Wednesday, 12 January 2022

A Lady High and Valiant

 The night of December 15th, 2021, I was bent frantically over the keyboard as usual, tapping madly away at one of the deadlines that come upon one like a train at that time of year. There was a storm brewing and I kept checking the time. At 7 pm, evening check, Arwen had had a little bit of wax. It took me a bit by surprise because her due date at her usual 345 days was only on December 24th; she was only 336 days. As always, she had absolutely no edema and no real belly to speak of, but wax is wax. Still, she usually waxes 48 hours in advance, so I wasn't particularly expecting a baby tonight. I thought I'd just check on her before bed, to be sure.

It was a good thing I did, too. It was 10:00 by the time I finished up. The storm was coming nearer, the night lit up from time to time by brilliance, but the air was still heavy and sweet with summer. In all of her moods, the Highveld is most unpredictable when she brews a storm.

The beloved and I hurried out. I was tired and had a long day of work ahead of me, too, so I just wanted to do a quick check and get back to bed. The power was out, and the stables were absolutely dark when we stepped inside. Lancey greeted me, as usual, and the air was filled with the quiet sound of horses chewing.

Arwen's stable is right at the end of the barn, on the left. When I reached it, I heard her happily chewing and decided that it was as I suspected - no baby yet. Then I heard scrabbling somewhere around my feet and turned on my torch, and there it was, a soaking wet little dark foal flopping madly in the shavings and making a spirited effort to get up.

I jumped a mile. Arwen, who was unconcernedly eating her hay with the placenta hanging out, gave me a questioning look. There was some blood around - it seemed that she had either given birth standing up (while eating, knowing Arwen) or had gotten up a bit quickly straight afterwards and broken the umbilical cord a little early. Either way, she seemed as happy as can be, and the foal was snorting and flailing its little legs around in high spirits.

There was a cold wind blowing in through the open side of the barn and it had that restless quality that it gets when a storm is about to break. The foal was starting to shiver, and I dived to help, twisting a bit of clean hay into a wisp and doing a bit of rubbing. Arwen decided that this was now my problem and continued to happily eat her hay while I rubbed and checked the foal over. It was absolutely brand spanking new - couldn't have been born more than ten minutes before - and a beautiful solid bay filly without a single white hair anywhere on her.

I asked the beloved to rush home for some towels and off he went, and while he was gone, it suddenly began to hail. The sound on the stable roof was deafening enough that some of the horses got rather unsettled, but Arwen continued to munch on her hay, apparently bent on filling up her suddenly-empty belly. I scooted the foal to the other corner of the stable to get out of the cold wind and went on rubbing, growing more and more enchanted with the tiny filly as I did so. Her dish face was as pronounced as a baby Arabian's, and she had inherited her mama's enormous dragon ears.

The beloved returned in the car and shone the headlights into the stable. We both grabbed a towel and started rubbing, and the filly started to nicker and renewed her efforts to get to her feet. Once she was dry, I noticed that she seemed to be having a little trouble getting her right hind underneath her and straightening the tiny fetlock joint. When I took it manually it straightened just fine, but I was immediately worried. Very gently, I scooped her up in my arms - she was absolutely tiny - and set her on her feet. The right hind immediately straightened out, and she started to stomp around the stable in that mad, flailing fashion of brand new foals.

At this point, Arwen realized that it was time for her to take over, and she came up to the filly and started nuzzling her and nickering happily, pushing her in the direction of her udder. The filly, once up, showed no inclination of doing anything except suckling - on anything she could find: her mom's belly, the walls, me. With a little gentle guidance, she latched right on and drank like a champ.

As soon as she'd had two very good drinks, the filly abandoned this quest and started parading around and around the stable. I've never seen a little foal stay up for so long right after birth - normally they seem exhausted after suckling and take a little nap. But Arwen's filly walked around everywhere, often bumping into me. Arwen had gone back to eating hay, pausing occasionally to shepherd her foal away from the walls, and didn't seem to mind at all that whenever the filly bumped into me I would do a little imprinting.

Eventually, the filly lost her footing and flopped over in a heap, then immediately started trying to get back up on her own. While all this was happening, Arwen lifted her tail, still eating hay, and expelled the placenta. Apparently not even third stage labour will keep Arwen away from her dinner. In similar spirit, the filly cheerfully passed her meconium around the same time. The two of them had hit all four major milestones within an hour of the birth.

We stuck around until the filly had gotten up on her own and had a drink. By that time, it was one in the morning, and Arwen and the filly clearly had no further need of our assistance. I cuddled and hugged and kissed them both goodnight and we headed off through the pouring summer storm.

I'd already tentatively picked out a name for a filly from Arwen, which, in keeping with our Lord of the Rings theme, was Eowyn. When I saw the strong filly and all of her spirit, I knew it was the perfect name for her. Morning Star Eowyn it is. Known to friends as Wynnie, she's three weeks old now and growing strong, healthy, and wonderful in every single way - everything that I'd been hoping for.

Breeding so often goes wrong, sometimes catastrophically, sometimes with mild disappointment. While Eowyn and I are still at the very start of our journey, I know that so far, this has been nothing short of a miracle. We so nearly lost her when Arwen was sick in April. I was so happy that she just retained the pregnancy - never mind giving me a gorgeous filly that even came in the colour that I wanted.

God is gracious!

