Busier

The first of November brought with it a much more satisfying schedule around here, with a few new lesson bookings and some new horsies in training.

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This includes Emmy, who is showing one of the quickest and most miraculous changes I have ever seen in my life. She was a skinny, dull, flat little thing when she arrived in the beginning of September, scoring a 2/10 – all ribs and hip bones. To her owner’s great delight (and mine), two months later she is a shiny, happy 5/10. I’ve never seen my feeding programme work quite so fast in my life. Her owner can take much of the credit, because she saw the wisdom in not trying to be penny-wise pound-foolish and had all the expensive things done promptly.

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We also have a new arrival, this lovely old broodmare, Jewel. She is a Nooitie from the oldest stud in the country – beating Arop by a full decade – and stunning to look at and handle. As you’d expect for a fine specimen of this breed.

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Faithy giving me side eye as I attack her amazing hair with new detangler I found. It is magical.

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My happy place ❤ Our next project is to build some stables, and after that, a jumping arena. The dressage works fine, but it does get a little old to be disassembling jumps before every dressage lesson, or schooling Elementary movements around the jumps. I still sometimes can’t believe we really have a full size, flat, sand dressage arena. It’s wonderful.

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Thunder has finally, finally started to put on some condition again. He can still do with a fair bit, but at least he doesn’t look so straggly anymore.

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Lady Erin, having done a bit of a growth spurt, is firmly in straggly status, but I can still see glimmers of something classy buried under the yearling uglies. Apparently so could a nice – and top – showing rider from the Eastern Cape, who bought her.

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I’m very relieved that she’s found a good home, but I will admit, I’ll be sad to see her go. I would have loved to have watched her grow up.

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I’ll watch these little nuggets grow up instead, ever aided by the faithful schoolies. Ash is establishing herself as a firm favourite among riders of all levels.

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Faith’s first time in bandages. I was amazed that she stood still for long enough for me to put all four of them on – she’s extraordinarily wiggly. But at least her front end has caught up at last.

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I tried Jamaica in the hackamore, on the chiro’s advice. It didn’t work at all to get him more connected and lighter in the hand. In fact he practically ignored it, but he’s so good off my seat now that we still had simple changes through walk just the same as in a bridle.

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I scrubbed the dragon. She looks decidedly better now, but she still has half a winter coat. I sometimes wonder, between being an 8/10 regardless of what she’s being fed and the fluffiness, if she has a bit of Cushing’s. If she does it only makes her fluffy and fat (a healthy level of fat) though, so I’m not losing sleep over it right now.

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Thunny got two apples for his birthday. He couldn’t have been happier.

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Lancey has been angelic for his little rider, if a bit spicy for her big sister after a long break to regain condition. She’s also starting to sit so much better. These two make my heart happy.

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So do these two; I think this tiny child probably has a better position than I do. Stirrups or no.

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Still my best goofball ❤ His birthday was also in October, and he is now ten. Supposedly all grown up. Ha.

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The farmer who works our fields made this big banky thing, presumably to prevent rainwater gushing down from the top of the hill into his fields and washing away the seeds. We are not complaining; it makes a wonderful cross-country obstacle.

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Arwen is sound again at last and back in work. We have our first show back this weekend and she’s going nicely, apart from being occasionally very dragonish and wild when the mood takes her (fresh = loony).

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She’s going such a perfect dappled grey now. ❤

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Emmy’s first day in training gave me my first proper look at her personality and I like her. She is forward-thinking and, like any thoroughbred, can get flustered when she thinks she’s made a mistake; but she’s sensible, robust, and has fairly nice movement – better than I expected. She tries very hard and someone has put in some lunging work with her before, so it won’t be long before we can move on to bigger things.

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Titan’s first day in backing was also pretty good. He’s had most of the basics done before we turned him out six months ago because he wasn’t quite as old as his previous owners said; he can lunge and has worn a roller. His baby Arab brain wanted to gallop madly for the first five minutes, but as we go on we’re sorting out that tendency and he’s remembering that he can, in fact, be quiet and obedient.

I do think we have our work cut out for us getting him quiet enough for his child owner. He is willing, he tries hard, but he’s going to be hot.

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Unlike both these horses, who were just born for kids. Rene and Trooper might be K and E’s, but they both have to earn their keep in the riding school, too.

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Champagne’s injury has still prevented me from putting a saddle on her, so we decided to tackle one of our biggest obstacles: the dreaded circle at C. She doesn’t like cows, and cows are next to C, so she doesn’t like C. We’ve been avoiding that conversation, but she’s finally in the place where we can talk about on the lunge, and we’ve got three relaxed gaits – even with stretching down – on her good days.

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Best of all, Faith’s third birthday came and went and we started playing with the idea of backing. It’s been a long time since I had a truly untouched horse, and while it’s taken me a moment to adjust to the slower pace, I’m loving it. I love just watching her move, she’s so beautiful. Her gaits are much like Thunder’s; boring to look at but balanced and rhythmic, and when she moves in a moment of self-carriage she floats. She is so, so, so wiggly, though. Really – she cannot stand still for more than one second. She’s also a little separation anxious, but happy to go to work, and obedient on the lunge. All baby horse stuff. I love having a baby again ❤

Glory to the King.

