Equivest Show and More

Y’all.

Tunder5
halt, salute, stare at judge

My God? He’s amazing.

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Every time I enter a dressage show I feel vaguely guilty about spending time and money on something that isn’t expressly helping other people. I know, intellectually, that God wouldn’t have sent me Faith, or made my scruffy homebred really quite talented, if He wanted me to stop. I know I gave it to Him. But knowing something in your head and having faith in it in your soul isn’t always the same thing.

But these past few days have been one step deeper into faith.

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The dream team set off: Superdad, Wonderbird and the Dragon, at a leisurely hour on Sunday morning (things I love about dressage). We were there in good time and I plopped Arwen’s tack on and off we went. I was expecting a dragon, but she was really, really good. Relaxed and quiet from the word go, but forward and enthusiastic. Our warmup was very relaxed, but as mediocre as usual. I was focusing hard on trying to develop an actual medium trot instead of a piggy little run, and she was focusing hard on bucking through the counter canter at one point, but then we were off and I was cautiously optimistic.

Our first halt felt OK, it was steady, square and on the bit, but it was 5.5 for quarters to left. The serpentine XA felt good as well for 6.5, which is about as good as we get. I’ve been working hard on the leg-yield and FX felt good – and was good, for 6.0 – but it all came to bits XM and I tried to sort it out but couldn’t really so that was a 5.0: “too much sideways”. At that point I started to realise that Arwen, while not exhausted, was slightly tired. After so many years of having her so, so fit, I’ve forgotten how flat she can be when she’s not jumping out of her skin. Arwen has to be hot to be her best, and she didn’t have the oomph.

Still, she didn’t feel at all reluctant, just a little tired, so I felt it was OK to finish the test and we soldiered on. We picked up a few more 6.0s for the halt and rein back (“steps not quite clear”) and the two turns on the haunches (“little too hurried”) – both better than before. The extended walk was 6.0 too, “lacking purpose”. She has a fabulous walk, so I blame that on being a little flat, too. And then at A she struck off on the wrong leg for a well-deserved 4.0. Really, Arwen? A wrong lead, in an Elementary test? But once again, she never, ever does that at home. Her brain was tired.

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like I say. Superdad.

We got it together though for our best marks of the test; 7.0 for both the 10m canter circle and – get this – the simple change! I suppose we can cross “survive the simple changes” off our goals list. The counter canter was back to 6.0 for lacking engagement, and then the medium was a 4.5. I thought it was OK, but this judge evidently laid great emphasis on correct extensions/mediums, so that’s fair.  Our circle at R was down to a 5.0 (“more jump”) and then the next change she picked up the wrong leg again, for 4.0. The counter canter was another 5.0 with “more jump”, and then the medium trot, obviosuly, was a 4.0. I didn’t let her hurry this time, but we didn’t really do much medium-ing, so yeah. The halt was fine except she fussed and made herself extra-square at the last moment, earning a 6.0, “not quite steady”.

The final mark was 54.1%. I do wish we’d gotten 55% and that final grading point, but it was fair, and I loved the judge’s comments. He asked for more jump, more engagement, noting that she was a little flat and lost unnecessary marks (two incorrect strike-offs – ya think?). But he also said “Rider tried hard on an obedient horse”, which I felt was true and complimentary.

Ultimately I think she could have done better and will once she is fitter. I think she did go better in the double, especially in her changes and transitions and rein back (we almost got our goal of more than 6.0 for the rein back). I also think she will never be competitive at Elementary because I was twelve years old and entirely clueless when I started riding her, with practically no guidance. She’s done wonders considering the hand she’s been dealt, and I remember thinking as we walked out of the arena that this horse would run through fire for me. I’ve given her second-rate training and she has given me her heart, and that’s what makes it worth it despite the occasional disaster.

Thunder6
sassy? Nope. A fly.

Moving onto Thunder, we decided for my dad to stand by the warmup and the show arena with Arwen this time. I wanted to give Thun the best possible chance at a good test considering it was a level up and I wanted to build his confidence with the new movements, and I knew Arwen would be impossible alone anyway, so it was just easier.

Warming up, I knew immediately he was going well. He was relaxed and forward, going down into my hand instead of having to be held at all, and there was a suppleness in his back that makes me excited. As we went on, I noticed that a rider who had also ridden in the Elementary had just come charging into the warmup, looking a bit flustered. She was number 113 and we were number 114, but had already been warming up for a little while. I had done my basic warmup – large, lengthenings, a stretchy circle, some transitions and circles and lengthenings in canter – and was just about to start riding my test movements to finish the warmup when I heard the announcer calling number 113, who hadn’t even cantered yet.

