A Leap of Faith

One day I shall write a book about showjumping, and though it’s not terribly original, I’ll call it A Leap of Faith. Because I’ve lost count of the number of obstacles I’ve negotiated, hands in the mane, legs kicking on, only because of the prayer in my heart yelling simply, “Please God, help us!”

1.1m from her least favourite side. Yes, we took the pole down, but it’s a cool action shot, isn’t it?

Arwen has been going so fabulously. After our Berlin Wall Leap on Wednesday I was starting to get giddy on jumping and decided to break my only-jump-once-a-week rule, just this once, and go jumping again this afternoon. (It didn’t help that I was drooling in anticipation of watching the Olympics). I managed to beg Rain around (oh yeah, more on her later) to getting some Firn-and-Arwen-jumping pictures and away we went.

Warming up

She didn’t warm up awfully well, she seemed to be in a world of her own and a little lazy again, but once we got over her droopy trotting she settled into a very, very nice canter and took me for a lovely ride. I had set up three jumps around 60cm high and about two strides apart. Ha! Wishful thinking. For one thing, I can’t set up distances properly. For another, Arwen hates triples. However, she didn’t have a single stop or even take a rail down; the first time she negotiated the jumps in a terrible trot-canter thingy, but she cottoned on pretty quick and cantered through, messily, but quietly and without knocking the jumps down.

Tiny jump #1

Rain was sent to take away the middle jump and set the resulting double up to around 90cm. Arwen took the pole down once or twice at the first jump from her bad side, but later passed with flying colours – she is getting very comfortable and confident. At an earlier stage she used to want to rush or turn out or be kicked all the way to the jump, but now she’s pretending to be an old hand and cruising along with confidence.

After hopping over the 90cm once or twice from a trot (to build her jump, the Mutterer says) we had a go at the 1.1m. From her favourite side she absolutely LAUNCHED herself over it and made it beautifully. From her least favourite side, it was a different story. She took the pole down three times – no stopping, though – before I realised that she was getting really tired, so we went around from her good side one more time, she cleared it, and I called it a day.

Chaaaaaaarge – 90cm from a canter (yes, super awkward rider, I know)

She can be pretty awesome when she feels like it.

Rain has also been pretty awesome lately; she had a nasty confidence knock on Thursday for no apparent reason (I get them too, you start to panic over some life-threatening tiny irrelevant detail), but got over it beautifully.

On Friday she got to ride one of the thoroughbreds at the stables. Understand that the last time Rain rode a horse bigger than 14.2hh was probably four years ago. I was commanded to bring out Camson, who is 15.2, young, a gelding, and muscular, but very kind. I saddled him without a qualm. Okay, so I was having a lot of qualms in all the wrong places, but I played cucumber for Rain’s sake.

I put Rain on, led her around, let her go, watched her bloom. She’s tall and very leggy and looks, not to put too fine a point on it, ridiculous on 13.2hh Siobhanny. The appearance of the thing doesn’t really matter as long as the horse is up to the weight, but I must say that she just looked so much better sitting on a horse her size.

It flowed. Camson was a brick. Rain was a star. I stood in the arena shouting at her to sit back and trying not to gawk. When I got over the gawking, I crossed my arms and told her to canter and tried very, very hard not to look too smug for the Mutterer’s sake as Rain and Camson drifted around the arena with Rain looking like she was sitting in a chair.

The Mutterer was Rain’s teacher about three years ago, but it really, really didn’t work. The Mutterer is a wonderful teacher, but they had a personality clash. I’m not gonna lie to you, Rain is very smart, very talented, and very determined, but she is also not an easy person, especially not to teach. She’s putty in the hands of her ballet mistress in part because she loves ballet and in part because that ballet mistress could teach an elephant showjumping if she set her mind to it, but she does have a tendency to blow up in your face. Just like her pony, really. Eventually, Rain quit lessons, and not long after that, quit riding.

Fortunately, I know Rain well and I can’t strangle her if I’m standing in the arena and she’s twenty metres away on a horse. It’s still hard to tell if when to step back and when to bully her into something a little bit, although when she starts screaming at you it’s a safe bet that you’re on the wrong road.

The biggest change, though, has simply been Rain. She’s grown up quite a lot since she was the howling little girl on a skittish little pony. All I did was set the snowball rolling and watch it grow. And grow. And grow!

What did I tell you? The bronc-ridin’ ballerina!

