Thursday, 17 June 2021

Going Big

 I just signed Lancey up for his first dressage show with me since... 2016?

he's as incredulous as you are

When I was still bringing him on for his previous owner as a jumping pony, I used to take Lancey along to the SANESA shows when they still allowed "supporters" to enter. We did one where we added on a dressage test just for funsies, and honestly, he did pretty well. We scored in the high 60s at Prelim with a strict judge, which isn't too bad considering that he was a five-year-old piloted by a girl who had exactly one actual dressage lesson under her belt. His attention span and physical strength at the time were also so poor that I didn't actually warm him up at all. There was a howling wind and the arena was right on the edge of a poplar grove, and the trees were whipping around like crazy. I got on him in the warmup, walked across it to the show arena, walked around the arena, and that was it. We went straight in and he was super. I even still have the test - the judge's comment was "quite good [ineligible squiggle] shown, at times pony could have more bend and cover more ground".

(Lancey would like to interject that, at a mighty 15 hands, he is not actually a pony).

Whatever quite good ineligible squiggle he had, I'm hoping it stands us in good stead last time. That test was more than five years ago now and it was also the only dressage show he's ever done. The last time I actually showed him was at Horse of the Year in February 2020... and so obviously the thing to do, for his second ever dressage show, was to enter him in Elementary 5 and 6.

Titan has concerns about this, too

I know I have a few American readers (thank you for being here!), and the South African dressage level names make exactly 0% sense, so Elementary is along the same lines as 2nd level. Tests 5 and 6 are also the hardest in the level. They include a bunch of shoulder-in, turns on the haunches, rein-backs (which are coefficients), and also counter-canter half circles and simple changes on the long side out of counter-canter. 

So, like... not the usual tests you'd pick for a horse's second dressage show, and the only reason I can show him at Elementary at all is that you're allowed to show one grade higher than your horse is registered. He's registered as Novice (1st) now, so we're going to give this a shot.

A few months ago, I would never have dreamed of riding him at Elementary and was having doubts about whether I should even ride him at Novice. But it seems like Coach's speech is getting through to me. What would be the point of messing around at Novice on a horse who actually does have all the Elementary movements and many of the Elementary-Medium movements, too?

what would be the point of being a goose in a dog basket? honestly I don't know that either

Am I going to regret this? If I make a real hash of it, maybe, but it's still worth the try. Is it going to hurt my Lanceypie? Not in any way. He can do the work; it's me that might fizzle a bit in the show ring. As long as there's no risk to my dear horses, I'm trying to think more like a bold competitor, like someone who's ready to go big or go home. I don't just want to survive through shows anymore: I want to ride. This is my first attempt at developing a big match temperament, and I'm excited to see how it goes.

The pony has been riding his tests pretty nicely, honestly. One or two small mistakes, but nothing I can't iron out in a ride. There is always the chance that he might pop up his head and throw away some marks, but I can get it sorted out within a couple of strides, so we'd lose one movement - that's all. My goal for this show is to get a couple of grading points, and, more importantly, to really give it my best shot. Not just manage my nerves and avoid falling off!

Danny says he's only four so he doesn't have to do anything except being adorable, at which he scores 10000000%

Weirdly enough I'm feeling less nervous for this show than usual. Maybe that will change closer to the time, or maybe there's something to be said for this whole "go for it" mentality. Only time will tell! 

PrancingPony is being clipped tomorrow and he has hearts clipped on his butt and, since I'm on a rebel roll, I'm leaving them right where they are! 

Thunder also has some big plans on the horizon. I'm really, really hoping to ride him at our big provincial show. It all depends whether or not I can sell this random Bombers bit that I found at the bottom of my bit box while I was looking for a snaffle for a kid (people have donated a ton of weird and awesome stuff to me over the years). The chances of me ever using a non-dressage legal Uber Expensive Bit are very low, so hopefully I can make some of the entry fees back.

He's been going super well, too. Part of that has absolutely been the fact that I'm way, way more consistent about what I'm asking him, but on my last post, Teresa commented some of the best advice I've ever gotten. I've been trying it, and it's awesome! It stops things from devolving into a fight and keeps my heart up. Her words were something along the lines of "throw your heart out in front and chase it". Teresa rocks, y'all. To put a Riding on Water spin on it, it's about heels down, leg on, eyes on Jesus. I love it. 

