September

So I neglected the blog badly for the last few weeks, thanks to all sorts of adulting drama (cars break down? what sorcery is this?) but at least the horses didn’t get neglected too. So this is going to be something of a photo dump.

I do have an Instagram handle that I use daily now, though, so for lots of quick updates y’all are welcome to give me a follow @ridingonwater!

Thunder and I went to a lesson, where we got our butts kicked, and to a show, which was more of the same. Both, however, were positive experiences. J was pretty thrilled with his walk and trot work. We had solidified the renvers and travers to the point where we could apply the concepts to other things. Most notably, J wanted me to use renvers and travers aids to straighten him in canter, to help shorten him into collected canter. Having experienced a real collected canter on Christopher for the first time, I now know what to feel for, and we have gotten a few steps here and there.

The renvers/travers thing is not the problem with the canter. The problem is that he is SO behind my leg. It’s a little weird because he’s a lot more forward at home, but I think it’s because I’m confident enough to get after him about it at home. The key is to insist he gets off my leg in the walk work – sorting it out in canter just doesn’t work. At shows and lessons I’m kind of just trying to survive so the walk doesn’t get sorted (since it’s not actually bad in itself) and then the canter is all icky.

Still, we rode and survived E5 and 6 in the end of September at a show, and even though I made a TON of mistakes (silly ones like making the turn on the haunches too big, and major ones like clamping up in the canter work and making him tight and irritated), we still got 59 and 60. Three years ago on Arwen it would have taken a good day to get those marks, so it still feels good that Thunder and I got them when I was being a doofus.

I was being a doofus for a reason, though, and that was because I was SO freaked out about riding my first Elementary 6 that I had to concentrate really hard just on relaxing and reminding myself to keep my eyes on Jesus and not melt down about something as silly as a dressage test. I actually did stay focused on the important things, so I still count it as being a great experience.

As for Thunder, he was AMAZING. He has gotten ridiculously relaxed about being at shows – alone, with friends, whatever. The screaming baby I had a couple years ago has grown up into that horse that I never had: the lop-eared, dopey one who doesn’t really care about a thing. And I totally dig it.

The first two babies are on the ground at the Arab stud, and I love playing with foals 💙 I’m also spending a fair amount of time on the yearling colt, who is probably going to stay entire, in a bid to keep him manageable. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s reached the age where he really wants to play with me, and I have to show him that he really can’t play with me like he would with his peers bc I will literally die.

Gatsby has grown a TON of muscle tone in the last two months. I’ve been running after the foals a lot lately so we haven’t schooled as much as usual, but I do a lot of lungeing. His brain is a little ahead of his body right now – his canter needs a lot of strengthening and balancing on the lunge. In his brain he knows all the Novice work, but his body isn’t quite strong enough for it yet.

I found a smallish kid to ride Arwen at HOY for me. All the Arab foals have given me an itch to put her in foal, and the time is definitely getting here to do that. I think the breed can benefit from at least a few foals from her, and I’d love one to keep if God wills. She’ll be 14 next year so it could be ideal to put her in foal for a 2021 baby, born when she’s 15. I’ll just have to see if I can find buyers for pure Nooitie foals before I consider breeding her. First, though, we have to make another shot at the HOY Supremes 2020 – we’ve come so close so many times. This beautiful horse doesn’t owe me a thing, but it would still be cool just to be there.

Skye is another horse who doesn’t owe me a thing. I keep waiting for her to start getting old, but praise God, she’s come through this winter as healthy as ever. I did support her with some senior feed this year for the first time, and she’s looking just great. She’s even trotting mostly sound in the field although that arthritic old right knee has lost a little more mobility. L, who is a darling, kneels down to clean the foot so that the old girl doesn’t have to struggle.

feral I tell you

Faith is turning 5 on the first of November. She’s been mostly off since HOY in the end of February, knowing everything that a four-year-old horse really needs to know, but I brought her back into work last week. She started out a bit feral but settled well, and I’m really happy with how much she’s grown and developed in her time off. She’s become quite a big mare for a Nooitie; I haven’t measured her but I’d estimate her at least 15.1 as she’s much bigger than Arwen. That size of mare is hard to find and quite in demand in the breed. This will be the year when we start to figure out the plans for her future. I don’t think she’s going to be the same quality of dressage prospect that Lancelot is, but she’ll certainly show (especially in the Nooitie ring). We’ll also need another all-rounder that everybody can ride and compete once Arwen goes to stud, although we’ll have to keep the dragon in work as well or she’ll be obese.

