Undeserving

“I don’t deserve him.”

“Stop that,” the Mutterer opined, “and get back on the freaking horse.”

It was a year after I had started leasing Magic and we were having a tough lesson. The combination we were jumping was just big enough to make me nervous; I kept trying to make him jump the way I wanted, and he kept trying to please me and having to overjump his way out of trouble as a result. “Give him his head,” the Mutterer was bellowing. “Let him do his job.” Try as I might, I was just as green as the horse; even when my head said one thing my hands were still hauling back on his sensitive mouth, locked on the end of arms as tense as a high wire.

The horse was brilliant and beyond. But I couldn’t ride him the way he needed to be ridden. I wasn’t good enough for him.

“If you say that again,” said the Mutterer calmly, “I will kick your little butt to the other end of the arena.”

Facing this petrifying threat, I reluctantly hauled myself back onto the horse and we trotted back into that combination to fluff it again. And again. And again.

 

I can’t ride him right. He deserves better.

Magic felt my negative tension getting worse with every stride, and escalated accordingly. He approached the tiny 60cm oxer with his neck getting higher and longer every time his hooves hammered the floor. Once he got there, I hauled back, desperately wanting the deeper spot. Magic knew he would bring us both to the ground if he took the deeper spot so he jumped anyway, like a gazelle, popping me up out of the tack. I landed on his neck. He bolted, terrified. For the sixth time that day.

I’m going to ruin this horse. I don’t deserve him.

 

“Lord Jesus, I don’t deserve him, but please, I don’t want to lose him.”

It was the fifth day straight of seeing the terrifying agony in the horse’s eyes. He swayed in the horsebox, head hanging low, sweat drenching the coat that was now pulled tight over his bony frame. I pressed my forehead against his brow; he was burning up. “Come on, buddy. Keep fighting.” He rolled a great brown eye to me and it was filled with fire. He wasn’t going to quit. And I, swaying with him, filled with his agony, sleep deprived beyond expression and sick with tension, wasn’t going to quit either.

“I know I don’t deserve him, but I love him. Lord, save him, if it’s Your will.”

 

“You got this, buddy.”

He cantered through the start with four feet coming down like a waltz, with giant muscles lifting and dancing underneath me. First fence; he had a little look, but I gave my hands forward and he took it in that easy leap that only he has. The course rolled by underneath him until we reached the bending line to the one-stride combination. He saw the long spot; so did I, but I was sure we wouldn’t make the stride if we took it; I reacted before I could think and pulled. It was a mistake. He launched himself into the air, landing so hard we both grunted with the impact, and the next element was right under his nose. I scrambled, grabbed mane, managed only to make a feeble little clicking noise and he bailed us both out. We thundered off, disunited and in a complete mess, but the last fence was still waiting. I braced a fist against his neck, shoved myself back into the saddle and sat up. “The Lord is my Shepherd!” And we floated down to the last fence with his dizzying grace, cleared it without a second thought.

I fell on his neck, intentionally this time, and hugged him. The pure, sleek curve of muscle flexed in my arms, powerful as a breaking wave. “Thank you, buddy. I could never deserve you.” I sat up, rubbed gloved knuckles across the satiny coat; my horse’s whole frame lit up with pleasure, dancing forward. And it’s true: I don’t deserve him. But who could ever deserve half a ton of power and spirit, submitting itself to your foolish whim? Who could ever deserve a heart so mighty, yet so willing to beat in time with yours? I don’t deserve him, but nobody deserves horses.

So I’ll probably never take him to A-grade even though he could take those heights in his stride. So it’s unlikely he’ll ever be ridden to his fullest potential. Magic dances when I touch him, bails me out when I fail; Magic is the horse I didn’t quit on and he doesn’t care that I don’t ride him well enough.

I don’t deserve him, but if you know God, you know it’s not about deserving.

IMG_8923

And Not By Sight

We called her Stardust, because she is something of light and hope that not everyone believes in.

It was two days after I had made the impossible decision. The riding school is growing, and the two schoolies aren’t coping. First one, and then the other began to sour; both coming to their work and doing it as well as they could, but both starting to make flat ears at me when I brought them to saddle up, or wandering off when their groom went to catch them. They weren’t happy in their work and it was not the fault of the work; there was just too much of it. Even I get tired in the three hours’ lessons every afternoon and I’m not the one carrying the kids around.

I needed another schoolie, and I was pretty sure the growing business could support one. But where on earth the money to buy one was supposed to come from, I had no idea. I’m flat broke. The little yard has just begun, and when you’re 18 years old and have a grass arena and questionable stables, you are a dwarf in a world of equestrian giants. Low prices and fire in your eye is all you’ve got to attract clients with. And fire is only useful when it spreads.

But this is Morning Star Stables, the high calling of my dreams, and if we do not walk by faith now we never will. It is God’s now as it has been since it was just a spark and will be when it can be a giant too. So I made the decision: We were getting another schoolie. I started to look for it, and as usual, I was picky. Something a bit smaller than galumphing Thun – 14 or 14.2 would do it. Easy-keeping, chunky, with powerful legs that could stand up to the rigours of the schoolie workload. Smooth gaits. Basic training, and a naturally fearless, quiet and people-loving nature. As for my budget, I didn’t have one. I couldn’t afford anything and whatever pony God wanted for His new schoolie, He’d pay for somehow.

Not quite two days later, a new lesson kiddie showed up and had her lesson on Thunder. All was going swimmingly when her dad leaned on the fence and asked, “You don’t need a new kid pony, by any chance?”

To make a long story short, Stardust is here for her month’s trial period. Free of charge. In case you were wondering, she stands 14.1hh and is fat on air. She is broad across the chest with stout little legs made apparently of cast iron. Her gaits are like sitting on a waterbed. She has all the basic gaits and aids, and when I tried her out at her previous home, there were kids running and yelling and hitting things in this spooky little farmyard and she didn’t do a thing. Just put her nose down and did what I said. We have a month to get through before we can be sure, but I think I am pretty sure.

And that is why we walk by faith, and not by sight.

MSStardust1

Fourways Training SJ

Show photos by Fine Photography

The 10th January training show at one of my favourite venues was a no-brainer for the first show of 2016. I spent the days leading up to the show dead nervous. Recently back in work, Magic was performing brilliantly; he jumped everything I pointed him at in style and sensibly, and I was confident he’d make short work of the little classes I’d chosen for him. But the last time we showed Magic was when he colicked so badly and I had no way of being absolutely sure that he wouldn’t do it again.

Still, we had the all-clear from the vet, and armed with drums of water and ample nets of the best hay we could find, the Mutterer and I braved the challenge with Magic and Liana. It was Liana’s first show over fences but I wasn’t overly worried about her. She had been jumping 80cm at home without a moment’s hesitation; her first combinations and oxers had gone effortlessly. She has a natural eye and enthusiasm for jumping, which, combined with her careful technique and abundant scope, is going to make her one epic eventing pony.

