All the Lungeing

After his break during the beginning of 2019, Thunder was impeccably behaved coming back into work. But he was also fat and unfit. Really, really unfit.

To be fair, I wasn’t the fittest I had ever been, either. Thanks to my job at the Arab stud, I was still exercising 2-3 horses a day, but they were mostly either babies or impeccably trained old show horses. The former requires mostly the “hang on and don’t die” muscles to operate; the others are so soft and light and smooth that they barely require muscles at all. Certainly none of them were the full-body workout that is riding a half-schooled dressage horse whilst not really having any idea of how to do so.

and even the babies are soft now

So when J told us that we needed to get fit, he was totally right. He put us to work lungeing for 20 minutes three days a week (schooling once or twice a week) and so, combined with having tons of babies to work, I find myself in the middle of a lunge ring quite frequently.

To be honest, I kinda like lungeing. I mean, it’s extremely boring (Thunder is getting a bit tired of it now) but I sat lungeing exams for my stable management modules and might pride myself just a teeny bit on being a bit on the pedantic side when it comes to lungeing.

Lungeing can be a little controversial sometimes. Many trainers absolutely swear by it (lookin at you, J) while others prefer hills or cavaletti for fitness. Personally, I think all of the above can be beneficial depending on the horse and human and situation. But lungeing can certainly be a tool for evil.

trying not to covet J’s indoor lungeing square which has a fancy foreign name but I can’t remember

Lungeing has a set of benefits that makes it an important tool in my toolbox, though. Some of them include:

  • Teaching the unbacked horse to move in rhythm and balance, respond to voice commands, and accept tack
  • Laying a foundation of fitness without the rider’s weight – for horses with poor topline or unbacked youngsters
  • Allowing a less experienced person, like a good groom, to exercise the horse for a busy rider (it takes a few months to learn to lunge really well, much longer to learn to ride)
  • Warming up a stiff back before riding
  • Perhaps most importantly, giving the rider an opportunity to see the horse move, which allows one to connect what it feels like to what it looks like.
little helper

Lungeing, however, is often easily misused. Even though there’s no rider involved, it’s still hard on the horse’s body. Typically lungeing involves fewer walk breaks than riding and working on a circle isn’t easy on the joints. I have a few ground rules to help lungeing do what all training tools should – make the horse’s life better.

  • Preferably not before four, and certainly not before three. Look, five minutes twice a week won’t kill your two-year-old. But I don’t work my three-year-olds more than three or four days a week, and even then, only for 15 minutes at a time. Just enough to show them how to move in balance. Four-year-olds can do 20 minutes or so, but slowly and judiciously. What are you going to do with a four-year-old anyway? They’re basically camels with no brains at that age.
  • Whatsoever you do to one side, do also unto the other. Nothing makes a horse asymmetrical faster than asymmetrical lungeing. Working the weak side harder than the strong side mostly only makes the horse stiff and resentful.
  • Lungeing is schooling. My pet peeve is horses who CHARGE off onto the circle in a mad trot. No. Mine are expected to stand stock-still until asked, at which point they shall walk briskly and calmly onto the circle and continue walking until asked to trot. All transitions should take place on voice command. When asked to stop, they stand quietly. This makes life much more relaxing for the horse.
  • Lunge in all three gaits. Some babies, especially the gawky types, have trouble cantering on a small circle. Apart from those, mine lunge in walk, trot and canter. Jackhammer trot is not a gait.
  • Pay attention to gait quality. The gaits in lungeing should be the same as under saddle, if not better due to the lack of encumbrance from uncoordinated humanity. Jackhammer trot is not a quality gait. Young horses should be able to lunge smoothly and in balance without gadgets in all three gaits before being expected to carry a rider. Nothing is worse for the horse’s joints and muscles than tearing around madly, hollow and counter bent.
  • If you use a gadget, understand it. I like elasticated side reins and maybe a neck stretcher/chambon, but only for horses who already understand the contact and are strong enough to carry themselves. I prefer introducing the contact on the long lines. That way, they can have plenty of little stretch breaks while the muscles develop.
and that, ladies and gentlemen, is an open throatlash

I’m sure others have different rules, and that mine will change over time, but that’s what I’m doing right now. And that is how I try not to die of boredom while lungeing 6 horses in a day lol. But it’s starting to pay off.

