Imageless Wednesday

I am still camera-less, so I apologise in advance for the total lack of photos.

Everyone hates Wednesdays. They seem to be second only to Mondays on the Worst Day of the Week list (and I rather like Mondays as well), but in all honesty, I love Wednesdays. Partially because I have managed to shake up my schedule so that I study on Saturdays instead. Basically, my Saturday is right in the middle of my week. That makes my actual Saturday kind of a nightmare, but it’s totally worth it.

The day started off with the usual routine of studying/paperwork in the dark, then feeding and grooming (horses, dogs and self). That out of the way, it was time to ride. And therewith the most exciting news: The Mutterer’s wonderful white gelding is now my mother’s wonderful white gelding.

As usual, it was all God’s plan from the start. I spent two months frustrated with the fact that the gelding wasn’t selling despite the fact that I advertised him everywhere I could think of and there really was nothing wrong with him. I bemoaned this unhappy occurrence, lamenting the fact that my very first client horse would be the one that didn’t want to sell, trying to toil through this trial that the Lord was testing me with. Meanwhile, Mom and the gelding grew ever closer and closer until one day I excitedly announced that a buyer was interested in him (again; I was knee-deep in time wasters) and Mom cried, “Oh no!”

I said, “Well, if you don’t want him to go, then buy him.”

So she did. And now that she has, I can see so clearly the Lord’s Hand in the whole story; how Mom helped the gelding rebuild his love and trust in human beings from the start, how the two of them are soulmates in a way that crosses the divide between species, how perfectly suited their personalities are to one another. It had all been part of the Plan. God is great!

I want you all to meet our newest family member, who no longer has to remain anonymous. Solo (registered as Prontuit Vastrap) is an eleven-year-old pale grey Nooitgedachter gelding standing 14.2hh. Also, he is a generous saint of a horse. (I facepoled off him last weekend, but that was my own fault).

Anyway, after taking him on a hack with Rain and Flare (his carbon opposite) and succeeding in bringing everyone back alive despite the two dragonladies’ shenanigans, I decided that I still had time to take the old charger out for a spin. As usual, I rode her bareback, to serve the dual purpose of taking some weight off her joints and reminding me of how to ride bareback, always a good skill in an emergency. She is the best horse for this job because currently she is rather squishy. Since she’s old and staying squishy on two handfuls of concentrate and low-class grazing, I am in absolutely no position to complain. We took a hack through the Shuddering Woods, jogging home along the hills beside them. As usual, I thought I’d see if Skye felt like a little canter for old time’s sake, and also as usual I was promptly run away with and nearly flew off the back end. For which Skye suffered no punishment; I have a ridiculous blind spot when it comes to cantankerous old chestnut chargers. Something inside her turns me ten years old and reckless again.

I had forgotten to bring her a post-ride treat, a cardinal sin; one does not simply forget to give Warrior Queens their post-ride treats. Instead of braving her wrath, I parked her on the lawn, mounted the five steep steps to the house and sent a minion to get us an apple. It’s not the first time I’d done this, and Skye never tries to go up the steps and probably can’t anyway because she is 26 and has arthritis. She must have heard me thinking this, because the next moment in two big jumps she did go up the steps and stood there on the veranda snorting in triumph. I was equally sure that we’d never get back down again, but she made it somehow and pranced all the way back to her paddock telling the world she was invincible.

Arwie and Magic’s lessons went well. Magic was grumpy because I had ridden St. Solo before him and that made him jealous (“Horses are like girlfriends and kids,” quoth the Mutterer), but still offered some foot perfect simple changes and his best free walk figure-eights yet. Arwen mightily impressed the Mutterer, a noteworthy event, by doing something that actually I was paying no attention to. She was parked on one of our steeply sloping banks, with her front feet on the top and her hind feet about halfway down, while the Mutterer handed me my gloves (which I had forgotten). Gloves on, I picked up the reins and backed her in a dead straight line off the bank. She didn’t even think about it. I didn’t even think about it until the Mutterer reminded me that Arwen has no way of seeing behind her and basically stepped confidently backwards into thin air for me, which is kind of amazing once you think about it.

Our session was long and strenuous and we both nearly died, although I hid it better than she did (I hope). We did a little flatwork, then jumping, then the Mutterer’s favourite exercise of madly galloping the long sides and calmly walking the short sides of the arena (and if you’re not terrified you’re not going fast enough; you get bonus points for crying), then more jumping. We were both cooked, but Arwen remained safe, brave and willing even when she was tired. She’ll have a slightly easier day tomorrow, Friday off and then – terror and excitement! – our first recognised event over the weekend. Lord, not what I will, but what Thou wilt!

To spend the rest of my day in awesomeness, then it was off to the Nooitgedachter stud to ride last year’s National Champion Stallion. We shall call him the Storm Horse, because he is. 15.3hh of glorious, graceful, grey beauty, and him and I have an inexplicable connection born out of unlikely love. The Mutterer actually trained him, but the Storm Horse was about as easy to train as a runaway tornado and the two of them had a lot of arguments. The Storm Horse did not appreciate it when the Mutterer won, and is a suspicious sort of a horse anyway, so now he hates the Mutterer. Then, after all his hard work and blood and sweat, in I waltz, tiny and feminine and oh so unthreatening, and the Storm Horse and I fell in love. Through no skill of my own, I have become the Storm Horse’s favourite person. When the Mutterer catches him, he snorts, strikes and runs away. When he hears my voice, he comes over and elegantly waits for me to pat him. As for me? I’m terrified of all big stallions. I am thrilled beyond all fear to ride the Storm Horse. God only understands why the two of us get along the way we do, but it’s the most incredible feeling. Glory to the King.

I’m 18 and Arwen is Fitter

So much to say, so little time (and energy). I must, in advance, apologise for the lack of photos. Cyclone ate my phone. No, as in really, she ruined it completely. I’m using a spare, but the front camera is broken, so I have to use a real camera to take pictures like it’s 1997.

Speaking of 1997, on this day 18 years ago my parents brought six pounds of screaming infant into the world, blissfully unaware of the fact that eighteen years later I would be a horsy kid and they would be feeding my five horses. Soon to be six horses. God has this habit of dropping the best horses directly in my lap, and I think He has done it yet again in the form of my absolute dream broodmare, a young thoroughbred by the name of Magic Lady. More detail on her later, but today my gift from Him was to ride her for the first time. She’s not officially mine yet, but as soon as possible, she will be. She may just be the quietest thoroughbred I’ve ever seen and she moves like a dancer. If I had been grinning any harder, the top of my head would have come off. Watch this space.

