Riding Horses in the Rain

It’s raining.

Beautifully. Silverly, and steadily. The drops playing on the roof like a small child’s laughter, sinking into the deep earth, wakening the questing little plants to strive and grow and shove their fragile green heads out of the soil, to turn their innocent faces to the sun.

A very young Cyclone reposes amidst a heap of tack waiting to be put away

A very young Cyclone reposes amidst a heap of tack waiting to be put away

Less poetically, it’s raining, and unlike the olden, golden men, I’m not allowed to ride horses in the rain. Instead, I’m stuck inside, writing letters and overdue blog posts, editing Another Sword and reading poetry, all just to put off cleaning tack. I love anything to do with horses. Cleaning a small mountain of leather, metal and miscellaneous equipment doesn’t count as having to do with horses. Two bridles, two saddles, two numahs, two bodybrushes, two currycombs, two hoof picks, a dandy brush and a set of exercise bandages are all much dirtier than they should be, and it’s summer, hence muddy, so it all needs more cleaning than normal. And that’s not counting Rain’s stuff. Rain hates cleaning tack even more than I do, so I may have to start cleaning hers, too. (Three bridles for five horses, I hear you ask? Yeah. Luckily they all have the same size heads to within a hole on the cheekpiece. Only Skye and Siobhan have their own personal bridles, though I’m dreaming of a brown leather bridle with brass buckles and decorations for Thunder).

I haven’t written about horses for ever and a day on CWT. Never fear, my equinely minded readers. I still love them and spend most of my time running about after them, feeding them, grooming them, cleaning their dear little footsies, falling off them and occasionally even managing to ride. I am extremely blessed to be one of those people who love looking after horses just as much as they love riding, and to have the opportunity to keep my horses at home instead of at livery. I love it all.

Except cleaning tack.

So, to forestall the dreaded cleansing of the saddlery, I’ll blog about horses for a bit. Prepare for longwindedness.

Beautiful lady

Beautiful lady

Plunging charger Skye, given her increased fitness, plungingly charged off with me one day in an explosion of purest excitement; I managed to keep her about one-quarter under control, but it’s plain that she needs a bit more work before she’ll be quiet and controllable in a snaffle. Skye being Skye and looking after me even in the midst of her fiery eruptions, I intend to just keep on riding her with the snaffle and a running martingale and school her into responding properly to it. Although I may have to put the Pelham back on next time I take an inexperienced rider out. Poor Skye always ends up with the nervous or novice riders, because spirit and all she is definitely the most reliable member of the Horde, and her bouncing outlook tends to give them courage. It sure gives me courage.

Last time I wrote, I said that Thunder had had a nervous day with a whole lot of very daft shying and spooking. Luckily, it turned out that the little guy was simply having a bad day. The next time I rode him, he was his usual sweet-as-pie self; he had one silly spook, but settled down very quickly after that.

Bathed with gold in sunset light

Bathed with gold in sunset light

His training has been steadily progressing. I don’t work him as often as I’d like; three, maybe four times a week. I’m aware that he’s still a baby, so I still bring him into the lungeing ring once a week to play around and experiment. The first part of the session usually consists of some rather serious, down-to-earth lungeing, building up his strength and responsiveness; he lunges very nicely now, frequently giving me uninterrupted laps of canter, although he is still a bit lazy when it comes to that.

The second half of the session I just fool around and experiment with him. Usually I take the long line off, because I am a butterfingers and might get it caught up and hurt his mouth while I’m trying new things. Last week it was trotting poles to make him pick up his big goofy feet a bit; this week, I decided to see what Thunder boy would make of a jump.

I started him off on a pole about 30cm off the ground and free lunged him over that, which he seemed to enjoy and jumped willingly; to my inexperienced eye he jumped very well, tucking up his forelegs and rounding his back nicely without panicking. He also over-jumped it by miles and miles, so I took a chance and put it up to aroud 60cm. He refused once, then jumped twice in succession, beautifully.

Perhaps I will make a jumper out of him after all, sometime. He’s not bred for it, but I’m sure he can pop around little things at home without any trouble.

Under saddle, he’s been a star. We’ve graduated to using the arena instead of the lungeing ring and riding him without lungeing first. We go all the way around and do figures of eight in walk and trot with reasonable success, though I still ride him with spurs; he’s learning to respond nicely to my leg instead of hand for turning, and I don’t use my spurs anywhere near as much as I used to. He does go around corners a bit crookedly, but otherwise he’s relatively straight for his level of training and seems quite supple – he stretches well and leads with both forelegs easily on the lunge.

Under the Horse Mutterer’s guidance, I took him for his first canter under saddle about two weeks ago, which was very pleasantly surprising; Achilles and Siobhanny both did a few handstands at their first canter, but Thunder, once he got the idea, cruised off with a big, smooth, I-can-do-this-all-day sort of stride, looking rather shocked at himself.

He’s deplorably lazy going from trot into canter, but he used to be deplorably lazy going from walk into trot about a month ago, so I’m sure we’ll iron that out, too. The second time I cantered him he had a little buck, although I suspect I may have given him rather too hard a poke with my spurs.

All-round? I’ve never met a young horse quite like Thunder. I backed him in mid December. I trust him so well that if I want a lift around the paddock to go and retrieve everyone’s fly masks, I can plop his bridle on, jump onto his back (with some difficulty; vaulting onto a horse from the ground is not my strong point), and go off around the paddock. When we reach a horse still wearing its mask, I can pop off, leave him standing obediently still without holding him, get the mask, pop back on and off we go again.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I mean, I do it with Skye and Arwen all the time. But for nervous little me to trust a big newly-backed two-year-old that much… That means he’s pretty special.

