Le Godimo’s Last Bash Event

When we heard that the beloved Le Godimo Horse Trials was making its November 2015 event its last, we just had to go. This beautiful venue with its inviting courses and holiday feel, where everybody camps out beside the stables and horseboxes are universally slept in, had been a gem of the eventing community for many years. Our first event in March was held there and I was really sad to learn that we would only ever ride there twice.

We planned to make the last one a good one, at least. Erin came along to jump judge and plait (a skill which I vastly lack), Dad played the role of chauffer and camper extraordinaire, Arwen did the running and jumping and I held on. She travelled as well as she ever does and came out of the horsebox calm enough that with a net of teff hay to placate her we actually managed to put up her mane in a stallion plait in record time. I had her half saddled up when she shook the whole thing out with one enormous sneeze. Panic and chaos ensued; we had a nice warm up, discovered that dressage was running early, and dashed back to the box. Erin saved our butts by making nine of the most perfect little showing buttons you ever saw in your life and then proceeded to whine and moan about how awful they were while I shouted at her to shut up and video the test. Amid the madness, Dad also discovered that I had only printed half of said test, and memorised vague bits of it. With panicking humans in all directions, Arwen put her head down and went directly to work without a fuss. In sharp contrast to last Le Godimo, she was calm, collected and behaving herself impeccably. I rode gorgeously in the warmup and then arrived at the judge’s gazebo too early, got into trouble, made an idiot of myself and came down the centreline distracted, embarrassed and above all, crooked.

Arwen saved my sorry skin for me. Aimed directly for the no man’s land somewhere between H and C, she made herself as straight as a ruler and came down that centreline with her legs swinging with the rhythm and regularity of pendulums. I was as nervous as they come, so I leant forward, basically sat on my reins and stared at her neck with its perfect plaits. The longsuffering Arwen did her best and earned a slew of 6s and 7s, earning us a very respectable 49.8 penalties (66.9%; for you Americans it would have been a 33.1). It was enough for eighth. My nervousness cost us badly as I held her down in the canter, making her slop around like a riding school pony and getting us a whole bunch of 6s. Even if I had ridden like a human being I find it much harder to get dazzling scores in these simple eventing tests. Arwen’s paces are nothing to write home about, so a working trot from M to F is difficult to make into something really wow; her greatest strength is her extreme obedience, and that’s a lot easier to showcase in a complex transition  or a four-loop serpentine than in 6 walk steps over X.

Showjumping started a few hours later. I walked the course without much trepidation; it was much less complicated than at the last Le Godimo. Number 1 was a vertical, then a long bending line to number 2; a gradual loop led to number 3 and 4, a distance that walked for a long 5 strides. 4 was slightly intimidating – a max height oxer with a white lattice under it. Then one went straight up a massive bank, with two strides from the top of that to a simple vertical at 5. Large left turn to a max height oxer at 6, back down the bank to another vertical at 7, then slightly left to an oxer at 9. A fairly long gallop to the right to an ominous white oxer at 10. Stuff we can deal with.

Arwen warmed up dead lazy. In her defence, it was ridiculously hot and we were both dying. She crashed through the first warmup jump and then decided against that sort of thing and jumped the rest of them okay. She had a workaday sort of air in the show arena right up until we cantered up to fence 1 and she wiggled violently. I gave her a mighty pony kick and we made it. Most of the course was fairly similar; she wiggled at the first four jumps, I pony kicked and she cleared them. The five-stride line from 3 to 4 was just short enough to be really awkward for her; she did six and a half, scrambled over number four, and came up the bank to 5 in a dead sticky canter. She was as willing as they come to jump it but just didn’t have the impulsion and tapped the rail with a back hoof as she jumped, just rolling it out of the cup. After that she was game and forward and cleared everything well and quickly for no time penalties, just the 4 faults for that unlucky rail.

Arwen1

I was very happy with her. No stops at her first jumping competition since August. I blamed the wiggling on her long break, and the rail was really just rather unfortunate; she lost impulsion due to not fitting her strides in to number 4 and just couldn’t get it back up the bank to 5.