Magic was very nervous to load but consented to get in without too much of a fight, and once Liana had pretty much self-loaded, we were off. Both travelled very well and got off relaxed and ready. I was a different story – late, as usual. Luckily the Mutterer saved my butt by having the little mare saddled by the time I got back from entering.

Liana was bright-eyed but quiet as I walked her to the warmup, but once we got there, my heart sank. It had poured the night before in Kyalami and the arena was basically underwater. All three practice fences had approaches and landings in water and Liana has never been asked to deal with water before. Figuring that at least she’d learn something if I spent the entire morning just getting her into a puddle, I climbed on, walked her around on the dry perimeter, and then aimed her for the water. Liana strode over, dropped her nose to have a sniff, and walked right through it, without any trouble.

IMG_8773

The little Nooitie proceeded to be completely awesome for the rest of the show. She galloped through the water, jumped in and out of it without batting an eye, and spooked at exactly nothing. We went into the 30cm feeling good; she had a good look at the few jumps with filler in them and overjumped everything by miles, but never stopped, shied, or bolted. She did have one violent wiggle over the first element in a related distance, resulting in my saddle (even its XW gullet being insufficient for Liana’s considerable girth) slithering horribly down her side; the adrenalin rush was such that in five strides I had kicked it straight again and we made it over the next fence without further ado.

The 40cm was even better, and by the 50cm, she was ready for anything. She jumped sensibly, behaved beautifully and would probably have won it if she hadn’t misjudged one fence, rushed a little and brought the rail down with her hind toes. Unfortunate, but not bad at all for a first show over fences. For the rest of the show she was completely calm, happy, and well behaved.

IMG_8839

The same could not be said for Magic when the Mutterer brought him up to the warmup. I could spot my horse from inside the show ring: he was flying on the end of his lead like a kite, striking out dramatically with his forelegs, his tail stuck straight up in the air. The less-than-impressed Mutterer gratefully clutched at his precious Nooitie, opining that “your horse is not right in his head”. I thought better of asking for advice because the Mutterer’s thunderous expression suggested that any advice from him may include a bullet, so I just got my reins and got on my horse. Or the leaping thing that my horse had morphed into, anyway. Wherever Magic was in his head, it wasn’t a quiet warmup arena at a training show; there were dragons, and he was scared, and he was going ballistic.

Down to the very dapples. But hopefully not the heels.

He napped extravagantly, shooting backwards towards the gate, threatening to rear when I put my heels in him and throwing his head madly when I touched the reins. He was hypersensitive to everything; he struck out with his forelegs constantly and shied at the most random little things. But he never bucked or tried anything malicious. So I did the only thing one really can do with Magic; sat tight, closed my calves very gently around his side, and spoke to him until my voice penetrated the darkness in his head. At length, he stopped reversing and took one tentative, dancing step forward. Then another. Every step floated; he felt like a bubble, as if my smallest movement might burst him. But he kept going all the way around the arena, splashing through the water, and slowly he started to come back.

The work settled him by degrees. Once he was walking more like a horse, I gently coaxed him up to the trot, and we trotted until his brain came back and he put his little nose down and concentrated. From the trot we jumped the cross-rail a couple of times; he overjumped wildly, but I just stayed out of his face and a few jumps calmed him some more. Before we could address the canter, it was time to go in for our class.

This was somewhat disastrous. Bits of the arena were dry and other bits were damp; all the footing was safe, but Magic considered the lighter, dry bits to be terrifying. He shot backwards across the arena again, shaking his head, dancing sideways, shying at shadows. We stopped at the first fence because he was spooking at the dry ground behind it, then deer leaped it. The rest of the course was much the same. It was 50cm and he trotted, flailed, leapt and generally forgot how to horse. One thing was for sure, at least: we had absolutely no poles down.

After that we went straight back into the warmup and cantered around, and his brain, thankfully, continued to come back. We popped over the vertical and oxer several times and Magic started to breathe at last with his little fluttery OTTB snort at the end of each stride. Going back in for the 60cm, I at least did not have to beg my horse down to the start, but he did refuse the first fence again. I brought him back calmly and he jumped it. About four fences in, he landed in a canter and stayed in his nice smooth rhythmic canter that was custom-made for showjumping. The rest of the course went beautifully; he took a deep breath and relaxed and my horse was back. I did make a mistake at the last fence by asking him for the longer distance as he approached – a habit; he prefers a long spot – and he gave it to me along with about a metre of additional height, landing so hard my hat fell over my eyes, but we’d made it through another class and he was feeling better and better.

IMG_9062
Knees. Just. Knees.

Warming up for the 70cm was like riding at home. He doddled around on the buckle, sneered at the silly horses that wouldn’t go into the water, and jumped everything flawlessly, obediently, passionately the way only he can. Going into the class he had never felt so good. We were the first combination in, so we walked up to the spooky judge’s box at a flowing dressagey walk. I closed my hands and knees ever so slightly and he stepped up into the most perfect square halt. With a leisurely salute, we opened the class. The announcer enquired, “Is this Magical Flight?” in tones of disbelief.

He has never jumped a class as well as he jumped that one. We galloped the longer stretches, collected up perfectly for the related distances. He never looked at a thing; all he had to know about a fence was which side to jump it from and he was over. I fluffed my approach to the combination; he took the long spot and saved my ungrateful bottom. I caught him in the mouth a little, he overjumped and landed smack in the middle of this little one-stride and Magic bounced out with not a second thought. He is a horse in a million. What am I saying? He’s one of a kind. I nearly cried when we loped through the start and fell on his neck hugging him and thanking God because I don’t deserve him. Nobody does. Nobody ever could. But he’s mine, and I can never feel not good enough for him again, because I’ll never give up on him and for Magic that is enough.

The best part? He ate, drank, and pooped with the best of ’em. He came home, ate his grass, had grated apple for dinner and went back to life without missing a beat. My horse – oh, but he could never be; God’s horse – is back and he’s just fine. And the two weeks of suffering that we both endured – he in his own pain and discomfort and confusion, mine in the agony of empathy – the horrible ordeal that could have ended in tragedy – it was turned around and made to work for us because we serve an amazing God. Magic and I have never been closer. We didn’t quit on each other and we both know it and we never will.

It sounds a sentimental, perhaps. But with the strong smooth curve of his neck in my arms, with the power of the pulse in his neck beating against my skin, sentimental can be true.

Thank You Lord for Your amazing love.

IMG_8923

2016 Goals: Arwen

I realise it’s kind of late to be setting goals, but they’ve been in my head for a while, so I may as well now put them down on paper. Screen. Whatever. I enjoy having a plan for the year with each horse, but God’s plan is sovereign – and He always knows best.

