On Duty and Insurance

Today I’d like to talk about something that I feel strongly about, and forgive me if I get a little passionate. I almost wrote “It’s something that the sport needs to hear”, but actually, the sport is generally quite good about this. This is something that the average rider needs to hear. The one-horse rider, perhaps on a bit of a budget, perhaps just having two ponies on a plot somewhere, perhaps the parent watching their kid pop around at SANESA – the ordinary, average horse owner that makes up the vast and overwhelming majority of horse owners in South Africa today.

The something is this: your horse should be insured.

It expands into this: your retired horse should also be insured.

 

This is Magic. Say hi, Magic.

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Magic is 11. Magic is also retired. There’s nothing really wrong with him physically, except ordinary OTTB stuff – his feet are a little flat and he’s got a bit of KS going on. We showjumped a bit, and for about four out of five shows he would be amazing and perfect. But that one out of five, he would do one of two things: he would fly backwards across the arena gasping in abject and genuine panic for half an hour, or he would get home and colic. It wasn’t fair on him anymore, so now he decorates the lawn, and has done so for two years.

In short, Magic is worth approximately R0.00. More accurately, he’s worth about -R1500 every month, conservatively, and only because we live on the farm and have grazing.

Magic also has a five-figure vet bill sitting on my desk.

Magic’s vet bill will be paid. Because you just can’t put a price tag on some things, and the horse you retired is one of them. You see, Magic never won any real ribbons and never really got me anywhere when it came to riding. He left me with a collection of bad habits and frayed nerves and two big fat RFs on my record – at the same show. But Magic gets the best of everything. He is a shiny, round, happy 7.5/10 on the condition scale year-round; his teeth are done, his feet are done, and he has all of his shots every year. I don’t spend as much time with him as I would like because at some point I do have to work in order to keep providing him with his happy, lazy existence, but every morning he gets a carrot and a hug and I like to think he still knows that I care about him.

It’s not really about what he thinks of me, though. I don’t take care of him because I’m a warm and fuzzy person. I do it because I honestly owe it to him to give him the best and happiest life he possibly could have and even if I succeed for many years then I will still forever be in his debt.

Magic never shaped me as a rider. He shaped me as a human being.

Magic never won ribbons, but he won my heart. He didn’t teach me very much about showjumping, but he taught me about life, during a tempestuous time as I struggled with the insurmountable challenge that is adolescence. He taught me to forgive myself for scars, for pain, for being a broken piece of humanity in a broken world. He taught me to breathe deep and slow. He taught me that there’s so much more to life than success and so much more to the sport than winning. And so much more to horses than competing.

He didn’t give me all that much pleasure in the saddle or any great pride or victory or prestige. He gave me so much more. He gave me hope. He gave me forgiveness. He gave me tenderness. He gave me the power to understand my own rattled and anxious soul.

He’s not just a horse or a fine companion or even a best friend. He’s an instrument of God.

Magic gave me a part of who I am, a good and loving and compassionate part.

A thousand vet bills will never, ever be enough to pay him back.

 

Here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t actually matter how lyrical I can wax about how much I love my priceless retiree or what he’s done for me. Of course I wanted to save him when he colicked this week. The fact remains that if he hadn’t been insured, all the wanting in the world wouldn’t have done a thing. Even what I have done was almost not enough; he needed a surgery that I couldn’t have paid for – to be fair, these surgeries extend into six figures – and it’s only by God’s grace that he’s still with us.

I didn’t have him insured for that kind of money. But I had him insured for something; enough that he could be in hospital on a drip and receiving professional, round-the-clock care by someone who wasn’t emotional, drained, and ultimately out of their depth. This time, it was enough. You better believe he’s getting better insurance in case there is a next time.

This is the real value of insurance. Not something to protect your financial investment, but something to save the horses that financially aren’t really worth saving; the horses that gave you everything and now stand in a field somewhere, hopefully with you, a bit old and ugly and broken. They gave you their hearts. Now it’s your turn.

I’m talking to you, average rider on your average horse. You the lady doing Prelim or EV60 on a Boerperd or an OTTB or a nondescript little bay horse of uncertain ancestry and deep, gentle eyes. You the daddy paying for your kid to ride. You the doting horse mom with two Shetlands in your backyard, piggy-fat and eating carrots and thriving. You all feed your horse enough and make sure he’s dry in the rain, but are you ready for a colic surgery? Are you ready for a night at the vet hospital? Are you ready for diagnostics, treatments, drips?

Medical aid starts as cheaply as R160 per month. If you can compete in one single training show class or eat out once a month, you can afford this.

I shouldn’t really be asking you if you’re ready to pay to save your horse. Rather, I should ask you this: Are you ready to watch your horse die because you can’t?

