Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Wordless Wednesday: Pregnant Dragons

First, a Magic update. After a terrible, terrible weekend, he suddenly rallied on Sunday evening - so much so that the vets have been able to start refeeding him. So far, it's going OK, although he has an infection in the catheter site (which honestly is no surprise given how long he was on IV fluids). The vet is cautiously optimistic at this point, and I might even be able to bring him home later this week, God willing ๐Ÿ’œ

We had two blissfully warm and sunny days on Monday and Tuesday, and the mornings are beginning to taste a little like summer. Today, though, the wind is back with a vengeance. At least it's light now when I go out at 6am, and I can normally squeeze in a 5pm ride even though I finish wrapping legs and checking haynets in the dark.

Sunset is no longer too unbearably cold for riding.

The weekend was cold and windy, though. No one rode, but I spent some extra time with old Skye. I'm feeling sorry for her now that Magic is in hospital, although she doesn't really seem to mind being on her own - she has neighbors just over the fence. Still, she gets extra carrots (which she likes) and hugs (which she doesn't).

She's doing incredibly well this winter. Definitely a condition point or two lighter than she was in the summer, but holding her weight better than last year, and not doing too badly for a 33-year-old horse with no functional teeth. Her only complaint remains her old right knee. She trots sound, but when she takes her morning nap, she keeps her right leg up in front of her instead of tucking it under. The old knee just can't bend enough for that anymore. I watched her getting up from a nap on Saturday, though, and it was effortless - so that's all good.

Sunday morning was spent cuddling and watching Heartland, and life doesn't get a whole lot better than that on this side of eternity.

Thunder's leg blew up huge and hot on Saturday, but it's gone down nicely since then. At this point I can't tell if there is still a little swelling or if I'm imagining things (I do that). I'm still icing and poulticing away, so we'll maybe trot him up today and see how he is.

Thunder in ice boots feat. chunky monkey Lancey. Also shout-out to Thunder for standing still in the paddock with ice boots on, you're a legend

The kiddos definitely made the most of the lovely weather on Monday and Tuesday. This Appaloosa, who very loyal readers might remember as Jamaica, and his rider are hard at work preparing for their provincials. It's been really fun to pull out all the stops in his management and training.

There's just something about being a kid on a horse under an African sky.

The pregnant fairies are getting steadily more pregnant. I have them on a stud feed now to support them as they're all officially into their last trimester, but they're looking great - fatter than normal for the end of winter. I normally let the Nooities and crossbreds lose a few condition points in the winter (they come out of summer borderline obese) but this year I'm keeping the mares chunky in anticipation of lactating.

Arwen is 217 days today and has passed the "glowing with pregnancy" stage and entered the "breathing fire with pregnancy" stage. Woe betide any of her friends who come within reach of her hind feet.

All signs of grumpiness magically disappear at the mention of treats, though, and she's her cuddly self with me. Just. Don't anger the pregnant dragon, lol.

It's only two months before we start to meet our babies - beginning with two Friesian mares in October. One of them is stressing me out by developing an udder at only 270 days, but her tests and scans are normal, so now we just wait for her to cook that baby till it's done.

In Friesian news, it turns out that I get to go to SA Champs after all - just not on one of my boys (certainly not after Magic and Thunder chose to conspire against my bank account this month). This beauty and I will be doing the Prelim, and one of the others will be doing the Novice. I'm actually relieved that my first SA Champs will be at levels that I am extremely comfortable with. It's a whole week of competition and I am SO SO SO excited! (Also honoured, blessed, and deeply grateful). ๐Ÿ’œ

This cutie was convinced that this little angel had some nice treats for him in the jar she's carrying. He was sadly mistaken, but I did have treats for him, don't worry.

This colt is not yet a year old and already just gorgeous. I keep waiting for them to get the weanling uglies, but they just don't. A testimony to the impeccable management and individual attention these horses really do get here. I'm learning so much!

I mean, can you believe this is a nine-month-old colt at the end of his first winter? And honestly I'm not even feeding him any grain. It's so nice to have a scale here, too, so I can weigh them every month and check that they're not growing too fast. They just step right up on onto it and stand there like the good little boys they are.

