Small Victories

This week was… incredible.

It was pony camp, which I always love because I get more than that single golden half-hour once a week with each child. I get a chance to listen. I get a chance to learn.

We had many kids, for us (12? 13? I’m honestly not sure) and I can confidently say they all impressed me this week. For sure some of them got told off rather sternly but they are all lights in the world. They all have their futures thrown wide before them and the knowledge that I had a whole week with them – a week that God could use to influence their lives – was a tremendous thing. Terrifying at times, but tremendous.

Bible study was something else. The first three days felt like they weren’t really going anywhere – I was preaching the Gospel, and they were listening (most of the time) like good little children. But such is Bible study, I’m finding. It takes a while to build the trust that makes it a conversation. On the last day, we ended up running 45 minutes long because the kids weren’t running out of questions. We sat together and had an open, candid, non-judgmental, honest and sincere discussion about God. Jesus was there and the Holy Spirit was working! It was a day that reminded me of what I’m here for.

Of course, much was learned about horses, too. We rode bareback (a first for most of the kids) and played that game where you give each child a coin under each lower thigh and the kid who manages to keep their coins the longest wins. This was to much hilarity, but regrettably, we lost almost all of the coins in the arena sand.

We also learned how to turn out a pony, to varied success. This was less of a hit with some of the boys, but for the most part they pulled together and did some rather stellar work. Trooper especially looked more dashing than I expected.

We also learned about the points of the horse, parts of the saddle and bridle, and colours and markings. The ponies were as usual entirely accepting of having stickers stuck all over them.

They also did an awesome job painting and decorating all our jumps,

and Kindness Rocks, which are now littered all over the yard. Some have rather imaginative spelling (and others are teetering precariously on top of poles, on the brink of falling upon somebody’s head like a bolt of divine inspiration) but they make me smile.

We jumped some jumps (pictured: head groom L winning at this) and limbo’d under others (not pictured: head groom L falling on her head trying to win at this).

There were no falls or serious injuries at all this pony camp, to my great relief. One kid did cut his finger on the fence, whereupon it bled magnificently, but it was nothing that making a big fuss, pulling on my blue gloves and sticking a Star Wars plaster couldn’t fix. I also got kicked halfway across the arena (walked behind a sleeping pony and touched its bum like an idiot) but luckily I went flying and skidded several metres so that seems to have taken the worst of the impact out of it. Young muscles do have their advantages.

The week culminated in today’s training show, our first ever. It was an outrageous success – by the grace of God. Literally. He was so with us. And I have no pictures. Sorry.

We opened with Scripture reading, a la Lipizzaners, by bringing in old Skye and reading Job 39:19-25. Not gonna lie, standing next to my brave old friend and facing the crowd (more than 80 people – it was quite the crowd) and the powerful words straight from my God’s mouth rolling over us, I got a little teary-eyed.

The POG class was enormous and consisted of basically everyone whether they could jump or not. But I only had two on the lead rein and everyone else remembered their track perfectly, even if they walked the whole thing. Lulu, Trooper (yes – the 3yo; ridden off lead by a 6yo kiddie. He was good except once he walked into an upright and it fell over), Stardust, Midas, Sunè, Renè, and Thunder all packed their kids around without putting a toe wrong. Starlight had a spook and cantered off causing a little panic, but the kid got her back and she was fine after that.

Lisna and E also trotted around the POG and 20cm effortlessly. Lisna didn’t look at a thing and E handled first-show nerves brilliantly.

Most notably, David and his person went around the POG in hand. A mighty feat considering all the fears that horse had to conquer to get there. I gave him a show name and it says everything about him: Facing the Giants. He has faced some incredible Goliaths.

The 20cm was more of the same, with the addition of Savanna and her teenager. Savanna has been SO naughty of late (used to following other ponies over jumps + now feeling rather too good = naughty) but she was super and her teenager rode her really, really well for clear rounds.

Rain and Arwen also popped around the 20cm and 30cm, to general applause. Arwen also packed another rider who she’s never seen before in her life around the 60cm and 70cm, kicking all of our bums in the process. That’s the dragonbeast for you. I love that about my dance partners – they can dance with me one day and carry random people around the next.