Faith finally looks a little more like a horse. She’s standing on a downhill here but has matured more or less level, no more croup high than Arwen is. Some muscle tone will go a long way towards making the loin look better too. And those dapples are just too much.

Poor Lancelot has been a bit neglected, but nonetheless he feels a lot better under saddle. He has such a pleasant temperament – I can hop on him after two weeks with just intermittent lunging and he’ll still be good old Lancey remembering exactly what he learned last time. I really do love riding him, he is very different to Thunder in his sensitivity and movement, but very similar in his chill nature. I’m actually really glad I have Faith to ride or I’d forget how to be tactful. The two geldings are so quiet, and Faith is a willing and easy enough horse, but she has got quite the opinion sometimes.

I have finally sorted out my writing schedule to the point where it’s mostly under control. If everything goes according to plan, and with L’s help, I can keep Thunder, Lancelot and Faith in work as well as getting to the handful of lessons I still teach and working the Arabs and Tilly. But I’m not sure yet how it’s going to work in practice. We will have to see. Darling is also back for the summer soon so I’ll have to rediscover this “personal life” thing that people keep talking about. It’s going to be a juggling act and we may have to make a few more tweaks before it’s figured out.

God’s plan is so good, though, and I have learned and grown so much in my faith this winter. Mostly I’ve started to explore the concept of the freedom we really have in Him. I have been guilty of legalism, of feeling chained by His commandments and not understanding the nature of sanctification. There’s liberty in obedience, and I’m not sure how yet, but by His love and grace He’ll lead me further up and further in.

Glory to the King.

What I Learned from My Easy Horse

They always say that the difficult horses have the most to teach you. That good horses don’t make good riders and that the more times you’re thrown, the more tenacity you learn. That the top horses are always a little sensitive, a little quirky, not everyone can ride them (as Valegro nods sagely in the background whilst carrying an eleven-year-old girl around on his patient back). There’s an undercurrent of feeling where if your horse isn’t that horse that’s a little crazy, maybe you’re not that rider who can do all the hard things.

But today I’m going to tell you everything I learned from my easy, sweet and safe horse.

Sure, he’s not the best ever on outrides and he’s got a spook in him, but he’s always been a steady sort. Even as a little foal he never had those crazy little baby tantrums while trying to navigate life with humanity. He wore his first saddle without a buck and fell asleep while I was putting on his first bridle. I was 15 and knew nothing. He was 2 and patient as a monolith, even then.

He was a clotheshanger-shaped two-year-old when I sat on him for the first time. I hadn’t done one quarter of the necessary groundwork, but he just turned his head to sniff at my toe and then went to sleep.

Fast forward seven years and he is still a good boy. He has his nervous moments, but in all our years of riding, I have only once believed I was actually going to come off him. We were walking and I was mostly asleep, one hand on the buckle, when huge lizard jumped up a rock out of nowhere and he jumped. I didn’t have reins, so he cantered off a few steps as I slithered down his side, stopping when I managed to get hold of a rein and drag myself back on board. Both times that I actually did fall off him, he was 3, we were hacking, and my (unreliable) girth came off. He always came back for me.

He has a quiet mouth. He doesn’t really go lame. He has a soft, supple back that doesn’t really go into spasm. These are probably reasons why he’s easy in his mind. He’s comfortable to sit on, not particularly flashy in his gaits, and rather on the slow side.

He’s not the horse that holds a grudge or gets offended by my myriad mistakes. His chiropractor, who has a deep intuition for horses, summarized him: “Oh, you just feel like everything is going to be OK when you’re with him.”

He is my easy, sweet and gentle horse. And here is what I learned from him.

I learned to ride a flying change, a half pass, renvers, travers, piaffe. A real shoulder-in, a straight leg-yield. A good simple change. A true connection, a supple bend, and a square halt. A figure eight in rein back. I learned these while he was learning them, because he was willing to learn, because he was helping instead of hindering.

I learned that mistakes are forgivable. I learned that there is a depth of grace out there that absorbs all sin, because a droplet of that grace lives in my little bay horse.