Rounding off this post with Noah's adorable little blep after he woke up from a deep sleep on my lap last night. If you like photos and videos of adorable animals, I post daily media of our pets (3 x doggos, goosey, cats, piggies, many bantams) on their Instagram diary, @thesadlermenagerie.

Going through Scripture chronologically continues to be a HUGE blessing in my life right now. I've reached 2 Kings 24-25, where the Jews are carried off into exile in Babylon. A lot of the minor prophets that we tend to just skip over at the end of the Old Testament (like Habakkuk and Micah) were writing around this time and it is so powerful to experience their words in context with the history. Jeremiah, too, is very powerful, and this puts his Lamentations into perspective so much. The Lord's great wrath and holiness are awe-inspiring, but His ferocious and unfailing love shines on every page.

God is good!

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Lancey Dancing

 First, thank you all for the concern over Magic ๐Ÿ’œ He is hanging in there and being the best patient, as always. God's will prevails ๐Ÿ’œ

Thunder's leg also finally felt a lot better to me last night, and is even better this morning. It's a difficult place to ice, but I think I've gotten the hang of it now. Of course, the big guy is also being a super patient. He had a little run around in the field last night before he came in, but that was right before the leg felt a lot better, so it might actually have been just the thing to shake off the last of the edema. It's not hot anymore, at any rate.

On to the actual riding this week. Despite the disgusting weather (August arrived with a vengeance) and all the other chaos, Lancey and I did fit in some training. I didn't get to him Monday (deadline) or Tuesday (taking Magic to hosital) so I was a little worried that I might have a f e i s t y Arab on my hands for Wednesday's lesson, a fear that turned out to be entirely unfounded.

This was the first lesson ever where Coach J started out by asking what we were working on. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as normally Coach is not particularly interested in my opinions and works on what he sees. I told him about our super awful score in test 5 at the show in June (I totally disregard the 51% for test 6 because lil dude was spooking so much) and that he was obedient and put in a clean test but was kinda hollow throughout. Coach first gave me a little bit of a pep talk and said not to put too much stock in the scores at a single show. "One show isn't a pattern," he said. "Three shows is a pattern. Not three tests - three shows." I felt a bit better after that. To be fair, this was our first proper dressage show together and his first one ever, so I can cut us a little bit slack.

the stuff this poor coach puts up with

Then we got to work, and Coach, as he does, immediately identified the issue. Lancey was being obedient and doing his transitions like a good boy, but he wasn't truly forward off my leg. I was pretty surprised to hear this because he feels forward and responsive compared to Thunder (and honestly most of the Friesians), right up until Coach said, "OK, now do a medium" and we did a medium and he then said "Right! This isn't your medium trot. This is your working trot." My mind blew a little bit.

Turns out that just because Lancey feels so petite to me, compared to the Friesians and Thunder, I've been riding him like he's a pony and has pony gaits. "You've been playing too much My Little Pony," said Coach, possibly in reference to the giant hearts on my horse's butt, causing my manbeast to snort in amusement. Lancey actually has HUGE gaits when I actually ask him for them, and as soon as I pushed him up into my hand and got him really flowing forward, he rewarded me with the most balanced, powerful trot I've ever gotten from him. I've been trying to balance him by slowing him down in the front, when I should have been pushing him up from behind. (Amazing how applying, you know, the basic dressage principles makes your horse... more dressagey).

Coach's actual words: "You know this, woman!"

The weird thing is that I do ride most of my horses really up in front of my leg, except Lancey. Like I say, I think somehow I just expected him to have tiny gaits. But when I really started getting that big trot... wow. He felt amazing. Best of all, my aids felt like they were actually going through him. I could bend him, put his bum out, put his shoulder in, send him forward, bring him back - he wasn't blocking me through his neck the way he so often does, because he was over his back and into my hands. He also gave me a great feeling in the connection; not curling and soft, but no longer pulling and setting his jaw and constantly grinding his teeth, either.

I had a lot more trouble applying this in the canter, but his canter is naturally his best gait, so we still did some good work there before Coach called it a day. Watching the video, I am SO happy with how he looked by the end. He was pushing forward, using his back, lifting his neck, and not curling up at all, but he also wasn't hollowing every 10 seconds.

