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.
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.
Last qualifier of the year, and we found ourselves having a weekend full of exceptional performances from our faithful steeds.
St. Vastrap was his reliable self, despite putting in a cheeky stop during a practice last week – most unlike him. He and his kid blasted around the speed for a third place, then had an unlucky pole in the competition for seventh. They’re going to finals!
This little team has everything they need to go to Nationals, but VT’s kid will need to up her game in terms of focus in the arena itself and riding the plan we work out. All part of growing as a very hard-working and promising little athlete, riding a pony in a million.
Zorro and Z-kid had a wonderful qualifier, thanks to huge personal growth and super riding from Z-kid, which has resulted in Zorro going better than he ever has. They had a silly pole in the competition, but came back strong for fourth in the speed, then jumped a lovely clear for second in the working hunter. They’ll also be headed for finals in working hunter if I have it right.
Liana and her kid had by far their best show yet, even if that didn’t earn them any ribbons. Ana was the quietest she’s been and kiddo rode very well. Pony overjumped an oxer in their first jumping class, sending kiddo onto her neck, but they recovered well, just getting penalties for circling. A mature decision from the rider, as it was the only way to negotiate the next fence safely. They were clear in the ideal time, but – get this – too slow for a place. Up till recently, Ana didn’t know slow was a thing.
Continuing on the quiet and well-behaved theme for the day, Liana was wonderful in the prix caprilli and kiddo rode so accurately, getting 67.72% and third place.
K and Thunny were busy winning their equitation test when the GPS malfunctioned and they jumped the same fence twice in fine style. A bummer for K, but she handled it with enormous grace. They upped their dressage score, too, getting 59.16 and 62.5 despite all the monsters beside the arena. I think we finally have the leads mastered.
Lullaby and the tiny tot rode in the midst of great chaos – I was riding dressage as their course opened for walking. Usually I’d have K walk with her, but tiny tot speaks no English and K speaks no Afrikaans, so yeah. I watched the kid before us and then dragged Lulu around in more or less the right direction, and tiny tot wasn’t worried (her poor parents were less blasè about it), so it added up to a positive experience but she was out of the ribbons. I think we could have done better, but I also think I can’t teleport. Such is SANESA. I would happily have skipped Midas’s test but I can’t let Lancey’s young owner down so there you have it.
Speaking of Midas pony, he wasn’t really on his game this weekend, but to be fair to him the errors we had in showjumping were mostly my fault. I feel sorry for him dragging my fatness over fences so I don’t really jump him myself at home, and I kept panicking and chasing him at distances he didn’t have to try and make. We had two poles in the speed and one in the ideal time, but he was dead honest. So we didn’t get our showjumping goals of going clear but I’m not worried. Pony is a bit bored at the height too, which isn’t always a bad thing.
Dressage was in the most appalling location – the arena appears to have been cut right out of a wood of young poplars, and the wind was howling, causing the whole thing to rustle and wave about most alarmingly. Midas never actually jumped but he was drifting, tense, and hollow in that corner. Having five minutes to warm up didn’t help either. Still, we had 65 and 67.5, so that’s not horrible. Maybe at finals I can finally warm the poor chap up for a change.
Not warming up at all worked brilliantly for Lancey, however. K saddled him up, led him to the show arena, and held him while I rode the test on Midas; Lancey’s warmup consisted of walking around to the judge. He greatly exceeded my expectations. I thought he’d be dreadful, what with the howling bush monsters and all, but he actually just had a little look as we walked around and then paid them no attention at all. He was so focused, probably because I hadn’t had time to cook his brain beforehand. He tied first with Midas in the second test with 65% and had 67.3% in the first one.
His jumping was improved albeit still rather erratic. He had a pole and a stop at the combination in the first class, once again, but this time I jumped the first element again and thus we finished with the eight penalties. The second class had the most dreadful fillers throughout and I quickly scratched my goal of getting no stops – everything was stopping. I’d be happy just to get him round. Sure enough he had one stop at number four, but to my amazement it was because of a wiggly approach and really had little to do with the fillers. He didn’t look at a single thing for the rest of the track. It was a huge lightbulb moment for him. “Oooh, all I have to do is jump the jumps!” Ya think, Lancey?
I was VERY impressed with the little chap. He tries so hard.
Last but not least, Jamaica in the 80cm. After the debacle we had last time, I wasn’t sure whether or not to expect an utter disaster. He felt forward in the warm up but that could have been my imagination. We did about four thousand canter-walk transitions after the jumps, then went in to the course with all the scary fillers, white-knuckled and white-faced. I nearly died when he had a big look at number one and all I could get my frozen limbs to do was feebly wave my stick, but he jumped. Then after that it was just perfect – from Jamaica, anyway.