I managed to keep the smug grin off my face for most of the time and the Mutterer might even have been impressed. Well, he said so, didn’t he? (Although it’s hard to tell, with Horse Mutterers).

Further news is that one of my Joyful Jerseys has finally presented me with a darling heifer calf. I’ve had five or six calves this year and every single one was a bull – Bokmakierie had a stillborn and then followed Frankenstein, Beethoven, Bartholomew, Bartimaeus and Felix (talk about longwinded). It was beautiful Barbara, coming into her second lactation, that calved down this golden afternoon and had a soft-eyed heifer as dainty as a dewdrop. As-yet-unnamed Joyful Jersey is now cuddled in hay, awaiting her first ever supper.

We have also started working with the Holstein heifers owned by Lovett Holsteins for the Standerton Show. My heifer, Lovet 11047 “Pear” (better known as the Duchess because, honestly, Pear?), is a bit of a loon but at least she’s a beautiful one. Rain’s, 11152 “Venus” is very well behaved. The Duchess is so nicknamed because she walks like a duchess, absolutely calm and absolutely confident, although the effect is slightly marred by her garish red headcollar with the words “I Love My Horse” in hot pink across the noseband. (The infamous Hydeaway Sense of Humour again).

The Duchess is still being difficult and I still haven’t gotten the hang of riding Woody (who is beautiful with a horrible canter) and Achilles still isn’t over his operation and I still can’t ride the most amazing horse in the whole wide world. But here and now in the dusk beside her with the sunset as gold as the halo of an angel and the Word of God burning warm in my heart, with Arwen jumping almost her height and Rain grinning as she rides a giant thoroughbred… here and now, success is sweet, very sweet.

And soon I will ride Skye again. But now I must feed a tiny Jersey calf with limpid dark eyes and soft milky breath.

Thank You, Sir.

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New Heights

An old picture of a very young Thunder

One of the loveliest things about training horses or teaching people is reaching a milestone. I love to watch a horse or a student achieve something, whether it’s rising to the trot or carrying a rider for the first time ever. That feeling of quiet satisfaction – okay, so it’s not always awfully quiet, but I digress – is part of what makes it all worth the tears and tantrums that you have to survive before you get there.

Although Skye has been booked off for at least two weeks – I miss her, but at least she’s happy – Arwen’s jumping has been going from strength to strength. One month ago we were comfortably popping over 0.9m and I was starting to cruise along in the safe but unsatisfied realm of thinking that this was as high as it was ever going to get.

Then during a lesson we squeaked over 1.0m (3′ 3″) and it all woke up again. We moved forward again.

Since then it all just went crazy. Two weeks later we galloped over 1.1m (3′ 7″) and I was shocked and I began to think that maybe my long-eared pony did have some talent after all; Arwen is not very flashy and doesn’t show off what she’s capable of, she just does what you tell her to do if you get lucky and work for it. But there is a big jump hiding in there somewhere, though, and a big enough heart to use it, because yesterday we jumped a terrifying 1.3m (4′ 3″), which made the Berlin Wall look positively friendly.

1.3m! That’s just a little shorter than poor Arwen herself is!

And she did it!

 

 

She had a few stops and she crashed into it once – luckily her bandages protectec her legs – but finally we both committed, I GALLOPED her up to the jump (if we’d cantered I’d have had too much time to be as afraid as I wanted to be) and Arwen just went for it. I flattened myself on her neck in abject terror, clung on to her mane, and tried not to scream. Arwen tucked up her forelegs and kicked off the ground and heaved herself up into the air. I couldn’t breathe or see or think and then we hit the ground and we’d made it and I was hugging her around the neck yelling “We made it! You’re awesome! You are AWESOME!” like a classic teen. Arwen jogged in a loopy little circle (I had let go of the reins) trying not to pass out. The Mutterer may even have had a little smile on his face.

Who’d have thought it?

My state is still one of total shock; I cannot believe the little grey horse actually did it. She must be a lot braver than I give her credit for. She continues to be silly and skittish on outrides, but I guess she’s starting to make up for it in the arena.

