The Best Baby Horsie

I have SO MUCH to write about and so much media that it’s a little overwhelming. Thunderbirdy has been his superb self, charging through the EM work already with great gusto, revolutionising his canter, and just being my bestest dance partner.

But today I want to gush some more about my Faith pony.

First, she actually looks like a horse now, which is a great relief. Not a super pretty horse, granted, but at least something horse-esque. We’re approaching her four-year-old year so mercifully it should be all uphill from here (SHOULD).

Her training is going great. Physically, all we’ve really achieved is a canter where all the legs go in the same direction and the ability to trot over poles.

All the training we’re doing right now is emotional. We’re talking about how standing still is a safe space, too. About how nothing I ask her to do is painful, and about how the thing I want is the easy thing.

We’re discussing how new things never mean punishment, but are neutral or result in praise when dealt with quietly. We’re talking about forward and straight.

Most of our rides are spent sparking these kind of conversations using obstacles or going on outrides. We’ve done little working riding courses and “jumps” (crosses small enough to just trot over). In fact, she’s more than ready to go into a connection and start learning throughness and bend. She just needs her teeth to be done first. For now I have her in a Nathe and ride on a long, floppy rein.

In the interim, we have quiet conversations about respect and patience. We acknowledge each other as strong-minded young women who both have valid opinions and realistic needs. Every ride, we’re learning to trust each other a little bit better.
We’re keeping it conversational. We’re keeping it fun.

I love this horse on hacks. She’s just a baby but she’s such a genuine baby – a nice, normal baby horse with no baggage and no vices who just loves to work. She prefers to lead, with her little ears pricked and her stride long and swinging through her whole body. Sometimes we still have our babysitter go in front for scary things, but she’s pretty good about everything. She has an honest little spook and if she’s unsure she just stops and has a look until she knows it’s safe.

Soon we’ll start bending and connecting and test riding. For now, we go on hacks. We fool around on a loose rein. We ride bareback. On Sunday, we’re going to her first ridden show. We’re doing ground poles, but if we just unload and stand at the show quietly all day, that’s cool too.

It’s not about what we’re doing. It’s about what we’re talking about. I’m in no hurry and I allow no one to prescribe to me what my journey with my beautiful baby horsie is supposed to look like.

The only opinions that matter are my horse’s and God’s. And I’m enjoying every heartbeat with them both.

Glory to the King.

A Little Faith

Nothing beats backing and bringing on a young horse from scratch for me. I love figuring out, helping and seeing improvement in remedial horses, but there’s always an element of frustration – the knowledge that this horse could have been so much better if nobody had messed it up in the first place. The blank slate of a baby is so refreshing, and they always progress so quickly with so few hiccups, comparatively. Especially babies with easy temperaments are just an utter joy if you know what to expect and what conversations to have.


Nobody is easier than baby Faith. After backing her and putting on walk/trot/a close approximation of something like a drunken camel attempting to canter, I turned her out again for a bit. L lunged her just in a halter and boots once a week for me and that was about it. Faith was never naughty, but she was just still a complete baby. At only three and a half, she had plenty of time to just chill and grow up.

Eventually, after six weeks almost completely off, I fetched her in from the field to just have a little ride and assess where she is now. Her manners are better but still babyish. She doesn’t do anything exactly naughty, she just can’t stand still for more than five minutes and wants to greet everyone who comes along. But she’s OK to groom and tack up, all while standing tied or in the stable, so it’ll improve as she matures.

I was going to lunge her a little bit first, considering she’s a green-backed baby who’d just had more than a month off, but in the end I was just kind of too lazy and ended up climbing on board. And she was absolutely fabulous. She was calm, relaxed and confident in all three gaits and, crucially, offered her first canter circle in rhythm and balance. She wanted to go to work and she had fun. Needless to say, so did I. She’s growing up into exactly the kind of horse I really love to ride.

I started toying with the idea of bringing her back into gentle work. Last week, when I actually had a look at her standing properly for the first time in months, I was pleasantly surprised with how she looks.


Gone is the dorkward baby wheelbarrow. The two inches she grew in the past year made her decidedly uphill now, which explains why balance is suddenly a thing. Her body is more ready than it was and her mind is certainly ready, so we’ve started back into work.

I love the conversations I can have with this horse. Her first real human contact was on the second of January 2017, when I loaded her in a box and brought her home to me, and so there’s nothing but my own work here. She especially has no concept of being punished for fear. 

