severely anxious Whisper didn’t get violent once. That’s a truly safe horse right there.

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Good girl Whispy

Finally, Liana jumped her first 70cm under me and came sixth in a massive class. In May, she also jumped her first 80cm with me and took a couple of poles but was brave to every fence.

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Pony got scope to burn

Then she did another 60 and 70cm at Nationals with her kid, snagging the National Champion Showjumper title without apparent effort.

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Such concentration!

She rounded off the show by jumping her first working hunter round, where she had a spot of bother at the straw bales but did not appear at all phased by the banks.

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BANK WHEEEEE

Another chaotic month at Morning Star Stables, and all our adventures for the glory of our King.

 

Week Recap – 2nd April

This week was filled with more sunny days and bright skies and unfortunately, admin. This is the side of yard management that nobody really likes, least of all myself. Although, if I’m honest, it does give one’s legs a welcome break.

This week we continued working on the little grid, making it progressively bigger and the one-strides longer and more challenging. We also added on another vertical set on a right turn from the grid on a long approach, which added an element of speed and then having to come back to a steady trot to reapproach the grid. This turned out to be a very good exercise for Magic, who was having something of a zoomy week. He was obedient through the grid even when he was feeling a little up – I guess the sudden cold snap had something to do with it – but schooling in the snaffle was a dismal failure. I had control, but that was about it. We flailed dramatically and had one enormous spook, then spooked again when I got left behind and snatched him in the mouth, ending up in a quivering heap on top of B.

The good part was that even though Magic was being a bit of a wild child, my confidence didn’t have a single wobble beyond the usual low-key nerves if he took a long spot. The dude and I have really built up an awesome connection. ❤

The fitter was also out and after tracing the shape of his back compared to the shape of it in July when she last came out, we were both startled by the transformation. He is much more symmetrical and much more muscular, although to her dismay, while his back came up, so did his wither. (This is the same horse that the fitter asked to photograph as an example of a challenging fit for her students…)

Poor old Arwen didn’t get as much attention as I would have liked this week. I jumped her once (which was fabulous – not a single stop over 85cm fences), gave her a lunge, took a nice hack and had a bit of flatwork schooling. At least she also had her saddle looked at. The fitter pronounced her fat and just did a little reflocking to accommodate the extra inch of roundness my 5-days-a-week, eventing, grass-only beast had  accumulated.

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Gotta love the office

Nellie worked her rather rotund behind off. The week was fairly easy, with flatwork, hacking, and popping through the grid (she is an incredibly wiggly and untalented jumper, but has a nice hunter rhythm), but then came the dressage lesson. Our fitter also happens to be a pro dressage lady, who has soundly kicked our bottoms on baby horses at the lower levels as well as dominating in the higher ones, and has the definite bonus of being likeable, so we took the opportunity to have lessons while she was out to fit saddles. We nearly died. Just because I like dressage does not mean that it isn’t painful. We did comparatively easy stuff – a lot of transitions and trot lengthenings and some canter poles – but it was intense and we were both dying. We were sent home to do lots and lots of poles to make Nell add more “jump” to her canter and articulate her hindlegs instead of just swinging them arond.

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So much of hard. Also neck.

Exavior wiggled himself back into my good books by loading once very well with neither assistant nor bum rope. He is such a puzzle but he can be so loveable when he quits jumping around on his hindlegs. He is, however, definitely a lot better to lead around other horses; we have to pass right by one of my pony colts on the way to the horsebox and this cheeky little colt tends to run over and squeal, but Xave ignores him flatly. The pony colt can probably fit under his belly, so I can hardly blame him.

Sookie settled nicely into her new routine this week, being calm and trainable in the arena at all three gaits even with a bit of wind making things quite spooky. She had one or two really silly little looks, but much less than she used to when she was younger. We did have one awkward mishap involving an H-F trot lengthen. It started as a lengthening at H right enough, then at X we started to trip, flailed, fell on both knees, lurched dramatically upright and as a grand finale I landed bottom first upon F. The little trip just went downhill, presumably because Sookie’s muscle tone and balance are poor at this stage. She is a big horse and doesn’t have the strength to hold herself up just yet, poor soul. Needless to say we shall proceed with caution and do lots and lots of basic strengthening exercises before we approach the show circuit – I have no desire to literally fall in a heap at X.

