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.

ZBHBH: Everyday Fail

For me, this title can probably be changed to “Fail Every Day”, but I digress…

I failed to see a distance. Magic failed to see a height.
I failed to see a distance. Magic failed to see a height.
Never mind the solid oxer! Photographers are TERRIFYING
Never mind the solid oxer! Photographers are TERRIFYING
How not to dressage. (Proof that Arwen is a saint. Don't worry, we don't do this thing anymore).
How not to dressage. (Proof that Arwen is a saint. Don’t worry, we don’t do this thing anymore).
Mane eating. Third photo from this show that demonstrates epic failure, but really, this was the awesomest show ever.
Mane eating. Third photo from this show that demonstrates epic failure, but really, this was the awesomest show ever.
Down banks: Where horses go horizontally forwards and riders go horizontally backwards.
Down banks: Where horses go horizontally forwards and riders go horizontally backwards.
How not to calm down a panicking baby horse
How not to calm down a panicking baby horse
Poor Magic
Poor Magic
I realise I failed at remembering the halt at the start of Prelim 3. Reed fails to stretch in his stretchy trot.
I realise I failed at remembering the halt at the start of Prelim 3. Reed fails to stretch in his stretchy trot.
That time I paid lots of money and called in lots of favours for a lesson with an international dressage instructor and then we shied at baboons for an hour.
That time I paid lots of money and called in lots of favours for a lesson with an international dressage instructor and then we shied at baboons for an hour.
I don't even know
I don’t even know
Staying in the warmup arena: FAIL.
Staying in the warmup arena: FAIL.
HATE SNAFFLE. SNAFFLE EVIL.
HATE SNAFFLE. SNAFFLE EVIL.
Um...
Um…

I love this blog hop! This must be hands down the funniest one hosted… and it’s given me an idea that may just have to become Riding on Water’s first blog hop.

Praise God for the horses that keep the best of us humble.

Eyes Up

And so Springs Event draws ever nearer and, to my relief, my nerves are starting to wobble. The Mutterer was right – you have to be nervous, you have to have that edge. Somehow I just have to find the balancing act between paralysing fear and helpful adrenalin.

Either way, Springs’ course map went out today and I nearly fainted; the drop was bad enough (I have hated drops since I knew what they were) and then there has to be a ditch in the equation as well. For what it’s worth, Arwen and I have never jumped a ditch in our lives. My strategy will be to kick on and hold tight and trust that gutsy little grey mare. Flagged water is also a first for us, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be fine. She likes the Springs water.

The other horses, however, have been keeping my mind off it thoroughly. Magic and Arwen both put in solid lessons with the Mutterer on Wednesday, despite my minor meltdown (confidence, people: it helps. Also patient trainers). The Storm Horse was his usual superb self; I also got to ride his son, whom I think we shall call the Thundercloud Horse because he’s about the right colour. Hopefully, if I get him ready in time, he shall go to the Spring Show with his daddy and Arwen Jnr. The Mutterer and I also had a couple of awesome outrides on some of the baby horses. Sometimes I think we must be totally insane to take out a pair of half-backed babies and teach them to canter in the hay fields, but it really is the most ridiculous fun even if they lose the plot every now and then. I picked a goofy Nooitgedachter/warmblood colt who turned out to have a mild inertia problem: once he’s stopped he doesn’t really get going, but once he’s going he doesn’t really get stopped. At least he plopped along in a straight line when I eventually got him to canter, while the Mutterer and his colt occasionally vanished into the trees amid crashes and mild profanity.

Thursday I took it easy; I knew I should probably ride at least Arwie, but I also knew that if I didn’t take some time off, I’d be stone dead by Sunday. I just rode the German Giraffe, who was superb, despite bucking spectacularly when I free lunged her first. (She has only ever bucked with me once, but she removed me effortlessly with that one buck).

Today was madness, but wonderful madness; I rode nine horses and they were all at least relatively good ranging to awesome. Arwen and I did some fast work and bounced up and down some banks in preparation for the dreaded drop. She was amazing – settled and sensible, but ever eager, alert, and lively. She reminded me that drops aren’t scary at all when her saddle fits, stupid little human. I was tremendously proud of her.

