The dentist calls him Princess. My instructor calls him the big baby. The chiro calls him a wuss. My sister goes so far as to call him gay.
They all have a point, except for my sister. He is kind of a delicate flower. Okay, so he’s a wimp when it comes to many things, like rain falling on his ears, or ribbons on his bridle, or having his teeth done or having freshly trimmed hooves.
Yeah, Magic is oversensitive. He spooks at things that just don’t exist, and then spooks at them again, just to be sure. He has broken more halters and leads than I care to remember. He almost always manages to scrape himself up in the horsebox and needs to travel with earmuffs and a gigantic poll guard and all the windows shut because he hates the noise of the traffic. He injures himself on a freakishly regular basis and then has a huge drama queening session about it. If it can happen, it happens to Magic. He loses weight if the wind blows the wrong way. One day I found him staring in consternation at his full feed bin; a tiny Jack Russel had his head in it and was merrily gorging himself on Magic’s food, and Magic, easily a hundred times the dog’s size, seemed utterly baffled as to what to do about this. Another day he knocked a cross-rail down and was so lame I was certain he’d fractured something, but really it had just stung him a little.
Yeah, so he’s a social retard. He has a way of terrifying new horses by galloping up to them in exuberant friendliness and then snorting at them very loudly to beg them to be friends. He bites them playfully to invite them to a game, but when they nip him back he squeals like a filly and runs to hide behind Skye (well over a hand shorter and almost twenty years older than him). He is both utterly terrified and irresistibly attracted to new horses, has no idea of how to make friends with them, and has even less idea of what a pecking order even is, much less where he should be in one. At nearly eight years old, he behaves like a weanling that hasn’t figured out how to horse yet.
Sure, so he’s a goofball. When it rains, he runs like a maniac because he’s convinced he’s melting. He gallops recklessly on the slick grass and then he falls, and while he falls he flails around madly with his long legs and whinnies shrilly. Then he gets back up and runs and bucks and farts and more often than not, falls again. He jumps up on his back legs and pirouettes in the air because he’s too silly and spirited to know that gravity is a thing. He will keep doing this until Skye bullies him into the shelter or he notices that he’s hurt himself… again.
But he is also courageous in a way that thick-skinned people cannot understand. He’s also generous, gentle, smart and loyal.
My horse is a ninny. But he’s also amazing.
Magic was created, right from his over-at-the-knees legs to the majestic jump that slaps gravity in the face. Every detail of him, from the tail that won’t grow to the face that radiates kindness, was handmade with love. He was fearfully and wonderfully made just the way he is. Sure, life and people have scarred him, and he’s still got a lot to learn. But they all do.
We all do.
Over time Magic will learn not to spook at flowerpots or at nonexistent monsters; he’ll learn not to panic in the horsebox and he’ll learn to tie up. And if I am to stay friends with my dentist, he’ll stand still to have his teeth done. But if Magic ever learns not to be goofy or melodramatic or sensitive or a little silly, then I’ll know my training has gone wrong somewhere. Because my ultimate goal, the greatest thing I want to do for Magic, is not to compete at A-grade or make a name as a great event horse. I want to help Magic become more Magic. I want to amplify him. I want him to be more himself than ever before. And yes, that means allowing him to be kind of a loon in the paddock even as it means allowing him to be brave. It means allowing him to be daft even as it means allowing him to explore the full extent of his honesty. Because no matter how silly Magic is, he is never malicious. He’s never pushy, or irritable, or selfish or lazy. He’s never tried to hurt anyone and he’s never disobedient. Magic always tries. Some days he doesn’t have much left to give, because the sheer effort of surviving the world has drained him. But whatever he has, he gives it all, every day. And as long as he is trying, and as long as it’s going in the right direction, I want him to express the wonderful thing that is himself.
Forget magic. My horse is a miracle.
You may call me sentimental, but I know this, and I know that he knows I accept him. He can’t tell what I’m thinking or reason his way to conclusions but like all horses he reads every feeling in the lines of my body and the movement of my muscles on his back. He knows I’m okay with him, and he begins to be okay with himself. Because right underneath, at the deep emotions, horses and humans are more similar than we sometimes think.
Magic is my mirror. And helping him become everything he can become is my key to making myself into the person that I can be.
He’s not resilient Arwen, steady Vastrap, or fearless Skye. He’s Magic.
Due to life being insane, weekends being booked, and me catching flu the day before a planned outing, I haven’t been anywhere with horses since the dressage training show in mid-June. I really wanted to get back into the show ring before a showing show with the Nooitgedachters in two weeks’ time and then graded eventing in early September, so I pounced on the first open weekend and enthusiastically entered a jumping training show. With three horses. So what if I’m only just used to riding two horses at a show? I had to try sometime, and I figured that if things got too hectic and our emotional states started deteriorating, I’d just scratch. It was only a training show.
Hence for the first time I actually had more than two horses in our box, so I didn’t look like a total idiot turning up in a giant aluminium four-berth with one small pony in it. Loading was quite interesting; we had more than an hour’s drive and I was in the first class, so by 6am we were shoving reluctant equines into the box in the dark. Arwen was a horrible influence on Magic; she had to be bodily pushed up the ramp before she agreed to go in, so Magic decided he’d try that too. Luckily Magic does not sit down on people and ignore them the way Arwen does, so he was a bit quicker to get in. We were ten minutes late and Dad was already frustrated and tired when we turned to Vastrap, but that dear little horse plugged up the ramp and then rolled his eyes at the babies (Arwen digging a hole in the floor, Magic neighing frantically) and pulled at his haynet. Thank goodness for sweet little white Nooities.
They travelled more or less all right; Arwen removed her halter about ten minutes in (don’t ask me how), and Magic did his usual head-flipping thing all the way to the show, breaking his lead rein and scraping his nose and foreleg in the process. Considering he’s Magic, I won’t complain. At least he didn’t rear or hang a leg over the partition or any of the other awful things that seem to happen to Magic. (Vastrap, of course, stood quietly and ate hay).
We arrived at 7:40, so I thought I would at least have a little breathing space to get to my first class, but as soon as I got out I heard the announcer: “This is the bell to open the 40cm course for walking.” Cue absolute pandemonium. I bellowed at my sister Rainy to go and find Magic’s calmer, e. g. an unlucky friend who happens to be amazing at keeping Magic happy at shows and had hence been roped in to babysit him while I was riding the Nooities. Unfortunately, this left Dad and I alone with a box full of hyper horses, and obviously Vastrap was right in the back and so had to be unloaded last. (I think Magic and Arwen would have self destructed left to their own devices anyway).
By some miracle, Magic’s bestie arrived, Arwen’s lead was flung at Rain, Vastrap was dragged out and had his stuff strapped on, and we were only slightly late to the class. Thankfully, the show organisers were extraordinarily patient, tolerant and understanding of this crazy person that had entered three horses in three classes each of the first five classes. (I had one in 40cm, two in 50cm, three in 60cm, two in 70cm and one in 80cm; I’m sure they must have had nightmares afterwards). Poor Vastrap was totally ungroomed and had hardly gotten off the box when I was on him and walking to the warmup. Once again, thank goodness for sweet little white (sort of; he was a bit yellow and had hay in his hair) Nooities. The poor animal had about 10 minutes’ warmup before I booted him into the arena and learned the following three things:
It is possible to jump a nice clear round without having had any idea of where any of the jumps are when you rode in.
Fourways builds awesome courses.
I didn’t even get the chance to see the course ridden, let alone walk it, but I found my way just fine and dear old Trappies didn’t think twice about anything. He just said, “Yes, ma’am” and jumped everything I pointed him at unquestioningly.
And this continued to be Vastrap’s mentality throughout the show. He didn’t spook at a thing, he contentedly stood and ate hay between classes, he happily put up with being yanked into the arena with half a warmup when I was running out of time between other horses, and he jumped three clear rounds without turning a hair. That pony is worth his weight in solid gold. I kind of feel guilty that I’m not 12 years old and nervous, because then I’d deserve him better. But still, he is amazing and I love him to bits. I am going to have to find a way to bribe Mom to half lease him to me, because I need a schoolie like that.
Vastrap’s only mistakes happened as we were warming up for the 60cm jump-off. He was getting a little up and excited, nothing naughty, but he ran at an oxer and threw in one of his rare dirty little stops. Those dirty stops are my fault since the time I catapulted up his neck and ate his face (and then the fence at me) rattled him quite badly, and he stopped twice more before I finally came to my senses and left his face alone and he jumped fine. We were already late so then we ran into the jump off and went enthusiastically clear. He’s an absolute jewel. We just need to work on his habit of running at the fences like that – longer strides, buddy, not just faster legs. (And stay out of his face).