Arwen and I have been drilling fitness for the past two weeks, and it’s starting to pay off slowly now. Our event is in three weeks and, while it’s not hectic (the cross-country is under a mile long at 440mpm and the jumps are around 2′), in an ideal world it would be nice to make the ideal time. 440mpm feels awfully fast when you realise that there has to be jumps in it. I’ve been tracking us with the My Tracks app to see where we stand, though, and I think we’re doing all right. I have yet to sprint the full 1600m to see how fast we can make it even without jumps, but we’ve clocked speeds of over 30kph up a hill, which was comfortable and in control. I’m not awfully worried about the jumping or the dressage. As long as she doesn’t spook at the poles or dressage letters, we should survive.

We talked about hills
We talked about hills

Magic is being simply a star. On the Mutterer’s instructions, I put a riser pad under my Kent and Masters, added an extra-thick numnah and rode him like that a few times and the difference has been amazing. I feel much more in contact with him and much more in balance; the difference was so big that I picked all the jumps up to 80-85cm and we jumped them just fine. He even overjumped – not badly – once and my lower legs didn’t even swing back. The hunt is on for a second-hand, high-quality saddle for Magic, since the poor dude is still wearing an el cheapo, hand-me-down saddle that I’ve had for eleven years. His dressage is also doing extremely well. We have been working on canter lengthenings, leg-yields in walk and trot, simple changes (he nails them every time), correct frame at the canter and stretching down in the trot. Progress on all of them, although stretching down is still kind of an epic fail.

Baby Thunder is being amazing. I recently led an outride on him, with my sister on the Dragonbeast (Flare) and her Valentine on Arwen (who ate grass the whole way). He hadn’t been taken out for a while and was a little hyper, so I was a bit worried – luckily the mares are arrogant enough that nobody can influence them a whole lot. In the end, Baby Thun was the most well-behaved of the bunch. We had one hairy moment when our neighbour started target shooting while we were mid-canter; Flare, understandably, took off like a shot and passed Thunder and I. I thought that we were about to have a disaster, but when I sat back and whoaed, Thun slammed on the brakes and stopped dead. Flare halted after a stride or two and disaster was entirely averted thanks to Baby Thun and his miracle obedience. He is still spooky, sometimes I can feel him shake under me, but come what may he does what I ask him to because he’s amazing.

Exavior is coming along fine. We’re working on his advanced halter work, since I have a habit of halter training all my horses to the point where they could do quite well in an in-hand showing class. He does like to dawdle around behind me and has a lazy habit of wanting to stop when he’s led away from his friends/food/water/current favourite spot, but even mid-tantrum he has yet to really react violently to anything. We’ve done some yielding of the shoulder and quarters which he picked up on quite fast, and he also drops his head down when I put pressure on his poll either with my palm or by pulling on his halter. Getting him to walk at my shoulder instead of behind me, and then trotting up in any direction, is the next hurdle. I love him to bits; his personality is really starting to show now and I like what I see.

The old charger is doing fantastically well and is enjoying life as reigning queen of all she surveys. She is her stubborn, highly opinionated, and extraordinarily kind self, and she makes everyone around her happier and stronger and braver.

Forgive me for my incoherence; I beg sleep deprivation. My bed is calling my name. Grace and peace to all of you, and praise the Lord for great horses.

Back in the Game

Finally, the six weeks of forced rest is over and the ponies and I have all gone solidly back to work, as well as the ever-increasing string of client horses that seem to have attached themselves to me in bewildering and wonderful numbers. You just have to love the God Who drops horses in your lap.

I have twenty horses in training with me at the moment, although thankfully they are not all at my place; I am a ridiculous OCD crazy horse keeper person and would spend all day every day fussing over their hair or something. It’s getting to the point where I’m going to need a groom to keep everyone as clean and shiny as my picky standards demand.

Arwen had two days off after our impromptu offsite lesson; she looked pretty much tuckered out for the whole of Sunday and I think she would have been okay to ride on Monday, but it rained and I felt sorry for the unfit beast so she got a bonus day off. We jumped on Tuesday, during which she was basically Hickstead and didn’t refuse a thing, including a 1.00m (3′ 3″) parallel oxer that looked rather daunting from where I was sitting and was apparently totally not scary according to Arwen. Both of us have totally messed up eyes at the moment, though, mostly due to lack of practice and (in my case) lack of talent. I can’t see a distance to save my life. At least I’m getting good at not falling off when jumping from horrible distances. Next time I plan to put out a bunch of placing poles at the takeoff point just to help us both hone in on the perfect spot.

Wednesday was also an unplanned day off since there just weren’t enough hours in the day; the Mutterer and I had three horse to transport and a client to go to, which all went very well and raised the current horse population of Hydeaway Farm to nine.

On Thursday we did a bit of dressage. Since having her teeth done, Arwen is pretty much always on the bit. She loses her frame for a few seconds during some complex transitions or simple changes, but the feeling in my hands is just awesome – she has a lovely swinging stride into a supple, steady contact. I am starting to use the French link as my go-to bit more and more since most of the horses, with one or two exceptions, quite like it. Her trot leg-yields to the right are still a bit rusty, lacking some lateral movement, but not bad. Walk-canter and canter-walk transitions were the best they have been, simple changes a little rushed, shoulder-in was awesome. We also adapted the how-many-strides-on-a-circle exercise to a slightly easier version. I used a 20m circle at A to collect her and then counted how many strides I could fit between F and M, then used the M-H short side to extend her and counted how few strides I could fit between H and K. This exercise handily helps for both jumping and dressage by developing a straight, adjustable medium and working canter.

Today was galloping day and the little mare impressed me; she was a little flighty at the start, but steadied after half a mile’s working canter and proceeded to be awesome. We concentrated on both rhythm and speed, getting both of them with minimal effort from me. Then we walked home on the buckle because Nooitgedachters rule the world.

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Idyllic. And fat. But mostly idyllic.

 

Exavior has started a little groundwork to become a good equine citizen. I keep it quite short – 20 minutes is enough for his baby brain – and use a rope halter because it has a little more bite and the horses tend to respect it and not lean on it, a favourite trick of giant warmbloody types. He is quite the big stubborn donkey and I spent some time dragging him around the arena with a bum rope, but he’s getting the whole idea of walking on a loose lead. For one session he also thought it was a good idea to basically crash into me when I stopped, but a few well-placed elbows quickly sorted that one out. We have started with a little turn on the forehand now. He also now drops his head almost to the ground if I insist and he’s concentrating; when he isn’t, he still responds to poll pressure by lowering his head. This will be very useful as when he lifts his head I already have to stand on my toes like a little kid to get to his forelock.

