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.

Two Lessons

Two lessons in a single week again? What sorcery is this?

No sorcery here – just too many blessings even to count. After spending a magical week with the darling at the fire base where he works, I was admittedly reluctant to come back to our home, but I know it won’t be long before he’s with me again too. And until he does get back, I know just how to keep myself occupied.

it’s only 3 hours away but it feels like Narnia

Lancelot and I were going to do an express eventing show this coming weekend, but I ended up not having space in the box. This turned out not to be a bad thing, because – with the best of intentions of keeping him from getting sweaty and miserable in his increased work – I clipped the little guy. (He behaved impeccably; he was fast asleep by the end, although he did pull away when I started tidying up around his head, so I left that for next year’s conversation).

he has no muscles so let’s call this the before picture

All fine and well; he slept in the field bundled up in a blanky. Unfortunately the winter elected that specific night for the coldest of the year, and evidently I hadn’t blanketed him thickly enough, because he got cold and was then really sore and stiff in his hind end. Sound again now, but he was not very happy. Of course, I put him straight into a nice warm stable.

sceptical

I did have a lesson booked with K, though, so instead of skipping it we took the dragon out on xc for the first time in years. In fact, I haven’t even been on the dragon for months, but her kid has been riding her so I just borrowed her back for a few hours.

sooooo grey!

Of course, she was picture perfect. I had a lot of little glitches to fix in the warmup – which was a bit sad, but you know, kids – and she refused the first couple of jumps. Once she did jump them, though, a little switch flicked in her head. She realized that it was me on her back and that full dragon mode was absolutely allowed. So full dragon mode we went.

let us appreciate how small I look on her 14.3 hands

She jumped really great, her typical wild self, once she realized that I wasn’t going to let her stop. In fact, by the time we jumped a course at the end, she was actually running away and bucking quite a lot lol. I had forgotten how hot the fire in her belly burns. I am absolutely going to be stealing her back more frequently from now on!

I don’t think anyone will ever beat my dragon, just the way no one ever beat old Skye. She’s in a league of her own. Right now, the plan is for her to compete with a kid for two more years and then to breed a foal from her. She is from a rare breed that could really benefit from her bloodline, plus I think I really need a half-Friesian half-dragon to be my next young horse.

follow puppy

Speaking of half-Friesians, this one had a lesson booked with J for this morning – 6:30 this morning, to be precise. That meant that at 4:30 I was getting him ready to box. He was not amused with being woken at that kind of an hour.

“Mom, you’re out of your cotton-picking mind”

Nevertheless, he obliged, although when we got to J’s farm we were both still somewhat bleary-eyed. Still, we missed all the traffic, so that was a win. Despite having agreed to this madness, J was NOT amused at all with having to stand in the cold arena at that time of morning (it was 4°C when we arrived) and called me a name I won’t share on the blog.

It was absolutely worth it, though, to go out onto the freshly raked river sand. And when the sun just rose and painted everything in pale gold, it was magic.

J’s doggo is almost as big as my horsie

After bemoaning my terrible choice of entering Novice at the last show, J proceeded to put us through basically all of the Elementary movements to prove that we can.

And actually it was all fine. Canter left needs a lot more impulsion, but the changes were fine, and J even said “good” once or twice so that’s a plus. Thunder was also SUPREMELY well behaved throughout – he was relaxed, focused, and just a real pleasure to work with. He did spook at a few things but that only made J laugh at us.

Just when my abs (and his butt) were dying, though, J made us go to sitting trot and do all of the lateral things. Of course, I was in trouble for not using my outside rein enough (a running theme). I have been given strict instructions to do nothing but endless renvers until I finally fix it.

J also said I could bring two horsies next time so if baby Arab’s buttocks are less tender in two weeks’ time, he’ll go too.

Honestly, I’m totally blown away by the place I’m in right now. I really, really, really miss darling, but I know he has to go work so that we can save for our wedding together. Horse-wise, though, it’s just incredible. I can’t believe the horse, the support network, the instruction, just all of it. It feels straight from a fairytale. It feels amazing.

It feels like a love letter signed by the King. And I’ll read it over and over, until the corners curl up and the very ink fades, until there is no more use for letters, until I see His face.

Till then, we will be dancing.

Glory to the King.

EDS Q4

I haven’t actually competed myself, due to the AHS outbreak in our area and some other factors, since Horse of the Year in February. That was something of a disaster in itself (well, Faith was second in one class, but bucked me off halfway through winning the other), and long breaks from anything often don’t do my nerves any good, so I had only one goal for this whole show: just. relax. already.

