Two lessons in a single week again? What sorcery is this?
No sorcery here – just too many blessings even to count. After spending a magical week with the darling at the fire base where he works, I was admittedly reluctant to come back to our home, but I know it won’t be long before he’s with me again too. And until he does get back, I know just how to keep myself occupied.
Lancelot and I were going to do an express eventing show this coming weekend, but I ended up not having space in the box. This turned out not to be a bad thing, because – with the best of intentions of keeping him from getting sweaty and miserable in his increased work – I clipped the little guy. (He behaved impeccably; he was fast asleep by the end, although he did pull away when I started tidying up around his head, so I left that for next year’s conversation).
All fine and well; he slept in the field bundled up in a blanky. Unfortunately the winter elected that specific night for the coldest of the year, and evidently I hadn’t blanketed him thickly enough, because he got cold and was then really sore and stiff in his hind end. Sound again now, but he was not very happy. Of course, I put him straight into a nice warm stable.
I did have a lesson booked with K, though, so instead of skipping it we took the dragon out on xc for the first time in years. In fact, I haven’t even been on the dragon for months, but her kid has been riding her so I just borrowed her back for a few hours.
Of course, she was picture perfect. I had a lot of little glitches to fix in the warmup – which was a bit sad, but you know, kids – and she refused the first couple of jumps. Once she did jump them, though, a little switch flicked in her head. She realized that it was me on her back and that full dragon mode was absolutely allowed. So full dragon mode we went.
She jumped really great, her typical wild self, once she realized that I wasn’t going to let her stop. In fact, by the time we jumped a course at the end, she was actually running away and bucking quite a lot lol. I had forgotten how hot the fire in her belly burns. I am absolutely going to be stealing her back more frequently from now on!
I don’t think anyone will ever beat my dragon, just the way no one ever beat old Skye. She’s in a league of her own. Right now, the plan is for her to compete with a kid for two more years and then to breed a foal from her. She is from a rare breed that could really benefit from her bloodline, plus I think I really need a half-Friesian half-dragon to be my next young horse.
Speaking of half-Friesians, this one had a lesson booked with J for this morning – 6:30 this morning, to be precise. That meant that at 4:30 I was getting him ready to box. He was not amused with being woken at that kind of an hour.
Nevertheless, he obliged, although when we got to J’s farm we were both still somewhat bleary-eyed. Still, we missed all the traffic, so that was a win. Despite having agreed to this madness, J was NOT amused at all with having to stand in the cold arena at that time of morning (it was 4°C when we arrived) and called me a name I won’t share on the blog.
It was absolutely worth it, though, to go out onto the freshly raked river sand. And when the sun just rose and painted everything in pale gold, it was magic.
After bemoaning my terrible choice of entering Novice at the last show, J proceeded to put us through basically all of the Elementary movements to prove that we can.
And actually it was all fine. Canter left needs a lot more impulsion, but the changes were fine, and J even said “good” once or twice so that’s a plus. Thunder was also SUPREMELY well behaved throughout – he was relaxed, focused, and just a real pleasure to work with. He did spook at a few things but that only made J laugh at us.
Just when my abs (and his butt) were dying, though, J made us go to sitting trot and do all of the lateral things. Of course, I was in trouble for not using my outside rein enough (a running theme). I have been given strict instructions to do nothing but endless renvers until I finally fix it.
J also said I could bring two horsies next time so if baby Arab’s buttocks are less tender in two weeks’ time, he’ll go too.
Honestly, I’m totally blown away by the place I’m in right now. I really, really, really miss darling, but I know he has to go work so that we can save for our wedding together. Horse-wise, though, it’s just incredible. I can’t believe the horse, the support network, the instruction, just all of it. It feels straight from a fairytale. It feels amazing.
It feels like a love letter signed by the King. And I’ll read it over and over, until the corners curl up and the very ink fades, until there is no more use for letters, until I see His face.
What’s it been, almost a year and a half? Who am I kidding? I don’t need to ask. I know. It’s been a few days less than seventeen months since we lost her: my friend and fellow medic. She was the same age as me, but now I’ve had a birthday that she never will.
The saving grace, literally, is that she’s never actually been less lost. Not to Him: to Him she’s finally Home. Nor, honestly, to us. She’s never been more important to us all. She’s just not here in the flesh anymore.
