CHG Leg 7

The last leg of the CHG Series was two days before Thunder’s seventh birthday.


I had to leave Arwen at home because she was still unfit and not quite sound after a bit of a dodgy trim, so it was Thunny and Rene for it. (Who came second in their Prelim 4 with K, a hard-earned place. I’m so proud of them).

we’re the one with the giant cross on the horse’s face and the other one always wins, except that one time that we did

I decided to ask Thunder to be a bit grown up today and didn’t have K bring Rene over so that he could have a friend while he was warming up. And he responded by being the quietest and calmest he’s been in the warmup. He had a look around when we walked around the first time and then that was it. Straight to work.


I also have inordinate amounts of media for once, so prepare to be bombarded. Here he looks like seventeen hands until you realise I’m a hobbit.


My soul does dressage but let’s be real, my seat still thinks it’s eventing. Sigh. Maybe, just maybe the horse is tight in his neck because my hands are bracing? Ya think?


He had some truly superb moments in the warmup, though. As usual for a show, he was a little stiff and tense though his back and neck. Not usual for a show, he was really, really behind my leg. I wasn’t really concentrating on it because usually at shows I’m all panicking about if any of my whoa and turn buttons still work, so before I knew it, he was BADLY behind my leg and I was nagging madly. Nagging, for the record, does not and never will work on this horse.


His tail is so dressage-y. I love it. The judge made a comment about our amazing earmuffs (more on them later!) and then off we went. The trot work was OK, a little behind my leg but OK. The free walk kind of, well, wasn’t. He can free walk for an 8 (and has in the past) but as soon as he’s slightly tense, distracted, or (you guessed it) behind the leg it becomes a bit of a mess. This judge has a thing about free walk so we got  5.5 for it. Ouch.


In this photo he looks really offended because when I asked for my A-F corner canter left he sort of speeded up his trot and fell on the forehand. I asked again just after F and he ignored me, and then I decided the movement was a disaster anyway so I took the whip behind my leg and gave him a big hiding. He does not need to learn that I won’t hit him for blatant disobedience in the show ring. To be fair, he was a little distracted, and I could have prepared him better, but when I ask for canter he’d better canter. Of course then he struck off on the wrong leg and wobbled all the way off the track, but we sorted it out and managed to put in a circle. It was too late, though, and landed us a well-deserved 4 for that movement.


I felt it coming down around my ears a bit at that point, but I knew that it was one bad moment in what had so far otherwise been a solid test, so we scraped it together and earned a string of 7s for the rest of our trot and canter work, barring a 5 for the stretchy trot (he barely does it at home – definitely not at shows). That was still good enough for 66%, getting us third place. So it was nice to get a ribbon even if we’d had a little disaster in there.


As we headed out of the Prelim 3 arena, the rider before us was only just going in for Prelim 4, so I walked him up and down the path doing walk-halt-walk until he was in front of my leg. I can get him really nicely in front of my leg now, but I have to be very, very diligent about keeping my leg OFF until I actually want something. Then the deal is that I give a tiny squeeze and he must respond. He got one tap with the whip and then realised I had stopped nagging, so then we were back on the same page and went in for Prelim 4 feeling quite chirpy.


Evidently I was still not terribly focused, however. Nothing was truly horrible at first, but nothing was that brilliant throughout the test, either; 6.0s and 6.5s except for a 7 for our final halt and centreline (that was quite nice). The serpentines had the comment “show more bend”, which was disappointing because I know I can get a really nice serpentine from him, he likes the movement and is good at it. I actually really like this test for him but I think I just wasn’t really there for him at that point. I also forgot the test halfway through the canter work and got the -2 there with comment “broke” even though he didn’t break, I asked him to trot. Poor chap.


He also was a tiny bit hesitant going to canter left again, so he got a tap and we managed to get it accurately this time but still lost some marks for the loss of rhythm and balance. Also, almost every movement had the comment “tight neck” and I can really see it in this photo. He’s on the bit, he’s just not connected really, short in the neck, tight in the throat and breaking in the third. He often gets this comment at shows and I’d like to get photos at home again and see if it’s at shows or always. I do feel like he wants to go above the bit at shows and it looks like I respond by jamming my hand down and pulling, which definitely doesn’t help.