 

Review: Equestrian Elegance Earmuffs

At CHG Leg 6, while Thunder and I were warming up, a rather loud voice from the side of the arena right next to us piped up.

“I don’t understand this dreadful new fad with these earmuff things!” it complained.

Thunder was the only horse in the warmup wearing them, and our old pair was rather eye-catching; they had been white once until somebody washed them with the red pair, and were now a slightly startling shade of pale pink. The diamante around the edge was starting to come off, and a seam on the ear had split, causing Thunder’s trademark long and fuzzy ear hair to poke out of it. I was, at first, slightly miffed by this obnoxious railbird, but considering I’d just put in an order with Jessica Garnett from Equestrian Elegance, I knew that at the next show, their shock and horror would reach an entirely new level.

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the old earmuffs

The Ordering Process

I’d seen advertisements for these beautiful custom products all over Facebook, and when Thunder won his first bit of prize money, I decided to do a little bit of a splurge and looked up their Facebook page. Jessica answered my message within minutes and sent me pictures and pricing promptly.

Originally I was looking for a standard-shape white pair with a cross in bling, but the shape wasn’t available. It didn’t bother me too much – I don’t know too many people who strap blingy crosses on their horses’ faces, after all – because Jessica was able to do the cross in embroidery instead, and it worked out cheaper. She was more than helpful throughout the whole thing and went to a lot of effort to find me what I was looking for. I was invoiced promptly and the parcel sent off as soon as it was ready, and I was sent a tracking number immediately. She even sent me photos of the product before posting it, and to my great delight, added extra bling on the embroidered cost at no extra charge – a kind gesture, I thought, especially considering it wasn’t her fault that the bling cross I’d wanted wasn’t available. Jessica tracked the parcel herself and it arrived in excellent shape.

The only thing I ever waited for was for the actual earmuffs to be made. The waiting period was a few weeks, which didn’t bother me much because it is a custom product, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you want to order for a specific show or for Christmas or a birthday.

The Product

Obnoxious railbird, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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In short: I. Love. It.

The material is has a sturdy, durable feel to it, especially the crocheted parts. It doesn’t have a string, but we showed with it last weekend and it really doesn’t need one – the design is such that the bridle holds it in place perfectly. I much prefer the look without the string. Everything is neatly finished, and the little blingy bits on the cross have stuck on perfectly.

Thunder is a fairly standard Full size head with fairly small ears. This is a Full, and it fits well, a little loose around the ears. I will say that if you have a ginormous warmblood or draft, you’ll need considerably bigger.

It’s also exactly what was agreed on, and he was quite happy toting it around on his beautiful noggin, showing no discomfort or rubbing.

The only thing that gave me pause about this product was the price. As you’d expect for a higher-quality custom product, it was about four times the price of the el cheapo one I’d picked up at a local tack shop. That said, the previous one did half a dozen shows and then promptly fell apart, and I expect much, much better wear from this one.

The Verdict

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I rarely splurge on nice tack – the last time I did was on Arwen’s double bridle almost two years ago – but when I have, I haven’t regretted it. I don’t think I’ll regret this, either. It needs to last me the duration of Thunder’s career, and if I take care of it, I reckon it will. Would I order from Equestrian Elegance again? Well, I’ll probably be broke for the rest of my life, but if not – you bet I would. The service was faultless, and the product absolutely lives up to my expectations.

Ordering this glorified tea-cosy meant a lot more to me than just cutesy dressing-up for shows. Dressage is worship, it’s my dance of praise to my everlasting God. He is my life, the song of my soul, and the Rock of my salvation; and I want to scream His Name from the rooftops so that the entire dark world can see the glory of His light. This is one more way for me to fulfill the deepest purpose of my life and the deepest calling I can hear: to preach the Gospel.

Now as I come down centreline, the first thing every judge and spectator – few though those may be at little local shows, at little bottom levels – will see is the symbol of my God on my horse’s forehead. It’s custom embroidered. It’s navy to match my coat and ridiculously blingy. It’s positively fabulous. And it’s a symbol of a Love so courageous it went willingly to the most painful death imaginable; a Love so forgiving it died for unrepented sin; a Love so far-reaching, all-encompassing, all-embracing, unending and timeless that it stretches out through the centuries and sings out in me as loudly as the day when it sent the innocent Son of God to die on a real, bloodstained wooden cross.

It means the greatest truth I know: My God is real. My God is loving. And my God is right here.

Glory to the King.

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HOY Day 5 and Supremes

Nooitie day was, as usual, complete and utter chaos. This was no fault of the organisers – they had done a fantastic job of keeping things doable for all the riders. We had a class every 20-35 minutes like clockwork, so we were hectic but managed to get where we had to be on time and warmed up.

