In Abba’s Arms

Horses have been many things to me: an instrument of salvation, a gift from above, a storm, a heartbreak, a dream, the shattering of dreams, a gut-wrenching fear, a hope for the future, companionship, courage, a calling. But now, “my” horses – mine like siblings; they were always His – are, to me, worship.

My dance partners are how I praise the Lord when words won’t do. And they often don’t. Together, we sing the glory of the God too big for words, so big He’s praised in tiny things: a breath, a smile, a touch. Not only in dressage, but in grooming, in carrot stretches, in liberty.

Sometimes, of course, it’s a hot mess. Sometimes it’s all about percentages and my own inadequacies and fear and failure and shortcomings and temper and frustrations. It melts down and becomes something blackened and ugly. Then I sit in the wreckage, with a spooked and resistant horse and a broken heart, and I wonder how I could ever be forgiven.

Then I cry. And then worship becomes healing. It becomes the place where I can’t hold on and fall, only to find He was holding tight, all along.

It becomes forgiveness.

The world has been so heavy lately. I crack often under the pressure, with ugly consequences. So I have been giving much thought to surrender.

Horses have always been a place where I hear God’s voice speaking. And He speaks to me now.

I hear Him in the softness of Faith’s coat while I’m grooming and in the eagerness of her step while we work through the most basic stuff: trotting in hand, stopping without climbing on top of me, investigating the inside of a stable for the first time.

It’s all just the building blocks of being a horse in a world full of humans, but there’s nothing mundane about the threefold cord where loving God meets worshipping woman meets feeling beast.

I hear Him in the depths of our conversations, when I realise day by day that the horse I picked out of a field in fifteen minutes even though the others had better conformation – the horse I picked on the prompting of the Spirit, in faith – that horse has the most incredible, curious, thinking, eager and willing mind.

I hear Him in the playfulness of Magic’s body language as we play with rein back, turn on the forehand, lunging, little fences all without even a touch, with sounds and gestures. It shouldn’t work but it works for him, and it’s playtime for the both of us at the end of the day when we’ve both been facing our giants and just want to enjoy the beautiful world for once.

I hear Him in the shift of Thunder’s back, the swing of it, the suppleness. I hear Him in the joy that leaps inside me when I feel him melt and move between hand and leg with a newfound softness that can only be born of relaxation, of joy – his, not mine.

His transitions are so much better now. I’ve been more disciplined about not saying what I don’t mean with my leg, and suddenly I can speak in touches and breaths.

I don’t delight so much because it’s brilliant, anymore. I delight because it’s ours and we’re His. It’s a different place. Somewhere almost holy.

I hear Him in the courage of Arwen, in her fire, in the dauntless enthusiasm with which she bursts out and attacks every task she’s given.

I hear Him when our canter-walks stay terrible, when she doesn’t stretch in the circle with break of contact, when she hollows into the transition – yes, I hear Him even then, louder than our mediocrity, louder than the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing at this level just yet. I hear Him louder and every day we get just a little bit better – at dressage, at each other, at life.

And I hear Him sing in the shine on Skye’s coat and the light in her eyes and the way we still know each other better than anybody else.

I hear Him, and He just keeps saying the same thing over and over with that particular relentless compassion and unquenchable determination and ineffable patience that only He has: “I Am, I Am bigger, and I love you. I Am, I Am bigger, and I love you.”

That’s why, though I fail, though I fall, though it’s too heavy, though I let Him down, though I hurt him, though I break, though I am nothing – that’s why I call Him Abba. Abba is a Hebrew word, and it doesn’t mean Father.

It means Daddy.

So here’s one more thing the horses are to me: they are the place where I realise, again, anew, that I am in Abba’s arms.

Glory to the King.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15

Marching On

After the emotional and spiritual high of last week, this one has left me a little flat. Make no mistake, we had good progress this week, including a lot of good rides and lessons and wonderful preparation for Finals tomorrow (these kids are amazing!), but I think we all felt a little rough around the edges after putting everything into pony camp.

I will give absolutely everything tomorrow, too, because my kids and ponies have been doing exactly that. Vastrap and his kid were so amazing on Tuesday that yesterday I just took them on a hack. They are so more than ready for whatever Finals will throw at them.

And after a bit of an unpromising lesson on Tuesday, Liana’s indomitable kid showed up to work on Thursday and gave it everything she had. Liana is hot and not always easy to keep rhythmic throughout a test but this kid absolutely nailed it. She’s going to ride her heart out at Finals because she always does.

