Sunlands Training Dressage

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.

AropNia-Nell3I 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.

How is she so light in the front? How??
How is she so light in the front? How??

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.

Arwen1I 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.

We can't lengthen, but boy can we stretch!
We can’t do lengthenings, but boy can we stretch!

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.

Penbritte Training Show

Photos by Monica Delport

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?).

<3 Nooitie faces
❤ Nooitie faces

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.

ZOOM!
ZOOM!

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.

<3

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.

IT'S THE GRAND PRIX MUST LEAP (because if you've got it, flaunt it!)
IT’S THE GRAND PRIX MUST LEAP (because if you’ve got it, flaunt it!)

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.

Our one perfect moment
Our one perfect moment

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).

Yes we can fly
Yes we can fly

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.

Okay so scope isn't a problem right now
Okay so scope isn’t a problem right now

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.

Magic10

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!”

The photographer caught this moment on camera. We shall call this picture "The Prayer"
The photographer caught this moment on camera. We shall call this picture “The Prayer”

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.

Together <3
Together ❤

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.

Wings are for jumps, because we don't need them
Wings are for jumps, because we don’t need them

Springs Horse Trials One-Day

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.

Scary xc jump number five
Scary xc jump number five

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.

<3

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!

Bring It, Springs!

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.

Much love for this fat beast
Much love for this fat beast

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.

Take away this nasty evil snaffle, Mom
Take away this nasty evil snaffle, Mom

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.

Except for the time that I faceplanted off Vastrap
Except for the time that I faceplanted off Vastrap

To bed with this exhausted equestrienne. Praise God for full days and good horses.

Glory to the King.

FCEBH: Satin for the Queen

What is your favorite ribbon / prize / award that you’ve won in relation to horses? Is there a story behind it? Or was it a bucket list prize you’d been chasing for ages? It doesn’t have to be from a traditional horse show, and ribbons that are the favorite bc they are the prettiest are just as awesome as awards with a great story. 

My favourite ribbon is probably Arwen’s first place in her first dressage test, not only because it was one of my few actual successes in terms of placings, but also because it took quite an effort to even get in the dressage arena to do the test. We had just been eliminated from the 80cm class for having three stops by the second fence, so we both had to dig pretty deep to forgive one another and get back in harmony. In the end we just settled back into each other and rode the test as well as we’d ever ridden it, barring one botched transition.

So proud
So proud

But come to think of it, there is one another ribbon that comes in a very close second, and that’s the first ribbon I ever won on my own horse. It was almost six years ago, I was twelve years old and blissfully unaware of my extreme ignorance, and the local riding school was holding a gymkhana. We borrowed somebody’s trailer and Skye, despite not having seen a trailer for about six years, stepped right into it.

It was chaos, as the local gymkhanas usually are. Skye was a woolly mammoth and I gave up on trying to get the dust out of her hair, making up for it by plaiting a bunch of red ribbons into her mane. (Poor Skye has put up with a lot). I strapped on my old starter kit saddle, which I still use for backing baby horses because now I don’t care if they fall on it, and scrambled on. The arrangement was somewhat haphazard; we all warmed up together in a 20m lunging ring, during which Skye had every right to kick the other horses and most graciously did not. The instructor bellowed at me through her megaphone when I dared to ask my horse to trot, telling me I was going to make her tired before I even got into the ring.

Skye, albeit unendingly trustworthy and entirely bombproof, had nearly no schooling. In fact, horses that come to me for 8 weeks’ backing are probably better schooled when they leave than she was then. She could walk and trot and canter and stop and turn and jump little jumps, and that was it. Bending was optional, going on the bit was a rare bonus, and cantering on the correct lead was totally out of the question. We were both, however, totally fearless, and there was also the matter of the riding school horses’ schooling – there wasn’t any. Skye looked like a graded dressage horse. We blasted through the gymkhana course and came second in the jumping, having gone clear.

The walk-and-canter race was our great moment of triumph. It was simple enough; we all lined up at one end of the field, galloped across to the other side, turned around and walked back. If you broke into a trot you had to make a circle. The first one across the finish line was obviously the winner. Skye and I won by half the length of the field for the simple reason that when we finished the gallop we were the only ones who could stop and turn around immediately instead of randomly wandering off towards the bottom of the field. Also because Skye walks like a steam train when she’s on a mission.

