After SANESA and with the long weekend looming, everyone’s been in a bit of a holiday mood.
And around here, that means only one thing:
I think my kids must hate me because I’m still not so happy with cantering with kids on hacks, but this managed to be a lot of fun for all concerned, regardless.
We headed off in a bunch: L on Stardust, Sunè and her adorable kid, Liana and her kid, Vastrap and his kid and Lullaby bringing up the rear, peeved at having to pack my fat behind around.
Accompanied, as always, by the ever-faithful Ice. How he manages to keep up on those little legs, not to mention running after all the fieldmice and smells that catch his fancy, nobody knows. But I love that he’s always right beside us.
Sunè is just a superstar. Her kid is only eight and tends to get distracted and forget where he’s going, instead choosing to drop the reins and admire the view, but Sunè never minds being left behind and just ambles patiently along. Shouts of “Catch up, buddy!” spur the kiddo to flap his legs and Sunè happily canters to the middle of the ride and then flops back into walk without being asked.
Needless to say, spooking isn’t even in her vocabulary.
Isn’t creation amazing? It always awes me that God didn’t just make a world that was functional and complex and amazingly engineered down to its last atom, down to the deepest miracles of science. It would have been enough if the world was just incredible, if creation provided us as creatures only with nourishment and necessities. But because He’s a God of love, an Artist and a bit of a Poet sometimes, He didn’t just make the world good. He made it beautiful.
Dusty, of course, was her reliable little self – albeit pulling somewhat on the way home. The dentist saw her today and sorted out her bit seats so he said that’ll help but honestly I think she was just kinda excited.
Even Liana and Vastrap, traditionally hot on hacks, plopped along very happily and enjoyed the view.
It’s a beautiful thing to be a kid with a good chestnut mare and miles upon miles of open space at your disposal. I know because I was that kid. Nostalgia.
A good little bay mare will do fine, too.
Look at those little faces. If you want to make your kid happy, buy them a good Nooitie.
An old farmer around here used to say that once there was mist on the river, the frost would come in seven weeks or less. In seventeen years, he hasn’t been wrong.
Sunmer draws to a close, promising the end of midge season – and therefore AHS season – and summer coats, and boxing horses in daylight for shows.
It also means cosmos season, and that means outrides. Summer never goes out without a fight; it always puts on a last defiance in white and purple. It’s the best time for hacking.
Arwen was so quiet today I was kind of worried, except she would not stop eating the whole time. Arwie LOVES cosmos flowers. She didn’t bat an eye at anything and was a total pleasure.
We rode in between the fields of ripening maize,
in and out of the weird hole with the epic banks,
and through the field of gently waving hay, almost ready for its first cutting.
We even got to see a pair of rooibok… cows? Ewes? Lady rooibokke, anyway.
The horses were wonderful and seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. We kept it pretty slow for the little kid’s sake (and mine), but they were all super. Vastrap was hot of course but never bad. Renè, Lulu and Dusty were perfect.
In other news, we’ve had a peaceful week so far with today being a public holiday. We got a bunch of riding done yesterday between K and I, so today is a little slow. Jamaica’s flatwork has shown an improvement again. Arwen ran through Elementary 4 – one of the tests she’s riding on Friday – without apparent effort. Sunè popped through a little working riding test, including straw bales (the only thing that’s ever given her pause in a working riding class), in fine form.
Thunder is now very relaxed in the dressage arena and even packed K over a fence with straw bales under it at 80cm without apparent difficulty.
Midas and Lancelot were introduced to our new jumping stuff. We got ourselves a white plank, which will shortly be a white plank with Scripture painted on, and a picket fence. Lancelot was TERRIFIED at first, Midas couldn’t really care less and both boys jumped great in the end. Midas has been pretty point-and-shoot – he’ll jump the first time, every time.
Eagle and Destiny both got visits from their respective parents, and both pleasantly surprised me. Eagle is a good guy but he can be rather on the sensitive side so tactless handling sets him off like a firework. I coached his mom through lunging and he actually did fantastic – didn’t get in a flap at all if she made a mistake or two. She cottoned on really quickly, too, and by the end of the session they looked quite harmonious.