Purple gloves make me happy, and so does Savanna. She is such a sweet, nonviolent, willing soul. She is desperately uneducated though, and it shows, but already after two or three weeks of work she’s starting to understand that there is no need to rush fences or cut corners. We still have a long way to go in terms of developing self-carriage and any form of technique, but obedience is already improving. From next week she’s in full training and competing with me, so that’ll be fun.

Champagne has been out of work for the above reason. Ah pony. Why? Six stitches and a week later and it’s almost healed, but it’s a pity we’ve lost that training time.

Magic is better at teenage girl selfies than I am.

He’s just better at selfies generally, really.

Skye has a nicer winter coat than anyone. She is really contented at the moment. Looking after Lady Erin seems to be all the stimulation she really needs; the old girl is happy to stand in a peaceful field and come in to do the Scripture reading before shows and get stuffed full of cookies. Especially the cookies, if we’re honest. She doesn’t crave people, although that’s not to say we don’t both enjoy grooming (and cookie-feeding).

Magic, on the other hand, is by no means ready for retirement. I had been toying with the idea a little. Riding has been either anxious or boring of late; I don’t want to push him with the flatwork, I can’t cope with the jumping, and he can’t cope with hacks. We lunge but that’s just exercise. We both really need a conversation; we need to spend quality time and not just be together, but talk and interact and learn things.

So, because he really enjoys groundwork, we’re playing with liberty. I know – I rolled my eyes reading the websites, too. (Ignore bad behaviour? So what do you do if it charges/bites/kicks/rears/pushes you around?) But it’s what Magic needs. He never gets stroppy. He never gets domineering. He needs something where there’s no pressure and lots of affirmation and this seems like fun. So here goes nothing, I guess.

I’m just gonna leave this right here because it makes me so happy seeing them regain their shine here.

Pretty Ash has been doing so well with L. Sound for 15 minutes’ trotting for several weeks now, we’ve added in some canter. It’s rather more canter than L is used to but Ash takes care of her. She is such a classy, attractive pony – I kind of wish we’d had her when she was younger and sounder and ready to take on the world.

I bought the dragon a nametag. Try not to laugh.

Speaking of dragons, we have been dressaging. More to come later. I’m using the double on her most of the time now. She does go better and yes, she should be able to do it in a snaffle, but the horse didn’t get a good foundation and right now we’re just muddling along trying to find what works for where we are now. Dressage coach S might come see us next month, then we can ask her opinion.

Nugget is incredibly content living with Magic. She’s in a better condition than ever before and even runs around the field playing with him – something I’ve never seen her do before. Unfortunately, after my week off and then pony camp, we’ve taken a bunch of steps back in handling. I haven’t gotten a halter back on her again. We’re making progress back there every day (I can rub her neck and shoulder now), so we’ll regain the lost ground quickly. I’m trying to make a point not to be upset about it, because there’s just no way I would have coped without the week off. And if I don’t cope there’s no yard and if there’s no yard there’s no safe haven for Nuggets.

On the jumping front, this was our exercise of the week; canter pole, couple of bounces, one stride, vertical. I added V-poles to the vertical later on. It was very challenging, especially for the kids, because they had to really ride the ponies up into their hands and get them to use themselves instead of just point and go. But it was confidence building for the horses and helped sharpen reflexes and round jumps nicely.

I found it confidence building too – so much so that the last vertical ended up at about a metre. My first in years, and Jamaica’s first under me. He just loped right on over and didn’t take it seriously enough to give it much scope, so it’s comforting to know he can do it and with such quietness.

He is such a blessing. If I had unlimited funds I would have bought him long ago. As it is, if I do pass Module 5, it’ll in large part be due to what God is doing for me with this funny-looking little horse.

Arwen has a jumping day each month, and she charged through it as well,

as did Destiny, Savanna (a simplified version), Thunder, and Lancelot. Lancey particularly impressed me because carefulness has been something we’ve long struggled with and he didn’t knock a single pole, except for rubbing the last vertical so that the V-poles fell off. He was kind of dorkward about it but he did the thing and I’m so so proud of the little chap.

I also started playing with an automatic release. My crest release is really good when it’s good, but disappears as soon as I’m nervous. I feel like I have to keep my hands back to keep my weight back in case the horse stops. It isn’t true, but it’s how it feels. The automatic is harder so it makes me concentrate on my lower leg and hip so that I can pull it off, but psychologically it’s significantly easier to follow the mouth slightly rather than toss my hands up the neck. I kinda like the result but I’m not dead sure yet.

And I’m throwing this in here too – G wasn’t able to exercise Pennie much last week, so I got to borrow her for a day and have some fun. Love this pony. She’s epic. Pictured: reason why I must learn a better release.

