Going into this year, I honestly thought Xave was going to be an unmitigated disaster. And he was, for a while. I have (obviously) gotten attached and couldn’t bring myself to sell him but he was threatened with being packed off to a lease home that liked his particular brand of crazy, because I sure didn’t.
Then he had his “brain surgery”. There is a reason why we call it brain surgery. Within two weeks the evil alter ego that charged, bit and trampled people seemed to evaporate and my big, dumb, sweet goofball was back in full force.
In terms of goals, almost all of these were achieved in the last three months. So that’s a win.
Bathing. Done! He hasn’t had a proper bath yet, but he gets hosed off after work and behaves like a grownup. Still moves around when his hindlegs get sprayed, but nothing that’ll prevent me getting them clean.
Loading. Done tolerably well for a horse that had a horrible boxing accident. He doesn’t like two-berths but he’ll box if someone gets behind him, even if he is sick and I am panicking (trust me, I know).
Continued improvement on injections. Well, he’s still an unholy terror to inject, but he hasn’t gotten up on his hindlegs in ages. Vaccinating is now relatively uneventful. Bigger shots require someone strong on the halter and a lot of local anaesthetic cream, but it is possible.
Lunging over poles. Nailed it. Slightly raised poles in all three gaits.
Introduction to small free jumps. He flomped over them up to 70cm in a disappointingly calm manner; I was hoping he’d do some Grand Prix jumper stuff and be all pretty.
Backing. Done! I got on, he went to sleep.
Basic aids in walk. We went one better. We have some rather floppy walk aids in a halter, and we have equally floppy trot laps of the ring.
This year’s high success is mostly due to the fact that our goals were freakishly low (like, I get this done on a sale pony in like 2 months maximum) but I’m nonetheless happy. Despite being vastly too much for me, he is quite on track for a barely three-year-old warmblood colt.
Next year is a little more serious. I’m setting goals as if he’s an ordinary horse I can handle, because right now he is acting like it, but that could change. And if it does, we’ll roll with it, even if I need to send him to the Mutterer for a few months. Exavior is worth it.
Continued improvement on injections. This is gonna be here for many years, I think. Just a slow process of not making a drama out of it might get us to some form of normality eventually.
Show in-hand without rearing. We are aiming for Horse of the Year in February, which may be a little ambitious but I guess we’ll find out! He behaves fine at home in the big field with other horses around, so it would be great if he’d stand and trot up nicely at the shows too, but as long as he doesn’t scare me I’ll be happy.
Hack. Even if it’s just to the big gate and back. This goal has me quaking in my boots but it’s gotta be there to make him a Good Citizen, although if it scares me too much I’ll pass. Some battles aren’t worth it.
By June, have 3 gaits. This isn’t a big ask for any normal horse, but Xave loves to push the boundaries of normal. I’m putting this here to keep it realistic. I don’t want to put pressure on, but I also don’t want to be stuck for ever with him. If he doesn’t have 3 gaits by June, he goes to the Mutterer.
Around his fourth birthday, attend a few training shows at walk/trot and Prelim. I so dearly would love to do YDHS in 2018 on him, and he needs to be solid at Prelim by February 2018 under pressure by then. The earlier we compete, the better.
Ultimate goal: be solid at Prelim by the end of the year.
This horse is nothing but a miracle so far. I hope my worldly plan for him is in line with God’s; but if it isn’t, then may God’s amazing and flawless plan prevail. I’m so excited to see what that is. Glory to the King.
So it’s a little late, but better late than never, right?
Qualify for the Provincials at the Young Horse Performance Series. – Done! We needed two completions and we have three. So we finished last at two of them (and won the last one! … OK, so nobody else showed up), but who cares? We’re going. The logistics are going to be a bit fun, considering finals are on the same day as the Jacaranda Nooitie show, but at least we can cross this off our list.
Compete, graded, at the higher Novice tests.I’m calling this done. We did Novice 4 and 5 graded and Novice 6 at YHPS, which is a similar standard. We’ll continue to compete higher Novice for the rest of the year to get our grading points (one down, four to go).
Go to a jumping training show at a low level. Eh, maybe after YHPS. We at least can jump now, but every time I do a jumping training show I find myself with a horsebox full of kids and ponies, so we’ll have to see.
School lower level Elementary successfully. We’ve done most of the movements, but I’m not crossing this off until we’ve done a couple of complete tests at home.
Compete in any available Nooitgedachter shows. In the process of doing! We’ve done two out of the three annual Nooitie shows and are tentatively aiming for the third one – with YHPS finals being on the same day, it’s a bit complicated.
Go double clear at EV7o – Still aiming for this one. We did go double clear at a stadium event, but that doesn’t quite count. Our next full horse trial in August will be at EV60 to build our confidence, then we’re back at EV70 if it goes well.
