Back on Track

The seasons are changing here yet again, and I’m feeling the pressure of a coming winter with my clippers currently still out of commission.

On the bright side, we’re fully stocked on blankets and our grazing is holding up great. We’ll have to see how it does as standing hay, but for now, the horses are still up to their eyeballs in grass thanks to a late rain.

We are forecast for more late rains followed by a bitterly cold winter. Something that a yard manager in the middle of midge-borne African horse sickness country is not complaining about.

We held our third in-house training show on the 7th of April. Darling got to spend his birthday building courses and supplying me with chocolate milk. At least the poor soul knew what he was getting himself into. It was a small show but a resounding success as far as I can tell.

I found photographic evidence of two things: my first time on a pony, and my mom’s shapely figure – at three months pregnant, none the less.


Faith, somewhat inadequately babysat by Midas, went on her first hack. She was fabulous, if on occasion a little overexcited.

Zorro escaped his field and invaded the tack storage in the night, then got the cookie jar stuck on his foot. As you do. No harm was done, except to the horse cookies that had been in the cookie jar.

K’s mom booked a lesson with international eventer Paul Hart for my birthday. Jamaica and I charged over all manner of things,

including ditches,

water,

and houses. He was foot perfect except for a jump with water under it, and our coach was suitably impressed. How awesome is God’s plan?

Thunder remains the one whose four dancing hooves carry me to a place where the world and its burdens just can’t go. ❤

We had a brilliant time of it at SANESA Q3, with three of our riders qualifying for Finals with another qualifier to spare.

Despite flat refusing to get into the two-berth, Milady came second and managed to put the smile back on K’s face.

Few things make me happier than this arena, freshly harrowed. I am awed by what God has provided.

Faithy rode in the rain and behaved impeccably, cantering her first full laps around the dressage arena. She can be quite scared of cantering but each session is a little better thanks to my carrying on as if she is the most amazing horse in the world. She kind of is.

Grumpy old Benjamin is 21 now but still knows how to open practically every gate there is, regularly escaping his little paddock to gorge on the lush grass, forbidden due to his laminitis.

Titan is going fabulously, now working in a frame and having been introduced to some little fences. We’ll make something of him yet.

As for the old queen of the herd, she still reigns in ageless beauty. 29 years old and still a reason to believe.

More thorough updates to follow. Glory to the King.

Adventures of Champagne and Sunè

So, we’ve had a busy two days with various adventurings. It started on Tuesday night when Champagne managed to hurt herself in the field and get a puncture wound in her side. It gave all of us something of a fright, not least Champagne, but mercifully does not appear to be serious. And for once her timing was good: she had a vet appointment the following day to have a check-up and X-rays in case her behaviour issues could be pain related.

This meant shipping her off to the clinic in Midrand, a prospect I viewed with not inconsiderable trepidation, considering that the last time she was boxed she had been sedated within the first five minutes and ran through fences on arrival at our yard. I didn’t want a repeat performance, thanks. I shoved her full of Good as Gold, which is a magnesium supplement and a very good calming remedy for stressed-out horse owners/trainers, and took the precaution of hiring a two-berth and bringing Stardust along for the ride.

Champagne boxed better than Stardust. I held my breath all the way to Midrand, but she was a model traveller. She spent the entire trip eating hay and trying to steal from Dusty’s net, and was calm and relaxed on arrival. I had gloves on and made sure all the gates were closed before unloading her, but I needn’t have bothered. She got off the box, looked around, felt a little tense and then began to eat some grass.

After hanging out in the stable for a bit, the vet appeared and his groom led her out for the lameness exam. This involved being led away from all the other horses, but she trotted up and down on a loose lead like an old hand and stood perfectly still for the flexion tests. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Then she went into the scary crush and had X-rays raken of all four her feet, for which she behaved perfectly. This from the horse that arrived sedated at my place because it was insane. I couldn’t really be happier.