Our homework is simply to ride him forward - borderline running, at first; we'll regain the rhythm and balance once he is truly obedient off my leg - throughout all of the normal exercises we always do. Shoulder-in, but in something that feels like medium trot to me. Canter-walk-canter, but covering much more ground in the canter. An exercise we did a lot during the lesson that I really liked was just to trot in shoulder-fore on a 20m circle, then straighten for a circle, then shoulder-fore again for a circle. It reiterated to him that my leg always means something, that he needs to balance and not just run forward when I'm asking him to go more forward, and it will build up to doing better shoulder-in since that's where he always wants to block me and hollow or curl up and lose his hindlegs.

I was unhappy with my position on the video, as well. I'm not sure why, but I was reaaaally wanting to go back into my chair seat. I lost my lower leg a lot in the trot. I think perhaps this comes from the amount of tension I was carrying in my arms - elbows lifted and wrists cocked - which is from my anxiety that he's going to hollow. Riding him more forward will help me to relax my elbows and fix my hands, and I hope this will help for the rising trot. The canter looked OK, which is nice because historically I have been really bad at sitting up on his canter. I think my old Wintec's tiny knee rolls also don't help when I'm very used to sitting deeply in the new Wintec Hart and Bates Isabell that the Friesians wear.

He was also supremely well-behaved to load, wait in a stable, and ride, despite the howling wind and cold. He is becoming such a solid little citizen for everything ๐Ÿ’œ

Coach clearly didn't think that the penny had actually dropped during the lesson, because he called me later that evening with "Did you understand what we did in your lesson???" just to be sure. It was nice to talk over it and just hear it reiterated, so I was very grateful for that.

Thursday the wind was really awful, about 9m/s, but the kids came to ride anyway and my tiniest tot wanted to go out on Flash unexpectedly so I threw Lancey's bridle on and scrambled on board. It kinda blows my mind that I wouldn't even canter him outside the arena a year ago, and now I go on bareback outrides in the screeching wind. Definitely something to celebrate. He was perfect, of course, except for one hairy moment when Blizzy came exploding out of the woods behind us. Flash noped right the heck outta there with the poor kiddo clinging on for dear life, and I, acutely aware of exactly how round and slippery Lancey is, bailed off before Lancey could move. He only cantered a step forward and then stared at me with big eyes, like, "oh no mom did you fall off??" No buddy, mom's just a ninny. The kiddo got Flash reeled in very quickly, I found a bank and scrambled back on Lancey, and we went happily on our way.

Wild as Thursday was, yesterday was one of the most miserable days weather-wise that I have ever seen. The wind was even stronger, blowing our poor little Pekin bantams across their pen, and it was overcast and unbelievably cold. Some of the crazier riding school kids showed up for lessons and clung to their plunging, snorting ponies for dear life while I shouted over the wind, which was miserable, but I appreciated their commitment.

It was so windy that just getting Lancey's tack on was a challenge. His quarter sheet and numnah kept blowing off while I was trying to put the saddle on. He was angelic for all this, even when the quarter sheet was snapping deafeningly around his legs, and I tried to ride for about 15 minutes. The wind was gusting so hard that the jumps had all blown over, and of course Mr. Araby McArabface had to snort at those a bit (standing in place - the dude has the quietest spook ever, thank you Lancey). He also didn't like the gusts of dust sandblasting his poor feet at times, and his quarter sheet kept blowing up over my back, which, to his credit, he didn't seem to mind at all.

He did express some distaste for my new ideas about moving forward into the contact by throwing a couple of his giant bucks, but I stuck on and booted him, and he quickly abandoned that idea and settled down for some really good trot and canter work on a 20m circle (if we tried to go in straight lines we would inevitably end up with his bum to the wind and the quarter sheet threatening to go over my head). I experimented with a couple of canter-walk from this bigger, more engaged canter, and they were actually a lot better. It's almost like basic dressage principles improve the moments, go figure.

Erin and I were going to do a long ride with our neighbors on the other side today, but various circumstances intervened, and it is yet another freezing and blustery day so Lancey earned a pyjama day in the field. I'm looking forward to all the rain that this wind must be bringing us.

I am so so grateful to have this wonderful little horse that I trust so much. God really does know what we need long before we do ๐Ÿ’œ It sucks not to have Thunder in work right now, but it was really nice to spend extra time on my Lancelot.

God is good.