School Elementary Medium 1 and 2 – We’ve done some of the movements, but not the full tests just yet.
Compete Elementary – Not yet. We have most of our grading points and have happily schooled the level, so it’s just a matter of getting out there.
Gallop through water – Done! At a schooling, not a show, but we came down a bank, through the water and over a fence without breaking rhythm.
Finish getting back the topline muscle he lost when he was sick.
School Novice 4, 5, and 6. We’re so close to finishing Novice 6, too. None of our tests are awesome – we’d be very hard put to get 60% – but all I want is for him to benefit from the flatwork schooling, so just doing the moves as well as we can is fine by me.
Make 90cm our comfort zone at home. – We were so close! In fact we were popping 90cm at home and now we’ve taken it back down a few notches. It’s no fault of my precious Magic’s; he could probably do like 1.20m right now with his eyes closed. However he needs his nervous saddle monkey and after our little tumble a few weeks ago, I’m not there yet. So the journey goes, and so God makes something more amazing through His plan than anything I planned for.
Show graded at 70cm.
Show at 80cm, graded or training. – We were close to this one, too! We may still do it yet. Magic certainly can. We just need a few confidence-boosting rounds at 70cm first.
Bathing. – There’s been improvement, but we’ll finish this up properly in the summer when he won’t hate me for spraying ice water on him.
Continued improvement on injections. Yay! He is still by no means an easy critter to inject, but we’re progressing. He just had his AHS shot and when my helper and I caught him he smelt a rat and went ballistic, but after about five minutes of reassurance, he decided that he wasn’t going to be injected after all so he stood perfectly still and didn’t even notice when I slipped the needle in. It’s all in his empty little brain. We’ll see how he does with his next shot in three weeks.
Lunging over poles.
Introduction to small free jumps.
Basic aids in walk. – Ugh, I so want to get on this horse now! His groundwork is done apart from poles and jumps. I literally just have to throw a leg over him and teach him to whoa, go and turn. But with his still being entire, working him isn’t feasible at the yard right now. As soon as the colt is a gelding we’ll bring him back and I’ll probably be able to finish this in a few weeks.
Taking every second of this year as it comes, hand in hand with the King ❤
I realise it’s kind of late to be setting goals, but they’ve been in my head for a while, so I may as well now put them down on paper. Screen. Whatever. I enjoy having a plan for the year with each horse, but God’s plan is sovereign – and He always knows best.
Arwen’s 2015 Goals
Get her fit – Done. She was easily fit enough for our last event.
Build her upper neck muscles – Done. Her muscle tone has never been this good, to the point where I asked the Mutterer what muscles need building up for the upcoming showing show and he replied in tones of deep disappointment, “Well, actually, none.”
School Elementary Medium successfully – Failure there, but our Elementary work is a lot more solid. Her schooling has improved, just not to EM level.
Introduce scary-looking jumps – Done. While we have been having really disappointing stops in competition, at home she’s jumping the spookiest things I can build without batting an eye.
Have her go through water more easily – Done. She didn’t stop at water all year.
Show graded in EV70 – Done. We showed in three, but only completed two.
Go double clear at EV70. Face it – at this level, you win on your dressage score. Arwen’s dressage is very solid. We could do really well if we’d just stop incurring jumping penalties, especially stops on cross-country. This will take a whole lot of schooling, and a bunch more cross-country lessons, so I’m pretty cool with only eventing again in midwinter or spring. Another jumping show or two can also only help our confidence, or even competing at EV60 once or twice more.
School Elementary Medium 1 and 2. This is very achievable, especially with how solid her Elementary work is getting. It is, however, going to depend on how soon we get our new 20×60 arena done. Our current one is about 15×50, making it impossible to make an accurate half 10m canter circle. The more complex the figures get the harder it becomes to ride them here. She will also have to make the transition to a double bridle, which might be a bit tough.
Compete Elementary. We can totally do this. She could do Elementary 1 with her eyes closed. We just need to get enough qualifying rounds at Novice first, so this will also be an end of the year thing. Even if we just do the ungraded class at the Pretoria Nooitie show – it’s something.
Gallop through water. She goes into water just fine, but she always drops to a walk. Now we just need to school her confidence with keeping her gallop rhythm through the water and we’re good.
So according to the logbook I keep of all my rides/sessions, I finished 616 sessions so far in 2015. The majority of this will be riding, but there’s also a lot of lunging and long-lining and free jumping in there, and loading and halter training… and if I have to hold a particularly difficult horse for feet/teeth/whatever, I count that, too. Cuz I can.
That’s about 300-450 hours, which is cool but I can do better. So maybe in the next half I shall!