Magic was in 50cm, 60cm, and 70cm, and there were only four horses in the 50cm class. Since two of them were mine, this was a bit chaotic and I had horrible visions of me riding a brain-evaporated Magic into the class. Magic normally leads at least 45 minutes of slow work at a show in order to scrape his brain off the floor and put it back into his head. Well, we had about 20. My stomach was doing slow little somersaults when I got on, but wonder of wonders, I got onto a grownup horse that knew what he was supposed to do.
It was a subtle but important difference from the Magic I climbed onto at our end May show. Magic never, ever sets out to hurt someone, and at the shows he’s done, he’s been confused and terrified and ready to blow up but never malicious. This show, he was worried, a bit stressy, and a bit spooky… but he knew what he was supposed to do. When I asked him for a trot he didn’t go AAARGHREGOHUEHOHOWEHROEWHTOR, he said, “Mom, I’m terrified! But okay, this means trot” and did as he was told. I only had three or four laps of trot before I sat and asked for canter and he flowed straight into his gorgeous easy canter with his head down and his brain on. When I turned him to the itty bitty little cross, he didn’t do his usual trick of tiptoeing towards it and then overjumping majestically. I had him in a trot, but with a soft allowing hand, so he popped in a little canter stride as he got there and then hopped over. A little extravagantly, but nothing like his old wild springbuck leaping.
My horse knew what he was doing. He was scared, but he was okay. And so was I. Sometimes I swear we hold up mirrors to each other, because we had exactly the same frame of mind: We were both worried, we were both a little frightened, and we were both spookier than was necessary, but we knew that we knew what we were doing. So we did it, worried and all. And my beautiful courageous grey gelding jumped every single fence he saw without ever offering a stop. Everything else was terrifying, obviously, necessitating huge spooks at other horses, flowerpots, photographers, the gate (the gate was evil), dogs, and his own rosette, but he didn’t spook at a single jump. The first jump on the 50 and 60cm courses had a white latticey gate under it, and a couple of the oxers had planks in them or wings, but he didn’t care. He just jumped, because he knew that that was what he had to do. Magic is starting to find solace in his work, and to make jumping his comfort zone, just like Arwen did at the start.
I was so happy with him. Apart from one lazy pole in the warmup arena, he jumped everything cleanly. Sure, we took a few dodgy distances, awkward leaps and overjumps (though not as bad as at his last show), but I’ll take it for a young horse ridden by a total newb to thoroughbreds. Best of all, he stayed relaxed, for Magic. I don’t think Magic will ever have the dragonslaying attitude of Arwen or the workaday approach of Vastrap. Life is just too scary for him to be that bombproof and quiet, but for a horse that spooks so easily, he is very brave. I don’t mind. Magic is Magic and that’s just fine by me.
Still, his 70cm class was markedly calmer than last time. Mostly, of course, because I actually gave him a release over the jumps (our partnership has improved alongside his confidence), but also because he’s just got more miles under his girth now. He did overjump a few fences if I got him to a poor distance – including doing a rather interesting midair manoevre over the second element of a combination; somehow Magic is able to climb stairs in thin air – but he was sane and ready to go to work.
The only real meltdown he had was about having a ribbon attached to his head and then having to trot around the arena with it on. We jumped a whole invisible course, then performed a Grand Prix dressage test worthy of Valegro, finishing off with a handful of airs above the ground that Podhajsky would have been proud of. But this is the good part – it was funny. Sure, I was quite glad when his ribbon flew off and I had an excuse to get both feet on solid earth again, but my spine wasn’t melting and I wasn’t shaking when I had to get back on him. Just as Magic felt like a frightened horse that nevertheless had plenty of talent and knew his job, instead of a confused and terrified greenie, I felt like a young rider with a lot of horse under her that was riding him tolerably well and learning how to ride him better. Not like an overhorsed, petrified beginner.
The other majorly spooky object was an odd little thatch thing standing by the gate, which I assume was a wing or something, but Magic said it was terrifying and tiptoed past it. Arwen, upon entering the arena for the first time, took advantage of my loose rein and reassuring hand and took a gigantic bite out of it. Mortified, I just sat there as she walked off thanking the organisers for considerately supplying a pre-class snack.
That was basically Arwen’s attitude for the whole show. I was already flustered and tired when I got on her for the 60cm, but I couldn’t help grinning when I asked her to walk on. When Arwen walks into the warmup she owns it. She was yelling, “Let’s do this thing!” and I was with her.
She aimed a few merry kicks at some thoroughbreds (luckily letting none of them fly), almost crushed somebody’s luckless trainer (to my great embarrassment) and jumped everything unquestioningly. We blasted into and through our 60cm class, both of us having an absolute ball. On the photos later I would realise that Arwen was jumping with quite… interesting technique (in one picture she’s taking off for an oxer with both hind feet on the ground, but both forelegs flung out straight… I don’t even know). Luckily, this is showjumping. Nobody cares. We won. Arwen beamed at the pony that came second and luckily refrained from bucking in the victory gallop.
The 70cm class was a one-round speed competition on quite an open course, so obviously my fat pony came second and my thoroughbred was nearly dead last. Arwen once again had the course for dinner and was beaten only by an experienced thoroughbred with a good rider. She felt like kicking him in the lineup but I applied a diplomatic spur to her guts and she thought better of it. Victory laps on Arwen are awesome, especially when the winner let her horse blast off at a mildly inconsiderate speed; while the crowd held their breath in anticipation of Arwen’s bucking fit, she genteelly obeyed her French link snaffle and lined out in her rhythmic cross-country gallop all around the arena, flaunting her blue ribbon and informing the crowd that in America it would have meant she had won. And as we reached the gate, I brought her down to walk and threw my reins down and she stretched to the floor. No, you can’t have her, sorry.
80cm was no longer a game: I really wanted to jump clear in this class, and Arwen was on her A-game, so I was ready to ask her for it and ride my best. It was a fairly demanding course, with a couple of related distances and a two-stride combination (Arwen’s nemesis; in a 6-stride line she has space to add for seven strides, but a two-stride is just too short for three and just too long for two), as well as at least two max height oxers, but she was as brave as the day. I concentrated hard on using my inside leg to flex her around the turns so that she came to the jumps straight and balanced, and the team effort paid off; we went clear.
Unfortunately, by the jump-off, my energy and concentration were leaving me and I was giddy on our previous success. I forgot that my inside leg even existed and poor Arwen was asked to jump the oxer at number seven from the most preposterous angle. She tried anyway and took the rail, but when I got her to a similar angle with even worse balance at number eight – an oxer and the first element of the double – she said, “Uh, human, hello??” and stopped. She really can’t be blamed for this, but accepted her bad luck at having me for a rider with good cheer; we circled around, I rode a better line, and she jumped it without a second glance. Then we accidentally jumped two extra fences because I forgot the course, but the organisers graciously let this slide.
We were an exhausted but happy bunch that trooped back up to the horsebox. Magic had, at one stage, pulled free of his bestie; but to everyone’s relief (and my pride) he ran two steps and then stood in the road looking confused while helpful bystanders tiptoed towards him. Magic’s bestie is a lifesaver. I can hardly express what a relief it is to take my poor, delicate, sensitive creature from someone and find him in an even better frame of mind than he was when I gave them to him.
My legs didn’t want to leg anymore, but luckily the horses all loaded and travelled well, so the day ended much better than it had began. It was a great day filled with amazing horses, awesome people, and of course the reason for all we do and the strength behind all we ever achieve – our beloved, magnificent, merciful Creator God. Glory to the King.
Bear with me, guys. At some point I will finish catching up on all the shows and you can hear about horses that aren’t grey.
The latest expedition was to a big venue up in Kyalami that holds frequent and very handy training shows. I rode the adorable Reed there last November, so I knew I could expect it to be pretty busy.
First, I must rewind a little. On Saturday evening the Mutterer and I first made a trek to Grootvlei to pick up two horses; a chestnut gelding (my next training project for the Mutterer, incidentally named Duiwel, which means “demon”. Charming, right?) and dear beautiful Arwen Jnr., who was coming to the show with us and would spend the night at my home. I only really have nice things to say about Arwen Jnr. so I may as well call her by her stable name – Nia-Nell. Or Nell because it just works for her.