He’s still a little flinchy about flappy stirrups and having me jump up and down next to him, though. Definitely not ready to sit on just yet.
Destiny has been driving me up the walls by protesting that the dressage arena is Scary and therefore he can ignore all my aids. We had some arguments for the past two weeks, but yesterday it all came together and he gave me two circles of canter each way in the “safe” end of the arena. And today his mom rode him for the first time. He gave her three gaits without batting an eye. I think he feels a lot more resistant than he looks – because he looked fantastic.
Little Trooper also had a breakthrough; we seem to have effectively eliminated the napping. He’s still not the most forward-going chap but consistently gives me walk/trot/canter on the lunge. The canter still needs building, but the balance is there, just not much strength yet. So we moved on to introducing the bridle. I think his rescuer must have done this already because when I put it on his reaction was this:
Yeah. He’s not bothered.
The rest of the week will be consumed by preparing for Nationals on Friday. It feels like quite the doddle compared to HOY, so let’s see how it goes. Always in God’s Hands.
Recently, I’ve started writing monthly reports for my full training clients. Many of them don’t get to see their horses work much, so to keep in touch with their training, they’d text me for updates and I found myself texting back only short and incomplete answers. Hence, I set aside some time in the beginning of each month to write a comprehensive summary of what their horse was learning. Texts are still welcome, but generally people now have a much better idea of what’s going on.
Writing the reports have proven just as useful to me, as they force me to evaluate and re-evaluate each horse’s personal journey and give reasons for what I’m doing. Not only does it keep me on my toes, it makes me think about what I’m doing instead of running on intuition. Intuition isn’t a bad thing, but it sure makes it difficult to hand the knowledge over to others when all you can really say is “do what feels right” to a person who hasn’t developed the feel just yet.
One interesting thing I found was that most horses have a default. I guess that should be obvious, but it wasn’t, to me. They all have a certain way that they tend to respond to stimuli, and that “default” in large part determines the horse’s trainability.
In general, I’ve found that most horses respond in one of four different ways.
Reactive: When a horse reacts, he flinches away from a stimulus with a swift, jerky movement. For example, on the lunge, he will scoot forward when you pick up the whip. A reactive horse is usually motivated by fear. The horse whose default is to be reactive, is generally a flinchy, hot and spooky sort.
Resistant: When a horse resists, he fights against a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will kick out when you pick up the whip. A resistant horse is often motivated by pain or desire to be dominant. The horse whose default is to be resistant is sulky, grumpy, and habitually has his ears pinned back.
Responsive: When a horse responds, he moves away smoothly from a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will move calmly forward when you pick up the whip. A responsive horse is generally motivated by willingness to please. The horse whose default is to be responsive is generally pleasant and comes across quite sensitive.
Unresponsive: When a horse fails to respond, he ignores a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will stand there when you pick up the whip. An unresponsive horse is generally motivated by laziness or boredom. The horse whose default is to be unresponsive will be dead quiet, patient, and stoic, and can sometimes give the impression of not being “all there”.
Horses also have a sort of “volume”. Not all reactive horses will necessary scoot forward when you pick up the whip. Some will merely step out more briskly than anticipated; others will panic and plunge through the fence. The vast majority of resistant horses never kick out or buck; they just pin their ears. This is why so many back pain and saddle fit issues go unnoticed. Just because a horse is easy to handle doesn’t mean its default is good, it just means its volume’s been turned down, and that can be a good thing – or a bad thing.
One would also think, looking at the list, that all horses should be responsive by default. That’s not true. Remember that horses tend to react to all outside stimuli according to their default – not just aids. Sure you want a horse to respond to your aids, but you don’t want him to respond to a dressage letter, not even if that just means quietly moving away from it. The best horses are a trained balance between responsive and unresponsive, leaning one way or another according to their job. Arwen is more towards the responsive because she’s an adult’s dressage horse who needs to deal with complicated sets of aids in rapid succession. Bruno was far more towards the unresponsive side, because he had to ignore all spooky objects in favour of keeping a kid safe.
Reactive and resistant horses, however, are almost always unhappy; it’s easy to see why – one is motivated by fear or pain, and the other is motivated by pain or by being in the wrong place in their hierarchy. We all know how gross it feels to be in a place where you don’t belong, even if you put yourself there.