It helped that I was only riding two horses. One, obviously, was his majesticalness himself, and the other was Tilly, a four-year-old WB who can only turn right about 50% of the time. Tilly is a client’s horse, but there’s no pressure on her to score well at all right now – it was her first show and all she needs to do is not throw anybody off.

I missed darling really, really badly, but at my bestest-estest buddy Erin and my dad were both there, so I was in good company. They both were so kind and gave me so much help, and I had two students with me but they’re big kids and Rising Stars so I abandoned them to their own devices. (True to form, they rode very well).

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Thunder’s ride time was at 12:16pm, so Erin and I (whilst talking the hind leg off a donkey) had a leisurely morning getting the two horsies plaited. Tilly walked straight onto the box, so that was great. She went to HOY in hand but this was her first time being ridden off property and only her third ever trip in the horsebox. She was pretty chill when she unloaded, though. As long as she was with her buddies, she stood and ate her hay without a care in the world. Good baby.

Thunder was also practically fast asleep while I saddled him up. I was getting on gracefully (and by gracefully, I mean scrambling over him from the mudguard of the trailer while he tried to wander off and made me split) when J suddenly popped up out of nowhere. He hasn’t seen Thunder since our lesson in January (see above re: AHS) and told me to ride properly. I was planning on doing so and assured him that this was the case as the big guy and I plomped off to the warmup.

The warmup at this venue is right up against the main road, and in past years I’ve gotten into massive fights with my horses right before my tests because of them freaking out about the traffic – something they never really see at home. This year, I just didn’t ride all the way up to the road end of the arena, and none of my horses had an issue. Problem solved. Thunder warmed up great – a little sassy to begin with, and chatting with the other horses like he always does, but listening. He was, as usual, a little bit tight in his neck and a little stiffer to the left than at home. That’s him at shows. It’ll go away eventually.

Our warmup was short but with his fitness level this was not a bad thing. Then we headed in, not before J discovered us and howled in despair because we were doing Novice instead of Elementary. My whimpered excuse that we hadn’t had lessons and I didn’t want to mess it up was met with much exasperation from J, who addressed Thunder (he prefers talking to him than to me) and told him that “your mother doesn’t think”, so that was a great confidence boost right before going in lol.

Thunder was still giving the odd whinny and a little bit distracted/excited, but not tense or worried. Erin read the tests, too, a novelty for me, but I honestly have not memorised the new Novice tests yet.

Speaking of the new tests, I LOVE them. They ride a lot better than the old ones used to, and I feel like they iron out the jump from Prelim 4 to Novice 1 a lot better without dumbing down the level.

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luckily Dad took videos or I wouldn’t even have screenshots from this show

He was sooooo good in this test. He was really solid, obedient, and happy in his own skin. I was not paying a whole lot of attention to the  movements, focusing more on just chilling out and being in the moment with him and keeping my internal dialogue positive or at the very least quiet, so they were not really all that polished and I didn’t expect big marks. We actually did better than I thought we did, in the end.

Our first halt was a mediocre 6 which would have been a lot better if he hadn’t decided to step back into square halt, a habit that I taught him ages ago because I thought it was the done thing. The 12m circle left was another (expected) 6 because it was too big and he’s still stiff to the left because he hasn’t been in work for very long. The half circle onto the centreline, trot-walk-trot transition, and half circle off the centreline was a 7, because he was kind of perfect, again just a little stiff through his neck. He lost quarters in the second 12m circle for another 6, then achieved his best mark yet for a lengthening at a 6.5. He doesn’t lengthen well even when he is fit and J says he just needs more muscular strength, so I wasn’t sweating it, but I did accidentally penalise us by holding his frame as if for a medium. The judge commented on that and then, as usual, wanted him to cover more ground.

Everything fell apart a bit as we went into canter right. We have not been practicing a lot of trot-canter transitions because everything in Elementary happens out of walk, and Thunder executed the transition perfectly, but also onto the incorrect lead. I flapped at him and he fixed it so we still got a 5 lol. He tilted on the 15m circle right, but redeemed himself in the change of rein with canter-trot-canter transitions with a 7, so that was nice because our downwards have historically not been very good. The lengthening was pretty active but lost the quarters for a 6, which I can live with. His left 15m circle got another 7, followed by the downwards to trot and then walk getting another one, so I was really happy to see the transitions’ marks had improved. His free walk was an expected 7, but in the stretchy trot he saw a birdie and gazed at it, totally forgetting to stretch at all. We got  6.5 for that and then he didn’t step back in the final halt (albeit stepping right a little bit), earning another 7.

Our collectives were pretty fair, with 7 for walk, accuracy, and rider position, and then 6.5 for trot, canter and submission. The submission mark will come up automatically when he relaxes at new places, as, I think, will everything else; if he had the suppleness at shows that he does at home, our marks would be much better. The judge still liked him, commenting “You rode a fluent test on a willing horse, now needs a little more engagement, taking more weight behind” and giving us 66.04%. Considering our enormous mistake with the incorrect canter depart, I’ll totally take it.

