No tragedies have befallen the ponies, dear readers; no need to fear! They are still here, still by turns annoying and amazing, and still get an inordinate amount of my attention.
Progress has been made with all of my awesome foursome. Even Skye has, for a change, been learning something new that is not how to run faster/jump over rabbit holes/swim in dams. Back in September 2012 I fell in love with Western riding, and while showjumping will always be my passion, English just isn’t a patch on Western when it comes to chilled, awesome outrides. And since Skye hates anything to do with an arena, except the occasional barrel race or game of speedball (more on that later), it made sense to school her to Western.
Mounted games are the only things she enjoys in the arena, and being very inflexible she isn’t exactly the queen of pole bending, but she does have a lot of go and adores playing mounted games. I am equally not much good at mounted games but I love them; they’re buckets of fun and a way of just relaxing from the everyday grind of schooling. Speedball, a simple pattern in which you gallop at a traffic cone, run around it, drop a golf ball into it, and then gallop home became war when B. C. and Skye played versus Thunder and me. This was not a brilliant idea, as Thunder is fine at running in straight lines but not at turning, and B. C. has some kind of bluetooth connection with a ball enabling him to make it go wherever he wants it to, whereas the same ball in my hands turns into a cold missile that might end up anywhere.
At any rate, Skye took to Western, after a false start, like a duck to water. She goes on a gorgeous loose rein without any trouble and has even learnt to neck-rein in a few months, which, after ten years’ English training, isn’t to be sniffed at. Her strong point is her natural jog, which after some work is consistent, comfortable, and nice and slow, if not much to look at. She remains the awesomest outride horse the world has ever known and does anything from swimming in dams to jumping over logs with her trademark gusto.
Her handsome little son Thunder (who’s taller than her, but anyway) has been his usual awesome self. His role in life is to be Skye # 2, in other words, another nice outride horse, this time hopefully with a bit more schooling. As such, I decided to train him Western, too. So far I have learnt three things: a) Thunder can learn anything if you teach it right, b) Friesians and loping aren’t friends, c) Western in an English saddle is very, very awkward.
Luckily point (a) cancels out point (b), and Thunder will learn to lope whether he is part Friesian or not. He already reins back well, jogs tolerably well and is perfectly happy on a loose rein as long as nothing frightens him; neck-reining is still a little beyond him, but he’s only three, so to be fair direct reining was also a little beyond him. He has a lot to learn, but it should be easier to school him to Western than it was to school Skye, because he didn’t really have time to be fully English.
As for point (c), I’m busy trying to lay my hands on a cheapish Western saddle. I’ve been longing for one forever, and now with Western horses I can finally justify buying one… not that I needed much excuse
B. C. and I have also been taking him on outrides alongside his mommy, and he’s been good. He had a few moments of “Aaaaah the terrifying tiny steenbuck is going to eat me” and bolted accordingly, but luckily he has such a soft mouth that I can stop him easily. He also settles down well once he sees that it’s nothing to be afraid of. Provided he’s not being spooked by something – and he almost always spooks at something that’s actually there, not thin air like some youngsters – he is content to even lope along happily on a loose rein, leading or following, it doesn’t matter.
We also taught the little dude to swim in the dam (for a given value of swim; we more wade and get muddy), with just one hitch: He won’t be ridden in. He must be led. Someday we’ll address this, but for now I’m just happy that he actually goes into the water.
Outrides and mounted games aside, I actually have been doing some schooling with the glamorous greys. Arwen has been solid awesome. She has been to her first two outings, the first a mounted games clinic and the second a jumping training show, both of which went well. She had to travel alone since she enjoys kicking other horses to shreds, and when we unloaded her at the WMG clinic, the sweat was pouring off her – the floor of the box was wet from sweat. She was also quite an idiot for the first hour, pulling me around on the ground, spooking dramatically, and bucking a bit, but by the second event she had settled down nicely and in the end she was working as well as she ever does.
She travelled a bit better for the show with less shivering and a little less sweat, and was noticeably calmer when she unloaded; in fact, she didn’t put a toe wrong for the entire show apart from a half-hearted buck or two. I was immeasurably proud of her. We did three classes (ground poles, 40cm and 60cm) and she jumped everything I put in front of her with hardly any hesitation. She had one rail in the 40cm class and that was all. In the 60cm, we put in a gorgeous, careful, rhythmic clear round that got us into the jump-off. Once in the jump-off, bolstered by the beautiful clear round we had, I decided to pull out all the stops, take all the risks, and if we failed at least we’d fail epically.