Morning Star madness

Liana had a MUCH better show than Pre-HOY, thanks to a bitting change and a valiant effort by her little person, and the two of them put in good, relaxed efforts in hand and show riding. Ana fluffed her leads in the ridden class so they didn’t place, but I’m so proud of their progress.

this great little team ❤

Poor K was running around turning out everyone else’s horse all day, but she still managed to turn Renè out beautifully. Renè was a superstar all the way through. Although she didn’t place in hand (losing condition from fussing in the stable all week didn’t help), she won the novice show hunter, and placed third in a big working riding class.

with which she was thrilled!

Vastrap’s kid couldn’t make it to HOY, but Rain stepped in and showed him beautifully in hand to supreme champion partbred gelding. We took him back on supremes day, and though he didn’t make it into the top ten, it was pretty incredible to see our little white pony standing amongst all those top geldings.

so much gorgeous

My threesome were also very good, barring one very bad moment from Midas. He was as usual shouting his head off because his girlfriends hadn’t come with him (Vastrap apparently was not good enough), and while I was tightening my girth (mounted), he decided he’d have a tiny rear. Ever tried to sit even a tiny rear with one leg hooked over the saddle flap? I almost pulled him over on top of me. A hurried semi-intentional dismount, good hiding for Midas, and girth-pulling from the ground later, I got back on and he proceeded to be very good for the rest of the show. A few whinnies but considerably less than before the aforementioned goodly hiding. Only one cure for boys that think too much of themselves, I’m afraid!

He did his individual show beautifully and got most of his leads, so I was really happy with how he went in the end. He won the sport horses in hand and didn’t place under saddle.

Sunè was amazing. Really – for a first ridden outing, she knocked it out of the park. We hacked the long way from the stables to the show arena alone and she only gave one tiny whinny when she saw Renè in the warmup (watch and learn, Midas). Despite having had the week off at home, she was calm and collected the whole day. She did fluff her leads properly in the show hack, but in the working riding she took everything in her stride. I’m really impressed with how quiet she was about the obstacles, including a scary covered lane. She even trotted over the jump.

satin!

Arwen was also on her game and ready to impress. After a week in a stable she was a tiny bit fizzy, but she handled it well, and dragoned merrily around her show hack class without missing a beat. She did lean on my hands a bit, contributing to our not getting a very good placing. Working riding was even better and it was a challenging test, including cantering over a covered lane and cantering a figure eight with a simple change one-handed (carrying a basket). Arwen rocked that simple change through walk, basket and all, and launched onto the covered lane with a little more enthusiasm than we actually required. Regrettably, she also completely forgot how to stand still. She’d stop all right, but I had to scoop the basket off the barrel while my dragon piaffed merrily. This meant we didn’t get to go to supremes for working riding, which is a pity because I think she could have placed if she’d just stand still.

Working hunter unleashed her inner dragon fully and she devoured the course and galloped beautifully, so this time the judge did let us go to supremes. We shipped her over on the Sunday and just had the best time ever. She was horrific to plait and we picked an argument about that, but once the hair was done and I was in the tack, all was forgiven and she was just beyond amazing to ride. She felt bouncy and fresh despite her long week, but manageable, focused and filled with that enthusiasm only Arwie has.

We warmed up over 90cm fences and went in blowing smoke and snorting defiance at anyone who dared point out that, actually, she is far more of a hack than a hunter, chips at most fences and just madly flaps her little legs instead of really galloping. We jumped the 80cm fences and she was game for everything and such a joy to ride. Obviously, we didn’t place, but it was incredible.

God is with us. Glory to the King.

and thanks to all the help behind the scenes

Upping Our Game

Be prepared: This post is rated PG13 for boring dressage content. It will contain a vast amount of dressage-related drivel. Showjumpers and anyone who doesn’t want to hear about the ridiculous minituae of the most nitpicky sport of them all, look away now.

With Nell safely (and very happily) installed in her new home halfway across the country, poor old Arwen has resigned herself to the fact that she is now the current top dressage horse in the yard and has been pressed into service satisfying my craving for the sport so hard it’s almost art. When I brought her back into work in mid-November after the quarantine, I’ll admit I didn’t hold much hope that we’d be doing great things next year. Arwen likes dressage (Arwen likes anything as long as it makes her brain and body work), so that’s not the problem; the problem is that our dressage was becoming steadily more mediocre as last year went on. In terms of marks, we were slowly climbing the high 50%s, so they were very ordinary but at least improving. But the way she felt was just always iffy.

I realise, now, that we were just missing true connection. She went in a frame and it wasn’t exactly a false frame; she didn’t break at the third and her back was lifted. But it wasn’t truly through, not the proper cycle of power we all read about from the hind legs to the hand. She was just holding herself up the way I wanted, not flowing through herself the way she needed to be. It was subtle; the judges’ comments never pointed at something specific. Everything was just mediocre. Comments almost invariably began with “Needs more”. She wasn’t exactly crooked or stiff; she just “needed more [insert term here]” and it was everything. Connection. Straightness. Bend. Suppleness. Impulsion. Meanwhile she was always resisting just slightly; never my aids – obedience is her speciality – but there was just an against-ness in my hand, all the time. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just knew she didn’t feel like Nell; there was a softness and a power-moving-through-ness in Nell that just wasn’t there in Arwen. I decided we’d try and do Elementary and if we got it done I’d retire her from dressage. Neither of us were enjoying the fight for more than that.

