Riba Training SJ

On Sunday morning we trundled off to Kyalami in convoy: the four-berth and two two-berths, all full except the second two-berth. Because with the business growing like it has, that’s how we roll. God is good!

The seven horses arrived at Riba, a smartly efficient and friendly yard right in the heart of deep Kyalami horse country, safely and having travelled well – even Savanna, who was involved in a boxing accident years ago. We had managed to book some stables and hurriedly tossed the ponies in there before heading up for our first classes.

spot the coach in the background

Sunè and her kid were having their first away show off the lead. She was nappy in the warmup (including jumping out of the side… not entirely sure the kid was not in on this plot) but once they hit the show ring they were both absolutely on their game. As you can see, I was in the arena for both rounds for moral support, but all I did was shout “Slowly!” at intervals. He remembered the tracks perfectly and Sunè was her wonderful little self. They did up to 40cm, which is already good enough for SANESA Level 0. I wouldn’t push him for more if he doesn’t want to so I’m pretty happy with it.

Savanna was next. She’d been amazing to box and handle and showed no separation anxiety, which is already a huge win, so I was optimistic. Once I was on she did get a bit spooky. Nothing violent, but your standard TB move of running backwards and threatening to rear. We handled that and made it into the warm up, where she was looky but fine and completely happy to jump all the jumps – even the oxer.

In the show ring for the 40 it started with some more backwards running and panicking; I talked her over 1 and 2, and 3 had a wavy plank in it and she politely declined. A kind coach came over and led her over that, and then she seemed to settle and plopped around the rest without turning a hair.

In the 50 she had settled very well and trotted around it easily, albeit having a big look at the wavy plank and carelessly taking a pole, but I’ll take it.

It was all just standard baby horse stuff and I’m expecting huge improvement by the next one. The main thing is that she loaded and travelled well, didn’t get separation anxious, handled the new environment, and was willing to try. The rest will come with experience.

Midas and VT’s kid N were in the 50 and 60, as well as Liana and her kid. Both ponies jumped super clear rounds. Liana also had a fat look at the wavy plank but her kid gave her a big kick and they made it. They didn’t place in the 60, but that was because I gave the kid strict instructions to keep it slow and quiet, and she followed them to the letter. This kid was falling off at 50 only a few months ago – I’m intensely impressed.

Midas absolutely jumped out of his socks. He got right to work and never looked at a thing; in the jump-off he took the little turns and stretched out until he was doing horse strides with those little legs. His technique continues to improve and he’s just such a brave, uncomplicated and trustworthy chap – at four years old, and ridden exclusively by kids. Just top class and I really mean it. In the 60 he ended up fifth in a fairly big class, causing problems for N because…


… Vastrap won it. Nothing could stop this little professional and they absolutely nailed it. In the 70 they came third despite poor N having tight costume changes riding two horses with one saddle. She handled it great. The makings of a top rider here, too.

he is the best at waiting in training show queues

Lancey also jumped the 60 and the 70 and he nailed my goal (which didn’t make it to the blog, oops): no stops. In fact, he jumped all his rounds clear. He behaved impeccably all day, except when I tried to cut this turn in the jump-off and we almost jumped this random jump and he mercifully stopped and I almost fell on it and then we got it together and finished the round. Obviously he wasn’t very quick so we didn’t place, but now he’s all ready for Z-kid and I’m happy as a bird.

This wonderful object was his wonderful Jamaican self, garnishing compliments on his spottiness and sweetness. I was so so tired when I got on him for the 70 and didn’t really get it together, so he climbed over the fences and almost stopped at the wavy pole and I just sat there flapping my stick because my legs didn’t want to kick anymore. Poor chap still managed to jump clear, though.

I had a breather (and food) before the 80 and this managed to restore my riding ability back to normal. We tackled this, a speed class, with something resembling speed for the first time ever. I never chased him, but I did ask for his “big” rhythm (the biggest I’m happy with, which admittedly is not very big) and we made tight turns and the horse was just fantastic. I made decisions and actually rode and he just rose to the occasion. There were VERY spooky fillers but he marched over them all. We got sixth too, which was quite nice.

