Beyond Deserving

They say it only takes a little faith to move a mountain

Well, good thing a little faith is all I have right now

God, when You choose to leave mountains unmoveable

Give me the strength to be able to sing “It is well with my soul”

~ MercyMe, “Even If”

I had no expectations for this show, Faith’s first ridden competition. She had competed in hand at Horse of the Year in February, her first outing,

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and then at a training show in August I brought her along just to do the ground poles and have a little fun,

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but yesterday was her first show where we’d be expected to do anything very much beyond stay on top and go over the poles. I knew I had gone out on a limb when I entered her in a proper show horse class and the working riding, seeing that she only semi has steering and occasionally still picks up the wrong lead, but I didn’t really care. It was her first show. If it was a disaster, so be it. The idea was just to have a positive experience, to keep on building those blocks of trust and confidence and let the competition take care of itself.

She was in a class with three of her buddies – including Dragonheart – for the in hand, so obviously she was impeccable. A bit wiggly when standing in the lineup got boring, but not bad. The judge liked her but she is still very young and awkward-looking, so she didn’t place, which I was expecting. I didn’t mind at all, particularly when Arwen and her little handler won the class. The dragon’s still the boss.

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I was very chuffed that the judge didn’t mention anything about Faith being downhill, though. My eye has not deceived me – the front end did catch up after all. Some people at her breeder’s were quite dismissive of her because she was so long-backed and croup-high as a baby that she looked pretty swaybacked, but I was sure the swayback look would go away if she was no longer so downhill, and it did. She’ll always be a bit long in the loin but that’s okay; it’s not like she has a ton of weight to pack around.

The show horse class was a bit of a disaster. I had four kids to watch at this show and there was the predictable array of minor crises that needed to be fixed and pep talks that needed to be given, so I was still tacking up when they gave the last call for my class. A friend and fellow coach managed to persuade them to wait but I ended up kicking the poor baby horse up to the arena quite unceremoniously. She took some exception to this, understandably, and expressed it by producing some rather obnoxious bucks in the show ring. I just patted her neck and told her she was doing a good job because she was, for a baby, so she chilled out by the end of the class. The judge commented that she was “rather frisky”. No poop there judge.

We warmed up for working riding, so of course, she was foot perfect. The first obstacle was already picking up the scary pink stuffed puppy and trotting a circle with it, but she handled it with panache. In fact she handled everything great – even walking over the mat. There’s nothing spooky about that baby horse. Winning the working riding put us through to the overall championship.

By the time the championship class came around I was tired and hot and almost just gave it a skip, but I figured that it was effectively free experience, so why not. We came in with about seven or eight other horses and she was completely relaxed by this point. Her rail was perfect, and while she picked up the wrong lead once in the individual show, we fixed it quickly and she behaved great for the rest of it. It was so hot and she was so tired that she slept through the rest of the lineup, and I was very ready to be excused and go untack her when the judge suddenly announced that we were reserve champion.

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I can’t say that it was a strong class, but I am very pleased with the baby horsie. The judge was complimentary of both her looks and her manners, and we might just have the makings of a great little show horse here. I honestly don’t really care. Fun as it is to win a sash, it’s way more fun – and awe-inspiring – to have the privilege of a relationship with this smart, opinionated, strong-willed young lady. The more I get to know this horse, the more abundantly grateful I am that I had her since she was a baby. We are both independent women who know what we want, yet we’ve cultivated a mutual agreement to depend on one another. There is no submission here, there is only willingness to serve. There is no fear, there is no resistance, there is no suppression. She is always allowed to express herself and for that reason she is never violent, never dangerous, and seldom outright disobedient. Our relationship is just what I wanted it to be – a horse whose voice is respected and whose personality is celebrated, freely and willingly obeying.

After Nell’s sale, after Rainbow’s death, after what has felt like a continual struggle, I feel very, very grateful to have Faith in my life. It only takes a little faith to move a mountain- about 15.1 hands will do. And where my mountains are unmoveable, I find myself riding up their peaks on the back of this horse, by the strength of my God, and by the side of the man my soul loves.

t is well with my soul. Glory to the King.

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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.

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

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Hebrews 11 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

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It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.

