Marching On

After the emotional and spiritual high of last week, this one has left me a little flat. Make no mistake, we had good progress this week, including a lot of good rides and lessons and wonderful preparation for Finals tomorrow (these kids are amazing!), but I think we all felt a little rough around the edges after putting everything into pony camp.

I will give absolutely everything tomorrow, too, because my kids and ponies have been doing exactly that. Vastrap and his kid were so amazing on Tuesday that yesterday I just took them on a hack. They are so more than ready for whatever Finals will throw at them.

And after a bit of an unpromising lesson on Tuesday, Liana’s indomitable kid showed up to work on Thursday and gave it everything she had. Liana is hot and not always easy to keep rhythmic throughout a test but this kid absolutely nailed it. She’s going to ride her heart out at Finals because she always does.

Purple gloves make me happy, and so does Savanna. She is such a sweet, nonviolent, willing soul. She is desperately uneducated though, and it shows, but already after two or three weeks of work she’s starting to understand that there is no need to rush fences or cut corners. We still have a long way to go in terms of developing self-carriage and any form of technique, but obedience is already improving. From next week she’s in full training and competing with me, so that’ll be fun.

Champagne has been out of work for the above reason. Ah pony. Why? Six stitches and a week later and it’s almost healed, but it’s a pity we’ve lost that training time.

Magic is better at teenage girl selfies than I am.

He’s just better at selfies generally, really.

Skye has a nicer winter coat than anyone. She is really contented at the moment. Looking after Lady Erin seems to be all the stimulation she really needs; the old girl is happy to stand in a peaceful field and come in to do the Scripture reading before shows and get stuffed full of cookies. Especially the cookies, if we’re honest. She doesn’t crave people, although that’s not to say we don’t both enjoy grooming (and cookie-feeding).

Magic, on the other hand, is by no means ready for retirement. I had been toying with the idea a little. Riding has been either anxious or boring of late; I don’t want to push him with the flatwork, I can’t cope with the jumping, and he can’t cope with hacks. We lunge but that’s just exercise. We both really need a conversation; we need to spend quality time and not just be together, but talk and interact and learn things.

So, because he really enjoys groundwork, we’re playing with liberty. I know – I rolled my eyes reading the websites, too. (Ignore bad behaviour? So what do you do if it charges/bites/kicks/rears/pushes you around?) But it’s what Magic needs. He never gets stroppy. He never gets domineering. He needs something where there’s no pressure and lots of affirmation and this seems like fun. So here goes nothing, I guess.

I’m just gonna leave this right here because it makes me so happy seeing them regain their shine here.

Pretty Ash has been doing so well with L. Sound for 15 minutes’ trotting for several weeks now, we’ve added in some canter. It’s rather more canter than L is used to but Ash takes care of her. She is such a classy, attractive pony – I kind of wish we’d had her when she was younger and sounder and ready to take on the world.

I bought the dragon a nametag. Try not to laugh.

Speaking of dragons, we have been dressaging. More to come later. I’m using the double on her most of the time now. She does go better and yes, she should be able to do it in a snaffle, but the horse didn’t get a good foundation and right now we’re just muddling along trying to find what works for where we are now. Dressage coach S might come see us next month, then we can ask her opinion.

Nugget is incredibly content living with Magic. She’s in a better condition than ever before and even runs around the field playing with him – something I’ve never seen her do before. Unfortunately, after my week off and then pony camp, we’ve taken a bunch of steps back in handling. I haven’t gotten a halter back on her again. We’re making progress back there every day (I can rub her neck and shoulder now), so we’ll regain the lost ground quickly. I’m trying to make a point not to be upset about it, because there’s just no way I would have coped without the week off. And if I don’t cope there’s no yard and if there’s no yard there’s no safe haven for Nuggets.

On the jumping front, this was our exercise of the week; canter pole, couple of bounces, one stride, vertical. I added V-poles to the vertical later on. It was very challenging, especially for the kids, because they had to really ride the ponies up into their hands and get them to use themselves instead of just point and go. But it was confidence building for the horses and helped sharpen reflexes and round jumps nicely.

I found it confidence building too – so much so that the last vertical ended up at about a metre. My first in years, and Jamaica’s first under me. He just loped right on over and didn’t take it seriously enough to give it much scope, so it’s comforting to know he can do it and with such quietness.

He is such a blessing. If I had unlimited funds I would have bought him long ago. As it is, if I do pass Module 5, it’ll in large part be due to what God is doing for me with this funny-looking little horse.

Arwen has a jumping day each month, and she charged through it as well,

as did Destiny, Savanna (a simplified version), Thunder, and Lancelot. Lancey particularly impressed me because carefulness has been something we’ve long struggled with and he didn’t knock a single pole, except for rubbing the last vertical so that the V-poles fell off. He was kind of dorkward about it but he did the thing and I’m so so proud of the little chap.

