2020 Plans

I went back and forth quite a lot about whether or not to set goals at all this year. Goal-setting was childishly simple when my whole life revolved around horses, which was a very long time; probably since I can remember, actually. Being a homeschooled kid who wanted to ride for a living one day, I could basically ride all day, every single day and my own horses were my top priority.

Well, then adulthood arrived, and it made everything a whole lot more complicated. Suddenly there are bills to be paid and clients with expectations and deadlines, and my own horses can’t be the top priority anymore. I still ride them as much as I possibly can, but when adult life gets in the way, sometimes that just isn’t 6 days a week anymore. Keeping four horses in work while working two jobs has been… interesting. But it is certainly possible. My riding schedule might not be as consistent as it used to be, but it’s still effective, and my dreams have never been bigger.

So I decided to make some plans for 2020 after all.

Thunder

IMG_20190923_173028.jpg

What a superstar my big boy is ❤ I’m so grateful for everything he does for me, and not just in the dressage arena. Thunder really grew up during 2019, becoming SO much easier to ride, handle, and show. I’m still figuring out a diet that gives him enough oomph to get through the longer tests without doing what most diets do (make him even fatter), but our work has just been getting better and better despite being interrupted by the bout of biliary he had in October.

Thunder will be staying home until at least March/April thanks to Horse of the Year coming up and eating all my time and funds, although I hope to get him to at least one lesson in February. We’ll focus a lot more on lessons for this year as opposed to shows. I probably won’t take him out at elementary again because he doesn’t really need it. We’re currently ungraded, so all we can really do is ride ‘n go tests, and once we do go for graded again we’ll have to earn all our points from the beginning – but it doesn’t bother me right now. We’re going to invest in tack (pleaaaaase a saddle that fits his majestic fatness!!) and lessons this year instead of competitions.

That said, I’d like to ride two or three shows at Elementary-Medium, and then the BIG lofty goal of the year is to ride Medium 1 at a ride ‘n go. I’d also like to improve on his trailer loading skills (bc they SUCK) and go on a hack or two. Thunder is actually fine on hacks, it’s just that I’m not, so we’re going to build it up slowly.

Lancelot

IMG_20190602_192420.jpg

Lancey spent 2019 getting lessons and finding his way back into some sort of fitness and strength. He’s still not where he needs to be, but his topline is MUCH stronger and he feels wonderful under saddle. He has some residual mouth fussiness, but otherwise he’s more than ready to ride a Novice test. I love the fact that he’s totally chill in any venue, with or without company. I can even take him on outrides without panicking (although he does need to work on cantering quietly in the fields without going Psycho Arab).

Lancelot’s big show of the year is HOY 2020, where we’ll just be doing a quiet novice show riding class for the experience because I love HOY and I don’t want to miss it. No pressure, no stress, just a little class for the fun of it. He may or may not get ants in his pants and I’m not going to let it bother me. We’re just going for the sake of going.

In terms of his dressage career, we’re going to be aiming for an Elementary test at the end of the year. Like Thunder, Lancelot doesn’t need a lot of practice going to shows, so we’ll probably just take both the geldings wherever we go for ride ‘n go tests.

Faith

IMG_20191009_204701_711.jpg

Faith didn’t do a whole lot in 2019. We did HOY and she was pretty great, and after that I left her in a field to grow into a five-year-old. She did so, turning out HUGE (15.1 hands and as long as a ship) and beautiful. Her maturity is finally at the point where she can handle serious work.

I’m still going back and forth on whether or not to do HOY 2020 with her, but we probably will. After that, Faith will still be taking it pretty easy. She is not the dressage horse that Lancelot and Thunder are so I’m not going to be pushing her for more than she can do. We will continue to do Nooitie shows here and there and chip away at the dressage work, only aiming to be at Novice by the end of the year. There are many outrides in Faith’s future.

Arwen

IMG_20190916_131840.jpg

This will be the dragon’s last competitive year. She’s basically won everything a Nooitie mare can win with an adult at some show or another, and this year she’ll show under a capable little pony rider while I keep her fit at home. In December, she’s going to a beautiful bay stallion named Wilgerus Dakota to produce a 2021/22 foal, her first pure Nooitie foal. We might just do HOY 2021, with her only a couple of months in foal, but after that she’ll lead a school pony-cum-broodmare life of luxury. (And many outrides so that she doesn’t get super fat).

I am wildly blessed with four amazing horses, and despite all the challenges, I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings for us. God is so good, and He has such a great and perfect plan for every moment and every day.

