Full-Hearted

Isn’t it the most wonderful thing to see God at work? He’s in everything at this little yard; present in each lesson, supervising each training session, caring about every small child and every bratty pony as His own. Even this particularly pathetic and grubby little daughter of His, so often mired in petty worries and little frustrations, often stands thunderstruck by the wonder of His amazing love.

Every time I ride Thunder he becomes more adept with the steps of the basic dance. Prelim is, well, Prelim; the hardest thing we do is four or five strides of semi-lengthened trot. But he’s becoming so joyous, so supple and balanced and connected and lifting through his back, that even simple working trot corners and circles are almost addictive to ride. We made a lot of progress with his canter, too. He has a lot more spring and carrying power behind these days and his hocks have visibly come under him more in the space of a few sessions.

My secret ambition is to break 70% on him this year. I don’t school him with this goal in mind, but I will be hoping for that number on a test sometime.

This is Firepaw. When she’s not terrorising the dogs, she sits majestically in this bowl and waits to be fed.

I’ve been focusing a lot more on having my riders work in light seat and without stirrups lately. Almost every time I have a private lesson booked, I teach a lunging lesson. Previously from the start my focus was heavily on independent control of the pony, which is a good thing, but the more I teach the more I realise how essential position is and how important it is to teach a good one from the very beginning. No-stirrups and light seat just never figured in my early education; I taught myself both. My new rule is that we only move on to a new gait when the rider can perform the old gait independently without stirrups.

It turns out I can catch Nugget, halter or no halter, with ease as long as I have a treat for her. I do want to wean her off the treats but there’s no denying that they worked when nothing else did. I even gave her her AHS vaccine without any drama whatsoever; I was feeding her with one hand and injecting with the other, the lead hanging loosely over my elbow, and she just gave a little flinch as she felt the needle. It’s a massive relief; now I know she can get medical treatment if she needs it.

Her feet are in quite a state. I can lift the fronts and tuck them between my knees like a farrier, so if I can borrow some clippers I might be able to do something about them, but we don’t talk about the hind feet just yet. Nobody else can come near her without getting kicked.

Blizzard’s first long-line was disastrous, so we backed up to lunging again. Pleased to announce that he now has three beautiful, relaxed, obedient, rhythmic gaits on the lunge and hasn’t put his tongue over the bit for a while.

He has no tendency to violence but he can be just as stubborn and silly as his small eye suggests. He wouldn’t be much of a competition horse, but his inherent quietness should make him a nice plod-along sort of hack.

Destiny has been going so much better. Still flinchy and spooky to hack, but rideable. He cottoned on to the idea of connection so quickly and can work connected from behind for a quite surprising length of time without getting tired. We even took him down to the grass jumping arena and he popped around like he doesn’t know what a spook even is.

Arwen is feeling much better after chiro. I was right that she was out in her neck but wrong about where; C6, not C3. She also had some tension through the lumbar spine (L2, L4, and L6) and was out in her sacrum on the right. She has been able to connect her neck a lot better since and to bend both ways far more easily (her shoulder-ins are easily twice as good as they were). I think the pelvis realignment also helped her to sit better through her canter-walk transitions. Nothing truly magical, but a definite improvement.

I think Arwen is beginning to feel a physical limitation at this level. She is incredibly correct throughout her conformation, but definitely not the most athletic horse ever and it’s starting to show somewhat. This actually doesn’t bother me like I thought it would. Losing first Nell and then Rainbow, then having personal financial restrictions that limit the amount of competitions I can do myself, have been so good for my attitude.

Dressage used to be a sport. Now it’s a dance three ways; thinking human, moving beast, loving God, all celebrating the wonderfulness of creation and its Creator. Arwen and I are greatly enjoying this level and I honestly don’t mind if we go no further. We can do Elementary forever until we do it perfectly, or we can go event again, or we can stay at home and dance. Dragonbeast doesn’t owe me a thing.

Nor does old Skye, but she stays beautiful.

I only rode Magic once this week, and only down the centreline and along one long side before he had a bit of a meltdown about the geese. Anxiety is a female canine. We worked through it, though. There’s no rush, we take it one day, one breath at a time.