Maybe next time we’ll try a 90. Either way, God is amazing and I love my spotty friend.


Glory to the King.

Posted in Jamaica, Lancelot, Lessons, Liana, Midas, Savanna, Vastrap | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Blizzard, Champagne, Eagle, Lullaby, Savanna, Stardust | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strong Women

Today amid the madness, I spared a thought for what it means to be a woman of God.

I thought about Proverbs 31, as you do. Strength and dignity. Sense and faith. A strange mixture of submission and power, rolled up in meekness and confidence.

I thought of the women of the Bible. I thought of Sarah, who mocked the Lord and then had a child that would become the ancestor of the nation through which God saved the world.

I thought of Deborah, Israel’s lady judge, the warrior woman who fixed her eyes on God and led her faltering people charging to victory against the looming foe.

dauntless courage

I thought of Ruth, the sweet, loyal, vulnerable girl whose meek purity shone through; the storms that should have scarred her only washed her innocence and gentleness whiter.

I thought of Hannah, the mocked, the belittled, the neglected, the distressed, the faithful; who prayed without words, and birthed the man who would anoint Israel’s first king.

blazing faith

I thought of Esther. The girl whom life threw down, a slave, a concubine, her family killed, stripped from her foster father by a selfish king, her nation accursed; a new queen who laid down her life to save her people. A woman sent for such a time as this.

heaven-sent


I thought of Elizabeth and Martha. I thought of Mary the mother of Jesus, maybe the greatest of them all – Behold the handmaid of the Lord! I thought of Tabitha and Mary Magdalene and I wondered – who does God want me to be like? Which of these great women would be my single role model?

God’s response was simple.
“I am your role model, daughter; I made you to be Firn.”

Go fix your eyes on Him and be the wonderful lady He created. Happy Woman’s Day and glory to the King.

Posted in Horses and God | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gauteng Finals High Schools

This show seemed to be determined to end the SANESA season on a typically chaotic SANESA bang – six classes all in one morning all over vast KEP and I was determined not to miss a second of anything. I almost succeeded, and I’m incredibly glad that I did – because God did something mighty that day!

All the ponies and riders absolutely showed up and brought their A-game that day. Pennie was jumping out of her skin – standing off and overjumping by miles. I have never seen her feeling soooo good in her body and she was showing off. They blasted through their A2 speed with G cheering Pennie on at the top of her lungs, me cheering G on at the top of my lungs, and G’s mom and I almost having a collective heart attack. They won it and with a fat margin, too.  No mean feat at Gauteng Finals.

They followed it up by bounding through the huge and technical competition round for 4th place. We’re going to Nationals!

Their equitation was not their best – G didn’t get the chance to plan her test because they were busy winning stuff and I was busy cleaning Zorro so I didn’t even see it, but they still placed 15th. By working hunter they were both absolutely flattened. They tried hard, but Pennie didn’t really have the steam to show a good jump and kept disuniting, so they ended 13th.

I am chuffed. Just a little. This pony shouldn’t even be sound according to what I was seeing eight weeks ago; it was remedially stopping and getting elimination after elimination last year and now look at her. No, look at God – and the things He does! Nothing is impossible. ❤

G also thought (as did we all) that she’d sacrificed her chance to jump at Finals at all when she had to make the choice to leave the last qualifier because Pennie wasn’t quite right. It was a decision I left up to her and she made a mature one, so for this more than anything, I’m proud.

Zorro cleaned up great and headed off to working hunter positively sparkling. I was chewing my nails when I saw the track – both technical and spooky, with some obstacles he’s only seen once or twice at xc schooling. But he and Z-kid plunged forth at the most wonderful hunter pace and proceeded to cruise around majestically, taking every fence in his stride. They had a careless pole, but even so their manners and pace marks were high enough to earn tied 9th and a place on the Gauteng team.

Their jumping track was VERY soft and unimpressive and Zorro was just kind of bored with it and took a naughty pole. Their time was solid and they would have placed but for that, so I am building gymnastic lines as we speak to get the brat to pick his lazy feets up.

shiny feets though

This horse was a camel when he arrived and I really didn’t think much of him but God is using him mightily.