I learned that manes are still good for crying into when you’re a grownup.

I learned how to try, to give my best even when it’s not much on the day, to rise above fear and uncertainty and to try regardless because of how this horse always tries.

I learned about the depth of what horses do for us, about the scope of their kindness, about how much better I need to be for them. I learned to put aside everything and ride for the sake of the threefold cord, for the dance, for the joy of the fact that God made horses and he made us.

I learned to find a taste of eternity in the swing of a stride. And I liked it.

I learned that even on the worst days, horses still smell like heaven.

I learned that there are few greater gifts than a stalwart friend, even if that friend has four legs and a fluffy forelock.

I learned that I do have wings after all.

I learned that we can do anything.

I learned all these things from a 15.1 hand bay gelding who doesn’t rear or buck or bolt or kick or bite or get wildly wound up about life. I learned them from an easy horse.

And I love him.

Glory to the King.

By the way, ROW is now on Instagram! Find me on @ridingonwater for daily adorable Thunder pics and bits of philosophy.

All the Lungeing

After his break during the beginning of 2019, Thunder was impeccably behaved coming back into work. But he was also fat and unfit. Really, really unfit.

To be fair, I wasn’t the fittest I had ever been, either. Thanks to my job at the Arab stud, I was still exercising 2-3 horses a day, but they were mostly either babies or impeccably trained old show horses. The former requires mostly the “hang on and don’t die” muscles to operate; the others are so soft and light and smooth that they barely require muscles at all. Certainly none of them were the full-body workout that is riding a half-schooled dressage horse whilst not really having any idea of how to do so.

and even the babies are soft now

So when J told us that we needed to get fit, he was totally right. He put us to work lungeing for 20 minutes three days a week (schooling once or twice a week) and so, combined with having tons of babies to work, I find myself in the middle of a lunge ring quite frequently.

To be honest, I kinda like lungeing. I mean, it’s extremely boring (Thunder is getting a bit tired of it now) but I sat lungeing exams for my stable management modules and might pride myself just a teeny bit on being a bit on the pedantic side when it comes to lungeing.

Lungeing can be a little controversial sometimes. Many trainers absolutely swear by it (lookin at you, J) while others prefer hills or cavaletti for fitness. Personally, I think all of the above can be beneficial depending on the horse and human and situation. But lungeing can certainly be a tool for evil.

trying not to covet J’s indoor lungeing square which has a fancy foreign name but I can’t remember

Lungeing has a set of benefits that makes it an important tool in my toolbox, though. Some of them include:

  • Teaching the unbacked horse to move in rhythm and balance, respond to voice commands, and accept tack
  • Laying a foundation of fitness without the rider’s weight – for horses with poor topline or unbacked youngsters
  • Allowing a less experienced person, like a good groom, to exercise the horse for a busy rider (it takes a few months to learn to lunge really well, much longer to learn to ride)
  • Warming up a stiff back before riding
  • Perhaps most importantly, giving the rider an opportunity to see the horse move, which allows one to connect what it feels like to what it looks like.
little helper

Lungeing, however, is often easily misused. Even though there’s no rider involved, it’s still hard on the horse’s body. Typically lungeing involves fewer walk breaks than riding and working on a circle isn’t easy on the joints. I have a few ground rules to help lungeing do what all training tools should – make the horse’s life better.

  • Preferably not before four, and certainly not before three. Look, five minutes twice a week won’t kill your two-year-old. But I don’t work my three-year-olds more than three or four days a week, and even then, only for 15 minutes at a time. Just enough to show them how to move in balance. Four-year-olds can do 20 minutes or so, but slowly and judiciously. What are you going to do with a four-year-old anyway? They’re basically camels with no brains at that age.
  • Whatsoever you do to one side, do also unto the other. Nothing makes a horse asymmetrical faster than asymmetrical lungeing. Working the weak side harder than the strong side mostly only makes the horse stiff and resentful.
  • Lungeing is schooling. My pet peeve is horses who CHARGE off onto the circle in a mad trot. No. Mine are expected to stand stock-still until asked, at which point they shall walk briskly and calmly onto the circle and continue walking until asked to trot. All transitions should take place on voice command. When asked to stop, they stand quietly. This makes life much more relaxing for the horse.
  • Lunge in all three gaits. Some babies, especially the gawky types, have trouble cantering on a small circle. Apart from those, mine lunge in walk, trot and canter. Jackhammer trot is not a gait.
  • Pay attention to gait quality. The gaits in lungeing should be the same as under saddle, if not better due to the lack of encumbrance from uncoordinated humanity. Jackhammer trot is not a quality gait. Young horses should be able to lunge smoothly and in balance without gadgets in all three gaits before being expected to carry a rider. Nothing is worse for the horse’s joints and muscles than tearing around madly, hollow and counter bent.
  • If you use a gadget, understand it. I like elasticated side reins and maybe a neck stretcher/chambon, but only for horses who already understand the contact and are strong enough to carry themselves. I prefer introducing the contact on the long lines. That way, they can have plenty of little stretch breaks while the muscles develop.
and that, ladies and gentlemen, is an open throatlash

