Wandering

Charlotte Dujardin does it, Denny Emerson does it, J even makes me do it at the end of every ride and then yells that I should hold the buckle while my panicking horse spooks and snorts at washing lines and dogs. It’s fun, it’s good for the horse, it’s even good for the rider, it’s relaxation for everyone – and then there’s me, the self-confessed hater. Of hacking.

Tilly is not big on effort

I like my sandbox. I spent my teenage years faceplanting off a variety of horses, many somewhere on the spectrum of insanity, most of whom should never have been outside of an enclosed space to begin with, and it left me somewhat phobic. Having grown up in the just-kick-him school of thought I frequently pressured frightened horses into the wrong situations and frequently got left sitting on air, mostly due to nobody’s fault but my own. Still, it left its scars. I’m a long way from the fearless kid in jeans and gumboots who used to gallop all over the wide world on old Skye when she was young and strong like me.

The ding on her face? That’s from galloping into a solid iron gate. As you do when you’re about to turn 31.

I’m a long way from the teen who was perpetually tortured by the fear of her own fear, though, so for the sake of the horses I’ve resolved to gird up my loins and incorporate a little wander around the yard into each session. It’ll be a while before I take Thunder (AKA Mr. Spook-and-Spin) out on the big trails by myself, or even with a babysitter if we’re honest, but there are lots of little tracks through the pastures within the confines of the yard that we can take walkies on. We started with an attempt at this yesterday, and he was good apart from staring and staring at my little piggy who was oinking madly and running up and down in front of our cottage for some strange porcine reason.

evil piggo

Today the piggy was innocently rooting up the lawn when we passed, so he was fine until she suddenly oinked while he was staring at the washing line and he did a complete 180 in a sliver of a second. To my surprise, I didn’t even wobble in the saddle. Clearly, riding a bunch of good-hearted but athletic young Arabians has improved the quality of Velcro on my bottom. With newfound confidence in my ability to not fall off, I let him stare at the piggy for a bit longer and then we continued. He was tense at first, but by the end of the 10-minute walkies he was on the buckle.

happy ears

The jury is still out on whether he actually will find this relaxing or not, but he’s a big boy who can learn this life still, so wandering we will go.

His dressage ride, preceding the unplanned pirouette at the sight of the piggy, was absolutely fabulous. He was a bit distracted to begin with (distinctly not helped when Vastrap, a gelding of 16 years, decided that it would be a great idea to enthusiastically cover one of Thunder’s girlfriends down in the field) but settled well. We had a mild argument about wheter he really had to go off my leg (YES YOU DO, BRO) and once that was over he was happy to go straight to work. We did renvers and renvers and renvers as per coach’s orders to warm up the walk. Once he was really active and into the outside rein we picked up the trot, and he was REALLY into my hands. Not as pleasantly soft and round as normal, but really driving forward from behind into the contact. He felt super light in front and powerful, so I didn’t mind the heaviness in my hands too much.

We got some of his best and most forward medium trot yet and then did even more renvers. It’s not great yet; he’s not fully through and connected in it yet, and the bend is not really supple yet. But he is bent the right way and in the right position so the rest will come once he’s more relaxed and used to it. At least I’m finally realizing that I do not need to haul on the inside rein to get shoulder-in position which, to be honest, is probably the whole point.

less flabby

We moved on to canter and I was pleasantly surprised to find a HUGE powerful canter that was also extremely balanced and easy to collect. Amazing how when you do what your coach says, stuff gets easier. It was so good, even tracking left, that I only rode a 10m circle on each rein and some simple changes and that was it. The new Elementary 2 canter work – half circle onto the centerline with transition to walk at L, continue on centerline in medium walk to I, half circle back to track, transition to canter at S/R – is easy and horse-friendly and Thunder did it really, really well. We finished with one foot-perfect canter to walk on the track itself and stopped there.

The canter-walk has been such a huge issue in my head ever since poor Dragon and I were fighting our way through Elementary all alone two years ago. We never got it right and I hated it so, so, so much. Now, Thunder really can do them, I just have to relax and ride them softly instead of flapping about in panic because I think we’re not good at them.