Sleepy sabino-ness
Sleepy sabino-ness

Magic was a complete jerk for the first five or six sessions after his rest. I started by free lunging him and letting him play and get rid of his energy the first time; this proved to be a good idea as all he did was run around and buck like a maniac for half an hour straight. I did not blame him and merely stood in the middle waiting for his brain to come back. There is very little point in trying to get Magic to do anything specific when his brain is being cooked in excess energy; as long as he was going around and around the way I wanted, I was quite happy.

The next session I strapped a standing martingale to him and made him behave himself, which, with some head-tossing but no bucking, he did. After that I lunged him for a few minutes before every ride and got on; he offered to buck once, but thought better of it. We had several frustrating sessions where he fought the bit and I fought with him and it was a general hot, head-tossing, bouncing, squealing mess, but his brain thankfully came back yesterday. I schooled him in his beloved French link, carrying a dressage whip to encourage him forward into it when he loses his mind (hardest thing ever: making a horse go forward when it wants to go nuts and all your instincts scream at you to stop). He was a little heavy in my hand at the canter, but no flailing, no throwing his head, nothing.

Today I put his Kimberwick back on and when he warmed up superbly – not a single head toss to be seen, at all three gaits – decided to try a bit of jumping. He was stunning. We started with 30cm and finished around 70cm with not a single stop, rail or overjump. We both picked some horrible distances but all in all it was very quiet and harmonious, so I’m hoping we’ve dodged the dreadful overjumping he used last time he had had a rest.

Throwback to his time off: I was super bored and I did his hair. He was very patient, to his credit.
Throwback to his time off: I was super bored and I did his hair. He was very patient, to his credit.

Skye is very mad at the dentist for saying that she is twenty-six years old, and made up for it by nearly throwing me off two rides in a row. I hack her around bareback because, seriously, who needs a saddle to walk around on a bombproof, arthritic old mare? Apparently I do; she is acting like a two-year-old on the GCS, which seems to make her legs feel much better, and bucked, bolted and reared. So much for being a good influence on the youngsters. I stayed on by the skin of my teeth and could only laugh; I love her so much and she’s doing so well.

One of my client horses also has a little foal, about two weeks old, so Skye is naturally in seventh heaven. She stands with her head over the fence gazing dreamily at little Duke and looking extremely broody for hours.

Exquisite <3
Exquisite ❤

Baby Thunder is being a superstar. His schooling took a few steps back, naturally, for which he can’t be blamed; soon it’ll all come back to him. His spins are a little quicker, but the lope isn’t quite as nice and his rollbacks are very sticky at the moment. On our outride yesterday, though, he was a star. My sister’s mare is quite lively and so she prefers to go in front when we lope, and Baby Thun is totally fine either way; he’s quiet in the back and confident in the front. He was a bit scared of some pigeons in a tree, but this manifested itself only in a shortening of his stride and raising his head, and he went bravely forward when I asked him to. A group of guinea fowl also flew up out of the long grass around him and he handled it very maturely; he startled and had a tiny little sideways shy, then paused and waited for instructions. I do so love it when a horse does that. I said, “Go forward, buddy” and he instantly relaxed and did so.

What a magnificent puzzle horses are; prey animals with lion hearts. Thank You, Jesus. Glory to the King.

I love this view
I love this view

TOABH: Our Wildest Dreams

Hallelujah for blog hop hosts. I had thought of several awesome ideas, mostly about the horses’ dentist visit on Monday, but it’s late, I’m tired, and everyone had kind of a bad day (suffice it to say, it stinks when anyone gets hurt at work, and it happens so quickly). However, no lasting harm has been done, so without further ado, my response to the wonderful Beka’s latest blog hop:

Let’s pretend that financial restrictions don’t exist and logistics isn’t a nightmare.  If you could do anything with your Ponykins, what would you do?

Arwen. I’m at least the third person to say this, but drag hunting. Absolutely. I mean, what could be better than sprinting in a pack of speed-drunk horses, following a set of baying hounds, over solid obstacles? It’s not something I would easily do on any other horse, with the possible exception of everybody’s favourite pinto stallion, but on Arwen, it would be insanely fun. And she’d love it, too. And possibly kick everybody else, come to think of it, but it would still be a fantastic adventure. As a matter of fact, there is a Hunt led up in Kyalami, which is not very far; if we can find time and cash, it’s something we’re actually likely to try, preferably when Mom isn’t looking.

As an aside, I’d also love to breed her one day. If I could find myself a nice, tall, leggy stallion with high withers and a lot of pop, I think she could breed a pretty awesome little junior event horse. Or I’d go purist and put her to a Nooitgedachter stallion with a truly excellent head and good withers and breed a pure Nooitie show pony to die for.

Exavior. Since Mr. Spastic Giraffe is not yet showing the signs of being able to perform Valegro’s Grand Prix freestyle on the How To Train Your Dragon music someday (c’mon, a girl can dream), I’ll stick to my other favourite dream for him: teaching him to kneel down when I need to get on. He’s a hair under 14.3 now, but he’s going to be 16.3+, and I look like a dweeb trying to get on big horses (and have a passionate hatred of mounting blocks). Imagine pausing at the opening of the warmup ring, having him drop obediently to one knee, and mounting up. A vain little dream perhaps, but it does score on the coolness factor.

Magic. He’s a bit too old now, but I would have loved to put him in a free jumping competition for up-and-coming young sport horses. He has amazing technique – really, I’m not just being a proud horse mom, he jumps like a superstar – and absolutely loves it. I think he’d be able to relax, enjoy himself, show everyone what a stunning creature he really is, and probably kick some considerable butt while he was about it.

Skye. According to the dentist, Skye isn’t 16-18 years old, she’s 26. 26?! She didn’t get the memo. Anyway, seeing as long trail rides are kind of out for her in that case (she’s like 80 in horse years!), I would love for her retirement to be as a weanling mom. She would love it so much and be so happy bossing around and looking after the babies, and those young horses would grow up with a social security and authority that would impact their training for years and years to come. Every horse she’s been in a herd with has benefited from her strict but sympathetic leadership and it’s been reflected instantly in its interactions with humans.

Thunder. Two words: Cattle drive. He has the kind of personality that would love, and be lovable on, a week-long trip to herd cows. I mean, he’d get to be with people, cows, and horses all day – Thunder paradise. I would adore being in his saddle all day every day and sleeping out under the stars with my head pillowed on his saddle blanket and him grazing nearby. Of course, I doubt real cattle drives are quite as idyllic, but it’s an experience him and I would both absolutely love.