“Can’t you go?” she asked me.

It was a knee-jerk reaction. “No, sorry. I’m not quite ready.”

I headed off, leaving flustered lady to her warmup, but something didn’t feel good in my soul. I paused, and I reluctantly listened to that still small voice. I really wanted a good mark. I really believed Thunder would go better if I could just have another ten minutes. But I knew what Jesus would do, and we dance for Him.

“It’s OK!” I yelled, inelegantly booting poor old Thun across the warmup. “We’re going!”

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I don’t write this to boast, because what’s one tiny kindness compared to the ocean of my sin, or to the extravagance of the Love that went to the cross for it? I write it because I want to tell you all how big my God is. I felt His pleasure, and we went in and I rode the best test of my entire life. And my horse was right there with me, doing his very best.

The first centreline and halt was 7.5; he was a little unbalanced, but stepped forward to a square halt. Then our turns at C and B and walk/trot transition at X was an 8.5. Yup. Comment “obedient”. So he is; I wish I was as obedient to the call of my Master as that good-hearted horse is to the touch of my hand. The serpentine was a 7, comment “needs to show more change of bend in body; accurate”. We had a 6 for the stretchy trot, a better mark than before; he maintained his rhythm and did actually offer a tiny stretch for the first time ever in the show ring, so I was happy. His stretchy trot is getting good at home – it’s just a matter of time before he relaxes in the ring.

We were back to a 7.5 for the free walk and a 7 for the first transition and canter circle. Our lengthening wasn’t terribly good, getting a 6 with comment “could be more balanced”. He was on his forehand and stayed there for the transition at A. I panicked about the lengthening and kicked him, so he gave half a canter step and I took a few strides to sort myself out and get a bit of lengthening, so that was a 6: “could show more balance at A and more ground cover”.

The canter transition at C and circle at B was a 7, asking for more uphill and jump. And our last halt was an 8. The final mark was 72.5%. You could say I was quite happy with that.

Thunder1
so so so much better through the neck

The second test started with a 7 for the centreline (“straight; halt could be more balanced”) and for the rein change with half circle (“could show more bend through body”). I fluffed the second rein change with half circle for a 6 (“not quite to X, could show more bend through body”). By this point my brain was also getting kinda tired – I had vowed to focus this time without being nervous, and I did, but it was starting to take a little strain. Our lengthening once again started with a tranter step and got a 6.0, comment “needs to show more push from behind to cover more ground”. And then we had our free walk. And then we got our first 9.0.

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Not even kidding. It was fantastic.

The canter transition at M that I had been dreading was an 8.0, “obedient”, and the 15m circle was a 7.5, “could be more uphill”. I got the geometry right this time, though. The KXM rein change with a trot at X and canter at M was a 7.0, again asking for more uphill, but it was better than our downwards from canter to trot have been. The next 15m circle was another 7.5, the canter lengthening another 6.0. By the half circle onto the centreline, I was cooked. I sort of pulled him around any old how and we fell in a heap for 6.5.

Still, it was 71.8%, with super collectives: 7.0 for paces, 7.5 for impulsion (on Mr. Lazybones nonetheless), 7.0 for submission, 8.0 for rider position and aids. I have no idea where he placed because two tired Hydes really wanted to go home, so I just asked for my tests and they were nice enough to give me a couple of placed ribbons (cheers, Equivest!). “What a super horse,” the judge wrote. “Well ridden.” I was so chuffed.

But the story doesn’t end there. Oh no! There were a few more miracles in store for us. As we were waiting for my test and lunch, the owner of a top Friesian stud in our area beckoned me over.

“Who teaches you?” he enquired.

“I jump with Coach K,” I said, “but I don’t really get dressage lessons.”

“Oh,” he said. “Well, I can see that.”

I was just about to feel hurt when he offered for me to come over and join his riders in a lesson with their Very Big Name Trainer. Around this time Very Big Name Trainer popped up (I almost wet myself) and announced that this was a good idea and I could even get a very good price “if you do your homework”. I vowed to do my homework, and the next thing I know, this morning Thunder and I found ourselves in the middle of the very fancy arena at very fancy Friesian place with Very Big Name Trainer – OK, fine, I’ll call him Coach J – yelling at us.

