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.

The Thundering Thelwell

If I only owned Arwen, this would totally be my blog name.

Last Sunday found my poor dad trailering two horses to President’s Park for cross-country; Arwen and the Mutterer’s wonderful white gelding, who proved to be the good influence in the equation even though the poor thing hadn’t been to an outing for months, if ever.

Arwen appeared to enjoy her travel buddy and was hyper but not sweaty when we arrived, seeming more excited than worried; she loves President’s Park. I pulled the gelding off the trailer in a mild flap (I was, as usual, somewhat late; I invariably oversleep on show mornings) and threw him at Mom as soon as I saw that he was as quiet as a sheep. Mom stood there grinning while he grazed (they love each other) and I threw Arwen’s stuff on and cantered off only to find that my trainer was way on the other end of the Park and I was actually quite early.

IMG_201502164068
Complete with oh-so-stylish blue duct tape holding my errant gaiter closed

This was a huge relief. I’d been sick all week, so my already unfit, overweight and hyper horse had spent five days eating grass. On Friday I was able to lunge her without dying and on Saturday I managed to kind of ride, although I don’t think I achieved anything apart from burning some energy (mostly mine). The same went for the dear white gelding, but I wasn’t too worried about him because he’s a trooper. But I was expecting a bit of fireworks from Arwen.

It was not to be. She batted her eyelashes at a very pretty (and matchingly rotund) grey stallion who was also warming up, then put her head down and went to work. No spooking. No neighing. Perfect obedience. No bucking. You just gotta love little grey mares.

IMG_2015021627810
I can’t wait for my new boots to arrive… but okay, my horse is amazing

She was good and unfit, so I hopped off after a couple of canter circles and waited for my lesson, giving up on trying to stop her grazing after a few attempts – I needed to save my limited energy. Then our instructor for the day, Graham Winn, came bouncing over looking much too energetic, so I scrambled on and my round horse and I wobbled off to join the lesson.

Arwen was amazing. She warmed up like a pro, despite the grey stallion who was leaping around everywhere, and aced the collecting and lengthening exercise our instructor used to get the horses focused and quick off the leg. For a change, Arwen was instantly responsive to my leg, as well as collecting calmly on gentle half-halts from my seat alone, with the hands having to do no pulling at all; just a touch of gentle resistance.

Lengthening the trot; I think this is going to be what our medium trot will look like
Lengthening the trot; I think this is going to be what our medium trot will look like

Then off we went to jump. I actually completely lost count of everything we jumped; we just never seemed to stop, trotting all over the Park after our instructor, who jogs everywhere at a frightening pace. I’ll be the first to admit that, although not for lack of trying, I was about as effective and balanced as a bag of potatoes. Mouldy potatoes. My flu was improved, but my muscles were basically mush, so “legs on” wasn’t happening a whole lot. So I concentrated on feeling confident and making my mind positive even when my poor jelly legs weren’t cooperating and Arwen heard the “yes” in me and responded with a bigger “YES” of her own. She was a star. She thought of stopping only once, and then I summoned the strength to kick and squeak and she jumped.

We tackled a few harder things than we’ve done before: a jump straight into water, a log with three strides to a thatch that you had to jump at an angle landing on a quite sharp downhill, a three-stride combination with the first jump on an uphill and the second on a distinct downhill, and (drum roll) a drop. I detest drops. To be honest, I am absolutely terrified of drops. Before the dynasty of the Kent and Masters, Arwen and I tried jumping down a few banks with the invariable result that my old saddle shot up her neck and I shot up her ears and she bucked in protest, which was not very fun at all and resulted in both of us hating drops. However, the instructor said go, so we went, most reluctantly and eventually horizontally; I was not expecting to leap into thin air and nearly sat on her tail. After a few attempts, however, she was already too tired to do the leaping thing and started to pop down sensibly and I realised that I was probably not going to die.

Because this is how the big boys do it, right?
Because this is how the big boys do it, right?

There was also one sort of rolltop fence that she didn’t like; she was a bit tired by this point and touched it with her toes the first time she jumped, which scared the socks off her (Arwen hates touching fences) so she hesitated and then jumped it hugely the second time. No worries, at least she’s a careful cross-country mount.