The news from the exam is good, too. The wound is not serious as far as we can see; the vets cleaned it nicely and sent us home with antibiotics and NSAIDs and instructions. The lameness exam came up with nothing, but her feet are dreadful. She has very, very underrun heels and long toes, with a badly broken back hoof-pastern axis. This much I knew; what I didn’t know was that our farrier could be doing a whole lot more to sort it out. So we will be looking for a special farrier for the special creature. There are no bony changes showing on the X-rays yet, but her pedal bone needs to change its angle by about 13 degrees. It was fascinating to see exactly how the internal structures of the foot are so closely related to its external shape. I will be paying much closer attention to the feet in future.

The good news, though, is that nothing is causing her pain right now. I’m free to go on and deal with all the psychological problems, safe in the knowledge that there are no physical triggers right now.

Today a horse of an entirely different colour went on an entirely different adventure. The Arab stud down the road – home to Bahroe and Sevita, whom I schooled briefly – is under new management and has lovely trails now. The trouble is that none of the horses have really gone hacking before, so they needed a confident lead.

Enter Sunè and I. I wanted to take the dragon, but I wasn’t happy about riding down the gravel with her feets. I also wanted to take Ash but I worried for her tendon, and Lulu and Stardust aren’t super sound, and Trooper is young (and requires fsr too much leg), and Thunny and Jamaica aren’t totally trustworthy. So I took Sunè. I haven’t been on her in months, and she hasn’t been on a hack alone in months, but she’s fit and sound.

It’s about 3km down the road from us and we covered most of it at a smart trot. Sunè was eager for an adventure and carried me boldly forward. She hadn’t even broken a sweat when we arrived to find the new yard manager, who can’t be much older than me, tacking up Bahroe himself. It was so nice to see him looking relaxed.

Having dealt happily with trucks, culverts, ditches and water on the way there, Sunè promptly spooked at a lavender bush and a loopy Arab, then refused to drink from their lovely fancy fountain and settled to munching grass in their gorgeous stableyard.

Once Bahroe was ready, we set off; one fat little Nooitie and one wide-eyed grey Arab.

And two very chuffed yard managers. I haven’t been on a proper long hack in months, if not years. I think the last time I hacked off-property was last year when Arwen was still eventing.

We headed up the hill and through the woods, Sunè leading most of the way. She was on a loose rein and totally chilled. I like riding ponies that belong to eight-year-olds. She tried half-heartedly to nap a few times but quickly realised that that wasn’t going to fly with me.

The view from the top of the hill was incredible. Then sings my soul, O Saviour God, to Thee!

We got a little lost heading back down, but quickly figured out our mistake and found the right road. Bahroe was being absolutely amazing. At this point he started to take the lead a few times.

Then we headed back down along the teff field, finishing the loop back along the road to the gate. Sunè and I escorted Bahroe safely back to the gate – I think he would have been fine, but I didn’t want to abandon them on the road. My own escort turned up in my bakkie around this time, impeccably timed to follow me back home with the hazards on. The trucks are ridiculous on our road.

Sunè was still bouncy and cantered much of the way home. We only had one little incident when I looked down at the road and suddenly there was a cobra in it. Gotta love Africa. I don’t think Sunè even saw it; I spun her to the side away from it just as it sat up and began to flare its hood, and it shot off into a culvert, almost as unnerved as I was.

Sunè is pretty flattened now, but I think our ride was a hilly 10-12km more or less, so I’m pretty impressed with the fat little schoolie. She was impeccably behaved and I had a blast. And she gets the next three days off. And I get a bubble bath because I still had three horses to ride after that and my feet are killing me.

How great is our God. Glory to the King.

Summer’s Here

The arrival of some beautiful rain has transfigured the face of our landscape from the dormant browns of winter to vibrant life.

And no matter that I’ve been living here since I can remember, it still takes my breath away. So do these, my three dance partners. Faith must be about Arwen’s height already. I expect her to mature about Thunder’s height and probably also quite solid.

The damp earth has helped eliminate the various coughings, sneezings and nose-runnings of all the allergic horses.

Longer days make for those stunning late afternoon rides in the golden light. I teach until at least 5:30 most evenings now.

Lullaby is back on fighting form, her old, happy, bouncy self. She’s even off her joint supplement. She led the way on this hack up the big hill.

