Training Horses Update

The five horsies in training have been ticking over quite nicely.

In fact, for some of them, that’s probably an understatement. Emmy went from accepting tack to going on the lines quickly. During her first session on the long lines I thought she might be going to kill me since she spent quite a lot of time head flipping, running back and threatening to rear. In the next session, though, I saw sense and swapped my favourite backing bit for the thinnest little French link I have and the problem was mostly solved. Most babies like the fat single joint full cheek, but thoroughbreds and their small mouths would have to be different.

She still head-flipped a tiny bit, but I suspect that her teeth want to be seen to, and they will when my dentist comes again. So it wasn’t long before I was sitting on her,

why can’t my leg always be like this?

and then riding around. She had been ridden on the track about seven years ago, so as expected she didn’t mind me being up there, but she had kind of forgotten what aids were, so it took a little while to get her confident and relaxed in walk. But soon we progressed to the big arena in walk and trot.

She does like to fall in quite dramatically on the right rein. I strongly suspect an issue with a left tooth, so I don’t make too much of a scene about it, but it’s already much improved compared to this photo from her first ride. Even the head-flipping is much better, probably because I ride my babies on little or no contact and she’s starting to trust my hand not to hurt whatever it is that’s hurting in there. I won’t be putting this on the bit until we’ve sorted it out.

For now we’re walking and trotting figures in the dressage and had three or four steps of canter in our last session, so I’m pretty happy.

Champagne has been drawing shapes in the sand – even on the spooky end, which seems to be no longer spooky. We had to avoid it the other day because our oldest cow, Fiona, was lying right next to the arena fence, chewing cud and swishing her tail and making little Fiona noises, and Champagne just didn’t deal that day. Otherwise, she pretty much goes like a normal young horse now.

She is doing our in-house show next Saturday, so we’re putting some work into really schooling her now that the worst of the remedial stuff is out of the way. Her bend now matches left and right and since her teeth were done she’s a lot better about taking my left rein, so connection is better too. She struggles with all canter transitions, though, particularly right. She doesn’t buck through them anymore unless she’s very fresh, but on the right she struggles to get the lead, and the first few canter steps are generally rushing, tense and hollow. This has improved as her bend improved, and we were able to try a few changes through trot, but I don’t expect them to be great at the show.

I don’t really know what to expect from the show. I think she may be quite spooky of the new things next to the arena, like the judge’s gazebo, but I think as long as I stay calm we can work through it. Since it’s my show I can also show her the spooky things before having to ride her and schedule her time for when it’s quietest, so that’s rather a plus.

Titan also finally got over his nerves with the saddle and graduated to the long lines. Like most unspoilt youngsters, he handled these with aplomb and quickly learned all the aids, including halt from any gait. I don’t get clean halts from canter, obviously, but for me it’s just about knowing that whoa means whoa forever and always.

Somewhere between accepting the saddle and long lining, he also finally relaxed about – well, everything. One day he came into work and he was just totally chill and pleasant to be around, like he’d grown up overnight. He stood loose in the stable to tack up, he walked into the wash bay like an old hand, and he stood quietly when I had my first little sit on him. This has since become the norm, and it makes everything much more pleasant for both of us.

Yesterday we did the ride-from-the-ground exercise, and while he had a few moments of tension at first, he cottoned on very fast. Intelligent, willing horses are so easy when they quit panicking. So I hopped on and we did a few steps of rein back and a few steps forward. He was totally relaxed by the whole idea and much more concerned with staring at other horses in the field than with me on his back.

Antwone has been super. Three natural gaits made lunging fairly simple. He is very fresh since he only works once a week when I see him, but once we’ve gotten over the first five minutes of mad running, it didn’t take long to get the voice commands installed. He had one more colt moment where he thought maybe turning his bum on me would be a good idea and was very rapidly convinced otherwise.

