The seasons are changing here yet again, and I’m feeling the pressure of a coming winter with my clippers currently still out of commission.
On the bright side, we’re fully stocked on blankets and our grazing is holding up great. We’ll have to see how it does as standing hay, but for now, the horses are still up to their eyeballs in grass thanks to a late rain.
We are forecast for more late rains followed by a bitterly cold winter. Something that a yard manager in the middle of midge-borne African horse sickness country is not complaining about.
We held our third in-house training show on the 7th of April. Darling got to spend his birthday building courses and supplying me with chocolate milk. At least the poor soul knew what he was getting himself into. It was a small show but a resounding success as far as I can tell.
I found photographic evidence of two things: my first time on a pony, and my mom’s shapely figure – at three months pregnant, none the less.
Faith, somewhat inadequately babysat by Midas, went on her first hack. She was fabulous, if on occasion a little overexcited.
Zorro escaped his field and invaded the tack storage in the night, then got the cookie jar stuck on his foot. As you do. No harm was done, except to the horse cookies that had been in the cookie jar.
K’s mom booked a lesson with international eventer Paul Hart for my birthday. Jamaica and I charged over all manner of things,
and houses. He was foot perfect except for a jump with water under it, and our coach was suitably impressed. How awesome is God’s plan?
Thunder remains the one whose four dancing hooves carry me to a place where the world and its burdens just can’t go. ❤
We had a brilliant time of it at SANESA Q3, with three of our riders qualifying for Finals with another qualifier to spare.
Despite flat refusing to get into the two-berth, Milady came second and managed to put the smile back on K’s face.
Few things make me happier than this arena, freshly harrowed. I am awed by what God has provided.
Faithy rode in the rain and behaved impeccably, cantering her first full laps around the dressage arena. She can be quite scared of cantering but each session is a little better thanks to my carrying on as if she is the most amazing horse in the world. She kind of is.
Grumpy old Benjamin is 21 now but still knows how to open practically every gate there is, regularly escaping his little paddock to gorge on the lush grass, forbidden due to his laminitis.
Titan is going fabulously, now working in a frame and having been introduced to some little fences. We’ll make something of him yet.
As for the old queen of the herd, she still reigns in ageless beauty. 29 years old and still a reason to believe.
More thorough updates to follow. Glory to the King.
I looked at my list of horses for this show and thought, “Six horses, six riders! What a lovely, relaxed show,” and then contemplated how six riders felt like about a million at SANESA this year. One does get used to things – and better at managing them.
Early sunrises also help; it was broad daylight when we loaded up our six horsies and hit the road for Fourways. For once we were late and had to hurry frantically to get the first two horses and kids ready, but we made it happen. Mercifully ground poles don’t exactly require a strenuous warm up.
Savanna and her kid were doing their first jumping show together. I had my trepidations, but with me being firmly on the ground with them, I knew I’d be there to catch if anything went wrong. I also had Lancelot’s tiny kid on the end of a lead and thus off we went.
Lancelot was, of course, fantastic. I jogged madly, he trotted peacefully beside me, and the little kiddy had a blast. She even remembered most of her track.
I expected a little of the old running backwards drama from Savanna and thus led her in, but once the bell went and her kid kicked her on, she was super. Forward and relaxed, trotted over every pole. She had one little spook, but her kid stayed on and they also remembered their course for a clear round, to the kid’s great delight.
He finished his show nicely with a second round in the 40cm. Savanna was more relaxed by this point and trotted around very peacefully. A confidence-building experience for them both.
Next up was Liana and her kid, Milady and K, and Savanna and I in the 50cm. Liana cheekily stopped at the scary carrot jump, but otherwise had a lovely controlled and smooth round. Milady circled because her steering broke at one point and K had to reinstall it briskly between fences, but she was very brave to every single fence.
Savanna was a bit of a loon. As soon as we started to canter, the sweet horse that packed her kid around was gone, and her pulling, rushing, headshaking alter ego had returned. She rushed a bit and almost threw a cheeky stop at one fence, but we made it around with a pole (or two, I don’t remember). It was her first proper round without any stops, though, so I was happy with that.
The 60cm was more of the same, but with the addition of Lancelot and his big kid, J (Zorro’s kid). Milady had a very green but honest pole down and was well ridden by K, Savanna was a little quieter for another pole down. Liana and her kid jumped double clear, even cutting some turns in the jump-off for fourth place. Lancey was doing his first show under J and J was definitely a bit nervous, but they bounced around beautifully clear for second place.
In the 70cm it was J and Lancelot for it, and they both knocked it out of the park. Lancey loves J and his whole body lit up with happiness as he charged around, quick and clear, winning the class without even trying. J was all smiles. I can’t think of a happier end to Lancey’s last year in training with me.
Then J came back on Zorro and did their first 80cm with an unlucky pole down. Zorro was so good, brave and forward, and J rode him great despite her nerves.
Jamaica and I were up next with our second 90cm. Fourways can always be counted on to build a track that’s fair to the horse but definitely up to height, and the main thing I was grateful for was that it was an accumulator so I only had to survive eight fences. I needn’t have worried. Jamaica was so, so good. I aimed and looked for something vaguely resembling a distance and he jumped everything beautifully for a slow clear round.
Work done, J and I headed down to the cross-country course on Jamaica and Zorro, and proceeded to have half an hour of the best fun you can have on a horse.
Jamaica was superb. A little spooky to start off with, and I tapped him into one or two of the fences, but he jumped nicely without a lead. We did lots of logs, little oxers, a combination, a fairly solid corner, a skinny between two trees, banks up and down, an A-frame, and two little ditches with rails over them. I showed him the ditches and the corner but expected him to jump everything else on the first go. He was looky at a few, but willing, and only threw one stop at a spooky fence with blue drums under it. Then he spooked at the fence next to it and bolted a few steps, for which he got in very big trouble.
Zorro also had one or two stops but seemed to enjoy the whole thing enormously and stayed very quiet for J.
The water was the moment of truth, because Zorro is dodgy about some water and Jamaica has never gone in. At all. Ever. K waded in with her gumboots and dragged Zorro in while I poked him with my whip from aboard Jamaica (I was in eventer mode), and once Zorro was in, K just led Jamaica and I gave him a little tap when he got rude and in he went. By the end of it we were joyously cantering through the water and over the banks.