Glory to the King!

What I Learned from My Easy Horse

They always say that the difficult horses have the most to teach you. That good horses don’t make good riders and that the more times you’re thrown, the more tenacity you learn. That the top horses are always a little sensitive, a little quirky, not everyone can ride them (as Valegro nods sagely in the background whilst carrying an eleven-year-old girl around on his patient back). There’s an undercurrent of feeling where if your horse isn’t that horse that’s a little crazy, maybe you’re not that rider who can do all the hard things.

But today I’m going to tell you everything I learned from my easy, sweet and safe horse.

Sure, he’s not the best ever on outrides and he’s got a spook in him, but he’s always been a steady sort. Even as a little foal he never had those crazy little baby tantrums while trying to navigate life with humanity. He wore his first saddle without a buck and fell asleep while I was putting on his first bridle. I was 15 and knew nothing. He was 2 and patient as a monolith, even then.

He was a clotheshanger-shaped two-year-old when I sat on him for the first time. I hadn’t done one quarter of the necessary groundwork, but he just turned his head to sniff at my toe and then went to sleep.

Fast forward seven years and he is still a good boy. He has his nervous moments, but in all our years of riding, I have only once believed I was actually going to come off him. We were walking and I was mostly asleep, one hand on the buckle, when huge lizard jumped up a rock out of nowhere and he jumped. I didn’t have reins, so he cantered off a few steps as I slithered down his side, stopping when I managed to get hold of a rein and drag myself back on board. Both times that I actually did fall off him, he was 3, we were hacking, and my (unreliable) girth came off. He always came back for me.

He has a quiet mouth. He doesn’t really go lame. He has a soft, supple back that doesn’t really go into spasm. These are probably reasons why he’s easy in his mind. He’s comfortable to sit on, not particularly flashy in his gaits, and rather on the slow side.

He’s not the horse that holds a grudge or gets offended by my myriad mistakes. His chiropractor, who has a deep intuition for horses, summarized him: “Oh, you just feel like everything is going to be OK when you’re with him.”

He is my easy, sweet and gentle horse. And here is what I learned from him.

I learned to ride a flying change, a half pass, renvers, travers, piaffe. A real shoulder-in, a straight leg-yield. A good simple change. A true connection, a supple bend, and a square halt. A figure eight in rein back. I learned these while he was learning them, because he was willing to learn, because he was helping instead of hindering.

I learned that mistakes are forgivable. I learned that there is a depth of grace out there that absorbs all sin, because a droplet of that grace lives in my little bay horse.

I learned that manes are still good for crying into when you’re a grownup.

I learned how to try, to give my best even when it’s not much on the day, to rise above fear and uncertainty and to try regardless because of how this horse always tries.

I learned about the depth of what horses do for us, about the scope of their kindness, about how much better I need to be for them. I learned to put aside everything and ride for the sake of the threefold cord, for the dance, for the joy of the fact that God made horses and he made us.

I learned to find a taste of eternity in the swing of a stride. And I liked it.

I learned that even on the worst days, horses still smell like heaven.

I learned that there are few greater gifts than a stalwart friend, even if that friend has four legs and a fluffy forelock.

I learned that I do have wings after all.

I learned that we can do anything.

I learned all these things from a 15.1 hand bay gelding who doesn’t rear or buck or bolt or kick or bite or get wildly wound up about life. I learned them from an easy horse.

And I love him.

Glory to the King.

By the way, ROW is now on Instagram! Find me on @ridingonwater for daily adorable Thunder pics and bits of philosophy.

Wandering

Charlotte Dujardin does it, Denny Emerson does it, J even makes me do it at the end of every ride and then yells that I should hold the buckle while my panicking horse spooks and snorts at washing lines and dogs. It’s fun, it’s good for the horse, it’s even good for the rider, it’s relaxation for everyone – and then there’s me, the self-confessed hater. Of hacking.

Tilly is not big on effort

I like my sandbox. I spent my teenage years faceplanting off a variety of horses, many somewhere on the spectrum of insanity, most of whom should never have been outside of an enclosed space to begin with, and it left me somewhat phobic. Having grown up in the just-kick-him school of thought I frequently pressured frightened horses into the wrong situations and frequently got left sitting on air, mostly due to nobody’s fault but my own. Still, it left its scars. I’m a long way from the fearless kid in jeans and gumboots who used to gallop all over the wide world on old Skye when she was young and strong like me.