 

The Best Baby Horsie

I have SO MUCH to write about and so much media that it’s a little overwhelming. Thunderbirdy has been his superb self, charging through the EM work already with great gusto, revolutionising his canter, and just being my bestest dance partner.

But today I want to gush some more about my Faith pony.

First, she actually looks like a horse now, which is a great relief. Not a super pretty horse, granted, but at least something horse-esque. We’re approaching her four-year-old year so mercifully it should be all uphill from here (SHOULD).

Her training is going great. Physically, all we’ve really achieved is a canter where all the legs go in the same direction and the ability to trot over poles.

All the training we’re doing right now is emotional. We’re talking about how standing still is a safe space, too. About how nothing I ask her to do is painful, and about how the thing I want is the easy thing.

We’re discussing how new things never mean punishment, but are neutral or result in praise when dealt with quietly. We’re talking about forward and straight.

Most of our rides are spent sparking these kind of conversations using obstacles or going on outrides. We’ve done little working riding courses and “jumps” (crosses small enough to just trot over). In fact, she’s more than ready to go into a connection and start learning throughness and bend. She just needs her teeth to be done first. For now I have her in a Nathe and ride on a long, floppy rein.

In the interim, we have quiet conversations about respect and patience. We acknowledge each other as strong-minded young women who both have valid opinions and realistic needs. Every ride, we’re learning to trust each other a little bit better.
We’re keeping it conversational. We’re keeping it fun.

I love this horse on hacks. She’s just a baby but she’s such a genuine baby – a nice, normal baby horse with no baggage and no vices who just loves to work. She prefers to lead, with her little ears pricked and her stride long and swinging through her whole body. Sometimes we still have our babysitter go in front for scary things, but she’s pretty good about everything. She has an honest little spook and if she’s unsure she just stops and has a look until she knows it’s safe.

Soon we’ll start bending and connecting and test riding. For now, we go on hacks. We fool around on a loose rein. We ride bareback. On Sunday, we’re going to her first ridden show. We’re doing ground poles, but if we just unload and stand at the show quietly all day, that’s cool too.

It’s not about what we’re doing. It’s about what we’re talking about. I’m in no hurry and I allow no one to prescribe to me what my journey with my beautiful baby horsie is supposed to look like.

The only opinions that matter are my horse’s and God’s. And I’m enjoying every heartbeat with them both.

Glory to the King.

In Print

In May, I pitched an idea for an article series to the Horse Quarterly – the magazine I’d grown up reading. I was totally elated when the mag picked up my articles, and the first one was published in the July 2018 issue.


The Non-Horsey Parent’s Guide is a five-part series that will lead the first-time secondhand horse enthusiast through the bewildering world of your child’s latest obsession. Spoiler alert: it’s not just a stage.

Read all about it in the latest HQ, or, even better, subscribe to get all five articles in this value-packed magazine that’s been adored by horse lovers for decades.

Glory to the King!

A Little Faith

Nothing beats backing and bringing on a young horse from scratch for me. I love figuring out, helping and seeing improvement in remedial horses, but there’s always an element of frustration – the knowledge that this horse could have been so much better if nobody had messed it up in the first place. The blank slate of a baby is so refreshing, and they always progress so quickly with so few hiccups, comparatively. Especially babies with easy temperaments are just an utter joy if you know what to expect and what conversations to have.


Nobody is easier than baby Faith. After backing her and putting on walk/trot/a close approximation of something like a drunken camel attempting to canter, I turned her out again for a bit. L lunged her just in a halter and boots once a week for me and that was about it. Faith was never naughty, but she was just still a complete baby. At only three and a half, she had plenty of time to just chill and grow up.

Eventually, after six weeks almost completely off, I fetched her in from the field to just have a little ride and assess where she is now. Her manners are better but still babyish. She doesn’t do anything exactly naughty, she just can’t stand still for more than five minutes and wants to greet everyone who comes along. But she’s OK to groom and tack up, all while standing tied or in the stable, so it’ll improve as she matures.

I was going to lunge her a little bit first, considering she’s a green-backed baby who’d just had more than a month off, but in the end I was just kind of too lazy and ended up climbing on board. And she was absolutely fabulous. She was calm, relaxed and confident in all three gaits and, crucially, offered her first canter circle in rhythm and balance. She wanted to go to work and she had fun. Needless to say, so did I. She’s growing up into exactly the kind of horse I really love to ride.

I started toying with the idea of bringing her back into gentle work. Last week, when I actually had a look at her standing properly for the first time in months, I was pleasantly surprised with how she looks.


Gone is the dorkward baby wheelbarrow. The two inches she grew in the past year made her decidedly uphill now, which explains why balance is suddenly a thing. Her body is more ready than it was and her mind is certainly ready, so we’ve started back into work.

I love the conversations I can have with this horse. Her first real human contact was on the second of January 2017, when I loaded her in a box and brought her home to me, and so there’s nothing but my own work here. She especially has no concept of being punished for fear. 