Arwen’s 2015 Goals

Arwen4

  • Get her fit – Done. She was easily fit enough for our last event.
  • Build her upper neck muscles – Done. Her muscle tone has never been this good, to the point where I asked the Mutterer what muscles need building up for the upcoming showing show and he replied in tones of deep disappointment, “Well, actually, none.”
  • School Elementary Medium successfully – Failure there, but our Elementary work is a lot more solid. Her schooling has improved, just not to EM level.
  • Introduce scary-looking jumps – Done. While we have been having really disappointing stops in competition, at home she’s jumping the spookiest things I can build without batting an eye.
  • Have her go through water more easily – Done. She didn’t stop at water all year.
  • Show graded in EV70 – Done. We showed in three, but only completed two.

2016 Goals

  • Go double clear at EV70. Face it – at this level, you win on your dressage score. Arwen’s dressage is very solid. We could do really well if we’d just stop incurring jumping penalties, especially stops on cross-country. This will take a whole lot of schooling, and a bunch more cross-country lessons, so I’m pretty cool with only eventing again in midwinter or spring. Another jumping show or two can also only help our confidence, or even competing at EV60 once or twice more.
  • School Elementary Medium 1 and 2. This is very achievable, especially with how solid her Elementary work is getting. It is, however, going to depend on how soon we get our new 20×60 arena done. Our current one is about 15×50, making it impossible to make an accurate half 10m canter circle. The more complex the figures get the harder it becomes to ride them here. She will also have to make the transition to a double bridle, which might be a bit tough.
  • Compete Elementary. We can totally do this. She could do Elementary 1 with her eyes closed. We just need to get enough qualifying rounds at Novice first, so this will also be an end of the year thing. Even if we just do the ungraded class at the Pretoria Nooitie show – it’s something.
  • Gallop through water. She goes into water just fine, but she always drops to a walk. Now we just need to school her confidence with keeping her gallop rhythm through the water and we’re good.

Lord, not what I will, but what Thou wilt.

ICB Christmas Event Recap: The Riding

Inanda Country Base’s massive green property reeks of old-fashioned horsiness. One can almost imagine you are somewhere deep in England; the immaculate British-style stable blocks, vast green fields and baying of their hunting hounds in the early mornings sends a shiver down the spine. I loved it there. Arwen did too; she spent her first night in a real stable and didn’t even kill anyone, though I did take the precaution of taping my phone number to her nose in case of any nightly escapades, so she looked like a complete idiot.

Arwen7

Dressage was in one of the epic green fields, which was so big that three dressage arenas and a warmup ring of enormous proportions fit in effortlessly. Unfortunately, the dressage arenas were marked off by white ropes near the ground. This is fine and safe and useful, except Arwen said the ropes were Poisonous Electric Snakes and politely declined to go straight beside them. She had the best warmup in the world and then came down the centreline like she owned it and then did a perfect, unrequired haunches-in down the track, in all three gaits, and every time we went on the track. Our circles and transitions were beautiful enough that we earned a respectable 60.7 penalties (60%), landing us, as usual, squarely in the middle of the field at 8th out of 15.

Showjumping was directly after dressage. I only barely had time to yank on my bib and grab my jumping crop and we were in after a brief warmup. She was coming in very close to the fences but jumping willingly enough, so I just let it go. Honestly, though, I felt like a blob of well-chewed bubblegum. Squashy and colourless. A hectic week – 16 hour days, nine rides a day, feeding and admin on top of it all – had left me frazzled by that morning, and dressage had drained whatever brainpower I had left. We came through the start flat, scraped over the opening oxer, and took the second rail. I woke up enough to flap my crop at her as we approached the easy vertical at number three, so we made it over that. Number four was an oxer with filler under it and as we came around the corner at it, I just sat there. Arwen found exactly zero support and dawdled to a halt to look at the filler. I approached with somewhat more zeal and we made it over just fine the second time; number five had looked scary from the beginning, so I gave her a boot and she jumped beautifully.

We came down the huge bank towards number six, fell on our faces, and stopped again at six. I knew I had only one refusal left now, so I woke up and gunned it back at the fence and she jumped it well. 7, 8, and the combination at 9 were on a series of difficult rollbacks and we nailed the line to every single one, popping over the fences with no difficulty. I relaxed as we cleared number 9b and my brain left, again. We cantered towards number ten, Arwen asked if she should jump it, I said, “Huh?” and she knelt in the middle of it instead, demolishing it thoroughly and putting the finishing touch on the most ignominious round of my competitive career.

I didn’t whack her for any of the stops. In the circumstances it would have been ridiculously unfair; if I had just given her a little leg going into them I bet she would have jumped every single fence with her eyes closed. Poor old Arwen. I gave her an apologetic pat as we left. There was nothing more we could do about it, and on the bright side, because it was only EV70, we were still allowed to run cross-country the next day for schooling purposes.

This was a good thing, because the course map had me quailing. Arwen has never jumped a ditch in her entire life and the second element of 10 (also her first xc combination) was a ditch. It was a large black abyss, probably with some lava at the bottom. Number 14 was also a ditch, a large one with gigantic scary owls on either side, and there was a drop about the same height as the Victoria Falls.

Warming up for xc, I was quite worried that she was going to try stopping again just out of habit, but this time I was awake so I actually steered and pushed the go button so she took me over every practice fence we looked at without thinking twice – including an 80cm skinny as big as a house. She was blowing fire as we came up the hill to the startbox and after the countdown from five and saluting the King, I put my spurs in her and she came blasting out looking for something to kill. Number one was inviting so she hardly broke her stride sailing over it and roared off towards number two, max height and wide, no problem for her – she just ate it up. We had a little stumble crossing the dirt road, but she caught herself quickly, clicked back into her stride and bounded over number three.

Arwen2

I was convinced we were going to stop at number four. It was a sharp turn right into the woods to a skinny fence with bales all over it, and it caused plenty of grief to other riders that day. Arwen came at it locked and loaded and just charged over it as if it wasn’t there. Number five was simple but its approach was complicated by a branch, which was kind of in the way, except Arwen is 14.3 and I’m 5′ 4″ so we just galloped under it because we are awesome. She took 5 and 6 in her stride and then charged up the long blast to 7.

Seven was intimidating: a stack of logs, low but wide, and the horses could just catch a glimpse of the water as they approached it. Three riders were eliminated there, and as we came up to it I felt Arwen looking and tried to kick her except my legs didn’t want to cooperate so I just made a little smoochy noise instead and poor longsuffering Arwen hauled my sorry backside over that fence and saved the day. She wriggled into the water, walked a few steps, trotted, scrambled out and willingly jumped the low side of number 8, a step. We flopped up the hill at number nine without any juice at all and Arwen put up her willing knees and did a riding-school-pony-pop over it, dragging me with her once again.

