Being a Little Brave

Today started with Revelation 1, and goosebumps down my arms at the terrifying description of our King with stars in His right Hand and a two-edged sword blazing forth from His mouth. Yet this majestic Person, this almighty Ruler of all that is and was and is to come, the Alpha and Omega, reached down to touch a lowly little worm of a man and said: “Fear not”.

This was the theme of my humdrum little day too, apparently. I’m a little shocked at how much God really has achieved in me, how far He’s taken me beyond the very limits of my courage.

I thought losing Nell and Rainbow would end the dream forever. Fear not, He said.

Faith is so fat and happy and shiny right now. And Thunder’s schooling today was amazing – I totally underestimated our big baby.

After a troubled little grey gelding called Dirkie bucked me off onto my hip, turning it several fascinating shades of red and purple, I thought I’d never start another youngster again in my life. Much less any sensitive or nervous ones.

But, Fear not, He said.

When I was hanging in the saddle over Eagle’s back like a sack of potatoes today, he gave this beautiful body-shaking big sigh and I knew he was ready. So I threw a leg over him and he slept for a few minutes while I patted him.

Also Destiny, to date one of the most remedial horses I’ve ever had on the ground, can now do walk/trot/canter large and circles in the dressage. He will reliably spook every session (only on the right rein and only in canter) but this has become rather half-hearted since I called his bluff.

I thought I’d never lead another hack with kids again, not after Jamaica chucked his kid off and broke her arm. The kid never missed a beat; I was thoroughly traumatised. But, Fear not, He said.

Sunè, Lullaby, Stardust
Liana and poor little Sunè again (willing horse…)

After years of falling off stoppers and dealing with poor old Magic’s nerves, I thought I’d never jump the required 85cm for module four, not even on a horse I know. But God said, Fear not, and today jumping an exercise at 85-90cm on Jamaica felt positively routine.

Arwen’s clipping last year was so horrific (like, going across the stable on her hindlegs with enough sedative in her to knock a carthorse flat, kind of horrific) that I thought we were doomed to woolly, overheating misery this winter. But even in this little thing, God spoke power and love.

She ate grass. I clipped. It took half an hour.

first attempt at a chaser clip – coulda been worse

All I ever did was let go.

And watched my star-holding, flame-eyed, blade-speaking King landing the punches straight and square on the jaws of my demons.

Glory to the King.

Photo Dump Update

It’s been a long week.

But a productive one, with things heading towards normal and settled as new working student L settles admirably into her role and we get used to operations being moved to the dressage.

Lady Erin will be weaned in the beginning of April. She’ll be a bit young at five months, but poor Milady has been struggling ever since she got strangles when Lady E was only five days old, so her body really needs a chance to recovered. Plopsie (she doesn’t quite fit into her real name yet) will be OK, but I’ve started her on balancer just to help. She is delighted to finally get food like the big horsies.

Faith and I started to talk about hosepipes and being bathed. She likes to walk in circles, but hasn’t been pushy or freaked out. Her beautiful flowy mane has been washed and conditioned with minimal drama and I did get to hose her whole body today.

Mom’s dog has a funny foot but she keeps smilin’.

The little kid that had the very bad nerves has graduated to riding around the dressage arena, a huge step. The usually ever-patient Lulu did attempt to take a chunk out of me while I was having him trot on lead, which I take to be a cue to hurry up and get him posting already.

Magic still doesn’t tie up with any degree of predictability, but he ground ties every time. It’s adorable. He’s over his nerves about the dressage arena and we’ve had a blast this week fooling around with poles.

Eagle is lunging well in three gaits with a saddle and bridle, no drama. He is such a willing and sensitive chap. I can’t wait for his owner to visit this weekend.

Exavior ran me over while I was trying to lunge him on Monday, but he hasn’t reared under the Mutterer all week. I’m thoroughly enjoying the whole owner thing. I get to watch my gorgeous horse trot around majestically, and all I have to do is play with him in a relatively safe manner.

