Oh, Nell. It’s just kind of unfair to have a horse like Nell in your life.
You sit down to look at her goals and sort of go, “Well…” because this horse is schooling and showing higher level Novice, and she just turned five. For the record, in our country, that’s kind of on track for a top level prospect. It’s the level required of five-year-olds in our young horse performance series… so I entered it.
Honestly when I got the schedule I kind of regretted the idea (apparently big names also like young horse series, like WEG kind of big names) but hey, the mare can do the test – has done the test at shows multiple times – so why not? She will be one little grey Nooitie in a whole class of Friesians and Warmbloods, she’ll at least draw some attention to the breed.
Nell’s goals are also a little wobbly because she’s not mine. Her owner has every right to decide at the end of the year that she has done quite well enough, and then take her back and breed glorious little dressage Nooities. Still, if it’s his will (and God’s will) the judges who’ve seen the horse believe she could go to a pretty high level, so we’re going to work towards that. It might not happen… but if it does, we’ll be ready to go and do it.
Nell’s 2016 Goals
Qualify for the Provincials at the Young Horse Performance Series. All we need here is to complete at two of the three qualifiers. The tests will increase in difficulty within the Novice level as the series go on, but I’m not too worried about that – she’s already entered for Novice 4 and 5 at the Nooities’ dressage this weekend, so she can deal with it. IF she keeps her brain in her pretty head, she should be able to do this.
Compete, graded, at the higher Novice tests. Getting our points for Elementary would be ideal, but that’ll also depend on our show calendar for the year. I’d like to get at least a few points, so we have to score 55% or above.
Go to a jumping training show at a low level. Nell’s not just an awesome dressage diva – the little lady has a careful but confident jump, too. She’s no showjumper, but my ultimate jumping goal with her would be to do working hunter at next Horse of the Year, too. Because Nooities rock the versatility thing.
School lower level Elementary successfully. We have most of the required moves – they just need polishing. The 2017 goal would be to compete in Elementary, starting with the 6-year-old classes at YHPS.
Compete in any available Nooitgedachter shows. Nell needs some more mileage before she’s going to be a winning show horse under saddle, but she’s proven that she can kick butt in hand already.
Most of Nellie’s goals this year are going to be about reinforcing, polishing, and improving on training she already has. I’m taking off the pressure in terms of learning the higher level movements quickly, unless she gets bored or offers them; she’s learning very fast, and the last thing we want to do is cook this promising brain and body. If we’re careful about how we lay this foundation, it’ll stand us in good stead through the levels.
It’s so easy to feel completely stuck in a rut with Magic. Easy to look at how far we have to go instead of how far we’ve already come. To see how much more he can physically do, instead of how much he’s emotionally grown.
But these two pictures really struck me. The top one is from November 2014, at his first ever show. The bottom one is from the show in late May.
Obviously, the thing that really jumps out at me is his neck, because I have a thing for horse necks. In both pictures he has engaged his neck muscle, but in the bottom one he just has so much more of it. The dude actually has kind of a crest. It’s also easy to see why; while he’s going in a nice outline in both shots, in the top photo, you can see how strong of a contact I still have. I’m holding him there. In the bottom photo he’s holding himself up – his self carriage and muscles have developed together. The more he carries himself, the more he muscles up; and the more he muscles up the more he can carry himself.
The second thing is the balance; okay, so he is at different moments of his stride in both shots, but in the bottom photo he’s so much lighter in front. It’s also evident in my position. I don’t know if my position picks up his front or if his light forehand rocks me back into balance, but it’s still better. (It does help that in the second photo I’m in my beloved Kent and Masters instead of the horrible ancient starter kit saddle I used in the first shot).
We both look stronger throughout our bodies; you can see how much condition and muscle Magic has put on by how much further down his barrel my leg is in the first picture compared to the second. (Let’s try not to think about the fact that Exavior is destined to be almost two hands taller than Magic, and about how stupid I am going to look on him considering I look like a kid on Magic).
I have to admit that, much as I may feel like we’re going nowhere, Magic is a different horse. Not just in his body, and not as much in his training as I would like him to be or as he would be with somebody who was better at training competition horses than breaking in crossbred veld ponies for kids, but he has changed for the better. He’s still quirky, daft Magic, but he no longer believes that the whole world is out to get him.
“I’ve had him two years. I’ve gotten nowhere,” I told the Mutterer.
“Of course you have. Just think about it. How has he improved?”
I thought for a while. “Well… he’s not as much of a weed. His neck looks better. He’s muscled up.”
This did not impress the Mutterer. “Let me tell you what I see. I see a really nervous horse that… is still nervous.”
I glared. “Great. Thanks.”
