They always say that the difficult horses have the most to teach you. That good horses don’t make good riders and that the more times you’re thrown, the more tenacity you learn. That the top horses are always a little sensitive, a little quirky, not everyone can ride them (as Valegro nods sagely in the background whilst carrying an eleven-year-old girl around on his patient back). There’s an undercurrent of feeling where if your horse isn’t that horse that’s a little crazy, maybe you’re not that rider who can do all the hard things.
But today I’m going to tell you everything I learned from my easy, sweet and safe horse.
Sure, he’s not the best ever on outrides and he’s got a spook in him, but he’s always been a steady sort. Even as a little foal he never had those crazy little baby tantrums while trying to navigate life with humanity. He wore his first saddle without a buck and fell asleep while I was putting on his first bridle. I was 15 and knew nothing. He was 2 and patient as a monolith, even then.
He was a clotheshanger-shaped two-year-old when I sat on him for the first time. I hadn’t done one quarter of the necessary groundwork, but he just turned his head to sniff at my toe and then went to sleep.
Fast forward seven years and he is still a good boy. He has his nervous moments, but in all our years of riding, I have only once believed I was actually going to come off him. We were walking and I was mostly asleep, one hand on the buckle, when huge lizard jumped up a rock out of nowhere and he jumped. I didn’t have reins, so he cantered off a few steps as I slithered down his side, stopping when I managed to get hold of a rein and drag myself back on board. Both times that I actually did fall off him, he was 3, we were hacking, and my (unreliable) girth came off. He always came back for me.
He has a quiet mouth. He doesn’t really go lame. He has a soft, supple back that doesn’t really go into spasm. These are probably reasons why he’s easy in his mind. He’s comfortable to sit on, not particularly flashy in his gaits, and rather on the slow side.
He’s not the horse that holds a grudge or gets offended by my myriad mistakes. His chiropractor, who has a deep intuition for horses, summarized him: “Oh, you just feel like everything is going to be OK when you’re with him.”
He is my easy, sweet and gentle horse. And here is what I learned from him.
I learned to ride a flying change, a half pass, renvers, travers, piaffe. A real shoulder-in, a straight leg-yield. A good simple change. A true connection, a supple bend, and a square halt. A figure eight in rein back. I learned these while he was learning them, because he was willing to learn, because he was helping instead of hindering.
I learned that mistakes are forgivable. I learned that there is a depth of grace out there that absorbs all sin, because a droplet of that grace lives in my little bay horse.
I learned that manes are still good for crying into when you’re a grownup.
I learned how to try, to give my best even when it’s not much on the day, to rise above fear and uncertainty and to try regardless because of how this horse always tries.
I learned about the depth of what horses do for us, about the scope of their kindness, about how much better I need to be for them. I learned to put aside everything and ride for the sake of the threefold cord, for the dance, for the joy of the fact that God made horses and he made us.
I learned to find a taste of eternity in the swing of a stride. And I liked it.
I learned that even on the worst days, horses still smell like heaven.
I learned that there are few greater gifts than a stalwart friend, even if that friend has four legs and a fluffy forelock.
I learned that I do have wings after all.
I learned that we can do anything.
I learned all these things from a 15.1 hand bay gelding who doesn’t rear or buck or bolt or kick or bite or get wildly wound up about life. I learned them from an easy horse.
And I love him.
Glory to the King.
By the way, ROW is now on Instagram! Find me on @ridingonwater for daily adorable Thunder pics and bits of philosophy.
I told the world – and myself – that I had hung up Arwen’s double bridle after Nissan Easter Festival 2018. Of course, this was by no means due to any failing on her part. She had just blossomed into her prime, and we had had many fantastic years together, and of course nothing would ever persuade me to part with the dragonmare or our cast-iron friendship.
But when it came to competition, I was just stepping out over the threshold of adulthood, and frankly, I was totally broke. I had to get a day job (as far as being a ghostwriter can be considered any kind of a normal day job, lol) and narrow my focus to one or two horsies instead of riding everything and entering everything the way I had as a teenager sponging happily on the long-suffering parents. Knowing that my heart was called to dressage, it made sense not to retire Arwen, but to give the ride to someone who could exhibit her to her fullest potential: a kid. And God’s timing, as usual, was perfect. I had a a kid in the yard who was everything – dedicated, tall enough to sit on a 14.3 hand barrel without looking puny, tactful enough to ride a mare who knows her job and doesn’t want you in the way, with just enough spunk to enjoy the dragonmare’s fire and enough Velcro on his bottom not to get burned by it. They had a great HOY 2019 together, winning supreme champion in hand and reserve supreme in working riding. Arwen’s third year running with the latter title.