Lancey also went for a ride, babysitting sweet Nugget on her first outride. I’m keeping things easy on his sweet brain, with lots of adventuring around outside and then short bursts of 10-15 minutes’ schooling. He really is struggling to just trust my hand, trust the contact, balance and carry himself. He is forever trying to rush, hollow, and then fight for all he’s worth. I don’t really know what to do – well, obviously, I can just put a martingale on or seesaw a bit and make him put his head down, but that’s not going to get me anywhere much in the long run.

So we’ll keep just touching on it here and there until he can go and see J next week and J can magically fix it. Having a coach is totally wonderful.

Lancey is weird on outrides. He’s really good, and I trust him absolutely, but he looks at EVERYTHING. He hardly ever actually jumps, just stares and does some majestic Arab snorting. Keep trying, little dude. One day you’ll figure out how to horse.

Tilly is a good girl

The horses all had last week off for pony camp and this weekend’s show is cancelled, but I look forward to some chill time at home just working on all the little things and enjoying each other before we get stuck back into lessons and things in the second half of July.

God has been so rich and fearless in His blessings. He’s called me out so much further than I expected, dared me into deeper waters than I ever expected. But every step is joy and every breath is grace. Riding on water, on the back of a dancing horse.

Glory to the King.

Summer’s Here

The arrival of some beautiful rain has transfigured the face of our landscape from the dormant browns of winter to vibrant life.

And no matter that I’ve been living here since I can remember, it still takes my breath away. So do these, my three dance partners. Faith must be about Arwen’s height already. I expect her to mature about Thunder’s height and probably also quite solid.

The damp earth has helped eliminate the various coughings, sneezings and nose-runnings of all the allergic horses.

Longer days make for those stunning late afternoon rides in the golden light. I teach until at least 5:30 most evenings now.

Lullaby is back on fighting form, her old, happy, bouncy self. She’s even off her joint supplement. She led the way on this hack up the big hill.

Liana and her kid followed. I’m so honoured to be a small part of providing kids with experiences like these.

Jamaica also went hacking with Vastrap and his kid, and behaved impeccably.

The big hill is my favourite place for hacking. It’s interesting, has amazing views, and is good work for the horses too.

Clouds have changed the skyscape, making the world seem bigger. I don’t know why, but the sky is a deeper blue in summer around here.

We now have a sign. Each step forward feels like a miracle, probably because it is one; we depend so entirely on our Jesus, and He never lets us down. This year testifies to that.

Our yard is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

This is the place where my soul can’t sing loud enough to Abba Father. Where the miracle happens. As an aside, the footing held up impressively well in the rain. We’ve been able to jump every day.

For some reason the sky is a lot smaller in town, but it’s still beautiful. My personal space is about 228ha.

That’s more like it.

Sunrises haven’t quite reached the height of splendour yet, but there’s something more subtly majestic in their muted colours.

The jacaranda tree is in bloom.

The long one-sided love story of God and I starts with sunrises. Years and years ago, since I can remember thinking about bigger things, it was the beauty of the world that convinced me that there had to be Something out there. I felt its presence; something dynamic, vibrant, powerful, and very much alive. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have a name for it, but I found it utterly irresistible. I longed to know it. My longing was inexpressible; I wanted to feel it, to be drawn into it.

And the greatest miracle of them all was discovering that this amazing Thing was not only alive, it was Someone, and He had a Son, and He had given that Son up for me. The power that made the wind and stars, He wants me to talk to Him, to cry out to Him, to love Him. The sunrises stopped being splendid creations of some distant and mysterious magnificence and became something more: an intimate, personal expression of love from the God Who never lets go.

Glory to the King.

Moving Forward

C. S. Lewis wrote that it doesn’t really matter how many times we fall; it’s the getting up each time that counts. Some days I feel very like those “muddy and tattered children” he wrote about, but I still know my heavenly Daddy is just waiting to wipe the mud and tears away and welcome me Home. Every day is one step closer – sometimes a stumbling, fumbling, floundering step. But a step nonetheless.

So, too, our journey to excellence in horsemanship is heading tangibly in the right direction, marred but not stopped by the odd mistake or bad day.

In anticipation of one day finally moving up to 90cm, I’ve been slowly picking apart my fears and working on them one by one. I’ve found myself almost entirely comfortable at 80cm at home, but absolutely entirely uncomfortable at 90cm. It’s all in my head, of course, but that’s fine. So is all my skill, dreams, and resolution to stick with my God. One’s head is a valid and important place for something to be. Abba is being patient with me and so is the horse; it’s the least I can do to return the favour.