I’m sure others have different rules, and that mine will change over time, but that’s what I’m doing right now. And that is how I try not to die of boredom while lungeing 6 horses in a day lol. But it’s starting to pay off.

22 July
3 September

Here’s hoping J will be happier with us next week. Thunny certainly feels a LOT more powerfully forward under saddle now – the canter-walks are suddenly back, a medium trot came out of nowhere (yesssss) and we even have changes again. Yay!

Glory to the King.

Unexciting Progress

I’ve been following Tamarack Hill Farm’s page for a while now, avidly gathering the abundant pearls of wisdom that Olympic horseman Denny Emerson has been so freely dispersing to the masses. His new book Know Better Do Better is definitely on my wishlist, but I’m not here to rave on the words of the oracle today.

Instead, I find myself in the midst of what Emerson describes over and over on his page, with photographical evidence: the power of unexciting progress.

lungeing = unexciting

As a teenager, I wanted nothing more than I wanted success. I worked so hard – riding multiple horses a day every single day since I was in my preteens. Drilling myself every single day. I had the golden opportunity of free access to horses, and I absolutely took it. They were the front and centre of my life. They were practically my identity, and as I grew up into a young adult, I only knew how to push harder. Faster. I wanted more, quicker, and I wanted success – now. Nothing was too high a price to pay for progress on a horse: not other areas of my life, not money, not time, not my mental health, and God forgive me, not even that horse’s state of mind.

trying to jump this height, but doesn’t know to put down a ground line

These days, though, through a long path of frustrating steadying, God has led me to another place. A place where not every ride has to show improvement. A place where I just plain slow down. No more riding 12 horses a day, no more frantically chasing the next level, no more competing every single horse in every single show regardless of whether they (or I) were ready for it.

There was no time then for anything but hurry and anxiety, and I remember only the wins as good times. But these days, I move a little bit slower. I ride 5 or 6 a day instead of 12. I got a day job to take some of the unrelenting pressure off the riding. I put the goals in the backseat, tucked the future up in bed, breathed deep and slow and tried to see every day the way a horse does: one moment at a time.

a first taste of the madness

I didn’t set goals for 2019. This was by design. I don’t want them right now; I want to give up all of that desperation to chase the next horizon in favour of slowing down my brain and making room for compassion, learning, and understanding.

I took a hiatus from showing – and even from Thunder – early in 2019. It wasn’t intentional, but it turned out to be a good thing, because I learned what it was that called me to horses in the first place. It wasn’t the shows. It was Him: the voice of God, whispering in the quiet moments when horse and human move spine to spine, breath to breath.

It took a journey of years, but I think I’m finally getting there. Getting to the place where I can crush the aching noise of pressure and the fear of what others will think, in favour of listening to the souls of horses. That’s what I’m here for, after all.

I was sixteen when I came down centreline for the first time and I didn’t even know how to get my horse on the bit. I had taught myself the diagonals the week before from an article on the Internet. I had no instruction and no knowledgeable support for the next five years. My family made it possible for me to keep riding, though, and I did. One ride, one article, one blog post, one Youtube video at a time I trained my own horse without lessons to Elementary. I taught dressage to myself on a hillside by God’s gracious provision, and I have nothing to prove anymore. I know I have it in me to be brilliant because God put it there. I can be an outstanding rider, and maybe I will be one day. But it’s not going to happen overnight. In fact, it might not happen in 5 years or 10 years or even 15 years or even ever if I break my neck tomorrow. And I’m not going to do this by myself: it’s going to take support and it’s going to take lessons from the coach who’s changed my riding.