Her giant dragon ears ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’œ
SO dishy! Dish faces are accepted in Nooitgedachters, who had some Arabian influence in the early years of their development. Straight profiles are considered more correct, but I'm very partial to the pretty dish personally.

Raging at Arwen for getting in the way of her explorations the next morning

The very best mommy dragon!

Her first time outside. Look at those straight, sturdy legs for a day-old filly!

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Major Update 2 of 3: Baby Faith

Baby Faith is nearly two months old already - and I have so many other things to write about, too! But I'm not going to beat myself up over it. One of my most important goals for 2022 is to be less bogged down in the "things of this world" that don't particularly matter and that nonetheless manage to bring me a crippling amount of stress. I almost decided to give up blogging once and for all, after nearly 10 years, but I won't. I love the blog and I enjoy looking back on journals of the horses and my walk with Christ. I'm not a consistent blogger and it falls by the wayside when other, more important things get in the way, and that's OK with me. It won't create a vast readership, but I don't need one. I'm flattered by those of you who take the time to read and say hello, and the blogosphere is one of the few truly pleasant pockets of Internet where one can really just enjoy time with likeminded people and not have random fights all the time, and I love reading and lurking on everyone's blogs even if I don't always comment. Nonetheless, this overachiever has decided that blogging is something I'll allow myself to do imperfectly.

Without further ado, may the imperfection continue. 

* * * *

Faith was giving me the run-around for some time after the birth of little Rose on the night of Sunday the 14th of November. She had been enormous for weeks, with a gigantic edema, and often looked very uncomfortable - even mildly colicky - in the afternoons. Still, there was just no milk at all. Her udder was slowly filling but I couldn't express a thing.

On Monday the 15th, she really started getting upset during the late afternoon. She paced up and down, kicked at her belly, and generally looked miserable. Her lovely gut sounds and great vital signs pointed not to colic but to early labour, so of course the SO and K and I sat up with her until well past midnight. By then she was just eating hay, as she was doing at 2am, 4am, and 6am when we went to check on her. So that was a whole night of sleep deprivation for no good reason.

Anyway, she was fine on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday poor K's car broke down (and she'd been SO excited to see a foaling), so obviously Faith decided that Wednesday was the night. She was waxed when she came in that night and began to vigorously stream colostrum around 7. I caught some of it, just in case, but she was getting more and more restless so I thought we were probably close. We grabbed dinner, some snacks, and a Thermos of coffee (the beloved is nothing if not prepared) and camped out in front of her stable around 9pm.

We didn't have terribly long to wait. At 11pm exactly, her water broke, and to my utter relief she lay down and got straight to work. The beloved has done a few calvings, whelpings and hatchings in his time but this would be his first foaling from start to finish in which the foal survived (the poor soul helped me pull a sad little stillborn foal out of a mare at work, too), and he was wide-eyed with wonder and simultaneously a very good practical help. It was an unbelievably special time: Faith, the beloved, the foal, the dark summer night and me.

About 12 minutes after the water broke, Faith was not making much progress.The foal was sticking at the head and knees, as they do, and the head seemed a little bit askew. I took the front legs and did some gentle downward traction in time with her contractions, and at 11:15, the foal came spilling out into my lap.

Faith seemed absolutely shell-shocked. The beloved helped me to clear away the amnion from the foal's face, and she immediately started to breathe and try to sit up: a perfect dark bay filly, already starting to go grey around her eyes. Rene, in the stable next door, immediately began to talk reassuringly to the filly. Faith lay still for a few minutes while I petted and reassured her.

Once she started to look around in confusion, and the beloved helped me to bring the foal around to her head. Immediately, her eyes lit up, and she started to nicker in excitement as she nuzzled and licked her baby.

Faith has always been highly opinionated and I would be lying if I didn't say I was a bit worried about how she'd react to looking after her baby. After all, when her milk just came in, I tried to give her a little scratch around the teats and she gave me such a solid kick over the knee that I couldn't ride for an entire week (a true disaster in my world). But I needn't have worried. The moment she started nuzzling that baby, she was absolutely obsessed.

After maybe ten minutes, with a mighty effort she expelled the placenta. That breaks the record for quickest third stage of labour I've ever seen, so kudos to you Faith and thank you - the Friesians were driving me nuts with retained placentas this year. Then she promptly got to her feet and started encouraging her foal to rise.

The filly had been making wobbly attempts to get up for a few minutes now, and before midnight, the little lady was on her feet and wobbling madly around the stable as they do.

People say one shouldn't "mess with" the newborn foal in these early hours, but honestly, we have messed with the mare all her life and will mess with that foal for the rest of its life so unless the mare is aggressive I'm pretty hands-on with the newborn. Faith was far from aggressive, sometimes leaning into me as if for a bit of reassurance in this bewilderingly wonderful new experience. So the beloved steadied her head a little and I plugged the baby in to drink, still worried about the amount of colostrum that was escaping. There was no trouble at all with this - by 12:30 that foal had a good bellyful of milk and was starting to figure out how to do it herself, and Faith was standing still to let her. I spent a little more time doing some imprinting on feet/girth/ears of the foal before going back to sleep. By 2:30, the filly was rising and suckling very strongly on her own.

It was a pretty textbook birth although I'm glad I was around to help Faith out a little when the baby got a bit stuck. I think she could have done it on her own but it might have had a few complications. She did tear a tiny bit as it was, not enough to warrant stitches, but a few days of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories were in order and it healed within days. The foal had slightly weak front legs for the first day, but they sorted themselves out very quickly.