As long as we’re still here, we’ll continue to miss her.
Seventeen months. Here we all are now, living our lives again. We say we got through it. Sometimes maybe we look like we’re over it. But the truth is that you never get over it. A loss like that is not so much a storm to weather as it is a divider. A great, open gap ripped in your life, diving it forever into two pieces: a before and an after. Two pieces so different they feel like they belong to different people.
People say you should be trying to get back to normal. But the truth is that the old normal doesn’t exist anymore because the old you doesn’t exist anymore. You never heal from that wound.
You just rise from the ashes.
Who I am and what my life is will never ever look or be the same as it was before. It’s seventeen months later and I am happy, whole, blessed beyond anything I ever expected, and changed. So, so changed. The way I see and interact with the world, the things I value, the things I fear – everything is different. I will never get over it. I will never get back to normal.
I cannot go back.
But I can go forward. Because while I have changed, one thing never has: the God Who will never let go.
The process isn’t healing. It’s transformation. I didn’t get better: I was reborn.
There’s no way through grief. There’s no road back to the way it used to be. But there’s not supposed to be.
Grief only rips us down to rebuild it. Grief only tears down the road ahead to build a bigger bridge. And grief, soul-wrenching, heartbreaking, gut-ripping grief above all does one great thing:
Grief changes us.
And that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.
* * * *
I am happier and more free right now than I have ever been before, for I have plumbed the depths of grace to an extent I thought impossible. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ll always miss you.
I haven’t actually competed myself, due to the AHS outbreak in our area and some other factors, since Horse of the Year in February. That was something of a disaster in itself (well, Faith was second in one class, but bucked me off halfway through winning the other), and long breaks from anything often don’t do my nerves any good, so I had only one goal for this whole show: just. relax. already.
It helped that I was only riding two horses. One, obviously, was his majesticalness himself, and the other was Tilly, a four-year-old WB who can only turn right about 50% of the time. Tilly is a client’s horse, but there’s no pressure on her to score well at all right now – it was her first show and all she needs to do is not throw anybody off.
I missed darling really, really badly, but at my bestest-estest buddy Erin and my dad were both there, so I was in good company. They both were so kind and gave me so much help, and I had two students with me but they’re big kids and Rising Stars so I abandoned them to their own devices. (True to form, they rode very well).
Thunder’s ride time was at 12:16pm, so Erin and I (whilst talking the hind leg off a donkey) had a leisurely morning getting the two horsies plaited. Tilly walked straight onto the box, so that was great. She went to HOY in hand but this was her first time being ridden off property and only her third ever trip in the horsebox. She was pretty chill when she unloaded, though. As long as she was with her buddies, she stood and ate her hay without a care in the world. Good baby.
Thunder was also practically fast asleep while I saddled him up. I was getting on gracefully (and by gracefully, I mean scrambling over him from the mudguard of the trailer while he tried to wander off and made me split) when J suddenly popped up out of nowhere. He hasn’t seen Thunder since our lesson in January (see above re: AHS) and told me to ride properly. I was planning on doing so and assured him that this was the case as the big guy and I plomped off to the warmup.
The warmup at this venue is right up against the main road, and in past years I’ve gotten into massive fights with my horses right before my tests because of them freaking out about the traffic – something they never really see at home. This year, I just didn’t ride all the way up to the road end of the arena, and none of my horses had an issue. Problem solved. Thunder warmed up great – a little sassy to begin with, and chatting with the other horses like he always does, but listening. He was, as usual, a little bit tight in his neck and a little stiffer to the left than at home. That’s him at shows. It’ll go away eventually.
Our warmup was short but with his fitness level this was not a bad thing. Then we headed in, not before J discovered us and howled in despair because we were doing Novice instead of Elementary. My whimpered excuse that we hadn’t had lessons and I didn’t want to mess it up was met with much exasperation from J, who addressed Thunder (he prefers talking to him than to me) and told him that “your mother doesn’t think”, so that was a great confidence boost right before going in lol.
Thunder was still giving the odd whinny and a little bit distracted/excited, but not tense or worried. Erin read the tests, too, a novelty for me, but I honestly have not memorised the new Novice tests yet.