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I originally wanted to cry because I thought we’d never get good lessons ever again except once a year with Coach S when she fits his saddle, and here all of a sudden we were getting lessons from Coach J and cheaply and I was a little overwhelmed by what God is doing for us. But within the first two minutes I was way too busy to feel anything very much.

Despite seeing mirrors for the first time in his life, Thunny was perfect. We dragged Jamaica along to babysit but Jamaica chilled in the fancy stable and Thunder didn’t miss him at all – he didn’t even whinny once. And Coach J totally failed to hate my fabulous purple bandages. He did, however, roundly kick our behinds.

We didn’t actually do anything that hard, except that we had to do everything perfectly so it was all ridiculously hard. Once Thunny had walked around to have a look at everything and been asked to go long and low and a bit deep to stretch his back, we did a tiny little serpentine down the long side. And then we did a square with turns on the forehand that almost killed us, and then we trotted a 15m circle. That was it. My brain is overflowing with new stuff, and also I am very uncoordinated.

Basically:

  • Inside leg to outside rein.
  • When Thunder wants to be looky, put him in shoulder-fore, flexing him away from the scary thing. This worked well for him because he isn’t really that scared, and being given a job and asked to soften helps him relax.
  • Inside leg to outside rein.
  • Tiny, tiny turns to help him bend through the body more (seeing a recurring theme yet?). They don’t have to be perfectly balanced, but 5m or smaller circles/serpentines in walk to help him release his back.
  • Inside leg to outside rein.
  • On small turns, inside hand to my belly button, not to my knee, to lift his shoulder.
  • Inside leg to outside rein.
  • Absolutely no seesawing on the bit; only solid contact, or small sponges within the contact. I say this to my kids about four thousand times every afternoon. I can’t believe I actually still do it myself. Urgh.
  • INSIDE LEG TO OUTSIDE REIN.
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coach J: srsly girl let go of your inside rein already

At this point Coach J had had enough of yelling at me about my inside rein and started the turn on the forehand exercise. We walked a little square, with a quarter turn on the forehand at each end. The catch? No inside rein. NONE. He wanted it hanging, to show me that I don’t need to pull it the whole time. It was at this point that my brain started to fry. It’s so automatic to hang on that inside rein – poor Coach J shouted about it like a million times. Eventually we were doing shoulder-in to turn on the forehand to shoulder-in to turn on the forehand with the inside rein dangling completely loose. Well, most of the time. Except when I was panicking and Coach J had to start all over again.

We moved on then to trotting a 15m circle, spiralling it in and out now and then, with no inside rein – but with bend and connection. It was so hard, but it so worked. Thunder was super willing – as soon as he understood, he obeyed. My inside hand, less so. It’s amazing how one’s own body parts can be less obedient than the half-ton prey animal that is my dance partner.

With that, we were done, and given loads of homework, and sent off ridiculously excited. Thunder has done so well all by himself, with only one lesson ever. Imagine what he can do with the help we have now. We might even do the bigger levels someday; Coach J seemed to think we could do more than EM. I would love so much to even do EM!

Thanks to our beloved King, Whose mighty plan prevails. I am so excited to see where my God is going with this. No detail is too small for Him. I have long since stopped dreaming: I have found that He dreams much, much bigger than I ever could.

Thank You, Abba. Glory to the King.

Thunder2
this salute is only for One ❤

 

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

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Hebrews 11 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

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It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.

It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.”[a] For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

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It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

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11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[b] that God would keep his promise. 12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.

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13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

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17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”[c] 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

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20 It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau.

21 It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.

22 It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left.

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23 It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king’s command.

24 It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. 27 It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. 28 It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.

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29 It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.

30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.

31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

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32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

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But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

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And by faith, this most undeserving of all His children would find herself most abundantly blessed.

I love my little mustard seed. ❤ Glory to the King.

Hope

Once, English and Afrikaans murdered each other in the thousands. The stubborn Afrikaner met the relentless Englishman in a bloody clash that would last for years and destroy countless families; the marching hordes of the British facing the savage guerrillas of the Boer. Farms burned, men and boys died, and women and children starved in concentration camps in what has been called “the most terrible and destructive modern armed conflict in South Africa’s history”.

The Anglo-Boer War took place just more than a century ago, 1899-1902, and claimed the lives of thousands of people. Since this is an equestrian blog, perhaps the number most likely to bring home the sheer magnitude of the bloodbath is the number of horses that were killed: 300 000. That’s almost ten times the population of my hometown.