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Holding them closer

I guess I start with Thunderbird deciding that last week Wednesday was the perfect day to hang his leg in his haynet.

yes, this noble steed

When I came over for morning check just after 6am, he whinnied at me when I looked over the door into Lancey's stable, shouting MOM PLEASE HAAAAAALP. When I looked over at him, he was standing quietly in the back corner on three legs, his left front in his haynet, looking over his shoulder at me with big eyes.

My heart absolutely froze. How (or why) he decided that he needed to get his foot into his haynet, when his other haynet was still chock-full, I have no idea. I hurried to get him out, and bless his darling little soul, he just stood there for several minutes while I tried to get his giant foot out of the tiny hole he had somehow put it through. I was inwardly panicking. I have heard the horror stories about shattered knees and ruptured tendons from exactly this kind of injury. In fact I think I may have been outwardly panicking quite a bit as well, but Thunder obviously doesn't care about that and as soon as I freed him he just stretched out and took the longest pee ever. He hadn't touched his water in the other corner of his stable, and his bed was clean in the opposite corner, where he normally does his poos. He must have been stuck in that haynet for hours.

When my heart had slowed down and Thunder had gone over to his stable door to look around for his breakfast, I realized that he was walking on four legs with no obvious lameness and my brain finally registered that he was not actually crippled yet. I felt over both front legs for any trouble, and there was no swelling just yet, but the left fore was pretty hot over the back of the knee where it joins the cannon bone - where the check ligament sits. The SDFT seemed OK, and amazingly, his supporting leg hadn't even stocked up.

I sat down in the shavings right about then and offered up a prayer of thanks that Thunder is the most chill horse who has ever existed. If he had thrashed around or thrown himself on the ground or even twisted the haynet up so that it constricted his leg... It just doesn't bear thinking about.

Luckily, the physio was coming out to see another horse that same day, so I quickly called her and booked Thunder in for a check as well that afternoon.

To my eternal relief and gratitude, her findings were unremarkable. Thunder had absolutely no problems in his neck, shoulders, or upper back - he really couldn't have even pulled back against the haynet at all. His only problem was some stiffness in his left pectoral muscle, understandable considering he'd been stuck on three legs for hours, and a little tightness in his lower left back. He always has that when he gets bodywork done - it's just a combination of naturally being stiffer on that side, always being a little weaker in that left stifle, and me sitting too hard on my right hip. All things we're working on.

As for the leg itself, the news was much better than it might have been. He was 1/10 lame on the first trot up and practically sound after the session, and honestly I can't see the lameness at all, only the physio could with her more educated eye. There was some swelling over his left check ligament just below the knee. While there's only so much a physio can tell, she felt that scans would be unnecessary and that he likely just bruised the tendon sheath where the rope was pressing on it. Nothing major. He could have broken his leg if he'd panicked, but instead he just stood there like a very good boy. He really is the best horse ever.

the warmer weather is bringing out his allergies as well, boo

Still, the physio recommended at least 10 days completely off, maybe more depending on how he does. He can be glad that he's a very relaxed dude who spends most of his field time eating and sleeping or he might have ended up being confined in a smaller space. For now, though, he still goes out all day his friends, and gets his leg iced twice a day. The swelling has gone down quite a lot, but it's still a little puffy and hot... and we're on day 9 now. So I'm not sure yet how it's going to turn out.

I'm just so, so grateful that he doesn't seem to be experiencing any major pain, and that it doesn't seem to be a major injury even if it ends up taking a few weeks to recover. I will happily take a few weeks' recovery time over the possibility of months, years, or even completely losing him... it doesn't even bear thinking about.

When I mentioned that we had been thinking of SA Champs in mid-September, the physio seemed to think we miiight still be able to go... but I decided to just scratch the whole idea. As much as I want to be more competitive, and more bold in my competitive choices, I'm not going to bring my competitive plans into play when it comes to his soundness. I'm pretty sure he'll be rideable again by mid-September, but would he really be fit enough? Would it really be fair? Would I be tempted to push him just a little harder than I really think I should? I'm not even going to go there, thanks. So that's SA Champs off the table for us.

That did mean a little breathing room in the budget (briefly... see below) so I finally bought a pair of ice boots. I can't believe I went so long without them; I have them at the Friesians and they are one of the most wonderful inventions in the world.

