On Duty and Insurance

Today I’d like to talk about something that I feel strongly about, and forgive me if I get a little passionate. I almost wrote “It’s something that the sport needs to hear”, but actually, the sport is generally quite good about this. This is something that the average rider needs to hear. The one-horse rider, perhaps on a bit of a budget, perhaps just having two ponies on a plot somewhere, perhaps the parent watching their kid pop around at SANESA – the ordinary, average horse owner that makes up the vast and overwhelming majority of horse owners in South Africa today.

The something is this: your horse should be insured.

It expands into this: your retired horse should also be insured.

 

This is Magic. Say hi, Magic.

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Magic is 11. Magic is also retired. There’s nothing really wrong with him physically, except ordinary OTTB stuff – his feet are a little flat and he’s got a bit of KS going on. We showjumped a bit, and for about four out of five shows he would be amazing and perfect. But that one out of five, he would do one of two things: he would fly backwards across the arena gasping in abject and genuine panic for half an hour, or he would get home and colic. It wasn’t fair on him anymore, so now he decorates the lawn, and has done so for two years.

In short, Magic is worth approximately R0.00. More accurately, he’s worth about -R1500 every month, conservatively, and only because we live on the farm and have grazing.

Magic also has a five-figure vet bill sitting on my desk.

Magic’s vet bill will be paid. Because you just can’t put a price tag on some things, and the horse you retired is one of them. You see, Magic never won any real ribbons and never really got me anywhere when it came to riding. He left me with a collection of bad habits and frayed nerves and two big fat RFs on my record – at the same show. But Magic gets the best of everything. He is a shiny, round, happy 7.5/10 on the condition scale year-round; his teeth are done, his feet are done, and he has all of his shots every year. I don’t spend as much time with him as I would like because at some point I do have to work in order to keep providing him with his happy, lazy existence, but every morning he gets a carrot and a hug and I like to think he still knows that I care about him.

It’s not really about what he thinks of me, though. I don’t take care of him because I’m a warm and fuzzy person. I do it because I honestly owe it to him to give him the best and happiest life he possibly could have and even if I succeed for many years then I will still forever be in his debt.

Magic never shaped me as a rider. He shaped me as a human being.

Magic never won ribbons, but he won my heart. He didn’t teach me very much about showjumping, but he taught me about life, during a tempestuous time as I struggled with the insurmountable challenge that is adolescence. He taught me to forgive myself for scars, for pain, for being a broken piece of humanity in a broken world. He taught me to breathe deep and slow. He taught me that there’s so much more to life than success and so much more to the sport than winning. And so much more to horses than competing.

He didn’t give me all that much pleasure in the saddle or any great pride or victory or prestige. He gave me so much more. He gave me hope. He gave me forgiveness. He gave me tenderness. He gave me the power to understand my own rattled and anxious soul.

He’s not just a horse or a fine companion or even a best friend. He’s an instrument of God.

Magic gave me a part of who I am, a good and loving and compassionate part.

A thousand vet bills will never, ever be enough to pay him back.

 

Here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t actually matter how lyrical I can wax about how much I love my priceless retiree or what he’s done for me. Of course I wanted to save him when he colicked this week. The fact remains that if he hadn’t been insured, all the wanting in the world wouldn’t have done a thing. Even what I have done was almost not enough; he needed a surgery that I couldn’t have paid for – to be fair, these surgeries extend into six figures – and it’s only by God’s grace that he’s still with us.

I didn’t have him insured for that kind of money. But I had him insured for something; enough that he could be in hospital on a drip and receiving professional, round-the-clock care by someone who wasn’t emotional, drained, and ultimately out of their depth. This time, it was enough. You better believe he’s getting better insurance in case there is a next time.

This is the real value of insurance. Not something to protect your financial investment, but something to save the horses that financially aren’t really worth saving; the horses that gave you everything and now stand in a field somewhere, hopefully with you, a bit old and ugly and broken. They gave you their hearts. Now it’s your turn.

I’m talking to you, average rider on your average horse. You the lady doing Prelim or EV60 on a Boerperd or an OTTB or a nondescript little bay horse of uncertain ancestry and deep, gentle eyes. You the daddy paying for your kid to ride. You the doting horse mom with two Shetlands in your backyard, piggy-fat and eating carrots and thriving. You all feed your horse enough and make sure he’s dry in the rain, but are you ready for a colic surgery? Are you ready for a night at the vet hospital? Are you ready for diagnostics, treatments, drips?