 

 

Today has been dubbed “Black Monday”. Not terribly original, perhaps, but it’s a name on the lips of almost every South African on this day. Highways are slowed to a crawl and smaller roads closed by hundreds of farmers and tractors and bakkies and their supporters, all wearing black. Whether I agree with the protest – peaceful though it is – itself or not is immaterial; at least voices are being heard. Today I have a strip of black cloth tied around my wrist. In mourning for the thousands of Afrikaners that are dying in this time.

Our farmers are being killed, raped, robbed and tortured in the farm attack trend that’s spreading all over the country. It’s not declared war, but it is ugly, and it is bloody. It’s also threatening to tear apart the ideal of the Rainbow Nation that our hero Madiba lived and died and won the Nobel Prize for. The actions of a hateful group has caused the festering old wound of racism to erupt and bleed on both sides. It is blatant, open, unquestioned.

In the minds of many, it has become us versus them. Black versus white. We don’t say it too loudly on social media, but the anger is there, the hatred is there. It is undoubtedly there for the killers, who have almost without exception targeted white Afrikaans farmers. Their excuse for their grudge is apartheid, which ended twenty-three years ago. I will be unpopular but truthful for saying that apartheid still lives on in the hearts of thousands – both black and white. For those killers, at least, it is still very much alive, and their hatred is based on the most pointless of factors: skin colour and the less-than-recent past.

 

The bitter enemies of Afrikaans and English reached a moody treaty in 1902, although many of the Boere, as stubborn and unbreakable as the rough country where they originate, chose exile over surrender. We call them the Bittereinders; Wikipedia translates the word to “irreconcilables”, but directly, it means, “Bitter Enders.” Bitter is a good name for it. Bitter is what we are today.

But we don’t have to be. Not forever.

On Sundays, I tuck my Bible under my arm and go to church. I mount the steps of a building older than the war, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk. We call it the Klipkerk. I speak fluent Afrikaans with no accent to the ouderlinge and I slide into my pew and sing the Oorwinningslied.

Then the dominee takes his place and we sit, and he begins to preach in Afrikaans. And I open my King James Bible and read along in English.

A hundred years ago, it would not have been possible, but here it is. My dad is so English he could barely understand anyone when we moved to our very Afrikaans community seventeen years ago. My mom is as Afrikaans as they come. As for me, I was ‘the Anglo-Boer Bulge’ before I was born. I have met with nothing but acceptance, and a little friendly ribbing, from “pure” English or Afrikaans people and communities.

I am the offspring of those who once were sworn enemies. And I am hope.

 

 

We have already come so far. And when I say “we”, I don’t mean “white Afrikaans/English people like me”, I mean “South African people like me”. We have already won so many small battles. This last uprising, this desperate resistance of evil and disunity can be conquered – must be conquered. We cannot give up now, we cannot give in to the darkness now, we cannot continue in our old and hateful ways anymore because it will shred us all. The farm attacks are born of racism; our response doesn’t have to be. We will stop those criminals not because they are people who are black but because they are people who are doing bad things. Surely that’s what’s more important? And we will stop the bad things we’re doing, in our actions, our hearts, and our words.

And yet I know we have a long way to go before apartheid ends, even though it was officially abolished before I was even born. It’s alive and kicking in the words and hearts of millions.

But it is not alive in mine. I have killed it. It fought back, of course, as hatred does; growing up in a world that sees in black and white makes the temptation difficult. It’s so easy to blame a skin colour rather than a flaw of society or, worse, a flaw of your own.

Our struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemies are not only human. Our fight is not only physical. I will not allow the darkness to overwhelm my heart. I will not allow racism to colour my vision. I will feel. I will believe. I will mourn for my brothers and sisters who have fallen, regardless of their skin colour.

Thousands of us have taken an entire day to stage this protest. Will we all take ten minutes every morning to take the fight to our knees? Will we all pray for our people with the same vehemence with which we curse our enemies?

The real bad guys only win when they make us hateful. In many of us, they’re winning.

I stand with every farmer who has died, every nourisher of our people who has had to be afraid, and I stand with every person who has ever been a victim of racism. I stand against hatred. I stand against violence. I stand against all that is dark and evil. I stand against unrighteous judgment and the division between the races. I stand for love, I stand for faith, and I stand for hope.

 

 

It might take a century, but I pray and I wait and I watch for the day when a brown-skinned young person mounts the steps of the Klipkerk and listens to an Afrikaans sermon, reading along in a Zulu Bible. It has been done before. It can be done again.

