Standerton Show 2019

I told the world – and myself – that I had hung up Arwen’s double bridle after Nissan Easter Festival 2018. Of course, this was by no means due to any failing on her part. She had just blossomed into her prime, and we had had many fantastic years together, and of course nothing would ever persuade me to part with the dragonmare or our cast-iron friendship.

But when it came to competition, I was just stepping out over the threshold of adulthood, and frankly, I was totally broke. I had to get a day job (as far as being a ghostwriter can be considered any kind of a normal day job, lol) and narrow my focus to one or two horsies instead of riding everything and entering everything the way I had as a teenager sponging happily on the long-suffering parents. Knowing that my heart was called to dressage, it made sense not to retire Arwen, but to give the ride to someone who could exhibit her to her fullest potential: a kid. And God’s timing, as usual, was perfect. I had a a kid in the yard who was everything – dedicated, tall enough to sit on a 14.3 hand barrel without looking puny, tactful enough to ride a mare who knows her job and doesn’t want you in the way, with just enough spunk to enjoy the dragonmare’s fire and enough Velcro on his bottom not to get burned by it. They had a great HOY 2019 together, winning supreme champion in hand and reserve supreme in working riding. Arwen’s third year running with the latter title.

img-20180325-wa0028.jpg

We were all gearing up for kiddo to ride her at Standerton Show last week, and shipped her off to a lesson with a showing coach to get her ready, and then that turned out to be a complete disaster. Something got up the dragon’s nose – I am not sure what, but I think it must have been a bug that bit her or something along those lines – and she completely lost her mind for about half an hour. She was fine when we got home, but I wasn’t wholly sure if she was going to behave at Standerton, thinking that maybe she’d learned some silly manners from the kiddo. So I decided to ride her there myself.

FB_IMG_1568544212099.jpg

It was a good choice! Not for the poor kiddo, who missed out on a perfectly-behaved dragonheart and a beautifully run show, but for me. Sorry kiddo! It really was for his own good.

The show started out a little bit disastrous when, ah, Aunt Flo visited all over my canary breeches – right before the in-hand. Luckily, head-groom-turned-student-instructor L was showing Vastrap, so she was on hand to take Arwen into the class while one embarrassed lump of humanity (me) spread my hastily-washed breeches on the bonnet of the bakkie to dry. Despite the chaos around her, Arwen was impeccably behaved in hand. Obviously, she won champion mare. It’s kind of her thing when it comes to in hand.

By the time the working riding class began, I had mercifully regained my dignity and my now-dry breeches, so we could go in and do our thing. Arwen was considering some dragonishness, but she didn’t let it show too much, so we popped happily through a straightforward track to win the Nooitie section and get reserve champion overall.

Best walk was next, and I think best walk is the most amazing thing for skittish me on an equally skittish youngster, but I actually entered it because Arwen has such a magnificent walk. Unsurprisingly, she won that, too. I’m glad I read the rules for best walk and gave her a looong rein, though. If I’d tried to be my usual DQ self, we might not have done so well.

In between, L and Vastrap were doing great – second in the WR, second in the jakkalsperd (handy hunter) I think, and then third in Best Canter because VT thought it was Best Gallop.

Finally, we had the best three-gaited. I watched the pleasure horse and think I’ll give it a shot next time – Arwen will be great if she doesn’t dragon too much. We went in and the Nooities were being judged with the SASA Riding Horses, and that was where we had a little bit of an oops. This was a supremely accessible, cheap, local show, which attracted a lot of top-class Nooities and WBs but also some newcomers to the showing ring. And I think that is absolutely wonderful, but a few of them were a little unused to riding in a group – and especially unused to riding in a group that was doddering along at a nice little showing canter. So somebody promptly rode up the dragon’s bum.

pictured: barely containing full-blown dragon mode

Arwen is a boss mare and she is not afraid to show it. Her back came up at once, and I squiggled her out of the way before she could do anything about the horse breathing up her tail, thinking we had averted disaster. Regrettably, the horse that was now behind us also didn’t really know what to do, so as we turned down the short side it went up our bum too. Trapped against the fence, I had nowhere to go, and Arwen decided to remedy the situation by launching a series of double-barrels at the intruder. They were warning kicks and all missed, and thankfully the horse stayed off us after that, but by then she was ANGRY.