Despite the Mutterer’s dire prophesying, Demon (don’t worry, I renamed him) refrained from killing anyone when loading, and despite my misgivings he did not kill himself in the horsebox on the way to Nell’s home. We were all fairly composed when we got there, and Nell got on fine with the usual arrangement: me cajoling and patting at the head, and the Mutterer swearing and pushing behind. I was also certain that Demon would shred Nell on the way to my place, but as usual the Mutterer was right and they were both completely fine when we got there. They were so happy with each other that we decided to let them stay together that evening to stave off any would-be loneliness.
Everybody was still alive the next morning, which is always a good thing when new horses have arrived, so with my sister’s help we scurried through a quick grooming and bubble-wrapping of Arwen and Nell before shoving them both in the box with aid of a lunging line. Luckily, Nell travels like an old hand, so she turned out to be a good influence on Arwen and both the girls were happy and relaxed when we got to Sunlands. This was a good thing. The parking lot was FULL, with kids and ponies and bellowing instructors everywhere and somebody’s harrassed groom trying to retrieve an insane thoroughbred from the bonnet of a nearby BMW. The family had the paddock up in record time, and Arwen was stuffed in there to wait while I dealt with Nell. She was actually quite all right – looking around, but quiet – and even stood dead still with a haynet to have her mane plaited. Because she also has a gigantic wonderful thick torrent of hair, we did it in a stallion plait. Unconventional, but it worked like a charm, and is henceforth my solution for natural manes and dressage.
When I had her walked down to the arena and popped on, for a few minutes I thought I was sitting on a firecracker. She was okay – obedient and listening – but spooky as anything. The poor animal has never even been on sand footing before, so first we had a spook at that, and then we had a spook at the White Cone of Death beside the arena and then we had to panic a couple of times about the ponies careening around at a ridiculous pace (showjumpers were warming up with us dressage bums). As we walked around, though, I discovered that violence was the furthest thing from Nell’s mind. She’d balk a little, and look a little, and maybe have a weeny little shy, but nothing else. No bucking, no bolting, no teleporting. For a horse that’s only rising four, she was superb. And once we’d had a bit of a trot around she put her little nose down and went to work just like we were at home. I was jumpy about the canter transition, but I didn’t need to be. She flowed into her canter like water to the shore.
I still can’t get over the amount of talent contained in those 15 hands of Nooitgedachter. I have very seldom ridden a horse with better paces or a better mind. I think the Storm Horse could have had better movement than her if he had been dressage schooled from the start, but apart from him, there are very few exceptions to her natural ability to move in rhythm and balance and connection. She just knows it somehow. It’s amazing. And paired with the unbelievably trainable brain of the true Nooitgedachter, it’s a combination that will someday be unbeatable if somebody took the time to school her to the top. (I sure wouldn’t mind being that somebody).
Anyway, soon we were making our way to the show arena and Nell was staring at everything but not being a pest. The dressage arena at this venue is very spooky. It’s sandwiched between the noisy jumping arena with its leaping horses and loudspeakers, and the little cafe thingy with its sizzling sounds and noisy people. And on the far end is a judge’s box that harbours all kinds of monsters, not to mention the dressage letters. Poor Nell thought she was walking into a death trap. It took us about five minutes to get from A along the track to C, but I let it. Nell is not stupid, and I knew if I gave her the time to think she would come to the conclusion that all is well. We walked up to every letter and I had her touch it while I patted her and told her she was okay. In this fashion we made it to the judge, who, to her great credit, showed not an ounce of impatience. She told me to just keep doing what I was doing, and even led Nell over to C from the ground to help her courage a bit.
If I had had another twenty minutes I could have gotten her quiet about the judge’s box. As it was, our tests were a bit inventive since she didn’t really want to go any nearer than M, and we had quite a few impromptu leg-yields. But amazingly, our FXH free walk was perfect. As soon as she was facing away from the box, I could give her the reins almost to the buckle and she put her head down and marched happily to H without a care in the world. She is an amazing little horse. Even despite getting a few 3s and 4s for teleporting sideways when we were supposed to be making a stretchy trot circle, she got 55.5% for Prelim 1 and the judge was delighted with her. Her good moments were all 7s, and for a first show on a horse that young, which has been under saddle for six months and gets ridden once a week, I’ll take it.
Nell was a joy to ride, but I was pretty happy to get on my grownup horsy and be fine. It took me a few minutes to settle down and realise that Arwen knows her job and we’d be fine, but once I did, she was awesome. A few times she totally did not understand why we weren’t jumping or galloping around, but then her brain kicked into dressage gear and she was superb. Our warmup was inordinately long as I misjudged the timing, so we spent a lot of time trotting around, walking, getting off, getting on, more walking, more trotting, etc., but I think it was good for her. We only had a little bit of canter since I didn’t need her to get fired up and start looking for things to jump over, and lots of free walk to stretch and relax. I think we were warming up on and off for over an hour. At last we went into the arena, and my horse was calm and supple and working in every muscle of her body. It was rather a relief to come down the long side for a square halt at C and then to sit on a loose rein while I introduced myself to the judge. Arwen sniffed C curiously and then started to eat the grass under it, to my relief/mortification.
The judge asked, “Another youngster?!” to which I replied, “No! Luckily, not quite so young as the other one,” and the judge said, “Oh, good!” She also thought Arwen and Nell were sisters, which is entirely pardonable as they look pretty much exactly the same despite having no relation at all except for both being Nooities. Then we trotted off, the bell rang, and it was time to go. Down the centre line, easy halt at X, and I looked up far past the judge’s box to where the big blue African sky was smiling down at me, and I saluted the King.
I knew when we came straight down the centre line that Arwen was going very well. And when we made our first stretchy trot circle and she put her head down between her knees, I really relaxed. So we rode our tests joyously, effortlessly, with that wonderful feeling of oneness that is so addictive. There’s no feeling quite like it when you find your spine apparently fused to your horse’s, every movement of yours speaking volumes to your horse, muscle to muscle, heart to heart. You can call it losgelassenheit, or connection, or working through the back, or riding from the seat, or simply dressage; but it doesn’t have a name, not really. Arwen was loving it in her own quiet way, performing for me with elegance and relaxation and quietness, striving without tension, revelling without rebellion. For me there are few truer ways that a horse can love. This is why there really are no voice commands in dressage; because dressage is about stepping into the inner chamber where words are far too clumsy to communicate.
Wax poetical though I may about my Novice tests, they definitely weren’t perfect. We had a little buck into one transition, she flexed to the outside occasionally, the canter wasn’t as rhythmic as it should have been and our lengthenings were, as normal, totally mediocre. But we had some good moments and even one great moment, and the judge, the horse and I all enjoyed it thoroughly. The judge announced that Arwen was stunning with a divine walk and a brilliant mind, and I sat there beaming idiotically and slapping my pony’s neck with my new white dressage gloves.
In the end, we did pretty well. We got mostly sevens, with a sturdy eight for every free walk and a nine for that one amazing stretchy trot. I got sevens for rider position which was less than I wanted but pretty much what I deserved. Our highest score was 67.8% in Novice 1, which solidified my decision to go graded in dressage at Novice; I wouldn’t be too ashamed of scoring that, even if we wouldn’t get a bunch of ribbons. And as for Arwen, she was just happy and chilled and doing the job she enjoys.
And as for me? Well, I’m just ridiculously blessed to halt at X, put the reins in one hand, look up at the beaming sky and then salute to the One Who made horses and people and all of this possible. Thank You, Abba, Sir.
Last Sunday we towed Magic and Vastrap off to a show; Magic’s third, Vastrap’s first – as far as I know. Both had loaded fine; Magic did need Dad to stand behind him, but Vastrap pretty much loaded himself. The little dude sure learns quickly when carrots are involved.
As expected, both boys also travelled well (Magic appreciative of his quiet buddy) and were super calm at the showgrounds. It was a relatively big and busy show, with a vast and dauntingly fancy venue. These people are sure serious about their footing, which is nice when you’re on the footing and not so nice when you’re on the young horse that is afraid of tractors, hoses, sprinklers, water, etc. Magic nearly killed one of our guests (I do have a social life, I just drag friends to horse shows – free labour… they volunteered, don’t worry) flying back at the sight of a hose. He was all right with it once it stopped making noises, though.
Vastrap had been entered in the 20, 40, and 50cm classes, for my courage and for the sake of logistics. He held his head up in the warmup, but was his usual obedient and quiet self; he just drifted towards the gate quite badly, a horrible habit he picked up with his previous mounted-games-riding owners. (Mounted games are wonderful – but only when done correctly. Suffice it so say that Vastrap’s previous owners did not do it correctly). He also had a peek at the first ground pole we went over, but then calmly trotted over it as only Vastrap will do.
