Tremendous Photo Dump

So the good news is that we survived the unadulterated chaos that was this week.

thanks in no small part to puppy kisses

The better news is, next weekend is dressage with Destiny (walk/trot under his mom), Renè (Prelim under K), Arwie (Elementary 4 and 5) and Thunder (Prelim 2 and 3). I can’t wait.

Eagle has accepted his job as the steady hack with aplomb. He can still have the odd little spook or sticky moment, but, well. He was backed in March, after all.

His mom is also back on him now that she’s recovered from her tumble, and shows admirable handling of the expected nerves. Eagle, obviously, is being perfect. He has developed a new habit of gaping and hanging on the hand a little in his downwards, so we’ll play with different snaffles and see if something else is more agreeable.

Firepaw (from Warriors) and Meatlug (from How to Train Your Dragon) are adorable, but appearances are deceiving.

Lady Erin and I started to talk about the box. She did have one warmblood tantrum about it, but she’s currently, like, 12.2hh, so it didn’t go anywhere.

This adorable child was way more amused with riding bareback than Lullaby was with being ridden bareback.

The kid that rides Midas has put herself on a quest to be good without stirrups. I think she’s pretty good already.

Ash was mysteriously sick for a day. She ran a fever and just looked a bit off and I panicked and basically gave her everything I could think of, and she was fine by lunch. Nothing ever came of it, so that’s a bit of a mystery, but it seems like a fairly benign one.

In anticipation of his competitive debut, Destiny got in the box. He was exceedingly well-mannered and cooperative, I’m pleased to report.

I love these two round dressagey butts.

Blizzard graduated to the long-lines. He has a strangely fussy little mouth, but his teeth are done so it’s kinda just a matter of being patient and letting him learn to deal. He is very obedient and will probably only ever be ridden on a loose rein in his hacking future, so I’m not losing sleep over it.


Trooper is on a six-week semi-hiatus from schooling and jumping. The little chap is only three and a half and we already have all his basics and little tiny jumps installed, so he deserves a break. In the meantime he goes on hacks when I have nobody else to use.

In my continuing quest to get my wayward heels back under my hips where they belong, I’ve been experimenting with stirrup lengths. It seems the Wintec has the effect of ever-so-slightly pulling my leg forward because of the position of the stirrup bar in relation to the deepest point of the seat. We’ve gotten around this by doing lots and lots of work without stirrups so that I get used to sitting right and my body doesn’t get to think of excuses to do its own thing.

It appears I am finally conquering the tension through my hips, so when relaxed and unrestrained, I manage to sit like a human being at last.

Skinny Savanna is already so much fatter. The magic of ad-lib grass and a bit of balancer does it again and it makes my heart happy as she begins to thrive.

She has been SO naughty though, running out at every fence she can with her kid. I think the adjustment from huge groups all going around together at her previous yard, down to private lessons or two in a lesson here, have been a bit of a shock for them both. She’s in half training with me now so we’ll get it sorted.

It’s a bit of a menagerie around here.

Our biggest beginner group yet: five, through from dad down to five-year-old little sister. Lisna, Starlight, Lulu, Sunè, and Stardust have been impeccable.

Milady has put on so much weight this month it’s almost scary. She was about a 3/10 when we weaned Lady Erin and now she’s about 6/10. K has started to ride her for me so that I can use her as a trail horse and schoolie until she’s in foal again, whenever that may be.

She has the gentlest spirit. ❤

Typically, in trying to correct one flaw, I’ve created another. Now my heels camp out somewhere three miles behind me while I perch. I’ll find the balance. I have a patient dance partner.

Ash is loving the hack life. She’ll be terribly useful in the school once her tendon rehab is complete.

After much desensitising, I finally put a leg over Blizzard. He was, as you can see, pretty cool about it. Just the way I like it.

This little one got to try out our brand-new 17m lunging ring in the brief window between its being built and being recruited as turnout for Champagne until she settles down. I love it. It even has fancy slanting sides so the youngsters can quit whacking my knees on the fence.

Nugget is recovering very nicely. The plan is for her to move in with Magic once she’s regained the use of her neck fully. I’m hoping his love and joie de vivre will rub off on her, and he really, really missed Exavior.