Vastrap had another jumping session, which he rocked; I kept the jumps little, but I think I can start putting them up again as we both seem to have recovered at least some of our courage. Trappies, actually, has all his courage – it’s me that’s the problem, as usual. The little grey pony refrained from bucking me off, which was nice. (He was actually extremely well behaved; I think as he is now he’d be okay on a lead rein with his little kid, it’s just cantering that’s the trouble. He’ll have his wolf teeth out on Tuesday and then we can hopefully sort that out).

It was windy and noisy, and I need a dress rehearsal for the next training show, so I dressed Magic up in his adorable earmuffs for his flatwork. It went fairly well; the dude still likes to throw his head around when he’s upset, but I think I might have cracked the code there. Yanking on him to discipline him only makes it worse, and releasing the pressure mid-tantrum only causes it to happen more frequently, so today I decided to just sit there and lock my elbows. This caused my hands to sit dead still; not pulling on him, but firmly resisting his tantrum. The moment he put his head down again the reins would instantly relax due to my hand position and I’d soften my elbows again and give him a soft contact. The light bulb went on faster and faster each time this happened, so I’ll be sticking to this technique for a while.

The afternoon sessions were hacking on Her Majesty, who was fiery and wonderful and happy; flatwork with the Wonderful Flipping Filly, who has finally stopped flipping over and now only shakes her head on occasion; hacking on dear daft Vicky, who was a brick (and I can’t think of a nickname for her that suits her better than her actual stable name); schooling the Ditcher (the mare that infamously bucked me off and shot off down the main road during a hack) who was superb; and schooling the Tank, who has finally figured out that in order to make a canter circle her legs should go in the same direction as her head. They’d all made progress (apart from Skye, who doesn’t have to), so what more can I ask for?

I also finally got the pictures of our April 6th training show and they are amazing. Arwen looks superb in them, she really does. I also don’t look like a drunken ape, which is always nice. In fact, I like my jumping position better in these photos than I ever have before. At least now I’ve gotten the idea of giving with my hands without leaping up the neck, eh?

Arwen is beautiful

Arwen4ways1

Counting down to Springs. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done! Glory and honour and praise and power to our beloved King!

Bring It, Springs!

With our next horse trial on the horizon, I’m feeling confident, in a way. I say “in a way” because I feel really confident, but before our previous successes I have been dead nervous, so I feel nervous because I’m not feeling nervous, if that makes any sense whatsoever. I have given up on trying to understand my own psychology.

Arwen, however, has given me not a scrap of reason to doubt her. There will be no stressage at this event (hooray!) so we don’t have to worry about the sandbox. We’ve been putting in brisk workouts around the neighbour’s fields; following her clip Arwen magically appears twenty times fitter and has been burning up the “track”. She comes out to work every day with bucketfuls of enthusiasm and energy; her workouts seem to steady her more than tire her out and after 45 minutes mostly spent hand-galloping, she’ll have covered at least 6km and still have plenty left in the tank.

Showjumping has also been going very well. At the beginning of April we blundered off to a training show (which never even made it into the blog), and blasted around the 60cm, 70cm and 80cm classes. 60cm was a speed trial, so I totally wrote it off knowing that I go around a showjumping course at the approximate speed of a continental drift, and we ended up coming third on top of a class of enormous thoroughbreds. We went double clear in the 70cm and had the last pole down in the 80cm, which I wasn’t upset about because I got her a terrible distance to it and she was exhausted anyways. This was pre-clip and it was a brutally hot day. So we know that she can jump an 80cm course without fuss.

At home we’ve been jumping a little course that I set up to challenge us. It starts with a vertical of around 1.00m, followed by a turn to a skinny about 65cm high (she takes the skinny in her stride, to my amazement), then a little bank up to an 85cm vertical, then a bank down and a turn to a 95cm parallel oxer. She had a few stops at the two bigger fences, but mostly this is rider error. 1.00m is reaching the end of the little mare’s scope and I can’t expect her to jump that sort of thing when I’m not doing my job. She saves my butt enough over the little jumps.