We spent the night merrily in the horsebox, with Arwen camped out in her huge electric paddock beside us. She vastly preferred this to a stable and stood there smugly in her rain sheet, telling all the damp warmbloods in their wood stables that they were losers. Dad had rigged up the box to become the lap of luxury for us humans too, including bunk stretchers and a portable shower. I am known for killing ex-boyfriends with crazy WWF moves (Mutterer’s actual words) in my sleep, so I speak for myself when I say I slept well; Erin, on the bottom bunk with me bucking and leaping around on the top one, would probably beg to differ.

The morning was lazy for Arwen and I; I fed and groomed at 5:30am and then hung around while Erin went off to jump judge. I joined her to watch some big horses jumping the EV90 log (PETRIFYING) and the EV80s jump their corner (doable, especially after the insane corner at Fourways). Afterwards I took Arwen for a little hack to stretch her legs, and ended up hanging on desperately to a little grey dragon that leapt and snorted around completely uncharacteristically. The long open stretch from the campsite to the show arenas at Le Godimo turns her little head for some reason; I decided to pick my battles and we went dragoning back, legs thoroughly stretched.

It was ridiculously hot by the time we head for the xc warmup around 11:30. Arwen warmed up amazing. She was jumping every fence she could see with a beautiful little bascule, taking me forward to every jump. We headed down to the startbox in high spirits and some nervousness. The countdown from 3 was just long enough to salute the King and then we were off towards number 1, an inviting little log with bales under it. Arwen had a good look and then popped over.

2 was set at almost a 90 degree angle to 1, but the stretch between them was long enough that it shouldn’t have been a problem except I failed to steer. I took it too wide, swung her into it too late and she ran sideways. Just before the fence I managed to get her back and boot her over it and she went quite willingly, but we did get a very costly 20 penalties for that. Arwen, violently ticked off, went bucking off into the bush, yelling YOU HAD ONE JOB, HUMAN, ONE JOB! I shortened my reins and steered properly this time into number 3, which she wiggled at, but jumped all right. The stretch from 3 to 4 took us right past the campsite, causing Arwen to neigh and shy melodramatically; 4 was the first max height fence with bales and flowers and other monsters on it and Arwen very nearly stopped, but I gave her a tap with the whip and rode her hard and she consented to take the leap.

At number 5, suddenly beast mode kicked back in. It was a welcoming pole stack and Arwen’s ears flicked forward and suddenly we were back in business. She sailed over that, then hoofed it down the long stretch to the oxer at 6. Nothing to worry about there; down the long straight to the log at 7, slight wiggle but nothing major, and then we were going down to pipe oxer at 8. Arwen jumped that just fabulously, straight out of a huge big gallop stride without turning a hair.

Number 9 terrified me out of my socks. It was a max height solid stone wall, easily the widest fence across the top. According to Erin, who was judging it, we both came down to it with eyes as big as saucers. I yelled, “The Lord is my Shepherd! JUMP ARWEN!” and gave her another bit of encouragement with my crop and Arwen tucked up her knees and jumped it. We landed galloping. Number 10 was another pole stack which Arwen just devoured; then there was a long stretch to 11 and I sat down on her and closed my legs around her and she took off like a fat grey rocket. I had to steady her a little for 11, another bale jump, and then sat up and squished her canter into a tight little ball for number 12. A simple rail with a ground line set slightly in front of it, it wasn’t bad in itself, but the path curved off directly next to it. The thing was begging for a run out. I kept my hands and eyes up and my honest mare didn’t even think about running out. She popped over without any fuss.

On the long uphill 12 to 13 we really opened up the throttle and came pounding down there at a goodly gallop. Number 13 was just scary enough to back her off a little and over she went. 14 was a beautiful little slanted grid which she took in her stride; 15 was a wide, max height A-frame that actually rode really really well. Number 16 was the log at the water, but when we came round the corner there were spectators all over the road. I bellowed, “HEY!”, not having the breath for much else; they scattered, Arwen spooked at them violently and my hat fell over my eyes. We jumped number 16 on feel alone because I definitely couldn’t see it. I jammed my hat back up just in time to see the water. We wiggled, but she didn’t go down to a walk and power trotted through like a good little mare.

