Miracle Season

We started off our first SANESA season as a yard the way we always do: a little clueless, a lot scruffy, and ready to give absolutely everything we had.

At our first qualifier, I didn’t even know that SANESA working riding tests are given at the judge’s box instead of at the class itself. My poor teenager and I had to beg a friendly stranger in the warmup arena for her copy, and skimmed it in three seconds flat. One of the little kids fell off and injured herself. I missed both performance riding classes. The showing judge patronized my teenager for not trimming her horse’s ears, and Zorro got eliminated for three refusals (at the third fence).

The second qualifier was a little better. I had to panic to find a horse for K because of a glitch in her previous mount’s paperwork. We were late for my first class and I warmed my four-year-old up for all of one minute, shunting him into the arena just in time, bug-eyed and uncertain. Zorro got eliminated for forgetting the course. But Vastrap came third, and K won her class. And then Liana’s kid fell off again. But at least this time she waited until after the finish flags.

By the third qualifier, things started to look up. Vastrap was placing in every class he jumped; we would get someone into Finals after all. I got eliminated for failing to jump the A element of a combination after refusing at the B element. Liana’s kid fell off the day before, but stayed on throughout the actual show – and remembered her tracks. Pennie won two of her three classes and our new little lead rein kid placed third at her first show ever.

At the fourth qualifier, all snot promptly broke loose. Pennie was dead lame with a mystery issue we couldn’t get to the bottom of. She had to withdraw. Midas and Lancelot had stops and poles down all over the place and Vastrap took a silly rail. K forgot her course for the first time in living memory, her shot at finals slipping out of her grasp. My lead rein kid was late into her class because I was riding dressage in the arena next door and her poor mother almost had a heart attack. Amid this chaos, Liana’s kid pulled out a fabulous score in the prix caprilli and popped into finals. She didn’t fall off even once.

Then came Finals, and that was brilliant. The two little kids put in the rides of their lives, which made it irrelevant that neither of them went through to Nationals. Zorro the remedial stopper ate up a difficult track and leapt into ninth place (of over 40 riders), taking his rider from her first Finals to her first Nationals.

And Pennie, newly sound again, won her class.

And then everything started to fall to bits again. Pennie went lame. Hardly had she recovered than G went lame and was stuck in a Moon-Boot for four weeks while I wrestled with her fiery little pony, trying to install brakes. Zorro, at least, made up for his chaos early in the season and behaved just fine, but his kid battled stomach issues. Two weeks before Nationals, G came out of her boot and could finally ride again. Two days before Nationals, Pennie stopped so hard G fell into a fence, necessitating three stitches to her chin. One day before Nationals, it rained and rained and rained, turning horses into mud monsters and arenas into bogs.

We took a deep breath, bathed Zorro in the sunrise and made it happen. He jumped a fabulous round for his kid and they finished happily in the middle of the pack. We were delighted, and so so proud. Then Pennie jumped, conservative and just a little off her rhythm, taking a cheap pole down. We had showjumping the next day. None of us were feeling confident.

It was about this point where I threw up my hands and said, “God, I hope You have an idea of what You’re doing, because I don’t!”

He did. He was doing something incredible: teaching us that nothing is impossible with Him.

Brothers and sisters, our God is in charge. We had our first season, we had drama, we had blood, sweat and tears, we had lameness and falls, we had breakdowns and meltdowns, we kept trying, we hung on, we watched, and we saw miracle upon miracle as He worked mightily in and for every single one of my kids, regardless of where they finished. And I cannot wait for next SANESA season so that I can watch, again, what He does for us through our horses and our wonderful, crazy sport.

This last miracle was just the cherry on top.

Pennie and G are double national champions.

Glory to the King.

Just Snippets

Teaching is a high calling, a daunting responsibility, a rewarding rollercoaster, and a breathtaking honour. It does, however, have its downsides. Not least of which is that whatever infection the child population of Heidelberg have, I inevitably end up having, too. At least my sad homeschoolers’ immune system has girded its loins somewhat, but I was something of a snot-nosed grump this week.

It was hard to not be snappish. I believe I failed often. But I tried, and I ask forgiveness.