The eventing bug has bitten me so badly again, and I know this horse would be a most trustworthy partner. Logistics are in the way, but we’ll see how it all pans out. I’m just so grateful we got to go play and school over it all again. Deo volente.
4 trips; one for the two-berth, three for the four-berth.
Nowhere near enough girths.
No dedicated horse-holders. (We’re very thankful our horsies almost all tie up).
Not one single fall.
One child’s round that I didn’t get to watch. An experienced child, so that was OK.
We arrived at 6:45am, in good time for our 8:00 class. This was a good thing, since while we had enough fitting saddles for Sune, Milady, Liana, and Savanna, it turned out that we did not have enough girths. A frequent problem when most of the riders are on a bit of a shoestring budget and thus borrowing riding school stuff. We decided to just swap saddles between Milady and Savanna and wing it, so off we went; Liana and her kid, Milady and K, Sune and L, and bareback Savanna following me and garnering some odd looks from spectators.
It was Milady’s first show, as well as L’s, and I was worried about them for about five minutes until I could see that they both had everything under control. All four of us were in the first two classes, the 50cm and 60cm, and there was some friendly ribbing. My money was on Liana and her kid; the kid loyally trusted me to win on remedial Savanna, and I think K and L were simply hoping to survive. In the end we all were wrong. Milady jumped a confident, quiet round, well-ridden by K, except both of them sort of weren’t looking at the second element of the combination and had a run-out there. Liana’s kid rode so, so nicely with excellent lines and position, but tapped the pole at number two. Savanna got to number two and then threw a hissy fit, whereupon she got a hiding and finished the track much better than she ever has before, taking a couple of poles. I was very happy with that – it’s the first time she’s actually gotten around without a leader.
Then Sune and L charged around in a perfect clear round, despite L firmly believing she wouldn’t remember her track, and thus handing all of our butts to us. There was more of the same in the 60cm; Milady, Liana and Sune all went clear in the first round, and Savanna had a pole, but I was very happy with her because she was confident, forward and relaxed. In the jump-off Milady and Liana had a pole each, but both their rounds were smooth and confident, so I was happy. Then little Sune and L charged around clear once again, albeit out of the placings because I had given them a Speech about going safely and building confidence.
Then it was off to the working riding and small jumping classes. Trooper and E kicked off the little classes by trotting sweetly around the ground poles, although E kind of forgot that fence 3b was a thing, but it was a good warm-up for their working riding round. Poor little Sune was shunted straight off to be ridden by her kid in the 30cm and 40cm. Regrettably, the track was exactly the same as it was last month, and Sune’s kid is one super-smart little eight-year-old, so it wasn’t very good practice for remembering the track since he remembered it perfectly from last time. Either way, that led to a clear in the 30cm and an unlucky pole down in the 40cm.
Trooper and E absolutely knocked it out of the park in the working riding. Their course was fairly technical and all-inclusive: walking underneath an arch, then through a bendy little lane, halt and pick up a basket and walk around a marked-out circle on the ground before returning the basket, trot the bending cones, trot the trotting poles, walk through another lane, walk over a mat, go to a pillar and ring a bell. Troopy didn’t look at a thing, not even the mat. E didn’t quite kick him hard enough to trot all of the trotting poles, but their bending poles were absolutely perfect. I couldn’t be happier. And I haven’t seen E smile as much as when she’s around Trooper, ever. Mission accomplished; Trooper’s doing what only a horse can do for a teenage girl.
Midas and VT’s kid also did a stunning test, Midas’s first. He did everything so perfectly except for the mat, where he just gently stopped and had a look. I popped in at that point and stepped onto it in front of him, and then he went over very happily and quietly. VT’s kid rode really very well and I was happy with the pony too; at the very least I know he’ll be excellent on a lead rein, and he’s quite good enough to get a solid mark off lead. I think she would have gotten him over it eventually.
Then poor Midas and the kid had to go charging straight off to the showjumping to jump Midas’s first 70cm. It was a speed class and I was calling dressage tests so I wasn’t there to tell the kid to go slowly, so obviously they tore around in a very confident clear round, coming fourth against some truly enormous horses (the whole of Team Nissan seemed to show up that day). So I couldn’t be much happier with that.
Somewhere around this point, Dad returned with the second load of horses, very timeously too, I might add. Ash was one of them, and her kid had plenty of time to trot around the warmup (and almost get killed by some of the aforementioned truly enormous horses – luckily Ash is a sassy little boss mare) before going in for their test. Savanna’s kid was also warming up and Savanna was being impressively calm and relaxed. I dragged them both down together so that I could keep an eye on each one and pushed Savanna and her kid in first.
Both boys were having their first show (apart from our little training show), and they both impressed me greatly. There were a few good moments and a couple of wobblies (Savanna broke in her first centreline and her kid kicked her to trot too early a few times; Ash didn’t really get the memo about having to halt on her last centreline and her kiddo’s legs were a bit flappy) but neither of them got lost or had any huge disasters. Ash and her kid had 64% and Savanna and her kid had 59%, which they both were happy with. Both have lots of work to do before they can ride anything other than a SANESA Riding Proficiency test, but I’m confident that they can go out and enjoy themselves at SANESA Level 0 next year. If they work hard they can get good marks, too.
At this point I was supposed to have been in the working hunter/stadium eventing arena on Jamaica about 45 minutes earlier, and had resigned myself to missing that one, but the judge there kindly let me go anyway. I cantered him around the warmup once (wearing Savanna’s bridle because his bridle was on Ash; I’m very grateful for his unfussy little mouth), popped over a jump, tied a knot in the end of the TREMENDOUSLY long reins, and off we went. The track was only about 60-70cm at the biggest, but fairly challenging, including a couple of banks down, a bank up, steps, a dyke with all three fences in it, a little ditch, a combination, some brush, and a whole lot of straw bales and rustic fences and such. He had a big wobble at the first fence because it was next to a water jump, but once he realised he didn’t have to do the water jump he was quite OK. He had another wobble at the brush the first time, but after jumping it once he jumped it nicely the second time. Somewhere around fence 10 he hit his stride and started to enjoy himself, as did I. I really want to event again.