Number 18 was this unassuming oxer, but it was a very awkward approach, and I was glad we were trotting to get straight enough for it. She broke to canter herself and took me over it. We came blasting over the finish with not a single time penalty, just the 20 for that dumb run-out at number 2.

Arwen2

The run-out cost us three places. We fell to 11th, which was still good enough for 2 points to start off our first season with the Gauteng Eventers Amateur League. I knew I had been taking something of a risk entering EV70 instead of EV60, but the cross-country was of a similar level as their EV60 event, so it turned out to be a very good move-up. We both had an absolute blast. Glory and praise and honour and gratitude to the King.

ZBHBH: Everyday Fail

For me, this title can probably be changed to “Fail Every Day”, but I digress…

I failed to see a distance. Magic failed to see a height.
I failed to see a distance. Magic failed to see a height.
Never mind the solid oxer! Photographers are TERRIFYING
Never mind the solid oxer! Photographers are TERRIFYING
How not to dressage. (Proof that Arwen is a saint. Don't worry, we don't do this thing anymore).
How not to dressage. (Proof that Arwen is a saint. Don’t worry, we don’t do this thing anymore).
Mane eating. Third photo from this show that demonstrates epic failure, but really, this was the awesomest show ever.
Mane eating. Third photo from this show that demonstrates epic failure, but really, this was the awesomest show ever.
Down banks: Where horses go horizontally forwards and riders go horizontally backwards.
Down banks: Where horses go horizontally forwards and riders go horizontally backwards.
How not to calm down a panicking baby horse
How not to calm down a panicking baby horse
Poor Magic
Poor Magic
I realise I failed at remembering the halt at the start of Prelim 3. Reed fails to stretch in his stretchy trot.
I realise I failed at remembering the halt at the start of Prelim 3. Reed fails to stretch in his stretchy trot.
That time I paid lots of money and called in lots of favours for a lesson with an international dressage instructor and then we shied at baboons for an hour.
That time I paid lots of money and called in lots of favours for a lesson with an international dressage instructor and then we shied at baboons for an hour.
I don't even know
I don’t even know
Staying in the warmup arena: FAIL.
Staying in the warmup arena: FAIL.
HATE SNAFFLE. SNAFFLE EVIL.
HATE SNAFFLE. SNAFFLE EVIL.
Um...
Um…

I love this blog hop! This must be hands down the funniest one hosted… and it’s given me an idea that may just have to become Riding on Water’s first blog hop.

Praise God for the horses that keep the best of us humble.

Halfway There: Goal Review

So according to the logbook I keep of all my rides/sessions, I finished 616 sessions so far in 2015. The majority of this will be riding, but there’s also a lot of lunging and long-lining and free jumping in there, and loading and halter training… and if I have to hold a particularly difficult horse for feet/teeth/whatever, I count that, too. Cuz I can.

That’s about 300-450 hours, which is cool but I can do better. So maybe in the next half I shall!

Anyway, wannabe brag material aside, here’s a review on some real goals:

Arwen

  • Get her fit – Gotcha! She’s lost a tad of fitness now, with being a little under the weather over the weekend and having a slow week due to rider having to be in two places at once, but nothing major. To finish with 0.4 time penalties on cross-country at Springs, especially considering how spooky she was to the jumps, she’s got to be fit enough for her level.
  • Build her upper neck muscle
  • School Elementary Medium successfully – We knew the dressage goal was going to be the slow and tedious one. Still hammering on this. Dressage ain’t a thing you can really force, so we’re not too panicky about achieving this – quality work over chasing levels.
  • Introduce scary-looking jumps – We can keep working on it, but we haven’t had a stop in competition since March. She’s getting much more courageous. We worked on solid skinnies and spooky tires at home.
  • Have her go through water more easily
  • Show graded in EV70 – We did AND IT ROCKED. Okay, so there was no dressage, but who’s counting? We were 8th in a class of 31. I count that as achieved.
Achievin'!
Achievin’!