For now, the tack boxes have been stolen to be a table for her cheeky little majesty.

After weeks of improvement, Arwen’s canter-walks have gone down the drain again a little. On the bright side, we suddenly have shoulder-in and rein back. Poor Arwen – Elementary is tough when neither of us really know what we’re doing at the level yet. Thunder has it easy by comparison. For now.

Life with Champagne has been a little interesting, but she is settling one day at a time. She’s used to very little turnout, but seems to settle much better outside and fret quite a bit in the stable. The poor girl is extremely anxious about basically everything – I don’t understand how she can maintain that level of anxiety for so long. We’ll sort it out.

Dusty cannot understand her new buddy. So young, so well-bred, so well cared for, so sound, so gorgeous. What does she have to worry about?

Jump judged today at coach K’s family’s event and realised just how much I miss everything about eventing. Someday.

Praying for a peaceful next week, but ready to see God’s will in it, whatever it is. Glory to the King.

Greenies!

I’ve been going on about the big horsies quite frequently, so it’s about time we talked about the bunch of babies.

such a regal and majestic big horse

There are five not-yet-competing green horses on my list each week. (“Green” is a pretty relative term around here – since most of the competing horses have actually only started competing this year). They vary from Destiny, who can canter most days, to Faith, who has never seen the inside of a lunging ring.

There’s not a whole lot to say about Faithy. There’s not a whole lot to do with a two-year-old Nooitie – we’ve accomplished most of what we needed to this year. Basically it still needs to get in a box and show in hand and then I’ll be twiddling my thumbs until backing time.

She just has the best attitude. She can still wander off when I want to catch her, but she’s obedient and responsive and loooooves to be groomed. I just adore her work ethic – every time we leave the field she perks up. Let’s go learn something!

Her body has been changing, though. As you can clearly see, she’s still very much the awkward two-year-old. But I think I spy that the front end is rapidly catching up with the bum. That would be really rather nice.

December vs March

Then there is Exavior.

heartthrob horse

He is looking the best he’s ever looked. Seriously, the creature is rather drool-worthy.

and 16.1hh

I still haven’t been on him again, and I don’t plan to get back on him until he can walk/trot/canter like a school pony under the Mutterer. I have decided to not give myself any frights on that monster. I love him too much, and I have worked too hard on it, to lose my nerve on him and ruin our relationship.

So I lunge him on the days the Mutterer doesn’t ride. He was an absolute jerk the first few times he worked in the dressage arena, including trampling me, rearing at me, and kicking at me (this is why it’s my last warmblood ever) but now he is back to his very pleasant self.

being babysat by Stardust so he can calm down about the scary stable

The horse does have a very good mind in there buried under the baby-warmbloodness. When he’s not worried about anything, he is intelligent, hardworking and honest as the day; when he is worried he’s violent, sensitive and huge. I really love doing things he’s not afraid of – he learns fast and is easy to teach when he’s not scared.

Yesterday we lunged over a little fence. I keep waiting to see some scope from Mr. Fancy Bloodlines, but he’s severely unimpressed by my little jumps. He is dead honest, though. And I think he loves it.

*plop*

The other redhead baby is Destiny, who still never feels good but still makes good progress anyway. We don’t lunge before riding anymore and these days I make him go large in three gaits, which he does with surprising balance and ease. Schooling him would be so, so easy if he’d just give up on the spooking.

Regrettably, D has a very dishonest spook. He picks a spot each ride that is going to be the spook spot of the day, usually something he’s seen a thousand times before (and not always the same thing) and just has a little wiggle at it the first time we walk past. I dutifully take him over to it and let him touch it and lick and chew. Then we carry on and he’s apparently unaware of it in walk and trot, and usually in canter left too.

But the moment we come by in canter right, he spooks hugely. Luckily he’d given me the wiggle when we walked by, so I’m always ready for it and can sit it out. But it drives me nuts. He has the capacity to be such a lovely little chap – and then he has to pull out silly tricks like this.

We’re still progressing fairly well, though. He canters large fairly nicely and can make circles – they’re a bit motorbikey, but they’re there. He just needs to give up this new game and then we can start doing cool stuff like connecting and jumping and going to shows.

tired pony hopefully learned something

Eagle is doing super. I didn’t sit on him yesterday, because we introduced him to the dressage arena on the long lines and I’m not quite ready to do backing outside of my 15m comfort zone.

