Sunlands Training Show

Here are some numbers for this show:

8 horses.

1 four-berth.

1 two-berth.

4 trips; one for the two-berth, three for the four-berth.

6 saddles.

Nowhere near enough girths.

No dedicated horse-holders. (We’re very thankful our horsies almost all tie up).

Not one single fall.

One child’s round that I didn’t get to watch. An experienced child, so that was OK.

img_20171022_134716.jpg
nobody else seemed to need this fence, so… we commandeered it, and chaos ensued

We arrived at 6:45am, in good time for our 8:00 class. This was a good thing, since while we had enough fitting saddles for Sune, Milady, Liana, and Savanna, it turned out that we did not have enough girths. A frequent problem when most of the riders are on a bit of a shoestring budget and thus borrowing riding school stuff. We decided to just swap saddles between Milady and Savanna and wing it, so off we went; Liana and her kid, Milady and K, Sune and L, and bareback Savanna following me and garnering some odd looks from spectators.

It was Milady’s first show, as well as L’s, and I was worried about them for about five minutes until I could see that they both had everything under control. All four of us were in the first two classes, the 50cm and 60cm, and there was some friendly ribbing. My money was on Liana and her kid; the kid loyally trusted me to win on remedial Savanna, and I think K and L were simply hoping to survive. In the end we all were wrong. Milady jumped a confident, quiet round, well-ridden by K, except both of them sort of weren’t looking at the second element of the combination and had a run-out there. Liana’s kid rode so, so nicely with excellent lines and position, but tapped the pole at number two. Savanna got to number two and then threw a hissy fit, whereupon she got a hiding and finished the track much better than she ever has before, taking a couple of poles. I was very happy with that – it’s the first time she’s actually gotten around without a leader.

img_20171022_101008.jpg
so confident!

Then Sune and L charged around in a perfect clear round, despite L firmly believing she wouldn’t remember her track, and thus handing all of our butts to us. There was more of the same in the 60cm; Milady, Liana and Sune all went clear in the first round, and Savanna had a pole, but I was very happy with her because she was confident, forward and relaxed. In the jump-off Milady and Liana had a pole each, but both their rounds were smooth and confident, so I was happy. Then little Sune and L charged around clear once again, albeit out of the placings because I had given them a Speech about going safely and building confidence.

img_20171022_101631.jpg
all smiles ❤ ❤ ❤

Then it was off to the working riding and small jumping classes. Trooper and E kicked off the little classes by trotting sweetly around the ground poles, although E kind of forgot that fence 3b was a thing, but it was a good warm-up for their working riding round. Poor little Sune was shunted straight off to be ridden by her kid in the 30cm and 40cm. Regrettably, the track was exactly the same as it was last month, and Sune’s kid is one super-smart little eight-year-old, so it wasn’t very good practice for remembering the track since he remembered it perfectly from last time. Either way, that led to a clear in the 30cm and an unlucky pole down in the 40cm.

Trooper and E absolutely knocked it out of the park in the working riding. Their course was fairly technical and all-inclusive: walking underneath an arch, then through a bendy little lane, halt and pick up a basket and walk around a marked-out circle on the ground before returning the basket, trot the bending cones, trot the trotting poles, walk through another lane, walk over a mat, go to a pillar and ring a bell. Troopy didn’t look at a thing, not even the mat. E didn’t quite kick him hard enough to trot all of the trotting poles, but their bending poles were absolutely perfect. I couldn’t be happier. And I haven’t seen E smile as much as when she’s around Trooper, ever. Mission accomplished; Trooper’s doing what only a horse can do for a teenage girl.

img_20171022_103242.jpg
picture perfect

Midas and VT’s kid also did a stunning test, Midas’s first. He did everything so perfectly except for the mat, where he just gently stopped and had a look. I popped in at that point and stepped onto it in front of him, and then he went over very happily and quietly. VT’s kid rode really very well and I was happy with the pony too; at the very least I know he’ll be excellent on a lead rein, and he’s quite good enough to get a solid mark off lead. I think she would have gotten him over it eventually.

Then poor Midas and the kid had to go charging straight off to the showjumping to jump Midas’s first 70cm. It was a speed class and I was calling dressage tests so I wasn’t there to tell the kid to go slowly, so obviously they tore around in a very confident clear round, coming fourth against some truly enormous horses (the whole of Team Nissan seemed to show up that day). So I couldn’t be much happier with that.

Somewhere around this point, Dad returned with the second load of horses, very timeously too, I might add. Ash was one of them, and her kid had plenty of time to trot around the warmup (and almost get killed by some of the aforementioned truly enormous horses – luckily Ash is a sassy little boss mare) before going in for their test. Savanna’s kid was also warming up and Savanna was being impressively calm and relaxed. I dragged them both down together so that I could keep an eye on each one and pushed Savanna and her kid in first.

Both boys were having their first show (apart from our little training show), and they both impressed me greatly. There were a few good moments and a couple of wobblies (Savanna broke in her first centreline and her kid kicked her to trot too early a few times; Ash didn’t really get the memo about having to halt on her last centreline and her kiddo’s legs were a bit flappy) but neither of them got lost or had any huge disasters. Ash and her kid had 64% and Savanna and her kid had 59%, which they both were happy with. Both have lots of work to do before they can ride anything other than a SANESA Riding Proficiency test, but I’m confident that they can go out and enjoy themselves at SANESA Level 0 next year. If they work hard they can get good marks, too.

