Fourways Training SJ and XC

I looked at my list of horses for this show and thought, “Six horses, six riders! What a lovely, relaxed show,” and then contemplated how six riders felt like about a million at SANESA this year. One does get used to things – and better at managing them.

Early sunrises also help; it was broad daylight when we loaded up our six horsies and hit the road for Fourways. For once we were late and had to hurry frantically to get the first two horses and kids ready, but we made it happen. Mercifully ground poles don’t exactly require a strenuous warm up.

Savanna and her kid were doing their first jumping show together. I had my trepidations, but with me being firmly on the ground with them, I knew I’d be there to catch if anything went wrong. I also had Lancelot’s tiny kid on the end of a lead and thus off we went.

Lancelot was, of course, fantastic. I jogged madly, he trotted peacefully beside me, and the little kiddy had a blast. She even remembered most of her track.

I expected a little of the old running backwards drama from Savanna and thus led her in, but once the bell went and her kid kicked her on, she was super. Forward and relaxed, trotted over every pole. She had one little spook, but her kid stayed on and they also remembered their course for a clear round, to the kid’s great delight.

He finished his show nicely with a second round in the 40cm. Savanna was more relaxed by this point and trotted around very peacefully. A confidence-building experience for them both.

Next up was Liana and her kid, Milady and K, and Savanna and I in the 50cm. Liana cheekily stopped at the scary carrot jump, but otherwise had a lovely controlled and smooth round. Milady circled because her steering broke at one point and K had to reinstall it briskly between fences, but she was very brave to every single fence.

Savanna was a bit of a loon. As soon as we started to canter, the sweet horse that packed her kid around was gone, and her pulling, rushing, headshaking alter ego had returned. She rushed a bit and almost threw a cheeky stop at one fence, but we made it around with a pole (or two, I don’t remember). It was her first proper round without any stops, though, so I was happy with that.

The 60cm was more of the same, but with the addition of Lancelot and his big kid, J (Zorro’s kid). Milady had a very green but honest pole down and was well ridden by K, Savanna was a little quieter for another pole down. Liana and her kid jumped double clear, even cutting some turns in the jump-off for fourth place. Lancey was doing his first show under J and J was definitely a bit nervous, but they bounced around beautifully clear for second place.

In the 70cm it was J and Lancelot for it, and they both knocked it out of the park. Lancey loves J and his whole body lit up with happiness as he charged around, quick and clear, winning the class without even trying. J was all smiles. I can’t think of a happier end to Lancey’s last year in training with me.

Then J came back on Zorro and did their first 80cm with an unlucky pole down. Zorro was so good, brave and forward, and J rode him great despite her nerves.

Jamaica and I were up next with our second 90cm. Fourways can always be counted on to build a track that’s fair to the horse but definitely up to height, and the main thing I was grateful for was that it was an accumulator so I only had to survive eight fences. I needn’t have worried. Jamaica was so, so good. I aimed and looked for something vaguely resembling a distance and he jumped everything beautifully for a slow clear round.

Work done, J and I headed down to the cross-country course on Jamaica and Zorro, and proceeded to have half an hour of the best fun you can have on a horse.


Jamaica was superb. A little spooky to start off with, and I tapped him into one or two of the fences, but he jumped nicely without a lead. We did lots of logs, little oxers, a combination, a fairly solid corner, a skinny between two trees, banks up and down, an A-frame, and two little ditches with rails over them. I showed him the ditches and the corner but expected him to jump everything else on the first go. He was looky at a few, but willing, and only threw one stop at a spooky fence with blue drums under it. Then he spooked at the fence next to it and bolted a few steps, for which he got in very big trouble.

Zorro also had one or two stops but seemed to enjoy the whole thing enormously and stayed very quiet for J.

The water was the moment of truth, because Zorro is dodgy about some water and Jamaica has never gone in. At all. Ever. K waded in with her gumboots and dragged Zorro in while I poked him with my whip from aboard Jamaica (I was in eventer mode), and once Zorro was in, K just led Jamaica and I gave him a little tap when he got rude and in he went. By the end of it we were joyously cantering through the water and over the banks.

The eventing bug has bitten me so badly again, and I know this horse would be a most trustworthy partner. Logistics are in the way, but we’ll see how it all pans out. I’m just so grateful we got to go play and school over it all again. Deo volente.

Glory to the King.

Q2 Goals Recap

Oh, but first I must tell y’all that the kiddies are incredible!! But you knew that, right? We are taking FOUR ponies and their little riders to Gauteng Finals and I am so proud of them I might just explode. 😀 Best of all, my riders that didn’t make it to Finals are just as talented as those that did, so it’s only a matter of time before they get there, too.