And I pray God that it is, for all of our sakes.

Summer’s Here

The arrival of some beautiful rain has transfigured the face of our landscape from the dormant browns of winter to vibrant life.

And no matter that I’ve been living here since I can remember, it still takes my breath away. So do these, my three dance partners. Faith must be about Arwen’s height already. I expect her to mature about Thunder’s height and probably also quite solid.

The damp earth has helped eliminate the various coughings, sneezings and nose-runnings of all the allergic horses.

Longer days make for those stunning late afternoon rides in the golden light. I teach until at least 5:30 most evenings now.

Lullaby is back on fighting form, her old, happy, bouncy self. She’s even off her joint supplement. She led the way on this hack up the big hill.

Liana and her kid followed. I’m so honoured to be a small part of providing kids with experiences like these.

Jamaica also went hacking with Vastrap and his kid, and behaved impeccably.

The big hill is my favourite place for hacking. It’s interesting, has amazing views, and is good work for the horses too.

Clouds have changed the skyscape, making the world seem bigger. I don’t know why, but the sky is a deeper blue in summer around here.

We now have a sign. Each step forward feels like a miracle, probably because it is one; we depend so entirely on our Jesus, and He never lets us down. This year testifies to that.

Our yard is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

This is the place where my soul can’t sing loud enough to Abba Father. Where the miracle happens. As an aside, the footing held up impressively well in the rain. We’ve been able to jump every day.

For some reason the sky is a lot smaller in town, but it’s still beautiful. My personal space is about 228ha.

That’s more like it.

Sunrises haven’t quite reached the height of splendour yet, but there’s something more subtly majestic in their muted colours.

The jacaranda tree is in bloom.

The long one-sided love story of God and I starts with sunrises. Years and years ago, since I can remember thinking about bigger things, it was the beauty of the world that convinced me that there had to be Something out there. I felt its presence; something dynamic, vibrant, powerful, and very much alive. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have a name for it, but I found it utterly irresistible. I longed to know it. My longing was inexpressible; I wanted to feel it, to be drawn into it.

And the greatest miracle of them all was discovering that this amazing Thing was not only alive, it was Someone, and He had a Son, and He had given that Son up for me. The power that made the wind and stars, He wants me to talk to Him, to cry out to Him, to love Him. The sunrises stopped being splendid creations of some distant and mysterious magnificence and became something more: an intimate, personal expression of love from the God Who never lets go.

Glory to the King.

Why We Don’t Quit

(After Internet-related trouble, I’m back at last! Update on the horsies to follow.)

I’ve seen so many people come and go from the things I love. Not just kids in the riding school, but people who wanted to devote themselves to something, then eventually… didn’t.

In our culture, quitting has become socially acceptable. We’re practically expected to quit on something important, sooner or later. Every day, we quit on hobbies, on projects, on jobs, on marriages, on people… even on life. Who hasn’t, once in their life, just given up on something? Or someone?

But why do we quit?

We could make it complicated and say that kids who want to be yard managers quit because clients don’t pay, because one buck too many couldn’t be passed, because of midnight checks, because horses die. We could say coaches quit because of the kids who don’t care as much as they do, or because of being heartbroken for the kids who don’t get the chance they deserve. We could say volunteers quit because of people who abuse them or drunk people or dead people. We could say parents quit because of the realisation that whatever you do, kids will still grow up to be people who make their own choices and they won’t all be good ones.

We could say that cops quit because of corruption or because of line of duty deaths. We could say that husbands and wives quit because no one human being ever really understands another. We could say that therapists quit because of suicide or that vets quit because of having to put down healthy young unwanted animals or that people quit on life because of pain and unwantedness and despair and terror.

We could say all of these things and we would be wrong.

We quit for one reason that all of this aching humanity has in common. 

We quit because we don’t find what we’re looking for.

C. S. Lewis called it our “inconsolable secret”. We are all looking for something. We all have an aching void inside of us, an agonised abyss so vast and so inexpressibly painful that it has become the quest of our lives to find something to fill it. Call it what you will; happiness, meaning, purpose, security – our whole lives turn on filling that void. On finding that thing.

History is the long and sorry story of how we try to fill it. Some of us try to use drugs or sex or crime. But the vast majority of us have a socially acceptable method of trying to fill that intolerable emptiness. We try to fill it with people or careers or money or luxuries or hobbies or helping others or saving the world or our own perception of ourselves.

In my book, we call that idolatry.

