Yesterday I didn’t even realise what day it was until I discovered that, despite being as single as they come, I have a Valentine.
He is all of seven years old, but he brought me chocolate. Thus, he wins.
On a more serious note, I was back at Winstead facing my demons. I really love being there, but I’ll be honest – I stood on the mounting block just staring at my steed for the day with a feeling of absolute helplessness for a few seconds. But I laid it down, and God came through for me. With the help of the wonderful Monty who is like a smaller version of Al who likes close spots (like me). We had a fantastic lesson and jumped all the things with only one panicky recitation of Psalm 23.
And just as I thought I was getting used to riding big horses, coach K put me on a creature that dwarfed the mere 16.2hh beasts I had been riding. Royale is the most incredible fancy comfy upper-level jumper thing, and I had a blast, but wow. He is big.
I also got to ride Kardinal again and he got to show me how to do good canter-walk transitions approximately four million times, poor chap.
The day ended after some lovely lessons with an absolutely splendid sky to take our breath away.
Today did not start off on as good a note when poor old Mutterer and head groom T ran out of fuel on the way here. We fed really late, but on the plus side I got a pretty picture of a view that I’ve seen so many times and never been able to photograph because I’m always driving.
Once I finally got to start the riding, Arwen gave me the opportunity to unwind a bit by taking me for a stunning hack across the fields. She dragoned a bit and got quite hot and bouncy, but didn’t buck or go nuts.
Destiny went beautifully today. He is firmly under saddle now and hasn’t been at all naughty, although he felt resistant today when I pushed for a more active walk. He gave me a happy little trot, though.
Tara also schooled well; so chilled and rhythmic, but her turn right button occasionally seems to glitch. She’s not naughty, just keeps merrily going straight while you would really rather turn right. We had improvement by the end.
I schooled Jamaica over a 75cm vertical, the biggest I’ve jumped him, with a ground line set the height of the fence away from the base. Neither Maica nor I are any good at seeing a distance and this exercise really helped. He also seemed impressed by the fence and didn’t take a single pole.
I rode the same exercise on Starlight, just rather smaller. She has improved hugely under her mom’s schooling and has such a powerful little jump.
Faithy and I went walkies, to her delight. Faithy adores walkies and pulls all the way out and all the way back. She’s spooky but super curious, and in her world, separation anxiety ain’t no thing.
Midas, Sunè and Lancelot all had flatwork this afternoon and all did great. Midey feels so ready for HOY I can taste it. Sunè’s left turn doesn’t always happen gracefully in canter, but at least she’s got leads and connection now. And Lancey learns slowly (not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of attention), but he grasped lengthening his canter beautifully today.
Monday it rained all day and all night long in a steady, quiet deluge that soaked right down into the earth. After a day’s sunshine, we’ll be able to hear the grass growing. The fields were thrilled. The lunge ring, not so much. Even the grass arena, which is usually OK, was a mud bath.
So this week became the Week of Hacking. And with our beautiful Highveld in full summer splendour, I’m not complaining too loudly.
Midas and Sunè deserved an easy week anyway, so I’ve only taken the two of them for hacks. Sunè has hacked before under head groom T, so it was no surprise when she was totally unbothered by anything. This appears to be Sunè’s MO.
Midas was very bold and excited to be on a new adventure until the big Holstein heifers all came galloping over to see what he was. This was apparently terrifying, although I can’t blame him seeing how they’re bigger than him. To his credit he didn’t get out from under me or rear, but he was cantering on the spot in abject horror. Poor little chap. He dealt well with birds, dogs running in the grass and tall brush – just not cows, please.
Jamaica has actually been working hard this week, particularly on jumping. His flatwork is finally solid enough that we can really get over fences again, and he was being good but careless in front, so we built him a gymnastic line. He nearly fell on his face once, but this motivated him to start picking up his knees and he was jumping really nicely in the end.
Lancelot got to jump the same gymnastic, which has been excellent for his confidence. He is very careful but not yet confident cantering fences because he doesn’t know where to jump yet, but the gymnastic showed him where to put his feet and he was so good we picked the fences up to about 60cm and he didn’t bat an eye. Even with Z-kid aboard!
