Perfect Love

While there are many things that just don’t scare me anymore since I helped to load a friend dying from a violent, criminal act into a helicopter, generalised anxiety has taken advantage of my bruised psyche from time to time lately. I have no idea what I am fearing; all I know is that I know the touch of that old and worthless demon.

Yet I rejoice. Not because of anything but because perfect love casts out fear.

I have so long been asking God why He would tell me to be strong and courageous when I have tried everything in my power to do so and failed. How could He demand of me to do something that is entirely impossible?

It was recently that I finally heard His reply. “Daughter, I commanded light to be, and it simply was. Do not take my command as an order to your mind. Just as I said Let there be light and there was light, I speak to your soul now: Be strong and courageous, and you will be strong and courageous because I said so.”

I certainly don’t always feel strong and courageous. But I am: strong enough and courageous enough to take the next step. To cling to my God in the next moment.

Perfect love casts out fear not only because I must love perfectly (although I must, and will never lose that last vestige of fear until I do) but because I am perfectly beloved. Perfect love casts out fear because perfect love is bigger.

Perfect love is bigger than my sin. Perfect love is bigger than my pain. Perfect love is bigger than anything I could face tomorrow. Perfect love is bigger than everything I fear. Perfect love has an answer for every inconsolable question that rises in my weary soul.

And I am loved perfectly, and on this Good Friday, I will think of the only One Who loves perfectly, and I will see the proof of His love in the blood on His hands, on the naked, wounded, bleeding, beaten, stripped and humiliated figure that dangled on the cross for me. There is no greater love than that.

I will look at that love and I will understand what it means to me here and now. I will see that I am loved perfectly by the God Who brought the earth to life. I will know that the Hand that holds mine shaped the stars, the Voice that speaks to me brought forth the sound of the tidal waves, the Arms that hold me wrap the entire aching universe in their embrace.

Not even my own failures can destroy me now.

And I let the Voice that commanded light to be, speak the sound of courage into my very soul. My mind and body might betray me, but my heart and soul are still and know that He is God. I trust His plan. I believe I am loved. I can’t wait to see where He goes with this, because I know the direction we’re heading.

Further up. Further in.

And it’s in moments like these, moments in the saddle when Thunder pops that flying change like a bursting bubble under me, moments around the dinner table laughing at the delirious wit of four exhausted Hydes, moments in the arena with a little girl’s soul shining so brightly it almost leaves trails of light on the long diagonal, moments on the very top of Heidelberg with the lyrics of Rooftops ringing all round and the man of my prayers’ solid warm presence beside me and the whole world rolled out at my feet –

At those moments I taste the perfect love that made heaven.

And it is all because the Son of God died on a cross for me.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Glory to the King.

Training Horses Update

Precious Emmy went from strength to strength in the past two months, so much so that her owner took her out of training in the end of February. We are still trying to find a new home for her, but for now K has taken her over, and her owner comes for a lesson whenever she can. I secretly hope to sell Emmy within the yard because she is such a gem, but she’ll go where God sends her.

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good Emmy jumping with her mom

That leaves me with the threesome – Savanna, Champagne and Titan. All three have been progressing steadily; Titan the fastest, of course, because he’s a starter and they are just so easy without baggage.

He has not been without his setbacks, though. He was just starting to cruise along nicely in mid-January, doing all his figures and trying out a few steps of canter, when he gave himself a very gory and melodramatic overreach.

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photo when injury was already about 4 weeks old and the giant flap of dying skin had been cut off. You don’t want to see the photos when it was new

This put him out of commission for a solid month. But he is a bright little button so when we brought him back into work, we got back on track quickly, and now he has walk/trot/canter in the dressage arena. He occasionally says he would like to buck through the trot-canter transition, which I blame on being an Arab. Maybe it’s just me, but every single Arab I’ve ever ridden has wanted to do that, and every single one has decided against it with some persuasion.

He’s a good chap actually, and typical of his breed; smart, sensitive, hardworking, and possessing both a cheeky streak and a sense of humour. He’s alert to his surroundings, which manifests as an honest and straightforward kind of spook, but also curious, which manifests as very quickly getting over a spook. In many ways, he reminds me strongly of Lancelot.

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Savanna has put on so much weight and muscle tone she’s nearly unrecognisable as the boring little brown horse that showed up here last winter. Her flatwork is pretty solid now, with all the Prelim work solidly installed. Her old running out habit has all but gone, and she jumped two 70cm rounds in March in a quiet rhythm with only a couple of poles down.