Apart from those, absolutely nothing phased her. She did throw the odd happy buck or two, which I will not protest about because she’s young and lively and not malicious and totally allowed to express herself considering that she doesn’t come anywhere near dislodging me. Even the water didn’t give her a moment’s pause; she jumped over a log into it, she galloped through it, and I sat there grinning and unable to see (on a 14.3hh horse you are rather close to the spray) because I love water. At one big log, both the horses leading us ran out; Arwen thought about it, but the moment I clapped my legs on she said, “Yes, ma’am!” and jumped without a second thought. That’s my brave little grey mare.

That's what I'm talking about
That’s what I’m talking about

We are probably going to our first event in mid-March. Mentally, I believe she’s ready; the dressage should be easy for her, and she’s successfully done both cross-country and showjumping at a greater height than our class will be (60cm, or about 2′). Physically, well, in the words of a spectator: “Oh look! It’s just like a Thelwell pony.”

Arwen watching the grey stallion with WAY too much interest... If she pops out a little grey baby in 11 months, don't say I didn't warn you.
Arwen watching the grey stallion with WAY too much interest… If she pops out a little grey baby in 11 months, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Thelwell
The resemblance is actually rather frightening

We were both exhausted when we staggered back to the trailer; Arwen, although not very breathless, was sweating so hard that I couldn’t see the difference between sweat and wetness from the water complex. She did not seem much bothered, however, and started grazing happily as I ripped her tack off and strapped it onto the white gelding. He had been grazing demurely under a tree with Mom, being his usual saintly self. I was tired and hurting but figured that cross-country was a good way to die, so I got on and trotted off for his lesson with Kirsten (who was giving me a free lesson apparently because she wanted to see how the white gelding goes, but possibly because like the rest of her family she has a heart of gold).

Thank God (really, do it) the white gelding was perfect and I lived to tell the tale. He hesitated at the first jump, then took everything in his stride with his typical generous aplomb. I’ll let the pictures speak. Speaking of which, thanks big li’l sis for the pictures!

Glory, glory, glory to the amazing King!

I LOVE WATER
I LOVE WATER
He thought he should go over the water complex. Yes, Nooitgedachters can jump like superstars.
He thought he should go over the water complex. Yes, Nooitgedachters can jump like superstars.
WHEEEE
WHEEEE

Back in the Game

Finally, the six weeks of forced rest is over and the ponies and I have all gone solidly back to work, as well as the ever-increasing string of client horses that seem to have attached themselves to me in bewildering and wonderful numbers. You just have to love the God Who drops horses in your lap.

I have twenty horses in training with me at the moment, although thankfully they are not all at my place; I am a ridiculous OCD crazy horse keeper person and would spend all day every day fussing over their hair or something. It’s getting to the point where I’m going to need a groom to keep everyone as clean and shiny as my picky standards demand.

Arwen had two days off after our impromptu offsite lesson; she looked pretty much tuckered out for the whole of Sunday and I think she would have been okay to ride on Monday, but it rained and I felt sorry for the unfit beast so she got a bonus day off. We jumped on Tuesday, during which she was basically Hickstead and didn’t refuse a thing, including a 1.00m (3′ 3″) parallel oxer that looked rather daunting from where I was sitting and was apparently totally not scary according to Arwen. Both of us have totally messed up eyes at the moment, though, mostly due to lack of practice and (in my case) lack of talent. I can’t see a distance to save my life. At least I’m getting good at not falling off when jumping from horrible distances. Next time I plan to put out a bunch of placing poles at the takeoff point just to help us both hone in on the perfect spot.

Wednesday was also an unplanned day off since there just weren’t enough hours in the day; the Mutterer and I had three horse to transport and a client to go to, which all went very well and raised the current horse population of Hydeaway Farm to nine.

On Thursday we did a bit of dressage. Since having her teeth done, Arwen is pretty much always on the bit. She loses her frame for a few seconds during some complex transitions or simple changes, but the feeling in my hands is just awesome – she has a lovely swinging stride into a supple, steady contact. I am starting to use the French link as my go-to bit more and more since most of the horses, with one or two exceptions, quite like it. Her trot leg-yields to the right are still a bit rusty, lacking some lateral movement, but not bad. Walk-canter and canter-walk transitions were the best they have been, simple changes a little rushed, shoulder-in was awesome. We also adapted the how-many-strides-on-a-circle exercise to a slightly easier version. I used a 20m circle at A to collect her and then counted how many strides I could fit between F and M, then used the M-H short side to extend her and counted how few strides I could fit between H and K. This exercise handily helps for both jumping and dressage by developing a straight, adjustable medium and working canter.