So yesterday we moved on to the bridle. He was a bit of a pain to get it on, first because as colts do he was chewing the straps, and then because he put his nose in the air and with that fat little Friesian neck there was no way I was making it come down – highly embarrassing at somebody else’s yard – but once it went on he accepted it pretty quickly. He’s good to lunge in three gaits now (except he can’t really canter left in their smaller ring yet, but it’s like 8-10m so I don’t expect him to) so hopefully his people can put in some lunging and make all our lives easier.

no pictures of Savanna, sorry girl

Savanna has been back on track again. She was getting very much against my hand, both in the contact for connection and when I ask for whoa. Now I know technically I should school her to be more off my seat, but let’s be real. It’s a kid horse, it needs to stop when you pull the reins, the first time, every time. So I employed a pulley rein every time she wanted to rush or ignore my light whoa; if this was right before or over a fence then so be it. She can’t run at fences with her kid. This worked well, and yesterday she and her kid cantered quiet circles over a fairly big fence (for them) without any mad running at all.

For the pulling I was getting in response to asking for connection, I used a trick I learned from Coach K and held the numnah with my outside hand alongside the rein. This anchored my hand in place, so stopping me from pulling back, but also making it harder for her to pull forward. It kills the forearms but by the end she decided that not pulling was just a much easier option.

some of the happy group: Sunè, Renè, Lullaby, Midas, Nugget, Trooper and Titan

We also have grazing for some of the horses at last, which makes my heart very happy. If we’re honest, it’s mostly (non-harmful) weeds, but they’re ponies, they like weeds. Lulu and Trooper have already visibly gained weight after a week in the grazing. Thanks to the abundant provision of rain, a gift straight from the Hand of God.

Glory to the King.

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Posted in Antwone, Champagne, Emmy, Savanna, Titan | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Training Horses Update

The four horsies in training have been ticking over quite nicely.

In fact, for some of them, that’s probably an understatement. Emmy went from accepting tack to going on the lines quickly. During her first session on the long lines I thought she might be going to kill me since she spent quite a lot of time head flipping, running back and threatening to rear. In the next session, though, I saw sense and swapped my favourite backing bit for the thinnest little French link I have and the problem was mostly solved. Most babies like the fat single joint full cheek, but thoroughbreds and their small mouths would have to be different.

She still head-flipped a tiny bit, but I suspect that her teeth want to be seen to, and they will when my dentist comes again. So it wasn’t long before I was sitting on her,

why can’t my leg always be like this?

and then riding around. She had been ridden on the track about seven years ago, so as expected she didn’t mind me being up there, but she had kind of forgotten what aids were, so it took a little while to get her confident and relaxed in walk. But soon we progressed to the big arena in walk and trot.

She does like to fall in quite dramatically on the right rein. I strongly suspect an issue with a left tooth, so I don’t make too much of a scene about it, but it’s already much improved compared to this photo from her first ride. Even the head-flipping is much better, probably because I ride my babies on little or no contact and she’s starting to trust my hand not to hurt whatever it is that’s hurting in there. I won’t be putting this on the bit until we’ve sorted it out.

For now we’re walking and trotting figures in the dressage and had three or four steps of canter in our last session, so I’m pretty happy.

Champagne has been drawing shapes in the sand – even on the spooky end, which seems to be no longer spooky. We had to avoid it the other day because our oldest cow, Fiona, was lying right next to the arena fence, chewing cud and swishing her tail and making little Fiona noises, and Champagne just didn’t deal that day. Otherwise, she pretty much goes like a normal young horse now.

She is doing our in-house show next Saturday, so we’re putting some work into really schooling her now that the worst of the remedial stuff is out of the way. Her bend now matches left and right and since her teeth were done she’s a lot better about taking my left rein, so connection is better too. She struggles with all canter transitions, though, particularly right. She doesn’t buck through them anymore unless she’s very fresh, but on the right she struggles to get the lead, and the first few canter steps are generally rushing, tense and hollow. This has improved as her bend improved, and we were able to try a few changes through trot, but I don’t expect them to be great at the show.