He was still fairly looky when we went into the 20cm, trotting with his head in the air as if waiting for me to hit him in the mouth, his previous owners’ speciality. For the first couple of jumps, he semi-stopped, looked, and clambered over. Then we came around the corner at jump number three, which was set on a four-stride line with number four, and suddenly his little ears went up. I almost saw the light bulb popping up above his head. Oh, so this is what we’re doing! Suddenly he floored it. Surprised, I clung on in bemusement as the jumps flew past with that game little pony taking me to every fence and only looking to me for steering. He was proud of himself and prancing with delight when we came over the finish with a clear round (well, how can you not get a clear round at 20cm?).
Mom was grinning all over her face, probably as proud of Vastrap as Karen Swann was of Adventure de Kannan when he won the Hickstead. She snuggled his face, which he never lets me do, while I hopped off and gave him a break. Magic was eating hay and staring at things, but looked very settled.
For the 40cm I returned to the warmup to find it a complete war zone. 40cm is the height where kids actually have to warm up their ponies, or at least jog around whilst clucking loudly and upsetting my cluck-happy horses. It’s also the height where people with really insane thoroughbreds have a go, especially polo horses. I’ve always thought Magic was pretty stupid about things but he’s an old hack horse compared to some of the lunatics I’ve seen in warmup rings, and I have total sympathy. I have no desire to be riding one of those in a busy warmup and I’m sure I shall find myself in that position sometime. Vastrap and I dodged a gelding that was spinning around and around, a mare who was neighing and staring at things with her eyes bugging out, and a pony that kept pinning its ears at us and tried to jump some things past all the loose instructors. Luckily, Vastrap is a Nooitgedachter and Nooitgedachters are wonderful, so he just went about his job with a workaday air and soon we could go back to work.
The courses were really beautiful; well designed, and with the most gorgeous jumps. One was a beautiful, enormous blue butterfly jump that nearly killed several of us, but they were sensible jumps; big colourful wings, almost no filler. Like the jumps at the upper levels – they’re nowhere near as big on filler as some of the training shows I’ve seen. I liked them (and they made for awesome photos). Vastrap wriggled a bit at the butterfly jump but apart from that he was Mr. Zoomy again, charging around with every sign of confidence and enjoyment. He went fast and clear; I was extremely proud of him.
After that class I got on Magic to start warming him up for the 50cm, 60cm, and 70cm. He likes a long warmup. I think his brain is connected to his legs; when they work, it works. I hacked him quietly around the arena on a loose rein and he was looking around but not fussing, pulling or spooking. He was very forward in the trot but didn’t rush around in the canter; as usual he overjumped the first cross a bit, then took everything else a bit more sensibly.
Due to the well-organised stewards calling people to the gate, I was able to time my warmups nicely. I got on Vastrap again just in time to pop over a couple of fences, then go down and zoom effortlessly through our course. Then back up onto Magic, coming down to the main arena just as the rider before us went in, so that I didn’t have to make him stand. He worries about things when he stands still for too long. He was also spooky and looking around the arena as we made our way to the start, and again spooky to the first couple of jumps, but he didn’t actually ever offer to stop. Once he’d cleared a few we both relaxed and he hit his stride and loped around without any trouble at all. He did go down to a trot and wriggle a bit at the butterfly jump, but happily popped over anyway once we got there.
I was pleased with my two clear rounds right up until I realised that now I had two horses in the jump-off with only three or four others between us. With the help of parents, sister, and friends, we did it somehow though. Vastrap was blisteringly fast but took a disappointing rail on one of the most unspooky jumps on the whole course. I didn’t feel like I had gotten him that sucky a distance; my theory is that by then he was a little tired and not taking the tiny fences seriously anymore, so he just kind of went to sleep in the air and didn’t pick up his hindlegs quick enough. No worries though – being bored by the jumps isn’t exactly a cardinal sin for a horse at his first show in years, if not his first show ever. He’s such a little trooper, that pony.
In contrast, Magic was slooow but careful and clear; I was disappointed with myself because I was hitting him in the mouth a bit on landing, not on purpose, but just because of sheer nerves. He jumped for me anyway, though. Honest as the day, that one. I left the 50cm ribbonless and resolved: next time was going to be better.
It was, in terms of my riding. I gave him my hands a little more, so he jumped a little better. We had a couple of really nice moments, especially through the two-stride combination (once I had finally figured out that this horse could actually get two strides in a two-stride unlike my ponies). We had one complete flop from two to three, which was a straight line of eight strides. I, still treading the fine line between not micromanaging and not riding, kind of left poor Magic to figure out the universe by himself and he had a baby moment and thought there was a stride where there wasn’t one so he kind of stopped and then, heroically, tried to jump anyway. When I saw the pictures afterwards I realised that when he semi stopped, his forefeet actually slid under the front bar of the oxer. By all the laws of nature the dude should have stopped but he didn’t. He snapped up his knees as quickly as he could and popped over with me clinging on for dear life, and while of course he took the front rail, he left the rest of it standing. Dear brave lunatic. (In the next class I gave him just a touch more leg and he remembered his mistake and put in eight nice big easy strides to pop effortlessly over the same fence, so that was kind of an epic win).
After the 60cm there was a wait of about 20 000 years for the next class. I spent the entire time wondering why oh why it was necessary to harrow and water the whole arena for a 70cm class… Anyway, I was by then thoroughly exhausted and my stomach was playing me up and Magic was picking up on my irritation and being a dweeb, neighing for Vastrap incessantly (even though he actually doesn’t like him much) and spooking at shadows. If I had more than one-half of a brain cell, I would have gotten on him and trotted him around for ten minutes to switch his brain back on. Unfortunately, as Emma‘s trainer so wisely said, experience is that thing you get right after you needed it. We now know for next time.
Either way, when I tried to warm Magic up, I was riding an athletic ball of nerves. He napped towards Vastrap (Magic NEVER naps, EVER), shied violently at other horses in the warmup and overjumped like a complete maniac. When we rode down to the arena, he was wild. His tail was sticking straight up in the air and he was shying at things he’d been fine with before. Vastrap chose that moment to neigh and that only made it worse. The poor horse’s eyes were bugging out of his empty head. To his tremendous credit, though, he didn’t buck, rear, or bolt. He did exactly what I asked of him, with robotic, twitching movements and back muscles so tense they were like sitting on rocks. When the bell rang we were both terrified out of our skulls and we cantered sideways to the first jump with Magic’s head and tail stuck up in the air and me clinging to his mouth. He jumped in that awkward way that young thoroughbreds have, snatching his feet up as if the jump was red hot, flinging his face around in protest of my grip on the reins.
When we landed I felt myself wobble in the saddle and I was scared solid; Magic was even more scared and we were about one-third of a second from absolute disaster. I hauled the poor horse down to a trot and what was left of my sanity told me I had two options: Either this was going to be a complete flop, or I was going to call in the big guns. So I screwed my eyes tight shut and prayed silently (I didn’t have any breath to pray aloud) “I can’t do this, I can’t do this but You can, Sir!”
It took three trot strides. By the far end of the third, the Lion of Judah roared in me. I sat down on Magic and gave him my hands and closed my legs around him ever so softly and he rippled forward into that perfect mighty canter only he has. The rest of the course was like a dream. For the first time all day I actually released on him and followed him with my body, abandoning the awkward defensive position and automatic half-releases, and for the first time all day we were a team working together instead of one poor valiant horse packing a passenger around. It was like flicking a light switch. Magic went boldly into my hands and kept his head quiet. If he felt he had a dodgy distance to a jump he did what he’s good at; lengthened his stride and tucked up his knees a bit tighter just in case. He did overjump a few things, not least the jump with filler in it (the crowd gasped most satisfyingly; I was flying, way beyond terror, and only felt the joy of the bursting-bubble feeling at the very apex of his leap), but he wasn’t afraid. He was going for it, ears locked forward, and I was coming with him.
We were clear, by several feet in most cases, and I was just elated. We’d been on the very brink of a catastrophe, but we’d come through it and succeeded. It wasn’t very pretty, but we did it together. My beloved God, my amazing horse, and me.
I can hardly believe it’s already April! So far, this year has been terrifying and wonderful and oh so busy, but I love what I do so much that I don’t mind. I am quite happy with the universe because each day I grow more aware of how I walk hand in scarred Hand with the King.
So, let’s have a look at our goals.
