2018 Goals: Competing Horses

At the end of 2016, I faced losing the ride on the best horse I’d ever sat on. At the end of 2017, I face, for the first time in my life, regular and serious training on a horse who can go all the way, as well as starting another talented baby. And nobody but God can take either of them from me because it’s my name on the papers. It truly should not be possible, not for an anxious overachiever in the middle of nowhere on a shoestring budget, but God pays no attention to the possible.

When I have finally upgraded my membership (gotta pay Dressage SA first *gulp*), I will share what’s going on in my heart about the upcoming year of dressage, as well as my adventures riding Coach J’s super ultra fancy horses yesterday (squee!). But for today we’re going to be a bit intellectual and look at the things we want to work on this year in terms of the four babies I show myself.

Thunder

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The man himself went from strength to strength in 2017, starting off by coming second in his first classes ever with mid-60s scores. He never scored less than 63% through a year at Prelim, then debuted at Novice with scores in the low 70s. We finished by scoring 66s again at CHG Champs despite riding in a thunderstorm with me as sick as a dog.

So his goals for 2017 were:

  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. We have schooled everything. It’s not all polished yet, but he can go into an arena and do any Novice test without totally embarrassing himself, I’m sure. We have not polished all of it, but the movements are installed.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. He’s sometimes a little tense, but there has been no bolting. Yay!

With Coach J’s help, Thunny’s schooling is pretty much on track to continue scoring steadily at Novice at the very least. Our greatest bugbear is tension in the show ring. If he’s relaxed he unfailingly scores in the 70s. He has never been disobedient in the show arena, but he locks up through his back and neck, going from being connected and through (for the level) to simply being rhythmic and on the bit. This is just something that we’ll have to keep competing to resolve, and I’m willing to be patient with him. If it takes him five years to be consistent at competitions, then so be it. The horse is far too good for me to lose sleep over losing points at Novice because he saw a butterfly.

With this in mind, my focus is shifting to schooling correctly rather than winning competitions next year. Of course I would like to compete him at least once a month to work on resolving that issue and, obviously, earn grading points, but we probably won’t be doing CHG Series. We will probably end up going to bigger shows, though, for both of us to get our heads around the atmosphere. (Also because Coach J might be there).

I’ll be real honest, I kind of have no idea what goals I should be setting. In yesterday’s visit Coach J was talking about doing EM this year. I have my doubts, but the oracle knows best. Mostly I’ll keep chugging along doing my thing and watching to see what God does, because He seems bent on blowing my pathetic little expectations out of the water lately.

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Improve all of our downward transitions.
  • Improve our stretchy trot.
  • Improve both lengthenings.
  • Improve the halts, specifically staying connected in halt and immobility.
  • Improve rein back.

Third and fourth quarter:

Introduce all of the Elementary movements:

  • serpentine four loops
  • halt immobility 5 seconds
  • canter circle with break of contact
  • half stretchy trot circle
  • canter-walk transition
  • transition from walk to counter canter on the long side
  • shoulder-in
  • medium trot
  • extended walk
  • serpentine 3 loops with counter canter
  • medium canter
  • leg-yield zigzag
  • turn on the haunches
  • 10m canter circle
  • half circle in counter canter
  • simple change on a short diagonal
  • simple change on the long side
  • E-X half circle, X simple change, X-B half circle
  • collected trot

General:

  • Keep working on quiet little hacks.

 

Arwen

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Arwie had another year of doing everything from showjumping to working riding to a whole lot of dressage. She took me to my first ever Elementary and tried her guts out in every single test despite mediocre riding and simply poor schooling, even scraping up a few placings as we went. Most of all, she was the dragon who relit my fire when I needed it, which is what she does best. Someday, if God wills it, I’ll ride the big grades and nobody will remember her – but I will, because she made it possible.

 

  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Sooooooo close. We would totally have done this if it wasn’t for the issue with her feet that ruined the last few months of the show season. It was God’s will, so I don’t mind admitting that this goal didn’t happen. Still, we have nine points and we need ten. She’s still registered with DSA so I might just drag the beast to one more show, get the last pesky point and then be done.
  • 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. So we didn’t do this either, although not for lack of trying. Still, it’s no biggie.

Arwen tried her heart out for me this year, but we’ve been stuck in a rut for months, making almost no progress on our Elementary work. It’s not surprise, considering that all of her basics are lacking. It got worse when Thunder started to play with some of the movements and they were all so easy on him, which caused frustration with myself every time I schooled Arwie, knowing I could have done better if I’d had her as a youngster now. So, apart from maybe popping out to get that last grading point, dressage is on the shelf for Arwen for now.

Instead, we’ll be making our first serious foray into the world of showing. We’ve done bits, but this year I’m signing up with Showing SA (which is ridiculously cheap compared to DSA) and we’ll be hitting some of the bigger ones. The expensive classes do mean that I won’t be competing her as often, but she’s not a baby, she doesn’t need it that much anymore. I really look forward to it.