So Liana, Vastrap, Zorro and Pennie have all made it and they are all going really very well, particularly Zorro (but don’t tell the other ponies I said that). Their kiddos have put in a lot of work this season and I’m so happy to see them being so richly rewarded. But of course we can’t lose sight of the real Reason why we’re here: they planted, I watered – and our Abba Father gave the increase.

Well, now back to goals. Let’s have a look.

Arwen

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  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Still chipping away at this! It’ll pick up now, hopefully, that we’re going to more dressage and fewer showing shows. Either way, last quarter we had two points, and now we have five. It is possible to get points one class at a time.
    Our Elementary work is slowly improving. The horse is starting to touch the limit of her physical ability (not necessarily her natural talent – but her ability combined with dodgy schooling due to being my first project ever when I was, like, 13) and I don’t think we’ll ever show seriously at EM, but there’s no reason why our Elementary can’t be solid. To be fair, though, the problem is more mine than hers. I flounder at the level. I don’t know what anything is really supposed to look like and I don’t have the opportunity for lots of dressage lessons, so the tests are basically our lessons. I even struggle to remember the longer tests. But it’s all a learning experience; my next Elementary horse will be better and this one is a whole lot of fun. Our next show is CHG Leg 5 in the end of August. We have eight weeks before then, including one week off and one week of test riding right before the show, leaving the remaining six weeks to work on our six lowest marks (shoulder-in left, walk-canter transition, medium-working canter transition, turn on the haunches, 20m circle with break of contact, rein back). One movement each week. It will take an art to keep this from stealing the joy of the dance, but one breath at a time, God is taking over the artist inside me.
  • Don’t mess up a show riding/show hack class. 
  • Jump a graded 80cm round.
  • Do some cross-country lessons and/or go drag hunting. I doubt hunting will be on the calendar this year, but we might just make it to xc lessons at President’s Park. Which would be absolutely fabulous (and disgusting preparation for our August show, but whatevs).

Arwen is laying the foundation of my own education. If I ever do go up the grades (and that’s really up to God; my dance with Thunder on Sunday showed me that it’s not the level that matters, but the threefold cord) nobody will remember Arwen – but I will. Because she went first, and she paved the way.

As we start to see 2018 on the horizon, I am also pondering a foray into another discipline with her next year. Part of me just yearns to go event again, but another part can’t justify the expense for a discipline the horse won’t excel in. Probably showing. Maybe it’ll be time to gird up my loins and face my fear of showing judges.

Exavior

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we all still miss him

As y’all know by now, I had to make the decision to sell the big guy. He’s with a trainer in Brakpan right now (something I’ve been too raw to write about – the trainer is lovely and I know he’s a lot happier with a job to do, and God sent that miracle for us just like He’s sent everything else in Exavior’s life) and hopefully he’ll met his person soon.

Midas

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  • Hack alone and in company. Done! With a child on board (in company), too. He loves his hacks.
  • Be quiet at shows. 
  • Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. Still winning at 60cm (and kinda bored at the level, too) but I don’t think I should make him haul my heavy behind around 70cm. He pops around it at home with kids, and he has a new little partner to finish bringing him on, so as soon as little partner is ready, we’ll do it.
  • Compete up to Prelim at training shows.
  • Compete at the Nooitie shows. We did all the ones that seem to be happening this year, and he came home with some ribbons, too.
  • Go cross-country schooling. Fingers crossed for this month!

Faith

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  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well. Almost almost there – we can box without a bum rope, but with cookies and with some hesitation.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. Spring Show was cancelled, but we’ll probably send in a video for the E-Show in August because then at least nobody can tell me I have a hairy yak in person, right? She behaves nicely in-hand, trots up and stands square, just needs a polish.
  • In spring, lunge.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.

Ah, the joys of the long and dull two-year-old year while your precious, promising creature’s withers slowly catch up to its behind. She is wonderful though. I can’t wait to sit on her.

Jamaica

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  • Hack reliably in company. We haven’t hacked much, with most of the focus on jumping, but he’s never put a foot out of line in walk and trot – I’m quite happy. I still wouldn’t lead a long hack on him… but to be fair, I’ve got hacking nerves, so I wouldn’t lead a long hack on anything very much except Arwen (and Trooper).
  • School Novice dressage. As evidenced by the appearance of a topline, he’s carrying himself a LOT better. Still not brilliant, but to be fair to him, with his body shape and previous schooling brilliance on the flat is going to be a lot to ask. We have most of the Novice 1 to 4 work down. Trot lengthenings and free walk are still a sticky point. His canter work is lovely.
  • Jump 90cm graded. Heading that way; we’re doing 80cm at shows and popping over the odd 90cm height/width fence at home. The horse can do it – he just skips along. It’s my nerves that are the problem and that’s just going to be a step-by-step process.