All these types of horses (although many horses don’t fit in any of the boxes) need to be approached differently. That’s the most important part of listening, after all: actually acting on what you’ve been told.
Here’s a few little case studies.
Magic‘s default used to be reactive. He feels things deeply, and he expresses them dramatically. Pushing his limits never, ever works – it just makes him go up like a mushroom cloud. Patience and understanding are absolutely key to keeping him happy. The upside of being reactive is that it’s a small – difficult and key, but small – change to becoming responsive, which he has become by a massive effort.
Jamaica used to be excessively unresponsive – to the point where it became complete disobedience and quite dangerous. His automatic reaction was just to hang on your hands till Kingdom come no matter what you did to him. You could flap, you could kick, you could do whatever you pleased – he’d just plough onwards. Unresponsive horses can be very rewarding because they’re fairly easy and safe to train out of it, and then you can really fine-tune the level of responsive you want. Jamaica proved to be one of those. He still has unresponsive moments, but he’s starting to decide that moving away from pressure is generally a good idea. On the plus side, he’s by default not spooky, and because I never trained him to respond to anything except my aids, he remains non-spooky.
Unresponsive horses can be really, really hard to get a read on. Some unresponsive horses have shut down, like a dog that just takes the kick because he knows it’s coming anyway. They bear pain and ill-treatment because it’s the only way they know how to cope. They can hide a tremendous amount of pain. Mercifully, most unresponsive horses are just really chill dudes at heart, who like to roll with it because that’s the way they are. Bruno comes to mind.
Destiny is the most resistant horse I’ve ever met, and his volume was turned all the way up to the top. He wouldn’t just kick out at the lunging whip, he’d spin around and fly backwards, double-barreling at head height all the way and bringing to mind the legend that the Lipizzaners’ capriole was developed to decapitate footsoldiers. I sure thought he was going to decapitate me. Resistant horses, although a battle, are still an easier fix than reactive horses. Even though this chap’s problem wasn’t pain (which resistant horses almost always are in), he was more easily fixable than you would believe if you’d seen him at the height of his issues. Unfortunately, they’re not a pleasant fix in any way. There’s really two main ways to respond to resistance; to remove the stimulus so that they have nothing left to resist against, thus taking them by surprise and often removing the bitterness from the situation, or to resist their resistance more strenuously than they can resist you. When it comes to head-height double-barreling, option (b) is the only option that will leave you with your head still on. Removing the stimulus and rewarding aggression is a recipe from disaster. Hence, Destiny got a hiding. A big hiding. Now, his default is still to be resistant, but in the matter of a month we’ve got the volume turned down from enormous violence to merely pinning the ears. It’s not as good as resetting the default, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
As for responsive, there’s not a lot of horses that are this way after people are done with them. A surprising number of horses are naturally responsive – they just get made either reactive or resistant, because the best horses are always the easiest to ruin. I love me a responsive horse. Nell was one of them, and we all know that she was just epic. The most responsive horse I have right now is undoubtedly Faith. I never had to teach her to move away from pressure because she had it programmed into her DNA. Once she knows how to move away from the pressure, she just does it without any fuss. She can come across spooky because she’ll move away (not leap away) from a scary thing, but personally, I don’t mind those. Nell was the same and as soon as you’ve got the whole moving-away-from-the-leg thing programmed they respond to your leg instead of the scary thing and do what you wanted. (Assuming you made yourself more important and valuable in their lives than scary things). Responsive + willing + gentle + intelligent = most trainable thing you’ll ever clap eyes on.
Now for the million-dollar question, of course. What was the natural default of the majestic, legendary dragonbeast herself? I bet you’ll all be shocked to discover that Arwen was naturally unresponsive. Yep, you read that right. The dragon was the most unresponsive horse you’ve ever seen, and she still has that tendency lurking inside her. I like it because it makes her a lot more robust to my mistakes and whoopsies. It takes a while to train an aid on her, so while she learns good things a little slowly, she also learns bad things a little slowly, which is quite important when you’re doing dressage by trial and error like I am.
