EDS Q4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to the King.

Spa Day

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

In the meantime, though, my horse was neglected.

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

so neglected. much sadness

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

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

pictured: dad bod belly

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

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

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

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

not amused

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

carrots?

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

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

Glory to the King.

Why

The admin of an equestrian Facebook group asked a question the other day that was terrifying in its simplicity: Why do you have a horse?

It seems like such an easy question until you have to answer it.

The answers to her post grew longer and longer as horse people from every walk of life waxed lyrical with their reasons for adding a large and expensive flight animal to their lives and hearts. It seems at first glance that there are hundreds of reasons why people have horses: Because they are therapy; because we’ve always wanted one; because they’re our friends; because they give us freedom; because they help us reach our dreams; because they give us a few moments’ escape from the brutal world of human interaction. Because we love them. Because we find them beautiful.

But in reality, there aren’t hundreds of reasons why we have horses. There is only one.

We have horses because God lent them to us.

Only He knows why. If I had created an animal so perfect – a beast with the speed of the wind, the grace of an unfurling storm and the heart of a warrior – I wouldn’t have given it to the loud, messy, selfish, violent human race. We are the ones that fell, after all. He gave us the horse, a creature whose very movement heals us, whose emotional connection to us goes beyond what we can really explain, and we have been abusing that privilege ever since. They’ve been pulling our loads and fighting our battles for centuries, and we built our civilization upon their willing backs.

We don’t deserve them. But then again, it’s never been about what we deserve. Their presence in our lives is just a drop in the ocean of His grace.

The great mercy is that God didn’t give them to us to keep. It’s only ever a loan: sooner or later, and we never know when, they’ll all be called Home to stand in the stables of the King.

He gave us dominion over them. Let us never, ever forget how sacred our duty is towards these magnificent animals. Let us never lose our appreciation for what our horses do for us. Having horses is not about us and it has never been about us.

Like everything else, it’s all about grace.

Glory to the King.

In Print

In May, I pitched an idea for an article series to the Horse Quarterly – the magazine I’d grown up reading. I was totally elated when the mag picked up my articles, and the first one was published in the July 2018 issue.


The Non-Horsey Parent’s Guide is a five-part series that will lead the first-time secondhand horse enthusiast through the bewildering world of your child’s latest obsession. Spoiler alert: it’s not just a stage.

Read all about it in the latest HQ, or, even better, subscribe to get all five articles in this value-packed magazine that’s been adored by horse lovers for decades.

Glory to the King!

Love Lit the Way

Standing at the end of the second year of Morning Star Stables, I look back with inexpressible awe, joy, and wonder at what my God has done. I have never been so tired or so aware of my limitations. I’ve never worked so hard and yet been so aware that it’s not going to be good enough. But this whole year was about God seeing my lack of good enough and saying, “That’s where I work, daughter; just you trust Me and watch this.” And so we saw Him working and He did some amazing, amazing things and poured forth His grace, mercy, love and power right before our eyes.

So before I start on the goal recaps and on looking forward to next year, I want to take a second to look back at some of the things God achieved in the yard this year. These are all only small things. His biggest miracles have been invisible, unfolding in young hearts and souls, continuing to reach out for every person that walks into the yard.


Despite still being on a shoestring, somehow our beautiful sand dressage arena was built. Bits of it tend to wash away in big storms since we’re still figuring out the drainage, but it’s nothing that a wheelbarrow, a spade and some determination can’t fix. This time last year I was still teaching kids and backing horses in a paddock on the side of a hill. None of our dressage kids could possibly have competed this year without it.


On the same note, still on the shoestring, we cut poles in our own woods and put together the most amazing lunging ring ever. Seriously. I love it so much, it’s the perfect size and its slanting poles make my life so much easier when I’m backing babies and giving lunging lessons. Our knees are spared!


I stopped fighting my fears, walked away from them and left them in the Hands of God because no matter how hard I struggled, I always lost, and my bruised and battered soul could take no more. God worked mightily in my heart and sent me Jamaica and Coach K to help, and I jumped my first two 90cm tracks with ease. We’re well on our way to getting Mod 5 next year.