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my core feels so good, and my hands look so good, and my chair seat is totally back. ugh.

As we went in for the second test, Thunder espied a large burnt log lying next to the arena and promptly announced that it was evil and he didn’t trust it. I just kind of resigned myself to that fact because the whistle had already blown and we didn’t have time to investigate it, so I was just sympathetic and patted him when he was tense, knowing that movements near the log would be messy but if I just stayed with him emotionally everything else would be fine. It was pretty much the case. The judge in the second test is really strict and has never marked him well, but she sort of begrudgingly had to give us at least average marks, so that was cool.

He halted nicely and then gazed into the distance while I was saluting, so that earned him a 6.5, but he didn’t move – just looked up. The change of rein with two half 10m circles garnered another 6.5 with the usual comment about suppleness. The new leg-yield in Novice is gloriously easy – centreline to quarterline – and a total disaster for us because he thought we should be half-passing to the track and flew sideways when I touched him, so that was a 6. The lengthening was another encouraging 6.5, and he was looking at the log in the next leg-yield and led with the quarters for a few steps, getting another 6.

The half circle in medium walk was funny because he started off by gazing around a bit first and then realised halfway through that he should be stretching, whereupon he stretched all the way to the floor only a few strides before I had to gather him back up again. It was good enough for a 6.5. The transition to canter right at C was another disaster; he rushed, I flapped, and we flopped off into canter right for a 6. At least he was on the right leg this time lol. I got lost with the half 15m circle and made it too big, getting another 6, and then in the lengthening he saw the log again and decided to gallop sideways for a well-deserved 5.5. The next half circle was better because it was to the left, so we had a 6.5, and then he kind of fell in a heap during the final halt for no apparent reason for a 6.

Collectives were 6 for everything except 6.5 for the walk, with comments “Willing horse, could be steadier in frame, appears a little stiffer on the right rein. Some good moments”. Thunder always gets “willing horse” because he is just the very best boy. Despite the spooking he still got 61.42%.

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Tilly was only riding at 3pm, so Erin and I sat in the shade holding them and talked another hindleg off the proverbial donkey for a while. I kind of forgot to go to the Novice prizegiving, but mostly because I was having a good time. I tacked up Tilly with about an hour to spare just in case she wanted to be crazy, and at first I thought she might be, but I used longsuffering Vastrap as brakes for a few laps of the arena and then she settled all the way down. A little looky, but completely controllable, and she just strolled down that centreline and behaved almost better than she did at home. I hadn’t polished her tests either, wanting nothing more than a good experience, but she was really well behaved (and turned right most of the time) and fetched up with scores of 64 and 65. I was just happy that she was calm and well behaved; when she won both classes it was the cherry on the cake. And when I was collecting the tests I learned that Thunder had won his first test, too. He was third in the second one, but I blame the log.

The show was an extremely positive experience. Now, we’ll do Elementary for the next one (J might just disown us if we don’t) and Tilly will continue to enjoy her Prelim and learn how to be a grown up horsie at shows. Both horses and I had a really good time, and the King of Heaven loves the world enough to give it dancing horses.

Glory to the King.

A Bit of Everything (Including Cross Country)

As winter well and truly sets in, despite a totally packed schedule, I’ve still been able to really enjoy the two dudes over the past couple of weeks.

No media from the lesson so sunset pictures instead

Lancelot and I started last week with a lesson with all time most amazing and perfect jumping coach, K. She babied me through Module 4, she continues to believe in me fiercely despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and she remains just an all round super nice human being. I knew I was in for a good experience even before I took Lancey off the horsebox.

He was a little bewildered at being the only horse in sight when we arrived for our early lesson, with K’s horses all still in their stables, but he didn’t do anything foolish. Between the cold and his nerves, though, he definitely put on a wonderful display of Arab snorting and having his tail in the air. He spooked non-violently at everything for a few minutes before settling right down once we’d had a chance to warm up and look at everything.

He was spooky enough that I told K we could do showjumping instead, but she told me to go jump a little log and see how he was. Well, he was perfect. We ended up jumping the whole 60cm track, including a tiny drop, a tiny dyke, a bank up, the little train, and lots of spooky logs and things. I let him sniff everything before jumping, but by the end it was unnecessary. He didn’t stop, didn’t overjump, and plodded around everything on a loose rein. What a good boy! I was grinning like a dork, too, and I can’t remember when last I wore anything but a panicked grimace when jumping.

strangely pensive-looking Lancey

I would like him to just trot along into the arena without doing the majestic Arabian snorting thing, though, so we’re going on lots of hacks now to help him be more brave. His dressage seriously needs work, but I feel like he needs to trust my hands and get familiar with me again. I feel like drilling in the sandbox is not what we need right now. We need to find each other first, and the time we spend doing that will never be wasted.