Faithy wore a saddle; not for any real reason other than that I didn’t feel like carrying it up the hill. Obviously, she didn’t mind one bit. We also put her in the horsebox again, this time without a bum rope, but with some cookies.

She is a lovely citizen at the moment, but can tend to get a bit forward and pulling when hand walked somewhere unfamiliar. The horse loves to work, though. She enjoys people and likes learning. I think she might grow up into a bit of a hot and spooky type, but there’s nothing wrong with the work ethic, and that’s my main thing. Hot and spooky we can work with.

I failed badly at pictures this week, so here’s a little cuteness to break up the text. Stardust is looking the best she’s ever looked and feeling great in her body and mind, too. I keep her for beginners and hacks now; her gimpy leg has improved, but I doubt she’ll ever really be able to jump or easily canter on the off lead. She’s super with beginners and has lovely smooth gaits, so she has plenty to do, and the slower work suits her well so she’s become friendly and perky again instead of the typical grouchy schoolie. Lullaby has been heading in that direction lately – never really naughty with the kids, but grumpy to catch and tack up, so we’re diverting some of her work onto Sunè and Starlight.

Eagle has become so confident on hacks that he’s started to get quite forward and pull – heading out, not back. Silly nana. He can still have the odd look at things, but we’ve been hacking alone and in company and he’s always happy to do the thing and stays rideable through everything.

Lancey is preparing for his first dressage tests next weekend. He’s going in at the deep end with Prelim 3 and 4 and I don’t expect miracles, but he just has to keep it together and do what I say and I’ll be happy.

Trooper jumped! He actually went up in the air and over the jump with all four feet and then cantered off. Poor little chap. He’s safe as a house though. He can just about go do a walk/trot test and a POG class, so as soon as his passport is done we’ll be attempting an outing or two.

The upcoming SANESA show will likely be my last on Midas, depending on the little girl who’s been trying him in the school, and on whether we get through to Finals. I would still love to jump around EV60 with him, but I won’t break the bank trying, and with training fairly in demand it makes sense to palm him off on VT’s child until he sells.

Glory to the King.

Grateful Sappiness

I may be yard manager, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get very, very soppy about my friends the horses sometimes. I think a defining characteristic of the real horsewoman is that deep down, she’s still a 12-year-old girl who loves ponies.

Music and horses seem to dance hand in hand, too. Their very gaits and songs follow the same beats. I shamelessly listen while I ride; it helps me focus and the horses don’t seem to mind at all.

So today’s dose of sappiness involves celebrating my dear pets with the lyrics that make me think of them, with a heart of gratitude to the God Who should be punishing me.

This is from a random song my buddy Erin found on the Internet, “Dragonhearted” and it’s totally Arwen’s anthem. She’s the horse that never quits believing and it works for her. Misspelling absolutely intended, by the way.

This one is from a local artist, Elvis Blue’s “Lighthouse”. It’s something of homecoming and the graceful curves of the old, gold charger have always been that for me. A taste, perhaps, of what awaits us once we really get Home for good.

Basically anyone who knows Casting Crowns knows “Just Be Held”, which is all about the fact that God is holding onto us even when we’re too feeble even to grasp His outstretched Hand. That was a lesson I learned in no small part through God’s powerful use of Magic in my life.

MercyMe is a new one to me, but “The First Time” broke my heart. God’s mercy and grace are new every single day and undeserved every time, and just when I think I’ve seen the limit of His love, it turns out to be a false horizon, a hilltop from which a whole world of valleys and forests and fields of mercy rolls away in all directions into the everlasting. Thunder is a cherry on top, a blessing I don’t even need, but God saw fit to let me have him anyway. I feel so humbled.

As for Faith, Casting Crowns’s “Oh My Soul” has just always been her song. She arose from the sorrow of Nell’s sale and the tragedy of Rainbow’s death. And I can assure you that there will be dancing.

Dancing with horses, hand in hand with my King. Each step one waltz closer to our forever home.

Glory to the King.