Yesterday’s conversation was about the washing line, the one thing that seems to have managed to freak her out. After a productive arena ride, we headed up the passage past the dread object alone. Some distance from it, Faith hit the brakes. I’m not sure that it’s safe. I rubbed her neck and gave her a chance to look, the reins loose. She knew she had no reason to panic, so she looked. After a few moments, she flicked her ears back to me, and I put on a little bit of leg. She took a few more steps and halted again. Rinse, repeat. No violence, no escalation. I didn’t ever even shorten the reins. Her natural curiosity and trust in me as her leader overcame her uncertainty, as a horse always will do if given enough time to look and think without fear of anything escalating.

The plan is to do 15-20 minutes two or three days a week all year. There’s lots of time. Most of our conversations will be about citizenship. Brakes and steering. Standing still to be tacked up. Going on hacks alone and in company. I’m in no hurry; we might go to a show to hang out or we might not. I know I could go compete Prelim in a month with her brain, but what’s the point of rushing now?

It looks like very simple, very boring work, but what we’re doing now is the basis on which everything else will be built. We’re not talking about connection or bend yet. We’re talking about how to deal with fear, how she’s safe with me. And as Faith learns, so do I.

When I named her Faith it was to remind myself that God can make good come of it no matter what. She came into my life after Nell was sold, Rainbow died and I felt like there would never be a good grey mare in my life again. But the faith God is using her to teach me right now is a more everyday kind. A faith like potatoes. A staple food.

Schooling a young horse like her is impossible if all you think about is the end product. Horses have no concept of their future. They certainly don’t worry about it like we do; they care about this moment. If I rushed through it now with my eye on the levels I know my beautiful baby horse can achieve, I’ll miss out on so many moments. I’ll miss out on the journey. I’ll miss out on the dance. Because much as it may look totally discombobulated right now, it is the dance, in its purest form.

No pressure. No hurry. Eyes on the prize, but hands open to receive what I’m being given in this moment. A lesson, like most lessons, in both horses and life. There is so much I want from the future. I have such tremendous dreams. But here and now, I am also blessed. So let me fix my eyes on Jesus and then run with patience, trusting Him for what is to come, knowing He is the God Who moves mountains.

It only takes a little faith to move a mountain. And she might be only 15 hands, but this little Faith is certainly moving mine.


Glory to the King.

Three Months

It’ll be exactly three months tonight.

Three months since that call came in and changed my life and myself forever.

A lot has happened in those three months. A lot more has changed than just me; a lot has moved. But all of it has moved in one direction. The right one.

Deeper. Further. Higher.

Deeper into God’s love. Higher up this tremendous mountain. And further and further from the shallow end, from the place where I can stand.

I have never before had to ride on water so deep. But I am grateful. Grateful for the priorities He set straight in my head with that life-changing moment. Grateful for every breath I get to share with those I love. Grateful for every second chance with the lost. Grateful even for the fire, as it burns me pure.

And grateful, oh, so grateful that I now have a mighty comrade in every battle.

I’m still here, still doing what I do. Following my King and riding on water. There have been some exciting new developments, and there will be more, especially with regards to the blog. Don’t mistake my silence for loss – this blog is about to undergo changes that will only make it better.

Just not tonight.

Because it’s been a quarter of a year tonight.

Glory to the King.

Back on Track

The seasons are changing here yet again, and I’m feeling the pressure of a coming winter with my clippers currently still out of commission.

On the bright side, we’re fully stocked on blankets and our grazing is holding up great. We’ll have to see how it does as standing hay, but for now, the horses are still up to their eyeballs in grass thanks to a late rain.

We are forecast for more late rains followed by a bitterly cold winter. Something that a yard manager in the middle of midge-borne African horse sickness country is not complaining about.

We held our third in-house training show on the 7th of April. Darling got to spend his birthday building courses and supplying me with chocolate milk. At least the poor soul knew what he was getting himself into. It was a small show but a resounding success as far as I can tell.

I found photographic evidence of two things: my first time on a pony, and my mom’s shapely figure – at three months pregnant, none the less.


Faith, somewhat inadequately babysat by Midas, went on her first hack. She was fabulous, if on occasion a little overexcited.