Little Bruno only did one day’s ring work, where we worked on getting solid canter for two laps of the ring each way. After that we climbed straight on and went to the big arena. We only worked in walk and trot, including walking over some ground poles without batting an eye, but he was excellent. The little guy is just a dream to handle – he learns what I teach, remembers what he’s learned, and doesn’t go in for theatrics.

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Ponies ❤

Lance’s SI area remains sensitive and he is consistently being lazy on the left rein, then zoomy on the right, so we are still going slow and redoing his basics to make them even more solid. He now loads like a real little champ, even out of sight of other horses, which is a challenge for him. To his utter delight, our new livery is a little yearling Arab that just wants to play. Lancey is the sweetest thing with his new buddy and he and Titan have a blast galloping around and making trouble together. He appears to have no difficulty moving in a straight line at great speeds around his paddock, at least!

While I wanted to put a few steps of canter in on Whisper this week, we never really got there. Whispy has never been ridden out in a large space before – her last home had a fenced arena of about 35x15m – and my unfenced grass arena proved to be a bit of a shock to the system. To her credit, she was never wild, not for a single step. What she was, was incredibly wiggly. My groom enquired if I had been feeding her moonshine while we wobbled from one side of the track to the other, tripping over dressage letters and her own feet. By the end of the week we at least had walk and trot in fairly straight lines in the big arena, though, so soon we’ll be back on track (pun intended). Whisper isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she definitely makes up for that with abundant patience, gentleness, quietness, and memory. She’ll make a fantastic first horse for some lucky junior, with her unicorn looks to match.

Stardust learned to load this week, which she did like she does everything, with a workaday, ho-hum sort of willingness. Don’t worry, Dusty, you’re not going anywhere. She also taught one of the kids to canter with great success; she’s still very sticky going onto the off lead, but on the near side, she’s very good.

Baby Thunder had a jumping session with me, popping through the grid with the verticals put up to about 70cm. He had some trouble maintaining his impulsion through the two quite long one-stride lines at first, but he got it eventually. He is just such a willing guy – he’ll go between the uprights every single time, even if he demolishes the fences in the process. Although in this session with me he was very careful and didn’t touch a single pole; I think the gymnastic exercise was good for him.

We rounded off the week with a successful day of outside lessons, including schooling one of my student’s super cool schoolmistress, Penny. Penny jumps whatever from wherever, although she can get a little insolent about being told what to do, having come to the reasonable conclusion that she can do it just fine herself, thank you. She remains a whole lot of fun.

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Change of scenery

Week Recap: 26th March

After a very damp and slow time last week, we were all raring to get back into action this week. The weather played along absolutely beautifully with a whole series of calm, sunny, balmy days and bone dry footing making for some serious riding.

My jump exercise of the week was a little grid, mostly because I fear and despise grids and therefore should do several of them to get myself over it and convince myself of their usefulness. It was a simple one, but quite daunting for pole-phobic yours truly: 3 trotting poles to a small cross, one stride to a vertical, one stride to another vertical.

Magic was the highlight of my week, which he’s pretty good at being. Still working on getting him forward off the leg, I was also able to get a couple of consist trot leg-yields from him, riding him in the snaffle. He’s no Valegro, but I was thrilled when he gave me the Novice 5 leg-yields beautifully (10m circle at L, then leg-yield back to the track around R). I was nervous to take him through my little grid because I thought he might make a mistake and then we’d flail and panic through it, but what do you know – he was perfect. I did have to make the one strides a little longer as I’d set them for ponies, but even when it was too short, he just took the short distances and popped in an out like a good grownup horse. I have video evidence.

 

Arwen was the one who actually introduced me to the grid. She was good up until I put up the first vertical, at which she had a dishonest and unreasonable stop, so I gave her a good one along the backside with my crop. These stops are becoming a naughty habit of hers. Thereafter she didn’t try it again and jumped with a more Arwen-like gusto, popping through the whole thing with great enthusiasm and even some straightness. She was so good that it stopped being scary and even became really, really fun at one point, something Arwen is excellent at doing for me. She also put in two solid flatwork sessions, giving me her best haunches in along the track so far. Her canter was a little weak on Friday, though. She also packed some students around on outrides, which she enjoyed greatly as they don’t seem to be able to stop her from eating anything that happens to grow at nose level.

