Week Recap: 13th March

The yard is bursting at the seams and yet a little empty right now; we have 20 horses in residence but only 10 in training, down from the usual 14. One of my training horses came up with a chronic back injury; another did one too many handstands with me, causing me to call in the big guns, and he is now waiting on his lift back to the Mutterer to be sorted out; and two more were sold within a week of arriving.

This turned out to be a good thing, because it was bucketing down almost every afternoon and the whole of Wednesday. Usually I tend to have this attitude

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but not today, kids. It was cold and nobody needs to be sick, so it was just a slow week for everyone.

We still managed to make some progress. Magic had Monday off and then came back into work strongly, working hard on being more responsive off my leg and developing a forward, powerful showjumping canter, like the one we won with on Sunday (whoop!). When I got him he was extremely hypersensitive to my leg and somewhere along the line I have made him too dull to my leg, so now it’s back to getting more responsiveness. He finished the week on an incredibly high note, jumping an 80-85cm course that looked scary to me right up until he jumped the first fence. After that it was euphoria. I got him really deep to the second element of a bending line landing downhill, and he just put up his little knees and popped over it like no big deal. He was making 4 strides in every one of the lines (which walked for 5), so we even got our big canter going again. I was grinning all over my face every time I got off him this week. I know I say this a lot, but that is one special horse.

After his month off, I brought Exavior in and lunged him, which started fine but disintegrated into a minor disaster. He always used to live in the paddock right next to the lunging ring, so bringing him in and lunging him was a doddle; but now that I moved him out we need to pass a whole crew of mares and geldings he doesn’t know and it brought out his colt face. He was very good on the way there, though. Lunging-wise he was hyper and inattentive but extremely obedient, and on the way back he was a jerk. He managed to pull away from me (gloves, stupid!), charged through the gate and tried to jump on the nearest gelding, which gave him a well-deserved kick. Colts. I have two of them and they both need to be de-colted ASAP.

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The handsomest boys. Who remembers when Exavior (2) was shorter than Magic (8)?

Little Bruno has been coming along beautifully. After coming off a youngster I was backing last summer, my confidence with the babies took a massive hit. I had started probably 10 young horses last year and was getting a little workaday and didn’t read this one properly, so when I climbed on him he bucked vehemently until I ate dirt. It was quite a painful one too, resulting in a satisfyingly large purple bruise, but the memory of it remained every time I had to face up to a youngster. One of the Arop Nooities, a ploddy mare deep into her teens who could not have been surprised by anything, helped me part of the way through it by graciously letting me on board, but I was yet to start a youngster again. So 10 weeks of groundwork it was until I could no longer stand it and climbed onto my cute little pony who didn’t turn a hair. Seriously guys – that Nooitie temperament is just unbeatable. Bruno learned to canter this week, giving me 4 strides and a smooth transition without any drama. He is a little fussy with his mouth but not too bad. On Friday he felt kind of weird, like he was thinking about throwing in a buck, but later that evening he came in for dinner with a lump the size of a rugby ball right on his girth area so that would explain it. The new girl on the block must have been unimpressed by his romantic endeavours. The swelling is down markedly today so I think it’s just a big, ouchy bruise.

Lancelot is my other training project, a lanky dapple-grey Arab gelding who’s just gone three. Lance is a bit of a puzzle, which I’m still figuring out, but it helps to think of him as a kind of short baby Magic. He is super sweet and a total cuddle bunny right up until something scares him, when he loses his brains and goes ballistic. Heaven forbid I scare him because then the wheels fall off. We are beginning to understand one another, and his groundwork is more or less done, so on Tuesday I had a sit on him and had him back up a few steps and he didn’t do a thing. Unfortunately on Friday he came up with a suspected sacroiliac injury; not lame or stiff, but he has a very painful and sensitive area between his two hip bones. The chiro will be out to check that out ASAP.

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Bruno is adorable and he knows it

Thunder and Stardust had a chilled week with most of their lessons raining out, but both were their usual incredibly well-behaved selves. I school them both once a week to keep them sharp and they went beautifully. Thunny jumped a course of quite tall crosses with his usual ploddy, workmanlike reliability – he will go between the uprights every single time, although sometimes the poles won’t quite stay up. Stardust used to refuse to canter right but gave me two laps of the arena solid this week. Sadly she also came up lame on Friday (seriously horses what have you been doing?!) but should be better after having the weekend off.

Last but by no means least, Sookie arrived this week. I’ve been riding Sookie on and off for her owner for a while – probably four and a half or five years by now – and now she’s come for some more intensive training. I’ll admit to be excited to add another one to “my” competitive string. She settled in quite well, once the other horses had accepted her, and now looms happily over the group of native ponies wherever they go. Comically, 16hh imported German warmblood Sookie has made friends with 14hh veld pony Stardust. She has been bred the past two years and had two fine big foals, so she needs some weight and retraining, but I doubt it’ll be long before the big girl hits the show ring. She was virtually show ready last time I sat on her so we just have to dust things off a bit.

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Poor Bruno, he likes tall girls

Nell and Arwen rounded off the week with a successful graded dressage show on Sunday. I made the mistake of giving Arwen a goodly handful of her energy supplement that morning, which was idiotic to say the least. She wasn’t spooky or naughty, but she took one look at the dressage arena and said CROSS COUNTRYYYYY. When I explained that there were no fences and thus it could not be cross country, she demanded if that was a challenge and proceeded to demonstrate exactly how a fat Nooitgedachter mare can do cross country without any jumps required. Still, she finished on 59% for Novice 3 and 60% for Novice 2, with comments of “obedient”, “willing” (I don’t think this horse has ever finished a test without a “willing” comment) and a diplomatic “needs more suppling over the neck and back”, which I can only assume is dressage code for “pulls rider’s arms off”.

Nell warmed up beautifully but became separation anxious once we actually went in, so Novice 2 was horrible; we spooked dramatically, broke, shied, had a little buck, squealed a few times and fell in a heap at X for 52%. By Novice 3 she had settled enormously and had an obedient test for the comment “lovely” and “steady”, which she was, barring one nasty moment when the Friesian next door spooked and she spooked at it spooking. She still felt a little mediocre, for Nell, and didn’t have any wow moments, but got 59% which I won’t sniff at. I was proud of how quickly she settled down; her separation anxiety is a problem but every time we go out it improves a little, so someday we’ll be rid of it for good.

 

Le Godimo’s Last Bash Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.