I don’t really know what to expect from the show. I think she may be quite spooky of the new things next to the arena, like the judge’s gazebo, but I think as long as I stay calm we can work through it. Since it’s my show I can also show her the spooky things before having to ride her and schedule her time for when it’s quietest, so that’s rather a plus.

Titan also finally got over his nerves with the saddle and graduated to the long lines. Like most unspoilt youngsters, he handled these with aplomb and quickly learned all the aids, including halt from any gait. I don’t get clean halts from canter, obviously, but for me it’s just about knowing that whoa means whoa forever and always.

Somewhere between accepting the saddle and long lining, he also finally relaxed about – well, everything. One day he came into work and he was just totally chill and pleasant to be around, like he’d grown up overnight. He stood loose in the stable to tack up, he walked into the wash bay like an old hand, and he stood quietly when I had my first little sit on him. This has since become the norm, and it makes everything much more pleasant for both of us.

Yesterday we did the ride-from-the-ground exercise, and while he had a few moments of tension at first, he cottoned on very fast. Intelligent, willing horses are so easy when they quit panicking. So I hopped on and we did a few steps of rein back and a few steps forward. He was totally relaxed by the whole idea and much more concerned with staring at other horses in the field than with me on his back.

Antwone has been super. Three natural gaits made lunging fairly simple. He is very fresh since he only works once a week when I see him, but once we’ve gotten over the first five minutes of mad running, it didn’t take long to get the voice commands installed. He had one more colt moment where he thought maybe turning his bum on me would be a good idea and was very rapidly convinced otherwise.

So yesterday we moved on to the bridle. He was a bit of a pain to get it on, first because as colts do he was chewing the straps, and then because he put his nose in the air and with that fat little Friesian neck there was no way I was making it come down – highly embarrassing at somebody else’s yard – but once it went on he accepted it pretty quickly. He’s good to lunge in three gaits now (except he can’t really canter left in their smaller ring yet, but it’s like 8-10m so I don’t expect him to) so hopefully his people can put in some lunging and make all our lives easier.

no pictures of Savanna, sorry girl


Savanna has been back on track again. She was getting very much against my hand, both in the contact for connection and when I ask for whoa. Now I know technically I should school her to be more off my seat, but let’s be real. It’s a kid horse, it needs to stop when you pull the reins, the first time, every time. So I employed a pulley rein every time she wanted to rush or ignore my light whoa; if this was right before or over a fence then so be it. She can’t run at fences with her kid. This worked well, and yesterday she and her kid cantered quiet circles over a fairly big fence (for them) without any mad running at all.

For the pulling I was getting in response to asking for connection, I used a trick I learned from Coach K and held the numnah with my outside hand alongside the rein. This anchored my hand in place, so stopping me from pulling back, but also making it harder for her to pull forward. It kills the forearms but by the end she decided that not pulling was just a much easier option.

some of the happy group: Sunè, Renè, Lullaby, Midas, Nugget, Trooper and Titan

We also have grazing for some of the horses at last, which makes my heart very happy. If we’re honest, it’s mostly (non-harmful) weeds, but they’re ponies, they like weeds. Lulu and Trooper have already visibly gained weight after a week in the grazing. Thanks to the abundant provision of rain, a gift straight from the Hand of God.

Glory to the King.

Posted in Antwone, Champagne, Emmy, Savanna, Titan | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And Suddenly There Was Shoulder-In

By the end of last week, it was beginning to feel like things were starting to come together with Thunny and I. And by that I mean that the spastic chicken had finally developed the ability to let go of its inside rein.

pictured: superstar photobombed by groupies

So we headed off to our next lesson with optimism, which was rewarded when Coach J only made us do the turn on the forehand exercise like three times and moved on to other work – still on the same theme.

Straightness and connection and bend. We did alternately long stretches of trotting large, pushing for something like a medium trot (pls Coach J we can barely do lengthenings), focusing on having Thunder really forward off my leg and into my hand. “Use his bum to push his head down, not your hands to pull his head down,” intoned the oracle.