Then we had a little break before going back to the warmup to climb awkwardly over the oxer and wait our turn in the 90cm competition. At this point, I had reached that mildly delirious stage near the end of a show with lots of kids, and could not really care less what size the jumps were. I just walked the related distances in the class so that I knew the strides and watched somebody go so that I knew where to go, and in we went. After cruising on a bigger stride in the stadium eventing arena, it was quite natural to send Jamaica more forward, adding only one stride in the related distances (which I don’t mind since he is almost a pony jumping on horse strides), and thus the round was very smooth. We landed on the wrong leg a few times and I was slow to correct it, but he still jumped every fence right out of his stride. There were a bunch of puddles in the arena and one of them was right in front of the second element of the combination, so he chipped in a stride looking at that, but the rest of it was fantastic.
It was the only clear round, too. So we got a big fat red ribbon.
When I schooled him for this show and we couldn’t get a good stride to this one jump I literally remember thinking to myself, “Well, God, You got me through my Module 4 and gave me a very confident ride in that exam, so I’m not asking for anything more right now; I can lose my nerve again now,” but God’s reply seemed to be, “I’m not done working miracles yet, My daughter.” The 1.00m didn’t look all that big when we watched it as we were packing up.
Dad, meanwhile, had already shipped Milady, Liana and Trooper back home, and returned within half an hour of the end of my class to take the rest of us. We were all happily home by four in the afternoon, although how Dad did it is between him and God because I sure don’t know.
This year has been all about what God can do. Even at this little training show, He helped us to run it so smoothly despite not having enough tack or horseboxes or horses. Somehow He gave me an excellent ride and helped all the newbies to have a good show and – best of all – all three my rising stars got to ride, having somehow scraped together sponsorships and kindness from various sources to be able to have enough show clothes, entry money, and horses. All three of them. I am so, so happy to be a witness to the majestic spectacle of what God does when you give it all to Him.
So here’s a few more numbers for you to wrap up this post.
We started off our first SANESA season as a yard the way we always do: a little clueless, a lot scruffy, and ready to give absolutely everything we had.
At our first qualifier, I didn’t even know that SANESA working riding tests are given at the judge’s box instead of at the class itself. My poor teenager and I had to beg a friendly stranger in the warmup arena for her copy, and skimmed it in three seconds flat. One of the little kids fell off and injured herself. I missed both performance riding classes. The showing judge patronized my teenager for not trimming her horse’s ears, and Zorro got eliminated for three refusals (at the third fence).
The second qualifier was a little better. I had to panic to find a horse for K because of a glitch in her previous mount’s paperwork. We were late for my first class and I warmed my four-year-old up for all of one minute, shunting him into the arena just in time, bug-eyed and uncertain. Zorro got eliminated for forgetting the course. But Vastrap came third, and K won her class. And then Liana’s kid fell off again. But at least this time she waited until after the finish flags.
By the third qualifier, things started to look up. Vastrap was placing in every class he jumped; we would get someone into Finals after all. I got eliminated for failing to jump the A element of a combination after refusing at the B element. Liana’s kid fell off the day before, but stayed on throughout the actual show – and remembered her tracks. Pennie won two of her three classes and our new little lead rein kid placed third at her first show ever.
At the fourth qualifier, all snot promptly broke loose. Pennie was dead lame with a mystery issue we couldn’t get to the bottom of. She had to withdraw. Midas and Lancelot had stops and poles down all over the place and Vastrap took a silly rail. K forgot her course for the first time in living memory, her shot at finals slipping out of her grasp. My lead rein kid was late into her class because I was riding dressage in the arena next door and her poor mother almost had a heart attack. Amid this chaos, Liana’s kid pulled out a fabulous score in the prix caprilli and popped into finals. She didn’t fall off even once.
Then came Finals, and that was brilliant. The two little kids put in the rides of their lives, which made it irrelevant that neither of them went through to Nationals. Zorro the remedial stopper ate up a difficult track and leapt into ninth place (of over 40 riders), taking his rider from her first Finals to her first Nationals.
And Pennie, newly sound again, won her class.
And then everything started to fall to bits again. Pennie went lame. Hardly had she recovered than G went lame and was stuck in a Moon-Boot for four weeks while I wrestled with her fiery little pony, trying to install brakes. Zorro, at least, made up for his chaos early in the season and behaved just fine, but his kid battled stomach issues. Two weeks before Nationals, G came out of her boot and could finally ride again. Two days before Nationals, Pennie stopped so hard G fell into a fence, necessitating three stitches to her chin. One day before Nationals, it rained and rained and rained, turning horses into mud monsters and arenas into bogs.
We took a deep breath, bathed Zorro in the sunrise and made it happen. He jumped a fabulous round for his kid and they finished happily in the middle of the pack. We were delighted, and so so proud. Then Pennie jumped, conservative and just a little off her rhythm, taking a cheap pole down. We had showjumping the next day. None of us were feeling confident.
It was about this point where I threw up my hands and said, “God, I hope You have an idea of what You’re doing, because I don’t!”
He did. He was doing something incredible: teaching us that nothing is impossible with Him.
Brothers and sisters, our God is in charge. We had our first season, we had drama, we had blood, sweat and tears, we had lameness and falls, we had breakdowns and meltdowns, we kept trying, we hung on, we watched, and we saw miracle upon miracle as He worked mightily in and for every single one of my kids, regardless of where they finished. And I cannot wait for next SANESA season so that I can watch, again, what He does for us through our horses and our wonderful, crazy sport.
On Sunday morning we trundled off to Kyalami in convoy: the four-berth and two two-berths, all full except the second two-berth. Because with the business growing like it has, that’s how we roll. God is good!
The seven horses arrived at Riba, a smartly efficient and friendly yard right in the heart of deep Kyalami horse country, safely and having travelled well – even Savanna, who was involved in a boxing accident years ago. We had managed to book some stables and hurriedly tossed the ponies in there before heading up for our first classes.
Sunè and her kid were having their first away show off the lead. She was nappy in the warmup (including jumping out of the side… not entirely sure the kid was not in on this plot) but once they hit the show ring they were both absolutely on their game. As you can see, I was in the arena for both rounds for moral support, but all I did was shout “Slowly!” at intervals. He remembered the tracks perfectly and Sunè was her wonderful little self. They did up to 40cm, which is already good enough for SANESA Level 0. I wouldn’t push him for more if he doesn’t want to so I’m pretty happy with it.