We were all gearing up for kiddo to ride her at Standerton Show last week, and shipped her off to a lesson with a showing coach to get her ready, and then that turned out to be a complete disaster. Something got up the dragon’s nose – I am not sure what, but I think it must have been a bug that bit her or something along those lines – and she completely lost her mind for about half an hour. She was fine when we got home, but I wasn’t wholly sure if she was going to behave at Standerton, thinking that maybe she’d learned some silly manners from the kiddo. So I decided to ride her there myself.
It was a good choice! Not for the poor kiddo, who missed out on a perfectly-behaved dragonheart and a beautifully run show, but for me. Sorry kiddo! It really was for his own good.
The show started out a little bit disastrous when, ah, Aunt Flo visited all over my canary breeches – right before the in-hand. Luckily, head-groom-turned-student-instructor L was showing Vastrap, so she was on hand to take Arwen into the class while one embarrassed lump of humanity (me) spread my hastily-washed breeches on the bonnet of the bakkie to dry. Despite the chaos around her, Arwen was impeccably behaved in hand. Obviously, she won champion mare. It’s kind of her thing when it comes to in hand.
By the time the working riding class began, I had mercifully regained my dignity and my now-dry breeches, so we could go in and do our thing. Arwen was considering some dragonishness, but she didn’t let it show too much, so we popped happily through a straightforward track to win the Nooitie section and get reserve champion overall.
Best walk was next, and I think best walk is the most amazing thing for skittish me on an equally skittish youngster, but I actually entered it because Arwen has such a magnificent walk. Unsurprisingly, she won that, too. I’m glad I read the rules for best walk and gave her a looong rein, though. If I’d tried to be my usual DQ self, we might not have done so well.
In between, L and Vastrap were doing great – second in the WR, second in the jakkalsperd (handy hunter) I think, and then third in Best Canter because VT thought it was Best Gallop.
Finally, we had the best three-gaited. I watched the pleasure horse and think I’ll give it a shot next time – Arwen will be great if she doesn’t dragon too much. We went in and the Nooities were being judged with the SASA Riding Horses, and that was where we had a little bit of an oops. This was a supremely accessible, cheap, local show, which attracted a lot of top-class Nooities and WBs but also some newcomers to the showing ring. And I think that is absolutely wonderful, but a few of them were a little unused to riding in a group – and especially unused to riding in a group that was doddering along at a nice little showing canter. So somebody promptly rode up the dragon’s bum.
Arwen is a boss mare and she is not afraid to show it. Her back came up at once, and I squiggled her out of the way before she could do anything about the horse breathing up her tail, thinking we had averted disaster. Regrettably, the horse that was now behind us also didn’t really know what to do, so as we turned down the short side it went up our bum too. Trapped against the fence, I had nowhere to go, and Arwen decided to remedy the situation by launching a series of double-barrels at the intruder. They were warning kicks and all missed, and thankfully the horse stayed off us after that, but by then she was ANGRY.
She spent the rest of the class pullung and wanting to buck a bit, for which I couldn’t blame her. She wasn’t bad, but definitely a grumpy little sassdragon. We ended up second to Wilgerus Dakota, a beautiful bay stallion that I didn’t think we could beat anyway. The judge did come up to me and let me know that she hadn’t penalized Arwen for kicking at the other horse.
I totally don’t mind, though. Everyone was a newbie once. I’m just glad the kicks didn’t land lol.
At least we were into the championship class and Arwen had simmered down. We were asked to show an individual test in this class and thanks to a few showing lessons on Gatsby, I had learned a new one. Dakota rode a truly stunning test, and then it was our turn.
The test was short and sweet. Walk away, trot a rein change, lengthen down the long side, canter in the corner, canter a serpentine with lead changes (I did them through walk), lengthen the canter, trot, halt for the judge. Arwen was just fired up enough that when I asked for the lengthening I got a massive one – I didn’t even know she had that much extension in her. I was kind of beaming by this point because despite 18 months under a child, Arwen had not forgotten one drop of the ten years of schooling we had put in.
The changes through walk were so, so clean and obedient and she was so quiet coming back from the lengthening. When we halted from trot, dead square off my seat, I knew she’d just ridden the best test of her life. I may have been grinning just a little bit when I asked for five steps of rein back and then dropped the reins. She stood like a statue.
