Our latest arrival came on Sunday a week ago, and is already becoming a firm favourite. Blogosphere, meet Once Upon a Time – stable name Emmy.
Emmy is a 2004 OTTB mare by Anytime out of a Northern Guest mare. She ran her last race in 2009 and disappeared from any formal records for a while, resurfacing a couple of years ago with her current owner, where she was used as a broodmare. The winter was not kind to Emmy and her condition is a little horrifying at 2/10, but her owner had already taken some steps to improving on it before she arrived.
She is a very kind little soul, the type that comes up to you in the field. She’s also spent the past 10 days eating incessantly, and it’s beginning to show already. I have to be cautious with concentrate feeding to avoid colic, but we’ve been slowly notching it up with my beloved balancer and Capstone’s Stud Time.
She also had a bit of a worm burden, which will hopefully be resolved now that she’s had a dose of Pegamax, but the next FEC will tell.
Once Emmy’s reached about 4/10, she’ll go into training and be rebacked and schooled with an eye on reselling her as a happy hack or SANESA pony. Her nature is ideally suited; it remains to be seen if we have any unsoundness or remedial vices to contend with, but so far, so good.
Honoured to be entrusted with another of God’s amazing creatures.
So poor Milady has arrived, albeit unannounced on the blog. We picked her up on the fifth of July and catapulted the poor unsuspecting lady into the long adventure that is life with the Horde.
Milady has been an absolute angel. She hasn’t been in a horsebox for almost two years, but with a line around her bottom we hauled her right up. She travelled just fine and when I turned her out in a little paddock by herself, neighbouring the group she was to join, she wandered around, did a tremendous floaty trot across to the hay, and settled down to eat. I wasn’t home during the day for the next week, so poor old Milady was stuck by herself in the little paddock. I wasn’t sure how introductions to the other horses would go as Flare and Arwen can both be jerks to new horses and between trying to be a good protective beta and his overwhelming friendliness, Thunder can be quite a shock to them. Hence I was waiting for a day that I’d be quietly home all the time so that I could slowly introduce her to the electric fences and new horses and hopefully avoid one of her perfect slender legs being broken (I always worry about those wonderful legs; clean as they are, well as they stood up to her racing career, they always look like little toothpicks compared to the stocky mongrels’).
Milady saved me the trouble. One night, bored of being by herself, she simply climbed over the wooden section of the fence and introduced herself to electric fences and new horses. When I got there the next morning they were all eating around the bale like one big happy family, and nobody had any broken legs. All the fences were still standing, too. It was quite amazing.
Last week I finally started to work her again, first with a little lunging session just to dust off her memory. The ring is right inside Skye’s group’s paddock, so to get there one has to drag a frightened new horse through a highly excited and curious bunch of other horses, which is always a little hairy and sometimes necessitates several well-placed elbows when new horsie tries to clamber over me in an attempt to get away from my evil minions. Milady wandered in, raised a hindleg at Exavior in warning when he came snuffling over, and calmly followed me to the ring, where she went to work like she’d done it every day of her life. Lunging is still not her favourite but she was just as good as she’d been the last time we lunged.
Friday was a horrible day to work horses. The wind was both howling and icy; Arwen had nearly sent me flying on our fitness ride earlier that morning from pure excitement, and everyone else was running around showing the whites of their eyes like a bunch of hooligans. The wind had got up the Holsteins’ tails too and they were galloping up and down in their paddocks while bellowing loudly, and twenty head of overexcited heifers running about is enough to make any horse a bit wild. I had limited time the next day so I decided to get Milady out anyway even if she just tore around on the lunge line and burnt some energy.
She plugged around on the lunge all calm and chilled, so much so that I was convinced to hop on, even for just a walk around the ring. (I had had a new horse for three weeks and still hadn’t ridden it – it was killing me). I clambered on, she stood like a rock, and we started meandering around the ring. The wind chose that moment to grab the edge of one of the shelter’s corrugated iron sheets and then bring it down on the wooden support with a deafening clang. Skye’s group took off like rockets and tore past the ring; David went airborne; the Holsteins lost their minds and I prepared to say my last words. Milady (five-year-old OTTB, hadn’t been ridden for almost two months) raised her ears at the other horses, as if slightly shocked by such appalling manners but much too polite to say anything.
We proceeded to have an awesome ride around the unfenced arena in walk, trot and canter and Milady didn’t put a toe wrong. Her nickname suits her better than I expected. She has impeccable manners, excellent breeding and a noble bearing. The rest of the Horde, who normally look like wonderful sweet ponies compared to other horses, are a bad influence and taught her how to escape the paddock (she was the first to repentantly come up to me when I eventually found them trying to break into the cow barn). Apart from succumbing to bad peer pressure, Milady has been an absolute wonder so far.
She leaves me a little sad that one can’t breed and compete on a horse at the same time. But I suppose that that’s exactly the horse one should breed with. Thank You, Lord Jesus.