Unfortunately, since we didn't get grading points in 2020, Thunder is also competing at EM but registered at Elementary. Rules say we have to ride Elementary at the big show, which is kind of a bummer considering we were actually about to ride Medium, but hey - lower level, bigger scores (maybe).

We'll see how things pan out, but God willing, I'd absolutely love to ride in it.

Bonus pic: wintry landscape and baby Lizzy being backed

In Scripture reading, I've finished the reign of Solomon and now heading into the sad descent of Israel and Judah into sin, ultimately leading to the captivity. It's so easy to judge someone like Jeroboam. His reign was prophesied, he saw God's power, and he even had his own hand shriveled and then miraculously healed at the word of a prophet. Still, for political power, he set up idols in Israel and led the people astray. How can you see God work like that and still serve a golden calf? Just like the Israelites did, walking through the Red Sea, then turning aside to worship a deaf and dumb idol.

Yet I have done the very same. Surrounded by His creation, walking in His grace, still my heart sets up idols for itself, running after money and success and popularity when I'm offered grace, love and eternity. We all have a little Jeroboam in us, and that's why Christ came to the cross.

Perhaps the trouble I've had with dressage is not that I care too little about riding well, but that I care too much about not riding badly. I need to throw it all to the winds and just ride my heart out in worship to the Lord. To ride boldly and wholeheartedly, not to worship idols like ribbons or judges or prestige, but to worship the God Who made us all. 

He is so so good ๐Ÿ’œ

Thursday, 10 June 2021


 Thunder has been an absolutely wonderful gift in my life. The last horse I had that I trusted as much as I trust him was his mother, who was retired nearly eight years ago now. He's a real emotional sponge, too: he seems to soak up all of my drama without allowing any of it to affect him, whether that's my panicky nerves on a show day or just some general angst on any ordinary afternoon. There is so much that I love about him and every stride he takes is a miracle - but there is one thing that we really need to fix, and it's not his fault. It's mine.

Literally the only recent pic I have of Thunder. The poor baby's itching has finally stopped now that the bugs are dead, but he looks so awful :( Scabby legs and face, rubbed mane and tail, and his coat is just generally... ugh. I actually have him on zeolite for his tummy just in case, and I've already saved up enough for a fancier fly mask next summer. Now just to put away enough for a fly sheet and boots over the winter.

Ever since Thunder was a youngster, he has been... an unresponsive soul, LOL. His Friesian blood has something to do with it, as does his doting upbringing. He just never had a reason to be reactive to random stuff. It makes him pretty bombproof, but it also makes him less inclined to actually react to my aids, and my riding has honestly not fixed it - although it has improved over the years.

Still, the one major flaw in his dressage work right now remains the simple fact that the horse just isn't forward and he just doesn't stay in front of my leg. And that's not on him. It's on me.

Lack of Thunder media means Noah spam instead. You're welcome.

I've been making excuses for myself for years when it comes to his lack of response to my leg. I've told myself that his stifle is a little weak, and that he needs more days off, and more high-energy food. But the truth is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Thunder. His stifle is the best it's ever been, his body is gorgeously sound and pain-free, and he's being fed like a king. He's been seen by a myriad of professionals and they all agree that he's a happy, sound, healthy, energetic horse. I can also clearly feel a difference between stiff or tired Thunder and just run-of-the-mill behind-my-leg Thunder, and I know that there is absolutely no physical reason why he doesn't go off my leg. The reason is simple: he doesn't move off my leg because I haven't taught him to do so.

At first I didn't teach him to get off my leg because I didn't know what that even was. When lessons with Coach first came along in late 2017, he massively improved - Coach didn't allow me to let him get too lazy. But we were also progressing so quickly and learning so much all at the same time that, while I was constantly working on getting him more forward, I never really dug in and just fixed the issue. There were so many other things to do.

He's grown so much it's kind of scary!