She spent the rest of the class pullung and wanting to buck a bit, for which I couldn’t blame her. She wasn’t bad, but definitely a grumpy little sassdragon. We ended up second to Wilgerus Dakota, a beautiful bay stallion that I didn’t think we could beat anyway. The judge did come up to me and let me know that she hadn’t penalized Arwen for kicking at the other horse.

I totally don’t mind, though. Everyone was a newbie once. I’m just glad the kicks didn’t land lol.

At least we were into the championship class and Arwen had simmered down. We were asked to show an individual test in this class and thanks to a few showing lessons on Gatsby, I had learned a new one. Dakota rode a truly stunning test, and then it was our turn.

The test was short and sweet. Walk away, trot a rein change, lengthen down the long side, canter in the corner, canter a serpentine with lead changes (I did them through walk), lengthen the canter, trot, halt for the judge. Arwen was just fired up enough that when I asked for the lengthening I got a massive one – I didn’t even know she had that much extension in her. I was kind of beaming by this point because despite 18 months under a child, Arwen had not forgotten one drop of the ten years of schooling we had put in.

The changes through walk were so, so clean and obedient and she was so quiet coming back from the lengthening. When we halted from trot, dead square off my seat, I knew she’d just ridden the best test of her life. I may have been grinning just a little bit when I asked for five steps of rein back and then dropped the reins. She stood like a statue.

It was the most exhilarating moment we’ve ever had in the show ring together – I could not have been prouder even if we’d placed dead last. It was not the single most magical achievement of our career so far, but it was symbolic to me of the partnership that has spanned my entire adolescence and extends into adulthood, a partnership that taught me so much courage on a mare that exemplifies the phrase “against the odds”. A partnership that has spoken to me of God’s great plan. This ride – it was just a cherry on top.

I was so happy, and so pleased with this absolutely amazing fireball of a horse, that my salute may as well have been a mic drop. Still, I was kind of flabbergasted when we finally got the title that’s been eluding her for years: ridden champion.

My wall is absolutely covered in satin from the dragonbeast, in every discipline, and yet those rosettes don’t inspire a feeling of achievement in me. They make me feel something else: grateful. And perhaps a little awed by God’s mercy. Oh, not because of the placings. Those will crumble to dust like everything else. But because of what He achieved in my heart because of the fire in hers. Rosettes are forgettable, but love and courage and gratitude – those are forever.

And Arwen has been an instrument to bless me with them all. The guts she showed me out on a cross-country track or walking into the show ring with all the big names, I needed later for far bigger and more real challenges. And she was there for me even in those.

So with 2020 on the horizon, what’s next for my most faithful equine partner? Well, Dakota’s owner offered us a free covering. I definitely would like to put her in foal, although I can’t keep her babies right now – they’d have to have buyers before they’re bred. Still, the Nooitie is a hugely endangered breed and partially so due to inbreeding. Because her lines are rare and she’s only half Nooitie, Arwen is exactly the type of mare that could really benefit the breed.

She has just turned 13 so it’s time to start thinking about this kind of thing. However, God willing, she’ll definitely do HOY 2020, with me and with a child. After that, it’s time for baby dragons!

God’s abundance is undeserved. Glory 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.

FCEBH: Satin for the Queen

What is your favorite ribbon / prize / award that you’ve won in relation to horses? Is there a story behind it? Or was it a bucket list prize you’d been chasing for ages? It doesn’t have to be from a traditional horse show, and ribbons that are the favorite bc they are the prettiest are just as awesome as awards with a great story. 

My favourite ribbon is probably Arwen’s first place in her first dressage test, not only because it was one of my few actual successes in terms of placings, but also because it took quite an effort to even get in the dressage arena to do the test. We had just been eliminated from the 80cm class for having three stops by the second fence, so we both had to dig pretty deep to forgive one another and get back in harmony. In the end we just settled back into each other and rode the test as well as we’d ever ridden it, barring one botched transition.