Faith was super overprotective for a full week after the foal was born so we kept them in a small paddock until she seemed to relax and we turned them out with Rene and Rose, which made both foals extremely happy.

Her owner named her Daydream Southern Lass - Lassie for short. Lassie became the 517th foal bred by Daydream Stud, which has been in existence for 53 years out of the Nooitgedachter breed's 70 years of existence. She is a special little lady and we adore her!

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Major Update 1 of 3: Baby Rene

 Foaling season is madness, y'all, especially since it coincides with the Christmas rush in the Kindle world. Horses and books are being popped out of thin air all over the place! Of course, it's also the time of year when the days are longer and the kids are squeezing in extra rides and shows to prepare for next year's interschools season, so several wheels are coming off my bus at this point. The blog, obv, was one of them for a minute there.

Friesian foal 2 out of an expected 3 arrived on the evening of November 12th. He is SO FRIENDLY

Nonetheless, I have baby horse photos to make up for it. The first of our Nooitgedachter babies arrived on November 15th.

She was quite a shock. I had been obsessing over Rene for two weeks as she got bigger and bigger and more and more uncomfortable and yet her milk just wouldn't come in. Night checks were starting to wear me down pretty well, and on the night of November 14th, I was absolutely exhausted. We had been at a horse show with the kiddos for the entire day and I'd been burned out even before that. That morning, I could just about squeeze out a drop of transparent fluid from her, but she had no signs of real milk that evening.

"Your baby is not coming tonight," I announced, and went to bed for my first full nights' sleep in two weeks. Obviously, Rene took my words as a challenge.

I reached the stable that morning and practically had heart failure because there was a poor sad motionless little foal lying on the ground on top of its placenta. Ignoring every piece of wisdom I have ever accrued in the past 20 years of working with horses, I dived through the stable door in front of the sleepy mare, crashed to my knees beside the foal, gripped its poor little neck with both hands and exclaimed, "Oh, please don't be dead!" Whereupon the foal's eyes snapped open and it leaped to its feet, thoroughly disgruntled by its first encounter with a human being. Sorry, baby. We're all freaking nuts.

Rene had done a sterling job of delivering her foal in the small hours of the morning with no assistance, which is hardly any surprise considering that she used to foal down out in the fields in her previous home. She was in perfect health and so was her very bouncy, hungry, happy baby, a beautiful big bay filly with a huge star and two socks. Why the filly had chosen to lie on top of her placenta instead of on the nice clean shavings, I'll never know. Sometimes foaling out mares is a perfect opportunity for God to play jokes on us.

The baby's owners named her Rose, and she is picture perfect. A little standoffish - unsurprising, since I only imprinted her around 3 or 4 hours of age instead of at birth - but very well-behaved once you've got hold of her. She's big, athletic, and has a ton of presence, too. I think she'll turn out a fairly big-boned mare but classy and elegant like her mom.

Either way, there's something special about her that's only grown more and more evident as she continues to grow and unfold.

Arwen was adamant that Rose was HER baby.

Next update: the momentuous birth of Baby Faith, an absolutely unforgettable experience!

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Some Satin

 Sunday was a lovely little local show at one of my favourite venues in the whole world, Equivest. It's not far from home and has the sweetest, kindest organizer who also does great things for dressage in our area, so I love supporting her shows when I can. The venue is young-horse-friendly too and holds some special memories for me: I rode Thunder's first Novice here - the day that we met Coach J - as well as his first Elementary. It was also where the beloved took me to a show for the first time in 2017. We weren't even dating yet, he was just handy and I needed a driver. The roads were SO wet and slippery that the four-berth and my dad's bakkie (pickup) were skidding all over the place, but he superhumanly got us all there safely and in a calm fashion, and honestly I think that was probably the moment in which I fell in love with him.

this man ๐Ÿ’œ and his favourite chicken, Loki

My ride times were 11:38 on Thunder and 12:32 on Lancey, which was very nice. We had time to sleep in a little (well, I slept in - my parents were away so the beloved did morning check and got the farm going at 6am), have a nice breakfast, and play with our chickens for a bit before I got the boys ready.

We've been growing Thunder's mane out because the beloved said that he looked like an unwanted stepchild when I cut his mane (to be fair, I am NOT good at cutting manes) so I used a new technique to make his bobbles. It actually worked out great, and it was super quick - about 15 minutes. I don't think they'd stay in overnight, but considering how quick it was, they don't need to.

I slapped Lancey's into a running plait, which was a bit of a messy by the end because I'm honestly just not very good at them, but it did the trick. This technique won't work on Lancey's mane, I don't think. It's just too long. I'll have to learn good running plaits, methinks.

I had some trepidation about the whole affair as we loaded up the two boys (who hopped right in, barring a half-hearted, flat-handed shove to Thunder's bottom to convince him that we really were going) and set off. The beloved and I were alone with them, and we didn't have stables, so the poor beloved would have do to literally everything except the actual riding. In the end, I needn't have worried. They were both absolutely perfect and my man is a superhero. (I do have zero media, though, because there was no show photographer, so pardon the wall of text).

We arrived a titch late - 11:10 - but I only need a few minutes to warm up Thunder so we slapped on his tack and I rode over to the warmup with optimism. I even remember his bridle number, something I have a history of totally failing at. We had ridden his tests on Saturday afternoon without any trouble, except that he did take a few trot steps down in some of his simple changes. Considering we have only done like 2 sessions on the simple changes in the past 4 months, that's not too bad. I walked him around, did a little stretchy trot to loosen him up, then rode a shoulder-in on each rein, a simple change on each rein, and one medium trot and that was all we needed. He was more than ready.