But the terrifying, the inescapable truth is that none of those things are what we’re seeking. None of those things can ever satisfy our most demanding desire.

Anything that speaks to our natural inclination can pretend to satisfy us for a time. We find something that finally makes us feel better, or useful, or safe, or happy. Music perhaps, or people, or a sport or studies. Here are the things that have done it for me: horses, feeling needed, lights and sirens, and writing. But not one of them have ever satisfied me forever. I’ve been sick and tired of and burnt out on all those things. I’ve come face to face with their ugly flaws and hated them.

But I haven’t quit.

Not because there is anything particularly special about me or about the choices I make. I’m not a particularly tenacious person. The hundreds of half-finished drafts in my writing folder will attest to that. I’m prone to crippling insecurities and easily fatigued on the simplest of tasks.

And that brings me to what this post is all about. Not why people quit, but why we don’t.

The truths that we’re all searching for something and that we’ll never find it on this earth are absolute and apply to all of us. But the Truth that there is Someone beyond this earth that can fill our empty spaces is just as true.

I no longer do things to make myself feel better and I no longer spend all of my time searching because I’ve found that thing. I’ve found what can fill the gaping hole inside.

I’ve found Him and His Name is Jesus.

I still hate the flaws in the things in my life. I still feel pain, anger, frustration and exhaustion about the imperfections of the world. So did my Saviour, lamenting out loud, asking God how much longer He had to be stuck down here. Some days I feel the same way. But my Jesus didn’t quit.

Because of that, neither do I.

I love because He first loved me. I go because He sent me. And I don’t quit because He never did. He saw my salvation all the way through to the other side of death and back, He sweated blood, He took His final agonising breaths on the Cross and He faced the deepest darkness of the universe and He never, ever quit.

The least I can do is go when He sends me.

I don’t do things because I’m searching anymore. I do things because God sent me. And when we’ve been sent, what reason could there possibly be to give up? Compared to what He’s done for us, what is any trial we might face?

I love what I do. I love horses, I love their smell, the way they understand the subtlest of cues, the shine of them, the rhythm of their movement, the purity of their hearts. I love children and their innocence and their simplicity and the breathtaking image of God I see in every single one of them. I love expressing myself on the page, putting my tangled feelings and dreams into dancing words. I love the sound of a siren. But when the horses kick and bite and buck and die, when the children scream and whine, when the words won’t come, when nothing happens all shift long, then I can still love and I can still keep on.

Once we’ve met the One Who fills the abyss, once we know the depth of perfect love, then the things we do stop being about them anymore. Riding is no longer about loving horses or excellence. Teaching is no longer about seeing children succeed.

We do things not because of what they are, but because of Whose we are.

My whole life is not about me anymore. I don’t do things because of what I need or who I want to be. It’s about Who God is.

And that, love, will never change.

So for as long as there is still breath left in me, where God wants me, that’s where I will be.

Glory to the King!

In Honour of the Anxious Horse

Suicide prevention awareness month is here, and this topic has been stewing in my head for a long time.

I’ve long held that horses are among the most emotionally complicated of all domestic animals; possibly the animals that come closest to our own emotions. We relate more easily to dogs, who are generally more expressive and whose body language is universally well understood. But very few of us can ever hope to attain that permanently happy outlook that seems to characterise the canine psyche. Of course dogs have phobias and develop problems with bad handling or circumstances, but on the whole, if you feed and walk and snuggle your dog enough he’s as happy as a clam.

It is yet to be determined if cats know that people have feelings. (Joke). Either way, they’ve got a pretty good handle on theirs and don’t need much of our input, thankyouverymuch.
Well cared-for cows are by default deeply content creatures; if you don’t believe me, do yourself a favour and sit among a herd of cows at dusk when they’ve all gone to bed and lie there chewing cud and contemplating the mysteries of the universe. They’re so well grounded, you’ll feel your own soul being stilled.

But horses are completely different. Horses have the ability to be unhappy even when circumstances are excellent. That sound familiar? It should, because we humans have the same ability.

So today I’m going to talk about the anxious horse and how those of us who suffer from the wide range of anxiety disorders – and, crucially, those of us close to such sufferers – can learn from them.

The most insecure horse I’ve ever handled?

She’s insecure/don’t know what for/she’s turning heads as she walks through the do-o-or…

This is Champagne. Champagne was brought up at a beautiful stud, from solid pony bloodlines. She was purchased by my lovely client for her gentle, experienced child, a good match for the pony in terms of personality and ability. She was taken to a well-established yard and there fairly appropriately cared for, better than most horses. Champagne has consistently been handled and cared for by good, experienced horse people.

