A Bit of Everything (Including Cross Country)

As winter well and truly sets in, despite a totally packed schedule, I’ve still been able to really enjoy the two dudes over the past couple of weeks.

No media from the lesson so sunset pictures instead

Lancelot and I started last week with a lesson with all time most amazing and perfect jumping coach, K. She babied me through Module 4, she continues to believe in me fiercely despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and she remains just an all round super nice human being. I knew I was in for a good experience even before I took Lancey off the horsebox.

He was a little bewildered at being the only horse in sight when we arrived for our early lesson, with K’s horses all still in their stables, but he didn’t do anything foolish. Between the cold and his nerves, though, he definitely put on a wonderful display of Arab snorting and having his tail in the air. He spooked non-violently at everything for a few minutes before settling right down once we’d had a chance to warm up and look at everything.

He was spooky enough that I told K we could do showjumping instead, but she told me to go jump a little log and see how he was. Well, he was perfect. We ended up jumping the whole 60cm track, including a tiny drop, a tiny dyke, a bank up, the little train, and lots of spooky logs and things. I let him sniff everything before jumping, but by the end it was unnecessary. He didn’t stop, didn’t overjump, and plodded around everything on a loose rein. What a good boy! I was grinning like a dork, too, and I can’t remember when last I wore anything but a panicked grimace when jumping.

strangely pensive-looking Lancey

I would like him to just trot along into the arena without doing the majestic Arabian snorting thing, though, so we’re going on lots of hacks now to help him be more brave. His dressage seriously needs work, but I feel like he needs to trust my hands and get familiar with me again. I feel like drilling in the sandbox is not what we need right now. We need to find each other first, and the time we spend doing that will never be wasted.

Thunderbirdy has been working quite happily too. We had a big argument about going forward, but once that was done, we went a lot better. We have a competition this weekend; I entered the Novice because we NEED lessons, he’s not strong like he was, and honestly I don’t think I can survive the sitting trot at my fitness level, LOL.

Each session has been better as I keep focusing on easier, more basic movements to rebuild his strength and my coordination. I suspect J is going to be quite dismayed by us when we go for our next lesson, but he’ll save us.

He is so flabby though. That fat belly is dreadful! Emotionally, though, Thunder is doing oh so well. He’s much more relaxed than he’s ever been before, standing very still for everything, not getting freaked out by horses going past like he used to – just a really happy, pleasant creature to work with. I’m so happy with him.

I’m so happy, honestly. Darling being away is horrible but God is my strength, His joy is my power, and He is so, so good – no matter what. Let everything that has breath praise His Name.

Glory to the King.

Spa Day

For the past few months, I’ve been riding my own horses pretty sporadically. Part of this was personal stuff that got in the way and other parts were that my writing career suddenly took off like a shot, which is time-consuming but does mean that now I can actually afford to have horses. Now that I’m back in a position where I can afford my horses and actually ride them, I’m really excited to get back to work.

In the meantime, though, my horse was neglected.

Well, by neglected, I mean that he slept in deep shavings every night, spent all day gambolling in a green field with his buddies, was fed the best diet that money can buy, got groomed every day, spent his time drenched in fly spray, had his temperature taken twice a day, saw the chiro, saw the farrier, got put onto another even more expensive supplement and was fed daily doses of carrots. But, you know. Super neglected.

so neglected. much sadness

I rode him again properly for the first time in weeks on Thursday. For a horsie who’s hardly seen a saddle lately, he was incredible.

I’ve been riding regularly, but mostly babies, and almost exclusively Arabs. I felt like I was sitting on a barrel – which basically I was. Someone has acquired something of a dad bod on the rich summer grass.

pictured: dad bod belly

Because of how long we’ve both been out of it, I kept it very easy for this first ride. We just did a lot of working and stretchy trot and canter on very simple figures, not really working on anything, just finding each other once again.