Now, though, we're busy test riding EM 5 and 6 and Medium 1 and 2 as he grows fitter again after his long lay-off. It sucked not to be able to ride him for six whole weeks between the biliary and the sweet itch and a mild bout of colic (as a result of all the medications), but it definitely opened my eyes to just how wonderful this horse is - and also how badly behind the leg he is. After riding horses like Lancelot and Vlinder and Navarro for those six weeks, who have always had Uncompromising Firn and thus go forward when asked, I realized that my best horse still has a massive training hole.

This is also a hole that I don't enjoy fixing. It's no fun at all to have to lay down the law about moving off my leg. With the in-hand work, I've taken him back to the basics, teaching him to understand the whip as an aid instead of a punishment. But there is still an element of having to say to him, "Listen, my dude, get OFF my leg NOW." He knows what it means, he's just used to responding to a poke instead of to a light squeeze.

Also, Titan and Noah are officially besties.

I've also made a crutch out of using the whip. As soon as I'm carrying the whip, Thunder is forward - almost without actually having to touch him with it. (Anyone else got a riding school pony for a Medium horse? LOL). Sans whip, he's a whole different horse. I don't like using a spur for forwardness, it exists for finesse in the lateral work, but I have got to start being more clear with my aids.

It's not about being more "strict" or "harsh" or "sharp" about moving off my leg. It's about being more clear. Thunder isn't behind my leg because he's lazy or naughty or stupid. Thunder is behind my leg because he doesn't know that he's not supposed to be, and the only way to fix that is to be clear. Not rude, not unkind, and not rough: but clear.

Noah discovered the sunlight patch!

I need to be uncompromising, not necessarily towards Thunder, but towards myself. I need to be disciplined about my leg aids and about getting the response I asked for so that he understands that he needs to step away from my leg the first time, every time.

This is all part of riding each horse like a Grand Prix horse, and about putting aside my angst in order to ride this horse as well as I possibly can. Because the truth is that this is an absolutely incredible horse, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse. This is an ordinary mongrel who is making it into the higher levels with an inexperienced rider, and he's my hero. I cannot let something like this - something as basic as this - be the thing that stands in our way.

On Tuesday, our last ride (my schedule, ugh), I actually showed up to the party for once and I was 100% determined to have him forward off my leg with every single stride - without having to rely on the whip. Was it a little messy at times? Sure. Was it fun? Not always. When one buggers something up, it's really hard work to un-bugger it. But after going back and doing some of the lateral work exercises that always get him more quick and responsive, we returned to the Medium 2 movement we're focusing on right now: track right in collected canter, V turn right, L circle 10m, P turn left in counter canter, R flying change.

And guess what? It wasn't just good. Once he was forward, it was effortless.

Celeste, my favourite Friesian in the whole world

My horse is an amazing horse and we are going to do the big levels together, but I have to start showing up and riding like it's more than just a pipe dream. Anything less makes him confused, tight, and unhappy in his work. I owe it to him to ride him well, and I owe it to myself and to my dreams to believe a little bit more fiercely in this thing that I was born to do.

With typically providential timing, our last church service - very much socially distanced, masked up, and sanitized, especially since we always sit up in the gallery like naughty children - was all about worship. Anyone who read the old Riding on Water knows that dressage is worship to me, a way that I can revel in and express my love for the God Who made horses and people and let them dance together. Our minister was talking about how worship is in everything we do, and that it's in doing it excellently. We worship by doing things joyously, wholeheartedly, and with our hearts fixed upon our Lord.

Also here's a pic of my man bc he's just freaking adorable ๐Ÿ’œ

I used to be concerned to the point of anxiety about doing dressage well, to a point where I would feel physically sick if I couldn't get something right. The past few years have been all about reframing how I feel about dressage, letting go of my worst anxieties and even overcoming show nerves in the last few months.

Now, I'm ready to throw myself into it again with all my heart, ready to once again strive for real excellence. This time, it won't come from a place of pride or competitiveness. It'll come from a place of worship and desire for that glorious place only a horse can take us, that place where their ribs betwen our knees seem to expand with the very wind of Heaven.

I'm so ready for it. And I know my sweet bay horse can take me there, but it's up to me to show him the way.
wintry mornings and our perfect cottage ๐Ÿ’œ

God is so very good.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Exploring the Western Neighbours'

 Now that I have a super outride horse again, I've been riding all over our farm, alone and with kiddos. It's no small space, either - 230ha (over 500 acres) and nearly all of it is super accessible on horseback.