Their current favourite pastime: Cowpoking. Their stable shares a side with the exit of the milking parlour and these three hooligans stand here waiting for a cow to go by too slowly for their liking, upon which they poke it.
Their current favourite pastime: Cowpoking. Their shelter shares a side with the exit of the milking parlour and these hooligans stand here waiting for a cow to go by too slowly for their liking, upon which they poke it.

So Far, So Good

The Horde and I are all getting rather bored and irritated with walking.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy groundwork; I like watching them think and learning about the differences in how each horse’s brain works, and it is a great opportunity to learn more about each individual horse’s body language. For example, when Baby Thun’s lips twitch, he’s usually relaxing and on the brink of licking and chewing. But when Magic’s lips twitch, he’s annoyed and will either explode or figure it out in the next few seconds.

Still, there is more to a trained adult horse’s life than walking around on the end of a lead, and they’re starting to get antsy and hyper. Especially Magic, of course; working with him is rather interesting because his agile mind seizes any problem and solves it with gusto just for something to do, but allow him to trot two steps and his brain evaporates into a leaping, bucking frenzy because he is just SO HAPPY TO MOOOOOOOOOVE. Even Thunder and Arwen, normally the quieter types, are starting to want to drag me around on the lead rein and everyone regularly charges around in their pastures like a bunch of total idiots.

I am still putting their downtime to good use by refining everyone’s groundwork. Magic has so far been a resounding success; one more session with the pressure halter later and he now ties up without any brain evaporations. We also talked about plastic bags, which he was completely fine with to my surprise until he got bored and started randomly spooking at them just for something to do. Arwen and I went for a slow little hack, practicing long steady stretches of shoulder-in, some collected trot, and tight little leg-yields. She was so hot it was like riding a stick of dynamite, but it did make her really use her bottom and as a result her collected work was superb.

Thun and I can work marginally harder as he is in the third week following his shot, so we can add in a little bit of lope and some more jog. We had a lesson with the Mutterer, during which I borrowed a pair of his awesome Western rowelled spurs. Firstly, they make you sound cool when you walk (come on, they do, admit it) and secondly, they seemed to make a lot of sense to Baby Thun. At one point he was reining back at speed, nose on the vertical, a loop in the reins, just responding to my dragging the spurs gently down his ribs. Apparently the spinning rowel makes more sense to him than just my dressage spur or boot heel. We also did a few rollbacks, during which I appreciated Thunder’s awesome butt; he has the strength to leap into a gallop from a dead halt with one powerful lunge. He slid a little into one stop, but because of our (nonexistent) arena surface, proper sliding isn’t an option right now.

And today it was everyone-gets-into-the-horsebox day. I was really hoping to get Magic walking right up next to me, since last time I managed to load him alone with the bum rope and walking right on is the next step. He refused to load at first, looking worried but not exploding, so I put the bum rope on and we had to talk about that for a while. He obviously hates the sensation of the rope around his haunches and cow-kicked a few times before he gave up and stepped forward. I released the pressure, and he resigned himself to his fate and got on. Once we had loaded with the rope once or twice he started to take it as a game and then I knew he was going to be fine. Indeed he was; in the end he was walking on, standing still, and walking calmly off like an old hand, although I have to hold my hand up beside his nose as he unloads in case he tries to leap off the ramp. It would be such a typical Magic thing to do.

Skye loaded without incident as usual, and Thunder did not improve on his previous attempt at loading. Considering the previous attempt was absolutely foot perfect, I don’t mind. The dear daft animal loves to load because it involves being near his person and the prospect of carrots.

Arwen disappointed me slightly by refusing to load at first, then, with the bum rope, loading and flying back. I honestly thought we’d solved that one. I was a bit firmer with the rope and more or less dragged her on, through and out of the front ramp once, and after that she was back to her usual easy-loading self. Arwen is a horrible traveller, so I think these monthly loading sessions without going anywhere are essential to keep her loading well. She can hardly be blamed for not wanting to load if she travels each time she loads, considering how deeply she hates travelling. Because she has such separation anxiety, I do suspect that the worst thing about travelling for her is just being alone. Since I’m hoping to take her and Magic to shows together in the coming year, I suppose we’ll find out. Maybe Skye can play travelling companion to her herdbound grey friend.

 

TOABH: Their Favourite Things

Beka at The Owls Approve asks: What is your horse’s absolute favorite thing?  Outside of riding!  Are there treats that instantly convert your pony into an addict or liniments that leave him yawning and chewing?  What does your horse just love to have?

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I do not consider my horses to be adorable. Well, not most of the time. Not always, anyway. They’re not pets, they’re partners. Well, apart from Thunder, and he made himself a pet.

Still, there’s few things cuter than a horse begging for what he likes best, so without further ado:

Arwen has a particular weakness for being sweet-talked. She is ordinarily a brisk, businesslike horse, so much so that her partnership with me can almost be described as “cold” from the point of view of an outsider, and responds well to a correspondingly brisk and businesslike voice, but if she doesn’t want to be caught or is being a jerk then I baby-talk her for all she’s worth and she melts into a puddle of mush. I accidentally taught her this behaviour by sweet-talking her repeatedly just before giving her a carrot, but now the sweet-talking itself appears to have grown on her. If you want to see Arwen make a total idiot of herself, just pitch your voice high and say, “Whosa pretty Narwie then? Are you a Narwie-warwie ponyfacey?” and she’ll do this:

Arwen30

Magic LOVES to run. Of course, most sound horses do. It’s in their very DNA. But he has a passion for movement that I’ve never seen before. He’s already seven years old and by then most working horses settle for just the occasional run when called or when it rains, but Magic will run for no apparent reason; he’ll just kick up his heels and take off like a shot, not going anywhere in particular, just running for the sheer wonderful enjoyment of it. He varies the running with leaping into the air with all four feet at once like a goat, rearing, bucking, falling over (he doesn’t always keep good track of his legs), trotting with the kind of floating elevation a Lipizzaner would be jealous of, and stopping dead to throw up his head and tail and stare into the distance as if he hears the horizon call his name. Of course, he occasionally gives me minor heart attacks when he wipes out full-speed and slides across the wet grass neighing loudly and waving his legs around in an attempt to get back up, and he frequently has little scrapes on his silly pasterns from over-reaching, but who am I to stop him? It makes him so happy.