Unfortunately, the rhythm and relaxation just aren’t quite there yet. She still wants to run and pull, although usually not on the approach, but on the landing. I assume somebody used to get hidings if she jumped badly. All these nasty old issues keep rearing their ugly heads, but we’re squashing them one by one, and this will be a super horse once we’ve squashed them all.

With her child, I have scaled their jumping way back, because his nerves feed her nerves and then they both end up in a vicious cycle. I have to fix her first before we can work together to fix him. But on the flat, she has been everything she needs to be, even at shows. “Willing and obedient horse” was a comment I did not think I would ever see on this horse’s dressage tests.

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Champagne’s spooking, with me, is practically a thing of the past. If there is legitimate cause, she will still have a little spook, but I’ll say honestly that Thunder spooks more often than she does. At shows, it’s still a different matter. She’s controllable, but tense. So our main focus now is to get kids riding her and to get her to as many outings as we can.

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her condition is finally there, too

In our flatwork, as usual, I’m still working on getting her to use her body properly. Psychological and training issues turned into a whole vocabulary of evasive behaviours that we’re still slowly easing out. She no longer bolts wildly across the arena but you better believe if she doesn’t know what to do, that head is going into the sky. Showing her how good a long and low stretch feels was a massive breakthrough.

She has always been good at going “on the bit”, in terms of being soft in my hands, but it was always just a curl. I spent a lot of time teaching her to take the reins and actually connect to something, and then that became a long period of pulling and fighting my hand, but now we seem to finally be getting somewhere.

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losing back and withers and breaking at the third because child’s hands have gone on their own mission
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shortly after I yelled at aforementioned child about said hands; not truly through yet, but lifting somewhat
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how she generally works with me now: loin is lifting, base of the neck is lifting, hind end is starting to come through, and suddenly we have a topline

I’m planning to ship Champagne out to my next lesson with Coach J, to achieve both an outing for Champagne and Coach J seeing what Thunder is like when he goes somewhere with a girlfriend. Maybe Coach J will have some magical remedy. She’ll also do our in-house show in April and I plan to find a nice, quiet training show for Emmy, Faith, Champagne and Titan in the next month, so that’s what’s on the horizon for all of them.

Eagerly looking for another training horse, but loving these three in the meantime.

Glory to the King.

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Thunder Update

With his biggest dressage show yet on the horizon, Thunder hasn’t actually competed in a single graded dressage class this year.

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Our first show of the year was in the very end of January, where I took a bunch of kids to a pre-SANESA training show for their dressage tests and packed him along too because the schedule was just too hectic to allow for another show. We did Novice 1 and 2 again, for sort of mediocre scores, but at least he won the one and came second in the other. He felt sort of mediocre on the day as well; trying hard, as usual, but tense and scattered, as usual for a show. If he had just lifted his back he would have had another 70%, but again, as always happens when he is a little tense, our scores were in the low to mid 60s.

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Our next show was Horse of the Year. I couldn’t afford HOY and dressage in the same month, and he is such a hunter type that it seemed a shame never to show him as one. I didn’t feel up to jumping the working hunter on him, so we entered for show hunter and working riding. The show hunter day he was absolutely fantastic. He didn’t gallop, or I think he would have placed, because he behaved impeccably and was forward and relaxed through his whole body. I found myself wishing we were in a dressage test because he would have done so well.

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Either way, we enjoyed ourselves but didn’t place because apparently hunters really should gallop instead of just making flat ears and bouncing.

The working riding day was absolutely dreadful. He was horrible in the warmup, screamed in the lineup, and then spooked at every single obstacle. But I did learn something that I can definitely use for future shows: Thunny is absolutely perfect if he goes anywhere alone or with a gelding, and absolutely horrible if he goes anywhere with a mare. Somebody is just a little proud cut, I presume.

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I know I should really just make him go to shows with mares until he gets over himself and behaves, but honestly, life’s too short and I don’t have the kind of money to waste entry fees on miserable experiences. Henceforth, unless unavoidable, Thunder is going to shows by himself so he can relax and we can actually achieve something other than getting frustrated and tense. This is our strategy for Easter Festival this weekend, and we’ll see how it goes. Considering he has just been to KPC for HOY, and is going by himself, I think he should be very chill. I hope for a nice score, but I don’t expect a placing. You wouldn’t either if you’d read the entries list in our class.