Liana and her kid followed. I’m so honoured to be a small part of providing kids with experiences like these.

Jamaica also went hacking with Vastrap and his kid, and behaved impeccably.

The big hill is my favourite place for hacking. It’s interesting, has amazing views, and is good work for the horses too.

Clouds have changed the skyscape, making the world seem bigger. I don’t know why, but the sky is a deeper blue in summer around here.

We now have a sign. Each step forward feels like a miracle, probably because it is one; we depend so entirely on our Jesus, and He never lets us down. This year testifies to that.

Our yard is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

This is the place where my soul can’t sing loud enough to Abba Father. Where the miracle happens. As an aside, the footing held up impressively well in the rain. We’ve been able to jump every day.

For some reason the sky is a lot smaller in town, but it’s still beautiful. My personal space is about 228ha.

That’s more like it.

Sunrises haven’t quite reached the height of splendour yet, but there’s something more subtly majestic in their muted colours.

The jacaranda tree is in bloom.

The long one-sided love story of God and I starts with sunrises. Years and years ago, since I can remember thinking about bigger things, it was the beauty of the world that convinced me that there had to be Something out there. I felt its presence; something dynamic, vibrant, powerful, and very much alive. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have a name for it, but I found it utterly irresistible. I longed to know it. My longing was inexpressible; I wanted to feel it, to be drawn into it.

And the greatest miracle of them all was discovering that this amazing Thing was not only alive, it was Someone, and He had a Son, and He had given that Son up for me. The power that made the wind and stars, He wants me to talk to Him, to cry out to Him, to love Him. The sunrises stopped being splendid creations of some distant and mysterious magnificence and became something more: an intimate, personal expression of love from the God Who never lets go.

Glory to the King.

Marching On

After the emotional and spiritual high of last week, this one has left me a little flat. Make no mistake, we had good progress this week, including a lot of good rides and lessons and wonderful preparation for Finals tomorrow (these kids are amazing!), but I think we all felt a little rough around the edges after putting everything into pony camp.

I will give absolutely everything tomorrow, too, because my kids and ponies have been doing exactly that. Vastrap and his kid were so amazing on Tuesday that yesterday I just took them on a hack. They are so more than ready for whatever Finals will throw at them.

And after a bit of an unpromising lesson on Tuesday, Liana’s indomitable kid showed up to work on Thursday and gave it everything she had. Liana is hot and not always easy to keep rhythmic throughout a test but this kid absolutely nailed it. She’s going to ride her heart out at Finals because she always does.

Purple gloves make me happy, and so does Savanna. She is such a sweet, nonviolent, willing soul. She is desperately uneducated though, and it shows, but already after two or three weeks of work she’s starting to understand that there is no need to rush fences or cut corners. We still have a long way to go in terms of developing self-carriage and any form of technique, but obedience is already improving. From next week she’s in full training and competing with me, so that’ll be fun.

Champagne has been out of work for the above reason. Ah pony. Why? Six stitches and a week later and it’s almost healed, but it’s a pity we’ve lost that training time.

Magic is better at teenage girl selfies than I am.

He’s just better at selfies generally, really.

Skye has a nicer winter coat than anyone. She is really contented at the moment. Looking after Lady Erin seems to be all the stimulation she really needs; the old girl is happy to stand in a peaceful field and come in to do the Scripture reading before shows and get stuffed full of cookies. Especially the cookies, if we’re honest. She doesn’t crave people, although that’s not to say we don’t both enjoy grooming (and cookie-feeding).

Magic, on the other hand, is by no means ready for retirement. I had been toying with the idea a little. Riding has been either anxious or boring of late; I don’t want to push him with the flatwork, I can’t cope with the jumping, and he can’t cope with hacks. We lunge but that’s just exercise. We both really need a conversation; we need to spend quality time and not just be together, but talk and interact and learn things.

So, because he really enjoys groundwork, we’re playing with liberty. I know – I rolled my eyes reading the websites, too. (Ignore bad behaviour? So what do you do if it charges/bites/kicks/rears/pushes you around?) But it’s what Magic needs. He never gets stroppy. He never gets domineering. He needs something where there’s no pressure and lots of affirmation and this seems like fun. So here goes nothing, I guess.