Tara has been great this week, too. She doesn’t have a violent bone in her body. We’ve moved on to working in the big arena in walk and trot, adding a few steps of canter where we can.
Zara was a little lame with a hoof abscess, but goes sound again now so I got back on board. I don’t think I long-lined her and Tara enough, and I’m regretting it now. Their mouths aren’t exactly hard, but responsiveness is being harder to get. It is improving though. We had walk and trot in the big arena as well, with minimal drama.
Destiny progressed to the long lines and had one enormous violent tantrum before he remembered it doesn’t work on me and then decided to use his powers for good. He’s got a nice enough mouth when he listens, so I look forward to steady progress now that the worst of the resistance is past us.
We also had a tremendous breakthrough with dear Nugget this week. It didn’t start out well when she decided to try and take a chunk out of my arm, whereupon almost by reflex I gave her one across the nose. I regretted it instantly, but as it turns out it was really not a bad thing. She instantly realised that I would not be walked all over but that I also wasn’t going to actually hurt her, and since then we’ve made huge progress. I have to feed her from my hand and go slowly, but I can catch her every morning and gently groom her main body and mane. And I managed to get her out of that ghastly old green halter and into something pink and cheerful.
There is light in her eye again. She’s not going to give up on trying to find joy again, and neither am I. I get the feeling God’s got a high calling for this broken little horse if she’d only be brave.
Exavior had his teeth done, for which he was quite a jerk but not malicious. We managed to remove the wolf tooth that had been causing so much drama and it’s so small you can barely even see it.
The Mutterer will start to ride Xave for me next week, so I’ve just been lunging him. He’s angelic on the ground again, so God willing, soon I’ll be back on board that big, beautiful jerk of a horse.
Despite an ominous start on Friday evening, beginning with Exavior rearing repeatedly as I tried to bath him and ending at about 10:00pm after driving up and down and half the horses escaping their stables, Pre-HOY was amazing.
I suspect it was amazing because it started so badly that I immediately realised I was not going to cope and gave the heavy burden to Somebody strong enough to carry it: my Daddy God. And He obviously did what He always does – miracles.
It rained all day Friday, so bathing them all was rather a problem. Mercifully, the pintos scratched, and we had a two-hour window that afternoon that enabled us to bath Vastrap and Midas and do something about Exavior’s grubby socks. At that point, the bays, Liana and Arwen were just going to have to cope.
We boxed Midas, Exavior, Renè and Sunè up that evening. They behaved remarkably well and settled in nicely, so while we ran around sorting out our poor junior groom’s tent they were pretty much unobtrusive.
The next morning, their good behaviour had run out. Renè, Sunè and Exavior were busy trying to climb into the resident horses’ stables to steal their breakfast and harrassing the resident grooms while Junior Groom stood shellshocked and stared at them and Midas shrieked with indignation, abandoned by his buddies but unable to climb out because he was too short.
We stuffed them back inside and managed to keep them there while I scrubbed Sunè’s sock and got Xave plaited up. He behaved remarkably well and I began to think maybe my head wouldn’t be kicked in after all.
Shortly thereafter, Dad arrived with Arwen, Liana, and Vastrap. VT had been turned out in a muddy field all night but miraculously he was positively glowing with cleanliness. Small miracles.
And with the turnout more or less done and everybody behaving great, off we went to compete.
Exavior, despite my misgivings, was a superstar. I had a very long lead and a whip and a helmet and I didn’t need either of them because he didn’t even think of rearing. He was much too worried about his surroundings to sass his mother, so barring one huge spook, he was respectful and listened to what I said. Everything else in the class being like ten years old and fat, he came stone last, but I was just chuffed with how well behaved he was. Wherever this rollercoaster ride with him is headed, God is definitely steering.
Next there was chaos as the in-hand for the Nooities had been combined, to my great consternation. My kids were on the ball and all marched in perfectly turned out and right on time. I arrived late, red-faced, breathless and having scratched Midas, with Sunè very wide-eyed on the end of the lead, her mane sticking up in all directions.