Anyway, wannabe brag material aside, here’s a review on some real goals:
Get her fit – Gotcha! She’s lost a tad of fitness now, with being a little under the weather over the weekend and having a slow week due to rider having to be in two places at once, but nothing major. To finish with 0.4 time penalties on cross-country at Springs, especially considering how spooky she was to the jumps, she’s got to be fit enough for her level.
Build her upper neck muscle
School Elementary Medium successfully – We knew the dressage goal was going to be the slow and tedious one. Still hammering on this. Dressage ain’t a thing you can really force, so we’re not too panicky about achieving this – quality work over chasing levels.
Introduce scary-looking jumps – We can keep working on it, but we haven’t had a stop in competition since March. She’s getting much more courageous. We worked on solid skinnies and spooky tires at home.
Have her go through water more easily
Show graded in EV70 – We did AND IT ROCKED. Okay, so there was no dressage, but who’s counting? We were 8th in a class of 31. I count that as achieved.
Complete advanced halter training
Leading over, through and under scary things – Busy on this, but not quite done with going over spooky stuff yet.
Leading away from his group – We’ve got this. No screaming, no jogging on the way back, no napping. I’ll take it.
Bathing – We got halfway with this and then winter came; we’ll resume in summer.
Desensitisation to noise and sight – I flapped my jacket all over him. He went to sleep. Mission accomplished.
Loading preparation – work in progess; I still want him to go over a tarpaulin.
Injections – Some improvement, but we’re not there yet
Be gelded – Probably going to be postponed to next winter.
Lowering of the head when requested by pressure on the halter
Basic lunging with a halter and long line only – This is fine.
Leading from the right – I totally forgot this (it’s been a few years since I raised my own baby) but it’s a handy skill. Working on it now.
Wearing a roller
Lunging over poles
Preparation for clipping – I don’t have clippers yet so…
Wearing boots – All these lunging-related goals will most likely will be left for next year unless he suddenly matures a lot. Being a warmblood, he’s really not at the same level of physical or mental maturity as Thunny was when he was this age. I’m using my work with Thun as a baseline because it’s the best experience I have, but while Thunder knew all this by the end of his second year, Exavior isn’t going to get there. I want him to get on the horsebox, lead from the right, and walk a few nice laps on the lunge and then he’s going back out of work for a little while, maybe even to the end of the year, except for a couple of baths and talking about injections. No point in cooking a baby brain, and he can go out and horse for a while with no damage to his people skills.
Tie up – He will still fly back if something truly upsets him, but he now stands tied really nicely for his grooming every morning and if he steps back and feels the pull, he yields to pressure instead of losing his brain. Honestly, few horses will stand tied under pressure, and the skill isn’t important enough in my situation to break even more halters and potentially necks. I’m okay with him now; daily tying for grooming will serve to improve this skill gently over time.
School Novice – I’m going to call this one a win, for a horse that is probably never going to compete in stressage. I practiced Novice 1-3 on him over and over again preparation for Arwen’s show and he was really good, even with the French link on. Leg-yields are also almost there, after all, Novice only requires H-L level of leg-yields.
Survive a hack – We went to the end of the road and back without dying, but that doesn’t count as a hack, so I’m not crossing this out just yet.
Be confident at 80cm
Show graded at 70cm showjumping – We jumped a terrifying and wonderful clear at 70cm at a training show, so we’re making our way towards this! Our next show will be 50cm, 60cm and 70cm again, and then I’ll play it by ear as to whether we do 80cm next show. My criterion for going graded is single and simple: I want him to walk into the arena and know exactly what he is supposed to do. No point in paying the earth to take a spooky baby to a show and have three stops by the second jump. When he goes in and says to me, “OK, I know what we do now,” then we can move on to graded. The height does not seem to be an issue but he likes to halfway stop at his first few fences every show, so I want to eliminate that first.
Fix his mild tendency to get in your space
Get him to stand dead still for a bath
Introduce flying changes – Ugh. I suck so much at flying changes. SO MUCH. I can’t get them out of Arwen yet, so poor Thun hasn’t even really been asked for them yet. Still striving for this but I won’t force him and make him worried.
Improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs – This is an ongoing goal but we’ve already made HUGE improvements. Like, we actually slide in our sliding stops! Spins are at least a little smoother if reeeeaaaally slow (Friesians don’t do fast until they spook), and rein backs are appropriate for his level, we get 10 steps in style and 15 sloppy steps if I beg.
Log as many trail miles as possible – Work in progress. I am getting so tired and bored with hacking alone, but it’s just a matter of making myself do it. As soon as I have a really cool hack horse again I’m sure my motivation will get better, but I need motivation to get that really cool hack horse ready!
