Week Recap: 13th March

The yard is bursting at the seams and yet a little empty right now; we have 20 horses in residence but only 10 in training, down from the usual 14. One of my training horses came up with a chronic back injury; another did one too many handstands with me, causing me to call in the big guns, and he is now waiting on his lift back to the Mutterer to be sorted out; and two more were sold within a week of arriving.

This turned out to be a good thing, because it was bucketing down almost every afternoon and the whole of Wednesday. Usually I tend to have this attitude

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but not today, kids. It was cold and nobody needs to be sick, so it was just a slow week for everyone.

We still managed to make some progress. Magic had Monday off and then came back into work strongly, working hard on being more responsive off my leg and developing a forward, powerful showjumping canter, like the one we won with on Sunday (whoop!). When I got him he was extremely hypersensitive to my leg and somewhere along the line I have made him too dull to my leg, so now it’s back to getting more responsiveness. He finished the week on an incredibly high note, jumping an 80-85cm course that looked scary to me right up until he jumped the first fence. After that it was euphoria. I got him really deep to the second element of a bending line landing downhill, and he just put up his little knees and popped over it like no big deal. He was making 4 strides in every one of the lines (which walked for 5), so we even got our big canter going again. I was grinning all over my face every time I got off him this week. I know I say this a lot, but that is one special horse.

After his month off, I brought Exavior in and lunged him, which started fine but disintegrated into a minor disaster. He always used to live in the paddock right next to the lunging ring, so bringing him in and lunging him was a doddle; but now that I moved him out we need to pass a whole crew of mares and geldings he doesn’t know and it brought out his colt face. He was very good on the way there, though. Lunging-wise he was hyper and inattentive but extremely obedient, and on the way back he was a jerk. He managed to pull away from me (gloves, stupid!), charged through the gate and tried to jump on the nearest gelding, which gave him a well-deserved kick. Colts. I have two of them and they both need to be de-colted ASAP.

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The handsomest boys. Who remembers when Exavior (2) was shorter than Magic (8)?

Little Bruno has been coming along beautifully. After coming off a youngster I was backing last summer, my confidence with the babies took a massive hit. I had started probably 10 young horses last year and was getting a little workaday and didn’t read this one properly, so when I climbed on him he bucked vehemently until I ate dirt. It was quite a painful one too, resulting in a satisfyingly large purple bruise, but the memory of it remained every time I had to face up to a youngster. One of the Arop Nooities, a ploddy mare deep into her teens who could not have been surprised by anything, helped me part of the way through it by graciously letting me on board, but I was yet to start a youngster again. So 10 weeks of groundwork it was until I could no longer stand it and climbed onto my cute little pony who didn’t turn a hair. Seriously guys – that Nooitie temperament is just unbeatable. Bruno learned to canter this week, giving me 4 strides and a smooth transition without any drama. He is a little fussy with his mouth but not too bad. On Friday he felt kind of weird, like he was thinking about throwing in a buck, but later that evening he came in for dinner with a lump the size of a rugby ball right on his girth area so that would explain it. The new girl on the block must have been unimpressed by his romantic endeavours. The swelling is down markedly today so I think it’s just a big, ouchy bruise.

Lancelot is my other training project, a lanky dapple-grey Arab gelding who’s just gone three. Lance is a bit of a puzzle, which I’m still figuring out, but it helps to think of him as a kind of short baby Magic. He is super sweet and a total cuddle bunny right up until something scares him, when he loses his brains and goes ballistic. Heaven forbid I scare him because then the wheels fall off. We are beginning to understand one another, and his groundwork is more or less done, so on Tuesday I had a sit on him and had him back up a few steps and he didn’t do a thing. Unfortunately on Friday he came up with a suspected sacroiliac injury; not lame or stiff, but he has a very painful and sensitive area between his two hip bones. The chiro will be out to check that out ASAP.

