Back on Track

The seasons are changing here yet again, and I’m feeling the pressure of a coming winter with my clippers currently still out of commission.

On the bright side, we’re fully stocked on blankets and our grazing is holding up great. We’ll have to see how it does as standing hay, but for now, the horses are still up to their eyeballs in grass thanks to a late rain.

We are forecast for more late rains followed by a bitterly cold winter. Something that a yard manager in the middle of midge-borne African horse sickness country is not complaining about.

We held our third in-house training show on the 7th of April. Darling got to spend his birthday building courses and supplying me with chocolate milk. At least the poor soul knew what he was getting himself into. It was a small show but a resounding success as far as I can tell.

I found photographic evidence of two things: my first time on a pony, and my mom’s shapely figure – at three months pregnant, none the less.


Faith, somewhat inadequately babysat by Midas, went on her first hack. She was fabulous, if on occasion a little overexcited.

Zorro escaped his field and invaded the tack storage in the night, then got the cookie jar stuck on his foot. As you do. No harm was done, except to the horse cookies that had been in the cookie jar.

K’s mom booked a lesson with international eventer Paul Hart for my birthday. Jamaica and I charged over all manner of things,

including ditches,

water,

and houses. He was foot perfect except for a jump with water under it, and our coach was suitably impressed. How awesome is God’s plan?

Thunder remains the one whose four dancing hooves carry me to a place where the world and its burdens just can’t go. ❤

We had a brilliant time of it at SANESA Q3, with three of our riders qualifying for Finals with another qualifier to spare.

Despite flat refusing to get into the two-berth, Milady came second and managed to put the smile back on K’s face.

Few things make me happier than this arena, freshly harrowed. I am awed by what God has provided.

Faithy rode in the rain and behaved impeccably, cantering her first full laps around the dressage arena. She can be quite scared of cantering but each session is a little better thanks to my carrying on as if she is the most amazing horse in the world. She kind of is.

Grumpy old Benjamin is 21 now but still knows how to open practically every gate there is, regularly escaping his little paddock to gorge on the lush grass, forbidden due to his laminitis.

Titan is going fabulously, now working in a frame and having been introduced to some little fences. We’ll make something of him yet.

As for the old queen of the herd, she still reigns in ageless beauty. 29 years old and still a reason to believe.

More thorough updates to follow. Glory to the King.

2018 Goals Recap: Competition Horses

I can’t believe the first quarter of 2018 is already behind us. In one way it feels like mere days ago when we were holding December’s pony camp; in another, it feels like I have aged half a lifetime in the past three months. Either way, I’m slowly finding my equilibrium again, and we’ll start with some goal recaps to get us back on track.

Thunder

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If I had not had my Wonderbird through all this, I would have officially lost my snot completely. So he has actually done well, if not quite chronologically, hence why we’ve started ticking off a bunch of goals that I had actually aimed for the end of the year.

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Improve all of our downward transitions. We have improved them all – we just haven’t fixed them yet.
  • Improve our stretchy trot. I no longer lose any sleep over his stretchy trot. I can’t always get it early in a session, but I can get a really really good one once he’s ready to stretch.
  • Improve both lengthenings. These are better, not quite medium yet, but fair enough for Novice lengthenings.
  • Improve the halts, specifically staying connected in halt and immobility. We are working our butts off on these. He is square and connected in them now, but still kind of wiggly.
  • Improve rein back. Still working on this. He can do really good rein back on occasion, but it’s inconsistent, and sometimes when the rein back gets good then his halts go downhill.