At this point I was supposed to have been in the working hunter/stadium eventing arena on Jamaica about 45 minutes earlier, and had resigned myself to missing that one, but the judge there kindly let me go anyway. I cantered him around the warmup once (wearing Savanna’s bridle because his bridle was on Ash; I’m very grateful for his unfussy little mouth), popped over a jump, tied a knot in the end of the TREMENDOUSLY long reins, and off we went. The track was only about 60-70cm at the biggest, but fairly challenging, including a couple of banks down, a bank up, steps, a dyke with all three fences in it, a little ditch, a combination, some brush, and a whole lot of straw bales and rustic fences and such. He had a big wobble at the first fence because it was next to a water jump, but once he realised he didn’t have to do the water jump he was quite OK. He had another wobble at the brush the first time, but after jumping it once he jumped it nicely the second time. Somewhere around fence 10 he hit his stride and started to enjoy himself, as did I. I really want to event again.

Then we had a little break before going back to the warmup to climb awkwardly over the oxer and wait our turn in the 90cm competition. At this point, I had reached that mildly delirious stage near the end of a show with lots of kids, and could not really care less what size the jumps were. I just walked the related distances in the class so that I knew the strides and watched somebody go so that I knew where to go, and in we went. After cruising on a bigger stride in the stadium eventing arena, it was quite natural to send Jamaica more forward, adding only one stride in the related distances (which I don’t mind since he is almost a pony jumping on horse strides), and thus the round was very smooth. We landed on the wrong leg a few times and I was slow to correct it, but he still jumped every fence right out of his stride. There were a bunch of puddles in the arena and one of them was right in front of the second element of the combination, so he chipped in a stride looking at that, but the rest of it was fantastic.

It was the only clear round, too. So we got a big fat red ribbon.

img_20171022_133713.jpg

When I schooled him for this show and we couldn’t get a good stride to this one jump I literally remember thinking to myself, “Well, God, You got me through my Module 4 and gave me a very confident ride in that exam, so I’m not asking for anything more right now; I can lose my nerve again now,” but God’s reply seemed to be, “I’m not done working miracles yet, My daughter.” The 1.00m didn’t look all that big when we watched it as we were packing up.

Dad, meanwhile, had already shipped Milady, Liana and Trooper back home, and returned within half an hour of the end of my class to take the rest of us. We were all happily home by four in the afternoon, although how Dad did it is between him and God because I sure don’t know.

This year has been all about what God can do. Even at this little training show, He helped us to run it so smoothly despite not having enough tack or horseboxes or horses. Somehow He gave me an excellent ride and helped all the newbies to have a good show and – best of all – all three my rising stars got to ride, having somehow scraped together sponsorships and kindness from various sources to be able to have enough show clothes, entry money, and horses. All three of them. I am so, so happy to be a witness to the majestic spectacle of what God does when you give it all to Him.

So here’s a few more numbers for you to wrap up this post.

17 classes.

3 rising stars.

Innumerable great supporters.

And one amazing God.

img_20171022_071224.jpg
L and Sune, Milady and K, Trooper and E

Glory to the King.

Q3 Goals Recap

I’m so honoured to be working with these gifts from God. ❤

Arwen

wp-image-1326113475jpg.jpg

  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Almost there! We need ten, and we have nine. I’m pretty sure our next show in the end of October will get us that last one, since we have been just breaking 60% now, with the exception of the disastrous test last time. Our scores have slowly crept up, but it’ll be at the next show that we see if our hours of schooling have made an appreciable difference yet.
  • Don’t mess up a show riding/show hack class. 
  • Jump a graded 80cm round.
  • Do some cross-country lessons and/or go drag hunting. I want to do this so badly, but logistics may not allow. We’ll see. It’ll be fun to do the boxing day hunt, maybe with a friend. God willing, though. I don’t think we’ll go back to eventing; I can’t justify the expense on a horse who isn’t really going to be fast enough to be good even at the lower levels, although I’m not denying that we had so much fun during our eventing year.

Looking towards next year, I’m still going up and down a bit between continuing with the dressage – either trying to improve the Elementary or give EM a shot – or going into showing again, since she is really good at it. It’ll depend on the logistics. Either way, my dragon gives me hope. ❤

Midas

wp-1502813423255.png

  • Hack alone and in company.
  • Be quiet at shows. 
  • Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. Next show! He’s schooling it at home under VT’s kid and the two of them have been cruising around 60cm.
  • Compete up to Prelim at training shows.
  • Compete at the Nooitie shows. 
  • Go cross-country schooling. The training shows we go to have a nice working hunter/stadium eventing course, and I’m considering popping him around it myself at the next one, depending how busy the show looks (spoiler: it looks very busy). Again, eventing isn’t really on the cards for us next year, so I’m OK with not achieving this one.

Midas is on the market and I do hope he sells quite quickly. It’ll be very sad to see him go; he’s one of the highest quality ponies I’ve had, and so much fun both to ride and to teach on. But it’s time for him to find his own little person to have adventures with now.

Faith

img_20171003_070737.jpg

 

  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well. Like a dream! Took a while, though.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. There don’t seem to be any Nooitie shows for the rest of the year, so that’s been blown out of the water a bit. Next time we have space in the box for a quiet show or outing, I may drag her along.
  • In spring, lunge.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.
    She goes into training in November. I don’t think the groundwork will take long, although I am going to take my time about it, since she’s smart and already knows me well. In fact I could probably have at least walk/trot under saddle by December, but I’m not going to push it. If I condition her carefully now it could have repercussions for the rest of her career.

I am SO excited to put Faith into training at last. She’s starting to look so beautiful and behave so maturely, and this little gift from God has so much to teach me.

Jamaica

img_20170728_185145.png

  • Hack reliably in company
  • School Novice dressage. Done! I haven’t actually ridden the tests, but that’s not really relevant for him.
  • Jump 90cm graded. We can’t afford graded right now, but I am totally calling this done. We jumped 90cm at a training show and the course wasn’t soft and he absolutely killed it. Good boy!

Next year, our plan is to work towards jumping Module 5 (1.00m… eep) towards the end of the year. To do that, we’re going to do equitation and jumping at SANESA, so we’re starting to work through the 90cm equitation tests.