He did shout for Lancey a little bit when we went in and walked around, staying obedient but wanting to pop his head up, so I did a little bending as we went around. Once the bell rang he still wanted to look around for Lancey so we came in straight and steady but he popped up his head and looked sideways in the halt for 6.0, "inattentive". He stayed a little tense through the medium trot but gave it a brave effort for 6.0, then settled nicely in the shoulder-in and forgot all about Lancey. It was still a 6.5, and he got another 6.0 for the next medium trot, "more from behind". The next shoulder-in felt better but garnered another 6.5, then a staggering 7.0 for the transition to medium walk and the turn on the haunches left (!!). Honestly this TOH felt a bit sticky behind to me, but obviously my uneducated butt couldn't tell a good turn on the haunches if it was busy earning a 7.0 for one (my first ever, I think). I tried to keep him more active in the second TOH for 6.0, "hurried". Totally my bad.

I felt like the extended walk was really good - he was forward, soft, swinging, reaching - but it got a 5.0, "more ground cover". That really puzzles me, so I'll definitely bring it up with Coach J at our next lesson. The canter transition and 10m circle were 6.5, and then a 7.0 for the first simple change on the diagonal. I LOVE that we can get 7s on the simple changes now! The next 10m circle was a 6.0, "more jump", and the change was 6.5, "more impulsion". The medium canter was 6.0, "more from behind" - I did feel like I kinda started to lose him downhill at this point but he put it back together OK for 6.0 on the counter canter, "more fluency". This I totally agree with. I felt like he was falling behind my leg and started vaguely irritating him with my spurs instead of, you know, sitting up and riding like an actual dressage rider, so he was getting a bit annoyed and sucking back further behind my leg. I had the presence of mind to take my leg off and trust him for the next counter-canter and it improved marginally for 6.5, "more impulsion". We redeemed ourselves somewhat in the final halt and salute with 8.0. The collectives were 6.5 for paces, 6.0 for impulsion, 6.0 for submission and 6.5 for rider position and aids. We got 62.6% with comments "Promising horse. Horse needs to engage the hindquarters more".

I felt he was getting a bit bored and unfocused when we headed out, so while the judge was writing we did a bunch of canter-walk-canter-walk-canter around the outside of the arena, and he felt a lot sharper as we headed in for test 6. Things immediately began to improve. The first halt was a 7.0, as were the half 10m circles, and we went to 6.5 for the shoulder-in which honestly felt good to me but the judge didn't comment so I'm not sure why our shoulder-ins were so poor on the day. We got a 7.0 for the rein-back, a small triumph as we'd struggled with it in training, and a 7.0 for the next extended walk in which we broke to trot for 2 steps, go figure. (I felt like the previous test's walk was a lot better). The medium trot was a predictable 6.0 with an equally fair and predictable "more from behind". Our next half circles were 6.0; again, no comment, but we both lost our balance a tiny bit and made the first one too big so I assume that's why. Another 6.5 for the shoulder-in (I really wish the judge had commented on the shoulder-ins as they're usually a 7.0 for us) and then we had a 6.0 with comment "more jump" for the first counter canter. The simple change, however, was a 7.0, which I was chuffed with.

I felt like he lost some balance in the circle with break of contact and I obviously tried to compensate by pulling the inside rein down when I took the contact back (why????), and the judge said 6.5, "more impulsion". The medium canter was a 6.0, "more from behind" as per usual, and then the next counter canter was 6.0, "more jump". The simple change was again 7.0. I buggered up the first turn on the haunches for 5.0; the next one I trusted him a bit more and we got a 6.0, then a 6.5 for what I thought was a rather acceptable halt, but I don't think he was square.

The collectives were the same: 6.5 for paces, 6.0 for impulsion, 6.0 for submission, 6.5 for rider's position and aids for 64.2% with comments "Some quite good moments shown. At times horse needs to engage the hindquarters more".

I was really, really happy with both of us, honestly. I did botch two of the TOH, which clearly need work, and fussed at him a bit in the one counter-canter. Otherwise, I rode pretty well and he was absolutely wonderful. He felt like an old schoolmaster at this level - absolutely push-button and no effort at all. We didn't get dazzling marks but I feel like our marks reflected what Coach said, except for the TOH. In the movements where sheer obedience counted most (halts, rein-backs, simple changes, the TOH that I didn't mess up) he scored well; it was the movements requiring bigger natural movement (mediums) that didn't score so well. I do think we can improve our marks with more engagement and strength but that will come with a few more weeks of work. It was very nice to pilot a seasoned horse around a test he found easy for once, and a real confidence builder for our upcoming summer season.

We hadn't had time to get something cold to drink after I got off, and I was absolutely dying - it was a sweltering day and my cheapie jacket isn't exactly breathable. I did not expect to find the beloved and Lancey waiting with ice-cold, newly-bought drinks. I am not sure how the beloved succeeded in standing in the queue and buying drinks with Lancey in tow, but he did, so they're both my heroes.

There was just enough time to chug a Coke and saddle up Lancey before we were warming up for his tests. He was super good, much less looky than at the last show and nicely in front of my leg. He wanted to fight my right rein at first and we did some quiet bending and suppling until he relaxed, then did a bunch of simple changes through trot and in we went.