It was the most exhilarating moment we’ve ever had in the show ring together – I could not have been prouder even if we’d placed dead last. It was not the single most magical achievement of our career so far, but it was symbolic to me of the partnership that has spanned my entire adolescence and extends into adulthood, a partnership that taught me so much courage on a mare that exemplifies the phrase “against the odds”. A partnership that has spoken to me of God’s great plan. This ride – it was just a cherry on top.
I was so happy, and so pleased with this absolutely amazing fireball of a horse, that my salute may as well have been a mic drop. Still, I was kind of flabbergasted when we finally got the title that’s been eluding her for years: ridden champion.
My wall is absolutely covered in satin from the dragonbeast, in every discipline, and yet those rosettes don’t inspire a feeling of achievement in me. They make me feel something else: grateful. And perhaps a little awed by God’s mercy. Oh, not because of the placings. Those will crumble to dust like everything else. But because of what He achieved in my heart because of the fire in hers. Rosettes are forgettable, but love and courage and gratitude – those are forever.
And Arwen has been an instrument to bless me with them all. The guts she showed me out on a cross-country track or walking into the show ring with all the big names, I needed later for far bigger and more real challenges. And she was there for me even in those.
So with 2020 on the horizon, what’s next for my most faithful equine partner? Well, Dakota’s owner offered us a free covering. I definitely would like to put her in foal, although I can’t keep her babies right now – they’d have to have buyers before they’re bred. Still, the Nooitie is a hugely endangered breed and partially so due to inbreeding. Because her lines are rare and she’s only half Nooitie, Arwen is exactly the type of mare that could really benefit the breed.
She has just turned 13 so it’s time to start thinking about this kind of thing. However, God willing, she’ll definitely do HOY 2020, with me and with a child. After that, it’s time for baby dragons!
After weeks of our plans being thwarted due to, variously, Thunder being sick, me pitching off of Rio and hurting myself, and then both of us being unfit, we finally managed to schedule a lesson for last week. Poor darling found himself boxing us across the province in rush hour traffic, but he did sign up for it, poor wonderful chap.
Thunderbird is still not super fit, but able to do half an hour of solid work, so I figured it was time that J helped get us back on track.
We’re still struggling with the same things: downwards transitions, angle and suppleness in shoulder-in, collection and mediums. I mentioned this to J when we arrived. He doesn’t seem too concerned over our mediums: they are generally straight and not rushing, but not yet very powerful, which he says will come with strength and practice.
The first thing J wanted to address was the shoulder-in. At our last show it was one of our worst marks, with the judge saying there was too much angle and not enough suppleness. At home, obviously, I decided that this would be fixed by pulling the inside rein (plot twist: this didn’t work).
J doesn’t want too much bend in the shoulder-in, as the exercise is not about bend as much as it is about the connection on the outside rein. Instead, he wanted Thunder more active, more connected into my outside rein, softer on the inside rein, and a lot rounder. As we push into shoulder-in I tend to forget everything and concentrate only on getting the angle, thus losing the activity, throughness and connection, with the result that when I put my leg on for the movement he immediately slacks off by losing his hindquarters and throwing up his head.
So our homework there is to ride the transition from straight to shoulder-in as just that – a transition, during which the activity and connection must be maintained. J also mentioned that riding him a little lower and deeper – longer in the neck, but with the poll down more – helps to supple and stretch him rather than fighting with him in a perfect competition frame. It’s also vital that I ride him in the right angle. He needs to be so rhythmic in the angle and so soft and supple in the connection – not over bent, but soft – that I could even ride him in shoulder-in right while bending his spine to the left, essentially turning the movement into renvers.
On the subject of the trot, J also warned against making him run. He needs to be more active now without being faster – I need to slow the legs down to create a collected rhythm.
He also needs to stretch down significantly more, but this he does really nicely at home. At home he’ll take his nose to the floor – his relaxation levels at other venues always negatively affect his connection and ability to stretch.
This was evident when he decided to have an enormous spook in the middle of the short side, resulting in a hilarious screenshot and a few dry comments from J.
Moving on to the canter, first we worked on the collected walk. J says that it’s impossible to ride a good transition to collected canter unless the collected walk is outstanding. He needed to take significantly shorter steps, without losing the activity, and be softer and more yielding in the bridle as well instead of going against the hand. Only once the walk was perfect were we allowed to canter. The canter itself had to be much straighter as I tend to permanently ride him in too much inside bend. Once the canter is straight, the transition to walk can be through and balanced.