I’m just gonna leave this right here because it makes me so happy seeing them regain their shine here.

Pretty Ash has been doing so well with L. Sound for 15 minutes’ trotting for several weeks now, we’ve added in some canter. It’s rather more canter than L is used to but Ash takes care of her. She is such a classy, attractive pony – I kind of wish we’d had her when she was younger and sounder and ready to take on the world.

I bought the dragon a nametag. Try not to laugh.

Speaking of dragons, we have been dressaging. More to come later. I’m using the double on her most of the time now. She does go better and yes, she should be able to do it in a snaffle, but the horse didn’t get a good foundation and right now we’re just muddling along trying to find what works for where we are now. Dressage coach S might come see us next month, then we can ask her opinion.

Nugget is incredibly content living with Magic. She’s in a better condition than ever before and even runs around the field playing with him – something I’ve never seen her do before. Unfortunately, after my week off and then pony camp, we’ve taken a bunch of steps back in handling. I haven’t gotten a halter back on her again. We’re making progress back there every day (I can rub her neck and shoulder now), so we’ll regain the lost ground quickly. I’m trying to make a point not to be upset about it, because there’s just no way I would have coped without the week off. And if I don’t cope there’s no yard and if there’s no yard there’s no safe haven for Nuggets.

On the jumping front, this was our exercise of the week; canter pole, couple of bounces, one stride, vertical. I added V-poles to the vertical later on. It was very challenging, especially for the kids, because they had to really ride the ponies up into their hands and get them to use themselves instead of just point and go. But it was confidence building for the horses and helped sharpen reflexes and round jumps nicely.

I found it confidence building too – so much so that the last vertical ended up at about a metre. My first in years, and Jamaica’s first under me. He just loped right on over and didn’t take it seriously enough to give it much scope, so it’s comforting to know he can do it and with such quietness.

He is such a blessing. If I had unlimited funds I would have bought him long ago. As it is, if I do pass Module 5, it’ll in large part be due to what God is doing for me with this funny-looking little horse.

Arwen has a jumping day each month, and she charged through it as well,

as did Destiny, Savanna (a simplified version), Thunder, and Lancelot. Lancey particularly impressed me because carefulness has been something we’ve long struggled with and he didn’t knock a single pole, except for rubbing the last vertical so that the V-poles fell off. He was kind of dorkward about it but he did the thing and I’m so so proud of the little chap.

I also started playing with an automatic release. My crest release is really good when it’s good, but disappears as soon as I’m nervous. I feel like I have to keep my hands back to keep my weight back in case the horse stops. It isn’t true, but it’s how it feels. The automatic is harder so it makes me concentrate on my lower leg and hip so that I can pull it off, but psychologically it’s significantly easier to follow the mouth slightly rather than toss my hands up the neck. I kinda like the result but I’m not dead sure yet.

And I’m throwing this in here too – G wasn’t able to exercise Pennie much last week, so I got to borrow her for a day and have some fun. Love this pony. She’s epic. Pictured: reason why I must learn a better release.

Eagle is going much better. He can be tricky to train for his novice owners; he’s never naughty, but he is responsive and forward-thinking by nature, so when you’re a novice trotting along and you panic and grab with your legs he’s probably going to go faster. We spent a lot of time installing some very sharp brakes and a relaxed halt, and he’s doing great.

They harvested the maize last week. The world suddenly looks bigger; and there’s not as much to spook at. I borrowed Dusty from the kids for a hack and remembered why I trust this little pony like nobody else.

This is Troy, who is my current favourite schoolie from Winstead. He is large and round and lazy but also jumps anything if you get him to go fast enough, so he’s my type. We were jumping over 80cm in fairly tricky exercises last lesson and he gives me a lot of courage. Thank you Troy (and coach K of course).

This cheeky adorable Faithy thing has been getting ideas above her station and picking fights with herd members, so now she has one kick on each hock. One more kick and I’ll move her out, but I suspect she’s doing something to provoke getting bullied. Bratty 2yo thinks she can rule the roost down there.