Much love for this fat beast
Much love for this fat beast

Cautiously confident over here; rest assured that walking the cross-country will probably dissolve me back into a suitable state of pressurised anxiety.

Magic has also been super. He managed to injure himself on Friday, another of his mysterious impossible idiotic injuries; some kind of an impact right above the hock on his inner left thigh, leaving a swelling and a graze. Dweeb. By Monday it was fine, though, so we went back to work. We jumped the same course as Arwen, except without the skinny and with everything down to about 60cm. He was his usual: honest as the day, excellent as long as I let go of his face. I think I should start singing “Let it Go” while I ride him. Unfortunately…

I’m also deeply puzzled as to Magic and the French link snaffle. Not because Magic fights the snaffle; that’s pretty normal. But for all the world Magic behaves as if the dear little copper-jointed French link is twenty times harder than his big nasty Kimberwick. He hides behind it, he overreacts to downward transitions in it, and he fights it every step in the canter, alternating violent head-throwing with coming up behind the bit. He’s even worse with the single joint and his teeth are up to date. Then with the Kimberwick he puts his little nose down and goes confidently into the contact. Lunatic. I know he hates the bit to touch his palate, so maybe he hates it to touch his tongue too and the Kimberwick’s port suits him. Either way, he detests dressage anyway, so for now the Kimberwick it is.

Take away this nasty evil snaffle, Mom
Take away this nasty evil snaffle, Mom

Further news is fairly limited, especially as it is too late for my brain to retrieve any of it. Vastrap jumped the same course as Magic like a superstar; one day when I have the courage I’ll have to do a power jump with him because I’ve seen him overjump 1.10m by miles – he’s got quite a pop in him. Baby Thun was much less stupid during his flatwork session yesterday than last time and even slid for me, on my poor footing no less. Exavior is being adorkable and growing like a weed. Skye continues to bully and babysit him, despite now standing almost a full hand shorter than him. The Mutterer’s chestnut mare has gone to her overjoyed new home. The little roan pony bucked me off rather painfully onto my left buttock, which now bears an impressive bruise; the impressive bruises are always somewhere that you can’t show off.

Except for the time that I faceplanted off Vastrap
Except for the time that I faceplanted off Vastrap

To bed with this exhausted equestrienne. Praise God for full days and good horses.

Glory to the 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

TOABH: Buy all the Things!

Beka from The Owls Approve asks: Let’s continue pretending that horse poop magically transforms into money instead of the other way. So money doesn’t matter. If you could buy anything for your horse, what would you buy?

Assuming I’d already bought professional fitted, gorgeously snobbish British saddles for everybody, I think the thing they would enjoy most would be a better arena. They don’t much care what they wear as long as it doesn’t hurt them, and they’re already up to their eyeballs in grass, so the one thing that does seem to bother them is the arena.

Mine has served me extremely well, don’t get me wrong, and we’ve achieved a lot there that we couldn’t have if it didn’t exist. Whenever we do some work on it and render it temporarily unusable, I sorely miss it. But it is on a bit of a slope and it doesn’t have any footing – theoretically it’s grass, but I’ve worn so many different tracks in it, on so many different places, that most if it is just rock hard. This is unkind to their joints and makes life very hard when trying to teach a baby horse to canter round and round without falling on his nose. And something has dug a rather large hole right on the centreline (I presume it was Magic, who can get a bit overexcited when preparing a spot to roll in).

So I would build the most magnificent arena you had ever seen; 100m x 100m with one of those unbearably fancy surfaces that look like golden sand and are nice to fall on (always a plus). With one section of it marked out in a full-size dressage arena complete with judges’ box so that at least you’re prepared for it when they spook at C at shows. It should have a beautiful high roof on it, so high that it allows the breeze through in summer, and walls that can be pulled down kind of like garage doors in winter (I’m not restricting myself to the realms of possibility, okay?). And a huge selection of jumps of all colours and shapes, including a water tray and a liverpool and a wall…

Go big or go home, eh?

One like this would be fine too...
One like this would be fine too…