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Schooling has been kind of magical lately. We have worked through a lot of the initial drama that surfaced shortly after we started lessons with Coach J; the running and the falling out with the shoulder. He has learned to be both relaxed and forward, and I love it. We’ve sorted out a lot of our old issues – he has a stretchy trot now, he has a superb walk-canter transition, his lateral work is very much in place – and learned a whole lot of new things, too: travers, better lengthenings, shoulder-in, leg-yield zigzags that make him feel like he’s really dancing, four steps one way and then four steps the other just floating off my leg. Most exciting, we even started the flying changes.

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It happened like this. We spent the entire lesson working on leg-yield zigzags, with Coach J alternately shouting “LEFT leg!” and “Keep his neck straight!” until finally we got it right. Then we tried in canter, leg-yielding across the diagonal to the right. Coach J ordered, “Outside leg and leg-yield left” and I obediently did so and Thunder obediently popped out a flying change. Ever since I have been too nervous to really do them at home, but we have been pulling them out at lessons quite frequently, and as long as I keep his neck straight and push his bum over – as opposed to trying to pull his face around – they just magically fall out of the sky. I was definitely not expecting to be doing changes in March when we started lessons, a just-barely-Novice combination, in November.

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So mostly our schooling consists of doing whatever Coach J said, with occasional bits of test riding scattered in there, but honestly whatever it is that Coach J is making us do seems to make all the other stuff easier because the Novice work seems to be just sort of happening. It’s still rough around the edges, and I don’t expect the same scores we were getting for Prelim this weekend as we’re doing Novice 4 and 5 and they’re quite hard, but it’s all just there. Our one major downfall is that all of our downward transitions are poor – all of them. I think, though, that it’s me and not him. I ride too many green horses and have too much of a tendency to want to pull on his face, which makes him hollow through the transition.

Honestly, lessons with Coach J have been revolutionary. It was hard at first because I was trying so hard to prove ourselves to him, but now I’ve chilled out a bit and it feels like the bulk of the responsibility for getting Thunder up the levels doesn’t fall on my inexperienced shoulders anymore. I get to just relax and ride the horse for a change, and I absolutely love it. Of course, we still work very hard, practice hard, and learn hard, but at least we know what we’re doing now. I look forward to Easter Festival and I can’t wait to go dance with my horse again.

Thank You, Father. Glory to the King.

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On a Happier Note

For all the pain of the past few weeks, there has been a lot of joy thrown in there as well.

his first show hunter class, which was awesome except he wouldn’t gallop but I didn’t care

My precious dance partner has been a huge source of it. Our lessons with Coach J have been fantastic; we’re schooling movements I’ve only ever dreamed of, planning to ride Novice 4 and 5 next weekend and easily skipping through the tests. I’ve never felt so prepared for a competition and yet also never felt less obsessed with it. What God does for me on that horse’s back every morning is incomparable to a simple horse show.

More than ever, it is about the dance, about the land of the threefold cord. About the way Thunder can take me to a place where it’s just him and God and me and the dance, and for an hour I can be in a place where pain can’t find us.

On the schooling front, we’re doing almost all of the Elementary work and some EM too, including our first few tentative flying changes.

my hunks ❤

The other man in my life arrived at a time where happiness was hard to come by, but as the wounds heal I am starting to discover how ridiculously happy I can be just because God made him. It’s quite astonishing how one smile can light up a goodly chunk of the world.

Arwen and I are in an amazing place right now. I could never possibly ask for a better partner, a better comrade through my struggling first years in the competitive arena, and it feels good now to be able to repay her with a gentler attitude in the saddle. We mostly hack these days, schooling seriously mostly before shows. Finally taking the time to just enjoy each other, enjoy the shows, enjoy the fact that God brought us here together. The fire in her belly still fuels mine.

I’m riding Faithy! She is still a pretty ungainly beast, particularly struggling to find a truly balanced canter, but in terms of temperament I couldn’t have asked for better. We are doing walk/trot in the dressage and she doesn’t seem to know how to spook. She likes working and trying to figure things out, and is a forward-thinking lady. I also just find her really comfortable to be around and ride; she’s my type, the size and shape that I grew up with, and reminds me deeply of Nell. It feels like we’ve been friends a lot longer than we really have.