Medical aid starts as cheaply as R160 per month. If you can compete in one single training show class or eat out once a month, you can afford this.

I shouldn’t really be asking you if you’re ready to pay to save your horse. Rather, I should ask you this: Are you ready to watch your horse die because you can’t?

 

Introducing Emmy

Our latest arrival came on Sunday a week ago, and is already becoming a firm favourite. Blogosphere, meet Once Upon a Time – stable name Emmy.

Emmy is a 2004 OTTB mare by Anytime out of a Northern Guest mare. She ran her last race in 2009 and disappeared from any formal records for a while, resurfacing a couple of years ago with her current owner, where she was used as a broodmare. The winter was not kind to Emmy and her condition is a little horrifying at 2/10, but her owner had already taken some steps to improving on it before she arrived.

She is a very kind little soul, the type that comes up to you in the field. She’s also spent the past 10 days eating incessantly, and it’s beginning to show already. I have to be cautious with concentrate feeding to avoid colic, but we’ve been slowly notching it up with my beloved balancer and Capstone’s Stud Time.

She also had a bit of a worm burden, which will hopefully be resolved now that she’s had a dose of Pegamax, but the next FEC will tell.

Once Emmy’s reached about 4/10, she’ll go into training and be rebacked and schooled with an eye on reselling her as a happy hack or SANESA pony. Her nature is ideally suited; it remains to be seen if we have any unsoundness or remedial vices to contend with, but so far, so good.

Honoured to be entrusted with another of God’s amazing creatures.

Glory to the King.

Fourways Training SJ

Going out at 5:00am to get horses ready for loading really isn’t so bad when God turns the whole sky into yet another masterpiece. ❤

Of course, we had a full horsebox for this show; that’s been our MO lately. Today it was a box full of geldings, about which I had my reservations. Having a sturdy old mare around does tend to make everything a little more low-key. To add to the difficulty, we didn’t even have dear gentle Vastrap. We had Zorro (whose behaviour can be hit-and-miss), Lancelot (second show ever), Thunder (never ridden in a box before), and Magic (need I say more?).

My fears, however, were unfounded. Zorro boxed the worst, and that just means I had to get to his shoulder and give him a whack with the end of the lead before he jumped in with alacrity. The others all marched straight in and Magic immediately started to pull at his haynet, always a good sign. In fact his mood looked excellent; despite our rocky week, I was feeling confident.

the road leading to our yard. Beautiful Africa ❤

Everyone travelled great and got out with their brains fully on, even Thunder, although he was quite wide-eyed. We were of course late (always) so I abandoned the Mutterer to babysit Zorro and Magic while we smacked tack onto (very, very grubby) Lancey and Thunder and head groom T and I headed down to the arena.
Lancelot proceeded to be brilliant for the whole show. He hacked along to the arena without drama, had one spooky first lap of the warmup, and then settled right down. We obviously had to stop and sniff the first cross before we could very carefully step over, but then he started to jump in a beautiful relaxed rhythm. At the gate, he waited on the buckle, occasionally stopping to graze.

Going in for the 40cm he had a big look at everything as we headed down to the start and then wiggled up to the first fence and stopped to gawk at it. I let him sniff and then applied whip and leg and he sort of semi-launched over and wiggled off to the second fence. This one was much better, and by the third one he’d figured out his job and went on to doddle happily over all of them. He didn’t even overjump. He cantered off from most of them but I held him down to trot for the approaches, except the combination, where he awkwardly added a stride and bailed us out.

Going in for the 50cm, he was much more workmanlike having been allowed to have a look. We approached the first fence in trot and he had a little wiggle but then took me right over and cantered off. I stayed light and just pointed him at the fences and encouraged him, letting him figure out rhythm and distances by himself. Of course he made a little mistake at one fence and forgot how many legs he had and took it down, but the rest was excellent. Forward and relaxed. I am very much chuffed with him.

Thunder and T started out both looking very wide-eyed; Thunny was shouting and practically piaffing with nervousness and T could feel she was sitting on a ticking time bomb. At which point I bellowed at her to ride him forward and she looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Nerve-wracking as it must have been, she chased him forward and found he was still rideable as long as she gave him something to do. He settled as the day went on and ended up looking relaxed and professional, toddling over the 60cm like an old hand without so much as an overjump. They had a pair of stops in the 40cm true to baby horse form, but the 60 was flawless except for getting a little lost and having to make a squiggle to get to the right fence which did get them four penalties. T rode him great, and I was so proud to see the giant baby in the show ring at last. (Show photos to follow, not that the budget really allows for any).

jump Thunny jump!