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Bruno is adorable and he knows it

Thunder and Stardust had a chilled week with most of their lessons raining out, but both were their usual incredibly well-behaved selves. I school them both once a week to keep them sharp and they went beautifully. Thunny jumped a course of quite tall crosses with his usual ploddy, workmanlike reliability – he will go between the uprights every single time, although sometimes the poles won’t quite stay up. Stardust used to refuse to canter right but gave me two laps of the arena solid this week. Sadly she also came up lame on Friday (seriously horses what have you been doing?!) but should be better after having the weekend off.

Last but by no means least, Sookie arrived this week. I’ve been riding Sookie on and off for her owner for a while – probably four and a half or five years by now – and now she’s come for some more intensive training. I’ll admit to be excited to add another one to “my” competitive string. She settled in quite well, once the other horses had accepted her, and now looms happily over the group of native ponies wherever they go. Comically, 16hh imported German warmblood Sookie has made friends with 14hh veld pony Stardust. She has been bred the past two years and had two fine big foals, so she needs some weight and retraining, but I doubt it’ll be long before the big girl hits the show ring. She was virtually show ready last time I sat on her so we just have to dust things off a bit.

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Poor Bruno, he likes tall girls

Nell and Arwen rounded off the week with a successful graded dressage show on Sunday. I made the mistake of giving Arwen a goodly handful of her energy supplement that morning, which was idiotic to say the least. She wasn’t spooky or naughty, but she took one look at the dressage arena and said CROSS COUNTRYYYYY. When I explained that there were no fences and thus it could not be cross country, she demanded if that was a challenge and proceeded to demonstrate exactly how a fat Nooitgedachter mare can do cross country without any jumps required. Still, she finished on 59% for Novice 3 and 60% for Novice 2, with comments of “obedient”, “willing” (I don’t think this horse has ever finished a test without a “willing” comment) and a diplomatic “needs more suppling over the neck and back”, which I can only assume is dressage code for “pulls rider’s arms off”.

Nell warmed up beautifully but became separation anxious once we actually went in, so Novice 2 was horrible; we spooked dramatically, broke, shied, had a little buck, squealed a few times and fell in a heap at X for 52%. By Novice 3 she had settled enormously and had an obedient test for the comment “lovely” and “steady”, which she was, barring one nasty moment when the Friesian next door spooked and she spooked at it spooking. She still felt a little mediocre, for Nell, and didn’t have any wow moments, but got 59% which I won’t sniff at. I was proud of how quickly she settled down; her separation anxiety is a problem but every time we go out it improves a little, so someday we’ll be rid of it for good.

 

Nooitie Update

Arwen5I have been a very bad blogger, so now for my punishment I shall write lengthy picture-heavy updates on everything with four legs on this place. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if that’s your punishment or mine, but I digress.

We’ll start with Arwen because she begins with A and is anyway ever the busy and cheerful member of the Horde. And while we’re on the subject of Arwie, we may as well include the rest of the fat, fluffy, nerdy Nooitgedachters.

Arwen had her six weeks off after her AHS shot from the beginning of September to mid-October, whereupon I promptly entered her in a show at the end of October, giving us a whole two weeks to prepare for it. As usual, Arwen came back from her rest snorting and plunging and leaping like a dragon, but stronger and more supple in her mind and body. She always seems to remember her good habits and forget half the bad ones during her time off (no, you can’t have her). Apart from a few interesting little moments in the first few days back in work (like an idiot, I jumped straight back on my fiery mare with not a day’s lunging; amazingly I am still alive), she was awesome all the way through.

At the dressage show (which was at Hope Riding, venue of one of our first shows ever), I had my two greenies standing about like school horses while my seasoned campaigner leapt about snorting at things and threatening to kill somebody. Arwen was a maniac in the warmup arena. We basically galloped around while I clung on for dear life, spooking at drains. She prompted an instructor to quirk an eyebrow as I whizzed helplessly past, lean down and whisper in her companion’s ear: “That is a very hot horse.”

WHERE THE JUMPZ???
WHERE THE JUMPZ???