Get her fit – A work in progress, but I’m happy with the progress. She survived the 2125m, 17-effort course at Le Godimo, albeit with a stack of time penalties, despite the horrific heat. At the moment, our most intense workout was 9.9km at an average speed of 22.9km/h (380mpm), our top speed 59kph (980mpm). We’re not event fit yet, but making good progress.
Build her upper neck muscle – A resounding success. I really, really like her musculature now. She looks strong without being butch. She just needs to lose weight, but those neck muscles are where I want them.
School Elementary Medium successfully – This one will take a while. We’ve been working on collected trot, counter-canter, medium trot, shoulder-ins and more difficult leg-yields. We also got a flying change yesterday, more or less by fluke, and the Mutterer is drilling us in lessons, which is exactly what we need.
Introduce scary-looking jumps – Haven’t done a lot on this one, except at shows and clinics. She’s been as brave as the day there.
Have her go through water more easily – Done. We did have a look at the Le Godimo water complex but she didn’t stop or even walk. Just trot, peek, and jump in. Super happy with that.
Show graded in EV70 – Not yet, but we’ve done EV60 at a graded show, and will do unaffiliated EV70 at the end of May.
Complete advanced halter training – Done. We can now trot, stand squarely, walk on a loose lead, turn on the forehand, and turn on the haunches in hand. Also no standing on top of people or dragging them around. This is a big one, so it’s just about all we accomplished so far, but it’s the basis for everything else.
Leading over, through and under scary things
Leading away from his group
Bathing – Started on this but he still doesn’t like water to be on his bottom.
Desensitisation to noise and sight
Lowering of the head when requested by pressure on the halter – Total win. You barely have to breathe on his halter and you have ears around your knees. Also he keeps his head down while I switch halter and fly mask.
Basic lunging with a halter and long line only
Wearing a roller
Lunging over poles
Preparation for clipping
Improve fitness – Win. He’s a thoroughbred. He was basically born fit. He can canter around an 80cm course without being breathless, which is all I need from him right now.
Tie up – Eh, more or less. He ties up just fine until he gets a huge fright, and then he’ll still break his lead.
Load – Done. Self-loads now, sweet creature.
School Novice – Work in progress; he still flips his head in transitions and sometimes in the canter. Lengthenings are good, simple changes are good, leg-yields are getting there.
Survive a hack – Nothing yet, but it’s in the pipeline.
Be confident at 80cm – Done! Okay, so I’m not confident, but the height is not a problem for me at 80cm with him. We’re schooling 90cm at the moment with success.
Show graded at 70cm showjumping – Showed ungraded at 60cm, and would have showed ungraded 70cm this weekend, but he came up mysteriously lame. Maybe God’s just saying we need another couple weeks.
Fix his mild tendency to get in your space – He doesn’t do it with me anymore. With submissive or timid people he does still stand over you but never with malicious intent and he knows he’s not allowed to move anyone’s feet.
Get him to stand dead still for a bath – I didn’t bath him, but I hosed him off alone, and he stood like a stone.
Introduce flying changes
Improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs
Log as many trail miles as possible
As for the old warrior Queen, she’s as happy as a bird, fat, healthy, and tries to throw me off on a regular basis just to remind me who’s the Queen around here. And that’s all she needs to do.
WE FINALLY HAVE PHOTOS! And amazing photos they are too, thanks to the excellent Tamara and Blake Images.
Two weekends back, we pushed Arwen into the box (literally – she wasn’t impressed with loading in the semidarkness) and set off on a long, nauseating drive to Le Godimo Horse Trials in Hartebeespoort. (My stomach can do hills. It can do winding. Winding and hills and watching Arwen on the horsebox camera? It went on strike). It was a two-hour drive, but Arwen was impressively calm, for Arwen. She was rather sweaty but not shaky when we unloaded, and unlike Magic, refrained from having tantrums on the highway.
We’d entered the surprisingly big Adults EV60 class (jumps are about 2′ in cross-country; it’ll be the equivalent of the British BE60 and as for the Americans, you guys can figure it out yourselves. I don’t get your levels. How can Prelim be that big?), but it was still a bit intimidating to get there and see the sheer amount of horses and riders – about 150 entries in all. The atmosphere was definitely different to the relaxed training show feeling. I didn’t worry about it because I had Arwen’s hair to worry about. I let her go natural because a) I love long manes, b) Nooitgedachters are supposed to be natural and c) I value my skin and do not need it ripped off by the long-mane-loving Mutterer. This is all fine and well right up until you need to plait it for dressage. By a joint effort, my sister and I managed to squash Arwen’s tremendous hair into thirteen enormous bobbles. Six or seven of which she shook out five minutes before the test. I was deeply grateful for my sister, who is used to organising ballet exams and managed to restrain Arwen’s hair just in time. At least the little mare was very good, and stood eating hay throughout the plaiting ordeal.
We warmed up all right for dressage. She was soft and forward and only tried to kick one thoroughbred (who kind of deserved it). In fact I thought we’d be excellent right up until she noticed the horse wearing a fly sheet in a paddock directly behind the judges’ box. She’d never seen anything like it before and she absolutely did not trust it.
“Arwen, seriously. It’s just a fly sheet, honey,” I said.
“It’s a warmblood, first of all, ” said Arwen, “and it’s wearing something weird. How dare it invent armour that makes it impervious to my kicks?”
She was actually quite mature about it. No panicking, no shying, no running through my aids; but she was very tense and I could feel that if I gave her an inch she would blow. So I held her down a bit too much. In my eyes the test went fine; we got all the movements accurately, she struck off on the correct leg every time, she responded obediently to everything I asked, but the judge hated us because I had overbent her pretty badly, so of course she wasn’t tracking up like she should. Next time I’ll take the chance of her blowing through my aids and see what happens. Our score was horrible but not the worst; 62, placing us 10th out of 15 entries. She nearly threw me off as we left the arena when a spectator stood up and accidentally gave her a fright, but luckily the test was over by then.
We had a couple of hours to kill after dressage, which I mostly spent determinedly trying to get her mane straight again. I took the plaits out because they looked uncomfortable, but we all know that horrible crinkle-cut look of a recently plaited mane. I did not want to look like the newbie I am, so I brushed it out with a wet dandy brush and had a flat mane in ten minutes. Of course, everyone else just rode with crinkle-cut manes and all, so I looked like a newbie anyway, but at least her hair was straight.
I walked the course with my fingers locked together, praying more fervently as each jump passed. It wasn’t big, nor did it have a lot of filler, but it was rather more complex than the little training show courses. Jump one was an inviting vertical leading to a rather frightening oxer at two (as frightening as a 65cm oxer can be, anyway); number three was a little vertical, and number four was a big white oxer on top of a dyke right in front of the announcer’s box. There was a tight left turn to number five, number six was the biggest terrifying oxer of all the terrifying oxers, number seven was a boring vertical, 8a a vertical with two strides to the 8b oxer, nine was a red-and-white jump with weird filler at the bottom of a high and relatively steep bank, and number ten was an oxer that you had to jump right after turning directly past the arena gate. When I walked the course I actually didn’t think of that, but it caused quite a few incidents that day.
Arwen warmed up superbly. It was abominably hot, so I kept it short and simple. She took me to the jumps, bucked enthusiastically after one of them, and showed no fear at all. By the end of fifteen minutes’ warmup she was drenched in sweat. I sat on her and trembled as number 17 (two riders before us) jumped their round, but was comforted by a random kind lady who poked Arwen’s wayward cheekpiece back into its keeper. (Thank you, random kind lady).
Then it was one rider before us and I walked her around the jumps and made her look at them, which she said was very boring (except for number nine, which was terrifying). Kirsten the Wonderful XC Instructor hissed at me from the sidelines to walk her through the dyke, which I did; I was expecting some fireworks, but Arwen plodded through it and enquired if she should jump the oxer. I politely declined as I didn’t want to be disqualified for over-enthusiasm.
As it turns out, over-enthusiasm was really the only thing I had to worry about. I did have to kick her a bit at number two, but she blasted through the dyke like it was no big deal. We had a very stupid run-out at little dumb number seven because I was being relieved about number six and quit concentrating, but she popped straight over it again. She had a look at number nine as we came thundering down the bank but I planted my heels in her and she jumped just fine. She was fantastic – fast, accurate, and gutsy. We had only the four faults for the run-out, no time penalties, which isn’t bad for a fat little mare, especially considering I really didn’t push the speed at all for the sake of the heat and my nerves.
