First Frost

I do realise that it’s well past the first quarter of the year and a goal recap is in order. It’s in the pipeline.

First, exciting news: our neighbours had a dusting of frost over their vlei (marshland, to our foreign readers) this morning. Frost means dead bugs, which means the end of bug-borne diseases for the season, so it was a most welcome sight. And only four weeks after the mist on the river: that old farmer hasn’t been wrong before and he’s not wrong this time.

This week has been blessedly routine as we plod along towards SANESA Q2, for which all the horses and riders are more than ready. I expect great things this qualifier – like determination, guts, drive, grace and patience – from my riders. I’m riding Midas in dressage and jumping again and he’s feeling great. He’s figured out how to jump a one-stride and I don’t expect any trouble.

Magic has the sniffles. I can sympathise; so do I. Neither of us have anything more than a cough and a bit of snots, so I’m letting us get over it ourselves. Magic’s the only one that gets time off, though. Hard life, being a pet.

Exavior had a lot of time off lately and it shows. He fools around in his field a lot and keeps biting Magic’s butt, a sure sign of boredom. To his credit, when I finally lunged him, he was super well behaved and didn’t show any homicidal tendencies. Always a plus.

I’m hoping that Sunè has found her child. This little boy, who isn’t my favourite but only because good teachers don’t have favourites, is a busy little daredevil but his lessons on her are considerably less heart-failure-inducing and she seems to rather like him. This pony was born to be a first pony.

Ash is super. She escaped from her tiny paddock yesterday, but only went as far as the nearest patch of grass, whence I retrieved her two minutes later. She loves her hand-walking and will be doing 30 minutes by the end of next week. I think after that we’ll trot her up gently and see if she’s going sound.

Destiny continues to attempt rising through the ranks in his group and continues to be thwarted by Starlight. Needless to say, he hasn’t done much this week except get lectured about picking on the boss mare.

Faithy is almost a complete equine good citizen. She just needs to get in the box and trot up without squishing me. We do lots of carrot stretches and those funny Masterson Method wiggles, but apart from that I basically just brush her and try stuff on so that I can take cute pictures of her.


I’m sharing Midas with Vastrap’s kid to give the little brat some miles under a rider more suited to his height. He carries me with ease but I do feel sorry for him with my ankles waving around under his tummy. This has been a huge success; Midas is as quiet and reliable as the day is long and the kiddo rides him beautifully.

Arwen and I continue to chip away at the Elementary work. Our canter is improving; the more we work those simple changes the more I figure out how to really get her collected and “jumping” and to carry my own weight. The lateral work is a bit of a sticky point because I don’t know what it’s meant to feel like and can’t see what we’re doing wrong, so we’re kinda waiting on dressage coach S to come and save us from that one.

I’ll wrap this up with a blast from the past that cropped up in my Facebook memories. This hails from a time when I was way too cool for shoulder-hip-heel alignment, breeches, or collared shirts.

Guess who? Do we know any other ginger giants?

Yep, this is Cointreau d’Or – Exavior’s momma, probably when she was still in early pregnancy with him. How cute is it that she has a really short sock on the same foreleg as Lady Erin does?

She was very cool to ride and these photos have made me really want to put my butt back on Xave, too. All in God time.

Glory to the King.

Still Alive, Part I

It’s been a little hectic. I plead first burnout, then boot camp, then a much-needed and God-given holiday over Easter.

So this post (the third one in the whole of April – how sad) is about the week of the 3rd of April – two weeks ago.

also rainy

First, I must share these amazing show photos from the training show. Fine Photography never disappoints.

pony jumps fabulously while I hold the neck strap. What are my feet and face even doing??

Jamaica has proven his ability to jump quite happily while I cling to the neck strap in panic. We’re jumping 80cm at home on my bad days and 90cm on my good days and he’s still got plenty of scope to burn, as evidenced by his hauling my bum out of trouble on a regular basis. The unpleasant little brat is almost gone and is now showing his true nature as a really quite dependable, genuine and willing sort of guy.