Eagle is going much better. He can be tricky to train for his novice owners; he’s never naughty, but he is responsive and forward-thinking by nature, so when you’re a novice trotting along and you panic and grab with your legs he’s probably going to go faster. We spent a lot of time installing some very sharp brakes and a relaxed halt, and he’s doing great.

They harvested the maize last week. The world suddenly looks bigger; and there’s not as much to spook at. I borrowed Dusty from the kids for a hack and remembered why I trust this little pony like nobody else.

This is Troy, who is my current favourite schoolie from Winstead. He is large and round and lazy but also jumps anything if you get him to go fast enough, so he’s my type. We were jumping over 80cm in fairly tricky exercises last lesson and he gives me a lot of courage. Thank you Troy (and coach K of course).

This cheeky adorable Faithy thing has been getting ideas above her station and picking fights with herd members, so now she has one kick on each hock. One more kick and I’ll move her out, but I suspect she’s doing something to provoke getting bullied. Bratty 2yo thinks she can rule the roost down there.

We have been having more conversations about the horsebox. She doesn’t walk right in yet, but if you show her you have cookies she’ll go in. She’s still learning about the world and I’m still learning about her, but I love her so much. Also she will do anything for cookies.

This is Meatlug (after the dragon – a greatly inappropriate name) and I think she’s beautiful. Those eyes…


Destiny has his ups and downs. Our personality clash makes for a difficult relationship, but we have been making really good progress. He’s so good on hacks now, jumped the difficult gymnastic, and is learning to move laterally off my leg.

Blizzard is trotting laps in the (amazing, new) ring now. Slanted poles are amazing, by the way – I haven’t had my knees smacked even once. He was scared of me posting at first, but his reaction to being scared is to stop dead, so that’s quite OK for a novice horse. We have some confidence building to do in trot but it won’t be long before we canter.

Lullaby has been a bit flat lately. I’ve tried the usual tricks – decreased workload, time off, a fun jumping session with a big kid – to no avail. She doesn’t seem unsound or in any physical trouble beyond the usual stiffness that we’re controlling with joint supplements, but there’s just a lack of her usual sparkle. I really hope her age and many years in the riding school aren’t catching up to her. I need her – we need her. But I’m her advocate. So we’ll try hacks and different food and so on until my stalwart little colleague is herself again. She has served so well for so long at such a thankless task.
My job is easy by comparison. It’s the least I can do to be as faithful as my good little ponies.

Glory to the King.

all ready for tomorrow

Q2 Goals Recap

Oh, but first I must tell y’all that the kiddies are incredible!! But you knew that, right? We are taking FOUR ponies and their little riders to Gauteng Finals and I am so proud of them I might just explode. 😀 Best of all, my riders that didn’t make it to Finals are just as talented as those that did, so it’s only a matter of time before they get there, too.

So Liana, Vastrap, Zorro and Pennie have all made it and they are all going really very well, particularly Zorro (but don’t tell the other ponies I said that). Their kiddos have put in a lot of work this season and I’m so happy to see them being so richly rewarded. But of course we can’t lose sight of the real Reason why we’re here: they planted, I watered – and our Abba Father gave the increase.

Well, now back to goals. Let’s have a look.

Arwen

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  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Still chipping away at this! It’ll pick up now, hopefully, that we’re going to more dressage and fewer showing shows. Either way, last quarter we had two points, and now we have five. It is possible to get points one class at a time.
    Our Elementary work is slowly improving. The horse is starting to touch the limit of her physical ability (not necessarily her natural talent – but her ability combined with dodgy schooling due to being my first project ever when I was, like, 13) and I don’t think we’ll ever show seriously at EM, but there’s no reason why our Elementary can’t be solid. To be fair, though, the problem is more mine than hers. I flounder at the level. I don’t know what anything is really supposed to look like and I don’t have the opportunity for lots of dressage lessons, so the tests are basically our lessons. I even struggle to remember the longer tests. But it’s all a learning experience; my next Elementary horse will be better and this one is a whole lot of fun. Our next show is CHG Leg 5 in the end of August. We have eight weeks before then, including one week off and one week of test riding right before the show, leaving the remaining six weeks to work on our six lowest marks (shoulder-in left, walk-canter transition, medium-working canter transition, turn on the haunches, 20m circle with break of contact, rein back). One movement each week. It will take an art to keep this from stealing the joy of the dance, but one breath at a time, God is taking over the artist inside me.
  • Don’t mess up a show riding/show hack class. 
  • Jump a graded 80cm round.
  • Do some cross-country lessons and/or go drag hunting. I doubt hunting will be on the calendar this year, but we might just make it to xc lessons at President’s Park. Which would be absolutely fabulous (and disgusting preparation for our August show, but whatevs).

