Oh, Magic

Poor old Magic really doesn’t deserve the random freak accidents that are forever happening to him.

The handsome dude has been behaving really well, actually. For the first year or so that I had him, I was so thrilled with his jump that I spent most of our time jumping, the higher the better. While it was awesome fun, I don’t think it was the best thing for his education. His technique is quite sloppy. Because of his natural ability, he can jump the heights we’ve done from any distance, often pushing off with only one hindleg and dangling his front hooves a little. This might not affect him at 80cm, but if we’re going to go upwards of 1.30m one day, he needs to jump properly. Good habits are best trained early, of course, so right now we’re not pushing the height too much and doing a few little grids and small courses to build both our technique and confidence.

Exhibit A: overjumping
Exhibit A: overjumping

Our confidence has definitely improved. A month or two ago, when I was being terrified of him and he was trying to save me by jumping everything three times higher than necessary, I would start our sessions with 30cm crosses and consider it a success if we made 70cm. It was, but we’ve both rediscovered a little trust in one another and are now jumping 60-80cm most sessions. I am still learning to ride him because he is so sensitive, but I’ve figured out that the softer and slower we approach a jump, the better. This may sound obvious, but I’m used to Arwen and Reed who like a strong ride to the jump; it’s often better to gallop them to a jump than to take a deep or cautious distance. Magic is a bit of a pussy in that he only jumps properly from exactly the right distance, but he is also very willing and doesn’t need to be chased at a scary jump to ensure he jumps it. Chasing him only seems to make him nervous and causes him to overjump. This doesn’t mean I can just sit there, though. I have to give him a very balanced and quiet ride to the jump, but I also have to give him a massive amount of room with my hands. He is very fussy about his mouth and really hates it if I get left behind and accidentally give him a pull. While he still clears everything and nearly never puts his back legs down into a jump (he hates taking rails), he does charge at the next fence quite nervously and throw his face into the air.

Exhibit B: longest takeoff distance ever
Exhibit B: longest takeoff distance ever

The best part is actually that he has overjumped once or twice with me lately, usually out of my own error or just because we’re trying harder things which inevitably brings out a stress reaction, and we have both been able to cope with it. Even if I have a bit of a wobble, I can put it behind me and ride confidently to the next jump.

I’ve also shifted our focus onto flatwork. Magic doesn’t like flatwork much, but he needs to refine it, especially if we’re going to event. There are a few significant holes in his training, so I’m pretty much schooling him as if he was a dressage horse – starting with all the prelim stuff and slowly adding in bits from the novice tests. He has become a lot less panicky about his mouth, particularly as I’m concentrating really hard on my contact with him, and now does even trot-halt transitions without flailing.

Exhibit C: refusal; very rare in grey OTTBs called Magic
Exhibit C: perfect sliding stop, maybe he wants to be a reiner

I have to be very careful not to be too strict with him, which is weird. The horses I normally work with take a lot of chances and need to be kept in line, but Magic never does; he genuinely tries his best and scolding him only freaks him out, poor sweet dude, and when he’s freaked out he’s a total idiot. Bit of a delicate flower, that one.

So we were making all this awesome progress and getting him less worried about his mouth and then today while I was unwrapping his legs he rubbed his face on the fence, which I actually never let him do, and his bit got caught. Of course Magic freaked and leapt back like his mouth was on fire, causing his headpiece to snap and the bit to swing loose through his mouth. He ran a few steps while I walked after him speaking to him and then froze and stood there whinnying for no apparent reason. The poor guy shoved his head worriedly against me when I got there, so maybe he is starting to trust me after all.

Exhibit D: Um... no, I don't actually know what he's doing here
Exhibit D: Um… no, I don’t actually know what he’s doing here

I was instantly stressed about his mouth. He let me prise his lips open and there it was, Magic’s latest freak accident injury: one of his tushes had been broken. The top seemed to have been snapped off and was hanging by a thread and bleeding. My stomach did a little somersault of sympathy, but he didn’t seem to be in a lot of pain, so I gave him a little piece of carrot to see if he could eat (he could) and phoned the Mutterer.