22 July
3 September

Here’s hoping J will be happier with us next week. Thunny certainly feels a LOT more powerfully forward under saddle now – the canter-walks are suddenly back, a medium trot came out of nowhere (yesssss) and we even have changes again. Yay!

Glory to the King.

Eyes Up

And so Springs Event draws ever nearer and, to my relief, my nerves are starting to wobble. The Mutterer was right – you have to be nervous, you have to have that edge. Somehow I just have to find the balancing act between paralysing fear and helpful adrenalin.

Either way, Springs’ course map went out today and I nearly fainted; the drop was bad enough (I have hated drops since I knew what they were) and then there has to be a ditch in the equation as well. For what it’s worth, Arwen and I have never jumped a ditch in our lives. My strategy will be to kick on and hold tight and trust that gutsy little grey mare. Flagged water is also a first for us, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be fine. She likes the Springs water.

The other horses, however, have been keeping my mind off it thoroughly. Magic and Arwen both put in solid lessons with the Mutterer on Wednesday, despite my minor meltdown (confidence, people: it helps. Also patient trainers). The Storm Horse was his usual superb self; I also got to ride his son, whom I think we shall call the Thundercloud Horse because he’s about the right colour. Hopefully, if I get him ready in time, he shall go to the Spring Show with his daddy and Arwen Jnr. The Mutterer and I also had a couple of awesome outrides on some of the baby horses. Sometimes I think we must be totally insane to take out a pair of half-backed babies and teach them to canter in the hay fields, but it really is the most ridiculous fun even if they lose the plot every now and then. I picked a goofy Nooitgedachter/warmblood colt who turned out to have a mild inertia problem: once he’s stopped he doesn’t really get going, but once he’s going he doesn’t really get stopped. At least he plopped along in a straight line when I eventually got him to canter, while the Mutterer and his colt occasionally vanished into the trees amid crashes and mild profanity.

Thursday I took it easy; I knew I should probably ride at least Arwie, but I also knew that if I didn’t take some time off, I’d be stone dead by Sunday. I just rode the German Giraffe, who was superb, despite bucking spectacularly when I free lunged her first. (She has only ever bucked with me once, but she removed me effortlessly with that one buck).

Today was madness, but wonderful madness; I rode nine horses and they were all at least relatively good ranging to awesome. Arwen and I did some fast work and bounced up and down some banks in preparation for the dreaded drop. She was amazing – settled and sensible, but ever eager, alert, and lively. She reminded me that drops aren’t scary at all when her saddle fits, stupid little human. I was tremendously proud of her.

Vastrap had another jumping session, which he rocked; I kept the jumps little, but I think I can start putting them up again as we both seem to have recovered at least some of our courage. Trappies, actually, has all his courage – it’s me that’s the problem, as usual. The little grey pony refrained from bucking me off, which was nice. (He was actually extremely well behaved; I think as he is now he’d be okay on a lead rein with his little kid, it’s just cantering that’s the trouble. He’ll have his wolf teeth out on Tuesday and then we can hopefully sort that out).

It was windy and noisy, and I need a dress rehearsal for the next training show, so I dressed Magic up in his adorable earmuffs for his flatwork. It went fairly well; the dude still likes to throw his head around when he’s upset, but I think I might have cracked the code there. Yanking on him to discipline him only makes it worse, and releasing the pressure mid-tantrum only causes it to happen more frequently, so today I decided to just sit there and lock my elbows. This caused my hands to sit dead still; not pulling on him, but firmly resisting his tantrum. The moment he put his head down again the reins would instantly relax due to my hand position and I’d soften my elbows again and give him a soft contact. The light bulb went on faster and faster each time this happened, so I’ll be sticking to this technique for a while.

The afternoon sessions were hacking on Her Majesty, who was fiery and wonderful and happy; flatwork with the Wonderful Flipping Filly, who has finally stopped flipping over and now only shakes her head on occasion; hacking on dear daft Vicky, who was a brick (and I can’t think of a nickname for her that suits her better than her actual stable name); schooling the Ditcher (the mare that infamously bucked me off and shot off down the main road during a hack) who was superb; and schooling the Tank, who has finally figured out that in order to make a canter circle her legs should go in the same direction as her head. They’d all made progress (apart from Skye, who doesn’t have to), so what more can I ask for?

