2015: The Year Ahead

Last year was long, interesting, busy, and a most tremendous learning curve. I made my fair share of mistakes and had a few nasty little failures, but I find myself better, stronger, and nearer to God than when it began, so I shall file it firmly under “Success”.

The horses also did quite awesomely this year, so without further ado, the 2014 goals wrap-up and the setting of our goals for 2015.

Skye’s the Limit. In 2014 I wrote: “Skye’s goals: Stay healthy; get fit; get a Western saddle.” A Western saddle we sure have, but arthritis has ended any prospect of getting fit last year or this one, or possibly for many years to come. She is, however, very healthy and happy as long as we keep up our bi-weekly walking hacks.

Currently she is still quite happy to carry me around on her back, but I’ve also found that having Exavior to babysit has given her a new lease on life. Once I’m breeding horses, I think her job will be the weanling mommy.

Skye’s goals: Prevent the progression of her arthritis, stay healthy and happy, attempt not to get too fat. Also learn to be ponied off another horse.

Skye1

Thunderbird. His 2014 goals: This year, I’d like to spend some time working on Thunder’s physical strength, since he is old enough to handle heavier work now. Lungeing in side reins to build his loin muscles in balance, particularly in canter, will help. I would like him to lope slowly and on the correct lead (using simple lead changes for now), understand the basics of neck-reining at all three gaits, learn to stand squarely, and turn on the haunches by the end of the year. Outrides should also still be done at least once a week; I would like him to go out consistently without bolting, alone and in company, by the end of the year.

Once again, Baby Thun has made a spectacular success of his goals – for the second year running (there should be some kind of award for that).

Physical strength: Well, check. He put on a massive growth spurt at the beginning of the year and looked like a clothes hanger, but for the past few months he has bulked out at an alarming rate. Moving him to a kikuyu pasture also helped. He now looks like a rather nice Welsh cob; he has a nice round butt, a fairly good neck and his loins have filled out so that back flows smoothly into bottom. He looks like a grownup horse now.

Schooling: Check, check, check. His lope is nothing to write home about but he doesn’t tear around like a baby anymore, he goes on the right lead, he neck-reins at all three gaits, stands squarely and turns on the haunches. He also turns on the forehand, sidepasses at a walk and jog, reins back well and kind of sliding stops. Well, kind of.

Outrides: Check. He’s fine both alone and in company and does not, as a rule, bolt except when severely frightened, which is true for most horses. He can still be a bit on the spooky side but that will just take time to go away.

2015 will be Thun’s third year under saddle and it’s time for him to learn some more advanced things, as a firm foundation has been well laid.

Physical: Now that we have muscle, we can add some fitness. Long-distance riding will do the trick.

On the ground: We do need to work on his ability to give you personal space. He isn’t bad about it until he forgets and stands on top of you like an idiot, but he needs to be sharply reminded every time he does that. He also needs a bath or two because he can be a bit jumpy about the hosepipe.

Schooling: Start to work towards real reining movements. Improve on the spins, introduce flying changes, continue to practice sliding stops and rein backs, introduce rollbacks.

Outrides: He now has good manners on a hack, and the only thing to solve his spookiness is going to be many, many trail miles. Ride out as much as possible for as long distances as possible, show him new things and challenge him until he gets more comfortable on hacks.

To conclude: Fix the personal space thing and the hosepipe thing; introduce flying changes and rollbacks; improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs; log as many trail miles as possible.

Thunder3

Arwen Evenstar. In 2014: I would like to get her on the show circuit more regularly and to raise the bar slightly to be jumping around 80cm competitively by the end of the year. I would also like to enter her in a few dressage shows and see how she does, starting with the Preliminary tests, they don’t look that hard. At home, she can learn to jump 1.10m consistently. Her canter, whilst good, needs some work; she must learn flying changes. I want her to improve her frame so that she is going in a good outline with her nose in by the end of the year. She must also learn to do all her lateral movements, which she does well in a walk, in trot (starting with shoulder-in and then travers and half-pass). She must also be able to extend and collect her trot.

Arwen did not do badly at all. Showing was a definite win (har, har, har), having attended seven outings. Though only two of these were shows, she gave no major issues at any of them barring three stops she had when I entered her in a jumping round that was rather too big at the time. Dressage with a success as we won our Prelim test with over 60%. Jumping I would also call a success; she is okay over 1.10m although I have to baby her somewhat, and comfortable at 1.00m. Given that 1.10m is very close to her physical limit, I’m happy to be a little lenient about it. Her canter has improved, but flying changes are unfortunately nonexistent. Her frame is very close to being where I want it; she keeps it at all three gaits but can lose it occasionally in transitions. Her lateral movements are up to scratch and we are developing a nice medium trot. I would call her competitive at Novice, schooling Elementary; I was hoping to school Elementary Medium, and we would have, but for the changes.

Long-term, I don’t ever see myself showing Arwen in eventing at anything bigger than 90-95cm. She can jump 1.10m if she has to (well, she can jump 1.40m if she feels like it, albeit riderless), but I see no point in forcing her right to the limit of her ability. She is also rather too small to be competitive at 1.00m or bigger because she just doesn’t have the big stride to cover ground fast enough. I’m completely cool with that, so all I want her to do with her life is go to EV90 with me, go as far in dressage as she can (she still has quite a long way before she reaches her limit there; I think she could go Medium or even Advanced with many years of training), do a spot of showing and then become a school pony in a million.

