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.

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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.

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.

Perfect Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not even my own failures can destroy me now.

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

Further up. Further in.

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

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

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

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Glory to the King.

On a Happier Note

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

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

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

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

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

my hunks ❤

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to the King.

Unexpected Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to the King.