2020 Plans

I went back and forth quite a lot about whether or not to set goals at all this year. Goal-setting was childishly simple when my whole life revolved around horses, which was a very long time; probably since I can remember, actually. Being a homeschooled kid who wanted to ride for a living one day, I could basically ride all day, every single day and my own horses were my top priority.

Well, then adulthood arrived, and it made everything a whole lot more complicated. Suddenly there are bills to be paid and clients with expectations and deadlines, and my own horses can’t be the top priority anymore. I still ride them as much as I possibly can, but when adult life gets in the way, sometimes that just isn’t 6 days a week anymore. Keeping four horses in work while working two jobs has been… interesting. But it is certainly possible. My riding schedule might not be as consistent as it used to be, but it’s still effective, and my dreams have never been bigger.

So I decided to make some plans for 2020 after all.

Thunder

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What a superstar my big boy is ❤ I’m so grateful for everything he does for me, and not just in the dressage arena. Thunder really grew up during 2019, becoming SO much easier to ride, handle, and show. I’m still figuring out a diet that gives him enough oomph to get through the longer tests without doing what most diets do (make him even fatter), but our work has just been getting better and better despite being interrupted by the bout of biliary he had in October.

Thunder will be staying home until at least March/April thanks to Horse of the Year coming up and eating all my time and funds, although I hope to get him to at least one lesson in February. We’ll focus a lot more on lessons for this year as opposed to shows. I probably won’t take him out at elementary again because he doesn’t really need it. We’re currently ungraded, so all we can really do is ride ‘n go tests, and once we do go for graded again we’ll have to earn all our points from the beginning – but it doesn’t bother me right now. We’re going to invest in tack (pleaaaaase a saddle that fits his majestic fatness!!) and lessons this year instead of competitions.

That said, I’d like to ride two or three shows at Elementary-Medium, and then the BIG lofty goal of the year is to ride Medium 1 at a ride ‘n go. I’d also like to improve on his trailer loading skills (bc they SUCK) and go on a hack or two. Thunder is actually fine on hacks, it’s just that I’m not, so we’re going to build it up slowly.

Lancelot

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Lancey spent 2019 getting lessons and finding his way back into some sort of fitness and strength. He’s still not where he needs to be, but his topline is MUCH stronger and he feels wonderful under saddle. He has some residual mouth fussiness, but otherwise he’s more than ready to ride a Novice test. I love the fact that he’s totally chill in any venue, with or without company. I can even take him on outrides without panicking (although he does need to work on cantering quietly in the fields without going Psycho Arab).

Lancelot’s big show of the year is HOY 2020, where we’ll just be doing a quiet novice show riding class for the experience because I love HOY and I don’t want to miss it. No pressure, no stress, just a little class for the fun of it. He may or may not get ants in his pants and I’m not going to let it bother me. We’re just going for the sake of going.

In terms of his dressage career, we’re going to be aiming for an Elementary test at the end of the year. Like Thunder, Lancelot doesn’t need a lot of practice going to shows, so we’ll probably just take both the geldings wherever we go for ride ‘n go tests.

Faith

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Faith didn’t do a whole lot in 2019. We did HOY and she was pretty great, and after that I left her in a field to grow into a five-year-old. She did so, turning out HUGE (15.1 hands and as long as a ship) and beautiful. Her maturity is finally at the point where she can handle serious work.

I’m still going back and forth on whether or not to do HOY 2020 with her, but we probably will. After that, Faith will still be taking it pretty easy. She is not the dressage horse that Lancelot and Thunder are so I’m not going to be pushing her for more than she can do. We will continue to do Nooitie shows here and there and chip away at the dressage work, only aiming to be at Novice by the end of the year. There are many outrides in Faith’s future.

Arwen

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This will be the dragon’s last competitive year. She’s basically won everything a Nooitie mare can win with an adult at some show or another, and this year she’ll show under a capable little pony rider while I keep her fit at home. In December, she’s going to a beautiful bay stallion named Wilgerus Dakota to produce a 2021/22 foal, her first pure Nooitie foal. We might just do HOY 2021, with her only a couple of months in foal, but after that she’ll lead a school pony-cum-broodmare life of luxury. (And many outrides so that she doesn’t get super fat).

I am wildly blessed with four amazing horses, and despite all the challenges, I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings for us. God is so good, and He has such a great and perfect plan for every moment and every day.

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.