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This is his I’m-gonna-run-now face

Thunder is so in love with life that it’s surprising that I can pick out one thing he adores above all else, but really, it’s easy. Thun loves all living things. Horses, donkeys, dogs, geese, cows – he’ll run up to anything in an attempt to get it to play with him. But above all else, he loves humans of any shape, size or description. This can be very annoying when the vet is vaccinating horses and Thunder is following him around so close that his nose is almost bumping the vet’s back, going “Pick me! Pick me!” when the vet asks “Who’s next?” But most of the time, it’s pretty special to walk into the paddock and see those two little ears pricked up as he runs towards you. He is especially fond of the Mutterer’s two-year-old daughter, and the feeling is mutual; several times we have had to leap to the rescue as she toddles off almost under his feet. Once I was perched upon him when suddenly his head dropped down and when I peered down his neck the little girl had her arms around his nose and was hugging him and chanting “horsie”. And when the Mutterer plants her in the saddle in front of me and Thun and I take her for a spin, that big horse walks as carefully as if on eggshells, for all the world as if he’s entirely aware of his precious burden. Even when the precious burden flaps her legs and clicks her tongue loudly to him, he refrains from obeying her and sticks to a steady plod.

Photo from more than four years ago
Photo from more than four years ago

Skye’s favourite thing is obviously going on outrides, but apart from that, she loves foals with a fiercely protective passion, demonstrating this by lactating every single summer whether there are foals around or not. When she had Thunder, she never let another mare babysit him; she was always fussing over him, licking him, playing with him, following him around, calling to him. And when the other mares had foals, Skye was permanently babysitting them. Two mares grazing happy and alone at one end of the paddock, with Skye standing fiercely guard at the other end with two sleeping foals sprawled beside her, was an everyday sight. She has even adopted Exavior despite his being a yearling already, which he appreciates endlessly.

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Exavior, like most colts, likes all types of attention but despite being very touch-sensitive, he loves to be touched. It took me a while to figure this out because he’s very picky – don’t tickle him, finger-comb his mane, scratch his withers, or run your fingertips down his coat. But rub him firmly with a flat hand or scratch his forehead with your knuckles, and he groans with pleasure. His all-time favourite is simply for you to stand next to him with your shoulder or back touching him. Something about it just makes him calm and relaxed. He doesn’t lean – I don’t need to be leant on by a potentially 17hh monster – just stands there in contact with you and loves it. I’ve seen him do it with Skye, as well; he stands right next to her, shoulder to her flank, leaning his little head on her ribs. Even if I’m standing a foot or so away from him and talking to him he likes to come up, lower his head and lean his forehead on my chest. He doesn’t rub his head on me, he just wants to stand there like that. Which is frankly too cute for words, a gesture of trust. At first he would pull away if I moved, but now he lets me very gently run my hands up his ears. I think it’s safe to say that this is one of my favourite things, too.

Glory to the King.

2015: The Year Ahead

Last year was long, interesting, busy, and a most tremendous learning curve. I made my fair share of mistakes and had a few nasty little failures, but I find myself better, stronger, and nearer to God than when it began, so I shall file it firmly under “Success”.

The horses also did quite awesomely this year, so without further ado, the 2014 goals wrap-up and the setting of our goals for 2015.

Skye’s the Limit. In 2014 I wrote: “Skye’s goals: Stay healthy; get fit; get a Western saddle.” A Western saddle we sure have, but arthritis has ended any prospect of getting fit last year or this one, or possibly for many years to come. She is, however, very healthy and happy as long as we keep up our bi-weekly walking hacks.

Currently she is still quite happy to carry me around on her back, but I’ve also found that having Exavior to babysit has given her a new lease on life. Once I’m breeding horses, I think her job will be the weanling mommy.

Skye’s goals: Prevent the progression of her arthritis, stay healthy and happy, attempt not to get too fat. Also learn to be ponied off another horse.

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Thunderbird. His 2014 goals: This year, I’d like to spend some time working on Thunder’s physical strength, since he is old enough to handle heavier work now. Lungeing in side reins to build his loin muscles in balance, particularly in canter, will help. I would like him to lope slowly and on the correct lead (using simple lead changes for now), understand the basics of neck-reining at all three gaits, learn to stand squarely, and turn on the haunches by the end of the year. Outrides should also still be done at least once a week; I would like him to go out consistently without bolting, alone and in company, by the end of the year.

Once again, Baby Thun has made a spectacular success of his goals – for the second year running (there should be some kind of award for that).

Physical strength: Well, check. He put on a massive growth spurt at the beginning of the year and looked like a clothes hanger, but for the past few months he has bulked out at an alarming rate. Moving him to a kikuyu pasture also helped. He now looks like a rather nice Welsh cob; he has a nice round butt, a fairly good neck and his loins have filled out so that back flows smoothly into bottom. He looks like a grownup horse now.

Schooling: Check, check, check. His lope is nothing to write home about but he doesn’t tear around like a baby anymore, he goes on the right lead, he neck-reins at all three gaits, stands squarely and turns on the haunches. He also turns on the forehand, sidepasses at a walk and jog, reins back well and kind of sliding stops. Well, kind of.

Outrides: Check. He’s fine both alone and in company and does not, as a rule, bolt except when severely frightened, which is true for most horses. He can still be a bit on the spooky side but that will just take time to go away.

2015 will be Thun’s third year under saddle and it’s time for him to learn some more advanced things, as a firm foundation has been well laid.

Physical: Now that we have muscle, we can add some fitness. Long-distance riding will do the trick.

On the ground: We do need to work on his ability to give you personal space. He isn’t bad about it until he forgets and stands on top of you like an idiot, but he needs to be sharply reminded every time he does that. He also needs a bath or two because he can be a bit jumpy about the hosepipe.

Schooling: Start to work towards real reining movements. Improve on the spins, introduce flying changes, continue to practice sliding stops and rein backs, introduce rollbacks.

Outrides: He now has good manners on a hack, and the only thing to solve his spookiness is going to be many, many trail miles. Ride out as much as possible for as long distances as possible, show him new things and challenge him until he gets more comfortable on hacks.

To conclude: Fix the personal space thing and the hosepipe thing; introduce flying changes and rollbacks; improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs; log as many trail miles as possible.

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Arwen Evenstar. In 2014: I would like to get her on the show circuit more regularly and to raise the bar slightly to be jumping around 80cm competitively by the end of the year. I would also like to enter her in a few dressage shows and see how she does, starting with the Preliminary tests, they don’t look that hard. At home, she can learn to jump 1.10m consistently. Her canter, whilst good, needs some work; she must learn flying changes. I want her to improve her frame so that she is going in a good outline with her nose in by the end of the year. She must also learn to do all her lateral movements, which she does well in a walk, in trot (starting with shoulder-in and then travers and half-pass). She must also be able to extend and collect her trot.