So proud
So proud

But come to think of it, there is one another ribbon that comes in a very close second, and that’s the first ribbon I ever won on my own horse. It was almost six years ago, I was twelve years old and blissfully unaware of my extreme ignorance, and the local riding school was holding a gymkhana. We borrowed somebody’s trailer and Skye, despite not having seen a trailer for about six years, stepped right into it.

It was chaos, as the local gymkhanas usually are. Skye was a woolly mammoth and I gave up on trying to get the dust out of her hair, making up for it by plaiting a bunch of red ribbons into her mane. (Poor Skye has put up with a lot). I strapped on my old starter kit saddle, which I still use for backing baby horses because now I don’t care if they fall on it, and scrambled on. The arrangement was somewhat haphazard; we all warmed up together in a 20m lunging ring, during which Skye had every right to kick the other horses and most graciously did not. The instructor bellowed at me through her megaphone when I dared to ask my horse to trot, telling me I was going to make her tired before I even got into the ring.

Skye, albeit unendingly trustworthy and entirely bombproof, had nearly no schooling. In fact, horses that come to me for 8 weeks’ backing are probably better schooled when they leave than she was then. She could walk and trot and canter and stop and turn and jump little jumps, and that was it. Bending was optional, going on the bit was a rare bonus, and cantering on the correct lead was totally out of the question. We were both, however, totally fearless, and there was also the matter of the riding school horses’ schooling – there wasn’t any. Skye looked like a graded dressage horse. We blasted through the gymkhana course and came second in the jumping, having gone clear.

The walk-and-canter race was our great moment of triumph. It was simple enough; we all lined up at one end of the field, galloped across to the other side, turned around and walked back. If you broke into a trot you had to make a circle. The first one across the finish line was obviously the winner. Skye and I won by half the length of the field for the simple reason that when we finished the gallop we were the only ones who could stop and turn around immediately instead of randomly wandering off towards the bottom of the field. Also because Skye walks like a steam train when she’s on a mission.

The old charger deserves a medal. She got a ribbon with “clear round” on it, but in my eyes, it might as well have been the 554 red roses awarded to the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

In jodhs for a show

Our First Event

WE FINALLY HAVE PHOTOS! And amazing photos they are too, thanks to the excellent Tamara and Blake Images.

No photographers are immune to this stunning face
No photographers are immune to this stunning face

Two weekends back, we pushed Arwen into the box (literally – she wasn’t impressed with loading in the semidarkness) and set off on a long, nauseating drive to Le Godimo Horse Trials in Hartebeespoort. (My stomach can do hills. It can do winding. Winding and hills and watching Arwen on the horsebox camera? It went on strike). It was a two-hour drive, but Arwen was impressively calm, for Arwen. She was rather sweaty but not shaky when we unloaded, and unlike Magic, refrained from having tantrums on the highway.

We’d entered the surprisingly big Adults EV60 class (jumps are about 2′ in cross-country; it’ll be the equivalent of the British BE60 and as for the Americans, you guys can figure it out yourselves. I don’t get your levels. How can Prelim be that big?), but it was still a bit intimidating to get there and see the sheer amount of horses and riders – about 150 entries in all. The atmosphere was definitely different to the relaxed training show feeling. I didn’t worry about it because I had Arwen’s hair to worry about. I let her go natural because a) I love long manes, b) Nooitgedachters are supposed to be natural and c) I value my skin and do not need it ripped off by the long-mane-loving Mutterer. This is all fine and well right up until you need to plait it for dressage. By a joint effort, my sister and I managed to squash Arwen’s tremendous hair into thirteen enormous bobbles. Six or seven of which she shook out five minutes before the test. I was deeply grateful for my sister, who is used to organising ballet exams and managed to restrain Arwen’s hair just in time. At least the little mare was very good, and stood eating hay throughout the plaiting ordeal.

Poetry in motion. Her, I mean. I'm a mess. They call it stressage for a reason.
Poetry in motion. Her, I mean. I’m a mess. They call it stressage for a reason.

We warmed up all right for dressage. She was soft and forward and only tried to kick one thoroughbred (who kind of deserved it). In fact I thought we’d be excellent right up until she noticed the horse wearing a fly sheet in a paddock directly behind the judges’ box. She’d never seen anything like it before and she absolutely did not trust it.

“Arwen, seriously. It’s just a fly sheet, honey,” I said.