Today was galloping day and the little mare impressed me; she was a little flighty at the start, but steadied after half a mile’s working canter and proceeded to be awesome. We concentrated on both rhythm and speed, getting both of them with minimal effort from me. Then we walked home on the buckle because Nooitgedachters rule the world.

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Idyllic. And fat. But mostly idyllic.

 

Exavior has started a little groundwork to become a good equine citizen. I keep it quite short – 20 minutes is enough for his baby brain – and use a rope halter because it has a little more bite and the horses tend to respect it and not lean on it, a favourite trick of giant warmbloody types. He is quite the big stubborn donkey and I spent some time dragging him around the arena with a bum rope, but he’s getting the whole idea of walking on a loose lead. For one session he also thought it was a good idea to basically crash into me when I stopped, but a few well-placed elbows quickly sorted that one out. We have started with a little turn on the forehand now. He also now drops his head almost to the ground if I insist and he’s concentrating; when he isn’t, he still responds to poll pressure by lowering his head. This will be very useful as when he lifts his head I already have to stand on my toes like a little kid to get to his forelock.

Sleepy sabino-ness
Sleepy sabino-ness

Magic was a complete jerk for the first five or six sessions after his rest. I started by free lunging him and letting him play and get rid of his energy the first time; this proved to be a good idea as all he did was run around and buck like a maniac for half an hour straight. I did not blame him and merely stood in the middle waiting for his brain to come back. There is very little point in trying to get Magic to do anything specific when his brain is being cooked in excess energy; as long as he was going around and around the way I wanted, I was quite happy.

The next session I strapped a standing martingale to him and made him behave himself, which, with some head-tossing but no bucking, he did. After that I lunged him for a few minutes before every ride and got on; he offered to buck once, but thought better of it. We had several frustrating sessions where he fought the bit and I fought with him and it was a general hot, head-tossing, bouncing, squealing mess, but his brain thankfully came back yesterday. I schooled him in his beloved French link, carrying a dressage whip to encourage him forward into it when he loses his mind (hardest thing ever: making a horse go forward when it wants to go nuts and all your instincts scream at you to stop). He was a little heavy in my hand at the canter, but no flailing, no throwing his head, nothing.

Today I put his Kimberwick back on and when he warmed up superbly – not a single head toss to be seen, at all three gaits – decided to try a bit of jumping. He was stunning. We started with 30cm and finished around 70cm with not a single stop, rail or overjump. We both picked some horrible distances but all in all it was very quiet and harmonious, so I’m hoping we’ve dodged the dreadful overjumping he used last time he had had a rest.

Throwback to his time off: I was super bored and I did his hair. He was very patient, to his credit.
Throwback to his time off: I was super bored and I did his hair. He was very patient, to his credit.

Skye is very mad at the dentist for saying that she is twenty-six years old, and made up for it by nearly throwing me off two rides in a row. I hack her around bareback because, seriously, who needs a saddle to walk around on a bombproof, arthritic old mare? Apparently I do; she is acting like a two-year-old on the GCS, which seems to make her legs feel much better, and bucked, bolted and reared. So much for being a good influence on the youngsters. I stayed on by the skin of my teeth and could only laugh; I love her so much and she’s doing so well.

One of my client horses also has a little foal, about two weeks old, so Skye is naturally in seventh heaven. She stands with her head over the fence gazing dreamily at little Duke and looking extremely broody for hours.

Exquisite <3
Exquisite ❤

Baby Thunder is being a superstar. His schooling took a few steps back, naturally, for which he can’t be blamed; soon it’ll all come back to him. His spins are a little quicker, but the lope isn’t quite as nice and his rollbacks are very sticky at the moment. On our outride yesterday, though, he was a star. My sister’s mare is quite lively and so she prefers to go in front when we lope, and Baby Thun is totally fine either way; he’s quiet in the back and confident in the front. He was a bit scared of some pigeons in a tree, but this manifested itself only in a shortening of his stride and raising his head, and he went bravely forward when I asked him to. A group of guinea fowl also flew up out of the long grass around him and he handled it very maturely; he startled and had a tiny little sideways shy, then paused and waited for instructions. I do so love it when a horse does that. I said, “Go forward, buddy” and he instantly relaxed and did so.