For this year, though:

Physical: I would like to see a bit more muscling at the base of her neck. Currently, she is also extremely fat, having had two weeks off, so we need to get fit. Because she is so little she will need to be extraordinarily fit to be competitive, so fitness is a huge priority.

On the ground: Nada. She loads, she clips, she ties up, she does anything I want. She doesn’t like having her legs clipped but we could do it if we drugged her (and if we wanted to).

Schooling: Develop collected trot, extended walk, medium trot and canter. Raise the forehand into an uphill balance. Improve leg-yield and shoulder-in. Introduce flying changes. In other words, be competitive at Elementary and schooling Elementary Medium by the end of the year.

Jumping: Stay consistent at 1.00m at home. Introduce more technically difficult and visually daunting obstacles. Work on her water complex problem.

Competitions: Show in at least one graded EV70 event.

To conclude: Get her fit; build her neck; school Elementary Medium; introduce scary jumps; fix the water problem; show graded in EV70.

Arwen1

Magical Flight. In 2014: To wrap it up, this year Magic must go to his first shows, and learn to make calm transitions between gaits, leg-yield in walk, start flying changes, and build correct muscle tone. I also want him jumping 1.10m.

Magic and I had such a wonderful, turbulent year during which we both learned so much about each other that goals seem pitiful things compared to how far we came. That’s not to say that we met them all. Oh, no. I wanted him solid at 1.10m by the end of the year and we are rather tremulous at 80cm. But his flatwork improved by miles. His transitions are good, his leg-yield in walk is good, and his muscle tone is awesome. He could do with some more neck, but I’m not too fussed about it. Flying changes aren’t a thing, sadly, but his first show was a resounding success.

Physical: Time to drill fitness into this monster. He has the muscles he needs for jumping and eventing, but he wouldn’t know hillwork if you hit him with it. Of course, first we need to fix the outride problem, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I would like him to be fit enough to jump 80-90cm courses easily by the end of the year.

On the ground: Tying up is a major issue of his, so work can begin on that. He also needs to load properly with only one person. Clipping is a nightmare we don’t have to deal with this year.

Schooling: Have his teeth done, then school him so that he is soft and correct in his beloved French link snaffle. Then introduce Novice work so that he is solid at Novice by the end of the year. He will need to learn trot leg-yields and trot and canter lengthenings, and improve on his simple changes until they become second nature. Introduce counter canter. Also, work on hacking out without trying to kill anyone, even if we can just potter around the block in a walk without dying by the end of the year.

Jumping: One word: Confidence. Be confident at 80cm even if that’s the highest we go this year. Build confidence over different types of jumps, improve on his technique, and learn to relax on him over fences.

Competition: For the first half of 2015 continue to do monthly training shows in dressage and jumping, taking it easy on the height. As soon as he is fine at 70cm at training shows, go graded in showjumping. Eventing can wait until outrides happen.

To conclude: Improve fitness, tie up, load, be competitive at Novice, survive a hack, be confident at 80cm, and go graded at 70cm showjumping once he is ready for it.

Magic5

Exavior. Last of all, my dearly beloved big chestnut colt. He had no goals in 2014 seeing as he was not mine and there was no possibility that he ever would become mine; and yet here he is, by the grace of God, my first warmblood. If only he’ll grow up sound… Thy will be done, my King.

Exavior turns two at the end of the year and his backing, depending on his legs, will commence either at the end of 2015 or in 2016. This is the year in which he learns to be an absolutely impeccable equine good citizen and to deal with everything that life among mankind may throw at him. He already knows what a halter is, respects personal space, ties up, stands perfectly still to be groomed and have his feet cleaned, allows himself to be blanketed, and stands more or less still for the Mutterer to do his hooves. Now for more advanced citizenship.

  • Advanced halter training: leading on a slack rope, trotting up in hand, standing squarely, understanding of pressure and release (yielding the shoulder, yielding the hindquarters)
  • Leading over, through and under scary things and away from his group
  • Bathing
  • Desensitisation to noise and sight: first a numnah, then plastic bags
  • Loading preparation: leading in a narrow passage, under a roof and over a noisy surface
  • Loading. This one will be difficult, but if he will load with the help of two people and/or a lunge rein by the year’s end, I’ll be satisfied.
  • Injections; use a trick I learned with a syringe, a rubber band and a treat
  • Be gelded
  • Lowering of the head when requested. This is usually not on the to-do list, but he is going to be 17hh and I’m never going to be over 5′ 4″, so I want him to put his nose on the floor when I ask for it
  • Basic lunging with a halter and long line only
  • Wearing a roller
  • Lunging over poles
  • Wearing boots
  • Clipping. I don’t intend to give him a full clip, but we can lay down the foundation by having him stand still while the clippers are rested gently on his body

Exavior1

Yours truly. I must get into the habit of riding with a proper upper body: eyes looking between the horse’s ears with chin up, hands a fist’s breadth above and in front of the pommel, thumbs turned up, elbows relaxed by my sides with upper arms hanging almost straight. I must learn not to balance on my hands, but to push them forward and allow the horse to stretch. Oh, and I can stop doing that funky poke-one-toe-out thing. And I must ride right up to every jump.. In Western: Ha! I don’t even know what a proper Western seat looks like. Fix this. Stop leaning forward and gripping with the knees in lope and halt from lope.