I don’t know for sure if I ever will enter at A, collected canter. But I do know that I have this ride, this breath, this moment. I have this transition. I have this stride. And God put me here, in this moment, to be with Him.

I can’t say for sure I’ll be a Grand Prix rider in 10 years, but I can be a kind rider right now. The road to the FEI tests is a long one, and it starts with lungeing. It starts with trotting large, trying to get my hands under control. It starts with inside leg to outside rein. It continues with practice, constant patient daily practice, and I can find the greatness in practicing when every ride breathes life into the soul of a horse.

Grand Prix horses aren’t built in a year. Elementary horses aren’t even built in a year. They’re built in hundreds of thousands of slow rides, and lessons, and training shows. They’re built in the tedium of unexciting progress, progress so slow as to be nearly invisible, until five years later you have a different horse. And that slowness would be unbearable, if every moment wasn’t filled with the awareness of that beautiful thing God made between a person and a horse.

I think I am only now starting to see what it really means when I say, “Glory to the King.”

Penbritte Training Dressage

With memberships being cripplingly expensive, Thunder and I are limited to ride n go tests or those few shows that offer higher levels than novice to non-members. Shout-out to those venues, by the way – they make dressage so much more accessible! Especially to young riders trying to make it to the top on a shoestring.

Grateful for the opportunity, Thunder, Tilly, the parents and I headed to the most magical venue of them all – Penbritte. It’s one of the best in the country, and right on our doorstep. Thunder was a little bewildered to disembark after only 45 minutes instead of the usual two hours to J’s.

We had the luxury of time, too. So I finally busted out these cute lil beaded plaiting elastics that Arwen and I won five years ago in our mutual first ever dressage test (Prelim 1, with 63% – I’ll never forget it). I have never had the courage to actually use them, but they are fabulous and ain’t no one gonna tell me not to put colourful beads in my longsuffering horse’s hair.

He warmed up GREAT – the best he ever has, despite the fact that the arena next door was being watered and making him look a bit. He’s become such a lovely, mature, grown-up horsie at last. He was a bit heavy in my left hand, normal for him, so we did some shoulder-in and then just ran through all the movements once. I was extremely chill, which was great. We suffered one small disaster right before we went in when my hair decided to rebel and came tumbling down my back, requiring a frantic last-minute mounted fix with the reins pinned down between my thigh and the saddle in the knowledge that if he did take off I would be dead. He didn’t take off, I didn’t die, and we were actually early when we headed round to the judge.

A huge part of being more relaxed in the ring for me is being more relaxed right before entering. You have 45 seconds after the bell, which is a surprisingly large amount of time – enough to ride a transition or two before embarking down centerline. I do a quick trot-walk-trot with Thunder to remind us both to breathe. So we came down centerline for Elementary 1 and halted, straight and steady but not square, for 6.5.

I was riding from memory and a bit tense about it but actually the new elementary tests flow great. The turn E-X and serpentine X-A felt fabulous for a 7.0. The judge commented “light in neck” – not sure if that was good or bad, but he was very soft in the inside rein on both loops and bending well. The first lengthening was a 6.5 with the usual comments “needs more forward” (always and forever) but I’m totally happy with that for his weakest movement. The halt immobility 5 seconds at C, once a huge struggle for Thunder, was PERFECT. He felt just slightly unbalanced into the halt but the judge said it was square and he was attentive and calm for a 7.

Then came the leg-yields. In the old Elementary, there was shoulder-in in four out of the six tests. Elementary 1 had no lateral work and Elementary 3 had a leg-yield zigzag, H-X-K. So Thunder and I practiced almost exclusively shoulder-in until the new tests came out and Elementary 1 now has a steep little leg-yield: B-X half 10m circle, X-H leg-yield. I was worried about it because leg-yield into a corner doesn’t leave much margin for error, and thus curled up my daft outside leg too much, but he was perfect and floated exactly to H for a 7. The highest mark either of us have achieved on lateral work.