 Champagne also has a terrible case of anxiety. When faced by any of her numerous triggers, she starts to breathe in rapid, shallow flutters, punctuated by loud and ripping snorts as she desperately tries to use every sense she has to identify the threat. Her topline becomes rock hard. She is hyperreactive to any stimulus, specifically my aids, and any touch can send her deeper into the meltdown. She begins to sweat profusely and shiver violently.

The anxiety attack she had when she arrived lasted, with fluctuating severity, for almost a week.

Champagne has no “reason” to be afraid. But she is.


In contrast, this is Trooper at his first show. Trooper grew up in a township somewhere, where he spent the first two and a half years of his life half-starved. Nine horses were rescued from the same property as he was; he was the only survivor. His herdmates all died. He almost did, too, suffering from septicaemia in all four his legs and his sheath. After nursing him back to health, his rescuer sold him on to me.

Trooper is one of the most trustworthy ponies we have in the school. He is patient, kind, and never frightened by anything very much. In the field, he’s a happy and content little chap despite rejection from his herdmates, and he loves people.

Trooper has every “reason” to be afraid. But he isn’t.

You see, for Champagne, it’s all in her head. There isn’t really anything that’s going to hurt her. Cows are not out to get her. Birds do not eat horses. It’s all in her mind. And that’s a very valid and noteworthy place for something to be.

Let me repeat that. “In your head” is a very valid and noteworthy place for a problem to exist.

I was told so many times that my riding nerves were “all in my head”, or that I should “just get over it”. And you know what? So was Champagne. Her previous trainer was a better one than me by a very long shot, but when the pony spooked the trainer put her gently but firmly between leg and hand and got back to doing what she wanted. Which works for 90% of horses out there.

With the merely spooky young horse the dialogue goes like this:

Horse: Eek! What’s that? [wiggles and looks]

Rider: It’s nothing. Look, I’m not worried. Let’s do this. [Half-halts, bends the horse away from the spooky thing, reapplies the aids]

Horse: OK. [forgets the thing]

But with an anxious horse, the conversation becomes completely different.

Horse: Oh no, no, no, no, no, it’s a bird, it’s a bird, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me! [Loses rhythm, topline becomes tense, breathing changes]

Rider: It’s nothing. Look, I’m not worried. Let’s do this. [Half-halts, bends the horse away from the spooky thing, reapplies the aids]

Now before we go into the horse’s response, let’s look at two characteristics of most deeply anxious horses that are still rideable.

  1. They are intelligent overthinkers. Things can be blown way out of proportion in their heads because they are smart enough to imagine things and go one step further than simple animal reactions.
  2. They are very hard triers. They generally want so much to please their riders and are well aware that spooking does not please them. These horses are exhausted from trying all day long to please people despite their struggles; when they fail, it creates a downward spiral.

So here’s what this type of horse responds with:

Horse: I can’t, I can’t, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me but you’re saying to go past it so I’ll try but I’m so scared! [Moves forward, but with choppy steps, losing the headquarters, begins to snort]

Rider: Get over it. Come on. Don’t be silly. You’re fine. [taps lightly with the whip]

Horse: I can’t breathe. I feel funny. I can’t do this! [Freezes to the spot, tries to run backwards, holds breath]

Rider: Do it now! [Firm reapplication of aids]

Horse: [explodes – runs back, rears, spins, bucks, bolts, or all of the above]

The thing about this conversation is that both horse and rider are right. There is nothing that will hurt the horse. It is all in her head. She is fine.

But the horse is stating facts, too. The horse is genuinely terrified. The threat is not real. It doesn’t have to be. Her fear is real, and that’s valid.

Let’s go back to Champagne. In her introduction, I described her anxiety attacks as they were when she arrived. These days, faced with more than what pushed her over the edge initially, her anxiety attacks last under two minutes. Even when pushed too far (as I admit to having done by accident) I can talk her down in five minutes or less. She no longer sweats or holds her breath for extended periods. It has been weeks since she last ran backward or reared. She looks at things and then deals with them.

She’s better, and here is how I changed the conversation to try to help her.

Champagne: [sees a bird] Oh no, no, no, no, no, it’s a bird, it’s a bird, it’s going to hurt me, it’s going to hurt me!