Yesterday’s conversation was about the washing line, the one thing that seems to have managed to freak her out. After a productive arena ride, we headed up the passage past the dread object alone. Some distance from it, Faith hit the brakes. I’m not sure that it’s safe. I rubbed her neck and gave her a chance to look, the reins loose. She knew she had no reason to panic, so she looked. After a few moments, she flicked her ears back to me, and I put on a little bit of leg. She took a few more steps and halted again. Rinse, repeat. No violence, no escalation. I didn’t ever even shorten the reins. Her natural curiosity and trust in me as her leader overcame her uncertainty, as a horse always will do if given enough time to look and think without fear of anything escalating.

The plan is to do 15-20 minutes two or three days a week all year. There’s lots of time. Most of our conversations will be about citizenship. Brakes and steering. Standing still to be tacked up. Going on hacks alone and in company. I’m in no hurry; we might go to a show to hang out or we might not. I know I could go compete Prelim in a month with her brain, but what’s the point of rushing now?

It looks like very simple, very boring work, but what we’re doing now is the basis on which everything else will be built. We’re not talking about connection or bend yet. We’re talking about how to deal with fear, how she’s safe with me. And as Faith learns, so do I.

When I named her Faith it was to remind myself that God can make good come of it no matter what. She came into my life after Nell was sold, Rainbow died and I felt like there would never be a good grey mare in my life again. But the faith God is using her to teach me right now is a more everyday kind. A faith like potatoes. A staple food.

Schooling a young horse like her is impossible if all you think about is the end product. Horses have no concept of their future. They certainly don’t worry about it like we do; they care about this moment. If I rushed through it now with my eye on the levels I know my beautiful baby horse can achieve, I’ll miss out on so many moments. I’ll miss out on the journey. I’ll miss out on the dance. Because much as it may look totally discombobulated right now, it is the dance, in its purest form.

No pressure. No hurry. Eyes on the prize, but hands open to receive what I’m being given in this moment. A lesson, like most lessons, in both horses and life. There is so much I want from the future. I have such tremendous dreams. But here and now, I am also blessed. So let me fix my eyes on Jesus and then run with patience, trusting Him for what is to come, knowing He is the God Who moves mountains.

It only takes a little faith to move a mountain. And she might be only 15 hands, but this little Faith is certainly moving mine.


Glory to the King.

Dancing at Home

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If  I had been told six months ago that my competing dreams for 2018 would be crushed under the tide of perplexing circumstance that comes with budding adulthood, I would have been devastated. But it proves to be out of mercy that the Lord fails to show us our future. Now that I am here in the moment, three months from our last competition and an array of obstacles from the next one, I find myself learning and living and loving it.

Don’t misunderstand me now. Every morning after my first round of the yard and the horsies, when the sun has cracked the horizon with molten gold and the frigid winter sent back into the shadows for a balmy Highveld day, the first thing I do is dust Thunder off, wrap his legs, put a saddle on him and ride. We might not have a competition on the schedule, but we have our lessons and we have a dream bigger than the both of us. Every day we chip away a little more at the vast obstacle of my ignorance. Every day as my riding strengthens I start to ask a little more of him: more suppleness, more collection, more impulsion. And every day he continues to give me everything that he has. If I’m totally honest, his saddle needs a gullet change and he could see the chiro again. But nothing hurts in his body or his heart, and he is happy to give me what he has, and I give him what I have, and so every day we step a little bit closer to that dream that God gave us.

The petty impatience and peevish perfectionism that occasionally plagued our relationship last year has melted in the face of what this means to my soul, just like the frost before the sun. This is more than a dream or a career to me. This dressage thing, it speaks to me on a level I can’t explain. It’s more than circles and straight lines in a sandpit on a horse. That thing that happens between the equine heart and the human soul, whatever it is – that thing matters.

If I had known that I would be here now, I would have been crushed. I would have thought I’d be lost, aimless, without shows to go to. I would have thought that I would have wanted to quit. But here in the backstage, here in the shadows, this is where the dream is growing bigger than ever before. It’s in the airless darkness that a dormant seed becomes a living green shoot that pushes its tender fingers up towards the sun. Of course I want to be out there, gaining grading points and showing off our skills and winning some satin and having adventures with my half-ton dance partner. But I think I am here for a reason and that reason is bigger than it looks.

I am here because every day, as I learn about dressage, I learn about life. Every day I discover a little more what I have been saying all along: that I don’t do this for a number on a test or satin on my bridle. I do this for the dance. Because score or no score, show or no show, in this broken and fallen and hurting world there are inexplicable moments of perfect and unnecessary beauty, and I find mine between the saddle and the sky. If that’s not proof of God’s glory, I don’t know what is.