Further news is relatively limited on the horse front. Skye remains happy and out of action and terrifically pampered. Siobhan has been doing quite well; she’s a lot livelier and we even jumped (for want of a better word) around 20cm. Achilles finally had his gelding operation on Tuesday. It was a bit scary, because my poor horsy was having bits cut off him, but he was peacefully sleeping and didn’t know a thing even though the vet insisted on giving me an in-depth lecture on how it all works (he’s really a great teacher, but I was just trying not to throw up because he was showing me on something he had just chopped off my horse). Achilles came out of the anaesthetic really, really well and seems to be doing fine; he’s eating and drinking and walking around, not badly swollen or depressed, and within a few months he should be able to go and live with the mares instead of being locked up all alone.

I have a new Work In Progress; I’d nearly forgotten how much fun it is to be working on a first draft again. I’m playing with tenses and points of view, writing for the first time in first person, present tense. My pacing is abysmally slow, so I’m hoping this harsher, in-the-moment style will help me to keep the story moving.

So for now I will return to the sweet madness of God and horses and people and cows and writing, and wait for my horse to be sound, and learn to be patient. I can sure use it.

Magic?

Not quite as long ago as I like it to be, I was completely hooked on magic. You know, cauldrons, robes, wands, Invisibility Cloaks, the lot. And it’s taken me far longer to be weaned off fantasy than it took me to be weaned (at least partially) off swearing.

I read every fantasy I could get my hands on and most of them make me cringe to think of. Harry Potter. Twilight. The works. If I had known God’s Word as well as I know it now, meagre as my knowledge is, I probably wouldn’t have walked straight into that trap; I’d probably have either abandoned the books or happily disagreed with them (which I still believe is an option, and I still believe that if a storybook can shake your faith then it wasn’t much of a faith to begin with).

Now, though, I’ve had enough and I’m walking away. Maybe it would have been a different story if I hadn’t been rather messed up to begin with. As it is, I’m going to choose my fantasies carefully. There are some excellent ones that are acceptable as allegories and fun adventures to the believer, not least C. S. Lewis’s mind-boggling “The Chronicles of Narnia”. But this is me saying goodbye to reading the harder stuff, and, especially, to writing it.

So this is why I’m putting “Sparrowhawk” down. I still think it can be written to a level that’s acceptable to God, but I don’t think I’m ready to do it now. I’m not abandoning the project, at least, not yet, because I do think it has promise. I haven’t lived enough days or read enough words to write it.

Not yet.

But as always happens there’s a new idea happily germinating in my head and this one, I hope, will be far easier to write appropriately for Christians. Maybe I’ll just let Sparrowhawk stew for six months, maybe six years, maybe more. I need some time to think about this. One thing I’m sure of: I’m going to strive to not let Jesus down again, and I’m going to strive to keep writing because that’s how God made me.

Not long ago my old blog was called “Everyday Magic” and that’s what it was about, the “magic” I thought I saw in the sunrises and the wind. And how much greater and better that “magic” seemed when I realised that it’s not magic, it’s a miracle, a thousand thousand little miracles happening right under my nose, and they all belong to God. How much bigger! And how much better! The magic doesn’t come anywhere close because the magic just happened; God makes the miracles.

On Friday I encountered a different kind of magic; a 15.3hh grey thoroughbred gelding by the name of Magic. He belongs to a lady who keeps him at the stables where the Horse Mutterer works, and she’s out of the saddle for a while, so I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to ride him. He’s very young, but absolutely splendid; a compact bundle of muscle with a gorgeous jump and a kind face. He scares me a bit, but I like him anyway and with God’s help I managed to ride him without a twinge of fear and it was amazing. We stuck to the arena and did loads and loads and loads of trotting, no cantering, but by the end of it I would actually have asked him to canter without feeling like my legs were about to fall off, so that’s a plus. Magic tends to toss his head up in the air, but with the aid of a martingale and a lot of gentle playing on the bit he started to relax. We were both pretty tired by the end, though – at least, I know I was; I hate getting bored on horseback so we were forever changing between going around the arena, going in a figure of eight, and going in a circle, without many breaks, all in a trot. I practiced sitting trot a bit too since though I can stick to Skye and Arwen without much effort I struggle with the thoroughbreds; they just move completely differently. There was improvement, although I think Magic preferred the posting.