I hung on his face and made him canter as if we were doing flatwork, adding strides with wild abandon, burying him to fence after fence and every single time he patiently tucked up his little black knees and popped over without any fuss. I don’t know how, but he didn’t even take a pole. No bucking, no running away, he just sweetly hauled my sorry behind around like the quiet old packer he actually really isn’t – a six-year-old remedial problem horse with a sketchy background.
Who’d have thought it? Eighteen months ago he was somersaulting over a fence and breaking his shoulder. Six months ago he was handstanding his child off and breaking her shoulder. One month ago he was bucking and bolting. Today, he is helping, fence by willing fence, to lay the bricks that repair my potholed, ripped and ruined path to riding confidence. Who’d have thought it? I sure didn’t!
Above all we ask or imagine, my God is faithful, my God is powerful, and my God – oh, you have no idea how my God is in charge!
Well, firstly, this show was amazing. I’m so proud of how hard my students all tried, and their hard work and talent is paying off. The ponies were super and God was with us, as always. Even the venue, which I was ranting about last time, really stepped up its game and I was suitably impressed. It ran really well for all concerned. We had our hiccups, but we all went home safe, sound and satisfied.
Saturday kicked off the qualifier with all the little primary school riders, who were brilliant. Liana and her child had two main goals: remember the course, and don’t fall off. Both were achieved with resounding success even though the poor child’s last practice before the show on Friday night included a nosedive in front of a fence. Kids are made of rubber, so this kid just bounced right back and they jumped great. Liana got quite hot in her first class (50cm showjumping) so the kid showed huge maturity in pulling her out and making a circle. They got penalties for that, but it definitely kept things safe and under control, for which they were rewarded with a big fat blue ribbon in their ideal time class.
They also showed a great improvement in their Prix Caprilli scores, which neither of them like very much, but it’s good for both of their training so I’m chuffed.
Meanwhile, having to cope largely by herself as I ran from calling a test to coaching Liana’s kid to dragging Lulu about on the lead rein, Vastrap and his kid carried on happily by themselves. I only managed to watch one of their classes (listening to the announcer in their other class while I was trotting around the dressage myself on Midas), but I’m glad I did because it was brilliant. VT showed no ill effects after his tying-up episode, demonstrated by a resounding second place in their competitive A2 speed class. They were fourth in the competition round and as happy as piggies in poo. This combination has the necessary qualifiers to go to Gauteng Finals, so that’s pretty awesome.
Our next little primary school rider was the littlest of all of them, a truly adorable five-year-old riding at her first show. She was doing POG equitation on the lead rein, accompanied by myself and dear old Lullaby. Dear old Lullaby absolutely LAUNCHED herself over the first ground pole, but the kid sat it out just fine and even remembered her little course for third in her 9-and-under class of 11 kids. Pretty impressive. Lulu was super well behaved apart from that, um, little moment, so hopefully there will be a whole horde of kiddos attending the next one with their equine teacher.
In light of the little kids’ successes, the high school kids had a lot to live up to, but they absolutely knocked it out of the park. K and Thunder had dressage on Saturday and equitation on Sunday. Thunny was much less tense than normal and got lots of “obedient” comments in Prelim 3 and 4, but regrettably they got a little lost with their canter leads and the 6’s and 7’s of their walk/trot work got disappointed by the 4.5’s and 5’s of their canter work. It was still good enough for fourth place. Their equitation also got them a placing with some lovely comments in a very competitive class.
Zorro started his show by flinging Z-kid’s family’s gardener-cum-groom into the air (according to eyewitness; I’m not sure how that happened), dislocating the poor man’s thumb rather painfully in the process. I patched him up (perhaps a little over-enthusiastically) and sent him off to hospital, but at least Zorro appeared to have used up all his naughty for the day. He and Z-kid headed into their working hunter without me, while I was calling K’s tests, so I was sweating for them as I heard the announcer call them in over my shouting, but it was totally unnecessary. Zorro wiggled down to the first fence and Z-kid had had enough of his nonsense and gave him a hiding he won’t forget. He didn’t offer up a single wiggle for the rest of the show, getting first in the working hunter, third in the competition, and two poles down in the A2 speed (he took the “speed” part rather seriously). This combination just goes from strength to strength. The poor groom was very stoical about it all.