Some Highlights

Y’all know the drill by now: it was madness. Indeed it was. A happy mad jumble of riding, volunteering, lessons and challenges. I’m just going to go down my camera roll and blather. It’s something, right?

Thunder continues to work on the most basic things, most of which he’s already mastered, but with the whole year to do Prelim I aim to do it excellently. If I’d only worked harder on Arwen at Prelim I wouldn’t have to keep filling in holes at Elementary, and I won’t make the same mistake with this chap. And he’s soaking it up like a gigantic amiable sponge. Because it doesn’t hack and I generally don’t jump him, I’d think he’d get so bored he’d fall over. But he likes it; for all his behind-the-leg-ness, he’s got the most amazing work ethic.

We’ve sorted the right and left bend thing and stretched the trot. Now we’re concentrating on the quality of his canter. I’m teaching him to go and carry me powerfully forward with my leg completely off and today he had moments of tremendous power between my leg and hand. The stuff of goosebumps; dancing with my horse and my King.

Simple moments like these with my brave old charger light up my day. So blessed to still have her gracing our fields with full vim and vigour at her age.

The remains of a hapless blanket after the wind blew it into Magic and Xave’s field and the two of them shredded it. Luckily neither of them take blankets off each other, but blankets on the ground are apparently fair game.

Ashy is now at the point in her rehab where she can be ridden. She’s a total joy and now walking for ten minutes a day under L.

Rising star E had her first few lessons on Lisna, who does not disappoint. It took E a while to get used to Lisna’s tremendous stride but now they’re looking more harmonious.

She’s a lovely, big, quality mare and she gives me goosebumps –

– and E the kind of smiles we don’t see from our teens too often. These are the moments when I can taste God’s purpose for us.

Blizzard’s lunging is improving, although his first session on the long lines was less inspiring. He does take the bridle a lot easier than he used to.

My scared little kid has had such a terrible setback for no apparent reason. Such is phobia. We’re back to grooming, and Lady Erin is the only one with feet small enough for kiddo to lift by himself.

This is Savanna, our new TB (and by “our” I mean “a teenager’s”). She is only six but conducts herself like a quiet old hand. Sorry for the ribs, we’re covering them up. I don’t think she’s seen so much hay in her life – she’s apparently glued to the bale. First time I’ve ever seen a horse roll and eat at the same time.

This TB don’t need no more fattening. It’s getting embarrassing. His new psychological happy place is translating into a physical throughness and relaxation I’ve never felt before. It feels great.

Eagle has mostly been hacking and he’s lovely. He can have the odd stop and gawp at things, but never anything dramatic. He and Lancey went out with L and I, and both were totally relaxed. I even canter him around a bit on hacks and I’m not big on cantering outside on babies, but Eagle inspires confidence.

It was cold. Our dogs are spoiled. Photo captured in the split second between Ice sitting up and Ice becoming a blur towards the door.

Savanna was not amused by my offers of balancer; I had to mix it with grass pellets to get her eating. I’d say “gotta love thoroughbreds” only Faith did exactly the same.

My mighty dragon had gone through such a bad patch in terms of bend and connection that I called the chiro because she was so stiff through her neck (around C3). Of course, the day after I made the appointment, she suddenly went fifty times better. There’s still a hint of tightness there so we’ll see what the chiro says.

I sat on Skye for the first time in two or three years, the 40m from the stables to her fields, on a crazy little whim. She nearly launched me to Timbuktu but decided against it at the last moment. There’s such a fire in that horse’s soul.

Trooper has been wonderful. He figured out basic contact and connection so sweetly and is completely reliable on hacks alone and in company. Jumping, sadly, is another story. He’ll go between the uprights, he’ll even try leave the poles up, but he doesn’t really get that he can actually, you know… jump. He’ll figure it out when he’s ready.

I wuv him

Jamaica and I had a very stern discussion about brakes and now his willing attitude has slowly restored my nerve. He’s so good about jumping and listening most of the time, but some of the basics are really still missing. Lots of gymnastics and exercises in this one’s future.

