2015: The Year Ahead

Last year was long, interesting, busy, and a most tremendous learning curve. I made my fair share of mistakes and had a few nasty little failures, but I find myself better, stronger, and nearer to God than when it began, so I shall file it firmly under “Success”.

The horses also did quite awesomely this year, so without further ado, the 2014 goals wrap-up and the setting of our goals for 2015.

Skye’s the Limit. In 2014 I wrote: “Skye’s goals: Stay healthy; get fit; get a Western saddle.” A Western saddle we sure have, but arthritis has ended any prospect of getting fit last year or this one, or possibly for many years to come. She is, however, very healthy and happy as long as we keep up our bi-weekly walking hacks.

Currently she is still quite happy to carry me around on her back, but I’ve also found that having Exavior to babysit has given her a new lease on life. Once I’m breeding horses, I think her job will be the weanling mommy.

Skye’s goals: Prevent the progression of her arthritis, stay healthy and happy, attempt not to get too fat. Also learn to be ponied off another horse.

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Thunderbird. His 2014 goals: This year, I’d like to spend some time working on Thunder’s physical strength, since he is old enough to handle heavier work now. Lungeing in side reins to build his loin muscles in balance, particularly in canter, will help. I would like him to lope slowly and on the correct lead (using simple lead changes for now), understand the basics of neck-reining at all three gaits, learn to stand squarely, and turn on the haunches by the end of the year. Outrides should also still be done at least once a week; I would like him to go out consistently without bolting, alone and in company, by the end of the year.

Once again, Baby Thun has made a spectacular success of his goals – for the second year running (there should be some kind of award for that).

Physical strength: Well, check. He put on a massive growth spurt at the beginning of the year and looked like a clothes hanger, but for the past few months he has bulked out at an alarming rate. Moving him to a kikuyu pasture also helped. He now looks like a rather nice Welsh cob; he has a nice round butt, a fairly good neck and his loins have filled out so that back flows smoothly into bottom. He looks like a grownup horse now.

Schooling: Check, check, check. His lope is nothing to write home about but he doesn’t tear around like a baby anymore, he goes on the right lead, he neck-reins at all three gaits, stands squarely and turns on the haunches. He also turns on the forehand, sidepasses at a walk and jog, reins back well and kind of sliding stops. Well, kind of.

Outrides: Check. He’s fine both alone and in company and does not, as a rule, bolt except when severely frightened, which is true for most horses. He can still be a bit on the spooky side but that will just take time to go away.

2015 will be Thun’s third year under saddle and it’s time for him to learn some more advanced things, as a firm foundation has been well laid.

Physical: Now that we have muscle, we can add some fitness. Long-distance riding will do the trick.

On the ground: We do need to work on his ability to give you personal space. He isn’t bad about it until he forgets and stands on top of you like an idiot, but he needs to be sharply reminded every time he does that. He also needs a bath or two because he can be a bit jumpy about the hosepipe.

Schooling: Start to work towards real reining movements. Improve on the spins, introduce flying changes, continue to practice sliding stops and rein backs, introduce rollbacks.

Outrides: He now has good manners on a hack, and the only thing to solve his spookiness is going to be many, many trail miles. Ride out as much as possible for as long distances as possible, show him new things and challenge him until he gets more comfortable on hacks.

To conclude: Fix the personal space thing and the hosepipe thing; introduce flying changes and rollbacks; improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs; log as many trail miles as possible.

Thunder3

Arwen Evenstar. In 2014: I would like to get her on the show circuit more regularly and to raise the bar slightly to be jumping around 80cm competitively by the end of the year. I would also like to enter her in a few dressage shows and see how she does, starting with the Preliminary tests, they don’t look that hard. At home, she can learn to jump 1.10m consistently. Her canter, whilst good, needs some work; she must learn flying changes. I want her to improve her frame so that she is going in a good outline with her nose in by the end of the year. She must also learn to do all her lateral movements, which she does well in a walk, in trot (starting with shoulder-in and then travers and half-pass). She must also be able to extend and collect her trot.