2018 goals:

  • Take at least one showing lesson or clinic.
  • Get over my phobia of all showing judges. Show at least once with one of the horrible ones and learn to deal.
  • Improve her rein-back and lengthenings.
  • Get points to go out of Novice.

 

Faith

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Last year this time, it was just days after I’d met Faithy for the first time. On the second of January, she came home – completely unhandled and so fresh off the veld that she didn’t even know what concentrates were and politely declined to eat them.

The little unicorn spent most of the year chilling in a field. The basic ground work was effortless, although loading went a lot better once I discovered that treats can bribe Faith into doing practically anything. I brought her in for backing in November, but it’s been slow progress, mostly because I hit a nasty burnout and non-competing horses went onto the back burner.

  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. Boo. There were no shows we could really do this year, as well as the minor disadvantage that she spent most of it looking like something like an adorable grey camel. Still, she has all the in-hand skills required, so that’s something.
  • In spring, lunge. I planned to start lunging in September/October and back shortly after her third birthday, but she was still such a baby then. I had to wait for the front end to catch up first, and I’m glad I did. She’s a sweetie, but very much immature for her age.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.
    She has worn a saddle, but that’s about it. Smart and loyal she is, but mature, not so much. I’m taking it slow. She could do with some growth and muscle tone before being asked to really do anything just yet.

Faithy is still only a very babyish three-year-old, so 2018 will still be very much relaxed. Our main goal is to be ready for YDHS in 2019 since I absolutely loved it on Nell last year, and since four-year-olds only do Prelim, I’m in no hurry. The main thing this year will be to establish rock-solid basics, and I’m taking the most basic of the basics: obedience, rhythm and relaxation.

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

Complete the backing:

  • long-line
  • introduce pole work
  • introduce the rider
  • introduce walk
  • introduce trot
  • introduce canter
  • move to the dressage arena.

Start preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the figures
  • establish good transitions between gaits
  • establish balanced and united canter
  • introduce hacks, alone and in company
  • possibly ride a walk/trot test at our April show
  • show in-hand.

Second and third quarter:

Complete preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the idea of a long and low, stretchy frame
  • grow the frame upwards to connection
  • improve consistency in the connection in all three gaits and transitions
  • introduce free walk and stretchy trot figures.

Introduce competing (August at the latest):

  • box out to a clinic, lesson or training show
  • compete at least twice at Prelim.

 

Jamaica

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I didn’t even show Jamaica until February 2017, where we popped around something ridiculous like 50cm. We quickly made our way to 80cm, then stayed there forever as I tried to scrape my nerve together. Our move up to 90cm was easy, and I feel nicely set up for learning to jump Module 5 in mid to end 2018.

  • Hack reliably in company
  • School Novice dressage. 
  • Jump 90cm graded. 

In another turn of events, it has transpired that he may need to be sold in 2018. Thank God (no, really, thank Him), his owners are happy for me to finish Mod 5. It doesn’t really change my plans, since I will not be riding him after Mod 5 anyway. I have zero aspirations to showjump right now. I would really have loved to event the dude, and might still if there’s spare time (ha!), but my focus will have to be on the yard and dressage. Still love him. ❤

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

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

Second and third quarter:

  • In May/June, jump a 1.00m showjumping round. (I would love to do the 1.00m equitation, but it requires swapping horses, and that just ain’t happening, thankyouverymuch. Ask me in a decade).
  • Jump at least one more clear 1.00m round at an appropriate pace. It doesn’t have to be fast, just flowing.
  • Jump Module 5 in September.
  • If we do fail it, jump it again in December.

 

Personal Riding

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I didn’t actually set personal goals in 2017, but I did improve my position a LOT. I had a terrible chair seat for years and I feel like this year I finally fixed it. It’s still not perfect, especially not in my current dressage saddle, but yesterday when I sat down in Coach J’s proper dressage saddle my alignment was suddenly perfect without any effort on my part. My hands are also a lot better, as is my core.

I do still have a very long way to go. Riding Coach J’s big horses really impressed on me the amount of strength and suppleness required to keep it up, and I know I’m still severely crooked.

In terms of jumping, my high Module 4 mark shows that my position is pretty adequate. Still, my nerves tend to show when I grab mane and my lower leg tends to swing back on landing, so there is lots to do.

2018 goals:

Improve my own body:

  • Have regular chiro. If my medical aid covers it, I don’t have an excuse not to go, and it doesn’t help that I care about Thunny’s back when my own back is stiff and crooked on top of him. I’m almost permanently body sore, and that’s a disservice to the horses who get to carry that sack of potatoes around.
  • Take conditioning classes twice a week throughout the year. No excuses. My sister is a dance teacher, and nothing in the world compliments dressage like ballet does: it will be excellent for my core strength, body control, and awareness of how I use my muscles. Ballet is kinda savage so it’ll build my cardio for jumping at the same time. Even if my sister has to miss some classes, I have to find somewhere that I can cross-train. Volunteers get discounted membership at the local gym, so I really do not have excuses. I need to be just as strong and supple as Thunny.
  • I’m pretty good about eating and sleeping well. (This week does not count. One of the many perks of being a friendly teacher is large amounts of sweets at Christmastime – children’s love language). Keep it up, especially when I’m on volunteer duty.