In the 40cm, Destiny got his first jumping win under his mom. Sunè and her kid also popped around beautifully and Starlight came second with a kid that will hopefully become her kid eventually.

In the 50cm, Liana and her kid charged around brilliantly for second place. Midas and his new little rider had their first show together and came third, and Pennie’s mom G jumped her young horse, Saartjie, for first place. When G got Saartjie about a year ago the pony had never seen a fence before in its life and I’ve never been on her so I am VERY chuffed with both. K and Renè also had a great clear round.

It was more of the same in the 60cm, with Arwen first, Saartjie second and Lancelot third – albeit having a rather gawky round because I was in the dressage saddle (the others were all taken) and mainly focused on not losing my stirrups. Lancey was amazing for the whole thing, jumping all clear rounds. We were all expecting Vastrap to win because he is awesome but he got a bit wild and threw in a stop – luckily for his child because I don’t think she could have sat the only distance available to him at that pace. He won the 70cm, with Lancey second and Arwen third.

The 80cm was only Pennie and G and Jamaica and I, and Maicy totally showed me again why I lease him. I was exhausted by this point and just sort of hung on and pointed him at the jumps. The distances were ugly, the rhythm was off, and we’d had one minute to warm up – but Jamaica just took me over each fence despite my mistakes. Good boy. He won it despite a rail down because Pennie got somewhat overexcited and crashed through a bunch of jumps.

The last class was called the 85cm but only because I didn’t want to say out loud that Jamaica and I were jumping a 90cm track. I needn’t have worried, though. Jamaica was superb. Both G and I had a pole down but Pennie was like 15 seconds faster so they won.

I am so happy with it – all of it. I feel so honoured to be among this group of horses and riders and to feel the buzz that was at this stableyard today. It’s more than just a good atmosphere brought about by mutual goodwill. It’s in me but not of me. It’s the Holy Spirit at work.

This evening I had one last job – herding the members of field A (Arwen’s group) back to their field, which was being used as a warmup. It was a short way along the corridor so I elected to just shepherd them along rather than catching each one. I whistled them up and Arwen led the charge, snorting fire. Magic caught on and started bucking in the neighbouring field and then suddenly they were all running – thirty-one shining, happy horses – each a thunder-clothed collection of graceful curves bursting with life and exuberance, the sky and earth trembling with the power of them. I was caught breathless in the whirlwind of it, and I understood what the psalmist meant when he said: Let everything that has breath praise the name of the Lord.

No eye has seen what He has prepared for us, but perhaps sometimes we catch the edge of Heaven’s melody, curling on the cusp of hearing.

Thank You Father. Glory to the King.

This Week in Dressage: Halt Through Walk

So we all know that Thunder’s tests at the last show were both pretty good. The first one was somewhat tense, and I rode conservatively because I was waiting for a spook, so we had a modest 65.91%. The second one was actually kind of brilliant – the horse relaxed and I rode him forward and asked for the beauty I know he has inside him, and by the end of it the judge was ready to fold him up, stick him in her boot and take him home, awarding him 72.5%.

cannot stop looking at his lifted back

So obviously we had mostly 7s. The judge could have been a little generous, but she hammered Arwen for her mistakes, so I doubt it. We also had three big beautiful 8s – free walk and both canter-trot transitions. (Finally winning at a downward! Whoop!)

There were two movements that were consistently 6s and could be 7s, though:

  • Halt through walk
  • Stretchy trot circle
  • Lengthening (not in those tests, but I know it’s not our best).

    but working trot? #nailedit

    All three of them carry over into Novice (although the halt is from trot) so we’d best get to perfecting them.

    We started with the halt through walk. It begins in Prelim 1 and 2 as a walk starting at least 12m before the halt. By Prelim 3 it’s a proper halt through the walk (“between L and I”) and by Prelim 4 it’s an accurate one at X.

    Thunder’s is really not horrible. Comments are usually “steady and straight, but not square”. He is relaxed and will stand even on a loose rein for as long as I want. He halts the moment I ask, so the obedience is there. He maintains a rhythm and straightness. The legs just go everywhere in an unflattering heap. Not exactly the way to begin and end a 70% test, Thunder.

    blurry video screenshot picturing: not square

    We started to play with it last week and I particularly noticed that halt from trot was dead square almost every time, while halt through walk was a consistent mess. We did my favourite centrelines exercise to figure this out:

    • Down the long side, halt at B. Proceed to A and turn down centreline. Halt at X. At C turn left. Halt again at E. A down centerline. Halt at X. C turn right. Repeat. If the horse loses impulsion and starts to anticipate the halt or get behind the leg, replace some of the halts with little trot lengthenings. The halts on the long side help to keep the horse straight.