I left Nugget’s halter off this morning. I think I’ll be able to catch her tomorrow… but I couldn’t cope with the rubbing and scruffiness anymore. She followed me afterwards and let me pet her without chewing my arm off or anything, so that’s hopeful.

Every morning I start with Nugget, and the whole time I’m grooming her, Faith marches up and down the fence and nickers to me. I think it’s just for the cookies she gets to stretch with, but it gives me the warm fuzzies either way.

Happy old farts: Skye (somewhere in her mid to late 20s) and Benjamin (rising 21). Both my seniors, both looking amazing. I hope I look like that when I’m their age in horse/donkey years.

look look my legs are long (when pony is 13.1)

Midas is mostly jumping with the kid, and I do the dressage. I’m somewhat giddy on the 68% we got last time and I really hope things pan out in such a way that we can get more of a warmup and score even better in two weeks’ time.

Lady Erin is well on her way to becoming a good citizen. She leads nicely, ties up, is lovely to groom, and stands for the farrier. Next topics: shots and loading.

I’m hoping this kid and Midas might become a permanent partnership. Their personalities and abilities are well suited, but she did have trouble getting him to go forward. Methinks the leg aids are higher up than he’s used to. We’ll keep trying and see how it goes; he’s been very safe.

Tried to get a selfie with a Night Fury and an overgrown puppy.

Failed.

Also tried to get a picture of my three dance partners all lined up from biggest to smallest, but they kept following me and mugging me for treats. Love them anyway, or maybe because.

African sunrises and the love of horses. I am terribly loved.

Glory to the King.

Two Weeks’ Recap

I’m a little overdue. But here goes – pictures and ramblings, the norm.

Skye is still the reigning queen of the yard, and doubly content to have Lady Erin to babysit. Plopsie herself can now walk around her field on a lead without a bum rope, although there have been one or two warmblood hissy fits. Luckily this warmblood is like 13.1 right now so those were easily dealt with.

Jamaica went hacking, babysat by Ash, who knows the routes well from her daily hand-walking. Hopefully we’ll be having a little sit on Ash to see how she feels next week.


Fluffy pony cuteness. ❤

Followed by Trooper packing the fairly novice L along on a hack on a horrible windy day. He didn’t turn a hair. I don’t think he knows how.

Winter came. Cherry got a blanket, and David disappeared into the hay. Cherry has since gone back to the stud farm to run around in a gigantic field, which should be good for her poor sad racehorse guts. It’s a bit sad to see her go. She’s been dealt a difficult hand in life so far, but it is to be hoped things will continue to look up for her.

David, however, is here to stay. He orginally arrived in winter 2015, a project from one of the Mutterer’s clients to be schooled and resold. I rode him for a bit and then it became evident that he’d been so abused that his mental and physical scars made schooling dangerous and unfair. I took him off the market and sort of quietly took over as many expenses as I could, hoping his owners would forget him. They did. He’s safe now.

I want to sell Lady Erin but she looks like a donkey right now. Just an ugly growth spurt – she’ll be gorgeous again soon enough.

Arwen’s early morning rides take on a sort of crystalline clarity in winter. We’ve been working on suppleness, both lateral and longitudinal, despite my lapse in motivation due to having no shows to go to until the end of June. It’s an opportunity to school without being tied to a certain test, so I’m trying to take advantage of it.

Apparently, mist can do this. I’ve lived here seventeen years and I still haven’t seen all the simple miracles of cloud and sky that God pulls out effortlessly, all the time.


It also does this, with the beloved dressage arena providing a suitable foreground.

I played with Blizzard for extra exercise on the days the Mutterer wasn’t here to work him. He’s almost the carbon opposite of Eagle – a little stubborn,  quite unreactive, doesn’t canter too well but trots really well. A sturdy sort of chap so far, though. Just not with the willingness of Eagle.


We had a school visit from a horde of first graders. Stardust suffered them with typical grumpy grace.

This is Lisna, who’s come in Cherry’s place. She’s a Nooitie mare with drool-worthy bloodlines and wonderful looks, here to be schooled and resold by one of my rising stars, E. She’s still in quarantine so I only really know her to wave to, but soon she’ll join the lesson program.