Improve my dressage position:

  • Find out what’s going on with my shoulders – probably a chiro issue, but my left shoulder always starts stinging about midway through a ride. I also hang on my left rein a LOT and my left shoulder blade can’t go flat like Ms Ballet Teacher Sister wants it to. Literally, it can’t, not even with her manipulating it. (My chiro will be horrified).
  • Improve on my bad habit of bracing the lower back as soon as I feel tension. That tension is not limited to nervousness – even if I’m just concentrating, the moment I try harder than usual, my lower back arches and braces, and I lose my connection to Thunny’s back.
  • Improve on my bad habit of tipping forward at the hip, especially in canter. It’s related to the back and shoulders issues, but it needs focused attention to fix.
  • Improve on my super bad habit of looking down.

Improve my jumping position:

  • Improve my tendency for my heels to come up on landing. Lots of light seat for me!
  • Improve my release.
  • Improve my tendency to try and jump ahead on takeoff.

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I’ve never been so genuinely and childishly excited for a show season. God has blown me away this year, and I can’t wait to see what He does next. Yet, as always, there is so much possibility for things to not go according to plan. Horses go lame. Money runs out. These things happen. But my Abba, He loves me, regardless of what happens. So I lay down my anxiety, I look forward with joy, and I look up with peace, knowing that whatever lies ahead is part of His plan.

And I do not dare to dream, for my dreams are foolish. But as He has proven time and time again, He dreams for me.

Glory to the King.

 

Equivest Show and More

Y’all.

Tunder5
halt, salute, stare at judge

My God? He’s amazing.

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Every time I enter a dressage show I feel vaguely guilty about spending time and money on something that isn’t expressly helping other people. I know, intellectually, that God wouldn’t have sent me Faith, or made my scruffy homebred really quite talented, if He wanted me to stop. I know I gave it to Him. But knowing something in your head and having faith in it in your soul isn’t always the same thing.

But these past few days have been one step deeper into faith.

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The dream team set off: Superdad, Wonderbird and the Dragon, at a leisurely hour on Sunday morning (things I love about dressage). We were there in good time and I plopped Arwen’s tack on and off we went. I was expecting a dragon, but she was really, really good. Relaxed and quiet from the word go, but forward and enthusiastic. Our warmup was very relaxed, but as mediocre as usual. I was focusing hard on trying to develop an actual medium trot instead of a piggy little run, and she was focusing hard on bucking through the counter canter at one point, but then we were off and I was cautiously optimistic.

Our first halt felt OK, it was steady, square and on the bit, but it was 5.5 for quarters to left. The serpentine XA felt good as well for 6.5, which is about as good as we get. I’ve been working hard on the leg-yield and FX felt good – and was good, for 6.0 – but it all came to bits XM and I tried to sort it out but couldn’t really so that was a 5.0: “too much sideways”. At that point I started to realise that Arwen, while not exhausted, was slightly tired. After so many years of having her so, so fit, I’ve forgotten how flat she can be when she’s not jumping out of her skin. Arwen has to be hot to be her best, and she didn’t have the oomph.

Still, she didn’t feel at all reluctant, just a little tired, so I felt it was OK to finish the test and we soldiered on. We picked up a few more 6.0s for the halt and rein back (“steps not quite clear”) and the two turns on the haunches (“little too hurried”) – both better than before. The extended walk was 6.0 too, “lacking purpose”. She has a fabulous walk, so I blame that on being a little flat, too. And then at A she struck off on the wrong leg for a well-deserved 4.0. Really, Arwen? A wrong lead, in an Elementary test? But once again, she never, ever does that at home. Her brain was tired.

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like I say. Superdad.

We got it together though for our best marks of the test; 7.0 for both the 10m canter circle and – get this – the simple change! I suppose we can cross “survive the simple changes” off our goals list. The counter canter was back to 6.0 for lacking engagement, and then the medium was a 4.5. I thought it was OK, but this judge evidently laid great emphasis on correct extensions/mediums, so that’s fair.  Our circle at R was down to a 5.0 (“more jump”) and then the next change she picked up the wrong leg again, for 4.0. The counter canter was another 5.0 with “more jump”, and then the medium trot, obviosuly, was a 4.0. I didn’t let her hurry this time, but we didn’t really do much medium-ing, so yeah. The halt was fine except she fussed and made herself extra-square at the last moment, earning a 6.0, “not quite steady”.

