Three months since that call came in and changed my life and myself forever.
A lot has happened in those three months. A lot more has changed than just me; a lot has moved. But all of it has moved in one direction. The right one.
Deeper. Further. Higher.
Deeper into God’s love. Higher up this tremendous mountain. And further and further from the shallow end, from the place where I can stand.
I have never before had to ride on water so deep. But I am grateful. Grateful for the priorities He set straight in my head with that life-changing moment. Grateful for every breath I get to share with those I love. Grateful for every second chance with the lost. Grateful even for the fire, as it burns me pure.
And grateful, oh, so grateful that I now have a mighty comrade in every battle.
I’m still here, still doing what I do. Following my King and riding on water. There have been some exciting new developments, and there will be more, especially with regards to the blog. Don’t mistake my silence for loss – this blog is about to undergo changes that will only make it better.
The seasons are changing here yet again, and I’m feeling the pressure of a coming winter with my clippers currently still out of commission.
On the bright side, we’re fully stocked on blankets and our grazing is holding up great. We’ll have to see how it does as standing hay, but for now, the horses are still up to their eyeballs in grass thanks to a late rain.
We are forecast for more late rains followed by a bitterly cold winter. Something that a yard manager in the middle of midge-borne African horse sickness country is not complaining about.
We held our third in-house training show on the 7th of April. Darling got to spend his birthday building courses and supplying me with chocolate milk. At least the poor soul knew what he was getting himself into. It was a small show but a resounding success as far as I can tell.
I found photographic evidence of two things: my first time on a pony, and my mom’s shapely figure – at three months pregnant, none the less.
Faith, somewhat inadequately babysat by Midas, went on her first hack. She was fabulous, if on occasion a little overexcited.
Zorro escaped his field and invaded the tack storage in the night, then got the cookie jar stuck on his foot. As you do. No harm was done, except to the horse cookies that had been in the cookie jar.
K’s mom booked a lesson with international eventer Paul Hart for my birthday. Jamaica and I charged over all manner of things,
and houses. He was foot perfect except for a jump with water under it, and our coach was suitably impressed. How awesome is God’s plan?
Thunder remains the one whose four dancing hooves carry me to a place where the world and its burdens just can’t go. ❤
We had a brilliant time of it at SANESA Q3, with three of our riders qualifying for Finals with another qualifier to spare.
Despite flat refusing to get into the two-berth, Milady came second and managed to put the smile back on K’s face.
Few things make me happier than this arena, freshly harrowed. I am awed by what God has provided.
Faithy rode in the rain and behaved impeccably, cantering her first full laps around the dressage arena. She can be quite scared of cantering but each session is a little better thanks to my carrying on as if she is the most amazing horse in the world. She kind of is.
Grumpy old Benjamin is 21 now but still knows how to open practically every gate there is, regularly escaping his little paddock to gorge on the lush grass, forbidden due to his laminitis.
Titan is going fabulously, now working in a frame and having been introduced to some little fences. We’ll make something of him yet.
As for the old queen of the herd, she still reigns in ageless beauty. 29 years old and still a reason to believe.
More thorough updates to follow. Glory to the King.
Despite my emotional craziness through this quarter, Champagne has made some good progress on the schooling front. Outings did not go as well, but now that my head is on more or less straight again, this will resume hopefully with better results.
Early Feb: Pre-HOY – This was not a disaster, but it could have been better. She travelled great and hung out quite happily at the show itself, but the riding was very nervous and tense. However, she never grew violent and stayed obedient to my cues to the best of her ability.
Late Feb: HOY – Creature was lame so had to miss it.
Due to not being great at Pre-HOY, we decided not to take her to SANESA Q2. She did our home show in April, though, and was completely calm and relaxed, garnering plenty of compliments from the judge. (And 82%, but the judge was quite generous. I’d have guessed it at a mid 60s test).
Improve on her habit of throwing her head and running forward when scared. – Done. She can still be a little inconsistent in the contact when nervous, but there’s no more fling of the head and scoot. When she does spook she spooks like a dead ordinary young horse, just a little jump and then carry on.
Improve the consistency of her connection, particularly through transitions. – Still imperfect, but vastly better. Walk/trot/walk/halt/walk transitions are fine and canter/trot are fine, but trot/canter can still be problematic.
Improve her trot-canter transitions to the point where I can get the lead almost all the time without bucking. – Done! She can still get affronted if I get after her about the promptness of the transition, but strikes off correctly and only bucks on very rare occasions now.