Thunderbirdy has been working quite happily too. We had a big argument about going forward, but once that was done, we went a lot better. We have a competition this weekend; I entered the Novice because we NEED lessons, he’s not strong like he was, and honestly I don’t think I can survive the sitting trot at my fitness level, LOL.

Each session has been better as I keep focusing on easier, more basic movements to rebuild his strength and my coordination. I suspect J is going to be quite dismayed by us when we go for our next lesson, but he’ll save us.

He is so flabby though. That fat belly is dreadful! Emotionally, though, Thunder is doing oh so well. He’s much more relaxed than he’s ever been before, standing very still for everything, not getting freaked out by horses going past like he used to – just a really happy, pleasant creature to work with. I’m so happy with him.

I’m so happy, honestly. Darling being away is horrible but God is my strength, His joy is my power, and He is so, so good – no matter what. Let everything that has breath praise His Name.

Glory to the King.

Spa Day

For the past few months, I’ve been riding my own horses pretty sporadically. Part of this was personal stuff that got in the way and other parts were that my writing career suddenly took off like a shot, which is time-consuming but does mean that now I can actually afford to have horses. Now that I’m back in a position where I can afford my horses and actually ride them, I’m really excited to get back to work.

In the meantime, though, my horse was neglected.

Well, by neglected, I mean that he slept in deep shavings every night, spent all day gambolling in a green field with his buddies, was fed the best diet that money can buy, got groomed every day, spent his time drenched in fly spray, had his temperature taken twice a day, saw the chiro, saw the farrier, got put onto another even more expensive supplement and was fed daily doses of carrots. But, you know. Super neglected.

so neglected. much sadness

I rode him again properly for the first time in weeks on Thursday. For a horsie who’s hardly seen a saddle lately, he was incredible.

I’ve been riding regularly, but mostly babies, and almost exclusively Arabs. I felt like I was sitting on a barrel – which basically I was. Someone has acquired something of a dad bod on the rich summer grass.

pictured: dad bod belly

Because of how long we’ve both been out of it, I kept it very easy for this first ride. We just did a lot of working and stretchy trot and canter on very simple figures, not really working on anything, just finding each other once again.

I was genuinely surprised by how good he felt. In this level of work, he still feels VERY strong and supple. He even gave me a couple of flying changes effortlessly and one relatively good canter to walk. His connection was better than it felt – he felt kind of against my hand, but in the video, he’s actually looking very good. I kept trying to make him soft and putting him a bit BTV, though. Sorry buddy. I’m evidently more rusty than he is.

My position has also gone down the drain a bit, I’m afraid. Riding babies is not conducive to having a neat little seat. I need to go ride a Lipizzaner and then get us back into regular lessons.

There was one thing, though, that bothered me inexpressibly. He was SO GROSS. He’d been groomed daily, but his fuzzy winter coat was just scurfy and dusty and frankly disgusting. So yesterday it was time for a bath. Historically he has been a pain to bath – or to do anything that means standing still – especially when he’s been off for a while, but I didn’t care. He needed to be clean.

not amused

He was actually a very good boy. I think he was just happy to finally be getting some attention. I gave him a big haynet too so he chomped on that while I scrubbed him – he’s never minded the actual bathing/clipping/whatever, he just doesn’t stand still.

carrots?

I need to give him a trim as well but at least he’s clean and detangled now. Speaking of clipping, he seriously needs a clip, but I’ve got to do some of the liveries first because they have shows coming up.

Our first show is in June, and I think we’ll probably just do a few Novice tests for his fitness and my nerves. Either way, I’m just so happy, so blessed and so grateful to be spending time with this absolutely magnificent animal again.

Glory to the King.

First Lesson of 2019

After weeks of our plans being thwarted due to, variously, Thunder being sick, me pitching off of Rio and hurting myself, and then both of us being unfit, we finally managed to schedule a lesson for last week. Poor darling found himself boxing us across the province in rush hour traffic, but he did sign up for it, poor wonderful chap.

Thunderbird is still not super fit, but able to do half an hour of solid work, so I figured it was time that J helped get us back on track.

We’re still struggling with the same things: downwards transitions, angle and suppleness in shoulder-in, collection and mediums. I mentioned this to J when we arrived. He doesn’t seem too concerned over our mediums: they are generally straight and not rushing, but not yet very powerful, which he says will come with strength and practice.