Savanna was next. She’d been amazing to box and handle and showed no separation anxiety, which is already a huge win, so I was optimistic. Once I was on she did get a bit spooky. Nothing violent, but your standard TB move of running backwards and threatening to rear. We handled that and made it into the warm up, where she was looky but fine and completely happy to jump all the jumps – even the oxer.
In the show ring for the 40 it started with some more backwards running and panicking; I talked her over 1 and 2, and 3 had a wavy plank in it and she politely declined. A kind coach came over and led her over that, and then she seemed to settle and plopped around the rest without turning a hair.
In the 50 she had settled very well and trotted around it easily, albeit having a big look at the wavy plank and carelessly taking a pole, but I’ll take it.
It was all just standard baby horse stuff and I’m expecting huge improvement by the next one. The main thing is that she loaded and travelled well, didn’t get separation anxious, handled the new environment, and was willing to try. The rest will come with experience.
Midas and VT’s kid N were in the 50 and 60, as well as Liana and her kid. Both ponies jumped super clear rounds. Liana also had a fat look at the wavy plank but her kid gave her a big kick and they made it. They didn’t place in the 60, but that was because I gave the kid strict instructions to keep it slow and quiet, and she followed them to the letter. This kid was falling off at 50 only a few months ago – I’m intensely impressed.
Midas absolutely jumped out of his socks. He got right to work and never looked at a thing; in the jump-off he took the little turns and stretched out until he was doing horse strides with those little legs. His technique continues to improve and he’s just such a brave, uncomplicated and trustworthy chap – at four years old, and ridden exclusively by kids. Just top class and I really mean it. In the 60 he ended up fifth in a fairly big class, causing problems for N because…
… Vastrap won it. Nothing could stop this little professional and they absolutely nailed it. In the 70 they came third despite poor N having tight costume changes riding two horses with one saddle. She handled it great. The makings of a top rider here, too.
Lancey also jumped the 60 and the 70 and he nailed my goal (which didn’t make it to the blog, oops): no stops. In fact, he jumped all his rounds clear. He behaved impeccably all day, except when I tried to cut this turn in the jump-off and we almost jumped this random jump and he mercifully stopped and I almost fell on it and then we got it together and finished the round. Obviously he wasn’t very quick so we didn’t place, but now he’s all ready for Z-kid and I’m happy as a bird.
This wonderful object was his wonderful Jamaican self, garnishing compliments on his spottiness and sweetness. I was so so tired when I got on him for the 70 and didn’t really get it together, so he climbed over the fences and almost stopped at the wavy pole and I just sat there flapping my stick because my legs didn’t want to kick anymore. Poor chap still managed to jump clear, though.
I had a breather (and food) before the 80 and this managed to restore my riding ability back to normal. We tackled this, a speed class, with something resembling speed for the first time ever. I never chased him, but I did ask for his “big” rhythm (the biggest I’m happy with, which admittedly is not very big) and we made tight turns and the horse was just fantastic. I made decisions and actually rode and he just rose to the occasion. There were VERY spooky fillers but he marched over them all. We got sixth too, which was quite nice.
Maybe next time we’ll try a 90. Either way, God is amazing and I love my spotty friend.
Teaching is a high calling, a daunting responsibility, a rewarding rollercoaster, and a breathtaking honour. It does, however, have its downsides. Not least of which is that whatever infection the child population of Heidelberg have, I inevitably end up having, too. At least my sad homeschoolers’ immune system has girded its loins somewhat, but I was something of a snot-nosed grump this week.
It was hard to not be snappish. I believe I failed often. But I tried, and I ask forgiveness.
This poor moo fell in a hole on Sunday. I wasn’t able to get super involved in the rescue effort, which took four hours and involved multiple people and large equipment, but I did administer what is so far the strangest injection of my career – hanging upside down in a hole with my sister holding my ankles to avoid my joining said moo in said hole. This stalward little Jersey cow handled her predicament with aplomb and escaped with minor injuries.
Savanna’s condition continues to improve. Her flatwork is feeling good, too. We had some arguments about the jumping; she will now jump simple verticals and crosses without difficulty, but she has a deep misunderstanding and fear of oxers, combinations, and gymnastic lines. Even the tiniest oxer elicits some running backwards and panicking. We did lots of gently popping over little oxers, even from a walk at first, and in the end she was jumping an oxer in a combination. This is good because she has her first away show this weekend.
Champagne and I have been discussing her continuing phobia of Holstein heifers and making solid progress. We started with hand walking, sticking to one “safe” rein at first, then walking with a quiet older horse leading, and then took it from there step by step. She can now trot large and circles on both reins without a lead and doesn’t freak out or panic, even when we circle at C (next to the terrifying Holsteins). She is fine generally but does jump any time a cow sighs, farts, lies down, stands up, looks at her or (heaven forbid) scratches its ear. The jump is a fairly ordinary sideways spook and I talk her out of it pretty fast, so the progress is enormous. She’s learnt the main thing, which is that fear can be dealt with.
Ash and L have been doing so well in their lessons, including cantering independently without stirrups, that at their last lesson I introduced a tiny little fence. Ash may not jump much because of her tendon but I did want L to have her first tiny jump on a horse she really trusts and Ash fits the bill. I ended up having to make it 60cm before Ash actually consented to jump instead of trotting over, but they both looked fabulous. My new no-stirrups policy is paying off.
We made Lulu’s wonderful African hair into an unamused unicorn. Apart from being tortured by deliriously tired coach and groom, Lulu is doing MUCH better on her new diet and with her adjusted saddle, and is back to sassing the kids with vigour.
We’re entering a very difficult time of year for horses. The temperatures swing wildly from cold at night to hot during the day; their coats are so hot they sweat through the day and then don’t drink enough at night and colic. Tiny bits of green grass, practically void of nutritional value, are also coming through and they walk all over their big fields looking for it and getting thinner. I am having worm counts done like a true paranoid horse mom, but I think it’s the time of year.
How cute are our new bridle hooks? And genius! This is the brainchild of one of the lesson moms. Cute and cheap ftw.