Arwen did not do badly at all. Showing was a definite win (har, har, har), having attended seven outings. Though only two of these were shows, she gave no major issues at any of them barring three stops she had when I entered her in a jumping round that was rather too big at the time. Dressage with a success as we won our Prelim test with over 60%. Jumping I would also call a success; she is okay over 1.10m although I have to baby her somewhat, and comfortable at 1.00m. Given that 1.10m is very close to her physical limit, I’m happy to be a little lenient about it. Her canter has improved, but flying changes are unfortunately nonexistent. Her frame is very close to being where I want it; she keeps it at all three gaits but can lose it occasionally in transitions. Her lateral movements are up to scratch and we are developing a nice medium trot. I would call her competitive at Novice, schooling Elementary; I was hoping to school Elementary Medium, and we would have, but for the changes.

Long-term, I don’t ever see myself showing Arwen in eventing at anything bigger than 90-95cm. She can jump 1.10m if she has to (well, she can jump 1.40m if she feels like it, albeit riderless), but I see no point in forcing her right to the limit of her ability. She is also rather too small to be competitive at 1.00m or bigger because she just doesn’t have the big stride to cover ground fast enough. I’m completely cool with that, so all I want her to do with her life is go to EV90 with me, go as far in dressage as she can (she still has quite a long way before she reaches her limit there; I think she could go Medium or even Advanced with many years of training), do a spot of showing and then become a school pony in a million.

For this year, though:

Physical: I would like to see a bit more muscling at the base of her neck. Currently, she is also extremely fat, having had two weeks off, so we need to get fit. Because she is so little she will need to be extraordinarily fit to be competitive, so fitness is a huge priority.

On the ground: Nada. She loads, she clips, she ties up, she does anything I want. She doesn’t like having her legs clipped but we could do it if we drugged her (and if we wanted to).

Schooling: Develop collected trot, extended walk, medium trot and canter. Raise the forehand into an uphill balance. Improve leg-yield and shoulder-in. Introduce flying changes. In other words, be competitive at Elementary and schooling Elementary Medium by the end of the year.

Jumping: Stay consistent at 1.00m at home. Introduce more technically difficult and visually daunting obstacles. Work on her water complex problem.

Competitions: Show in at least one graded EV70 event.

To conclude: Get her fit; build her neck; school Elementary Medium; introduce scary jumps; fix the water problem; show graded in EV70.

Arwen1

Magical Flight. In 2014: To wrap it up, this year Magic must go to his first shows, and learn to make calm transitions between gaits, leg-yield in walk, start flying changes, and build correct muscle tone. I also want him jumping 1.10m.

Magic and I had such a wonderful, turbulent year during which we both learned so much about each other that goals seem pitiful things compared to how far we came. That’s not to say that we met them all. Oh, no. I wanted him solid at 1.10m by the end of the year and we are rather tremulous at 80cm. But his flatwork improved by miles. His transitions are good, his leg-yield in walk is good, and his muscle tone is awesome. He could do with some more neck, but I’m not too fussed about it. Flying changes aren’t a thing, sadly, but his first show was a resounding success.

Physical: Time to drill fitness into this monster. He has the muscles he needs for jumping and eventing, but he wouldn’t know hillwork if you hit him with it. Of course, first we need to fix the outride problem, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I would like him to be fit enough to jump 80-90cm courses easily by the end of the year.

On the ground: Tying up is a major issue of his, so work can begin on that. He also needs to load properly with only one person. Clipping is a nightmare we don’t have to deal with this year.

Schooling: Have his teeth done, then school him so that he is soft and correct in his beloved French link snaffle. Then introduce Novice work so that he is solid at Novice by the end of the year. He will need to learn trot leg-yields and trot and canter lengthenings, and improve on his simple changes until they become second nature. Introduce counter canter. Also, work on hacking out without trying to kill anyone, even if we can just potter around the block in a walk without dying by the end of the year.

Jumping: One word: Confidence. Be confident at 80cm even if that’s the highest we go this year. Build confidence over different types of jumps, improve on his technique, and learn to relax on him over fences.

Competition: For the first half of 2015 continue to do monthly training shows in dressage and jumping, taking it easy on the height. As soon as he is fine at 70cm at training shows, go graded in showjumping. Eventing can wait until outrides happen.