Third and fourth quarter:

Introduce all of the Elementary movements:

  • serpentine four loops  The horse is so bendy it’s like riding a Slinky, this is not a problem for him
  • halt immobility 5 seconds – working on it
  • canter circle with break of contact – and it’s fabulous
  • half stretchy trot circle
  • canter-walk transition – introduced and balanced, but still tends to have two or three trot steps in it
  • transition from walk to counter canter on the long side
  • shoulder-in – good on both reins
  • medium trot – working on it
  • extended walk
  • serpentine 3 loops with counter canter
  • medium canter
  • leg-yield zigzag – rocking it
  • turn on the haunches – equally rocking
  • 10m canter circle – bit of an effort, but present and correct
  • half circle in counter canter
  • simple change on a short diagonal – not yet polished but tolerable
  • simple change on the long side
  • E-X half circle, X simple change, X-B half circle
  • collected trot

General:

  • Keep working on quiet little hacks. – I haven’t been in the brain space for hacking him.

Arwen

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2018 goals:

  • Take at least one showing lesson or clinic. – Logistics have not yet allowed.
  • Get over my phobia of all showing judges. Show at least once with one of the horrible ones and learn to deal. – Nailed it. Showed under my least favourite judge and she bucked the entire time and every time he yelled something condescending I may or may not have whispered something rebellious under my breath. (But not profane. Promise).
  • Improve her rein-back and lengthenings. – She has a super rein back now and her lengthenings are about as good as they will get.
  • Get points to go out of Novice. – She’s an open show pony and in the tickets sometimes, too.

I am about done showing Arwen for the next few months, but I’d love to do compleat horse at the Derby in September/October, so that’s the next goal we’ll be working towards.

Faith

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2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

Complete the backing:

  • long-line – done
  • introduce pole work – done
  • introduce the rider – done, and she barely noticed
  • introduce walk – done
  • introduce trot – done
  • introduce canter – well, it’s introduced, but only like three strides at a time and still a bit funky-looking
  • move to the dressage arena.

Start preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the figures
  • establish good transitions between gaits – all except the canter transitions
  • establish balanced and united canter – yeah… no
  • introduce hacks, alone and in company
  • possibly ride a walk/trot test at our April show  and she was so, so relaxed
  • show in-hand. – and she was very good but a bit separation anxious

Faithy is very much on track, but still quite immature in some areas. Once we break through the canter problem, there will be no stopping her. I am not pushing her hard right now because she’s babyish for her age and there is plenty of time for her to grow up. Citizenship is all we’re really doing right now, and then playing with canter to slowly build her confidence.

Jamaica

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2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Showjump 90cm at available training shows. – We skipped this and went straight to SANESA.
  • Compete at equitation 90cm at SANESA. Score 70% (that’s a 28) or more, if not at the first qualifier, then at least at the last two. 70% is the pass mark for Module 5. – We did the first two qualifiers, scoring 28 and 29.
  • Introduce all the flatwork required at Module 5: leg-yield, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, a little shoulder-in, a little travers. (The exam specifies only “lateral work” but I don’t expect to have to do half-pass). – Not quite. We have turn on the forehand and a bit of leg-yield, but it’s not quite polished yet.

This poor equid tends to be the one that gets neglected just because he’s such a low maintenance guy, but he doesn’t mind. He has carrots. He doesn’t mind anything as long as he has carrots.

 

In other news, the darling is away for about 100000000000000000 years (i. e. eight weeks) for work, which is sad but necessary. We had boot camp, which was awesome. We had our third little show, which was quiet but also pretty awesome. God is good.

All the time.

Glory to the King.

 

Nissan Easter Festival

Two weekends ago was my first time riding at Easter Fest, arguably the biggest show I’ve competed in (Horse of the Year may be bigger; YDHS more elite). My competition was, of course, star-studded, so I had low expectations, mostly aiming to just go and get that big-show exposure so that I can deal with my nerves now and not when my scores actually count for something.

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Sunday was showing day on Arwen. She hasn’t been to a show by herself in a long time, but she’s so grown up now that I didn’t even really worry.

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I would have loved to do the working riding, but unfortunately it ended up being on the same day as Thunder’s dressage and I wasn’t willing to deal with Thunder’s girlfriend shenanigans at this particular show, so we just entered the open show hack and show riding.