Speaking of the new tests, I LOVE them. They ride a lot better than the old ones used to, and I feel like they iron out the jump from Prelim 4 to Novice 1 a lot better without dumbing down the level.
He was sooooo good in this test. He was really solid, obedient, and happy in his own skin. I was not paying a whole lot of attention to the movements, focusing more on just chilling out and being in the moment with him and keeping my internal dialogue positive or at the very least quiet, so they were not really all that polished and I didn’t expect big marks. We actually did better than I thought we did, in the end.
Our first halt was a mediocre 6 which would have been a lot better if he hadn’t decided to step back into square halt, a habit that I taught him ages ago because I thought it was the done thing. The 12m circle left was another (expected) 6 because it was too big and he’s still stiff to the left because he hasn’t been in work for very long. The half circle onto the centreline, trot-walk-trot transition, and half circle off the centreline was a 7, because he was kind of perfect, again just a little stiff through his neck. He lost quarters in the second 12m circle for another 6, then achieved his best mark yet for a lengthening at a 6.5. He doesn’t lengthen well even when he is fit and J says he just needs more muscular strength, so I wasn’t sweating it, but I did accidentally penalise us by holding his frame as if for a medium. The judge commented on that and then, as usual, wanted him to cover more ground.
Everything fell apart a bit as we went into canter right. We have not been practicing a lot of trot-canter transitions because everything in Elementary happens out of walk, and Thunder executed the transition perfectly, but also onto the incorrect lead. I flapped at him and he fixed it so we still got a 5 lol. He tilted on the 15m circle right, but redeemed himself in the change of rein with canter-trot-canter transitions with a 7, so that was nice because our downwards have historically not been very good. The lengthening was pretty active but lost the quarters for a 6, which I can live with. His left 15m circle got another 7, followed by the downwards to trot and then walk getting another one, so I was really happy to see the transitions’ marks had improved. His free walk was an expected 7, but in the stretchy trot he saw a birdie and gazed at it, totally forgetting to stretch at all. We got 6.5 for that and then he didn’t step back in the final halt (albeit stepping right a little bit), earning another 7.
Our collectives were pretty fair, with 7 for walk, accuracy, and rider position, and then 6.5 for trot, canter and submission. The submission mark will come up automatically when he relaxes at new places, as, I think, will everything else; if he had the suppleness at shows that he does at home, our marks would be much better. The judge still liked him, commenting “You rode a fluent test on a willing horse, now needs a little more engagement, taking more weight behind” and giving us 66.04%. Considering our enormous mistake with the incorrect canter depart, I’ll totally take it.
As we went in for the second test, Thunder espied a large burnt log lying next to the arena and promptly announced that it was evil and he didn’t trust it. I just kind of resigned myself to that fact because the whistle had already blown and we didn’t have time to investigate it, so I was just sympathetic and patted him when he was tense, knowing that movements near the log would be messy but if I just stayed with him emotionally everything else would be fine. It was pretty much the case. The judge in the second test is really strict and has never marked him well, but she sort of begrudgingly had to give us at least average marks, so that was cool.
He halted nicely and then gazed into the distance while I was saluting, so that earned him a 6.5, but he didn’t move – just looked up. The change of rein with two half 10m circles garnered another 6.5 with the usual comment about suppleness. The new leg-yield in Novice is gloriously easy – centreline to quarterline – and a total disaster for us because he thought we should be half-passing to the track and flew sideways when I touched him, so that was a 6. The lengthening was another encouraging 6.5, and he was looking at the log in the next leg-yield and led with the quarters for a few steps, getting another 6.
The half circle in medium walk was funny because he started off by gazing around a bit first and then realised halfway through that he should be stretching, whereupon he stretched all the way to the floor only a few strides before I had to gather him back up again. It was good enough for a 6.5. The transition to canter right at C was another disaster; he rushed, I flapped, and we flopped off into canter right for a 6. At least he was on the right leg this time lol. I got lost with the half 15m circle and made it too big, getting another 6, and then in the lengthening he saw the log again and decided to gallop sideways for a well-deserved 5.5. The next half circle was better because it was to the left, so we had a 6.5, and then he kind of fell in a heap during the final halt for no apparent reason for a 6.