All in all, I’m quite happy with our progress so far, mostly because not only have we been getting results but we’ve been improving relationships. And ultimately, that’s what horsemanship is all about. Glory to the King ❤
I can hardly believe it’s already April! So far, this year has been terrifying and wonderful and oh so busy, but I love what I do so much that I don’t mind. I am quite happy with the universe because each day I grow more aware of how I walk hand in scarred Hand with the King.
So, let’s have a look at our goals.
Get her fit – A work in progress, but I’m happy with the progress. She survived the 2125m, 17-effort course at Le Godimo, albeit with a stack of time penalties, despite the horrific heat. At the moment, our most intense workout was 9.9km at an average speed of 22.9km/h (380mpm), our top speed 59kph (980mpm). We’re not event fit yet, but making good progress.
Build her upper neck muscle – A resounding success. I really, really like her musculature now. She looks strong without being butch. She just needs to lose weight, but those neck muscles are where I want them.
School Elementary Medium successfully – This one will take a while. We’ve been working on collected trot, counter-canter, medium trot, shoulder-ins and more difficult leg-yields. We also got a flying change yesterday, more or less by fluke, and the Mutterer is drilling us in lessons, which is exactly what we need.
Introduce scary-looking jumps – Haven’t done a lot on this one, except at shows and clinics. She’s been as brave as the day there.
Have her go through water more easily – Done. We did have a look at the Le Godimo water complex but she didn’t stop or even walk. Just trot, peek, and jump in. Super happy with that.
Show graded in EV70 – Not yet, but we’ve done EV60 at a graded show, and will do unaffiliated EV70 at the end of May.
Complete advanced halter training – Done. We can now trot, stand squarely, walk on a loose lead, turn on the forehand, and turn on the haunches in hand. Also no standing on top of people or dragging them around. This is a big one, so it’s just about all we accomplished so far, but it’s the basis for everything else.
Leading over, through and under scary things
Leading away from his group
Bathing – Started on this but he still doesn’t like water to be on his bottom.
Desensitisation to noise and sight
Lowering of the head when requested by pressure on the halter – Total win. You barely have to breathe on his halter and you have ears around your knees. Also he keeps his head down while I switch halter and fly mask.
Basic lunging with a halter and long line only
Wearing a roller
Lunging over poles
Preparation for clipping
Improve fitness – Win. He’s a thoroughbred. He was basically born fit. He can canter around an 80cm course without being breathless, which is all I need from him right now.
Tie up – Eh, more or less. He ties up just fine until he gets a huge fright, and then he’ll still break his lead.
Load – Done. Self-loads now, sweet creature.
School Novice – Work in progress; he still flips his head in transitions and sometimes in the canter. Lengthenings are good, simple changes are good, leg-yields are getting there.
Survive a hack – Nothing yet, but it’s in the pipeline.
Be confident at 80cm – Done! Okay, so I’m not confident, but the height is not a problem for me at 80cm with him. We’re schooling 90cm at the moment with success.
Show graded at 70cm showjumping – Showed ungraded at 60cm, and would have showed ungraded 70cm this weekend, but he came up mysteriously lame. Maybe God’s just saying we need another couple weeks.
Fix his mild tendency to get in your space – He doesn’t do it with me anymore. With submissive or timid people he does still stand over you but never with malicious intent and he knows he’s not allowed to move anyone’s feet.
Get him to stand dead still for a bath – I didn’t bath him, but I hosed him off alone, and he stood like a stone.
Introduce flying changes
Improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs
Log as many trail miles as possible
As for the old warrior Queen, she’s as happy as a bird, fat, healthy, and tries to throw me off on a regular basis just to remind me who’s the Queen around here. And that’s all she needs to do.
Since July last year, I’ve been keeping a log of all the different horses I work with, partially for interest’s sake, partially for research purposes and also with the vague idea that then I would at least have something more specific than “rides so much that good gloves last three months” to put on my CV. I lost half of my records when my dear old computer gave up the ghost, but I’ve managed to keep track of the whole of January. I record the horse’s name, its level of training, owner, breed, type of workout, and equipment used. Not all the sessions I put in are rides – I’ll hazard a guess that a quarter or more are groundwork sessions – and I also tend to add situations like loading difficult horses or doing their feet. I do this mostly so that I can go back and see what equipment we used, in case I come across the situation again and have forgotten. (Things tend to pass straight through my head without touching down, as the poor Mutterer could emphatically tell you).
So, January’s statistics:
owned by 6 different people (including me)
from untouched to Elementary dressage
eight different breeds, including Quarter Horses, warmbloods and an abundance of Nooitgedachters (love those so much)
eight lessons with two different instructors, one offsite
no shows yet. My little grey barrel is still too fat to get around a course of more than six jumps without rolling any poles off with her big belly.