“It’s a warmblood, first of all, ” said Arwen, “and it’s wearing something weird. How dare it invent armour that makes it impervious to my kicks?”

She was actually quite mature about it. No panicking, no shying, no running through my aids; but she was very tense and I could feel that if I gave her an inch she would blow. So I held her down a bit too much. In my eyes the test went fine; we got all the movements accurately, she struck off on the correct leg every time, she responded obediently to everything I asked, but the judge hated us because I had overbent her pretty badly, so of course she wasn’t tracking up like she should. Next time I’ll take the chance of her blowing through my aids and see what happens. Our score was horrible but not the worst; 62, placing us 10th out of 15 entries. She nearly threw me off as we left the arena when a spectator stood up and accidentally gave her a fright, but luckily the test was over by then.

Dressage faces. Much seriousness.
Dressage faces. Much seriousness. Also crooked because fly sheet monster horse is in front of us.

We had a couple of hours to kill after dressage, which I mostly spent determinedly trying to get her mane straight again. I took the plaits out because they looked uncomfortable, but we all know that horrible crinkle-cut look of a recently plaited mane. I did not want to look like the newbie I am, so I brushed it out with a wet dandy brush and had a flat mane in ten minutes. Of course, everyone else just rode with crinkle-cut manes and all, so I looked like a newbie anyway, but at least her hair was straight.

I walked the course with my fingers locked together, praying more fervently as each jump passed. It wasn’t big, nor did it have a lot of filler, but it was rather more complex than the little training show courses. Jump one was an inviting vertical leading to a rather frightening oxer at two (as frightening as a 65cm oxer can be, anyway); number three was a little vertical, and number four was a big white oxer on top of a dyke right in front of the announcer’s box. There was a tight left turn to number five, number six was the biggest terrifying oxer of all the terrifying oxers, number seven was a boring vertical, 8a a vertical with two strides to the 8b oxer, nine was a red-and-white jump with weird filler at the bottom of a high and relatively steep bank, and number ten was an oxer that you had to jump right after turning directly past the arena gate. When I walked the course I actually didn’t think of that, but it caused quite a few incidents that day.

See, I do know what I'm doing
See, I do know what I’m doing

Arwen warmed up superbly. It was abominably hot, so I kept it short and simple. She took me to the jumps, bucked enthusiastically after one of them, and showed no fear at all. By the end of fifteen minutes’ warmup she was drenched in sweat. I sat on her and trembled as number 17 (two riders before us) jumped their round, but was comforted by a random kind lady who poked Arwen’s wayward cheekpiece back into its keeper. (Thank you, random kind lady).

Then it was one rider before us and I walked her around the jumps and made her look at them, which she said was very boring (except for number nine, which was terrifying). Kirsten the Wonderful XC Instructor hissed at me from the sidelines to walk her through the dyke, which I did; I was expecting some fireworks, but Arwen plodded through it and enquired if she should jump the oxer. I politely declined as I didn’t want to be disqualified for over-enthusiasm.

Dykes don't scare Arwen
Dykes don’t scare Arwen

As it turns out, over-enthusiasm was really the only thing I had to worry about. I did have to kick her a bit at number two, but she blasted through the dyke like it was no big deal. We had a very stupid run-out at little dumb number seven because I was being relieved about number six and quit concentrating, but she popped straight over it again. She had a look at number nine as we came thundering down the bank but I planted my heels in her and she jumped just fine. She was fantastic – fast, accurate, and gutsy. We had only the four faults for the run-out, no time penalties, which isn’t bad for a fat little mare, especially considering I really didn’t push the speed at all for the sake of the heat and my nerves.

Look how awesome we are
Look how awesome we are

Then came the part I was most worried about: trying to keep Arwen inside a stable without killing anybody for long enough that I could get enough sleep to stay awake until the end of cross-country on Sunday. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The stables were constructed of wooden poles, so she could see and smell (and bite) her stablemates. We did have to move four times before we found a stable that nobody else wanted, but Arwen wasn’t too upset by the idea. She pulled funny faces at the gelding on her left (he ignored her), snapped and squealed at the mare on her right (they were best buds by the end of the weekend), ate her hay and went to sleep. I did tie a couple of lunging lines across her door to prevent her from getting any ideas. Feeding time was kind of embarrassing as all the other horses tucked into buckets of pellets with mountains of lucerne, and I tried to be invisible as I gave her two handfuls instead of one for the sake of not looking like a total animal abuser.