Lullaby models a new bridle. Her head is just too pretty.

Sunè and working student K have started giving beginner lessons. Both are doing really really great and have exciting futures ahead of them.

Renè remains K’s heartthrob, for obvious reasons.

After working in the school for a year, Thunder has gotten bored out of his skull and started spooking just for something to do. With his half lease gone, I’ve sort of taken him back for a bit. He’s actually such a dream to ride and has become so strong over the past year that I’m really enjoying him. Maybe we’ll have some dressage shows to go to.

In an attempt to get Magic to hack out, we’ve started going walkies. He is currently the showjumper who won’t go to shows turned happy hack that doesn’t go on hacks, but maybe with enough walks he’ll eventually be good to hack. Or maybe not. I don’t know, but we both enjoy hanging out and walking around eating grass (him, not me), so it’s cool either way.

Lady Erin is learning to walk on a lead like a big horsie. Today was our first session without any tantrums, and we’ve made good progress. Although it did take me five minutes of shouting and shoving to convince the creature to get up from her nap so that we could get started. (It’s fairly bombproof).

Here’s a flowerpot full of kittens, because why not?

We also set up a very challenging, but equally fun, gymnastic exercise for the week. Four one-strides in a row, it’s all about tightening knees and quickening reflexes. Here’s video of Vastrap and his kid popping through in fine style.

In other news, we’re preparing for Nooitie Nationals next weekend. Everyone is pretty ready, it’s just that Arwie has a bit of a cold. Nothing serious, so we’ll just wait and see.

It’s a beautiful thing to be right where God put you. Glory to the King.

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.

nell2
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.

stardust1
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.

Back Home

This week has been a little wild. I’ll recap in pictures, because forming a coherent post is a little much to ask right now. (Writers all say that writing something badly is better than writing nothing at all, right?)

We are currently without a head groom; it’s junior groom T and I for it, with Mom helping us out with the cow guys, which has saved our bacon.

I love the show horses, but it was sooooo good to be home and leaning against Mr. Failed Showjumper again. This horse. ❤ Thanks Lord.

Eagle came into work for the first time. He is as expected; sensitive, but willing. A joy if you’re tactful; a danger if you’re not. He’s cottoned on to the basic voice commands but still kind of anxious about staying in walk.

Magic began his return to work with a lunging session, which was a good thing because he spent it leaping about spooking at stuff that’s been there for ever. Seriously, bro?

Trooper also started work this week and is also as expected – dead lazy. The thing about horses that are unresponsive to spooky things is that they’re generally unresponsive to aids, too. I’m going to tweak his diet and see if I can fizz him up a bit. Otherwise he is adorable and follows the kids around everywhere.

Magic developed an allergic reaction to not getting enough attention last week. I gave him cortisone which did not help at all. It’s bugging me more than it’s bugging him, and is gradually going away, so I’m not panicking. Yet.

Exavior has been a total sweetie to work with and lunge. I finally enjoy hanging out with the dude again, mostly because I don’t have to deal with his bad side. The poor Mutterer does, however, and on Tuesday the dude reared so high that even the Mutterer looked momentarily concerned.

On the plus side, those sabino splashies on his tummy are still too cute for words.

Sunè did lots of hacking, even past the woods, which are usually quite scary. She’s been a superstar. Coolest little horse, this. She’s going to be real dependable.

Faith is now super easy to lead, tie up, and groom, including picking out the feet. She still has her fairylike, gossamer prettiness, but I do wish some of the expensive food I shove into her would start to go sideways instead of just up and along.

The dressage arena is rideable at last!! I’m so, so happy. Thanks Lord! It is an inexpressible pleasure to have that beautiful, flat surface free of obstacles and distractions to school on. There’s even a fence. No more baby horses running to Timbuktu when spooked! I spent yesterday morning riding the schoolies in it, so hopefully today I can teach most of my lessons up here too. Its proximity to the tack room and loo is also a definite advantage.