    We repeated this exercise a few times and his halts just stayed the same – obedient and steady and straight and not square.

    Back to my old friend Google. I eventually found out that square halts are linked to activity and impulsion, and that made perfect sense. Thunder is not exactly the world’s most forward-going beast and he was halting square from trot. So we played with an exercise we found on the Internet:

    • Going on the track, ask for four steps of a smaller trot at A, B, C and E. Focus on prompt transitions up and down. We did almost collected trot, but I wasn’t pushing for it, just keeping him in front of my leg in the smaller steps.
    • After a lap of this, do four lengthened steps at A, B, C and E. Thunder struggled with this, but it improved as we went on and he began to anticipate a little.
    • Then start randomly throwing in a halt through walk, combining the forward from the lengthenings and the half-halts from the shortenings. As long as I kept driving him in the walk, and kept as few walk steps as possible (3 or 4), we suddenly and magically had a square halt.
    activity and engagement and tail ftw

    After that we just did a bunch of halts on the centerline and while the exercise hadn’t taught him to halt square, it definitely taught me how to ride him correctly for the square halt. He really does have a brilliant walk (an 8 on the collectives) so I can get it as long as I hit the right buttons and really ask him to maintain the activity all the way down into halt.

    Mission accomplished. Glory to the King.

    Trails and Trailers

    Today our yard was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    This week everyone progressed in leaps and bounds, which is wonderful; we had a really productive, steady week and I feel ridiculously blessed. And I don’t use that word lightly.

    Eagle went on his first little hack. I played it safe, as I always do with Eagle, and it wasn’t necessary, like it never is with Eagle. We did ten minutes around the bales, but it does involve cows, pigs, tractors and my arch-nemesis, the washing line. Eagle handled all of this with aplomb, strolling along with his topline floppy and ears to the side.

    I bought fantastic red boots. They’re actually Jamaica’s, but if you’re the dragonbeast, you get to wear everyone else’s cool stuff. Arwen schooled Elementary 2 and 3 in preparation for a show on Sunday and her simple changes are streets and streets better. The leg-yield FX is quite nice, but the leg-yield back XM tends to have trailing quarters. The shoulder-in is better but still rather lacking. Either way, hopefully we get grading points.

    Jamaica and I have done fine lately. (Also, how incredible are those boots??) We jumped a few exercises at 80-85cm and even installed lead changes over a fence with minimal trouble. He’s so honest. I’m so enjoying the novel experience of having a horse that will just canter right down to the fence and jump it every single time, no questions asked.

    His flatwork remains mediocre but the addition of the market harborough has helped somewhat.

    Faithy got in the box. I used the bum rope at first, and because she’s such a baby I didn’t spend long on it, but by the end she was strolling in without pressure on the bum rope. Every little session like this teaches me more about her personality. She’s trainable and responsive, but quite different from the ponies and hacks; there’s a sharpness here, an opinion. I rather like it. She’s a strong woman.

    I clipped a shooting star on Vastrap’s butt because his kid asked. The clippers clipped half his other side and gave up. Now he’s running about with one butt cheek adorned by a shooting star and the other completely hairy  – a situation I promise to remedy ASAP. Or at least before SANESA Q3.

    One of my kids built me this and persistently attempts to rent it out to me. I countered this by constantly asking for improvements, which backfired badly when he then raised his price. Outsmarted by an eight-year-old.

    This would be so much easier if he wasn’t gorgeous and talented. I lunged him over a little fence, about 80cm, and his technique and scope give me goosebumps.

    I got his ears up at least, even if his eyes are closed. Both up ears and open eyes seldom occur simultaneously

    Trooper now has canter circles firmly installed and is becoming easy to ride. His cute tiny gaits are comfortable, if boring to look at. We also trotted over his first itty bitty cross and went on a hack, which was utterly uneventful.

    As expected.