To do this I also had to give my inside bend fetish a rest and straighten him considerably, even on the corners, allowing both hind legs to push evenly forward into my hands. I struggled with this because all I really got from him in trot and canter was to run onto his forehand. In walk we got something much nicer, a massive active walk that I could feel over his back.

Then we’d move on to long stretches of shoulder-in going large. And I had my doubts because shoulder-in hadn’t really been on our radar – shoulder-fore had been a big ask for preparation for walk-canter – but what do you know? I popped on inside leg and outside hand and we had something like shoulder-in.

It wasn’t terribly good shoulder-in, though. I generally was too quick to reward Thunny for running out through his shoulder instead of being straight and stepping across, mostly because I have no idea what a proper shoulder-in feels like. More outside rein (always more outside rein) mitigated this, but we both began to degenerate into a bit of a mess about it, so Coach J ordered me off and got on the steed himself.

I neglected to take photos so here’s a gratuitous selfie

Nobody has ever trained Thunny other than me, so I’ve never really seen him being ridden in a true connection in real life. It took me a few seconds to get over how majestic he is and start to listen to Coach J. Who magically got my horse to shoulder-in. By the end of it he was doing shoulder-in in a long and low frame with a floppy inside rein.

I got on again then, but he was quite tired so we just did a couple more and then called it a day. It did feel better, though, and having seen it, I had a better idea of what it’s supposed to be.

On Tuesday our session was a bit of a mess. Thunder seemed to have forgotten everything he’d learned about connection and retained only the ability to run onto his forehand. We tried to do some stretchy trot but all he did was run. Then I tried to do some lateral work to re-engage his brain, starting with a little leg-yield, and the whole mood changed when I touched him with my inside leg and he gave me the best leg-yield I’ve ever ridden on any horse, ever.

After that we did leg-yield all over the place until I was happy as a bird and, thus, he was happy as a bird. Apparently inside leg to outside rein fixes everything. His shoulder-in was better then, too, although he was still quite hollow.

Every session since has been better. He does want to run forward in stretchy trot, but the trot itself is better, with much more stretching over his back. We just have to address the break in rhythm. His shoulder-in in walk has been long and low and relaxed, too. In trot I still lose the shoulder now and then, which makes me go tense in my lower back and then makes him hollow. So the connection hasn’t been good at all, but the straightness has improved.

The thing I can’t get down at all is that lengthened/medium trot. He either doesn’t lengthen much and falls on his forehand or just runs forward. I have never been able to ride a good lengthening unless the horse had a naturally big and flashy trot (I’m looking at you, Nell), so that’s a me thing, I think.

It’s so reassuring to know that I don’t have to have a meltdown over something I can’t get right, because now by God’s provision, we have Coach J to help us.

Glory to the King.

Posted in This Week in Dressage, Thunder | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fourways Training SJ and XC

I looked at my list of horses for this show and thought, “Six horses, six riders! What a lovely, relaxed show,” and then contemplated how six riders felt like about a million at SANESA this year. One does get used to things – and better at managing them.

Early sunrises also help; it was broad daylight when we loaded up our six horsies and hit the road for Fourways. For once we were late and had to hurry frantically to get the first two horses and kids ready, but we made it happen. Mercifully ground poles don’t exactly require a strenuous warm up.

Savanna and her kid were doing their first jumping show together. I had my trepidations, but with me being firmly on the ground with them, I knew I’d be there to catch if anything went wrong. I also had Lancelot’s tiny kid on the end of a lead and thus off we went.

Lancelot was, of course, fantastic. I jogged madly, he trotted peacefully beside me, and the little kiddy had a blast. She even remembered most of her track.

I expected a little of the old running backwards drama from Savanna and thus led her in, but once the bell went and her kid kicked her on, she was super. Forward and relaxed, trotted over every pole. She had one little spook, but her kid stayed on and they also remembered their course for a clear round, to the kid’s great delight.

He finished his show nicely with a second round in the 40cm. Savanna was more relaxed by this point and trotted around very peacefully. A confidence-building experience for them both.