Realising that my work here is mainly done, I felt I was quite robbing his owners by making them pay me to build my confidence on their horse. Hence, starting next month, Jamaica will be on half lease with me with the aim of jumping Module 5 on him. I think he has the scope and I feel brave on him and he’s very good at jumping even when I’m glued to the saddle in a state of non compos mentis, which is the only possible way I’ll be jumping a 1.00m course anytime soon.

In preparation for our cross-country schooling the next Monday, we also finally went on a hack again for the first time since he broke his child. No arms were broken at all, and he actually behaved quite perfectly, although we did just walk.

Lancelot had a fairly easy week, which I like to give him after a show because his little brain tends to fry very quickly. We did do the 10-steps exercise, which was so hard for his concentration span that I’m sure I saw a few wisps of smoke coming out of his ears. He tried very hard though. I think I need to get video of him under saddle because I think I’ve missed something. I’ve always thought his trot was his most correct gait but in this exercise he struggled the most with transitions out of the trot. I’m not too sure what he’s doing with his body.

Having finally sorted out the lunging issue with Trooper, I plopped myself on board without further ado. He has been ridden before and is surprisingly forward-going, for Trooper. We have walk/trot and a few steps of canter without a single hesitation or spook (I don’t think he knows what a spook even is).

As expected he can tend towards wanting to nap but the habit isn’t established so one or two flicks with my magic pink wand should sort him out quite briskly.

last bath of the season, methinks

Magic and I actually jumped a bit this week, something we haven’t done seriously in ages, all the way up to 70cm. He was having a very good day so I wasn’t too surprised when he happily packed me over each fence with enjoyment and enthusiasm. Taking the pressure off has been so good for us.


Faithy had her feets done for the first time on Wednesday. She’s been good about having them cleaned and I played with holding them between my knees and on my lap like a farrier does, so she didn’t put up too much of a fight. She did drama queen a bit about having to hold them up for so long, apparently. She has lovely feet, as is to be expected of a Nooitie that’s never been messed with.

Apart from desperately needing a clip, it’s been going very well with Destiny. To be honest I would rather like this to be his last month in training with me, depending on his owner, of course. He still has that dishonest little spook but he has three gaits in balance and rhythm including simple trot changes and has been over a little fence or two. I’d like to get him thinking about connection and going on little hacks and then I think my work here is pretty much done. His owner handles him better than I do at this stage; he’s safe enough for her and she can handle his naughtiness, and they don’t have the personality clash that he and I do.

Of course, he might blow up in my face on his first hack and put an end to that idea while I try and fix that, but I doubt it.

Contrary to all appearances, Arwen has been working hard and doing endless dressage. We had a show on the Sunday, our first graded Elementary, and for the first time in a long time I was more excited than nervous. The judge at the last one was unbelievably constructive and helpful, not in that she was over-generous with the marking but just kind enough to say good things as well as bad things. I don’t know if judges know what a profound effect their attitude can have on the trajectory of a horse and rider’s career. Us dressage types already tend to be perfectionistic and hard on ourselves; grumpy judges rather compound the problem.

It really has nothing to do with the marks. It’s no blow to my confidence to get a 4 on a movement that I know we’re no good at, nor should it be. I just don’t like coming down centreline and feeling waves of disapproval radiating from the judge’s box.

Anyway, Arwen and I have done endless mountains of simple changes and they should be a little better now. It’s more about me getting worried about them and crumbling forward and hanging on the reins than her not being able to do them.

The show turned out to be disappointing for the dumbest reason. We had one grumpy judge and one super nice judge and neither were very impressed, giving us a 58 and a 59. Arwen was as sweet as pie and as obedient as I could have asked for, but as I came down the centerline I realised I couldn’t remember the test. I had learned it and my dad was calling it and I still managed to promptly get an error of course. Bleh.

Things kind of went downhill from there as I sort of sat there helplessly making mistakes, knowing full well what I was doing wrong and unable to persuade my floppy body to do anything about it. I felt I rather let Arwen down, not that she gives her left sock. Burnout is real, guys.

second out of two… whoop whoop

It was a bummer to put so much work into something and then get there on the day feeling so drained that it was kinda for nothing. Still, we tried hard and honoured God so that’s the main thing. We also got 2 grading points – 8 to go.
Thunder also went to the show and did his first Prelim. Apparently, despite being exhausted, I can ride Prelim in my sleep and he was a complete angel. He had the odd whinny and one little spook and a little tension but his good moments shone and both judges were suitably impressed. He was second in a class of nine with two scores in the 66’s. “Lovely horse with presence. Lovely walk. Active rhythm. Promising” gushed the grumpy judge.