I also started playing with an automatic release. My crest release is really good when it’s good, but disappears as soon as I’m nervous. I feel like I have to keep my hands back to keep my weight back in case the horse stops. It isn’t true, but it’s how it feels. The automatic is harder so it makes me concentrate on my lower leg and hip so that I can pull it off, but psychologically it’s significantly easier to follow the mouth slightly rather than toss my hands up the neck. I kinda like the result but I’m not dead sure yet.

And I’m throwing this in here too – G wasn’t able to exercise Pennie much last week, so I got to borrow her for a day and have some fun. Love this pony. She’s epic. Pictured: reason why I must learn a better release.

Eagle is going much better. He can be tricky to train for his novice owners; he’s never naughty, but he is responsive and forward-thinking by nature, so when you’re a novice trotting along and you panic and grab with your legs he’s probably going to go faster. We spent a lot of time installing some very sharp brakes and a relaxed halt, and he’s doing great.

They harvested the maize last week. The world suddenly looks bigger; and there’s not as much to spook at. I borrowed Dusty from the kids for a hack and remembered why I trust this little pony like nobody else.

This is Troy, who is my current favourite schoolie from Winstead. He is large and round and lazy but also jumps anything if you get him to go fast enough, so he’s my type. We were jumping over 80cm in fairly tricky exercises last lesson and he gives me a lot of courage. Thank you Troy (and coach K of course).

This cheeky adorable Faithy thing has been getting ideas above her station and picking fights with herd members, so now she has one kick on each hock. One more kick and I’ll move her out, but I suspect she’s doing something to provoke getting bullied. Bratty 2yo thinks she can rule the roost down there.

We have been having more conversations about the horsebox. She doesn’t walk right in yet, but if you show her you have cookies she’ll go in. She’s still learning about the world and I’m still learning about her, but I love her so much. Also she will do anything for cookies.

This is Meatlug (after the dragon – a greatly inappropriate name) and I think she’s beautiful. Those eyes…


Destiny has his ups and downs. Our personality clash makes for a difficult relationship, but we have been making really good progress. He’s so good on hacks now, jumped the difficult gymnastic, and is learning to move laterally off my leg.

Blizzard is trotting laps in the (amazing, new) ring now. Slanted poles are amazing, by the way – I haven’t had my knees smacked even once. He was scared of me posting at first, but his reaction to being scared is to stop dead, so that’s quite OK for a novice horse. We have some confidence building to do in trot but it won’t be long before we canter.

Lullaby has been a bit flat lately. I’ve tried the usual tricks – decreased workload, time off, a fun jumping session with a big kid – to no avail. She doesn’t seem unsound or in any physical trouble beyond the usual stiffness that we’re controlling with joint supplements, but there’s just a lack of her usual sparkle. I really hope her age and many years in the riding school aren’t catching up to her. I need her – we need her. But I’m her advocate. So we’ll try hacks and different food and so on until my stalwart little colleague is herself again. She has served so well for so long at such a thankless task.
My job is easy by comparison. It’s the least I can do to be as faithful as my good little ponies.

Glory to the King.

all ready for tomorrow

Small Victories

This week was… incredible.

It was pony camp, which I always love because I get more than that single golden half-hour once a week with each child. I get a chance to listen. I get a chance to learn.

We had many kids, for us (12? 13? I’m honestly not sure) and I can confidently say they all impressed me this week. For sure some of them got told off rather sternly but they are all lights in the world. They all have their futures thrown wide before them and the knowledge that I had a whole week with them – a week that God could use to influence their lives – was a tremendous thing. Terrifying at times, but tremendous.

Bible study was something else. The first three days felt like they weren’t really going anywhere – I was preaching the Gospel, and they were listening (most of the time) like good little children. But such is Bible study, I’m finding. It takes a while to build the trust that makes it a conversation. On the last day, we ended up running 45 minutes long because the kids weren’t running out of questions. We sat together and had an open, candid, non-judgmental, honest and sincere discussion about God. Jesus was there and the Holy Spirit was working! It was a day that reminded me of what I’m here for.

Of course, much was learned about horses, too. We rode bareback (a first for most of the kids) and played that game where you give each child a coin under each lower thigh and the kid who manages to keep their coins the longest wins. This was to much hilarity, but regrettably, we lost almost all of the coins in the arena sand.

We also learned how to turn out a pony, to varied success. This was less of a hit with some of the boys, but for the most part they pulled together and did some rather stellar work. Trooper especially looked more dashing than I expected.

We also learned about the points of the horse, parts of the saddle and bridle, and colours and markings. The ponies were as usual entirely accepting of having stickers stuck all over them.

They also did an awesome job painting and decorating all our jumps,

and Kindness Rocks, which are now littered all over the yard. Some have rather imaginative spelling (and others are teetering precariously on top of poles, on the brink of falling upon somebody’s head like a bolt of divine inspiration) but they make me smile.

We jumped some jumps (pictured: head groom L winning at this) and limbo’d under others (not pictured: head groom L falling on her head trying to win at this).