I feel like getting his neck long is the key to fixing the other comments the judges keep giving us, like nailing us on the collectives for suppleness of the back and asking for more bend. Anyway, we moved on to his lengthening, where I panicked a little and kicked him and he shot off. It was a 6.0 with comment “hurried” and I know he can do better, so I’m actually quite OK with the mark. If I ride it properly I think it could be a 7 already, which is huge for me because I’ve struggled with lengthenings for ever.


At the end of the day it was good enough for 63.8% and 4th. And honestly, between God and Thunny, I’m being taken to a completely new place with shows. At the beginning of the year that minor disaster in Prelim 3 would have brought my world crashing down for a few days and opened the door for major self-doubt and anxiety. But it just wasn’t a big deal. I thought, “Well, that was a disaster” and carried on. I have so much more confidence on this horse. I have so much more confidence and enjoyment since I gave it to God. I look forward to shows instead of facing them with fear and dread; I enjoy them instead of enduring them and whatever place I get, I can hug my horse afterwards because he’s so amazing and God is amazing and I love dressage. I take myself so much less seriously, and thus can compete so much more seriously because I breathe in the sport and breathe out the negativity.

It’s so hard to be anxious, stressed, doubtful, and negative when with every stride I feel this overwhelming gratitude and wonder at the Amazing Grace that saved my soul, let alone put me on the back of a horse with a heart as big as a mountain.

God is with us! Glory to the King.

my boy ❤


HGBH: Magic Because He Is

Yay for blog hops! Seriously, I love them, and Hand Gallop has chosen a totally awesome subject for her first one. Kudos!

Hand Gallop writes: What’s the origin of your horse’s show name and barn name?

We’ll start with Skye, like we always do. Long, long ago when we bought Skye, I was still so little that I wanted to name her Mango because I liked mangoes and she was sweet and orange. (In retrospect that does kind of make sense, but the name definitely smacks of seven-year-old). My dad, sister and I were having a tremendous argument about it when my mom said, “We’ll give her the name you never got.” I was going to be called Skye until my parents tried saying “Skye Hyde” and gave up. It’s a pretty name, so Skye she became. Years later when I was registering horses I lengthened it into Skye’s the Limit because she always made me believe that we could do anything – that the sky’s the limit.


Arwie’s breeder was a major Lord of the Rings fan, so it wasn’t much of a shock when she named the dainty little black filly Arwen. I think it really suits her. She’s sharply pretty, has a star on her forehead, and in the words of the Mutterer “she’s got ears big enough for any elf.” When I was trying to give her a show name, I only had to scroll down a list of the LotR Arwen’s full names when I saw Arwen Evenstar and it fit like a glove. The diamond on her forehead fulfills the name perfectly.

The worst part was at this one show where the announcer simply could not get her name right. I was thoroughly tired of being announced as riding “Erwin Ehvenstur” by the time we got a placing and the guy showed up to give us our rosette and complained about her name. The worst? He was English and had seen Lord of the Rings. Seriously, announcer dude?!

Arwen actually spent a large portion of her three-year-old year being called “Missy”. She was a little gawky plank of a horse and didn’t seem to quite live up to “Arwen” yet, so she became Miss A and eventually Missy. When she had her third foal, I quit on the idea of “Missy” and she became Arwen again.


As for Baby Thun, I wanted to name him something related to his parents’ names: Skye and Achilles. I liked the sound of Thunder as a colt’s name and it worked with his mom’s name, and I was heavily into mythology at the time so Thunderbird came naturally to bring a mythical element in from his dad’s name. If he was a girl, he was going to be called Ladyhawke or Sonador. To be honest, I didn’t give filly names much thought. I wanted a colt, I prayed for a colt, and I believed so hard that it was going to be a colt that I don’t think it could have been otherwise. Poor Thunder’s greatest downfall is that I didn’t consider any Afrikaans people when I named him. The “th” sound doesn’t exist in Afrikaans, so he’s generally known as Funner.


Lastly, Magic. The poor dude raced as Gadsfly. He was only 15.1hh when he came off the track, so I can only imagine that he must have been a tiny black yearling that buzzed around like an annoying fly and was hence named Gadsfly. Poor guy, it’s no wonder he lost all his races, I also wouldn’t want to win under that name.