A door slammed behind him in our next lengthening, which gave him a bit of oomph even though he was feeling more tired now, but the judge didn’t like it and said 6.5 for being slightly hurried. The next leg-yield was K-D half circle, D-B leg-yield and to his harder side. I panicked a bit and didn’t finish the half circle properly, and he’s a little stiffer to the right so lost a bit of activity, but it was still a respectable 6.5. That was the end of the trot work, and when we transitioned to walk at R, I could feel he was getting a little flat. Not enough that I was going to pull him up, but he was starting to feel it. I patted him to give him some encouragement and didn’t chase the walk too much so his usually wonderful walk was a boring 6.5.

The transition up to canter was fairly good, and his canter was much more forward, but we still had to crank around the 10m circle at E for our worst mark – 6.0, with comment “circle too large, more uphill”. He was trying to buck but didn’t have the energy so that didn’t help lol. We redeemed ourselves with a 7 on the counter canter loop and then came the canter-walk at H. I did my best to stay out of his face and ride it from my seat, and he was so good, but put in a couple of trot steps before stepping nice and round into walk. I cringed a bit, but it was a 6.5, not bad at all for a movement that gets in my head so much. Honestly I have no idea what the judge commented. The scribe got a little bit distracted and made squiggles.

The free walk, normally a great mark, lacked energy and I just let him take a bit of a break because he needed it so it was tracking up and stretchy but lacklustre for a 6.5. The transition back to canter was another 6.5, as was the lengthening, which was nice and straight but – in the judge’s words “not enough”. We were both tired by now and got 6.0 for the next 10m circle and counter canter loop, but ended on a high note with 7.0 for the final halt.

The collectives gave us a 6.5 for paces (with comment “tempo in canter”), a 6.0 for impulsion, a 6.5 for submission and a 6.5 for rider position. The final mark was 65% with comment “Obedient horse, now needs more impulsion and self-carriage for better expression. Well done”. It was nice to have “well done” at the bottom instead of “well tried”, which characterized my old elementary tests on Arwen.

I was soooooo happy with the big boy. He was so mature and easy to ride, and even though we’re both still getting fit and definitely started flagging in the canter work, we got a solid mark at a level that I used to find practically impossible. In fact it didn’t feel impossible at all; it felt kind of easy. There weren’t any movements that I really worried about and he was familiar and relaxed with everything. I think we could easily have gotten half a mark more on everything if we were both fitter, which is something we’re working hard at.

Tilly was next in Prelim 1 and 3, and she was just exemplary. What a lovely little horse she’s turning out to be! I got lost at the start of Prelim 1, but then scraped it back together for mostly 7s that ended with a mark of 67.8 and a 2nd place.

Prelim 3 was even better; she still needs work on her squiggly wiggly baby centrelines and on the fact that she’s still a bit young and uses my hands as a fifth leg, which I allow because J said so even though my biceps and abs are dyyyyyying, but she is extremely solid for the level and got a 69 and a first place.

We also got the second ever 9 of my career for her walk, so at least I can still do that even though Thunder ran out of juice in his walk on the day.

It was a great day and so nice to have both my parents with me even though darling was away again. Tilly is going from strength to strength considering she’s only four, and my Thunder was amazing and will be far more amazing when we add some more fitness. He already felt a hundred times better than our lesson.

Glory to the King.

Boot Camp

The guys and I made good on our resolution to spend more time outside of the arena two weeks ago.

Lancey is already a lot less spooky for taking little walkies before and after his sessions, and Thunder went out to a hillside to work there – revealing how DEEPLY unfit he still is. We only managed to canter (light seat, very forward) about 5 circles in each direction before the poor guy was visibly flagging. It did help him to carry himself a bit more in his next schooling session, but as we found out in our lesson on Friday, this was nowhere near enough.

Darling is home (yaaaaaay!!!) so at 4:30am on Friday morning he was blearily helping me to push two recalcitrant geldings into the box. Neither of them was amused with being dragged out of their nice warm stables to stand in a horsebox for two hours, but they eventually got in and off we went.

Both of them were pretty relaxed when we got there and put them in the paddocks that J super kindly provided so that darling could watch, take videos and freeze rather than hang onto a horse and freeze. (Poor old darling knew what he was signing up for).