When we got to the dressage arena, I felt like an idiot. Evidently my two weeks’ preparation had not been enough and I was about to get bucked off in front of the whole stableyard, which is a fairly new stableyard and holds me in rather excessive esteem. Arwen dragoned along the edge of the arena and was barely persuaded to halt in front of the judges’ box; I grimaced at the judge and said, “I’m sorry, I brought my event horse today. My dressage horse stayed home.” The judge politely accepted the apology and we trotted off to A, came down the centreline and landed an 8. From then on it was all pie. Arwen was relaxed, obedient, submissive and ever so slightly smug at my amazement. An instructor, watching our test, turned to my mom and said, “She’ll never be great at dressage. She’s not forward going enough.”

Oooh right we're dressaging... well I rock at this too... ~ Arwen
Oooh right we’re dressaging… well I rock at this too… ~ Arwen

She scored 68% for Novice 1 and her personal best of 74% for Novice 2. That would have been 26 penalties in eventing – I’ll take that any day. Arwen won a fly mask and twirled maddeningly while we tried to bandage her up for travel, demanding to know where the cross-country was. She was so excited that when I grabbed her lead and ran into the horsebox she trotted right up next to me before even noticing where she was actually going. She was infuriated to find out that we were going home instead of across country.

Our first horse trial of the season is in two weeks’ time and I feel good about it. We have had appalling heat and I haven’t conditioned her as much as I would have liked, and we’re moving up to EV70, but Arwen has been giving me some really solid work. Her dressage is on point (absolutely nothing wrong with willingness to go forward…), she’s been jumping 1.00m at home without batting an eyelid (seriously, she hasn’t had a single stop since I brought her back into work, and even lands on whichever lead I ask now), and while she isn’t as fit as I would like, her galloping has really improved. She gallops with a rhythm that a dressage judge would approve of. We still have trouble jumping out of a gallop stride, but at least in between fences her little legs can make up some ground. I think it’s going to be a boatload of fun and if we survive cross-country and I keep my act together, we should even do better than last time. The goal is simple: survive. My secret goal is to finish on my dressage score, but considering it’s a move up, I would be very happy to complete.

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Nell has some extremely exciting news: she’s moved in with me. For some time the Mutterer and I have been discussing how awesome it would be if Nell stayed with me so that I can spend more time on schooling, and so that showing logistics would be far easier. It’s an 80-minute round trip to go pick her up on a show morning, and when does anyone have 80 spare minutes on a show morning? Added to that, I only make it out to her owner’s place at most twice a week. It has been adequate so far (if getting a horse from unbacked to Novice in a year can be considered merely “adequate”, considering my level of experience – she’s just something else), but now I’m stoked to be able to put more work in her. Nell is a phenomenal mare from her tremendous movement to her striking looks to her amazing mind, and the dressage world had just better watch out.

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Nell also went to the show with Arwen. She was quite well-behaved, until her stablemate Liana was busy showing, at which point she ran around in her paddock yelling, and especially angelic to travel. In the warmup she was a complete loon, but judging by Arwie’s behaviour it must have been a very spooky arena for some reason. We got to the dressage arena and I was fed up with insane young horses and ready to pack her royal fatness back to the stud to have babies for the rest of her life, but then suddenly Nell decided that she was done with nonsense and was going to show the world what she can do. The world, in this case, consisted of the dressage judge, my family, the photographer, an the show organisers (everyone else had gone home by this point), but she was still amazing. She landed 65% in Novice 1 and 67% in Novice 2, without any apparent effort. The judge’s socks were knocked off. I botched half the movements in terms of accuracy because I was in survival mode and focused on keeping my baby horse’s feet on the ground and brain in her noggin, but I needn’t have been. Accuracy points are stupid to lose but at least easy to fix, so I’ll take it.

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Interestingly, the first time I rode her in my arena, Nell was perfect. Not spooky, not looky, and certainly not leapingly crazy the way she can be at shows. But the first time I rode her in my arena with people watching, she was extremely nervous for the first few minutes. She even napped for the first time in her life, refusing to enter the arena at all; we backed up about 40m before I persuaded her to go forward and then she was obedient if a little worried. Stage fright? It seems ludicrous, but the coincidence is too great to ignore, so I’ll be experimenting with the idea in future.