Lancelot

img_20170726_123139.png

  • Reliably do long hacks alone, in company, and wherever without any drama his kid won’t laugh off.
  • Do a training show or two at Prelim dressage. 
  • Consistently jump graded at 70cm, preferably clear. 

Lancey has been taken out of training and passed on to his kid because he’s become such a solid citizen. One of the most pleasant horses in the yard – and a firm favourite with everyone, both to ride and just to be around. It’s hard not to feel loved in his presence.

Trooper

screenshot_2017-08-27-17-25-54.png

  • Do training showjumping shows, up to about 60cm. We’re not going to push him for this right now. I think he’s just not ready for it – because every time we aim him at a jump he crashes through it and knocks his legs and gives himself a fright, poor chap.
  • Do training dressage shows, up to Prelim.  He’s schooling Prelim at home, but has done walk/trot at shows. Again, I’m not pushing it, because his plans have changed. See below.
  • Be as safe as a house on hacks, mostly in company.
  • Be as safe as a house on the ground. Anybody can handle him, including the tiniest of kids, without any trouble.
  • Be fully quiet at shows. He’s just the same at shows as he is at home – with his buddies, away from his buddies, in the stable, wherever!

Trooper originally was supposed to be a resale project, but with Stardust still being in rehab from her injury and a big hole left in the riding school with her being out of work, as well as Lisna being sold, we’ve ended up keeping him for E. They’re a solid match and looking forward to their first show together this month, too.

Thunder

wp-image-93225262jpg.jpg

  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. We basically only school Novice work except when we’re test riding and polishing for shows these days. His lengthenings are our main focus, mainly because I’m really no good at them, but they’re coming on well. He’s done most of the leg-yields and counter canter, and the figures are easy enough. We rode the whole of Novice 1 quite nicely this week and will continue to work through the Novice tests as we go on.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence. Fast he is not, but confident, definitely. He doesn’t bat an eye.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. I’ll be honest, I haven’t really worked on these. Mostly because my time with him is so much fun that I’m being a little bratty and not wanting to ruin it by going for a hack and having a bolt. However, I’m going to start on them next week. We’re doing so much better together lately and I feel like if he does bolt I can stop him now. I’m also going to hack at the end of a session instead of at the beginning, so that his brain is engaged by then.

I’m excited for Thunny’s future. My morning rides on him are almost always therapeutic; we get lost in the dance, and he seems to enjoy it just as much. He’s even turning into a good citizen lately, who stands quietly in the stable and stands tied to the horsebox at shows and just generally behaves pleasantly. I love him to pieces. ❤

Further up and further in. Glory to the King.

WhatsApp Image 2017-10-02 at 12.58.42 PM(1)

 

In Honour of the Anxious Horse

Suicide prevention awareness month is here, and this topic has been stewing in my head for a long time.

I’ve long held that horses are among the most emotionally complicated of all domestic animals; possibly the animals that come closest to our own emotions. We relate more easily to dogs, who are generally more expressive and whose body language is universally well understood. But very few of us can ever hope to attain that permanently happy outlook that seems to characterise the canine psyche. Of course dogs have phobias and develop problems with bad handling or circumstances, but on the whole, if you feed and walk and snuggle your dog enough he’s as happy as a clam.

It is yet to be determined if cats know that people have feelings. (Joke). Either way, they’ve got a pretty good handle on theirs and don’t need much of our input, thankyouverymuch.
Well cared-for cows are by default deeply content creatures; if you don’t believe me, do yourself a favour and sit among a herd of cows at dusk when they’ve all gone to bed and lie there chewing cud and contemplating the mysteries of the universe. They’re so well grounded, you’ll feel your own soul being stilled.

But horses are completely different. Horses have the ability to be unhappy even when circumstances are excellent. That sound familiar? It should, because we humans have the same ability.

So today I’m going to talk about the anxious horse and how those of us who suffer from the wide range of anxiety disorders – and, crucially, those of us close to such sufferers – can learn from them.

The most insecure horse I’ve ever handled?

She’s insecure/don’t know what for/she’s turning heads as she walks through the do-o-or…

This is Champagne. Champagne was brought up at a beautiful stud, from solid pony bloodlines. She was purchased by my lovely client for her gentle, experienced child, a good match for the pony in terms of personality and ability. She was taken to a well-established yard and there fairly appropriately cared for, better than most horses. Champagne has consistently been handled and cared for by good, experienced horse people.

 Champagne also has a terrible case of anxiety. When faced by any of her numerous triggers, she starts to breathe in rapid, shallow flutters, punctuated by loud and ripping snorts as she desperately tries to use every sense she has to identify the threat. Her topline becomes rock hard. She is hyperreactive to any stimulus, specifically my aids, and any touch can send her deeper into the meltdown. She begins to sweat profusely and shiver violently.

The anxiety attack she had when she arrived lasted, with fluctuating severity, for almost a week.

Champagne has no “reason” to be afraid. But she is.


In contrast, this is Trooper at his first show. Trooper grew up in a township somewhere, where he spent the first two and a half years of his life half-starved. Nine horses were rescued from the same property as he was; he was the only survivor. His herdmates all died. He almost did, too, suffering from septicaemia in all four his legs and his sheath. After nursing him back to health, his rescuer sold him on to me.

Trooper is one of the most trustworthy ponies we have in the school. He is patient, kind, and never frightened by anything very much. In the field, he’s a happy and content little chap despite rejection from his herdmates, and he loves people.

Trooper has every “reason” to be afraid. But he isn’t.

You see, for Champagne, it’s all in her head. There isn’t really anything that’s going to hurt her. Cows are not out to get her. Birds do not eat horses. It’s all in her mind. And that’s a very valid and noteworthy place for something to be.

Let me repeat that. “In your head” is a very valid and noteworthy place for a problem to exist.