For the first time in her life, the champ herself is being stabled long-term. I’m trying to keep the coat short for Nationals (Arwen + body clip = disaster – she can’t have her legs done without sedation, and last time we gave her enough to geld a Clydesdale colt and she still went across the stable on her hindlegs with the Murderer hanging from her head). I also think, given how many overnight shows she has to do lately, that having a routine of sleeping in at night will make her happier at shows. Plus then I can limit her hay intake a little without separating her from her buddies. Maybe then we can finally shake some of the chubbles… or she’ll just eat some dirt and get even chubbier.

It’s good to be back. Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.

Valentines and Big Horses

Yesterday I didn’t even realise what day it was until I discovered that, despite being as single as they come, I have a Valentine.

He is all of seven years old, but he brought me chocolate. Thus, he wins.

On a more serious note, I was back at Winstead facing my demons. I really love being there, but I’ll be honest – I stood on the mounting block just staring at my steed for the day with a feeling of absolute helplessness for a few seconds. But I laid it down, and God came through for me. With the help of the wonderful Monty who is like a smaller version of Al who likes close spots (like me). We had a fantastic lesson and jumped all the things with only one panicky recitation of Psalm 23.

And just as I thought I was getting used to riding big horses, coach K put me on a creature that dwarfed the mere 16.2hh beasts I had been riding. Royale is the most incredible fancy comfy upper-level jumper thing, and I had a blast, but wow. He is big.

I also got to ride Kardinal again and he got to show me how to do good canter-walk transitions approximately four million times, poor chap.

me in jail ~ Royale

The day ended after some lovely lessons with an absolutely splendid sky to take our breath away.

Today did not start off on as good a note when poor old Mutterer and head groom T ran out of fuel on the way here. We fed really late, but on the plus side I got a pretty picture of a view that I’ve seen so many times and never been able to photograph because I’m always driving.

Once I finally got to start the riding, Arwen gave me the opportunity to unwind a bit by taking me for a stunning hack across the fields. She dragoned a bit and got quite hot and bouncy, but didn’t buck or go nuts.

Destiny went beautifully today. He is firmly under saddle now and hasn’t been at all naughty, although he felt resistant today when I pushed for a more active walk. He gave me a happy little trot, though.

Tara also schooled well; so chilled and rhythmic, but her turn right button occasionally seems to glitch. She’s not naughty, just keeps merrily going straight while you would really rather turn right. We had improvement by the end.

I schooled Jamaica over a 75cm vertical, the biggest I’ve jumped him, with a ground line set the height of the fence away from the base. Neither Maica nor I are any good at seeing a distance and this exercise really helped. He also seemed impressed by the fence and didn’t take a single pole.

I rode the same exercise on Starlight, just rather smaller. She has improved hugely under her mom’s schooling and has such a powerful little jump.

Faithy and I went walkies, to her delight. Faithy adores walkies and pulls all the way out and all the way back. She’s spooky but super curious, and in her world, separation anxiety ain’t no thing.

Midas, Sunè and Lancelot all had flatwork this afternoon and all did great. Midey feels so ready for HOY I can taste it. Sunè’s left turn doesn’t always happen gracefully in canter, but at least she’s got leads and connection now. And Lancey learns slowly (not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of attention), but he grasped lengthening his canter beautifully today.

And now, bed. Glory to the King.

Chiro Visit

Today was spa day for six of the Horde. I’m very into having chiro done at least once a year where I can; it’s not always financially practical for broodmares and sale ponies, but the competing horses, schoolies or anything with a problem needs doing.

Today’s lineup started with Starlight. She has been girthy since she arrived in December and while I found back pain and put it down to that, the back pain is related to old pectoral muscle tears, not anything sinister like KS or something. Stardust has exactly the same thing so we’re good at managing it and it won’t get in her way. Her hip was also badly locked, something I’d noticed since she is always a little short on that leg. Hopefully we’ll see considerable improvement.

fearless
Vastrap was generally tight especially through his intercostal muscles, which I wasn’t in the least surprised by. This unfortunately is going to be strongly related to how hot and tense he is to ride, so it’s a slow fix. But we’ve already made progress.