He wanted to spook at the judge's box, but I let him have a nice long look and the judge talked to him in a friendly way, so he relaxed completely by the time the bell rang. (The judge was wonderful about letting him take his time to look and snort before we had to go on). We trotted in, he halted beautifully - square, round, relax - and I saluted. When I looked up, we were five metres to the left and facing the other way. Apparently something vicious next to the arena must have tried to eat him. The judge, hilariously, commented "moved away from X" and gave us a 5.0. To Lancey's great credit, he happily carried on with his test and got 6.5 for the half circles. I lost his hindquarters in the leg-yield for 6.0, "more crossing". The lengthening was a 6.5, and we got a 6.5 for the canter right with comment "more connection" because he was fighting my right rein a little bit in the 12m circle. However, the change through trot was a 7.0, which I was delighted with.

We had an OK lengthening but we passed whatever-it-was that he spooked at in the centreline, so we wobbled off the track a bit (he was still SO good and rideable, though) for 5.0, "left the track". The change of rein and transition to trot at L was a 6.0, he lost some balance and wanted to canter but we kept it together. The half circles were 6.5 again, and then he had a really nice leg-yield for 7.0, "better". I slowed him for the stretchy trot and he stretched SUPER well, but I guess he was a bit too slow because we got 6.0, "more impulsion". The medium walk was a respectable 6.5 - he bobbed his head at a fly on his nose - and then our halt was another 6.5. The collectives, however, were good: 6.5 for the walk, 6.5 for the trot, 7.0 for the canter, 6.0 for submission, 6.5 for rider position, and 6.5 for accuracy. I know I sacrificed accuracy for balance in an attempt to avoid his signature "I throw my nose up in the air sometimes singing AAAAYO" move.

Overall it was 63.4%, "Some quite good moments shown. At times horse needs to be more connected." That felt spot on for the way the test went. He was fabulous at times, and he didn't get stuck upside down, just bobbled out of the connection when he lost his balance. He actually felt super nice and rideable, which was great - and very different from our last show.

They were busy grooming each other a la Gio and En Vogue but obviously stopped when I pointed the camera at them

He was still a little unsure of the spooky corner when we came out, so I took some time to walk him up and down next to it and pat him until he was quiet. The judge seemed to give me an extra minute or two to do this, which was very kind of him, and only when I retook the reins did the bell go and we trotted off to A.

We had a nice halt but then he stepped back for a 6.5, "good halt but moved, more impulsion after X". The lengthening was a 6.5 this time, and he got a 6.0 for the 10m circle, "more impulsion" - I felt him wobble there and was diplomatically trying to avoid losing the connection completely. The leg-yield and the next lengthening were 6.5s, and we rode a better 10m circle right even though that's his difficult rein for a 7.0. The leg-yield was another 6.5, "more impulsion", and the medium walk was a 7.0 - he swung into his ground-eating Arab-on-a-mission walk, which felt great. The free walk was less great, 6.5 "more connection".

Next we had the walk-to-canter, which for some reason I sort of panicked about. This entire show for some reason I was panicking a bit that they wouldn't canter when I asked (again... why???) and I sort of rushed and booted him so we got a 6.0, "hollow at A", completely my bad. The 12m circle and canter lengthening were 6.0s, "more impulsion" and "more ground cover", but the simple change through trot was again 7.0. He fussed and sucked back in the 12m canter circle for 6.0 "some resistance, more impulsion", and then got it together for a nice change of rein but felt pretty unbalanced into the trot, yet it was still a 6.5. Our last halt was a 6.0, "more square".

The collectives were a little different: 7.0 for the walk, 6.5 for trot, rider's position and accuracy, and 6.0 for canter and submission. It was still a 64% with comment "Some quite good moments shown. At times horse needs to engage the hindquarter more and be more connected".

I felt like he measured up pretty squarely to what I was expecting, but I was still really pleased by the huge improvement over our last show. I feel like the 7s will come for Lancey with more experience (and apparently more impulsion). While I'm happy with how I rode and got him back together in the times when we lost balance or connection, I know that there is potential for SO MUCH better, especially once we reach Elementary/EM. He actually has three nice gaits and a good brain, I just have to get rid of the dregs of this connection issue we've had since I bought him.

I was dying of heat when we got back to the box. It still feels unfair that judges just don't waive jackets as often as they really can, honestly - it was a tiny local show on a 34C (93F) day, and we all still sweated it out in our jackets. Anyway, I stripped Lancey's tack and babysat the boys and the beloved appeared with ice cream and water for the horses, then helped another lady to load her horse while I got the boys dressed. Once they'd had some water and cooled off, we popped them back in the box with no difficulty whatsoever.

I was happy with our tests but had seen some Big Name Fancy WBs in the warmup, so I wasn't expecting great things. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to get my tests (which were ready and waiting - this place is really great) and she handed me a heap of satin. Turns out that Thunny had won the E5 and came second in the E6 by a smidgen. Lancey had two first place ribbons, and I originally thought he was alone in the class, but turns out there was another horse in the N6 and he still won. So it's his first legit dressage win, ever!

We won two huge bags of carrots, which the boys enjoyed hugely, and a bag of AHFS Natural Horse Treats, which they also enjoyed, and the cutest little bottle of fancy perfume I have ever seen in my life. I am a huge sucker for perfume so that was a nice touch.