Jumping was a tremendous success. Well, kind of. I used to have super fixed, stiff hands, and now I have this enormous release where my fists end up almost between the ears. I think the horses prefer the epic release, though, so I’ll take it. I have more or less quit the habit of looking down and my elbows are much softer and my habit of fixing the hands to the withers has much improved. My Western seat has also improved, as I’ve learned to bend the elbow and raise the hand and relax into the saddle better.

Dressage: Turn the hands straight, so that the thumbs are on top, instead of having turned out cowboy hands. Keep the shoulders back. Soften the lower back. Lengthen the leg and bring the lower leg further back for better hip-heel alignment. Break the habit of dropping the inside shoulder and improve straightness.

Jumping: Strengthen and correct the lower leg to keep the heel down and prevent the leg from swinging back. Break the habit of slipping back towards the cantle during landing. Break the habit of resting the hands on the neck during landing. Break the habit of staring down into airy oxers.

RuachReed8

This year promises to be a very interesting one. I’m turning 18, for one, and have to get used to the idea of being practically a grownup. It’s also my last year of school (hopefully) and the year in which I can get a driver’s licence. I’m also on the brink of buying my first broodmare and showing in Horse of the Year for the first time. I could also ride in graded shows for the first time, and since I plan to qualify as an instructor in 2016 I have to get my facilities up to scratch for a riding school this year.

To wrap up this Epic Novel of a blog post (sorry guys… this one was more for my benefit than anyone else’s), my prayer for 2015.

My King, I set goals, I work hard and I dream dreams. But no amount of my sweat or planning can ever achieve anything alone. I can hardly be trusted even to set the right goals, even for my horses. Lord Jesus, this year belongs to You. Everything in me and about me and around me I lay down at Your feet. Do with it what You will, for Your will is pure and just and perfect. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, O King. Let me draw nearer to You than ever before. Hold me close, carry me through, and be with everybody that I love, my King. Let everything I am and do glorify Your amazing name and let me decrease so that You may increase. I await the day of Your coming. Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done. In Jesus’s beloved Name, amen.

Why Ride?

Clients closing their stables for the holidays + ALL my horses having downtime due to AHS = very little riding for this Horse Mutterer’s apprentice. In fact, I am down to one poor little grey horse to ride; the Mutterer’s white gelding. Luckily, he is a pleasant ride and can jump and do outrides, so I’m able to keep sort of in practice, but I’m down from 4-6 hours of saddle time daily to that many hours a week.

I’m in no position to complain – 6 hours a week? I know people who would kill for that much – so I won’t complain, I’ll rejoice. I’ll rejoice because my job is so awesome that I spend the holidays in eager anticipation of starting work again.

That brings me to a question that stops me in my tracks a little: Why do I ride?

Just last week, a big stallion took violent objection to the fact that his girth was pinching him and after the third rear in as many split seconds, I ate dust. I rolled, spat out some arena surface, fixed the girth, convinced the Mutterer that I was fine, and got back on. Why, though? When half a ton of animal sends you flying, why get back on?

Why do we even do this crazy sport? Life is dangerous enough without large flight animals in it. I have been kicked, trodden on, bitten, thrown, struck, knocked over, dragged, and squashed more times than I care to remember. I come home with aching muscles and a brain so fried that I’m asleep by eight-fifteen. Instead of soft lady’s hands, I have rough, calloused fingers and scars on my knuckles. Instead of attractive curves, I have ridiculous biceps, skinny calves and forearms like a man’s. I don’t go out on Sundays because I’m showing; I study in the dark so that I can ride in the light.

I would never have it any other way.

Why, though? Why is it that every time I’m thrown, I do everything I can to swallow the fear and throw my leg back over that animal’s rump and try again? Why do I want to spend my life baking in a dusty arena with my sweat trickling down to mix with the perspiration of the half-ton animal that chooses to work for me? Or breaking ice on water troughs on mornings so frigid even the dogs stay under the covers and think me mad?

Is it the sense of achievement when we finally get something right? The flash of satin on the rare occasions when we actually place? Or the surge of power when a gigantic animal breaks into a full gallop underneath me? Or the star-touching moment in midair over a triple bar? Or the glorious yielding, dancing balance as we perfect a half-pass?

No, it isn’t any of those.

What, then? The way a horse shines in the sun? The way he smells, the creak of leather, the swish of his mane and the grace of his rippling muscles as he bears down the long side of the arena like an approaching tsunami? The unbelievable, dragonfly lightness with which he lifts his muscular bulk into an effortless leap over that gigantic fence?

No, none of those, either.

Shall we delve deeper? Is it that nameless and indescribable thing that the equine heart does to the human soul? Is it the communication that runs deeper than language? The partnership between thinking human and moving beast? The threefold cord of God, human and horse that seems, for those star-touching moments, unbreakable? The wonder of an interspecies friendship that has understanding without words, love without expression and acceptance without comprehension?

Not even that. Oh, those are all what I love most about riding. But they’re not why I ride. In fact, the short answer to the question “Why do you ride?” is this one: I can’t say.

The long answer is this: I ride for reasons there are no words to explain. I ride because when jeans meet saddle, heart meets heaven. I ride because the rhythm of a horse’s gaits beats in my heart, because the flow of his movement runs in my blood. I ride because in the silent communion of girl and horse, I feel the wordless love between God and girl. I ride because I feel I was born to, like I am fulfilling His timeless will every time I take up the reins. I ride because I cannot imagine not riding. I ride because not even the hardest day’s riding is harder than not riding. I ride because although I could die each time I get on, I know that part of me will die forever if I don’t get on again. I ride because, though I know God made me for a higher purpose, He also made me a horsewoman. I ride because when I fall, no matter how scared I am, the idea of not getting back on is inconceivable, because walking away is not an option. I ride because mounting up is coming home.