I was genuinely surprised by how good he felt. In this level of work, he still feels VERY strong and supple. He even gave me a couple of flying changes effortlessly and one relatively good canter to walk. His connection was better than it felt – he felt kind of against my hand, but in the video, he’s actually looking very good. I kept trying to make him soft and putting him a bit BTV, though. Sorry buddy. I’m evidently more rusty than he is.

My position has also gone down the drain a bit, I’m afraid. Riding babies is not conducive to having a neat little seat. I need to go ride a Lipizzaner and then get us back into regular lessons.

There was one thing, though, that bothered me inexpressibly. He was SO GROSS. He’d been groomed daily, but his fuzzy winter coat was just scurfy and dusty and frankly disgusting. So yesterday it was time for a bath. Historically he has been a pain to bath – or to do anything that means standing still – especially when he’s been off for a while, but I didn’t care. He needed to be clean.

not amused

He was actually a very good boy. I think he was just happy to finally be getting some attention. I gave him a big haynet too so he chomped on that while I scrubbed him – he’s never minded the actual bathing/clipping/whatever, he just doesn’t stand still.

carrots?

I need to give him a trim as well but at least he’s clean and detangled now. Speaking of clipping, he seriously needs a clip, but I’ve got to do some of the liveries first because they have shows coming up.

Our first show is in June, and I think we’ll probably just do a few Novice tests for his fitness and my nerves. Either way, I’m just so happy, so blessed and so grateful to be spending time with this absolutely magnificent animal again.

Glory to the King.

First Lesson of 2019

After weeks of our plans being thwarted due to, variously, Thunder being sick, me pitching off of Rio and hurting myself, and then both of us being unfit, we finally managed to schedule a lesson for last week. Poor darling found himself boxing us across the province in rush hour traffic, but he did sign up for it, poor wonderful chap.

Thunderbird is still not super fit, but able to do half an hour of solid work, so I figured it was time that J helped get us back on track.

We’re still struggling with the same things: downwards transitions, angle and suppleness in shoulder-in, collection and mediums. I mentioned this to J when we arrived. He doesn’t seem too concerned over our mediums: they are generally straight and not rushing, but not yet very powerful, which he says will come with strength and practice.

The first thing J wanted to address was the shoulder-in. At our last show it was one of our worst marks, with the judge saying there was too much angle and not enough suppleness. At home, obviously, I decided that this would be fixed by pulling the inside rein (plot twist: this didn’t work).

J doesn’t want too much bend in the shoulder-in, as the exercise is not about bend as much as it is about the connection on the outside rein. Instead, he wanted Thunder more active, more connected into my outside rein, softer on the inside rein, and a lot rounder. As we push into shoulder-in I tend to forget everything and concentrate only on getting the angle, thus losing the activity, throughness and connection, with the result that when I put my leg on for the movement he immediately slacks off by losing his hindquarters and throwing up his head.

So our homework there is to ride the transition from straight to shoulder-in as just that – a transition, during which the activity and connection must be maintained. J also mentioned that riding him a little lower and deeper – longer in the neck, but with the poll down more – helps to supple and stretch him rather than fighting with him in a perfect competition frame. It’s also vital that I ride him in the right angle. He needs to be so rhythmic in the angle and so soft and supple in the connection – not over bent, but soft – that I could even ride him in shoulder-in right while bending his spine to the left, essentially turning the movement into renvers.

On the subject of the trot, J also warned against making him run. He needs to be more active now without being faster – I need to slow the legs down to create a collected rhythm.

He also needs to stretch down significantly more, but this he does really nicely at home. At home he’ll take his nose to the floor – his relaxation levels at other venues always negatively affect his connection and ability to stretch.

This was evident when he decided to have an enormous spook in the middle of the short side, resulting in a hilarious screenshot and a few dry comments from J.

Moving on to the canter, first we worked on the collected walk. J says that it’s impossible to ride a good transition to collected canter unless the collected walk is outstanding. He needed to take significantly shorter steps, without losing the activity, and be softer and more yielding in the bridle as well instead of going against the hand. Only once the walk was perfect were we allowed to canter. The canter itself had to be much straighter as I tend to permanently ride him in too much inside bend. Once the canter is straight, the transition to walk can be through and balanced.