Zorro escaped his field and invaded the tack storage in the night, then got the cookie jar stuck on his foot. As you do. No harm was done, except to the horse cookies that had been in the cookie jar.

K’s mom booked a lesson with international eventer Paul Hart for my birthday. Jamaica and I charged over all manner of things,

including ditches,

water,

and houses. He was foot perfect except for a jump with water under it, and our coach was suitably impressed. How awesome is God’s plan?

Thunder remains the one whose four dancing hooves carry me to a place where the world and its burdens just can’t go. ❤

We had a brilliant time of it at SANESA Q3, with three of our riders qualifying for Finals with another qualifier to spare.

Despite flat refusing to get into the two-berth, Milady came second and managed to put the smile back on K’s face.

Few things make me happier than this arena, freshly harrowed. I am awed by what God has provided.

Faithy rode in the rain and behaved impeccably, cantering her first full laps around the dressage arena. She can be quite scared of cantering but each session is a little better thanks to my carrying on as if she is the most amazing horse in the world. She kind of is.

Grumpy old Benjamin is 21 now but still knows how to open practically every gate there is, regularly escaping his little paddock to gorge on the lush grass, forbidden due to his laminitis.

Titan is going fabulously, now working in a frame and having been introduced to some little fences. We’ll make something of him yet.

As for the old queen of the herd, she still reigns in ageless beauty. 29 years old and still a reason to believe.

More thorough updates to follow. Glory to the King.

2018 Goals: Training Horses Q2

Champagne

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Despite my emotional craziness through this quarter, Champagne has made some good progress on the schooling front. Outings did not go as well, but now that my head is on more or less straight again, this will resume hopefully with better results.

Shows:

  • Early Feb: Pre-HOY – This was not a disaster, but it could have been better. She travelled great and hung out quite happily at the show itself, but the riding was very nervous and tense. However, she never grew violent and stayed obedient to my cues to the best of her ability.
  • Late Feb: HOY – Creature was lame so had to miss it.
  • Due to not being great at Pre-HOY, we decided not to take her to SANESA Q2. She did our home show in April, though, and was completely calm and relaxed, garnering plenty of compliments from the judge. (And 82%, but the judge was quite generous. I’d have guessed it at a mid 60s test).

General:

  • Improve on her habit of throwing her head and running forward when scared. – Done. She can still be a little inconsistent in the contact when nervous, but there’s no more fling of the head and scoot. When she does spook she spooks like a dead ordinary young horse, just a little jump and then carry on.
  • Improve the consistency of her connection, particularly through transitions. – Still imperfect, but vastly better. Walk/trot/walk/halt/walk transitions are fine and canter/trot are fine, but trot/canter can still be problematic.
  • Improve her trot-canter transitions to the point where I can get the lead almost all the time without bucking. – Done! She can still get affronted if I get after her about the promptness of the transition, but strikes off correctly and only bucks on very rare occasions now.

 

2018 Q2 goals:

  • Visit another place at least twice a month.
  • Jump up to 60-70cm full courses confidently and with quiet rhythm.
  • Continue improving on the quality of the connection, with the help of introducing a little shoulder-in.

 

Savanna

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Savanna has been going from strength to strength. We had a few big disagreements about rushing, but she has started to relax and even enjoy her work, getting lots of compliments from equitation judges.

2018 Q1 goals:

  • Confirm all the Prelim work, including the stretches, square halts, and the little lengthening. – Done. The lengthening needs polishing, but everything else is solid, even the stretches.
  • Continue working on gymnastics to improve her carefulness to the point where poles down happen once in a blue moon. Prepare to start schooling over 70-80cm fences in the second quarter. – Done. She only has a pole now if she rushes, and has even discovered a bascule. We are consistently jumping about 75cm now.
  • Jump at least two clear rounds at shows. – Done, two of those being at 70cm.

 

2018 Q2 goals:

  • Improve the softness of her connection so that her child can easily ride her nice and round once his hands are there.
  • Jump 80cm confidently, cleanly and in a rhythm at home, ready for showing over 80cm in the third quarter.
  • Start jumping little simple fences with her child quietly in a rhythm, once the child’s position gets to a point where I let him jump again.

 

Emmy

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Emmy has since left my program, but she’s going from strength to strength with K.