Afterwards I got to ride on my beloved Double Reef. No, he’s not really mine, but I wouldn’t mind having him, not a bit. Even though he’s about 16.3hh and a looming black shadow with a moody temper to match, he contributed the most to boosting my confidence on the bigger horses. After riding nothing over 15hh for years I was pretty intimidated when I first rode Reef, but he looks after me and I don’t haul on his mouth and we get along. He’s also superbly schooled, so I can just sit up there pressing the right buttons and concentrating on my position instead of having to fight. He can canter as fast as most horses walk and go sideways (parallel crossing or leg-yielding or half-passing or whatever it is that you call it), although I’m not much good at that. We practiced it again and we did get three or four strides in walk that were completely sideways with the legs crossing and the body reasonably straight. I get completely lost when it comes to trotting or cantering sideways, though.

Yesterday it was back to my own crew, although unfortunately Skye will be out of action for at least the next two weeks. Our vet told me to keep riding her as the lameness was extremely slight, but when the lameness got worse instead of better it was evident that she needed rest. She’s still very happy in herself, though I discovered a tender spot on the left side of her back – maybe that was the problem? Although the saddle fits well – so as long as she’s happy I’ll try not to panic.

As usual I saddled Arwen for the first half of the lesson, and not as usual she was absolutely fantastic. As she’s been going so nice and forward lately I decided it was high time she learned to bring her head in and move properly, since she’s been going everywhere with her nose poking out a mile. I’d tried teaching her this before, but without a martingale it was a Herculean task and ended up being a fight, so I put a running martingale on her, warmed her up a bit, and then asked her to bring the head in. And it went straight in. Voila!

It was a charming surprise; I had worked on this before with Arwen about a year ago but with all her laziness issues, I hadn’t even tried for months. She’s relatively consistent in a walk, although she likes to try and put her head down between her knees, and also quite consistent in a trot. In canter she sticks her silly pony head in the air, but we’ve only spent two sessions working on it, so we will get there. She’s much better with getting the correct leg in front, provided I do my bit. She’s right-sided, of course, but very supple and learning fast. Overall I’m very happy with her in the arena – it’s on outrides that we run into trouble.

Siobhan has been having her ups and downs. Last week she was just stellar; this week she really lacked enthusiasm and drooped along indifferent to my aids, as well as being horribly lazy and flatly refusing to canter more than two or three strides at a time – to be fair we were going clockwise, her least favourite way, but she has still been a lot better. She has her moods and I don’t school her enough, but as long as she’s not killing anybody I don’t have time for more.

She was due to have her feet trimmed, and since she’s quiet and has tiny, soft hooves, the Mutterer decided that I needed to continue my course in farriery. I’ve done probably about one full set: two of Arwen’s feet, one of Achilles’s feet, and one foot belonging to a droopy, nameless thoroughbred.

For the unenlightened, let me describe trimming a hoof. First of all you grab the horse’s foot and tuck it up between your knees, and if you’re lucky, the horse stands still. Even if it does stand still, within minutes your knees begin to burn like mad from clinging desperately to the horse’s leg. (Most often the horse is thankful for this considerate human taking the weight off its tired feet and leans its half-ton bulk against you. This is why I did Siobhan, because she’s so little). Then comes the trimming. You get the hoof knife and cut away all the dirt with brisk flicks of your wrist, at least, if you’re the Mutterer you do; if you’re me, you groan, grunt and saw helplessly until the worst comes off. Once the hoof is passably clean you use the clippers to cut the excess hoof wall away, which is easier said than done because the hoof is very hard, the Mutterer needs to sharpen his clippers and I have tiny hands that don’t want to fit around the clippers properly so usually I need the Mutterer’s help. Just as you feel like your back is going to break off and your knees are squealing, you get to rasp the hoof by working the file rapidly across the sole and shaping it until it’s symmetrical. If you’re the Mutterer, little hoof shavings rain down around your boots and it’s over in a minute. If you’re me, you scrape away while the occasional lonely shaving drifts down all by itself.

However, being a sucker for punishment, I seriously enjoy learning to trim hooves even if I end each lesson by swearing that I will never ever be a farrier. That’s what I like about my instructor; you don’t just learn how to sit up straight and hold the reins. If you’re dumb enough to have keenness dribbling out of your ears he’ll teach you about conformation and hoof trimming and tack and everything else you nag him about.

And when there’s the whole world of horses waiting to be discovered and you’re as clueless as a chicken on the high seas, you’ll need it.