I was a dishevelled mess. Sunè, however, was a trooper. She didn’t look at anything, she didn’t fidget, and she didn’t bat an eye at being shunted into a new arena with a panicking trainer. She was the youngest and most nondescript in the class so obviously the kids and their gorgeous ponies roundly kicked our butts, but I couldn’t be happier with her. Vastrap ended up coming second and going to supremes, with Liana and Renè third and fourth. (No, my mom is never going to let me hear the end of it).
We went back up for show riding in convoy; Liana and her kid, Renè and yard rat K, and Midas and I. I expected Midas to be nutty because he hadn’t had a class to do in-hand or even get out of his stable all day, but he was phenomenal. Even better than Bruno was at his first show. He remembered his training, he focused, he didn’t spook, and when he got looky he just dealt with it and carried on.
Liana’s kid was very nervous – real little perfectionist, so I sympathise – which made sensitive Liana very nervous too, but with the help of K’s mom they scraped it up off the floor and came a well-deserved second in the strong class. It takes a lot to pick yourself up like that. Renè and K were third, with Renè being completely relaxed and indifferent to everything despite it only being her second outing ever.
Midas remained awesome despite having to do his simple changes in the middle of a giant puddle and he won the class, being the only one in the partbreds. In the enormous Supremes class he was shouting for his girlfriend and got a little strong when all like 30 of us were cantering around and circling and overtaking, but the second I asked him down to trot I got it. I was endlessly happy with him. Couldn’t have asked for better at a first show.
Show classes done and dusted, we moved on to the working classes in typical Morning Star Stables fashion; wildly excited riders, Arwen bucking and snorting because she hadn’t had time to warm up, and K running up wailing because her numnah had gone AWOL at a critical moment. In between the madness, Arwen jumped her working hunter round. Well, let’s just say it would have been a good showjumping round. She galloped, sideways, at the fences snorting fire at them; I hung on somewhere in the clouds of smoke emanating from her nose, and she ate up every fence barring the down bank combination. There she had to stop and check how high it was before launching directly forward, almost leaving me behind. Our gallop was blinding but somehow I managed to get her down to a very quiet halt for the judges, who sat there and stared at us, aghast. We did not place well. I had the best time ever, and so did Arwen, who proceeded to merrily chomp on the grass beside the arena when I untacked her for the conformation.
Working riding wrapped up the day with Arwen, Vastrap and his kid, and K and Renè. The course was fairly challenging; beginning with fairly scary raised trot poles, then a line of gigantic white umbrellas we had to weave through, followed by a barrel with a truly scary giant pink cow on it. The cow had to be picked up and carried at a canter the five strides or so to the next barrel. Then there was a highly spooky brush lane with a black rubber mat in it and a small jump made of straw bales. Last, we had to halt and dismount onto a wall of black boxes before leading our horses away.
Renè was first of the Morning Star horses to go and did us very proud. There’s not a lot of horses that can do working riding at their second show, let alone with poise and composure. She turned up her nose at the poles, plopped happily around the umbrellas, and didn’t mind the lane, the jump or the wall. She did have a very good look at the scary pink cow, but K was patient and let her have a sniff and that was that. They didn’t manage to canter with the cow or I think they would have placed well.
Vastrap coped beautifully with the difficult course. He actually trotted the trot poles this time, had a little look at the lane and took a minute to stand still by the wall, but his kid was glowing when they finished and he took great care of her.
Arwen slept the whole time in the lineup, punctuating this by throwing her head and yawning massively. I was feeling my late night and in-hand classes, so I basically did the same, barely waking up enough to watch the kids go. When it was our turn I made a bleary effort to rouse Arwen for the trot poles, but she still clonked them roundly. Then we aimed for the umbrellas and suddenly she lit up. Dragons to kill! Certain she would spook, I kicked her; she broke to canter for half a stride and then I realised I had to basically just hang on and steer. So that’s what I did. It took all my effort to hold her down to trot for the lane and umbrellas because she was so excited and dragoning magnificently. The cow posed no problem; my steering did, and we overshot the barrel by half a stride, which we remedied by performing a perfect turn on the haunches. Of course, the jump and the wall did not pose any problem for this dragon. I’m not totally sure that working riding horses are supposed to get excited, but at least she wasn’t in the least spooky.