What a magnificent puzzle horses are; prey animals with lion hearts. Thank You, Jesus. Glory to the King.

I love this view
I love this view

Anne-Marie Esslinger Lesson

Arwen and I recently had the chance to train with one of the highest-ranking showjumpers in South Africa. Naturally, we jumped (ha, ha, ha… yeah) at the opportunity. Never mind that Arwen was fresh as a squirrel on a sugar high, having had only one week of work after her six weeks off, or that the last time I jumped a course was in November, or that she is so fat she wobbles… Nooities are tough, we’re partners, and it’s not every day that top jumpers pop up offering free clinics.
She loaded like a dream and was sweaty but not scared when we arrived, whereupon, with some trepidation, I left my notoriously separation-anxious horse with my longsuffering parents and attended the two-hour lecture first. This proved to be well worth it. The trainer touched on the history of showjumping first and then explained all the bewildering types of competition (I still have trouble with the whole accumulator thing), which was very helpful, and then took us all on a course walk. Now that was informative. Next time I walk a course I’ll be much better able to pick a good line and work out strides, hopefully leading to fewer run-outs.
Both parents and pony were still alive when I returned; in fact, Arwen was mostly asleep when I started strapping tack onto her, scrambled into the saddle and stormed off, terrified I would be late. She was fresh and snorted like a dragon; I rode her up to a random empty dressage arena and warmed her up a bit in there to get the worst of the bucks out. She was silly, skittish and bucked with enthusiasm, but was never dirty and I got what I wanted in the end. We popped over a little cross a few times and then headed for the main arena.
Our lesson consisted of three thoroughbreds and one fat little pony (mine); she gave them an evil sneer and I worried about having forgotten my red ribbon (which proved not to be a problem as she didn’t offer to kick anyone). Our trainer checked our tack and sent us off in a big circle to warm up. She was impressed with Arwen’s walk because the thoroughbreds all dawdled while Arwen marched on. In fact Arwen’s flatwork stood out amongst the other horses’; she was the only one in a plain snaffle and also the only one who kept her head down and could halt from a trot. This seemed to earn our trainer’s respect.
We practiced a new exercise in which we cantered calmly around in a circle, then lengthened the stride on the same circle to see how few we could make it in. Arwen made 27 at a normal canter and 25 extended – definitely something we need to fix. Although I didn’t dare let her gallop because I didn’t want to be bucked off in front of a hundred people.
Next was the jumping. We warmed up over a simple single fence with a placing pole at a trot; we fumbled it the first time mostly because the pole was set for big horses, but the second time we put in a canter stride over the pole and jumped well.
Our next exercise was a related distance, a vertical to a rather scary, bigger oxer. Arwen was over-cautious and chipped in ten strides, but gained confidence and eventually made it in a nice steady eight. She was scared of it, but I also didn’t have to kick her over it; she never really felt like stopping, just looky.
Lastly, we jumped a little course; a vertical, a left turn to the related distance, right turn to another related distance, left turn to a two-stride double that Arwen made in three strides. She was forward and steady and didn’t stop even once. I leaned forward and picked bad lines the first time, but I felt super confident and in tune with the little grey mare, and all in all I couldn’t really be happier. She was a superstar. Glory to the King!

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TOABH: Buy all the Things!

Beka from The Owls Approve asks: Let’s continue pretending that horse poop magically transforms into money instead of the other way. So money doesn’t matter. If you could buy anything for your horse, what would you buy?

Assuming I’d already bought professional fitted, gorgeously snobbish British saddles for everybody, I think the thing they would enjoy most would be a better arena. They don’t much care what they wear as long as it doesn’t hurt them, and they’re already up to their eyeballs in grass, so the one thing that does seem to bother them is the arena.

Mine has served me extremely well, don’t get me wrong, and we’ve achieved a lot there that we couldn’t have if it didn’t exist. Whenever we do some work on it and render it temporarily unusable, I sorely miss it. But it is on a bit of a slope and it doesn’t have any footing – theoretically it’s grass, but I’ve worn so many different tracks in it, on so many different places, that most if it is just rock hard. This is unkind to their joints and makes life very hard when trying to teach a baby horse to canter round and round without falling on his nose. And something has dug a rather large hole right on the centreline (I presume it was Magic, who can get a bit overexcited when preparing a spot to roll in).