I was pretty much ready to call in vets and dentists and all sorts of expensive people, but luckily the Mutterer saved the day by snipping off the piece of broken tooth with a pair of pliers and recommending an injection of penicillin. Thankfully, the root is undamaged – only the tip is broken off – and Magic seems to have forgotten all about it. Thank God (no really, thank Him) it’s only a tush. Tushes (canine teeth) are never used to eat with; found mostly in male horses, they’re used only by stallions in serious fights. Since Magic is not a stallion and doesn’t fight with anyone anyway, I don’t think he’s going to miss it.

Poor sweet guy. I’m starting to love him even more now.

Exhibit E: Pure potential, wrapped in grace
Exhibit E: Pure potential, wrapped in grace

One Jump at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yay for big empty warmups
Yay for big empty warmups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cute us
Cute us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dignified ribbon pose
Dignified ribbon pose

Feeling the Rain

You can’t hide forever from the thunder

Look into the storm and feel the rain…

~ Josh Groban, “Brave”

Ever since I tried to break in a large black stallion when I was twelve years old and relatively clueless, with the expected consequences, I’ve had nervousness issues. I suppose that no horseman can expect to grow, learn, or improve without going through various stages of horse-related fear, but that doesn’t make it any fun.

Achilles
Achilles

It’s quite easy to trace back my fears to that stallion; not that he was, in himself, a bad guy – in fact he was one of the sweetest stallions I’ve known and if I had him today, I’m quite confident I could train him without major trouble. But the green horse-green rider mix seldom works out (it did for me once, but it’s not a frequent occurrence) and add to that his massive size, my tiny size, and all his boy hormones and it didn’t end very well. In the end I did a little work on him and overcame the worst of his issues before selling him off in the middle of last year.

Today, similar horses or situations still come back to haunt me. Stallions are usually a bit of a trigger, but dear, patient, gentle, one-in-a-million Reed has more or less cured me of this one. Big horses were also an issue but then Thunder grew up to be the same height as his father (the black stallion), and with riding Sookie and the other warmbloods I just got used to it. Buckers were a problem, but there are so many horses that buck that eventually I was forced to learn to live with it or quit training young horses, and that’s something that I’m loathe to do.

Reed, who gave me my stallion confidence back
Reed, who gave me my stallion confidence back

Now the biggest problem that remains is a combination of the three: a big, bucking stallion is sure to scare me. And for a few weeks, one of the stud stallions fit this bill. Sixteen hands of pure magnificence, he makes the little horsecrazy girl inside me do cartwheels of ecstasy; only about four and a half years old, his hormones and excess energy occasionally get the better of his otherwise quite trainable mind. Add to this me being frightened of him bucking and frustrating him by holding him in whilst kicking him on, and we have an airborne horse and a desperate rider.

I was, in fact, right on the brink of handing him over to the Mutterer and admitting defeat. Even the Mutterer was starting to look a little scared on my behalf when the stallion was in a feisty mood, and it takes quite a lot to frighten the Mutterer. Then, one day as I was scrolling through Facebook (I know, I know, great source of wisdom) a quote jumped out at me:

Photo

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee.” Isaiah 41:10a

I realised, again, that giving in to fear is not an option – not for me. I can’t choose fear over love or dreams or God; I guess that every time I choose fear instead of courage, I play servant to Satan instead of subject to my King. For God has given us a spirit not of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind; and we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.

So I girded up my loins, saddled up the horse (even though part of me really didn’t want to) and he was absolutely foot perfect. Better than he’s ever been. And because I was looking at him with love and not fear, I saw him at his best; realised anew how beautiful the mighty arching curve of his neck in front of me is, how stunning his huge smooth strides are, and how special his spirit, pride, and strange sensitivity are. And for this reason I would argue that the opposite of fear is not faith, but love: to love is to let go of fear. I was too busy loving him to be afraid of him. Above all, I was too busy loving his Creator to do anything but trust in Him.