Also, major big shout-out to Erin! I actually met someone who reads my blog!! People do that, you know. Erin happened to be three stables down from us with her stupendous chestnut Boerperd gelding, Burgerstrots Gedenk. Fantastic seeing you, Erin.

Arwen spent the night annoying her neighbours. We spent the night in the horsebox, which was awesome until it rained; my parents were a bit damp the next morning. Our spirits, however, were unaffected. Arwen was happy and extremely hyper despite the appalling heat. I tried to take her for a walk in the interests of letting her graze and relax, but all she did was dragon-snort at everything and drag me around, so she was put back in her stable to think about her sins.

Cross-country time found us both fidgety with nerves and excitement. Arwen was eager to get moving; I saddled her up in her stable, clumsy with excitement. She pawed the ground and bit me by accident while I was doing up her curb chain. I’ll excuse her just this once for rearing as we set off on the long-ish hack to the warmup arena, because she was excited and people were cantering randomly off with little heed to the crazy young horse that was half a breath away from going airborne. We somehow made it to the warmup in one sweaty piece.

I couldn’t believe the heat. Arwen, luckily, had been drinking well all weekend, because she sweated incessantly – she was damp just standing in her stable, so she was drenched before we even got to the arena. It was almost midday and I considered scratching, but even once she’d calmed down somewhat, Arwen was willing and forward-going, so I decided to listen to her and soldier on. I kept the warmup short – just a couple of brisk laps of canter and a handful of little jumps. She was brave as the day, just stopped at a skinny that was quite a big bigger than our class. On the second try she popped right over.

In a whirlwind of panic I struggled into my body protector and scrambled over to the marshall, praying they wouldn’t mind that my number was pinned directly to my body protector, my medical card was homemade and the stitching on my girth was getting a bit suspicious. Luckily they didn’t, so the next minute we were trotting down to the starting box and the corner of my number suddenly started flying around. Arwen thankfully didn’t spook, but as Dad was pinning it back on, she struck out a front foot to rub her face on, stood on her reins and broke them. Pandemonium reigned as Dad had a horse with half a bridle on thrust at him, I ran to the marshall to explain the problem, Rain ran to the horsebox in record time to fetch my spare reins, and Arwen fussed around saying it was time to go.

I have the most amazing pit crew ever. Two minutes later, I had my spare reins attached, my number was fixed and I was back on my horse. And a countdown from five after that, we were trotting out of the starting box and heading for jump number one.

Go Arwie go
These are our cross-country faces. Much happiness.

Cross-country is such an amazing experience. Out there, at that speed, it’s just you and the horse and God. (And the occasional jump judge to spook dramatically at). I was terrified as we approached jump number one, a simple log, but Arwen carried me over and then we’d popped over the pole stack at number two, and number three was right there in front of me and we felt that nothing could stop us. It was a long, twisty, confusing gallop to number four that I’d had to walk three times before getting it, but spectators helped out by standing in the “wrong” turns and we found it easily. Number five was a bit hairy as it was a fat log sitting in a gap between two big bushes, and obviously the jump judge elected to sit virtually in the approach to it, but we made it and then we were galloping to scary number six, which she just sailed over. Number seven was very boring and I was relieved about number six so we ran out and nearly killed a judge. Silly mistake, but we turned around, popped over and put it behind us.

CROSS COUNTRYYYYYYYY
CROSS COUNTRYYYYYYYY

Number eight was this splendid oxer, then a big gallop to number nine, which was a bit daunting as it sort of popped out of the bushes at you, but Arwen took it in her stride. Ten and eleven were in a bending line right after one another; we had really hit our rhythm now and we tackled them easily. Number twelve, thirteen and fourteen were close together on a bending line; I was a bit worried about fourteen as it would be very easy to run out to the left (her favourite run-out direction) but she didn’t even think about it.