Arwen3

The stretch from 9 to the Combination of Doom was huge and uphill, so I let her go and she ate up the ground. At the turn to 10 I brought her right back down to a little working canter, shouting, “Arwen, LOOK at it, theLordismyShepherd Arwen LOOK!” Arwen declined. She popped over 10a and then while I was still trying to massively override 10b she was already over it and galloping off, saying, “What? It’s just a hole in the ground, you stupid little human,” while I sat there flabbergasted.

Arwen6

Number 11 scared me. It was under a shed and had shavings bags under it, but mercifully it was small, and Arwen had a mighty look but jumped just fine. 12 was also intimidating and she had another look and another good jump. Then came number 13 and as she saw it she leapt straight up into the air, whereupon I bounced up like a kid on a Thelwell pony, landed with a big kick, clung on and scrambled over.

Arwen1

We opened up the throttle on the stretch to the next ditch, which I was no longer worried about; Arwen said that because it was wide it was easy because one could jump in it instead of over it. This caused the jump judge to squeal in alarm but we shot off before she could do anything about it. 15 was a bit spooky but I slowed her down enough that we made the turn and climbed over it fine. By this point, my legs were just done. Somehow, despite spending the hours I do in the saddle, I had totally missed out on the fact that my cardio fitness sucks. I had been running on adrenalin, which promptly left as we cantered down to harmless little number 16 and stopped. This gave me a goodly adrenalin rush, so I waved my crop around and Arwen jumped 16 and the mighty drop at 17 without turning a hair. One last effort of galloping and we took 18 in our stride, blasting through the finish and stopping on a dime as is Arwen’s trademark.

Arwen4

I was euphoric as we left the xc with my panting pony. Despite the silly stop and copious time penalties, she had never felt more confident across a more challenging course ever before. One thing is for sure: The horse can do the job, and she loves it. The fault lies with me, but I know that just like that good little grey – “the spunky little grey”, as the announcer calls her – will take none of my inferior nonsense and will haul my sorry butt over into excellence just the way she hauls it over oxers. Glory to the amazing King.

Arwen5

 

Le Godimo’s Last Bash Event

When we heard that the beloved Le Godimo Horse Trials was making its November 2015 event its last, we just had to go. This beautiful venue with its inviting courses and holiday feel, where everybody camps out beside the stables and horseboxes are universally slept in, had been a gem of the eventing community for many years. Our first event in March was held there and I was really sad to learn that we would only ever ride there twice.

We planned to make the last one a good one, at least. Erin came along to jump judge and plait (a skill which I vastly lack), Dad played the role of chauffer and camper extraordinaire, Arwen did the running and jumping and I held on. She travelled as well as she ever does and came out of the horsebox calm enough that with a net of teff hay to placate her we actually managed to put up her mane in a stallion plait in record time. I had her half saddled up when she shook the whole thing out with one enormous sneeze. Panic and chaos ensued; we had a nice warm up, discovered that dressage was running early, and dashed back to the box. Erin saved our butts by making nine of the most perfect little showing buttons you ever saw in your life and then proceeded to whine and moan about how awful they were while I shouted at her to shut up and video the test. Amid the madness, Dad also discovered that I had only printed half of said test, and memorised vague bits of it. With panicking humans in all directions, Arwen put her head down and went directly to work without a fuss. In sharp contrast to last Le Godimo, she was calm, collected and behaving herself impeccably. I rode gorgeously in the warmup and then arrived at the judge’s gazebo too early, got into trouble, made an idiot of myself and came down the centreline distracted, embarrassed and above all, crooked.

Arwen saved my sorry skin for me. Aimed directly for the no man’s land somewhere between H and C, she made herself as straight as a ruler and came down that centreline with her legs swinging with the rhythm and regularity of pendulums. I was as nervous as they come, so I leant forward, basically sat on my reins and stared at her neck with its perfect plaits. The longsuffering Arwen did her best and earned a slew of 6s and 7s, earning us a very respectable 49.8 penalties (66.9%; for you Americans it would have been a 33.1). It was enough for eighth. My nervousness cost us badly as I held her down in the canter, making her slop around like a riding school pony and getting us a whole bunch of 6s. Even if I had ridden like a human being I find it much harder to get dazzling scores in these simple eventing tests. Arwen’s paces are nothing to write home about, so a working trot from M to F is difficult to make into something really wow; her greatest strength is her extreme obedience, and that’s a lot easier to showcase in a complex transition  or a four-loop serpentine than in 6 walk steps over X.

Showjumping started a few hours later. I walked the course without much trepidation; it was much less complicated than at the last Le Godimo. Number 1 was a vertical, then a long bending line to number 2; a gradual loop led to number 3 and 4, a distance that walked for a long 5 strides. 4 was slightly intimidating – a max height oxer with a white lattice under it. Then one went straight up a massive bank, with two strides from the top of that to a simple vertical at 5. Large left turn to a max height oxer at 6, back down the bank to another vertical at 7, then slightly left to an oxer at 9. A fairly long gallop to the right to an ominous white oxer at 10. Stuff we can deal with.

Arwen warmed up dead lazy. In her defence, it was ridiculously hot and we were both dying. She crashed through the first warmup jump and then decided against that sort of thing and jumped the rest of them okay. She had a workaday sort of air in the show arena right up until we cantered up to fence 1 and she wiggled violently. I gave her a mighty pony kick and we made it. Most of the course was fairly similar; she wiggled at the first four jumps, I pony kicked and she cleared them. The five-stride line from 3 to 4 was just short enough to be really awkward for her; she did six and a half, scrambled over number four, and came up the bank to 5 in a dead sticky canter. She was as willing as they come to jump it but just didn’t have the impulsion and tapped the rail with a back hoof as she jumped, just rolling it out of the cup. After that she was game and forward and cleared everything well and quickly for no time penalties, just the 4 faults for that unlucky rail.

Arwen1

I was very happy with her. No stops at her first jumping competition since August. I blamed the wiggling on her long break, and the rail was really just rather unfortunate; she lost impulsion due to not fitting her strides in to number 4 and just couldn’t get it back up the bank to 5.

We spent the night merrily in the horsebox, with Arwen camped out in her huge electric paddock beside us. She vastly preferred this to a stable and stood there smugly in her rain sheet, telling all the damp warmbloods in their wood stables that they were losers. Dad had rigged up the box to become the lap of luxury for us humans too, including bunk stretchers and a portable shower. I am known for killing ex-boyfriends with crazy WWF moves (Mutterer’s actual words) in my sleep, so I speak for myself when I say I slept well; Erin, on the bottom bunk with me bucking and leaping around on the top one, would probably beg to differ.

The morning was lazy for Arwen and I; I fed and groomed at 5:30am and then hung around while Erin went off to jump judge. I joined her to watch some big horses jumping the EV90 log (PETRIFYING) and the EV80s jump their corner (doable, especially after the insane corner at Fourways). Afterwards I took Arwen for a little hack to stretch her legs, and ended up hanging on desperately to a little grey dragon that leapt and snorted around completely uncharacteristically. The long open stretch from the campsite to the show arenas at Le Godimo turns her little head for some reason; I decided to pick my battles and we went dragoning back, legs thoroughly stretched.