The first thing J wanted to address was the shoulder-in. At our last show it was one of our worst marks, with the judge saying there was too much angle and not enough suppleness. At home, obviously, I decided that this would be fixed by pulling the inside rein (plot twist: this didn’t work).

J doesn’t want too much bend in the shoulder-in, as the exercise is not about bend as much as it is about the connection on the outside rein. Instead, he wanted Thunder more active, more connected into my outside rein, softer on the inside rein, and a lot rounder. As we push into shoulder-in I tend to forget everything and concentrate only on getting the angle, thus losing the activity, throughness and connection, with the result that when I put my leg on for the movement he immediately slacks off by losing his hindquarters and throwing up his head.

So our homework there is to ride the transition from straight to shoulder-in as just that – a transition, during which the activity and connection must be maintained. J also mentioned that riding him a little lower and deeper – longer in the neck, but with the poll down more – helps to supple and stretch him rather than fighting with him in a perfect competition frame. It’s also vital that I ride him in the right angle. He needs to be so rhythmic in the angle and so soft and supple in the connection – not over bent, but soft – that I could even ride him in shoulder-in right while bending his spine to the left, essentially turning the movement into renvers.

On the subject of the trot, J also warned against making him run. He needs to be more active now without being faster – I need to slow the legs down to create a collected rhythm.

He also needs to stretch down significantly more, but this he does really nicely at home. At home he’ll take his nose to the floor – his relaxation levels at other venues always negatively affect his connection and ability to stretch.

This was evident when he decided to have an enormous spook in the middle of the short side, resulting in a hilarious screenshot and a few dry comments from J.

Moving on to the canter, first we worked on the collected walk. J says that it’s impossible to ride a good transition to collected canter unless the collected walk is outstanding. He needed to take significantly shorter steps, without losing the activity, and be softer and more yielding in the bridle as well instead of going against the hand. Only once the walk was perfect were we allowed to canter. The canter itself had to be much straighter as I tend to permanently ride him in too much inside bend. Once the canter is straight, the transition to walk can be through and balanced.

I was really happy about how Thunder behaved. He was a bit tense and a bit behind my leg, but the long drive had much to do with that, and he was trying very hard as he always is. I am a bit disappointed that the shoulder-in is still a problem but now we have more tools to work on it. I asked J if we were making progress, though, and he seemed to think we were doing just fine.

After the lesson I asked J what we should be doing show-wise this year and he said that the priority with competitions is to get him more relaxed. So the more small cheap local shows we can do, the better. I haven’t renewed our memberships so we’ll be doing training shows for a while – we may end up having to do all our grading points again, but that’s all right.

Well with my soul, dancing with my horse. Glory to the King.

Sunset Session

After making a beautiful recovery, Thunderbirdy was given three weeks off to hang out in the field.

Technically we probably would have gotten away with less. Still, biliary is so harsh on them. I wanted to give him enough time to regain his weight and rebuild all his blood cells before we got back to work.

It has been ridiculously hot, so after riding baby horses all afternoon, I decided to work with Thunder at sunset (about seven o’ clock) to make things more fun for both of us. I just wanted him to play and rediscover his body and reduce the risk of launching me into the stratosphere, so I put him on the lunge line just in a halter to see how he moves.

He was surprisingly chill, given all his time off. Not flat, but not too loopy. He just seemed pretty relaxed with everything. Maturity, is that you?

He is pretty unfit though. We only did about 20 minutes and he wasn’t tired, but he was hot and sweaty. I think he’s not the only one though. Nobody else gives my abs the same workout as he does, and tragically, it kinda shows.

His canter needs work though. I can’t tell if it was always like this or if he’s just lost a lot of strength, but it was pretty flat today – lacking some jump and uphill. I’ll have to feel what he feels like tomorrow.

I’m so honoured that God healed him so perfectly. Many more dances lie ahead with this incredible, wonderful creature. I’d forgotten how lovely he is to look at, how there’s something soothing and soulful in the way a strong horse moves that just fills the soul.

None of us ever really deserve each other. Glory to the King.

Thunder’s First Elementary

Having been out of competing for the past eight months, I was not a little concerned about how my nerves – and Thunder’s – would behave for this show. I was glad to discover a training show at a friendly, local venue for our first trip back down the centreline. This is the longest break I’ve ever taken from dressage since starting to compete in 2014, and so I did take a few precautions in anticipation of struggling mentally.

Physically, I know I’ve never been as strong as I am right now, but I was worried about my mental game. So I entered him for the two lowest Elementary tests, asked a helpful kid to read my tests to me instead of trying to ride them from memory like I normally do, and then set my goal for the show to be singular and simple: just chill out. Nothing more. Not a certain score, not succeeding in a certain movement, just trying to relax and enjoy my incredible horse rather than sweating the small stuff.