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Liana, Nell’s beautiful chestnut stablemate, came along to live with me as well. Ana is being sold and is wonderful so buy her. This dressage show was her first (or at least her first in several years), and she put the more experienced horses to shame by loading the best, standing the most nicely, and behaving the most calmly out of all of them. She is a sensitive ride, but oh so honest and sweet and levelheaded. I was extremely proud of her. Due to a frustrating old training issue that is improving but was worsened by her slight tension at the show, she had trouble lengthening her strides appropriately and came across rushed and choppy, so her scores were 56 and 58% in the first two Prelim tests, but she was extremely obedient. She did everything I asked and didn’t spook at a thing. Despite rushing, she didn’t pull and never threatened to get out of control. She will make some sweet little girl very happy. So if you are a sweet little girl, start pestering your parents.

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Once at my place, she also handled my arena with aplomb and we set to doing some jumping, to which she is better suited. She has a powerful jump and is as game as they come to the fences, although we do need to work on her habit of taking a rather long distance when she jumps from a canter. She’s insanely careful, though – I would really not mind taking her across country and I’m paranoid about what kind of jumper I’ll take across country.

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Vastrap went to a show in the end of September where he behaved like a maniac the whole time I was on him. I believe somebody, somewhere along the line, allowed him to run madly at fences and the old bad habit rears its ugly head on occasion. He was never malicious – even when going at a stupid pace over fences, or when he took a wild distance and I landed on his neck, he never once bucked, ever. He also didn’t stop at a single thing or ever actually bolt. He just pulled and hung his legs midair and pulled poles like it was going out of fashion. So I grounded him for at least two months and we have spent the last several weeks schooling, at a trot, over ground poles. It’s frustating because the little dude is really a talented jumper and I would love to event him, but I’ll take a careless horse across country over my dead body, probably literally. He’s also been doing some lessons with a rather fearless but very kind and soft young rider, which helps him learn to put up with things.

As for him and Mom, well, he morphs into his usual wonderful self. With my beginner parent aboard, Vastrap is the dearest and kindest and most patient little plod you ever saw. He could be a gentleman among angels. That’s what counts, so he can yank me into jumps as much as he pleases, he is still amazing.

And then a couple of weeks ago I bought Bruno, the first resale project I’ve actually owned for myself.

I love schooling ponies, and resale has always appealed to me because owning the horse gives you all the freedom you could desire to train him the way you want to, but you can still make a profit out of it in the end if you’re careful (and God wills it). I also believe there is a need in the market for safe, well schooled competition ponies in the medium price range. There are far too many dishonest sellers out there, and they (usually unknowingly) put little kids’ lives at risk. As for those that know, I support Jesus’s position – it would be better for them to have a millstone hanged about their necks and thrown into the sea, than to harm any one of these little ones!

Unfortunately the really nice ponies are exorbitantly priced, and with good reason. Good care and schooling should be rewarded. However, I’m in the blessed position to be able to keep my horses very cheaply due to my location, cheap bulk deliveries of hay due to the cattle, and my parents’ owning the farm. (Somehow horses that come to my place also magically get fat; I have no real idea why but I’m certainly not complaining). I’m also young, not steeped in experience, and virtually unknown, so nobody is going to pay me insane amounts of money for schooling, so I can keep prices in the medium range and still cream a little something off the top. In theory. We shall see how it works in practice.

Look how tall he makes me look!
Look how tall he makes me look!

Hence, Bruno. He is the most adorable little bay Nooitie pony I ever saw in my life. The Mutterer bred him in 2012 and I remember thinking that he was the most powerful-looking foal I’d ever seen. His parents were both amazingly quiet horses (I remember riding his sire, a mature breeding stallion, bareback and bridleless away from his mares; he followed the Mutterer without even a halter, quiet as a schoolie), and he currently stands somewhere around 13.3, so he should make a perfect pony-rider height – around 14.1. He also has a cute head, solid conformation, and a willing brain, so I liked him from the start. Bruny is to stay with me for somewhere between a year and two years, depending on his progress and my financial situation and God’s will.

Always dependent on God’s will.

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