Moos make me happy too, particularly super well behaved ones like Fergie and Sarah. The day after the one month anniversary of my friend’s death – an inexpressibly difficult milestone – was the annual Boer and Brit day with my family and it was just super awesome. God sent that day for a reason; it nursed my soul.

God’s provision has been so great this summer. My parents have graciously allowed a few pastures to be opened for horses, and the grazing is fantastic. The sight of healthy, grazing horses among the green abundance just soothes a horsewoman’s very soul.

I keep feeling this increasing awareness of the time we waste. We don’t have time. We don’t have time for anything but loving God and loving people and looking for heaven. We can’t afford to take the time for granted. We need to follow Him now, make amends now, ask forgiveness now, show our love now.
We only already have now and eternity. And eternity – our own and each other’s – hinges on now. We cannot waste it on hell’s schemes.

We need to follow Him now, wherever He leads. We need to live our lives before it’s too late.

Glory to the King.

Unexpected Lessons

There’s a lot about grief that I didn’t expect. The five stages you read about make it seem so simple, predictable. Like you’ll just plod on from one to the next, finally popping out of Acceptance with a whole and happy heart, and carry on with your life as if nothing ever happened.

It’s not like that. It’s not linear. It’s not structured, and it doesn’t make any sense.

These are lessons I learned for the next time I have to stand by a person who is grieving.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer massive physical effect of it. I’m used to the physical effects of standard anxiety – the odd moments of sweatiness or nausea, the occasional insomnia. This was an entirely different level. I have never really been able to sleep during the day – not even as a small child. Suddenly I was sleeping in giant, steady blocks of several hours at a time every afternoon, waking at three o’ clock every morning for no good reason. My appetite frankly disappeared. I think I ate, really ate, a meal for the first time 8 days after it happened. It was scary, but it passed. Your body knows what it has to do to survive. You will eat before you actually starve. In misguided caring, people tried to persuade me to eat or go to bed early, but really there is nothing you can do. Trust me, I would have been eating if I could have.

Another really odd effect was that normally, during anything emotionally difficult, I write incessantly. Either here, in a journal, in fiction, even just a Facebook status, very often a free verse poem on my phone – it’s always been an outlet. This time I could not write at all. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even my prayer journal ended up neglected, which is something I almost never skip, even though prayer itself has never  been more central to my life. It was less like my soul was silent and more like there was so much that needed to be said that the door had jammed. I still can’t face fiction. The email I wrote to my close Canadian friend explaining what had happened was one of the most difficult pieces of writing I have ever faced.
The second thing I wasn’t expecting was the volume of emotional and cognitive space the whole thing takes up. I was so tired, all of the time – still am, during the aftershocks. I couldn’t focus on anything either for very long or very well. I lost things, forgot things, and zoned out completely even in the middle of conversations or tasks. Here is where a grieving person can be given the most active support, I think. Processing is good, but the continual zoning out is awful. Gently bringing me back down to earth, or encouraging me to talk about where my mind was going instead of just sitting there staring into the middle distance and facing the darkness in my head, was one of the most helpful things anyone could do for me.

The one I hate the most right now is the aftershocks. I did not expect them, at all. I thought grief was a linear graph. Like you could just walk through it and it would be slowly and steadily getting better until one day it was mostly gone, perhaps with a few little setbacks during the milestones (how I hate the milestones). Instead, especially now, there are a lot of days when I can wake up and carry on and be happy and used to this strange new normal. Then there are the days when it hits me all over again, and it all feels as raw and fresh as day one. This is perhaps the most misunderstood by those who haven’t been through it themselves. They expect you to be done with grief by now. I expect me to be done by now. But I’m not.
Possibly one of the most valuable things I take away from this experience is just how much the words and actions of others can impact the grieving process. People flounder – I know I always do – in the face of trying to help someone who has experienced something like this. I think it was especially hard for us because the whole thing was so gruesome, public, and violently dramatic. A lot of people wanted a piece of that sensation, others wanted to try and make sense of the world in which this kind of thing happens at our expense, and the rest want to help and don’t know how.

The best thing you can ever do for a grieving person is to pray for them. The second best is just to allow them to be hurting. People want to make you feel better somehow, they want to say or do something that will pick up the pieces and fix it. It’s impossible. Inevitably, the pain must be faced, it must come, the emotions must flow. You need to be allowed to hurt, you need to be given the space you need to just feel what you need to feel. But not alone – just not alone. The tolerant, patient presence of someone who does not attempt to make you feel better is invaluable in this time. No human being can ever drag you out into the light. But some of them can sit with you in the darkness.