Magic was in a fabulous mood tand after my excellent rounds on Lancey, so was I; I came over to him certain that this was going to be a doddle, seeing how I’d only entered 50 and 60. I pulled up his girth, got a leg-up and plopped happily down the long side of the warmup. He was super, swinging along on a loose rein and looking around merrily, and then a big horse passed him at high speed. I felt his back muscles lock and started to talk and breathe him down but then a pony almost sideswiped him and he looked up and saw that the fairly small warmup was in total chaos. Everyone was obeying the rules but it was crowded and everyone seemed to be cantering. His neck went rock hard in front of me and I heard him take one big breath that seemed to get stuck in his throat with a little hiccup, and then he just left. He didn’t get mean, of course. But he couldn’t cope, either. It was a full-blown panic attack/Magic meltdown and even after I got off and led him around he was still blank-eyed and leaping wildly.
I think I could have talked him down given enough time and going into the empty arena nearby. But I looked over at T and Thunder and saw that Zorro and Z-kid were about to come in and I didn’t have time. Rather than try and hurry him, or talk him down while I was distracted, or focus on him and forget the students, I made the call to untack him and call it a day. As soon as the tack was off he gave a big sigh and came back as suddenly as he’d left. Food for thought… is it really the riding at shows that’s putting this much pressure on him? Or maybe just the overflowing warmup? I know this time it wasn’t me. Either way, the dude was quite happy to stand by the box eating hay and his stomach continued to be excellent, so all is good.

That left Zorro and Z-kid, whose saddle held up this time resulting in yet another win in the 70cm. These two are going to smoke them at SANESA this year. Zorro was jumping out of his skin but I think I slipped up and had them warming up much too early, not considering that he’s just had a long holiday over Christmastime. As he was warming up for his second class I could see he’d run out of puff, so the second class didn’t go quite so well. He wasn’t bad but he had an unlucky pole and then fluffed a turn heading towards the gate, necessitating a four-penalty circle to get back to the fence. Poor chap was so flat coming out I couldn’t be mad. He’ll do better by SANESA Q1, and I’ll be more careful not to warm them up for too long.

 We’re all pretty much geared for SANESA Q1, my only remaining worries being two outside horses that haven’t been in a box since September, but their kid has been working really hard and I think they’ll be just fine.
As for Magic, he didn’t deal that day. And that’s OK. I don’t always deal either, and we all know he can do no wrong in my eyes anyway, so we’ll just keep taking it one grateful day at a time.

Glory to the King.

Chilling

We have our first show of the year on Sunday; a training show over tiny fences at a venue I’ve only ridden at more times than I have teeth. I’m on Magic, who has done 60 and 70cm ad nauseam, and Lancelot, who is super at shows.

And I’m absolutely dead nervous.

No, the show nerves do not go away. I’ve only been competing for about four years now, but I’ve ridden multiple shows on multiple horses every month and logged a lot of miles. I’ve brought a bunch of babies to their first show and I’m so well versed in boxing horses in the dark that it’s not even drama anymore. I’ve ridden nationals and finals and in the same arena as some of the greats – I should be used to this by now.

But here I am, facing 60 and 70cm training courses on horses I know at a training show, terrified.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think my horses were also subscribed to the Facebook event because the closer we come to the day, the worse they go. Especially Magic. Magic was a pogo stick on Thursday; I couldn’t hold him, I couldn’t turn him, I couldn’t get him to jump in a straight line and after every fence he leapt up and down, striking out with his forelegs in a kind of reverse buck.

Always before a show, Magic? Why?

at least he’s now a fat lunatic

I was a little mad but I patted his neck after dismounting and tried to figure out what was bothering him this time. Food? Teeth? Back? Feet? No.

As usual, it was far simpler than that.

It was me, of course.

So today I climbed aboard and we flopped around like we do any other day. I put on worship music and thought about the latest episode of Chicago Med while I warmed him up, letting my mind wander so that my hands, seat and heart could do the thinking. We trotted a few small fences. Then we cantered them. There was a storm brewing and the wind teased at us, making the horses in the fields skittish and silly, but Magic put down his head and enjoyed his job.