A great start to 2015, methinks. We wrapped up the month with a lesson yesterday afternoon, which was… interesting. The Mutterer, the ponies and I were all extremely tired after a long week (Saturdays aren’t particularly perky days for any of us). I was especially brain dead (I would have been really dead, too, if the Mutterer hadn’t noticed my loose girth and made me stop and pull it up; tacking up in your sleep is real) but luckily the horses were also too tired to argue and hauled my sleepy and undeserving bottom over the jumps whether the distance I picked at random was any good or not. It just really wasn’t our day. On the bright side, Magic was a sensible, level-headed superstar and even managed not to pull my arms off despite the fact that I was jumping him just in the snaffle. We also tried a fantastic new exercise involving a jump set on one long side of the arena and a set of five or six bending poles on the other; this way I was forced to bring the horses back to a trot and be able to maneouvre them through the poles after the jump, improving our steering, control and concentration. The bending poles were jump uprights, so I only had to whack my foot once before paying attention. Arwen’s flatwork was also superb, even prompting a compliment from the Mutterer. We do have to work on her head position a little more – she tends to drop it a bit low, and occasionally nods behind the vertical, although that is just her figuring out her own strength and should go away by itself – but there is progress. She had a fantastic rhythmic canter going that made me very happy.
Our place is bursting at the seams with horses at the moment; every time my poor dad turns his back another one pops up, although he is very good about it. I have the Horde and my sister has her mare, plus the stubborn and wonderful donkey who doesn’t seem to belong to anyone very much (I quite often have to cast my exasperated eyes skywards and say, “Lord Jesus, speak to Your donkey!”). That makes seven, added to which are the Mutterer’s threesome which I am busy schooling (anyone want to buy a saintly white gelding? And I do mean saintly). Plus today my vet is bringing over her chestnut Anglo-Arab filly with a dominant personality, which basically explains why she needs a trainer. This should be interesting.
With June already behind us, it’s time to look back at the goals I set in January and see where the horses and I all stand. However much reality differs from the way I planned it, I accept it joyfully; God’s plan is always better than my own, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store for me over the next six months.
Skye’s the Limit.Goals: Stay healthy; get fit; get a Western saddle. My mighty charger, whose heart never fails her, was sadly let down by her body in the past few months. Although she’s only in her mid teens, her toed-in conformation has ended up the way it usually does, with arthritis in her right knee. I’ll elaborate on all this in a later post, but the good news is that she’s in little or no pain and still enjoys our short walking outrides. Getting fit is probably not going to be an option for her this year, but as for staying healthy, we’ve made progress. She’s definitely on top of her allergies/COPD/whatever was wrong with her respiratory system, and being permanently on pasture, she’s looking better on less concentrate than she ever has before.
Oh, and the Western saddle? Check!
Thunderbird. Goals: This year, I’d like to spend some time working on Thunder’s physical strength. … I would like him to lope slowly and on the correct lead (using simple lead changes for now), understand the basics of neck-reining at all three gaits, learn to stand squarely, and turn on the haunches by the end of the year. I would like him to go out consistently without bolting, alone and in company, by the end of the year.
Thun has made awesome progress on his schooling goals. He neck-reins all the time in walk and trot and abut 80% of the time in canter. He stands square and turns on his haunches, as well as turning on the forehand and the beginnings of sidepasses. Outrides are improved but not awesome: he hasn’t bolted since forever, but he still shies and spins on most of our rides. In company he generally doesn’t spook as much as alone, but he never naps. We need more outrides and more lunging, though. He still looks like a giant clothes hanger with a forelock.
Arwen Evenstar. Goals: I would like to get her on the show circuit more regularly and to raise the bar slightly to be jumping around 80cm competitively by the end of the year. I would also like to enter her in a few dressage shows and see how she does. At home, she can learn to jump 1.10m consistently. Her canter, whilst good, needs some work; she must learn flying changes. I want her to improve her frame so that she is going in a good outline with her nose in by the end of the year. She must also learn to do all her lateral movements, which she does well in a walk, in trot. She must also be able to extend and collect her trot.
Arwen has made some progress, but it’s a bit on the slow side a) unlike the youngsters, Arwen’s training is the limit of my experience; each time she learns something new I’m learning it right alongside and b) my goals changed. I decided to go into eventing instead of showjumping.
We have been showing more, having done two outings since May, but her first 80cm round was a total flop (we were eliminated by the second fence) so that’s the area where she needs tons of work. We’re also still not jumping 1.10m at home, in fact 1.05 is proving to be a challenge. Some confusion with measurements might mean that 1.10m is bigger than we thought it was and that it’ll take quite a bit more time to get there, though. We’ll add cross-country to her goals as well: I want to jump a clear xc round at an event before the end of this year.