I was really happy about how Thunder behaved. He was a bit tense and a bit behind my leg, but the long drive had much to do with that, and he was trying very hard as he always is. I am a bit disappointed that the shoulder-in is still a problem but now we have more tools to work on it. I asked J if we were making progress, though, and he seemed to think we were doing just fine.
After the lesson I asked J what we should be doing show-wise this year and he said that the priority with competitions is to get him more relaxed. So the more small cheap local shows we can do, the better. I haven’t renewed our memberships so we’ll be doing training shows for a while – we may end up having to do all our grading points again, but that’s all right.
Well with my soul, dancing with my horse. Glory to the King.
Long day = short post, but at least it’s an exciting one.
First, a brief (overdue!!) Nugget update. In short, Snuggles (yes, that is my nickname for literally the only horse on this place you can’t snuggle) is doing really much better. We had a lot of breakthroughs this month, resulting in a still-nervous, still-grumpy pony that I can now attach a lead to and groom. It feels soooo good to finally get a currycomb on that golden coat. And to know that, should she be sick or hurt, I can help her at last.
However. The simple fact remains that Nugget is not going to be a sale pony, not from where we’re standing now, anyway. Can I help her to be rideable eventually? Yes. Could a child ride her someday? I think so. But would she be 100% safe and happy in a competitive home? I don’t believe so. Her scars just run so deep, right now I don’t think it would be fair to expect it of her.
All is not lost, however. I’m going to keep working with her and if God wills it, she’ll become a broodmare. She accepts new things readily and I believe genetically the temperament is there. She’s pretty and mostly correct and moves very well. If we can get her completely comfortable about people on the ground, it should be a win-win. God willing.
Anyway, that did leave us without a sale pony to follow up on Midas once he goes, so God (with typical impeccable timing) found us a new one. Everybody, meet Morning Star Trooper.
He is about three years old, measures 144cm (just over 14hh) and is of dubious breeding. He is also an almost supernatural level of adorable. I named him for his temperament, which can be entirely summarised in one sentence: he’s just such a trooper.
Troopy has been through a lot in his little life; his previous owners pulled him out of a horrific situation, half dead with septicaemia in all four his legs and sheath. They didn’t think he’d make it, and none of the other horses from the same place did, but he carried on. He has that endless patience of a horse that’s just happy to be alive and safe, and God’s got a plan with him.
The other two new horses aren’t really new. They originally came to me in April from a little yard that has since closed; half wild, covered in bots and rain scald, and with their faces raw from their ill-fitting headcollars. We patched them up and they stayed here until moving to a bigger yard in September. I thought I’d never see them again, but apparently God had other ideas.
The horses have since been sold on and their new owners decided to send them to me for backing before going to their own farm to be ridden by their exceedingly likeable teenage daughter. I think there’s a happy ending in store for the two guys.
They are lifelong buddies from the same stud; Blizzard is a blanket Appaloosa who greyed out and is now a white Appaloosa with black spots on his bum, and Eagle is half Arab, half Appaloosa and apparently 100% Black Beauty.
All three the boys are varying degrees of halter trained, so I’ve got some backing to do. No complaining here. Glory to the King.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. – Matthew 16:24
The past two months was really a journey in following this verse for me. Our minister preached about this concept somewhere in mid October, and I prayed with all my heart that Jesus would give me the strength to do exactly this. That I would do it, come Hell or high water… and that’s pretty much what happened.
So lots of bad stuff happened:
Olive came down with a neurological virus, possibly herpes. She was very very sick and had to be quarantined and intensively nursed.
Milady then got strangles, followed by Exavior, Titan, and Destiny.
Because we now had TWO outbreaks at the yard, we had to shut the whole thing down for two weeks. Yep, no lessons for two weeks. That was a financial kick in the guts.
A friend kind of turned on me. Personal stuff, but it always leaks into the yard when my emotional state isn’t perfect.
We had a massive hailstorm and the lightning damaged our gate, borehole pump, and power supply.
I lost the ride on my beautiful Nell.
Magic colicked. Again.
What’s God’s own stableyard to do faced with such catastrophes? Well, pray and trust Him. And well… Romans 8:28.
Olive recovered beautifully and not a single other horse contracted her thing. As a result, we’re tightening our vaccination program and have instituted a quarantine period for all new horses. Olive and my mom also developed an amazing bond, which is so great for the floof because she never really connected with me.