K and Milady are doing great. I would love to be able to use Milady in the school eventually: she has the nature, just needs her go button tuned down a bit. Then she can earn her keep until the next baby starts getting heavy.
Eagle went on his first hack with his mom, and was absolutely impeccable,
as were Savanna (with her teen) and Blizzard (with K). We only went a short way, but they were fine. Blizzard is standing up well to the demands of the bombproof hack, for a four-week-under saddle baby.
This cat had her babies behind the washing machine and had to be rescued from the dogs. Aren’t they adorable? She is super friendly and lets you pet her and the kittens while purring proudly over her blind, squirming brood. Ratters in the making.
Mom found this gem somewhere in an envelope. I must be eight or so? This was the riding school where we eventually bought Lulu, and I looked at one of this mare’s foals and that foal was now 14 so I feel really old.
L and a girl I’ve been tutoring online are both writing their exams on Monday. They passed their mocks with flying colours, but they’ll appreciate your prayers. ❤
Everybody had their shots this week, too. They positively queued up for them. I love managing a yard full of quiet gentle ponies. Everything is so much simpler. Dr. C is so good with them, too.
And finally, a Dusty update. She is, thank God (seriously), much better. Still on half turnout and some anti-inflammatories, but no longer hopping on three legs. It appears it is a bad muscle sprain after all; painful to be sure, but manageable. (Also pictured: only just enough hay for a 14hh easy keeping pony on box rest for the night. Two nets a night ain’t ad lib).
This weekend’s program includes a training show, attended by Liana, Vastrap, and Sunè and their kids, Midas and VT’s kid, and three for me. Jamaica (doing his millionth 80cm – we’ll eventually move up, eventually), Lancelot (60cm and 70cm, hopefully his last show with me) and Savanna (40cm and 50cm). I can’t wait ❤
Last Saturday morning at early o’ clock saw us boxing Vastrap and Liana in the dark. Good little VT strolled right in; Liana had never seen a two-berth before and needed a rope around her bum, but we got her in with minimal drama and headed off to beautiful KEP.
We arrived with enough time to spare before the jumping class to plait VT, to his kid’s delight. This kid absolutely loves to be well turned out and is forever badgering me to plait her pony for jumping, but I’m afraid on a SANESA day when I have like five to plait and a million classes to get to, it never happens.
The neatly turned out Vastrap and contented kid headed off to warm up in a glow of excitement and I pretty much stayed out of their way and chewed my nails watching them navigate a really chaotic warmup. Vastrap was being an absolute little professional as usual, but so much more relaxed than normal. His kid has been so good for him – I’ve never seen him in such a positive emotional space at a show. He was just cruising.
There were 39 horses in their 60cm speed class and the competition, as usual for finals, was enormously strong. Coming from Sedibeng qualifiers to Finals is always a bit of a culture shock; Morning Star is probably one of the medium to stronger yards at qualifiers, but then we get to Finals and find ourselves competing against the cream of the abundant crop from Kyalami and Pretoria, deep horse country.
Still, Vastrap strolled into that class ready for anything. We’d walked a tricky little track, cutting a lot of turns and taking a couple of risks, but VT and his kid absolutely smashed it. They nailed turns that were making good ponies stop, giving a clear round in a solid time for 14th place. I was so proud of them both. The placing left them just out of the team for Nationals, but I was still very happy with their performance.
We sat around for a long time then, waiting for something to happen, and then – as usual – it all started to happen at once. Liana and VT had to be hustled off to their classes almost simultaneously while I frantically tried to finish Liana’s plaits for prix caprilli and keep everyone calm (not least my panicking self).
VT and his kid made the first round of their competition look easy, skipping around clear without any difficulty. I just had time to watch and cheer before bolting down to the dressage arenas to find Liana nowhere in sight ten minutes before her ride time. After some frantic running about, Liana was located and shunted into the warmup, times were sorted out, and we managed to get a time ten minutes later – to my great relief. Ana, at least, was being relaxed and well behaved. Her kid had completely forgotten how to ride figures of any description (a first Finals will do that to you) but we used those ten minutes to re-learn them all and by the time we were called, everyone had settled.
The two of them proceeded to ride a solid, obedient test. Liana’s bend and connection were a bit all over the place, and there were a couple of inaccuracies, but Liana’s kid kept a lid on a very hot pony and stood up well to the pressure of Finals. They missed out on the placings, but for me it was a resounding end to a SANESA season that had not started well, and I was proud of them both.
Then it was time to sprint back up to the jumping, just in time for VT’s jump-off. His kid actually had to wake him up a bit to get him forward, and in they went, planning to ride another twisty track. In the end I had told them to cut a turn where I think, in the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I should have had them go round and gallop a bit. But I’m always a bit chicken of letting kids go too fast. So off they went, VT jumping like a little superstar and his child doing everything I said and they were quick and clear.
It was not quite good enough for Nationals, landing them in 15th place, but it absolutely was good enough for me. This pony used to gallop inverted at fences and panic through all of his courses, taking poles as he went, and now he just toddles around in a rhythm with soft eyes and happy ears. Nationals or no, that counts for something.
I tell the kids that only two opinions matter: your horse’s and God’s. And I know for a fact that both of those have very high opinions of these two kids.
After the emotional and spiritual high of last week, this one has left me a little flat. Make no mistake, we had good progress this week, including a lot of good rides and lessons and wonderful preparation for Finals tomorrow (these kids are amazing!), but I think we all felt a little rough around the edges after putting everything into pony camp.
I will give absolutely everything tomorrow, too, because my kids and ponies have been doing exactly that. Vastrap and his kid were so amazing on Tuesday that yesterday I just took them on a hack. They are so more than ready for whatever Finals will throw at them.
And after a bit of an unpromising lesson on Tuesday, Liana’s indomitable kid showed up to work on Thursday and gave it everything she had. Liana is hot and not always easy to keep rhythmic throughout a test but this kid absolutely nailed it. She’s going to ride her heart out at Finals because she always does.
Purple gloves make me happy, and so does Savanna. She is such a sweet, nonviolent, willing soul. She is desperately uneducated though, and it shows, but already after two or three weeks of work she’s starting to understand that there is no need to rush fences or cut corners. We still have a long way to go in terms of developing self-carriage and any form of technique, but obedience is already improving. From next week she’s in full training and competing with me, so that’ll be fun.