Magic has some excellent news. He wasn’t out anywhere, just rather tight in his left hind hip, and best of all his bad wither is not worse – in fact, it’s better. The chiro’s exact words were “Don’t change anything because it’s working.” I’m so relieved that my magical beast is still OK. With his being a bit wacky lately I was half expecting that his back was hurting him again. The chiro also commented on how incredible our bond is, which made me feel so much better about our recent bad days.

Exavior was rather, um, interesting. The chiro went to touch his upper neck, which he’s always been touchy about, so he reared and tried to bite us. After a discussion about not biting nice ladies, he cut it out and started to actually enjoy having his bones all sorted out. His back was totally perfect, but his poll was very sore. The fall where he cut his leg open years ago – that catalysed the drama that led to his becoming mine – also damaged his nuchal ligament and it was extremely tight and sensitive. This explains why he’s always so uncomfortable about his head and also some of the rearing (although that can also be explained by his being a brat). It can be managed, thank God. I have to do a little stretch thingy with him to help, and I’ll look into getting him a poll relief bridle. He should be far more comfortable now.

who needs a man when you’ve got this to stare at?
Can we all just stop for a minute, though, and appreciate just how big God’s plan is for this horse? Most horses that fall and hit their polls there die on impact. Not Xave, though. He’s a survivor and God’s got something big in store for him. ❤

Renè had a bunch of lumbar vertebrae out and her hip and shoulder were really locked. I discussed some stiffness issues she had had early on in her training with the chiro, who thinks it’s possibly due to the type of heavy slow twitch muscle she has. Almost like a really mild variant of PSSM. Our stretches and gradual conditioning have practically eliminated it, though, and there’s no major problem so it’s all good.

Last up was little Lullaby, who hasn’t had any problems but is a lifelong school pony so there must be pain somewhere. Sure enough she had both thoracic and lumbar vertebrae out, so that should make her far more comfy. Lumbar vertebrae are typical school pony problems so we’ll just keep having her done regularly to keep those suckers in place.

it’s spa day, Renè, it’s supposed to be fun
In other news, Midas, Sunè, Arwen and Tara are all pretty much ready for Pre-HOY. Exavior is almost ready, I just want a practice run at plaiting him since he’s going to have to learn to deal with me standing on a box and pulling on his hair, which won’t be easy for him.

Faithy moved out to a small group field with Milady and Lady Erin. She’s stayed good to catch and super gorgeous.

created ❤
My writing is as flat as my battery today, but here it is. Glory to the King.

The Countdown Begins

I cannot believe how much effort Pre-HOY is being. At this rate HOY itself is going to be more or less impossible, but as we all know, our God is good at impossible.

So I put my nose down and do what I can, and there might be lots to do but it’s very exciting.

First, I must recap on the weekend, when my buddy Erin came over to hang out and teach us how to plait.

so much focus

Which of course had to be followed by the most awesome hack ever with Erin on Lullaby, Rain on Stardust and myself taking my usual perch on trusty Arwen. She had one wicked buck of pure excitement, but apart from that, she was stellar. She even leapt straight into the water while the two schoolies politely declined to go anywhere near it.

eventers ftw

I am deeply grateful to Rain and Erin’s patience because I insisted on plodding basically the whole way. I’m OK hacking alone, but the kid-with-the-broken-arm’s fall has left me with a thing about leading hacks. I think I said “Please don’t fall off” approximately 80 times, and they very kindly obeyed.

Back to today, I just lunged and rode Exavior because there’s basically nothing to work on with his in-hand. His riding is a different matter. On Friday I lunged him good and decided to just ride him cool. Bareback. With one lead clipped to the halter. Tired and confused, he reared, and when he hit the ground I bailed. Sweaty horses are slippery to sit on bareback, y’all. I get off before I fall off.