The final mark was 54.1%. I do wish we’d gotten 55% and that final grading point, but it was fair, and I loved the judge’s comments. He asked for more jump, more engagement, noting that she was a little flat and lost unnecessary marks (two incorrect strike-offs – ya think?). But he also said “Rider tried hard on an obedient horse”, which I felt was true and complimentary.

Ultimately I think she could have done better and will once she is fitter. I think she did go better in the double, especially in her changes and transitions and rein back (we almost got our goal of more than 6.0 for the rein back). I also think she will never be competitive at Elementary because I was twelve years old and entirely clueless when I started riding her, with practically no guidance. She’s done wonders considering the hand she’s been dealt, and I remember thinking as we walked out of the arena that this horse would run through fire for me. I’ve given her second-rate training and she has given me her heart, and that’s what makes it worth it despite the occasional disaster.

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sassy? Nope. A fly.

Moving onto Thunder, we decided for my dad to stand by the warmup and the show arena with Arwen this time. I wanted to give Thun the best possible chance at a good test considering it was a level up and I wanted to build his confidence with the new movements, and I knew Arwen would be impossible alone anyway, so it was just easier.

Warming up, I knew immediately he was going well. He was relaxed and forward, going down into my hand instead of having to be held at all, and there was a suppleness in his back that makes me excited. As we went on, I noticed that a rider who had also ridden in the Elementary had just come charging into the warmup, looking a bit flustered. She was number 113 and we were number 114, but had already been warming up for a little while. I had done my basic warmup – large, lengthenings, a stretchy circle, some transitions and circles and lengthenings in canter – and was just about to start riding my test movements to finish the warmup when I heard the announcer calling number 113, who hadn’t even cantered yet.

“Can’t you go?” she asked me.

It was a knee-jerk reaction. “No, sorry. I’m not quite ready.”

I headed off, leaving flustered lady to her warmup, but something didn’t feel good in my soul. I paused, and I reluctantly listened to that still small voice. I really wanted a good mark. I really believed Thunder would go better if I could just have another ten minutes. But I knew what Jesus would do, and we dance for Him.

“It’s OK!” I yelled, inelegantly booting poor old Thun across the warmup. “We’re going!”

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I don’t write this to boast, because what’s one tiny kindness compared to the ocean of my sin, or to the extravagance of the Love that went to the cross for it? I write it because I want to tell you all how big my God is. I felt His pleasure, and we went in and I rode the best test of my entire life. And my horse was right there with me, doing his very best.

The first centreline and halt was 7.5; he was a little unbalanced, but stepped forward to a square halt. Then our turns at C and B and walk/trot transition at X was an 8.5. Yup. Comment “obedient”. So he is; I wish I was as obedient to the call of my Master as that good-hearted horse is to the touch of my hand. The serpentine was a 7, comment “needs to show more change of bend in body; accurate”. We had a 6 for the stretchy trot, a better mark than before; he maintained his rhythm and did actually offer a tiny stretch for the first time ever in the show ring, so I was happy. His stretchy trot is getting good at home – it’s just a matter of time before he relaxes in the ring.

We were back to a 7.5 for the free walk and a 7 for the first transition and canter circle. Our lengthening wasn’t terribly good, getting a 6 with comment “could be more balanced”. He was on his forehand and stayed there for the transition at A. I panicked about the lengthening and kicked him, so he gave half a canter step and I took a few strides to sort myself out and get a bit of lengthening, so that was a 6: “could show more balance at A and more ground cover”.

The canter transition at C and circle at B was a 7, asking for more uphill and jump. And our last halt was an 8. The final mark was 72.5%. You could say I was quite happy with that.

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so so so much better through the neck

The second test started with a 7 for the centreline (“straight; halt could be more balanced”) and for the rein change with half circle (“could show more bend through body”). I fluffed the second rein change with half circle for a 6 (“not quite to X, could show more bend through body”). By this point my brain was also getting kinda tired – I had vowed to focus this time without being nervous, and I did, but it was starting to take a little strain. Our lengthening once again started with a tranter step and got a 6.0, comment “needs to show more push from behind to cover more ground”. And then we had our free walk. And then we got our first 9.0.

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Not even kidding. It was fantastic.

The canter transition at M that I had been dreading was an 8.0, “obedient”, and the 15m circle was a 7.5, “could be more uphill”. I got the geometry right this time, though. The KXM rein change with a trot at X and canter at M was a 7.0, again asking for more uphill, but it was better than our downwards from canter to trot have been. The next 15m circle was another 7.5, the canter lengthening another 6.0. By the half circle onto the centreline, I was cooked. I sort of pulled him around any old how and we fell in a heap for 6.5.

Still, it was 71.8%, with super collectives: 7.0 for paces, 7.5 for impulsion (on Mr. Lazybones nonetheless), 7.0 for submission, 8.0 for rider position and aids. I have no idea where he placed because two tired Hydes really wanted to go home, so I just asked for my tests and they were nice enough to give me a couple of placed ribbons (cheers, Equivest!). “What a super horse,” the judge wrote. “Well ridden.” I was so chuffed.