The vast majority of horses are complicated tangles of all four defaults, as well as having splashes of random other stuff thrown in. Many are born with one default and go on to be trained to have several different ones. All of them have reacted in all four different ways at some stage in their lives, for multitudes of different reasons. As an example, Nugget is a naturally unresponsive horse who became extremely reactive (with flashes of violently resistant) and is now gradually being trained to be unresponsive again, but with bits of responsive when I ask for them. And she’s only ever had two different handlers, really.
And to turn everything on its head a little, let me remind us all that people and horses are deeply similar, right at the bottom of things. We also react to the greatest Stimulus of all in different ways. Some of us fight Him. Some of us run from Him. Some of us ignore Him.
And some of us hear His voice, and move forward with confidence to do as He asked.
This week was filled with more sunny days and bright skies and unfortunately, admin. This is the side of yard management that nobody really likes, least of all myself. Although, if I’m honest, it does give one’s legs a welcome break.
This week we continued working on the little grid, making it progressively bigger and the one-strides longer and more challenging. We also added on another vertical set on a right turn from the grid on a long approach, which added an element of speed and then having to come back to a steady trot to reapproach the grid. This turned out to be a very good exercise for Magic, who was having something of a zoomy week. He was obedient through the grid even when he was feeling a little up – I guess the sudden cold snap had something to do with it – but schooling in the snaffle was a dismal failure. I had control, but that was about it. We flailed dramatically and had one enormous spook, then spooked again when I got left behind and snatched him in the mouth, ending up in a quivering heap on top of B.
The good part was that even though Magic was being a bit of a wild child, my confidence didn’t have a single wobble beyond the usual low-key nerves if he took a long spot. The dude and I have really built up an awesome connection. ❤
The fitter was also out and after tracing the shape of his back compared to the shape of it in July when she last came out, we were both startled by the transformation. He is much more symmetrical and much more muscular, although to her dismay, while his back came up, so did his wither. (This is the same horse that the fitter asked to photograph as an example of a challenging fit for her students…)
Poor old Arwen didn’t get as much attention as I would have liked this week. I jumped her once (which was fabulous – not a single stop over 85cm fences), gave her a lunge, took a nice hack and had a bit of flatwork schooling. At least she also had her saddle looked at. The fitter pronounced her fat and just did a little reflocking to accommodate the extra inch of roundness my 5-days-a-week, eventing, grass-only beast had accumulated.
Nellie worked her rather rotund behind off. The week was fairly easy, with flatwork, hacking, and popping through the grid (she is an incredibly wiggly and untalented jumper, but has a nice hunter rhythm), but then came the dressage lesson. Our fitter also happens to be a pro dressage lady, who has soundly kicked our bottoms on baby horses at the lower levels as well as dominating in the higher ones, and has the definite bonus of being likeable, so we took the opportunity to have lessons while she was out to fit saddles. We nearly died. Just because I like dressage does not mean that it isn’t painful. We did comparatively easy stuff – a lot of transitions and trot lengthenings and some canter poles – but it was intense and we were both dying. We were sent home to do lots and lots of poles to make Nell add more “jump” to her canter and articulate her hindlegs instead of just swinging them arond.
Exavior wiggled himself back into my good books by loading once very well with neither assistant nor bum rope. He is such a puzzle but he can be so loveable when he quits jumping around on his hindlegs. He is, however, definitely a lot better to lead around other horses; we have to pass right by one of my pony colts on the way to the horsebox and this cheeky little colt tends to run over and squeal, but Xave ignores him flatly. The pony colt can probably fit under his belly, so I can hardly blame him.
Sookie settled nicely into her new routine this week, being calm and trainable in the arena at all three gaits even with a bit of wind making things quite spooky. She had one or two really silly little looks, but much less than she used to when she was younger. We did have one awkward mishap involving an H-F trot lengthen. It started as a lengthening at H right enough, then at X we started to trip, flailed, fell on both knees, lurched dramatically upright and as a grand finale I landed bottom first upon F. The little trip just went downhill, presumably because Sookie’s muscle tone and balance are poor at this stage. She is a big horse and doesn’t have the strength to hold herself up just yet, poor soul. Needless to say we shall proceed with caution and do lots and lots of basic strengthening exercises before we approach the show circuit – I have no desire to literally fall in a heap at X.