I did get back on and make him go, but he was remembering it today with his classic mix of rude and insecure. He was awesome in walk and then nappy as soon as I asked for trot. To his credit he never actually got up on his hind legs, and with tact and my magic pink wand (AKA dressage whip) we did get some trot in the end.

Arwen schooled working riding, which is our great hope for HOY. She had one rider-error stop at a fence that was too big to approach at a showing canter (and admittedly too big to be in a working riding course) but apart from that she just handled it. That’s my Narwie.

Lancey schooled over slightly bigger fences and took it in his stride. Not literally. There was much clonking of poles. Tara was good to lunge and good to ride but a bit mediocre for in-hand, although we did ride our first lap around the big arena with exactly zero drama despite my scary working riding obstacles.

Midas and Sunè both gave me hope by being just incredible today, behaving like real grownup horsies down to balanced cantering and good simple changes. Maybe I won’t make a complete fool of us at HOY after all.

To my great relief, Magic was also back in his happy place and plopped through his flatwork with the cheerful air I love so much.

And Faithy progressed to going walkies outside of her field, since we no longer need the bum rope for forward motion. I’m loving this stage of daily figuring out more about her. She’s quite aloof, but really enjoys attention and grooming. She is sensitive and fairly easily spooked but also good at dealing with fear, and already looking to me for help. And curious. Really curious.

MUST STARE

This little kid made my day by being so so brave. He has been terribly nervous since he started riding, but today he wanted to be lunged instead of led for the first time! Times like these I thank God for my own bad nerves – it means I can get in the hole with them and help them out. Lulu, of course, did most of the work. Our schoolies are worth their weight in solid gold.

Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.

Sunburnt

Highveld weather: two days ago we had cold mist and an icy wind straight from Antarctica, and today the heat came. The sun was merciless, so hot and bright it felt like the light was pressing down on us physically. I guess sometimes the real Light can feel that way too, but the fact remains that both are life-giving.

so much air here ❤

Philosophying aside, for us it means sunburn – horses and people both. Of course, the horses with pink noses religiously get cream on so they don’t burn, but us humans are perpetually red, peeling, or gorgeously tanned. (The bits that you can see. The bits you can’t see are positively luminescent).
It also meant that the school ponies were irritable and moody after their first lesson, but on the upside the training horses were extremely relaxed and didn’t have the energy for melodrama.

Exavior was the hero of the day. I didn’t lunge him at all, just threw his tack on and climbed aboard. He was much less against my inside hand today in trot and so good to halt that I leaned down, opened the ring gate and rode him up into the big arena. He was positively angelic. My adrenalin was sky high and I had to pull myself out of that heels-up hunched-over fetal position a few times, and I know my breathing was very sticky, but he just dealt with it and plugged along. He wasn’t spooky at all, just a bit distracted by the others and obviously very wiggly. He’s been such a trooper about my nerves so far, I really owe him one.

After this high pressure ride, we went on the most stunning hack up the koppie (rocky hill). The views are incredible and Arwen was so relaxed and happy.

Jamaica was next. He had his first jumping session under me yesterday. He hasn’t jumped since he broke his scapula a year ago, and judging by his flatwork I was extremely dubious, so when he overjumped the first little fence I promptly went and got a neck strap and my big girl panties. I do not need my arm broken too, thank you very much. But after the first few giant leaps he settled down beautifully and began to enjoy himself and plop along happily. Today was flatwork, and we kept it quite low-key, working on trying to get a connection in the canter circles.

Destiny had been so good last week, giving me two whole long sessions without any napping, that I optimistically stuck his bridle on and took a lunge roller down to the ring with me. He did nap once, at which I was so indignant that I gave him one hiding and he promptly cut it out, so I put the roller on too and he didn’t turn a hair.

no hairs turning here

Zara’s session was a little odd; she was hyper to lunge and I was about to get on when there was a loud twang and Lady Erin leapt up from the wrong side of the fence, having fallen asleep underneath it and gotten up in a panic. Zara was abandoned in the ring while T and I wrestled the baby monster back into her field. We had just succeeded in this endeavour when there was another loud twang and Zara crashed underneath the ring gate, galloping off merrily. Luckily she was quite OK to catch and I patched up the ring and got on her for three gaits without incident. We finished with some more work in the big arena. She wiggled quite annoyingly, but wasn’t at all spooky or nervous.