It was a nice way to cap off a really happy day with my three favourite dudes. Thunder now has 8 grading points in Elementary with two to go before we can upgrade to Elementary-Medium (and thus compete at Medium), and Lancey has two in Novice and needs eight more. God is good.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

To New Horizons

 Thunder's year started off so well. We had our Elementary-Medium (between 2nd and 3rd Level) debut in December 2020, and went on to compete every month up until March 2021. I was working really hard on improving my attitude and confidence levels at shows, which I honestly did, and we were pretty solid. We had one bad show in February where we scored in the low 50s, but overall we scored 61-67% and garnered 7 grading points. We need 10 grading points to move up to Medium (3rd).

We also became a real little team at competitions, and I'm not just talking about Thunder and I. The beloved, trusty driver and groom, is just as much part of the team as the two of us actually in the arena. Getting to do this with him is one of my favourite things about competing Thunder.

groom extraordinaire in action, taking the reins and handing over the Powerade in one movement while also listening to me complain about our walk-to-canter transitions and wearing a T-shirt reading "I can do this all day"

also cracking some silly joke to make my smile come back and realize how honoured I am to be here, walk-to-canter or no

Our last show was in March, where we rode Elementary-Medium 2 and 3. Test 3 is a little harder, with optional flying changes and a few little half-passes, and Thunder absolutely aced it. We opted for simple changes on the day, but we still got a 67% and third in a big strong class.

Then, in April, Thunder got biliary. It was very mild but I gave him six weeks off on the vet's recommendation because it's so hard on their circulatory system. That put us back to work in mid-May, when we did some good work but all the shows were closed because of COVID. Of course, just as things began to open up again, he hung a leg in his haynet and got another six weeks off.

By the time he could come back to work in the last week of September, Thunder was well and truly unfit. I decided to take the opportunity to really build him up from square one with a solid lungeing program.

I haven't been good about keeping him in a good fitness program historically. Part of this is just because I am so, so busy and when I do get a gap to ride my horse, I really want to ride him, not lunge him. But it's time for me to get a little more serious about my goals and intentions with this horse. I will love and enjoy him no matter what, but if I want to spend money on dressage, I want to go as far up the levels as is comfortable for him. And that means taking our work a bit more seriously.

What's more, summer is finally here. I can bounce out of bed at five and tack him up by a quarter to six in lovely soft daylight, long before the rest of the world wakes up and starts making demands.

We spent the whole of October almost exclusively lungeing. I started with just six minutes of trot (three on each rein), and built it up by two minutes each week, then started adding two minutes of canter. We lunged at least three days a week and worked at least four days a week; I rode him a few times, but mostly just in stretchy trot, no real schooling until last week. We've built up to ten minutes of trot and six minutes of canter in total now and he is doing so well. The angry, resistant Thunder I used to have for the lungeing is gone, probably because I took my time conditioning him properly.

I would love to have gotten some long, slow distance miles on him first, but there is nothing long and slow about Thunder on an outride at the moment honestly. K is going to help me fix that this summer. This fitness program has also worked extremely well with the Friesians: I think this body type benefits a lot from a program of short but correct lungeing. Coach J has had good success with it, anyway, considering he has several Friesians and other "off-breeds" in the international levels, including a little 14.3hh Boerperd that he bought from an auction for the equivalent of $30 because he felt sorry for it. (That one went GP, and I got to ride him once!)

The footing in the lunge is pretty hard. His legs are flawless despite 7 years of pounding on it, but I do worry, so he gets IceTite in the evenings after lungeing

In October, I rode him about two or three times and actually schooled him once, going through single flying changes a bit of canter-walk-canter - nothing hectic. I was pleasantly surprised to find a LOT more energy under me. We spent a few rides in the winter arguing about responding to my leg, and I think that it did help that I focused on this quite a lot, but there always seemed to be more to it than just sheer lack of responsiveness from him. I do know how to get a horse in front of my leg and have done it successfully with others, but I just couldn't quite get it from him. I had the niggling feeling that he just didn't have the oomph - not that anything was sore or "wrong", just that he kept running out of energy.

nothing like the morning light on a freshly raked arena

So I rang up the nutritionist and said, "I need something to make my horse HOT." She first suggested Capstone Perform Time, which I've used before and which made the kids' horses into tail-flagging, snorting maniacs but had exactly zero effect on Mr. Thunderbird. Then she suggest Spurwing Energy Supplement, which is basically a handful of pure energy designed to make even the dullest schoolie leap through the ceilings. Also tried that before, and it does nothing to him. Eventually she had us try Capstone Stud Time, which is a very high-energy, high-protein feed designed for pregnant and lactating broodmares. I had the sense that she feared she might be sending me to my grave, but it has had just the right amount of effect on Thunder. He has a bit of sass and plenty of stamina these days, and the extra fats have done wonders for his coat - and the extra protein is bulking him up really nicely.


All that combined to give me a really great ride on him on Tuesday. He was feeling super strong and happy under me, so I asked for a bit more - more push in the lateral work, walk-trot-walk transitions in shoulder-in and half-pass, a few of his poor desperate little mediums, and then some more correct flying changes and a few steps of pirouette canter here and there. He totally rose to the challenge, so much so that I decided we were ready for a lesson on Wednesday (yesterday).

end of October

I was hoping that we could just work on a few basics, even if the lesson ended up being very short. I know him well enough to know if he started to flag and Coach is pretty good at spotting a tiring horse anyway, and wouldn't push us past his limits. He was a little bit hesitant to load (the beloved was not amused) and a little more chatty and curious than normal when we arrived at the Friesian farm. Coach was riding their Advanced stallion and doing insane piaffes and pirouettes and whatever, which Thnder watched intently. I had a little concern that my new, energetic Thunder might also be my insane, spooky Thunder, but as soon as I got on his back, he was all business, marching around the arena and even stretching nicely. Seems like we've hit the sweet spot of more energy but still his usual workmanlike calm.