Then came the part I was most worried about: trying to keep Arwen inside a stable without killing anybody for long enough that I could get enough sleep to stay awake until the end of cross-country on Sunday. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The stables were constructed of wooden poles, so she could see and smell (and bite) her stablemates. We did have to move four times before we found a stable that nobody else wanted, but Arwen wasn’t too upset by the idea. She pulled funny faces at the gelding on her left (he ignored her), snapped and squealed at the mare on her right (they were best buds by the end of the weekend), ate her hay and went to sleep. I did tie a couple of lunging lines across her door to prevent her from getting any ideas. Feeding time was kind of embarrassing as all the other horses tucked into buckets of pellets with mountains of lucerne, and I tried to be invisible as I gave her two handfuls instead of one for the sake of not looking like a total animal abuser.
Also, major big shout-out to Erin! I actually met someone who reads my blog!! People do that, you know. Erin happened to be three stables down from us with her stupendous chestnut Boerperd gelding, Burgerstrots Gedenk. Fantastic seeing you, Erin.
Arwen spent the night annoying her neighbours. We spent the night in the horsebox, which was awesome until it rained; my parents were a bit damp the next morning. Our spirits, however, were unaffected. Arwen was happy and extremely hyper despite the appalling heat. I tried to take her for a walk in the interests of letting her graze and relax, but all she did was dragon-snort at everything and drag me around, so she was put back in her stable to think about her sins.
Cross-country time found us both fidgety with nerves and excitement. Arwen was eager to get moving; I saddled her up in her stable, clumsy with excitement. She pawed the ground and bit me by accident while I was doing up her curb chain. I’ll excuse her just this once for rearing as we set off on the long-ish hack to the warmup arena, because she was excited and people were cantering randomly off with little heed to the crazy young horse that was half a breath away from going airborne. We somehow made it to the warmup in one sweaty piece.
I couldn’t believe the heat. Arwen, luckily, had been drinking well all weekend, because she sweated incessantly – she was damp just standing in her stable, so she was drenched before we even got to the arena. It was almost midday and I considered scratching, but even once she’d calmed down somewhat, Arwen was willing and forward-going, so I decided to listen to her and soldier on. I kept the warmup short – just a couple of brisk laps of canter and a handful of little jumps. She was brave as the day, just stopped at a skinny that was quite a big bigger than our class. On the second try she popped right over.
In a whirlwind of panic I struggled into my body protector and scrambled over to the marshall, praying they wouldn’t mind that my number was pinned directly to my body protector, my medical card was homemade and the stitching on my girth was getting a bit suspicious. Luckily they didn’t, so the next minute we were trotting down to the starting box and the corner of my number suddenly started flying around. Arwen thankfully didn’t spook, but as Dad was pinning it back on, she struck out a front foot to rub her face on, stood on her reins and broke them. Pandemonium reigned as Dad had a horse with half a bridle on thrust at him, I ran to the marshall to explain the problem, Rain ran to the horsebox in record time to fetch my spare reins, and Arwen fussed around saying it was time to go.
I have the most amazing pit crew ever. Two minutes later, I had my spare reins attached, my number was fixed and I was back on my horse. And a countdown from five after that, we were trotting out of the starting box and heading for jump number one.
Cross-country is such an amazing experience. Out there, at that speed, it’s just you and the horse and God. (And the occasional jump judge to spook dramatically at). I was terrified as we approached jump number one, a simple log, but Arwen carried me over and then we’d popped over the pole stack at number two, and number three was right there in front of me and we felt that nothing could stop us. It was a long, twisty, confusing gallop to number four that I’d had to walk three times before getting it, but spectators helped out by standing in the “wrong” turns and we found it easily. Number five was a bit hairy as it was a fat log sitting in a gap between two big bushes, and obviously the jump judge elected to sit virtually in the approach to it, but we made it and then we were galloping to scary number six, which she just sailed over. Number seven was very boring and I was relieved about number six so we ran out and nearly killed a judge. Silly mistake, but we turned around, popped over and put it behind us.
Number eight was this splendid oxer, then a big gallop to number nine, which was a bit daunting as it sort of popped out of the bushes at you, but Arwen took it in her stride. Ten and eleven were in a bending line right after one another; we had really hit our rhythm now and we tackled them easily. Number twelve, thirteen and fourteen were close together on a bending line; I was a bit worried about fourteen as it would be very easy to run out to the left (her favourite run-out direction) but she didn’t even think about it.
The line from fourteen to fifteen was the longest gallop, but we lost a lot of time as there was a very scary 1* jump standing in the middle of it and Arwen said we had to keep an eye on it so we cantered slowly sideways past it. Luckily we pulled ourselves together in time for number fifteen, then tackled the water. It was not flagged so we could go around, but I wanted to give it a shot. She slowed to a trot, had a look, and then leapt right in. It was a long water complex and very deep, so by the time we reached the other side my hot, tired horse was going at a riding school trot. We managed to get our canter back by number sixteen and then we were nearly home, blasting through the trees to the last jump, then absolutely flooring it for the finish line. I was grateful for our barrel racing days because we shot over the line at a bit of a ridiculous speed, but I sat down and closed my fingers and she stopped so suddenly I nearly fell off.
It’s hard to describe just how I felt as we walked away from the finish. I was exhausted, sweaty, dehydrated, slightly heat exhausted and so hot I could feel my heart throbbing in my ears. My legs felt wrung out, my hands were shaking and I could feel the first twinges of my back being out (probably popped it out during our sideways canter). Similarly, Arwen was gasping for breath and dripping sweat. But I could tell by the spring in her step and the set of her ears that she felt the way I did; exhilarated, overwhelmed with gratitude, joyful beyond description. So I did the only thing I could. I dropped my reins, I lifted my hands, and I thanked my King.
12 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. ~ Hebrews 12:1-2
“If you can get over your fear factor,” quoth the Mutterer, “there’s few people that will be able to beat you two.”
Shamefaced, I looked at my feet, hugging Magic’s smooth neck against my cheek with one arm. We were both sweaty after what shouldn’t have been a tiring lesson. I’d set up a little course – an ascending oxer, spooky vertical, and two-stride combination of vertical to ascending oxer – which the Mutterer had abruptly turned into a bigger course. Bigger being 80-90cm (2’9″ to 3′).
And I had trouble with it.
Oh, Magic didn’t have any trouble. Magic believes in himself now; he knows he’ll make it. Of course, physically, it was absolutely no challenge for him. I’ve free jumped him 1.30m (about 4′) in a 15m ring and he popped straight over. So this little course was nothing for him. He hit his stride and drifted around, tucking up his knees and making every jump seem like nothing.
I was the problem. (My own favourite mantra came back to bite me – “People don’t have horse problems. Horses have people problems). The most I can really say for myself is that when he’s jumping I stay out of his face and I usually get him good lines to the jumps. My problem is the approach. It always is, because somehow the last few strides leading up to an obstacle are so much worse than the obstacle itself. In riding as in life.
Arwen, on whom I am fearless, likes to collect herself for the last two or three strides to get her hocks nicely under her for the jump. The bigger the jump, the more she likes to collect. That suits me just fine because it gives me more time and prevents scarily long takeoffs from happening too often. Magic doesn’t need to get his hocks under himself. Magic can jump from half a mile away and still clear these little jumps with plenty of room to spare. He likes to accelerate for the last couple of strides, which is a good thing. It allows him to jump straight out of his stride, gives him more momentum so that he uses less effort over the jump, lets him jump across the fence instead of up and down over it, saves time since he doesn’t need to slow down to jump, and helps him be quick off the ground. He doesn’t rush or pull – he just likes a few bigger strides for the takeoff. As soon as he lands he settles back into a quieter canter.
The problem? I don’t let him do that. I want my little collected canter so that I have more time to hopefully not be scared. Magic, being his generous and willing self, tries to give me that slow canter, but he obviously doesn’t jump well out of it. And if I feel that our rhythm is off (which it is, because I made it off) I put my hands on his neck and look at the jump and luckily for me he stops. If he jumped while I was doing that I would probably eat mane.
It’s become a pattern. He stops; annoyed with myself, I turn him around, listen to the Mutterer, keep my hands up and over he goes because Magic actually had no issues whatsoever with the jump. When I’m on my game, we’re awesome. He listens, he jumps like a pro, I’m balanced, we’re harmonious and effortless. But when my head is not in the right place, we’re a total mess.