He was really, really good. He didn’t mind standing in the stable and he was not worried about a thing when I long-lined him large. The circling was a little more trouble; he was so chill I couldn’t get him to go forward. He’s also one of those super supple babies that wiggle and squiggle and flop all over the place on the lines because pulling the head around doesn’t achieve anything. Having a leg on either side of him will make that job rather easier.

no big deal

And lastly, there is cute little Trooper. I think we have finally resolved the lunging issue. He now takes responsibility for going forward in walk and trot, and I can get four laps of uninterrupted canter with only a little waving of the whip and shouting. He actually has a very cute little balanced canter – possibly because he doesn’t bother to go fast enough to lose his balance – so we are finally ready to start putting on a saddle and long lines. I think being on board with a dressage whip is going to be much easier than clumsily schooling him on the lunge.

“Not forward going” is not the worst vice a kid’s pony can have. I think he’s going to be as safe as a house from the word go.

so handsome!

We finished the day off with lessons,

I’ve only partially stolen Thunny back from the riding school – the poor little ponies don’t have to carry all the tall teenagers

and a super little relaxing hack on Sunè accompanied by a very thrilled groom L on her new lease – Starlight.

Glory to the King.

Mist on the River

An old farmer around here used to say that once there was mist on the river, the frost would come in seven weeks or less. In seventeen years, he hasn’t been wrong.

Sunmer draws to a close, promising the end of midge season – and therefore AHS season – and summer coats, and boxing horses in daylight for shows.

It also means cosmos season, and that means outrides. Summer never goes out without a fight; it always puts on a last defiance in white and purple. It’s the best time for hacking.

Arwen was so quiet today I was kind of worried, except she would not stop eating the whole time. Arwie LOVES cosmos flowers. She didn’t bat an eye at anything and was a total pleasure.

ain’t no double bridle gonna stop Arwie eating flowers

We rode in between the fields of ripening maize,


in and out of the weird hole with the epic banks,

and through the field of gently waving hay, almost ready for its first cutting.

We even got to see a pair of rooibok… cows? Ewes? Lady rooibokke, anyway.

The horses were wonderful and seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. We kept it pretty slow for the little kid’s sake (and mine), but they were all super. Vastrap was hot of course but never bad. Renè, Lulu and Dusty were perfect.

In other news, we’ve had a peaceful week so far with today being a public holiday. We got a bunch of riding done yesterday between K and I, so today is a little slow. Jamaica’s flatwork has shown an improvement again. Arwen ran through Elementary 4 – one of the tests she’s riding on Friday – without apparent effort. Sunè popped through a little working riding test, including straw bales (the only thing that’s ever given her pause in a working riding class), in fine form.

Thunder is now very relaxed in the dressage arena and even packed K over a fence with straw bales under it at 80cm without apparent difficulty.


Midas and Lancelot were introduced to our new jumping stuff. We got ourselves a white plank, which will shortly be a white plank with Scripture painted on, and a picket fence. Lancelot was TERRIFIED at first, Midas couldn’t really care less and both boys jumped great in the end. Midas has been pretty point-and-shoot – he’ll jump the first time, every time.

investigating fully

Eagle and Destiny both got visits from their respective parents, and both pleasantly surprised me. Eagle is a good guy but he can be rather on the sensitive side so tactless handling sets him off like a firework. I coached his mom through lunging and he actually did fantastic – didn’t get in a flap at all if she made a mistake or two. She cottoned on really quickly, too, and by the end of the session they looked quite harmonious.

He’s still a little flinchy about flappy stirrups and having me jump up and down next to him, though. Definitely not ready to sit on just yet.

Destiny has been driving me up the walls by protesting that the dressage arena is Scary and therefore he can ignore all my aids. We had some arguments for the past two weeks, but yesterday it all came together and he gave me two circles of canter each way in the “safe” end of the arena. And today his mom rode him for the first time. He gave her three gaits without batting an eye. I think he feels a lot more resistant than he looks – because he looked fantastic.