Little Bruno only did one day’s ring work, where we worked on getting solid canter for two laps of the ring each way. After that we climbed straight on and went to the big arena. We only worked in walk and trot, including walking over some ground poles without batting an eye, but he was excellent. The little guy is just a dream to handle – he learns what I teach, remembers what he’s learned, and doesn’t go in for theatrics.
Lance’s SI area remains sensitive and he is consistently being lazy on the left rein, then zoomy on the right, so we are still going slow and redoing his basics to make them even more solid. He now loads like a real little champ, even out of sight of other horses, which is a challenge for him. To his utter delight, our new livery is a little yearling Arab that just wants to play. Lancey is the sweetest thing with his new buddy and he and Titan have a blast galloping around and making trouble together. He appears to have no difficulty moving in a straight line at great speeds around his paddock, at least!
While I wanted to put a few steps of canter in on Whisper this week, we never really got there. Whispy has never been ridden out in a large space before – her last home had a fenced arena of about 35x15m – and my unfenced grass arena proved to be a bit of a shock to the system. To her credit, she was never wild, not for a single step. What she was, was incredibly wiggly. My groom enquired if I had been feeding her moonshine while we wobbled from one side of the track to the other, tripping over dressage letters and her own feet. By the end of the week we at least had walk and trot in fairly straight lines in the big arena, though, so soon we’ll be back on track (pun intended). Whisper isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she definitely makes up for that with abundant patience, gentleness, quietness, and memory. She’ll make a fantastic first horse for some lucky junior, with her unicorn looks to match.
Stardust learned to load this week, which she did like she does everything, with a workaday, ho-hum sort of willingness. Don’t worry, Dusty, you’re not going anywhere. She also taught one of the kids to canter with great success; she’s still very sticky going onto the off lead, but on the near side, she’s very good.
Baby Thunder had a jumping session with me, popping through the grid with the verticals put up to about 70cm. He had some trouble maintaining his impulsion through the two quite long one-stride lines at first, but he got it eventually. He is just such a willing guy – he’ll go between the uprights every single time, even if he demolishes the fences in the process. Although in this session with me he was very careful and didn’t touch a single pole; I think the gymnastic exercise was good for him.
We rounded off the week with a successful day of outside lessons, including schooling one of my student’s super cool schoolmistress, Penny. Penny jumps whatever from wherever, although she can get a little insolent about being told what to do, having come to the reasonable conclusion that she can do it just fine herself, thank you. She remains a whole lot of fun.
After a very damp and slow time last week, we were all raring to get back into action this week. The weather played along absolutely beautifully with a whole series of calm, sunny, balmy days and bone dry footing making for some serious riding.
My jump exercise of the week was a little grid, mostly because I fear and despise grids and therefore should do several of them to get myself over it and convince myself of their usefulness. It was a simple one, but quite daunting for pole-phobic yours truly: 3 trotting poles to a small cross, one stride to a vertical, one stride to another vertical.
Magic was the highlight of my week, which he’s pretty good at being. Still working on getting him forward off the leg, I was also able to get a couple of consist trot leg-yields from him, riding him in the snaffle. He’s no Valegro, but I was thrilled when he gave me the Novice 5 leg-yields beautifully (10m circle at L, then leg-yield back to the track around R). I was nervous to take him through my little grid because I thought he might make a mistake and then we’d flail and panic through it, but what do you know – he was perfect. I did have to make the one strides a little longer as I’d set them for ponies, but even when it was too short, he just took the short distances and popped in an out like a good grownup horse. I have video evidence.
Arwen was the one who actually introduced me to the grid. She was good up until I put up the first vertical, at which she had a dishonest and unreasonable stop, so I gave her a good one along the backside with my crop. These stops are becoming a naughty habit of hers. Thereafter she didn’t try it again and jumped with a more Arwen-like gusto, popping through the whole thing with great enthusiasm and even some straightness. She was so good that it stopped being scary and even became really, really fun at one point, something Arwen is excellent at doing for me. She also put in two solid flatwork sessions, giving me her best haunches in along the track so far. Her canter was a little weak on Friday, though. She also packed some students around on outrides, which she enjoyed greatly as they don’t seem to be able to stop her from eating anything that happens to grow at nose level.