I ride for the glory of the King.

Magic8

What We Sow, We Reap

One of the things I love most about horses is that you get back whatever you put in. If you love hard enough, a horse will eventually love you back. And if you work hard enough, with most horses, that hard work pays off in the end.

It wasn’t that fun to be plopping around over tiny cross-rails on a horse that I know could jump 1.50m if only he believed he could. Hours of drilling dressage in the sandbox was all the more frustrating for knowing that the horse under me could jump the socks off anything else I’d ever ridden. But neither of us were ready for anything more than that. So it’s been months of flatwork, groundwork, tiny jumps, little grids, nothing to challenge him, but to slowly bring him on step by step. And bit by bit, tiny jump by tiny jump, our confidence is building. I’m slowly, slowly learning to ride him. And with each good session, he’s starting to believe in himself as much as I believe in him.

When I heard that my favourite show venue was holding a small training show, I just had to enter him. It was made for him. The first three classes were 30cm, 40cm, and 50cm, and I knew that this venue generally doesn’t make difficult or scary courses for the smallest classes. So with a prayer in my pocket, I bit the bullet and we loaded up the grey lunatic and took him off to Springs. He loaded well enough – Dad just had to stand behind him and tell him to get up and with me at his head he walked right in – and was bone dry and calm when we arrived.

For various reasons, I had been a bit out of action for the past week and only managed to fit in two sessions for him. He was coming off a two-day rest, which is never good, and I was dreading having to lunge him in the parking lot. I detest it when people do that, but if it was lunging or getting thrown I knew which one I was choosing. He seemed chilled, though, so I decided to take a chance and saddle him up. First I tried walking him around the arena, but he was quite unsettled and antsy – nothing naughty, but he chucked his head around and danced on the spot. I went with my usual philosophy: horses are made to move, and are happier and more settled when moving. So I pushed him into a trot and he put his head straight down and went to work like a pro.

Human, give me one reason why not to freak out right now
Human, give me one reason why not to freak out right now

I could have burst with pride and relief. He had a couple of head-tossing, dancing-on-the-spot baby moments but as long as I kept him moving forward he kept his mind on the job. No bucking, no rearing, not even a spook for the dressage letters or small kids and ponies bouncing around all over the place. He did overjump the first warmup jump ever so slightly, but I was ready for it and he wasn’t unreasonable about it, so after that he jumped perfectly. He was better than he is at home, with happy upright ears and an interested expression; he was enjoying the change and the challenge. I could have screamed with delight that he finally realised that the two of us can deal with scary things.

Now I know what we're doing! (and incidentally am awesome at it)
Now I know what we’re doing! (and incidentally am awesome at it)

We had one sinking moment at the very start of our first course. The first jump had a couple of somewhat spooky green tyres in front of it, and as I aimed him at it he put up his head and did his standard “Nopenopenopenope” move, involving a rapid reinback that Stacy Westfall would be proud of. Luckily, I kept my wits about me and put my hands in his mane and closed my legs quietly around his sides and softly insisted until his brain returned. And thank God (no really, thank Him) it did. Magic is smart enough and sensitive enough that he felt the pressure of his first show, picking it up in the atmosphere and in my body language, and I think he must have had one of his racing flashbacks. I can only imagine that the pressures of the track must have shattered him, because that’s the way he is, and whenever he had one of these moments at the track he was probably just pushed into the starting box and told to do his job because few people at a racetrack have time to soothe one panicky gelding. It’s probably why his racing career was so disastrous. But this time, he had me with him, and I have finally found out how to handle his moments and so his brain returned, he found his guts and he attacked that cross-rail like it had personally offended him. After that he was amazing. He locked onto every jump and knew exactly what he had to do. All I had to do was steer and enjoy the ride, and boy, did I enjoy it.

Because tiny uprights require KNEES
Because tiny uprights require KNEES

I realised again what an absolutely amazing horse he is. He has so much talent, such good movement, such a trainable mind and such an outstanding jump, not to mention his ample heart. I rubbed his neck as he trotted out of the little round and felt like we’d just won the Derby, I was that happy. He tossed out his front legs like he felt just as happy.

Of course, when I got off he went back to being dorky idiot Magic whom I know so well, and somehow while my dad was holding him he managed to put his foot through his reins and freaked out radically. Luckily he freed himself before anything got damaged. For a really talented amazing horse, he can be an absolute moron sometimes.

After that first round I just kept him moving. Even if we just walked on the buckle around the warmup, he was much happier to be moving than standing. When standing still he fidgeted or pawed the ground and was generally upset, so I figured he couldn’t be that tired and decided to keep him moving. It seemed to work; he was settled in his work but didn’t seem to run out of steam.

Happy place
Happy place

The next two rounds were picture perfect. We cantered most of them and he was amazing; he even got all his leads right, picked good distances with minimal help from me, and responded instantly to all of my aids. The arena was sopping wet, and while the footing was still safe and stable, there were quite a few shallow puddles of standing water. He didn’t let them bug him one bit and cantered straight through them, jumping in and out of them without any issues. Just gotta love the amount of heart this guy has.