I love our home trails and know them like the back of my hand, but we're both feeling ready for longer and more exciting adventures.

I really don't think there is any better place in South Africa to own horses than the farmlands surrounding Heidelberg. We're close enough to the city (Johannesburg/Tshwane) to be spoiled for choice when it comes to specialist vets and competitions - one of our country's main venues is a 60-minute drive from our farm gate.

Still, the area is gloriously rural. Heidelberg is an adorable historic small town, and farmlands abound. I could explore virtually endless tracts of land without having to do more than cross a road or two. Road riding just isn't a thing out here.

So when the time came to ride further, it was as simple as sending a text to our lovely neighbour on the west (who has helped me out with many hay bales in hard winters, and also leveled my arena area for me. You rock, lovely neighbour!). As usual, he was very happy for us to ride in his fields, so I rustled up K the ex-working student (now managing a riding school of her own) and Milady to go with us.

We took the usual route down the hill along the east paddocks, having to ride through the cows to do so. Lancey didn't care; Milady was fairly concerned, but kept it together.

Our moment of excitement occurred at the bottom of the hill. I wanted to canter the long stretch across the top of the soya bean fields to the border fence, and when I asked Lancey for a walk to canter, he instead launched into the biggest bucking fit I've sat in a while. It caught me off guard and he gave four or five good ones before I reeled him in. The little guy mercifully doesn't kick up behind, but he can dolphin leap with the best of them.

If it was any other horse - barring Thunder - I'd have bailed there and then. Because it was Lancey, my nerves only hit about a 3 out of 5, still acceptable. Also, I might not enjoy such hijinks, but riding the Friesians has given me a seat of steel, so I actually didn't even wobble in the saddle. The moment I got my reins together he also stopped dead and stood there like the good boy he had momentarily forgotten he is.

why yes I was riding in sweatpants, it was too dang cold for leggings

I took a deep breath and we trotted for a bit instead, and he didn't put a foot wrong. Any horse can have the odd moment. I considered walking for the rest of the ride, but my fear had stabilized to a 2 or so, and I didn't want to make an issue of it. So after a while we dropped back to a walk and then popped to canter and Lancey headed off at the sweetest little collected canter you've ever seen. He was truly perfect for the rest of the ride, barring a few of his usual little spooks, which always happen in place so they don't worry me one bit.

We did run into the one problem with riding with K and Milady. K is very sweet with this nervous dressage auntie, but Milady definitely does not canter at the same pace as a well-schooled Arab with a nervous nelly aboard. Poor K was stuck trotting behind us for much of the way until I settled and pushed him to something more like a medium canter.

It remains to be seen what solution we'll come up with. K reckons I should just loosen up and have a little gallop, but I reckon she should teach Milady to canter properly, LOL. 

With that we were passing the last bean field - walking now to save Milady's little TB toesies on the rocks - and then we had popped out into the lanes around the neighbour's mielie (corn) fields.

Our goal was to find a way around the poplar grove to the game camp on the east side of the farm against the tar road. There are some amazing animals in there, and I've only seen them from the road. Game viewing on horseback is brilliant - they're not as frightened by horses as by cars.

We rode up towards the farmhouse. There are new barns and things there, but we passed by the back of them and came upon some very old outbuildings. Swaelkrans has been around for generations, and the old klipkraal - a small enclosure built from stone taken from the very koppies upon which the farm is built - was a giveaway that these buildings were very old. No one builds klipkrale anymore, but they were the order of the day a hundred years ago or more.

The farm has the most beautiful tracks everywhere. We headed along a field that looked like it'd been planted with winter grazing, then along the bottom of a poplar grove - and there it was. The game fence was right there!

Of course, the game had chosen to graze on the other end of the camp, so we could see neither hide nor hair of them. We decided to try riding up the other side of the trees to see if we could spot them.

The trees were pretty spooky, with a lot of rustling going on, but Lancey was fantastic. He had one or two little looks and kept trying to go behind Milady in his nervous moments - a relic of early training with a lead horse - but as soon as I put him in front, instead of next to her, he was pretty happy to just trundle along.

We had a canter along the grazing field then, and that was amazing. He didn't put a foot wrong and I even got him into a medium canter so that poor K could canter too. 