2018 Q2 goals:
Visit another place at least twice a month.
Jump up to 60-70cm full courses confidently and with quiet rhythm.
Continue improving on the quality of the connection, with the help of introducing a little shoulder-in.
Savanna has been going from strength to strength. We had a few big disagreements about rushing, but she has started to relax and even enjoy her work, getting lots of compliments from equitation judges.
2018 Q1 goals:
Confirm all the Prelim work, including the stretches, square halts, and the little lengthening. – Done. The lengthening needs polishing, but everything else is solid, even the stretches.
Continue working on gymnastics to improve her carefulness to the point where poles down happen once in a blue moon. Prepare to start schooling over 70-80cm fences in the second quarter. – Done. She only has a pole now if she rushes, and has even discovered a bascule. We are consistently jumping about 75cm now.
Jump at least two clear rounds at shows. – Done, two of those being at 70cm.
2018 Q2 goals:
Improve the softness of her connection so that her child can easily ride her nice and round once his hands are there.
Jump 80cm confidently, cleanly and in a rhythm at home, ready for showing over 80cm in the third quarter.
Start jumping little simple fences with her child quietly in a rhythm, once the child’s position gets to a point where I let him jump again.
Emmy has since left my program, but she’s going from strength to strength with K.
2018 Q1 Goals:
Finish preliminary schooling:
confirm a united and balanced canter, with transitions and circles – Done, and with connection and bend
hack alone and in company – Done and she is super, if occasionally a little exciteable in big groups
introduction to small fence – Jumping tracks of about 60cm
Introduce to shows:
go to a show and have a good experience. – Unfortunately we only managed for her to do the in house show with K, but she’ll go to her first proper show in May if all goes well.
Despite being out of work for a whole month with his ugly overreach, Titan has been progressing well. Unfortunately it has become evident that his child has already practically outgrown him, so he may be on the market once his schooling is finished.
2018 Q1 Goals:
introduce trot – Done
introduce canter – Done
introduce the big arena. – Done
Start preliminary schooling:
introduce the figures – Done
establish a united canter, including circles – Done
introduce small, simple fences – Done, he’s jumped a little track of crosses
hack alone and in company (he will be spooky; it doesn’t have to be perfect). – This we didn’t get to, but I hope to start this week.
2018 Q2 goals:
Hack alone and in company, even if it’s imperfect
Jump 60cm tracks
Introduce the ideas of connection and bend, to ride a Prelim test by the end of Q2
Go to a show once a month and have good experiences.
This is our latest arrival from Arop (breeder of half our favourite horses, including Nell, Liana and Faith). She is a cute rising five-year-old hony who will be on the market as soon as I finish her. Unfortunately she was quite sick right after arriving, first with biliary and then a wormy colic, so I haven’t done much on her yet, but now we’re ready to get back to work.
Ankia has been ridden, for a given value of ridden; there are plenty of holes in her groundwork (major holes, like picking up feet and lunging properly). So I will be restarting her from scratch. Hopefully we will finish her and be able to move her on to a riding school kid and put her on the market in the next quarter, although when I made that deal with the owner I was kind of expecting that she’d know the basics considering a trainer had been working with her.
2018 Q2 goals:
Become safe and easy on the ground in every way.
Lunge properly in all three gaits.
Introduce walk/trot/canter in the big arena.
Introduce gentle hacks.
Introduce a small fence.
Love having the training program a little fuller again, and I should be picking up a new pony this week. Glory to the King.
I can’t believe the first quarter of 2018 is already behind us. In one way it feels like mere days ago when we were holding December’s pony camp; in another, it feels like I have aged half a lifetime in the past three months. Either way, I’m slowly finding my equilibrium again, and we’ll start with some goal recaps to get us back on track.
If I had not had my Wonderbird through all this, I would have officially lost my snot completely. So he has actually done well, if not quite chronologically, hence why we’ve started ticking off a bunch of goals that I had actually aimed for the end of the year.
First and second quarter:
Improve all of our downward transitions. We have improved them all – we just haven’t fixed them yet.
Improve our stretchy trot. I no longer lose any sleep over his stretchy trot. I can’t always get it early in a session, but I can get a really really good one once he’s ready to stretch.
Improve both lengthenings. These are better, not quite medium yet, but fair enough for Novice lengthenings.
Improve the halts, specifically staying connected in halt and immobility. We are working our butts off on these. He is square and connected in them now, but still kind of wiggly.