It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.”[a] For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

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It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

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11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[b] that God would keep his promise. 12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.

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13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

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17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”[c] 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

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20 It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau.

21 It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.

22 It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left.

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23 It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king’s command.

24 It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. 27 It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. 28 It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.

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29 It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.

30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.

31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

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32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

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But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

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And by faith, this most undeserving of all His children would find herself most abundantly blessed.

I love my little mustard seed. ❤ Glory to the King.

Q3 Goals Recap

I’m so honoured to be working with these gifts from God. ❤

Arwen

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  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Almost there! We need ten, and we have nine. I’m pretty sure our next show in the end of October will get us that last one, since we have been just breaking 60% now, with the exception of the disastrous test last time. Our scores have slowly crept up, but it’ll be at the next show that we see if our hours of schooling have made an appreciable difference yet.
  • Don’t mess up a show riding/show hack class. 
  • Jump a graded 80cm round.
  • Do some cross-country lessons and/or go drag hunting. I want to do this so badly, but logistics may not allow. We’ll see. It’ll be fun to do the boxing day hunt, maybe with a friend. God willing, though. I don’t think we’ll go back to eventing; I can’t justify the expense on a horse who isn’t really going to be fast enough to be good even at the lower levels, although I’m not denying that we had so much fun during our eventing year.

Looking towards next year, I’m still going up and down a bit between continuing with the dressage – either trying to improve the Elementary or give EM a shot – or going into showing again, since she is really good at it. It’ll depend on the logistics. Either way, my dragon gives me hope. ❤

Midas

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  • Hack alone and in company.
  • Be quiet at shows. 
  • Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. Next show! He’s schooling it at home under VT’s kid and the two of them have been cruising around 60cm.
  • Compete up to Prelim at training shows.
  • Compete at the Nooitie shows. 
  • Go cross-country schooling. The training shows we go to have a nice working hunter/stadium eventing course, and I’m considering popping him around it myself at the next one, depending how busy the show looks (spoiler: it looks very busy). Again, eventing isn’t really on the cards for us next year, so I’m OK with not achieving this one.

Midas is on the market and I do hope he sells quite quickly. It’ll be very sad to see him go; he’s one of the highest quality ponies I’ve had, and so much fun both to ride and to teach on. But it’s time for him to find his own little person to have adventures with now.

Faith

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  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well. Like a dream! Took a while, though.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. There don’t seem to be any Nooitie shows for the rest of the year, so that’s been blown out of the water a bit. Next time we have space in the box for a quiet show or outing, I may drag her along.
  • In spring, lunge.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.
    She goes into training in November. I don’t think the groundwork will take long, although I am going to take my time about it, since she’s smart and already knows me well. In fact I could probably have at least walk/trot under saddle by December, but I’m not going to push it. If I condition her carefully now it could have repercussions for the rest of her career.

I am SO excited to put Faith into training at last. She’s starting to look so beautiful and behave so maturely, and this little gift from God has so much to teach me.

Jamaica

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  • Hack reliably in company
  • School Novice dressage. Done! I haven’t actually ridden the tests, but that’s not really relevant for him.
  • Jump 90cm graded. We can’t afford graded right now, but I am totally calling this done. We jumped 90cm at a training show and the course wasn’t soft and he absolutely killed it. Good boy!

Next year, our plan is to work towards jumping Module 5 (1.00m… eep) towards the end of the year. To do that, we’re going to do equitation and jumping at SANESA, so we’re starting to work through the 90cm equitation tests.

Lancelot

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  • Reliably do long hacks alone, in company, and wherever without any drama his kid won’t laugh off.
  • Do a training show or two at Prelim dressage. 
  • Consistently jump graded at 70cm, preferably clear. 

Lancey has been taken out of training and passed on to his kid because he’s become such a solid citizen. One of the most pleasant horses in the yard – and a firm favourite with everyone, both to ride and just to be around. It’s hard not to feel loved in his presence.