Apparently the judges enjoyed this new take on working riding, though, because beautiful Arwen was reserve interbreed champion in a strong class. I could almost pop. God so knows what He’s doing. I miss Nell, but she’s in a happy permanent home now. And now Arwen gets her chance to shine.
Today was spa day for six of the Horde. I’m very into having chiro done at least once a year where I can; it’s not always financially practical for broodmares and sale ponies, but the competing horses, schoolies or anything with a problem needs doing.
Today’s lineup started with Starlight. She has been girthy since she arrived in December and while I found back pain and put it down to that, the back pain is related to old pectoral muscle tears, not anything sinister like KS or something. Stardust has exactly the same thing so we’re good at managing it and it won’t get in her way. Her hip was also badly locked, something I’d noticed since she is always a little short on that leg. Hopefully we’ll see considerable improvement.
Vastrap was generally tight especially through his intercostal muscles, which I wasn’t in the least surprised by. This unfortunately is going to be strongly related to how hot and tense he is to ride, so it’s a slow fix. But we’ve already made progress.
Magic has some excellent news. He wasn’t out anywhere, just rather tight in his left hind hip, and best of all his bad wither is not worse – in fact, it’s better. The chiro’s exact words were “Don’t change anything because it’s working.” I’m so relieved that my magical beast is still OK. With his being a bit wacky lately I was half expecting that his back was hurting him again. The chiro also commented on how incredible our bond is, which made me feel so much better about our recent bad days.
Exavior was rather, um, interesting. The chiro went to touch his upper neck, which he’s always been touchy about, so he reared and tried to bite us. After a discussion about not biting nice ladies, he cut it out and started to actually enjoy having his bones all sorted out. His back was totally perfect, but his poll was very sore. The fall where he cut his leg open years ago – that catalysed the drama that led to his becoming mine – also damaged his nuchal ligament and it was extremely tight and sensitive. This explains why he’s always so uncomfortable about his head and also some of the rearing (although that can also be explained by his being a brat). It can be managed, thank God. I have to do a little stretch thingy with him to help, and I’ll look into getting him a poll relief bridle. He should be far more comfortable now.
Can we all just stop for a minute, though, and appreciate just how big God’s plan is for this horse? Most horses that fall and hit their polls there die on impact. Not Xave, though. He’s a survivor and God’s got something big in store for him. ❤
Renè had a bunch of lumbar vertebrae out and her hip and shoulder were really locked. I discussed some stiffness issues she had had early on in her training with the chiro, who thinks it’s possibly due to the type of heavy slow twitch muscle she has. Almost like a really mild variant of PSSM. Our stretches and gradual conditioning have practically eliminated it, though, and there’s no major problem so it’s all good.
Last up was little Lullaby, who hasn’t had any problems but is a lifelong school pony so there must be pain somewhere. Sure enough she had both thoracic and lumbar vertebrae out, so that should make her far more comfy. Lumbar vertebrae are typical school pony problems so we’ll just keep having her done regularly to keep those suckers in place.
In other news, Midas, Sunè, Arwen and Tara are all pretty much ready for Pre-HOY. Exavior is almost ready, I just want a practice run at plaiting him since he’s going to have to learn to deal with me standing on a box and pulling on his hair, which won’t be easy for him.
Faithy moved out to a small group field with Milady and Lady Erin. She’s stayed good to catch and super gorgeous.
My writing is as flat as my battery today, but here it is. Glory to the King.
Bear with me, y’all. As you might have noticed, I have resolved to blog more in this year, but there is much catching up and introductions to do before I can actually settle down and start telling you stuff that’s happening. This should be the last one.