By the time I met him, everyone knew him as Magic, which seemed to suit him well so it stuck. I abandoned the Gadsfly idea when it came to registering him. I liked the “fly” part and I liked his stable name, so I plopped them together and came up with the ridiculously cheesy Magical Flight. I know it’s a pony name, but it suits him.

One day I actually asked his previous owner why she’d decided to call him Magic, and her reply was so spontaneous and so true that I doubt I will ever forget it. “Oh,” she said, “because he is.”


Into the Big Wide World

Although I’ve spent many hours with Thunder working in the confines of a lunging ring or arena, the ultimate goal has always been to turn him into a reliable hack/trail horse/whatever you want to call it. While the thrill of showjumping and the concentration of dressage have their appeal, I’m afraid my idea of a perfect ride is out in God’s amazing creation with a good horse between my knees and my Beloved by my side. Skye has always fulfilled my love for outrides, but I know that even the best horses don’t stay on Earth forever. Besides, my Beloved needs a ride too, so it was quite thoughtful of God to give me steady little Thunder three years ago.

On his third ever outride
On his third ever outride

Five years ago, a scary fall off an unruly stallion gave me a nervousness for riding out that has still not quite dissipated. The arena is still my security blanket, with the comforting thought that should my horse take off there’s a limit to how far he can run, and safe footing to run on. On outrides, though, a bolting horse can go over rocks and into holes as much as he likes, if you can’t stop him. And with that nervousness I nearly gave up on the idea of schooling Thunder as hack altogether.

But my God is with me and outrides with my Beloved are awesome, so when the latter came in on the scene, I started working on Thunder’s outrides with renewed vigour. We have been going out on and off for almost a year now (Thunder and me that is, my Beloved and me have been going out steadily), and while a long way from a relaxed hack, he’s starting to become an enjoyable ride.


Swimming in the dam this summer
After a swim in the dam this summer

On Sunday my Beloved and I took Skye and Thunder for our first long outride since I had that fall off him in January. I know that the fall rattled him just as much as it rattled me; he’s scared going past that spot lately, and had been spooky and silly on outrides since. But the only way past his nervousness is through it, so we arranged our outride with me on Thunder and my Beloved on Skye. Once the two boys had had a serious man-to-man talk (“You will not buck or run away or spook or try to throw her off in any way, or scare her or hurt her, kapish?”), we set off through the glorious fields of six-foot-tall, pink-and-white daisies known as kosmos.

It was a beautiful windless sunny day that makes you wish that summer wasn’t over, and everything smelt like kosmos and horses and leather, and we walked and talked and laughed and had a few long, awesome lopes and Thunder was a jewel. At first, every time we loped, he set off at a flat gallop for the first two steps, but with my Beloved keeping Skye well under control, he soon settled into a nice lope. We rode through the farm next door and took an unfamiliar route, but although he was a bit looky and felt nervous a few times, Thunder didn’t shy or bolt.

I kept my reins quite short, and both my hands on the reins most of the time, instead of riding him on the approved floppy Western rein. Although I know he should go on a long rein, he has bolted with me a few times like that; with contact on his mouth, I can stop him bolting before he even really gets started. Towards the end of the ride, I could take the contact away and ride with one hand because he was more relaxed; I know that riding him like this could slow down his progress on riding with a loose rein, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to prevent having any more scares on him with bolting.

Just a mommy's boy
Just a mommy’s boy

Then yesterday I took him for a solo outride, always more nerve-wracking because he doesn’t have the moral support of his mommy and I don’t have the moral support of my Beloved, but he was awesome. Again, I kept a contact on his mouth, but as it turned out, I barely needed it. He startled once, but didn’t spin or bolt. We even went through the forest for the first time. The forest, which is very dense and full of weird rustling noises, is always a spooky place for youngsters, but Thunder seemed calm and even happy. He walked briskly with his head up and ears pricked, interested in his surroundings and perhaps a little wary, but not frightened. It was wonderful.

I love my baby horse. Yes, we have a long way to go, but he is only three years old, after all. Thank You, Jesus for answering my prayers with this beautiful bay gelding with the heart of gold.