Exavior

  • Complete advanced halter training
  • Leading over, through and under scary things – Busy on this, but not quite done with going over spooky stuff yet.
  • Leading away from his group – We’ve got this. No screaming, no jogging on the way back, no napping. I’ll take it.
  • Bathing – We got halfway with this and then winter came; we’ll resume in summer.
  • Desensitisation to noise and sight  – I flapped my jacket all over him. He went to sleep. Mission accomplished.
  • Loading preparation – work in progess; I still want him to go over a tarpaulin.
  • Loading
  • Injections – Some improvement, but we’re not there yet
  • Be gelded – Probably going to be postponed to next winter.
  • Lowering of the head when requested by pressure on the halter
  • Basic lunging with a halter and long line only – This is fine.
  • Leading from the right – I totally forgot this (it’s been a few years since I raised my own baby) but it’s a handy skill. Working on it now.
  • Wearing a roller
  • Lunging over poles
  • Preparation for clipping – I don’t have clippers yet so…
  • Wearing boots – All these lunging-related goals will most likely will be left for next year unless he suddenly matures a lot. Being a warmblood, he’s really not at the same level of physical or mental maturity as Thunny was when he was this age. I’m using my work with Thun as a baseline because it’s the best experience I have, but while Thunder knew all this by the end of his second year, Exavior isn’t going to get there. I want him to get on the horsebox, lead from the right, and walk a few nice laps on the lunge and then he’s going back out of work for a little while, maybe even to the end of the year, except for a couple of baths and talking about injections. No point in cooking a baby brain, and he can go out and horse for a while with no damage to his people skills.

Magic

  • Improve fitness
  • Tie up – He will still fly back if something truly upsets him, but he now stands tied really nicely for his grooming every morning and if he steps back and feels the pull, he yields to pressure instead of losing his brain. Honestly, few horses will stand tied under pressure, and the skill isn’t important enough in my situation to break even more halters and potentially necks. I’m okay with him now; daily tying for grooming will serve to improve this skill gently over time.
  • Load
  • School Novice – I’m going to call this one a win, for a horse that is probably never going to compete in stressage. I practiced Novice 1-3 on him over and over again preparation for Arwen’s show and he was really good, even with the French link on. Leg-yields are also almost there, after all, Novice only requires H-L level of leg-yields.
  • Survive a hack – We went to the end of the road and back without dying, but that doesn’t count as a hack, so I’m not crossing this out just yet.
  • Be confident at 80cm
  • Show graded at 70cm showjumping – We jumped a terrifying and wonderful clear at 70cm at a training show, so we’re making our way towards this! Our next show will be 50cm, 60cm and 70cm again, and then I’ll play it by ear as to whether we do 80cm next show. My criterion for going graded is single and simple: I want him to walk into the arena and know exactly what he is supposed to do. No point in paying the earth to take a spooky baby to a show and have three stops by the second jump. When he goes in and says to me, “OK, I know what we do now,” then we can move on to graded. The height does not seem to be an issue but he likes to halfway stop at his first few fences every show, so I want to eliminate that first.
Less of this babyness...
Less of this babyness…

Thunder

  • Fix his mild tendency to get in your space
  • Get him to stand dead still for a bath
  • Introduce flying changes – Ugh. I suck so much at flying changes. SO MUCH. I can’t get them out of Arwen yet, so poor Thun hasn’t even really been asked for them yet. Still striving for this but I won’t force him and make him worried.
  • Introduce rollbacks
  • Improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs – This is an ongoing goal but we’ve already made HUGE improvements. Like, we actually slide in our sliding stops! Spins are at least a little smoother if reeeeaaaally slow (Friesians don’t do fast until they spook), and rein backs are appropriate for his level, we get 10 steps in style and 15 sloppy steps if I beg.
  • Log as many trail miles as possible – Work in progress. I am getting so tired and bored with hacking alone, but it’s just a matter of making myself do it. As soon as I have a really cool hack horse again I’m sure my motivation will get better, but I need motivation to get that really cool hack horse ready!
O summer coat, when dost thou return?
O summer coat, when dost thou return?