And it worked. This may have been one of Thunder’s best shows yet in terms of his behaviour, even in challenging circumstances. Thunny does best if he’s shown by himself, and this show we arrived at with four of his girlfriends, all of whom stayed back by the horsebox while I was riding him. He did neigh for them a little, but instead of getting frustrated with him about it, I just let him call. It’s understandable, it’s acceptable, it’s a normal, equine response to a situation that causes some stress. He wants a herd, so it’s up to me to become the herd. That’ll take a little time and he’ll call during his tests until he gets over it. I kept warming him up with no fuss. It’s a strange one – he’s not really tense, he’s just sort of distracted. It’s not separation anxiety, more a stallion-esque tendency to want his girlfriends (which is weird considering he was cut at the grand age of 18 months, but whatever).

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By the time we went in, he was looking a bit and still distracted but obedient to all my cues and fairly connected. I knew we were in for “tight neck” comments, as usual, but when he came down the centreline he was dead straight, halted perfectly at X, and trotted back off for a 7.5. “Straight entry, very balanced halt, direct move-off.” That was a good feeling considering that our halts have long been a weak point.

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The turns at C, E and B were a 7.0, “more bend through corners and turn; fairly active.” I feel like that could have been my fault though because I tend to be kind of ham-fisted through those turns and allow his bum to wander off. I felt like his serpentine was pretty good so I was a little surprised to see a 6.5 with comment “fairly active, more suppleness”. The serpentine is normally an easy movement for him but I think the neck tightness that he has at shows didn’t help at all.

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I was super proud of the halt – immobility five seconds at X. While it only scored a 6 for being above the bit during the halt and lacking some bend once again on the turns, he was absolutely obedient, and I know it’s a lot to ask of an energetic and distracted horse to stand immobile for five seconds. The lengthened trot was a predictable 6.0 asking for more push from behind – like I kept my butt in the saddle and at this point that was wonderful – and his free walk would have been absolutely perfect if he hadn’t taken exactly two trot steps at H.  The trot-walk transition was perfect and the judge commented “fairly relaxed, stretching well”, but those walk steps got us another 6.0.

Things improved as he gave me a super obedient walk-canter transition at A, albeit slightly above the bit, for a 7; then 6.5s for a slightly crooked canter lengthening and for a hollow, but obedient, simple change. 6.5 is probably the best mark I’ve ever had for a simple change – and that out of canter right, usually his harder side – so I’ll take it. The second loop through X was a well-earned 7.5. Our next simple change was crooked because I overthought it and turned the slight shoulder-fore that I always use for canter-walk transitions into a hot mess, so we had a 6.0 there. Our transition down to trot – albeit “against hand” – centreline and final halt were our best mark of the test with 8.0.

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I rode out of Elementary 1 expecting a low-60s score, knowing the changes had been a bit rough and there had been moments when he was tight and coming above my hand. I was also really, really happy with how he was going. He was absolutely listening to my every cue, really present and focused and trying so hard. And I was fine. A little distractable and not as focused as I can be, but totally fine – not even a twinge of nerves. It was good enough for my best score yet at Elementary at 66.78%. Not the greatest score ever, but still worth a few grading points once we have the money for proper shows again, and a mighty improvement over my last personal best on the Dragon.

We got 7.5 again for our first centreline in Elementary 2 even though he whinnied and was “slightly inattentive”, following it with 6.5 for the half 10m circles asking for more bend and suppleness. His 10m circle at V was a 7.0 for being “fairly supple”, followed by a six for the shoulder-in. I have this thing in the show ring during lateral work where I’m convinced that I won’t get any lateral work at all – like I’ll put my leg on and the horse will just keep going straight and everyone will die. I think this was messing with my head quite a bit here, which was a pity, because he was really obedient and into the bridle, but I botched it by asking for way too much angle. Shoulder-in is deceptively hard to ride correctly because I don’t have mirrors and I also don’t have any clue of how it feels when the angle is correct, so that’s going to have to be a lesson.

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A string of sixes followed: another for the medium trot with comment “more push from behind”, then for the circle at P where he got really weird with his butt and wandered off completely for no apparent reason, and then another for the next shoulder-in, once again having way too much angle. We redeemed ourselves with an 8 for the extended walk and a seven for the counter-canter serpentine even though he felt a little unbalanced because he saw a horse he thought might be his girlfriend. The medium canter was a “conservative” 6, and then the changes fell apart a bit. He was getting a bit brain-tired and distracted at this point, so he trotted down into the first change for a five and we were crooked down again in the next one for another five. These were his worst marks, but they’re okay. It was more show-ring rustiness than any real issues. His changes do need to be established a bit more firmly.