Today we lesson again. Today I will keep my hands up and my eyes on the prize. I have one of the most amazing horses in the world, and I believe in him. Now I just have to believe in myself – and yet not I, but Christ in me. So today I will look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith, and lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset me, and ride with patience for the joy that is set before me. Because Jesus endured the cross and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God, so I have nothing to fear.
I believe in my amazing horse. And I believe in Christ. And Christ believes in me.
Let’s be realistic. What’s the plan with your pony? Is it a five-year investment with a return, is it until you move upbeyond the Kin’s abilities, or is it forever?
I like to think I am not stupid about my horses. I like to think that I am a practical professional and that I view horses not as kids or dogs or machines but as horses, nothing more, nothing less. I do know that I don’t view selling your horse as a cardinal sin and that in many situations selling horses is a viable and non-abusive business. I like to think that I have a good working relationship with my horses with a minimum of coochy-coo and that I keep in mind that they are huge flight animals, not kittens.
That said, I’m pretty stupid about my horses.
Obviously, I take the very best care I can of all the horses on the place, no matter who owns them, but my own horses just have a whole other emotional dimension. With clients’ horses, I make good, logical decisions for the horse’s benefit and do my level best to make it happy. With my horses, I become a total sap. If a client horse hurts itself I inject it happily with NSAIDs. If my horse hurts itself I have to grit my teeth and force myself to inject the poor thing and even then I feel the needle go in just as if it was my neck that was getting stabbed. Perhaps it’s because I have to deal with so many horses whose fates and, sometimes, care I have absolutely no control over, but I am very sentimental and deeply attached to my own creatures. Client horses come and go – they get sold, they get taken off my list, they get taken home, whatever. Of course I love them, but I prevent myself from getting attached because I know it is highly likely that I will lose them.
All this to say that despite seeing client horses leave without emotional scarring, I am deeply and extraordinarily attached to all of my horses and likely to cry my eyeballs out if I ever found myself in a situation so dire that I had to sell one of them.
Arwen would make logical sense to sell because I have Magic to compete on and she would be quite valuable now, but that’s just never going to happen. She’s my partner and the one who’s got my back no matter the escapade; I think she may have my trust more fully than any other horse in the world, barring Skye. I’ll compete her up to EV80 or EV90 and once we’re bored of that maybe a little higher-level dressage, and in between some showing. When/if I’ve competed her at the highest level we can go and I have a riding school, I’ll probably let her pack my better students around some shows. Eventually, I want to breed her again; purebred Nooitgedachters (because she is so typey) and perhaps find a nice sharkfin-withered thoroughbred stallion to breed another trustworthy little event horse for myself. Whatever happens, Arwie is home to stay.
I was actually supposed to sell Exavior. I thought I could make some money out of him if he grew up sound, given his breeding and looks. And then I couldn’t stop thinking of him as mine and… yeah. I actually do have a valid reason to keep him, though. He’s big. Not that I actually need a big horse to cart my 100lb frame around, but I have confidence problems with big horses, which is not helped by the fact that the big horses I deal with are mostly stallions with aggression issues. If I could have a big horse that I raised myself, a gentle-hearted gelding that I had control over and could train at my own pace, it would do absolute wonders for my confidence. So Exavior is going to be my next youngster to bring on. I might still sell him if he proves to be too big for me to handle, which with the Mutterer on my side is unlikely, but we shall see. What discipline we shall compete in, nobody knows; he’s bred to jump but moves well enough for dressage. We’ll see what he likes and go with that.
Magic is not going anywhere. His shenanigans did make me wonder a few times whether I wanted to keep him or not, but I’ve always really known the answer; he’s my dream horse and he is mine forever. The current plan is for us to go up the grades in showjumping, since he most certainly has the scope to go quite far. I do dream of eventing him someday but I think he might just not be an event horse. He’s not very resilient at this point in time. Either way, showjumping is what I bought him to do and currently his passion, so up the grades we go and see what happens. He will never be a schoolie because I would hate to see newbies bouncing around on dear sensitive Magic (Arwen doesn’t give a rat’s bottom), so him and I shall compete until he is old and creaky, God willing.
Thunder well, who would ever sell a Thunder if they had one? Even if I was in the most dire straits I would never be able to put a price on him. I would give him to the Mutterer because they deserve each other. But Lord willing, I will never have to be parted from Baby Thun, and he can be my pleasure pony for his entire life. He’s to be my personal pleasure horse and do whatever we feel like doing, be it outrides or competing. When he is older he’ll also be a lovely school horse, so I’ll probably use him now and then for the more panicky sort of beginners that need a gentle, loving horse to hold their hand for a while.
Skye will also never go anywhere, ever. She has had an adventurous life already, and her home with me is where she will have all the adventures – I pray God there will be many – that remain. She’s being a happy, semi-retired hack right now, but should her old legs not be able to carry on hacking, she’ll be a weanling mommy and the companion that keeps Magic’s daft head out of the clouds. She reminds him to do things like drink water and go under the shelter when it rains.
There will, of course, be other horses that come and go at some point. I’m buying a broodmare, who I love but who will also be going once her foals have raised me enough money to buy a better one. I would also like to start training and selling ponies at some point. But these horses are mine and if the Lord wills it they will be mine until their last breaths. Of course, His plan prevails above all. But right now, that’s the way it seems to be going.
I am still camera-less, so I apologise in advance for the total lack of photos.
Everyone hates Wednesdays. They seem to be second only to Mondays on the Worst Day of the Week list (and I rather like Mondays as well), but in all honesty, I love Wednesdays. Partially because I have managed to shake up my schedule so that I study on Saturdays instead. Basically, my Saturday is right in the middle of my week. That makes my actual Saturday kind of a nightmare, but it’s totally worth it.
The day started off with the usual routine of studying/paperwork in the dark, then feeding and grooming (horses, dogs and self). That out of the way, it was time to ride. And therewith the most exciting news: The Mutterer’s wonderful white gelding is now my mother’s wonderful white gelding.
As usual, it was all God’s plan from the start. I spent two months frustrated with the fact that the gelding wasn’t selling despite the fact that I advertised him everywhere I could think of and there really was nothing wrong with him. I bemoaned this unhappy occurrence, lamenting the fact that my very first client horse would be the one that didn’t want to sell, trying to toil through this trial that the Lord was testing me with. Meanwhile, Mom and the gelding grew ever closer and closer until one day I excitedly announced that a buyer was interested in him (again; I was knee-deep in time wasters) and Mom cried, “Oh no!”
I said, “Well, if you don’t want him to go, then buy him.”
So she did. And now that she has, I can see so clearly the Lord’s Hand in the whole story; how Mom helped the gelding rebuild his love and trust in human beings from the start, how the two of them are soulmates in a way that crosses the divide between species, how perfectly suited their personalities are to one another. It had all been part of the Plan. God is great!
I want you all to meet our newest family member, who no longer has to remain anonymous. Solo (registered as Prontuit Vastrap) is an eleven-year-old pale grey Nooitgedachter gelding standing 14.2hh. Also, he is a generous saint of a horse. (I facepoled off him last weekend, but that was my own fault).
Anyway, after taking him on a hack with Rain and Flare (his carbon opposite) and succeeding in bringing everyone back alive despite the two dragonladies’ shenanigans, I decided that I still had time to take the old charger out for a spin. As usual, I rode her bareback, to serve the dual purpose of taking some weight off her joints and reminding me of how to ride bareback, always a good skill in an emergency. She is the best horse for this job because currently she is rather squishy. Since she’s old and staying squishy on two handfuls of concentrate and low-class grazing, I am in absolutely no position to complain. We took a hack through the Shuddering Woods, jogging home along the hills beside them. As usual, I thought I’d see if Skye felt like a little canter for old time’s sake, and also as usual I was promptly run away with and nearly flew off the back end. For which Skye suffered no punishment; I have a ridiculous blind spot when it comes to cantankerous old chestnut chargers. Something inside her turns me ten years old and reckless again.
I had forgotten to bring her a post-ride treat, a cardinal sin; one does not simply forget to give Warrior Queens their post-ride treats. Instead of braving her wrath, I parked her on the lawn, mounted the five steep steps to the house and sent a minion to get us an apple. It’s not the first time I’d done this, and Skye never tries to go up the steps and probably can’t anyway because she is 26 and has arthritis. She must have heard me thinking this, because the next moment in two big jumps she did go up the steps and stood there on the veranda snorting in triumph. I was equally sure that we’d never get back down again, but she made it somehow and pranced all the way back to her paddock telling the world she was invincible.