“But now, he can work through the nervousness. He can face his fears and carry on because you taught him how. That’s a huge thing, quite aside from his physical appearance.”
I said nothing, but I got the feeling that it was important. More important, perhaps, to Magic anyway, than the height of jumps.
Lord Jesus, let me never forget that I ride my horse, not my discipline.
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.
Sunday the 24th dawned cold. There was one of those wispy, peachy sunrises that you only get in autumn, with a sky so pink it would be sickening if it wasn’t so pure and real and beautiful. The sun wasn’t up yet and I didn’t even want to know how cold it was. My fingers knew exactly how cold it was and needed a few minutes under Arwie’s blanket to thaw.
Arwen sniffed bemusedly at her own legs when I wrapped them up in her brand new travelling bandages, apparently unconcerned, but as soon as I bandaged her tail she knew something was up – and she liked it. She pawed unstoppably while I strapped on all her stuff and, once I finally let her out of her shelter, she charged for the horsebox snorting like a dragon and ready for anything. I flapped along behind like a tail on a kite. Loony beastie has definitely decided that outings are fun, anyway. She loaded okay with Dad and a lunge line behind her butt, and off we went. The drive, due to extreme mist over Nigel, didn’t go as planned and we whirled into the parking lot at President’s Park with only an hour before my class was due to start. In a mad panic, I only waited for the ‘rents to nail up the awesome wonderful portable paddock Dad made before stashing a very relaxed Arwie in it and charging off to walk the cross-country. (The paddock’s top strand is 1.80m high so she better not jump out of it or we’re moving up immediately).
Once I’d found my number and the startbox, I proceeded to walk the course at probably something close to the ideal speed of 420mpm and was still too late to walk the showjumping. At least xc didn’t look too bad; we had jumped almost everything before in lessons and the height wasn’t ridiculous. There were two white slanters, an ominous colourful house with a stuffed rat (mouse? kitten? I don’t even know) on top, flagged water, and a rather tricky little drop with a related distance to a shady log in a spooky corner. Apart from that, the 18-effort, 1740m course didn’t look too bad. I didn’t have too much time to worry because by the time I had Arwie saddled and walked up to the showjumping arena, I was desperate to watch some horses go because I hadn’t walked it. Arwen looked around like a seasoned old show horse and went to sleep.
Well, that didn’t last. When we reached the warmup, the ears went up and my daft little horse suddenly had her fireworks back. We bucked merrily during our first few canter transitions and after our first few jumps, but she felt wonderful. Joyously aiming kicks at any big horse in range, being prevented from landing them but taking pleasure in the thought anyway, Arwen charged around and jumped everything without really being asked. One thoroughbred nearly had his bottom autographed by Arwen’s feet when he decided to panic and zoom backwards towards us, but I was quick with my crop and prevented the disaster by a hairsbreadth.
Still, the showjumping course looked massive compared to the tame little fences in the warmup. Almost everything seemed to be at max height, 75cm. There were plenty of oxers and a rather dreadful big yellow combination. I stood beside Arwie in a quiet corner of the warmup and stared at it, hoping the fences might magically shrink if I stared hard enough.
Luckily, the Mutterer chose that moment to turn up, looking wonderfully calm amongst the other nasal-voiced, white-jodhpur’d, slightly panicky instructors.
“It’s huge!!!!” I bleated, gesticulating at the course.
“No it’s not, it’s tiny,” quoth the Mutterer. He patted Arwie’s neck. “She travel well?”
I launched into a recital of my horse’s amazingness, boosting my spirits immediately, probably exactly as the oracle planned. Then it was time to go; Mom was clutching Dad rather tightly, Dad looked unflapped, and the Mutterer most worryingly held my stirrup while I mounted, risking accidental decapitation. I wandered in and clung to my beast as she spooked at an old couple sitting by the rails, but she was mostly just full of fireworks and looking for something to do. The bell went, I prayed, “Not by power, nor by might but by Thy spirit, my King!” and we cantered through the start. I totally forgot to be nervous as Arwie’s donkey ears went up at the first fence. Target locked. It was an inviting vertical and she ate it up, and off we went galloping at number two only I had forgotten where it was and we nearly jumped number nine from the wrong side before I remembered and we floundered off and jumped it kind of sideways with my dear careful Arwie totally saving my bottom. Our little detour wasted some time, so I put my foot down and Arwen obliged by putting in probably her fastest round to date. She even tossed in her flying changes. The only hiccup was when I fluffed the tight right-hand turn to number ten, taking it miles too tight and presenting poor Arwen at the final oxer from the most ridiculous angle. She put up her knees and jumped it for me anyway, but just rolled the pole down with her back feet. The whole crowd groaned at my awfulness, as did I, but I couldn’t have been happier with that insane little mare. She didn’t even think of stopping.