I was really happy about how Thunder behaved. He was a bit tense and a bit behind my leg, but the long drive had much to do with that, and he was trying very hard as he always is. I am a bit disappointed that the shoulder-in is still a problem but now we have more tools to work on it. I asked J if we were making progress, though, and he seemed to think we were doing just fine.

After the lesson I asked J what we should be doing show-wise this year and he said that the priority with competitions is to get him more relaxed. So the more small cheap local shows we can do, the better. I haven’t renewed our memberships so we’ll be doing training shows for a while – we may end up having to do all our grading points again, but that’s all right.

Well with my soul, dancing with my horse. Glory to the King.

Sunset Session

After making a beautiful recovery, Thunderbirdy was given three weeks off to hang out in the field.

Technically we probably would have gotten away with less. Still, biliary is so harsh on them. I wanted to give him enough time to regain his weight and rebuild all his blood cells before we got back to work.

It has been ridiculously hot, so after riding baby horses all afternoon, I decided to work with Thunder at sunset (about seven o’ clock) to make things more fun for both of us. I just wanted him to play and rediscover his body and reduce the risk of launching me into the stratosphere, so I put him on the lunge line just in a halter to see how he moves.

He was surprisingly chill, given all his time off. Not flat, but not too loopy. He just seemed pretty relaxed with everything. Maturity, is that you?

He is pretty unfit though. We only did about 20 minutes and he wasn’t tired, but he was hot and sweaty. I think he’s not the only one though. Nobody else gives my abs the same workout as he does, and tragically, it kinda shows.

His canter needs work though. I can’t tell if it was always like this or if he’s just lost a lot of strength, but it was pretty flat today – lacking some jump and uphill. I’ll have to feel what he feels like tomorrow.

I’m so honoured that God healed him so perfectly. Many more dances lie ahead with this incredible, wonderful creature. I’d forgotten how lovely he is to look at, how there’s something soothing and soulful in the way a strong horse moves that just fills the soul.

None of us ever really deserve each other. Glory to the King.

Thunder’s First Elementary

Having been out of competing for the past eight months, I was not a little concerned about how my nerves – and Thunder’s – would behave for this show. I was glad to discover a training show at a friendly, local venue for our first trip back down the centreline. This is the longest break I’ve ever taken from dressage since starting to compete in 2014, and so I did take a few precautions in anticipation of struggling mentally.

Physically, I know I’ve never been as strong as I am right now, but I was worried about my mental game. So I entered him for the two lowest Elementary tests, asked a helpful kid to read my tests to me instead of trying to ride them from memory like I normally do, and then set my goal for the show to be singular and simple: just chill out. Nothing more. Not a certain score, not succeeding in a certain movement, just trying to relax and enjoy my incredible horse rather than sweating the small stuff.

And it worked. This may have been one of Thunder’s best shows yet in terms of his behaviour, even in challenging circumstances. Thunny does best if he’s shown by himself, and this show we arrived at with four of his girlfriends, all of whom stayed back by the horsebox while I was riding him. He did neigh for them a little, but instead of getting frustrated with him about it, I just let him call. It’s understandable, it’s acceptable, it’s a normal, equine response to a situation that causes some stress. He wants a herd, so it’s up to me to become the herd. That’ll take a little time and he’ll call during his tests until he gets over it. I kept warming him up with no fuss. It’s a strange one – he’s not really tense, he’s just sort of distracted. It’s not separation anxiety, more a stallion-esque tendency to want his girlfriends (which is weird considering he was cut at the grand age of 18 months, but whatever).

Thunder6

By the time we went in, he was looking a bit and still distracted but obedient to all my cues and fairly connected. I knew we were in for “tight neck” comments, as usual, but when he came down the centreline he was dead straight, halted perfectly at X, and trotted back off for a 7.5. “Straight entry, very balanced halt, direct move-off.” That was a good feeling considering that our halts have long been a weak point.