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stressage

And then Nell went, and I had to try and fix Arwen as much as we could. Of course, the horses and I all have a deal. I don’t make them try and do something they physically can’t or mentally really don’t like to do. But in a last-ditch effort to touch those higher levels I want so much, I threw all the focus that had been Nell’s into trying to bring out the very best in Arwen. And God, Who of course had planned all this, revealed a whole new level of awesome that had hitherto been locked away in Arwen for lack of necessity of belief in her.

First, even before Nell’s sale was a probability, we had the chiro out. She found a small arthritic change in Arwen’s off fore fetlock. It wasn’t enough to make her lame, but it was enough to make her lean just a little to the left to spare that foot a little, which in turn put out her back and that put out her neck. Connection’s like pouring water through a pipe; a good flow is dependent on straightness. Kink the pipe to one side and the water can’t all flow nicely out the front; it dams up by the kink, all boiling and nasty. Arwen continually tipped her nose to the right, and that locked up her whole back. The chiro put her back and neck in again and left us to take some time off and give her joint support to fix up the fetlock.

When I brought her back to work, she was feeling better in her body than ever before. And I was desperate; desperate to school Arwen perfectly, because perfect schooling and a brilliant brain can make up for non-flashy gaits like she has, as long as they’re correct like hers are. One of the biggest things I changed was our routine dressage warmup. I noticed that she only started to feel good in the last five minutes of each session, but by then her brain would be tired. I also read everything on the Internet that Charlotte Dujardin ever said (mild exaggeration, but seriously. I tried.) and she was always talking about her warmup. Warming up like Blueberry might not turn Arwen into him, but it was worth a shot. And the change was phenomenal.

The new warmup isn’t dramatic. It’s actually simple. The most important part is that we start with a hack. 10 minutes maybe; just around the long stacks of bales and back in a walk on a long rein. No contact, no long and low, just forward and straight and forward and straight. I usually take the time to roll my ankles, stretch my quads and do a breathing exercise or two. When we get back I’m breathing and she’s dragoned out some of her dragonness; then we halt, salute and pray, and then we trot two laps of long and low without stirrups. I rise the first lap and sit the second lap. Only then, 15 minutes into a 30-minute session, do I actually put the horse into a contact. By then she’s warm and listening and forward and straight and the connection is just amazing. The power is flowing up her back from her hind end straight and true; all I have to do is recycle it in my hands and it just happens. We do working trot a lap each way, then do some transitions within the trot and a halt and rein back. The halt and rein back isn’t really warmup, it’s just something we have to do every day until we get it good. Same with counter canter; we do working canter, a simple change on each rein on the long side, medium canter, and counter canter because we’re not much good at it.

That usually leaves us like 10 minutes to actually work on stuff, but it’s quite enough because by then the horse is so ready for it that we only have to do things once or twice before we see improvement and move on.

You guys, the change in this horse is just amazing. She does still struggle with medium trot and rein back – her old enemies – but suddenly she just magically has counter canter. She never did, but now she’s doing half 20m circles, changes of rein, the works. Her turns on the haunches are awesome. Every canter transition hits the correct lead no matter where we are in the arena. And the feeling in my hand is incredible. She’s seeking the contact for the first time; she’s solidly there, but not pulling, just happily taking the contact and going forward and soft. I love it.

DQs are nutcases. Excited by the oddest things. But I am excited now. Our scores have spiked; we now have points for Elementary, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

As usual, God knows exactly what He’s doing, especially when we don’t. Glory to the King.

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yessage

2016 Goals: Q1 Review

Nell

  • Qualify for the Provincials at the Young Horse Performance Series.
    – On our way! We need to complete two qualifiers to get this. One down, two to go. I have no illusions that we might actually finish in the ribbons, but just to be present at the Provincials will be epic.
  • Compete, graded, at the higher Novice tests. – Working on it. We’ve done Novice 4 and 5 at Nooitie shows, which aren’t graded but are a step up from training. At graded level we’ve done Novice 2 and 3.
  • Go to a jumping training show at a low level.  – Still far in the distance, although we have worked on getting a jumping day every week at home.
  • School lower level Elementary successfully. – Very much a work in progress. Our Novice work needs lots of polishing first.
  • Compete in any available Nooitgedachter shows. – Of the three Nooitie shows held each year, we’ve done one and entered another. The third may prove to be very hard financially, but we’ll give it our best shot.

Arwen

  • Go double clear at EV70 –  We actually haven’t had a chance to event at all since January. However, we have been working hard on cleaning up our jumping at home, especially dealing with the naughty stops she’s been having. We also jumped two clear working hunter rounds in competition.
  • School Elementary Medium 1 and 2 – Also a work in progress. With competing at Novice and Training-70 we seem to hardly be schooling anything else.
  • Compete Elementary – Gathering our points at Novice for this! My mediocre riding at our first graded show didn’t help much, only getting us one score over 60%, hence one point.
  • Gallop through water – We haven’t even been able to go out cross-country schooling. May will be our month!