All in all, I’m quite happy with our progress so far, mostly because not only have we been getting results but we’ve been improving relationships. And ultimately, that’s what horsemanship is all about. Glory to the King ❤

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.

10 New Ways to Fall Off a Horse

Eighteen months ago, I wrote the original “10 Ways to Fall Off a Horse“, which proved to be ridiculously popular for the simple reason that pain is hilarious.

However, in the year and a half since writing that post, I have tried out several other methods of eating dust and hence the list needs an extension. So without further ado, 10 new ways to fall off a horse, with maximum pain, precision, and extra helpings of embarrassment.

1. Have trouble jumping a relatively small double with your favouritest pony stallion ever. Eventually the Horse Mutterer charges in and orders you to do it properly this time. Fumble the first element, plant hands on pony’s neck for balance, and fall off when pony stops. Bonus points if you land in the six inches of open space between the pony and the jump.

He's normally an angel
He’s normally an angel

2. When practicing Western mounted games, decide to give the keyhole a shot. Mess up several times before your horse suddenly gets the idea, slides to a halt, spins around and shoots off for the timeline. Unfortunately, you simply continue going in a straight line and plough into the dirt. Bonus points if the horse gallops over the timeline and then stops, looks around in puzzlement, and starts heading back towards you demanding why you departed.

3. Ride a young mare that’s just been backed. She’s not in the greatest mood, so when you ask her to halt, she rears. Be totally unprepared for this and slide off backwards, landing on your feet directly behind her bottom with the reins still in your hands. Bonus points if it takes the shocked Mutterer several minutes to catch up with events and ask, “Hey, are you okay?”

4. Get sick. Take antibiotics. Go to work. Have an allergic reaction to the aforementioned antibiotics and faint under your horse’s feet before you can even climb on. Bonus points  if the Mutterer, whilst scraping you off the floor, quips, “You’re getting seriously talented. You can fall off a horse without being on it in the first place.”

Yeah this is why I fall a lot...
Yeah this is why I fall a lot…

5. Ride a beautiful, smart, slightly absentminded four-year-old horse in front of his owner, his owner’s mom, his owner’s sister, and your instructor. Ask him to canter whilst going round a corner, forgetting to get his attention first. The horse obliges but his legs go in different directions, cross, and trip him up. He lands on his knees and you land on your face. Bonus points if you had an identical fall off the same horse two years ago.

6. Saddle up and get onto a gorgeous 16.2hh imported warmblood stallion while his owner and the Mutterer are watching. Ask him to walk on. Cling on for dear life as he proceeds to rear and spin around simultaneously multiple times; eventually fly off over his hip and eat dirt after the third rear. Bonus points if the Mutterer says, “Well done!” with no trace of sarcasm. (I’m still not sure what for).

7. Tell the owner that the mare is getting a bit on the pregnant side for riding. Heed the owner and ride her anyway with the owner watching. She says that she doesn’t feel like riding because she is pregnant. You ignore her and ask her to canter anyway. She says that she DOESN’T FEEL LIKE RIDING and removes you with just one buck. Bonus points if the owner doesn’t notice.

8. Your mom’s friend enjoys watching you ride, so she comes over to watch you working a horse that your mom wants to buy. He is a lovely, solid, gentlemanly guy and you trust him a little bit too much. Approach a jump too fast, cease concentrating, and shoot up his neck when he stops. Shocked by this monkey attacking his ears, he ducks out from under you. Faceplant on the jump. Bonus points if you bleed spectacularly. Extra bonus points to the horse if your mom buys him anyway.

This was worth it, though
This was worth it, though

9. Go on a hack with a young mare that was abused in her past, accompanying a fairly novice client on a quiet-natured stallion you love, and a fairly relaxed client on a Friesian. All goes well until you turn for home and they both let their horses run away with them. Your horse loses her mind, dumps you in the dirt and bolts off down the main road, expensive dressage saddle and valuable unborn foal in tow. Bonus points if the farrier comes to rescue you before you walk all the way home. More bonus points if you’re covered in dirt and soot and have to go to art class directly thereafter.