There were no falls or serious injuries at all this pony camp, to my great relief. One kid did cut his finger on the fence, whereupon it bled magnificently, but it was nothing that making a big fuss, pulling on my blue gloves and sticking a Star Wars plaster couldn’t fix. I also got kicked halfway across the arena (walked behind a sleeping pony and touched its bum like an idiot) but luckily I went flying and skidded several metres so that seems to have taken the worst of the impact out of it. Young muscles do have their advantages.

The week culminated in today’s training show, our first ever. It was an outrageous success – by the grace of God. Literally. He was so with us. And I have no pictures. Sorry.

We opened with Scripture reading, a la Lipizzaners, by bringing in old Skye and reading Job 39:19-25. Not gonna lie, standing next to my brave old friend and facing the crowd (more than 80 people – it was quite the crowd) and the powerful words straight from my God’s mouth rolling over us, I got a little teary-eyed.

The POG class was enormous and consisted of basically everyone whether they could jump or not. But I only had two on the lead rein and everyone else remembered their track perfectly, even if they walked the whole thing. Lulu, Trooper (yes – the 3yo; ridden off lead by a 6yo kiddie. He was good except once he walked into an upright and it fell over), Stardust, Midas, Sunè, Renè, and Thunder all packed their kids around without putting a toe wrong. Starlight had a spook and cantered off causing a little panic, but the kid got her back and she was fine after that.

Lisna and E also trotted around the POG and 20cm effortlessly. Lisna didn’t look at a thing and E handled first-show nerves brilliantly.

Most notably, David and his person went around the POG in hand. A mighty feat considering all the fears that horse had to conquer to get there. I gave him a show name and it says everything about him: Facing the Giants. He has faced some incredible Goliaths.

The 20cm was more of the same, with the addition of Savanna and her teenager. Savanna has been SO naughty of late (used to following other ponies over jumps + now feeling rather too good = naughty) but she was super and her teenager rode her really, really well for clear rounds.

Rain and Arwen also popped around the 20cm and 30cm, to general applause. Arwen also packed another rider who she’s never seen before in her life around the 60cm and 70cm, kicking all of our bums in the process. That’s the dragonbeast for you. I love that about my dance partners – they can dance with me one day and carry random people around the next.

In the 40cm, Destiny got his first jumping win under his mom. Sunè and her kid also popped around beautifully and Starlight came second with a kid that will hopefully become her kid eventually.

In the 50cm, Liana and her kid charged around brilliantly for second place. Midas and his new little rider had their first show together and came third, and Pennie’s mom G jumped her young horse, Saartjie, for first place. When G got Saartjie about a year ago the pony had never seen a fence before in its life and I’ve never been on her so I am VERY chuffed with both. K and Renè also had a great clear round.

It was more of the same in the 60cm, with Arwen first, Saartjie second and Lancelot third – albeit having a rather gawky round because I was in the dressage saddle (the others were all taken) and mainly focused on not losing my stirrups. Lancey was amazing for the whole thing, jumping all clear rounds. We were all expecting Vastrap to win because he is awesome but he got a bit wild and threw in a stop – luckily for his child because I don’t think she could have sat the only distance available to him at that pace. He won the 70cm, with Lancey second and Arwen third.

The 80cm was only Pennie and G and Jamaica and I, and Maicy totally showed me again why I lease him. I was exhausted by this point and just sort of hung on and pointed him at the jumps. The distances were ugly, the rhythm was off, and we’d had one minute to warm up – but Jamaica just took me over each fence despite my mistakes. Good boy. He won it despite a rail down because Pennie got somewhat overexcited and crashed through a bunch of jumps.

The last class was called the 85cm but only because I didn’t want to say out loud that Jamaica and I were jumping a 90cm track. I needn’t have worried, though. Jamaica was superb. Both G and I had a pole down but Pennie was like 15 seconds faster so they won.

I am so happy with it – all of it. I feel so honoured to be among this group of horses and riders and to feel the buzz that was at this stableyard today. It’s more than just a good atmosphere brought about by mutual goodwill. It’s in me but not of me. It’s the Holy Spirit at work.

This evening I had one last job – herding the members of field A (Arwen’s group) back to their field, which was being used as a warmup. It was a short way along the corridor so I elected to just shepherd them along rather than catching each one. I whistled them up and Arwen led the charge, snorting fire. Magic caught on and started bucking in the neighbouring field and then suddenly they were all running – thirty-one shining, happy horses – each a thunder-clothed collection of graceful curves bursting with life and exuberance, the sky and earth trembling with the power of them. I was caught breathless in the whirlwind of it, and I understood what the psalmist meant when he said: Let everything that has breath praise the name of the Lord.

No eye has seen what He has prepared for us, but perhaps sometimes we catch the edge of Heaven’s melody, curling on the cusp of hearing.

Thank You Father. Glory to the King.