But the story doesn’t end there. Oh no! There were a few more miracles in store for us. As we were waiting for my test and lunch, the owner of a top Friesian stud in our area beckoned me over.

“Who teaches you?” he enquired.

“I jump with Coach K,” I said, “but I don’t really get dressage lessons.”

“Oh,” he said. “Well, I can see that.”

I was just about to feel hurt when he offered for me to come over and join his riders in a lesson with their Very Big Name Trainer. Around this time Very Big Name Trainer popped up (I almost wet myself) and announced that this was a good idea and I could even get a very good price “if you do your homework”. I vowed to do my homework, and the next thing I know, this morning Thunder and I found ourselves in the middle of the very fancy arena at very fancy Friesian place with Very Big Name Trainer – OK, fine, I’ll call him Coach J – yelling at us.

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I originally wanted to cry because I thought we’d never get good lessons ever again except once a year with Coach S when she fits his saddle, and here all of a sudden we were getting lessons from Coach J and cheaply and I was a little overwhelmed by what God is doing for us. But within the first two minutes I was way too busy to feel anything very much.

Despite seeing mirrors for the first time in his life, Thunny was perfect. We dragged Jamaica along to babysit but Jamaica chilled in the fancy stable and Thunder didn’t miss him at all – he didn’t even whinny once. And Coach J totally failed to hate my fabulous purple bandages. He did, however, roundly kick our behinds.

We didn’t actually do anything that hard, except that we had to do everything perfectly so it was all ridiculously hard. Once Thunny had walked around to have a look at everything and been asked to go long and low and a bit deep to stretch his back, we did a tiny little serpentine down the long side. And then we did a square with turns on the forehand that almost killed us, and then we trotted a 15m circle. That was it. My brain is overflowing with new stuff, and also I am very uncoordinated.

Basically:

  • Inside leg to outside rein.
  • When Thunder wants to be looky, put him in shoulder-fore, flexing him away from the scary thing. This worked well for him because he isn’t really that scared, and being given a job and asked to soften helps him relax.
  • Inside leg to outside rein.
  • Tiny, tiny turns to help him bend through the body more (seeing a recurring theme yet?). They don’t have to be perfectly balanced, but 5m or smaller circles/serpentines in walk to help him release his back.
  • Inside leg to outside rein.
  • On small turns, inside hand to my belly button, not to my knee, to lift his shoulder.
  • Inside leg to outside rein.
  • Absolutely no seesawing on the bit; only solid contact, or small sponges within the contact. I say this to my kids about four thousand times every afternoon. I can’t believe I actually still do it myself. Urgh.
  • INSIDE LEG TO OUTSIDE REIN.
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coach J: srsly girl let go of your inside rein already

At this point Coach J had had enough of yelling at me about my inside rein and started the turn on the forehand exercise. We walked a little square, with a quarter turn on the forehand at each end. The catch? No inside rein. NONE. He wanted it hanging, to show me that I don’t need to pull it the whole time. It was at this point that my brain started to fry. It’s so automatic to hang on that inside rein – poor Coach J shouted about it like a million times. Eventually we were doing shoulder-in to turn on the forehand to shoulder-in to turn on the forehand with the inside rein dangling completely loose. Well, most of the time. Except when I was panicking and Coach J had to start all over again.

We moved on then to trotting a 15m circle, spiralling it in and out now and then, with no inside rein – but with bend and connection. It was so hard, but it so worked. Thunder was super willing – as soon as he understood, he obeyed. My inside hand, less so. It’s amazing how one’s own body parts can be less obedient than the half-ton prey animal that is my dance partner.

With that, we were done, and given loads of homework, and sent off ridiculously excited. Thunder has done so well all by himself, with only one lesson ever. Imagine what he can do with the help we have now. We might even do the bigger levels someday; Coach J seemed to think we could do more than EM. I would love so much to even do EM!

Thanks to our beloved King, Whose mighty plan prevails. I am so excited to see where my God is going with this. No detail is too small for Him. I have long since stopped dreaming: I have found that He dreams much, much bigger than I ever could.

Thank You, Abba. Glory to the King.

Thunder2
this salute is only for One ❤

 

Gauteng Finals High Schools

This show seemed to be determined to end the SANESA season on a typically chaotic SANESA bang – six classes all in one morning all over vast KEP and I was determined not to miss a second of anything. I almost succeeded, and I’m incredibly glad that I did – because God did something mighty that day!

All the ponies and riders absolutely showed up and brought their A-game that day. Pennie was jumping out of her skin – standing off and overjumping by miles. I have never seen her feeling soooo good in her body and she was showing off. They blasted through their A2 speed with G cheering Pennie on at the top of her lungs, me cheering G on at the top of my lungs, and G’s mom and I almost having a collective heart attack. They won it and with a fat margin, too.  No mean feat at Gauteng Finals.