The ‘rents were delighted; the Mutterer was, to all appearances, a stone pillar, but at least a patient one. Arwen got to relax in her personal paddock, sneering arrogantly at all the horses that had to graze on the end of lead reins, for half an hour. I ate chocolate and worried aloud about the drop, the water, the white slanters, and the stuffed rat/mouse/piece of course builder sadism. Then I worried about everything else because I always mess up at the innocuous jumps.
We only had an hour between showjumping and cross-country, and Arwen was rather too settled when we went up to the warmup. She was responsive and keen and jumping very carefully, but not the firebreathing creature she had been before Le Godimo’s xc. Still, it was hot and she’d just jumped a fast round, so it was only to be expected. Mom and Dad enjoyed watching the other horses go while the Mutterer was giving Mom a holiday from her usual job of reminding me to drink Coke and breathe. And then “Number twenty, on standby”, and we were in the startbox feeling that addictive adrenalin rush as the starter counted down and shouted “Go!” and I yelled “Go!” and clapped my heels into Arwen a bit over-enthusiastically. She blasted off and we thundered over the first log and onto the wide open course thrown out in front of us like a beckoning adventure. Number two was at the end of a long stretch. I planted my hands in the mane and Arwen accelerated, ears pricked up in excitement.
I love cross-country. The course is so big and open and alone, and out there it’s easy for the world to slip away until it’s just my amazing God, my beloved horse, and my somewhat squeaky self. And speed. Arwen had a wobble when we approached number two, but I kicked on and over she went. Number three went by with nothing but a mild spook at the terrifying jump judge and we ran at number four, which was on top of a hill next to a CIC** skinny about as tall as we were. Arwen shied violently at the skinny and we very nearly had a stop, but I clapped my legs on and fiercely shouted, “The Lord is my Shepherd!” and we sort of clambered over. Number five, a white slanter, was unexpectedly easy.
Arwen started to lose some steam as we galloped up and down the uneven terrain towards number six. Number six is a curved log set on a sharp downhill – a drop, really – and right in the spookiest corner of the Park. On one side is the main road, on the other is a wall, on the next is a tree and most inconveniently there was a bunch of judges hiding in a bush nearby. I flapped my arms and legs and Arwen sort of half-stopped and then plopped over. I was basically on her neck and clung on shouting “UP!” and trying to get back into the saddle, so it was a mercy she didn’t buck or do anything stupid, just saved my sorry butt over number seven and charged on.
There was a long open stretch through the trees to number eight and I urged her to a good clip, galloping along the wall through the shadows. Number eight was a sneaky little log in the shade and you had to make a sharp right-hand turn to get to it; she was a bit startled when it jumped out of the bush at her, but jumped and galloped straight on to number nine, a straw bale oxer. She was simply horrified by the sight of this object, but she jumped for me anyway and now she really started to carry me forward and eat up the ground. We jumped number ten right out of our stride and then started on the loooong gallop to number eleven. I had no idea if we’d collected penalties for number six or what our time was, but I was determined to finish well, and so it seemed was Arwen. She stretched out her little legs and flew. Number eleven she took confidently, then came number twelve, a log over some rocks. It had caused problems for many of the other riders and horses, but Arwen just slowed down, had a look and popped over. Number thirteen, a rail over a little natural ditch, didn’t give us a moment’s pause and on we went. Number fourteen, a burnt log, just flew by. She was tiring now but still had plenty of try in her, although I heard her give number fifteen a rub with her back fetlocks.
Nearly home and we were blasting, galloping down the bank, across the road, effortlessly over white number sixteen and there was the water. I would have been nervous if there had been time; instead I kicked on and shouted encouragement. Arwen wriggled, slowed to a trot, and then trotted through like it was no big deal.
Only the scary house was left now. We got our canter back and went up a big mound thing and galloped down the other side and there it was, a whole line of creepy white houses. Arwen’s eyes came out on stalks, but luckily ours was the smallest one. I think she may actually have come to a halt for a split second in front of the house, staring in horror at the rat/mouse/example of the sadism of course designers, but put up her knees and popped over. We blasted through the finish both out of breath and exhilarated. She was tired but when we came through the finish, she locked her ears back onto number one as if she wanted to go again.
I was speechless, quite possibly because I had run out of breath, when we returned to our ground crew; Mom was ever so slightly green around the gills but looked thrilled, Dad was appropriately chuffed and the Mutterer was still a stone pillar but this time one that was permitting itself a small note of pride. I had no idea what my time was and no idea if we had incurred any jump penalties; we had never turned out and never really stopped, but I knew there were a few fences where we might technically have come to a halt for a brief instant. I think they are a little lenient at Ev70, though, so I had some hope.