BOOM
BOOM

After our rounds, I took off all his tack and just held him by his halter near a haynet to see if I could teach him to stand quietly. Once his tack was off, he seemed to realise that work time was over and ate hay peacefully until he was dry and we could go home. He did manage to remove both back boots and his tail bandages on the way home, as well as scraping the back of his ear and scratching his side (this is Magic we’re talking about), but didn’t seem too worried by anything very much.

I just had to realise again what a stunning horse I’ve been most undeservedly blessed with. God has entrusted a most amazing creature into my care, and I only pray that I can continue to ride him better every day until we both bring out the best in each other. I believe in this stupendously weird and wonderful horse, and the very fact that he’s been the answer to my prayers for a great horse must mean that God believes in me.

It’s a good thing that I believe in Him, because otherwise none of this would be possible. This is just the first step on an awesome journey. Glory to the King.

Magic7

 

Growing Closer

After all our trouble with confidence this winter, I think the long hours of grooming and groundwork and boring schooling drills are finally starting to pay off for Magic and me.

It’s not easy to see. Obviously, he looks a lot better on the flat than he used to; but his jumping is pretty much the same. He is a little more sensible about it, but can still do the weirdest things in midair (see below), and we’re still toodling around 70cm verticals. I’m not as all over the place on him as I used to be, but I still look like I’m levitating above him over the jumps instead of staying with him.

But it all feels so different. When I go to catch him now he comes to me with bright eyes and an expectant (adorable) little nicker. After I’ve ridden him he likes to hang out with me, just grazing around me until I leave, then he trots off to join Skye on whatever mission she’s accomplishing. Best of all, I think I’m finally learning to ride him; he doesn’t do the jackhammer-trotting-giraffe-head thing so much anymore. If I have a slip-up and bump on his back by accident he doesn’t panic anymore, and if he makes a mistake and overjumps something I can stay so much calmer than I used to. There’s a connectedness between us now, in the way we move around each other. It’s hard to explain, but I finally feel like he really is my horse.

Unfortunately, having a better bond does not immediately result in better technique. We have moments of sheer awesomeness, and then we have moments of epic fail. Frankly, we look horrible. But we’re finally learning to enjoy each other, and that’s what it’s all about.

We have jumping superpowers, among them the Superman impression
We have jumping superpowers, among them the Superman impression
and levitation
and rider levitation
and Gangnam Style, midair!
and Gangnam Style, midair!
Um... at least his legs are even
Um… at least his legs are even
Self-carriage much?!
Self-carriage much?!
And canter in a frame!
And canter in a frame!
And we finally got it right! (I know my reins are too long, but I need them like that in case I make a mistake and touch his mouth and he thinks I'm going to RIP HIS FACE OFF)
And we finally got it right! (I know my reins are too long, but I need them like that in case I make a mistake and touch his mouth and he thinks I’m going to RIP HIS FACE OFF)
So much personality <3
So much personality ❤

One Jump at a Time

Apparently show photographers have a thing for Arwen's head
Apparently show photographers have a thing for Arwen’s head

Sometimes, horses can make you humble. With Arwen, I wanted to be jumping 80cm by our May show. Well, we had had three stops by the second jump and after that it took three people and four attempts just to get us over the jump for practice. This was more due to my nerves than anything else; the jumps looked about 1.50m tall and as wide as the Nile even though they were really reasonable, and it definitely messed with my riding.

Pretty much the best jump of the whole May show... *sighs*
Pretty much the best jump of the whole May show… *sighs*

So even though I really, really wanted to enter the 80cm class at this show, I had to humble myself a little. And I entered the 30cm class. Yes, the lead-rein class where everyone gets a rosette so that all the little kids don’t feel left out. It was a bit humiliating, and I was probably the oldest person in the class. But Arwen goes better when she gets to see the jumps before she has to actually jump them, so humility it was; I entered it. Then to build her up slowly I also entered class four, the 55cm; and class seven, the 70cm.

Sunday found the longsuffering Mutterer dutifully towing Arwen and me off to a little local show in Springs at a prestigious eventing stable – owned by the same people as gave us the cross-country class last month. Arwen was a bit of a twerp to load. I tried for about half an hour to get her to walk on by herself, and while I got all four of her feet on the ramp, that was about it. I should probably have tried putting a line around her bottom like you do with a foal that’s learning to lead, but either way, when the Mutterer showed up and slapped her butt she walked on in about five seconds. She also did not try to send her back boots into orbit this time.

Although it was only about 45 minutes’ travelling, Arwen was barely sweaty at all and was happily looking out of the window when we arrived. The setup was perfect for her – the arenas are right in between all the paddocks, so she didn’t feel lonely.

This had a huge effect on her manners. She didn’t call, didn’t yank me around, didn’t dive at the nearest patch of grass, and stood still to be saddled up. We were both in a calm, non-irritated frame of mind when we headed for the warmup; it was quite early so only one little pony was trotting around when we got there. It was a blessed relief to be warming up in a bigger ring – 60x20m felt ample compared to last time!

Yay for big empty warmups
Yay for big empty warmups

Although the arena was bordered on one side by a hedge, on the other by a scary judge’s box and on the third by a stallion in a paddock, Arwen walked calmly on a relaxed rein around the ring. She had a look around, but realised it was nothing to worry about. The stallion looked like an amazing type – he just stood there eating his hay and didn’t bat an eyelid as Arwen walked past, although she certainly batted hers quite violently. (I didn’t mind; he was a nice-looking horse and I would not have minded a foal from him. Unfortunately, wind pollination seems to have let me down this time.)