They followed it up by bounding through the huge and technical competition round for 4th place. We’re going to Nationals!

Their equitation was not their best – G didn’t get the chance to plan her test because they were busy winning stuff and I was busy cleaning Zorro so I didn’t even see it, but they still placed 15th. By working hunter they were both absolutely flattened. They tried hard, but Pennie didn’t really have the steam to show a good jump and kept disuniting, so they ended 13th.

I am chuffed. Just a little. This pony shouldn’t even be sound according to what I was seeing eight weeks ago; it was remedially stopping and getting elimination after elimination last year and now look at her. No, look at God – and the things He does! Nothing is impossible. ❤

G also thought (as did we all) that she’d sacrificed her chance to jump at Finals at all when she had to make the choice to leave the last qualifier because Pennie wasn’t quite right. It was a decision I left up to her and she made a mature one, so for this more than anything, I’m proud.

Zorro cleaned up great and headed off to working hunter positively sparkling. I was chewing my nails when I saw the track – both technical and spooky, with some obstacles he’s only seen once or twice at xc schooling. But he and Z-kid plunged forth at the most wonderful hunter pace and proceeded to cruise around majestically, taking every fence in his stride. They had a careless pole, but even so their manners and pace marks were high enough to earn tied 9th and a place on the Gauteng team.

Their jumping track was VERY soft and unimpressive and Zorro was just kind of bored with it and took a naughty pole. Their time was solid and they would have placed but for that, so I am building gymnastic lines as we speak to get the brat to pick his lazy feets up.

shiny feets though

This horse was a camel when he arrived and I really didn’t think much of him but God is using him mightily.

It’s not the placings that awed me at this show, although those did feel good. My primary school riders tried just as hard and so did their ponies. It’s that we have really, really struggled with these two horses in the past and they were just in such a happy space this weekend – absolutely knocked it out of the park, and loved it.

God is moving. 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

Arwen1a

  • 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

Midas1

  • 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

Jamaica11

  • 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

Lancelot1

  • 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.

Dance

Emma and SprinklerBandit recently wrote about the why’s of riding – how the horse you have is linked to the very reason you ride in the first place. Never one to miss out on the chance to be sappy, I’m jumping right on the bandwagon.

just because I love this photo

It’s a topic I’ve been giving some thought to lately. The answers to why I ride for a living, and why I have the horses in the school that I have, are simple. God sent me, and God sent them.

Magic and old Skye are also pretty simple. They’re semi-retired pets. They’re here because they’re my friends and they don’t owe me a thing.

Then we get to the topic of dressage.

After realising that upper-level showjumping and eventing were just not going to happen for me – at least not in the next decade or so – I turned to my remaining options for a discipline I could be truly competitive in: dressage and showing. Showing judges freak me out, so that left dressage. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I adore dressage, in no small part thanks to the horse that was born for it – Nell. She gave me a taste of success and I liked it.

Then God turned the whole thing on its head.

Nell was sold. My best horse left; the carpet was pulled out from under the feet of my career. I mourned; not only the loss of a friend in Nellie, but the loss of a dream. It seemed to me that God was saying, “Enough of this selfishness. The time, money and energy you dedicate to this sport is self-serving; I want you to give it up and focus on the yard.”

And in a way, I guess He was. It shattered me to accept it, but I realised that much as I gave glory to Him in the high moments, schooling every day was all about progress and points and ambition. I laid down the dream.

Then He sent me Rainbow, and I was euphoric because I thought He was saying it wasn’t selfish after all.

And then Rainybow died. The cruelty of it was like a punch in the guts. It was all I could do not to lose my temper with God for this apparent injustice. I loved that horse and now she was gone and the dream with her, like Nell, but worse.

God said, “O, ye of little faith. I’ve got a plan with this, daughter.”

That’s why, when she basically fell out of the sky, I named her Faith. Not because I really had any, but to remind me to believe even when everything looks dark.

As you all know by now, since then everything just blossomed. Suddenly Arwen decided she was good at dressage too and went Elementary, and then Thunder was like “hi mom I’m really talented” and started scoring ridiculously well at Prelim, and now I have a dressage arena and even the sale ponies were scoring better than I ever have anywhere.

So the dream lives. But it’s a different beast to what it was with Nell. I have always been so desperate to prove to the students, to the world, to God that I was good enough  for them. I failed at jumping, I failed at eventing – dressage was my great hope.

But this whole year has basically been about one thing: the only opinion that matters is God’s, and nothing I ever do will make me good enough for His love, and it actually really doesn’t matter at all because He died for me before I even knew Him to say thank you to. It is the purest freedom from guilt to glimpse the depth of amazing grace, yet the strongest motivation to live purely, all at once.

So what is dressage to me now? A way to prove myself? I don’t have to prove myself because it just isn’t about me. My students are here and I give them my whole heart; as long as I keep doing that they don’t seem to care how much satin is on my wall.