So Many Paths

So Many Paths

I’m standing at a fork in the road right now when it comes to my writing. My novel, “Sparrowhawk”, now about to enter its third draft, is a fantasy. I loved fantasy for many years, and even after meeting Jesus and slowly stepping away from stories about witchcraft, I still love the likes of “The Lord of the Rings” and, especially, the beautiful, meaningful “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
But is it possible for me to write “Sparrowhawk” into a Christian fantasy as laudable and pure as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”? Or should I step back from it for now, until I know better, and write something simpler – a real-life fiction about horses?
I don’t know which path to take. But I know I want to pick the straight and narrow path that leads straight to my Friend Jesus. And I know I’ve got a great heart beating between my knees to take me there.
Somehow the world always looks better when seen between the ears of a horse.

On Teaching

I’ve always loved to teach riding. I was probably about twelve when I first legged a friend up onto Skye’s back, gave her the reins and said, “Pull for stop and kick for go.” Skye, as always, was phenomenally patient, especially since neither teacher nor student knew what they were doing.

Now things have progressed. The Horse Mutterer took me to the stables where he works and taught me how to teach, and I love it. I will admit to preferring to teach horses rather than people, because horses don’t roll their eyes, but I still love teaching people, and now that I can ride better than the average beginner, I at least have something to teach them, mediocre as it might be.

The best is teaching a four-year-old with Downe’s syndrome. Sure, it’s not easy, but the moment that little kid sits on a horse his whole face lights up. All I do is hold the lead rein and say, “Hands up, Uwais.” God’s magnificent creation, the horse, does the rest; when he reaches out to stroke Double Reef’s velvet nose, the great moody racehorse looks back at him with a peace and a tranquillity and a gentleness that takes your breath away. And the little boy laughs, and it’s like Reef understands his world.

Teaching has its bad moments, of course; I’d rather fall off myself than watch a student fall and when beginners learn to trot and flap their hands about I can’t help but flinch in sympathy with the poor horse. But there’s something incredibly special about showing someone – anyone, of any age – a member of my Horde and watching them discover this shining dancing miracle that is the glorious horse.

They touch the end of the horse’s nose and exclaim at its extraordinary softness; they run a hand down her neck and gasp at its power. And then they sit on the horse and take up the reins and discover that, incredibly, with just a touch at the reins, just a nudge from their heels, they can get this half-ton of blood and bone to do exactly what they ask for. They beam in amazement, and Skye, looking wryly out at me from under her flaxen forelock, seems to be beaming, too.

If I thought teaching riding was amazing, then teaching God alongside horses is twice as amazing and I don’t even do it as well as I should or as much as I should. Just a line here or there:

“Why do horses sleep standing up?”

“Because God designed them to run from predators; if they smell something that wants to eat them, they can go from asleep to flat-out in a split second. They’ve got specially made legs that lock when they fall asleep so that they use hardly any effort to stay upright. Isn’t it amazing?”

And it is!

Yesterday, I had a new beginner to flap my jaws at; a nice, grade-twelve girl (it’s wonderful how much cheek people will put up with from someone younger than them if you’re the one holding the horse’s bridle). She cottoned on very quickly and soon had Skye walking sedate laps around the arena without perpetually returning to me, which is what Skye invariably does when her rider is just plain confusing her. This one didn’t, so she plodded happily on and it wasn’t long before I took the reins and gave her the usual instructions; “Hang on to the saddle and squeak if you think you’re gonna fall off, because we’re going to trot.” Unfortunately I made an extremely stupid mistake and forgot to check the girth. I mean, how dumb do you get? I’ve been riding for eleven years and forgot to check the girth!! Stupid. Well, as expected, the saddle slid and the poor beginner clung on valiantly before, halfway down Skye’s side, squeaking “I’m falling!” and plopping neatly off onto her back. Poor girl. First ride, first fall, all in one day. Thankfully it wasn’t a particularly horrible fall and she wasn’t hurt, and she was wearing a helmet (I would eat my students alive, feet first so they can see every gruesome detail, if I ever caught them on a horse without a good helmet). Plus, being brave and spunky, she immediately laughed it off and hopped back on. Skye, being gentle and epically patient (and used to my mistakes), didn’t turn a hair and the lesson went on uneventfully.

My other three students are doing well; they’ve been riding for about six months now. I teach all my students to saddle up, groom, lead, and so on, instead of just riding, because there’s so much more to horses than riding. They were getting to the stage where they could saddle up on their own but didn’t really know it so I challenged them to a competition; first person saddled up properly wins the prize of getting first choice of mount for next week’s lesson. The eldest daughter, who’s about thirteen, surprised me by saddling Siobhan in record time without any help at all. Note to self: Competitions work. Chocolate prizes may work better since I always match each rider with their favourite horse anyway.