So I would build the most magnificent arena you had ever seen; 100m x 100m with one of those unbearably fancy surfaces that look like golden sand and are nice to fall on (always a plus). With one section of it marked out in a full-size dressage arena complete with judges’ box so that at least you’re prepared for it when they spook at C at shows. It should have a beautiful high roof on it, so high that it allows the breeze through in summer, and walls that can be pulled down kind of like garage doors in winter (I’m not restricting myself to the realms of possibility, okay?). And a huge selection of jumps of all colours and shapes, including a water tray and a liverpool and a wall…

Go big or go home, eh?

One like this would be fine too...
One like this would be fine too…

Discussing Pressure

Since Magic just got his second horse sickness shot on Saturday, and the dentist is only coming next week so I can’t put a bit in his mouth, and our brief attempt at bitless went very well right up until the part where we cantered with him pretending to be a terrified giraffe and me clinging on grimly until it was over… I put him in a pressure halter and decided that it was time for Mr. Quirkypants to face his biggest demon.

Tying up.

Honestly, there’s a reason why I have had him for two years and never tried to fix this before. Frankly, it’s terrifying to see your horse zoom backwards at a million miles an hour and hit the end of the lead with enough force, you feel, to break his neck. To make it worse, this is Magic we’re talking about. Most other horses would fight the pressure for a few minutes and then give up and try something else. Magic would fight until something broke; either the halter or his neck. Evidently, just attaching him to a sturdy pole and waiting for him to realise that nothing was going to eat him was not going to be an awesome idea.

First we went off into the arena and talked about pressure, which is what tying up is all about. Horse that always yields to pressure = horse that ties up. That is the beauty of tying up; it’s instant pressure and release. Magic understand pressure a lot better than he did; when I started with him, “pressure” meant “MAJOR FREAK OUT OH MAH WORD IT’S THE APOCALYPSE RUN FOR YOUR LIVES”. Now, he’s usually accepted that “pressure” means “yield”. Except when I tie him up. Then he’s fine until he turns his head to shoo a fly, realises he’s tied up, and has one of his brain evaporations.

I put a helmet on and did some of the exercises that an American dressage trainer (the same one, incidentally, who taught me to one-rein stop for those moments when “the cliff is here and the canyon is here and no seat aids are gonna stahp* ‘um”) had taught me back in August in between Arwen shying at baboons. First I had him lower his head, then rubbed his poll a bit until he was relaxed, then did some yielding of the hindquarters/disengaging the haunches/turn on the forehand/as you like it, a bit of yielding the shoulders, and backing up in a straight line. Then, my personal favourite. Backing him up one step, taking him forward one step. Eventually he gets so used to backing up with one diagonal that he steps forward with the diagonal legs simultaneously

instead of the normal walk rhythm and you can rock him back and forth with two of his legs never moving at all. With a nerd like Magic, I soon had him rocking his body back and forth at a touch on the lead without moving any legs. I get such a kick out of that one.

We rounded off by making his brain work a bit with backing up in a circle (“Dude,” said Magic, “you keep saying ‘FORWARD’ when we’re working, what’s the big idea with this backing up thing?!”) and then I girded up my loins and took him to the round pen. I had, typically, forgotten to bring a lunging line, so I improvised with a couple of long leads tied together. I had him stand a couple of steps away from the fence, ran the makeshift long line around the horizontal pole just once, held the end, stood at some distance and put pressure on him.

Magic no likey
Magic no likey

Instantly, his head shot up, eyes snapped wide and ears laid back. I soothed him with my voice a bit, trying to prevent a brain evaporation, and kept the pressure steady and constant. Step by step, with a little encouragement from me (i. e., waving my arms and smooching at him until he stepped forward and was rewarded by a second’s release), he walked/staggered over to the pole and I let the pressure off him and gave him a rub. We repeated this until at the first touch of pressure, he went straight up to the fence and got a pat. I tweaked my position, standing beside the fence instead of off to one side; I would of course like him to tie up alone but if he needs his little human comfort zone nearby at first I won’t begrudge him that.

Then I made him back up and let him hit the end of the rope suddenly enough to spook him, but not to hurt. Cue instant brain evaporation. He shot back, I let the rope run out (keeping the pressure constant), and after a few flying steps backwards a little light bulb went on over his head and he walked straight up to the pole, getting lavish praise for this. He really is a smart guy when his brain is present.