One small battle might be won but the war is far from over. At every ride I stand at the same fork in the road, faced with the same choice: Love or fear? And fear is such a broad and attractive and comfortable way to go. But the path to love is marked by the sign of a cross. And it’s that sign that I will follow from here to eternity.

VCMBH: Generosity

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

A bit like this
A bit like this

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

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

Magic8
BOOM!

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

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

First time I rode him
First time I rode him

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

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

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

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

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

That face
That face

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

God willing.

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

 

 

Epiphany

Yesterday, I saddled Magic up and hit the arena for some schooling, with one goal in mind: FORWARD. Lately, he’s been basically a pain, refusing to respond to my leg and pulling on my hands all at the same time. Normally, it’s run forward and pull, or hide behind the bit and ignore all leg aids. Last session I spent half an hour just trying to get him off my hands, and all I got was a grumpy Magic with apparently no nerve endings in his sides.

Cue rethink.

I believe very much in the most important thing to remember in riding being to go forward. No matter how slow the gait, it has to be forward. I can deal with pulling or poor rhythm or a bad frame, just as long as the horse goes forward. So, for the session, I decided we’d ignore the frame and ask for nothing but forward. It took about fifteen minutes and one crack across the withers with the reins before Magic suddenly realised that he could go forward and suddenly I had my star horse back: long relaxed strides, plenty of impulsion and, guess what, he came off my hands and held himself properly and looked about a hundred times happier in his work.

Who can be mad at this face?
Who can be mad at this face?

Because he was being very chilled and in a good frame of mind, I decided to set up some jumps. Normally, I don’t like to jump too often for fear of boring the horse, but right now my jumping confidence is at a low and so (of course) are the horses’, so we both need plenty of practice.

I started with about a 60cm upright. And it looked big and scary, so obviously I kicked him into it and he overjumped and I pulled him in his mouth (because that’s so the best way to handle a tiny jump that looks big and scary). I’m actually shocked at how low my confidence is on him. I used to jump 1.10 and 1.20 on him with no worries, but I guess we’re in the place we are now and the only way out is onward – so I’m not dwelling on it.

I stopped and thought. Basically, I could either keep the jump at this height and kick him into it and repeat our performance until he either jumped me out of the tack or got annoyed and threw a buck and scared us both, or I could swallow my pride and make it smaller. I made it smaller. As in, 30cm kind of smaller. Then, I brought him to it in a trot, decided it was much too little to be scary, and we popped over.

I picked it up to about 40cm and again, trot in, pop over, canter out. We cantered it twice and he was perfect: jumped out of his stride, not too high, rhythmic and settled, stayed on the right lead. The same at 50cm. Cantering over the little jump again, I tried to figure out what had changed, and then it hit me.

When we were going over the tiny jumps, I was relaxed. Because of that, I stayed relaxed in the saddle and – crucially – kept my hands forward and still with the reins relatively loose. At the base of the jump, I didn’t kick him over, I just gave him a squeeze and over he’d go. When I was nervous, I’d tense up in the saddle and squeeze him continually with my legs. I’d pull him in tight to try and stop him from overjumping and then, at the base of the jump, think he was going to stop so give him a big kick and exaggerated release, so obviously he’d jump way too high. But when I kept my hands soft and let him do the job himself, he did it perfectly.

Liiiiiiiiight buuuuuulb (Despicable Me‘s Gru voice).

I actually can’t believe I didn’t realise this earlier, but I’m sure glad I have the idea now. I’ll try this again today or tomorrow and see if it’s coincidence or a real revelation.

Little steps forward.

Because he can do this
Because he can do this

On Confidence and Talent

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

Magic32

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

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

And then Magic happened.

When I started leasing him
When I started leasing him

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

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

Movement!
Movement!

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

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

He also scares me.

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

Magic6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to the King.

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