Trooper

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  • Do training showjumping shows, up to about 60cm. We’re not going to push him for this right now. I think he’s just not ready for it – because every time we aim him at a jump he crashes through it and knocks his legs and gives himself a fright, poor chap.
  • Do training dressage shows, up to Prelim.  He’s schooling Prelim at home, but has done walk/trot at shows. Again, I’m not pushing it, because his plans have changed. See below.
  • Be as safe as a house on hacks, mostly in company.
  • Be as safe as a house on the ground. Anybody can handle him, including the tiniest of kids, without any trouble.
  • Be fully quiet at shows. He’s just the same at shows as he is at home – with his buddies, away from his buddies, in the stable, wherever!

Trooper originally was supposed to be a resale project, but with Stardust still being in rehab from her injury and a big hole left in the riding school with her being out of work, as well as Lisna being sold, we’ve ended up keeping him for E. They’re a solid match and looking forward to their first show together this month, too.

Thunder

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  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. We basically only school Novice work except when we’re test riding and polishing for shows these days. His lengthenings are our main focus, mainly because I’m really no good at them, but they’re coming on well. He’s done most of the leg-yields and counter canter, and the figures are easy enough. We rode the whole of Novice 1 quite nicely this week and will continue to work through the Novice tests as we go on.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence. Fast he is not, but confident, definitely. He doesn’t bat an eye.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. I’ll be honest, I haven’t really worked on these. Mostly because my time with him is so much fun that I’m being a little bratty and not wanting to ruin it by going for a hack and having a bolt. However, I’m going to start on them next week. We’re doing so much better together lately and I feel like if he does bolt I can stop him now. I’m also going to hack at the end of a session instead of at the beginning, so that his brain is engaged by then.

I’m excited for Thunny’s future. My morning rides on him are almost always therapeutic; we get lost in the dance, and he seems to enjoy it just as much. He’s even turning into a good citizen lately, who stands quietly in the stable and stands tied to the horsebox at shows and just generally behaves pleasantly. I love him to pieces. ❤

Further up and further in. Glory to the King.

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CHG Leg 5 (finally)

We set off to Fairfields with three bays and one dragon. The dragon was plaited, which was a good thing because we were very late. I had enough time to warm up a dressage horse; I did not have enough time to tame a dragon, and thus resigned myself to riding Elementary 1 and 2 on a feral dragon.

However, when we unloaded Arwen, she took a little look around and then went to sleep. I was able to toss on her tack, hop on and warm up a sane and well-behaved animal that actually felt like it had been ridden before.

We had fun. Our warmup was just perfect, complete with four good simple changes in a row, and I was walking her around on the buckle when the steward called us.

In the tests themselves, she felt good but not quite like she is at home; not tense, just a bit scattered and distracted. I think it’s a result of just not competing as much as we always used to. She has never been the quietest and most at ease at shows – always trustworthy, and always does her job, but there is often a bit of dragonishness lurking.

This time, it manifested in a couple of silly mistakes. Our first change was an unmitigated disaster – she trotted down, trotted hollowly up into a disunited canter, flailed around a bit, trotted a step to fix it, and then plopped forth, earning a well-deserved 4. Her second change was very solid for a 6 and the rest of the test was smoother and more consistent. We even got the halt immobility for 5 seconds without any trouble. Mostly sixes and a few 6.5s earned us 62%, our second time breaking 60% at graded elementary.

The second test was judged by a lady who is always very, very strict, so I was not expecting any miracles. But our shoulder-ins were 6 to the left and 6.5 to the right, both of which had been under 6 with the same judge, with comment “good position”. And both our simple changes were tense and messy. She jogged through one, then stopped in the other and trotted up, so those were 5.5s. Still, the trot work was good enough for 60%, making it our first time getting over 60 for both tests at a graded show. And 60 from this judge is not to be sniffed at – not for us, anyway.

I’ve long since made peace with the fact that we are never going to be brilliant at Elementary. In fact, Arwen will probably not even be brilliant at Prelim. The basics are mediocre, so nothing can be really good. But I’m also over obsessing about it because to be fair I produced her myself with a total of maybe four dressage lessons together in our entire career. I have no experience at the level and I’m riding based off trial and error, guessing at how to improve things, guessing at how to train the new movements, reading stuff on the Internet and trying to make that make sense. And I think considering that, Arwen tries very hard, and has done more than most horses probably could.