Her first dressage test was a resounding success, though; first place with a lovely, calm, consistent test scoring 61%. No progress on the flying changes but her frame is much improved, with the nose in nearly all the time in walk and trot and most of the time in canter. Lengthenings are improved; we still need to get to the collection thing, but she now leg-yields and shoulder-ins well in a trot. EM will have to wait a bit but I’m confident we can go Novice and possibly Elementary by the year’s end.
Magical Flight.Goals: Magic must go to his first shows, and learn to make calm transitions between gaits, leg-yield in walk, start flying changes, and build correct muscle tone. He must also jump 1.10m at home.
As you’ll all know by now, since I’m forever whining about it, Magic and me have had some setbacks in terms of confidence. 75cm felt like an achievement the other day, which is not good considering we were happy at 90cm last year. It will take lots and lots of work to be happy at 1.10m by the end of the year, but if I can get my act together, I’m positive we can do it just fine. He’s gutsy and scopey enough for it.
Flatwork is a lot more encouraging; his transitions are loads better, and his frame was improved to the point where I can now school him in a snaffle again. Still nothing on the flying changes but that’s more a rider error than anything else. His muscling is improved, but he needs his belly trimmed down and his fitness built up a bit. He is starting to get an awesome strong neck, though.
Yours truly.In dressage, I must get into the habit of riding with a proper upper body: eyes looking between the horse’s ears with chin up, hands a fist’s breadth above and in front of the pommel, thumbs turned up, elbows relaxed by my sides with upper arms hanging almost straight. In jumping, I must learn not to balance on my hands, but to push them forward and allow the horse to stretch. Oh, and I can stop doing that funky poke-one-toe-out thing. In Western, well, I don’t even know what a proper Western seat looks like. Fix this.
I’m pleased to report definite progress on the dressage and jumping fronts. I look up more and the hands are quite a lot better. I still need to fix my left hand, which (probably from carrying a whip) likes to bend inwards and do this weird thing where the wrist bulges out, but the hands are getting there. Now I must open up my shoulders a bit more and bring my butt underneath myself by tightening up my stomach muscles. (Yay sit-ups!)
Jumping is also a lot better especially with the release; my hands follow the horse instead of clinging to the mane. I still need to learn to balance myself over my lower leg instead of eating mane or sitting on the tail. No luck on the one-toe-poking, I’m afraid.
Western is also better; I figured out where my hands and legs should be and the hands are a lot better. The legs are only better when I concentrate, but this is at least a step in the right direction.
All in all, I’m okay with how far we’ve come so far. We still have a lot of work to do, but there is a lot of year left!
“Great horses are not often easy horses. They have big egos and idiosyncrasies and quirks and foibles. Horses of a lifetime do exist, but only for riders so skillful, tactful and courageous that they can unlock and then reveal the brilliance of their equine partners.” ~ George Morris
Three years ago, I was a kid with a very big dream and a small grey horse trying to achieve that dream, but the Horse Mutterer repeatedly stated (and I eventually came to accept) the fact that my small grey horse was not going to make it as far up in the world of showjumping as I was wanting to go. Trainability, soundness and willingness might be all you need from a horse if you want to go Advanced in dressage (provided you were willing to work your butt off), but each horse has a physical limit to how high he can jump competitively. And Arwen’s limit is quite some way below A-Grade, where I dream of competing.
So while I trained and worked and loved my small grey horse, I lived my big dream by paging through the catalogues of the Callaho Warmblood Stud. This massive stud holds a large and glamorous auction of top-notch young sport horses every year, and I always had my eye on one of them, even when I knew that it would be years of nothing but saving up before I could ever afford one. The ones I picked were always grey or chestnut with plenty of chrome, standing not more than 15.3hh and possessing a jump about the size of a Kilimanjaro. And then they would be sold for hundreds of thousands to someone with both dreams and money, which is a lucky combination.
And then Magic happened.
15.2hh and the bright grey of burnished steel with four white stockings and a blaze, and also the ability to jump the moon if he so desired, he cantered into my life like a miracle. My dream horse fell right into my lap, dropped strategically by my Lord; here at last was the bright, dancing creature I’d been dreaming of, something with both the talent and the heart to go all the way to the top under the right rider. He had spunk, he had spirit, he had the conformation, he was one of the best-looking horses I had ever seen and he had the look of eagles, that X-factor that I love so much in a horse.
Eighteen months down the line, I have never been more convinced that Magic has the talent to go as far as he wants to. This horse moves like poetry in motion. Muscled up, he has even better conformation than he did when I bought him. He has a bascule that most warmbloods would be jealous of and he has plenty of courage.
Yesterday, I free jumped him for the first time and he was beyond fantastic. He needed little or no encouragement, did not offer to run out even once, and in fact getting him to stop jumping was harder than getting him to start. He also didn’t overjump a thing. Not a thing. Also, this:
Yep. Long neck stretched up, knees tucked up to the bit, shoulders lifted, hindlegs even, front legs couldn’t be tighter. Nobody can deny that he has ability.