And the ultimate fall of all time:

10. Go to a Western mounted games clinic on a wonderful little mare (the first time you ever take a client’s horse to an outing). She goes absolutely wonderfully. The last item is your favourite – barrel racing. Unfortunately, there is only one arena being used both for the patterns and for warming up, divided by the timeline. Noticing that one of the riders has extremely limited control over his zoomy horse, you park in a corner of the arena while he takes his turn, figuring that if you stand still he’ll see you and hopefully avoid you. You are wrong. He comes blasting over the timeline at a ridiculous speed, sees you at the last second and yanks his horse’s head around. The horse cannot possibly see where he is going and smashes into you at a full gallop. Horses and riders tumble over each other and all end up lying on the ground. This fall has so many bonus points it’s hard to list them: The other rider runs away to catch his horse before you can hit him (a wise move). Once the Mutterer has retrieved your horse and failed to persuade you not to ride again, you remount, to applause from 100% of the spectators. The other guy remounts to perfect silence. The Mutterer manages not to kill the other guy but pointedly never takes you to games again.

RuachPromise1
I think this is the “you-may-not-barrel-race-you-have-whiplash” argument (possibly the only one the Mutterer has ever lost)

Kindred Spirit

Magic8

Last week Sunday, Magic and I had our second attempt at a show, by a miracle.

We did not exactly have the best ever preparation for it. Don’t get me wrong – he’d been a superstar all week. Still piling riser pads and extra numnahs under my Kent and Masters and riding him in that, I was sticking to Magic’s back easily. He was jumping everything in sight willingly (albeit messily). He didn’t even get a skin reaction to the shampoo I used to bath him with, which was a definite improvement on last time. In fact all was going swimmingly right up until Saturday morning, when the Mutterer’s white gelding had a refusal so embarrassingly random that facepalming just wasn’t enough; I facepoled instead. When I got up I thought I’d broken my face, but I got away with a bloody nose and scuff marks all over my face and left shoulder.

My face is messed up. Magic's trying not to make me look bad by messing his face up, too.
My face is messed up. Magic’s trying not to make me look bad by messing his face up, too.

Once I’d ascertained that neither horse nor rider had been hurt, my first thought was for my confidence at the show. As we all know, I’m already not the most confident when it comes to jumping Magic, and crashing headlong into a jump hadn’t been pleasant. But what was I to do – scratch? No. We walk by faith, and not by sight. So I girded up my loins and went forth, not without considerable trepidation.

As always, the King carried me through, and that gave me the strength to help carry Magic through. He loaded and travelled like a star and got off the horsebox looking calm enough. I hacked him around an empty and awesome dressage arena (MIRRORS. MUST HAVE MIRRORS), expected him to spook at the random emu that was wandering around, nearly jumped out of my skin when he spooked at a feed bin instead, and forgot all about yesterday. Partially because I was too busy reciting Psalm 23 to myself, and partially because I couldn’t stop staring at my gorgeous horse in the mirrors. Seriously, guys. MIRRORS.

All smiles
All smiles

He was stunning. Just a bit strong in the hand, maybe, but no disasters. No attempts to buck when I asked him for a canter – in fact, as usual, he felt better than normal because of the lovely arena surface. We headed up to the warmup arena and as we approached the first little cross-rail my stomach fell into my boots, but I planted my hands in his mane and locked my trembling legs around him and he jumped. No facepoling happened, so after that I was fine. We were both fine. In fact, we were both loving it. There was a 70cm vertical set up in the warmup and after a while we started jumping that as well, which was more fun and completely not terrifying.

Love this
Love this

Then it was time for our class and dear Rain, without whom horse shows would be rather more difficult, whisked us off to the jumping arena, wiped my boots and helpfully reminded me that the horse was supposed to accompany me over the jump instead of letting me take the leap solo.