The old charger deserves a medal. She got a ribbon with “clear round” on it, but in my eyes, it might as well have been the 554 red roses awarded to the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

In jodhs for a show

Looky, Another Post!

What can I say, I’m actually a cooler blogger when I have a little extra time on my hands.

I got done studying early today because I gave up on English (exam is tomorrow, tutor has already told me to rewrite the exam in November, super promising, right?) so I had a subject less to slog through. In all seriousness, I did not give up on English, I merely decided that cramming is not my style. Besides, it’s English. What’s to cram? One day’s practice is not going to solve my apparent suckiness, although don’t tell my numerous editors that I suck at English because apparently they did not receive the memo and accept my work anyway.

Magic was first up, and seeing as he burnt quite a lot of energy yesterday, I just lunged him for a few minutes before getting on. He was excellent and calm to lunge, so I expected him to be just fine. He stood like a saint for me to get on and then walked quite calmly into the arena, right up until the point where we passed some rather high khakibos (brush, to non-South Africans) and a tiny sparrow chose that moment to come whirring out of it. Whereupon Magic entirely lost his mind and leapt about three metres into the air. When he touched down I was luckily ready for more freaking out because he did it again, flailing his legs and face in all directions. He was typical Magic, though – no bucking, no shying, nothing dirty, just a total mental meltdown while I sat there like:

until he returned to earth and stood there quivering. Poor guy. Life is so hard on him sometimes. I patted his neck and told him that he was okay, and lo and behold, he believed me. Our relationship truly has improved vastly; neither of us were extraordinarily rattled, and we put it behind us and continued the session calmly, with only one more terrified leap-flail until Magic went to work and totally forgot about the flesh-eating giant mutant monster sparrow. He was, after that, truly excellent. He didn’t buck, he didn’t poke out his nose, and when we jumped a little teeny cross he didn’t turn a hair. I have to seriously work on trusting him to the jumps, though. He doesn’t deserve me hanging onto his face. He’s got this.

Thunder hadn’t been ridden for three weeks due to shows, flu, and the general chaos that my life had dissolved into, so for the first time in many months I threw him on the lunge for a few minutes. It was amazing to see how much stronger he’s become. He used to canter like a real baby in the ring, haphazardly, occasionally disuniting and sometimes crashing into the sides for lack of balance. Today he picked the right lead and cruised around on a little circle with apparently no effort.

Thunder2
Sorry, I know my lens was grubby

Riding was a different story. The Bush of Killer Sparrows was apparently deadly to Thunny as well, so he spooked violently every time we passed. Same story – nothing dirty, just his standard spin-run maneovre. I was unimpressed with him because it’s unlike him to be quite that stupid for quite that long over a relatively minor spooky thing, but I put it down to vast amounts of excess energy. We didn’t do much apart from circle around and around in the scary end until he gave me one relaxed walk circle on a loose rein. His lope was all over the place, way more than it has been recently, but he did spin and rein back very nicely for me.

Arwen is entered into her next event (again, an unaffiliated class at a recognised event) in the end of May. I’m not sure whether to be happy or worried. Happy because it’s at President’s Park over fences that she’s jumped before, so the spook factor should be minimised and travelling shouldn’t be a problem.  Happy because it’s a one-day, so we don’t have to spend the night in a stable again. Worried because it’s a one-day, so poor Arwie will have to do showjumping and cross-country on one day. Fitness is obviously quite a priority, so we went for a ride around the neighbour’s racetrack maize fields. I’m not allowed off property without my trusty guard dog, Blizzard, who is quite unfit, so we kept it down to 6km and had a couple of walk breaks, but we definitely burnt some energy. Currently we’re working on trying to find a variety of different types of canter – obviously our working canter, then a showjumping/medium canter, a highly collected and bouncy “changes canter”, a big travelling hand-gallop that I’m trying to make just over 25kph (440mpm), and of course our full gallop. Always fun to be going at speed on a fit horse.

Landscape1
That horizon calls Arwen’s name

The Mutterer has sent me a new mare to school after I sold his beautiful roan gelding to an awesome family. The little mare has already been sold but was out of work for a while so she’s just getting a quick tune-up. She is a rock solid, totally unflappable ride, her only flaw being some laziness, which the dressage whip should fix pretty fast.