Pennie and G also started their qualifier with working hunter, and proceeded to have another show without any stops at all. When Pennie doesn’t stop, she places. This little mare is just the best showjumper I know. She had second place in the working hunter, won both her showjumping classes at 90cm by absolute streets, and came second in equitation despite an unlucky pole. They’ll also probably get to Finals, so far for both WH and EQ.
That leaves my crew, who were also impressive. Midas started my personal weekend off with a bang when, with a total of three and a half minutes’ warmup (part of which was spent spooking at a horse in a nearby field that chose that moment to completely lose its snot), he scored first 60.8% in Prelim 3 and then 68.4% in Prelim 4. It’s a personal best for the both of us, and considering the poor little chap was quite stressed out at the time, I’m rather chuffed.
He continued to be quite wonderful for his showjumping, winning both 60cm classes in fine style. Admittedly this was not very hard considering his competition consisted of one other rider and Lancey, but he still went clear and quiet in the ideal time and clear and quick in the A2 speed. I made him take some very tight turns in the speed, more as an educational exercise than anything else, and apparently tight turns ain’t no thing if you’re 13.1.
Lancey jumped both 60cm classes as well; I entered 60 as a precautionary measure since I thought the buzz that is SANESA might scramble his little Arabian brain, but I needn’t have worried. He came out totally ready to do his job and did it well over the first eight fences of the first class. Then both of us had a lapse of concentration, took the pole at number nine, climbed through 10A and ran out at 10B. I brought him back over 10B by itself like a newb so we had the technical elimination but that’s what happens when you didn’t get a competitive education.
His second class, though, was wonderful. We both focused and he put in his first totally clear round in a long time, not even breathing on a single pole and brave to every last fence, so that ended us on a high note.
Then came the 80cm, which looks ridiculously small in this picture for some reason, and I was more or less OK until Jamaica landed from the oxer in the warmup and then took off like a shot. He made it all the way outside the arena and through a bunch of unwitting spectators (none were harmed in the making of this episode of Morning Star Madness) before I managed to stop him. I brought him back and popped him over it again and he was OK, so I thought it was a once-off right up until we were actually in the arena and our bell had gone. I asked for canter and I got several rather melodramatic handstands instead.
The last time this thing bucked with a rider, bones were broken. I hung on for dear life, or didn’t since that never seems to work, instead choosing to try and pull his head up for dear life. Mercifully, that did work. He stopped, I stopped, I stared at the judge in panic and in that wobbly moment I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to putting my hand up and retiring. I’m still not really sure why I didn’t. Instead we cantered another circle and headed for the next jump, reciting. “The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want.” The first two were OK. He landed from number three and took off again down the related distance to number four; I pulled him off it and circled desperately because I was fairly convinced I was going to die. We scraped over that, and then we had something like control for a while again, although I made it all the way through Psalm 23 (rather loudly over the combination) by number ten. Then I panicked because I had run out of psalm, but luckily Jamaica had run out of steam and we made it. It may just have been the most terrifying showjumping class I’ve ever ridden, but on the plus side, the height was not the problem. Also, stopping was never in the equation. He jumped everything without any question. It was all the galloping and bucking in between that worried me.
I sort of schooled him around for a bit before the second class and again strongly considered scratching from it, but again didn’t. It took every shred of guts I had, and even then it was only by the grace of God that we walked back into the arena, but by then he’d gotten a very solid one-rein stop which had made him rethink his life choices and settled down from whatever had worried him so much, so he was himself again. Looking at the pictures later, I realised I buried that poor animal to every single fence and he patiently jumped every single fence carefully and quietly. This is why I lease this beast. He’s rather funny-looking and has the odd psychotic break, but at the end of the day he jumps the first time every time and I can cope with his drama. He’s the one thing that my beloved Magic just isn’t – resilient to rider error. I can mess up as much as I please and he’ll still jump.
He jumped clear, which dismayed me a little because it meant I had to go back in and do it all over again for the jump-off. By this point, Jamaica was completely chilled and he was holding my hand again. The other rider had a very quick mare and they were good and I was still kinda panicking so any form of being competitive wasn’t in the equation at all. Then, rather unluckily, the other mare crashed straight through the first fence and I figured I may as well try since I had hopefully used up my near-death experiences for the day. (Did I mention how nerves exaggerate a situation?) So he popped around clear and slightly faster than slug-esque, and we got a ribbon. Which was nice.
It was, in many ways, a tough qualifier for all of us and it challenged all of our patience and courage. It was our busiest yet, but our riders absolutely rose to face every giant that met them and they won.
Blessed to be where I am, and most undeservedly so. Glory to the King.