Around the trees, we didn't see any animals, but we did come upon a real treasure: an ancient oak tree, gnarled and twisted and golden with autumn. It was so beautiful that we dubbed it the magic tree.

The tree was beautiful, but also pointed to how old this farm really is. Oak trees aren't indigenous. Whoever laid the stone for that old klipkraal planted this oak tree, perhaps a sapling or an acorn then, for children of future generations to play beneath its boughs. That tree probably saw the Anglo-Boer War, during which Heidelberg was briefly the capital of South Africa, and decades of British colonization afterwards.

We'd been out for a while then, and I had promised the man I'd make pannekoek for lunch, so we started heading back towards home across the hay field.

Avoiding the shooting range, we headed between two bean fields, a road so long and straight and uphill that the horizon called even my name. I agreed to have another canter, and we were off.

Lancey was absolutely amazing for this. K's bleats of protest from behind me spurred me to finally take a light seat and allow Lancey to open up just a bit. He got a little heavier in front, but when I asked, he half-halted instantly. His neck was long, his tail was up, and he was just eating up the ground.

My worst fear came true when Milady came up alongside me, and then cruised on past - but Lancey didn't give his left sock. He just went on cantering like a good boy, and I let them pull away from us for a little before asking him back down to a walk. We were fine, but I wanted to know if I could ask him to walk even with another horse cantering away. He obliged immediately, jogging a couple of steps on a loose rein before falling into a quiet walk on the buckle while K pulled up Milady some distance ahead of us.

That was super confidence-building for me. We walked the rest of the way home in the interests of keeping Milady from becoming a joggy, snorty mess, but I was feeling really good even after the bucking fit we'd had early on in the ride.

It's all about making deposits into that trust bank. Lancey has been giving me good experience after good experience, and my trust bank is full enough with him that he can make the odd withdrawal without affecting it.

He power-walked on the buckle, eating up the distance with his swinging Arab stride, and K and I had a chance to chat and enjoy the sunshine. Winter days are picturesque in the Highveld, and even though it had been heavily frosted and well below freezing this morning, the afternoon was balmy and lovely.

We were all happy and chill when we got back, and even though most of Lancey's clip has grown back out again, he'd barely broken a sweat even though we'd done about 7-10km in just under 2 hours.

It was a really great and confidence-building experience for both of us. We have so much space to explore without even having to cross the road, and I really look forward to seeing more of it between these little Arabian ears.

Just so grateful to be blessed again with a glorious horse like this, a horse I trust, to enjoy this absolutely breathtaking landscape with. There is no better way to see the Lord's awesome creation than this.

Despite the cold this week, I also rode Thunder several times. He feels great and pretty strong considering that he's had such a long break, so we've been riding movements from the Medium tests, leaving the more strenuous preparation for Advanced work for now. Medium 2 has some complex geometry in it, but he finds the trot work easy (the extended trot notwithstanding). The canter work was fine, although he got a little tired and started missing the right to left flying change towards the end. This is typical; his canter left is always the first thing to lose strength after a break.

Hopefully I'll have pics of him soon. We should be having a lesson in two weeks, and then Lancey will (God willing) trot down centreline for his first Elementary tests later this month. 

Bonus pic: Noah continues to be adorable and getting more cuddly! 

Scripture reading has been interesting. I'm into the reign of Solomon now, and have finished Song of Solomon (whoa) and almost done with Proverbs. There is just so much practical advice in that book, advice that holds true even so many centuries later, the Word of God as living and active and dynamic and applicable as always.

God is just so good ๐Ÿ’œ

Thursday, 3 June 2021

A Lesson for Lancelot

 You know when you have one of those lessons that just changes your whole perception of how great your horse really is? That was yesterday for me.

Thunder is back in work (and he's being AMAZING!), but I didn't feel like he was fit enough for a real lesson. Coach comes over to the Friesians every second week, and I lesson on a couple of Friesians and then usually the beloved brings one of my horses over. Usually I ride Thunder, but it's actually been a year and a half since Coach J set eyes on Lancelot, so it was a no-brainer to load him up and take him over to the Friesian farm.