My course building skills continue to slowly improve. This was our practice course for SANESA, and while limited – I can only do so much with a hillside, twelve poles and some uprights – it rode quite nicely.

Lancey is coming along just fine. He hacks out fairly reliably, we’re aiming to do some dressage at the next SANESA, and he is now very willing and bold over fences – if a bit careless.

Destiny went on his second and third hacks. I wore my body protector, anticipating a hair-raising experience, but so far, so good. Not even looky, except today when we encountered the maize fields for the first time and things got a little interesting for a few seconds. Luckily he has a wonderful mouth so I can hold him no matter how spooked he gets. He seems to like hacking better than working in the arena.

Lancey is teaching Z-kid some dressage, because Zorro sure ain’t gonna.

Afternoon hacking with novice kiddos. Agony on the feet, healing for the soul. ❤

We introduced Ashy to a field of buddies – Milady and Nugget. Both are laid-back mares with little concern for where they end up in the pecking order, and so far they’ve been a calming influence. Milady just politely ignores Ash’s rampagings because they’re rather beneath her. Poor Nugget bore the brunt of her rage but she gets out of the way and they seem to have come to an understanding.

I’m working on taking Nugget’s halter off and putting it on after every grooming. I hate leaving it on. She’s got such a rub (hair only) on her nosey. But it beats never being able to get hold of her again for shots/treatments/grooming so on it stays until I know I can catch her reliably without it.


Did I mention the hacking out here is incredible?

Best framed by these dragon ears, of course.

Dragons keep having to stop for the lesser mortals to catch up. This hill is very steep and rocky but Arwen just power-walks up it without a single misstep while I kinda throw the reins at her and hope she knows what she’s doing.

Midas is getting better and better on hacks too, both solo and in company. This was a solo hack on a very blustery day and I took a spooky route on purpose – woods, maize fields (which make a dreadful racket in the wind), next door’s feral ponies – and he just chugged right along happy as a bird.

Faith is standing a field eating grass and waiting to be old enough to ride. She gets brushed and stretched and takes some selfies and that’s about it. Not a whole lot more you can do with a two-year-old that knows most of the basics.

I don’t have pictures of Eagle this week, but he’s been very nice. K has been schooling him and I hack him. He went on his first solo hack yesterday and he was lovely – a little spooky at one point, but he never actually jumped, just had a look and a big snort. The rest of the time he plodded on a loose rein, half asleep.

As for this wonderful animal, he’s living the life of the semi-retired pet and starting to look it. The teff hay has been a little too good for him, methinks. I’ve never seen him so fat in my life. Of course, by semi-retired I mean he now works 3-4 days a week instead of 5-6, and usually it’s just farting around aimlessly or lunging when I’m not up for even that, but he likes it. I like it. And if he doesn’t deal on the day, he doesn’t have to.

He does get some pent-up energy though, never released when I’m on board, but lunging has been rather interesting of late. I think some more cantering is in his immediate future.

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.

Halfway There: Goal Review

So according to the logbook I keep of all my rides/sessions, I finished 616 sessions so far in 2015. The majority of this will be riding, but there’s also a lot of lunging and long-lining and free jumping in there, and loading and halter training… and if I have to hold a particularly difficult horse for feet/teeth/whatever, I count that, too. Cuz I can.

That’s about 300-450 hours, which is cool but I can do better. So maybe in the next half I shall!

Anyway, wannabe brag material aside, here’s a review on some real goals:

Arwen

  • Get her fit – Gotcha! She’s lost a tad of fitness now, with being a little under the weather over the weekend and having a slow week due to rider having to be in two places at once, but nothing major. To finish with 0.4 time penalties on cross-country at Springs, especially considering how spooky she was to the jumps, she’s got to be fit enough for her level.
  • Build her upper neck muscle
  • School Elementary Medium successfully – We knew the dressage goal was going to be the slow and tedious one. Still hammering on this. Dressage ain’t a thing you can really force, so we’re not too panicky about achieving this – quality work over chasing levels.
  • Introduce scary-looking jumps – We can keep working on it, but we haven’t had a stop in competition since March. She’s getting much more courageous. We worked on solid skinnies and spooky tires at home.
  • Have her go through water more easily
  • Show graded in EV70 – We did AND IT ROCKED. Okay, so there was no dressage, but who’s counting? We were 8th in a class of 31. I count that as achieved.
Achievin'!
Achievin’!