Is it something for me to finally be brilliant at? Well, what does brilliance matter? Sport is temporary. I won’t be taking any ribbons or tests into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s become something more to me now. I don’t really have a name for it, but the closest word I know is this:

Worship.

I don’t deserve to be saved from eternal agony, yet I am. I don’t deserve to be loved by the God Who is Love, yet I am. I don’t deserve to become a dazzling, new, adopted member of God’s family, yet I am. I don’t deserve Arwen or Thunder or Faith or the 60x20m patch of sand or the opportunity to compete or anything – yet I have it. All that testifies to just one thing and that thing is grace.

So while I believe brilliance will be a by-product, and while I still hope one day I’ll get to ride Grand Prix, that’s all temporary. All just small things blowing by on the wind.

When I school now, I still tend to centre on selfish ambition. But this is my proclamation of a new mission statement for every time I throw a leg over one of the dressage horses.

The horses, the shows, the dances are a gift I don’t deserve, a reminder of the greater Gift. In riding every stride, I ride with empathy because I love the horses. I ride with diligence because I honour and appreciate the gift I have been given. But above all, I ride with love and passion, looking not at a number on a scoresheet but at the face of my God. I care less about how good the mark will be for a movement and more about the compassion behind the aid that asked for it. I care less about what the bystanders think and more about giving every breath I have to the God Who gives me life.

Dressage can be a sport, a dream, a torture session for horse and rider, a career.

To me, I choose dressage to be, in the style of Psalm 149:3, a dance.

Glory to the King.

SANESA Q4

Last qualifier of the year, and we found ourselves having a weekend full of exceptional performances from our faithful steeds.

he’s so good even his halo is straight and narrow

St. Vastrap was his reliable self, despite putting in a cheeky stop during a practice last week – most unlike him. He and his kid blasted around the speed for a third place, then had an unlucky pole in the competition for seventh. They’re going to finals!
This little team has everything they need to go to Nationals, but VT’s kid will need to up her game in terms of focus in the arena itself and riding the plan we work out. All part of growing as a very hard-working and promising little athlete, riding a pony in a million.

Zorro and Z-kid had a wonderful qualifier, thanks to huge personal growth and super riding from Z-kid, which has resulted in Zorro going better than he ever has. They had a silly pole in the competition, but came back strong for fourth in the speed, then jumped a lovely clear for second in the working hunter. They’ll also be headed for finals in working hunter if I have it right.

Liana and her kid had by far their best show yet, even if that didn’t earn them any ribbons. Ana was the quietest she’s been and kiddo rode very well. Pony overjumped an oxer in their first jumping class, sending kiddo onto her neck, but they recovered well, just getting penalties for circling. A mature decision from the rider, as it was the only way to negotiate the next fence safely. They were clear in the ideal time, but – get this – too slow for a place. Up till recently, Ana didn’t know slow was a thing.

Continuing on the quiet and well-behaved theme for the day, Liana was wonderful in the prix caprilli and kiddo rode so accurately, getting 67.72% and third place.

old photo because I have no media and also because he’s so handsome

K and Thunny were busy winning their equitation test when the GPS malfunctioned and they jumped the same fence twice in fine style. A bummer for K, but she handled it with enormous grace. They upped their dressage score, too, getting 59.16 and 62.5 despite all the monsters beside the arena. I think we finally have the leads mastered.

Lullaby and the tiny tot rode in the midst of great chaos – I was riding dressage as their course opened for walking. Usually I’d have K walk with her, but tiny tot speaks no English and K speaks no Afrikaans, so yeah. I watched the kid before us and then dragged Lulu around in more or less the right direction, and tiny tot wasn’t worried (her poor parents were less blasè about it), so it added up to a positive experience but she was out of the ribbons. I think we could have done better, but I also think I can’t teleport. Such is SANESA. I would happily have skipped Midas’s test but I can’t let Lancey’s young owner down so there you have it.

Speaking of Midas pony, he wasn’t really on his game this weekend, but to be fair to him the errors we had in showjumping were mostly my fault. I feel sorry for him dragging my fatness over fences so I don’t really jump him myself at home, and I kept panicking and chasing him at distances he didn’t have to try and make. We had two poles in the speed and one in the ideal time, but he was dead honest. So we didn’t get our showjumping goals of going clear but I’m not worried. Pony is a bit bored at the height too, which isn’t always a bad thing.

Dressage was in the most appalling location – the arena appears to have been cut right out of a wood of young poplars, and the wind was howling, causing the whole thing to rustle and wave about most alarmingly. Midas never actually jumped but he was drifting, tense, and hollow in that corner. Having five minutes to warm up didn’t help either. Still, we had 65 and 67.5, so that’s not horrible. Maybe at finals I can finally warm the poor chap up for a change.