Little Trooper also had a breakthrough; we seem to have effectively eliminated the napping. He’s still not the most forward-going chap but consistently gives me walk/trot/canter on the lunge. The canter still needs building, but the balance is there, just not much strength yet. So we moved on to introducing the bridle. I think his rescuer must have done this already because when I put it on his reaction was this:

Yeah. He’s not bothered.

The rest of the week will be consumed by preparing for Nationals on Friday. It feels like quite the doddle compared to HOY, so let’s see how it goes. Always in God’s Hands.

Glory to the King.

Photo Dump Update

It’s been a long week.

But a productive one, with things heading towards normal and settled as new working student L settles admirably into her role and we get used to operations being moved to the dressage.

Lady Erin will be weaned in the beginning of April. She’ll be a bit young at five months, but poor Milady has been struggling ever since she got strangles when Lady E was only five days old, so her body really needs a chance to recovered. Plopsie (she doesn’t quite fit into her real name yet) will be OK, but I’ve started her on balancer just to help. She is delighted to finally get food like the big horsies.

Faith and I started to talk about hosepipes and being bathed. She likes to walk in circles, but hasn’t been pushy or freaked out. Her beautiful flowy mane has been washed and conditioned with minimal drama and I did get to hose her whole body today.

Mom’s dog has a funny foot but she keeps smilin’.

The little kid that had the very bad nerves has graduated to riding around the dressage arena, a huge step. The usually ever-patient Lulu did attempt to take a chunk out of me while I was having him trot on lead, which I take to be a cue to hurry up and get him posting already.

Magic still doesn’t tie up with any degree of predictability, but he ground ties every time. It’s adorable. He’s over his nerves about the dressage arena and we’ve had a blast this week fooling around with poles.

Eagle is lunging well in three gaits with a saddle and bridle, no drama. He is such a willing and sensitive chap. I can’t wait for his owner to visit this weekend.

Exavior ran me over while I was trying to lunge him on Monday, but he hasn’t reared under the Mutterer all week. I’m thoroughly enjoying the whole owner thing. I get to watch my gorgeous horse trot around majestically, and all I have to do is play with him in a relatively safe manner.

Lullaby models a new bridle. Her head is just too pretty.

Sunè and working student K have started giving beginner lessons. Both are doing really really great and have exciting futures ahead of them.

Renè remains K’s heartthrob, for obvious reasons.

After working in the school for a year, Thunder has gotten bored out of his skull and started spooking just for something to do. With his half lease gone, I’ve sort of taken him back for a bit. He’s actually such a dream to ride and has become so strong over the past year that I’m really enjoying him. Maybe we’ll have some dressage shows to go to.

In an attempt to get Magic to hack out, we’ve started going walkies. He is currently the showjumper who won’t go to shows turned happy hack that doesn’t go on hacks, but maybe with enough walks he’ll eventually be good to hack. Or maybe not. I don’t know, but we both enjoy hanging out and walking around eating grass (him, not me), so it’s cool either way.

Lady Erin is learning to walk on a lead like a big horsie. Today was our first session without any tantrums, and we’ve made good progress. Although it did take me five minutes of shouting and shoving to convince the creature to get up from her nap so that we could get started. (It’s fairly bombproof).

Here’s a flowerpot full of kittens, because why not?

We also set up a very challenging, but equally fun, gymnastic exercise for the week. Four one-strides in a row, it’s all about tightening knees and quickening reflexes. Here’s video of Vastrap and his kid popping through in fine style.

In other news, we’re preparing for Nooitie Nationals next weekend. Everyone is pretty ready, it’s just that Arwie has a bit of a cold. Nothing serious, so we’ll just wait and see.

It’s a beautiful thing to be right where God put you. Glory to the King.

The Horse’s Default

Recently, I’ve started writing monthly reports for my full training clients. Many of them don’t get to see their horses work much, so to keep in touch with their training, they’d text me for updates and I found myself texting back only short and incomplete answers. Hence, I set aside some time in the beginning of each month to write a comprehensive summary of what their horse was learning. Texts are still welcome, but generally people now have a much better idea of what’s going on.