I have groped my way back to the reason at the heart of why I bother to do this ridiculous, expensive, difficult, unpopular thing that hovers at the line between sport and art.

I do this because I am saved, and this is how I sing the song in my soul.

I have no idea when I will get to go back down centreline again. But I do know this: that with every ride where God is our main focus, our dressage only gets better. That the unassuming little bay gelding with the fluffy hair and the sticky stifle might just have the greatest heart that’s ever beaten between my knees, and a body that seems capable of everything I ask and more. That every step of the dance belongs to the One by Whom and for Whom we were all created. That this horse and me, we can do this, we can go all the way. That even if we end up going all the way in our home arena, even if we piaffe one day for heaven’s eyes alone, it will have been worth it.

Because it’s not about anything else but the threefold cord. Every day the four rhythmic hooves of the horse I love take me deeper to a place where only the three of us can go. Every day he means something more to me, our bond becomes more comfortable. Every day is another step on the path of greatest love.

As the last precipice of adolescence becomes the first peak of real adulthood in the misty light of early day, the stakes grow ever higher. Love. Family. Work. Finance. Students. Grief. Priorities. The lives of others. God is taking me further, higher, deeper. His plan is majestic and perfect. His dreams are so big they terrify me to the core, but I cannot resist His sweet voice calling me deeper still. And I don’t know what the plan is; somehow everything was turned on his head after the tragic event that broke me and meeting the man who has become my lighthouse, the beacon guiding me home. But I know that dressage is part of that plan.

And one thing stays the same. I absolutely love dancing with my beautiful horse, and I give my best to every ride.

I can’t wait to take the dance back to the stage and see our scores and feel the thrill of climbing the levels again. But right now, I am where I am.

And I love every moment.

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No Such Men

Girls, let me be real straight with you for a second. That Hollywood fellow you coo over? The one with the brooding dark eyes and smooth complexion? The huge biceps and the perfectly tousled hair?

You don’t want him.

You don’t just want a man with sculpted curls, high cheekbones and a square jaw. You don’t just want a man with a dazzling smile and pecs that strain against his tight T-shirt.

You want a man with eyes that see into your soul and love it despite the darkness they behold there. A man with arms that are strong enough to hold your world together, yet gentle enough to hold your child. A smile that lights up your heart. Feet that will walk the straight and narrow. Hands that will build your future together with perseverance and courage, yet touch you with respect and tenderness.

You don’t want a man who tells exciting stories of a swashbuckling past and spends his days chasing the next rainbow. You don’t want a man with a hundred new ideas every day and a mind that never stops moving and bouncing.

You want a man who can stay. You want a man with his feet on the ground and his eyes on the stars, a man who can both see the mountaintop and climb there, one boring step at a time. And take your hand and do it beside you.

You don’t want a man who will give you romantic, candelight dinners and trips to exotic countries. You don’t want a man who will buy you jewellery and make you feel special.

You want a man who will give you tomorrow, the next day and forever; a man who will give you his next breath if it comes to that, a man who will give you what he has even when the world has drained him. A man who will buy you a hat or a book you love. A man who will make you feel strong, beloved. Worthy somehow.

You don’t want a prince. You want a husband, a father, a friend, a leader. You don’t want a rainbow. You want a rock. Rainbows are good for chasing on summer days, but it’s the rock that stays the same even when the winter night comes. Just be sure your rock has a core of pure light.

And I once believed there were no such men.

But I was wrong.

Moving

In my last post, I mentioned some changes that were going to be happening to the site. I’ve been blogging at Riding on Water for more than four years now. The blog has brought me so much joy and I’ve gained so much from being able to put my thoughts down in this format; I also love being able to go back and look at how my journey through horsemanship and into grace has progressed over the past four years. At how I have progressed over the past four years. I was seventeen years old when I started the blog and the transition to adulthood has been, at times, very painful – but it’s been magnificent to watch God at work.

This year has been a year of transfiguration. Not only in my life, but in my very soul. And this has called for changes to the blog, too. But like me, the changes will be for the better.

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As the stableyard grew, Riding on Water has become less a journal and more of a yard newsletter, with occasional journal entries scattered in. For this reason, I’ve decided to split the two. Everyday updates on the training horses, yard, and lessons – as well as photo dumps and show recaps – will no longer be published on Riding on Water. Instead, you can follow these at Morning Star Stables’s blog and Facebook page.

Riding on Water will be reserved for deeper reflections. Diary entries. Letters to God, to other horses, to my former self. To creative expressions that have nowhere else to go. To the things God says to me. To product reviews and hopes and dreams and dressage.

And, of course, to adorable photos of the loves of my life.

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I hope to grow the blog’s readership in the next few months and start doing challenges and blog hops again.

I look forward to continuing to share the awesome work that God is doing with everyone. And I thank you all for four years of readership.

Glory to the King.