To conclude: Improve fitness, tie up, load, be competitive at Novice, survive a hack, be confident at 80cm, and go graded at 70cm showjumping once he is ready for it.

Magic5

Exavior. Last of all, my dearly beloved big chestnut colt. He had no goals in 2014 seeing as he was not mine and there was no possibility that he ever would become mine; and yet here he is, by the grace of God, my first warmblood. If only he’ll grow up sound… Thy will be done, my King.

Exavior turns two at the end of the year and his backing, depending on his legs, will commence either at the end of 2015 or in 2016. This is the year in which he learns to be an absolutely impeccable equine good citizen and to deal with everything that life among mankind may throw at him. He already knows what a halter is, respects personal space, ties up, stands perfectly still to be groomed and have his feet cleaned, allows himself to be blanketed, and stands more or less still for the Mutterer to do his hooves. Now for more advanced citizenship.

  • Advanced halter training: leading on a slack rope, trotting up in hand, standing squarely, understanding of pressure and release (yielding the shoulder, yielding the hindquarters)
  • Leading over, through and under scary things and away from his group
  • Bathing
  • Desensitisation to noise and sight: first a numnah, then plastic bags
  • Loading preparation: leading in a narrow passage, under a roof and over a noisy surface
  • Loading. This one will be difficult, but if he will load with the help of two people and/or a lunge rein by the year’s end, I’ll be satisfied.
  • Injections; use a trick I learned with a syringe, a rubber band and a treat
  • Be gelded
  • Lowering of the head when requested. This is usually not on the to-do list, but he is going to be 17hh and I’m never going to be over 5′ 4″, so I want him to put his nose on the floor when I ask for it
  • Basic lunging with a halter and long line only
  • Wearing a roller
  • Lunging over poles
  • Wearing boots
  • Clipping. I don’t intend to give him a full clip, but we can lay down the foundation by having him stand still while the clippers are rested gently on his body

Exavior1

Yours truly. I must get into the habit of riding with a proper upper body: eyes looking between the horse’s ears with chin up, hands a fist’s breadth above and in front of the pommel, thumbs turned up, elbows relaxed by my sides with upper arms hanging almost straight. I must learn not to balance on my hands, but to push them forward and allow the horse to stretch. Oh, and I can stop doing that funky poke-one-toe-out thing. And I must ride right up to every jump.. In Western: Ha! I don’t even know what a proper Western seat looks like. Fix this. Stop leaning forward and gripping with the knees in lope and halt from lope.

Jumping was a tremendous success. Well, kind of. I used to have super fixed, stiff hands, and now I have this enormous release where my fists end up almost between the ears. I think the horses prefer the epic release, though, so I’ll take it. I have more or less quit the habit of looking down and my elbows are much softer and my habit of fixing the hands to the withers has much improved. My Western seat has also improved, as I’ve learned to bend the elbow and raise the hand and relax into the saddle better.

Dressage: Turn the hands straight, so that the thumbs are on top, instead of having turned out cowboy hands. Keep the shoulders back. Soften the lower back. Lengthen the leg and bring the lower leg further back for better hip-heel alignment. Break the habit of dropping the inside shoulder and improve straightness.

Jumping: Strengthen and correct the lower leg to keep the heel down and prevent the leg from swinging back. Break the habit of slipping back towards the cantle during landing. Break the habit of resting the hands on the neck during landing. Break the habit of staring down into airy oxers.

RuachReed8

This year promises to be a very interesting one. I’m turning 18, for one, and have to get used to the idea of being practically a grownup. It’s also my last year of school (hopefully) and the year in which I can get a driver’s licence. I’m also on the brink of buying my first broodmare and showing in Horse of the Year for the first time. I could also ride in graded shows for the first time, and since I plan to qualify as an instructor in 2016 I have to get my facilities up to scratch for a riding school this year.

To wrap up this Epic Novel of a blog post (sorry guys… this one was more for my benefit than anyone else’s), my prayer for 2015.