Writing the reports have proven just as useful to me, as they force me to evaluate and re-evaluate each horse’s personal journey and give reasons for what I’m doing. Not only does it keep me on my toes, it makes me think about what I’m doing instead of running on intuition. Intuition isn’t a bad thing, but it sure makes it difficult to hand the knowledge over to others when all you can really say is “do what feels right” to a person who hasn’t developed the feel just yet.

One interesting thing I found was that most horses have a default. I guess that should be obvious, but it wasn’t, to me. They all have a certain way that they tend to respond to stimuli, and that “default” in large part determines the horse’s trainability.

nell2
should I define trainability for you? Here it is

In general, I’ve found that most horses respond in one of four different ways.

Reactive: When a horse reacts, he flinches away from a stimulus with a swift, jerky movement. For example, on the lunge, he will scoot forward when you pick up the whip. A reactive horse is usually motivated by fear. The horse whose default is to be reactive, is generally a flinchy, hot and spooky sort.

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can still be good kid ponies, for the right kid

Resistant: When a horse resists, he fights against a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will kick out when you pick up the whip. A resistant horse is often motivated by pain or desire to be dominant. The horse whose default is to be resistant is sulky, grumpy, and habitually has his ears pinned back.

stardust1
like the majority of old school ponies

Responsive: When a horse responds, he moves away smoothly from a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will move calmly forward when you pick up the whip. A responsive horse is generally motivated by willingness to please. The horse whose default is to be responsive is generally pleasant and comes across quite sensitive.

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yep here it is

Unresponsive: When a horse fails to respond, he ignores a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will stand there when you pick up the whip. An unresponsive horse is generally motivated by laziness or boredom. The horse whose default is to be unresponsive will be dead quiet, patient, and stoic, and can sometimes give the impression of not being “all there”.

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but still *are* all there – you just have to dig deeper, right, Z?

Horses also have a sort of “volume”. Not all reactive horses will necessary scoot forward when you pick up the whip. Some will merely step out more briskly than anticipated; others will panic and plunge through the fence. The vast majority of resistant horses never kick out or buck; they just pin their ears. This is why so many back pain and saddle fit issues go unnoticed. Just because a horse is easy to handle doesn’t mean its default is good, it just means its volume’s been turned down, and that can be a good thing – or a bad thing.

One would also think, looking at the list, that all horses should be responsive by default. That’s not true. Remember that horses tend to react to all outside stimuli according to their default – not just aids. Sure you want a horse to respond to your aids, but you don’t want him to respond to a dressage letter, not even if that just means quietly moving away from it. The best horses are a trained balance between responsive and unresponsive, leaning one way or another according to their job. Arwen is more towards the responsive because she’s an adult’s dressage horse who needs to deal with complicated sets of aids in rapid succession. Bruno was far more towards the unresponsive side, because he had to ignore all spooky objects in favour of keeping a kid safe.

Reactive and resistant horses, however, are almost always unhappy; it’s easy to see why – one is motivated by fear or pain, and the other is motivated by pain or by being in the wrong place in their hierarchy. We all know how gross it feels to be in a place where you don’t belong, even if you put yourself there.

All these types of horses (although many horses don’t fit in any of the boxes) need to be approached differently. That’s the most important part of listening, after all: actually acting on what you’ve been told.

Here’s a few little case studies.

Magic‘s default used to be reactive. He feels things deeply, and he expresses them dramatically. Pushing his limits never, ever works – it just makes him go up like a mushroom cloud. Patience and understanding are absolutely key to keeping him happy. The upside of being reactive is that it’s a small – difficult and key, but small – change to becoming responsive, which he has become by a massive effort.

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just like me, I guess

Jamaica used to be excessively unresponsive – to the point where it became complete disobedience and quite dangerous. His automatic reaction was just to hang on your hands till Kingdom come no matter what you did to him. You could flap, you could kick, you could do whatever you pleased – he’d just plough onwards. Unresponsive horses can be very rewarding because they’re fairly easy and safe to train out of it, and then you can really fine-tune the level of responsive you want. Jamaica proved to be one of those. He still has unresponsive moments, but he’s starting to decide that moving away from pressure is generally a good idea. On the plus side, he’s by default not spooky, and because I never trained him to respond to anything except my aids, he remains non-spooky.