I was told so many times that my riding nerves were “all in my head”, or that I should “just get over it”. And you know what? So was Champagne. Her previous trainer was a better one than me by a very long shot, but when the pony spooked the trainer put her gently but firmly between leg and hand and got back to doing what she wanted. Which works for 90% of horses out there.

With the merely spooky young horse the dialogue goes like this:

Horse: Eek! What’s that? [wiggles and looks]

Rider: It’s nothing. Look, I’m not worried. Let’s do this. [Half-halts, bends the horse away from the spooky thing, reapplies the aids]

Horse: OK. [forgets the thing]

But with an anxious horse, the conversation becomes completely different.

Horse: Oh no, no, no, no, no, it’s a bird, it’s a bird, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me! [Loses rhythm, topline becomes tense, breathing changes]

Rider: It’s nothing. Look, I’m not worried. Let’s do this. [Half-halts, bends the horse away from the spooky thing, reapplies the aids]

Now before we go into the horse’s response, let’s look at two characteristics of most deeply anxious horses that are still rideable.

  1. They are intelligent overthinkers. Things can be blown way out of proportion in their heads because they are smart enough to imagine things and go one step further than simple animal reactions.
  2. They are very hard triers. They generally want so much to please their riders and are well aware that spooking does not please them. These horses are exhausted from trying all day long to please people despite their struggles; when they fail, it creates a downward spiral.

So here’s what this type of horse responds with:

Horse: I can’t, I can’t, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me but you’re saying to go past it so I’ll try but I’m so scared! [Moves forward, but with choppy steps, losing the headquarters, begins to snort]

Rider: Get over it. Come on. Don’t be silly. You’re fine. [taps lightly with the whip]

Horse: I can’t breathe. I feel funny. I can’t do this! [Freezes to the spot, tries to run backwards, holds breath]

Rider: Do it now! [Firm reapplication of aids]

Horse: [explodes – runs back, rears, spins, bucks, bolts, or all of the above]

The thing about this conversation is that both horse and rider are right. There is nothing that will hurt the horse. It is all in her head. She is fine.

But the horse is stating facts, too. The horse is genuinely terrified. The threat is not real. It doesn’t have to be. Her fear is real, and that’s valid.

Let’s go back to Champagne. In her introduction, I described her anxiety attacks as they were when she arrived. These days, faced with more than what pushed her over the edge initially, her anxiety attacks last under two minutes. Even when pushed too far (as I admit to having done by accident) I can talk her down in five minutes or less. She no longer sweats or holds her breath for extended periods. It has been weeks since she last ran backward or reared. She looks at things and then deals with them.

She’s better, and here is how I changed the conversation to try to help her.

Champagne: [sees a bird] Oh no, no, no, no, no, it’s a bird, it’s a bird, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me!

Me: OK, love. Let’s back it right up. [Halts, goes down to walk, or even dismounts] Just pause here and have a good look. I’m right here for you. [Even when nervous myself, control my breathing. Sigh, shift the weight, keep contact with one hand on her neck. When mounted, relax the lower back and shoulders. Breathe into diaphragm].

Champagne: OK, I’ll try. I can go a little closer now, maybe. [Volunteers a step further. Sniffs at the bird.]

Me: That’s fantastic. Well done. [Gives vocal praise, keeps pressure off except for slight rein contact in case of emergencies].

Champagne: Hey, you know what, I think it’s actually fine. [Licks and chews, looks away, sighs]

Me: Good job. Shall we go back to work? [Leg on again, contact, half-halt]

Champagne: Yep, that’s cool, let’s do it. [Obeys the aids]

It’s not the heroic approach. It doesn’t look very good, I can tell you that much. My clients pay me an awful lot of money to sit on their pony scratching its neck and not doing anything for several minutes at a time. I don’t astonish anyone with my ability to sit through drama and there is no magical quick fix. The process takes months – years, even.

But there is no horse that will try harder for you than the anxious horse, who has been trying harder for you than you know.


So in honour of suicide prevention awareness month, let me say this to everyone close to someone suffering with anxiety: Thank you for trying. It can be so frustrating and heartbreaking. But please remember that you can’t really fix it. Trying to fix it will kill you. Fixing it is between that person and God. Just be the safe place, be the place where the pressure’s off, because anxiety is living under unrelenting pressure. Be the break from that.

The only reason why I can help Champagne is because, perhaps to a lesser extent, I am Champagne. (Except not so leggy and blonde). I heard all those voices telling me to get over it and that it was all in my head for so many years and it was killing me.

And then, one day, I heard that Still, Small Voice, the only One with the right to really condemn me for the way I am. And the only One Who never did. Because God stepped in, the God Who keeps me safe, the God Who gives me a spirit not of fear but of power and love and a sound mind, the God in Whom my faith should be stronger than anxiety, the God Who said so many times not to be afraid, the God Who should have thrown me aside for my doubt and disobedience – and He is the only One Who never devalued the way I feel.

God stepped in and said, “I’m here, daughter; I love you anyway; I have a plan with this; My grace is sufficient.” And because He loved me anyway, I could finally breathe and watch Him work in me again.

Let’s all change our words and speak life like Him.

Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 5 (finally)

We set off to Fairfields with three bays and one dragon. The dragon was plaited, which was a good thing because we were very late. I had enough time to warm up a dressage horse; I did not have enough time to tame a dragon, and thus resigned myself to riding Elementary 1 and 2 on a feral dragon.

However, when we unloaded Arwen, she took a little look around and then went to sleep. I was able to toss on her tack, hop on and warm up a sane and well-behaved animal that actually felt like it had been ridden before.

We had fun. Our warmup was just perfect, complete with four good simple changes in a row, and I was walking her around on the buckle when the steward called us.