Arwen did not do badly at all. Showing was a definite win (har, har, har), having attended seven outings. Though only two of these were shows, she gave no major issues at any of them barring three stops she had when I entered her in a jumping round that was rather too big at the time. Dressage with a success as we won our Prelim test with over 60%. Jumping I would also call a success; she is okay over 1.10m although I have to baby her somewhat, and comfortable at 1.00m. Given that 1.10m is very close to her physical limit, I’m happy to be a little lenient about it. Her canter has improved, but flying changes are unfortunately nonexistent. Her frame is very close to being where I want it; she keeps it at all three gaits but can lose it occasionally in transitions. Her lateral movements are up to scratch and we are developing a nice medium trot. I would call her competitive at Novice, schooling Elementary; I was hoping to school Elementary Medium, and we would have, but for the changes.

Long-term, I don’t ever see myself showing Arwen in eventing at anything bigger than 90-95cm. She can jump 1.10m if she has to (well, she can jump 1.40m if she feels like it, albeit riderless), but I see no point in forcing her right to the limit of her ability. She is also rather too small to be competitive at 1.00m or bigger because she just doesn’t have the big stride to cover ground fast enough. I’m completely cool with that, so all I want her to do with her life is go to EV90 with me, go as far in dressage as she can (she still has quite a long way before she reaches her limit there; I think she could go Medium or even Advanced with many years of training), do a spot of showing and then become a school pony in a million.

For this year, though:

Physical: I would like to see a bit more muscling at the base of her neck. Currently, she is also extremely fat, having had two weeks off, so we need to get fit. Because she is so little she will need to be extraordinarily fit to be competitive, so fitness is a huge priority.

On the ground: Nada. She loads, she clips, she ties up, she does anything I want. She doesn’t like having her legs clipped but we could do it if we drugged her (and if we wanted to).

Schooling: Develop collected trot, extended walk, medium trot and canter. Raise the forehand into an uphill balance. Improve leg-yield and shoulder-in. Introduce flying changes. In other words, be competitive at Elementary and schooling Elementary Medium by the end of the year.

Jumping: Stay consistent at 1.00m at home. Introduce more technically difficult and visually daunting obstacles. Work on her water complex problem.

Competitions: Show in at least one graded EV70 event.

To conclude: Get her fit; build her neck; school Elementary Medium; introduce scary jumps; fix the water problem; show graded in EV70.

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Magical Flight. In 2014: To wrap it up, this year Magic must go to his first shows, and learn to make calm transitions between gaits, leg-yield in walk, start flying changes, and build correct muscle tone. I also want him jumping 1.10m.

Magic and I had such a wonderful, turbulent year during which we both learned so much about each other that goals seem pitiful things compared to how far we came. That’s not to say that we met them all. Oh, no. I wanted him solid at 1.10m by the end of the year and we are rather tremulous at 80cm. But his flatwork improved by miles. His transitions are good, his leg-yield in walk is good, and his muscle tone is awesome. He could do with some more neck, but I’m not too fussed about it. Flying changes aren’t a thing, sadly, but his first show was a resounding success.

Physical: Time to drill fitness into this monster. He has the muscles he needs for jumping and eventing, but he wouldn’t know hillwork if you hit him with it. Of course, first we need to fix the outride problem, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I would like him to be fit enough to jump 80-90cm courses easily by the end of the year.

On the ground: Tying up is a major issue of his, so work can begin on that. He also needs to load properly with only one person. Clipping is a nightmare we don’t have to deal with this year.

Schooling: Have his teeth done, then school him so that he is soft and correct in his beloved French link snaffle. Then introduce Novice work so that he is solid at Novice by the end of the year. He will need to learn trot leg-yields and trot and canter lengthenings, and improve on his simple changes until they become second nature. Introduce counter canter. Also, work on hacking out without trying to kill anyone, even if we can just potter around the block in a walk without dying by the end of the year.

Jumping: One word: Confidence. Be confident at 80cm even if that’s the highest we go this year. Build confidence over different types of jumps, improve on his technique, and learn to relax on him over fences.

Competition: For the first half of 2015 continue to do monthly training shows in dressage and jumping, taking it easy on the height. As soon as he is fine at 70cm at training shows, go graded in showjumping. Eventing can wait until outrides happen.

To conclude: Improve fitness, tie up, load, be competitive at Novice, survive a hack, be confident at 80cm, and go graded at 70cm showjumping once he is ready for it.

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Exavior. Last of all, my dearly beloved big chestnut colt. He had no goals in 2014 seeing as he was not mine and there was no possibility that he ever would become mine; and yet here he is, by the grace of God, my first warmblood. If only he’ll grow up sound… Thy will be done, my King.

Exavior turns two at the end of the year and his backing, depending on his legs, will commence either at the end of 2015 or in 2016. This is the year in which he learns to be an absolutely impeccable equine good citizen and to deal with everything that life among mankind may throw at him. He already knows what a halter is, respects personal space, ties up, stands perfectly still to be groomed and have his feet cleaned, allows himself to be blanketed, and stands more or less still for the Mutterer to do his hooves. Now for more advanced citizenship.

  • Advanced halter training: leading on a slack rope, trotting up in hand, standing squarely, understanding of pressure and release (yielding the shoulder, yielding the hindquarters)
  • Leading over, through and under scary things and away from his group
  • Bathing
  • Desensitisation to noise and sight: first a numnah, then plastic bags
  • Loading preparation: leading in a narrow passage, under a roof and over a noisy surface
  • Loading. This one will be difficult, but if he will load with the help of two people and/or a lunge rein by the year’s end, I’ll be satisfied.
  • Injections; use a trick I learned with a syringe, a rubber band and a treat
  • Be gelded
  • Lowering of the head when requested. This is usually not on the to-do list, but he is going to be 17hh and I’m never going to be over 5′ 4″, so I want him to put his nose on the floor when I ask for it
  • Basic lunging with a halter and long line only
  • Wearing a roller
  • Lunging over poles
  • Wearing boots
  • Clipping. I don’t intend to give him a full clip, but we can lay down the foundation by having him stand still while the clippers are rested gently on his body

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Yours truly. I must get into the habit of riding with a proper upper body: eyes looking between the horse’s ears with chin up, hands a fist’s breadth above and in front of the pommel, thumbs turned up, elbows relaxed by my sides with upper arms hanging almost straight. I must learn not to balance on my hands, but to push them forward and allow the horse to stretch. Oh, and I can stop doing that funky poke-one-toe-out thing. And I must ride right up to every jump.. In Western: Ha! I don’t even know what a proper Western seat looks like. Fix this. Stop leaning forward and gripping with the knees in lope and halt from lope.