J was much happier with Thunder’s shoulder-in and leg-yield, albeit reminding me (repeatedly) that more inside leg is not the answer to everything in the leg-yield – if it starts to lose straightness, I probably need more outside rein. (Always, more outside rein!) The moment we began to canter, however, J was instantly dismayed. Thunder had only been working for about 20 minutes and he was already over it, so I flapped and kicked like a kid on a pony and so he bucked and kicked at my leg. It wasn’t pretty. J ordered me off and sent us to the lungeing ring, where, embarrassingly, he proceeded to teach me everything that I thought I already knew about lungeing. I kind of pride myself on my good lungeing technique, but apparently I have a Thunder-sized blind spot. We were sent home with a scolding and the other to do at least three days a week of lungeing to get his back and bum fitter without me flapping around up there.

We obediently got to work once we were home, and after only two or three sessions, I was already seeing a HUGE difference in the way Thunder could carry himself. It felt a lot better once I got back on board, too. He was carrying himself instead of needing to be pushed, and the result was that everything – particularly his canter – was much better and much more pleasant for the both of us.

I’ve tailored his schedule now to do 3 days of lungeing, broken up by two days of schooling with a little hack before or after for a change of scenery. It seems to be working, but the proof is in the pudding, ie our ride n go (at Elementary, for fear of being crucified by a wrathful J) this Sunday.

Lancelot was a model citizen for his lesson. Thunder squealed and bucked in his paddock while Lancey and I headed to the arena (literally 15m away) but the crazy wild Arabian himself couldn’t be less bothered. He did spook massively at a very threatening pile of rocks, and he was frankly perplexed by the mirrors, but after taking one walk around he was ready to work.

I was a little worried that J was going to take one look at my new horse and hate him forever. He is, after all, all of 15 hands and not the most conventional dressage breed. Maybe J would see something that I’d missed. My fears, however, were utterly unfounded; J proclaimed him “not too shabby” (high praise) and said that his inherent hotness will turn into expression later on. That was exciting, because Thunder is many wonderful things – forgiving, kind, strong, balanced, supple – but hot and expressive are not on that list.

J had us start with little “shoulder-outs”, or leg-yields along the wall. Lancey has never done these before but he tried very hard. J reminded me that considering Lancey has no topline at all, everything we do needs to happen slowly. He doesn’t have the bodily strength to go forward and in balance just yet. So our leg-yields could happen at an absolute crawl. So long as his four footfalls were correct and he was straight, he could take small, slow steps. This helped a lot, as I was trying too hard as usual, and soon Lancey cottoned right on.

We moved on to trot and canter work on a 20m circle and J told us more of the same, similar to what M was saying: slower and more rhythmic until he can balance. J also encouraged me to allow Lancey to hang on the reins if he wanted to, using me as a fifth leg when he lost balance. This helped Lancey a lot as he began to lean on me with his back still up instead of hollowing and running forward. We only did about 20 minutes before J had us stop there and sent us home to do slow, rhythmic work allowing Lancey to find his balance.

I have a tendency to get ahead of myself with Lancey because I want to ride him the way he was when I had him in full training two years ago. Back then he was more than strong enough to pull out a high 60s Prelim test without any effort, and jump a couple of small tracks the same day. But he’d been in consistent work then for more than a year. He’s actually got quite a lot of miles on him, but I need to start treating him as if he is a complete greenie and rebuild him from the bottom up.

Grace is everlasting. Glory to the King.

Wandering

Charlotte Dujardin does it, Denny Emerson does it, J even makes me do it at the end of every ride and then yells that I should hold the buckle while my panicking horse spooks and snorts at washing lines and dogs. It’s fun, it’s good for the horse, it’s even good for the rider, it’s relaxation for everyone – and then there’s me, the self-confessed hater. Of hacking.

Tilly is not big on effort

I like my sandbox. I spent my teenage years faceplanting off a variety of horses, many somewhere on the spectrum of insanity, most of whom should never have been outside of an enclosed space to begin with, and it left me somewhat phobic. Having grown up in the just-kick-him school of thought I frequently pressured frightened horses into the wrong situations and frequently got left sitting on air, mostly due to nobody’s fault but my own. Still, it left its scars. I’m a long way from the fearless kid in jeans and gumboots who used to gallop all over the wide world on old Skye when she was young and strong like me.

The ding on her face? That’s from galloping into a solid iron gate. As you do when you’re about to turn 31.