Giving someone the emotional space they need to grieve is invaluable. Even more so is giving someone the physical space – taking over some of their work or responsiblities for a little so that they have the opportunity to grieve. My family is amazing at this. I don’t know how I would be able to survive this without them. ❤

God alone is the only One Who can truly heal me, and He has. Over time, and slowly, and in increments. Nobody understands pain the way He does. Nobody knows the extent of the inner shattering the way He can. Nobody holds, tolerates, loves, accepts, understands as deeply as He does, and nobody else can lay tender hands on the human soul and breathe the life back into it the way He does. He places no blame, He passes no judgment, and He sets no time limit on the hurt. God alone knows, because God alone went through grief from both sides at the same time: the agony of the Father watching His Son die, and the agony of the Son in the dying.

And God alone has the power to soothe the pain, because God both raised up from the dead and has risen up from the dead. He can resurrect everything my heart feels it has lost.

I am grateful for every set of arms that has surrounded me and for every prayer that has risen up to Heaven for me. I have been borne through this in the arms of my family, my medic family, my best friend, and my beloved. And I will be healed, and I will face the darkness, because my God is with me.

Glory to the King.

Silence in the Storm

I can’t seem to stop grieving.

Every time someone asks, “Did you hear about that girl…?” I feel more hurt and more angry when I have to respond, “I was on the scene. She was my friend.”

But God will work all things for the good of those that love Him. Already He is working this for good.

I have loved and been in love for months, but just always been too hesitant to do anything about it. The night my friend died changed all that. God’s love is my only strength; this man is the place God’s love gave me where I don’t have to be strong all the time.

He is her last gift to me. Because I learned from her well-lived life and her tragic death that life is just too short to be still when God calls you loud and clear.

Blogosphere, meet the darling. He is terribly good at reversing the horsebox. He and Thunder have an adorable bromance. I would say he is the man of my dreams, but he’s far more than that.

He’s the man of my prayers.


Glory to the King.

God So Loved

Where do I begin with the last two months?

Perhaps I can start by saying that they were quite possibly the best and worst of my entire lifetime.
The horses are well; the summer grazing came in and they all bloomed into beautiful good health, with the lowest condition score on the farm being a 6.5/10, and the highest amount of concentrate fed being 1kg per day. The kids are rockin’ it at SANESA shows, with 13 Morning Star riders attending Q1 and all of them showing improvement as we’ve gone on.
Thunder won his second ever Novice (at a training show) and Arwen won a whole lot of ribbons at Horse of the Year. Faith did her first show in hand, and Champagne went to Pre-HOY and didn’t kill anybody. I even started riding both Faith and Titan. Jamaica jumped a bunch of clear rounds at 90cm equitation and working hunter, and is ready to do the 1.00m in April.

I turned 21. I was spoiled absolutely rotten.

And none of that, in the face of everything else that has happened, was at all momentuous.
February 9 was the worst night of my life. I booked on duty like every other night. I hung out at D and Tannie L’s house like any other night. But the call I ran on was unlike any other call.  I cannot describe to you the feeling you get when you see the call address and realise it’s the ambulance base. I will journal that call yet, but not here. It was too heart-wrenching, too devastating, because the patient we knelt by and laid our hands on, the patient that we watched slowly slipping away despite our best efforts, was a coworker and a friend. She was part of the family. It was my first heli call.

Even a newb like me knows the way a patient looks when they are dying. I was looking in her eyes when she lost consciousness and I knew. She was six months younger than me. She was shot in the abdomen.

She died less than an hour after I watched the heli rise into the night. 

And in that moment, I experienced the peace and the presence of God in a more intimate, more profound, and more real way than I ever have before. I felt Him, I saw Him, and I heard His Voice. The scene was chaos, fear, hatred, senselessness. But my soul was flooded with purest peace, love, and meaning. I experienced Him like a giant lake spreading in all directions, eternal, unlimited; deep and unshakeable, calm and yet vibrant, and bursting with love.

I knew then that He would bring something glorious of it yet. And He has.

But that’s a story for another day.


I can summarise this year so far as I can summarise my entire life, with three words: God so loved.
For tonight, mourn with me, blogosphere, the terrible loss of my friend and fellow volunteer first responder. She was that rare combination of a kind heart and an utterly fearless spirit.
Rest in peace. Salute.