She’s the best dragon and a gift straight from God. ❤

We had like 3 hours to wait before Thunder’s turn, so K, Dad and I put the horses in stables and plaited leisurely. At this point I must confess that Fairfields has become my second favourite venue ever (after Winstead because I love Winstead). There are many reasons why:

  1. Stables. And they weren’t even expensive.
  2. The people are SO friendly and helpful.
  3. It has a good vibe. I feel at ease there, and as a rule, so do the horses. The judges seem to feel it and be friendlier, too.
  4. It is super super close – 35 minutes’ drive.
  5. Did I mention everyone is nice?

K and I quickly scrubbed our horses’ socks and then hopped on and headed to the warmup. Regrettably we had ended up with only one horse going between Thunder and Renè, but we figured we could make it; I just had to switch my bridle number onto Renè, give K my whip (shoestring budget = everyone shares everything), and call her test.

Thunder was both better and worse than he’d been at Weltmeyer. He never spooked or bucked or bolted, but he screamed. all. the. time. Separation anxiety is strong with this one. It was annoying, I’ll be honest, but as always he never, ever quit on me. He stayed obedient, he stayed willing, he even stayed on the bit even when he was screaming. I resigned myself to poor scores, but I was grateful for how hard he was trying for me despite it all.

He called through the whole first test, but he did everything I asked almost as nicely as he does at home. Because he was tense he got really tight and short in his neck – the Friesian was showing a bit – but didn’t go against my hand, so the frame was present but not supple. We held it together and the worst he did was move during the halt.

He was much more relaxed when we headed into the second test, albeit wanting to get stiff laterally now and then because a horse in the field nearby decided it was going to shriek back at him (thanks for nothing, horse). He was still calmer, so I expected a better test and came optimistically down centreline. And then I looked up at the other arena, and it all came to bits. K was about to go in – sans number, whip, and caller.

It turns out the horse that was meant to go between us didn’t show up and K didn’t know she was allowed to wait for her ride time. Thank God, a nice random person called her test (what did I say about Fairfields again?) and they were fine but my world came crashing down. I felt terrible letting the poor kid down and my whole test all I could think was I should have given her the whip. Poor Thun basically had to do everything by himself, with me reduced to kick or pull. He managed, though, and we finished the test, and I got off almost in tears and abandoned the poor soul with Dad to sprint over to K. Who was utterly unperturbed because caller and whip or no, Renè had just pulled out the best test of their career so far for 61.9%. Guess I’m not so essential, after all.

Their second test was going so well until Renè broke in the second canter set, then picked up the wrong lead, then broke again. That cost them, but they still got 58% from strict judge lady, so that’s fine.

It was good enough for third place in test 1, their first real placing in dressage, hard-earned and well-deserved.

don’t judge the cream; shoestring, remember?

To my great shock, Thunder was second in both. He had 71% for his first test and 64 point something for the second, getting hammered with a couple of 5s for the final stretchy circle (it didn’t) and the halt (he moved). Those are both just a matter of show nerves, and I’m so happy that he could pull out those placings in good company even when he was tense. Thank you Thunny dude, I owe you one.

We were beaten by coach K’s mom, who also won the Elementary and has several decades more experience. She got like 76% so that was fine by me.

I actually can’t believe how brilliant our floofy homebred beast has turned out to be. He exceeded all my expectations and that’s saying something. This was a school pony for more than a year. I wish I’d given him a chance earlier, but I’m grateful now that he gets his time to shine. ❤

Last of the day was Trooper, three hours later. I’ll be honest, once I got on him, I was kind of tired and over it, but he was amazing. Just like he is at home. He napped toward the gate a couple of times, but otherwise warmed up beautifully.

We doddled down centreline and I was thinking I might stay and get my test after all because he really felt good. All was peachy, we even had bend on our circle, and then suddenly as we headed into the F-A corner, the steering broke. We fetched up just outside the arena at F. He didn’t jump, he didn’t duck, he just sort of kept on going when turning was supposed to happen.

I may have squeaked in horror. The crowd (who loved him) may have laughed. But the bell didn’t ring, so I put him back in the arena and went on. He promptly napped out at K, almost falling onto V, but then got a bit of a hiding and proceeded to finish his test in fine style.