My King, I set goals, I work hard and I dream dreams. But no amount of my sweat or planning can ever achieve anything alone. I can hardly be trusted even to set the right goals, even for my horses. Lord Jesus, this year belongs to You. Everything in me and about me and around me I lay down at Your feet. Do with it what You will, for Your will is pure and just and perfect. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, O King. Let me draw nearer to You than ever before. Hold me close, carry me through, and be with everybody that I love, my King. Let everything I am and do glorify Your amazing name and let me decrease so that You may increase. I await the day of Your coming. Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done. In Jesus’s beloved Name, amen.

2014 in review

Here’s my WordPress report for 2014 for anyone who’s interested. I would like to say a special thanks for my loyal reader Lyn from The Call of the Pen. Despite not being a horsewoman, Lyn has stuck with me as a blogger for years, and has left 86 comments on Riding On Water. You win the Coolest Reader Ever Award, Lyn! (Pity it’s imaginary…)

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Warhorses of Today

What is a knight without his destrier? From the stocky ponies that carried Khan to the world he would conquer, to the brave thoroughbreds that served and died in their millions in World War I, horses have long carried mankind in and out of battles. Some of them have become legends in their own right: names like Bucephalus, Copenhagen, and Babeica have rung down through history for centuries.

It’s commonly thought that the dynasty of the warhorse ended in the First World War, replaced by armoured tanks and battle planes that did not need to be fed and would not bleed or die. But there are many of us living in the twenty-first century who know otherwise.

The famous warhorses are all long gone, but the spirit of the destrier lives on. Occasionally one comes across a horse that has a little more fire, a little more determination, a little more courage. These seldom come clothed in shiny coats or great talent; often they are the scruffy underdogs of the equine world with crooked legs and Roman noses. But there is something in them that makes us stronger, and these have the power to change our lives.

You see, though few of us still lift guns or sabres, we all have battles in our lives. Life itself, on this Earth, is a war through which we strive, battered and bloodied, sometimes triumphant, sometimes retreating; we have glorious victories and ignominious retreats; we all have something to fight for, a banner that we rally around when we can see it through the smoke of the cannons. And often our greatest enemies are ourselves. But some of us – a privileged handful – have a powerful ally in the battles of life. A steadfast friend that has our back in the toughest fight. A reassuring curve of muscle in the circle of our arms when we feel most alone.

A warhorse.

I don’t call my old, gold mare “charger” just for the sake of old times when we played at fairytales. For centuries, horses have borne mankind in and out of the fray. And today, in the dark wars of our souls, there are still valiant steeds that gallop into battle, bear us through the fight and, at last, bring us safely home.

Thank You God for the warhorses of today.

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TOABH: Shining Star

Beka from The Owls Approve asks: Let’s talk about the biggest achievements your horse has accomplished.  I’m not talking about you as a rider – I want to know what your ponykins has done to make you proud.  Is there a glorious satin collection, did he/she figure out some dressage movement that took months to learn, or are is it just a great day when your butt stays in the saddle?

Let’s go alphabetically, shall we?

Arwen has achieved so much and gone so far in the six years I’ve had her that I really have trouble choosing any particular moment of awesomeness. That’s pretty much Arwen; she very rarely is truly amazing, but is always pretty good, which has totalled up to a slow, gradual trickle of amazing in the end.

Possibly the most notable thing she achieved was conceiving at the age of 11 months, successfully producing a healthy filly foal around her second birthday. This oopsie was before I had her, but it is apparently against all the laws of nature and yet she did manage it somehow, little twerp.

More seriously, I think the hardest thing I ever asked Arwen to do was go out alone. She was very insecure, skittish and herdbound as a filly. While the term is probably somewhat archaic by now, she was the worst napper I’ve ever known; she’d be all right up until we left the big electric gate, and then she would stop. Attempts to make her walk on would result in terrified little spinny rears. The first quarter mile of every ride was engaged in walking two steps, rearing, walking another two steps, rearing again, reversing six steps, walking two steps, repeat. There was no malice in her, but for the life of her that little grey filly just could not go out alone.