Nellie had a relaxed but good week. She has been struggling with bend and suppleness lately, so we had an intensive lesson with the Mutterer on Wednesday working on that. We did a whole lot of Parelli flexions, finding her a lot stiffer to the right than the left (as expected). She still tends to fall against my right leg quite a bit but working on getting that better. As a side note, when she got stuffy and frustrated with lateral work and flexions, I was ordered to take her for a gallop around the jumping arena. This worked like a charm. It really got her thinking forward and relaxed again. I’ll definitely be using that trick in the future. I led a couple of outrides on her as well and she was super – relaxed, confident, just a little looky.
Exavior was a bit of a dweeb. Temporarily abandoning the lunging idea – the lunge ring is inconveniently situated in a paddock full of usually very calm schoolies; I doubt they would remain so calm should an angry young colt pull free and run into them – we started working on loading. The first couple of days were dreadful. Day one he was spooky and nervous; day two he realised how sympathetic I can be when he is nervous, so he pushed his luck and became downright rude and stubborn. On the third day, both sick of arguing, we finally both pulled together. I exercised more patience, which eventually persuaded him to exercise some brainpower, and he climbed into the box without further ado. We loaded him three or four times with the butt rope and he became calmer each time.
This was Sookie’s first full week of work, having had an easy week to settle in (I spent a whole session just scrubbing her so that her white could be properly white again), and she adjusted very well. She is getting a pile of maize-containing broodmare feed at the moment; I only had to lunge her once before I decided to change her over onto something without maize in it because normally ploddy Sookie was doing handstands and trying to squash my little dog. The next day she was much better and I walked her around the ring; and on the third day I climbed right up and rode her around the ring in three gaits. Her canter right was very awkward, and she felt like bucking, but I booted her through it and put it down to poor balance and lack of muscle tone. She was very willing, supple, and responsive, though – all hugely in her favour. Then we walked and trotted around the spooky big arena and she impressed me by not doing any of the dramatic spooks she used to when she was a baby.
Bruno also had a massive successful week. He just goes from strength to strength. After having some time off for the kick to his ribs, he was hardly hyper at all and the first time I rode him I was already asking for canter both ways. He has an irritating habit of drifting towards the inside of the ring, especially on the left rein, but doesn’t get violent about it. Just general baby pony stuff. Our last session was the best of all. I didn’t lunge him, just hopped on and did 3 gaits in the ring, then had a walk around the unfenced big arena. He was super. I love him more each time I sit on him. A confidence giver since the day he was backed – some lucky kid is going to have a blast on him.
As Lancelot’s sacroiliac injury was less tender, towards the end of the week I also brought him in and gave him a little lunging. He moves quite sound, but I didn’t put any weight on his back just in case. He was very well behaved and not at all as hyper as he usually is, but a little clumsy. I am very wary to be working him much until the chiro sorts out his back, so we’ll stick to light lunging and basic groundwork – loading and bathing – until that’s been done.
Our new arrival also had her first work week. Whisper is a little cremello mare that is here to be schooled and resold. I backed her in the spring for her owner and had put in some basics – walk and trot, a few steps of canter – before she was turned away for a few months. She is a very happy-go-lucky sort that is not much bothered by anything really, and I was back on her in short order doing everything we’d done before barring the canter. She finds the ring rather too small to balance at a canter with her rider on, so we’ll try that out in the big arena next week. On the ground she’s incredibly easy and relaxed to handle, which is a good thing, because dabbing sunscreen around pink cremello eyes is made considerably easier by a cooperative horse.
Thunder and Stardust had a very busy and good week being loved to bits by their kids. Dusty went on her first proper long group outride and was a perfect little angel, not putting a toenail wrong. Dusty is rather good at being a perfect little angel. Baby Thunder remains occasionally careless over fences, but still his straight, solid self.
Another blessed week with my beloved King Jesus at His own stableyard. How great Thou art! ❤ With this being Easter Weekend, we are more thankful than ever for what He did for us. We will never forget Your sacrifice. How could we when what You have done sets us free every single day? When Your courage and love changed our lives forever? Thank You Lord ❤
The yard is bursting at the seams and yet a little empty right now; we have 20 horses in residence but only 10 in training, down from the usual 14. One of my training horses came up with a chronic back injury; another did one too many handstands with me, causing me to call in the big guns, and he is now waiting on his lift back to the Mutterer to be sorted out; and two more were sold within a week of arriving.