2018 Q1 Goals:

Finish preliminary schooling:

  • confirm a united and balanced canter, with transitions and circles – Done, and with connection and bend
  • hack alone and in company – Done and she is super, if occasionally a little exciteable in big groups
  • introduction to small fence – Jumping tracks of about 60cm

Introduce to shows:

  • go to a show and have a good experience. – Unfortunately we only managed for her to do the in house show with K, but she’ll go to her first proper show in May if all goes well.

 

Titan

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Despite being out of work for a whole month with his ugly overreach, Titan has been progressing well. Unfortunately it has become evident that his child has already practically outgrown him, so he may be on the market once his schooling is finished.

2018 Q1 Goals:

Finish backing:

  • introduce trot – Done
  • introduce canter – Done
  • introduce the big arena. – Done

Start preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the figures – Done
  • establish a united canter, including circles – Done
  • introduce small, simple fences – Done, he’s jumped a little track of crosses
  • hack alone and in company (he will be spooky; it doesn’t have to be perfect). – This we didn’t get to, but I hope to start this week.

 

2018 Q2 goals:

  • Hack alone and in company, even if it’s imperfect
  • Jump 60cm tracks
  • Introduce the ideas of connection and bend, to ride a Prelim test by the end of Q2
  • Go to a show once a month and have good experiences.

 

Ankia

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This is our latest arrival from Arop (breeder of half our favourite horses, including Nell, Liana and Faith). She is a cute rising five-year-old hony who will be on the market as soon as I finish her. Unfortunately she was quite sick right after arriving, first with biliary and then a wormy colic, so I haven’t done much on her yet, but now we’re ready to get back to work.

Ankia has been ridden, for a given value of ridden; there are plenty of holes in her groundwork (major holes, like picking up feet and lunging properly). So I will be restarting her from scratch. Hopefully we will finish her and be able to move her on to a riding school kid and put her on the market in the next quarter, although when I made that deal with the owner I was kind of expecting that she’d know the basics considering a trainer had been working with her.

2018 Q2 goals:

  • Become safe and easy on the ground in every way.
  • Lunge properly in all three gaits.
  • Introduce walk/trot/canter in the big arena.
  • Introduce gentle hacks.
  • Introduce a small fence.

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Love having the training program a little fuller again, and I should be picking up a new pony this week. Glory to the King.

Nissan Easter Festival

Two weekends ago was my first time riding at Easter Fest, arguably the biggest show I’ve competed in (Horse of the Year may be bigger; YDHS more elite). My competition was, of course, star-studded, so I had low expectations, mostly aiming to just go and get that big-show exposure so that I can deal with my nerves now and not when my scores actually count for something.

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Sunday was showing day on Arwen. She hasn’t been to a show by herself in a long time, but she’s so grown up now that I didn’t even really worry.

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I would have loved to do the working riding, but unfortunately it ended up being on the same day as Thunder’s dressage and I wasn’t willing to deal with Thunder’s girlfriend shenanigans at this particular show, so we just entered the open show hack and show riding.

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So my darling, my dragon and I charged off to Kyalami with what I thought was much time to spare, only to discover that my mom’s bakkie is not quite so adept at towing the box as my dad’s, eventually arriving at KPC about half an hour later than I’d hoped. Thankfully, the dragon is very grown up and the darling has cottoned on very quickly to the various horse show SO skills (holding horses, fetching numbers, fetching food, soothing rattled nerves, being slightly neglected [sorry love], etc.) so we ended up having time for a good warmup and arriving in the show arena with only a few hairs out of place.

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In short, Arwen was absolutely fantastic and I really actually had fun once again. I think I might even say that I’m cured of my fear of showing judges. Honestly, when you’ve loaded your dying friend into a helicopter right after a horrible violent event, some things really just don’t register on the scary scale anymore, and showing judges are one of them. Life is way too short to worry about what they think, so I just rode my horse, thanked my Jesus and let the rest do whatever it wanted.

She was just amazing. Our classes were quite small, which was nice because I intensely dislike sitting in the line-up for ages, and Arwen really just did exactly as I asked and behaved exactly as she would at home. I swear she knows her individual show by heart.

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I didn’t expect placings because the small group of people in my classes were all well-known showing competitors on super fancy big horses and had turned them out really well, while Arwen – albeit at least moderately clean and properly plaited – is kinda fluffy already and I forgot my wet wipes at home so her feet and mouth were pretty dirty.  As expected, we placed dead stone last in both, but I was proud of my horse’s performance.