It took a bit of guts from both of us, and a lot of time, but now Arwen loves hacking out by herself. I need a Kimberwick to get her to stop going, sometimes. Usually we mostly gallop on outrides, which are up to 10km long, but anytime I want I can drop the reins down to the buckle and go home at her trademark giant stretchy free walk. I can even put newbies on her for little slow hacks and not worry about them as long as they stay in the back where she won’t kick anybody. Hacking out alone is a very basic skill that most horses already know, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s been the biggest psychological hurdle that Arwen has overcome.

Magic is Arwen’s carbon opposite. He is either wonderful or abysmal; his wonderful is quite awe-inspiring and his abysmal is frankly scary. There have been days when not wanting to die is pretty good, and other days – last year when I was apparently unafraid of anything – when we jumped 1.20m without dying at all.

He’s also come quite a way in the past two years. Mostly, he’s transformed from neurotic race monster to happy pet, but at least we have made a little progress from racehorse to sport horse.

His biggest achievement was definitely his show in the end of November. We’d had a tough winter with massive confidence issues from us both. In fact, the whole of my time owning him has been pretty tough; the Mutterer will be able to tell you about lessons where I stood in the middle of the arena swallowing tears and telling him that I was not a good enough rider for this amazing horse. Luckily for me, the Mutterer managed to resist the temptation to walk away and would boot me back onto the horse and tell me to get over my [bleeped profanity] and ride, and between Magic and God and the Mutterer they got me to our first show where he was amazing, I rode to the best of my ability, and it went stupendously well. Magic was foot perfect and I relished the feeling of having one huge amount of horse between my knees, and all of his talent and spirit working in harmony with me. There’s just something about a really nice thoroughbred that can’t be beaten.

Magic6

Skye has achieved almost nothing in terms of being trained and so much in terms of training her little human. The fearless old charger has always been – and still is – my trusted destrier on the battlefield of life. Probably the hardest thing she ever did was to survive African horse sickness. Unheard of outside of Africa, over here AHS is feared as the recurrent killer that can cause a perfectly healthy horse to drop dead overnight. She caught a milder strain of the virus, but it was still a very dark autumn that we spent nursing and praying and crying and fighting our way through it. Skye never considered quitting, but it was then that I – fourteen years old, and that horse was my world – hit rock bottom and met my Rock: only the King could possibly have carried us through it, and carry us He did. And Skye fought the virus and won, now thriving almost four years later.

Thunder is just consistently pretty awesome, but I think the one moment of which I am most proud is when my cinch snapped loose on an outride and both saddle and dismayed rider crashed to the ground. Well, I’m not particularly proud of myself, because all I did was crawl out from my saddle groaning, but Baby Thun – who was going at a steady hand-gallop in the direction of his paddock – slammed on the brakes, spun around and returned for his slightly squashed rider. The poor little guy was barely three years old and he was so afraid that he was shaking where he stood, but for me it said everything about him that in that panicky moment he did what all horses do; he looked to his leader to keep him safe, and for him that leader was me. I mean, it wasn’t a particularly smart decision as all I was good for at that point was groaning, but it was Thunder’s loyalty all over.

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What Are You Waiting For?

You know you gotta give it your all

And don’t you be afraid if you fall

You’re only livin’ once so tell me

What are you, what are you waiting for?

~ Nickelback, “What Are You Waiting For?”

I’m not usually one for mainstream music, but this song grabbed me the first time I heard it on the radio driving home from the horses. It’s something that’s pretty close to my heart, especially when I look at my generation, a generation of silent, square-eyed teenagers.

It’s what I want to ask them: What are you waiting for?

I see you walking blank-eyed through the mall, showing up at riding lessons chewing gum and looking bored, hear you on the rare occasions when I visit with a group of you, saying you don’t want to grow up. Saying you’re the victims of the world, of ADHD, of hormones, of your age, of circumstance, of time, of the school system, of the government, of depression. I have long since learned not to talk to most of you about my life, because I have a pickup and a bank account and a herd of horses and clients, and I can see you turning green with jealousy no matter how hard you try to hide it. How can I blame you? You feel like you’re sinking in a swirl of paperwork and long medical terms, scrambling to keep up, losing sleep over school assignments that you pretend not to care about even while you worry about them behind those careless eyes. Apathy, boredom, fear, and eventually despair has eaten you up so much that you now feel you’re just one more statistic, another depression case, another eating disorder. Now you’re a zombie, walking sightless through the world towards a mediocre job and a disintegrating family. At least, that’s how you feel. And then you turn around and here I am, this crazy lucky chick with a career at 17 and perfect parents and this wonderful, perfect life.