Jumping was a tremendous success. Well, kind of. I used to have super fixed, stiff hands, and now I have this enormous release where my fists end up almost between the ears. I think the horses prefer the epic release, though, so I’ll take it. I have more or less quit the habit of looking down and my elbows are much softer and my habit of fixing the hands to the withers has much improved. My Western seat has also improved, as I’ve learned to bend the elbow and raise the hand and relax into the saddle better.

Dressage: Turn the hands straight, so that the thumbs are on top, instead of having turned out cowboy hands. Keep the shoulders back. Soften the lower back. Lengthen the leg and bring the lower leg further back for better hip-heel alignment. Break the habit of dropping the inside shoulder and improve straightness.

Jumping: Strengthen and correct the lower leg to keep the heel down and prevent the leg from swinging back. Break the habit of slipping back towards the cantle during landing. Break the habit of resting the hands on the neck during landing. Break the habit of staring down into airy oxers.

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This year promises to be a very interesting one. I’m turning 18, for one, and have to get used to the idea of being practically a grownup. It’s also my last year of school (hopefully) and the year in which I can get a driver’s licence. I’m also on the brink of buying my first broodmare and showing in Horse of the Year for the first time. I could also ride in graded shows for the first time, and since I plan to qualify as an instructor in 2016 I have to get my facilities up to scratch for a riding school this year.

To wrap up this Epic Novel of a blog post (sorry guys… this one was more for my benefit than anyone else’s), my prayer for 2015.

My King, I set goals, I work hard and I dream dreams. But no amount of my sweat or planning can ever achieve anything alone. I can hardly be trusted even to set the right goals, even for my horses. Lord Jesus, this year belongs to You. Everything in me and about me and around me I lay down at Your feet. Do with it what You will, for Your will is pure and just and perfect. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, O King. Let me draw nearer to You than ever before. Hold me close, carry me through, and be with everybody that I love, my King. Let everything I am and do glorify Your amazing name and let me decrease so that You may increase. I await the day of Your coming. Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done. In Jesus’s beloved Name, amen.

Warhorses of Today

What is a knight without his destrier? From the stocky ponies that carried Khan to the world he would conquer, to the brave thoroughbreds that served and died in their millions in World War I, horses have long carried mankind in and out of battles. Some of them have become legends in their own right: names like Bucephalus, Copenhagen, and Babeica have rung down through history for centuries.

It’s commonly thought that the dynasty of the warhorse ended in the First World War, replaced by armoured tanks and battle planes that did not need to be fed and would not bleed or die. But there are many of us living in the twenty-first century who know otherwise.

The famous warhorses are all long gone, but the spirit of the destrier lives on. Occasionally one comes across a horse that has a little more fire, a little more determination, a little more courage. These seldom come clothed in shiny coats or great talent; often they are the scruffy underdogs of the equine world with crooked legs and Roman noses. But there is something in them that makes us stronger, and these have the power to change our lives.

You see, though few of us still lift guns or sabres, we all have battles in our lives. Life itself, on this Earth, is a war through which we strive, battered and bloodied, sometimes triumphant, sometimes retreating; we have glorious victories and ignominious retreats; we all have something to fight for, a banner that we rally around when we can see it through the smoke of the cannons. And often our greatest enemies are ourselves. But some of us – a privileged handful – have a powerful ally in the battles of life. A steadfast friend that has our back in the toughest fight. A reassuring curve of muscle in the circle of our arms when we feel most alone.

A warhorse.

I don’t call my old, gold mare “charger” just for the sake of old times when we played at fairytales. For centuries, horses have borne mankind in and out of the fray. And today, in the dark wars of our souls, there are still valiant steeds that gallop into battle, bear us through the fight and, at last, bring us safely home.

Thank You God for the warhorses of today.

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TOABH: Shining Star

Beka from The Owls Approve asks: Let’s talk about the biggest achievements your horse has accomplished.  I’m not talking about you as a rider – I want to know what your ponykins has done to make you proud.  Is there a glorious satin collection, did he/she figure out some dressage movement that took months to learn, or are is it just a great day when your butt stays in the saddle?

Let’s go alphabetically, shall we?

Arwen has achieved so much and gone so far in the six years I’ve had her that I really have trouble choosing any particular moment of awesomeness. That’s pretty much Arwen; she very rarely is truly amazing, but is always pretty good, which has totalled up to a slow, gradual trickle of amazing in the end.

Possibly the most notable thing she achieved was conceiving at the age of 11 months, successfully producing a healthy filly foal around her second birthday. This oopsie was before I had her, but it is apparently against all the laws of nature and yet she did manage it somehow, little twerp.

More seriously, I think the hardest thing I ever asked Arwen to do was go out alone. She was very insecure, skittish and herdbound as a filly. While the term is probably somewhat archaic by now, she was the worst napper I’ve ever known; she’d be all right up until we left the big electric gate, and then she would stop. Attempts to make her walk on would result in terrified little spinny rears. The first quarter mile of every ride was engaged in walking two steps, rearing, walking another two steps, rearing again, reversing six steps, walking two steps, repeat. There was no malice in her, but for the life of her that little grey filly just could not go out alone.

It took a bit of guts from both of us, and a lot of time, but now Arwen loves hacking out by herself. I need a Kimberwick to get her to stop going, sometimes. Usually we mostly gallop on outrides, which are up to 10km long, but anytime I want I can drop the reins down to the buckle and go home at her trademark giant stretchy free walk. I can even put newbies on her for little slow hacks and not worry about them as long as they stay in the back where she won’t kick anybody. Hacking out alone is a very basic skill that most horses already know, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s been the biggest psychological hurdle that Arwen has overcome.

Magic is Arwen’s carbon opposite. He is either wonderful or abysmal; his wonderful is quite awe-inspiring and his abysmal is frankly scary. There have been days when not wanting to die is pretty good, and other days – last year when I was apparently unafraid of anything – when we jumped 1.20m without dying at all.

He’s also come quite a way in the past two years. Mostly, he’s transformed from neurotic race monster to happy pet, but at least we have made a little progress from racehorse to sport horse.

His biggest achievement was definitely his show in the end of November. We’d had a tough winter with massive confidence issues from us both. In fact, the whole of my time owning him has been pretty tough; the Mutterer will be able to tell you about lessons where I stood in the middle of the arena swallowing tears and telling him that I was not a good enough rider for this amazing horse. Luckily for me, the Mutterer managed to resist the temptation to walk away and would boot me back onto the horse and tell me to get over my [bleeped profanity] and ride, and between Magic and God and the Mutterer they got me to our first show where he was amazing, I rode to the best of my ability, and it went stupendously well. Magic was foot perfect and I relished the feeling of having one huge amount of horse between my knees, and all of his talent and spirit working in harmony with me. There’s just something about a really nice thoroughbred that can’t be beaten.