I did the same on Lancelot. I put all the fences and my ego down two holes and trotted a little course. He’d been napping and overjumping. We had the usual little argument or two, but he jumped every fence out of a steady soft rhythm.

So here’s my new resolve: I’m gonna chill out about training shows. I’m going to quit seeing them as shows and start seeing them for what they are – schooling sessions. I’m going to turn myself deaf to the imaginary judgment from the sidelines with which I torment myself, and the pressure of riding a client horse, and the pressure of being coach. I’m going to quit taking myself so seriously, cut a little slack and start riding the horse, for my God.

worth it ❤

I’ll wear my work breeches and a slightly faded shirt. I won’t clean my tack. I’ll sleep a little later than I probably should and when clients or students or chauffeur begin to stress, I’ll breathe deep and slow and calm us all down. That’s my job as trainer, after all.
As for Magic? Maybe we’ll do the 60 and the 70. Or maybe we’ll do the 50 and the 60. Maybe we’ll just hack in the warm-up arena because it really doesn’t matter.

He’s not going to win me ribbons. He’s far too busy being an instrument in the hand of God, teaching me the most incredible things about horses and people and life and God.

Glory to the King.

Magic’s 2017 Goals (or lack thereof)

Year in, year out, I have faithfully set a careful string of goals for all the horses – as long-term readers very well know. I think this may be the first year ever that I haven’t set any goals for Magic.

And I don’t intend to.

Last year was a rollercoaster with him. It started with his promising comeback after his terrible illness in 2015, winning both his first graded classes in fine style and staying absolutely sane throughout the show. Then it all came down around our ears a bit when I fell off him three times in as many months – my first falls off him, ever. We were heading in the right direction again when he decided he would like to have colic again after all and then the outbreak crashed any plans of returning to shows after that. All in all, he only had seven outings this year – and I stayed on top for five. (Of the ones that I stayed on, he jumped all clear rounds, barring one, which he won anyway). It was an unimpressive year, except that it wasn’t.

We made very little progress, training-wise. 80cm still looks about the size of the Great Wall of China (to me anyway; he’s good). Our flatwork remains low-level but rock solid. We go to shows and jump some jumps, sometimes, or not, as the case may be. But in terms of understanding this shining, suffering enigma of a horse, we made giant, groundbreaking leaps. Subtle, but groundbreaking.

I figured out the most important thing I could have, to help him. I figured out why he has panic attacks and how I can get him out of one when it’s happening. Anyone who knows anyone with PTSD knows how huge that is. To be able to look in his eyes when they’ve gone glassy and the horse I know and love just seems to be gone – and to know why he’s gone, where he’s gone and how to get him back… that’s tremendous. I feel like I can finally help him. I have finally found the hole that he falls into and how to get him out. After years of helplessly watching him leave into a terrible inner world that seemed to mentally torture him, at last I can break down those walls and bring him back to safety.

It’s so simple and self-explanatory that I’m amazed I didn’t see it long ago. Then again, if it was that self-explanatory, horse PTSD wouldn’t be the only thing we can deal with better.

I get in there with him, and I show him the way out.

In the face of discoveries like these – things invisible to man, but oh so important in the sight of God – the goals I’ve been setting just can’t compare.

For my own guts, I think it would be good for me to try and jump him higher. If he was always the Magic he is when he’s okay, he’d pack my butt around and teach me that jumps bigger than 70cm are not deadly and evil. Even when he is having a moment, he’ll jump 90cm as happily as he’ll jump 60cm.

But it’s not about me.

He needs a perfect rider. He needs a rock-steady lighthouse of a rider that can show him the way out of fear. He needs someone who’s never in a hurry, or in a bad mood, or focused on something other than being there for him. He needs someone who cares way more about him than about anything else. I so much want to learn to be that rider, not only for my training skill, but for my living skill. And I’m just not that rider when I’m scared.

Even if I did push him, he’s all of nine years old and already has bony changes in his withers. He won’t be sound forever. I don’t know how many years I’ll still be able to go jumping stuff with him. Maybe three? Four? I don’t want to spend those years fighting in order to jump mediocre heights badly.

I want to spend them listening to that horse’s soul. Because it tells me things about God and people and bullying and mental illness and myself that I really need to learn.

Goals can’t hold a candle to that.