Still pretty, though

Still pretty, though

Arwen has finally come out of her horse-sickness vaccine, so I can ride her into the ground again, poor thing. I probably will. Three years ago, when I started riding Arwen, she was a scrawny three-year-old with a ewe neck and legs like little black toothpicks. After a while she turned into a fat grey pony, and six weeks ago, she was the most beautiful, slim, trim creature. Her neck was a sleek, strong curve; her slender legs were delicately outlined with powerful muscle.

Now, she’s a fat grey pony again.

Luckily she still has a decent neck and some leg muscles, so hopefully I’ll get her back to her state of lean and powerful sleekness quite quickly. It’ll take a bit of lungeing, a bit of schooling and a bit of jumping, but she’ll get there.

Two things did improve during Arwie’s holiday; riding out and half passes. She’s becoming quite pleasant on our little short walking outrides, especially in company. She also half passes beautifully to the left and badly to the right, although six weeks ago she didn’t half pass to the right at all. It’s quite fun to have a horse that goes backwards, forwards and sideways.

Me not like gaudy new halter. Me make donkey face.

Me not like gaudy new halter. Me make donkey face.

Magic is big and healthy and awesome as usual. He had a bad day on Tuesday, shied at everything and simply couldn’t concentrate. Part of it was due to an unhandled horse whom the Mutterer had put in the crush next to the arena and was slowly accustoming to being touched and spoken to; the horse, though much improved from when she first arrived, was still very wild and kicked at the rubber sides of the crush. Magic took one look at her and said, “Uh-uh, lady, there’s no way. That chick’s insane!”

He also pulled back when he was tied up – an old trick of his that he must have learned on the racetrack – tossed his head and poked his nose out a little, so I think he was just not himself. I took him over to the far side of the arena and worked him in circles for a bit, and to his credit Magic didn’t buck me off or have a tantrum; he was pensive, but settled slightly and conceded to canter three uninterrupted circles to the right, which he has never done before, so I walked him cool and called it a day.

Most of the time, though, he’s the usual, gentle awesome. His biggest issue is cantering to the right, because Magic just doesn’t lead with his right foreleg. I’ve tried to fix the canter from the canter without success, so I’m going right back down to a walk and teaching him to step off with whichever leg I ask him to use – always the inside one. That goes hand-in-hand with teaching him to stop squarely. This sort of fiddly stuff seems to irritate him a bit; he’d much rather tear around the arena and jump over things, but he’s quite patient and learns nicely as long as I don’t keep at it for too long and bore his agile mind.

Magic is just something completely different. When I manage to claw my way up his 15.1h and sit on him and ask him to walk on and he flows forward with that long floating stride I can’t help grinning all over my face.

Big changes have come to Bushwillow Stables over the past year. Some of the horse owners who keep their horses at livery there have opened Ruach Pinto Sport Horse Stud and now own more than forty pinto horses, from the mighty Titan (a 15.3hh piebald warmblood/Friesian with movement to die for and a terrific amount of presence) to the adorable “twins”, Whisper and Whistle (the cutest pair of blue-eyed cremello foals you’ll ever meet).

Sookie's unique face

Sookie’s unique face

I’ve ridden some of their horses – including their stallions, Titan and cute palomino paint Reed – and now have gotten the opportunity to work with this pretty mare a little more. Sookie Lynn is a warmblood imported from Germany, making her rather more well-travelled than I am even though she’s just three years old. I rode her for the first time a few weeks ago and instantly fell for her looks, her temper, and her movement. She was a lot of firsts for me – I’d never ridden a warmblood before, let alone an imported one with, incidentally, one bright blue eye – and I think I’m going to love riding her. Thanks a lot to Sookie’s owner for trusting me with this very valuable horse!

Sookie is supposed to go to shows once she’s had the training, so I had better jump in and work hard. She’s a lovely mare with good conformation, but right now she’s three years old and newly backed, so she could have quite a lot more muscling. That’s the great thing about Sookie – she has such a nice foundation to build on. A few months’ work ought to bring out her neck into a beautiful sleek arc of muscle. Maybe one day she can look as gorgeous as her daddy!

I’ve never ridden a horse so valuable and with that much potential, so I’m a little bit intimidated, but I trust that God knows what He’s doing and I’ll try my best and pretty Sookie Lynn will hopefully be a credit to her owner and her stud.

I did say prepare for longwindedness, didn’t I? Well, there it is. Alongside pictures from my new cellphone. I loved my old Nokia C6. In fact, a year ago it stopped working and lay dead for a month until my dad dropped a heavy box on it and it promptly came back to life. Unfortunately, this time the C6 had finally had it, so an upgrade was due. This far, I’m quite enjoying the Samsung Ace Advance, although I still have to get used to the camera.

There. Blog written. Still raining. Maybe God’s giving me a little hint.

I guess I’ll be cleaning tack today after all.

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2 thoughts on “Riding Horses in the Rain

  1. I love reading about your adventures with your horses Firn. It takes me back to my first time away from home as a just turned thirteen-year-old. I stayed at Teen Ranch and had my first experience riding horses. The holiday touched my heart in more ways than one and the gift of some simple blue wildflowers changed my life forever.

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