Finally, I tossed Skye’s bridle on and took her majesty for a little walking hack. She enjoyed it tremendously, jogging and prancing all the way home whilst the human on her back wittered something about arthritic knees – she wasn’t really listening. Oh, old warrior queen. Afterwards I did milk deliveries with bareback butt, but I owe her the world. She is so happy and bright and indomitable and wonderful.

Glory to the amazing King.

<3

Looking Unto Jesus

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,

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.

Magic8

Imageless Wednesday

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.

I’m 18 and Arwen is Fitter

So much to say, so little time (and energy). I must, in advance, apologise for the lack of photos. Cyclone ate my phone. No, as in really, she ruined it completely. I’m using a spare, but the front camera is broken, so I have to use a real camera to take pictures like it’s 1997.

Speaking of 1997, on this day 18 years ago my parents brought six pounds of screaming infant into the world, blissfully unaware of the fact that eighteen years later I would be a horsy kid and they would be feeding my five horses. Soon to be six horses. God has this habit of dropping the best horses directly in my lap, and I think He has done it yet again in the form of my absolute dream broodmare, a young thoroughbred by the name of Magic Lady. More detail on her later, but today my gift from Him was to ride her for the first time. She’s not officially mine yet, but as soon as possible, she will be. She may just be the quietest thoroughbred I’ve ever seen and she moves like a dancer. If I had been grinning any harder, the top of my head would have come off. Watch this space.

Arwen and I have been drilling fitness for the past two weeks, and it’s starting to pay off slowly now. Our event is in three weeks and, while it’s not hectic (the cross-country is under a mile long at 440mpm and the jumps are around 2′), in an ideal world it would be nice to make the ideal time. 440mpm feels awfully fast when you realise that there has to be jumps in it. I’ve been tracking us with the My Tracks app to see where we stand, though, and I think we’re doing all right. I have yet to sprint the full 1600m to see how fast we can make it even without jumps, but we’ve clocked speeds of over 30kph up a hill, which was comfortable and in control. I’m not awfully worried about the jumping or the dressage. As long as she doesn’t spook at the poles or dressage letters, we should survive.

We talked about hills
We talked about hills

Magic is being simply a star. On the Mutterer’s instructions, I put a riser pad under my Kent and Masters, added an extra-thick numnah and rode him like that a few times and the difference has been amazing. I feel much more in contact with him and much more in balance; the difference was so big that I picked all the jumps up to 80-85cm and we jumped them just fine. He even overjumped – not badly – once and my lower legs didn’t even swing back. The hunt is on for a second-hand, high-quality saddle for Magic, since the poor dude is still wearing an el cheapo, hand-me-down saddle that I’ve had for eleven years. His dressage is also doing extremely well. We have been working on canter lengthenings, leg-yields in walk and trot, simple changes (he nails them every time), correct frame at the canter and stretching down in the trot. Progress on all of them, although stretching down is still kind of an epic fail.

Baby Thunder is being amazing. I recently led an outride on him, with my sister on the Dragonbeast (Flare) and her Valentine on Arwen (who ate grass the whole way). He hadn’t been taken out for a while and was a little hyper, so I was a bit worried – luckily the mares are arrogant enough that nobody can influence them a whole lot. In the end, Baby Thun was the most well-behaved of the bunch. We had one hairy moment when our neighbour started target shooting while we were mid-canter; Flare, understandably, took off like a shot and passed Thunder and I. I thought that we were about to have a disaster, but when I sat back and whoaed, Thun slammed on the brakes and stopped dead. Flare halted after a stride or two and disaster was entirely averted thanks to Baby Thun and his miracle obedience. He is still spooky, sometimes I can feel him shake under me, but come what may he does what I ask him to because he’s amazing.

Exavior is coming along fine. We’re working on his advanced halter work, since I have a habit of halter training all my horses to the point where they could do quite well in an in-hand showing class. He does like to dawdle around behind me and has a lazy habit of wanting to stop when he’s led away from his friends/food/water/current favourite spot, but even mid-tantrum he has yet to really react violently to anything. We’ve done some yielding of the shoulder and quarters which he picked up on quite fast, and he also drops his head down when I put pressure on his poll either with my palm or by pulling on his halter. Getting him to walk at my shoulder instead of behind me, and then trotting up in any direction, is the next hurdle. I love him to bits; his personality is really starting to show now and I like what I see.

