Home, James, and please spare the horses

We’re all back home again and I am back to work with Skye and her Horde. Achilles has recovered perfectly from his gelding surgery, about which we are all very relieved, and in about six weeks’ time he can go and live with the ladies. I might move him to the colts in the meantime, depending on the likelihood of a fight, because if 350kg Thunder takes on 550kg Achilles it will not end very well. Thankfully, Thunder has never been the fighting sort, though I can see his boy hormones are starting to work. He’ll have his operation in September.

Big, black, beautiful gelding

Speaking of Thunder, I have been woefully guilty of spending far too little time with him, so since I got back I’ve been making a special effort to work with him. He’s very tame and quiet and easy to handle, but his responsiveness can definitely be improved upon. He tends to dawdle along on the end of the lead rein behind you and only understands pressure from the halter, not, for example, from a hand on his bum pushing him aside. We spent half an hour working on this on Monday and he did improve, so I’m sure with time he’ll learn. He’s not a very fast learner, but he isn’t easily frustrated. The poor guy is not even two years old yet, so we have plenty of time before he needs to be backed. I backed Siobhan at the age of two, but she was far more advaned in her lungeing work than Thunder because that was back in the good old days when I had a lungeing ring. A new one is under construction, but it’s not the fastest-moving project.

Yesterday I took Thunder for a walk; he likes walks and tags along happily like a very large and amiable dog. We plodded out towards the Shuddering Woods (A. K. A. little grove of bluegum trees) and surprised the lactating Jerseys, who were all lumbering out of the forest. The sight of a hundred cows coming crashing out of a forest often sets Arwen off like a firecracker, but Thunder just stared at them in amazement for a few minutes, decided that they weren’t going to eat him, and went back to grazing.

Secret also went for a walk on Monday, although he is still getting used to going out all by his poor little self and we only went to the Far Side (a set of Holstein paddocks on the furthest end of the electric fence). He’s very good; new to it all, and spooked a few times, but only whinnied once and did none of the pulling and pushing and fighting that was so much part of teaching Copper, Dancer and even Thunder to go out. In many ways Secret is very easy; he is much like his mom, a bit skittish but not rebellious, although he learns faster.

Said mom has been doing very well. I lunged her on Monday and she was a bit of a nutcase, but having had ten days off and still being fed maize to fizz her up, I can’t really complain. She had a small buck once, and spooked at something, taking off at a flat-out gallop for a circle or so, but easily came back to a canter and did not shoot off for the horizon the way Dancer does.

Arwen had lessons to teach yesterday, and with the youngest daughter riding her, she was

The closest that Arwen gets to looking photogenic

actually rather a star; she likes to haul on beginners’ hands and refuses to trot with many of them, but Tanya is a talented rider, Arwen was in the right mood, and it all came together. I was significantly impressed. The elder sister was mounted on Siobhan and did splendidly; I had neglected to ride Siobhan first and make sure she wasn’t feeling stupid after her holiday – she’s generally fine after holidays – and this turned out to be a mistake. She got a fright of something while my back was turned and apparently gave a buck and ran for a few steps. Danielle didn’t even lose a stirrup and brought her back to a halt, of which I was very proud. After that the lesson continued without mishap; I watched Siobhan like a hawk, but she plodded seraphically along without putting a hair out of place.

When the lesson had ended, the girls begged me to show them how you jump a horse. They still have some work to do before they can jump themselves, but they do love to watch jumping. I had my reservations since Arwen hadn’t jumped for about two weeks. I figured that if I messed up I could always turn it into a “How Not To Do It” lesson, so I set up a little 80cm and hopped on to warm Arwen up. She was in an absolutely magnificent mood, focused, relaxed, forward, picking up the correct lead every single time, and as we cantered diagonally across the arena to change rein I felt like challenging her. Usually when we change rein in canter I ask her to trot for a stride or two and then ask to canter on the new inside leg, but she’d been so good I wondered if we could try a flying change.

Dressage books always seem to say “outside leg behind the girth, inside leg on the girth”. If I had a horse that sensitive, I would sure try to make my aids that subtle. With Arwen, though, and with bumptious beginner me, I bring my inside leg well forward and give her a firm tap on the shoulder with my toe and stirrup iron. The outside leg stays pretty neutral, unless I want her to speed up, in which case it gives a kick or nudge depending on her mood. The inside hand asks for a little bit of bend – loads, if she’s not getting it – and the outside hand says “slow down” or “don’t fall in”. So. Arwen cantering on the left lead. Sit up straight. Hands soft. Outside leg still. Inside leg tap. Arwen took one very messy canter stride and by the next stride she was on the right foreleg and I was elated. We just did a flying change on PURPOSE!!! I have no idea if, when prompted, we can do it again, especially considering we were changing from her least favourite lead to her favourite lead, but we did it once, so it’s a start.

Anyway, flying changes over, we started to jump. Our rhythm was shocking; out of four jumps, we jumped one in good rhythm, took off much too early on another two, and got far too deep on the fourth, making a nasty little bounce. However Arwen jumped cleanly and I didn’t grab her mouth, so no catastrophes.

Poor Skye feels very, very left out. She gets groomed and massaged and fed and fussed over every day, but it’s just not the Same, she gripes. I want to be Ridden, she insists, shoving me with her nose as I walk past her to catch Arwen. You’re forgetting about me! she snorts as I pull up the girth. That’s the WRONG HORSE, she thunders as I ride out the gate. And when I’m schooling in the arena she stands in the way and blocks the road, glaring. To give me a little hint, she parks herself beside the mounting block. And if all else fails, she turns her tail on me and sulks monumentally.

I feel sorry for her, but I’m pleased that she likes people so much; she’s always begging for attention. Eight years ago she took off like a rocket when a human came near. She has the most wonderful personality I’ve ever encountered, and I think her sulking is just plain adorable. But don’t tell her that. She doesn’t like to be adorable.

Nobility

I haven’t trotted her up to check on her lameness for the past three weeks, but I can’t see any lameness when she walks around or (in exploding excitement) gallops around like a demented mustang, so I’ll just have to hope and pray and wait for the Mutterer to look at her this week; he’s much better at this than I am.

As for Dancer and Copper, they have been pretty quiet lately; Dancer had a short in-hand lesson on Monday and did not kill anybody, and Copper is being bullied by Secret, so gets tied up outside the gate at every meal so that he can eat in peace. Gripping stuff.

Another Sword increased in size by (I hope) at least 8-10 000 words during the holiday; I’ve hit the middle, which is always where I get bogged down, but I’m determined not to get squashed there this time. I may have to heed the sage advice of Faith Hunter, bestselling author and member of Magical Words: “If the story lags, throw in a dead body.” (They’re only imaginary!)

I’ve also written an article on the Nooitgedachter horse breed for Equus Ex Nihilo, the lovely Christian horsy e-zine edited by Rebekah Holt. I love contributing to EEN – go on, click the link, subscribe. It’s free and chock full of horses and God, so what’s not to like?

There have been many adventures on the bovine front as well, but to avoid repeating

The latest calf for Christ: Joyful Bree (Sire: Ahlem Jace Epic)

myself too often, I’ll leave you to go and look for those yourself at the all-new Hydeaway Farm Blog. A new Joyful Jerseys blog will hopefully follow!

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