In the tests themselves, she felt good but not quite like she is at home; not tense, just a bit scattered and distracted. I think it’s a result of just not competing as much as we always used to. She has never been the quietest and most at ease at shows – always trustworthy, and always does her job, but there is often a bit of dragonishness lurking.

This time, it manifested in a couple of silly mistakes. Our first change was an unmitigated disaster – she trotted down, trotted hollowly up into a disunited canter, flailed around a bit, trotted a step to fix it, and then plopped forth, earning a well-deserved 4. Her second change was very solid for a 6 and the rest of the test was smoother and more consistent. We even got the halt immobility for 5 seconds without any trouble. Mostly sixes and a few 6.5s earned us 62%, our second time breaking 60% at graded elementary.

The second test was judged by a lady who is always very, very strict, so I was not expecting any miracles. But our shoulder-ins were 6 to the left and 6.5 to the right, both of which had been under 6 with the same judge, with comment “good position”. And both our simple changes were tense and messy. She jogged through one, then stopped in the other and trotted up, so those were 5.5s. Still, the trot work was good enough for 60%, making it our first time getting over 60 for both tests at a graded show. And 60 from this judge is not to be sniffed at – not for us, anyway.

I’ve long since made peace with the fact that we are never going to be brilliant at Elementary. In fact, Arwen will probably not even be brilliant at Prelim. The basics are mediocre, so nothing can be really good. But I’m also over obsessing about it because to be fair I produced her myself with a total of maybe four dressage lessons together in our entire career. I have no experience at the level and I’m riding based off trial and error, guessing at how to improve things, guessing at how to train the new movements, reading stuff on the Internet and trying to make that make sense. And I think considering that, Arwen tries very hard, and has done more than most horses probably could.

She’s the best dragon and a gift straight from God. ❤

We had like 3 hours to wait before Thunder’s turn, so K, Dad and I put the horses in stables and plaited leisurely. At this point I must confess that Fairfields has become my second favourite venue ever (after Winstead because I love Winstead). There are many reasons why:

  1. Stables. And they weren’t even expensive.
  2. The people are SO friendly and helpful.
  3. It has a good vibe. I feel at ease there, and as a rule, so do the horses. The judges seem to feel it and be friendlier, too.
  4. It is super super close – 35 minutes’ drive.
  5. Did I mention everyone is nice?

K and I quickly scrubbed our horses’ socks and then hopped on and headed to the warmup. Regrettably we had ended up with only one horse going between Thunder and Renè, but we figured we could make it; I just had to switch my bridle number onto Renè, give K my whip (shoestring budget = everyone shares everything), and call her test.

Thunder was both better and worse than he’d been at Weltmeyer. He never spooked or bucked or bolted, but he screamed. all. the. time. Separation anxiety is strong with this one. It was annoying, I’ll be honest, but as always he never, ever quit on me. He stayed obedient, he stayed willing, he even stayed on the bit even when he was screaming. I resigned myself to poor scores, but I was grateful for how hard he was trying for me despite it all.

He called through the whole first test, but he did everything I asked almost as nicely as he does at home. Because he was tense he got really tight and short in his neck – the Friesian was showing a bit – but didn’t go against my hand, so the frame was present but not supple. We held it together and the worst he did was move during the halt.

He was much more relaxed when we headed into the second test, albeit wanting to get stiff laterally now and then because a horse in the field nearby decided it was going to shriek back at him (thanks for nothing, horse). He was still calmer, so I expected a better test and came optimistically down centreline. And then I looked up at the other arena, and it all came to bits. K was about to go in – sans number, whip, and caller.

It turns out the horse that was meant to go between us didn’t show up and K didn’t know she was allowed to wait for her ride time. Thank God, a nice random person called her test (what did I say about Fairfields again?) and they were fine but my world came crashing down. I felt terrible letting the poor kid down and my whole test all I could think was I should have given her the whip. Poor Thun basically had to do everything by himself, with me reduced to kick or pull. He managed, though, and we finished the test, and I got off almost in tears and abandoned the poor soul with Dad to sprint over to K. Who was utterly unperturbed because caller and whip or no, Renè had just pulled out the best test of their career so far for 61.9%. Guess I’m not so essential, after all.

Their second test was going so well until Renè broke in the second canter set, then picked up the wrong lead, then broke again. That cost them, but they still got 58% from strict judge lady, so that’s fine.

It was good enough for third place in test 1, their first real placing in dressage, hard-earned and well-deserved.

don’t judge the cream; shoestring, remember?

To my great shock, Thunder was second in both. He had 71% for his first test and 64 point something for the second, getting hammered with a couple of 5s for the final stretchy circle (it didn’t) and the halt (he moved). Those are both just a matter of show nerves, and I’m so happy that he could pull out those placings in good company even when he was tense. Thank you Thunny dude, I owe you one.

We were beaten by coach K’s mom, who also won the Elementary and has several decades more experience. She got like 76% so that was fine by me.

I actually can’t believe how brilliant our floofy homebred beast has turned out to be. He exceeded all my expectations and that’s saying something. This was a school pony for more than a year. I wish I’d given him a chance earlier, but I’m grateful now that he gets his time to shine. ❤

Last of the day was Trooper, three hours later. I’ll be honest, once I got on him, I was kind of tired and over it, but he was amazing. Just like he is at home. He napped toward the gate a couple of times, but otherwise warmed up beautifully.

We doddled down centreline and I was thinking I might stay and get my test after all because he really felt good. All was peachy, we even had bend on our circle, and then suddenly as we headed into the F-A corner, the steering broke. We fetched up just outside the arena at F. He didn’t jump, he didn’t duck, he just sort of kept on going when turning was supposed to happen.

I may have squeaked in horror. The crowd (who loved him) may have laughed. But the bell didn’t ring, so I put him back in the arena and went on. He promptly napped out at K, almost falling onto V, but then got a bit of a hiding and proceeded to finish his test in fine style.