Thunder9

The turns at C, E and B were a 7.0, “more bend through corners and turn; fairly active.” I feel like that could have been my fault though because I tend to be kind of ham-fisted through those turns and allow his bum to wander off. I felt like his serpentine was pretty good so I was a little surprised to see a 6.5 with comment “fairly active, more suppleness”. The serpentine is normally an easy movement for him but I think the neck tightness that he has at shows didn’t help at all.

Thunder7

I was super proud of the halt – immobility five seconds at X. While it only scored a 6 for being above the bit during the halt and lacking some bend once again on the turns, he was absolutely obedient, and I know it’s a lot to ask of an energetic and distracted horse to stand immobile for five seconds. The lengthened trot was a predictable 6.0 asking for more push from behind – like I kept my butt in the saddle and at this point that was wonderful – and his free walk would have been absolutely perfect if he hadn’t taken exactly two trot steps at H.  The trot-walk transition was perfect and the judge commented “fairly relaxed, stretching well”, but those walk steps got us another 6.0.

Things improved as he gave me a super obedient walk-canter transition at A, albeit slightly above the bit, for a 7; then 6.5s for a slightly crooked canter lengthening and for a hollow, but obedient, simple change. 6.5 is probably the best mark I’ve ever had for a simple change – and that out of canter right, usually his harder side – so I’ll take it. The second loop through X was a well-earned 7.5. Our next simple change was crooked because I overthought it and turned the slight shoulder-fore that I always use for canter-walk transitions into a hot mess, so we had a 6.0 there. Our transition down to trot – albeit “against hand” – centreline and final halt were our best mark of the test with 8.0.

Thunder5

I rode out of Elementary 1 expecting a low-60s score, knowing the changes had been a bit rough and there had been moments when he was tight and coming above my hand. I was also really, really happy with how he was going. He was absolutely listening to my every cue, really present and focused and trying so hard. And I was fine. A little distractable and not as focused as I can be, but totally fine – not even a twinge of nerves. It was good enough for my best score yet at Elementary at 66.78%. Not the greatest score ever, but still worth a few grading points once we have the money for proper shows again, and a mighty improvement over my last personal best on the Dragon.

We got 7.5 again for our first centreline in Elementary 2 even though he whinnied and was “slightly inattentive”, following it with 6.5 for the half 10m circles asking for more bend and suppleness. His 10m circle at V was a 7.0 for being “fairly supple”, followed by a six for the shoulder-in. I have this thing in the show ring during lateral work where I’m convinced that I won’t get any lateral work at all – like I’ll put my leg on and the horse will just keep going straight and everyone will die. I think this was messing with my head quite a bit here, which was a pity, because he was really obedient and into the bridle, but I botched it by asking for way too much angle. Shoulder-in is deceptively hard to ride correctly because I don’t have mirrors and I also don’t have any clue of how it feels when the angle is correct, so that’s going to have to be a lesson.

Thunder4

A string of sixes followed: another for the medium trot with comment “more push from behind”, then for the circle at P where he got really weird with his butt and wandered off completely for no apparent reason, and then another for the next shoulder-in, once again having way too much angle. We redeemed ourselves with an 8 for the extended walk and a seven for the counter-canter serpentine even though he felt a little unbalanced because he saw a horse he thought might be his girlfriend. The medium canter was a “conservative” 6, and then the changes fell apart a bit. He was getting a bit brain-tired and distracted at this point, so he trotted down into the first change for a five and we were crooked down again in the next one for another five. These were his worst marks, but they’re okay. It was more show-ring rustiness than any real issues. His changes do need to be established a bit more firmly.

On the bright side, our circle at C with break of contact was a seven; he was fabulous but I had to do it twice because the first time I kind of didn’t let go of my inside rein at all (I have no idea why). Our last centreline was another glorious 8.0, giving us a final score of 66.47%. The judge commented “Well done, work on suppleness and position in shoulder-in” and “Fluent test, very willing horse showing promising work, just at times a little tight over the back and in the neck”. It was certainly the first time a judge has ever told me well done after an Elementary test.

Thunder3
I have no idea what I’m doing in this picture. None.

