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.

Strong Women

Today amid the madness, I spared a thought for what it means to be a woman of God.

I thought about Proverbs 31, as you do. Strength and dignity. Sense and faith. A strange mixture of submission and power, rolled up in meekness and confidence.

I thought of the women of the Bible. I thought of Sarah, who mocked the Lord and then had a child that would become the ancestor of the nation through which God saved the world.

I thought of Deborah, Israel’s lady judge, the warrior woman who fixed her eyes on God and led her faltering people charging to victory against the looming foe.

dauntless courage

I thought of Ruth, the sweet, loyal, vulnerable girl whose meek purity shone through; the storms that should have scarred her only washed her innocence and gentleness whiter.

I thought of Hannah, the mocked, the belittled, the neglected, the distressed, the faithful; who prayed without words, and birthed the man who would anoint Israel’s first king.

blazing faith

I thought of Esther. The girl whom life threw down, a slave, a concubine, her family killed, stripped from her foster father by a selfish king, her nation accursed; a new queen who laid down her life to save her people. A woman sent for such a time as this.

heaven-sent

I thought of Elizabeth and Martha. I thought of Mary the mother of Jesus, maybe the greatest of them all – Behold the handmaid of the Lord! I thought of Tabitha and Mary Magdalene and I wondered – who does God want me to be like? Which of these great women would be my single role model?

God’s response was simple.
“I am your role model, daughter; I made you to be Firn.”

Go fix your eyes on Him and be the wonderful lady He created. Happy Woman’s Day and glory to the King.

Dance

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

just because I love this photo

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

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

Then we get to the topic of dressage.

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

Then God turned the whole thing on its head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to the King.