One thing that was really nice was that everyone seemed to know what the enormous red ribbon in Arwen’s tail meant and we avoided any chaos in the kicking department.

Can't miss the red ribbon
Can’t miss the red ribbon

After walking around to identify any monsters, we picked up the trot. I felt confident enough to go straight into rising trot without sitting a bit to ride out any friskiness, and it paid off. She put her nose in and settled into a businesslike working trot. A few figures later we broke into a canter and for the first time ever, Arwen didn’t offer a buck during her first canter offsite. She was in her happy place; her mind was on her work, and she flowed into the canter just like she does at home. In fact she felt better than she does at home because of the good, level footing, a luxury we have yet to obtain.

She floated through a few circles and lead changes and we popped over the warmup jumps a couple of times. They were small and nonthreatening, but had a number of poles in them so looked solid, but Arwen felt great. She took me forward to each jump, didn’t look at them and charged over without bucking or losing control.

As usual the 30cm was a very big class with all the little kids and school ponies trotting around the course, but it was too adorable to watch to be boring. Arwen and I hung out next to the arena waiting for our turn – I wasn’t too worried that she was going to cool off; she could literally trot around the course without even jumping. It was a small and undemanding course; 8 jumps, only very tiny oxers and no combination. The jumps were not brightly painted either, with minimal filler. Just what we needed to build her confidence.

Making 30cm look cool
Making 30cm look cool (photo by Action in Motion Photography)

Our turn arrived and I took a deep breath and pretended we were still in the warmup, since this class was pretty much just a warmup. I decided to bring her into the course in a trot. If she then felt like cantering, she could; I’d let her decide on the speed of our approach. We trotted into the first jump and it was pretty small so I gave her a bit of a kick to make sure she took it seriously; she looked, jumped, and went on. We started cantering around the third jump, which was on the end of a long straight line (she loves those) and finished the course in a brisk, relaxed canter with not a single misstep. She didn’t even look at the numerous Scary Things, drift, or buck. It was an awesome start to our day. Plus we got a really pretty purple ribbon out of it.

Cute us
Cute us

Under the Mutterer’s guidance we parked next to a horse-walker with our haynet, loosened the girth and let her rest; Arwen put her face in her haynet and was as happy as a bird. Towards the end of Class 2 I got on and we had a fifteen-minute canter and jump, then let her rest again until Class 3 ended and I warmed her up for our 55cm. Again, she was relaxed, forward, and alert in the warmup, and jumped everything well. Including the side of the ring. Which was awkward, but I jumped her back in quickly and hopefully not too many people noticed. (Apart from the Mutterer, who was unimpressed).

Hey mom, let's do a spot of cross-country...
Hey mom, let’s do a spot of cross-country…

The 55cm class was over an uncomplicated 8-jump track with only two slightly tricky serpentine turns in it. This was the first competition round, so I quite dearly wanted to make it into the jump-off if we could. Still, I kept up my trotting-the-first-jumps strategy and did my best to keep her relaxed.

We ended up trotting the first jump and then cantering the next four; on the sharp turn to jump six we found ourselves trapped between the fence, a jump, and a kid on a pony, who was next to go. I applied the brakes sharply and Arwen, being a barrel racer, skidded to a near halt, dodged the pony, trotted to jump six and jumped just fine, already having forgotten the little incident. We charged on to jump seven and she had a good look at it but I committed, kicked her on and over we went. She thundered at the last jump and flung herself over it with great gusto to give a clear, if slightly ungraceful, round. We were into the jump-off.

I love her expression here
I love her expression here (photo by Action in Motion Photography)

The jump-off was over more or less the same course, just with the first and last few jumps omitted. I brought her in at a trot, but pushed her to a hand-gallop after the second jump and took the turn into jump three ways too tight. Arwen looked for a jump, found only a wing, and ran out in a panic; I cursed my silly mistake but kept my head, cantered her in a little circle and this time aimed her at the jump, not the side of the jump. She gave a little snort of relief and popped over and we finished the course with far the best time, but four penalties for the run-out. We went unplaced. Lesson learned.

Again, we let her chill and eat hay for the next class, gave her a little ride midway through our wait, and then warmed up for the 70cm. I was getting a bit nervous; the jumps didn’t look big, but it was still bigger than we’ve jumped clear at a show so far. Arwen pretty much pricked up her ears at the bigger obstacles and had this attitude of “Finally! Real jumps!” I was more or less holding her back as she attacked the warmup jumps. She thought about having a little buck after the jumps, but I didn’t put up with it, and we set off for the show ring in a cautiously optimistic (me) and eagerly excited (Arwen) frame of mind.

This time there was a bit more competition; some of the more advanced kids on schoolies who by now could do the course in their sleep, and some very beautiful, talented young horses obviously practicing for the bigger heights. My goal being to not get disqualified, I wasn’t too worried about them. There were a few parallel oxers now, none as wide as they were tall, and quite nonthreatening.

We trotted the first jump and she popped over it without looking at it, and my nervousness levels vanished. I quit worrying about the course or the next jump and just rode her to the jump that was in front of me in a relaxed, forward canter. She was loving it. As we cleared jump four and headed down the long line to jump five she started to gallop a little but I’ve jumped her out of a gallop enough times to not be worried, so I trusted the turn to jump six to slow us down and let her go at her own pace. She again had a look at jump seven but put in an extra stride instead of stopping and then floored it to jump eight with me staying soft and just steering. We thundered over the finish with Arwen being showered with pats and me grinning all over my face.