I have no lesson media so here he is covered in Equi-Soothe in a bid to stave off his itchiness

We warmed up with a lot of lateral work in walk. I had forgotten my spurs at home but he seemed quite OK, if a little slow off my leg. Coach immediately got on my case about that, reminding me not to push harder with my leg if his response was slow. Instead, I had to give him a bump with my heel ("tap with an imaginary spur") or a touch with the whip, asking for a brisk response to a LIGHT leg aid - not escalating the leg aid. This worked really great and soon he was dancing off my leg well in the walk. We also did a few walk-trot transitions in a steep leg-yield or half-pass. Coach emphasized that if I intensify my leg aid, he should immediately break to trot or even canter. "More leg should always be more energy". I actually do know this and apply it to other horses, and now that Thunder had more gas in the tank, he was able to rise to what I was asking him to do and we had a big improvement.

my eleven-year-old helper does little chores in exchange for lessons and she adores him. She was supposed to be doing his mane but when I checked on her through my cottage window she was just loving on him which is fine by me

Once he was powerfully through and responsive in the walk, Coach had me start collecting and extending the walk, focusing on keeping the collected walk short and active. He also emphasized that I need to change Thunder's neck as well as pushing his bum underneath him. He can't lift his shoulders if he's overbent or pulling down onto his neck. Instead, I have to let him come up in front, much higher than his Novice/Elementary frame. When he felt "hollow", he looked good in the mirror - poll the highest point, neck long, throatlatch open, but definitely higher than he used to be. This allowed him to become far more uphill.

With the collected walk improving, Coach had me pop him straight into canter, thinking about staying at exactly the same speed - cantering as fast as a walk. It took us a while to get here. We cantered a 20m circle and Coach just had me think about keeping his neck up and pushing him under from behind, not trying to pull him slower from in front. (You know... like, super basic dressage). I felt like I was using a lot of leg to hold him together, but it was a soft, lifting leg, more just contact than actually squeezing. Squeezing just made him rush. I struggled with keeping my hands higher (higher neck = hands need to be higher to maintain the straight line elbow-hand-bit) and kept wanting to jam my hands down to slow him down.

Eventually, though, with much "HANDS UP!!" from Coach, we suddenly hit a canter that I have never felt before on this horse. I've had moments on Navarro, but never so many sustained strides of such a collected canter. He literally cantered at the speed of a walk, and it wasn't a huge, springy canter, but it was solidly three-beat and uphill - I don't think he ever dropped to four beats. He was strong and straight and uphill in his neck but soft when I asked him to bend a little, not locked. I was actually not leaning forward for once (who knew that sitting up straight helps your horse balance better???) and it felt... almost effortless, honestly. And we held it! Not just for two or three steps but for circle after circle. I was grinning and Coach actually said "Good! Nice!" a few times, which honestly you have to really work to get praise from Coach. We also played with a few strides of pirouette canter at a time, and he tried really hard. One positive change was that if he started to lose energy or balance he would plunge forward a bit rather than just giving up and breaking.

We did a few figure-eights with single flying changes over the middle. He was late behind just once, when I totally failed to keep his shoulders straight, but the rest of the time he skipped quietly and correctly through each change. The collection made a big difference to keeping his changes clean and straight. After a few changes, he broke to trot once or twice, but still seemed very willing to try. Coach immediately spotted that he was starting to flag just a bit and had us do a few circles of stretchy canter before calling it a day. He boxed perfectly to go home, too, and seemed very cheerful in himself.

I was totally blown away by him. I definitely hadn't expected to be playing with a canter that could have gone into the Advanced mini-pirouettes, so soon after bringing him back to work. We finally seem to have found a good schedule that leaves him fit but not muscle-tired, and with our lovely summer mornings, we can sustainably stick with it.

After the lesson, I asked Coach what he thought about us going to Gauteng Champs. With typical bluntness, he said it would be a waste of our time, then went on to explain how difficult it is to get really good - as in, winning - marks in Novice/Elementary/EM (1st and 2nd level) on a horse with ordinary movement. I love my Thunny, but he doesn't have a toe-flicky trot or a big expressive canter. We can improve those but he's just not on the same level as the flashy WBs who can pull out an 8.5 for a medium trot from the moment they're born. The lower levels have a lot of lengthened or medium movements and a lot of riders who are very capable at these levels. Coach explained that my focus in these levels should be to go to quiet local shows, not spend tons of money on championships where we honestly aren't going to get a 75% and win things even if he behaves perfectly and does a nice test. I can go to Champs on the Friesians who are big and flashy and score well, but with Thunder I should focus on schooling and getting to the upper levels, because that's where we can actually stand a chance. "The big, flamboyant horses winning in the lower levels will start to make mistakes in the upper levels," Coach said. "If you keep all of your focus on training, and only compete to get points, then in a year or two you might be able to ride a flawless Medium or Advanced test. Then it won't matter as much that he doesn't have the flashy movement."