Exavior

  • Complete advanced halter training
  • Leading over, through and under scary things – Busy on this, but not quite done with going over spooky stuff yet.
  • Leading away from his group – We’ve got this. No screaming, no jogging on the way back, no napping. I’ll take it.
  • Bathing – We got halfway with this and then winter came; we’ll resume in summer.
  • Desensitisation to noise and sight  – I flapped my jacket all over him. He went to sleep. Mission accomplished.
  • Loading preparation – work in progess; I still want him to go over a tarpaulin.
  • Loading
  • Injections – Some improvement, but we’re not there yet
  • Be gelded – Probably going to be postponed to next winter.
  • Lowering of the head when requested by pressure on the halter
  • Basic lunging with a halter and long line only – This is fine.
  • Leading from the right – I totally forgot this (it’s been a few years since I raised my own baby) but it’s a handy skill. Working on it now.
  • Wearing a roller
  • Lunging over poles
  • Preparation for clipping – I don’t have clippers yet so…
  • Wearing boots – All these lunging-related goals will most likely will be left for next year unless he suddenly matures a lot. Being a warmblood, he’s really not at the same level of physical or mental maturity as Thunny was when he was this age. I’m using my work with Thun as a baseline because it’s the best experience I have, but while Thunder knew all this by the end of his second year, Exavior isn’t going to get there. I want him to get on the horsebox, lead from the right, and walk a few nice laps on the lunge and then he’s going back out of work for a little while, maybe even to the end of the year, except for a couple of baths and talking about injections. No point in cooking a baby brain, and he can go out and horse for a while with no damage to his people skills.

Magic

  • Improve fitness
  • Tie up – He will still fly back if something truly upsets him, but he now stands tied really nicely for his grooming every morning and if he steps back and feels the pull, he yields to pressure instead of losing his brain. Honestly, few horses will stand tied under pressure, and the skill isn’t important enough in my situation to break even more halters and potentially necks. I’m okay with him now; daily tying for grooming will serve to improve this skill gently over time.
  • Load
  • School Novice – I’m going to call this one a win, for a horse that is probably never going to compete in stressage. I practiced Novice 1-3 on him over and over again preparation for Arwen’s show and he was really good, even with the French link on. Leg-yields are also almost there, after all, Novice only requires H-L level of leg-yields.
  • Survive a hack – We went to the end of the road and back without dying, but that doesn’t count as a hack, so I’m not crossing this out just yet.
  • Be confident at 80cm
  • Show graded at 70cm showjumping – We jumped a terrifying and wonderful clear at 70cm at a training show, so we’re making our way towards this! Our next show will be 50cm, 60cm and 70cm again, and then I’ll play it by ear as to whether we do 80cm next show. My criterion for going graded is single and simple: I want him to walk into the arena and know exactly what he is supposed to do. No point in paying the earth to take a spooky baby to a show and have three stops by the second jump. When he goes in and says to me, “OK, I know what we do now,” then we can move on to graded. The height does not seem to be an issue but he likes to halfway stop at his first few fences every show, so I want to eliminate that first.
Less of this babyness...
Less of this babyness…

Thunder

  • Fix his mild tendency to get in your space
  • Get him to stand dead still for a bath
  • Introduce flying changes – Ugh. I suck so much at flying changes. SO MUCH. I can’t get them out of Arwen yet, so poor Thun hasn’t even really been asked for them yet. Still striving for this but I won’t force him and make him worried.
  • Introduce rollbacks
  • Improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs – This is an ongoing goal but we’ve already made HUGE improvements. Like, we actually slide in our sliding stops! Spins are at least a little smoother if reeeeaaaally slow (Friesians don’t do fast until they spook), and rein backs are appropriate for his level, we get 10 steps in style and 15 sloppy steps if I beg.
  • Log as many trail miles as possible – Work in progress. I am getting so tired and bored with hacking alone, but it’s just a matter of making myself do it. As soon as I have a really cool hack horse again I’m sure my motivation will get better, but I need motivation to get that really cool hack horse ready!
O summer coat, when dost thou return?
O summer coat, when dost thou return?