So grateful for the spotty one – he has done so much for me already, and continues to do so much with every session.

Lancelot

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  • Reliably do long hacks alone, in company, and wherever without any drama his kid won’t laugh off. Very, very close to finishing this one – we haven’t been on a super long hack yet, but he’s done 45 minutes or so in w/t/c, even with a novice rider. He’s lovely.
  • Do a training show or two at Prelim dressage. Done! With 65% and 67.3% in Prelim 3 and 4, too.
  • Consistently jump graded at 70cm, preferably clear. He’s completing his 70cm rounds, but he still has the odd stop that he likes to throw in, and I just want him to be rid of that habit. I’m not too worried about poles – that’s just greenness in his body. I just want him to hunt down the fences.

Lancey is so close to being handed over to Z-kid for good. He just needs to be a little braver at shows.

Trooper

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  • Do training showjumping shows, up to about 60cm. He is still struggling to figure out that jumping is a thing, but he’s very sweet about it.
  • Do training dressage shows, up to Prelim.  Schooling Prelim at home all right.
  • Be as safe as a house on hacks, mostly in company.  You could literally be a one-armed two-year-old with ADHD and hack this thing out without being in any danger.
  • Be as safe as a house on the ground. Just need to box, then we’re good.
  • Be fully quiet at shows. We haven’t been on an outing yet, but I’m aiming for August.

I’m hoping we’ll be able to afford to do all the competing we’re hoping for – the sale ponies often end up a bit sidelined in favour of the more lucrative training horses. That said, I’ve given him six weeks off anyway. He’s three and a half and has all the basics; I can’t expect a whole lot more from him right now.

Thunder

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Thunny spent the first half of the year competing under K at SANESA, but their season is done now, so it’s  time he and I started to get our duckies in a row.

  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. Our Prelim is solid; the only movements we have a little trouble with are halting (steady and straight but not square), stretchy trot, and lengthenings, all of which are Novice work anyway. He’s played with leg-yields, counter canter and simple changes, but I expect difficulty with lengthenings, so this goal will start with strengthening the basic gaits first.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence. Anybody can see that he’s no showjumper, but he’d make a really fun working hunter once he’s settled at shows. Since I drag Arwen to HOY anyway, I don’t see why he shouldn’t come along and plop around the in-hand, show hunter and working hunter.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. These are hit-and-miss at the moment. He’s either perfect, or he sees a terrifying sparrow and bolts. He has a proper Friesian bolt too – no bucking, but practically impossible to stop except by means of a vicious one-rein, which I don’t really want to do to him. I don’t want to get killed either though, so he’ll have to have a few until he learns that whoa means whoa.

Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.

Tremendous Photo Dump

So the good news is that we survived the unadulterated chaos that was this week.

thanks in no small part to puppy kisses

The better news is, next weekend is dressage with Destiny (walk/trot under his mom), Renè (Prelim under K), Arwie (Elementary 4 and 5) and Thunder (Prelim 2 and 3). I can’t wait.

Eagle has accepted his job as the steady hack with aplomb. He can still have the odd little spook or sticky moment, but, well. He was backed in March, after all.

His mom is also back on him now that she’s recovered from her tumble, and shows admirable handling of the expected nerves. Eagle, obviously, is being perfect. He has developed a new habit of gaping and hanging on the hand a little in his downwards, so we’ll play with different snaffles and see if something else is more agreeable.

Firepaw (from Warriors) and Meatlug (from How to Train Your Dragon) are adorable, but appearances are deceiving.

Lady Erin and I started to talk about the box. She did have one warmblood tantrum about it, but she’s currently, like, 12.2hh, so it didn’t go anywhere.

This adorable child was way more amused with riding bareback than Lullaby was with being ridden bareback.

The kid that rides Midas has put herself on a quest to be good without stirrups. I think she’s pretty good already.

Ash was mysteriously sick for a day. She ran a fever and just looked a bit off and I panicked and basically gave her everything I could think of, and she was fine by lunch. Nothing ever came of it, so that’s a bit of a mystery, but it seems like a fairly benign one.

In anticipation of his competitive debut, Destiny got in the box. He was exceedingly well-mannered and cooperative, I’m pleased to report.

I love these two round dressagey butts.

Blizzard graduated to the long-lines. He has a strangely fussy little mouth, but his teeth are done so it’s kinda just a matter of being patient and letting him learn to deal. He is very obedient and will probably only ever be ridden on a loose rein in his hacking future, so I’m not losing sleep over it.


Trooper is on a six-week semi-hiatus from schooling and jumping. The little chap is only three and a half and we already have all his basics and little tiny jumps installed, so he deserves a break. In the meantime he goes on hacks when I have nobody else to use.