Champagne has been out of work for the above reason. Ah pony. Why? Six stitches and a week later and it’s almost healed, but it’s a pity we’ve lost that training time.
Magic is better at teenage girl selfies than I am.
He’s just better at selfies generally, really.
Skye has a nicer winter coat than anyone. She is really contented at the moment. Looking after Lady Erin seems to be all the stimulation she really needs; the old girl is happy to stand in a peaceful field and come in to do the Scripture reading before shows and get stuffed full of cookies. Especially the cookies, if we’re honest. She doesn’t crave people, although that’s not to say we don’t both enjoy grooming (and cookie-feeding).
Magic, on the other hand, is by no means ready for retirement. I had been toying with the idea a little. Riding has been either anxious or boring of late; I don’t want to push him with the flatwork, I can’t cope with the jumping, and he can’t cope with hacks. We lunge but that’s just exercise. We both really need a conversation; we need to spend quality time and not just be together, but talk and interact and learn things.
So, because he really enjoys groundwork, we’re playing with liberty. I know – I rolled my eyes reading the websites, too. (Ignore bad behaviour? So what do you do if it charges/bites/kicks/rears/pushes you around?) But it’s what Magic needs. He never gets stroppy. He never gets domineering. He needs something where there’s no pressure and lots of affirmation and this seems like fun. So here goes nothing, I guess.
I’m just gonna leave this right here because it makes me so happy seeing them regain their shine here.
Pretty Ash has been doing so well with L. Sound for 15 minutes’ trotting for several weeks now, we’ve added in some canter. It’s rather more canter than L is used to but Ash takes care of her. She is such a classy, attractive pony – I kind of wish we’d had her when she was younger and sounder and ready to take on the world.
I bought the dragon a nametag. Try not to laugh.
Speaking of dragons, we have been dressaging. More to come later. I’m using the double on her most of the time now. She does go better and yes, she should be able to do it in a snaffle, but the horse didn’t get a good foundation and right now we’re just muddling along trying to find what works for where we are now. Dressage coach S might come see us next month, then we can ask her opinion.
Nugget is incredibly content living with Magic. She’s in a better condition than ever before and even runs around the field playing with him – something I’ve never seen her do before. Unfortunately, after my week off and then pony camp, we’ve taken a bunch of steps back in handling. I haven’t gotten a halter back on her again. We’re making progress back there every day (I can rub her neck and shoulder now), so we’ll regain the lost ground quickly. I’m trying to make a point not to be upset about it, because there’s just no way I would have coped without the week off. And if I don’t cope there’s no yard and if there’s no yard there’s no safe haven for Nuggets.
On the jumping front, this was our exercise of the week; canter pole, couple of bounces, one stride, vertical. I added V-poles to the vertical later on. It was very challenging, especially for the kids, because they had to really ride the ponies up into their hands and get them to use themselves instead of just point and go. But it was confidence building for the horses and helped sharpen reflexes and round jumps nicely.
I found it confidence building too – so much so that the last vertical ended up at about a metre. My first in years, and Jamaica’s first under me. He just loped right on over and didn’t take it seriously enough to give it much scope, so it’s comforting to know he can do it and with such quietness.
He is such a blessing. If I had unlimited funds I would have bought him long ago. As it is, if I do pass Module 5, it’ll in large part be due to what God is doing for me with this funny-looking little horse.
Arwen has a jumping day each month, and she charged through it as well,
as did Destiny, Savanna (a simplified version), Thunder, and Lancelot. Lancey particularly impressed me because carefulness has been something we’ve long struggled with and he didn’t knock a single pole, except for rubbing the last vertical so that the V-poles fell off. He was kind of dorkward about it but he did the thing and I’m so so proud of the little chap.
I also started playing with an automatic release. My crest release is really good when it’s good, but disappears as soon as I’m nervous. I feel like I have to keep my hands back to keep my weight back in case the horse stops. It isn’t true, but it’s how it feels. The automatic is harder so it makes me concentrate on my lower leg and hip so that I can pull it off, but psychologically it’s significantly easier to follow the mouth slightly rather than toss my hands up the neck. I kinda like the result but I’m not dead sure yet.
And I’m throwing this in here too – G wasn’t able to exercise Pennie much last week, so I got to borrow her for a day and have some fun. Love this pony. She’s epic. Pictured: reason why I must learn a better release.
Eagle is going much better. He can be tricky to train for his novice owners; he’s never naughty, but he is responsive and forward-thinking by nature, so when you’re a novice trotting along and you panic and grab with your legs he’s probably going to go faster. We spent a lot of time installing some very sharp brakes and a relaxed halt, and he’s doing great.
They harvested the maize last week. The world suddenly looks bigger; and there’s not as much to spook at. I borrowed Dusty from the kids for a hack and remembered why I trust this little pony like nobody else.
This is Troy, who is my current favourite schoolie from Winstead. He is large and round and lazy but also jumps anything if you get him to go fast enough, so he’s my type. We were jumping over 80cm in fairly tricky exercises last lesson and he gives me a lot of courage. Thank you Troy (and coach K of course).
This cheeky adorable Faithy thing has been getting ideas above her station and picking fights with herd members, so now she has one kick on each hock. One more kick and I’ll move her out, but I suspect she’s doing something to provoke getting bullied. Bratty 2yo thinks she can rule the roost down there.
We have been having more conversations about the horsebox. She doesn’t walk right in yet, but if you show her you have cookies she’ll go in. She’s still learning about the world and I’m still learning about her, but I love her so much. Also she will do anything for cookies.
This is Meatlug (after the dragon – a greatly inappropriate name) and I think she’s beautiful. Those eyes…
Destiny has his ups and downs. Our personality clash makes for a difficult relationship, but we have been making really good progress. He’s so good on hacks now, jumped the difficult gymnastic, and is learning to move laterally off my leg.
Blizzard is trotting laps in the (amazing, new) ring now. Slanted poles are amazing, by the way – I haven’t had my knees smacked even once. He was scared of me posting at first, but his reaction to being scared is to stop dead, so that’s quite OK for a novice horse. We have some confidence building to do in trot but it won’t be long before we canter.