Improve rein back. Still working on this. He can do really good rein back on occasion, but it’s inconsistent, and sometimes when the rein back gets good then his halts go downhill.
Third and fourth quarter:
Introduce all of the Elementary movements:
serpentine four loops The horse is so bendy it’s like riding a Slinky, this is not a problem for him
halt immobility 5 seconds – working on it
canter circle with break of contact – and it’s fabulous
half stretchy trot circle
canter-walk transition – introduced and balanced, but still tends to have two or three trot steps in it
transition from walk to counter canter on the long side
shoulder-in – good on both reins
medium trot – working on it
serpentine 3 loops with counter canter
leg-yield zigzag – rocking it
turn on the haunches – equally rocking
10m canter circle – bit of an effort, but present and correct
half circle in counter canter
simple change on a short diagonal – not yet polished but tolerable
simple change on the long side
E-X half circle, X simple change, X-B half circle
Keep working on quiet little hacks. – I haven’t been in the brain space for hacking him.
Take at least one showing lesson or clinic. – Logistics have not yet allowed.
Get over my phobia of all showing judges. Show at least once with one of the horrible ones and learn to deal. – Nailed it. Showed under my least favourite judge and she bucked the entire time and every time he yelled something condescending I may or may not have whispered something rebellious under my breath. (But not profane. Promise).
Improve her rein-back and lengthenings. – She has a super rein back now and her lengthenings are about as good as they will get.
Get points to go out of Novice. – She’s an open show pony and in the tickets sometimes, too.
I am about done showing Arwen for the next few months, but I’d love to do compleat horse at the Derby in September/October, so that’s the next goal we’ll be working towards.
First and second quarter:
Complete the backing:
long-line – done
introduce pole work – done
introduce the rider – done, and she barely noticed
introduce walk – done
introduce trot – done
introduce canter – well, it’s introduced, but only like three strides at a time and still a bit funky-looking
move to the dressage arena.
Start preliminary schooling:
introduce the figures
establish good transitions between gaits – all except the canter transitions
establish balanced and united canter – yeah… no
introduce hacks, alone and in company
possibly ride a walk/trot test at our April show and she was so, so relaxed
show in-hand. – and she was very good but a bit separation anxious
Faithy is very much on track, but still quite immature in some areas. Once we break through the canter problem, there will be no stopping her. I am not pushing her hard right now because she’s babyish for her age and there is plenty of time for her to grow up. Citizenship is all we’re really doing right now, and then playing with canter to slowly build her confidence.
First and second quarter:
Showjump 90cm at available training shows. – We skipped this and went straight to SANESA.
Compete at equitation 90cm at SANESA. Score 70% (that’s a 28) or more, if not at the first qualifier, then at least at the last two. 70% is the pass mark for Module 5. – We did the first two qualifiers, scoring 28 and 29.
Introduce all the flatwork required at Module 5: leg-yield, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, a little shoulder-in, a little travers. (The exam specifies only “lateral work” but I don’t expect to have to do half-pass). – Not quite. We have turn on the forehand and a bit of leg-yield, but it’s not quite polished yet.
This poor equid tends to be the one that gets neglected just because he’s such a low maintenance guy, but he doesn’t mind. He has carrots. He doesn’t mind anything as long as he has carrots.
In other news, the darling is away for about 100000000000000000 years (i. e. eight weeks) for work, which is sad but necessary. We had boot camp, which was awesome. We had our third little show, which was quiet but also pretty awesome. God is good.
Two weekends ago was my first time riding at Easter Fest, arguably the biggest show I’ve competed in (Horse of the Year may be bigger; YDHS more elite). My competition was, of course, star-studded, so I had low expectations, mostly aiming to just go and get that big-show exposure so that I can deal with my nerves now and not when my scores actually count for something.
Sunday was showing day on Arwen. She hasn’t been to a show by herself in a long time, but she’s so grown up now that I didn’t even really worry.
I would have loved to do the working riding, but unfortunately it ended up being on the same day as Thunder’s dressage and I wasn’t willing to deal with Thunder’s girlfriend shenanigans at this particular show, so we just entered the open show hack and show riding.
So my darling, my dragon and I charged off to Kyalami with what I thought was much time to spare, only to discover that my mom’s bakkie is not quite so adept at towing the box as my dad’s, eventually arriving at KPC about half an hour later than I’d hoped. Thankfully, the dragon is very grown up and the darling has cottoned on very quickly to the various horse show SO skills (holding horses, fetching numbers, fetching food, soothing rattled nerves, being slightly neglected [sorry love], etc.) so we ended up having time for a good warmup and arriving in the show arena with only a few hairs out of place.