Our group of competing kids grew from three in 2016 to six in 2017 to at least eleven or twelve for the 2018 SANESA team. I used to face shows with four horses with great trepidation. This year we were doing eight or nine horses and we were just fine because God was with us. Next year promises up to fourteen or sixteen!


After fearing and dreading Module 4 all year, particularly the riding, I came down with horrible food poisoning three days before the exam. A trip to hospital later, I staggered off to go sit it, feeling horrible and knowing in my soul God was up to something. I passed every subject, and the riding was by far my highest mark. Morning Star Stables has a qualified coach now.


My training expanded hugely from only doing schooling, to backing only ponies, to accepting almost all backing and most remedial work for good measure. God’s grace wrought in me the confidence to take on Champagne, our most remedial horse to date, and we’ve seen an enormous difference in her.


I started competing my fabulous Thunderbird and he exceeded my every expectation, raking in placings and high scores and prompting lots of encouraging comments from the judges. I have my top horse and he was standing in a field for seven years before I realised it. God had made him an incredible dressage horse before I even knew what dressage really was.


And along with my top horse, God gave me regular lessons with a top dressage coach for the first time in my life. I started the year broke and with zero guidance. I finished it still broke but with two incredible instructors, both excellently suited to what I need in that particular discipline. Both of them read me like a book. Coach K is super, super nice, always knows exactly how far she can push me before I start to panic, and is always ready to go back a few steps without making a big deal out of it. Coach J is much tougher and knows exactly how to make things magically happen, and despite having stables full of amazing fancy horses (as do most of his students), he never, ever makes me feel like we’re inferior just because Thunny is a mongrel from the middle of nowhere.


Our first SANESA season as a yard was awesome, and spectacularly successful. Every single child showed enormous improvement throughout the year and learned important lessons about confidence, faith, and courage. G and Pennie finished off the year by winning at Nationals despite a very challenging season and the odds being stacked against them with injuries.


We ran two pony camps, the second one our biggest yet, and our first shows – jumping in July and dressage in December. Both were a roaring success. Our kids all had the opportunity to compete in something this year if they wanted, and they all gave it everything. I am so, so honoured to be a part of their amazing young lives. ❤


Next year we can only go further up and further in. God is on this journey with us. He is here with us in His little stableyard, working the most tremendous miracles. Most of them are inside our own hearts. His Spirit is here, and everyone who walks in is welcome here. We’ve seen Him do great things in unlikely places. And for me the most wonderful thing about the yard is how He works to make it a safe place for everyone. The kids that don’t fit in, the special needs kids, the ones who for whatever reason need more than just being another kid on a pony – these are the ones that flourish here. This is a place where God touches lives.

Not least mine. Glory, glory, glory to the King!

and many thanks to the many, many parents, not least mine, who have helped us all on the way ❤

This Week in Dressage: Walk to Canter

Trot-canter and walk-canter transitions have long been weak points for us. Mostly because I never developed the canter quality early on, and never prepared or rode the transitions in balance and self-carriage right at the start. I learned to see a canter lead on this horse, and to get the one I wanted – which usually involved a lot of flailing about with my upper body and leaning forward while looking down to try and see the lead.

Poor old Arwen.

derpy dragon

This movement consistently scores low for us, with comment “hollow”. I was originally taught to throw my weight to the inside, to encourage the horse to pick up the inside lead. Top tip: this don’t work. With me fooling about, and the trot lacking power, and the canter lacking engagement, Arwen learned to throw up her head and lunge into canter from the front.
The good about our walk-canter:

  • It’s obedient as they come; I can get it the first time, every time, without trot steps.
  • I can get the correct lead 99% of the time (whether it’s canter or counter canter), even on the middle of the long side or wherever.