Lullaby has been a bit flat lately. I’ve tried the usual tricks – decreased workload, time off, a fun jumping session with a big kid – to no avail. She doesn’t seem unsound or in any physical trouble beyond the usual stiffness that we’re controlling with joint supplements, but there’s just a lack of her usual sparkle. I really hope her age and many years in the riding school aren’t catching up to her. I need her – we need her. But I’m her advocate. So we’ll try hacks and different food and so on until my stalwart little colleague is herself again. She has served so well for so long at such a thankless task.
My job is easy by comparison. It’s the least I can do to be as faithful as my good little ponies.
It was pony camp, which I always love because I get more than that single golden half-hour once a week with each child. I get a chance to listen. I get a chance to learn.
We had many kids, for us (12? 13? I’m honestly not sure) and I can confidently say they all impressed me this week. For sure some of them got told off rather sternly but they are all lights in the world. They all have their futures thrown wide before them and the knowledge that I had a whole week with them – a week that God could use to influence their lives – was a tremendous thing. Terrifying at times, but tremendous.
Bible study was something else. The first three days felt like they weren’t really going anywhere – I was preaching the Gospel, and they were listening (most of the time) like good little children. But such is Bible study, I’m finding. It takes a while to build the trust that makes it a conversation. On the last day, we ended up running 45 minutes long because the kids weren’t running out of questions. We sat together and had an open, candid, non-judgmental, honest and sincere discussion about God. Jesus was there and the Holy Spirit was working! It was a day that reminded me of what I’m here for.
Of course, much was learned about horses, too. We rode bareback (a first for most of the kids) and played that game where you give each child a coin under each lower thigh and the kid who manages to keep their coins the longest wins. This was to much hilarity, but regrettably, we lost almost all of the coins in the arena sand.
We also learned how to turn out a pony, to varied success. This was less of a hit with some of the boys, but for the most part they pulled together and did some rather stellar work. Trooper especially looked more dashing than I expected.
We also learned about the points of the horse, parts of the saddle and bridle, and colours and markings. The ponies were as usual entirely accepting of having stickers stuck all over them.
They also did an awesome job painting and decorating all our jumps,
and Kindness Rocks, which are now littered all over the yard. Some have rather imaginative spelling (and others are teetering precariously on top of poles, on the brink of falling upon somebody’s head like a bolt of divine inspiration) but they make me smile.
We jumped some jumps (pictured: head groom L winning at this) and limbo’d under others (not pictured: head groom L falling on her head trying to win at this).
There were no falls or serious injuries at all this pony camp, to my great relief. One kid did cut his finger on the fence, whereupon it bled magnificently, but it was nothing that making a big fuss, pulling on my blue gloves and sticking a Star Wars plaster couldn’t fix. I also got kicked halfway across the arena (walked behind a sleeping pony and touched its bum like an idiot) but luckily I went flying and skidded several metres so that seems to have taken the worst of the impact out of it. Young muscles do have their advantages.
The week culminated in today’s training show, our first ever. It was an outrageous success – by the grace of God. Literally. He was so with us. And I have no pictures. Sorry.
We opened with Scripture reading, a la Lipizzaners, by bringing in old Skye and reading Job 39:19-25. Not gonna lie, standing next to my brave old friend and facing the crowd (more than 80 people – it was quite the crowd) and the powerful words straight from my God’s mouth rolling over us, I got a little teary-eyed.
The POG class was enormous and consisted of basically everyone whether they could jump or not. But I only had two on the lead rein and everyone else remembered their track perfectly, even if they walked the whole thing. Lulu, Trooper (yes – the 3yo; ridden off lead by a 6yo kiddie. He was good except once he walked into an upright and it fell over), Stardust, Midas, Sunè, Renè, and Thunder all packed their kids around without putting a toe wrong. Starlight had a spook and cantered off causing a little panic, but the kid got her back and she was fine after that.
Lisna and E also trotted around the POG and 20cm effortlessly. Lisna didn’t look at a thing and E handled first-show nerves brilliantly.
Most notably, David and his person went around the POG in hand. A mighty feat considering all the fears that horse had to conquer to get there. I gave him a show name and it says everything about him: Facing the Giants. He has faced some incredible Goliaths.
The 20cm was more of the same, with the addition of Savanna and her teenager. Savanna has been SO naughty of late (used to following other ponies over jumps + now feeling rather too good = naughty) but she was super and her teenager rode her really, really well for clear rounds.
Rain and Arwen also popped around the 20cm and 30cm, to general applause. Arwen also packed another rider who she’s never seen before in her life around the 60cm and 70cm, kicking all of our bums in the process. That’s the dragonbeast for you. I love that about my dance partners – they can dance with me one day and carry random people around the next.
In the 40cm, Destiny got his first jumping win under his mom. Sunè and her kid also popped around beautifully and Starlight came second with a kid that will hopefully become her kid eventually.
In the 50cm, Liana and her kid charged around brilliantly for second place. Midas and his new little rider had their first show together and came third, and Pennie’s mom G jumped her young horse, Saartjie, for first place. When G got Saartjie about a year ago the pony had never seen a fence before in its life and I’ve never been on her so I am VERY chuffed with both. K and Renè also had a great clear round.
It was more of the same in the 60cm, with Arwen first, Saartjie second and Lancelot third – albeit having a rather gawky round because I was in the dressage saddle (the others were all taken) and mainly focused on not losing my stirrups. Lancey was amazing for the whole thing, jumping all clear rounds. We were all expecting Vastrap to win because he is awesome but he got a bit wild and threw in a stop – luckily for his child because I don’t think she could have sat the only distance available to him at that pace. He won the 70cm, with Lancey second and Arwen third.
The 80cm was only Pennie and G and Jamaica and I, and Maicy totally showed me again why I lease him. I was exhausted by this point and just sort of hung on and pointed him at the jumps. The distances were ugly, the rhythm was off, and we’d had one minute to warm up – but Jamaica just took me over each fence despite my mistakes. Good boy. He won it despite a rail down because Pennie got somewhat overexcited and crashed through a bunch of jumps.