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the day we came third won champion of the universe

3 Years of Magic

It took nearly three years to the day for Magic to get me to his first graded show (Magic did most of the getting, poor soul), but we did it. This is the journey so far, and I have a feeling it’s just the preface to what’s to come. God willing.

Magic
Early 2012
Magic2
Mid 2013
Magic22
August 2013
Magic8
October 2013
078
October 2014
Magic5
November 2014
Magic9
March 2015
Magic4
May 2015
Magic1
August 2015
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January 2016
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February 2016
Magic1
March 2016

We have been brought this far on the love of God and on the back of a great horse. ❤

Milady Update

So poor Milady has arrived, albeit unannounced on the blog. We picked her up on the fifth of July and catapulted the poor unsuspecting lady into the long adventure that is life with the Horde.

Milady has been an absolute angel. She hasn’t been in a horsebox for almost two years, but with a line around her bottom we hauled her right up. She travelled just fine and when I turned her out in a little paddock by herself, neighbouring the group she was to join, she wandered around, did a tremendous floaty trot across to the hay, and settled down to eat. I wasn’t home during the day for the next week, so poor old Milady was stuck by herself in the little paddock. I wasn’t sure how introductions to the other horses would go as Flare and Arwen can both be jerks to new horses and between trying to be a good protective beta and his overwhelming friendliness, Thunder can be quite a shock to them. Hence I was waiting for a day that I’d be quietly home all the time so that I could slowly introduce her to the electric fences and new horses and hopefully avoid one of her perfect slender legs being broken (I always worry about those wonderful legs; clean as they are, well as they stood up to her racing career, they always look like little toothpicks compared to the stocky mongrels’).

Milady saved me the trouble. One night, bored of being by herself, she simply climbed over the wooden section of the fence and introduced herself to electric fences and new horses. When I got there the next morning they were all eating around the bale like one big happy family, and nobody had any broken legs. All the fences were still standing, too. It was quite amazing.

Who says thoroughbreds can't trot?
Who says thoroughbreds can’t trot?

Last week I finally started to work her again, first with a little lunging session just to dust off her memory. The ring is right inside Skye’s group’s paddock, so to get there one has to drag a frightened new horse through a highly excited and curious bunch of other horses, which is always a little hairy and sometimes necessitates several well-placed elbows when new horsie tries to clamber over me in an attempt to get away from my evil minions. Milady wandered in, raised a hindleg at Exavior in warning when he came snuffling over, and calmly followed me to the ring, where she went to work like she’d done it every day of her life. Lunging is still not her favourite but she was just as good as she’d been the last time we lunged.

Friday was a horrible day to work horses. The wind was both howling and icy; Arwen had nearly sent me flying on our fitness ride earlier that morning from pure excitement, and everyone else was running around showing the whites of their eyes like a bunch of hooligans. The wind had got up the Holsteins’ tails too and they were galloping up and down in their paddocks while bellowing loudly, and twenty head of overexcited heifers running about is enough to make any horse a bit wild. I had limited time the next day so I decided to get Milady out anyway even if she just tore around on the lunge line and burnt some energy.

She plugged around on the lunge all calm and chilled, so much so that I was convinced to hop on, even for just a walk around the ring. (I had had a new horse for three weeks and still hadn’t ridden it – it was killing me). I clambered on, she stood like a rock, and we started meandering around the ring. The wind chose that moment to grab the edge of one of the shelter’s corrugated iron sheets and then bring it down on the wooden support with a deafening clang. Skye’s group took off like rockets and tore past the ring; David went airborne; the Holsteins lost their minds and I prepared to say my last words. Milady (five-year-old OTTB, hadn’t been ridden for almost two months) raised her ears at the other horses, as if slightly shocked by such appalling manners but much too polite to say anything.

What is the new little human doing
What are you doing, new little human?

We proceeded to have an awesome ride around the unfenced arena in walk, trot and canter and Milady didn’t put a toe wrong. Her nickname suits her better than I expected. She has impeccable manners, excellent breeding and a noble bearing. The rest of the Horde, who normally look like wonderful sweet ponies compared to other horses, are a bad influence and taught her how to escape the paddock (she was the first to repentantly come up to me when I eventually found them trying to break into the cow barn). Apart from succumbing to bad peer pressure, Milady has been an absolute wonder so far.

She leaves me a little sad that one can’t breed and compete on a horse at the same time. But I suppose that that’s exactly the horse one should breed with. Thank You, Lord Jesus.

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