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So my darling, my dragon and I charged off to Kyalami with what I thought was much time to spare, only to discover that my mom’s bakkie is not quite so adept at towing the box as my dad’s, eventually arriving at KPC about half an hour later than I’d hoped. Thankfully, the dragon is very grown up and the darling has cottoned on very quickly to the various horse show SO skills (holding horses, fetching numbers, fetching food, soothing rattled nerves, being slightly neglected [sorry love], etc.) so we ended up having time for a good warmup and arriving in the show arena with only a few hairs out of place.

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In short, Arwen was absolutely fantastic and I really actually had fun once again. I think I might even say that I’m cured of my fear of showing judges. Honestly, when you’ve loaded your dying friend into a helicopter right after a horrible violent event, some things really just don’t register on the scary scale anymore, and showing judges are one of them. Life is way too short to worry about what they think, so I just rode my horse, thanked my Jesus and let the rest do whatever it wanted.

She was just amazing. Our classes were quite small, which was nice because I intensely dislike sitting in the line-up for ages, and Arwen really just did exactly as I asked and behaved exactly as she would at home. I swear she knows her individual show by heart.

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I didn’t expect placings because the small group of people in my classes were all well-known showing competitors on super fancy big horses and had turned them out really well, while Arwen – albeit at least moderately clean and properly plaited – is kinda fluffy already and I forgot my wet wipes at home so her feet and mouth were pretty dirty.  As expected, we placed dead stone last in both, but I was proud of my horse’s performance.

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The judge basically summarised why Arwen never does well in open show classes: she’s well schooled, she’s well behaved, she’s correct, but she is a pony and there’s no getting around that. I don’t really mind, though. She did excellently, and it was awesome.

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Monday was dressage day on Thunderbirdy. We had a nice late ride time, still managed to get stuck in traffic, and still managed to get there on time because I am dating Superman. Thunny was super relaxed on our arrival and happily hacked over to the warmup arena, where he promptly proceeded to completely lose his snot.

 

I think maybe he was a little fresh as the week before had been rainy and interfered with his program, but there was also a log next to the warmup that has been spooking generations of horses (including Nell) and it spooked him properly. He was obedient and controllable and actually carried himself really great, but his brain was not with me at all.


Going into the dressage arena he mercifully did not spook at anything, but the damage was done and he couldn’t focus. He had some truly excellent moments for 7s and 8s, and in the photos I love the way he was holding himself.


But he also made a LOT of kind of dumb mistakes, the kind he never makes at home, like fluffing the lead in his simple changes, breaking in his lengthening, and hollowing awfully in his rein back. He was also pulling a bit and occasionally wanted to buck and disunite when the whip tickled him (seriously, bro?).


So our scores were very mediocre: 58% and 60%. I’m a little bummed because if he had gone like he goes at home he would have had another 70%, but the poor guy is still greener than I realise. He just needs more miles. The schooling is there and he will start scoring well when he can relax; but he will only relax when I relax, so I feel God is busy teaching me a very big lesson here.


And as for this man, he is my lighthouse and most willing and able comrade in the heat of battle.

Glory to the King.

Thunder Update

With his biggest dressage show yet on the horizon, Thunder hasn’t actually competed in a single graded dressage class this year.

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Our first show of the year was in the very end of January, where I took a bunch of kids to a pre-SANESA training show for their dressage tests and packed him along too because the schedule was just too hectic to allow for another show. We did Novice 1 and 2 again, for sort of mediocre scores, but at least he won the one and came second in the other. He felt sort of mediocre on the day as well; trying hard, as usual, but tense and scattered, as usual for a show. If he had just lifted his back he would have had another 70%, but again, as always happens when he is a little tense, our scores were in the low to mid 60s.