I rode him into the arena and made an immediate beeline for the Scary Corner. It is apparently law that all show arenas must have a Scary Corner, which is usually in shade and used as a storage area for haphazard piles of jumping equipment and (heaven forbid) a groom waiting to pick the jumps back up. According to many horses, Scary Corners are the most terrifying black holes of this universe. It is unhelpful that Murphy’s Law dictates that the most frightening jump on course usually has to be jumped towards the aforementioned dreaded dragon lair. Magic, however, plodded past the Scary Corner at a free walk without turning a hair, dissipating a considerable amount of my nerves. He did startle a little at the speakers that were playing in the other corner of the arena, but then the bell rang and we were trotting through the start and Magic said, “CROSSRAILS I LOVE CROSSRAILS” and jumped everything with enthusiasm.

Because if you have perfect knees, use them at every opportunity
Because if you have perfect knees, use them at every opportunity

I used the strategy that seems to work best, for Magic; trot the first jump, legs on lightly, but try not to make too big of a fuss and keep the hands super soft. Only canter if he offers it; if we trot all the way round, no problems. Magic landed over the first 40cm cross in the canter so I let him cruise around at a ploddy dressage canter, popping over everything bravely, sort of schooling him as I made him bend the right way and stay on the right lead because he was confident and attentive. We weren’t quick, but we were straight, accurate, enthusiastic, and forward. I’ll take it.

The classes were very small and the jumps inviting, so there were few mishaps and not a lot of time to hang out between rounds. I shot down to the warmup to scramble over a little oxer and some slightly bigger jumps (still real lead-rein fences, though) before going back up to the arena and starting on the slightly twisty 50cm course. I chose a shorter line to the second jump than most people, but it was an easy sort of circle line and the jump was an inviting little cross so the risk turned out not to be a risk at all and Magic had no trouble with it. He had a look at the sixth jump, which was an oxer, but I talked to him and kept my legs on and over he went. We were resoundingly clear, so we went through to the jump-off.

Watching the rider before our turn and re-memorising the course. Both of us.
Watching the first rider in the class and re-memorising the course. He was dead focused on them as well.

Immediately, the first jump became a little oxer and my blood pressure went up for no reason other than that I suck at oxers and I suck at jump-offs and I was terrified we were going to stop so obviously as Magic reached it he realised that I was terrified, so he stopped. Luckily, I didn’t fall off, but unluckily he sort of staggered forward and fell/walked through the jump, demolishing it. One of the poles must have rapped his leg a little because he threw his head in the air and screamed that all four his legs were irreparably broken. One of the ground crew cried, “Oh no! Jump off – your horse is dead lame!”

I have probably forever written my name amongst the animal abusers in that particular stable’s history books, because I said, “Oh, he’s just a drama queen” and walked him in a little circle until he took a deep breath and the jump had been rebuilt, when I asked him for a trot and he was as sound as a brass bell. (The foot wasn’t even swollen the next morning, don’t worry.) I was timid, so he stopped again and we were eliminated (do two stops at one jump count as an elimination?), but they very kindly allowed us to finish the course and took away the back bar of the oxer to make it a bit more inviting. At which point I relaxed, so Magic relaxed and we cantered around the course without batting an eyelid.

I was extremely proud of Magic for recovering from our mistake. Six months ago he would have had a total meltdown and we would have been fighting to get over trotting poles for the next week. But as soon as that particular oxer was behind him, he left it in the past, looked up at the next jump and charged. For that reason, I was happy not to scratch from the 60cm.

The speaker in front of him was playing One Direction, which he loves
The speaker in front of him was playing One Direction, which he loves

It turns out that it was a good choice. The first jump was the dread oxer we had crashed through, but I planted my hands in the mane and said “The Lord is my Shepherd!” as we approached it and he jumped it like it was the Hickstead Derby. We went clear, resoundingly and perfectly clear as I didn’t have to kick once; he took me to the jumps, snorting in glee and thoroughly enjoying himself. We were absolutely dead last since it was a speed and precision class and we cantered around like it was a Sunday hack, but I fell on his neck hugging him as we left the arena. I couldn’t have been happier.

Dear, daft, amazing Magic. We fight the same battles, him and I – so many of our fears and weaknesses are the same. How blessed am I to stand before nearly sixteen hands of dapple-grey grace and fire and power, and to see in his eyes a kindred spirit. Glory to the King.

<3

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.