We repeated this a couple of times and then I called it a day. All in all, it could have been a lot scarier, and I think we made good progress. Maybe this year we will meet some goals, after all.

*She was from Montana. I was from Gauteng. I bet I sounded just as odd to her as she did to me.

2015: The Year Ahead

Last year was long, interesting, busy, and a most tremendous learning curve. I made my fair share of mistakes and had a few nasty little failures, but I find myself better, stronger, and nearer to God than when it began, so I shall file it firmly under “Success”.

The horses also did quite awesomely this year, so without further ado, the 2014 goals wrap-up and the setting of our goals for 2015.

Skye’s the Limit. In 2014 I wrote: “Skye’s goals: Stay healthy; get fit; get a Western saddle.” A Western saddle we sure have, but arthritis has ended any prospect of getting fit last year or this one, or possibly for many years to come. She is, however, very healthy and happy as long as we keep up our bi-weekly walking hacks.

Currently she is still quite happy to carry me around on her back, but I’ve also found that having Exavior to babysit has given her a new lease on life. Once I’m breeding horses, I think her job will be the weanling mommy.

Skye’s goals: Prevent the progression of her arthritis, stay healthy and happy, attempt not to get too fat. Also learn to be ponied off another horse.

Skye1

Thunderbird. His 2014 goals: This year, I’d like to spend some time working on Thunder’s physical strength, since he is old enough to handle heavier work now. Lungeing in side reins to build his loin muscles in balance, particularly in canter, will help. I would like him to lope slowly and on the correct lead (using simple lead changes for now), understand the basics of neck-reining at all three gaits, learn to stand squarely, and turn on the haunches by the end of the year. Outrides should also still be done at least once a week; I would like him to go out consistently without bolting, alone and in company, by the end of the year.

Once again, Baby Thun has made a spectacular success of his goals – for the second year running (there should be some kind of award for that).

Physical strength: Well, check. He put on a massive growth spurt at the beginning of the year and looked like a clothes hanger, but for the past few months he has bulked out at an alarming rate. Moving him to a kikuyu pasture also helped. He now looks like a rather nice Welsh cob; he has a nice round butt, a fairly good neck and his loins have filled out so that back flows smoothly into bottom. He looks like a grownup horse now.

Schooling: Check, check, check. His lope is nothing to write home about but he doesn’t tear around like a baby anymore, he goes on the right lead, he neck-reins at all three gaits, stands squarely and turns on the haunches. He also turns on the forehand, sidepasses at a walk and jog, reins back well and kind of sliding stops. Well, kind of.

Outrides: Check. He’s fine both alone and in company and does not, as a rule, bolt except when severely frightened, which is true for most horses. He can still be a bit on the spooky side but that will just take time to go away.

2015 will be Thun’s third year under saddle and it’s time for him to learn some more advanced things, as a firm foundation has been well laid.

Physical: Now that we have muscle, we can add some fitness. Long-distance riding will do the trick.

On the ground: We do need to work on his ability to give you personal space. He isn’t bad about it until he forgets and stands on top of you like an idiot, but he needs to be sharply reminded every time he does that. He also needs a bath or two because he can be a bit jumpy about the hosepipe.

Schooling: Start to work towards real reining movements. Improve on the spins, introduce flying changes, continue to practice sliding stops and rein backs, introduce rollbacks.

Outrides: He now has good manners on a hack, and the only thing to solve his spookiness is going to be many, many trail miles. Ride out as much as possible for as long distances as possible, show him new things and challenge him until he gets more comfortable on hacks.

To conclude: Fix the personal space thing and the hosepipe thing; introduce flying changes and rollbacks; improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs; log as many trail miles as possible.

Thunder3

Arwen Evenstar. In 2014: I would like to get her on the show circuit more regularly and to raise the bar slightly to be jumping around 80cm competitively by the end of the year. I would also like to enter her in a few dressage shows and see how she does, starting with the Preliminary tests, they don’t look that hard. At home, she can learn to jump 1.10m consistently. Her canter, whilst good, needs some work; she must learn flying changes. I want her to improve her frame so that she is going in a good outline with her nose in by the end of the year. She must also learn to do all her lateral movements, which she does well in a walk, in trot (starting with shoulder-in and then travers and half-pass). She must also be able to extend and collect her trot.