Turns out the border of the arena was less than 25cm high, so even though he put all four feet out, it was a 0 instead of an elimination. The rest of it was good, but by that point I was ready to ride him up the ramp and home without bothering to get off, so I have no idea what he scored.

I’m still happy with him, though, because flopping out of the arena is really not the worst thing a four-year-old with practically no training can do at its first show.

Further Trooper news is that Lisna has been sold to a lovely forever home as a hack, so we have decided to keep him and give him to E. He is much better suited to her than Lisna was and they look amazing together. So I’ll ride him at the next show and then hand him over.

And, as another win, I finally rode all five tests from memory without making any mistakes. Which is always good.

So excited for what God has done, is doing, and will do. Glory to the King.

Gauteng Finals Primary Schools

Last Saturday morning at early o’ clock saw us boxing Vastrap and Liana in the dark. Good little VT strolled right in; Liana had never seen a two-berth before and needed a rope around her bum, but we got her in with minimal drama and headed off to beautiful KEP.

arenas upon arenas – love KEP

We arrived with enough time to spare before the jumping class to plait VT, to his kid’s delight. This kid absolutely loves to be well turned out and is forever badgering me to plait her pony for jumping, but I’m afraid on a SANESA day when I have like five to plait and a million classes to get to, it never happens.

The neatly turned out Vastrap and contented kid headed off to warm up in a glow of excitement and I pretty much stayed out of their way and chewed my nails watching them navigate a really chaotic warmup. Vastrap was being an absolute little professional as usual, but so much more relaxed than normal. His kid has been so good for him – I’ve never seen him in such a positive emotional space at a show. He was just cruising.

There were 39 horses in their 60cm speed class and the competition, as usual for finals, was enormously strong. Coming from Sedibeng qualifiers to Finals is always a bit of a culture shock; Morning Star is probably one of the medium to stronger yards at qualifiers, but then we get to Finals and find ourselves competing against the cream of the abundant crop from Kyalami and Pretoria, deep horse country.

Still, Vastrap strolled into that class ready for anything. We’d walked a tricky little track, cutting a lot of turns and taking a couple of risks, but VT and his kid absolutely smashed it. They nailed turns that were making good ponies stop, giving a clear round in a solid time for 14th place. I was so proud of them both. The placing left them just out of the team for Nationals, but I was still very happy with their performance.


We sat around for a long time then, waiting for something to happen, and then – as usual – it all started to happen at once. Liana and VT had to be hustled off to their classes almost simultaneously while I frantically tried to finish Liana’s plaits for prix caprilli and keep everyone calm (not least my panicking self).

VT and his kid made the first round of their competition look easy, skipping around clear without any difficulty. I just had time to watch and cheer before bolting down to the dressage arenas to find Liana nowhere in sight ten minutes before her ride time. After some frantic running about, Liana was located and shunted into the warmup, times were sorted out, and we managed to get a time ten minutes later – to my great relief. Ana, at least, was being relaxed and well behaved. Her kid had completely forgotten how to ride figures of any description (a first Finals will do that to you) but we used those ten minutes to re-learn them all and by the time we were called, everyone had settled.

The two of them proceeded to ride a solid, obedient test. Liana’s bend and connection were a bit all over the place, and there were a couple of inaccuracies, but Liana’s kid kept a lid on a very hot pony and stood up well to the pressure of Finals. They missed out on the placings, but for me it was a resounding end to a SANESA season that had not started well, and I was proud of them both.

Then it was time to sprint back up to the jumping, just in time for VT’s jump-off. His kid actually had to wake him up a bit to get him forward, and in they went, planning to ride another twisty track. In the end I had told them to cut a turn where I think, in the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I should have had them go round and gallop a bit. But I’m always a bit chicken of letting kids go too fast. So off they went, VT jumping like a little superstar and his child doing everything I said and they were quick and clear.


It was not quite good enough for Nationals, landing them in 15th place, but it absolutely was good enough for me. This pony used to gallop inverted at fences and panic through all of his courses, taking poles as he went, and now he just toddles around in a rhythm with soft eyes and happy ears. Nationals or no, that counts for something.