So I kicked Arwen into a gallop and we charged through that course at a hair-raising speed. We cut every corner, took every risk, and jumped some of the jumps from the most peculiar angles. I thanked my lucky stars for the fact that Arwen’s mounted games training made her both agile and controllable at high speeds. She put up her ears, threw up her tail and had the time of her life. We didn’t even touch a single rail, despite some very big leaps from very long distances, and she responded to every touch of the reins and legs. I had spurs and a whip, but I didn’t have to use either very much. There were some quite challenging lines – the line from jump 1 to 2 was very tight if you cut the corner off the way we did, and she had one straight stride before jumping – as well as a one-stride double, but she didn’t let anything phase her. We blasted through the finish with me grinning all over my face and Arwen looking quite pleased with herself.
Our time was about a second behind the winner and just not good enough for a ribbon, but we came fourth in a class of about fourteen, which was very respectable for a first show.
I would blame my complete lack of photos on B. C., but the poor thing was much too busy tagging after me reminding me to drink water, holding my horse between classes, keeping my mom up to date with innumerable SMSes and generally keeping me alive to even think about photos. Handy things, boyfriends. I feel deeply sorry for anyone who has to go to shows without one. Thankfully, he knows he has to be a horse groom before he can be a bridegroom, and took his duties in his stride.
Back at home, Arwen is becoming quite the dressage diva. Her basic paces are quite good now, although she does have days when her canter just doesn’t seem to come together, so we have been working on some more advanced stuff. She has nailed the turn on the forehand and pirouette at the walk, as well as tricky transitions like trot-halt and walk-canter. Her dubious leg-yields-trying-to-grow-up-to-be-half-passes have turned into true half-passes in walk with correct bend and forward movement as well as sideways, and she has given me a few leg-yields in trot, although she seems to find them very difficult. She will also shoulder-in and haunches-in at a walk, sometimes shoulder-in at a trot, but I have to work for it.
Her extended trot is utterly deplorable and so are her flying changes, but this is an improvement because up to this Wednesday her flying changes were simply nonexistent. We spent a gruelling half hour just on cantering in figures of eight, and whilst it became a fight at one point, she finally clicked and started to change leads. Again, her mounted games training definitely helped, because she didn’t become disunited anywhere near as easily as Sookie, Joepie and Cointreau used to. She still gets very flustered, flops onto her forehand and starts to gallop, but at least she knows what she has to do now.
That leaves Magic, who has acquired a new show name: Magical Flight. Gadsfly was just too awful. He progressed magnificently since coming home and even started to build muscles, losing his hay belly and getting some nice muscle tone in his shoulders, belly, and back. Even his neck has started to come out a little bit. Currently laid off for a minor injury that made the princess OTTB lame, he has been doing some very nice work.
He is now nicely ambidextrous and happily leads on whichever leg I want in a canter, has shed his habit of overjumping hideously, and pops happily over anything up to about 90cm. 1.10m is a bit more of a challenge, but we’ve jumped it a few times. The one sad part is that he became impossibly hard on my hands – not bolting, but poking his face in the air and resisting my hands with his neck and jaw. This doesn’t seem to be the fault of my hands but more of his racing background. We tried everything – standing martingale, lungeing in side reins, elastics, and draw reins, but none of them worked and eventually the Mutterer decided to try him in a Pelham, as the snaffle just wasn’t working. In the Pelham he was miles and miles better and goes happily in a running martingale, which is only necessary for emergencies when he goes all drama queen and throws his head around. He goes in a nice frame in walk and trot now and a tolerable one in a canter, and is still happy to jump without fear of the bigger bit hurting his mouth, so it seems to be a win-win. I also don’t cling to the reins as tightly as I did with the snaffle, since I don’t have to pull so much to slow him down after the jump.
This has been quite a novel of a blog post, but there you have it. The ponies are still alive and doing awesomely, exciting things are on the horizon, and life is good. Glory to the God Who made them!