All in all, I’m quite happy with our progress so far, mostly because not only have we been getting results but we’ve been improving relationships. And ultimately, that’s what horsemanship is all about. Glory to the King ❤

Horses That Aren’t Grey

I apologise in advance for the almost complete absence of photos. I plead Internet issues. Now on to the post…

I promise that I don’t refuse to compete any horse that isn’t grey. I rode a spotty palomino one at shows once, see?

He was sold on months ago but I still miss him...
He was sold on months ago but I still miss him…

Still, it is kind of hilarious that I have to compete four horses (six, hopefully, including the stallions I’ve been asked to show in August) and they are all grey, every last one. Erin wisely suggested that I should get a shampoo company to sponsor me. I’m not complaining  – I adore greys; it is uncertain whether I love grey because grey or because almost all the grey horses I’ve ridden have been lovely.

Anyway, so today the blogosphere shall get some bay and chestnut love.

Exavior has been learning rapidly. We started working on baths, which was a battle – he doesn’t like water on his butt and ran over me once or twice before a well-placed elbow sorted that one out – but had to stop working on it because winter happened. We shall face it again in summertime; drenching him with icy water isn’t exactly going to improve his enjoyment of baths.

Apart from that, we got to work on lunging, leading and bowing. Lunging was a flop the first time because Mr. Smarty Pants knows exactly where the gate is but thankfully has not figured out that he could pop over the ring fence without a second thought. He liked to stop and/or spin around and/or rear half-heartedly in protest, especially on the right rein. We sorted this out in a few sessions, though, and now he’ll happily walk and trot around. I’m not pushing him too hard because he is such a baby but three laps of walk and two laps of trot each side once a week isn’t going to kill him.

We’ve also been going for little walkies around the homestead – up past the heifer paddocks, around the house and through the arena-in-progress. It’s quite a spooky route especially if you are terrified of bovines, and Exavior has cowophobia. We spent a little time walking around after Fiona, who is eleven years old and unlikely to be able to move fast enough to spook anything, until Xave realised that she was actually afraid of him. We had a huge argument about a narrow gate with a bar over the top, too. It turns out that Exavior has a special fear of low things he has to walk under, which is a bit of a bummer for a colt standing 15.2 at the age of 19 months. In the end I used my head-down cue to make him drop his head so that the bar appeared taller and he sort of tiptoed underneath it. We’ll be practicing this – dropping the head to walk under things – a lot in the next few months since I think it’ll be an important skill for him, especially when it comes to loading.

I also had to give him his herpes vaccine last week, not without considerable trepidation because the one thing he will get violent about is a needle. My other horses all stand like rocks for their shots – I vaccinated them all that day and Exavior was the only one that I bothered to put a halter on; Flare didn’t even get up from her nap – but he has problems with it. I think it may be that he had to have lots of injections when he tore up his leg, and he was pretty insane at that point anyway so they probably had to hold him down and twitch him for it. So I fed him bits of apple with one hand while rubbing the syringe on his neck with the other – he accepted this fine – and once he was totally occupied with apple I injected him in 0.02 seconds flat. (Vaccinating cows is good practice – you learn to accurately inject 2cc out of a full 20cc syringe while holding your hands above your head to get to the airborne heifer’s neck). He proceeded to shake his head violently and complain for five minutes afterwards, poor idiot, but kept all four feet on the ground.