The last class was called the 85cm but only because I didn’t want to say out loud that Jamaica and I were jumping a 90cm track. I needn’t have worried, though. Jamaica was superb. Both G and I had a pole down but Pennie was like 15 seconds faster so they won.
I am so happy with it – all of it. I feel so honoured to be among this group of horses and riders and to feel the buzz that was at this stableyard today. It’s more than just a good atmosphere brought about by mutual goodwill. It’s in me but not of me. It’s the Holy Spirit at work.
This evening I had one last job – herding the members of field A (Arwen’s group) back to their field, which was being used as a warmup. It was a short way along the corridor so I elected to just shepherd them along rather than catching each one. I whistled them up and Arwen led the charge, snorting fire. Magic caught on and started bucking in the neighbouring field and then suddenly they were all running – thirty-one shining, happy horses – each a thunder-clothed collection of graceful curves bursting with life and exuberance, the sky and earth trembling with the power of them. I was caught breathless in the whirlwind of it, and I understood what the psalmist meant when he said: Let everything that has breath praise the name of the Lord.
No eye has seen what He has prepared for us, but perhaps sometimes we catch the edge of Heaven’s melody, curling on the cusp of hearing.
C. S. Lewis wrote that it doesn’t really matter how many times we fall; it’s the getting up each time that counts. Some days I feel very like those “muddy and tattered children” he wrote about, but I still know my heavenly Daddy is just waiting to wipe the mud and tears away and welcome me Home. Every day is one step closer – sometimes a stumbling, fumbling, floundering step. But a step nonetheless.
So, too, our journey to excellence in horsemanship is heading tangibly in the right direction, marred but not stopped by the odd mistake or bad day.
In anticipation of one day finally moving up to 90cm, I’ve been slowly picking apart my fears and working on them one by one. I’ve found myself almost entirely comfortable at 80cm at home, but absolutely entirely uncomfortable at 90cm. It’s all in my head, of course, but that’s fine. So is all my skill, dreams, and resolution to stick with my God. One’s head is a valid and important place for something to be. Abba is being patient with me and so is the horse; it’s the least I can do to return the favour.
In the past if I wanted to move up I’d set up a course at that height and jump it. It hasn’t worked. Right now I’m taking the idea to pieces and tackling each one individually. The first order of business was dealing with my thing with combinations, starting with this gymnastic line – pole, bounce, one stride, one stride. The ones were very long and the last oxer was about 75-80cm. I had to ride Jamaica forward at this or he’d throw in a nasty chip or a valiant leap to try and help me out. So that helped for my terror of getting the horse forward (which I must do because I can’t expect him to keep saving my bum at 90cm).
Then we jumped a single vertical in my comfort-zone dressage arena at 90cm. Then an oxer, only 60cm high but 100cm wide. So far, I’ve been OK. Not quite comfortable, but definitely not in the fear zone.
The horse is wonderful. I want to poke my eyeballs out with a fork when schooling him on the flat sometimes – but that’s also improving. Over fences he just goes in the same rhythm at every single jump even when I’m messing up and it’s amazing.
Savanna started to be very cheeky with her teenager, so she has been dumped into boot camp with mean Auntie Firn, as naughty ponies are. She is very sweet and levelheaded (especially for a 6yo thoroughbred) but there’s just no real schooling here at all. We spent a whole session just talking about rhythm. Then we spent another session trotting the same 50cm fence. She had two options: run sideways from a mile away, or gallop at the fence. The mare is not spooky but she doesn’t know where to put her feet and the running out has caused her rider to chase her at everything, so now she chases herself.
I explained to her that she really just has to go quietly over and by the end if it, she did. Then she went dramatically lame with an abscess. As thoroughbreds do. 😦
Miss South Africa here has settled in much better and seems quite happy and relaxed in her stable and field these days. Work, regrettably, is another story. This horse’s anxiety levels are through the ceiling and she seems completely uneducated on how to actually deal with it. She is nice to ride in her comfort zone with three balanced, obedient and connected gaits, but we have just been walking and walking and walking. Trying to show her where to find the stillness in the storm. I should know. Her ground manners are getting better (it’s amazing what a well-placed elbow can achieve) and we’ve come to an agreement: I don’t push her into the fear zone, she doesn’t rear up and strike at my face.
Liana has also developed a cheeky run-out at oxers. Only at home, of course – this pony doesn’t know how to stop at shows. I’ve passed Midas on to a new little rider so I’m giving Liana to Vastrap’s kid to school a bit. Her little girl is doing better and better, and always manages to get her over on the second or third go despite being very little.
Lulu has been having a bit of a break after working very hard for the past two SANESA qualifiers. Much pampering has helped children back into her good books.
Magic is so well and happy. He was a bit lost without Exavior for a while, but I moved Nugget in with him and he is now back to full happiness again. He was wonderful to ride last week and much better to lunge – we can now canter on the lunge without having any wild moments.
Faith’s front end is finally catching up to her back end. She’s become so trusting of people. Definitely has an opinion and can be spooky, hot and quite pushy – but we’re working on that. This unicorn has an inner dragon. Besides, so far my spooky dressage horses have done all right.
Destiny’s focus has been on hacking. He’s nice in company and manageable on the trail alone, but nappy heading out. A well-placed dressage whip has sorted some of that out, however.
Arwen and I headed into the woods for the first time in – well, long. A year or more. I used to ride in these woods all the time before old Skye retired, but the string of young and/or spooky horses that have followed have kinda ruled that one out for me. But Sunè’s kid and I finally did it again and it was really rather amazing. You’re in another world in the woods. And even with Ice bounding in the bushes, Arwen never turned a hair.
As for Sunè and her kid, what more can I say? They’re a match made in heaven. She’s developed a cheeky little run-out, but nothing a session with me won’t fix.
Champagne makes for amazing photos.
I love how the trees dapple her twice in this one. Also she is now OK with chickens.
Last week ended refreshingly slowly, with dressage to look forward to, and lots of these special little moments scattered throughout. Chocolate froyo and my loony sister – as well as finally making my first foray into Francine Rivers when I found Redeeming Love on special for peanuts – are a good combination.
So are cats in boxes,
and rare moments of creative energy,
and dogs on laps,
and perfect plaits,
and dressage-sculpted dragon butts all in blue.
Blessed beyond all expectation. Glory to the King.