It was ridiculously hot by the time we head for the xc warmup around 11:30. Arwen warmed up amazing. She was jumping every fence she could see with a beautiful little bascule, taking me forward to every jump. We headed down to the startbox in high spirits and some nervousness. The countdown from 3 was just long enough to salute the King and then we were off towards number 1, an inviting little log with bales under it. Arwen had a good look and then popped over.

2 was set at almost a 90 degree angle to 1, but the stretch between them was long enough that it shouldn’t have been a problem except I failed to steer. I took it too wide, swung her into it too late and she ran sideways. Just before the fence I managed to get her back and boot her over it and she went quite willingly, but we did get a very costly 20 penalties for that. Arwen, violently ticked off, went bucking off into the bush, yelling YOU HAD ONE JOB, HUMAN, ONE JOB! I shortened my reins and steered properly this time into number 3, which she wiggled at, but jumped all right. The stretch from 3 to 4 took us right past the campsite, causing Arwen to neigh and shy melodramatically; 4 was the first max height fence with bales and flowers and other monsters on it and Arwen very nearly stopped, but I gave her a tap with the whip and rode her hard and she consented to take the leap.

At number 5, suddenly beast mode kicked back in. It was a welcoming pole stack and Arwen’s ears flicked forward and suddenly we were back in business. She sailed over that, then hoofed it down the long stretch to the oxer at 6. Nothing to worry about there; down the long straight to the log at 7, slight wiggle but nothing major, and then we were going down to pipe oxer at 8. Arwen jumped that just fabulously, straight out of a huge big gallop stride without turning a hair.

Number 9 terrified me out of my socks. It was a max height solid stone wall, easily the widest fence across the top. According to Erin, who was judging it, we both came down to it with eyes as big as saucers. I yelled, “The Lord is my Shepherd! JUMP ARWEN!” and gave her another bit of encouragement with my crop and Arwen tucked up her knees and jumped it. We landed galloping. Number 10 was another pole stack which Arwen just devoured; then there was a long stretch to 11 and I sat down on her and closed my legs around her and she took off like a fat grey rocket. I had to steady her a little for 11, another bale jump, and then sat up and squished her canter into a tight little ball for number 12. A simple rail with a ground line set slightly in front of it, it wasn’t bad in itself, but the path curved off directly next to it. The thing was begging for a run out. I kept my hands and eyes up and my honest mare didn’t even think about running out. She popped over without any fuss.

On the long uphill 12 to 13 we really opened up the throttle and came pounding down there at a goodly gallop. Number 13 was just scary enough to back her off a little and over she went. 14 was a beautiful little slanted grid which she took in her stride; 15 was a wide, max height A-frame that actually rode really really well. Number 16 was the log at the water, but when we came round the corner there were spectators all over the road. I bellowed, “HEY!”, not having the breath for much else; they scattered, Arwen spooked at them violently and my hat fell over my eyes. We jumped number 16 on feel alone because I definitely couldn’t see it. I jammed my hat back up just in time to see the water. We wiggled, but she didn’t go down to a walk and power trotted through like a good little mare.

Number 18 was this unassuming oxer, but it was a very awkward approach, and I was glad we were trotting to get straight enough for it. She broke to canter herself and took me over it. We came blasting over the finish with not a single time penalty, just the 20 for that dumb run-out at number 2.

Arwen2

The run-out cost us three places. We fell to 11th, which was still good enough for 2 points to start off our first season with the Gauteng Eventers Amateur League. I knew I had been taking something of a risk entering EV70 instead of EV60, but the cross-country was of a similar level as their EV60 event, so it turned out to be a very good move-up. We both had an absolute blast. Glory and praise and honour and gratitude to the King.

Nooitie Update

Arwen5I have been a very bad blogger, so now for my punishment I shall write lengthy picture-heavy updates on everything with four legs on this place. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if that’s your punishment or mine, but I digress.

We’ll start with Arwen because she begins with A and is anyway ever the busy and cheerful member of the Horde. And while we’re on the subject of Arwie, we may as well include the rest of the fat, fluffy, nerdy Nooitgedachters.

Arwen had her six weeks off after her AHS shot from the beginning of September to mid-October, whereupon I promptly entered her in a show at the end of October, giving us a whole two weeks to prepare for it. As usual, Arwen came back from her rest snorting and plunging and leaping like a dragon, but stronger and more supple in her mind and body. She always seems to remember her good habits and forget half the bad ones during her time off (no, you can’t have her). Apart from a few interesting little moments in the first few days back in work (like an idiot, I jumped straight back on my fiery mare with not a day’s lunging; amazingly I am still alive), she was awesome all the way through.

At the dressage show (which was at Hope Riding, venue of one of our first shows ever), I had my two greenies standing about like school horses while my seasoned campaigner leapt about snorting at things and threatening to kill somebody. Arwen was a maniac in the warmup arena. We basically galloped around while I clung on for dear life, spooking at drains. She prompted an instructor to quirk an eyebrow as I whizzed helplessly past, lean down and whisper in her companion’s ear: “That is a very hot horse.”

WHERE THE JUMPZ???
WHERE THE JUMPZ???

When we got to the dressage arena, I felt like an idiot. Evidently my two weeks’ preparation had not been enough and I was about to get bucked off in front of the whole stableyard, which is a fairly new stableyard and holds me in rather excessive esteem. Arwen dragoned along the edge of the arena and was barely persuaded to halt in front of the judges’ box; I grimaced at the judge and said, “I’m sorry, I brought my event horse today. My dressage horse stayed home.” The judge politely accepted the apology and we trotted off to A, came down the centreline and landed an 8. From then on it was all pie. Arwen was relaxed, obedient, submissive and ever so slightly smug at my amazement. An instructor, watching our test, turned to my mom and said, “She’ll never be great at dressage. She’s not forward going enough.”

Oooh right we're dressaging... well I rock at this too... ~ Arwen
Oooh right we’re dressaging… well I rock at this too… ~ Arwen

She scored 68% for Novice 1 and her personal best of 74% for Novice 2. That would have been 26 penalties in eventing – I’ll take that any day. Arwen won a fly mask and twirled maddeningly while we tried to bandage her up for travel, demanding to know where the cross-country was. She was so excited that when I grabbed her lead and ran into the horsebox she trotted right up next to me before even noticing where she was actually going. She was infuriated to find out that we were going home instead of across country.