Although the scores weren’t quite what he was getting at Prelim, I actually could not be happier with my majestic dance partner. I also just love the way that it felt. As absolutely wonderful as Arwen was for even reaching that level without guidance, and as perfectly willing as she always is, Elementary was a struggle on her. Everything was just really, really hard and I was always super happy just to see a six. But on Thunder, it’s all sort of… easy. It comes naturally and flows. It’s not a struggle, it’s a dance.

Our relationship also feels really different compared to the last few shows. He’s always tried his heart out, but often it’s felt a little fractured – I was never really sure what horse I was going to get on the day and sometimes it was one that spent the whole test hollow and calling. This time our connection felt a lot more solid, our bond much more impenetrable. I was far more present for him and it made a massive difference.

Thunder2
he saw a birdie

This was really my favourite show to date. It was as God intended for it to be – a dance, a celebration. It wasn’t worry, it was worship. It wasn’t pressure, it was praise. And every moment of it beat with love.

We went home on such a high only to hit a bit of a wobble when poor Thunny came in from the field on Monday night with a temperature of 40.5C. He’s been a bit up and down ever since with a diagnosis of biliary, spiking some pretty scary fevers, but much as I’ve been open to sending him to hospital, the vets have been happy for him to be treated at home. Today was the first day that his temperature stayed under 39C, so hopefully we’ve turned a corner now. He has been really good and stoic about the whole thing and kept eating all the way through, so at least he hasn’t suffered too much. Your prayers for his healing are always appreciated. ❤

I look forward to many more invitations onto the floor from this particular dance partner. Glory to the King.

Thunder8

Elementary, Here We Come!

Despite the fact that we’re struggling to get to lessons and the last time we went down centreline in competition was in March, Thunderbirdy has been making awesome progress.

Looking back on blog posts from November last year, I’m a little awed at what God has done through Coach J and Thunder. Last year this time we were tentatively testing the Novice waters. Now, we’re schooling the early EM tests at home, and it feels… well, I don’t want to say easy. But it feels good. And it comes way more naturally than it ever did with Arwen. Not to deprecate any of her achievements – she took me to Elementary based solely on articles I read on the Internet, for goodness’ sake.

But beautiful Thunder has had guidance, and it really shows. He is so powerful, so elastic, so much better in the connection than I could ever have hoped for before. Basically if we struggle with anything then I’m making a mistake somewhere. There are no real roadblocks right now; we just keep building, brick by brick, getting stronger and more confirmed in all of his work.

Even the changes aren’t stopping us. Even the canter-walk transitions have suddenly clicked when we revamped his canter and I learned to ride them in shoulder-fore. Those were major roadblocks for Arwen and I, and with them out of the way, I really kinda feel like there’s nothing stopping us from Medium, from Advanced, maybe even PSG. Who knows? Right now he is young and sound and just amazing with everything, and I’m not going to believe in any limits until we reach them.

Sunday will be our first show in many months, thanks to incredible provision that the Lord has been blessing us with via my ghostwriting. It’s a local training show with a judge I respect, so I went ahead and signed up for Elementary 1 and 2. The tests are not very difficult but it will be his first time having to do canter-walk and halt immobility in the show arena, as well as only his second time ever doing lateral work at a show.

I’m not expecting anything like what I get at home. At home on a good day I’m sure we can get 70% or above for both of those tests, but we haven’t shown in a while so I’m gonna be a mess and he’s gonna be a mess so we’re just going to go in and get a feel for those tests.

Right now all my main goals when it comes to showing are about what’s going on inside my messed up little head. My mentality is the single greatest obstacle standing in our way, and if we can overcome that, then there’s really nothing going to stop us.

So today I’m excited to show. I’m not nervous because it doesn’t matter if it all goes horribly wrong. Dressage is not about marks or movements. Dressage is about celebrating the connection that exists so spectacularly between horse and person, no matter how messy that celebration can look. I’m inordinately blessed just to swing my leg over my gorgeous horse every day. And no amount of nerves is going to ruin my joy in that.

Glory to the King.

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.