I tell the kids that only two opinions matter: your horse’s and God’s. And I know for a fact that both of those have very high opinions of these two kids.

Glory to the King.

This Week in Dressage: Shoulder-in Left

It’s no secret that our Elementary needs work – our Elementary everything, basically. My first impressions from our last show was pretty much that everything sucked and would suck forever, but this time I have been able to be a little more objective (numbers don’t have so much bearing on a dance, you see) and pick out the things we really, truly have trouble with.

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I came up with six. One for each working  week between now and our next show. The beauty of schooling a movement is also that you don’t just improve the movement; in order to improve the movement you dig up a crookedness or a lack of impulsion or whatever it was that was causing the trouble in the first place, and so we improve.

This week’s movement was shoulder-in left. We had a 7 for shoulder-in right and a 5 for shoulder-in left on the same test. Ouch. I used the following exercises to work on this:

  • Warmup with leg-yields in medium or even free walk, usually on the long diagonal. Transition to long easy leg-yields in working trot, then more difficult (usually just F-X-M) in collected trot. This got her off my inside leg and started to warm up whatever muscles make the leggies cross.
  • Elementary 5 shoulder-in set in reverse: M-B shoulder-in right, B turn right, E turn left, E-K shoulder-in left. This one was to give me a feel for what was going on in the test itself and where we were going wrong. She felt very dull to my inside leg, so I headed for my next exercise, a favourite to get her off my inside leg.
  • Circle 20m in working trot. Spiral down to 15m, then to 10m in collected trot. Complete the circle, then leg-yield out to 20m circle and immediately go to working trot (if her medium trot was any good we’d use that instead). I love this exercise because the horse really wants to get off the tiny circle, so there’s motivation to leg-yield. The upward transition on the bigger circle also creates some anticipation, increasing the energy in the leg-yield itself.
  • Then we did the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins again. They were better, but still not super.

Arwen had felt SUPER responsive to my inside leg in shoulder-in right, the spiralling exercise, and the leg-yields, so I knew it wasn’t that that was causing our shoulder-in left problems. Back to the drawing board. Time for Googling and reading all those long dull classical descriptions of what the shoulder-in really is, and then the little light bulb went “bing” in my head when I was reading troubleshooting somewhere (EuroDressage, I think).

Now I know I have the seat crookedness issue, but I always underestimate how often it comes back to bite my bum. The descriptions mentioned that failure to sit DOWN on the inside seat bone could cause quite a bit of difficulty for the horse. BING! My left seat bone used to strenuously resist being sat upon. Lots of stretching has finally worked it so that it’s not sore anymore, but the old habit remains and my muscles are still trying to protect it. So I can sit on it, but it takes focus.

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pictured: focus… on carrots

I went back and did the Elementary 5 shoulder-in work at the next session, this time really, really sitting on that inside seat bone (while maintaining the straightness across my shoulders and evenness of the distance between hips and elbows). Lo and behold, she slipped sideways like water. She established the shoulder-in well, but we had some trouble maintaining the position all the way along, so we started to play with some more difficult exercises.

  • Shoulder-in down the long side. As soon as the quality of the position deteriorates, ride a 10m circle in slight shoulder-fore, re-establish shoulder-in and continue down the long side. We were popping 10m circles twice or three times in a long side at the start, but as she figured out that it was actually possible now that she no longer had to scramble to try and stay under me, and things got a lot better.
  • M-F shoulder-in right; A turn down centreline; A-X shoulder-in right; X change the bend; X-C shoulder-in left; C turn left; H-K shoulder-in left. This is a SUPER difficult and challenging exercise and I didn’t get after her too much if we ended up in shoulder-fore somewhere along the way as long as she stayed rhythmic, but you can’t beat it for getting the horse off your leg and correctly positioned without using the wall. The quick little change of bend really helped to get her listening, not unlike the B-X half circle left X-E half circle right thing.
  • Back to the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins and voila! We have ourselves an equal shoulder-in left.

Forgive my nerd splurge. I was so excited to figure it all out, and Arwen felt pretty awesome by the end of it.

Dancing with dragons. Glory to the King.

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