It’s not the placings that awed me at this show, although those did feel good. My primary school riders tried just as hard and so did their ponies. It’s that we have really, really struggled with these two horses in the past and they were just in such a happy space this weekend – absolutely knocked it out of the park, and loved it.

God is moving. Glory to the King.

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Big Skies

It’s been another long and hard week under these big skies, but so worth it. My training has picked up somewhat with the addition of Savanna and Lisna to my schedule, as well as extra admin over month end, so we worked hard this week – but we’ve managed to get a whole lot done!


Thunny was fantastic this week, working on a bunch of Novice work, including the transitions, lengthenings and a little leg-yield or two. He also almost killed L with his lunging, I’m afraid – big dude still remains rather, um, unenthusiastic about the forward thing.


Magic is so fat I’m going to have to start limiting his teff at some point, although he’ll probably lose much of it when spring rolls around and he walks all over his field after the little bits of green grass. His liberty is going great. We’re still pretty much free lunging, but now I can get him to make his circles bigger and smaller, and come to me every time I ask.

I can easily see how the whole thing would go awry if you came at it trying to treat this dangerous huge animal like a dog, though. I very quickly established to Magic that if I say come it means to a spot just outside my space bubble, then I go to him, he doesn’t get to jump on top of me. This has kept things relaxed even when he wants to fool around and buck and express himself because he’s not close enough to accidentally hurt me, so he can have some fun.


Champagne brought me to my knees – literally. It’s not that we were making no progress, but my heart just breaks for that horse when she gets sucked into that whirlpool of anxiety over the littlest thing. I’ve never known a horse to stay so worried for so long – not even Magic. So she featured prominently in my prayers last week, and I started asking for a little more. First just hand walking around the terrifying dressage arena and then – wonder of wonders – I actually rode her all the way around the track without having any meltdowns! I used an older horse to give us a lead, which definitely helped, but in the end we took the lead. She spooked a couple times but it was a normal “ah scary!” young horse spook, not a meltdown.

Progress is slow with Pagney and I really hope her owners stay patient with me because to them it must look awfully like they’re paying me to do nothing. But we’re having big, life-changing conversations with this horse now, and if I rush now I’ll just break her right back down again. She needs so much to learn that I will never punish her for being afraid or write off her nerves as being unimportant. She just doesn’t know she can deal with things, and slowly she’s getting to a place where I can talk her down off the ledge.

In short, she’s finally beginning to trust me. Well done, special little soul. ❤


Beloved dragonbeastie had a bit of a weird week – our routine was just a bit off somehow. She worked brilliantly well, though. More on that later.

I do find that our usual dressage ride time – about 7am – works far better than any other time for her. It’s very quiet then, and she’s able to focus well. Afternoon rides amid the chaos of lessons and lunging and evening feed don’t go as well and she struggles to get into the right zone, but she does it for me.


Lady Erin had her (hopefully) last session about the box on Monday. She just marched right on in four times in a row without any trouble. She is a bit scared of backing out again after slipping last time, but she’ll do it without any drama. Her citizenship is basically done now; I just want to discuss the idea of having a bath, probably when the weather is nicer.


Lisna has been put on my list for twice a week this month. I have my concerns that she’s a bit big and uneducated for E. The horse does not have a violent bone in her body, but she does tend to get quick in canter and I’m not sure how she’ll do at a show. We’re going to try and take her to one in the end of the month and see how she goes before making any decisions or anything.


Savanna’s first show is next weekend and I’m looking forward to it. She’s a hard-trying horse and going MUCH better now that she understands her job a bit better. Her rhythm is lovely now and we’ve started to talk about connection, too. She does want to duck out the first time she sees a fence, but the tendency is decreasing – especially with her teenager.

Midas’s new child’s attendance was a bit sporadic this week due to circumstances beyond their control, so VT’s kid rode him again. This pony goes soooo well. He’s getting quieter and quieter – more and more suited to a first pony even at his age.