In the past if I wanted to move up I’d set up a course at that height and jump it. It hasn’t worked. Right now I’m taking the idea to pieces and tackling each one individually. The first order of business was dealing with my thing with combinations, starting with this gymnastic line – pole, bounce, one stride, one stride. The ones were very long and the last oxer was about 75-80cm. I had to ride Jamaica forward at this or he’d throw in a nasty chip or a valiant leap to try and help me out. So that helped for my terror of getting the horse forward (which I must do because I can’t expect him to keep saving my bum at 90cm).

Then we jumped a single vertical in my comfort-zone dressage arena at 90cm. Then an oxer, only 60cm high but 100cm wide. So far, I’ve been OK. Not quite comfortable, but definitely not in the fear zone.

The horse is wonderful. I want to poke my eyeballs out with a fork when schooling him on the flat sometimes – but that’s also improving. Over fences he just goes in the same rhythm at every single jump even when I’m messing up and it’s amazing.

Savanna started to be very cheeky with her teenager, so she has been dumped into boot camp with mean Auntie Firn, as naughty ponies are. She is very sweet and levelheaded (especially for a 6yo thoroughbred) but there’s just no real schooling here at all. We spent a whole session just talking about rhythm. Then we spent another session trotting the same 50cm fence. She had two options: run sideways from a mile away, or gallop at the fence. The mare is not spooky but she doesn’t know where to put her feet and the running out has caused her rider to chase her at everything, so now she chases herself.

I explained to her that she really just has to go quietly over and by the end if it, she did. Then she went dramatically lame with an abscess. As thoroughbreds do. 😦

Miss South Africa here has settled in much better and seems quite happy and relaxed in her stable and field these days. Work, regrettably, is another story. This horse’s anxiety levels are through the ceiling and she seems completely uneducated on how to actually deal with it. She is nice to ride in her comfort zone with three balanced, obedient and connected gaits, but we have just been walking and walking and walking. Trying to show her where to find the stillness in the storm. I should know. Her ground manners are getting better (it’s amazing what a well-placed elbow can achieve) and we’ve come to an agreement: I don’t push her into the fear zone, she doesn’t rear up and strike at my face.

Liana has also developed a cheeky run-out at oxers. Only at home, of course – this pony doesn’t know how to stop at shows. I’ve passed Midas on to a new little rider so I’m giving Liana to Vastrap’s kid to school a bit. Her little girl is doing better and better, and always manages to get her over on the second or third go despite being very little.

Lulu has been having a bit of a break after working very hard for the past two SANESA qualifiers. Much pampering has helped children back into her good books.

Magic is so well and happy. He was a bit lost without Exavior for a while, but I moved Nugget in with him and he is now back to full happiness again. He was wonderful to ride last week and much better to lunge – we can now canter on the lunge without having any wild moments.

Faith’s front end is finally catching up to her back end. She’s become so trusting of people. Definitely has an opinion and can be spooky, hot and quite pushy – but we’re working on that. This unicorn has an inner dragon. Besides, so far my spooky dressage horses have done all right.

Destiny’s focus has been on hacking. He’s nice in company and manageable on the trail alone, but nappy heading out. A well-placed dressage whip has sorted some of that out, however.

Arwen and I headed into the woods for the first time in – well, long. A year or more. I used to ride in these woods all the time before old Skye retired, but the string of young and/or spooky horses that have followed have kinda ruled that one out for me. But Sunè’s kid and I finally did it again and it was really rather amazing. You’re in another world in the woods. And even with Ice bounding in the bushes, Arwen never turned a hair.

As for Sunè and her kid, what more can I say? They’re a match made in heaven. She’s developed a cheeky little run-out, but nothing a session with me won’t fix.

Champagne makes for amazing photos.

I love how the trees dapple her twice in this one. Also she is now OK with chickens.

Last week ended refreshingly slowly, with dressage to look forward to, and lots of these special little moments scattered throughout. Chocolate froyo and my loony sister – as well as finally making my first foray into Francine Rivers when I found Redeeming Love on special for peanuts – are a good combination.


So are cats in boxes,


and rare moments of creative energy,


and dogs on laps,

and perfect plaits,

and dressage-sculpted dragon butts all in blue.