Thunder Update

With his biggest dressage show yet on the horizon, Thunder hasn’t actually competed in a single graded dressage class this year.

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Our first show of the year was in the very end of January, where I took a bunch of kids to a pre-SANESA training show for their dressage tests and packed him along too because the schedule was just too hectic to allow for another show. We did Novice 1 and 2 again, for sort of mediocre scores, but at least he won the one and came second in the other. He felt sort of mediocre on the day as well; trying hard, as usual, but tense and scattered, as usual for a show. If he had just lifted his back he would have had another 70%, but again, as always happens when he is a little tense, our scores were in the low to mid 60s.

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Our next show was Horse of the Year. I couldn’t afford HOY and dressage in the same month, and he is such a hunter type that it seemed a shame never to show him as one. I didn’t feel up to jumping the working hunter on him, so we entered for show hunter and working riding. The show hunter day he was absolutely fantastic. He didn’t gallop, or I think he would have placed, because he behaved impeccably and was forward and relaxed through his whole body. I found myself wishing we were in a dressage test because he would have done so well.

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Either way, we enjoyed ourselves but didn’t place because apparently hunters really should gallop instead of just making flat ears and bouncing.

The working riding day was absolutely dreadful. He was horrible in the warmup, screamed in the lineup, and then spooked at every single obstacle. But I did learn something that I can definitely use for future shows: Thunny is absolutely perfect if he goes anywhere alone or with a gelding, and absolutely horrible if he goes anywhere with a mare. Somebody is just a little proud cut, I presume.

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I know I should really just make him go to shows with mares until he gets over himself and behaves, but honestly, life’s too short and I don’t have the kind of money to waste entry fees on miserable experiences. Henceforth, unless unavoidable, Thunder is going to shows by himself so he can relax and we can actually achieve something other than getting frustrated and tense. This is our strategy for Easter Festival this weekend, and we’ll see how it goes. Considering he has just been to KPC for HOY, and is going by himself, I think he should be very chill. I hope for a nice score, but I don’t expect a placing. You wouldn’t either if you’d read the entries list in our class.

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Schooling has been kind of magical lately. We have worked through a lot of the initial drama that surfaced shortly after we started lessons with Coach J; the running and the falling out with the shoulder. He has learned to be both relaxed and forward, and I love it. We’ve sorted out a lot of our old issues – he has a stretchy trot now, he has a superb walk-canter transition, his lateral work is very much in place – and learned a whole lot of new things, too: travers, better lengthenings, shoulder-in, leg-yield zigzags that make him feel like he’s really dancing, four steps one way and then four steps the other just floating off my leg. Most exciting, we even started the flying changes.

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It happened like this. We spent the entire lesson working on leg-yield zigzags, with Coach J alternately shouting “LEFT leg!” and “Keep his neck straight!” until finally we got it right. Then we tried in canter, leg-yielding across the diagonal to the right. Coach J ordered, “Outside leg and leg-yield left” and I obediently did so and Thunder obediently popped out a flying change. Ever since I have been too nervous to really do them at home, but we have been pulling them out at lessons quite frequently, and as long as I keep his neck straight and push his bum over – as opposed to trying to pull his face around – they just magically fall out of the sky. I was definitely not expecting to be doing changes in March when we started lessons, a just-barely-Novice combination, in November.

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So mostly our schooling consists of doing whatever Coach J said, with occasional bits of test riding scattered in there, but honestly whatever it is that Coach J is making us do seems to make all the other stuff easier because the Novice work seems to be just sort of happening. It’s still rough around the edges, and I don’t expect the same scores we were getting for Prelim this weekend as we’re doing Novice 4 and 5 and they’re quite hard, but it’s all just there. Our one major downfall is that all of our downward transitions are poor – all of them. I think, though, that it’s me and not him. I ride too many green horses and have too much of a tendency to want to pull on his face, which makes him hollow through the transition.

Honestly, lessons with Coach J have been revolutionary. It was hard at first because I was trying so hard to prove ourselves to him, but now I’ve chilled out a bit and it feels like the bulk of the responsibility for getting Thunder up the levels doesn’t fall on my inexperienced shoulders anymore. I get to just relax and ride the horse for a change, and I absolutely love it. Of course, we still work very hard, practice hard, and learn hard, but at least we know what we’re doing now. I look forward to Easter Festival and I can’t wait to go dance with my horse again.

Thank You, Father. Glory to the King.

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