Not only did all the strangles horses recover without any abscesses bursting, Milady’s 5-day-old foal didn’t get it! Also I am probably going to pass the illnesses section in my exam, which I had been worried about…
My mom and dad told our yard mascot cookie lady prayer warrior awesomeness about the financial whack of losing two weeks’ lessons. She declared that we would get the money back and went straight to battle on her knees. Shortly thereafter, a client that had been owing us for months paid. Mom called to tell her that she’d overpaid a little – turned out she’d paid us by “accident”. I don’t believe in accidents.
The outbreak and all its drama drew me closer and closer to God; without the strength I gained from that, I doubt there’s any way I could have coped with the personal stuff.
The hailstorm brought with it the best rain we’ve had in three years. Now we’re up to our eyeballs in grass for the cows and horses.
I thought Nell’s new owner was some spoilt rich kid until I spoke to her mom. She’s a special needs teenager, someone who needs a beautiful, loving horse even more than I do. Nell is going to be an instrument of God’s power in her life – just as she was in mine. Nell’s price is also letting her retired owner replace his wrecked vehicle and is helping towards his medical bills.
Gutted about Nell, without a good dressage horse, my future career seemingly in tatters, I prayed: “Lord Jesus, if it’s not Your will for me to compete extensively myself, if I should conserve those resources for the kids, then please don’t let me ever have a good horse again. But if it’s Your will, please, send me one.” I prayed this ready to face the fact that I would never go up the levels: I just don’t have the money to build up the yard for everyone that needs it and own a good dressage horse, and I know which one I’m choosing. Hours later, Nell’s owner called: in return for schooling Nell, he wanted to pay me a commission. I couldn’t bear to accept money for the blessing Nell has been, so I refused it. “Okay,” he said. “Then you can come and pick out any young mare you like to train and show.” I hesitated; I didn’t know if I wanted to go through this heartache again so soon. “No, you don’t understand,” he said. “This one will be yours. In your name. You keep her.” Then I just cried, out of gratitude to him, out of awe of the dynamic and real power of God and His plan in our lives.
Magic’s colic was so bad we had to box him and take him to Witbos, the vets that fixed him last time. On the way there, I desperately called on everyone I know and a bunch of people on Facebook that I don’t to pray for him. We all prayed, and when we unloaded him, that horse was fine. The rather puzzled vets scanned his healthy guts, kept him under observation for two hours, and sent him home because there was nothing wrong with him.
We will praise God no matter what the storm. Because our God is faithful, our God is powerful, and our God is in charge.
The condition for a miracle is difficulty. The condition for a great miracle is impossibility. And that’s exactly what we have seen.
I realise it’s kind of late to be setting goals, but they’ve been in my head for a while, so I may as well now put them down on paper. Screen. Whatever. I enjoy having a plan for the year with each horse, but God’s plan is sovereign – and He always knows best.
Arwen’s 2015 Goals
Get her fit – Done. She was easily fit enough for our last event.
Build her upper neck muscles – Done. Her muscle tone has never been this good, to the point where I asked the Mutterer what muscles need building up for the upcoming showing show and he replied in tones of deep disappointment, “Well, actually, none.”
School Elementary Medium successfully – Failure there, but our Elementary work is a lot more solid. Her schooling has improved, just not to EM level.
Introduce scary-looking jumps – Done. While we have been having really disappointing stops in competition, at home she’s jumping the spookiest things I can build without batting an eye.
Have her go through water more easily – Done. She didn’t stop at water all year.
Show graded in EV70 – Done. We showed in three, but only completed two.
Go double clear at EV70. Face it – at this level, you win on your dressage score. Arwen’s dressage is very solid. We could do really well if we’d just stop incurring jumping penalties, especially stops on cross-country. This will take a whole lot of schooling, and a bunch more cross-country lessons, so I’m pretty cool with only eventing again in midwinter or spring. Another jumping show or two can also only help our confidence, or even competing at EV60 once or twice more.
School Elementary Medium 1 and 2. This is very achievable, especially with how solid her Elementary work is getting. It is, however, going to depend on how soon we get our new 20×60 arena done. Our current one is about 15×50, making it impossible to make an accurate half 10m canter circle. The more complex the figures get the harder it becomes to ride them here. She will also have to make the transition to a double bridle, which might be a bit tough.
Compete Elementary. We can totally do this. She could do Elementary 1 with her eyes closed. We just need to get enough qualifying rounds at Novice first, so this will also be an end of the year thing. Even if we just do the ungraded class at the Pretoria Nooitie show – it’s something.