First and most exciting (sorry D and S) is the first little foal that’s been born under the Morning Star Stables prefix. She arrived in October at the extremely civilised hour of 4:30pm, after Milady and I had thrown a pyjama party the night before (thank you Milady for only making me do this once).
The foaling was textbook and Milady was a pro throughout it all. The filly was rather in a hurry and was on her feet and suckling within an hour, little overachiever. We named her Lady Erin. She is by Exavior and is our first and last warmblood foal; it is strictly ponies from hereon out. But as warmblood foals go she is enormous, feisty, and very cooperative.
Lady E has been fooled around with somewhat and will stand for the daily chores and wear a halter, but still needs a bum rope to be led around. For a two-month-old foal this is quite good enough: we’ll finish the last bits of halter training just before she’s weaned. For now she suckers the riding school kids into giving her cookies just so she can chew them up and spit them out on somebody’s shoes.
Destiny has been a resident since mid-October, but only came into training in December because I was totally full. He is a super duper cute little homebred dude with a rather large ego.
D is here to be started, but we’re currently rather stuck on the subject of lungeing; on the left rein he’s lovely, on the right rein he has a whole plethora of tricks to pull out including rearing and smashing the fence. We have seen a vast improvement, though, so I’m sure he’ll get it figured out quite soon.
Sunè is here in Quinni’s place from Arop. She looks like the polar opposite of Quinni, but of course has a similar lovely nature. I’ve only had two sessions on her but our head groom T started her when they were both at the previous stableyard, and she’s pretty ridden in. Just needs some refining and then we’re set (which is a mercy because it’s meant to go to Horse of the Year in February).
In other news, I have my results for my stableyard manager qualification and I am now a real proper manager with papers. I don’t quite know how He did it but God somehow managed to help me with the studying (I had like two weeks after the outbreak during a very rough time) so much that my overall mark is 93%. I passed all of them with streets to spare except conformation, which I just barely scraped through, but I’m chalking it down to nerves because normally I’m quite good. So that’s a really epic note to end 2016 on.
While I didn’t officially do goals for Midas last year, he had a successful three-year-old year despite having a late start. We have lots to do this year to achieve what I like at the end of the four-year-old year, but I’m pretty confident in the little chap. He’s got this.
Hack alone and in company. He’s quite brave and obedient, and for a sale pony this is quite a non-negotiable – what kid wants a pony that won’t hack?
Be quiet at shows. This includes overnight in the stable.
Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. I’m being ambitious now, but let’s see what this guy can do.
Compete up to Prelim at training shows. This at least I am good at, so we should be able to do this.
Compete at the Nooitie shows. Because Nooitie shows are epic.
Go cross-country schooling. I’d love to event him in 2018, either myself or under a child.
The sale pony business is still a learning curve for me, so once again my goal setting is based largely on an educated guess. But we’ll see what happens. Or at least, I know exactly what’ll happen: God’s plan, in all its pure perfection.
Be prepared: This post is rated PG13 for boring dressage content. It will contain a vast amount of dressage-related drivel. Showjumpers and anyone who doesn’t want to hear about the ridiculous minituae of the most nitpicky sport of them all, look away now.
With Nell safely (and very happily) installed in her new home halfway across the country, poor old Arwen has resigned herself to the fact that she is now the current top dressage horse in the yard and has been pressed into service satisfying my craving for the sport so hard it’s almost art. When I brought her back into work in mid-November after the quarantine, I’ll admit I didn’t hold much hope that we’d be doing great things next year. Arwen likes dressage (Arwen likes anything as long as it makes her brain and body work), so that’s not the problem; the problem is that our dressage was becoming steadily more mediocre as last year went on. In terms of marks, we were slowly climbing the high 50%s, so they were very ordinary but at least improving. But the way she felt was just always iffy.