Arwen is laying the foundation of my own education. If I ever do go up the grades (and that’s really up to God; my dance with Thunder on Sunday showed me that it’s not the level that matters, but the threefold cord) nobody will remember Arwen – but I will. Because she went first, and she paved the way.

As we start to see 2018 on the horizon, I am also pondering a foray into another discipline with her next year. Part of me just yearns to go event again, but another part can’t justify the expense for a discipline the horse won’t excel in. Probably showing. Maybe it’ll be time to gird up my loins and face my fear of showing judges.

Exavior

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we all still miss him

As y’all know by now, I had to make the decision to sell the big guy. He’s with a trainer in Brakpan right now (something I’ve been too raw to write about – the trainer is lovely and I know he’s a lot happier with a job to do, and God sent that miracle for us just like He’s sent everything else in Exavior’s life) and hopefully he’ll met his person soon.

Midas

Midas1

  • Hack alone and in company. Done! With a child on board (in company), too. He loves his hacks.
  • Be quiet at shows. 
  • Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. Still winning at 60cm (and kinda bored at the level, too) but I don’t think I should make him haul my heavy behind around 70cm. He pops around it at home with kids, and he has a new little partner to finish bringing him on, so as soon as little partner is ready, we’ll do it.
  • Compete up to Prelim at training shows.
  • Compete at the Nooitie shows. We did all the ones that seem to be happening this year, and he came home with some ribbons, too.
  • Go cross-country schooling. Fingers crossed for this month!

Faith

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  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well. Almost almost there – we can box without a bum rope, but with cookies and with some hesitation.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. Spring Show was cancelled, but we’ll probably send in a video for the E-Show in August because then at least nobody can tell me I have a hairy yak in person, right? She behaves nicely in-hand, trots up and stands square, just needs a polish.
  • In spring, lunge.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.

Ah, the joys of the long and dull two-year-old year while your precious, promising creature’s withers slowly catch up to its behind. She is wonderful though. I can’t wait to sit on her.

Jamaica

Jamaica11

  • Hack reliably in company. We haven’t hacked much, with most of the focus on jumping, but he’s never put a foot out of line in walk and trot – I’m quite happy. I still wouldn’t lead a long hack on him… but to be fair, I’ve got hacking nerves, so I wouldn’t lead a long hack on anything very much except Arwen (and Trooper).
  • School Novice dressage. As evidenced by the appearance of a topline, he’s carrying himself a LOT better. Still not brilliant, but to be fair to him, with his body shape and previous schooling brilliance on the flat is going to be a lot to ask. We have most of the Novice 1 to 4 work down. Trot lengthenings and free walk are still a sticky point. His canter work is lovely.
  • Jump 90cm graded. Heading that way; we’re doing 80cm at shows and popping over the odd 90cm height/width fence at home. The horse can do it – he just skips along. It’s my nerves that are the problem and that’s just going to be a step-by-step process.

So grateful for the spotty one – he has done so much for me already, and continues to do so much with every session.

Lancelot

Lancelot1

  • Reliably do long hacks alone, in company, and wherever without any drama his kid won’t laugh off. Very, very close to finishing this one – we haven’t been on a super long hack yet, but he’s done 45 minutes or so in w/t/c, even with a novice rider. He’s lovely.
  • Do a training show or two at Prelim dressage. Done! With 65% and 67.3% in Prelim 3 and 4, too.
  • Consistently jump graded at 70cm, preferably clear. He’s completing his 70cm rounds, but he still has the odd stop that he likes to throw in, and I just want him to be rid of that habit. I’m not too worried about poles – that’s just greenness in his body. I just want him to hunt down the fences.

Lancey is so close to being handed over to Z-kid for good. He just needs to be a little braver at shows.

Trooper

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  • Do training showjumping shows, up to about 60cm. He is still struggling to figure out that jumping is a thing, but he’s very sweet about it.
  • Do training dressage shows, up to Prelim.  Schooling Prelim at home all right.
  • Be as safe as a house on hacks, mostly in company.  You could literally be a one-armed two-year-old with ADHD and hack this thing out without being in any danger.
  • Be as safe as a house on the ground. Just need to box, then we’re good.
  • Be fully quiet at shows. We haven’t been on an outing yet, but I’m aiming for August.

I’m hoping we’ll be able to afford to do all the competing we’re hoping for – the sale ponies often end up a bit sidelined in favour of the more lucrative training horses. That said, I’ve given him six weeks off anyway. He’s three and a half and has all the basics; I can’t expect a whole lot more from him right now.

Thunder

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Thunny spent the first half of the year competing under K at SANESA, but their season is done now, so it’s  time he and I started to get our duckies in a row.