Skye’s lameness is doing a real rollercoaster on me. She was ridden every day last week, Monday and Tuesday by Rain since Arwen was acting up, and I rode her personally on Wednesday morning. In walk and canter she felt as sound as a brass bell; once or twice in trot she was a little off, but much sounder than before; I think the massage must be helping. She was also her normal explosive self, not grouchy or sorry for herself at all, which is a massive plus.

Skye dislikes riding out alone when we do it too often because, like many things, It Gets Too Boring. But every so once in a while I stuff my Bible into my saddlebags, slap a bridle on her and we go fly together, just us two and God in the beautiful world He made with His own Hands. And every so often, it’s wonderful to be just the three of us together, the girl, the horse and the God Who made them, with the wind and the herons and the way the sky seems to laugh and cry all at once when Skye tosses up her head and lifts up her feet for the sheer joy of being God’s own horse.

We fly, the Lord and Skye and I. Her hooves beat a hymn on the grass. The kites throw open their sharp arrow wings and drift above us in the unscarred sky; they know about the wind in the same way that Skye knows. We pause under the willow tree and while Skye crunches dry leaves, I pull my Bible out and read with only the soft sound of a chewing horse and the wind to interrupt. That’s where I meet Jesus; out in the glory of His Creation, in the silence, in the beauty.

And all filled up with the Word of God, I tighten the girth, hop on and turn Skye’s head for home. When she strides into the sunlight, she bursts aflame. Warming her up is almost impossible; she dances, throwing up her legs and heart. When I’m sure she’s warm, when her trot moves more up than forward and the hill is unrolled in front of us as clean as a cloud, I reach forward, tangle a lock of starlight mane between my fingers, and loosen the reins. There’s no need to kick. There’s no need to urge her on. She flattens out to the ground and flies on, outrunning the fear, misery, worry, outrunning the world and speeding right on until for the barest instant we can have a mere inkling of a shadow of the imagining of what Heaven must be like.

For this is only Earth. 

 

She was completely sound on Saturday, just a little off on Monday this week and now lame again today. I’m starting to wonder if she doesn’t have a sore back, but she seems very happy in herself, so it’s still a case of wait and see. 

I’ve been working with Arwen a lot this week. On Monday she went off bucking with Rain, so the next day I reluctantly surrendered Skye to Rain and rode Arwen myself. Arwie was relatively good; she had one very silly spook, but not too major, and had some braking problems, but that was all; by the time we reached the home stretch she was going at a solid extended canter without bucking or losing her mind, so we swapped back and I made another stupid mistake by taking Skye for a gallop on ahead. Usually Arwen is as competitive as a dead donkey and is perfectly happy to trot in Skye’s blazing wake but not today. She took off like a bullet with poor Rain screaming, hanging on and cursing Arwen, me, Skye, me, the world, me, and me with all her might. Poor thing.

With Arwen being a brat on outrides but a little angel in the arena, I decided to put Rain on her while I schooled Siobhan. Rain is the bravest human I know and shook off yesterday’s bolting – and, indeed, the breaking of her collarbone two or three years ago – mind-bogglingly well. Before I knew it she and Arwen were cantering happily around and I tactfully dropped a pole on the ground right in the path worn around the arena.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m just teaching Siobhanny to jump,” I chirped from Siobhan’s saddle when Rain demanded why I was messing up the road.

Well, Siobhanny was (naturally) trotting beautifully over the pole so Rain and Arwen followed suit. When Rain wasn’t looking, I slid a tyre under each end of the pole so that it was around 10cm high, still a comfortable trotting pole. Rain and Arwen went in front, providing a bit of a lead for Siobhan, who continued to pop over without a fuss. Go girly. Eventually I upped the pole to about 15cm and Rain and Arwen chickened out a little; with some encouragement, and even without Arwen to lead her, Siobhan went over perfectly and so I stuck it up to about 20cm. This became challenging; Siobhan was beginning to struggle to trot comfortably over it and had to pick her feet up or jump and she sure as sugar wasn’t going to jump, but with a lot of kicking, I convinced her to trot up, over and on without slowing. Eventually, I got a little halfway jump from her and called it a day as she was beginning to tire.