Anyway, I'm definitely more careful about how we tie his haynet since, but mostly I'm just really grateful about how all this turned out. He could really have hurt himself, and I will happily ice his legs and rest him and deal with this comparatively minor boo-boo compared to what could have happened.

The real disaster struck on Tuesday. Magic seemed OK when I checked on him around 6am, but there was a bit of hay left in their haynets, which isn't really that normal. Skye was eating the tops off some old dry (known and not poisonous) weeds at the time (like... why, ole lady? you can barely chew hay) so I thought perhaps she'd just been nibbling weeds instead of eating hay, but it wasn't that much left over that it worried me. He was napping in his usual place, and there were nice normal fresh poos everywhere, so I went about my day. He ate his breakfast and his temperature was normal.

When the guys went to feed Skye her lunch, though, Magic was just standing around again and their morning haynets were almost untouched (the old girl really doesn't eat much hay because she chews so slowly). Definitely a warning bell. I checked him out and he had gut sounds all round but they were a little reduced in the right upper quadrant. His heart rate and mucus membranes were pretty normal, but he did have a fever of 39.5. I was pretty confused then because he had no colic signs at all, and I know this dude well - I know when he's colicking. Still, I wasn't happy. If it had been any other horse, I would have given him a bit of flunixin and waited it out for the afternoon, but it wasn't. It was Magic, so at 3pm, I called the vet. He passed a little bit of normal-looking poo and nibbled some grass while we waited.

he was grazing and then this look came into his eyes and I knew ๐Ÿ’”

I really didn't think he had colic until 4pm, just before the vet arrived, when he started to look at his flanks a bit. His heart rate spiked to the 50s then, and when the vet arrived ten minutes later, he was shivering, his heart rate was in the 60s, and he was panting with pain. She took one look at him, uttered an F-bomb, and told me to load and go. This was absolutely the right decision and such an important part of why I have established relationships with numerous vets in the area - they know him and they know he means business when he's colicking. She gave him some flunixin to keep him comfortable and a bit of Buscopan, and we put him on the horsebox and took him straight to hospital.

My poor beloved man was busy recovering from an awful stomach flu of his own at that point, so my mom and dad dropped everything to help me take the old boy to the vet. Thank you ๐Ÿ’œ

He's been there ever since. He has an impaction, likely in the sternal flexure, and while it doesn't seem as bad this time as it did last time, it's been three days with no real difference. At this point, everything possible is being done for him (thank God, earnestly, for insurance), but it could go either way. If the impaction finally shifts, then he'll be OK. Sometimes it can take a while - he's been in hospital for 4-5 days before with the same thing - and sometimes they don't shift medically, and he's not a surgical candidate.

He obviously has the whole vet hospital wrapped right around his little finger. He may have been a bit of a nightmare to ride, but Magic has always been the best patient in the entire world. Even though he wasn't in any pain by the time we arrived at the hospital, he submitted so happily to getting his catheter, a rectal, a tube, having his tummy scanned, all without sedation - he just played right along. The vets love him to bits and one of them confided in me that she had given him a nice long ear scratch, which he truly loves.

I haven't been to see him, partly because it is so hard for me to get away during the week, but also because I know I will be a wreck. Emotionally, of course I want to go and see him; but I know that having a weepy, stressed human clinging to him is not what he needs right now. He is so sensitive to my emotions, and right now he is surrounded by dedicated professionals doing their best for him, and that's the vibe he needs. He doesn't need a stressed-out, heartbroken mama crying into his mane. He's done that enough for me. I can cry into Lancey's mane for a bit until he gets better, God willing. I'll just be here holding the others a little bit closer. It's a privilege to have them with us, a privilege that we so often take for granted until it's too late.

All that to say, he is in Abba's Hands, just where he belongs. We have done everything humanly possible for him; now it's up to God. And whatever He wills, whatever He chooses, I trust that. I trust Him.

God is good.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

WW: Winter's End

 August is the last month of true winter here, and while I desperately love the Highveld in all of its moods, August is definitely my least favourite. May, June and July bring bitterly cold, frosty nights, with balmy, sunny, windless days ranging from about 10-18C. It's dry and quiet, and the days are short, but the weather is very nice for riding and the frost means that we don't have to deal with any bugs.