“Promising” is something I do love to see on a test. He rides Prelim again this weekend under K and I can’t wait to see what he does.


Lady Erin is enjoying the life of the grown-up, independent weanling under the watchful eye of the old queen herself. Skye has practically adopted her and I think it’s good for the little lady to have a field companion that sets a good example (usually) and doesn’t leave the field, to settle her in this crucial time. Milady has also forgotten all about her offspring and is busying herself about restoring her battered body to shiny fatness.

Poor old Exavior has been badly neglected. The Mutterer came out to ride him once and he was pretty good, although he did start chopping and threatening to rear once, so there’s no way I’m going anywhere near his saddle just yet.

Midas has been working on his hacking, something he really enjoys. He didn’t spook at any cows this time, although to be fair none of them came charging over as they sometimes do, so it remains to be seen how he’ll handle that.

Finally (best for last) I must introduce our new arrival, who arrived on the Friday. First, let me explain that God and I have this arrangement where I keep thanking Him for all the yard’s horses and trying to politely explain that we really do have enough now. And then He’s like, “Look what I have for you!” and I’m like “srsly Lord how are we gonna feed it” and He’s like “Just trust Me, darling” and I’m like “OK”.

Enter Ashgar Riverdance.

Ash is a registered Connemara (thus very rare in our country) in her teens. She was jumping the graded 1.00m under her lovely owner at shows, 1.20 (pony A-grade) at home, when she blew a tendon. Then she blew it again and her owner had to decide that retirement was best for her. Apparently, a gorgeous super talented jumping Connemara broodmare is part of God’s plan for Morning Star Stables, so she fell right into our laps.

Ashy is the typical boss lady and a huge favourite, which is a good thing because she has to be walked for 25 minutes a day and the yard rats queue up for the honour.

Next up, recap of boot camp, then it’s back to your regular posts, ladies and gentlemen. Glory to the King.

The Next Thing

Eyes wide open, I see You working

all around me, You’re on the move

Step by step I’m running to meet You

in the next thing, in the next thing

~ Casting Crowns, “The Very Next Thing”

I had not expected following Jesus to have as much of an element of putting one foot in front of the other as it does. I expected fire and lightning, if I expected anything at all. But step by step I’m learning that a lot of self-denial, of endurance, of love is hardest – and just as important – to exercise on the ordinary little days. We’re not called to rejoice only in the storms or in our greatest triumphs, but to rejoice evermore. To pray without ceasing. And that means here, now, in our daily lives, in the next thing. There can be extraordinary power in the ordinary.

And it has been a happy ordinary around here; no dramatic victories to report but a steady, patient climb towards excellence. With God in every breath, which turns ordinary on its head a little, but right now is as close and warm as your own skin.

Sunday was training show day and the jumpers had a good outing (which ended in a three-hour trip home when the box got a flat). Starlight was dead quiet and beautifully behaved but took a pole in each class of 40 and 50cm. Renè also had a few poles, but K rode her admirably and she wasn’t bothered by anything very much except the plank in the first fence.

Apparently the plank worried Lancey too, because he stopped at it in the 60. To be fair a horsebox chose that moment to rumble past right next to the arena and he got a bit distracted; I applied both heels and we clambered over. Then something else – a butterfly, a mote of dust, who knows – distracted him and he stopped at number four too, but after that he jumped fine.

He redeemed himself in the 70 by jumping everything completely fearlessly, just getting penalties for a silly pole because he’s still a little careless with his hindlegs.

Jamaica made up for them all by giving me the most fantastic ride. The 60 was a doddle; he bounced around nonchalantly and won it by four seconds, and then came second in the 70. He was quick but focused, relaxed and attentive and I couldn’t have asked for better.

I really thought reschooling this delinquent after he broke his child was going to be a massive bore, but he’s just been such a blessing. All things work together for good, eh?