I realise, now, that we were just missing true connection. She went in a frame and it wasn’t exactly a false frame; she didn’t break at the third and her back was lifted. But it wasn’t truly through, not the proper cycle of power we all read about from the hind legs to the hand. She was just holding herself up the way I wanted, not flowing through herself the way she needed to be. It was subtle; the judges’ comments never pointed at something specific. Everything was just mediocre. Comments almost invariably began with “Needs more”. She wasn’t exactly crooked or stiff; she just “needed more [insert term here]” and it was everything. Connection. Straightness. Bend. Suppleness. Impulsion. Meanwhile she was always resisting just slightly; never my aids – obedience is her speciality – but there was just an against-ness in my hand, all the time. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just knew she didn’t feel like Nell; there was a softness and a power-moving-through-ness in Nell that just wasn’t there in Arwen. I decided we’d try and do Elementary and if we got it done I’d retire her from dressage. Neither of us were enjoying the fight for more than that.
And then Nell went, and I had to try and fix Arwen as much as we could. Of course, the horses and I all have a deal. I don’t make them try and do something they physically can’t or mentally really don’t like to do. But in a last-ditch effort to touch those higher levels I want so much, I threw all the focus that had been Nell’s into trying to bring out the very best in Arwen. And God, Who of course had planned all this, revealed a whole new level of awesome that had hitherto been locked away in Arwen for lack of necessity of belief in her.
First, even before Nell’s sale was a probability, we had the chiro out. She found a small arthritic change in Arwen’s off fore fetlock. It wasn’t enough to make her lame, but it was enough to make her lean just a little to the left to spare that foot a little, which in turn put out her back and that put out her neck. Connection’s like pouring water through a pipe; a good flow is dependent on straightness. Kink the pipe to one side and the water can’t all flow nicely out the front; it dams up by the kink, all boiling and nasty. Arwen continually tipped her nose to the right, and that locked up her whole back. The chiro put her back and neck in again and left us to take some time off and give her joint support to fix up the fetlock.
When I brought her back to work, she was feeling better in her body than ever before. And I was desperate; desperate to school Arwen perfectly, because perfect schooling and a brilliant brain can make up for non-flashy gaits like she has, as long as they’re correct like hers are. One of the biggest things I changed was our routine dressage warmup. I noticed that she only started to feel good in the last five minutes of each session, but by then her brain would be tired. I also read everything on the Internet that Charlotte Dujardin ever said (mild exaggeration, but seriously. I tried.) and she was always talking about her warmup. Warming up like Blueberry might not turn Arwen into him, but it was worth a shot. And the change was phenomenal.
The new warmup isn’t dramatic. It’s actually simple. The most important part is that we start with a hack. 10 minutes maybe; just around the long stacks of bales and back in a walk on a long rein. No contact, no long and low, just forward and straight and forward and straight. I usually take the time to roll my ankles, stretch my quads and do a breathing exercise or two. When we get back I’m breathing and she’s dragoned out some of her dragonness; then we halt, salute and pray, and then we trot two laps of long and low without stirrups. I rise the first lap and sit the second lap. Only then, 15 minutes into a 30-minute session, do I actually put the horse into a contact. By then she’s warm and listening and forward and straight and the connection is just amazing. The power is flowing up her back from her hind end straight and true; all I have to do is recycle it in my hands and it just happens. We do working trot a lap each way, then do some transitions within the trot and a halt and rein back. The halt and rein back isn’t really warmup, it’s just something we have to do every day until we get it good. Same with counter canter; we do working canter, a simple change on each rein on the long side, medium canter, and counter canter because we’re not much good at it.
That usually leaves us like 10 minutes to actually work on stuff, but it’s quite enough because by then the horse is so ready for it that we only have to do things once or twice before we see improvement and move on.
You guys, the change in this horse is just amazing. She does still struggle with medium trot and rein back – her old enemies – but suddenly she just magically has counter canter. She never did, but now she’s doing half 20m circles, changes of rein, the works. Her turns on the haunches are awesome. Every canter transition hits the correct lead no matter where we are in the arena. And the feeling in my hand is incredible. She’s seeking the contact for the first time; she’s solidly there, but not pulling, just happily taking the contact and going forward and soft. I love it.
DQs are nutcases. Excited by the oddest things. But I am excited now. Our scores have spiked; we now have points for Elementary, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
As usual, God knows exactly what He’s doing, especially when we don’t. Glory to the King.