The ding on her face? That’s from galloping into a solid iron gate. As you do when you’re about to turn 31.

I’m a long way from the teen who was perpetually tortured by the fear of her own fear, though, so for the sake of the horses I’ve resolved to gird up my loins and incorporate a little wander around the yard into each session. It’ll be a while before I take Thunder (AKA Mr. Spook-and-Spin) out on the big trails by myself, or even with a babysitter if we’re honest, but there are lots of little tracks through the pastures within the confines of the yard that we can take walkies on. We started with an attempt at this yesterday, and he was good apart from staring and staring at my little piggy who was oinking madly and running up and down in front of our cottage for some strange porcine reason.

evil piggo

Today the piggy was innocently rooting up the lawn when we passed, so he was fine until she suddenly oinked while he was staring at the washing line and he did a complete 180 in a sliver of a second. To my surprise, I didn’t even wobble in the saddle. Clearly, riding a bunch of good-hearted but athletic young Arabians has improved the quality of Velcro on my bottom. With newfound confidence in my ability to not fall off, I let him stare at the piggy for a bit longer and then we continued. He was tense at first, but by the end of the 10-minute walkies he was on the buckle.

happy ears

The jury is still out on whether he actually will find this relaxing or not, but he’s a big boy who can learn this life still, so wandering we will go.

His dressage ride, preceding the unplanned pirouette at the sight of the piggy, was absolutely fabulous. He was a bit distracted to begin with (distinctly not helped when Vastrap, a gelding of 16 years, decided that it would be a great idea to enthusiastically cover one of Thunder’s girlfriends down in the field) but settled well. We had a mild argument about wheter he really had to go off my leg (YES YOU DO, BRO) and once that was over he was happy to go straight to work. We did renvers and renvers and renvers as per coach’s orders to warm up the walk. Once he was really active and into the outside rein we picked up the trot, and he was REALLY into my hands. Not as pleasantly soft and round as normal, but really driving forward from behind into the contact. He felt super light in front and powerful, so I didn’t mind the heaviness in my hands too much.

We got some of his best and most forward medium trot yet and then did even more renvers. It’s not great yet; he’s not fully through and connected in it yet, and the bend is not really supple yet. But he is bent the right way and in the right position so the rest will come once he’s more relaxed and used to it. At least I’m finally realizing that I do not need to haul on the inside rein to get shoulder-in position which, to be honest, is probably the whole point.

less flabby

We moved on to canter and I was pleasantly surprised to find a HUGE powerful canter that was also extremely balanced and easy to collect. Amazing how when you do what your coach says, stuff gets easier. It was so good, even tracking left, that I only rode a 10m circle on each rein and some simple changes and that was it. The new Elementary 2 canter work – half circle onto the centerline with transition to walk at L, continue on centerline in medium walk to I, half circle back to track, transition to canter at S/R – is easy and horse-friendly and Thunder did it really, really well. We finished with one foot-perfect canter to walk on the track itself and stopped there.

The canter-walk has been such a huge issue in my head ever since poor Dragon and I were fighting our way through Elementary all alone two years ago. We never got it right and I hated it so, so, so much. Now, Thunder really can do them, I just have to relax and ride them softly instead of flapping about in panic because I think we’re not good at them.

Lancey also went for a ride, babysitting sweet Nugget on her first outride. I’m keeping things easy on his sweet brain, with lots of adventuring around outside and then short bursts of 10-15 minutes’ schooling. He really is struggling to just trust my hand, trust the contact, balance and carry himself. He is forever trying to rush, hollow, and then fight for all he’s worth. I don’t really know what to do – well, obviously, I can just put a martingale on or seesaw a bit and make him put his head down, but that’s not going to get me anywhere much in the long run.

So we’ll keep just touching on it here and there until he can go and see J next week and J can magically fix it. Having a coach is totally wonderful.

Lancey is weird on outrides. He’s really good, and I trust him absolutely, but he looks at EVERYTHING. He hardly ever actually jumps, just stares and does some majestic Arab snorting. Keep trying, little dude. One day you’ll figure out how to horse.

Tilly is a good girl

The horses all had last week off for pony camp and this weekend’s show is cancelled, but I look forward to some chill time at home just working on all the little things and enjoying each other before we get stuck back into lessons and things in the second half of July.

God has been so rich and fearless in His blessings. He’s called me out so much further than I expected, dared me into deeper waters than I ever expected. But every step is joy and every breath is grace. Riding on water, on the back of a dancing horse.

Glory to the King.