I’m a long way from the teen who was perpetually tortured by the fear of her own fear, though, so for the sake of the horses I’ve resolved to gird up my loins and incorporate a little wander around the yard into each session. It’ll be a while before I take Thunder (AKA Mr. Spook-and-Spin) out on the big trails by myself, or even with a babysitter if we’re honest, but there are lots of little tracks through the pastures within the confines of the yard that we can take walkies on. We started with an attempt at this yesterday, and he was good apart from staring and staring at my little piggy who was oinking madly and running up and down in front of our cottage for some strange porcine reason.

evil piggo

Today the piggy was innocently rooting up the lawn when we passed, so he was fine until she suddenly oinked while he was staring at the washing line and he did a complete 180 in a sliver of a second. To my surprise, I didn’t even wobble in the saddle. Clearly, riding a bunch of good-hearted but athletic young Arabians has improved the quality of Velcro on my bottom. With newfound confidence in my ability to not fall off, I let him stare at the piggy for a bit longer and then we continued. He was tense at first, but by the end of the 10-minute walkies he was on the buckle.

happy ears

The jury is still out on whether he actually will find this relaxing or not, but he’s a big boy who can learn this life still, so wandering we will go.

His dressage ride, preceding the unplanned pirouette at the sight of the piggy, was absolutely fabulous. He was a bit distracted to begin with (distinctly not helped when Vastrap, a gelding of 16 years, decided that it would be a great idea to enthusiastically cover one of Thunder’s girlfriends down in the field) but settled well. We had a mild argument about wheter he really had to go off my leg (YES YOU DO, BRO) and once that was over he was happy to go straight to work. We did renvers and renvers and renvers as per coach’s orders to warm up the walk. Once he was really active and into the outside rein we picked up the trot, and he was REALLY into my hands. Not as pleasantly soft and round as normal, but really driving forward from behind into the contact. He felt super light in front and powerful, so I didn’t mind the heaviness in my hands too much.

We got some of his best and most forward medium trot yet and then did even more renvers. It’s not great yet; he’s not fully through and connected in it yet, and the bend is not really supple yet. But he is bent the right way and in the right position so the rest will come once he’s more relaxed and used to it. At least I’m finally realizing that I do not need to haul on the inside rein to get shoulder-in position which, to be honest, is probably the whole point.

less flabby

We moved on to canter and I was pleasantly surprised to find a HUGE powerful canter that was also extremely balanced and easy to collect. Amazing how when you do what your coach says, stuff gets easier. It was so good, even tracking left, that I only rode a 10m circle on each rein and some simple changes and that was it. The new Elementary 2 canter work – half circle onto the centerline with transition to walk at L, continue on centerline in medium walk to I, half circle back to track, transition to canter at S/R – is easy and horse-friendly and Thunder did it really, really well. We finished with one foot-perfect canter to walk on the track itself and stopped there.

The canter-walk has been such a huge issue in my head ever since poor Dragon and I were fighting our way through Elementary all alone two years ago. We never got it right and I hated it so, so, so much. Now, Thunder really can do them, I just have to relax and ride them softly instead of flapping about in panic because I think we’re not good at them.

Lancey also went for a ride, babysitting sweet Nugget on her first outride. I’m keeping things easy on his sweet brain, with lots of adventuring around outside and then short bursts of 10-15 minutes’ schooling. He really is struggling to just trust my hand, trust the contact, balance and carry himself. He is forever trying to rush, hollow, and then fight for all he’s worth. I don’t really know what to do – well, obviously, I can just put a martingale on or seesaw a bit and make him put his head down, but that’s not going to get me anywhere much in the long run.

So we’ll keep just touching on it here and there until he can go and see J next week and J can magically fix it. Having a coach is totally wonderful.

Lancey is weird on outrides. He’s really good, and I trust him absolutely, but he looks at EVERYTHING. He hardly ever actually jumps, just stares and does some majestic Arab snorting. Keep trying, little dude. One day you’ll figure out how to horse.

Tilly is a good girl

The horses all had last week off for pony camp and this weekend’s show is cancelled, but I look forward to some chill time at home just working on all the little things and enjoying each other before we get stuck back into lessons and things in the second half of July.

God has been so rich and fearless in His blessings. He’s called me out so much further than I expected, dared me into deeper waters than I ever expected. But every step is joy and every breath is grace. Riding on water, on the back of a dancing horse.

Glory to the King.