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Our next show was Horse of the Year. I couldn’t afford HOY and dressage in the same month, and he is such a hunter type that it seemed a shame never to show him as one. I didn’t feel up to jumping the working hunter on him, so we entered for show hunter and working riding. The show hunter day he was absolutely fantastic. He didn’t gallop, or I think he would have placed, because he behaved impeccably and was forward and relaxed through his whole body. I found myself wishing we were in a dressage test because he would have done so well.

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Either way, we enjoyed ourselves but didn’t place because apparently hunters really should gallop instead of just making flat ears and bouncing.

The working riding day was absolutely dreadful. He was horrible in the warmup, screamed in the lineup, and then spooked at every single obstacle. But I did learn something that I can definitely use for future shows: Thunny is absolutely perfect if he goes anywhere alone or with a gelding, and absolutely horrible if he goes anywhere with a mare. Somebody is just a little proud cut, I presume.

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I know I should really just make him go to shows with mares until he gets over himself and behaves, but honestly, life’s too short and I don’t have the kind of money to waste entry fees on miserable experiences. Henceforth, unless unavoidable, Thunder is going to shows by himself so he can relax and we can actually achieve something other than getting frustrated and tense. This is our strategy for Easter Festival this weekend, and we’ll see how it goes. Considering he has just been to KPC for HOY, and is going by himself, I think he should be very chill. I hope for a nice score, but I don’t expect a placing. You wouldn’t either if you’d read the entries list in our class.

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Schooling has been kind of magical lately. We have worked through a lot of the initial drama that surfaced shortly after we started lessons with Coach J; the running and the falling out with the shoulder. He has learned to be both relaxed and forward, and I love it. We’ve sorted out a lot of our old issues – he has a stretchy trot now, he has a superb walk-canter transition, his lateral work is very much in place – and learned a whole lot of new things, too: travers, better lengthenings, shoulder-in, leg-yield zigzags that make him feel like he’s really dancing, four steps one way and then four steps the other just floating off my leg. Most exciting, we even started the flying changes.

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It happened like this. We spent the entire lesson working on leg-yield zigzags, with Coach J alternately shouting “LEFT leg!” and “Keep his neck straight!” until finally we got it right. Then we tried in canter, leg-yielding across the diagonal to the right. Coach J ordered, “Outside leg and leg-yield left” and I obediently did so and Thunder obediently popped out a flying change. Ever since I have been too nervous to really do them at home, but we have been pulling them out at lessons quite frequently, and as long as I keep his neck straight and push his bum over – as opposed to trying to pull his face around – they just magically fall out of the sky. I was definitely not expecting to be doing changes in March when we started lessons, a just-barely-Novice combination, in November.

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So mostly our schooling consists of doing whatever Coach J said, with occasional bits of test riding scattered in there, but honestly whatever it is that Coach J is making us do seems to make all the other stuff easier because the Novice work seems to be just sort of happening. It’s still rough around the edges, and I don’t expect the same scores we were getting for Prelim this weekend as we’re doing Novice 4 and 5 and they’re quite hard, but it’s all just there. Our one major downfall is that all of our downward transitions are poor – all of them. I think, though, that it’s me and not him. I ride too many green horses and have too much of a tendency to want to pull on his face, which makes him hollow through the transition.

Honestly, lessons with Coach J have been revolutionary. It was hard at first because I was trying so hard to prove ourselves to him, but now I’ve chilled out a bit and it feels like the bulk of the responsibility for getting Thunder up the levels doesn’t fall on my inexperienced shoulders anymore. I get to just relax and ride the horse for a change, and I absolutely love it. Of course, we still work very hard, practice hard, and learn hard, but at least we know what we’re doing now. I look forward to Easter Festival and I can’t wait to go dance with my horse again.

Thank You, Father. Glory to the King.