The bad:

  • Arwen anticipates the transition and starts to get tense and jogging in walk.
  • I still want to throw my weight to the inside and curl up, especially in a simple change.
  • Arwen gets really hollow and makes a laboured sort of bounce into the canter.

So we set to work on this with riding it “in context”, pretty much as it would be in most tests, trying to figure out where it was going wrong:

  • Medium walk up the short side F-A.
  • Change rein across the long diagonal in extended walk.
  • Transition to canter at C.

The problem started as we transitioned back to medium walk at M. In the double bridle I tried adding a tiny bit of curb during the transition down, but that only made her more tense and caused her to jog and hollow instead of jog and lean. Her anticipating made me tense, too, so my seat was kind of all over the place. It was a hot mess. Sorry, Arwen.

I found this exercise on the Internet, and during our next session we started trying it out.

  • A turn up the centerline.
  • L leg-yield to the track.
  • Track straighten, then transition to canter.
  • Canter to M, transition to walk.
  • C turn up centerline and repeat.

Right off the bat this started to work better for Arwen. Her walk leg-yields are supple and I can get them very steep (L-B for instance) so whenever she’d start rushing, instead of getting in her face, I’d increase the steepness of the leg-yield so that she had to focus on that instead of on getting all dragonish. With her flexed to the inside, I also didn’t worry as much about the lead, so that mitigated my flailing a bit. As we returned to the track she could start anticipating but then I’d put her in slight shoulder-fore for a few steps and then ask for the canter.

This exercise took my mind off the anticipating and made me concentrate on the preparation – actively ending the leg-yield, keeping my upper body in line, going into shoulder-fore, half-halt, outside leg back, inside shoulder up, canter on. Arwen was rounder going up but added some trot steps. In the third session, I carried the dressage whip and gave her a touch as I asked the first few times just to make it clear we needed to canter on without kicking.

By the end of this I had a much more powerful transition, using the hindlegs to spring up to canter. I do have to half halt on the curb rein to prevent the head from flying up. Old habits die hard. But the more connected I can keep her, the more engaged the transition, the more engaged the resulting canter.

We went back to the medium-extended-medium walk and then canter exercise just once or twice and the difference was substantial. It’s still not going to be her best movement, but it’s an improvement. It’s not going to be brilliant until I can discipline my own body better in all the canter transitions and the canter itself, to stay tall (well, as tall as 5′ 4″ gets) and strong through my core instead of crumpling.

Dancing with this dragon was exactly what I needed this week. How great is the God Who turns our worship of Him into His healing of us?

Glory to the King.

So There Was This Training Show…

… and I kinda forgot to write about it. Two Sundays ago, a little spur-of-the-moment, we threw Vastrap and Jamaica into VT’s kid’s dad’s horsebox and went to Fourways. VT’s kid wanted practice for Finals, and I had to be there anyway so I figured I may as well ride.

Jamaica had had the whole week off, so I sort of centered him around on the Friday and then popped through a simple gymnastic line that happened to be up on Saturday and off we went. He was so good about everything, too. Good to box, got out and looked around and sort of shrugged indifferently, and when I threw him in a paddock and abandoned him, he merely smelt some poo and then ate hay. How cool is it to have a really easy, ordinary, uncomplicated horse? It’s a new experience for me and rather refreshing.


Then VT and his kid promptly had a brilliant, blistering round in the 60cm, winning by streets.

They got a bit flustered and had a pole in the 70cm, but it didn’t bother either of them much, so it didn’t bother me either. It was their first 70 this year and they’re only doing 60 at finals.
Jamaica just totally showed up to work that day. He was calm, relaxed, focused and absolutely point-and-shoot. We went faster than usual, too, and cut all the turns in the 70cm speed for 5th in a class of 26.

The 80cm didn’t even look big. He was careful and clear in the first round. In the jump-off he overjumped an oxer that really was rather big for the class and I took a second to get my act together on landing so we lost a few seconds making a squiggle to the next fence, but it was still good enough for 3rd out of 18. And I didn’t even hold the neck strap.


God is way too good to me. Glory to the King.