Exavior

  • Bathing – Still a work in progress, although he is considerably better.
  • Loading. – Got it!
  • Continued improvement on injections. – Improving slowly. I can inject him now without mishap if I’m quick, but he has taken a violent dislike to the poor vet.
  • Lunging over poles.
  • Introduction to small free jumps.
  • Backing.
  • Basic aids in walk – These are going to have to wait until he’s gelded. With space being at a bit of a shortage, the round pen has ended up being in the middle of a paddock. This used to be his paddock, but having a colt around while backing mares and teaching newbies was a disaster, so we had to let the training and resale horses and lessons take priority. (They bring in cash. Xave, not so much). I’m not worried, though, because once he has had brain surgery he should be even more trainable and we’ll get it done. He’s only two and a half and a few months of gambolling should only do him good.

Magic

  • Finish getting back the topline muscle he lost when he was sick. – Oh yeah! He not only has his topline back, according to the saddle fitter, he has a lot more than he did in July last year.
  • School Novice 4, 5, and 6.  – We’re actually progressing really well here. He has the Novice 5 leg-yields down and can do the Novice 4 trot serpentine with walk transitions just fine. We do need to work on backing up and transitions from lengthened to working canter on a 15m circle. His simple changes, being a jumper, are rock solid.
  • Make 90cm our comfort zone at home –  Getting there fast. Our comfort zone has greatly expanded. We are both happy at 85cm right now. (I think Magic would be quite happy at like 1.2, but regrettably he needs his little saddle monkey that understands him, and she is not happy at 1.2, thank you very much).
  • Show graded at 70cm. –  We did it – and won both our classes! (OK, so we were alone in one class, but we didn’t die, which is a win).
  • Show at 80cm, graded or training –  I’m a lot more optimistic about this than I was when I made the goal. If he goes clear at his next show (tomorrow) we’ll do a 70cm and an 80cm in May.
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I call this achieving

Glory to the ceaseless love of my amazing King, who is able to do exceedingly abundantly more than all I can ask or imagine ❤

And Not By Sight

We called her Stardust, because she is something of light and hope that not everyone believes in.

It was two days after I had made the impossible decision. The riding school is growing, and the two schoolies aren’t coping. First one, and then the other began to sour; both coming to their work and doing it as well as they could, but both starting to make flat ears at me when I brought them to saddle up, or wandering off when their groom went to catch them. They weren’t happy in their work and it was not the fault of the work; there was just too much of it. Even I get tired in the three hours’ lessons every afternoon and I’m not the one carrying the kids around.

I needed another schoolie, and I was pretty sure the growing business could support one. But where on earth the money to buy one was supposed to come from, I had no idea. I’m flat broke. The little yard has just begun, and when you’re 18 years old and have a grass arena and questionable stables, you are a dwarf in a world of equestrian giants. Low prices and fire in your eye is all you’ve got to attract clients with. And fire is only useful when it spreads.

But this is Morning Star Stables, the high calling of my dreams, and if we do not walk by faith now we never will. It is God’s now as it has been since it was just a spark and will be when it can be a giant too. So I made the decision: We were getting another schoolie. I started to look for it, and as usual, I was picky. Something a bit smaller than galumphing Thun – 14 or 14.2 would do it. Easy-keeping, chunky, with powerful legs that could stand up to the rigours of the schoolie workload. Smooth gaits. Basic training, and a naturally fearless, quiet and people-loving nature. As for my budget, I didn’t have one. I couldn’t afford anything and whatever pony God wanted for His new schoolie, He’d pay for somehow.

Not quite two days later, a new lesson kiddie showed up and had her lesson on Thunder. All was going swimmingly when her dad leaned on the fence and asked, “You don’t need a new kid pony, by any chance?”

To make a long story short, Stardust is here for her month’s trial period. Free of charge. In case you were wondering, she stands 14.1hh and is fat on air. She is broad across the chest with stout little legs made apparently of cast iron. Her gaits are like sitting on a waterbed. She has all the basic gaits and aids, and when I tried her out at her previous home, there were kids running and yelling and hitting things in this spooky little farmyard and she didn’t do a thing. Just put her nose down and did what I said. We have a month to get through before we can be sure, but I think I am pretty sure.

And that is why we walk by faith, and not by sight.

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Le Godimo’s Last Bash Event

When we heard that the beloved Le Godimo Horse Trials was making its November 2015 event its last, we just had to go. This beautiful venue with its inviting courses and holiday feel, where everybody camps out beside the stables and horseboxes are universally slept in, had been a gem of the eventing community for many years. Our first event in March was held there and I was really sad to learn that we would only ever ride there twice.