On the bright side, our circle at C with break of contact was a seven; he was fabulous but I had to do it twice because the first time I kind of didn’t let go of my inside rein at all (I have no idea why). Our last centreline was another glorious 8.0, giving us a final score of 66.47%. The judge commented “Well done, work on suppleness and position in shoulder-in” and “Fluent test, very willing horse showing promising work, just at times a little tight over the back and in the neck”. It was certainly the first time a judge has ever told me well done after an Elementary test.

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I have no idea what I’m doing in this picture. None.

Although the scores weren’t quite what he was getting at Prelim, I actually could not be happier with my majestic dance partner. I also just love the way that it felt. As absolutely wonderful as Arwen was for even reaching that level without guidance, and as perfectly willing as she always is, Elementary was a struggle on her. Everything was just really, really hard and I was always super happy just to see a six. But on Thunder, it’s all sort of… easy. It comes naturally and flows. It’s not a struggle, it’s a dance.

Our relationship also feels really different compared to the last few shows. He’s always tried his heart out, but often it’s felt a little fractured – I was never really sure what horse I was going to get on the day and sometimes it was one that spent the whole test hollow and calling. This time our connection felt a lot more solid, our bond much more impenetrable. I was far more present for him and it made a massive difference.

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he saw a birdie

This was really my favourite show to date. It was as God intended for it to be – a dance, a celebration. It wasn’t worry, it was worship. It wasn’t pressure, it was praise. And every moment of it beat with love.

We went home on such a high only to hit a bit of a wobble when poor Thunny came in from the field on Monday night with a temperature of 40.5C. He’s been a bit up and down ever since with a diagnosis of biliary, spiking some pretty scary fevers, but much as I’ve been open to sending him to hospital, the vets have been happy for him to be treated at home. Today was the first day that his temperature stayed under 39C, so hopefully we’ve turned a corner now. He has been really good and stoic about the whole thing and kept eating all the way through, so at least he hasn’t suffered too much. Your prayers for his healing are always appreciated. ❤

I look forward to many more invitations onto the floor from this particular dance partner. Glory to the King.

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Elementary, Here We Come!

Despite the fact that we’re struggling to get to lessons and the last time we went down centreline in competition was in March, Thunderbirdy has been making awesome progress.

Looking back on blog posts from November last year, I’m a little awed at what God has done through Coach J and Thunder. Last year this time we were tentatively testing the Novice waters. Now, we’re schooling the early EM tests at home, and it feels… well, I don’t want to say easy. But it feels good. And it comes way more naturally than it ever did with Arwen. Not to deprecate any of her achievements – she took me to Elementary based solely on articles I read on the Internet, for goodness’ sake.

But beautiful Thunder has had guidance, and it really shows. He is so powerful, so elastic, so much better in the connection than I could ever have hoped for before. Basically if we struggle with anything then I’m making a mistake somewhere. There are no real roadblocks right now; we just keep building, brick by brick, getting stronger and more confirmed in all of his work.

Even the changes aren’t stopping us. Even the canter-walk transitions have suddenly clicked when we revamped his canter and I learned to ride them in shoulder-fore. Those were major roadblocks for Arwen and I, and with them out of the way, I really kinda feel like there’s nothing stopping us from Medium, from Advanced, maybe even PSG. Who knows? Right now he is young and sound and just amazing with everything, and I’m not going to believe in any limits until we reach them.

Sunday will be our first show in many months, thanks to incredible provision that the Lord has been blessing us with via my ghostwriting. It’s a local training show with a judge I respect, so I went ahead and signed up for Elementary 1 and 2. The tests are not very difficult but it will be his first time having to do canter-walk and halt immobility in the show arena, as well as only his second time ever doing lateral work at a show.

I’m not expecting anything like what I get at home. At home on a good day I’m sure we can get 70% or above for both of those tests, but we haven’t shown in a while so I’m gonna be a mess and he’s gonna be a mess so we’re just going to go in and get a feel for those tests.

Right now all my main goals when it comes to showing are about what’s going on inside my messed up little head. My mentality is the single greatest obstacle standing in our way, and if we can overcome that, then there’s really nothing going to stop us.

So today I’m excited to show. I’m not nervous because it doesn’t matter if it all goes horribly wrong. Dressage is not about marks or movements. Dressage is about celebrating the connection that exists so spectacularly between horse and person, no matter how messy that celebration can look. I’m inordinately blessed just to swing my leg over my gorgeous horse every day. And no amount of nerves is going to ruin my joy in that.

Glory to the King.