It’s so easy to feel completely stuck in a rut with Magic. Easy to look at how far we have to go instead of how far we’ve already come. To see how much more he can physically do, instead of how much he’s emotionally grown.
But these two pictures really struck me. The top one is from November 2014, at his first ever show. The bottom one is from the show in late May.
Obviously, the thing that really jumps out at me is his neck, because I have a thing for horse necks. In both pictures he has engaged his neck muscle, but in the bottom one he just has so much more of it. The dude actually has kind of a crest. It’s also easy to see why; while he’s going in a nice outline in both shots, in the top photo, you can see how strong of a contact I still have. I’m holding him there. In the bottom photo he’s holding himself up – his self carriage and muscles have developed together. The more he carries himself, the more he muscles up; and the more he muscles up the more he can carry himself.
The second thing is the balance; okay, so he is at different moments of his stride in both shots, but in the bottom photo he’s so much lighter in front. It’s also evident in my position. I don’t know if my position picks up his front or if his light forehand rocks me back into balance, but it’s still better. (It does help that in the second photo I’m in my beloved Kent and Masters instead of the horrible ancient starter kit saddle I used in the first shot).
We both look stronger throughout our bodies; you can see how much condition and muscle Magic has put on by how much further down his barrel my leg is in the first picture compared to the second. (Let’s try not to think about the fact that Exavior is destined to be almost two hands taller than Magic, and about how stupid I am going to look on him considering I look like a kid on Magic).
I have to admit that, much as I may feel like we’re going nowhere, Magic is a different horse. Not just in his body, and not as much in his training as I would like him to be or as he would be with somebody who was better at training competition horses than breaking in crossbred veld ponies for kids, but he has changed for the better. He’s still quirky, daft Magic, but he no longer believes that the whole world is out to get him.
“I’ve had him two years. I’ve gotten nowhere,” I told the Mutterer.
“Of course you have. Just think about it. How has he improved?”
I thought for a while. “Well… he’s not as much of a weed. His neck looks better. He’s muscled up.”
This did not impress the Mutterer. “Let me tell you what I see. I see a really nervous horse that… is still nervous.”
I glared. “Great. Thanks.”
“But now, he can work through the nervousness. He can face his fears and carry on because you taught him how. That’s a huge thing, quite aside from his physical appearance.”
I said nothing, but I got the feeling that it was important. More important, perhaps, to Magic anyway, than the height of jumps.
Lord Jesus, let me never forget that I ride my horse, not my discipline.
Horse riding is a sport. An art. A passion. A career. It takes technique, it takes time, it takes talent. Balance, rhythm, deep breaths, impulsion, low heels, high hopes, the perfect distance, the perfect bend, the perfect seat, a draping leg, automatic release, just the right tack.
But sometimes, horse riding is just about hanging on.
Sit tall and deep. Elbows by your sides. More leg. Open chest. Closed fingers.
And sometimes, just hang on.
Sometimes, push your heel a little further down and tuck your lower leg a little further back. Relax the lower back a little more. Straighten the hands again. Focus between the ears.
And sometimes, just hang on.
Because when the muck heap hits the windmill, there’s nothing you can do except try not to fall off. Drop your heels if you can, grab mane if you need to, try to get him back under control but ultimately, just hang on. Franz Mairinger, coach of the gold-medal-winning Australian Olympic eventing team, said: “In an emergency I don’t care what you do, just don’t fall off.”
Just hang on.
Which is easy enough, when your horse has a moment and temporarily loses his mind and twenty seconds later it’s all over and you’re back to work. But many horses – dare I say most horses – go through a stage where their brains serially evaporate. Sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes for frustratingly unfixable reasons, horses can and do go through tough times in their training where they seem to regress dramatically and just become absolute lunatics overnight. Your normally safe, sound, wonderful creature loses it and broncs like a crazy beast every single ride for the next six weeks. His back, teeth, legs, brain, routine, feeding, grooming, tack, stomach, vision, and ear hairs for all we know are completely fine. Yet still he goes insane. Still he is not the horse he once was. Still he is leaping and flailing over jumps that he never used to mind and you can’t figure out why his confidence is gone. And wherever it went, your confidence is rapidly following.
But it’s going to be okay. Just hang on.
Give it time. It’s not going to be perfect tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Don’t try to make it perfect. Just try not to fall off. And if you do, just get back on again. Falling is part of it, blood is part of it, pain is part of it all; we don’t do easy, and that’s how we’ll get through it. Horses, just like people, lose their confidence sometimes for simple little reasons or perhaps no reason at all; they go through growth stages in their character. It happens and there are no quick fixes. All you can do is hang on and keep trying.
Just hang in there. Just hang on. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and once you’ve ridden all the way through the chaos and survived the sweat and the adrenaline and the dry-mouthed moments of absolute terror and the despair and the hopelessness, it will be so very worth it. Because you will be the one that clung fiercely to him when he couldn’t even keep a grip on himself. And then he will trust in you and he will fight for you, because you were there and you didn’t quit on him. I don’t think you’ll regret it.