Lancey was not great to load, which surprised me a little until I remembered that the last time this little guy was in a horsebox was actually in February 2020. Sorry, bro! I also started to panic a little bit when I realized how long ago our last lesson really was. Last time I rode him was at Coach's place before I even had the Friesian job, and he was... pretty interesting. I think we maybe did one 20m circle where he wasn't hollow.

At home, I honestly haven't actually schooled him as much as I would like. I've really enjoyed having a good trail horse again, and also, sometimes I just don't have the mental energy to school two horses, and Thunder is the priority right now. Still, we get into the arena once a week or so, and we've gradually been putting on the Elementary and EM movements. He can do a little walk-to-canter and a simple change and a shoulder-in and a few weeks ago we started touching on a bit of travers, renvers, and half-pass. He is really nice off the leg, especially laterally, and the gaits feel solid, but that hollowing thing he does - ugh. I spent so much time focusing on just getting the connection, then getting it solid, then making it so that I can change things within it without completely losing it.

Honestly, when we walked into the Friesian arena yesterday, I was pretty sure that it was going to be one of those lessons where you find yourself on a 20m circle doing the same thing over and over and over as Coach tries to fill in the training holes. I really didn't think we would do more than a working trot.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, with how good Lancey has been. He does have a lot of show miles that he acquired with his previous owner, but he really hasn't been to many places with me, and the Friesian farm can be pretty spooky. Baboons on the hill, turkeys and chickens all over the place, construction noises everywhere, a busy road nearby - he's not used to any of that. But he was totally fine. At one point he was hanging out with a bunch of the turkeys in his paddock.

He did come into the arena a little snorty and tail-flaggy, but that's just the Arab in him. It doesn't mean a thing. Coach did ask when he'd been gelded, though, so clearly he was putting on a bit of a show, LOL.

He had one spook while we were walking around, and then settled completely as we worked, barring one of his little fits where he thinks he's a very scary bucking bronco. I don't think there was a single actual buck in there, just a lot of putting his head down and swishing his tail. It's just excitement.

We trotted around for a bit and to my surprise Coach didn't put us on the dreaded 20m circle at any point. Instead, he grunted at our adequacy and then asked us to do a little lengthening. These are kind of Lancey's party trick with his flashy little forefeet, and as soon as Coach saw that, he started to crack down on us a little. Lancey has a really great trot in him - but I need to ask for that level of engagement in the collected work as well, not just in the medium work. I especially need to keep him floating and forward in the lateral work, particularly in the leg-yields.

To help with this, Coach had us do one of his pet exercises - transitions from medium to collected/working and back again in rapid succession down a long side: medium out of the corner, transitioning to working or collected trot for a few steps over the middle letter, and then medium back to the next corner. 

This sounds pretty simple, but honestly, I find it really, really hard. Getting that medium and then bringing it back quickly enough, and with enough power and connection and balance, to get another medium - it feels super hard. For some reason I have trouble using a strong seat aid to make the downward transitions together with using my leg to keep the engagement from behind. This is definitely homework, on both him and Thunder (and the Friesians, too).

all the pets for the goodest boy

Another new position quirk I need to work on is this thing with my hands being too high all of a sudden. I always used to have low, turned-out hands with straight elbows, and now apparently my hands are floating around near my belly button for some reason? Honestly I have no idea. But shorter reins are the order of the day.

Then we moved on to the lateral work, and the medium-collected-medium transitions had really helped here to get him both forward and engaged. Lancey historically has had a lot of trouble falling down on the forehand (part of his nose-flipping habit) and we had to work really hard to keep his chest up. He can feel pretty deceptive in the mediums at times, since he can do a toe flick and feel powerful even when he's on the forehand, but Coach had me think about riding his ears upwards instead of downwards and that helped a lot.

It carried over into the lateral work. He lost some power in the leg-yield, but actually it turns out that if I ask for more power, he like... obeys and gives me more power. I genuinely still have it in my head that Lancey is a barely-Novice horse when honestly he has almost all the Elementary-Medium moves. The trouble with that is that I ride him like a Novice horse, not expecting enough, even though it's there if I just ask for it. Well, yesterday, I asked - and he delivered!

something approaching straightness? what sorcery is this?

