Two Lessons

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.

it’s only 3 hours away but it feels like Narnia

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).

he has no muscles so let’s call this the before picture

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.

sceptical

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.

sooooo grey!

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.

let us appreciate how small I look on her 14.3 hands

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.

follow puppy

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.

“Mom, you’re out of your cotton-picking mind”

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.

J’s doggo is almost as big as my horsie

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.

Till then, we will be dancing.

Glory to the King.

Later

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.

Keep my seat warm at Home. I love you always.

Why

The admin of an equestrian Facebook group asked a question the other day that was terrifying in its simplicity: Why do you have a horse?

It seems like such an easy question until you have to answer it.

The answers to her post grew longer and longer as horse people from every walk of life waxed lyrical with their reasons for adding a large and expensive flight animal to their lives and hearts. It seems at first glance that there are hundreds of reasons why people have horses: Because they are therapy; because we’ve always wanted one; because they’re our friends; because they give us freedom; because they help us reach our dreams; because they give us a few moments’ escape from the brutal world of human interaction. Because we love them. Because we find them beautiful.

But in reality, there aren’t hundreds of reasons why we have horses. There is only one.

We have horses because God lent them to us.

Only He knows why. If I had created an animal so perfect – a beast with the speed of the wind, the grace of an unfurling storm and the heart of a warrior – I wouldn’t have given it to the loud, messy, selfish, violent human race. We are the ones that fell, after all. He gave us the horse, a creature whose very movement heals us, whose emotional connection to us goes beyond what we can really explain, and we have been abusing that privilege ever since. They’ve been pulling our loads and fighting our battles for centuries, and we built our civilization upon their willing backs.

We don’t deserve them. But then again, it’s never been about what we deserve. Their presence in our lives is just a drop in the ocean of His grace.

The great mercy is that God didn’t give them to us to keep. It’s only ever a loan: sooner or later, and we never know when, they’ll all be called Home to stand in the stables of the King.

He gave us dominion over them. Let us never, ever forget how sacred our duty is towards these magnificent animals. Let us never lose our appreciation for what our horses do for us. Having horses is not about us and it has never been about us.

Like everything else, it’s all about grace.

Glory to the King.

Elementary, Here We Come!

Despite the fact that we’re struggling to get to lessons and the last time we went down centreline in competition was in March, Thunderbirdy has been making awesome progress.

Looking back on blog posts from November last year, I’m a little awed at what God has done through Coach J and Thunder. Last year this time we were tentatively testing the Novice waters. Now, we’re schooling the early EM tests at home, and it feels… well, I don’t want to say easy. But it feels good. And it comes way more naturally than it ever did with Arwen. Not to deprecate any of her achievements – she took me to Elementary based solely on articles I read on the Internet, for goodness’ sake.

But beautiful Thunder has had guidance, and it really shows. He is so powerful, so elastic, so much better in the connection than I could ever have hoped for before. Basically if we struggle with anything then I’m making a mistake somewhere. There are no real roadblocks right now; we just keep building, brick by brick, getting stronger and more confirmed in all of his work.

Even the changes aren’t stopping us. Even the canter-walk transitions have suddenly clicked when we revamped his canter and I learned to ride them in shoulder-fore. Those were major roadblocks for Arwen and I, and with them out of the way, I really kinda feel like there’s nothing stopping us from Medium, from Advanced, maybe even PSG. Who knows? Right now he is young and sound and just amazing with everything, and I’m not going to believe in any limits until we reach them.

Sunday will be our first show in many months, thanks to incredible provision that the Lord has been blessing us with via my ghostwriting. It’s a local training show with a judge I respect, so I went ahead and signed up for Elementary 1 and 2. The tests are not very difficult but it will be his first time having to do canter-walk and halt immobility in the show arena, as well as only his second time ever doing lateral work at a show.