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Skye has achieved almost nothing in terms of being trained and so much in terms of training her little human. The fearless old charger has always been – and still is – my trusted destrier on the battlefield of life. Probably the hardest thing she ever did was to survive African horse sickness. Unheard of outside of Africa, over here AHS is feared as the recurrent killer that can cause a perfectly healthy horse to drop dead overnight. She caught a milder strain of the virus, but it was still a very dark autumn that we spent nursing and praying and crying and fighting our way through it. Skye never considered quitting, but it was then that I – fourteen years old, and that horse was my world – hit rock bottom and met my Rock: only the King could possibly have carried us through it, and carry us He did. And Skye fought the virus and won, now thriving almost four years later.

Thunder is just consistently pretty awesome, but I think the one moment of which I am most proud is when my cinch snapped loose on an outride and both saddle and dismayed rider crashed to the ground. Well, I’m not particularly proud of myself, because all I did was crawl out from my saddle groaning, but Baby Thun – who was going at a steady hand-gallop in the direction of his paddock – slammed on the brakes, spun around and returned for his slightly squashed rider. The poor little guy was barely three years old and he was so afraid that he was shaking where he stood, but for me it said everything about him that in that panicky moment he did what all horses do; he looked to his leader to keep him safe, and for him that leader was me. I mean, it wasn’t a particularly smart decision as all I was good for at that point was groaning, but it was Thunder’s loyalty all over.

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TOABH: All My Own Mistakes

The majority of the ponies have been given their African horse sickness shot, an effective but extremely strong vaccine that necessitates three weeks of very gentle or no work after each of the two shots. I dislike this enforced rest period, but this year it’s arrived at a good time in their training; Arwen is getting stunning, Magic is being good and has sore teeth now, and Baby Thun is being his usual awesome self. They all deserve a rest, especially Arwie, who has worked her muscular little grey bottom off.
So, my dear readers, as I am in the process of looking for a project pony to keep me amused for the next month and a half, you guys get blog hops!
I apologise for not doing the InLinkz properly. I plead mobile blogging.
Beka from The Owls Approve asks:
“Last week, we talked about our babies. This week, let’s talk about our greenies. Who trained your horse? Is your ponykins still in the process of figuring out this whole monkey-on-my-back thing, did you send off for thirty or sixty or ninety days, or did you buy a horse with all the bells and whistles? Who has helped your horse become what he or she is today?”
Skye was what I think you Americans call “green broke” when I got her. She knew what whoa and go meant (sort of). She did not try to throw me 80% of the time. She could kind of turn, but like an ironing board turns; stiffly and with very little agility.
I really cannot say that I taught Skye as much as the brave old charger taught me. She still needs a Western curb for those moments when one requires a handbrake. She doesn’t canter on the left lead, ever. She doesn’t jump. She doesn’t bend. She only neck-reins when she feels like it. She’s the most trustworthy horse I have ever known.
I owe her majesty a lot of things I can’t repay. After all, she was a green young mare and I was a ten-year-old with the self-preservation of a lemming; any horseman could tell you that’s not a match made in Heaven.
I can tell you that a match made in Heaven was exactly what it was.

Arwen is my personal pride and joy when it comes to training horses. She was halter trained when she arrived and that was about it. The Mutterer, with no fuss and very little trouble, introduced her to saddle, bridle and rider in fifteen minutes flat, becoming instantly my hero.
Arwie was my sister’s ride for a while and this did not work out, something we realised somewhere around the third disastrous fall. Arwen became a paddock ornament for a few months before a bored, twelve-year-old me saddled her up and tried her out. She was, frankly, quite horrible. She reared on outrides, she bucked at the canter, she leaned on my hands, and she spooked at anything that dared to exist. She couldn’t do a trot circle, much less canter in a straight line.
It took five years of constant work and was a tremendous learning curve as we both grew up. At times I despaired that she would ever be brave or fun. But look at us now; attacking xc courses, clearing 1.00m courses at home and floating through novice-level dressage. She was a perfect project for me. Glory to the King.

Magic is a different story. Unfortunately, his youth was spent as a commercialised part of the racing industry. And not the American racing industry where OTTBs come able to do lead changes. I don’t know what they did to Magic, but it cooked his brain. He couldn’t function in a group or stand in the rain without freaking out. He was so touchy you couldn’t groom him. He was… interesting to ride with his nose in the air, his gaits choppy, and the feeling that he was just about to explode at any minute.
Needless to say, I loved him instantly.
When I bought him, he was a little calmer. He still stargazed, refused to canter on the off lead, overjumped massively and startled at any sound. I threw him in a paddock with Skye, which I did more for convenience than anything else, but it was the best thing I could have done. He learned to be a horse again. Skye re-taught him the equine language he’d all but forgotten.
Now? Well, we have a loooong way to go. But I’m most humbled that this great horse has accepted me as his leader and friend. He’s calmer, happier, and looks like a million bucks under saddle. We’re a trot leg-yield away from Novice dressage and jumping 80cm courses comfortably.

Thunder is… well, Thunder. He has only my work in him, really. In the four years since he was born and I breathed into his nostrils as one horse does to another, I’ve trained him largely on my own. Of course, the Mutterer guided me through every little step; but the actual hands-on training has been just God and Thun and me. The Mutterer worked with him in hand once when he was being a colt and I didn’t know how to handle it. Thun has never had a pro rider on him. Just me, and a few students and friends.
I think even if I had all the money in the world, I won’t buy myself a schooled horse. There are plenty of riders who can school horses so much better than me. It’s not even a matter of pride anymore – of “Well, the others can win ribbons but I can do it on a horse I trained myself”. It’s that I wouldn’t trade this bond for any amount of ribbons. More practically, a horse I raised is tuned in to my preferences; he is halter trained to the point of in-hand showing, he doesn’t get too pushy about treats, he doesn’t graze when you’re on him, that sort of thing. Also, having had only one rider all his life, Baby Thun responds amazingly to my aids. Each rider does give his aids slightly differently; we’re all built differently. One of our client horses is a prime example. She leg-yields beautifully for my clumsy aids, but doesn’t leg-yield at all for the Mutterer, simply because his legs are longer even though his aids are better.
Baby Thun is so used to my aids that sometimes I just think something and he responds to subconscious changes in my body before I can move my hands and legs. I wouldn’t trade him for Valegro.