Gallop through water. She goes into water just fine, but she always drops to a walk. Now we just need to school her confidence with keeping her gallop rhythm through the water and we’re good.
With AHS vaccination season – and hence a required six-week rest period – around the corner, I entered Arwen in one more show to cram in some cross-country practice before our rest and subsequent return to graded eventing.
It was eerily peaceful to only have one horse to dress up, load and show; I got up at the luxurious hour of 5:40 (albeit waking at 4:15), she loaded fine with a line around her butt, and we were early for our first class. I got to hack her around on a loose rein and warm up nice and slow. She responded by not producing any bucks, just one enormous exaggerated spook at a hole in a hedge (the hedge was fine; the hole was a monster).
We wrapped up a gentle walk, trot and canter warmup by opening up into a cross-country gallop down the long side of the arena, then sitting down, collecting strongly and making a 10m circle to check for brakes and adjustability. She was super, so we popped over each jump once and trotted off to our class.
I’d entered 60cm and 70cm, and when I walked the course, I was having second thoughts. The 60cm course started with three inviting little showjumps that we had jumped on August 9th’s training show. Then things started to get a bit complicated. There was a brush fence, which Arwen loves but never ever brushes; then a very tight turn to a narrow fence made of imposing black barrels (and Arwen habitually drifts). Straight after the narrow fence was two banks down, first a little one and then a slightly bigger one. Not enormous, but still a bank down. Quite a long gallop then to a large colourful house in the shade. Then a tight turn to a showjump, an enormous steep bank (Derby bank type that you gallop up instead of jumping up) and woe is us, a skinny. A proper one, and a very skinny one. The last three fences were even worse; a scary vertical made of tyres, a St. Andrew’s cross (which neither of us had ever even seen before), and a corner (ditto).
I put a prayer in my pocket and let Arwen look at the house, whereupon she promptly tried to eat the plant that was acting as a wing, before the bell rang and off we went. She merrily ran away with me towards the start, although I still had steering so I decided to diplomatically ignore the lack of brakes, and attacked the three showjumps fearlessly. The brush rushed up on us awfully soon and she jumped hugely and without a trace of hesitation. We got into a spot of difficulty approaching the black barrels; she wriggled all over the place and considered running out, but thought better of it and jumped cleanly.
The banks were quite funny. I clapped my spurs into her because I expected hesitation; Arwen was considering no such thing and took a flying leap off the bigger bank, launching me onto her neck. Luckily for her daft rider, Arwen threw her head up on landing and tossed me neatly back into the saddle. She was very looky at the house but with lots of encouragement she popped over. When we came over the vertical, she was ready to go kill something, and charged up the bank and towards the skinny at a terrifying speed. Once again, a huge wriggle at the skinny, possibly due to going too fast, but I clamped my hands and reins down and made it clear that the only way were going was over. So we went over.
We both gawped at the St. Andrew’s cross; I gawped at the sides because they looked enormous, and she gawped at the middle because it was a hay bale. We reached a compromise and jumped slightly to one side of the bale. The tyres were no problem and then we were galloping downhill at the corner. I was shouting “IT’S NOT AN OXER ARWEN” and Arwen was shouting “BOXES THERE ARE TERRIFYING BOXES” and unfortunately the boxes were under the narrow end. We reached the wide end, and I planted my hands in the mane, certain she would stop. Arwen snorted that she would do no such thing and leapt over the wide end without any apparent effort. I nearly strangled her with hugging as we walked out of the arena.
That landed us in the jump-off, which was over the first four jumps and the last three jumps. We floored it, Arwen jumped kind of in the middle of the corner, and we came second in good company.
The course grew somewhat for the 70cm; now it included a tight turn after the corner, leading to a bank up and a vertical with a big filler in it. The distance from the bank to the vertical walked for a short two strides, so I knew Arwen was going to make an easy three. I was starting to detest the corner, which brought multiple horses and riders to grief that day, including the only fall I saw.
Arwen came into the show arena blowing smoke and looking for something to attack, so I pointed her at the jumps. She charged onwards, now scared of absolutely nothing. She even jumped the St. Andrew’s cross rather perfectly. We survived the corner and then I rode Arwen straight at what she considered the arena wall. She snorted in shock and wriggled madly, but I kicked on, so she scrambled up the bank and over the vertical without further protest. This time we took the down banks in a rather more ladylike manner and even trotted at the top of the big bank, leading to a rather nicer pop over the skinny.
