A Little Faith

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Glory to the King.

Dancing at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I love every moment.

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No Such Men

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

You don’t want him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I once believed there were no such men.

But I was wrong.

Moving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to the King.

Three Months

It’ll be exactly three months tonight.

Three months since that call came in and changed my life and myself forever.

A lot has happened in those three months. A lot more has changed than just me; a lot has moved. But all of it has moved in one direction. The right one.

Deeper. Further. Higher.

Deeper into God’s love. Higher up this tremendous mountain. And further and further from the shallow end, from the place where I can stand.

I have never before had to ride on water so deep. But I am grateful. Grateful for the priorities He set straight in my head with that life-changing moment. Grateful for every breath I get to share with those I love. Grateful for every second chance with the lost. Grateful even for the fire, as it burns me pure.

And grateful, oh, so grateful that I now have a mighty comrade in every battle.

I’m still here, still doing what I do. Following my King and riding on water. There have been some exciting new developments, and there will be more, especially with regards to the blog. Don’t mistake my silence for loss – this blog is about to undergo changes that will only make it better.

Just not tonight.

Because it’s been a quarter of a year tonight.

Glory to the King.

Back on Track

The seasons are changing here yet again, and I’m feeling the pressure of a coming winter with my clippers currently still out of commission.

On the bright side, we’re fully stocked on blankets and our grazing is holding up great. We’ll have to see how it does as standing hay, but for now, the horses are still up to their eyeballs in grass thanks to a late rain.

We are forecast for more late rains followed by a bitterly cold winter. Something that a yard manager in the middle of midge-borne African horse sickness country is not complaining about.

We held our third in-house training show on the 7th of April. Darling got to spend his birthday building courses and supplying me with chocolate milk. At least the poor soul knew what he was getting himself into. It was a small show but a resounding success as far as I can tell.

I found photographic evidence of two things: my first time on a pony, and my mom’s shapely figure – at three months pregnant, none the less.


Faith, somewhat inadequately babysat by Midas, went on her first hack. She was fabulous, if on occasion a little overexcited.

Zorro escaped his field and invaded the tack storage in the night, then got the cookie jar stuck on his foot. As you do. No harm was done, except to the horse cookies that had been in the cookie jar.

K’s mom booked a lesson with international eventer Paul Hart for my birthday. Jamaica and I charged over all manner of things,

including ditches,

water,

and houses. He was foot perfect except for a jump with water under it, and our coach was suitably impressed. How awesome is God’s plan?

Thunder remains the one whose four dancing hooves carry me to a place where the world and its burdens just can’t go. ❤

We had a brilliant time of it at SANESA Q3, with three of our riders qualifying for Finals with another qualifier to spare.

Despite flat refusing to get into the two-berth, Milady came second and managed to put the smile back on K’s face.

Few things make me happier than this arena, freshly harrowed. I am awed by what God has provided.

Faithy rode in the rain and behaved impeccably, cantering her first full laps around the dressage arena. She can be quite scared of cantering but each session is a little better thanks to my carrying on as if she is the most amazing horse in the world. She kind of is.

Grumpy old Benjamin is 21 now but still knows how to open practically every gate there is, regularly escaping his little paddock to gorge on the lush grass, forbidden due to his laminitis.

Titan is going fabulously, now working in a frame and having been introduced to some little fences. We’ll make something of him yet.

As for the old queen of the herd, she still reigns in ageless beauty. 29 years old and still a reason to believe.

More thorough updates to follow. Glory to the King.

2018 Goals: Training Horses Q2

Champagne

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Despite my emotional craziness through this quarter, Champagne has made some good progress on the schooling front. Outings did not go as well, but now that my head is on more or less straight again, this will resume hopefully with better results.

Shows:

  • Early Feb: Pre-HOY – This was not a disaster, but it could have been better. She travelled great and hung out quite happily at the show itself, but the riding was very nervous and tense. However, she never grew violent and stayed obedient to my cues to the best of her ability.
  • Late Feb: HOY – Creature was lame so had to miss it.
  • Due to not being great at Pre-HOY, we decided not to take her to SANESA Q2. She did our home show in April, though, and was completely calm and relaxed, garnering plenty of compliments from the judge. (And 82%, but the judge was quite generous. I’d have guessed it at a mid 60s test).