In my continuing quest to get my wayward heels back under my hips where they belong, I’ve been experimenting with stirrup lengths. It seems the Wintec has the effect of ever-so-slightly pulling my leg forward because of the position of the stirrup bar in relation to the deepest point of the seat. We’ve gotten around this by doing lots and lots of work without stirrups so that I get used to sitting right and my body doesn’t get to think of excuses to do its own thing.

It appears I am finally conquering the tension through my hips, so when relaxed and unrestrained, I manage to sit like a human being at last.

Skinny Savanna is already so much fatter. The magic of ad-lib grass and a bit of balancer does it again and it makes my heart happy as she begins to thrive.

She has been SO naughty though, running out at every fence she can with her kid. I think the adjustment from huge groups all going around together at her previous yard, down to private lessons or two in a lesson here, have been a bit of a shock for them both. She’s in half training with me now so we’ll get it sorted.

It’s a bit of a menagerie around here.

Our biggest beginner group yet: five, through from dad down to five-year-old little sister. Lisna, Starlight, Lulu, Sunè, and Stardust have been impeccable.

Milady has put on so much weight this month it’s almost scary. She was about a 3/10 when we weaned Lady Erin and now she’s about 6/10. K has started to ride her for me so that I can use her as a trail horse and schoolie until she’s in foal again, whenever that may be.

She has the gentlest spirit. ❤

Typically, in trying to correct one flaw, I’ve created another. Now my heels camp out somewhere three miles behind me while I perch. I’ll find the balance. I have a patient dance partner.

Ash is loving the hack life. She’ll be terribly useful in the school once her tendon rehab is complete.

After much desensitising, I finally put a leg over Blizzard. He was, as you can see, pretty cool about it. Just the way I like it.

This little one got to try out our brand-new 17m lunging ring in the brief window between its being built and being recruited as turnout for Champagne until she settles down. I love it. It even has fancy slanting sides so the youngsters can quit whacking my knees on the fence.

Nugget is recovering very nicely. The plan is for her to move in with Magic once she’s regained the use of her neck fully. I’m hoping his love and joie de vivre will rub off on her, and he really, really missed Exavior.

For now, the tack boxes have been stolen to be a table for her cheeky little majesty.

After weeks of improvement, Arwen’s canter-walks have gone down the drain again a little. On the bright side, we suddenly have shoulder-in and rein back. Poor Arwen – Elementary is tough when neither of us really know what we’re doing at the level yet. Thunder has it easy by comparison. For now.

Life with Champagne has been a little interesting, but she is settling one day at a time. She’s used to very little turnout, but seems to settle much better outside and fret quite a bit in the stable. The poor girl is extremely anxious about basically everything – I don’t understand how she can maintain that level of anxiety for so long. We’ll sort it out.

Dusty cannot understand her new buddy. So young, so well-bred, so well cared for, so sound, so gorgeous. What does she have to worry about?

Jump judged today at coach K’s family’s event and realised just how much I miss everything about eventing. Someday.

Praying for a peaceful next week, but ready to see God’s will in it, whatever it is. Glory to the King.

Winstead Stadium Eventing

Can I just say that stadium eventing is really fun? It’s like eventing, but with less hard. Hence I was very excited to go to Winstead for their stadium event the weekend after a cross-country schooling in the same arena – a perfect opportunity to start rebuilding Arwen’s confidence after our ignominous failures earlier in the year, and for Liana to go across country in competition for the first time.

Liana did the 60cm and 70cm and was stellar. I had her back in the snaffle after using a sweet iron gag for a while, and my coach’s suggestion proved to be right on the money. She was much less fussy in her mouth and gave me two very sane and relaxed rounds. Ana is just a pleasure to have at shows – she walks into the arena all business and happily packed my butt around.

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I did have my neck strap, though, because Liana has quite a pop and tends to use it over scary fences. She only threw one overjump all day, though. In the 60cm we had a very foolish little stop that was more of a steering issue than a disobedience and finished with a very reasonable time, too, even though I was letting her set the pace. (Or maybe because I was letting her set the pace…). The course was inviting but not soft and she really rose to the occasion.

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The 70cm was a definite step up, with this being my rider frightener of the day. This little trailer/table was quite low but looked max width and I do so love staring down into spreads. Liana, however, didn’t have a qualm about it and jumped it already angled for the next fence – a drop, which she was excellent about. She was gutsy to everything except a white skinny in the shade, where she had a look and I booted her over, taking the pole for four penalties that just kept us out of the placings. This was probably our last competition together for some time, as two days before her new little person had signed the papers for a lease with option to buy, praise God!