  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. Our Prelim is solid; the only movements we have a little trouble with are halting (steady and straight but not square), stretchy trot, and lengthenings, all of which are Novice work anyway. He’s played with leg-yields, counter canter and simple changes, but I expect difficulty with lengthenings, so this goal will start with strengthening the basic gaits first.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence. Anybody can see that he’s no showjumper, but he’d make a really fun working hunter once he’s settled at shows. Since I drag Arwen to HOY anyway, I don’t see why he shouldn’t come along and plop around the in-hand, show hunter and working hunter.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. These are hit-and-miss at the moment. He’s either perfect, or he sees a terrifying sparrow and bolts. He has a proper Friesian bolt too – no bucking, but practically impossible to stop except by means of a vicious one-rein, which I don’t really want to do to him. I don’t want to get killed either though, so he’ll have to have a few until he learns that whoa means whoa.

Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.

Moving Forward

C. S. Lewis wrote that it doesn’t really matter how many times we fall; it’s the getting up each time that counts. Some days I feel very like those “muddy and tattered children” he wrote about, but I still know my heavenly Daddy is just waiting to wipe the mud and tears away and welcome me Home. Every day is one step closer – sometimes a stumbling, fumbling, floundering step. But a step nonetheless.

So, too, our journey to excellence in horsemanship is heading tangibly in the right direction, marred but not stopped by the odd mistake or bad day.

In anticipation of one day finally moving up to 90cm, I’ve been slowly picking apart my fears and working on them one by one. I’ve found myself almost entirely comfortable at 80cm at home, but absolutely entirely uncomfortable at 90cm. It’s all in my head, of course, but that’s fine. So is all my skill, dreams, and resolution to stick with my God. One’s head is a valid and important place for something to be. Abba is being patient with me and so is the horse; it’s the least I can do to return the favour.

In the past if I wanted to move up I’d set up a course at that height and jump it. It hasn’t worked. Right now I’m taking the idea to pieces and tackling each one individually. The first order of business was dealing with my thing with combinations, starting with this gymnastic line – pole, bounce, one stride, one stride. The ones were very long and the last oxer was about 75-80cm. I had to ride Jamaica forward at this or he’d throw in a nasty chip or a valiant leap to try and help me out. So that helped for my terror of getting the horse forward (which I must do because I can’t expect him to keep saving my bum at 90cm).

Then we jumped a single vertical in my comfort-zone dressage arena at 90cm. Then an oxer, only 60cm high but 100cm wide. So far, I’ve been OK. Not quite comfortable, but definitely not in the fear zone.

The horse is wonderful. I want to poke my eyeballs out with a fork when schooling him on the flat sometimes – but that’s also improving. Over fences he just goes in the same rhythm at every single jump even when I’m messing up and it’s amazing.

Savanna started to be very cheeky with her teenager, so she has been dumped into boot camp with mean Auntie Firn, as naughty ponies are. She is very sweet and levelheaded (especially for a 6yo thoroughbred) but there’s just no real schooling here at all. We spent a whole session just talking about rhythm. Then we spent another session trotting the same 50cm fence. She had two options: run sideways from a mile away, or gallop at the fence. The mare is not spooky but she doesn’t know where to put her feet and the running out has caused her rider to chase her at everything, so now she chases herself.

I explained to her that she really just has to go quietly over and by the end if it, she did. Then she went dramatically lame with an abscess. As thoroughbreds do. 😦

Miss South Africa here has settled in much better and seems quite happy and relaxed in her stable and field these days. Work, regrettably, is another story. This horse’s anxiety levels are through the ceiling and she seems completely uneducated on how to actually deal with it. She is nice to ride in her comfort zone with three balanced, obedient and connected gaits, but we have just been walking and walking and walking. Trying to show her where to find the stillness in the storm. I should know. Her ground manners are getting better (it’s amazing what a well-placed elbow can achieve) and we’ve come to an agreement: I don’t push her into the fear zone, she doesn’t rear up and strike at my face.

Liana has also developed a cheeky run-out at oxers. Only at home, of course – this pony doesn’t know how to stop at shows. I’ve passed Midas on to a new little rider so I’m giving Liana to Vastrap’s kid to school a bit. Her little girl is doing better and better, and always manages to get her over on the second or third go despite being very little.

Lulu has been having a bit of a break after working very hard for the past two SANESA qualifiers. Much pampering has helped children back into her good books.

Magic is so well and happy. He was a bit lost without Exavior for a while, but I moved Nugget in with him and he is now back to full happiness again. He was wonderful to ride last week and much better to lunge – we can now canter on the lunge without having any wild moments.