2018 Goals Recap: Competition Horses

I can’t believe the first quarter of 2018 is already behind us. In one way it feels like mere days ago when we were holding December’s pony camp; in another, it feels like I have aged half a lifetime in the past three months. Either way, I’m slowly finding my equilibrium again, and we’ll start with some goal recaps to get us back on track.

Thunder

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If I had not had my Wonderbird through all this, I would have officially lost my snot completely. So he has actually done well, if not quite chronologically, hence why we’ve started ticking off a bunch of goals that I had actually aimed for the end of the year.

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Improve all of our downward transitions. We have improved them all – we just haven’t fixed them yet.
  • Improve our stretchy trot. I no longer lose any sleep over his stretchy trot. I can’t always get it early in a session, but I can get a really really good one once he’s ready to stretch.
  • Improve both lengthenings. These are better, not quite medium yet, but fair enough for Novice lengthenings.
  • Improve the halts, specifically staying connected in halt and immobility. We are working our butts off on these. He is square and connected in them now, but still kind of wiggly.
  • Improve rein back. Still working on this. He can do really good rein back on occasion, but it’s inconsistent, and sometimes when the rein back gets good then his halts go downhill.

Third and fourth quarter:

Introduce all of the Elementary movements:

  • serpentine four loops  The horse is so bendy it’s like riding a Slinky, this is not a problem for him
  • halt immobility 5 seconds – working on it
  • canter circle with break of contact – and it’s fabulous
  • half stretchy trot circle
  • canter-walk transition – introduced and balanced, but still tends to have two or three trot steps in it
  • transition from walk to counter canter on the long side
  • shoulder-in – good on both reins
  • medium trot – working on it
  • extended walk
  • serpentine 3 loops with counter canter
  • medium canter
  • leg-yield zigzag – rocking it
  • turn on the haunches – equally rocking
  • 10m canter circle – bit of an effort, but present and correct
  • half circle in counter canter
  • simple change on a short diagonal – not yet polished but tolerable
  • simple change on the long side
  • E-X half circle, X simple change, X-B half circle
  • collected trot

General:

  • Keep working on quiet little hacks. – I haven’t been in the brain space for hacking him.

Arwen

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2018 goals:

  • Take at least one showing lesson or clinic. – Logistics have not yet allowed.
  • Get over my phobia of all showing judges. Show at least once with one of the horrible ones and learn to deal. – Nailed it. Showed under my least favourite judge and she bucked the entire time and every time he yelled something condescending I may or may not have whispered something rebellious under my breath. (But not profane. Promise).
  • Improve her rein-back and lengthenings. – She has a super rein back now and her lengthenings are about as good as they will get.
  • Get points to go out of Novice. – She’s an open show pony and in the tickets sometimes, too.

I am about done showing Arwen for the next few months, but I’d love to do compleat horse at the Derby in September/October, so that’s the next goal we’ll be working towards.

Faith

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2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

Complete the backing:

  • long-line – done
  • introduce pole work – done
  • introduce the rider – done, and she barely noticed
  • introduce walk – done
  • introduce trot – done
  • introduce canter – well, it’s introduced, but only like three strides at a time and still a bit funky-looking
  • move to the dressage arena.

Start preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the figures
  • establish good transitions between gaits – all except the canter transitions
  • establish balanced and united canter – yeah… no
  • introduce hacks, alone and in company
  • possibly ride a walk/trot test at our April show  and she was so, so relaxed
  • show in-hand. – and she was very good but a bit separation anxious

Faithy is very much on track, but still quite immature in some areas. Once we break through the canter problem, there will be no stopping her. I am not pushing her hard right now because she’s babyish for her age and there is plenty of time for her to grow up. Citizenship is all we’re really doing right now, and then playing with canter to slowly build her confidence.

Jamaica

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2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Showjump 90cm at available training shows. – We skipped this and went straight to SANESA.
  • Compete at equitation 90cm at SANESA. Score 70% (that’s a 28) or more, if not at the first qualifier, then at least at the last two. 70% is the pass mark for Module 5. – We did the first two qualifiers, scoring 28 and 29.
  • Introduce all the flatwork required at Module 5: leg-yield, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, a little shoulder-in, a little travers. (The exam specifies only “lateral work” but I don’t expect to have to do half-pass). – Not quite. We have turn on the forehand and a bit of leg-yield, but it’s not quite polished yet.

This poor equid tends to be the one that gets neglected just because he’s such a low maintenance guy, but he doesn’t mind. He has carrots. He doesn’t mind anything as long as he has carrots.

 

In other news, the darling is away for about 100000000000000000 years (i. e. eight weeks) for work, which is sad but necessary. We had boot camp, which was awesome. We had our third little show, which was quiet but also pretty awesome. God is good.

All the time.

Glory to the King.