Arwen was also extremely spooky to the white skinny, but apart from that she ate the course alive. She had warmed up a little spooky, but something about walking into the arena engaged dragon mode and it was all I could do to stay on and steer. I don’t think I have ever ridden a course that fast in my life and I spent most of my time sitting back yelling “Steady!” while she tore around like a maniac. It was good enough for a clear round with no time penalties, though, so we very merrily went through to the jump-off.

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It was just my coach and I in the jump-off, so it followed that of course we would make two newbie errors to the absolute delight of the spectators. Coach went first and rode a stunning round on her youngster apart from completely forgetting about the last fence, ending up with four penalties for her circle. She had handed it to me on a silver platter, except that Arwen tore around the course and then threw in a rebellious stop at the white skinny, making us a few seconds slower for second place. I was not too upset – I’ll come second to my coach any day.

I had also (somewhat reluctantly) entered the 80cm on coach’s urging, but I’ll admit it was one of those courses where you stay as far as possible away from the jumps when you’re walking just in case you get close enough to see how big they are. This course was again inviting and started gently but built up to some very legitimate challenges for EV80, including a dyke, drop, max height rolltop, and a scary related distance of a hanging log down a steep bank to a large house in about four or five strides. And of course the showjumps were 85cm, the biggest fences I’ve ever jumped in competition.

Arwen was still on fire after her victory lap, so we came thundering at number one and then spooked violently. I applied whip, spurs and voice with alacrity and Arwen popped over and then hit her stride and started to settle, taking the fences more in her stride. The hanging log to house proved to be one of her nicest and quietest efforts on course – she didn’t turn a hair. We had a look at the dyke, but I brought her in very quietly so she had enough time to process it and popped neatly over. The max height rolltop was cause for absolutely no drama,

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and we were charging merrily along when I forgot my line to number 14 (still kicking myself) and sliced a corner too fine, presenting Arwen at the biggest fence on course at an angle. Arwen was like um no and threw in a stop, which wasn’t that dirty but I gave her a smack anyway because she has no need to get ideas about stopping. We reapproached and she popped over just fine, had another look at the last fence and tapped the pole. That finished us with 8 jump penalties and 10 time, which I did not think was too shoddy for our first EV80 considering our history with eventing.

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I think Arwen may have enjoyed it more than I did

This show really kind of confirmed the change I’m trying to make in my attitude. We rode into that arena with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our goals to do with hearts instead of ribbons, and the horses and I were all just happy and comfortable in our own skins. It turned out, as it so often does, to be one of our most successful shows, too.

He meant it when He said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” Glory to the King I seek.

ICB Christmas Event Recap: The Riding

Inanda Country Base’s massive green property reeks of old-fashioned horsiness. One can almost imagine you are somewhere deep in England; the immaculate British-style stable blocks, vast green fields and baying of their hunting hounds in the early mornings sends a shiver down the spine. I loved it there. Arwen did too; she spent her first night in a real stable and didn’t even kill anyone, though I did take the precaution of taping my phone number to her nose in case of any nightly escapades, so she looked like a complete idiot.

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Dressage was in one of the epic green fields, which was so big that three dressage arenas and a warmup ring of enormous proportions fit in effortlessly. Unfortunately, the dressage arenas were marked off by white ropes near the ground. This is fine and safe and useful, except Arwen said the ropes were Poisonous Electric Snakes and politely declined to go straight beside them. She had the best warmup in the world and then came down the centreline like she owned it and then did a perfect, unrequired haunches-in down the track, in all three gaits, and every time we went on the track. Our circles and transitions were beautiful enough that we earned a respectable 60.7 penalties (60%), landing us, as usual, squarely in the middle of the field at 8th out of 15.

Showjumping was directly after dressage. I only barely had time to yank on my bib and grab my jumping crop and we were in after a brief warmup. She was coming in very close to the fences but jumping willingly enough, so I just let it go. Honestly, though, I felt like a blob of well-chewed bubblegum. Squashy and colourless. A hectic week – 16 hour days, nine rides a day, feeding and admin on top of it all – had left me frazzled by that morning, and dressage had drained whatever brainpower I had left. We came through the start flat, scraped over the opening oxer, and took the second rail. I woke up enough to flap my crop at her as we approached the easy vertical at number three, so we made it over that. Number four was an oxer with filler under it and as we came around the corner at it, I just sat there. Arwen found exactly zero support and dawdled to a halt to look at the filler. I approached with somewhat more zeal and we made it over just fine the second time; number five had looked scary from the beginning, so I gave her a boot and she jumped beautifully.