He also scares me.
When I sit on him, I know that I have more spirit and talent under me than I have ever had before. I know I’m on a horse that could be a superstar in the right hands. I also know that I’m on a horse so sensitive that the slightest shift in your mood can make him nervous; a horse that has an untold depth of courage, but which courage depends entirely on the trust he places in his rider. Magic is a great horse, but he is not a horse willing to go it alone. Like the best horses, he wants to work with you in a team, he wants to follow your lead and do as you say; but you have to give him that lead to follow.
He’s also green, which is most of the problem. He’s just too inexperienced to bail me out sensibly; he does try, but usually by overjumping massively and frightening the both of us. Ultimately, he depends on me. He’s not a schoolmaster who’ll do the job for me, and he’s also not Arwen, who’s been my partner for so long that she helps me out when I need it just as I help her out when she needs it.
Magic is never malicious. Excitable, frightened, overenthusiastic, boisterous, hot, fiery, and sometimes downright daft; but not malicious. He wants to try, but when he’s afraid, he doesn’t think. And when he doesn’t think, he has a variety of different manoevres to try out, ranging from bucking to flailing to leaping to overjumping, and when I say overjumping I mean Magic shows us exactly how talented he is and pretends a cross-rail is the size of the jumps at the President’s Cup.
It shouldn’t scare me. I haven’t lost stirrups often and I have to face it, I can actually stay on through most of the shenanigans he’ll throw at me. But it still scares me; it probably won’t, in five years’ time, but for now it does.
I think I am more afraid of failing him than I am of falling off him. Magic has no concept of potential and doesn’t know that he is a freaking good horse, obviously. Ribbons and shows mean nothing to him; he’s not sitting there telling me to hurry it up so we can get to the top. He would be quite happy to hack around and pop over cross-rails. And you know what, there would be nothing wrong with that. There are lots of talented horses in the world. The world won’t miss this one if I chose to turn him into a dressage pony or whatever. In fact, if I didn’t ride for my career – if riding was a hobby, not a passion – I’d sell him off and stick to Arwen.
But I’m not a happy hacker. I can’t sit on a piece of quality horseflesh and not try to push the limits. I can’t stay in my comfort zone on an animal that could really be something, could really go somewhere. I can’t let him slip through my fingers. And so I shall gird up my loins, take up the reins and ride him as best as I can. This horse might be a challenge, but he is my horse and he’s not going anywhere. God willing, I will grow into the rider that can ride him, the strong leader he needs, the confident partner to guide him. And it will all be in God’s Name, for He alone makes any of it possible.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11
I suppose I’m not the only one quoting this Scripture at this time of year, but it’s worth quoting again. I love to set goals, if only to keep myself on track; and yet so much of my life is entirely in God’s hands. I can do my part; get up every day, feed the horses, ride my best, look for better ways to train and care for them, strive to become a better horsewoman, a better rider, but ultimately – a better student, a better daughter, a better girlfriend, and a better child of the only Living God. Yet my Lord can flip my whole world on its head with just a flick of His little finger. He did it last year, and it was so much better than it would have been if the year had gone the way I planned it.
So I place this year in His good Hands; my plans are like the flowers of the field, here today, gone tomorrow. I will try hard and work hard to meet my goals, but ultimately, only God can decide. Without further ado, my equestrian goals for 2014:
Skye’s the Limit. I have to admit that my fine brave charger has no real training goals and has never really had any. She’s my pleasure horse all round; I don’t make her do anything she really doesn’t feel like, and she doesn’t push me around. I would be ashamed of handling a training project like that, but Skye’s not a training project, she’s my friend. She’s the horse I get on when I’m so tired of fighting youngsters that I’m on the point of hating riding. Skye’s goals: Stay healthy; get fit; get a Western saddle. (Western saddle!! Squee! 😀 )
Thunderbird. Baby Thunder met his goals for last year with spectacular success. My goals for 2013 with him were: “… I’d like to have him walking, trotting and cantering in the arena without bucking me off or doing stupid stuff like that by the end of the year. I would also like to take him on his first outride or two, if possible.”
Thunder has never had a bucking fit in his life, in fact he might be the only horse I know who hasn’t done a proper handstand. He walks, jogs and lopes in the arena without any issues apart from the standard lack of balance of a young horse. On outrides, he is reasonably reliable; I wouldn’t like to put anyone else on him, but he mostly behaves with me. He doesn’t nap or run home at all, but he can be quite spooky and has bolted once or twice when I was caught unawares. His spooks thankfully never include bucking and he does have brakes, but I don’t like it very much and took my first fall off him the other day (to be fair, an old girth strap snapped, so it wasn’t really Thun’s fault). He canters calmly alone and in company on outrides in any direction, as well.