Me: OK, love. Let’s back it right up. [Halts, goes down to walk, or even dismounts] Just pause here and have a good look. I’m right here for you. [Even when nervous myself, control my breathing. Sigh, shift the weight, keep contact with one hand on her neck. When mounted, relax the lower back and shoulders. Breathe into diaphragm].

Champagne: OK, I’ll try. I can go a little closer now, maybe. [Volunteers a step further. Sniffs at the bird.]

Me: That’s fantastic. Well done. [Gives vocal praise, keeps pressure off except for slight rein contact in case of emergencies].

Champagne: Hey, you know what, I think it’s actually fine. [Licks and chews, looks away, sighs]

Me: Good job. Shall we go back to work? [Leg on again, contact, half-halt]

Champagne: Yep, that’s cool, let’s do it. [Obeys the aids]

It’s not the heroic approach. It doesn’t look very good, I can tell you that much. My clients pay me an awful lot of money to sit on their pony scratching its neck and not doing anything for several minutes at a time. I don’t astonish anyone with my ability to sit through drama and there is no magical quick fix. The process takes months – years, even.

But there is no horse that will try harder for you than the anxious horse, who has been trying harder for you than you know.


So in honour of suicide prevention awareness month, let me say this to everyone close to someone suffering with anxiety: Thank you for trying. It can be so frustrating and heartbreaking. But please remember that you can’t really fix it. Trying to fix it will kill you. Fixing it is between that person and God. Just be the safe place, be the place where the pressure’s off, because anxiety is living under unrelenting pressure. Be the break from that.

The only reason why I can help Champagne is because, perhaps to a lesser extent, I am Champagne. (Except not so leggy and blonde). I heard all those voices telling me to get over it and that it was all in my head for so many years and it was killing me.

And then, one day, I heard that Still, Small Voice, the only One with the right to really condemn me for the way I am. And the only One Who never did. Because God stepped in, the God Who keeps me safe, the God Who gives me a spirit not of fear but of power and love and a sound mind, the God in Whom my faith should be stronger than anxiety, the God Who said so many times not to be afraid, the God Who should have thrown me aside for my doubt and disobedience – and He is the only One Who never devalued the way I feel.

God stepped in and said, “I’m here, daughter; I love you anyway; I have a plan with this; My grace is sufficient.” And because He loved me anyway, I could finally breathe and watch Him work in me again.

Let’s all change our words and speak life like Him.

Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 5 Goals

It has been a slow week in our little corner of God’s beautiful, broken world.

yay for volunteering though! ❤

Nevertheless, tomorrow we get to make up for it, with the fifth leg of our dressage series. Both dance partners were on walk/trot only until yesterday because they’d had their AHS shot, but it’s amazing how much you can get done without cantering even once. (Hint: Thunder did about one bazillion halts).

They both schooled their tests very nicely yesterday, though, so I’m not too worried.

Thunder: Preliminary 1 and 2

It would be nice to improve again on his first test’s score last time (65 point something). I don’t harbour much illusions of improving on the 72%, because the judge was (not unreasonably) generous, but it would be nice to get a good one again.

All that is subject to his brain staying in his head. I’d settle for a whole show without any huge dramatic spooks, too.

Arwen: Elementary 1 and 2

We’ve worked so. so. so. hard on our canter stuff and our shoulder ins. Both were 5s at the last show so it would be wonderful to see our work paying off on those, even if it us just to the point of a 5.5 or 6. Not rearing in the warmup would be nice, too. But dragons will be dragons.

Trooper – Walk/Trot 1

Taking Troopy was a bit spur-of-the-moment as we unexpectedly had room in the box, but I think I can pull off a w/t test on him as long as he remembers to go when I kick. I have no expectations because it’s his first outing and he just gets to be a baby.

More to the Point

God has been continually bringing a section home to me all week, and it’s this one:

 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:4-8

I am a teacher and a leader at this little yard and God knows how seriously I take that. But tomorrow I pray I will take myself less seriously, and Him far more; look up from all I’m trying to be and see the God Who is already doing a good work in me through no effort of my own. I am a part of the body of Christ. A rather scarred and occasionally dysfunctional part, but a part nonetheless, and I have a role and a gift to give the world – to give to my Abba. And tomorrow I pray I would behave like it, I pray I would be His Hands and Feet, I pray I would speak His words. And none of this by looking out at others and trying to help them, but all of this by looking up at Him, the reason for our interspecies dance, and praising Him with all my soul.

And if my gift is to dance with horses, then I’ll do it for the Giver.

Glory to the King.