We came down the huge bank towards number six, fell on our faces, and stopped again at six. I knew I had only one refusal left now, so I woke up and gunned it back at the fence and she jumped it well. 7, 8, and the combination at 9 were on a series of difficult rollbacks and we nailed the line to every single one, popping over the fences with no difficulty. I relaxed as we cleared number 9b and my brain left, again. We cantered towards number ten, Arwen asked if she should jump it, I said, “Huh?” and she knelt in the middle of it instead, demolishing it thoroughly and putting the finishing touch on the most ignominious round of my competitive career.

I didn’t whack her for any of the stops. In the circumstances it would have been ridiculously unfair; if I had just given her a little leg going into them I bet she would have jumped every single fence with her eyes closed. Poor old Arwen. I gave her an apologetic pat as we left. There was nothing more we could do about it, and on the bright side, because it was only EV70, we were still allowed to run cross-country the next day for schooling purposes.

This was a good thing, because the course map had me quailing. Arwen has never jumped a ditch in her entire life and the second element of 10 (also her first xc combination) was a ditch. It was a large black abyss, probably with some lava at the bottom. Number 14 was also a ditch, a large one with gigantic scary owls on either side, and there was a drop about the same height as the Victoria Falls.

Warming up for xc, I was quite worried that she was going to try stopping again just out of habit, but this time I was awake so I actually steered and pushed the go button so she took me over every practice fence we looked at without thinking twice – including an 80cm skinny as big as a house. She was blowing fire as we came up the hill to the startbox and after the countdown from five and saluting the King, I put my spurs in her and she came blasting out looking for something to kill. Number one was inviting so she hardly broke her stride sailing over it and roared off towards number two, max height and wide, no problem for her – she just ate it up. We had a little stumble crossing the dirt road, but she caught herself quickly, clicked back into her stride and bounded over number three.

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I was convinced we were going to stop at number four. It was a sharp turn right into the woods to a skinny fence with bales all over it, and it caused plenty of grief to other riders that day. Arwen came at it locked and loaded and just charged over it as if it wasn’t there. Number five was simple but its approach was complicated by a branch, which was kind of in the way, except Arwen is 14.3 and I’m 5′ 4″ so we just galloped under it because we are awesome. She took 5 and 6 in her stride and then charged up the long blast to 7.

Seven was intimidating: a stack of logs, low but wide, and the horses could just catch a glimpse of the water as they approached it. Three riders were eliminated there, and as we came up to it I felt Arwen looking and tried to kick her except my legs didn’t want to cooperate so I just made a little smoochy noise instead and poor longsuffering Arwen hauled my sorry backside over that fence and saved the day. She wriggled into the water, walked a few steps, trotted, scrambled out and willingly jumped the low side of number 8, a step. We flopped up the hill at number nine without any juice at all and Arwen put up her willing knees and did a riding-school-pony-pop over it, dragging me with her once again.

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The stretch from 9 to the Combination of Doom was huge and uphill, so I let her go and she ate up the ground. At the turn to 10 I brought her right back down to a little working canter, shouting, “Arwen, LOOK at it, theLordismyShepherd Arwen LOOK!” Arwen declined. She popped over 10a and then while I was still trying to massively override 10b she was already over it and galloping off, saying, “What? It’s just a hole in the ground, you stupid little human,” while I sat there flabbergasted.

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Number 11 scared me. It was under a shed and had shavings bags under it, but mercifully it was small, and Arwen had a mighty look but jumped just fine. 12 was also intimidating and she had another look and another good jump. Then came number 13 and as she saw it she leapt straight up into the air, whereupon I bounced up like a kid on a Thelwell pony, landed with a big kick, clung on and scrambled over.

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We opened up the throttle on the stretch to the next ditch, which I was no longer worried about; Arwen said that because it was wide it was easy because one could jump in it instead of over it. This caused the jump judge to squeal in alarm but we shot off before she could do anything about it. 15 was a bit spooky but I slowed her down enough that we made the turn and climbed over it fine. By this point, my legs were just done. Somehow, despite spending the hours I do in the saddle, I had totally missed out on the fact that my cardio fitness sucks. I had been running on adrenalin, which promptly left as we cantered down to harmless little number 16 and stopped. This gave me a goodly adrenalin rush, so I waved my crop around and Arwen jumped 16 and the mighty drop at 17 without turning a hair. One last effort of galloping and we took 18 in our stride, blasting through the finish and stopping on a dime as is Arwen’s trademark.

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I was euphoric as we left the xc with my panting pony. Despite the silly stop and copious time penalties, she had never felt more confident across a more challenging course ever before. One thing is for sure: The horse can do the job, and she loves it. The fault lies with me, but I know that just like that good little grey – “the spunky little grey”, as the announcer calls her – will take none of my inferior nonsense and will haul my sorry butt over into excellence just the way she hauls it over oxers. Glory to the amazing King.