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The judge basically summarised why Arwen never does well in open show classes: she’s well schooled, she’s well behaved, she’s correct, but she is a pony and there’s no getting around that. I don’t really mind, though. She did excellently, and it was awesome.

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Monday was dressage day on Thunderbirdy. We had a nice late ride time, still managed to get stuck in traffic, and still managed to get there on time because I am dating Superman. Thunny was super relaxed on our arrival and happily hacked over to the warmup arena, where he promptly proceeded to completely lose his snot.

 

I think maybe he was a little fresh as the week before had been rainy and interfered with his program, but there was also a log next to the warmup that has been spooking generations of horses (including Nell) and it spooked him properly. He was obedient and controllable and actually carried himself really great, but his brain was not with me at all.


Going into the dressage arena he mercifully did not spook at anything, but the damage was done and he couldn’t focus. He had some truly excellent moments for 7s and 8s, and in the photos I love the way he was holding himself.


But he also made a LOT of kind of dumb mistakes, the kind he never makes at home, like fluffing the lead in his simple changes, breaking in his lengthening, and hollowing awfully in his rein back. He was also pulling a bit and occasionally wanted to buck and disunite when the whip tickled him (seriously, bro?).


So our scores were very mediocre: 58% and 60%. I’m a little bummed because if he had gone like he goes at home he would have had another 70%, but the poor guy is still greener than I realise. He just needs more miles. The schooling is there and he will start scoring well when he can relax; but he will only relax when I relax, so I feel God is busy teaching me a very big lesson here.


And as for this man, he is my lighthouse and most willing and able comrade in the heat of battle.

Glory to the King.

Perfect Love

While there are many things that just don’t scare me anymore since I helped to load a friend dying from a violent, criminal act into a helicopter, generalised anxiety has taken advantage of my bruised psyche from time to time lately. I have no idea what I am fearing; all I know is that I know the touch of that old and worthless demon.

Yet I rejoice. Not because of anything but because perfect love casts out fear.

I have so long been asking God why He would tell me to be strong and courageous when I have tried everything in my power to do so and failed. How could He demand of me to do something that is entirely impossible?

It was recently that I finally heard His reply. “Daughter, I commanded light to be, and it simply was. Do not take my command as an order to your mind. Just as I said Let there be light and there was light, I speak to your soul now: Be strong and courageous, and you will be strong and courageous because I said so.”

I certainly don’t always feel strong and courageous. But I am: strong enough and courageous enough to take the next step. To cling to my God in the next moment.

Perfect love casts out fear not only because I must love perfectly (although I must, and will never lose that last vestige of fear until I do) but because I am perfectly beloved. Perfect love casts out fear because perfect love is bigger.

Perfect love is bigger than my sin. Perfect love is bigger than my pain. Perfect love is bigger than anything I could face tomorrow. Perfect love is bigger than everything I fear. Perfect love has an answer for every inconsolable question that rises in my weary soul.

And I am loved perfectly, and on this Good Friday, I will think of the only One Who loves perfectly, and I will see the proof of His love in the blood on His hands, on the naked, wounded, bleeding, beaten, stripped and humiliated figure that dangled on the cross for me. There is no greater love than that.

I will look at that love and I will understand what it means to me here and now. I will see that I am loved perfectly by the God Who brought the earth to life. I will know that the Hand that holds mine shaped the stars, the Voice that speaks to me brought forth the sound of the tidal waves, the Arms that hold me wrap the entire aching universe in their embrace.

Not even my own failures can destroy me now.

And I let the Voice that commanded light to be, speak the sound of courage into my very soul. My mind and body might betray me, but my heart and soul are still and know that He is God. I trust His plan. I believe I am loved. I can’t wait to see where He goes with this, because I know the direction we’re heading.

Further up. Further in.

And it’s in moments like these, moments in the saddle when Thunder pops that flying change like a bursting bubble under me, moments around the dinner table laughing at the delirious wit of four exhausted Hydes, moments in the arena with a little girl’s soul shining so brightly it almost leaves trails of light on the long diagonal, moments on the very top of Heidelberg with the lyrics of Rooftops ringing all round and the man of my prayers’ solid warm presence beside me and the whole world rolled out at my feet –

At those moments I taste the perfect love that made heaven.

And it is all because the Son of God died on a cross for me.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Glory to the King.