Struggling

​I kind of hesitate to write this post because I really am not writing this for sympathy, though I know it may come across that way. But I know scars can only do any good when they’re shown as a symbol of hope and survival, so I write this for everyone who is where I am and was where I have been, anyone for whom it might be a glimmer of hope.

Because I know how alone it feels to be afraid.

It feels so stupid to have riding nerves, doesn’t it? It’s so easy to believe that nobody else feels the way you do. That there’s something wrong with you that other people just don’t have wrong with them. Maybe you’re just not cut out for riding, maybe you just can’t. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal unless it’s your living. Your calling. A part of you. Something you’re on fire for. People my age so often complain that they don’t know what they want to do. Is there any worse agony than to know what you want to do and be unable to do it for a reason as humiliating as fear?

It’s not just nerves. Everyone has nerves. Nerves are the little buzz I feel at shows; an added sharpness that can develop into tension if not managed. No, this is fear, borderline phobic. It’s paralytic. I come down to that fence and I can’t move or think. I freeze and mess up, and that makes it worse, over and over again.

I have screamed why. I have been sobbing on my knees begging to know why God would give me such a burning passion and such a debilitating handicap. Why can’t I be like the other riders I see floating over 1.20, 1.30? I’m willing to bet some of them haven’t ever taught a horse a thing but here I am, the horse trainer – a good one, too – freezing to the base of 70cm jumps. Through me God has fixed horses that you couldn’t touch, trained remedial buckers to dance, breathed the light back into the eyes of the broken. Why won’t He help me jump this fence?

It’s jumping, mostly. Young horses, even hacking are OK. Not as OK as I look; the silent battle remains – but OK enough that I can enjoy it and do it well. But jumping…

Today’s jumping exercise in my lesson with coach K was just a vertical of about 75cm, sharp right turn to a slightly bigger oxer, six strides to another oxer. I put up that kind of stuff in my lessons every day. I buried poor old Al so many times that eventually even he stopped. I was using every single trick I know to calm myself down and it wasn’t working.

Coach K is worth her weight in gold; she figured me out and remains endlessly patient. But from where I’m sitting, jumping 85cm on a horse I don’t know in my exam is looking like a very, very big ask.

I went home feeling exhausted from the battle. There’s just never a respite from it, no riding situation in which that dark clouds lifts completely. It’s so heavy sometimes and I couldn’t understand why.

Until this afternoon when I was helping my own little student with the very, very bad nerves. And I had to argue with him to let me put the lead on when we went for a little hack. And when I took him for his first little trot, he didn’t panic and squeal the way he used to when we just lifted him onto the pony. No. He laughed. He laughed and a smile burst over his little face like a sunrise.

And I could almost hear God saying, This is why.

He could lift this struggle from me. He could make this cup to pass away from me, but He leaves me to drink it because He’s got a plan. I don’t take it lightly when I say that God has made me a good coach for nervous riders. I can help them because I am them. I’ve been there and I know they can’t help it, they can’t just get over it magically. But I can help them get over it. Step by tiny step.

So I’ll drink that cup to the very dregs.

I still hate the struggle. I’m still so tired of it. But I know I have to bear it for a reason, so I pray, Not as I will but as Thou wilt. Tomorrow I’ll shoulder the cross and march on and share the truth about the struggle because it can help someone. There will be haters who’ll think a nervous rider can’t be a good one. They will be wrong. I make a living out of something that terrifies me – that has to stand for something.

And one by one, I’ll watch my riders blossom. And with each one, I’ll continue to hope that someday, that might be me, too.

Glory to the King.

A New Place

I haven’t written much about Magic recently.

he’s so cute
The main reason for that is that the poor chap has just sort of whinnied at me as I flew past this week. It’s hard being the manager’s pet – he always seems to come second when the mango strikes the fan. I’ve groomed him, lunged him once, kissed his nose as I went past and sat on him for like 10 minutes on Tuesday.

No longer able to bear it, tonight after all the lessons were done and silence descended on the yard, I pulled him out of his field at last and we had some Magic time.

also cute here

Our relationship has found its way to a new place. It’s different, and sometimes a little weird, but it’s good. Oh, it’s very, very good.

There’s no pressure. I haven’t ridden without pressure since Skye retired years ago, and I barely remember what it’s like. Letting go of that seriousness, that deadly focus, that constant vigilance for the slightest slip in training or position has been – hard. Like unclenching a death grip. But so liberating. And especially so for my precious Magic.

He’s always loved work, but he’s never been this excited to get to work. He lights up these days. His good days are exuberantly happy. His bad days are so much less bad now that we both know that if he’s not coping today, then it’s just fine. We do what he can do. We don’t ask for more than he has. We play, we enjoy, we seek to rediscover the comfort zone I’d smothered in pressure.

We breathe.

And as God holds Magic up like a mirror to my soul, I learn to do something I’m truly no good at.