Unresponsive horses can be really, really hard to get a read on. Some unresponsive horses have shut down, like a dog that just takes the kick because he knows it’s coming anyway. They bear pain and ill-treatment because it’s the only way they know how to cope. They can hide a tremendous amount of pain. Mercifully, most unresponsive horses are just really chill dudes at heart, who like to roll with it because that’s the way they are. Bruno comes to mind.

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unresponsive trained to be responsive = happy, and gets ribbons

Destiny is the most resistant horse I’ve ever met, and his volume was turned all the way up to the top. He wouldn’t just kick out at the lunging whip, he’d spin around and fly backwards, double-barreling at head height all the way and bringing to mind the legend that the Lipizzaners’ capriole was developed to decapitate footsoldiers. I sure thought he was going to decapitate me. Resistant horses, although a battle, are still an easier fix than reactive horses. Even though this chap’s problem wasn’t pain (which resistant horses almost always are in), he was more easily fixable than you would believe if you’d seen him at the height of his issues. Unfortunately, they’re not a pleasant fix in any way. There’s really two main ways to respond to resistance; to remove the stimulus so that they have nothing left to resist against, thus taking them by surprise and often removing the bitterness from the situation, or to resist their resistance more strenuously than they can resist you. When it comes to head-height double-barreling, option (b) is the only option that will leave you with your head still on. Removing the stimulus and rewarding aggression is a recipe from disaster. Hence, Destiny got a hiding. A big hiding. Now, his default is still to be resistant, but in the matter of a month we’ve got the volume turned down from enormous violence to merely pinning the ears. It’s not as good as resetting the default, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

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Destiny the Reformed

As for responsive, there’s not a lot of horses that are this way after people are done with them. A surprising number of horses are naturally responsive – they just get made either reactive or resistant, because the best horses are always the easiest to ruin. I love me a responsive horse. Nell was one of them, and we all know that she was just epic. The most responsive horse I have right now is undoubtedly Faith. I never had to teach her to move away from pressure because she had it programmed into her DNA. Once she knows how to move away from the pressure, she just does it without any fuss. She can come across spooky because she’ll move away (not leap away) from a scary thing, but personally, I don’t mind those. Nell was the same and as soon as you’ve got the whole moving-away-from-the-leg thing programmed they respond to your leg instead of the scary thing and do what you wanted. (Assuming you made yourself more important and valuable in their lives than scary things). Responsive + willing + gentle + intelligent = most trainable thing you’ll ever clap eyes on.

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and you’re clapping eyes on it now

Now for the million-dollar question, of course. What was the natural default of the majestic, legendary dragonbeast herself? I bet you’ll all be shocked to discover that Arwen was naturally unresponsive. Yep, you read that right. The dragon was the most unresponsive horse you’ve ever seen, and she still has that tendency lurking inside her. I like it because it makes her a lot more robust to my mistakes and whoopsies. It takes a while to train an aid on her, so while she learns good things a little slowly, she also learns bad things a little slowly, which is quite important when you’re doing dressage by trial and error like I am.

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just when you thought you had me all figured out, huh?

The vast majority of horses are complicated tangles of all four defaults, as well as having splashes of random other stuff thrown in. Many are born with one default and go on to be trained to have several different ones. All of them have reacted in all four different ways at some stage in their lives, for multitudes of different reasons. As an example, Nugget is a naturally unresponsive horse who became extremely reactive (with flashes of violently resistant) and is now gradually being trained to be unresponsive again, but with bits of responsive when I ask for them. And she’s only ever had two different handlers, really.

And to turn everything on its head a little, let me remind us all that people and horses are deeply similar, right at the bottom of things. We also react to the greatest Stimulus of all in different ways. Some of us fight Him. Some of us run from Him. Some of us ignore Him.

And some of us hear His voice, and move forward with confidence to do as He asked.

Glory to the King.

Improvement!