Then August comes along, and while the nights are far warmer, this does mean that occasionally some flies and ticks start making a reappearance. The days are hot but filled with a dry, warm, unpleasant wind; which, after three months without rain, stirs up endless clouds of fine, red dust. Of course, this coincides nicely with shedding season, and nothing can stay clean (especially my poor little house). It's a hard month to be a horse, too, having coped through the winter with no green grass and now dealing with the miserable wind and the colic weather.

I'm not a fan, but miserable as August is, it's a harbinger of the bright, abundant Highveld summer that I love so much. The wind and warmth brings the rain along with it, and I'm more than ready to see some beautiful rain on this sad, parched earth again. So, as we walk into the last month of the winter, we practice our willingness to wait, our gratitude for hardship, and our ability to hope.

I just had to share this breathtaking image by Ashleigh Kabe Photography. This is Kalvin fan Stal Bellafleur, AKA Jakobus, the stud stallion at the Friesian farm and the sire of most of their youngstock. He is an incredible animal who just went to his first Advanced with Coach J, and he's also just wonderful to handle - I can walk him right past the mares in a flat halter.

My little Friesian livery is working on her intense phobia of the horsebox. We have reached the point where we can get into the horsebox now, and we're working on closing the bar behind her. She's definitely had some kind of traumatic experience in a box in her past, but she tries so, so hard.

Lancey somehow managed to bruise his right hind fetlock playing rough in the field with a friend. He came nicely sound after two weeks, but the very day he was finally sound again, the same friend bit him right on his back where the saddle goes. He at least got some work done once I'd made an improv lungeing snake.

Titan, Isaiah, and old Toy Town enjoying one of the rare nice days we've had recently.

The young stallion at the Friesians. He's standing on a hill in this picture, but he is absolutely drop-dead freaking gorgeous - and almost just as quiet as Jakobus. He also rolls at every opportunity and his gorgeous self is permanently grubby, LOL.

Slowly building up my confidence with riding stallions. K has been my stunt double for riding him, which I am eternally grateful for. He is an extremely well-behaved boy but my lizard brain doesn't know that. At least I can ride him enough now to fine-tune his walk/trot work and lateral work, and K does the canter work.

Rene is 238 days today. Only about 100 days to go! She is not a maiden but I don't know her history, so we have no idea how many days she'll go. She somehow managed to scratch the surface of her cornea, but it is slowly healing with tons of medicating. I think we would have had to place a lavage in her eyelid on any other horse, but she is so good and kind that we can still put drops in multiple times a day without a problem despite the soreness. Such an incredible girl.

The big herd chilling on a lovely Saturday evening. Rene, Flash, Faith, Milady, Arwen, and Boo, with Spirit in the background. This winter has been quite rough, but they're still looking pretty good.

These two little boys have my heart ๐Ÿ’œ

This is Charlize Theron, the first chicken we raised from hatching.

Family photo!

My sister with one of our lavender Pekins, Lainey-Lou.

My man and his chooks ๐Ÿ’œ

A pregnant Arwen! Her weight has been under control all winter, which is definitely a result of the pregnancy. She has been off work for the first time since we got her nearly 13 years ago. I'll put her back in work when BabyDragon is on the ground, but I think a well-deserved rest is in order.

202 days today. She normally goes to about 345, so we're waiting on a Christmas baby.

Since she's not competing for the next year or so, I put her mane into plaits to grow it out like a real Nooitie mane. We'll see how that goes. (Also, Ladybug ate Milady's ENTIRE tail when she was a foal, so hopefully BabyDragon won't be able to do the same thing).

Anja ๐Ÿ’œ my favourite four-year-old Friesian. She is by Jakobus and definitely has his beautiful head.

God is good!

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Onward, Noble Steed

 Ever since Thunder came back into work a few weeks ago, I have one thing on my mind with him: forward. It's been a struggle ever since I backed him, but I have the tools these days to deal with it so much better.

I was actually amazed by how much I progressed as a rider in the six weeks that Thunder was out of work. When I got back on him again, there was so much that I could actually fix - stuff that had been bothering me for years but that I just couldn't quite get sorted out. And now we're finally getting to a place where I'm much happier with him, and we're starting to touch on this amazing horse's true potential.