This poor moo fell in a hole on Sunday. I wasn’t able to get super involved in the rescue effort, which took four hours and involved multiple people and large equipment, but I did administer what is so far the strangest injection of my career – hanging upside down in a hole with my sister holding my ankles to avoid my joining said moo in said hole. This stalward little Jersey cow handled her predicament with aplomb and escaped with minor injuries.

Savanna’s condition continues to improve. Her flatwork is feeling good, too. We had some arguments about the jumping; she will now jump simple verticals and crosses without difficulty, but she has a deep misunderstanding and fear of oxers, combinations, and gymnastic lines. Even the tiniest oxer elicits some running backwards and panicking. We did lots of gently popping over little oxers, even from a walk at first, and in the end she was jumping an oxer in a combination. This is good because she has her first away show this weekend.

Champagne and I have been discussing her continuing phobia of Holstein heifers and making solid progress. We started with hand walking, sticking to one “safe” rein at first, then walking with a quiet older horse leading, and then took it from there step by step. She can now trot large and circles on both reins without a lead and doesn’t freak out or panic, even when we circle at C (next to the terrifying Holsteins). She is fine generally but does jump any time a cow sighs, farts, lies down, stands up, looks at her or (heaven forbid) scratches its ear. The jump is a fairly ordinary sideways spook and I talk her out of it pretty fast, so the progress is enormous. She’s learnt the main thing, which is that fear can be dealt with.

Ash and L have been doing so well in their lessons, including cantering independently without stirrups, that at their last lesson I introduced a tiny little fence. Ash may not jump much because of her tendon but I did want L to have her first tiny jump on a horse she really trusts and Ash fits the bill. I ended up having to make it 60cm before Ash actually consented to jump instead of trotting over, but they both looked fabulous. My new no-stirrups policy is paying off.

We made Lulu’s wonderful African hair into an unamused unicorn. Apart from being tortured by deliriously tired coach and groom, Lulu is doing MUCH better on her new diet and with her adjusted saddle, and is back to sassing the kids with vigour.

We’re entering a very difficult time of year for horses. The temperatures swing wildly from cold at night to hot during the day; their coats are so hot they sweat through the day and then don’t drink enough at night and colic. Tiny bits of green grass, practically void of nutritional value, are also coming through and they walk all over their big fields looking for it and getting thinner. I am having worm counts done like a true paranoid horse mom, but I think it’s the time of year.

How cute are our new bridle hooks? And genius! This is the brainchild of one of the lesson moms. Cute and cheap ftw.

K and Milady are doing great. I would love to be able to use Milady in the school eventually: she has the nature, just needs her go button tuned down a bit. Then she can earn her keep until the next baby starts getting heavy.


Eagle went on his first hack with his mom, and was absolutely impeccable,


as were Savanna (with her teen) and Blizzard (with K). We only went a short way, but they were fine. Blizzard is standing up well to the demands of the bombproof hack, for a four-week-under saddle baby.

This cat had her babies behind the washing machine and had to be rescued from the dogs. Aren’t they adorable? She is super friendly and lets you pet her and the kittens while purring proudly over her blind, squirming brood. Ratters in the making.

Mom found this gem somewhere in an envelope. I must be eight or so? This was the riding school where we eventually bought Lulu, and I looked at one of this mare’s foals and that foal was now 14 so I feel really old.

layout for boots and blankets exam feat. kindness rock

L and a girl I’ve been tutoring online are both writing their exams on Monday. They passed their mocks with flying colours, but they’ll appreciate your prayers. ❤

Everybody had their shots this week, too. They positively queued up for them. I love managing a yard full of quiet gentle ponies. Everything is so much simpler. Dr. C is so good with them, too.

And finally, a Dusty update. She is, thank God (seriously), much better. Still on half turnout and some anti-inflammatories, but no longer hopping on three legs. It appears it is a bad muscle sprain after all; painful to be sure, but manageable. (Also pictured: only just enough hay for a 14hh easy keeping pony on box rest for the night. Two nets a night ain’t ad lib).

This weekend’s program includes a training show, attended by Liana, Vastrap, and Sunè and their kids, Midas and VT’s kid, and three for me. Jamaica (doing his millionth 80cm – we’ll eventually move up, eventually), Lancelot (60cm and 70cm, hopefully his last show with me) and Savanna (40cm and 50cm). I can’t wait ❤

Glory to the King.