Our first horse trial of the season is in two weeks’ time and I feel good about it. We have had appalling heat and I haven’t conditioned her as much as I would have liked, and we’re moving up to EV70, but Arwen has been giving me some really solid work. Her dressage is on point (absolutely nothing wrong with willingness to go forward…), she’s been jumping 1.00m at home without batting an eyelid (seriously, she hasn’t had a single stop since I brought her back into work, and even lands on whichever lead I ask now), and while she isn’t as fit as I would like, her galloping has really improved. She gallops with a rhythm that a dressage judge would approve of. We still have trouble jumping out of a gallop stride, but at least in between fences her little legs can make up some ground. I think it’s going to be a boatload of fun and if we survive cross-country and I keep my act together, we should even do better than last time. The goal is simple: survive. My secret goal is to finish on my dressage score, but considering it’s a move up, I would be very happy to complete.

Arwen3

Nell has some extremely exciting news: she’s moved in with me. For some time the Mutterer and I have been discussing how awesome it would be if Nell stayed with me so that I can spend more time on schooling, and so that showing logistics would be far easier. It’s an 80-minute round trip to go pick her up on a show morning, and when does anyone have 80 spare minutes on a show morning? Added to that, I only make it out to her owner’s place at most twice a week. It has been adequate so far (if getting a horse from unbacked to Novice in a year can be considered merely “adequate”, considering my level of experience – she’s just something else), but now I’m stoked to be able to put more work in her. Nell is a phenomenal mare from her tremendous movement to her striking looks to her amazing mind, and the dressage world had just better watch out.

AropNia-Nell1

Nell also went to the show with Arwen. She was quite well-behaved, until her stablemate Liana was busy showing, at which point she ran around in her paddock yelling, and especially angelic to travel. In the warmup she was a complete loon, but judging by Arwie’s behaviour it must have been a very spooky arena for some reason. We got to the dressage arena and I was fed up with insane young horses and ready to pack her royal fatness back to the stud to have babies for the rest of her life, but then suddenly Nell decided that she was done with nonsense and was going to show the world what she can do. The world, in this case, consisted of the dressage judge, my family, the photographer, an the show organisers (everyone else had gone home by this point), but she was still amazing. She landed 65% in Novice 1 and 67% in Novice 2, without any apparent effort. The judge’s socks were knocked off. I botched half the movements in terms of accuracy because I was in survival mode and focused on keeping my baby horse’s feet on the ground and brain in her noggin, but I needn’t have been. Accuracy points are stupid to lose but at least easy to fix, so I’ll take it.

AropNia-Nell3

Interestingly, the first time I rode her in my arena, Nell was perfect. Not spooky, not looky, and certainly not leapingly crazy the way she can be at shows. But the first time I rode her in my arena with people watching, she was extremely nervous for the first few minutes. She even napped for the first time in her life, refusing to enter the arena at all; we backed up about 40m before I persuaded her to go forward and then she was obedient if a little worried. Stage fright? It seems ludicrous, but the coincidence is too great to ignore, so I’ll be experimenting with the idea in future.

AropNia-Nell2

Liana, Nell’s beautiful chestnut stablemate, came along to live with me as well. Ana is being sold and is wonderful so buy her. This dressage show was her first (or at least her first in several years), and she put the more experienced horses to shame by loading the best, standing the most nicely, and behaving the most calmly out of all of them. She is a sensitive ride, but oh so honest and sweet and levelheaded. I was extremely proud of her. Due to a frustrating old training issue that is improving but was worsened by her slight tension at the show, she had trouble lengthening her strides appropriately and came across rushed and choppy, so her scores were 56 and 58% in the first two Prelim tests, but she was extremely obedient. She did everything I asked and didn’t spook at a thing. Despite rushing, she didn’t pull and never threatened to get out of control. She will make some sweet little girl very happy. So if you are a sweet little girl, start pestering your parents.

AropLiana3

Once at my place, she also handled my arena with aplomb and we set to doing some jumping, to which she is better suited. She has a powerful jump and is as game as they come to the fences, although we do need to work on her habit of taking a rather long distance when she jumps from a canter. She’s insanely careful, though – I would really not mind taking her across country and I’m paranoid about what kind of jumper I’ll take across country.

AropLiana1

Vastrap went to a show in the end of September where he behaved like a maniac the whole time I was on him. I believe somebody, somewhere along the line, allowed him to run madly at fences and the old bad habit rears its ugly head on occasion. He was never malicious – even when going at a stupid pace over fences, or when he took a wild distance and I landed on his neck, he never once bucked, ever. He also didn’t stop at a single thing or ever actually bolt. He just pulled and hung his legs midair and pulled poles like it was going out of fashion. So I grounded him for at least two months and we have spent the last several weeks schooling, at a trot, over ground poles. It’s frustating because the little dude is really a talented jumper and I would love to event him, but I’ll take a careless horse across country over my dead body, probably literally. He’s also been doing some lessons with a rather fearless but very kind and soft young rider, which helps him learn to put up with things.

As for him and Mom, well, he morphs into his usual wonderful self. With my beginner parent aboard, Vastrap is the dearest and kindest and most patient little plod you ever saw. He could be a gentleman among angels. That’s what counts, so he can yank me into jumps as much as he pleases, he is still amazing.

And then a couple of weeks ago I bought Bruno, the first resale project I’ve actually owned for myself.

I love schooling ponies, and resale has always appealed to me because owning the horse gives you all the freedom you could desire to train him the way you want to, but you can still make a profit out of it in the end if you’re careful (and God wills it). I also believe there is a need in the market for safe, well schooled competition ponies in the medium price range. There are far too many dishonest sellers out there, and they (usually unknowingly) put little kids’ lives at risk. As for those that know, I support Jesus’s position – it would be better for them to have a millstone hanged about their necks and thrown into the sea, than to harm any one of these little ones!

Unfortunately the really nice ponies are exorbitantly priced, and with good reason. Good care and schooling should be rewarded. However, I’m in the blessed position to be able to keep my horses very cheaply due to my location, cheap bulk deliveries of hay due to the cattle, and my parents’ owning the farm. (Somehow horses that come to my place also magically get fat; I have no real idea why but I’m certainly not complaining). I’m also young, not steeped in experience, and virtually unknown, so nobody is going to pay me insane amounts of money for schooling, so I can keep prices in the medium range and still cream a little something off the top. In theory. We shall see how it works in practice.

Look how tall he makes me look!
Look how tall he makes me look!

Hence, Bruno. He is the most adorable little bay Nooitie pony I ever saw in my life. The Mutterer bred him in 2012 and I remember thinking that he was the most powerful-looking foal I’d ever seen. His parents were both amazingly quiet horses (I remember riding his sire, a mature breeding stallion, bareback and bridleless away from his mares; he followed the Mutterer without even a halter, quiet as a schoolie), and he currently stands somewhere around 13.3, so he should make a perfect pony-rider height – around 14.1. He also has a cute head, solid conformation, and a willing brain, so I liked him from the start. Bruny is to stay with me for somewhere between a year and two years, depending on his progress and my financial situation and God’s will.

Always dependent on God’s will.