I did take my whip back, though. I generally don't need to do very much with it, except maybe a few touches at the start of the ride to reinforce my ever-useless right leg, but riding him only with the spurs was beginning to devolve into an argument. He will need to carry his own butt a lot more forward before we try that again. At any rate, I can pretty much abandon the whip somewhere near the middle of each ride, which is just fine; even at a championship show I'll be allowed to warm up with it.

As a rule, though, he has been SUPER forward for his past few rides and so we can finally move on. We've still been doing most of the EM/M movements (single flying changes, half-pass, shoulder-in, even started playing with canter to halt), but focusing more on the gait quality with each ride than the movements. He really learns the movements quickly, they're never a problem, but the quality of the gaits is something I really need to pay more attention to.

Last week I got him a lot more straight and forward than normal and let him grow up into the contact more as well (obviously I've been overbending him without knowing it - welcome to the struggle bus, y'all) and honestly he felt AMAZING. He felt like he grew two hands and started taking much bigger, more swinging strides as well. It was a pretty wonderful feeling. I don't think I've ever felt him trot like that before.

I also put his mane into plaits because the beloved could no longer stand my awful mane-trimming jobs and begged me to let him grow his mane out instead, and I can't say no to that man

He's also so much more cheerful in his work now that I've made it clear that I'm not going to let him slop along behind my leg. Instead of arguing with my leg all the time, he understands what's expected of him and happily does as asked. In fact, he's positively enthusiastic about many things these days in a way that super-chill Thunder has never really been before. He LOVES his flying changes, especially when we play with the four-tempis, and even gave me a row of two-tempis recently. OK, so I was asking him to just canter down the centreline, but I couldn't exactly be upset about it regardless.

A big piece of the puzzle, I think, is physical fitness. I burned him out in late 2019 by schooling him every single day; he was fit, but it frazzled him mentally, more than I realized. Then I overcompensated by schooling him only three days a week, and sometimes missing a day here and there, and that was no good either. He just isn't fit enough to do what he knows how to do. Hacking is an absolute disaster on this animal (and not remotely relaxing for either of us), so at this point I've incorporated jumping back into his schedule once a week. He's a heavy dude and I have no interest in pounding his precious joints over big fences, but he does like doing his little gymnastics, and honestly it doesn't do me any harm to sharpen up whatever jumping skills I do have.

Another thing I need to work on is strengthening his left hind. He had a locking stifle on that side when he was younger; it hasn't locked for about two years at this point, but it's always his weaker side. He tends to twist his neck and lose impulsion in the shoulder-in left as a result, and struggles with really stepping over with his left leg, which makes his half-pass right a bit stiffer and less active than it is to the left. I think that some gymnastics will only serve to strengthen his hind end as a whole, as well as all the usual things I've been doing for his stifle for years - lateral work and rein-backs.

His top line is starting to reappear (and his beer belly is shrinking, lol)

Now that things have opened up a bit, I'm also starting to think of his show calendar for the rest of the year. Gauteng Dressage Champs ended up being postponed to the end of November, but SA Champs is in September, and I will likely ride at least one of the Friesians there so I would like to take him as well. It all depends on how he feels. We have a lesson next week, so that will probably be the deciding factor.

In other news, working chronologically through the Bible continues to be fascinating and rewarding. I feel like I'm looking at these familiar words and stories from a whole new perspective now that it's all in historical context. I'm into the later chapters of 2 Chronicles and 2 Kings, and studying the prophet Isaiah at this point. Isaiah is an absolutely remarkable book, and it's astonishing how much Jesus actually refers to this book in the Gospels. One chapter that particularly struck me was Isaiah 5, in which God describes the unfaithful nation Israel as being His vineyard: He has tended it and protected it, yet it has yielded no good fruit (faithful people doing His will). Then, in the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Himself the true vine, and tells us that we are all branches abiding in Him. It absolutely gave me goosebumps to stumble upon that comparison in the Old Testament, showing us how the coming of Christ utterly transformed our relationship with God. In the words of C. S. Lewis, "The Son of God became a man so that men could become the sons of God."

He is just magnificent. God is good.

Wordless Wednesday: Pregnant Dragons

First, a Magic update. After a terrible, terrible weekend, he suddenly rallied on Sunday evening - so much so that the vets have been able t...