After feeling for years that my personal riding skill had just plateaued, it was exhilarating to find that my jumping has taken a huge step forward thanks to lessons with K.

satin to prove it

And while Arwen and I haven’t lessoned with anyone since November, today it seems that our months and months of picking away at the stressage is beginning to pay off, too.

and schooling in all weather

Because Arwen was the first horse I schooled, it follows that her schooling has quite a few holes in it. I think schooling for shows didn’t help that too much – we focused mostly on doing certain test movements well for the better half of last year. While it solidified what we already knew, it didn’t leave much time for fixing and learning new stuff. Now, with no dressage being done for January and February, we had the freedom to work on whatever we needed to on the day.

like good halts

And that has translated into feeling competent at most of the Elementary movements. That much I knew before today. But on Thursday Rain came and took some video of us for the first time in a while, and I am gawping at how well this horse can suddenly canter.

overtrack: check, lifted back: check, amazing view: check

Seems like even without lessons, early mornings, late nights and sweaty numnahs still achieve something.

we even have a recognisable attempt at medium trot now

Glory to the King.

20m x 60m = wonderful

I’ve wanted this for so long, and it is so worth waiting for. Today, I got to ride on a flat level surface that wasn’t pounding my poor horses’ joints into oblivion. There were no holes. There was no slipping. There weren’t any other horses in the way! Just 20x60m of amazing. Thanks Dad, Mutterer – and Lord!

just look at it

I was so excited I didn’t even want to use the lunging ring, so I lunged Xave in the dressage arena instead. He was completely wild but happily went around in circles (at light speed). New arena is apparently spooky if you are a baby dumb-blood (I didn’t even come up with that – it’s what the dentists calls them, usually just after Xave tries to jump on his head). Apart from one very rude kick at me as I sent him off, he was actually fairly polite about being worried. Also, he is freakishly gorgeous, did you notice?

light speed trotting feat. fancy new poll relief bridle

I warmed Arwie up in it before jumping and she didn’t spook at all, although she was excited and pulling. Possibly also a by-product of getting last week off. She proceeded to jump a full 85cm course with flair, which felt amazing. We’re getting somewhere!

Lancelot also schooled in it and was impressively calm, and Midas was just as good and practiced both his tests for Saturday really well. It’s only Prelim 1 and 2 but it was wonderful to be able to school the movements exactly as they’ll be in the show arena. He was brilliant. He’ll do really well if he shuts up and concentrates.

Much of the day was taken up in last-minute practices for the kiddies who are showing heifers on Wednesday. In case anyone out there didn’t know, cows are amazingly beautiful. Particularly Jerseys.

majestic moo

Sunè schooled beautifully in the new arena too. She’s still annoyingly one-sided, which irks me mostly because I’m not used to it. It’s one of the first things I try to fix on mine. Bombproof as they come, though. I look forward to her working riding class this weekend.

I also turned Magic out in the new arena in an attempt to let him get used to it without any chance of launching me into the stratosphere. This was a terrible idea. He bolted up and down screaming until I came over and petted him, and then he walked around on a lead as quietly as can be, not spooking at anything. I guess we’ll see how tomorrow goes.

It was a joy to teach in the dressage; the ponies appreciated the easier footing, the riders appreciated the space, and I appreciated being close to the house (and water/food/equipment/loo). My voice, though, is totally cooked. It was fit for shouting across a 15x35m oval, not for this.

working students being supervised by Ice doggy

After the chaos, just before sunset when the light was turning to molten gold and peace filled every breath, I went out to lunge Eagle (who was great) and breathe in the beauty. The reality. The truth of how much we all are loved.

I deserve death. Instead, I get blessings. Life. The ultimate sacrifice from the One I betrayed.

I pray that every time I step onto that big sand rectangle, it reminds me of that.

Glory to the King.

where miracles happen

Valentines and Big Horses

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.

me in jail ~ Royale

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.

And now, bed. Glory to the King.

Wet.

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.

“my office”

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.

did I mention it was pouring rain?

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.

awww pretty T ❤

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.

post-tantrum sheepish obedience

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.

also wins at the evil mare face

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.

stretch li’l human stretch
The tooth is the teeny brown thing, the little speck you can hardly see. The rest of it is gum tissue that came out with it because he was plunging around like an idiot. Don’t plunge around for your teeth, idiot.

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.

God’s got this. Glory to the King.

Pre-HOY rocked!

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.

grown up travel stuff

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.

yeah so they all looked like this

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.

pretending to be good ponies

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.

so white!

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.

first satin for little palomino dude

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.

And shine she does.

so much satin

Glory to the King.