This year, I’d like to spend some time working on Thunder’s physical strength, since he is old enough to handle heavier work now. Lungeing in side reins to build his loin muscles in balance, particularly in canter, will help. I would like him to lope slowly and on the correct lead (using simple lead changes for now), understand the basics of neck-reining at all three gaits, learn to stand squarely, and turn on the haunches by the end of the year. Outrides should also still be done at least once a week; I would like him to go out consistently without bolting, alone and in company, by the end of the year.
Oh, and he can also wear the Western saddle. (Western saddle!! Squee!! 😀 No, I’m not going to stop doing that 😉 )
Arwen. Arwen also met her goals last year by competing at two events; a Western mounted games clinic (off topic, but loads of fun) and a jumping schooling show. She was wonderful at the jumping show, rounding off her day with a splendid double clear for a fourth place in the 60cm jumping. I would like to get her on the show circuit more regularly and to raise the bar slightly to be jumping around 80cm competitively by the end of the year. I would also like to enter her in a few dressage shows and see how she does, starting with the Preliminary tests, they don’t look that hard. (Ha! Famous last words).
At home, she can learn to jump 1.10m consistently (whether she will ever compete at that level or not, I’m not sure, but it’s worth a shot). Her canter, whilst good, needs some work; she must learn flying changes. I want her to improve her frame so that she is going in a good outline with her nose in by the end of the year. She must also learn to do all her lateral movements, which she does well in a walk, in trot (starting with shoulder-in and then travers and half-pass). She must also be able to extend and collect her trot. This will put her at Elementary Medium level. I’ll need a pair of spurs, but to be absolutely honest, I love spurs on advanced horses, they really give a lot more precision.
Magical Flight. My splendid thoroughbred ended the year by injuring himself, not once, not twice, not even thrice, but four times. Yes, four. First his poor little feets didn’t like the mud and went all sore, then he was mysteriously lame for a week, and just as that cleared up, he cut himself. In case he wasn’t getting enough attention, he then cut himself again, almost to the bone, poor baby. Thankfully, all his injuries but for the last cut are healed. This last cut is a nasty deep one on the inside of his front right cannon bone just below the knee. The vet and Mutterer checked it out and agreed that stitches won’t be necessary, but it’s still a gory business of changing bandages and sticking on a homemade but very effective remedy – a mixture of raw wild honey and proudflesh powder. In a few weeks, handsome boy should be back on track.
Magic’s schooling improved in massive leaps last year; by the end of the year he was happy at 90cm, carried himself in a decent frame at all three gaits, led on the correct lead (simple lead changes), and had jumped as high as 1.20m. His muscle tone had also improved, especially bringing out a bit more of a neck and cutting down on that unflattering hay belly. This year, I want him to build even more muscle along his topline and tighten up his tummy. I’d like him to be jumping 1.10m comfortably at home, and also to go to his first jumping schooling shows. His flatwork could do with work – he can still toss his head in the air and rush sometimes. So to wrap it up, this year Magic must go to his first shows, and learn to make calm transitions between gaits, leg-yield in walk, start flying changes, and build correct muscle tone.
Yours truly. As a rider, I grew a lot last year, but there’s still plenty room for improvement. In dressage: My leg position is fine right now, much better than the chair seat I used to have; but now I need to work on my arms, hands, shoulders and eyes. From spending ages trying to get Arwen and Magic to bring their noses in and lower their heads, I have developed a habit of nailing my hands to the horse’s shoulders, turning out my pinkies (and hence my elbows), slumping my shoulders and staring at the horse’s mane. Charlotte Dujardin does not do this. I wanna look like Charlotte Dujardin. She is a British dressage heroine and she wears a helmet. Viz., she is amazing.
I must get into the habit of riding with a proper upper body: eyes looking between the horse’s ears with chin up, hands a fist’s breadth above and in front of the pommel, thumbs turned up, elbows relaxed by my sides with upper arms hanging almost straight.
In jumping: My position always looks super weird to me on photos; I think I’m nailing my hands to the poor nag’s shoulders again. I must learn not to balance on my hands, but to push them forward and allow the horse to stretch. Oh, and I can stop doing that funky poke-one-toe-out thing. And I must ride right up to every jump instead of sitting there going “you better jump by yourself little pony, I’m much too scared to do anything”.
In Western: Ha! I don’t even know what a proper Western seat looks like. Fix this. Stop leaning forward and gripping with the knees in lope and halt from lope.
So there you have it, readers. Lord willing, this is what I hope to accomplish this year. And everything hangs on those two words: Lord willing. Because His will is pure and right and perfect, and I place everything in His hands.