With that, I plucked up the courage to ask him the big question: "Can he go as far as Advanced?"

Coach snorted. "Any horse can go to Prix St. Georges, as long as it doesn't have a physical disability."

So, we're not going to Champs. Instead, I entered him in a little local show for this weekend, just at Elementary 5 and 6 to get some grading points. If we go well then we can enter our first Medium early next year, and rack up the points for Advanced by the end of 2022. And maybe we'll even have a Small Tour horse on our hands someday!

I'm so excited and so glad to have my horse back. God is good!

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Wordless Wednesday: First Grazing of the Spring

 Finally, the brutal winter has released its death grip on the Highveld, and abundant summer begins to return in verdant green.

We have a while to go before the browns and grays finally give way to deep green pastures, but there is food out there for the horses now, which is a breath of relief for all involved. Especially old Skye - the toothless old lady came through the winter really well this year, but she's grateful to have all the soft, easy-to-chew grass she wants instead of her regular soupy meals of Speedi-Beet and senior meal.

Those meals served her well this year, though. She was on 3.2kg of Spurwing Senior, plus about 1kg of Speedi-Beet mixed with another 1kg of Capstone Cool Time. I hung soaked slow-feeder teff nets for her, but she only managed to eat about half a net per day. Still, it was enough for the old girl to come through the winter looking just fine for a thirty-three-year-old horse with no functioning molars.

The broodmares came in for the breeding season. I had to kick Ladybug and Magic out into the fields, and move Thunder and Lancey to the barn so that the ladies could have their foaling boxes back. Arwen is still sleeping out, only being due around Christmas, but Faith and Rene are inside at night now.

At 325 days, Faith is taunting me. She has a massive edema, poor girl, but no udder to speak of yet (sorry for the mare udder shots!). She also had this weird stuff on her teats??? Like I've foaled down plenty of mares and I really don't even know. It was only for a day, and it's definitely not wax. Maidens always have something new to show me, I swear.

At 329 days, Rene has every sign of imminent foaling except that I can't seem to express any milk from her udder at all. It looks pretty full and tight, but she just won't give me a drop to test the pH. So I'm hoping for wax as she's an older girl and has had a few babies before. Honestly, it could be any minute now or only in another two or three weeks' time. At least the mares look good - at dreadful expense. Still, it's better (not to mention cheaper) to keep a fat broodmare fat than to try to make a thin broodmare fatter.

Two happy faces greeting me every morning. I thought they might be a bit feral - I don't think these two girls have slept in a stable in their lives - but they seem to be enjoying their new digs.

Faith being way too gorgeous (and standing with splayed legs and a hanging tummy, lol).

Her mane is so perfect!

Arwen is very happy to still be sleeping outside. She's a bit of a monster in a stable, to be honest, but she'll have to move inside when she approaches her due date (precisely so that BabyDragon can learn to be a good baby in a stable from day one). As usual, she's handling her pregnancy with great aplomb - no edema, no discomfort, and a steadily growing udder. I felt BabyDragon kicking the other day, which was pretty special until OriginalDragon also thought she might get in on the kicking action (I can only assume things were getting a little uncomfortable).

In general, she's been her usual snuggly self, and seems relieved to be in a field with the other two ladies instead of having to command the herd as her belly grows.

I think Sir Flash, one of my two adorable school ponies, might have had a touch of ulcers at the end of the winter. It was a hard winter for everyone in the bitter cold and with absolutely no grass, and I couldn't find any of the coarser hay with lower nutritional value that works on these chunky little buggers. Instead I had to feed beautiful hay out of slow feeders, and Flashy's weight stayed perfect, but he was a little cranky towards the end. I put him on some zeolites and that began to help, but the tide really turned when I threw him out into the pastures. He's back to his friendly little self now.

He was his usual tolerant and versatile self last week, doing everything from working riding,

to helping me give a young horse a lead over his first few little logs,

to jumping all clear rounds with one of his smaller kiddos at a training show. I am so grateful for the amazing people who make up my little yard. We really don't have "barn drama" and it's thanks to them ๐Ÿ’œ

No schoolie appreciation post would be complete without mentioning my precious little Stardust, of course. I think every kid in the yard learned to ride on her.

Sleeping out seems to suit both Magic and Ladybug, who are now best friends. It's such a relief to have Magic outside and feeding himself on nice soft green grass instead of having to do his regimented feeding schedule and worrying about ulcers and impactions and all the rest. He still needs a little weight after his miracle recovery, and he did get picked on a bit during his first week out with the herd, but he's beginning to thrive again now. I'm just so grateful to kiss that soft little grey nose every morning.

The spring grass gave even the old retirees a little extra bounce.

This old man is a 25-year-old OTTB who, believe it or not, played Trenton's Pride in Racing Stripes. There were two Trenton's Prides, one in America and one in South Africa. This old chap is the one in all the scenes with the zebra. He is not villainous at all and can be rather a sweet old fellow when he wants to be.

The grazing isn't great just yet, but looking back on this shot from nearly two weeks ago, they've put on a lot of weight already. I'll have to keep a good eye on the Nooities, although it's a relief to have Arwen's body occupied with cooking a baby instead of just getting fatter and fatter.

The beloved fixed all the summer fences for me, of course. And helped me move all the horses in the scorching heat.

Here's to summer. God is so good.

A Lady High and Valiant

 The night of December 15th, 2021, I was bent frantically over the keyboard as usual, tapping madly away at one of the deadlines that come u...