Turns out the border of the arena was less than 25cm high, so even though he put all four feet out, it was a 0 instead of an elimination. The rest of it was good, but by that point I was ready to ride him up the ramp and home without bothering to get off, so I have no idea what he scored.

I’m still happy with him, though, because flopping out of the arena is really not the worst thing a four-year-old with practically no training can do at its first show.

Further Trooper news is that Lisna has been sold to a lovely forever home as a hack, so we have decided to keep him and give him to E. He is much better suited to her than Lisna was and they look amazing together. So I’ll ride him at the next show and then hand him over.

And, as another win, I finally rode all five tests from memory without making any mistakes. Which is always good.

So excited for what God has done, is doing, and will do. Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 5 Goals

It has been a slow week in our little corner of God’s beautiful, broken world.

yay for volunteering though! ❤

Nevertheless, tomorrow we get to make up for it, with the fifth leg of our dressage series. Both dance partners were on walk/trot only until yesterday because they’d had their AHS shot, but it’s amazing how much you can get done without cantering even once. (Hint: Thunder did about one bazillion halts).

They both schooled their tests very nicely yesterday, though, so I’m not too worried.

Thunder: Preliminary 1 and 2

It would be nice to improve again on his first test’s score last time (65 point something). I don’t harbour much illusions of improving on the 72%, because the judge was (not unreasonably) generous, but it would be nice to get a good one again.

All that is subject to his brain staying in his head. I’d settle for a whole show without any huge dramatic spooks, too.

Arwen: Elementary 1 and 2

We’ve worked so. so. so. hard on our canter stuff and our shoulder ins. Both were 5s at the last show so it would be wonderful to see our work paying off on those, even if it us just to the point of a 5.5 or 6. Not rearing in the warmup would be nice, too. But dragons will be dragons.

Trooper – Walk/Trot 1

Taking Troopy was a bit spur-of-the-moment as we unexpectedly had room in the box, but I think I can pull off a w/t test on him as long as he remembers to go when I kick. I have no expectations because it’s his first outing and he just gets to be a baby.

More to the Point

God has been continually bringing a section home to me all week, and it’s this one:

 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:4-8

I am a teacher and a leader at this little yard and God knows how seriously I take that. But tomorrow I pray I will take myself less seriously, and Him far more; look up from all I’m trying to be and see the God Who is already doing a good work in me through no effort of my own. I am a part of the body of Christ. A rather scarred and occasionally dysfunctional part, but a part nonetheless, and I have a role and a gift to give the world – to give to my Abba. And tomorrow I pray I would behave like it, I pray I would be His Hands and Feet, I pray I would speak His words. And none of this by looking out at others and trying to help them, but all of this by looking up at Him, the reason for our interspecies dance, and praising Him with all my soul.

And if my gift is to dance with horses, then I’ll do it for the Giver.

Glory to the King.

Small Victories

This week was… incredible.

It was pony camp, which I always love because I get more than that single golden half-hour once a week with each child. I get a chance to listen. I get a chance to learn.

We had many kids, for us (12? 13? I’m honestly not sure) and I can confidently say they all impressed me this week. For sure some of them got told off rather sternly but they are all lights in the world. They all have their futures thrown wide before them and the knowledge that I had a whole week with them – a week that God could use to influence their lives – was a tremendous thing. Terrifying at times, but tremendous.

Bible study was something else. The first three days felt like they weren’t really going anywhere – I was preaching the Gospel, and they were listening (most of the time) like good little children. But such is Bible study, I’m finding. It takes a while to build the trust that makes it a conversation. On the last day, we ended up running 45 minutes long because the kids weren’t running out of questions. We sat together and had an open, candid, non-judgmental, honest and sincere discussion about God. Jesus was there and the Holy Spirit was working! It was a day that reminded me of what I’m here for.

Of course, much was learned about horses, too. We rode bareback (a first for most of the kids) and played that game where you give each child a coin under each lower thigh and the kid who manages to keep their coins the longest wins. This was to much hilarity, but regrettably, we lost almost all of the coins in the arena sand.

We also learned how to turn out a pony, to varied success. This was less of a hit with some of the boys, but for the most part they pulled together and did some rather stellar work. Trooper especially looked more dashing than I expected.

We also learned about the points of the horse, parts of the saddle and bridle, and colours and markings. The ponies were as usual entirely accepting of having stickers stuck all over them.

They also did an awesome job painting and decorating all our jumps,

and Kindness Rocks, which are now littered all over the yard. Some have rather imaginative spelling (and others are teetering precariously on top of poles, on the brink of falling upon somebody’s head like a bolt of divine inspiration) but they make me smile.

We jumped some jumps (pictured: head groom L winning at this) and limbo’d under others (not pictured: head groom L falling on her head trying to win at this).

There were no falls or serious injuries at all this pony camp, to my great relief. One kid did cut his finger on the fence, whereupon it bled magnificently, but it was nothing that making a big fuss, pulling on my blue gloves and sticking a Star Wars plaster couldn’t fix. I also got kicked halfway across the arena (walked behind a sleeping pony and touched its bum like an idiot) but luckily I went flying and skidded several metres so that seems to have taken the worst of the impact out of it. Young muscles do have their advantages.

The week culminated in today’s training show, our first ever. It was an outrageous success – by the grace of God. Literally. He was so with us. And I have no pictures. Sorry.

We opened with Scripture reading, a la Lipizzaners, by bringing in old Skye and reading Job 39:19-25. Not gonna lie, standing next to my brave old friend and facing the crowd (more than 80 people – it was quite the crowd) and the powerful words straight from my God’s mouth rolling over us, I got a little teary-eyed.