We planned to make the last one a good one, at least. Erin came along to jump judge and plait (a skill which I vastly lack), Dad played the role of chauffer and camper extraordinaire, Arwen did the running and jumping and I held on. She travelled as well as she ever does and came out of the horsebox calm enough that with a net of teff hay to placate her we actually managed to put up her mane in a stallion plait in record time. I had her half saddled up when she shook the whole thing out with one enormous sneeze. Panic and chaos ensued; we had a nice warm up, discovered that dressage was running early, and dashed back to the box. Erin saved our butts by making nine of the most perfect little showing buttons you ever saw in your life and then proceeded to whine and moan about how awful they were while I shouted at her to shut up and video the test. Amid the madness, Dad also discovered that I had only printed half of said test, and memorised vague bits of it. With panicking humans in all directions, Arwen put her head down and went directly to work without a fuss. In sharp contrast to last Le Godimo, she was calm, collected and behaving herself impeccably. I rode gorgeously in the warmup and then arrived at the judge’s gazebo too early, got into trouble, made an idiot of myself and came down the centreline distracted, embarrassed and above all, crooked.

Arwen saved my sorry skin for me. Aimed directly for the no man’s land somewhere between H and C, she made herself as straight as a ruler and came down that centreline with her legs swinging with the rhythm and regularity of pendulums. I was as nervous as they come, so I leant forward, basically sat on my reins and stared at her neck with its perfect plaits. The longsuffering Arwen did her best and earned a slew of 6s and 7s, earning us a very respectable 49.8 penalties (66.9%; for you Americans it would have been a 33.1). It was enough for eighth. My nervousness cost us badly as I held her down in the canter, making her slop around like a riding school pony and getting us a whole bunch of 6s. Even if I had ridden like a human being I find it much harder to get dazzling scores in these simple eventing tests. Arwen’s paces are nothing to write home about, so a working trot from M to F is difficult to make into something really wow; her greatest strength is her extreme obedience, and that’s a lot easier to showcase in a complex transition  or a four-loop serpentine than in 6 walk steps over X.

Showjumping started a few hours later. I walked the course without much trepidation; it was much less complicated than at the last Le Godimo. Number 1 was a vertical, then a long bending line to number 2; a gradual loop led to number 3 and 4, a distance that walked for a long 5 strides. 4 was slightly intimidating – a max height oxer with a white lattice under it. Then one went straight up a massive bank, with two strides from the top of that to a simple vertical at 5. Large left turn to a max height oxer at 6, back down the bank to another vertical at 7, then slightly left to an oxer at 9. A fairly long gallop to the right to an ominous white oxer at 10. Stuff we can deal with.

Arwen warmed up dead lazy. In her defence, it was ridiculously hot and we were both dying. She crashed through the first warmup jump and then decided against that sort of thing and jumped the rest of them okay. She had a workaday sort of air in the show arena right up until we cantered up to fence 1 and she wiggled violently. I gave her a mighty pony kick and we made it. Most of the course was fairly similar; she wiggled at the first four jumps, I pony kicked and she cleared them. The five-stride line from 3 to 4 was just short enough to be really awkward for her; she did six and a half, scrambled over number four, and came up the bank to 5 in a dead sticky canter. She was as willing as they come to jump it but just didn’t have the impulsion and tapped the rail with a back hoof as she jumped, just rolling it out of the cup. After that she was game and forward and cleared everything well and quickly for no time penalties, just the 4 faults for that unlucky rail.

Arwen1

I was very happy with her. No stops at her first jumping competition since August. I blamed the wiggling on her long break, and the rail was really just rather unfortunate; she lost impulsion due to not fitting her strides in to number 4 and just couldn’t get it back up the bank to 5.

We spent the night merrily in the horsebox, with Arwen camped out in her huge electric paddock beside us. She vastly preferred this to a stable and stood there smugly in her rain sheet, telling all the damp warmbloods in their wood stables that they were losers. Dad had rigged up the box to become the lap of luxury for us humans too, including bunk stretchers and a portable shower. I am known for killing ex-boyfriends with crazy WWF moves (Mutterer’s actual words) in my sleep, so I speak for myself when I say I slept well; Erin, on the bottom bunk with me bucking and leaping around on the top one, would probably beg to differ.

The morning was lazy for Arwen and I; I fed and groomed at 5:30am and then hung around while Erin went off to jump judge. I joined her to watch some big horses jumping the EV90 log (PETRIFYING) and the EV80s jump their corner (doable, especially after the insane corner at Fourways). Afterwards I took Arwen for a little hack to stretch her legs, and ended up hanging on desperately to a little grey dragon that leapt and snorted around completely uncharacteristically. The long open stretch from the campsite to the show arenas at Le Godimo turns her little head for some reason; I decided to pick my battles and we went dragoning back, legs thoroughly stretched.

It was ridiculously hot by the time we head for the xc warmup around 11:30. Arwen warmed up amazing. She was jumping every fence she could see with a beautiful little bascule, taking me forward to every jump. We headed down to the startbox in high spirits and some nervousness. The countdown from 3 was just long enough to salute the King and then we were off towards number 1, an inviting little log with bales under it. Arwen had a good look and then popped over.