JUMP ALL THE THINGS
Big smiles (photo by Action in Motion Photography)

Our awesome clear round put us easily through to the jump-off. As the Mutterer reminded me, I was not going to worry about speed, not going to worry about turns and just think about going clear. The only thing I did differently was to shorten one long turn, which I was confident she could do easily, and brought her to the first jump in a canter instead of a trot. By now, she was having fun, not yet tired, and not frightened of the course at all, so she just hand-galloped around it and enjoyed herself; I steered, kicked her to the jumps whenever she felt a little looky, and enjoyed myself too. We cantered over the finish in a time that was brisk enough to earn us our first jumping ribbon. We were third, just behind two school ponies and their great little riders.

JUMP ALL THE THINGS
JUMP ALL THE THINGS. With uneven knees. But okay (photo by Action in Motion Photography)

This ended the day on a really good note. We unsaddled Arwen, took two minutes to put her back in the box with the Mutterer giving her a bit of a push and me at her head, and set off for home with a tired rider and a relaxed horse. She hardly sweated on the road and trotted off into her paddock when we got home with no signs of exhaustion. It was a fantastic day, and I thank God for making it possible and wonderful and fun. All glory goes to Him; He knows what He’s doing, even when we don’t, and He cares enough to give us our heart’s desires.

One thing I learned was not to worry about future goals or bigger heights or even the next jump in the course. She jumped best when I rode each jump as it came to me. And I suppose that’s something worth learning – to ride in the moment. Now is the only time we can do anything.

Dignified ribbon pose
Dignified ribbon pose

VCMBH: Generosity

L from Viva Carlos writes: What made you interested in your current horse that lead you to buying them in the first place?

A bit like this
A bit like this

It was way back in April 2012 that my lovely equine nutritionist kindly gave me a copy of Callaho Warmblood Stud’s auction catalogue for the previous year. This magnificent stud is probably one of the best in our country, and the glossy pages more closely resembled a copy of the Sporting Horse than anything else, with double-page spreads for every horse, ample photographs, an honest and in-depth description, pedigree and video clip on an accompanying CD. And the horses? Bred in the purple; glossy creatures free jumping something that looked about the size of a house with ease. “A description of all the horses seemed to be summed up with “well”,” I wrote in my old blog/journal, “as in well-bred, well-trained, well-groomed and well-cared for.”

It was then that I began to dream of my Olympic horse, my A-grade horse, my show horse. Of course, I already had Skye, Thun, and Arwie; Skye is my heart horse, the first horse I ever trusted, my steadfast friend who never let me down and never will. Thunder also crept into a very deep place in my heart and became a friend, and as for Arwie, my go-anywhere do-anything horse, she’s just way too much fun. But I knew none of them would ever be one of those ridiculously talented horses, those creatures that move and sparkle and know exactly how beautiful they are, that jump as if the whole world is their own trampoline.

Magic8
BOOM!

Writing about my dream horse, I said, “God willing, I hope there is one in my future, something big and sparkly with a jump like a waterbuck and the kind of big heart and stunning conformation that could take us to the top of the game, perhaps even international.”

At the same time, I was occasionally riding a young gelding off the track for his then-owner. “To my delight,” I wrote, “I was allowed to ride beautiful young Magic. … Magic is an iron grey three-year-old with a white blaze and socks. He’s still exploding with muscle, having recently come off the track, and he simply ripples all over when he moves. He has the loveliest gentle face and I adore him.” Another excerpt: “The magnificent Magic… [is] only halfway schooled but I think he’s brilliant. He is a lovely grey colour and has a kind face.”

First time I rode him
First time I rode him

And slowly, this rippling, iron-grey horse started to grow on me. Each time I came to the yard I’d look over to his paddock and watch him; most of the time he’d be running, because he was the kind of horse who would just run for no reason other than that he loved it. And he flashed like a sword’s blade, and when I walked past his paddock he’d run over to say hi and nicker, and I’d think he was adorable. I started to realise that every time the Mutterer told me to go ride Magic, my heart would do a little extra hop-skippity-jump somewhere between fear and excitement.

When Magic came up for sale I just knew it was meant to be. He was everything I wanted in my dream horse, right down to his silly white stockings. But I think aside from practical stuff like his soundness, age and suitability for jumping, there were two deciding factors, if I’m being honest. The first was his jump. I was the first person who rode him over fences and I nearly died (either from nearly falling on my nose or from ecstasy), but I immediately knew he was special, just from the way he charged fearlessly at the cross and by the way he felt:

And this is why. Dat conformation dude!
And this is why. Dat conformation dude!

“He’s got the most awesome jump… he floats. … He jumps AMAZINGLY. He feels over a 40cm cross like Arwen feels over a 90cm jump on a very good day. The whole chest and shoulders and forelegs seem to come straight up into your face and he bends his whole body forward and over and it’s such a beautiful feeling.”

The second was his face. It’s a bit stupid, I guess, but when you look at Magic’s face you know instantly you can trust him; trust him to give you his whole heart and soul if you ask for it, do his best to bail you out of any situation and to never be spiteful. I would not call it the look of eagles because it’s something kinder than that. The closest word I can find for his expression is generosity, and he is indeed a kind and generous horse: he is willing to give you everything he has. And conformation, breeding or talent aside, it’s that great heart, willing spirit, and tremendous kindness that will make Magical Flight a horse in a million.