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ICB Christmas Event Recap: The Course Walk

Our last event of the year was also our first time at a gorgeous old venue right in the deep horse country of Kyalami. It was too beautiful not to photograph, and Amanda from the $900 Facebook Pony and her epic course walks inspired us to try something more imaginative than just taking pictures of jumps.  Hence: the Epic Puppy Course Walk, courtesy of my sister Rain, Ice the puppy, and some mild delirium due to sleep deprivation.

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Coming out of the startbox, the track went straight towards number one. The top pole was taken off for my class, so it was a very simple little log, but it was a steeply uphill approach. It was a fair preparation for the relatively challenging course, but it rode well for all but one rider, who had 60 penalties here.

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This was a max height A-frame and looked rather imposing, but as A-frames seem to do, it rode beautifully.

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Number three rode as nicely as Ice is cute, although it was a fairly wide oxer.

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Number four was terrifying. After number three the stretch was just long enough for one’s mind to wander, followed by a 90 degree turn and only four or five strides into the shade and to this narrow fence with bales all over it. Unsurprisingly, three riders had stops here.

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Number five was slightly complicated by a branch that hung in the approach, forcing one to jump at a slight angle. Except if you ride a 14.3hh pony. Then you just go under the branch. (Epic win). All the horses navigated this one just fine.

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Number six was beautiful – a straightforward log at the end of a long straight gallop, just asking to be jumped straight out of a big stride. It rode like a dream.

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Number seven proved to be the most problematic fence on the course, with three eliminations. In itself it was quite low and not the widest fence, but the horses could just catch a glimpse of the water as they jumped, so a lot of riders came to grief here.

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The water was rather a pain. It wasn’t flagged, but approaching number 8 was almost impossible without going through it. Circling would set one up for a perfect approach, but it did mean entering the water twice. Arwen was hesitant to go in the first time, so I made a very tight 90 degree turn to number 8 and made it out that way. If she would trot into water I would undoubtedly have circled.

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8 was a little step, with a higher section (pictured) and a very low one. The higher section was easier to approach, but because Arwen was basically jogging once we reached it, we took the lower one and the line from 8 to 9 rode just fine. 9 is the double log in the background.

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Number 9 was unassuming, but it was a short, steep uphill approach from 8. If one lost impulsion through the water and wasn’t quick to get it back, it was very easy to get a silly stop here. Everyone managed it fine, though.

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10a and b were a fairly terrifying combination for the level. This max height vertical was 10a, with just two strides to…

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… our first open ditch ever. It wasn’t very wide, but it was pretty deep and I was scared out of my socks. This combination rode well for everyone.

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Number 11 was set underneath a shed, which was a little intimidating. The log itself was very low, though, so it didn’t cause any issues. It was a very fair question.

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This skinny was set in the middle of a massive field all alone, asking for a run-out. Luckily for me, Arwen locked onto it as she jumped number 11, so she jumped it almost as well as Ice. It did cause a stop, though.

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Spooky number 13 (less spooky without a balletic teenager on it) was the culprit of the only rider fall on cross-country, but it was actually pretty low in the middle and the approach was easy enough.

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There was a long gallop to number 14, the second open ditch on course. This ditch was really very shallow and caused no issues.

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Number 15 had a fairly difficult approach – a quite sharp turn up a hill. Arwen and I slowed down, angled it and jumped fine, but it was quite big and spooky.

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16 was an extremely inviting little slanted ladder and rode well for everyone except the resident idiot (viz., me). Its landing was slightly downhill, nicely preparing us for

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a drop that looked about the size of Pride Rock on the morning of the competition. It rode beautifully for me, though, and all the horses jumped it on the first shot.

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This branch was another epic win for Arwen and me. We just ran under it like bosses.

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18 was a last challenge – a max height oxer set on an uphill as the already tired horses headed for home. This caused no issues, though, and rounded off a beautiful and well-built course nicely.

Needless to say, the ditches had me trying to digest some butterflies, but it turned out to be the showjumping I should have worried about…

 

 

 

Fourways Eventing Classic

With AHS vaccination season – and hence a required six-week rest period – around the corner, I entered Arwen in one more show to cram in some cross-country practice before our rest and subsequent return to graded eventing.

It was eerily peaceful to only have one horse to dress up, load and show; I got up at the luxurious hour of 5:40 (albeit waking at 4:15), she loaded fine with a line around her butt, and we were early for our first class. I got to hack her around on a loose rein and warm up nice and slow. She responded by not producing any bucks, just one enormous exaggerated spook at a hole in a hedge (the hedge was fine; the hole was a monster).