Once again we landed up in the jump-off. I knew we could either go quick or we could go clear; the course was technical and spooky, challenging for Arwen’s level, so if I was going to gun it and cut the corners we were going to have a stop. I opted to take our gallop up a notch, but to keep to wide easy lines. We jumped the widest end of the corner once again – which was by now tremendously wide; Arwen appeared to enjoy scaring the living daylights out of me – but this did mean that our landing spot set us up nicely for the tight turn towards the up bank. Having realised that this was actually a thing we jump, she jumped it unquestioningly and galloped through the finish. She didn’t stop at or knock down a single thing all day long, so going unplaced seemed totally irrelevant.
Sometimes I just can’t believe this mare. As one lady gushed as she stopped me to ask what breed my horse is, “She’s just so honest.” She has so much guts and she has so much try. “No” just isn’t in her vocabulary.
Thank You Jesus for this amazing brave little grey mare. Glory to the King who made horses and people and that wonderful, nameless thing that the equine heart does to the human soul.
This show really brought home to me the fact that Nooitgedachters, and in particular Arop Stud’s Nooitgedachters, are some of the most amazing horses in the world. Well, I always knew that, but I believe that about basically every horse I ride at some point, it’s just that this show meant my opinion is not as biased as usual.
First, we loaded two stallions and a mare in the same horsebox. One of the stallions is three years old. The other one had to stand directly next to the mare, with only the partition between them. The mare kicked the side of the box and spooked them, and then we all went off to Pretoria and they didn’t do a thing. I’d like to see that done with some of the warmbloods I’ve seen.
They all settled in nicely at the showgrounds, and then beautiful Nell went out and strutted her stuff and won every in-hand class she walked into – culminating with Grand Champion Purebred Mare.
We also did dressage, although after showing in the stallions’ championship class, we had exactly eight minutes to saddle up and warm up. As a result Nell’s baby brain was still all over the place, so we drifted down the centerline, spooked at C and bucked twice. Spooks throughout and all, she had some truly super moments and impressed the judge with her talent. We were third in Prelim, scoring 53.6%. Once she has shown a bit more often and figured out that dressage letters do not eat horses, I think she’ll pull out some awesome scores.
Raldu (long known to readers as the Storm Horse Junior) kept his feet on the ground and his brain in his head despite being a three-year-old colt at his first time off the farm, resulting in Junior Champion Stallion.
And Ryka, the Storm Horse himself, was Reserve Champion Stallion. The Mutterer handled him and I believe if I splash pictures of the Mutterer all over the Internet he might make me do another two-hour lesson of mounting without a girth, so here are some gratuitous photos of Ryka at home ferrying his little human around and being majestic.
It was an honour to show these phenomenal horses for Arop Nooitgedachters and, above all, for my wonderful, beloved, magnificent Lord Jesus. Glory to the amazing King.
For the previously unenlightened international readers: These horses are Nooitgedachters. The Nooitgedachter is a breed of small horse native to South Africa. It is a fairly new breed, originating in the 1950s from Basutho, Arabian and Boerperd stock. The Basutho pony is the main ancestor; a small, unbelievably hardy pony from the mountains of Lesotho. These ponies were agile and had enormous endurance, and were crossed with Arabs and Boerperds to add size, better movement, and better looks. The result is today’s Nooitgedachter, a well-moving, good-looking and undeniably tough little horse renowned for its outstanding temperament and trainability. It stands between 13.2 and 16.1 hands high and excels in showing, endurance, and lower level eventing, but is best known as a superb all-rounder.
So poor Milady has arrived, albeit unannounced on the blog. We picked her up on the fifth of July and catapulted the poor unsuspecting lady into the long adventure that is life with the Horde.
Milady has been an absolute angel. She hasn’t been in a horsebox for almost two years, but with a line around her bottom we hauled her right up. She travelled just fine and when I turned her out in a little paddock by herself, neighbouring the group she was to join, she wandered around, did a tremendous floaty trot across to the hay, and settled down to eat. I wasn’t home during the day for the next week, so poor old Milady was stuck by herself in the little paddock. I wasn’t sure how introductions to the other horses would go as Flare and Arwen can both be jerks to new horses and between trying to be a good protective beta and his overwhelming friendliness, Thunder can be quite a shock to them. Hence I was waiting for a day that I’d be quietly home all the time so that I could slowly introduce her to the electric fences and new horses and hopefully avoid one of her perfect slender legs being broken (I always worry about those wonderful legs; clean as they are, well as they stood up to her racing career, they always look like little toothpicks compared to the stocky mongrels’).