I only had like ten minutes for poor Faithy (welcome to being one of mine, Faithy) but they were ten very good minutes. She still only suffers herself to be caught for food, but once caught she’s very relaxed about grooming. I picked out her forefeet for the first time today. We also walked twice around her field without a bum rope.

so shiny

Magic finished off my riding for the day, not really on the best note. He kept it together but he wasn’t relaxed like yesterday. He felt hot and a little bit reactive, so we stuck to flatwork until he settled and then I put him to bed.

Also, shout out to Starlight’s mom! Starlight was a sob story on Facebook seeking a new home for a teensy amount of cash. I said no, but Starlight’s mom bought her anyway and that little horse is a machine! God obviously said yes!

wheeee

Glory to the King.

Midgets and Giants

So y’all (okay, Emma) asked for more pictures of my beautiful Africa, specifically the 228ha that I call earthly home. I need no further excuse to fill my posts with pretty nature spam.

I love this place so much. I don’t remember a place before it; in a climate that can go from waving green fields bathed in golden sunlight to the savage majesty of a breaking thunderstorm in minutes, I know the swing of its moods almost subconsciously. Old Skye and I explored every hollow and rock; its beauty has ripened with age, grown up as I did, an unfading splendour that never disappoints. It was here that I first felt the inexplicable, mighty, dynamic, overwhelming presence that in my early writings I called “the magic” and that I finally found a name for years later: God.

This very earth runs in my blood. And like blood, I’ll leave it behind, but for now in my heart it’s the most amazing place in the whole world.

This morning was nippy as we headed out to feed, with a kind of shy, patchy mist as the sun came up.

On a far less poetic note, Lady Erin has entered the bug-ugly but button-cute stage. She still has nice legs and an impression of athletic quality, but it’s like someone took a baby warmblood and dressed it up as a donkey. A mangy donkey. The colour is very odd and don’t ask me about those floofy ears.

hello person hand, I eat you now

Faithy has happily adapted to the more domestic life and is milking it for all it’s worth. She’s perfectly happy to come over and let me do whatever with her, but only if I have a treat. And it has to be the right treat. She’s meant to be on a balancer to help her grow but she prefers the lucerne pellets, and will only deign to eat the balancer if I beg.

She has me all figured out and she knows it. It’s so adorable.

Also, Olive is doing great! She’s still not safe to ride because her neuro thing hasn’t quite recovered yet, in that the feet do not always go where they are meant to go, but she’s not complaining.

 

T was kind enough to get some pictures of Exavior’s session today. He’s been such a good chap lately. I tried to get some more canter on Thursday, but he again only managed one floundering stride. He seems very willing to try and didn’t resist at all; I think balance is a problem and the 15m ring that works so well for the ponies is not ideal for a big giant warmblood.

I don’t even look small on him right now but just you wait until he’s six or seven and as big as a bus

So we’ve made cantering on the lunge a priority. He just needs to build some muscles so he can hold his giant coathanger self up properly. He usually only works for 15-20 minutes at a time, but it’s amazing what you can achieve in 15 minutes if you do it often enough. Far better I think than doing an hour and frazzling a baby brain and body.

I like when the whoa button works

He feels so much less huge and impressive than I expected of him that I thought he was going like a real school pony, but on the pictures he actually looks pretty good. Even in the halter he has the obedience thing pretty down.
I like this picture a lot. I know he looks like a giraffe, but he’s supposed to. We haven’t even approached the whole connection conversation yet. I want him flowing freely forward and straight from behind at the touch of a button first. And here he’s actually doing well; he’s going forward by himself without my hands or legs even touching him, he’s tracking up, he’s even in a level balance. Not doing so bad after all.

Ignore me, I do weird things aboard babies, it’s kept me alive so far.