K is riding Milady with the idea of turning her into a schoolie since I have nothing really that’s big enough for adults and teens. She can’t just stand in a field open and in early pregnancy, she’s far too young for that. Her first heat cycle of the season arrived this week and I’m looking at sending her off to meet a very handsome grey Welsh husband on the next one or the one after.


This was Starlight’s last ride with us. She has found a new home at a fancy place in the city with some very nice people, and left on Thursday. The riding school will definitely miss her.

Eagle is just super. He’s actually more chill on hacks than in the arena and just loves going out whenever. He had to give Starlight and Lullaby leads past spooky objects on this particular hack. K rides him mostly now since he’s pretty finished and I am swamped.

Blizzard had his first few steps of canter very uneventfully in the ring, so he graduated to the dressage arena. I’m taking a new approach on schooling him, removing a lot of my usual emphasis on forwardness and rhythm in the early stages. It annoys me; I feel I’m teaching the horse to be ridden badly. But for a farm hack, whose owners’ buddies will probably want to take a spin now and then, it may be a quicker way to get him safe. Eagle is already too forward for them. Anyway, Blizzard didn’t look at a single spooky object, so his future as a hack looks bright.


Little Lullaby really perked up this week. I noticed she lost a bit of weight – not loads; she was about a 7 and now she’s about a 5.5 – and it’s affected her saddle fit. We tweaked that and it definitely helped. I also added a bit of concentrate and increased her joint supplements to see if that helps. It all seems to be paying off; she is more cheeky but also definitely more enthusiastic again. Which is good because Starlight left a gap poor old Lulu will have to fill (with Trooper’s help).


I took little Icey to the old age home for some interaction with the residents, alongside a group of other dog owners coordinated by the local SPCA. Ice is kinda terrified of old people but he’s getting better with each trip, and was actually really well behaved. It was a hugely soul-nourishing experience. God has this way of most feeding us when He sends us to feed others.


Ash is also in heat this week, yay! I’m still a bit up and down with choosing a stallion for her. I found a gorgeous Connemara stallion, but he’s maximum height and she’s just over. I’d also prefer a live cover stallion given her age. So we’re looking at an ex-1.10m jumping Welshie or at the stunning Welsh stallion that was reserve supreme in hand at HOY.


Lancey is so amazing on hacks now – I trust him very well alone, in groups, and in all three gaits. His responsiveness in the arena was not great this week, but he has been jumping with a lot more confidence than before. I’m hoping for his show next week to be his last under me before I hand him over to his kid for good.


Liana and her kid had an easy week jumping and hacking after having their brains fried by prix caprilli last week. They loved it.


This is Billy Bob, a tiny brown Jamaica from Winstead. He is lovely. My lesson this week was less lovely. I was back on board Al and his very long stride took me by surprise a bit; I was really struggling to see distances and ride a rhythm and it made me on edge because I felt like he was jumping out from under me a bit. We got it done, but it has left me with some apprehension for Module 4. I’ll be fine as long as the horse I get is short-striding and a bit lazy. If I get something a bit trigger-happy with big strides it may be a bit of a disaster. That’s up to God though, so He’s got it.


L and an online Module 2 student are writing their exams in a couple of weeks so it’s been Pony Club around here frantically learning stuff. These rules are basically impossible to get into your head and must be known from memory for the exams, so now there’s a poster in the feed room for L to chew over with every feed.


Destiny is probably going home to his mom at the end of the month and he feels pretty ready. He still drives me nuts from time to time, but he’s a solid citizen now and his mom handles him well.

I left the bad news for last because it comes with a serious prayer request. Precious Stardust has injured her gimpy leg on Friday afternoon. She started limping a bit halfway through a lesson; we got off and unsaddled, and when we walked her to the stable she was barely weight-bearing. I really, really hate to see a horse that lame, I really do, it’s seldom good. She’s on box rest and NSAIDs for the weekend, with the hope that it’s a bad muscle sprain that will resolve, but if I’m honest I have no idea what’s going on in there.

She has done so much. She is a cornerstone on which we built this yard and she owes me nothing, but I pray God that she’ll be OK. She’s my most stalwart colleague and most trustworthy helper and I really want to see her sound again. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.