Next up was Liana and her kid, Milady and K, and Savanna and I in the 50cm. Liana cheekily stopped at the scary carrot jump, but otherwise had a lovely controlled and smooth round. Milady circled because her steering broke at one point and K had to reinstall it briskly between fences, but she was very brave to every single fence.

Savanna was a bit of a loon. As soon as we started to canter, the sweet horse that packed her kid around was gone, and her pulling, rushing, headshaking alter ego had returned. She rushed a bit and almost threw a cheeky stop at one fence, but we made it around with a pole (or two, I don’t remember). It was her first proper round without any stops, though, so I was happy with that.

The 60cm was more of the same, but with the addition of Lancelot and his big kid, J (Zorro’s kid). Milady had a very green but honest pole down and was well ridden by K, Savanna was a little quieter for another pole down. Liana and her kid jumped double clear, even cutting some turns in the jump-off for fourth place. Lancey was doing his first show under J and J was definitely a bit nervous, but they bounced around beautifully clear for second place.

In the 70cm it was J and Lancelot for it, and they both knocked it out of the park. Lancey loves J and his whole body lit up with happiness as he charged around, quick and clear, winning the class without even trying. J was all smiles. I can’t think of a happier end to Lancey’s last year in training with me.

Then J came back on Zorro and did their first 80cm with an unlucky pole down. Zorro was so good, brave and forward, and J rode him great despite her nerves.

Jamaica and I were up next with our second 90cm. Fourways can always be counted on to build a track that’s fair to the horse but definitely up to height, and the main thing I was grateful for was that it was an accumulator so I only had to survive eight fences. I needn’t have worried. Jamaica was so, so good. I aimed and looked for something vaguely resembling a distance and he jumped everything beautifully for a slow clear round.

Work done, J and I headed down to the cross-country course on Jamaica and Zorro, and proceeded to have half an hour of the best fun you can have on a horse.


Jamaica was superb. A little spooky to start off with, and I tapped him into one or two of the fences, but he jumped nicely without a lead. We did lots of logs, little oxers, a combination, a fairly solid corner, a skinny between two trees, banks up and down, an A-frame, and two little ditches with rails over them. I showed him the ditches and the corner but expected him to jump everything else on the first go. He was looky at a few, but willing, and only threw one stop at a spooky fence with blue drums under it. Then he spooked at the fence next to it and bolted a few steps, for which he got in very big trouble.

Zorro also had one or two stops but seemed to enjoy the whole thing enormously and stayed very quiet for J.

The water was the moment of truth, because Zorro is dodgy about some water and Jamaica has never gone in. At all. Ever. K waded in with her gumboots and dragged Zorro in while I poked him with my whip from aboard Jamaica (I was in eventer mode), and once Zorro was in, K just led Jamaica and I gave him a little tap when he got rude and in he went. By the end of it we were joyously cantering through the water and over the banks.

The eventing bug has bitten me so badly again, and I know this horse would be a most trustworthy partner. Logistics are in the way, but we’ll see how it all pans out. I’m just so grateful we got to go play and school over it all again. Deo volente.

Glory to the King.

Posted in Jamaica, Lancelot, Liana, Milady, Savanna, Zorro | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Storming

We need grass, desperately. But the grass was shrivelling up and dying, until this week. As prayer meetings were held in Parliament, my own little prayers were answered.

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old warhorse ❤

This meant a slow week for lessons, but we managed to cram all the training sessions in, too, sometimes in the restless wind and pelting droplets that precede the real storms so characteristic to the moody weather of this place that I love.

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I schooled Arwen in the rain. To all appearances, she loved it. We are working on a much slower schedule lately. God willing, we’ll finally get that last elusive grading point in two weeks’ time. We’re schooling dressage once a week, playing with our showing tests in preparation for next year once a week, and hacking at least once a week. This new schedule is part necessity – new training horses are eating my free time – and part relief; we were both getting frustrated with struggling with dressage. A day of basics every week is doing our relationship wonders.