The line from fourteen to fifteen was the longest gallop, but we lost a lot of time as there was a very scary 1* jump standing in the middle of it and Arwen said we had to keep an eye on it so we cantered slowly sideways past it. Luckily we pulled ourselves together in time for number fifteen, then tackled the water. It was not flagged so we could go around, but I wanted to give it a shot. She slowed to a trot, had a look, and then leapt right in. It was a long water complex and very deep, so by the time we reached the other side my hot, tired horse was going at a riding school trot. We managed to get our canter back by number sixteen and then we were nearly home, blasting through the trees to the last jump, then absolutely flooring it for the finish line. I was grateful for our barrel racing days because we shot over the line at a bit of a ridiculous speed, but I sat down and closed my fingers and she stopped so suddenly I nearly fell off.

Eyes on the prize
Eyes on the prize

It’s hard to describe just how I felt as we walked away from the finish. I was exhausted, sweaty, dehydrated, slightly heat exhausted and so hot I could feel my heart throbbing in my ears. My legs felt wrung out, my hands were shaking and I could feel the first twinges of my back being out (probably popped it out during our sideways canter). Similarly, Arwen was gasping for breath and dripping sweat. But I could tell by the spring in her step and the set of her ears that she felt the way I did; exhilarated, overwhelmed with gratitude, joyful beyond description. So I did the only thing I could. I dropped my reins, I lifted my hands, and I thanked my King.

Arwen5

Happy New Year! Have a minor heart attack! In fact, have two!

This was how my horses wished me “happy New Year.”

The day started out just fine and continued happily with me taking the Mutterer’s white gelding for a hack, which turned out to be an awesome first ride of the year. The white gelding is taking long to sell for reasons I cannot imagine because he really is the most enjoyable little horse and with plenty of talent to boot. Anyway, I shall not complain because I get to ride him in the interim, which is no great burden whatsoever. He was his usual steady, gentle, comfortable self and we had a lovely long hack through the summer grass.

Then I took my sister and her QH mare to go and swim in the dam while I perched myself on an absolutely rotund Arwen. She had a nice two weeks off, which were very well deserved because she worked hard this year, but now that she’s starting to get very hyper I’ve put her back in as much work as the vaccination will allow (we have three more weeks to go). She looks beautiful, shiny, glossy and healthy, but also extremely fat, which has always been her downfall. The fat beast and I both need to get back in shape (although, in my defence, I am nowhere near as fat as she is).

The walk down to the dam was quiet and uneventful and Arwen even stood very still for me to strip off her saddle and my boots (thank you Arwen, I hate hopping around through the burrs trying to mount an errant horse bareback). I scrambled on and we set onto the banks. I gave her as good a kick as my bare heels could give and she went straight in without hesitation. I had just enough time to praise her when suddenly, with a horrible sensation that I have no desire to ever feel again, Arwen’s legs vanished into the mud. In a matter of seconds my feet were dangling in water that should have been knee-deep. Ten seconds of absolute terror ensued during which Arwen floundered valiantly and I, clinging to mane and kicking for dear life, egged her on at the top of my voice. If it had been anything but strong, stoic little Arwen we would still have been trying to dig her out of the clay. But she put down her hindlegs until she found solid ground, coiled up her big (fat) haunches and launched her way out. By the grace of God, we found ourselves on the safety of the bank. I was much to terrified and grateful to do anything except hug her wet neck and tremble; Arwen took a few seconds to get her breath back and then nearly catapulted me off by putting her head down to start grazing. Thank God for tough little Nooitgedachters.

She was as sound as a brass bell all the way home and we shall never, ever be swimming in that particular dam ever again ever, but it did start the year off with a shock. I foresee some trouble trying to get her to go into water complexes again, unfortunately, but I’m sure the brave little grey mare, my King and I will overcome that as well, eventually.

My heart rate had just started to slow down when Exavior came in for supper with his superorbital fossae (temples, to you and me) all swollen up (a typical symptom of the dreaded African horse sickness). His appetite was good, manner perky, mucus membranes nice and pink, capillary refill time normal, temperature slightly elevated at 38.4 degrees Celsius. We came to the conclusion that he was either reacting to a bug bite or to his vaccine, which is known for causing the mild swelling and fever in youngsters. Today the swelling is unchanged but his temperature is down to a dead normal 36.8 degrees. God willing, he’s just being a daft sensitive baby warmblood.