This turned out to be a good thing, because it was bucketing down almost every afternoon and the whole of Wednesday. Usually I tend to have this attitude
but not today, kids. It was cold and nobody needs to be sick, so it was just a slow week for everyone.
We still managed to make some progress. Magic had Monday off and then came back into work strongly, working hard on being more responsive off my leg and developing a forward, powerful showjumping canter, like the one we won with on Sunday (whoop!). When I got him he was extremely hypersensitive to my leg and somewhere along the line I have made him too dull to my leg, so now it’s back to getting more responsiveness. He finished the week on an incredibly high note, jumping an 80-85cm course that looked scary to me right up until he jumped the first fence. After that it was euphoria. I got him really deep to the second element of a bending line landing downhill, and he just put up his little knees and popped over it like no big deal. He was making 4 strides in every one of the lines (which walked for 5), so we even got our big canter going again. I was grinning all over my face every time I got off him this week. I know I say this a lot, but that is one special horse.
After his month off, I brought Exavior in and lunged him, which started fine but disintegrated into a minor disaster. He always used to live in the paddock right next to the lunging ring, so bringing him in and lunging him was a doddle; but now that I moved him out we need to pass a whole crew of mares and geldings he doesn’t know and it brought out his colt face. He was very good on the way there, though. Lunging-wise he was hyper and inattentive but extremely obedient, and on the way back he was a jerk. He managed to pull away from me (gloves, stupid!), charged through the gate and tried to jump on the nearest gelding, which gave him a well-deserved kick. Colts. I have two of them and they both need to be de-colted ASAP.
Little Bruno has been coming along beautifully. After coming off a youngster I was backing last summer, my confidence with the babies took a massive hit. I had started probably 10 young horses last year and was getting a little workaday and didn’t read this one properly, so when I climbed on him he bucked vehemently until I ate dirt. It was quite a painful one too, resulting in a satisfyingly large purple bruise, but the memory of it remained every time I had to face up to a youngster. One of the Arop Nooities, a ploddy mare deep into her teens who could not have been surprised by anything, helped me part of the way through it by graciously letting me on board, but I was yet to start a youngster again. So 10 weeks of groundwork it was until I could no longer stand it and climbed onto my cute little pony who didn’t turn a hair. Seriously guys – that Nooitie temperament is just unbeatable. Bruno learned to canter this week, giving me 4 strides and a smooth transition without any drama. He is a little fussy with his mouth but not too bad. On Friday he felt kind of weird, like he was thinking about throwing in a buck, but later that evening he came in for dinner with a lump the size of a rugby ball right on his girth area so that would explain it. The new girl on the block must have been unimpressed by his romantic endeavours. The swelling is down markedly today so I think it’s just a big, ouchy bruise.
Lancelot is my other training project, a lanky dapple-grey Arab gelding who’s just gone three. Lance is a bit of a puzzle, which I’m still figuring out, but it helps to think of him as a kind of short baby Magic. He is super sweet and a total cuddle bunny right up until something scares him, when he loses his brains and goes ballistic. Heaven forbid I scare him because then the wheels fall off. We are beginning to understand one another, and his groundwork is more or less done, so on Tuesday I had a sit on him and had him back up a few steps and he didn’t do a thing. Unfortunately on Friday he came up with a suspected sacroiliac injury; not lame or stiff, but he has a very painful and sensitive area between his two hip bones. The chiro will be out to check that out ASAP.
Thunder and Stardust had a chilled week with most of their lessons raining out, but both were their usual incredibly well-behaved selves. I school them both once a week to keep them sharp and they went beautifully. Thunny jumped a course of quite tall crosses with his usual ploddy, workmanlike reliability – he will go between the uprights every single time, although sometimes the poles won’t quite stay up. Stardust used to refuse to canter right but gave me two laps of the arena solid this week. Sadly she also came up lame on Friday (seriously horses what have you been doing?!) but should be better after having the weekend off.