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Then it rained some more. With our rain coming from the south – the direction in which we have the best view – we can see the storms coming from miles way. The sight is majestic, slightly terrifying, and so beautiful it hurts; awesome in the original sense of the word. I wonder sometimes if glimpsing God would be a little like it. Too beautiful to make sense of, terrifying, life-giving.

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Poor Faith was utterly neglected this week, with only one session, but it was a good one. We’re getting relaxation in walk and trot now, so we introduced a bit of canter to our lunging sessions. Her canter is somewhat graceless at the moment, but to be fair we have only done two laps on each rein while panicking slightly.

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Lovely Lady Erin started to outgrow her ugly stage,

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and headed off to her new home. She travelled like a little superstar. I miss her. ❤

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The moody sky is absolutely stunning.

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Especially as sunset heralds the arrival of another night shift on volunteer duty. I don’t work on the response vehicles, but I do like taking pictures of their pretty lights. For this born-and-bred farm girl, it feels really weird to look up and see streetlights.

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Icey helps me teach almost every afternoon, sometimes from the comfortable perch of my left toe.

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Champagne has been doing so, so well. Going large is easy now, and she hardly ever spooks properly anymore. Occasionally her ears will look and her head will go up, but she seldom actually jumps. Even then it’s just a jump and then we go back to work. We’re riding full dressage tests and jumping some fences now. Regrettably, her actual dressage schooling took a bit of a knock between having to spend two weeks just lunging and then working so hard on relaxing about the big arena, but that’s an easier fix than the anxiety.

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Ashy and Lulu remain two of my most trusted colleagues. Please stay sound, old girls.

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This storm came in pitch black, and really soaked the earth at last. It also washed away some of the dressage arena, but c’est la vie. We’ll shovel it up and put it back.

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That dark sky was a scary but most welcome sight.

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And followed by a fragment of rainbow, blazing in a gap amid the clouds as the storm retreated.

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This is Antwone, the new client horse. I do wish I saw him more often, but he’s a clever little biscuit, so we should still achieve something. He may be one of the most adorable little horses I’ve ever seen with the whole Friesian look plus Arab ears, crammed into all of 14 hands. He had his first coltish moment when I was bringing him in for work on Friday and received his first proper hiding, too, so that was the end of that. His lunging is coming on well, he has an obvious understanding of the commands already and three good gaits, but he’s nervous to canter in the small lunge ring at the client’s place. Their big ring is being repaired so that’ll go better soon.

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I saved the best news for last. By the grace of God – and the kindness of Coach K, and the steadiness of Jamaica – I passed Module 4. In fact, the riding paper was my highest mark by far. I would have liked to see a better mark for the lunging lesson, but the main thing is that I passed everything. I scraped the group but that was just botched time management that caused me to have to skip some things I really wanted to do. I taught a lesson when I was supposed to be sitting an exam and had to rush through the last half.

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If you’d told me that by the end of this year I’d be working on – and helping – severely remedial horses and passing the personal riding section of Module 4 (with its dreaded 85cm jumps) with 91%, I would not have believed you. That’s because I couldn’t do it.

But God did.

Glory to the King.

Posted in Antwone, Arwen, Ash, Champagne, faith, Lady Erin, Lessons, Lullaby, Skye | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Gratitude and the Outside Rein

Today was our second lesson with Coach J, and I was nervous. Shocker. I had spent all week on poor longsuffering Thunder, trying to get the whole outside rein thing sorted out, and it just wasn’t working. I hoped Coach J wasn’t going to think we hadn’t been working on it, because we truly had – it just sure didn’t look like it.

Anyway, so we dragged Thunny into the box and headed off to our lesson this morning with some trepidation. At this point, I must pause and shout-out to some fairly wonderful people. First, my family, for obvious reasons. And then, two others who are rapidly becoming part of the family – my mom’s friend Tannie L and her son, D. Tannie L is the reigning queen of moral support and D happens to have a licence to tow a horsebox, so that’s how we’ve made it to our last couple of lessons. They also sometimes let me lie in a heap on their couch while I’m on duty (it’s been three weeks – count ’em – since I actually had a call). Tannie L and D are thoroughly nice and they’re being instrumental in taking the dream further.