What a way to start the year. Thanks, ponykins.

Exavior2

Cowgirlin’ Fail

My Beloved and I set off yesterday evening for a beautiful ride around the mealie* fields on the huge farm Swaelkrans next door. It’s about a 6-8km round trip with miles of flat, quiet paths for loping on, and hence one of my favourite places to ride.

Skye has been there scores of times, but it was Thunder’s first time off the farm in his entire life. He didn’t start out very nice. A lope turned into a breakneck gallop when a duiker, his arch enemy, jumped out of the bushes, and he also shied twice at nothing. I was annoyed by the time we reached Swaelkrans, but my Beloved calmed my temper somewhat, Thunder stood dead still for me to remount after opening the wire gate and we set off in a better mood.

From then on Thunder was stunning. We started by taking a long jog, which already settled him down, and by resolving to lope in single file to stop them from racing each other (Skye takes anything as a challenge). I took the lead for our first lope and it went very well, but was aborted when I noticed my saddle slipping and looked down to see, with horror, my cinch swinging loose. Somehow the saddle stayed on throughout our abrupt halt even though it was held on by nothing but luck, and I hurriedly dismounted and fastened it rather tighter, assuming that the knot on the right side hadn’t been tied properly.

Remounting (and thanking God for Western saddles; in no other saddle can you ride in shorts, unless you are my Beloved, who rides in shorts all the time because he’s superhuman), we continued. We jogged, loped and met several duiker; Thunder didn’t misbehave at all except for loping a bit too fast, but he never overtook his mom and stopped when she did. We took a long route between the mealie and soya bean fields before reaching the tar road. We pulled up a good 50m from the road and let Thunder have a look at the traffic – I didn’t dare ride along it yet – but he just stared and didn’t bolt.

Going home, he was equally well-behaved. We had several long, awesome lopes and Thunder stayed obediently behind his mom without any bucking or nonsense. Skye had no such reservations; when Thun and I took the lead again she promptly blazed past up next to us. To my surprise Thunder kept pace along his mom, Skye stayed in a slow lope (thanks to her rider) and we kept on for a good kilometre at this pace with no issues at all. I was thrilled with Thunder, and we walked most of the way home on a happy, chilled loose rein.

I had clean forgotten about my treacherous cinch and only remembered when we took our last lope, only about a kilometre from home. Skye and my Beloved were having a run, Thunder was staying nicely under control in a lope behind them, and then with a sickening lurch my saddle tipped up and the cinch swung wildly loose. Something – whether it was the flying cinch, the tipping saddle or my squeak of alarm – spooked Thunder and he swerved, and the next thing I knew I was cursing my carelessness and disentangling myself from my saddle, with the sound of Thunder’s receding hoofbeats in my ears.

My Beloved paused only to check that Thunder’s reins were still over his head before teleporting to my side and rescuing me. Thunder was amazing; he bolted in panic halfway up the road, then turned around and bolted back to stand beside me. Nobody could train a horse to be that loyal; he was just born that way, sweet thing. My knight in shining armour put his whiny and slightly battered girlfriend on the comparatively safe Skye, and insisted on riding home on a nervous young horse with a hazardous saddle. (Chivalry is not dead). To his credit, Thunder was calm all the way home. To hers, Skye rescued me yet again, plugging calmly homewards with the reins loose on her neck and me holding the pommel like a total noob.

It turns out that the cinch I have for my Western saddle isn’t long enough, and so the saddle straps are run through the fastening ring only twice instead of three times on the right side, which means that there’s a huge amount of strain on the knot and it pops loose rather too easily. Note to self: get a new cinch.

Never fear, I live to fall another day. Despite its bad ending, it was an amazing ride, and it won’t be long before my Beloved and me ride again. Praise the Lord for good men, good horses, and whatever dutiful angel it is that keeps catching me and breaking my falls. God rides with me even on the days that I fall, and He will always ride alongside.

On a December ride
On a December ride

*Maize/corn in South African English, viz., a mixture of badly pronounced English and any Afrikaans word that appears handy at the time, usually misspelt.