I also finally got the pictures of our April 6th training show and they are amazing. Arwen looks superb in them, she really does. I also don’t look like a drunken ape, which is always nice. In fact, I like my jumping position better in these photos than I ever have before. At least now I’ve gotten the idea of giving with my hands without leaping up the neck, eh?

Arwen is beautiful

Arwen4ways1

Counting down to Springs. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done! Glory and honour and praise and power to our beloved King!

What Are You Waiting For?

You know you gotta give it your all

And don’t you be afraid if you fall

You’re only livin’ once so tell me

What are you, what are you waiting for?

~ Nickelback, “What Are You Waiting For?”

I’m not usually one for mainstream music, but this song grabbed me the first time I heard it on the radio driving home from the horses. It’s something that’s pretty close to my heart, especially when I look at my generation, a generation of silent, square-eyed teenagers.

It’s what I want to ask them: What are you waiting for?

I see you walking blank-eyed through the mall, showing up at riding lessons chewing gum and looking bored, hear you on the rare occasions when I visit with a group of you, saying you don’t want to grow up. Saying you’re the victims of the world, of ADHD, of hormones, of your age, of circumstance, of time, of the school system, of the government, of depression. I have long since learned not to talk to most of you about my life, because I have a pickup and a bank account and a herd of horses and clients, and I can see you turning green with jealousy no matter how hard you try to hide it. How can I blame you? You feel like you’re sinking in a swirl of paperwork and long medical terms, scrambling to keep up, losing sleep over school assignments that you pretend not to care about even while you worry about them behind those careless eyes. Apathy, boredom, fear, and eventually despair has eaten you up so much that you now feel you’re just one more statistic, another depression case, another eating disorder. Now you’re a zombie, walking sightless through the world towards a mediocre job and a disintegrating family. At least, that’s how you feel. And then you turn around and here I am, this crazy lucky chick with a career at 17 and perfect parents and this wonderful, perfect life.

Here’s the news flash: This life didn’t just fall into my lap. Of course, I have been blessed with amazing circumstances, with the right people, the right opportunities. But so have you. If you would look up and open your eyes and blow on the spark that remains inside you and reach for the light, you’ll find that you are just as blessed as I am. God loves us all the same; more than words can express, more than we can imagine.

I took lessons for about four or five years before I sat on a client horse, and I rode for free for another two years before I got paid a cent. I had one mare with pigeon toes and a filly so narrow you could have used her as an ironing board. It took years of blood and sweat and dirt and tears, pain and exhaustion and hope, to start earning what I earn now and to own better horses. It’s the clients who watched me cling to their crossbreeds that now let me ride imported warmbloods. It has taken me five years to train a horse to a level where it can actually compete, and right now we’re doing training shows.

Here’s the bad news: Chasing dreams isn’t always fun and it’s never easy. Sometimes you think that your dream is going to kill you. To accomplish what you want, to have the life you dream of, you have to get up off your butt, put down your phone, shake off the excuses and do whatever you have to do to get it done. Enough with the excuses. There will always be excuses, always. The excuses will not ever go away. The only thing that can change is your attitude, because one day, if you really want to achieve that dream, you have to be better than excuses. You have to rise above the stereotypes and ignore the condescending words of everyone who doesn’t believe in you. You have to be stronger, wiser, tougher, braver. And no other human being can ever take the blame or do it for you.

Here’s the good news: The whole world may be telling you that you can do nothing, but God Himself believes in you. Everything I’ve done? It hasn’t been me doing it. It has been Christ in me. Without Him, I would have quit long ago. He sent the right people and the right horses and the right opportunities at the right times for me, but it was also Him inside me that enabled me to step out there and grab hold of my opportunities with both hands. God is bigger than any stereotype, excuse, hormone, person, disorder, illness or circumstance. He is the LORD, God Almighty, the Lord of hosts, Creator of the Universe, Alpha and Omega, and He is on your side. You are not a victim. You are more than a conqueror through Him who loves you.