Less hope than I should have had, as it turns out; we were already home when I checked the results and found that brave little Arwen had come eighth in a class of thirty-one. We were soundly in the ribbons, only I hadn’t stayed to fetch mine. In the showjumping we didn’t have a single time penalty, just the four penalties for that pole. And in the cross country? Clear on jumps and 0.4 time penalties. 0.4! Little mare must have really floored it, especially considering most of our jumps were slow and sticky and we trotted through the water. On the long stretches she made up plenty of time. If I hadn’t had that real rider-error pole down, we would have been third overall in a big class with its fair share of big horses and good riders.
Go Arwen go. Glory glory glory to my beloved, amazing Creator God, Who made people and horses and then brought them together. And that’s not even a blip on the radar compared to all else that He has done!
With our next horse trial on the horizon, I’m feeling confident, in a way. I say “in a way” because I feel really confident, but before our previous successes I have been dead nervous, so I feel nervous because I’m not feeling nervous, if that makes any sense whatsoever. I have given up on trying to understand my own psychology.
Arwen, however, has given me not a scrap of reason to doubt her. There will be no stressage at this event (hooray!) so we don’t have to worry about the sandbox. We’ve been putting in brisk workouts around the neighbour’s fields; following her clip Arwen magically appears twenty times fitter and has been burning up the “track”. She comes out to work every day with bucketfuls of enthusiasm and energy; her workouts seem to steady her more than tire her out and after 45 minutes mostly spent hand-galloping, she’ll have covered at least 6km and still have plenty left in the tank.
Showjumping has also been going very well. At the beginning of April we blundered off to a training show (which never even made it into the blog), and blasted around the 60cm, 70cm and 80cm classes. 60cm was a speed trial, so I totally wrote it off knowing that I go around a showjumping course at the approximate speed of a continental drift, and we ended up coming third on top of a class of enormous thoroughbreds. We went double clear in the 70cm and had the last pole down in the 80cm, which I wasn’t upset about because I got her a terrible distance to it and she was exhausted anyways. This was pre-clip and it was a brutally hot day. So we know that she can jump an 80cm course without fuss.
At home we’ve been jumping a little course that I set up to challenge us. It starts with a vertical of around 1.00m, followed by a turn to a skinny about 65cm high (she takes the skinny in her stride, to my amazement), then a little bank up to an 85cm vertical, then a bank down and a turn to a 95cm parallel oxer. She had a few stops at the two bigger fences, but mostly this is rider error. 1.00m is reaching the end of the little mare’s scope and I can’t expect her to jump that sort of thing when I’m not doing my job. She saves my butt enough over the little jumps.
Cautiously confident over here; rest assured that walking the cross-country will probably dissolve me back into a suitable state of pressurised anxiety.
Magic has also been super. He managed to injure himself on Friday, another of his mysterious impossible idiotic injuries; some kind of an impact right above the hock on his inner left thigh, leaving a swelling and a graze. Dweeb. By Monday it was fine, though, so we went back to work. We jumped the same course as Arwen, except without the skinny and with everything down to about 60cm. He was his usual: honest as the day, excellent as long as I let go of his face. I think I should start singing “Let it Go” while I ride him. Unfortunately…
I’m also deeply puzzled as to Magic and the French link snaffle. Not because Magic fights the snaffle; that’s pretty normal. But for all the world Magic behaves as if the dear little copper-jointed French link is twenty times harder than his big nasty Kimberwick. He hides behind it, he overreacts to downward transitions in it, and he fights it every step in the canter, alternating violent head-throwing with coming up behind the bit. He’s even worse with the single joint and his teeth are up to date. Then with the Kimberwick he puts his little nose down and goes confidently into the contact. Lunatic. I know he hates the bit to touch his palate, so maybe he hates it to touch his tongue too and the Kimberwick’s port suits him. Either way, he detests dressage anyway, so for now the Kimberwick it is.
Further news is fairly limited, especially as it is too late for my brain to retrieve any of it. Vastrap jumped the same course as Magic like a superstar; one day when I have the courage I’ll have to do a power jump with him because I’ve seen him overjump 1.10m by miles – he’s got quite a pop in him. Baby Thun was much less stupid during his flatwork session yesterday than last time and even slid for me, on my poor footing no less. Exavior is being adorkable and growing like a weed. Skye continues to bully and babysit him, despite now standing almost a full hand shorter than him. The Mutterer’s chestnut mare has gone to her overjoyed new home. The little roan pony bucked me off rather painfully onto my left buttock, which now bears an impressive bruise; the impressive bruises are always somewhere that you can’t show off.
To bed with this exhausted equestrienne. Praise God for full days and good horses.