We moved on to the shoulder-in next, and although it was slightly harder work to keep the little guy going, he was much better for that than for the leg-yield. Shoulder-in has always been a huge struggle for me, so I was really delighted when I saw the video and it actually doesn't look back at all.

A continual challenge for me on this horse has been that he feels hollow to me when he's actually perfect. I think it's the difference in his conformation compared to the Friesians that does it, but things are going a lot better now that I think about riding him a little bit hollow to get him to the right spot.

We did a few more medium-to-collected trots on the other rein, and then Coach seemed actually pretty content with his trot, albeit giving us lots of homework to do. I really expected him to pick our lateral work apart, but he didn't. It was fine! It just wasn't forward and powerful enough, until I asked for it to be.

here again I had trouble keeping him uphill in the medium, but dang his butt muscles are awesome

We moved on to the canter work next in a rather startling manner when we were contentedly trotting along and Coach was all like, "OK, now walk only three steps and then immediately canter." I was somewhat discombobulated by this request but Lancey just did it like it wasn't even hard.

The canter work has been the hardest for us - I am generally better at riding the trot than the canter (aren't we all?) - so here I was really expecting Coach to get on our case about something. Instead, he watched us go around for a little bit and then had us go straight into the lateral work in canter.

Let me backtrack a little here and say that this little guy - and his relatives that I've known - has a really, really super canter just by nature. When he's not strong or forward, he gets on his forehand pretty easily (what else is new?), but his canter has always been really balanced. It made him a very nice little jumper for his previous owner and it makes him a very pleasant little dressage horse for me, and it also makes cantering across the fields epic in every way.

However, the hollowness issues we've always had have always been WAY worse in the canter than any other gait. In fact, about a year ago, I couldn't actually canter a single 20m circle in a connection. His previous owner accidentally taught him exactly how to lock his underneck and go 100% hollow - like, ears up my nostrils kind of hollow. Being an Arab, this isn't exactly hard for him, either, so it was quite the mission to get him to stay connected in canter.

Still, it's naturally his best gait, and so once we had that out of the way, the tricks came pretty easy. Hence, when Coach asked for the shoulder-out in canter, we had actually done it before (maybe twice lol).

And you guys. It was incredible. He just popped his bum in and carried on in a lovely little rhythm without even throwing his head. We did that for a bit, and then Coach asked for a leg-yield track to centerline, so we did that,

and when we hit the centerline around X he yelled, "OK, now do a flying change."

I was like, "a flying what now?"

"A change," bellowed Coach.

Lancey has never done a change in his life, but we were running out of centerline by that point, so I put my right leg on and gave him a couple of incredulous spur pokes and what do you know? He popped out a clean flying change and cantered off as though nothing had happened.

Naturally, I fell on his neck and petted him in surprise and awe, and then Coach yelled at me for dropping the connection.

We immediately got back to work on the other rein. Lancey - like almost every other horse I ride - is slower off my right leg. I'm sure it has something to do with my struggles to sit evenly on my left seatbone, but I also tend to feel guilty about not sitting straight and then not reinforce my right leg properly. Anyway, we did the shoulder-out well enough and then again came across the diagonal in a leg-yield towards the centerline.

It was here that Lancey hollowed for the first time in the entire lesson. This is the harder way for him, and he protested by popping his nose up for two or three strides. I actually got him back down again almost instantly with a spur touch from behind and a small take-and-give of my ring finger on the inside rein (which Coach would normally view as a cardinal sin, but it is seriously the only way to get Lancey out of a proper nose-flip) and he went on his merry way with nothing but a sassy tail.

I've been so hung up about these nose-flips that I kind of expected Coach to get on our case about it, but he didn't at all. Actually, I think it's time to accept that we're over the nose-flipping thing. Sure, it's still going to be his go-to resistance when we do hard things, but it's not actually an issue anymore.

It still gave me a bit of a wobble, though, because when I asked him to change on the centerline he hesitated a bit and then changed behind and I didn't follow through. Coach was highly unamused with this, but we went back and did it again with more meaning this time and Lancey did a beautiful effortless clean change. I would have expected him to be the kind of horse to buck through his first few changes but he didn't.