Here’s the news flash: This life didn’t just fall into my lap. Of course, I have been blessed with amazing circumstances, with the right people, the right opportunities. But so have you. If you would look up and open your eyes and blow on the spark that remains inside you and reach for the light, you’ll find that you are just as blessed as I am. God loves us all the same; more than words can express, more than we can imagine.

I took lessons for about four or five years before I sat on a client horse, and I rode for free for another two years before I got paid a cent. I had one mare with pigeon toes and a filly so narrow you could have used her as an ironing board. It took years of blood and sweat and dirt and tears, pain and exhaustion and hope, to start earning what I earn now and to own better horses. It’s the clients who watched me cling to their crossbreeds that now let me ride imported warmbloods. It has taken me five years to train a horse to a level where it can actually compete, and right now we’re doing training shows.

Here’s the bad news: Chasing dreams isn’t always fun and it’s never easy. Sometimes you think that your dream is going to kill you. To accomplish what you want, to have the life you dream of, you have to get up off your butt, put down your phone, shake off the excuses and do whatever you have to do to get it done. Enough with the excuses. There will always be excuses, always. The excuses will not ever go away. The only thing that can change is your attitude, because one day, if you really want to achieve that dream, you have to be better than excuses. You have to rise above the stereotypes and ignore the condescending words of everyone who doesn’t believe in you. You have to be stronger, wiser, tougher, braver. And no other human being can ever take the blame or do it for you.

Here’s the good news: The whole world may be telling you that you can do nothing, but God Himself believes in you. Everything I’ve done? It hasn’t been me doing it. It has been Christ in me. Without Him, I would have quit long ago. He sent the right people and the right horses and the right opportunities at the right times for me, but it was also Him inside me that enabled me to step out there and grab hold of my opportunities with both hands. God is bigger than any stereotype, excuse, hormone, person, disorder, illness or circumstance. He is the LORD, God Almighty, the Lord of hosts, Creator of the Universe, Alpha and Omega, and He is on your side. You are not a victim. You are more than a conqueror through Him who loves you.

All you have to do is hold out your hand and let Him take it; all you have to do is decrease, so that He may increase. And then He will accomplish greater and more mighty things in you than you have ever dreamed of. Let Him dream for you.

You have God on your side. So what are you waiting for? Reach for the top. Give it your all. You’re only living once, so tell me: What are you waiting for?

 

Why Ride?

Clients closing their stables for the holidays + ALL my horses having downtime due to AHS = very little riding for this Horse Mutterer’s apprentice. In fact, I am down to one poor little grey horse to ride; the Mutterer’s white gelding. Luckily, he is a pleasant ride and can jump and do outrides, so I’m able to keep sort of in practice, but I’m down from 4-6 hours of saddle time daily to that many hours a week.

I’m in no position to complain – 6 hours a week? I know people who would kill for that much – so I won’t complain, I’ll rejoice. I’ll rejoice because my job is so awesome that I spend the holidays in eager anticipation of starting work again.

That brings me to a question that stops me in my tracks a little: Why do I ride?

Just last week, a big stallion took violent objection to the fact that his girth was pinching him and after the third rear in as many split seconds, I ate dust. I rolled, spat out some arena surface, fixed the girth, convinced the Mutterer that I was fine, and got back on. Why, though? When half a ton of animal sends you flying, why get back on?

Why do we even do this crazy sport? Life is dangerous enough without large flight animals in it. I have been kicked, trodden on, bitten, thrown, struck, knocked over, dragged, and squashed more times than I care to remember. I come home with aching muscles and a brain so fried that I’m asleep by eight-fifteen. Instead of soft lady’s hands, I have rough, calloused fingers and scars on my knuckles. Instead of attractive curves, I have ridiculous biceps, skinny calves and forearms like a man’s. I don’t go out on Sundays because I’m showing; I study in the dark so that I can ride in the light.