The POG class was enormous and consisted of basically everyone whether they could jump or not. But I only had two on the lead rein and everyone else remembered their track perfectly, even if they walked the whole thing. Lulu, Trooper (yes – the 3yo; ridden off lead by a 6yo kiddie. He was good except once he walked into an upright and it fell over), Stardust, Midas, Sunè, Renè, and Thunder all packed their kids around without putting a toe wrong. Starlight had a spook and cantered off causing a little panic, but the kid got her back and she was fine after that.

Lisna and E also trotted around the POG and 20cm effortlessly. Lisna didn’t look at a thing and E handled first-show nerves brilliantly.

Most notably, David and his person went around the POG in hand. A mighty feat considering all the fears that horse had to conquer to get there. I gave him a show name and it says everything about him: Facing the Giants. He has faced some incredible Goliaths.

The 20cm was more of the same, with the addition of Savanna and her teenager. Savanna has been SO naughty of late (used to following other ponies over jumps + now feeling rather too good = naughty) but she was super and her teenager rode her really, really well for clear rounds.

Rain and Arwen also popped around the 20cm and 30cm, to general applause. Arwen also packed another rider who she’s never seen before in her life around the 60cm and 70cm, kicking all of our bums in the process. That’s the dragonbeast for you. I love that about my dance partners – they can dance with me one day and carry random people around the next.

In the 40cm, Destiny got his first jumping win under his mom. Sunè and her kid also popped around beautifully and Starlight came second with a kid that will hopefully become her kid eventually.

In the 50cm, Liana and her kid charged around brilliantly for second place. Midas and his new little rider had their first show together and came third, and Pennie’s mom G jumped her young horse, Saartjie, for first place. When G got Saartjie about a year ago the pony had never seen a fence before in its life and I’ve never been on her so I am VERY chuffed with both. K and Renè also had a great clear round.

It was more of the same in the 60cm, with Arwen first, Saartjie second and Lancelot third – albeit having a rather gawky round because I was in the dressage saddle (the others were all taken) and mainly focused on not losing my stirrups. Lancey was amazing for the whole thing, jumping all clear rounds. We were all expecting Vastrap to win because he is awesome but he got a bit wild and threw in a stop – luckily for his child because I don’t think she could have sat the only distance available to him at that pace. He won the 70cm, with Lancey second and Arwen third.

The 80cm was only Pennie and G and Jamaica and I, and Maicy totally showed me again why I lease him. I was exhausted by this point and just sort of hung on and pointed him at the jumps. The distances were ugly, the rhythm was off, and we’d had one minute to warm up – but Jamaica just took me over each fence despite my mistakes. Good boy. He won it despite a rail down because Pennie got somewhat overexcited and crashed through a bunch of jumps.

The last class was called the 85cm but only because I didn’t want to say out loud that Jamaica and I were jumping a 90cm track. I needn’t have worried, though. Jamaica was superb. Both G and I had a pole down but Pennie was like 15 seconds faster so they won.

I am so happy with it – all of it. I feel so honoured to be among this group of horses and riders and to feel the buzz that was at this stableyard today. It’s more than just a good atmosphere brought about by mutual goodwill. It’s in me but not of me. It’s the Holy Spirit at work.

This evening I had one last job – herding the members of field A (Arwen’s group) back to their field, which was being used as a warmup. It was a short way along the corridor so I elected to just shepherd them along rather than catching each one. I whistled them up and Arwen led the charge, snorting fire. Magic caught on and started bucking in the neighbouring field and then suddenly they were all running – thirty-one shining, happy horses – each a thunder-clothed collection of graceful curves bursting with life and exuberance, the sky and earth trembling with the power of them. I was caught breathless in the whirlwind of it, and I understood what the psalmist meant when he said: Let everything that has breath praise the name of the Lord.

No eye has seen what He has prepared for us, but perhaps sometimes we catch the edge of Heaven’s melody, curling on the cusp of hearing.

Thank You Father. Glory to the King.

Q2 Goals Recap

Oh, but first I must tell y’all that the kiddies are incredible!! But you knew that, right? We are taking FOUR ponies and their little riders to Gauteng Finals and I am so proud of them I might just explode. 😀 Best of all, my riders that didn’t make it to Finals are just as talented as those that did, so it’s only a matter of time before they get there, too.

So Liana, Vastrap, Zorro and Pennie have all made it and they are all going really very well, particularly Zorro (but don’t tell the other ponies I said that). Their kiddos have put in a lot of work this season and I’m so happy to see them being so richly rewarded. But of course we can’t lose sight of the real Reason why we’re here: they planted, I watered – and our Abba Father gave the increase.

Well, now back to goals. Let’s have a look.

Arwen

Arwen1a

  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Still chipping away at this! It’ll pick up now, hopefully, that we’re going to more dressage and fewer showing shows. Either way, last quarter we had two points, and now we have five. It is possible to get points one class at a time.
    Our Elementary work is slowly improving. The horse is starting to touch the limit of her physical ability (not necessarily her natural talent – but her ability combined with dodgy schooling due to being my first project ever when I was, like, 13) and I don’t think we’ll ever show seriously at EM, but there’s no reason why our Elementary can’t be solid. To be fair, though, the problem is more mine than hers. I flounder at the level. I don’t know what anything is really supposed to look like and I don’t have the opportunity for lots of dressage lessons, so the tests are basically our lessons. I even struggle to remember the longer tests. But it’s all a learning experience; my next Elementary horse will be better and this one is a whole lot of fun. Our next show is CHG Leg 5 in the end of August. We have eight weeks before then, including one week off and one week of test riding right before the show, leaving the remaining six weeks to work on our six lowest marks (shoulder-in left, walk-canter transition, medium-working canter transition, turn on the haunches, 20m circle with break of contact, rein back). One movement each week. It will take an art to keep this from stealing the joy of the dance, but one breath at a time, God is taking over the artist inside me.
  • Don’t mess up a show riding/show hack class. 
  • Jump a graded 80cm round.
  • Do some cross-country lessons and/or go drag hunting. I doubt hunting will be on the calendar this year, but we might just make it to xc lessons at President’s Park. Which would be absolutely fabulous (and disgusting preparation for our August show, but whatevs).