Not warming up at all worked brilliantly for Lancey, however. K saddled him up, led him to the show arena, and held him while I rode the test on Midas; Lancey’s warmup consisted of walking around to the judge. He greatly exceeded my expectations. I thought he’d be dreadful, what with the howling bush monsters and all, but he actually just had a little look as we walked around and then paid them no attention at all. He was so focused, probably because I hadn’t had time to cook his brain beforehand. He tied first with Midas in the second test with 65% and had 67.3% in the first one.

His jumping was improved albeit still rather erratic. He had a pole and a stop at the combination in the first class, once again, but this time I jumped the first element again and thus we finished with the eight penalties. The second class had the most dreadful fillers throughout and I quickly scratched my goal of getting no stops – everything was stopping. I’d be happy just to get him round. Sure enough he had one stop at number four, but to my amazement it was because of a wiggly approach and really had little to do with the fillers. He didn’t look at a single thing for the rest of the track. It was a huge lightbulb moment for him. “Oooh, all I have to do is jump the jumps!” Ya think, Lancey?

I was VERY impressed with the little chap. He tries so hard.

another old photo, but at least now he has a loin

Last but not least, Jamaica in the 80cm. After the debacle we had last time, I wasn’t sure whether or not to expect an utter disaster. He felt forward in the warm up but that could have been my imagination. We did about four thousand canter-walk transitions after the jumps, then went in to the course with all the scary fillers, white-knuckled and white-faced. I nearly died when he had a big look at number one and all I could get my frozen limbs to do was feebly wave my stick, but he jumped. Then after that it was just perfect – from Jamaica, anyway.

I hung on his face and made him canter as if we were doing flatwork, adding strides with wild abandon, burying him to fence after fence and every single time he patiently tucked up his little black knees and popped over without any fuss. I don’t know how, but he didn’t even take a pole. No bucking, no running away, he just sweetly hauled my sorry behind around like the quiet old packer he actually really isn’t – a six-year-old remedial problem horse with a sketchy background.

Who’d have thought it? Eighteen months ago he was somersaulting over a fence and breaking his shoulder. Six months ago he was handstanding his child off and breaking her shoulder. One month ago he was bucking and bolting. Today, he is helping, fence by willing fence, to lay the bricks that repair my potholed, ripped and ruined path to riding confidence. Who’d have thought it? I sure didn’t!

Above all we ask or imagine, my God is faithful, my God is powerful, and my God – oh, you have no idea how my God is in charge!

Glory to the KING!

Introducing Blizzard, Eagle and Trooper

Long day = short post, but at least it’s an exciting one.

First, a brief (overdue!!) Nugget update. In short, Snuggles (yes, that is my nickname for literally the only horse on this place you can’t snuggle) is doing really much better. We had a lot of breakthroughs this month, resulting in a still-nervous, still-grumpy pony that I can now attach a lead to and groom. It feels soooo good to finally get a currycomb on that golden coat. And to know that, should she be sick or hurt, I can help her at last.

However. The simple fact remains that Nugget is not going to be a sale pony, not from where we’re standing now, anyway. Can I help her to be rideable eventually? Yes. Could a child ride her someday? I think so. But would she be 100% safe and happy in a competitive home? I don’t believe so. Her scars just run so deep, right now I don’t think it would be fair to expect it of her.

All is not lost, however. I’m going to keep working with her and if God wills it, she’ll become a broodmare. She accepts new things readily and I believe genetically the temperament is there. She’s pretty and mostly correct and moves very well. If we can get her completely comfortable about people on the ground, it should be a win-win. God willing.

Anyway, that did leave us without a sale pony to follow up on Midas once he goes, so God (with typical impeccable timing) found us a new one. Everybody, meet Morning Star Trooper.

He is about three years old, measures 144cm (just over 14hh) and is of dubious breeding. He is also an almost supernatural level of adorable. I named him for his temperament, which can be entirely summarised in one sentence: he’s just such a trooper.

Troopy has been through a lot in his little life; his previous owners pulled him out of a horrific situation, half dead with septicaemia in all four his legs and sheath. They didn’t think he’d make it, and none of the other horses from the same place did, but he carried on. He has that endless patience of a horse that’s just happy to be alive and safe, and God’s got a plan with him.

The other two new horses aren’t really new. They originally came to me in April from a little yard that has since closed; half wild, covered in bots and rain scald, and with their faces raw from their ill-fitting headcollars. We patched them up and they stayed here until moving to a bigger yard in September. I thought I’d never see them again, but apparently God had other ideas.

The horses have since been sold on and their new owners decided to send them to me for backing before going to their own farm to be ridden by their exceedingly likeable teenage daughter. I think there’s a happy ending in store for the two guys.

They are lifelong buddies from the same stud; Blizzard is a blanket Appaloosa who greyed out and is now a white Appaloosa with black spots on his bum, and Eagle is half Arab, half Appaloosa and apparently 100% Black Beauty.

All three the boys are varying degrees of halter trained, so I’ve got some backing to do. No complaining here. Glory to the King.