Then, Project Rain took off in earnest. I took the pole down to 15cm and led Arwen over it at a walk. Rain started to feel silly and decided to walk her mount over it by herself while I unsaddled Siobhan and stuck her in a pen to await grooming. When I got back Rain and Arwen were confidently walking over so I persuaded/bullied Rain into trotting and they were perfect. Slowly, I raised it to 20cm on one side, 15 on the other. Rain had her doubts, but did it anyway; Arwen was a real star, trotting up in good rhythm and smartly picking her feet up over the pole (she doesn’t bother to do baby jumps anymore). I would have liked to put up a cross rail but I seem to have run out of poles.

Then, just as I put it up to a full 20cm, Rain took a corner too sharply (my fault, I should have told her not to), Arwen fell over her own feet, and the two of them wiped out. Arwen landed on her knees and nose and Rain managed to cling on until Arwie had finished falling and then came off in slow mo. I got over my initial shock, laughed my socks off, and chased her back on before she could get a fright, since she was (thank God) entirely uninjured. Over the jump she went, perfect. What a girl!

Arwen continues to be silly on outrides, so it looks like I’m going back to square one with that. It’s disheartening, but I guess I just need to get the balance right. When she’s quiet on outrides she’s unbearably lazy in the arena and when she’s wonderful in the arena, she’s skittish on outrides. Somewhere there’s got to be a balance. In between her prancing, snorting, spooking and bucking outside, she put in two very nice sessions in the arena, working lots and lots on getting the correct lead at the canter and standing squarely. She even repeated the magnificent feat of jumping a flawless 1.1m, about which I’m very proud. For the first time in several months I put up a little double, a 60cm upright, then 8.8m (theoretically, two strides) to a 90cm upright. She cantered through in perfect rhythm and with tremendous confidence. I was too occupied with rhythm and pace and getting over the jumps to count the strides but she was very comfortable, so I’m thoroughly pleased with that.

Dancer, unfortunately, discovered how strong she is and due to my lack of a lungeing ring she became quite impossible to lunge. Whenever she felt like it (which was always) she put her head down and took off like a shot. No matter what I did. As usual, I went wailing to the Horse Mutterer, who pointed out some mistakes I make when I lunge (my lungeing is abysmal) and then tried to lunge Dancer.

“Okay,” he said, as the black filly disappeared over the horizon, “I see your point.”

Thankfully she finds it a lot harder to drag the six-foot Mutterer than to drag me, and after a few seconds she began to rethink her actions, but the Mutterer was starting to worry a bit by then and banned me from lungeing her until I have a decent ring because “She’s gonna break your arm off.” Having felt Dancer’s power, I none too reluctantly obeyed, so I spent our session on Tuesday waving a feed sack at her until it stopped scaring her. To be honest, she was much better behaved than I thought she would be; she was unhappy about the sack coming close to her face and tried to dance around a bit when it came near her hindquarters, but by the end of it she was standing dead still and looking faintly bored.

I tried the same feed-sack thing with Thunder. It was a completely pointless exercise. No matter what I did with that sack I just couldn’t get him to do so much as turn a hair. I patted him with it, I waved it above my head, I tied to the fence and made him walk past it as the wind blew it about, I tied it to his mane, I tied it to his tail, I wrapped it around his leg, I made him wear it on his back, I made him walk over it. You name it, I did it. He seemed to be asleep for most of the time, only perking up when I put it down on the ground and he stuck his head in it in the hopes of finding something to eat.

Thunder is really, truly, absolutely stunning. I’ve taken to walking him like a colossal furry dog and the further we go the quieter he is. I’ve walked him throughout the old horses’ paddock and nothing there spooks him, not even trotting over logs. I’ve taken him all the way to the edge of the forest, where Arwen has most of her spooks. He waggled his ears and began to graze.

Little Copper remains cheeky and insufferably stubborn; he rears, bites, neighs incessantly and barges into me when I walk him out of sight of his mother and he gets agitated. He’s Siobhan in miniature. Luckily, he is in miniature, so I manage to keep calm when he has his tantrums. I hope this improves drastically when he’s weaned, hopefully this week, but the poor little thing isn’t going to be easy to wean the way Secret was – I anticipate some of that nightmarish running up and down and neighing. Thunder was a very calming influence on Secret, so I’m hoping he’ll reassure Copper, too.

This blog is getting as long as the Odyssey, so I will fly now. There’s still much to do!