Faith’s front end is finally catching up to her back end. She’s become so trusting of people. Definitely has an opinion and can be spooky, hot and quite pushy – but we’re working on that. This unicorn has an inner dragon. Besides, so far my spooky dressage horses have done all right.

Destiny’s focus has been on hacking. He’s nice in company and manageable on the trail alone, but nappy heading out. A well-placed dressage whip has sorted some of that out, however.

Arwen and I headed into the woods for the first time in – well, long. A year or more. I used to ride in these woods all the time before old Skye retired, but the string of young and/or spooky horses that have followed have kinda ruled that one out for me. But Sunè’s kid and I finally did it again and it was really rather amazing. You’re in another world in the woods. And even with Ice bounding in the bushes, Arwen never turned a hair.

As for Sunè and her kid, what more can I say? They’re a match made in heaven. She’s developed a cheeky little run-out, but nothing a session with me won’t fix.

Champagne makes for amazing photos.

I love how the trees dapple her twice in this one. Also she is now OK with chickens.

Last week ended refreshingly slowly, with dressage to look forward to, and lots of these special little moments scattered throughout. Chocolate froyo and my loony sister – as well as finally making my first foray into Francine Rivers when I found Redeeming Love on special for peanuts – are a good combination.


So are cats in boxes,


and rare moments of creative energy,


and dogs on laps,

and perfect plaits,

and dressage-sculpted dragon butts all in blue.

Blessed beyond all expectation. Glory to the King.

Dance

Emma and SprinklerBandit recently wrote about the why’s of riding – how the horse you have is linked to the very reason you ride in the first place. Never one to miss out on the chance to be sappy, I’m jumping right on the bandwagon.

just because I love this photo

It’s a topic I’ve been giving some thought to lately. The answers to why I ride for a living, and why I have the horses in the school that I have, are simple. God sent me, and God sent them.

Magic and old Skye are also pretty simple. They’re semi-retired pets. They’re here because they’re my friends and they don’t owe me a thing.

Then we get to the topic of dressage.

After realising that upper-level showjumping and eventing were just not going to happen for me – at least not in the next decade or so – I turned to my remaining options for a discipline I could be truly competitive in: dressage and showing. Showing judges freak me out, so that left dressage. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I adore dressage, in no small part thanks to the horse that was born for it – Nell. She gave me a taste of success and I liked it.

Then God turned the whole thing on its head.

Nell was sold. My best horse left; the carpet was pulled out from under the feet of my career. I mourned; not only the loss of a friend in Nellie, but the loss of a dream. It seemed to me that God was saying, “Enough of this selfishness. The time, money and energy you dedicate to this sport is self-serving; I want you to give it up and focus on the yard.”

And in a way, I guess He was. It shattered me to accept it, but I realised that much as I gave glory to Him in the high moments, schooling every day was all about progress and points and ambition. I laid down the dream.

Then He sent me Rainbow, and I was euphoric because I thought He was saying it wasn’t selfish after all.

And then Rainybow died. The cruelty of it was like a punch in the guts. It was all I could do not to lose my temper with God for this apparent injustice. I loved that horse and now she was gone and the dream with her, like Nell, but worse.

God said, “O, ye of little faith. I’ve got a plan with this, daughter.”

That’s why, when she basically fell out of the sky, I named her Faith. Not because I really had any, but to remind me to believe even when everything looks dark.

As you all know by now, since then everything just blossomed. Suddenly Arwen decided she was good at dressage too and went Elementary, and then Thunder was like “hi mom I’m really talented” and started scoring ridiculously well at Prelim, and now I have a dressage arena and even the sale ponies were scoring better than I ever have anywhere.

So the dream lives. But it’s a different beast to what it was with Nell. I have always been so desperate to prove to the students, to the world, to God that I was good enough  for them. I failed at jumping, I failed at eventing – dressage was my great hope.

But this whole year has basically been about one thing: the only opinion that matters is God’s, and nothing I ever do will make me good enough for His love, and it actually really doesn’t matter at all because He died for me before I even knew Him to say thank you to. It is the purest freedom from guilt to glimpse the depth of amazing grace, yet the strongest motivation to live purely, all at once.

So what is dressage to me now? A way to prove myself? I don’t have to prove myself because it just isn’t about me. My students are here and I give them my whole heart; as long as I keep doing that they don’t seem to care how much satin is on my wall.

Is it something for me to finally be brilliant at? Well, what does brilliance matter? Sport is temporary. I won’t be taking any ribbons or tests into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s become something more to me now. I don’t really have a name for it, but the closest word I know is this:

Worship.