In short, Arwen was absolutely fantastic and I really actually had fun once again. I think I might even say that I’m cured of my fear of showing judges. Honestly, when you’ve loaded your dying friend into a helicopter right after a horrible violent event, some things really just don’t register on the scary scale anymore, and showing judges are one of them. Life is way too short to worry about what they think, so I just rode my horse, thanked my Jesus and let the rest do whatever it wanted.
She was just amazing. Our classes were quite small, which was nice because I intensely dislike sitting in the line-up for ages, and Arwen really just did exactly as I asked and behaved exactly as she would at home. I swear she knows her individual show by heart.
I didn’t expect placings because the small group of people in my classes were all well-known showing competitors on super fancy big horses and had turned them out really well, while Arwen – albeit at least moderately clean and properly plaited – is kinda fluffy already and I forgot my wet wipes at home so her feet and mouth were pretty dirty. As expected, we placed dead stone last in both, but I was proud of my horse’s performance.
The judge basically summarised why Arwen never does well in open show classes: she’s well schooled, she’s well behaved, she’s correct, but she is a pony and there’s no getting around that. I don’t really mind, though. She did excellently, and it was awesome.
Monday was dressage day on Thunderbirdy. We had a nice late ride time, still managed to get stuck in traffic, and still managed to get there on time because I am dating Superman. Thunny was super relaxed on our arrival and happily hacked over to the warmup arena, where he promptly proceeded to completely lose his snot.
I think maybe he was a little fresh as the week before had been rainy and interfered with his program, but there was also a log next to the warmup that has been spooking generations of horses (including Nell) and it spooked him properly. He was obedient and controllable and actually carried himself really great, but his brain was not with me at all.
Going into the dressage arena he mercifully did not spook at anything, but the damage was done and he couldn’t focus. He had some truly excellent moments for 7s and 8s, and in the photos I love the way he was holding himself.
But he also made a LOT of kind of dumb mistakes, the kind he never makes at home, like fluffing the lead in his simple changes, breaking in his lengthening, and hollowing awfully in his rein back. He was also pulling a bit and occasionally wanted to buck and disunite when the whip tickled him (seriously, bro?).
So our scores were very mediocre: 58% and 60%. I’m a little bummed because if he had gone like he goes at home he would have had another 70%, but the poor guy is still greener than I realise. He just needs more miles. The schooling is there and he will start scoring well when he can relax; but he will only relax when I relax, so I feel God is busy teaching me a very big lesson here.
And as for this man, he is my lighthouse and most willing and able comrade in the heat of battle.
While there are many things that just don’t scare me anymore since I helped to load a friend dying from a violent, criminal act into a helicopter, generalised anxiety has taken advantage of my bruised psyche from time to time lately. I have no idea what I am fearing; all I know is that I know the touch of that old and worthless demon.
Yet I rejoice. Not because of anything but because perfect love casts out fear.
I have so long been asking God why He would tell me to be strong and courageous when I have tried everything in my power to do so and failed. How could He demand of me to do something that is entirely impossible?
It was recently that I finally heard His reply. “Daughter, I commanded light to be, and it simply was. Do not take my command as an order to your mind. Just as I said Let there be light and there was light, I speak to your soul now: Be strong and courageous, and you will be strong and courageous because I said so.”
I certainly don’t always feel strong and courageous. But I am: strong enough and courageous enough to take the next step. To cling to my God in the next moment.
Perfect love casts out fear not only because I must love perfectly (although I must, and will never lose that last vestige of fear until I do) but because I am perfectly beloved. Perfect love casts out fear because perfect love is bigger.
Perfect love is bigger than my sin. Perfect love is bigger than my pain. Perfect love is bigger than anything I could face tomorrow. Perfect love is bigger than everything I fear. Perfect love has an answer for every inconsolable question that rises in my weary soul.
And I am loved perfectly, and on this Good Friday, I will think of the only One Who loves perfectly, and I will see the proof of His love in the blood on His hands, on the naked, wounded, bleeding, beaten, stripped and humiliated figure that dangled on the cross for me. There is no greater love than that.
I will look at that love and I will understand what it means to me here and now. I will see that I am loved perfectly by the God Who brought the earth to life. I will know that the Hand that holds mine shaped the stars, the Voice that speaks to me brought forth the sound of the tidal waves, the Arms that hold me wrap the entire aching universe in their embrace.