We have been having more conversations about the horsebox. She doesn’t walk right in yet, but if you show her you have cookies she’ll go in. She’s still learning about the world and I’m still learning about her, but I love her so much. Also she will do anything for cookies.

This is Meatlug (after the dragon – a greatly inappropriate name) and I think she’s beautiful. Those eyes…


Destiny has his ups and downs. Our personality clash makes for a difficult relationship, but we have been making really good progress. He’s so good on hacks now, jumped the difficult gymnastic, and is learning to move laterally off my leg.

Blizzard is trotting laps in the (amazing, new) ring now. Slanted poles are amazing, by the way – I haven’t had my knees smacked even once. He was scared of me posting at first, but his reaction to being scared is to stop dead, so that’s quite OK for a novice horse. We have some confidence building to do in trot but it won’t be long before we canter.

Lullaby has been a bit flat lately. I’ve tried the usual tricks – decreased workload, time off, a fun jumping session with a big kid – to no avail. She doesn’t seem unsound or in any physical trouble beyond the usual stiffness that we’re controlling with joint supplements, but there’s just a lack of her usual sparkle. I really hope her age and many years in the riding school aren’t catching up to her. I need her – we need her. But I’m her advocate. So we’ll try hacks and different food and so on until my stalwart little colleague is herself again. She has served so well for so long at such a thankless task.
My job is easy by comparison. It’s the least I can do to be as faithful as my good little ponies.

Glory to the King.

all ready for tomorrow

Rocking E Blog Hop

I haven’t done one of these in ages, but everyone’s jumped on the bandwagon with Rocking E’s Summer Blog Hop Series and it looked too good to miss out on.

Summer-blog-hop

(Technically, us being in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s winter, but I’m a rebel.)

  1. What is your earliest, clearest horse memory? Definitely coming off a pony for the first time. I was four and taking lessons at a local riding school (the same one where I bought Lullaby for our own riding school, some fifteen years later). The pony, Prinsie (“little prince”), was a small, hairy brown object of indeterminate age or breed. It was trotting along in one of their odd little double-fenced lunging rings and I just sort of poppled off. As you do.
  2. Describe the perfect summer day. A self-confessed hater of hacking, I find myself forced to admit that it would be one of those fly-ridden, deep green hacks that you only ever get to have in summer, with the horses’ coats all on fire from that relentlessly bright sunshine that is characteristic of Africa. The green world thrown wide before us; pools of still water, watched by dragonflies, to splash in; the birdsong so prevalent it’s practically deafening. But then again, when I think of summer I think of HOY – all the spotless summer coats and the  green, green Bob Charter and the horses all surrounded by a cloud of mixed hairspray and bug repellent – and that’s pretty perfect too.
  3. Are you reading anything right now? Tell me about it!  The British Horse Society’s “Coaching and Teaching Riding” and the German Equestrian Federation’s “Principles of Riding”. #nerd Also the Bible, although I guess that’s pretty obvious.
  4. Do you follow a celebrity (horsey or non) that you’re embarrassed to say fascinates you? Tell me. NOW. Well, I wouldn’t say follow, but I also cannot confirm nor deny that when Chris Hemsworth pops up onto any screen anywhere, I am not able to look away.
  5. What is your single most biggest horsey dream or goal?  Oh, we all know I leave the dreaming up to God most days, but there’s something in equine-assisted psychotherapy that won’t stop calling my name. Probably God, too. I start my course in 2018 and I can’t wait. Dressage too, obviously. I have no delusions of riding overseas someday, but I sure would love to go down centreline in a Grand Prix test. I just want to feel what that feels like – I want to know how it is to dance like that.
  6. If you were at Starbucks right now, what would you order? I’ll just slink away in embarrassment because, once again, Africa. Never been to Starbucks. But if I did, there would be chocolate in it.
  7. What is your biggest equine pet peeve? Evolution. Need I say more?
  8. With everything going on politically and in the media, tell me, do you follow it religiously? Tune it out? Or something in between?  Y’all Americans think you’re having political fun, try Africa sometime. I avoid reading about politics like the plague, beyond the essential basics. My entire country appears to be addicted to whining about our politic situation, usually on social media, using their freedom of speech, their privilege, and their literacy. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t achieve anything and things could be a whole lot worse. Whining (especially from Christians) is in very poor taste when people are getting their heads blown off in public for what they believe in elsewhere.
  9. If you had to show your horse to a song, what would you choose?  Just covered that… for all of them, here.
  10. What are you most looking forward to this summer? Well, it’s winter now, but for this upcoming summer, definitely the SANESA Nationals if some of the kiddos go through. They’ve got a fighting chance!