General:

  • Improve on her habit of throwing her head and running forward when scared. – Done. She can still be a little inconsistent in the contact when nervous, but there’s no more fling of the head and scoot. When she does spook she spooks like a dead ordinary young horse, just a little jump and then carry on.
  • Improve the consistency of her connection, particularly through transitions. – Still imperfect, but vastly better. Walk/trot/walk/halt/walk transitions are fine and canter/trot are fine, but trot/canter can still be problematic.
  • Improve her trot-canter transitions to the point where I can get the lead almost all the time without bucking. – Done! She can still get affronted if I get after her about the promptness of the transition, but strikes off correctly and only bucks on very rare occasions now.

 

2018 Q2 goals:

  • Visit another place at least twice a month.
  • Jump up to 60-70cm full courses confidently and with quiet rhythm.
  • Continue improving on the quality of the connection, with the help of introducing a little shoulder-in.

 

Savanna

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Savanna has been going from strength to strength. We had a few big disagreements about rushing, but she has started to relax and even enjoy her work, getting lots of compliments from equitation judges.

2018 Q1 goals:

  • Confirm all the Prelim work, including the stretches, square halts, and the little lengthening. – Done. The lengthening needs polishing, but everything else is solid, even the stretches.
  • Continue working on gymnastics to improve her carefulness to the point where poles down happen once in a blue moon. Prepare to start schooling over 70-80cm fences in the second quarter. – Done. She only has a pole now if she rushes, and has even discovered a bascule. We are consistently jumping about 75cm now.
  • Jump at least two clear rounds at shows. – Done, two of those being at 70cm.

 

2018 Q2 goals:

  • Improve the softness of her connection so that her child can easily ride her nice and round once his hands are there.
  • Jump 80cm confidently, cleanly and in a rhythm at home, ready for showing over 80cm in the third quarter.
  • Start jumping little simple fences with her child quietly in a rhythm, once the child’s position gets to a point where I let him jump again.

 

Emmy

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Emmy has since left my program, but she’s going from strength to strength with K.

2018 Q1 Goals:

Finish preliminary schooling:

  • confirm a united and balanced canter, with transitions and circles – Done, and with connection and bend
  • hack alone and in company – Done and she is super, if occasionally a little exciteable in big groups
  • introduction to small fence – Jumping tracks of about 60cm

Introduce to shows:

  • go to a show and have a good experience. – Unfortunately we only managed for her to do the in house show with K, but she’ll go to her first proper show in May if all goes well.

 

Titan

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Despite being out of work for a whole month with his ugly overreach, Titan has been progressing well. Unfortunately it has become evident that his child has already practically outgrown him, so he may be on the market once his schooling is finished.

2018 Q1 Goals:

Finish backing:

  • introduce trot – Done
  • introduce canter – Done
  • introduce the big arena. – Done

Start preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the figures – Done
  • establish a united canter, including circles – Done
  • introduce small, simple fences – Done, he’s jumped a little track of crosses
  • hack alone and in company (he will be spooky; it doesn’t have to be perfect). – This we didn’t get to, but I hope to start this week.

 

2018 Q2 goals:

  • Hack alone and in company, even if it’s imperfect
  • Jump 60cm tracks
  • Introduce the ideas of connection and bend, to ride a Prelim test by the end of Q2
  • Go to a show once a month and have good experiences.

 

Ankia

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This is our latest arrival from Arop (breeder of half our favourite horses, including Nell, Liana and Faith). She is a cute rising five-year-old hony who will be on the market as soon as I finish her. Unfortunately she was quite sick right after arriving, first with biliary and then a wormy colic, so I haven’t done much on her yet, but now we’re ready to get back to work.

Ankia has been ridden, for a given value of ridden; there are plenty of holes in her groundwork (major holes, like picking up feet and lunging properly). So I will be restarting her from scratch. Hopefully we will finish her and be able to move her on to a riding school kid and put her on the market in the next quarter, although when I made that deal with the owner I was kind of expecting that she’d know the basics considering a trainer had been working with her.

2018 Q2 goals:

  • Become safe and easy on the ground in every way.
  • Lunge properly in all three gaits.
  • Introduce walk/trot/canter in the big arena.
  • Introduce gentle hacks.
  • Introduce a small fence.

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Love having the training program a little fuller again, and I should be picking up a new pony this week. Glory to the King.