That face
That face

Magic is Jim Wofford’s “partner, not a slave” (as quoted by the instigator of this blog hop). He has that “supreme courage”, and if I can unlock his potential “very skilfully and very patiently” and above all, “trust him with [my] life” then I know he can be amazing.

God willing.

Just trust me, little human
Just trust me, little human

 

 

On Confidence and Talent

“Great horses are not often easy horses. They have big egos and idiosyncrasies and quirks and foibles. Horses of a lifetime do exist, but only for riders so skillful, tactful and courageous that they can unlock and then reveal the brilliance of their equine partners.” ~ George Morris

Magic32

Three years ago, I was a kid with a very big dream and a small grey horse trying to achieve that dream, but the Horse Mutterer repeatedly stated (and I eventually came to accept) the fact that my small grey horse was not going to make it as far up in the world of showjumping as I was wanting to go. Trainability, soundness and willingness might be all you need from a horse if you want to go Advanced in dressage (provided you were willing to work your butt off), but each horse has a physical limit to how high he can jump competitively. And Arwen’s limit is quite some way below A-Grade, where I dream of competing.

So while I trained and worked and loved my small grey horse, I lived my big dream by paging through the catalogues of the Callaho Warmblood Stud. This massive stud holds a large and glamorous auction of top-notch young sport horses every year, and I always had my eye on one of them, even when I knew that it would be years of nothing but saving up before I could ever afford one. The ones I picked were always grey or chestnut with plenty of chrome, standing not more than 15.3hh and possessing a jump about the size of a Kilimanjaro. And then they would be sold for hundreds of thousands to someone with both dreams and money, which is a lucky combination.

And then Magic happened.

When I started leasing him
When I started leasing him

15.2hh and the bright grey of burnished steel with four white stockings and a blaze, and also the ability to jump the moon if he so desired, he cantered into my life like a miracle. My dream horse fell right into my lap, dropped strategically by my Lord; here at last was the bright, dancing creature I’d been dreaming of, something with both the talent and the heart to go all the way to the top under the right rider. He had spunk, he had spirit, he had the conformation, he was one of the best-looking horses I had ever seen and he had the look of eagles, that X-factor that I love so much in a horse.

Eighteen months down the line, I have never been more convinced that Magic has the talent to go as far as he wants to. This horse moves like poetry in motion. Muscled up, he has even better conformation than he did when I bought him. He has a bascule that most warmbloods would be jealous of and he has plenty of courage.

Movement!
Movement!

Yesterday, I free jumped him for the first time and he was beyond fantastic. He needed little or no encouragement, did not offer to run out even once, and in fact getting him to stop jumping was harder than getting him to start. He also didn’t overjump a thing. Not a thing. Also, this:

Magic14
Yep. Long neck stretched up, knees tucked up to the bit, shoulders lifted, hindlegs even, front legs couldn’t be tighter. Nobody can deny that he has ability.

He also scares me.

When I sit on him, I know that I have more spirit and talent under me than I have ever had before. I know I’m on a horse that could be a superstar in the right hands. I also know that I’m on a horse so sensitive that the slightest shift in your mood can make him nervous; a horse that has an untold depth of courage, but which courage depends entirely on the trust he places in his rider. Magic is a great horse, but he is not a horse willing to go it alone. Like the best horses, he wants to work with you in a team, he wants to follow your lead and do as you say; but you have to give him that lead to follow.

Magic6

He’s also green, which is most of the problem. He’s just too inexperienced to bail me out sensibly; he does try, but usually by overjumping massively and frightening the both of us. Ultimately, he depends on me. He’s not a schoolmaster who’ll do the job for me, and he’s also not Arwen, who’s been my partner for so long that she helps me out when I need it just as I help her out when she needs it.

Magic is never malicious. Excitable, frightened, overenthusiastic, boisterous, hot, fiery, and sometimes downright daft; but not malicious. He wants to try, but when he’s afraid, he doesn’t think. And when he doesn’t think, he has a variety of different manoevres to try out, ranging from bucking to flailing to leaping to overjumping, and when I say overjumping I mean Magic shows us exactly how talented he is and pretends a cross-rail is the size of the jumps at the President’s Cup.

This didn't even feel like an overjump
This didn’t even feel like an overjump

It shouldn’t scare me. I haven’t lost stirrups often and I have to face it, I can actually stay on through most of the shenanigans he’ll throw at me. But it still scares me; it probably won’t, in five years’ time, but for now it does.

I think I am more afraid of failing him than I am of falling off him. Magic has no concept of potential and doesn’t know that he is a freaking good horse, obviously. Ribbons and shows mean nothing to him; he’s not sitting there telling me to hurry it up so we can get to the top. He would be quite happy to hack around and pop over cross-rails. And you know what, there would be nothing wrong with that. There are lots of talented horses in the world. The world won’t miss this one if I chose to turn him into a dressage pony or whatever. In fact, if I didn’t ride for my career – if riding was a hobby, not a passion – I’d sell him off and stick to Arwen.

But I’m not a happy hacker. I can’t sit on a piece of quality horseflesh and not try to push the limits. I can’t stay in my comfort zone on an animal that could really be something, could really go somewhere. I can’t let him slip through my fingers. And so I shall gird up my loins, take up the reins and ride him as best as I can. This horse might be a challenge, but he is my horse and he’s not going anywhere. God willing, I will grow into the rider that can ride him, the strong leader he needs, the confident partner to guide him. And it will all be in God’s Name, for He alone makes any of it possible.

Glory to the King.

Just got to learn to look after each other
Just got to learn to look after each other