If I ever actually do ride Grand Prix, then I will never be able to take any credit for anything, because it feels like there’s been an army of people supporting me all the way. Thank you guys for caring about God’s dream for me ❤

Thunder2011

I have no media at all. So here I present the glory that was Thunder as a yearling.

Thunder had a moment’s hesitation as we were boxing him, and I had just phoned working student L to bring us a line and get him in when he suddenly decided he could get in after all. We left Jamaica at home this time, and I was a little worried he wouldn’t travel great. He did paw the floor and shuffle around a bit at first, but as soon as we started moving, he settled right down and spent the trip picking at his haynet.

Once there, we were a little late, so I chucked on his tack, bandaged only his forelegs (the horror!) and scrambled into the arena praying he’d behave. He didn’t just behave, he was a superstar. He did spook at himself in the mirror the first time he saw himself suddenly go past, but after that he was perfect – relaxed and super focused.

He is actually becoming a very pleasant chap to travel with.

thunder53

he was sooooo cute

Coach J came bursting out optimistically and sent me to “go warm up”. Six years of training for people and I suddenly couldn’t remember how one warms up a horse at all, so he had to come and shout at us to go and do our little serpentine. I felt like it was better than last time, which would be nice since we only practiced it a thousand times, and I hardly used my inside rein at all. Coach J also thought it was good so he started trying to get us to do more interesting things (like, you know, trot in a circle) and promptly discovered that I still haven’t got a handle on the inside leg to outside rein thing. Back on the square we went, doing turn on the forehand to shoulder in to turn on the forehand to shoulder in without our inside rein.

It was a little ugly. Not from the horse; in Coach J’s words, “It’s your lack of coordination, not his.” No kidding. I cannot seem to get my own body to do anything I want it to do. 16 years of bad habits will do that to you. Every time I get a little stuck, my inside hand goes haywire. And my left hand just does whatever the snot it feels like doing. It’s frustrating. Thunder patiently tried to figure out what on Earth I was trying to get him to do, while my own hands seemed much less obliging.

Thunder2011b

his ear hair has always been legendary

At least today we did graduate to doing the exercise in trot, where he gave me several really nice moments when I started to feel like maybe I have ridden a horse before. We also got to canter a little. Exciting stuff. This was shortly after Coach J asked nicely for “less of the spastic chicken, please”. I doubt I will ever hear the end of that.

So, our takeaways for this lesson:

  • It’s not so much about not using the inside rein as it is about getting him into my outside rein. Connection on the outside rein is everything.
  • He needs to be more off my leg laterally. I have to become intentional with the whip so that it’s a learning aid instead of just a punishment.
  • This exercise is not about the horse being round or bent – it’s just about him being on my outside rein. It’s okay if he bends the wrong way or goes above the bit for this exercise.
  • I have to “slow my brain down”. It doesn’t make much sense out of context, but as soon as Coach J said it, I knew what it meant.
Thunder2011c

positively majestic

Coach J is pretty tough. I’m going to have be careful with Thunny’s schedule not to absolutely cook us both on practicing All the Hard Things. However, again, where I need somebody very nice to hold my hand and know when I’m ready to take corrections – like coach K, who is the best – for jumping, I can take a butt-kicking with dressage. Especially now that I don’t take it so seriously, I can take it more seriously. I no longer care too much about dressage; I care about God, and horses, and the dance. God doesn’t really mind if we’re not terribly good at it. I want to be good at it because I want to glorify Him, not because I want to earn my way into His good books. It’s worship, not obedience. He is not commanding me to do it, He is watching in delight.

So I can handle it. Coach J is never down on us, he just knows what he wants us to do and he doesn’t settle for anything less. He expects hard work. He will see it. It’s the one thing I know I can do. He does want us to have this issue sorted out by our next lesson, which prospect makes me a little nervous because I’m not fully sure Miss Spastic Chicken will become at least Miss Coordinated Goose by then, but I know I’m going to do my level best to make it happen.