Arwen did not do badly at all. Showing was a definite win (har, har, har), having attended seven outings. Though only two of these were shows, she gave no major issues at any of them barring three stops she had when I entered her in a jumping round that was rather too big at the time. Dressage with a success as we won our Prelim test with over 60%. Jumping I would also call a success; she is okay over 1.10m although I have to baby her somewhat, and comfortable at 1.00m. Given that 1.10m is very close to her physical limit, I’m happy to be a little lenient about it. Her canter has improved, but flying changes are unfortunately nonexistent. Her frame is very close to being where I want it; she keeps it at all three gaits but can lose it occasionally in transitions. Her lateral movements are up to scratch and we are developing a nice medium trot. I would call her competitive at Novice, schooling Elementary; I was hoping to school Elementary Medium, and we would have, but for the changes.

Long-term, I don’t ever see myself showing Arwen in eventing at anything bigger than 90-95cm. She can jump 1.10m if she has to (well, she can jump 1.40m if she feels like it, albeit riderless), but I see no point in forcing her right to the limit of her ability. She is also rather too small to be competitive at 1.00m or bigger because she just doesn’t have the big stride to cover ground fast enough. I’m completely cool with that, so all I want her to do with her life is go to EV90 with me, go as far in dressage as she can (she still has quite a long way before she reaches her limit there; I think she could go Medium or even Advanced with many years of training), do a spot of showing and then become a school pony in a million.

For this year, though:

Physical: I would like to see a bit more muscling at the base of her neck. Currently, she is also extremely fat, having had two weeks off, so we need to get fit. Because she is so little she will need to be extraordinarily fit to be competitive, so fitness is a huge priority.

On the ground: Nada. She loads, she clips, she ties up, she does anything I want. She doesn’t like having her legs clipped but we could do it if we drugged her (and if we wanted to).

Schooling: Develop collected trot, extended walk, medium trot and canter. Raise the forehand into an uphill balance. Improve leg-yield and shoulder-in. Introduce flying changes. In other words, be competitive at Elementary and schooling Elementary Medium by the end of the year.

Jumping: Stay consistent at 1.00m at home. Introduce more technically difficult and visually daunting obstacles. Work on her water complex problem.

Competitions: Show in at least one graded EV70 event.

To conclude: Get her fit; build her neck; school Elementary Medium; introduce scary jumps; fix the water problem; show graded in EV70.

Arwen1

Magical Flight. In 2014: To wrap it up, this year Magic must go to his first shows, and learn to make calm transitions between gaits, leg-yield in walk, start flying changes, and build correct muscle tone. I also want him jumping 1.10m.

Magic and I had such a wonderful, turbulent year during which we both learned so much about each other that goals seem pitiful things compared to how far we came. That’s not to say that we met them all. Oh, no. I wanted him solid at 1.10m by the end of the year and we are rather tremulous at 80cm. But his flatwork improved by miles. His transitions are good, his leg-yield in walk is good, and his muscle tone is awesome. He could do with some more neck, but I’m not too fussed about it. Flying changes aren’t a thing, sadly, but his first show was a resounding success.

Physical: Time to drill fitness into this monster. He has the muscles he needs for jumping and eventing, but he wouldn’t know hillwork if you hit him with it. Of course, first we need to fix the outride problem, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I would like him to be fit enough to jump 80-90cm courses easily by the end of the year.

On the ground: Tying up is a major issue of his, so work can begin on that. He also needs to load properly with only one person. Clipping is a nightmare we don’t have to deal with this year.

Schooling: Have his teeth done, then school him so that he is soft and correct in his beloved French link snaffle. Then introduce Novice work so that he is solid at Novice by the end of the year. He will need to learn trot leg-yields and trot and canter lengthenings, and improve on his simple changes until they become second nature. Introduce counter canter. Also, work on hacking out without trying to kill anyone, even if we can just potter around the block in a walk without dying by the end of the year.

Jumping: One word: Confidence. Be confident at 80cm even if that’s the highest we go this year. Build confidence over different types of jumps, improve on his technique, and learn to relax on him over fences.

Competition: For the first half of 2015 continue to do monthly training shows in dressage and jumping, taking it easy on the height. As soon as he is fine at 70cm at training shows, go graded in showjumping. Eventing can wait until outrides happen.

To conclude: Improve fitness, tie up, load, be competitive at Novice, survive a hack, be confident at 80cm, and go graded at 70cm showjumping once he is ready for it.