I’m not expecting anything like what I get at home. At home on a good day I’m sure we can get 70% or above for both of those tests, but we haven’t shown in a while so I’m gonna be a mess and he’s gonna be a mess so we’re just going to go in and get a feel for those tests.

Right now all my main goals when it comes to showing are about what’s going on inside my messed up little head. My mentality is the single greatest obstacle standing in our way, and if we can overcome that, then there’s really nothing going to stop us.

So today I’m excited to show. I’m not nervous because it doesn’t matter if it all goes horribly wrong. Dressage is not about marks or movements. Dressage is about celebrating the connection that exists so spectacularly between horse and person, no matter how messy that celebration can look. I’m inordinately blessed just to swing my leg over my gorgeous horse every day. And no amount of nerves is going to ruin my joy in that.

Glory to the King.

On Duty and Insurance

Today I’d like to talk about something that I feel strongly about, and forgive me if I get a little passionate. I almost wrote “It’s something that the sport needs to hear”, but actually, the sport is generally quite good about this. This is something that the average rider needs to hear. The one-horse rider, perhaps on a bit of a budget, perhaps just having two ponies on a plot somewhere, perhaps the parent watching their kid pop around at SANESA – the ordinary, average horse owner that makes up the vast and overwhelming majority of horse owners in South Africa today.

The something is this: your horse should be insured.

It expands into this: your retired horse should also be insured.

 

This is Magic. Say hi, Magic.

screenshot_2017-10-24-19-12-13.png

Magic is 11. Magic is also retired. There’s nothing really wrong with him physically, except ordinary OTTB stuff – his feet are a little flat and he’s got a bit of KS going on. We showjumped a bit, and for about four out of five shows he would be amazing and perfect. But that one out of five, he would do one of two things: he would fly backwards across the arena gasping in abject and genuine panic for half an hour, or he would get home and colic. It wasn’t fair on him anymore, so now he decorates the lawn, and has done so for two years.

In short, Magic is worth approximately R0.00. More accurately, he’s worth about -R1500 every month, conservatively, and only because we live on the farm and have grazing.

Magic also has a five-figure vet bill sitting on my desk.

Magic’s vet bill will be paid. Because you just can’t put a price tag on some things, and the horse you retired is one of them. You see, Magic never won any real ribbons and never really got me anywhere when it came to riding. He left me with a collection of bad habits and frayed nerves and two big fat RFs on my record – at the same show. But Magic gets the best of everything. He is a shiny, round, happy 7.5/10 on the condition scale year-round; his teeth are done, his feet are done, and he has all of his shots every year. I don’t spend as much time with him as I would like because at some point I do have to work in order to keep providing him with his happy, lazy existence, but every morning he gets a carrot and a hug and I like to think he still knows that I care about him.

It’s not really about what he thinks of me, though. I don’t take care of him because I’m a warm and fuzzy person. I do it because I honestly owe it to him to give him the best and happiest life he possibly could have and even if I succeed for many years then I will still forever be in his debt.

Magic never shaped me as a rider. He shaped me as a human being.

Magic never won ribbons, but he won my heart. He didn’t teach me very much about showjumping, but he taught me about life, during a tempestuous time as I struggled with the insurmountable challenge that is adolescence. He taught me to forgive myself for scars, for pain, for being a broken piece of humanity in a broken world. He taught me to breathe deep and slow. He taught me that there’s so much more to life than success and so much more to the sport than winning. And so much more to horses than competing.

He didn’t give me all that much pleasure in the saddle or any great pride or victory or prestige. He gave me so much more. He gave me hope. He gave me forgiveness. He gave me tenderness. He gave me the power to understand my own rattled and anxious soul.

He’s not just a horse or a fine companion or even a best friend. He’s an instrument of God.

Magic gave me a part of who I am, a good and loving and compassionate part.

A thousand vet bills will never, ever be enough to pay him back.