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On a Happier Note

For all the pain of the past few weeks, there has been a lot of joy thrown in there as well.

his first show hunter class, which was awesome except he wouldn’t gallop but I didn’t care

My precious dance partner has been a huge source of it. Our lessons with Coach J have been fantastic; we’re schooling movements I’ve only ever dreamed of, planning to ride Novice 4 and 5 next weekend and easily skipping through the tests. I’ve never felt so prepared for a competition and yet also never felt less obsessed with it. What God does for me on that horse’s back every morning is incomparable to a simple horse show.

More than ever, it is about the dance, about the land of the threefold cord. About the way Thunder can take me to a place where it’s just him and God and me and the dance, and for an hour I can be in a place where pain can’t find us.

On the schooling front, we’re doing almost all of the Elementary work and some EM too, including our first few tentative flying changes.

my hunks ❤

The other man in my life arrived at a time where happiness was hard to come by, but as the wounds heal I am starting to discover how ridiculously happy I can be just because God made him. It’s quite astonishing how one smile can light up a goodly chunk of the world.

Arwen and I are in an amazing place right now. I could never possibly ask for a better partner, a better comrade through my struggling first years in the competitive arena, and it feels good now to be able to repay her with a gentler attitude in the saddle. We mostly hack these days, schooling seriously mostly before shows. Finally taking the time to just enjoy each other, enjoy the shows, enjoy the fact that God brought us here together. The fire in her belly still fuels mine.

I’m riding Faithy! She is still a pretty ungainly beast, particularly struggling to find a truly balanced canter, but in terms of temperament I couldn’t have asked for better. We are doing walk/trot in the dressage and she doesn’t seem to know how to spook. She likes working and trying to figure things out, and is a forward-thinking lady. I also just find her really comfortable to be around and ride; she’s my type, the size and shape that I grew up with, and reminds me deeply of Nell. It feels like we’ve been friends a lot longer than we really have.

Moos make me happy too, particularly super well behaved ones like Fergie and Sarah. The day after the one month anniversary of my friend’s death – an inexpressibly difficult milestone – was the annual Boer and Brit day with my family and it was just super awesome. God sent that day for a reason; it nursed my soul.

God’s provision has been so great this summer. My parents have graciously allowed a few pastures to be opened for horses, and the grazing is fantastic. The sight of healthy, grazing horses among the green abundance just soothes a horsewoman’s very soul.

I keep feeling this increasing awareness of the time we waste. We don’t have time. We don’t have time for anything but loving God and loving people and looking for heaven. We can’t afford to take the time for granted. We need to follow Him now, make amends now, ask forgiveness now, show our love now.
We only already have now and eternity. And eternity – our own and each other’s – hinges on now. We cannot waste it on hell’s schemes.

We need to follow Him now, wherever He leads. We need to live our lives before it’s too late.

Glory to the King.

Silence in the Storm

I can’t seem to stop grieving.

Every time someone asks, “Did you hear about that girl…?” I feel more hurt and more angry when I have to respond, “I was on the scene. She was my friend.”

But God will work all things for the good of those that love Him. Already He is working this for good.

I have loved and been in love for months, but just always been too hesitant to do anything about it. The night my friend died changed all that. God’s love is my only strength; this man is the place God’s love gave me where I don’t have to be strong all the time.

He is her last gift to me. Because I learned from her well-lived life and her tragic death that life is just too short to be still when God calls you loud and clear.

Blogosphere, meet the darling. He is terribly good at reversing the horsebox. He and Thunder have an adorable bromance. I would say he is the man of my dreams, but he’s far more than that.

He’s the man of my prayers.


Glory to the King.

Dear Thunderbird

For reasons I have yet to grasp, God saw fit to put you where you are: here with me on a farm in Africa. Sometimes I wonder where you even came from. The fact that your mother is a little round chestnut farm pony doesn’t mean that she isn’t valuable – to me, at least, her value is inexpressible – but she shouldn’t have been able to produce you. Not at 22 years old after being barren for at least seven years (if not all her life), not after having AHS when you were only a baby. The fact that you and your dam both made it out of that one alive was the first miracle that threw me to my knees.