Glory to the King.

Posted in Arwen, Ash, Blizzard, Champagne, Destiny, Eagle, Lady Erin, Lancelot, Liana, Lisna, Lullaby, Magic, Midas, Savanna, Stardust, Thunder | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gauteng Finals Primary Schools

Last Saturday morning at early o’ clock saw us boxing Vastrap and Liana in the dark. Good little VT strolled right in; Liana had never seen a two-berth before and needed a rope around her bum, but we got her in with minimal drama and headed off to beautiful KEP.

arenas upon arenas – love KEP


We arrived with enough time to spare before the jumping class to plait VT, to his kid’s delight. This kid absolutely loves to be well turned out and is forever badgering me to plait her pony for jumping, but I’m afraid on a SANESA day when I have like five to plait and a million classes to get to, it never happens.

The neatly turned out Vastrap and contented kid headed off to warm up in a glow of excitement and I pretty much stayed out of their way and chewed my nails watching them navigate a really chaotic warmup. Vastrap was being an absolute little professional as usual, but so much more relaxed than normal. His kid has been so good for him – I’ve never seen him in such a positive emotional space at a show. He was just cruising.

There were 39 horses in their 60cm speed class and the competition, as usual for finals, was enormously strong. Coming from Sedibeng qualifiers to Finals is always a bit of a culture shock; Morning Star is probably one of the medium to stronger yards at qualifiers, but then we get to Finals and find ourselves competing against the cream of the abundant crop from Kyalami and Pretoria, deep horse country.

Still, Vastrap strolled into that class ready for anything. We’d walked a tricky little track, cutting a lot of turns and taking a couple of risks, but VT and his kid absolutely smashed it. They nailed turns that were making good ponies stop, giving a clear round in a solid time for 14th place. I was so proud of them both. The placing left them just out of the team for Nationals, but I was still very happy with their performance.


We sat around for a long time then, waiting for something to happen, and then – as usual – it all started to happen at once. Liana and VT had to be hustled off to their classes almost simultaneously while I frantically tried to finish Liana’s plaits for prix caprilli and keep everyone calm (not least my panicking self).

VT and his kid made the first round of their competition look easy, skipping around clear without any difficulty. I just had time to watch and cheer before bolting down to the dressage arenas to find Liana nowhere in sight ten minutes before her ride time. After some frantic running about, Liana was located and shunted into the warmup, times were sorted out, and we managed to get a time ten minutes later – to my great relief. Ana, at least, was being relaxed and well behaved. Her kid had completely forgotten how to ride figures of any description (a first Finals will do that to you) but we used those ten minutes to re-learn them all and by the time we were called, everyone had settled.

The two of them proceeded to ride a solid, obedient test. Liana’s bend and connection were a bit all over the place, and there were a couple of inaccuracies, but Liana’s kid kept a lid on a very hot pony and stood up well to the pressure of Finals. They missed out on the placings, but for me it was a resounding end to a SANESA season that had not started well, and I was proud of them both.

Then it was time to sprint back up to the jumping, just in time for VT’s jump-off. His kid actually had to wake him up a bit to get him forward, and in they went, planning to ride another twisty track. In the end I had told them to cut a turn where I think, in the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I should have had them go round and gallop a bit. But I’m always a bit chicken of letting kids go too fast. So off they went, VT jumping like a little superstar and his child doing everything I said and they were quick and clear.


It was not quite good enough for Nationals, landing them in 15th place, but it absolutely was good enough for me. This pony used to gallop inverted at fences and panic through all of his courses, taking poles as he went, and now he just toddles around in a rhythm with soft eyes and happy ears. Nationals or no, that counts for something.

I tell the kids that only two opinions matter: your horse’s and God’s. And I know for a fact that both of those have very high opinions of these two kids.

Glory to the King.

Posted in Lessons, Liana, Vastrap | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Week in Dressage: Halts Revisited, Working Canter

After last week spent packing a beginner around at pony camp and the training show, it was time to put Thunder back to work. He was so good with his beginner – bombproof really, although he did trot up to each ground pole and then walk and climb carefully over it at the show. I brought him in early on Monday and suddenly was riding a hot, spooky young horse who ran sideways away from a pile of jump fillers. As you do.