 

Here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t actually matter how lyrical I can wax about how much I love my priceless retiree or what he’s done for me. Of course I wanted to save him when he colicked this week. The fact remains that if he hadn’t been insured, all the wanting in the world wouldn’t have done a thing. Even what I have done was almost not enough; he needed a surgery that I couldn’t have paid for – to be fair, these surgeries extend into six figures – and it’s only by God’s grace that he’s still with us.

I didn’t have him insured for that kind of money. But I had him insured for something; enough that he could be in hospital on a drip and receiving professional, round-the-clock care by someone who wasn’t emotional, drained, and ultimately out of their depth. This time, it was enough. You better believe he’s getting better insurance in case there is a next time.

This is the real value of insurance. Not something to protect your financial investment, but something to save the horses that financially aren’t really worth saving; the horses that gave you everything and now stand in a field somewhere, hopefully with you, a bit old and ugly and broken. They gave you their hearts. Now it’s your turn.

I’m talking to you, average rider on your average horse. You the lady doing Prelim or EV60 on a Boerperd or an OTTB or a nondescript little bay horse of uncertain ancestry and deep, gentle eyes. You the daddy paying for your kid to ride. You the doting horse mom with two Shetlands in your backyard, piggy-fat and eating carrots and thriving. You all feed your horse enough and make sure he’s dry in the rain, but are you ready for a colic surgery? Are you ready for a night at the vet hospital? Are you ready for diagnostics, treatments, drips?

Medical aid starts as cheaply as R160 per month. If you can compete in one single training show class or eat out once a month, you can afford this.

I shouldn’t really be asking you if you’re ready to pay to save your horse. Rather, I should ask you this: Are you ready to watch your horse die because you can’t?

 

The Best Baby Horsie

I have SO MUCH to write about and so much media that it’s a little overwhelming. Thunderbirdy has been his superb self, charging through the EM work already with great gusto, revolutionising his canter, and just being my bestest dance partner.

But today I want to gush some more about my Faith pony.

First, she actually looks like a horse now, which is a great relief. Not a super pretty horse, granted, but at least something horse-esque. We’re approaching her four-year-old year so mercifully it should be all uphill from here (SHOULD).

Her training is going great. Physically, all we’ve really achieved is a canter where all the legs go in the same direction and the ability to trot over poles.

All the training we’re doing right now is emotional. We’re talking about how standing still is a safe space, too. About how nothing I ask her to do is painful, and about how the thing I want is the easy thing.

We’re discussing how new things never mean punishment, but are neutral or result in praise when dealt with quietly. We’re talking about forward and straight.

Most of our rides are spent sparking these kind of conversations using obstacles or going on outrides. We’ve done little working riding courses and “jumps” (crosses small enough to just trot over). In fact, she’s more than ready to go into a connection and start learning throughness and bend. She just needs her teeth to be done first. For now I have her in a Nathe and ride on a long, floppy rein.

In the interim, we have quiet conversations about respect and patience. We acknowledge each other as strong-minded young women who both have valid opinions and realistic needs. Every ride, we’re learning to trust each other a little bit better.
We’re keeping it conversational. We’re keeping it fun.

I love this horse on hacks. She’s just a baby but she’s such a genuine baby – a nice, normal baby horse with no baggage and no vices who just loves to work. She prefers to lead, with her little ears pricked and her stride long and swinging through her whole body. Sometimes we still have our babysitter go in front for scary things, but she’s pretty good about everything. She has an honest little spook and if she’s unsure she just stops and has a look until she knows it’s safe.

Soon we’ll start bending and connecting and test riding. For now, we go on hacks. We fool around on a loose rein. We ride bareback. On Sunday, we’re going to her first ridden show. We’re doing ground poles, but if we just unload and stand at the show quietly all day, that’s cool too.

It’s not about what we’re doing. It’s about what we’re talking about. I’m in no hurry and I allow no one to prescribe to me what my journey with my beautiful baby horsie is supposed to look like.

The only opinions that matter are my horse’s and God’s. And I’m enjoying every heartbeat with them both.

Glory to the King.

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.