Blessed beyond all expectation. Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 4

We danced.


It was AMAZING.

This was Arwen’s first show since April. She boxed great, but was a little sweaty when we got there. We headed for the warmup and she proceeded to engage full dragon mode. Like – she was rearing. And bucking. And bolting. I feared for my life, or at least for anything flammable in the immediate surroundings.

True to form, she actually stayed pretty obedient in between the rearing and blowing flames at stuff. We dragoned majestically up to the judges, leaving them with mildly singed eyebrows, and headed down centreline with minimal straightness and maximum sass. I couldn’t get the grin off my face. She wasn’t scared really; she was just alive and fit and bursting with the exuberance being created. Who could blame her? I was filled with a sort of grateful giddiness that had nothing to do with horses. What’s a dressage test going downhill in a handbasket compared with knowing Christ the King?

In the end, though, the tests themselves weren’t that bad. She settled as we went on. We broke to jog in our medium walk once, but we got the simple changes in Elementary 4, earning 60% and a third place ribbon. Elementary 5 was a bit floppy; I got lost and got the -2 for error of course, and we kind of swooped down into the simple change, then proceeded to break to trot for half a stride after the medium canter and throw a random flying change in the counter canter. So we got two nice fat 4s for that. Still, 57% – so it’s grading points. We have 5 in total now, halfway to points for EM, although we’ll likely never actually do it.

Video of the better test here: https://youtu.be/w12GY0fihPc

Thunder was so quiet to plait, merely dragging L’s hapless boyfriend around a bit. He hacked obediently to the warmup away from his buddies. The warmup itself started out rather worried and we had two tremendous sideways spooks when birds flew out of the grass (seeing how he’s never seen a bird before), so I was kind of expecting a disaster and resigned myself to just giving the dude a positive experience.

He never quit trying though. Again, worried as he was, he stayed obedient and got it together for me. I don’t deserve them, I really don’t. So we headed down centreline in Prelim 2 and suddenly he was totally fine. Happy even – and relaxed enough for a killer free walk.

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but Prelim 3 wasn’t a test, it was a dance. I wasn’t concentrating all that hard. Not on the test, anyway. The sky – and heaven – was very big and blue, and so close. Close enough to kiss, or be kissed, perhaps. Either way, it was amazing, and I’m not talking about the riding.

The riding was good too though. The judge said she wanted to take Thunny home and keep him. I don’t blame her because he was so, so good. He was worried at first but he coped, then eventually relaxed into it and just revelled in the joy of it.

 He won Prelim 2 with 65.91% and Prelim 3 with 72.5%. He had 8 for his free walk and 8s for both his canter-trot transitions. The first judge would have liked him more forward – I think I was still being quite conservative, waiting for a spook – and his stretchy trot didn’t really stretch, and his halts weren’t square. But that’s actually kinda exciting because it means this horse can do even better.

So he didn’t improve on his Prelim 2 score from last time, but he did get 72% on Prelim 3, so that’s a huge win.

Video of the better test here: https://youtu.be/6EX4AwMDi-c

So I actually couldn’t have asked for better from my dance partners, and it was amazing.

Then K and Renè had their prelim tests and despite Renè having a naughty moment in the warmup, she settled right down and K rode her nicest tests yet. It was Renè’s first dressage and she got 58% and 60%, not shabby at all. K brought her on all by herself, too.

Then it was the moment of truth – Destiny’s mom was riding him at his first ever outing at walk/trot 2. And you know what? He was brilliant. Delinquent Destiny who broke my lunging ring twice – he didn’t put a toe out of line. He didn’t buck, he didn’t run away, he didn’t even spook. He just squiggled down the centreline and whinnied a few times, that’s all. When he came fourth with 60%, well, it was just the cherry on top.

As for my goals, I don’t really know about the rest, but love, joy and peace? They all showed up.

How mighty is amazing grace. Glory to the King.

Joy

I have SANESA last weekend to recap, but right now I just want to share some snippets of Morning Star Stables life that are just so beautiful.

There is something incredible about seeing the Holy Spirit at work. His fruits are all around us if I can only see them.

God is at work at this yard and in me. And a lot of it is hard and tough and heartbreaking, but every moment of surrender takes me one step closer.


Jesus is the light behind our eyes.


He is real, He is love, and He is in us.




Glory to the King.