Then I rode a bunch of the others who were all very solid. Arwen jumped fine. Midas, Jamaica and Sunè schooled well. I petted Nugget’s neck and Faith exhibited some very athletic drama queen spooks upon being introduced to the bum rope when we talked about halter training. 

To finish the post, I must brag about this one amazing kid in the riding school. She’s five and she rides better than I did when I was ten or eleven. Seriously. Look at those adorable little independent hands. She takes exactly zero nonsense from Lullaby and I spend much of our lessons trying to think of a reason not to let her canter yet (apart from the humiliating one, which is that my nerves will not survive). This, kids, is what happens when you show up to all your lessons and try really hard.

I want like ten of them

Glory to the King.

Much Riding

So what’s the most logical thing to do when you wake up really sore one morning? Head off to Springs to ride some really huge horses, of course.

Al is not amused

With Module 4 and its “jump 85cm on a giant horse you don’t know” threat looming, I packed myself off to go get lessons from jump coach K. She promptly put me on literally the biggest horse I’ve even seen in like a year. I quailed, but he was a school horse so I climbed all the way up and off we went for such a productive ride. Kids, buy yourselves schoolmasters. This thing just jumped whatever he was pointed at, even if the pointing was done badly, in this steady ploppy rhythm that just got the job done so smoothly. I almost instantly forgot that he was huge and enjoyed the sensation of not having to micromanage.

Then I got to ride a super fancy ex-international eventer. I was scared I might break him, but instead he patiently humoured me while I delightedly pressed all his buttons. (Flying changes. Shoulder in. You guys. SO MANY BUTTONS.)

#celebselfie

Back home today, I was greeted with the consequences of pushing off to Springs for a morning – catching up on the sessions I’d missed. This meant twelve horses on my list today, which made my back hurt just to think about. But on the plus side I had the rare and deeply satisfying opportunity to ride every last one of my full-time training horses in one day.
Ten of them were excellent. We kicked off the day on a wonderful note with Exavior being just awesome. I only lunged him very briefly and he was forward but sane to ride. He did kick out in protest at my dressage whip once but neither my seat nor my confidence wobbled so we ended on the very high note of taking two (truly appalling) canter steps. We’re confined to the ring until his wolf teeth get taken out, but we’re sure making progress!

Then Arwen rode an excellent flatwork session, nailing her simple changes even on the long sides and offering some nice shoulder-in of her own, not to be outdone by no giant fancy international horse.

fancy fatness

Tara followed it up with being so relaxed and confident that we established a really nice forward trot including responsive, relaxed transitions. Her anxiety has been put behind her, it would seem. Unfortunately Zara now seems to be in the anxious, stuck-behind-the-leg stage but with quietness she’ll figure it out in a couple of weeks.

majestic ❤

Destiny managed to only nap violently once today, and gave me three gaits nicely lunging left and three gaits begrudgingly lunging right. We’re finally back in the right direction. Sunè has also made up her mind to use her powers for good; after a dreadful session on Monday she stepped up to the plate and did great in walk and trot, large and figures, in the big arena today. The canter isn’t there yet, but it’ll come.
Faithy has discovered that I have food. This momentuous revelation means that she now comes over to be caught and fussed over, although our training sessions mostly consist of me combing her (AMAZING) hair and cooing about how awesome she is.

like I said. AMAZING.

Then Magic and Lancelot just had to throw a spanner in the works. Lancey was plain not in the mood and decided to nap, resulting in a battle of wills; we’ll have to kiss and make up tomorrow. Magic wasn’t exactly bad but he was full of beans and jittery, which was hard to stay calm on. We popped a few fences and called it quits without picking a fight or having a meltdown, so I’m calling it a win anyway.
Midas succeeded in scraping the day off the floor and ending on a lovely note by jumping absolutely everything I aimed him at with poise and enthusiasm. This was only a tiny cross and a 30cm upright, but for his second jumping session ever, I’ll totally take it.

Crazy day, but God was with every breath. Glory to the King.