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Nellie had a relaxed but good week. She has been struggling with bend and suppleness lately, so we had an intensive lesson with the Mutterer on Wednesday working on that. We did a whole lot of Parelli flexions, finding her a lot stiffer to the right than the left (as expected). She still tends to fall against my right leg quite a bit but working on getting that better. As a side note, when she got stuffy and frustrated with lateral work and flexions, I was ordered to take her for a gallop around the jumping arena. This worked like a charm. It really got her thinking forward and relaxed again. I’ll definitely be using that trick in the future. I led a couple of outrides on her as well and she was super – relaxed, confident, just a little looky.

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Our God is an artist!

Exavior was a bit of a dweeb. Temporarily abandoning the lunging idea – the lunge ring is inconveniently situated in a paddock full of usually very calm schoolies; I doubt they would remain so calm should an angry young colt pull free and run into them – we started working on loading. The first couple of days were dreadful. Day one he was spooky and nervous; day two he realised how sympathetic I can be when he is nervous, so he pushed his luck and became downright rude and stubborn. On the third day, both sick of arguing, we finally both pulled together. I exercised more patience, which eventually persuaded him to exercise some brainpower, and he climbed into the box without further ado. We loaded him three or four times with the butt rope and he became calmer each time.

This was Sookie’s first full week of work, having had an easy week to settle in (I spent a whole session just scrubbing her so that her white could be properly white again), and she adjusted very well. She is getting a pile of maize-containing broodmare feed at the moment; I only had to lunge her once before I decided to change her over onto something without maize in it because normally ploddy Sookie was doing handstands and trying to squash my little dog. The next day she was much better and I walked her around the ring; and on the third day I climbed right up and rode her around the ring in three gaits. Her canter right was very awkward, and she felt like bucking, but I booted her through it and put it down to poor balance and lack of muscle tone. She was very willing, supple, and responsive, though – all hugely in her favour. Then we walked and trotted around the spooky big arena and she impressed me by not doing any of the dramatic spooks she used to when she was a baby.

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Bruno also had a massive successful week. He just goes from strength to strength. After having some time off for the kick to his ribs, he was hardly hyper at all and the first time I rode him I was already asking for canter both ways. He has an irritating habit of drifting towards the inside of the ring, especially on the left rein, but doesn’t get violent about it. Just general baby pony stuff. Our last session was the best of all. I didn’t lunge him, just hopped on and did 3 gaits in the ring, then had a walk around the unfenced big arena. He was super. I love him more each time I sit on him. A confidence giver since the day he was backed – some lucky kid is going to have a blast on him.

As Lancelot’s sacroiliac injury was less tender, towards the end of the week I also brought him in and gave him a little lunging. He moves quite sound, but I didn’t put any weight on his back just in case. He was very well behaved and not at all as hyper as he usually is, but a little clumsy. I am very wary to be working him much until the chiro sorts out his back, so we’ll stick to light lunging and basic groundwork – loading and bathing – until that’s been done.

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Lunging photos FTW

Our new arrival also had her first work week. Whisper is a little cremello mare that is here to be schooled and resold. I backed her in the spring for her owner and had put in some basics – walk and trot, a few steps of canter – before she was turned away for a few months. She is a very happy-go-lucky sort that is not much bothered by anything really, and I was back on her in short order doing everything we’d done before barring the canter. She finds the ring rather too small to balance at a canter with her rider on, so we’ll try that out in the big arena next week. On the ground she’s incredibly easy and relaxed to handle, which is a good thing, because dabbing sunscreen around pink cremello eyes is made considerably easier by a cooperative horse.

Thunder and Stardust had a very busy and good week being loved to bits by their kids. Dusty went on her first proper long group outride and was a perfect little angel, not putting a toenail wrong. Dusty is rather good at being a perfect little angel. Baby Thunder remains occasionally careless over fences, but still his straight, solid self.

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The best schoolies ❤

Another blessed week with my beloved King Jesus at His own stableyard. How great Thou art! ❤ With this being Easter Weekend, we are more thankful than ever for what He did for us. We will never forget Your sacrifice. How could we when what You have done sets us free every single day? When Your courage and love changed our lives forever? Thank You Lord ❤