I don’t deserve to be saved from eternal agony, yet I am. I don’t deserve to be loved by the God Who is Love, yet I am. I don’t deserve to become a dazzling, new, adopted member of God’s family, yet I am. I don’t deserve Arwen or Thunder or Faith or the 60x20m patch of sand or the opportunity to compete or anything – yet I have it. All that testifies to just one thing and that thing is grace.

So while I believe brilliance will be a by-product, and while I still hope one day I’ll get to ride Grand Prix, that’s all temporary. All just small things blowing by on the wind.

When I school now, I still tend to centre on selfish ambition. But this is my proclamation of a new mission statement for every time I throw a leg over one of the dressage horses.

The horses, the shows, the dances are a gift I don’t deserve, a reminder of the greater Gift. In riding every stride, I ride with empathy because I love the horses. I ride with diligence because I honour and appreciate the gift I have been given. But above all, I ride with love and passion, looking not at a number on a scoresheet but at the face of my God. I care less about how good the mark will be for a movement and more about the compassion behind the aid that asked for it. I care less about what the bystanders think and more about giving every breath I have to the God Who gives me life.

Dressage can be a sport, a dream, a torture session for horse and rider, a career.

To me, I choose dressage to be, in the style of Psalm 149:3, a dance.

Glory to the King.

Full-Hearted

Isn’t it the most wonderful thing to see God at work? He’s in everything at this little yard; present in each lesson, supervising each training session, caring about every small child and every bratty pony as His own. Even this particularly pathetic and grubby little daughter of His, so often mired in petty worries and little frustrations, often stands thunderstruck by the wonder of His amazing love.

Every time I ride Thunder he becomes more adept with the steps of the basic dance. Prelim is, well, Prelim; the hardest thing we do is four or five strides of semi-lengthened trot. But he’s becoming so joyous, so supple and balanced and connected and lifting through his back, that even simple working trot corners and circles are almost addictive to ride. We made a lot of progress with his canter, too. He has a lot more spring and carrying power behind these days and his hocks have visibly come under him more in the space of a few sessions.

My secret ambition is to break 70% on him this year. I don’t school him with this goal in mind, but I will be hoping for that number on a test sometime.

This is Firepaw. When she’s not terrorising the dogs, she sits majestically in this bowl and waits to be fed.

I’ve been focusing a lot more on having my riders work in light seat and without stirrups lately. Almost every time I have a private lesson booked, I teach a lunging lesson. Previously from the start my focus was heavily on independent control of the pony, which is a good thing, but the more I teach the more I realise how essential position is and how important it is to teach a good one from the very beginning. No-stirrups and light seat just never figured in my early education; I taught myself both. My new rule is that we only move on to a new gait when the rider can perform the old gait independently without stirrups.

It turns out I can catch Nugget, halter or no halter, with ease as long as I have a treat for her. I do want to wean her off the treats but there’s no denying that they worked when nothing else did. I even gave her her AHS vaccine without any drama whatsoever; I was feeding her with one hand and injecting with the other, the lead hanging loosely over my elbow, and she just gave a little flinch as she felt the needle. It’s a massive relief; now I know she can get medical treatment if she needs it.

Her feet are in quite a state. I can lift the fronts and tuck them between my knees like a farrier, so if I can borrow some clippers I might be able to do something about them, but we don’t talk about the hind feet just yet. Nobody else can come near her without getting kicked.

Blizzard’s first long-line was disastrous, so we backed up to lunging again. Pleased to announce that he now has three beautiful, relaxed, obedient, rhythmic gaits on the lunge and hasn’t put his tongue over the bit for a while.

He has no tendency to violence but he can be just as stubborn and silly as his small eye suggests. He wouldn’t be much of a competition horse, but his inherent quietness should make him a nice plod-along sort of hack.

Destiny has been going so much better. Still flinchy and spooky to hack, but rideable. He cottoned on to the idea of connection so quickly and can work connected from behind for a quite surprising length of time without getting tired. We even took him down to the grass jumping arena and he popped around like he doesn’t know what a spook even is.

Arwen is feeling much better after chiro. I was right that she was out in her neck but wrong about where; C6, not C3. She also had some tension through the lumbar spine (L2, L4, and L6) and was out in her sacrum on the right. She has been able to connect her neck a lot better since and to bend both ways far more easily (her shoulder-ins are easily twice as good as they were). I think the pelvis realignment also helped her to sit better through her canter-walk transitions. Nothing truly magical, but a definite improvement.

I think Arwen is beginning to feel a physical limitation at this level. She is incredibly correct throughout her conformation, but definitely not the most athletic horse ever and it’s starting to show somewhat. This actually doesn’t bother me like I thought it would. Losing first Nell and then Rainbow, then having personal financial restrictions that limit the amount of competitions I can do myself, have been so good for my attitude.