He settled quickly, though, and we could get to work on two concepts. Going back to what I said after the last show, we needed to work on our halts, stretchy trot, and lengthened trot for Prelim. I am intentionally not drilling the lengthened trot right now. I drilled Arwen’s early on and destroyed it forever. So we do it once a session or so, but I keep it lighthearted, only ask for what I think he can give me, and only when I think he feels like giving it. We also work over trot poles set far apart now and then to help him figure out what he needs to do.

The stretchy trot is also much improved just by incorporating it into the cool-down every session, so that leaves us with the halts and then schooling for Novice next year.

We started with the halts. They are a lot better since my light bulb moment of riding the walk actively to get the halt square, but about 50% of the time he’d be square in front and then step forward with his right hind. Erin pointed out what should have been blindingly obvious: of course he steps forward with the right hind – I sit so hard on my right seat bone. It’s only because he’s huge and kind and not super sensitive that he only does that instead of swinging quarters to right like Arwen and Nell always used to.

So we tried riding the walk actively and sitting harder on my left seat bone (ugh left hip why must you ruin everything?) and we had consistent square halts at last. Sometimes I overdo it and he steps forward with the left hind, but it’s just a matter of me finding my balance.

Then it was on to working on some Novice stuff. While we have played with basically everything from Novice, it hasn’t been polished or serious. And the biggest problem remains his canter. I can hold it together for long enough in a Prelim test to make it look good, and the transitions are some of our best marks, but it’s still not truly in front of my leg. That means it’s not truly connected or supple or balanced either.

We started with my favourite, bestest, simplest exercise to get the canter in front of my leg.

  • Canter large.
  • Focus on sitting really, really still with the leg OFF.
  • The moment he loses impulsion or breaks his rhythm, touch him with the whip behind my leg. Not leg, whip. Leg is Mr. Nice Guy. Leg is for the transition. Leg is NOT to keep your lazy behind cantering when it’s actually your own responsibility.
  • If the break in rhythm occurs less frequently, give him a break.
  • If the break fails to occur less frequently, increase the intensity of the whip aid.

I had to take the whip aid all the way up to a good smack before the message penetrated and Thun started to do his job, but it did help to reinforce the idea that leg = go and no leg does not equal no go. In other words, he started to carry himself forward.

He was quite stiff during this session, so it was evident that he found the idea a bit difficult and it made him a little tense, so I started looking at ways to help him develop the canter muscles to make his job easier.

The first was my gymnastic line from last week, the one with all the bounces. If you think about it, bounces are just really high canter poles. He HAD to canter forward and engaged without getting strung out to this exercise – there’s no way to just flop through it. And he did! He didn’t touch a single pole. We repeated it a few times, then turned around and jumped it going the wrong way, with the big vertical (80cm) and one stride first and then the bounces. I expected this to be hard because he had to rebalance quickly after jumping the bigger fence, but he just skipped right through. Good chap.

Our next session he suddenly had a CANTER! So much so that I started playing with the Novice 3 canter work: loop through X in counter canter, lengthening, 15m circle. He stayed so connected and bent beautifully around the circle. The loop caught him unawares and he did lose his balance for a couple of strides the first time, but it was clean and obedient. We even actually got a lengthening. The transition from lengthened back to working was not as crisp as I’d wanted, but he kept his rhythm. It all wants polishing but it feels as though he is ready to do the polishing.

His simple change through trot is also OK but can have too many trot steps, so that’s just something to work on.

We ended the week with some raised canter poles. He threw them all over the place at first, but if I rode them light seat he went through well. Getting off the baby’s back a bit can’t be a bad thing over poles, so I was happy with it.

We will add a day of pole work/jumping to each week and I think a day of lunging in side reins in canter especially can also help to strengthen the canter. It’s not bad, really – it just doesn’t feel like his walk and trot, which are both AMAZING.

This horse is amazing. A majestic, powerful, adorable marshmallow.

Glory to the King.

feel free to laugh at this one

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