All you have to do is hold out your hand and let Him take it; all you have to do is decrease, so that He may increase. And then He will accomplish greater and more mighty things in you than you have ever dreamed of. Let Him dream for you.

You have God on your side. So what are you waiting for? Reach for the top. Give it your all. You’re only living once, so tell me: What are you waiting for?

 

Why Ride?

Clients closing their stables for the holidays + ALL my horses having downtime due to AHS = very little riding for this Horse Mutterer’s apprentice. In fact, I am down to one poor little grey horse to ride; the Mutterer’s white gelding. Luckily, he is a pleasant ride and can jump and do outrides, so I’m able to keep sort of in practice, but I’m down from 4-6 hours of saddle time daily to that many hours a week.

I’m in no position to complain – 6 hours a week? I know people who would kill for that much – so I won’t complain, I’ll rejoice. I’ll rejoice because my job is so awesome that I spend the holidays in eager anticipation of starting work again.

That brings me to a question that stops me in my tracks a little: Why do I ride?

Just last week, a big stallion took violent objection to the fact that his girth was pinching him and after the third rear in as many split seconds, I ate dust. I rolled, spat out some arena surface, fixed the girth, convinced the Mutterer that I was fine, and got back on. Why, though? When half a ton of animal sends you flying, why get back on?

Why do we even do this crazy sport? Life is dangerous enough without large flight animals in it. I have been kicked, trodden on, bitten, thrown, struck, knocked over, dragged, and squashed more times than I care to remember. I come home with aching muscles and a brain so fried that I’m asleep by eight-fifteen. Instead of soft lady’s hands, I have rough, calloused fingers and scars on my knuckles. Instead of attractive curves, I have ridiculous biceps, skinny calves and forearms like a man’s. I don’t go out on Sundays because I’m showing; I study in the dark so that I can ride in the light.

I would never have it any other way.

Why, though? Why is it that every time I’m thrown, I do everything I can to swallow the fear and throw my leg back over that animal’s rump and try again? Why do I want to spend my life baking in a dusty arena with my sweat trickling down to mix with the perspiration of the half-ton animal that chooses to work for me? Or breaking ice on water troughs on mornings so frigid even the dogs stay under the covers and think me mad?

Is it the sense of achievement when we finally get something right? The flash of satin on the rare occasions when we actually place? Or the surge of power when a gigantic animal breaks into a full gallop underneath me? Or the star-touching moment in midair over a triple bar? Or the glorious yielding, dancing balance as we perfect a half-pass?

No, it isn’t any of those.

What, then? The way a horse shines in the sun? The way he smells, the creak of leather, the swish of his mane and the grace of his rippling muscles as he bears down the long side of the arena like an approaching tsunami? The unbelievable, dragonfly lightness with which he lifts his muscular bulk into an effortless leap over that gigantic fence?

No, none of those, either.

Shall we delve deeper? Is it that nameless and indescribable thing that the equine heart does to the human soul? Is it the communication that runs deeper than language? The partnership between thinking human and moving beast? The threefold cord of God, human and horse that seems, for those star-touching moments, unbreakable? The wonder of an interspecies friendship that has understanding without words, love without expression and acceptance without comprehension?

Not even that. Oh, those are all what I love most about riding. But they’re not why I ride. In fact, the short answer to the question “Why do you ride?” is this one: I can’t say.

The long answer is this: I ride for reasons there are no words to explain. I ride because when jeans meet saddle, heart meets heaven. I ride because the rhythm of a horse’s gaits beats in my heart, because the flow of his movement runs in my blood. I ride because in the silent communion of girl and horse, I feel the wordless love between God and girl. I ride because I feel I was born to, like I am fulfilling His timeless will every time I take up the reins. I ride because I cannot imagine not riding. I ride because not even the hardest day’s riding is harder than not riding. I ride because although I could die each time I get on, I know that part of me will die forever if I don’t get on again. I ride because, though I know God made me for a higher purpose, He also made me a horsewoman. I ride because when I fall, no matter how scared I am, the idea of not getting back on is inconceivable, because walking away is not an option. I ride because mounting up is coming home.

I ride for the glory of the King.

Magic8