Let alone the fact that you shouldn’t have survived, you should never have been talented. When people at shows ask me how you’re bred, I respond with, “His daddy was black and his mommy was chestnut,” and it’s about all I know. There is Friesian in there somewhere. You are a backyard-bred mongrel and you should never have been able to dance like you do. Dressage people should not be believing in you. Yet they are, because here you are; an unassuming little round bay horse, until you lift your back and suddenly grow two inches.

Your heart, at least, I can understand. Your dam is a fearless firestorm of a horse, a dauntless warrior queen of your kind. You’re not as fiery as she is, but, like her, you have a heart as big as the world.


That’s what makes you special, aside from whatever it is that makes you so supple and uphill and majestic. Your heart. You never stop giving. I never school for more than 20 minutes, except for you. Some days I look up and realise I’ve been on you for almost an hour and a half. Any horse should be sour by then, but not you; you stay enthusiastic, throwing yourself into the task, focused and attentive, delighting in your own God-given strength and beauty.

Some days, on your back, God takes me somewhere new; deeper into the land of the threefold cord, where there’s nothing but you and me and Him, and the dance. There is nothing that can touch us there. It’s a taste of Heaven; an intimate world where nothing else matters.

Some days. You see, love (and I know you do), while for 23 hours a day you live the comfortable life of the modern domestic horse – lolling in a field, teeth and feet always up to date, spine carefully adjusted, saddle fitted like a glove – I think God gave you a home that loves you for a reason. The only affliction you’ve ever had to endure sits between the saddle and the sky. I never mean to hurt you. Of course not. You’re my dance partner. But while there are some days that we taste Heaven, there are many more days when you get the old me, the carnal me, the mortality that is yet to be swallowed up of life, my flesh. The spirit indeed is willing, but you know exactly how weak the flesh can be. Oh, I’m not talking about the occasional hiding you get. Those are for your own good; you’re still a naughty little boy sometimes. But I know as well as you do that there is something we do to horses that is so much worse than just the tap of a dressage whip, or even a yank on the reins.


We’re human. Loud, complicated, emotional and always worrying about things that just don’t matter to horses. Sadly for you, you’re my horse. I can’t make the space between you and me that I have with the clients’ horses. Not with you. I need you. I don’t just need you to dance; I need you to hear me. I don’t have to explain anything to you. I just bring all my baggage and my fears and my hopes and my dreams and my exhaustion and bottle them all up and get on your back and try to make something beautiful, while emotions clash inside me so loud I can’t hear you and you can hardly hear yourself and God’s still small Voice doesn’t get through.

It’s ugly then. I’m sorry, love. I’m trying to fix it, but I can’t pretend it’ll be quick. I can’t pretend it’ll be easy or that there won’t be even more moments when my stressed out human will shouts down your quiet, loving opinion. We were made in the image of God, unlike you; but, also unlike you, we are the ones who fell.


God forgive me, sometimes I can make your life very hard for you. I know; then I worry about that, and make it even harder. You poor soul. You deserve better. But what you’ve got is me, and you’ve got me because God put us here together.

And you don’t mind.

I stress and fuss and freak out up there and make you tense. But you start every single ride with the same soft eye, the same supple back, ready for this ride to be better. You still come up to me in the field. You still love your work and never stop trying and concentrate, oh, how you concentrate. And with every breath, God is teaching me, not about dressage, but about Himself: about amazing grace.


I ask God’s forgiveness and I ask yours. And I won’t give up, because God hasn’t. You and me have a long, long way to go and sometimes it will be unpleasant. I don’t mean to make it hard for you. I don’t even mean to make it hard for myself. It just is. And you just accept it and go along with it, not questioning why your particular human should be the one that’s a little defective, just accepting that your heart is big enough for us both. I will be better for you, love. I promise. Just stay patient, stay loving, stay your wonderful self while I untangle my soul.

Thank you, buddy.

Glory to the King.