Arwen4

Love Our Horses

Colic is scary.

Don’t worry – he’s fine at last. After a week’s nursing at home and then five days in hospital, my poor, dear friend is finally better and relieved of the pain, hunger and discomfort he had so patiently endured for nearly two weeks. Poor Magic had a massive impaction colic that stubbornly refused to shift up until we took him to the vet hospital in Midrand, where a horse specialist vet put a tube up his nose and pumped water into him until he sloshed and, eventually, produced a glorious mountain of manure. Now he is home and eating everything in sight – 12 days of starvation can do that to you – and being his usual goofy wonderful self.

But when he was standing in the vet hospital, his head against my chest, his neck hot and sweaty under my hand, his breath racing with the pain, I didn’t know why his colic was persisting and I didn’t know that he was going to get better. I knew my friend was hurting, and I knew colic can be deadly.

I was terrified that I was going to lose him.

But by God’s grace, by His sovereign plan, I didn’t. By His hope and strength alone I did whatever I could to fight for Magic (we all did) and my amazing horse never thought of quitting or of rebelling against all the painful and uncomfortable things we did to him, and now we are both home, a little battered, a little tired, and a little skinny, but just happy to be back to the lives we’re used to. When I go feed, I am still greeted by a sharp grey face with its perfect straight nose and its tiny pricked ears and the great dark eyes with their love and their fire, and my heart swells fit to burst with relief and love. I am blessed beyond all deserving.

The past two weeks still stands as a sobering and an invigorating reminder: that not a single one of us owns horses. They are not ours in any sense other than that someone is our friend, or our brother. Oh, we can pay money for them and control what we can about their lives; we can fill in forms with our name under “Owner” and brag about them as if we were the ones that made them. But all we really have on them is an extended home lease. Their Owner and Creator has blessed us magnificently with loaning them to us, but at any time He pleases, He will bring them all Forever Home.

The loss is ours, not theirs. The God that I know loves horses enough that He must have made a place for them when they leave us; He never told us where it is, or what, but that only means that it’s not our concern. That’s between God and horses. But the fact remains that we only have a lifetime (and how short the life of a horse can seem!) with them right here, right now, on this planet. And none of us know when that lifetime might end.

We all bicker about rollkur and helmets and bitless bridles. We all fight about racehorses and the bits allowed in Western. We pick on others for wearing the wrong coats, having the wrong horses, using the wrong tack and wearing the wrong size in breeches. But while we throw stones at each other, our horses are standing patiently in their paddocks waiting for us to come home. To put a little equestrian twist on Mother Theresa’s famous quote, if we really want to change the horse world, I suggest we all go home and love our horses.

Because when your horse is fighting for his life and he turns his big dark liquid eyes on you, none of that matters anymore. Not the mistakes other people have made or the mistakes you have made or the failures in your riding or the things you don’t have money for. All that matters is that horse and you realise that when you still have him you have everything a horseperson needs. You realise that all the time you spent on bemoaning your own inadequacy, on panicking about how you can afford that next show, on feeling hurt by those who wish to see a newcomer crushed, that time was all time you could have spent loving him. Time you wasted.

Turn the other cheek. Forget the politics. Leave the barn drama queens to their drama. Go love your horse, because he needs you, because you need him. No matter how your riding is going, no matter how bad you feel about how you ride, no matter how mad you are because he won’t perform the way you want, no matter how frustrated you are with the training challenge you just can’t figure out, don’t let any of it get in the way of loving your horse.

His heart is enormous, the most precious thing in the equestrian world, far surpassing the value of even the highest level of excellence. And it is yours. Don’t abuse it.

The first step for us equestrians to begin to truly and deeply love others, is to truly and deeply love our horses. Because just as with horses, we don’t have much time to love those around us.

Love your horse. Love your people. You don’t know how much longer you’ll be able to.

As for me, I know I love Magic as best as I have ever loved a horse or a human. But there are others, horses and humans both, and I might not get the second chance with them that I got with him. So now I need to get off my computer – and go love my horses.

The Miracle That is Magic

The dentist calls him Princess. My instructor calls him the big baby. The chiro calls him a wuss. My sister goes so far as to call him gay.

They all have a point, except for my sister. He is kind of a delicate flower. Okay, so he’s a wimp when it comes to many things, like rain falling on his ears, or ribbons on his bridle, or having his teeth done or having freshly trimmed hooves.

Yeah, Magic is oversensitive. He spooks at things that just don’t exist, and then spooks at them again, just to be sure. He has broken more halters and leads than I care to remember. He almost always manages to scrape himself up in the horsebox and needs to travel with earmuffs and a gigantic poll guard and all the windows shut because he hates the noise of the traffic. He injures himself on a freakishly regular basis and then has a huge drama queening session about it. If it can happen, it happens to Magic. He loses weight if the wind blows the wrong way. One day I found him staring in consternation at his full feed bin; a tiny Jack Russel had his head in it and was merrily gorging himself on Magic’s food, and Magic, easily a hundred times the dog’s size, seemed utterly baffled as to what to do about this. Another day he knocked a cross-rail down and was so lame I was certain he’d fractured something, but really it had just stung him a little.

Yeah, so he’s a social retard. He has a way of terrifying new horses by galloping up to them in exuberant friendliness and then snorting at them very loudly to beg them to be friends. He bites them playfully to invite them to a game, but when they nip him back he squeals like a filly and runs to hide behind Skye (well over a hand shorter and almost twenty years older than him). He is both utterly terrified and irresistibly attracted to new horses, has no idea of how to make friends with them, and has even less idea of what a pecking order even is, much less where he should be in one. At nearly eight years old, he behaves like a weanling that hasn’t figured out how to horse yet.

Sure, so he’s a goofball. When it rains, he runs like a maniac because he’s convinced he’s melting. He gallops recklessly on the slick grass and then he falls, and while he falls he flails around madly with his long legs and whinnies shrilly. Then he gets back up and runs and bucks and farts and more often than not, falls again. He jumps up on his back legs and pirouettes in the air because he’s too silly and spirited to know that gravity is a thing. He will keep doing this until Skye bullies him into the shelter or he notices that he’s hurt himself… again.

But he is also courageous in a way that thick-skinned people cannot understand. He’s also generous, gentle, smart and loyal.

My horse is a ninny. But he’s also amazing.

Magic was created, right from his over-at-the-knees legs to the majestic jump that slaps gravity in the face. Every detail of him, from the tail that won’t grow to the face that radiates kindness, was handmade with love. He was fearfully and wonderfully made just the way he is. Sure, life and people have scarred him, and he’s still got a lot to learn. But they all do.

We all do.