For of Such is the Kingdom

Back in September, just after Magic’s colic, I was forced (by an all-knowing Hand) to turn back to teaching lessons. While the wonderful vet that saved Magic’s life earned every cent of the bill she sent us, it was a massive bill, and I had to find some way to pay it. Lessons were the quickest and easiest way to do so.

As it turned out, a little while later, my amazing parents talked to each other and then to me and offered to foot the bill themselves. I was and still am incredibly grateful for this – it was a hit that would have given the budding stableyard a tremendous knock. Thus God pushed me ever closer to what He wanted me to do with apparent hardship that turned to joy. How great is our God!

For once I had taught for a couple of weeks I found there was no leaving it. I’d forgotten just how fulfilling teaching can be, and no instructor has ever been so blessed as to teach such well-mannered, kind, hardworking, wonderful kids as I have. It started with a trio of older kids and then a whole crew of little ones came pouring in and all in all I have eleven lessons to teach each week. They are the highlight of my week. My kids are amazing.

No music has ever fallen so sweetly on my ears as the high-pitched voice of a shining-eyed little boy, perched upon a pony, clutching the reins in white-knuckled hands as he felt the slow power of her walk: “Oh, tannie!” (they all use the Afrikaans term of respect for me; it also means “older woman”, but I couldn’t care less) “Oh, tannie! This is so, so fun!” The exclamation was utterly spontaneous; so was the smile that burst across his little face and shone a light into my world.

Oh, Lord Jesus, how right You are! Of such, indeed, is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Thus, Thunder has also found his niche in life. At five years old he is the schoolie to end all schoolies: the very definition of trustworthy. He’s one of those rare horses that really cannot get enough of human contact, likes absolutely everyone, and never gets bored of people. Most horses merely tolerate the tiny, noisy, smelly, busy little children, but Thunder genuinely loves them. He was never as happy as my hack as he is as the lead rein pony and he merrily packs my little kiddies around, obeying their commands when he understands them and plodding over to me when he doesn’t. Outrides are still a problem because he is so sensitive to the rider’s feelings that a nervous kid makes him spook massively at everything, but in the arena he is pretty much bombproof.

Flare was also roped in as a schoolie and has turned out to be a perfect all-rounder. She’s not fabulous with the older kids as her trot and canter still need a ton of work, but she’s as willing and patient as the day is long without a malicious hair on her head. She’s extremely responsive, making her perfect for my poor little kiddies that have just gone off the lead rein because she actually responds to their little aids. On hacks she is as reliable as they come; she’ll go in front, behind, in the middle, with a newb, with me, whatever.

I missed this so much. Glory to the beloved King.

Thunder1

 

5 Pet Peeves: Riding Schools

Shows, camps and lessons have taken me to a number of different riding schools, and there are definitely good ones, bad ones, and ugly ones. A shocking number of them are bad, considering that the kids enrolling in them are the future of horse sport; but thankfully there are a lot of good ones out there.

I’ve been blessed to have private lessons on my own horses for the past six years, having only learnt the basics during two years in a riding school, but I’ve spent some time teaching in one. And so without further ado, my five least favourite things that some riding schools do – along with alternatives, utilised by the better schools.

In jodhs for a show
In jodhs for a show

1. Jodhpurs compulsory. Horse riding has a reputation for being expensive, and certainly the upkeep of a horse could feed a small family, but just taking lessons needn’t come at an exorbitant price. However, any parent who has to fork out at least $10 a lesson once or twice a week, and has probably already paid in excess of $50 for a riding helmet (compulsory by law, and rightly so), is going to shy back at having to spend even more cash on the various trappings of riding gear. I spend three or four hours in the saddle every day, and I can successfully conclude that jeans are much more comfortable than jodhpurs. Jodhs are more expensive and for touch-sensitive kids, unbearably uncomfortable; or for the occasional well-rounded figure, tight jodhs can be embarrassing enough to turn them off horse riding. There’s also boots, chaps, and gloves; gloves are only necessary in extreme cold weather or on specific horses with bad pulling habits, in which case the horse should be corrected, not the rider’s attire; and boots and chaps are undoubtedly safer and more comfortable, but you can pay about $100 for a decent pair. Alternative: Helmets should invariably be worn by riders of any skill level, but boots, chaps, gloves and jodhs shouldn’t be compulsory. If they are, it’s probably a bid to look smart on the school manager’s part. Any closed shoe with a low heel, three-point helmet and pair of long pants complete a safe riding outfit.