Dressage used to be a sport. Now it’s a dance three ways; thinking human, moving beast, loving God, all celebrating the wonderfulness of creation and its Creator. Arwen and I are greatly enjoying this level and I honestly don’t mind if we go no further. We can do Elementary forever until we do it perfectly, or we can go event again, or we can stay at home and dance. Dragonbeast doesn’t owe me a thing.

Nor does old Skye, but she stays beautiful.

I only rode Magic once this week, and only down the centreline and along one long side before he had a bit of a meltdown about the geese. Anxiety is a female canine. We worked through it, though. There’s no rush, we take it one day, one breath at a time.

Faithy wore a saddle; not for any real reason other than that I didn’t feel like carrying it up the hill. Obviously, she didn’t mind one bit. We also put her in the horsebox again, this time without a bum rope, but with some cookies.

She is a lovely citizen at the moment, but can tend to get a bit forward and pulling when hand walked somewhere unfamiliar. The horse loves to work, though. She enjoys people and likes learning. I think she might grow up into a bit of a hot and spooky type, but there’s nothing wrong with the work ethic, and that’s my main thing. Hot and spooky we can work with.

I failed badly at pictures this week, so here’s a little cuteness to break up the text. Stardust is looking the best she’s ever looked and feeling great in her body and mind, too. I keep her for beginners and hacks now; her gimpy leg has improved, but I doubt she’ll ever really be able to jump or easily canter on the off lead. She’s super with beginners and has lovely smooth gaits, so she has plenty to do, and the slower work suits her well so she’s become friendly and perky again instead of the typical grouchy schoolie. Lullaby has been heading in that direction lately – never really naughty with the kids, but grumpy to catch and tack up, so we’re diverting some of her work onto Sunè and Starlight.

Eagle has become so confident on hacks that he’s started to get quite forward and pull – heading out, not back. Silly nana. He can still have the odd look at things, but we’ve been hacking alone and in company and he’s always happy to do the thing and stays rideable through everything.

Lancey is preparing for his first dressage tests next weekend. He’s going in at the deep end with Prelim 3 and 4 and I don’t expect miracles, but he just has to keep it together and do what I say and I’ll be happy.

Trooper jumped! He actually went up in the air and over the jump with all four feet and then cantered off. Poor little chap. He’s safe as a house though. He can just about go do a walk/trot test and a POG class, so as soon as his passport is done we’ll be attempting an outing or two.

The upcoming SANESA show will likely be my last on Midas, depending on the little girl who’s been trying him in the school, and on whether we get through to Finals. I would still love to jump around EV60 with him, but I won’t break the bank trying, and with training fairly in demand it makes sense to palm him off on VT’s child until he sells.

Glory to the King.

Grateful Sappiness

I may be yard manager, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get very, very soppy about my friends the horses sometimes. I think a defining characteristic of the real horsewoman is that deep down, she’s still a 12-year-old girl who loves ponies.

Music and horses seem to dance hand in hand, too. Their very gaits and songs follow the same beats. I shamelessly listen while I ride; it helps me focus and the horses don’t seem to mind at all.

So today’s dose of sappiness involves celebrating my dear pets with the lyrics that make me think of them, with a heart of gratitude to the God Who should be punishing me.

This is from a random song my buddy Erin found on the Internet, “Dragonhearted” and it’s totally Arwen’s anthem. She’s the horse that never quits believing and it works for her. Misspelling absolutely intended, by the way.

This one is from a local artist, Elvis Blue’s “Lighthouse”. It’s something of homecoming and the graceful curves of the old, gold charger have always been that for me. A taste, perhaps, of what awaits us once we really get Home for good.

Basically anyone who knows Casting Crowns knows “Just Be Held”, which is all about the fact that God is holding onto us even when we’re too feeble even to grasp His outstretched Hand. That was a lesson I learned in no small part through God’s powerful use of Magic in my life.

MercyMe is a new one to me, but “The First Time” broke my heart. God’s mercy and grace are new every single day and undeserved every time, and just when I think I’ve seen the limit of His love, it turns out to be a false horizon, a hilltop from which a whole world of valleys and forests and fields of mercy rolls away in all directions into the everlasting. Thunder is a cherry on top, a blessing I don’t even need, but God saw fit to let me have him anyway. I feel so humbled.

As for Faith, Casting Crowns’s “Oh My Soul” has just always been her song. She arose from the sorrow of Nell’s sale and the tragedy of Rainbow’s death. And I can assure you that there will be dancing.

Dancing with horses, hand in hand with my King. Each step one waltz closer to our forever home.

Glory to the King.