Collectives were 6 for everything except 6.5 for the walk, with comments “Willing horse, could be steadier in frame, appears a little stiffer on the right rein. Some good moments”. Thunder always gets “willing horse” because he is just the very best boy. Despite the spooking he still got 61.42%.
Tilly was only riding at 3pm, so Erin and I sat in the shade holding them and talked another hindleg off the proverbial donkey for a while. I kind of forgot to go to the Novice prizegiving, but mostly because I was having a good time. I tacked up Tilly with about an hour to spare just in case she wanted to be crazy, and at first I thought she might be, but I used longsuffering Vastrap as brakes for a few laps of the arena and then she settled all the way down. A little looky, but completely controllable, and she just strolled down that centreline and behaved almost better than she did at home. I hadn’t polished her tests either, wanting nothing more than a good experience, but she was really well behaved (and turned right most of the time) and fetched up with scores of 64 and 65. I was just happy that she was calm and well behaved; when she won both classes it was the cherry on the cake. And when I was collecting the tests I learned that Thunder had won his first test, too. He was third in the second one, but I blame the log.
The show was an extremely positive experience. Now, we’ll do Elementary for the next one (J might just disown us if we don’t) and Tilly will continue to enjoy her Prelim and learn how to be a grown up horsie at shows. Both horses and I had a really good time, and the King of Heaven loves the world enough to give it dancing horses.
As winter well and truly sets in, despite a totally packed schedule, I’ve still been able to really enjoy the two dudes over the past couple of weeks.
Lancelot and I started last week with a lesson with all time most amazing and perfect jumping coach, K. She babied me through Module 4, she continues to believe in me fiercely despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and she remains just an all round super nice human being. I knew I was in for a good experience even before I took Lancey off the horsebox.
He was a little bewildered at being the only horse in sight when we arrived for our early lesson, with K’s horses all still in their stables, but he didn’t do anything foolish. Between the cold and his nerves, though, he definitely put on a wonderful display of Arab snorting and having his tail in the air. He spooked non-violently at everything for a few minutes before settling right down once we’d had a chance to warm up and look at everything.
He was spooky enough that I told K we could do showjumping instead, but she told me to go jump a little log and see how he was. Well, he was perfect. We ended up jumping the whole 60cm track, including a tiny drop, a tiny dyke, a bank up, the little train, and lots of spooky logs and things. I let him sniff everything before jumping, but by the end it was unnecessary. He didn’t stop, didn’t overjump, and plodded around everything on a loose rein. What a good boy! I was grinning like a dork, too, and I can’t remember when last I wore anything but a panicked grimace when jumping.
I would like him to just trot along into the arena without doing the majestic Arabian snorting thing, though, so we’re going on lots of hacks now to help him be more brave. His dressage seriously needs work, but I feel like he needs to trust my hands and get familiar with me again. I feel like drilling in the sandbox is not what we need right now. We need to find each other first, and the time we spend doing that will never be wasted.
Thunderbirdy has been working quite happily too. We had a big argument about going forward, but once that was done, we went a lot better. We have a competition this weekend; I entered the Novice because we NEED lessons, he’s not strong like he was, and honestly I don’t think I can survive the sitting trot at my fitness level, LOL.
Each session has been better as I keep focusing on easier, more basic movements to rebuild his strength and my coordination. I suspect J is going to be quite dismayed by us when we go for our next lesson, but he’ll save us.
He is so flabby though. That fat belly is dreadful! Emotionally, though, Thunder is doing oh so well. He’s much more relaxed than he’s ever been before, standing very still for everything, not getting freaked out by horses going past like he used to – just a really happy, pleasant creature to work with. I’m so happy with him.
I’m so happy, honestly. Darling being away is horrible but God is my strength, His joy is my power, and He is so, so good – no matter what. Let everything that has breath praise His Name.
The white knight and I were supposed to be off to our first dressage show of the year yesterday, but the poor judge ended up sick in bed without a voice, so we decided to lesson with the show organiser instead.
M is not as high a level instructor as J, but I knew she was super nice and very technical, so for little Lancey it was a perfect fit – better than a show, actually.
Lancey is being a very interesting ride. Although not yet strong in his body and possessing the attention span of a gnat, he was nicely schooled when I gave him back to his child as a 4yo. I backed him slowly and meticulously and worked on him for a year, so he was pretty solid for a baby horse. We rode two Prelim tests for 67 and 68 with a very strict judge, after all.