Thunder2011e

look at his fluffy feets

I don’t want to kill both our relaxation and joy in it, though, so I’ve tweaked his schedule a little bit:

  • Monday: lesson.
  • Tuesday: hard work, practicing the exercises from the lesson while it’s still fresh in our minds.
  • Wednesday: fun work. Warm up with the exercises and focus on the concepts, but do a little bit of test riding, play with our stronger movements to remind us we can sometimes do this, then cool down with a little hack.
  • Thursday: hard work again.
  • Friday: more hard work, if he feels OK with it.
  • Saturday: either off, or a bit of fun work, giving the hard stuff a last little polish.
  • Sunday: off.
Thunder2011f

he’s always had the kindest eye ❤

Something I’m just starting to get accustomed to in Thunny’s temperament is how hard he can be pushed. He’s a gentle soul, but robust, much less sensitive than other horses I’ve had. He doesn’t get anxious like Magic, offended like Nell, or overexcited like Arwen. He just sort of stays at the same level. Of course he has his green and spooky moments and can be a little separation anxious (increasingly less so), but in terms of work itself, as long as I’m not in a flap he doesn’t really get into a flap.

He has the work ethic to be able to take a heavy workload and enjoy it without getting frustrated, as long as I keep it varied and stay relaxed. He also focuses hard and tries hard, but unlike me, he seldom overthinks things or gets into a panic if he can’t figure it out. He just keeps trying, patiently and calmly, to get it right. I love it. I feel like I can’t mess up too much because he won’t take it personally; he just keeps on trying, ever longsuffering when I bumble, but ready with a moment of brilliance when I finally get it right.

He’s not like me, but he’s exactly what I need. Isn’t God amazing?

Thunder1

but give it six years and voila!

Yes, yes He is. Glory to the King.

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Kingdom of Heaven

Burnout is an ugly, hateful, soul-draining thing.

If I could choose between anxiety and burnout, I’d choose anxiety. Every time.

But sometimes this life takes everything I’ve got and requires me to spend myself well beyond my limits.

I do what I can to prevent it, but sometimes I can’t. And it’s worth it.

Some days I stand in front of the whiteboard and I don’t know how I’ll give my kids what they deserve: the very best, and nothing less.

But then the first child arrives and I take a big breath and start to teach. And no matter how exhausted I am, no matter how weary my soul, five minutes in, the miracle starts to happen.

I step into another place where the tiredness can’t keep up. My aching legs suddenly find their strength. My heart just lifts at the first child’s smile. It all falls away, the world condensing until all that matters is this child, this pony, this moment and my God.

I ask for strength so I can teach. But I think I teach so I can be strong. The Kingdom of Heaven comes to me every afternoon with sticky fingers and tousled hair and wide eyes, and after hours of work, I can feel my body aching, but I can also feel my spirit floating.

These kids thank me after every lesson, sometimes with heart-lifting smiles, sometimes with little arms around my legs, sometimes with a temper tantrum because they don’t want to get off. And every time they do, I feel vaguely guilty.

Because I have been receiving in far greater measure than I have given. I give everything I have, but somehow every time more just comes right back at me.

Burnout is ugly. That’s why I’m being more diligent about taking down time than before and why I don’t find myself here as often anymore.

But the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and God is amazing, and that’s why when I do slip up, or when circumstances do require more from me than I have to give, it’s the very work itself that drags my soul back out of it.

Sometimes I yell at them. Sometimes I misunderstand them. But there’s never been a moment when I haven’t cared. I’ve so often spoken about my love and appreciation for horses, and so seldom written about how I feel about my kids.

I think that may be because it’s much too big to put into words.

Sometimes running the yard still feels a little impossible. But God is good at impossible.

And every day I know I can contribute to something more precious, more valuable, more important, more world-changing than anything else on Earth. Something with eternal relevance. Something pressing, urgent, vital. Something beautiful.

The life of a child.

Glory to the King.

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