I would never have it any other way.

Why, though? Why is it that every time I’m thrown, I do everything I can to swallow the fear and throw my leg back over that animal’s rump and try again? Why do I want to spend my life baking in a dusty arena with my sweat trickling down to mix with the perspiration of the half-ton animal that chooses to work for me? Or breaking ice on water troughs on mornings so frigid even the dogs stay under the covers and think me mad?

Is it the sense of achievement when we finally get something right? The flash of satin on the rare occasions when we actually place? Or the surge of power when a gigantic animal breaks into a full gallop underneath me? Or the star-touching moment in midair over a triple bar? Or the glorious yielding, dancing balance as we perfect a half-pass?

No, it isn’t any of those.

What, then? The way a horse shines in the sun? The way he smells, the creak of leather, the swish of his mane and the grace of his rippling muscles as he bears down the long side of the arena like an approaching tsunami? The unbelievable, dragonfly lightness with which he lifts his muscular bulk into an effortless leap over that gigantic fence?

No, none of those, either.

Shall we delve deeper? Is it that nameless and indescribable thing that the equine heart does to the human soul? Is it the communication that runs deeper than language? The partnership between thinking human and moving beast? The threefold cord of God, human and horse that seems, for those star-touching moments, unbreakable? The wonder of an interspecies friendship that has understanding without words, love without expression and acceptance without comprehension?

Not even that. Oh, those are all what I love most about riding. But they’re not why I ride. In fact, the short answer to the question “Why do you ride?” is this one: I can’t say.

The long answer is this: I ride for reasons there are no words to explain. I ride because when jeans meet saddle, heart meets heaven. I ride because the rhythm of a horse’s gaits beats in my heart, because the flow of his movement runs in my blood. I ride because in the silent communion of girl and horse, I feel the wordless love between God and girl. I ride because I feel I was born to, like I am fulfilling His timeless will every time I take up the reins. I ride because I cannot imagine not riding. I ride because not even the hardest day’s riding is harder than not riding. I ride because although I could die each time I get on, I know that part of me will die forever if I don’t get on again. I ride because, though I know God made me for a higher purpose, He also made me a horsewoman. I ride because when I fall, no matter how scared I am, the idea of not getting back on is inconceivable, because walking away is not an option. I ride because mounting up is coming home.

I ride for the glory of the King.

Magic8

December’s 10 Questions

Thanks again to Viva Carlos!

1. What size horse do you like to ride? My happy zone is 14.1 to 15.2hh. Arwen at 14.3hh feels and looks pretty much perfect. I can ride 16.2hh but I look like a dweeb and it’s extremely hard work.

2. Do you school in tall boots or half chaps and paddock boots? Oh, for a pair of tall boots! No, I use what we in SA call ankle boots and gaiters.

3. What do you do with your ribbons after shows? Write the horse’s name and class on the back, then hang them up in the tack room/corner of my room serving as the tack room.

4. Do you ride/board at a large show barn or a small private barn? Home is about as private as it gets. Even the stables where the stud is are pretty quiet. I think I’m the only rider who competes.

5. Have you ever seen a horse give birth? Twice. I saw Arwen give birth to Dancer in 2010, and then a nasty little pony we had decided to pop out a colt foal in front of my bewildered eyes in six minutes flat, early in 2012.

6. What is your favourite breed? It’s a tie between Nooitgedachters (for their amazing trainability and tenacity) and thoroughbreds (for that indefinable class that belongs only to this crazy breed). I like how Trakehners look, but have never sat on one. Lipizzaners are also stunning.

7. Favourite tack brand? Anything that comes from England.

8. Would you ever buy used tack? Sure thing. It’s just hard to find. My beloved old Solo saddle was used (and is now used up).

9. Ever been on a carriage drive? It’s a small tragedy that I’ve never ridden in a horse cart, much less learned how to drive, unless you count those tricky moments in long-lining involving a panicky young horse, high speeds, and myself becoming an impromptu sled.

10. How often do you go to the tack store? Once a fortnight or so. My parents tend to keep me away from them as money magically disappears there.