Glory to the King.

Sunburnt

Highveld weather: two days ago we had cold mist and an icy wind straight from Antarctica, and today the heat came. The sun was merciless, so hot and bright it felt like the light was pressing down on us physically. I guess sometimes the real Light can feel that way too, but the fact remains that both are life-giving.

so much air here ❤

Philosophying aside, for us it means sunburn – horses and people both. Of course, the horses with pink noses religiously get cream on so they don’t burn, but us humans are perpetually red, peeling, or gorgeously tanned. (The bits that you can see. The bits you can’t see are positively luminescent).
It also meant that the school ponies were irritable and moody after their first lesson, but on the upside the training horses were extremely relaxed and didn’t have the energy for melodrama.

Exavior was the hero of the day. I didn’t lunge him at all, just threw his tack on and climbed aboard. He was much less against my inside hand today in trot and so good to halt that I leaned down, opened the ring gate and rode him up into the big arena. He was positively angelic. My adrenalin was sky high and I had to pull myself out of that heels-up hunched-over fetal position a few times, and I know my breathing was very sticky, but he just dealt with it and plugged along. He wasn’t spooky at all, just a bit distracted by the others and obviously very wiggly. He’s been such a trooper about my nerves so far, I really owe him one.

After this high pressure ride, we went on the most stunning hack up the koppie (rocky hill). The views are incredible and Arwen was so relaxed and happy.

Jamaica was next. He had his first jumping session under me yesterday. He hasn’t jumped since he broke his scapula a year ago, and judging by his flatwork I was extremely dubious, so when he overjumped the first little fence I promptly went and got a neck strap and my big girl panties. I do not need my arm broken too, thank you very much. But after the first few giant leaps he settled down beautifully and began to enjoy himself and plop along happily. Today was flatwork, and we kept it quite low-key, working on trying to get a connection in the canter circles.

Destiny had been so good last week, giving me two whole long sessions without any napping, that I optimistically stuck his bridle on and took a lunge roller down to the ring with me. He did nap once, at which I was so indignant that I gave him one hiding and he promptly cut it out, so I put the roller on too and he didn’t turn a hair.

no hairs turning here

Zara’s session was a little odd; she was hyper to lunge and I was about to get on when there was a loud twang and Lady Erin leapt up from the wrong side of the fence, having fallen asleep underneath it and gotten up in a panic. Zara was abandoned in the ring while T and I wrestled the baby monster back into her field. We had just succeeded in this endeavour when there was another loud twang and Zara crashed underneath the ring gate, galloping off merrily. Luckily she was quite OK to catch and I patched up the ring and got on her for three gaits without incident. We finished with some more work in the big arena. She wiggled quite annoyingly, but wasn’t at all spooky or nervous.

I only had like ten minutes for poor Faithy (welcome to being one of mine, Faithy) but they were ten very good minutes. She still only suffers herself to be caught for food, but once caught she’s very relaxed about grooming. I picked out her forefeet for the first time today. We also walked twice around her field without a bum rope.

so shiny

Magic finished off my riding for the day, not really on the best note. He kept it together but he wasn’t relaxed like yesterday. He felt hot and a little bit reactive, so we stuck to flatwork until he settled and then I put him to bed.

Also, shout out to Starlight’s mom! Starlight was a sob story on Facebook seeking a new home for a teensy amount of cash. I said no, but Starlight’s mom bought her anyway and that little horse is a machine! God obviously said yes!

wheeee

Glory to the King.