The old charger is doing fantastically well and is enjoying life as reigning queen of all she surveys. She is her stubborn, highly opinionated, and extraordinarily kind self, and she makes everyone around her happier and stronger and braver.

Forgive me for my incoherence; I beg sleep deprivation. My bed is calling my name. Grace and peace to all of you, and praise the Lord for great horses.

TOABH: Our Wildest Dreams

Hallelujah for blog hop hosts. I had thought of several awesome ideas, mostly about the horses’ dentist visit on Monday, but it’s late, I’m tired, and everyone had kind of a bad day (suffice it to say, it stinks when anyone gets hurt at work, and it happens so quickly). However, no lasting harm has been done, so without further ado, my response to the wonderful Beka’s latest blog hop:

Let’s pretend that financial restrictions don’t exist and logistics isn’t a nightmare.  If you could do anything with your Ponykins, what would you do?

Arwen. I’m at least the third person to say this, but drag hunting. Absolutely. I mean, what could be better than sprinting in a pack of speed-drunk horses, following a set of baying hounds, over solid obstacles? It’s not something I would easily do on any other horse, with the possible exception of everybody’s favourite pinto stallion, but on Arwen, it would be insanely fun. And she’d love it, too. And possibly kick everybody else, come to think of it, but it would still be a fantastic adventure. As a matter of fact, there is a Hunt led up in Kyalami, which is not very far; if we can find time and cash, it’s something we’re actually likely to try, preferably when Mom isn’t looking.

As an aside, I’d also love to breed her one day. If I could find myself a nice, tall, leggy stallion with high withers and a lot of pop, I think she could breed a pretty awesome little junior event horse. Or I’d go purist and put her to a Nooitgedachter stallion with a truly excellent head and good withers and breed a pure Nooitie show pony to die for.

Exavior. Since Mr. Spastic Giraffe is not yet showing the signs of being able to perform Valegro’s Grand Prix freestyle on the How To Train Your Dragon music someday (c’mon, a girl can dream), I’ll stick to my other favourite dream for him: teaching him to kneel down when I need to get on. He’s a hair under 14.3 now, but he’s going to be 16.3+, and I look like a dweeb trying to get on big horses (and have a passionate hatred of mounting blocks). Imagine pausing at the opening of the warmup ring, having him drop obediently to one knee, and mounting up. A vain little dream perhaps, but it does score on the coolness factor.

Magic. He’s a bit too old now, but I would have loved to put him in a free jumping competition for up-and-coming young sport horses. He has amazing technique – really, I’m not just being a proud horse mom, he jumps like a superstar – and absolutely loves it. I think he’d be able to relax, enjoy himself, show everyone what a stunning creature he really is, and probably kick some considerable butt while he was about it.

Skye. According to the dentist, Skye isn’t 16-18 years old, she’s 26. 26?! She didn’t get the memo. Anyway, seeing as long trail rides are kind of out for her in that case (she’s like 80 in horse years!), I would love for her retirement to be as a weanling mom. She would love it so much and be so happy bossing around and looking after the babies, and those young horses would grow up with a social security and authority that would impact their training for years and years to come. Every horse she’s been in a herd with has benefited from her strict but sympathetic leadership and it’s been reflected instantly in its interactions with humans.

Thunder. Two words: Cattle drive. He has the kind of personality that would love, and be lovable on, a week-long trip to herd cows. I mean, he’d get to be with people, cows, and horses all day – Thunder paradise. I would adore being in his saddle all day every day and sleeping out under the stars with my head pillowed on his saddle blanket and him grazing nearby. Of course, I doubt real cattle drives are quite as idyllic, but it’s an experience him and I would both absolutely love.

Their current favourite pastime: Cowpoking. Their stable shares a side with the exit of the milking parlour and these three hooligans stand here waiting for a cow to go by too slowly for their liking, upon which they poke it.
Their current favourite pastime: Cowpoking. Their shelter shares a side with the exit of the milking parlour and these hooligans stand here waiting for a cow to go by too slowly for their liking, upon which they poke it.