Last but by no means least, Sookie arrived this week. I’ve been riding Sookie on and off for her owner for a while – probably four and a half or five years by now – and now she’s come for some more intensive training. I’ll admit to be excited to add another one to “my” competitive string. She settled in quite well, once the other horses had accepted her, and now looms happily over the group of native ponies wherever they go. Comically, 16hh imported German warmblood Sookie has made friends with 14hh veld pony Stardust. She has been bred the past two years and had two fine big foals, so she needs some weight and retraining, but I doubt it’ll be long before the big girl hits the show ring. She was virtually show ready last time I sat on her so we just have to dust things off a bit.
Nell and Arwen rounded off the week with a successful graded dressage show on Sunday. I made the mistake of giving Arwen a goodly handful of her energy supplement that morning, which was idiotic to say the least. She wasn’t spooky or naughty, but she took one look at the dressage arena and said CROSS COUNTRYYYYY. When I explained that there were no fences and thus it could not be cross country, she demanded if that was a challenge and proceeded to demonstrate exactly how a fat Nooitgedachter mare can do cross country without any jumps required. Still, she finished on 59% for Novice 3 and 60% for Novice 2, with comments of “obedient”, “willing” (I don’t think this horse has ever finished a test without a “willing” comment) and a diplomatic “needs more suppling over the neck and back”, which I can only assume is dressage code for “pulls rider’s arms off”.
Nell warmed up beautifully but became separation anxious once we actually went in, so Novice 2 was horrible; we spooked dramatically, broke, shied, had a little buck, squealed a few times and fell in a heap at X for 52%. By Novice 3 she had settled enormously and had an obedient test for the comment “lovely” and “steady”, which she was, barring one nasty moment when the Friesian next door spooked and she spooked at it spooking. She still felt a little mediocre, for Nell, and didn’t have any wow moments, but got 59% which I won’t sniff at. I was proud of how quickly she settled down; her separation anxiety is a problem but every time we go out it improves a little, so someday we’ll be rid of it for good.
We called her Stardust, because she is something of light and hope that not everyone believes in.
It was two days after I had made the impossible decision. The riding school is growing, and the two schoolies aren’t coping. First one, and then the other began to sour; both coming to their work and doing it as well as they could, but both starting to make flat ears at me when I brought them to saddle up, or wandering off when their groom went to catch them. They weren’t happy in their work and it was not the fault of the work; there was just too much of it. Even I get tired in the three hours’ lessons every afternoon and I’m not the one carrying the kids around.
I needed another schoolie, and I was pretty sure the growing business could support one. But where on earth the money to buy one was supposed to come from, I had no idea. I’m flat broke. The little yard has just begun, and when you’re 18 years old and have a grass arena and questionable stables, you are a dwarf in a world of equestrian giants. Low prices and fire in your eye is all you’ve got to attract clients with. And fire is only useful when it spreads.
But this is Morning Star Stables, the high calling of my dreams, and if we do not walk by faith now we never will. It is God’s now as it has been since it was just a spark and will be when it can be a giant too. So I made the decision: We were getting another schoolie. I started to look for it, and as usual, I was picky. Something a bit smaller than galumphing Thun – 14 or 14.2 would do it. Easy-keeping, chunky, with powerful legs that could stand up to the rigours of the schoolie workload. Smooth gaits. Basic training, and a naturally fearless, quiet and people-loving nature. As for my budget, I didn’t have one. I couldn’t afford anything and whatever pony God wanted for His new schoolie, He’d pay for somehow.
Not quite two days later, a new lesson kiddie showed up and had her lesson on Thunder. All was going swimmingly when her dad leaned on the fence and asked, “You don’t need a new kid pony, by any chance?”
To make a long story short, Stardust is here for her month’s trial period. Free of charge. In case you were wondering, she stands 14.1hh and is fat on air. She is broad across the chest with stout little legs made apparently of cast iron. Her gaits are like sitting on a waterbed. She has all the basic gaits and aids, and when I tried her out at her previous home, there were kids running and yelling and hitting things in this spooky little farmyard and she didn’t do a thing. Just put her nose down and did what I said. We have a month to get through before we can be sure, but I think I am pretty sure.
And that is why we walk by faith, and not by sight.