Milady saved me the trouble. One night, bored of being by herself, she simply climbed over the wooden section of the fence and introduced herself to electric fences and new horses. When I got there the next morning they were all eating around the bale like one big happy family, and nobody had any broken legs. All the fences were still standing, too. It was quite amazing.
Last week I finally started to work her again, first with a little lunging session just to dust off her memory. The ring is right inside Skye’s group’s paddock, so to get there one has to drag a frightened new horse through a highly excited and curious bunch of other horses, which is always a little hairy and sometimes necessitates several well-placed elbows when new horsie tries to clamber over me in an attempt to get away from my evil minions. Milady wandered in, raised a hindleg at Exavior in warning when he came snuffling over, and calmly followed me to the ring, where she went to work like she’d done it every day of her life. Lunging is still not her favourite but she was just as good as she’d been the last time we lunged.
Friday was a horrible day to work horses. The wind was both howling and icy; Arwen had nearly sent me flying on our fitness ride earlier that morning from pure excitement, and everyone else was running around showing the whites of their eyes like a bunch of hooligans. The wind had got up the Holsteins’ tails too and they were galloping up and down in their paddocks while bellowing loudly, and twenty head of overexcited heifers running about is enough to make any horse a bit wild. I had limited time the next day so I decided to get Milady out anyway even if she just tore around on the lunge line and burnt some energy.
She plugged around on the lunge all calm and chilled, so much so that I was convinced to hop on, even for just a walk around the ring. (I had had a new horse for three weeks and still hadn’t ridden it – it was killing me). I clambered on, she stood like a rock, and we started meandering around the ring. The wind chose that moment to grab the edge of one of the shelter’s corrugated iron sheets and then bring it down on the wooden support with a deafening clang. Skye’s group took off like rockets and tore past the ring; David went airborne; the Holsteins lost their minds and I prepared to say my last words. Milady (five-year-old OTTB, hadn’t been ridden for almost two months) raised her ears at the other horses, as if slightly shocked by such appalling manners but much too polite to say anything.
We proceeded to have an awesome ride around the unfenced arena in walk, trot and canter and Milady didn’t put a toe wrong. Her nickname suits her better than I expected. She has impeccable manners, excellent breeding and a noble bearing. The rest of the Horde, who normally look like wonderful sweet ponies compared to other horses, are a bad influence and taught her how to escape the paddock (she was the first to repentantly come up to me when I eventually found them trying to break into the cow barn). Apart from succumbing to bad peer pressure, Milady has been an absolute wonder so far.
She leaves me a little sad that one can’t breed and compete on a horse at the same time. But I suppose that that’s exactly the horse one should breed with. Thank You, Lord Jesus.
This is the first thing that jumps out of people’s mouths when they are introduced to Exavior, usually shortly before, “What possessed you to buy him?”
And yes, people, he is going to be big. By my standards, the dude is already pretty freaking big. I just measured him over the weekend and discovered that my rising two-year-old stands half an inch shy of 15.2 hands. I always used to console myself with, “Well, he’ll be tall, but he’ll be a lanky thing,” until I compared the width of Exavior’s legs and chest with that of a three-year-old warmblood who is already about 16.1. Exavior looks like a carthorse next to him. He’s going to be kind of a tank, and I’m never going to be anything other than a toothpick. A short toothpick. We’ll make quite the pair.
He’s starting to look rather more regal and rather more like he might turn out to be a horse someday rather than the funny little hybrid llama-donkey thing that all yearlings look like. Well, apart from his hair, obviously. He’s a bit of a yak right now.
Most amazing of all, praise the Lord, his “ruined” leg is not just sound – it’s growing sounder. His near hind fetlock was twice the size of the off hind; it wasn’t hot or painful, but it was massively thick. Now, as you can see, there’s hardly a noticeable difference between the two joints. His pasterns have also straightened out some, and he doesn’t stand cowhocked so much anymore. He still has a bad habit of standing straight with one leg and completely crooked with the other while he’s resting, but he still moves straight, which is the main thing.
Oh, Lord, I can’t wait to see what You have planned for Your miracle horse and me. He shouldn’t be sound but he is. He shouldn’t be with me but he is. He shouldn’t be thriving but he is. He shouldn’t be alive but he is. We shouldn’t be bonding but we are. Bring all the more glory to Your amazing Name through us, Sir. Amen!