We did one or two simple changes - which were really good, Lancey's canter-to-walk is pretty amazing thanks to that packaged little canter he has - and then did another of Coach's pet exercises. On a 20m circle in canter, I worked on bringing his quarters to the inside. This is a great exercise for collection, connection, lateral response off the leg (and thus flying changes), balance, and ultimately I assume it'll be a big part of preparation for the pirouettes. Lancey and I honestly haven't done a lot of this one, and Coach declared that this would be our homework in the canter: 20m circles with quarters in, and using those to improve the flying changes, like I've done in the past with Thunder and the Friesians.

5 seconds after being yelled at to shorten my reins and hey, what do you know, my hands are better!

After the lesson I cooled Lancey off and then stopped him to ask Coach, "So... is he ready for a Novice test?"

Coach was highly unamused by that question. "He's ready for EM!" he burst out, and then followed a lecture that I thoroughly deserved. "You can sit on the horse and do things," said Coach, succinct and direct as ever, "so do things."

What he was getting at, and what a lot of people have been getting at lately, is that I need to stop worrying over: a) not riding well enough, b) the horse not having the movement, and c) messing up the horse by going too fast. In fact I need to get over my many hang-ups (although my riding nerves are a whole 'nother story) and just. ride. the. horse. To stop stressing over not being experienced enough for this job, or this level, or whatever, and just do it as well as I can.

I have a tendency to ride conservatively, not just in competition, but also at home. I would rather quibble over a movement I find easy than actually get on with things and do difficult movements, which is what I need to start doing. Sure, especially on a horse like Thunder who is at the utmost edge of my abilities, I'm probably going to do the difficult movements badly for a little while - but I'll never learn to do them if I don't do them.

Even in easier movements, I also need to start asking for more from both the horses and myself, to expect better quality work from us both. And I need to quit feeling guilty because I don't school as much as I would like to. Clearly, even if I don't school Lancey as often as I should, he's been making massive progress.

Something Coach said that really stuck with me was "Ride every single horse like it's a Grand Prix horse." Regardless of whether the horse/owner/rider has the aspiration/money/drive/talent to actually do GP, I need to ride every single horse - even a four-year-old - as if it's going to be a GP horse. It's a mentality that has taken my coach a very long way on at least one very unlikely horse. And isn't that a much more positive way of thinking? To be determined that every horse is good enough for the big leagues, and train it like it is? One would at the very least end up with a much higher-quality mid-level horse, and perhaps he would surprise you and go GP anyway.

Lancey certainly surprised me yesterday, and there were a lot of things Coach said that I've been mulling over. I know that I often go into the show ring (especially) with the mentality of "don't mess anything up". Sort of the same way that I approach a horse's training thinking "I hope he makes EM". Instead, I should be going down the centerline thinking "let's rock this thing", and I should be approaching each horse with "we're going to go GP someday".

Of course there's a time and place to ride conservatively. A young horse freaking out at his first show doesn't need more pressure than necessary on him. In general, Coach also places a lot of emphasis on being very slow, low-pressure and correct on a very young horse (in his four-year-old year). Even then, however, there's no reason not to be thinking of GP. He may not be doing a good working trot yet, but the lateral work in walk can be developed early since it's so low-impact. You could do half-passes and walk pirouettes on a three-year-old on the ground if you introduced it incrementally enough.

I've actually been looking into getting some sports psychology or mental skills coaching to straighten out my head, but dang, I could buy a lot of much-needed horse stuff with that kind of money. So I suppose, as usual, it's between me and God to sort out my issues.

One thing I do know: I am SO grateful for this incredible little white Arabian in my life! ๐Ÿ’œ Yesterday was an absolute blast, and I can't wait to trot down centreline (not at Novice, lol) on my cutest little dance partner. Reviewing the videos (thank you Friesian owner ๐Ÿ’œ), I was actually totally blown away by what I saw. I haven't seen ridden video of him in more than a year, and I don't have mirrors at home, so I had absolutely no idea how fantastic he was looking.

I kind of didn't recognize my own horse. Whose fancy lil white Arab is this? It doesn't look like mine!

Thunder updates soon - it's so good to be back on board the big guy. For now, this will be a Lancelot appreciation post. Good boy, Lancey!

God is good ๐Ÿ’œ

Going Big

 I just signed Lancey up for his first dressage show with me since... 2016? he's as incredulous as you are When I was still bringing him...