Jumping in a standing martingale for training purposes
Jumping in a standing martingale for training purposes

2. Running martingales on all the horses, no matter what their training or way of going. Why, I hear you ask, make all the horses wear this expensive, annoyingly difficult to clean and put on, and occasionally even harmful piece of tack? Because the neck strap element of the martingale is a handy thing for unbalanced riders to cling to. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against martingales, nor against the desire to prevent a beginner from balancing himself on his horse’s mouth via the reins. Martingales have an excellent role to play in the schooling of some horses. However, that relaxed old schoolie who goes in a good frame all the time has no business wearing a martingale. Riders should learn to balance with their bodies, not their hands – whether that’s on the reins or neck strap/martingale. The trouble with this technique is that the martingale becomes a sort of security blanket. Should anything go wrong, the rider will automatically grab onto the martingale, effectively rendering his hands useless for rein aids. Not a disaster in the case of a rearing horse or merely a panicky rider, but should a horse bolt with him and he just clings onto the martingale, it can end in disaster. Alternative: Fit the horse out with the minimal tack necessary to make him safe and easy to ride, and teach the rider to balance without holding on with his hands. Should he need something to hang onto, such as when introducing canter work or jumping, let him hold the mane. It won’t do the horse any damage, and it leaves the rider at least some control over the reins.

At a gymkhana
At a gymkhana

3. The typical “bratty school pony”. Most riding schools have one; many are composed entirely out of whole groups of these uncooperative equines. To my mind, the beginning rider should learn to ride on a true schoolmaster. Learning to ride is hard enough without the horse making it any harder; and dare I even suggest that the typical schoolie should be responsive enough to comply to even the timid little aids of a beginner? Instead, most schoolies are notorious for second-rate conformation, bad schooling and worse manners. Many are a collection of bad habits, from bolting to napping to leaning on the reins. No horse is perfect and even the finest old schoolmaster is going to have issues, but schoolies should be well-trained. Alternative: Have fewer schoolies with better training. They may well work harder, but with the right feeding and management, they’ll be fine. Riding school horses should have regular training sessions with an experienced rider/trainer – if possible the instructor.

Jumping Arwen armed with a dressage whip
Jumping Arwen armed with a dressage whip

4. Equipping all riders, on all horses, with riding crops. This is much the same as the martingale scenario. I have no problem with whips; I never ride Arwen without one, because she needs it. I even gave my students a whip when they rode her. Some horses just need it, especially with really tiny tots who can’t squeeze the horse’s sides properly because their legs aren’t long or strong enough. However, whips should not be a permanent feature for every single horse and rider. Legs are there for a reason; if the horse is properly trained and the rider knows what to do, there is absolutely no need for a whip. Alternative: Have schoolies properly trained and teach riders to use their legs. Also try to put small kids on small ponies if possible.

Teaching on my two giant colleagues from the riding school
Teaching on my two giant colleagues from the riding school

5. The great hypocrite instructor. We’ve all met some of them. They are very quick to assess and criticize riding, and generally very vocal in lessons; also, they would rather be seen dead than seen without their jodhs and boots. However, you hardly ever see them actually riding – and in actual fact, they don’t ride very well. A good instructor should be someone that prompts young riders to whisper, “One day I want to ride just like him.” Alternative: If you can’t do it, much less understand it, don’t teach it. Learn to do it, understand it, and then teach it, and teach it with all your heart. Teaching someone is a mighty privilege. Seize it with both hands and don’t let it go.

Riding schools are the foundation of our sport. This is where people come to learn about the wonder that is horse riding, and a good school – or shall I say, a good teacher – can teach more than just riding. They can teach life lessons, touch hearts, inspire souls and raise hopes. We as experience horsepeople owe it to the elementary and aspiring riders out there to teach them well. They are the future of horseback riding, and without them, it would all die out.

Do you agree? Disagree? What are your pet peeves about riding schools? What have you seen riding schools do well?