Fast forward two years of showjumping and I have a very different little horse, physically at least. He is much more confident and independent now and can actually concentrate, and in jumping, he really takes good care of himself – I can freeze up a bit and he doesn’t really give his left sock. But in the dressage, sadly, he appears to have forgotten everything I ever taught him. He’s obedient enough in his transitions but likes to run onto the forehand, fall in with the quarters, go in zigzags, crash into fences instead of turning, fall in with the shoulders, hollow, lose rhythm, etc.
One thing that hasn’t changed is his super adorable personality. Lancey just still wants to make people happy and succeeds at his task 99.9% of the time.
So we arrived at the venue and he was, obviously, completely relaxed. This is a novelty after Thunder’s occasional brain evaporations, and I enjoyed tacking him up and hopping on with no drama. He does like to stare pop-eyed at things while walking around for the first time, occasionally accompanied by melodramatic Arab snorting, but didn’t actually spook.
Champagne and K were with us and Champagne, naturally, was a little loopy, so we started with walking around and using Lancey as Champagne’s brakes. Of course, he was totally good-natured about this – he barely noticed Pagney bouncing off his bottom. She soon settled down and worked really well, so we got to the lesson.
The work was very basic and simple, with M paying great attention to the fine details, exactly what Lancey needs. We did lots of large, some circles and a lot of tiny simple leg-yields – quarter line to track or 10m circle to 20m circle. Lance was quite willing to go to the left, but it took a few tries to go right, which makes sense because left is his stiff side. However, once M showed me how to get the timing of the aid right – applying the leg aid in pulses in time with his inside hind lifting – it made an enormous difference. Soon he was leg-yielding both ways without difficulty.
We also talked a lot about rhythm and tempo. Lancey has always had a really good natural rhythm, which got a little bit lost when he was being a showjumper. He likes to run onto his forehand and then sort of flinch away from my hand and hollow majestically as only an Arab can. M encouraged me to find his rhythm first and allow the hollowness to correct itself. She liked that my leg was keeping him active without nagging, but added that in order to keep a slower tempo – more active, less running – I had to slow my seat down without slacking off with my lower leg. This was a real light-bulb moment for me. Thanks to riding J’s schoolmasters once back in 2017, I pretended to be riding passage instead of a rather mediocre working trot, and letting my seat post on a passagey rhythm while my legs kept asking for forward really got him together without ever touching the reins.
We finished with cantering just a couple of circles. His canter work is horrible to be honest. He can be trusted to canter and be on the right leg, but apart from that it’s a bit of an epic disaster. But I’m avoiding it for now as we work on the trot first to get him more relaxed and soft in his own rhythm.
He had a few really gorgeous moments. When he does relax and start pushing, lifting and swinging, he just falls into the contact easily, and we get about half a circle of brilliance. But he doesn’t have the strength to hold it yet so then we flop around again for a bit.
M was saying how I’m very experienced and I added that yes, I am, but I’m still a total beginner at anything more than Prelim. I’ve backed more babies than I can really remember and ridden millions of Prelim tests, but I’ve only ever had three horses compete at Novice, and none of them for very long. When it comes to riding anything more than a 20m circle it’s still a real challenge for me to do well. In other words, I need a LOT of lessons lol. But at least I have spent a lot of time on the backs of moving horses – in the words of Denny Emerson – so the foundation is very much there; the balance, the effectiveness of the aids and the effort to understand the horse’s mind. Now there’s so much to learn and build on that foundation and I’m just really excited to go out and do it.
As for this wonderful little white horse, he just gives me so much joy and confidence. He’s such a relaxed, non-violent guy who just wants to have fun. Such a quick study and ridiculously sensitive to my seat for a horse that was ridden by a kid for two years.
Thunderbirdy is also still alive and getting back into work, and his first show is in two weeks’ time. I’ll post an update on the majestic one soon, but first Lancey and I have another lesson – jumping this time – tomorrow. It’s going to be really fun and I look forward to it. Darling is working away for a bit so I’m finding all sorts of horsy things to keep me occupied and avoid dwelling on the fact that not having him by my side feels like a missing limb.
How blessed I am to have something that I long for so deeply. Glory to the King.