    Working student L writes module one in July, so we’ve been hard at work. Ash helped with the ultra-fun points of the horse exercise.

    She was not amused, but L did brilliantly and much fun was had.

    Thunny is working so beautifully lately. He does Prelim 2 and 3 on Sunday and you know what, if he behaves like he does at home I think we might even place again. His weak points – left bend, keeping “jump” in the canter, and stretchy trot – have all improved hugely. Left bend matches right bend, I can keep the canter three-beat most of the time, and he stretches down to his knees. Such a clever baby.

    Of course, he is a baby. So it’s rather unlikely that he’ll be perfect and score like 70% and more probable that he’ll scream the whole time and spook at C and get 40%. At least I know he has it in him.


    Blizzard is ultra-cute. I’m going to start working him next week, and I’m rather looking forward to it.

    Magic has gotten wonderfully fat, lazy and laid-back. He’s happy as a bird lately. Of course, he still has his little moments (case in point: was ground tied outside the stable, spooked at a goose, shied, spooked at his lead rein, stood on his lead rein, spooked at himself standing on his lead rein, yanked up his head and got slapped on the nose by the lead rein), but he comes right back to me these days.

    He’s settling into a happier place than he’s ever been. He’ll always be quirky and sensitive and sharp, and some scars just don’t heal. But he can be happy and he can be meaningful, and right now, he’s both. More so than ever before.

    Mr. Destiny and I came to an agreement: he’d spook wildly and I’d ignore him. Not much of an agreement, but at least we managed to jump a little and work on his canter transitions. His mom also rode him today; a giant storm was on its way and the wind was enough to make anything spooky, but he was no worse than normal.

    He also went on his first hack. I dressed for the occasion because I thought I might die, but he was actually really good. Tense at first, but he just followed the older pony L escorted us on, and on the way home he took the lead and marched confidently forward with nary a spook in sight. Good brat.

    Eagle got in the box, too, and it was a total non-event. I walked in, he stopped at the ramp, I stood there and let him figure it out, and in thirty seconds flat he got in too. No fuss, no bum rope. That’s my good boy.

    Zorro’s kid has been in hospital (nothing huge), but he’s not had an uneventful week. We clipped him, one of the rising stars rode him, and then he developed a massive crush on Skye and broke all the fences. Seriously, Zorro?


    Vastrap’s kid’s mom handmade the most amazing blankets. Doesn’t he look fetching in camo? Rather like a distinguished old lieutenant if you ask me.

    when your coach is cool so you get to ride her fancy horse with her expensive stuff but she’s also tall so… yeah

    Lessons with coach K have just been amazing recently. I got to ride the incredible Skrikkie today. I was hoping to ride through my Elementary tests but he wouldn’t go into the dressage arena because there was a hosepipe across the path. I think I love him so much because he’s what Magic would have been given the right circumstances. The biggest wuss ever, but also with the most courageous and generous heart you could ever ask for.

    I also rode Troy, a schoolie I’m not familiar with, and felt a little bored jumping the EV70 fences (can you imagine? Me, bored?). So I asked K if I could jump the EV80 house, and then we were galloping through water and jumping banks down and the most ridiculous EV80 related distances and guess what? It was fun. I had fun on xc! On a horse I’d never ridden! At 80cm!

    I’m eternally grateful to K and her schoolies. God is doing something truly mighty inside me, something I had tried so hard and for so long to do for myself. My deep struggle is being turned into a long and beautiful chapter in the shining novel that is the story of my life; that is, the love story about a King Who loved a peasant girl. And for the first time, I can’t wait to read the next page.

    Glory to the King.

    Photo Dump Recap (again)

    We’ve been clipping up a storm – of horsehair, flying about everywhere. (And I do mean everywhere – fellow clipping people will sympathise).

    because it’s a schoolie and ain’t nobody gonna stop me

    So far, Lulu, Zorro and Jamaica have stood dead still to clip. The clippers broke halfway through Jamaica so we had a whole rigmarole with that and his coat looks a bit disastrous now – but nothing that a week’s growth won’t fix. On the upside, by the end of it, he was grazing as I snipped away.

    daddy fixed them

    I’m hoping to maybe drive around and shave ponies for people and thus acquire some more funds, if the clippers continue to behave.