We wrapped up a gentle walk, trot and canter warmup by opening up into a cross-country gallop down the long side of the arena, then sitting down, collecting strongly and making a 10m circle to check for brakes and adjustability. She was super, so we popped over each jump once and trotted off to our class.

I’d entered 60cm and 70cm, and when I walked the course, I was having second thoughts. The 60cm course started with three inviting little showjumps that we had jumped on August 9th’s training show. Then things started to get a bit complicated. There was a brush fence, which Arwen loves but never ever brushes; then a very tight turn to a narrow fence made of imposing black barrels (and Arwen habitually drifts). Straight after the narrow fence was two banks down, first a little one and then a slightly bigger one. Not enormous, but still a bank down. Quite a long gallop then to a large colourful house in the shade. Then a tight turn to a showjump, an enormous steep bank (Derby bank type that you gallop up instead of jumping up) and woe is us, a skinny. A proper one, and a very skinny one. The last three fences were even worse; a scary vertical made of tyres, a St. Andrew’s cross (which neither of us had ever even seen before), and a corner (ditto).

UP!
UP!

I put a prayer in my pocket and let Arwen look at the house, whereupon she promptly tried to eat the plant that was acting as a wing, before the bell rang and off we went. She merrily ran away with me towards the start, although I still had steering so I decided to diplomatically ignore the lack of brakes, and attacked the three showjumps fearlessly. The brush rushed up on us awfully soon and she jumped hugely and without a trace of hesitation. We got into a spot of difficulty approaching the black barrels; she wriggled all over the place and considered running out, but thought better of it and jumped cleanly.

The banks were quite funny. I clapped my spurs into her because I expected hesitation; Arwen was considering no such thing and took a flying leap off the bigger bank, launching me onto her neck. Luckily for her daft rider, Arwen threw her head up on landing and tossed me neatly back into the saddle. She was very looky at the house but with lots of encouragement she popped over. When we came over the vertical, she was ready to go kill something, and charged up the bank and towards the skinny at a terrifying speed. Once again, a huge wriggle at the skinny, possibly due to going too fast, but I clamped my hands and reins down and made it clear that the only way were going was over. So we went over.

We both gawped at the St. Andrew’s cross; I gawped at the sides because they looked enormous, and she gawped at the middle because it was a hay bale. We reached a compromise and jumped slightly to one side of the bale. The tyres were no problem and then we were galloping downhill at the corner. I was shouting “IT’S NOT AN OXER ARWEN” and Arwen was shouting “BOXES THERE ARE TERRIFYING BOXES” and unfortunately the boxes were under the narrow end. We reached the wide end, and I planted my hands in the mane, certain she would stop. Arwen snorted that she would do no such thing and leapt over the wide end without any apparent effort. I nearly strangled her with hugging as we walked out of the arena.

That landed us in the jump-off, which was over the first four jumps and the last three jumps. We floored it, Arwen jumped kind of in the middle of the corner, and we came second in good company.

The course grew somewhat for the 70cm; now it included a tight turn after the corner, leading to a bank up and a vertical with a big filler in it. The distance from the bank to the vertical walked for a short two strides, so I knew Arwen was going to make an easy three. I was starting to detest the corner, which brought multiple horses and riders to grief that day, including the only fall I saw.

Arwen came into the show arena blowing smoke and looking for something to attack, so I pointed her at the jumps. She charged onwards, now scared of absolutely nothing. She even jumped the St. Andrew’s cross rather perfectly. We survived the corner and then I rode Arwen straight at what she considered the arena wall. She snorted in shock and wriggled madly, but I kicked on, so she scrambled up the bank and over the vertical without further protest. This time we took the down banks in a rather more ladylike manner and even trotted at the top of the big bank, leading to a rather nicer pop over the skinny.

Arwen believes she is a derby horse
Arwen believes she is a derby horse

Once again we landed up in the jump-off. I knew we could either go quick or we could go clear; the course was technical and spooky, challenging for Arwen’s level, so if I was going to gun it and cut the corners we were going to have a stop. I opted to take our gallop up a notch, but to keep to wide easy lines. We jumped the widest end of the corner once again – which was by now tremendously wide; Arwen appeared to enjoy scaring the living daylights out of me – but this did mean that our landing spot set us up nicely for the tight turn towards the up bank. Having realised that this was actually a thing we jump, she jumped it unquestioningly and galloped through the finish. She didn’t stop at or knock down a single thing all day long, so going unplaced seemed totally irrelevant.

Sometimes I just can’t believe this mare. As one lady gushed as she stopped me to ask what breed my horse is, “She’s just so honest.” She has so much guts and she has so much try. “No” just isn’t in her vocabulary.

Thank You Jesus for this amazing brave little grey mare. Glory to the King who made horses and people and that wonderful, nameless thing that the equine heart does to the human soul.