2 was set at almost a 90 degree angle to 1, but the stretch between them was long enough that it shouldn’t have been a problem except I failed to steer. I took it too wide, swung her into it too late and she ran sideways. Just before the fence I managed to get her back and boot her over it and she went quite willingly, but we did get a very costly 20 penalties for that. Arwen, violently ticked off, went bucking off into the bush, yelling YOU HAD ONE JOB, HUMAN, ONE JOB! I shortened my reins and steered properly this time into number 3, which she wiggled at, but jumped all right. The stretch from 3 to 4 took us right past the campsite, causing Arwen to neigh and shy melodramatically; 4 was the first max height fence with bales and flowers and other monsters on it and Arwen very nearly stopped, but I gave her a tap with the whip and rode her hard and she consented to take the leap.

At number 5, suddenly beast mode kicked back in. It was a welcoming pole stack and Arwen’s ears flicked forward and suddenly we were back in business. She sailed over that, then hoofed it down the long stretch to the oxer at 6. Nothing to worry about there; down the long straight to the log at 7, slight wiggle but nothing major, and then we were going down to pipe oxer at 8. Arwen jumped that just fabulously, straight out of a huge big gallop stride without turning a hair.

Number 9 terrified me out of my socks. It was a max height solid stone wall, easily the widest fence across the top. According to Erin, who was judging it, we both came down to it with eyes as big as saucers. I yelled, “The Lord is my Shepherd! JUMP ARWEN!” and gave her another bit of encouragement with my crop and Arwen tucked up her knees and jumped it. We landed galloping. Number 10 was another pole stack which Arwen just devoured; then there was a long stretch to 11 and I sat down on her and closed my legs around her and she took off like a fat grey rocket. I had to steady her a little for 11, another bale jump, and then sat up and squished her canter into a tight little ball for number 12. A simple rail with a ground line set slightly in front of it, it wasn’t bad in itself, but the path curved off directly next to it. The thing was begging for a run out. I kept my hands and eyes up and my honest mare didn’t even think about running out. She popped over without any fuss.

On the long uphill 12 to 13 we really opened up the throttle and came pounding down there at a goodly gallop. Number 13 was just scary enough to back her off a little and over she went. 14 was a beautiful little slanted grid which she took in her stride; 15 was a wide, max height A-frame that actually rode really really well. Number 16 was the log at the water, but when we came round the corner there were spectators all over the road. I bellowed, “HEY!”, not having the breath for much else; they scattered, Arwen spooked at them violently and my hat fell over my eyes. We jumped number 16 on feel alone because I definitely couldn’t see it. I jammed my hat back up just in time to see the water. We wiggled, but she didn’t go down to a walk and power trotted through like a good little mare.

Number 18 was this unassuming oxer, but it was a very awkward approach, and I was glad we were trotting to get straight enough for it. She broke to canter herself and took me over it. We came blasting over the finish with not a single time penalty, just the 20 for that dumb run-out at number 2.

Arwen2

The run-out cost us three places. We fell to 11th, which was still good enough for 2 points to start off our first season with the Gauteng Eventers Amateur League. I knew I had been taking something of a risk entering EV70 instead of EV60, but the cross-country was of a similar level as their EV60 event, so it turned out to be a very good move-up. We both had an absolute blast. Glory and praise and honour and gratitude to the King.

Clifftop

I hope you’ll all forgive my absence from the blogosphere over the past couple of months. Updates on the individual horses all to follow, but suffice it to say that they are all very very well. Magic’s stomach hasn’t been troubling him at all; he is steadily gaining his weight and sparkle back and has started to act the fool again (which sometimes has dire consequences such as running and falling and grazing his tail, although he swore it was broken).

Life on the horse front has been not been idle. Far from it; it’s exploded.

See, since I was little(r), I knew I wanted to grow up and have a big farm with lots and lots of horses. The wanting became a wish; the wish became a dream; and when my soul was saved by my one and only Jesus, the dream was laid aside for the sake of a bigger question: “Lord, what is it that You want me to do? Send me, and I will go.” And the Lord said, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but safety is of the Lord. [Prov. 21:31]. Go nowhere. Stay and ride and teach for Me. The horse world needs Me and I am in you.”

So the dream became a calling, and the call was answered; I threw myself even further into riding, training, learning, failing, and failing again until I succeeded a little. Last year I started to train horses for one or two small clients other than the one with whom I’d done a long apprenticeship. All informal, small stuff, people I knew. I’m just a girl still at school, right? I can’t do a whole lot more than the odd little job, or working at studs as an assistant rider under the ever-patient Mutterer.

Except now with only one Grade 12 final paper left to write, I’m brought to the sudden realisation that I’m not a little girl at school anymore. Next week Friday marks my last day of high school (if, God willing, I pass everything). And after that? Well, I’ll study for my FEI international equestrian coach. But the burden doesn’t promise to be as heavy as AS levels were. If I am called to run a little yard in God’s name, and if the law now considers me an adult, and if I can ride and teach and train, then why shouldn’t I?

What is there to stop me?

Nothing. If God is for us, who can be against us?