Back home today, Arwen continued with the theme of good jumping by absolutely packing my panicky butt through a gymnastic line that really quite challenged her scope. We trotted in to 75cm, then one stride to another 75cm and then three to a wide airy oxer at about 85cm although looking at it I think it was bigger. I was terrified but she just dragoned along dragging me with her. Obviously she didn’t manage three in the three, but she did get the one, which was nice.

Magicky was next and I spent almost an hour fussing over him and cuddling his wonderfulness. Such is the life of the pet horse. He is doing so well and I love him to bits.

Thunder rides his first Prelim on Sunday and I feel like he could score really really well. Of course he probably won’t because he’ll be screaming and bucking and spooking and bolting, but the schooling is there. He’s working over his back beautifully especially in walk and his trot has gained a floaty cadence that hopefully looks as nice as it feels. The canter still needs help to retain its rhythm and jump for more than a lap or so. Even stretchy trot is slowly slowly coming to life.

Midas and Sunè both learned something today; Midas learned to counter bend and improved the quality of his connection, and Sunè learned that running out at the end of a grid gets you a very big hiding. She proceeded to jump beautifully thereafter and seems to enjoy it – I’m chuffed to have found its jump button.

I also weaned Lady E today. I feel like a pig. Not to Lady Erin – she is happily hanging out with Skye and Vastrap. Poor old Milady is the one doing the shouting. It’s for your own good, Milady. Magic is not helping the situation by running up and down screaming for no reason that he really knows.

I also rode Eagle properly for the first time today and regrettably have no pictures of this momentuous occasion. He is super. I literally hopped on and said “Walk on” and he walked on without a touch. We got a lap of the ring each way with whoa, go and turn and I am very very chuffed.

Trooper got his first saddle, which I at least got a picture of. I forgot to untie him for this milestone because he was sleeping and stayed sleeping throughout. He did wake up to lunge, though, and behaved very well.

Little steps that keep taking us forward. 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.

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.

Introducing Destiny, Sunè and Lady Erin

Bear with me, y’all. As you might have noticed, I have resolved to blog more in this year, but there is much catching up and introductions to do before I can actually settle down and start telling you stuff that’s happening. This should be the last one.

First and most exciting (sorry D and S) is the first little foal that’s been born under the Morning Star Stables prefix. She arrived in October at the extremely civilised hour of 4:30pm, after Milady and I had thrown a pyjama party the night before (thank you Milady for only making me do this once).

The foaling was textbook and Milady was a pro throughout it all. The filly was rather in a hurry and was on her feet and suckling within an hour, little overachiever. We named her Lady Erin. She is by Exavior and is our first and last warmblood foal; it is strictly ponies from hereon out. But as warmblood foals go she is enormous, feisty, and very cooperative.

Lady E has been fooled around with somewhat and will stand for the daily chores and wear a halter, but still needs a bum rope to be led around. For a two-month-old foal this is quite good enough: we’ll finish the last bits of halter training just before she’s weaned. For now she suckers the riding school kids into giving her cookies just so she can chew them up and spit them out on somebody’s shoes.

Destiny has been a resident since mid-October, but only came into training in December because I was totally full. He is a super duper cute little homebred dude with a rather large ego.

D is here to be started, but we’re currently rather stuck on the subject of lungeing; on the left rein he’s lovely, on the right rein he has a whole plethora of tricks to pull out including rearing and smashing the fence. We have seen a vast improvement, though, so I’m sure he’ll get it figured out quite soon.

Sunè is here in Quinni’s place from Arop. She looks like the polar opposite of Quinni, but of course has a similar lovely nature. I’ve only had two sessions on her but our head groom T started her when they were both at the previous stableyard, and she’s pretty ridden in. Just needs some refining and then we’re set (which is a mercy because it’s meant to go to Horse of the Year in February).

taken one week apart: our feeding program + Nooitie constitution = epic win

In other news, I have my results for my stableyard manager qualification and I am now a real proper manager with papers. I don’t quite know how He did it but God somehow managed to help me with the studying (I had like two weeks after the outbreak during a very rough time) so much that my overall mark is 93%. I passed all of them with streets to spare except conformation, which I just barely scraped through, but I’m chalking it down to nerves because normally I’m quite good. So that’s a really epic note to end 2016 on.

Glory to the King.