Not even my own failures can destroy me now.
And I let the Voice that commanded light to be, speak the sound of courage into my very soul. My mind and body might betray me, but my heart and soul are still and know that He is God. I trust His plan. I believe I am loved. I can’t wait to see where He goes with this, because I know the direction we’re heading.
Further up. Further in.
And it’s in moments like these, moments in the saddle when Thunder pops that flying change like a bursting bubble under me, moments around the dinner table laughing at the delirious wit of four exhausted Hydes, moments in the arena with a little girl’s soul shining so brightly it almost leaves trails of light on the long diagonal, moments on the very top of Heidelberg with the lyrics of Rooftops ringing all round and the man of my prayers’ solid warm presence beside me and the whole world rolled out at my feet –
At those moments I taste the perfect love that made heaven.
And it is all because the Son of God died on a cross for me.
Precious Emmy went from strength to strength in the past two months, so much so that her owner took her out of training in the end of February. We are still trying to find a new home for her, but for now K has taken her over, and her owner comes for a lesson whenever she can. I secretly hope to sell Emmy within the yard because she is such a gem, but she’ll go where God sends her.
That leaves me with the threesome – Savanna, Champagne and Titan. All three have been progressing steadily; Titan the fastest, of course, because he’s a starter and they are just so easy without baggage.
He has not been without his setbacks, though. He was just starting to cruise along nicely in mid-January, doing all his figures and trying out a few steps of canter, when he gave himself a very gory and melodramatic overreach.
This put him out of commission for a solid month. But he is a bright little button so when we brought him back into work, we got back on track quickly, and now he has walk/trot/canter in the dressage arena. He occasionally says he would like to buck through the trot-canter transition, which I blame on being an Arab. Maybe it’s just me, but every single Arab I’ve ever ridden has wanted to do that, and every single one has decided against it with some persuasion.
He’s a good chap actually, and typical of his breed; smart, sensitive, hardworking, and possessing both a cheeky streak and a sense of humour. He’s alert to his surroundings, which manifests as an honest and straightforward kind of spook, but also curious, which manifests as very quickly getting over a spook. In many ways, he reminds me strongly of Lancelot.
Savanna has put on so much weight and muscle tone she’s nearly unrecognisable as the boring little brown horse that showed up here last winter. Her flatwork is pretty solid now, with all the Prelim work solidly installed. Her old running out habit has all but gone, and she jumped two 70cm rounds in March in a quiet rhythm with only a couple of poles down.
Unfortunately, the rhythm and relaxation just aren’t quite there yet. She still wants to run and pull, although usually not on the approach, but on the landing. I assume somebody used to get hidings if she jumped badly. All these nasty old issues keep rearing their ugly heads, but we’re squashing them one by one, and this will be a super horse once we’ve squashed them all.
With her child, I have scaled their jumping way back, because his nerves feed her nerves and then they both end up in a vicious cycle. I have to fix her first before we can work together to fix him. But on the flat, she has been everything she needs to be, even at shows. “Willing and obedient horse” was a comment I did not think I would ever see on this horse’s dressage tests.
Champagne’s spooking, with me, is practically a thing of the past. If there is legitimate cause, she will still have a little spook, but I’ll say honestly that Thunder spooks more often than she does. At shows, it’s still a different matter. She’s controllable, but tense. So our main focus now is to get kids riding her and to get her to as many outings as we can.
In our flatwork, as usual, I’m still working on getting her to use her body properly. Psychological and training issues turned into a whole vocabulary of evasive behaviours that we’re still slowly easing out. She no longer bolts wildly across the arena but you better believe if she doesn’t know what to do, that head is going into the sky. Showing her how good a long and low stretch feels was a massive breakthrough.
She has always been good at going “on the bit”, in terms of being soft in my hands, but it was always just a curl. I spent a lot of time teaching her to take the reins and actually connect to something, and then that became a long period of pulling and fighting my hand, but now we seem to finally be getting somewhere.
I’m planning to ship Champagne out to my next lesson with Coach J, to achieve both an outing for Champagne and Coach J seeing what Thunder is like when he goes somewhere with a girlfriend. Maybe Coach J will have some magical remedy. She’ll also do our in-house show in April and I plan to find a nice, quiet training show for Emmy, Faith, Champagne and Titan in the next month, so that’s what’s on the horizon for all of them.
Eagerly looking for another training horse, but loving these three in the meantime.