The precipice is near. The time is come. The calling is serious. The dream will be lived. There’s a long road ahead. I’ve learned some painful lessons, and I haven’t even started yet. The horse world is filled with unscrupulous giants, with riders and trainers that have more skill, more knowledge, and more talent than I could dream of. But because I kneel before God I can stand before anyone.

I will start a stableyard for the glory of Jesus Christ.

I don’t have an arena. I don’t have stables. I don’t even have dressage letters or a tack room. I don’t have a square inch of land to my name. But I have very gracious parents with a whopping great farm, and I have amazing horses, and I have a Bible and I have a God Who’s not scared of anyone. I will fear, I will fail, and I will make a fool of myself in the months and years and decades to come. I will have regrets. I will take chances I shouldn’t have and ignore chances I should have taken.

But I will also cling to my God with a fierce hope and a fiery passion, and His strength is greatest in my weakness. So I stand on the clifftop, and I’m tired of doubting. I’m sick to the death of being afraid. I want to be brave and confident and I want to burn and burn and burn for my Jesus. I know I’ll still doubt and be fearful because bad habits come easy and leave slow, but I will stand before Him when I can’t walk, and I will kneel before Him when I can’t stand, and we will do this. He will do this.

Horse world, you better watch this space, because Heaven already is. Here comes the clifftop. Time to fly.

Thy will be done, my King.

Milady Update

So poor Milady has arrived, albeit unannounced on the blog. We picked her up on the fifth of July and catapulted the poor unsuspecting lady into the long adventure that is life with the Horde.

Milady has been an absolute angel. She hasn’t been in a horsebox for almost two years, but with a line around her bottom we hauled her right up. She travelled just fine and when I turned her out in a little paddock by herself, neighbouring the group she was to join, she wandered around, did a tremendous floaty trot across to the hay, and settled down to eat. I wasn’t home during the day for the next week, so poor old Milady was stuck by herself in the little paddock. I wasn’t sure how introductions to the other horses would go as Flare and Arwen can both be jerks to new horses and between trying to be a good protective beta and his overwhelming friendliness, Thunder can be quite a shock to them. Hence I was waiting for a day that I’d be quietly home all the time so that I could slowly introduce her to the electric fences and new horses and hopefully avoid one of her perfect slender legs being broken (I always worry about those wonderful legs; clean as they are, well as they stood up to her racing career, they always look like little toothpicks compared to the stocky mongrels’).

Milady saved me the trouble. One night, bored of being by herself, she simply climbed over the wooden section of the fence and introduced herself to electric fences and new horses. When I got there the next morning they were all eating around the bale like one big happy family, and nobody had any broken legs. All the fences were still standing, too. It was quite amazing.

Who says thoroughbreds can't trot?
Who says thoroughbreds can’t trot?

Last week I finally started to work her again, first with a little lunging session just to dust off her memory. The ring is right inside Skye’s group’s paddock, so to get there one has to drag a frightened new horse through a highly excited and curious bunch of other horses, which is always a little hairy and sometimes necessitates several well-placed elbows when new horsie tries to clamber over me in an attempt to get away from my evil minions. Milady wandered in, raised a hindleg at Exavior in warning when he came snuffling over, and calmly followed me to the ring, where she went to work like she’d done it every day of her life. Lunging is still not her favourite but she was just as good as she’d been the last time we lunged.

Friday was a horrible day to work horses. The wind was both howling and icy; Arwen had nearly sent me flying on our fitness ride earlier that morning from pure excitement, and everyone else was running around showing the whites of their eyes like a bunch of hooligans. The wind had got up the Holsteins’ tails too and they were galloping up and down in their paddocks while bellowing loudly, and twenty head of overexcited heifers running about is enough to make any horse a bit wild. I had limited time the next day so I decided to get Milady out anyway even if she just tore around on the lunge line and burnt some energy.

She plugged around on the lunge all calm and chilled, so much so that I was convinced to hop on, even for just a walk around the ring. (I had had a new horse for three weeks and still hadn’t ridden it – it was killing me). I clambered on, she stood like a rock, and we started meandering around the ring. The wind chose that moment to grab the edge of one of the shelter’s corrugated iron sheets and then bring it down on the wooden support with a deafening clang. Skye’s group took off like rockets and tore past the ring; David went airborne; the Holsteins lost their minds and I prepared to say my last words. Milady (five-year-old OTTB, hadn’t been ridden for almost two months) raised her ears at the other horses, as if slightly shocked by such appalling manners but much too polite to say anything.

What is the new little human doing
What are you doing, new little human?

We proceeded to have an awesome ride around the unfenced arena in walk, trot and canter and Milady didn’t put a toe wrong. Her nickname suits her better than I expected. She has impeccable manners, excellent breeding and a noble bearing. The rest of the Horde, who normally look like wonderful sweet ponies compared to other horses, are a bad influence and taught her how to escape the paddock (she was the first to repentantly come up to me when I eventually found them trying to break into the cow barn). Apart from succumbing to bad peer pressure, Milady has been an absolute wonder so far.

She leaves me a little sad that one can’t breed and compete on a horse at the same time. But I suppose that that’s exactly the horse one should breed with. Thank You, Lord Jesus.

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