Arwie and Magic’s lessons went well. Magic was grumpy because I had ridden St. Solo before him and that made him jealous (“Horses are like girlfriends and kids,” quoth the Mutterer), but still offered some foot perfect simple changes and his best free walk figure-eights yet. Arwen mightily impressed the Mutterer, a noteworthy event, by doing something that actually I was paying no attention to. She was parked on one of our steeply sloping banks, with her front feet on the top and her hind feet about halfway down, while the Mutterer handed me my gloves (which I had forgotten). Gloves on, I picked up the reins and backed her in a dead straight line off the bank. She didn’t even think about it. I didn’t even think about it until the Mutterer reminded me that Arwen has no way of seeing behind her and basically stepped confidently backwards into thin air for me, which is kind of amazing once you think about it.
Our session was long and strenuous and we both nearly died, although I hid it better than she did (I hope). We did a little flatwork, then jumping, then the Mutterer’s favourite exercise of madly galloping the long sides and calmly walking the short sides of the arena (and if you’re not terrified you’re not going fast enough; you get bonus points for crying), then more jumping. We were both cooked, but Arwen remained safe, brave and willing even when she was tired. She’ll have a slightly easier day tomorrow, Friday off and then – terror and excitement! – our first recognised event over the weekend. Lord, not what I will, but what Thou wilt!
To spend the rest of my day in awesomeness, then it was off to the Nooitgedachter stud to ride last year’s National Champion Stallion. We shall call him the Storm Horse, because he is. 15.3hh of glorious, graceful, grey beauty, and him and I have an inexplicable connection born out of unlikely love. The Mutterer actually trained him, but the Storm Horse was about as easy to train as a runaway tornado and the two of them had a lot of arguments. The Storm Horse did not appreciate it when the Mutterer won, and is a suspicious sort of a horse anyway, so now he hates the Mutterer. Then, after all his hard work and blood and sweat, in I waltz, tiny and feminine and oh so unthreatening, and the Storm Horse and I fell in love. Through no skill of my own, I have become the Storm Horse’s favourite person. When the Mutterer catches him, he snorts, strikes and runs away. When he hears my voice, he comes over and elegantly waits for me to pat him. As for me? I’m terrified of all big stallions. I am thrilled beyond all fear to ride the Storm Horse. God only understands why the two of us get along the way we do, but it’s the most incredible feeling. Glory to the King.
Last week Sunday, Magic and I had our second attempt at a show, by a miracle.
We did not exactly have the best ever preparation for it. Don’t get me wrong – he’d been a superstar all week. Still piling riser pads and extra numnahs under my Kent and Masters and riding him in that, I was sticking to Magic’s back easily. He was jumping everything in sight willingly (albeit messily). He didn’t even get a skin reaction to the shampoo I used to bath him with, which was a definite improvement on last time. In fact all was going swimmingly right up until Saturday morning, when the Mutterer’s white gelding had a refusal so embarrassingly random that facepalming just wasn’t enough; I facepoled instead. When I got up I thought I’d broken my face, but I got away with a bloody nose and scuff marks all over my face and left shoulder.
Once I’d ascertained that neither horse nor rider had been hurt, my first thought was for my confidence at the show. As we all know, I’m already not the most confident when it comes to jumping Magic, and crashing headlong into a jump hadn’t been pleasant. But what was I to do – scratch? No. We walk by faith, and not by sight. So I girded up my loins and went forth, not without considerable trepidation.
As always, the King carried me through, and that gave me the strength to help carry Magic through. He loaded and travelled like a star and got off the horsebox looking calm enough. I hacked him around an empty and awesome dressage arena (MIRRORS. MUST HAVE MIRRORS), expected him to spook at the random emu that was wandering around, nearly jumped out of my skin when he spooked at a feed bin instead, and forgot all about yesterday. Partially because I was too busy reciting Psalm 23 to myself, and partially because I couldn’t stop staring at my gorgeous horse in the mirrors. Seriously, guys. MIRRORS.
He was stunning. Just a bit strong in the hand, maybe, but no disasters. No attempts to buck when I asked him for a canter – in fact, as usual, he felt better than normal because of the lovely arena surface. We headed up to the warmup arena and as we approached the first little cross-rail my stomach fell into my boots, but I planted my hands in his mane and locked my trembling legs around him and he jumped. No facepoling happened, so after that I was fine. We were both fine. In fact, we were both loving it. There was a 70cm vertical set up in the warmup and after a while we started jumping that as well, which was more fun and completely not terrifying.
Then it was time for our class and dear Rain, without whom horse shows would be rather more difficult, whisked us off to the jumping arena, wiped my boots and helpfully reminded me that the horse was supposed to accompany me over the jump instead of letting me take the leap solo.
I rode him into the arena and made an immediate beeline for the Scary Corner. It is apparently law that all show arenas must have a Scary Corner, which is usually in shade and used as a storage area for haphazard piles of jumping equipment and (heaven forbid) a groom waiting to pick the jumps back up. According to many horses, Scary Corners are the most terrifying black holes of this universe. It is unhelpful that Murphy’s Law dictates that the most frightening jump on course usually has to be jumped towards the aforementioned dreaded dragon lair. Magic, however, plodded past the Scary Corner at a free walk without turning a hair, dissipating a considerable amount of my nerves. He did startle a little at the speakers that were playing in the other corner of the arena, but then the bell rang and we were trotting through the start and Magic said, “CROSSRAILS I LOVE CROSSRAILS” and jumped everything with enthusiasm.
I used the strategy that seems to work best, for Magic; trot the first jump, legs on lightly, but try not to make too big of a fuss and keep the hands super soft. Only canter if he offers it; if we trot all the way round, no problems. Magic landed over the first 40cm cross in the canter so I let him cruise around at a ploddy dressage canter, popping over everything bravely, sort of schooling him as I made him bend the right way and stay on the right lead because he was confident and attentive. We weren’t quick, but we were straight, accurate, enthusiastic, and forward. I’ll take it.
The classes were very small and the jumps inviting, so there were few mishaps and not a lot of time to hang out between rounds. I shot down to the warmup to scramble over a little oxer and some slightly bigger jumps (still real lead-rein fences, though) before going back up to the arena and starting on the slightly twisty 50cm course. I chose a shorter line to the second jump than most people, but it was an easy sort of circle line and the jump was an inviting little cross so the risk turned out not to be a risk at all and Magic had no trouble with it. He had a look at the sixth jump, which was an oxer, but I talked to him and kept my legs on and over he went. We were resoundingly clear, so we went through to the jump-off.
Immediately, the first jump became a little oxer and my blood pressure went up for no reason other than that I suck at oxers and I suck at jump-offs and I was terrified we were going to stop so obviously as Magic reached it he realised that I was terrified, so he stopped. Luckily, I didn’t fall off, but unluckily he sort of staggered forward and fell/walked through the jump, demolishing it. One of the poles must have rapped his leg a little because he threw his head in the air and screamed that all four his legs were irreparably broken. One of the ground crew cried, “Oh no! Jump off – your horse is dead lame!”
I have probably forever written my name amongst the animal abusers in that particular stable’s history books, because I said, “Oh, he’s just a drama queen” and walked him in a little circle until he took a deep breath and the jump had been rebuilt, when I asked him for a trot and he was as sound as a brass bell. (The foot wasn’t even swollen the next morning, don’t worry.) I was timid, so he stopped again and we were eliminated (do two stops at one jump count as an elimination?), but they very kindly allowed us to finish the course and took away the back bar of the oxer to make it a bit more inviting. At which point I relaxed, so Magic relaxed and we cantered around the course without batting an eyelid.
I was extremely proud of Magic for recovering from our mistake. Six months ago he would have had a total meltdown and we would have been fighting to get over trotting poles for the next week. But as soon as that particular oxer was behind him, he left it in the past, looked up at the next jump and charged. For that reason, I was happy not to scratch from the 60cm.
It turns out that it was a good choice. The first jump was the dread oxer we had crashed through, but I planted my hands in the mane and said “The Lord is my Shepherd!” as we approached it and he jumped it like it was the Hickstead Derby. We went clear, resoundingly and perfectly clear as I didn’t have to kick once; he took me to the jumps, snorting in glee and thoroughly enjoying himself. We were absolutely dead last since it was a speed and precision class and we cantered around like it was a Sunday hack, but I fell on his neck hugging him as we left the arena. I couldn’t have been happier.
Dear, daft, amazing Magic. We fight the same battles, him and I – so many of our fears and weaknesses are the same. How blessed am I to stand before nearly sixteen hands of dapple-grey grace and fire and power, and to see in his eyes a kindred spirit. Glory to the King.