Thunder has been his dear sweet self. We did another long hack around the neighbour’s game camp, this time accompanied by Flare, and the only thing that frightened him was a car that passed by on the road. The driver went wonderfully slowly and cautiously, though, so we survived. Nothing else – the sound of motorbikes next door, someone target shooting, the galloping game, or Flare, whose brain evaporated for half an hour or so – fazed him in the least. He plugged along like an old hand. Alone, he can still be really spooky, but not violent. The nice thing about Thunder is that his adrenalin comes down really, really fast. He’ll spook, sure, but thirty seconds later he’ll have gone right back down to completely calm again. He also has an amazing ability to be completely obedient even when scared out of his skull. No matter how frightened he is, as long as I keep my act together and give clear, firm aids, he’ll do what I want. And ultimately that will develop him into the horse I can trust completely – the one that I know will obey even when he is terrified. Horses that “never spook” always worry me somewhat because one day they will, and they won’t know what to do with their fear. Friesians (sorry Friesian lovers) are particularly bad at this: they “never spook”, until the day something pushes them over the edge and then they just can’t deal with their newfound fear and fly off the handle with 500kg of extreme power.

Thun has also been a star in his schooling. His lope is really coming together now, much more balanced and coordinated. He neck-reins in all three gaits most of the time and can go on a loose rein in a lope now, too, without needing my hands for balance. He can even slide now, which is awesome. My footing is bad so I don’t push it much, but he’s definitely getting the hang of scooting along (I am not, but I learnt the hard way to keep one hand on the horn… just in case). It’s kind of hilarious when I forget that he’s a reining horse and not a dressage horse, and we’re loping home on an outride in company and we want to go back down to a walk and he sits down and slides, much to everybody else’s consternation.

The chestnut horse formerly known as Duiwel (Demon) has been renamed David; I figured he needed a good Bible name after being called Demon for most of his life. He’s actually not a bad guy at all, and very handsome. I’ve been taking it easy with him, just lunging  and light riding, but he hasn’t put a toe wrong. Somebody has been really rough with poor old David, but he’s coming round very quickly. He’s stopped that dreadful, continuous, nervous snorting of the abused horse and doesn’t roll a white eye at me so much. To his credit, David has never turned aggressive, even in self-defence against things he obviously perceives to be major threats. Good boy. He’s my first real experience with a Saddler cross and much less nutty than I expected. He shall soon be for sale.

Magic Lady has been super; we’ve mainly been schooling because she has a hay belly like a gestating elephant, not exactly the most flattering look for being admitted into the SA Warmbloods. She’s taken to dressage most beautifully and has so far shattered every OTTB stereotype I know, except for that stargazing thing Magic used to do with his head. I’ll have her teeth fixed soon and then that should also go away. She free jumps fearlessly but apparently jumping with me on top requires lots of wriggling, although never overjumping or such silliness. I think once her broodmare stint with me is over, she’s going to make some junior really really happy. She’s so kind and bombproof, but with plenty of athleticism. Her 2014/2015 foal has just been weaned, so she’s sitting in a paddock waiting for me to come get her, which should be soon. She’ll be joining the Horde alongside a stunning little bay gelding bred by the Mutterer, who will be my own first resale project.

As for the Horde’s warrior Queen, her life is happy. She has Magic and Exavior to look after, Vastrap to hang out with when she’s tired of looking after them, lots of hay and her weekly hack. These are a highlight for her; I feel a bit sorry for her with the cold and thought I should give her the winter off but she has started doing these little excited half-rears in anticipation of our traditional tiny little canter. After eleven years I should know when she’s enjoying something, and she’s loving her rides, lame as she is. Learning to stay on a rearing horse bareback is good for me and she has a nice thick mane, so all is well. I don’t think you’re supposed to canter with 26-year-old arthritic mares, but I still need that horrendous giant curb for whoa, so it occurs to me that maybe her knees aren’t hurting all that much.

Health-wise she’s actually doing better than she has in years. The old knees still make her slightly lame, of course, but she is probably the shiniest of all my woolly donkeys. She’s staying as round as a barrel on just a tiny handful of concentrate twice a day, which I mainly give her so that she’ll take her joint medicine. That nagging COPD cough has entirely gone and even her permanent eye infection seems to be finally leaving after years of fortnightly antibiotic ointment.

Lord, not what I will, but what Thou wilt, but Sir, if Thou will it, as many more years as possible with this golden mare.