Without backsliding, without sinning, to give myself a break. And to see me the way He does.

Wreathed in timeless love.

OK so I couldn’t decide which one was cutest so you get all of them

So as we merrily bound through a gymnastic line and get all the strides wrong, or jump the same 40cm cross one million times, or gallop around above the bit, or hack bareback on a loose rein, or just hand graze – as nothing happens whatsoever in our training, something incredible happens in our souls. It’s that thing that God used to call me to the yard in the first place. That thing He does in the place where the equine heart meets the human soul.

That thing that happens when our jagged, ugly, broken pieces fit into one another, crack for crack, and God makes something beautiful from our very brokenness. That thing, that indescribable thing that only He can do…

I don’t know its name. But the closest thing I can find is “healing”.

Wet.

Monday it rained all day and all night long in a steady, quiet deluge that soaked right down into the earth. After a day’s sunshine, we’ll be able to hear the grass growing. The fields were thrilled. The lunge ring, not so much. Even the grass arena, which is usually OK, was a mud bath.

So this week became the Week of Hacking. And with our beautiful Highveld in full summer splendour, I’m not complaining too loudly.

“my office”

Midas and Sunè deserved an easy week anyway, so I’ve only taken the two of them for hacks. Sunè has hacked before under head groom T, so it was no surprise when she was totally unbothered by anything. This appears to be Sunè’s MO.

Midas was very bold and excited to be on a new adventure until the big Holstein heifers all came galloping over to see what he was. This was apparently terrifying, although I can’t blame him seeing how they’re bigger than him. To his credit he didn’t get out from under me or rear, but he was cantering on the spot in abject horror. Poor little chap. He dealt well with birds, dogs running in the grass and tall brush – just not cows, please.

did I mention it was pouring rain?

Jamaica has actually been working hard this week, particularly on jumping. His flatwork is finally solid enough that we can really get over fences again, and he was being good but careless in front, so we built him a gymnastic line. He nearly fell on his face once, but this motivated him to start picking up his knees and he was jumping really nicely in the end.

Lancelot got to jump the same gymnastic, which has been excellent for his confidence. He is very careful but not yet confident cantering fences because he doesn’t know where to jump yet, but the gymnastic showed him where to put his feet and he was so good we picked the fences up to about 60cm and he didn’t bat an eye. Even with Z-kid aboard!

Tara has been great this week, too. She doesn’t have a violent bone in her body. We’ve moved on to working in the big arena in walk and trot, adding a few steps of canter where we can.

awww pretty T ❤

Zara was a little lame with a hoof abscess, but goes sound again now so I got back on board. I don’t think I long-lined her and Tara enough, and I’m regretting it now. Their mouths aren’t exactly hard, but responsiveness is being harder to get. It is improving though. We had walk and trot in the big arena as well, with minimal drama.

Destiny progressed to the long lines and had one enormous violent tantrum before he remembered it doesn’t work on me and then decided to use his powers for good. He’s got a nice enough mouth when he listens, so I look forward to steady progress now that the worst of the resistance is past us.

post-tantrum sheepish obedience

We also had a tremendous breakthrough with dear Nugget this week. It didn’t start out well when she decided to try and take a chunk out of my arm, whereupon almost by reflex I gave her one across the nose. I regretted it instantly, but as it turns out it was really not a bad thing. She instantly realised that I would not be walked all over but that I also wasn’t going to actually hurt her, and since then we’ve made huge progress. I have to feed her from my hand and go slowly, but I can catch her every morning and gently groom her main body and mane. And I managed to get her out of that ghastly old green halter and into something pink and cheerful.

There is light in her eye again. She’s not going to give up on trying to find joy again, and neither am I. I get the feeling God’s got a high calling for this broken little horse if she’d only be brave.

also wins at the evil mare face

Exavior had his teeth done, for which he was quite a jerk but not malicious. We managed to remove the wolf tooth that had been causing so much drama and it’s so small you can barely even see it.

stretch li’l human stretch
The tooth is the teeny brown thing, the little speck you can hardly see. The rest of it is gum tissue that came out with it because he was plunging around like an idiot. Don’t plunge around for your teeth, idiot.

The Mutterer will start to ride Xave for me next week, so I’ve just been lunging him. He’s angelic on the ground again, so God willing, soon I’ll be back on board that big, beautiful jerk of a horse.

God’s got this. Glory to the King.

Show Photos!

It’s been hectic, y’all. I’m writing up a proper recap, but for now, here are some truly incredible photos to goggle at. Fine Photography never disappoints.

Such a gorgeous beast. Also so much taller than me, I’m invisible LOL
Golden pony looking fancy! Also now I am apparently a giant…
Sunè just asking for a little encouragement
A whole lineup taken over by Morning Star Stables! L-R Vastrap, Renè, Liana
Who says Arabs can’t jump?
So cute ❤

So much beauty, all around us. Glory to the King.