Magic5

Exavior. Last of all, my dearly beloved big chestnut colt. He had no goals in 2014 seeing as he was not mine and there was no possibility that he ever would become mine; and yet here he is, by the grace of God, my first warmblood. If only he’ll grow up sound… Thy will be done, my King.

Exavior turns two at the end of the year and his backing, depending on his legs, will commence either at the end of 2015 or in 2016. This is the year in which he learns to be an absolutely impeccable equine good citizen and to deal with everything that life among mankind may throw at him. He already knows what a halter is, respects personal space, ties up, stands perfectly still to be groomed and have his feet cleaned, allows himself to be blanketed, and stands more or less still for the Mutterer to do his hooves. Now for more advanced citizenship.

  • Advanced halter training: leading on a slack rope, trotting up in hand, standing squarely, understanding of pressure and release (yielding the shoulder, yielding the hindquarters)
  • Leading over, through and under scary things and away from his group
  • Bathing
  • Desensitisation to noise and sight: first a numnah, then plastic bags
  • Loading preparation: leading in a narrow passage, under a roof and over a noisy surface
  • Loading. This one will be difficult, but if he will load with the help of two people and/or a lunge rein by the year’s end, I’ll be satisfied.
  • Injections; use a trick I learned with a syringe, a rubber band and a treat
  • Be gelded
  • Lowering of the head when requested. This is usually not on the to-do list, but he is going to be 17hh and I’m never going to be over 5′ 4″, so I want him to put his nose on the floor when I ask for it
  • Basic lunging with a halter and long line only
  • Wearing a roller
  • Lunging over poles
  • Wearing boots
  • Clipping. I don’t intend to give him a full clip, but we can lay down the foundation by having him stand still while the clippers are rested gently on his body

Exavior1

Yours truly. I must get into the habit of riding with a proper upper body: eyes looking between the horse’s ears with chin up, hands a fist’s breadth above and in front of the pommel, thumbs turned up, elbows relaxed by my sides with upper arms hanging almost straight. I must learn not to balance on my hands, but to push them forward and allow the horse to stretch. Oh, and I can stop doing that funky poke-one-toe-out thing. And I must ride right up to every jump.. In Western: Ha! I don’t even know what a proper Western seat looks like. Fix this. Stop leaning forward and gripping with the knees in lope and halt from lope.

Jumping was a tremendous success. Well, kind of. I used to have super fixed, stiff hands, and now I have this enormous release where my fists end up almost between the ears. I think the horses prefer the epic release, though, so I’ll take it. I have more or less quit the habit of looking down and my elbows are much softer and my habit of fixing the hands to the withers has much improved. My Western seat has also improved, as I’ve learned to bend the elbow and raise the hand and relax into the saddle better.

Dressage: Turn the hands straight, so that the thumbs are on top, instead of having turned out cowboy hands. Keep the shoulders back. Soften the lower back. Lengthen the leg and bring the lower leg further back for better hip-heel alignment. Break the habit of dropping the inside shoulder and improve straightness.

Jumping: Strengthen and correct the lower leg to keep the heel down and prevent the leg from swinging back. Break the habit of slipping back towards the cantle during landing. Break the habit of resting the hands on the neck during landing. Break the habit of staring down into airy oxers.

RuachReed8

This year promises to be a very interesting one. I’m turning 18, for one, and have to get used to the idea of being practically a grownup. It’s also my last year of school (hopefully) and the year in which I can get a driver’s licence. I’m also on the brink of buying my first broodmare and showing in Horse of the Year for the first time. I could also ride in graded shows for the first time, and since I plan to qualify as an instructor in 2016 I have to get my facilities up to scratch for a riding school this year.

To wrap up this Epic Novel of a blog post (sorry guys… this one was more for my benefit than anyone else’s), my prayer for 2015.

My King, I set goals, I work hard and I dream dreams. But no amount of my sweat or planning can ever achieve anything alone. I can hardly be trusted even to set the right goals, even for my horses. Lord Jesus, this year belongs to You. Everything in me and about me and around me I lay down at Your feet. Do with it what You will, for Your will is pure and just and perfect. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, O King. Let me draw nearer to You than ever before. Hold me close, carry me through, and be with everybody that I love, my King. Let everything I am and do glorify Your amazing name and let me decrease so that You may increase. I await the day of Your coming. Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done. In Jesus’s beloved Name, amen.