Over time Magic will learn not to spook at flowerpots or at nonexistent monsters; he’ll learn not to panic in the horsebox and he’ll learn to tie up. And if I am to stay friends with my dentist, he’ll stand still to have his teeth done. But if Magic ever learns not to be goofy or melodramatic or sensitive or a little silly, then I’ll know my training has gone wrong somewhere. Because my ultimate goal, the greatest thing I want to do for Magic, is not to compete at A-grade or make a name as a great event horse. I want to help Magic become more Magic. I want to amplify him. I want him to be more himself than ever before. And yes, that means allowing him to be kind of a loon in the paddock even as it means allowing him to be brave. It means allowing him to be daft even as it means allowing him to explore the full extent of his honesty. Because no matter how silly Magic is, he is never malicious. He’s never pushy, or irritable, or selfish or lazy. He’s never tried to hurt anyone and he’s never disobedient. Magic always tries. Some days he doesn’t have much left to give, because the sheer effort of surviving the world has drained him. But whatever he has, he gives it all, every day. And as long as he is trying, and as long as it’s going in the right direction, I want him to express the wonderful thing that is himself.

Forget magic. My horse is a miracle.

You may call me sentimental, but I know this, and I know that he knows I accept him. He can’t tell what I’m thinking or reason his way to conclusions but like all horses he reads every feeling in the lines of my body and the movement of my muscles on his back. He knows I’m okay with him, and he begins to be okay with himself. Because right underneath, at the deep emotions, horses and humans are more similar than we sometimes think.

Magic is my mirror. And helping him become everything he can become is my key to making myself into the person that I can be.

He’s not resilient Arwen, steady Vastrap, or fearless Skye. He’s Magic.

And I think that’s pretty awesome.

Magic2

Fourways Eventing Classic

With AHS vaccination season – and hence a required six-week rest period – around the corner, I entered Arwen in one more show to cram in some cross-country practice before our rest and subsequent return to graded eventing.

It was eerily peaceful to only have one horse to dress up, load and show; I got up at the luxurious hour of 5:40 (albeit waking at 4:15), she loaded fine with a line around her butt, and we were early for our first class. I got to hack her around on a loose rein and warm up nice and slow. She responded by not producing any bucks, just one enormous exaggerated spook at a hole in a hedge (the hedge was fine; the hole was a monster).

We wrapped up a gentle walk, trot and canter warmup by opening up into a cross-country gallop down the long side of the arena, then sitting down, collecting strongly and making a 10m circle to check for brakes and adjustability. She was super, so we popped over each jump once and trotted off to our class.

I’d entered 60cm and 70cm, and when I walked the course, I was having second thoughts. The 60cm course started with three inviting little showjumps that we had jumped on August 9th’s training show. Then things started to get a bit complicated. There was a brush fence, which Arwen loves but never ever brushes; then a very tight turn to a narrow fence made of imposing black barrels (and Arwen habitually drifts). Straight after the narrow fence was two banks down, first a little one and then a slightly bigger one. Not enormous, but still a bank down. Quite a long gallop then to a large colourful house in the shade. Then a tight turn to a showjump, an enormous steep bank (Derby bank type that you gallop up instead of jumping up) and woe is us, a skinny. A proper one, and a very skinny one. The last three fences were even worse; a scary vertical made of tyres, a St. Andrew’s cross (which neither of us had ever even seen before), and a corner (ditto).

UP!
UP!

I put a prayer in my pocket and let Arwen look at the house, whereupon she promptly tried to eat the plant that was acting as a wing, before the bell rang and off we went. She merrily ran away with me towards the start, although I still had steering so I decided to diplomatically ignore the lack of brakes, and attacked the three showjumps fearlessly. The brush rushed up on us awfully soon and she jumped hugely and without a trace of hesitation. We got into a spot of difficulty approaching the black barrels; she wriggled all over the place and considered running out, but thought better of it and jumped cleanly.

The banks were quite funny. I clapped my spurs into her because I expected hesitation; Arwen was considering no such thing and took a flying leap off the bigger bank, launching me onto her neck. Luckily for her daft rider, Arwen threw her head up on landing and tossed me neatly back into the saddle. She was very looky at the house but with lots of encouragement she popped over. When we came over the vertical, she was ready to go kill something, and charged up the bank and towards the skinny at a terrifying speed. Once again, a huge wriggle at the skinny, possibly due to going too fast, but I clamped my hands and reins down and made it clear that the only way were going was over. So we went over.

We both gawped at the St. Andrew’s cross; I gawped at the sides because they looked enormous, and she gawped at the middle because it was a hay bale. We reached a compromise and jumped slightly to one side of the bale. The tyres were no problem and then we were galloping downhill at the corner. I was shouting “IT’S NOT AN OXER ARWEN” and Arwen was shouting “BOXES THERE ARE TERRIFYING BOXES” and unfortunately the boxes were under the narrow end. We reached the wide end, and I planted my hands in the mane, certain she would stop. Arwen snorted that she would do no such thing and leapt over the wide end without any apparent effort. I nearly strangled her with hugging as we walked out of the arena.

That landed us in the jump-off, which was over the first four jumps and the last three jumps. We floored it, Arwen jumped kind of in the middle of the corner, and we came second in good company.

The course grew somewhat for the 70cm; now it included a tight turn after the corner, leading to a bank up and a vertical with a big filler in it. The distance from the bank to the vertical walked for a short two strides, so I knew Arwen was going to make an easy three. I was starting to detest the corner, which brought multiple horses and riders to grief that day, including the only fall I saw.

Arwen came into the show arena blowing smoke and looking for something to attack, so I pointed her at the jumps. She charged onwards, now scared of absolutely nothing. She even jumped the St. Andrew’s cross rather perfectly. We survived the corner and then I rode Arwen straight at what she considered the arena wall. She snorted in shock and wriggled madly, but I kicked on, so she scrambled up the bank and over the vertical without further protest. This time we took the down banks in a rather more ladylike manner and even trotted at the top of the big bank, leading to a rather nicer pop over the skinny.

Arwen believes she is a derby horse
Arwen believes she is a derby horse

Once again we landed up in the jump-off. I knew we could either go quick or we could go clear; the course was technical and spooky, challenging for Arwen’s level, so if I was going to gun it and cut the corners we were going to have a stop. I opted to take our gallop up a notch, but to keep to wide easy lines. We jumped the widest end of the corner once again – which was by now tremendously wide; Arwen appeared to enjoy scaring the living daylights out of me – but this did mean that our landing spot set us up nicely for the tight turn towards the up bank. Having realised that this was actually a thing we jump, she jumped it unquestioningly and galloped through the finish. She didn’t stop at or knock down a single thing all day long, so going unplaced seemed totally irrelevant.

Sometimes I just can’t believe this mare. As one lady gushed as she stopped me to ask what breed my horse is, “She’s just so honest.” She has so much guts and she has so much try. “No” just isn’t in her vocabulary.

Thank You Jesus for this amazing brave little grey mare. Glory to the King who made horses and people and that wonderful, nameless thing that the equine heart does to the human soul.