Arwen is laying the foundation of my own education. If I ever do go up the grades (and that’s really up to God; my dance with Thunder on Sunday showed me that it’s not the level that matters, but the threefold cord) nobody will remember Arwen – but I will. Because she went first, and she paved the way.

As we start to see 2018 on the horizon, I am also pondering a foray into another discipline with her next year. Part of me just yearns to go event again, but another part can’t justify the expense for a discipline the horse won’t excel in. Probably showing. Maybe it’ll be time to gird up my loins and face my fear of showing judges.

Exavior

wp-image-666424422jpg.jpg
we all still miss him

As y’all know by now, I had to make the decision to sell the big guy. He’s with a trainer in Brakpan right now (something I’ve been too raw to write about – the trainer is lovely and I know he’s a lot happier with a job to do, and God sent that miracle for us just like He’s sent everything else in Exavior’s life) and hopefully he’ll met his person soon.

Midas

Midas1

  • Hack alone and in company. Done! With a child on board (in company), too. He loves his hacks.
  • Be quiet at shows. 
  • Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. Still winning at 60cm (and kinda bored at the level, too) but I don’t think I should make him haul my heavy behind around 70cm. He pops around it at home with kids, and he has a new little partner to finish bringing him on, so as soon as little partner is ready, we’ll do it.
  • Compete up to Prelim at training shows.
  • Compete at the Nooitie shows. We did all the ones that seem to be happening this year, and he came home with some ribbons, too.
  • Go cross-country schooling. Fingers crossed for this month!

Faith

wp-image-405865475jpg.jpg

  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well. Almost almost there – we can box without a bum rope, but with cookies and with some hesitation.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. Spring Show was cancelled, but we’ll probably send in a video for the E-Show in August because then at least nobody can tell me I have a hairy yak in person, right? She behaves nicely in-hand, trots up and stands square, just needs a polish.
  • In spring, lunge.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.

Ah, the joys of the long and dull two-year-old year while your precious, promising creature’s withers slowly catch up to its behind. She is wonderful though. I can’t wait to sit on her.

Jamaica

Jamaica11

  • Hack reliably in company. We haven’t hacked much, with most of the focus on jumping, but he’s never put a foot out of line in walk and trot – I’m quite happy. I still wouldn’t lead a long hack on him… but to be fair, I’ve got hacking nerves, so I wouldn’t lead a long hack on anything very much except Arwen (and Trooper).
  • School Novice dressage. As evidenced by the appearance of a topline, he’s carrying himself a LOT better. Still not brilliant, but to be fair to him, with his body shape and previous schooling brilliance on the flat is going to be a lot to ask. We have most of the Novice 1 to 4 work down. Trot lengthenings and free walk are still a sticky point. His canter work is lovely.
  • Jump 90cm graded. Heading that way; we’re doing 80cm at shows and popping over the odd 90cm height/width fence at home. The horse can do it – he just skips along. It’s my nerves that are the problem and that’s just going to be a step-by-step process.

So grateful for the spotty one – he has done so much for me already, and continues to do so much with every session.

Lancelot

Lancelot1

  • Reliably do long hacks alone, in company, and wherever without any drama his kid won’t laugh off. Very, very close to finishing this one – we haven’t been on a super long hack yet, but he’s done 45 minutes or so in w/t/c, even with a novice rider. He’s lovely.
  • Do a training show or two at Prelim dressage. Done! With 65% and 67.3% in Prelim 3 and 4, too.
  • Consistently jump graded at 70cm, preferably clear. He’s completing his 70cm rounds, but he still has the odd stop that he likes to throw in, and I just want him to be rid of that habit. I’m not too worried about poles – that’s just greenness in his body. I just want him to hunt down the fences.

Lancey is so close to being handed over to Z-kid for good. He just needs to be a little braver at shows.

Trooper

wp-image-1928031719jpg.jpg

  • Do training showjumping shows, up to about 60cm. He is still struggling to figure out that jumping is a thing, but he’s very sweet about it.
  • Do training dressage shows, up to Prelim.  Schooling Prelim at home all right.
  • Be as safe as a house on hacks, mostly in company.  You could literally be a one-armed two-year-old with ADHD and hack this thing out without being in any danger.
  • Be as safe as a house on the ground. Just need to box, then we’re good.
  • Be fully quiet at shows. We haven’t been on an outing yet, but I’m aiming for August.

I’m hoping we’ll be able to afford to do all the competing we’re hoping for – the sale ponies often end up a bit sidelined in favour of the more lucrative training horses. That said, I’ve given him six weeks off anyway. He’s three and a half and has all the basics; I can’t expect a whole lot more from him right now.

Thunder

wp-1499104250150.png

Thunny spent the first half of the year competing under K at SANESA, but their season is done now, so it’s  time he and I started to get our duckies in a row.

  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. Our Prelim is solid; the only movements we have a little trouble with are halting (steady and straight but not square), stretchy trot, and lengthenings, all of which are Novice work anyway. He’s played with leg-yields, counter canter and simple changes, but I expect difficulty with lengthenings, so this goal will start with strengthening the basic gaits first.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence. Anybody can see that he’s no showjumper, but he’d make a really fun working hunter once he’s settled at shows. Since I drag Arwen to HOY anyway, I don’t see why he shouldn’t come along and plop around the in-hand, show hunter and working hunter.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. These are hit-and-miss at the moment. He’s either perfect, or he sees a terrifying sparrow and bolts. He has a proper Friesian bolt too – no bucking, but practically impossible to stop except by means of a vicious one-rein, which I don’t really want to do to him. I don’t want to get killed either though, so he’ll have to have a few until he learns that whoa means whoa.

Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.