    I jumped 90cm on Jamaica. The nerves have been a little up and down, but the overall tendency has been really quite good. Jamaica bails me out a lot. I entered him in the 80cm at SANESA next weekend because that’s what we seem to be coping at even on my bad days.

    Magic lost his snot.

    Magic found his snot.

    Eagle went to the dressage arena and behaved brilliantly. He has the most incredible brain – that rare combination of quiet and willing, but intelligent and sensitive. I wish I could keep them all sometimes.


    I can now ride horses that are taller than I am without even a twinge of worry (if they’re quiet). This is Buzz. Buzz is amazing.

    Our views stay amazing.

    We took lessons with dressage coach S: K and Renè, and me with my two beasties. It was invaluable. I nearly died. S really, really liked Thunny and got me properly excited about his future.

    Eagle’s owner rode him for the first time. He was superb, but it got cut short when one of the stirrup leathers snapped mid-canter. I can’t believe it – it wasn’t even worn. Eagle’s mom took a tumble and left rather battered. Really unfortunate because it was going so well. God knows what He’s doing with this.

    Exavior is gorgeous. I have to sell him. The family and I (and God and I) had a talk about that first, and we agreed that with things a little tight sometimes (as is normal, for any growing little yard), the funds that are going to his upkeep and training could be better used elsewhere. There are so many kids out there dying to ride but without the financial oomph to do it and that’s what we’re here for, not this. It’s not like I can ride him anyway, and he has too much future ahead of him to waste on a maybe.

    It’s very sad. But it’s God’s plan, not mine, and this miracle horse has a lot more miracles in store for him. Just with somebody else.

    Kissing this nose makes everything better, though.

    So does catching two top-class Nooitie mares in one picture. They’re more alike than they’ll ever admit.

    Join-up? Nope. Apples.

    Trooper is doing super. We’ve got canter now, and on the correct lead, and circles (kinda). He’s got a bit of a nappy streak but it’s nothing my pink wand isn’t dealing with.

    We took our big group of kiddies for a hack. Regrettably I didn’t get a picture of the cutest feature: a three-year-old bundle of cuteness seated upon Midas. Now that was adorable.

    Arwie and I took a walk on the wild side – AKA the public road. Then we went inside and did four million shoulder-ins; coach S showed us how to do them properly and we’re not going to let them get us down again.

    She doesn’t have Magic’s scope or Nell’s trot or Thunder’s presence, but she’s got the fire in the belly that lights mine when it flickers and she never lets me down. Ever.

    I had the saddles fitted – the dressage to Arwen, the JC jumping to Jamaica, and the beloved K&M to Thunder. The perk is that the dressage is now super wide and fits everything, including Lancey, who has been doing his best flatwork yet. The jumping is good provided we do it in the dressage arena; he’s lost his nerve in the grass somehow. We entered for the 60cm at SANESA as a precaution but it’s not the height that’s the problem.


    Whenever we hack, we’re accompanied by one to three happy Jack Russels. They’re the most incredible little dogs.

    Our string of good hacks has grown to the point where I try to take a group every Saturday (except on competing weekends). This was a very beginner group so I walked, but I needn’t have bothered. My sister led the way on Stardust, and Sunè, Renè and Lullaby were perfect.

    Ice has an adorable new jacket. It says “dog” in case I forget what he is.

    There’s just something about a true black, isn’t there? I thank God for Eagle. I’ve reopened my training, so I don’t get to cherry-pick my training horses anymore. I certainly wouldn’t have picked him – big, sensitive, troubled, athletic. But God sent him here for a reason and he’s given me so much confidence. Thanks Lord.

    Cute little brat is on the open market now; I’m so proud of him. He’s such a nice, quality pony and I’m happy to be presenting him to the public. Still, I’ll miss him when he goes. If he doesn’t, we’ve got dressage and jumping at SANESA too. (It’s going to be a little busy).

    Lady Erin helps me groom the old queen. She can walk on the lead now, with intermittent use of the bum rope and elbow.

    I’m shopping for a (cheap) new bridle for Thunny because all my bridles look like bits of thread on the anvil he calls his head. He’s being incredible – I’m excited for this weekend’s Prelim 2 and 3 on him. We’ve been working hard on that left bend and it’s paying off.

    God is amazing. Glory to the King.