Still Alive, Part 2

Last week was our first Boot Camp. As the title suggests, this was no standard pony camp and was basically designed to inflict torture and misery upon the teenage soul.

so miserable right?

Jokes aside, it was pretty tough. The girls were pooped and, to be honest, I was also pretty tuckered out by the end of it.
We kicked off on Monday with cross-country lessons at Winstead with coach K: Zorro and Z-kid, Pennie and her kid, Renè and working student K, Sunè and working student E, and Jamaica with me. Of the whole lot, only Pennie and Renè deigned to go in the water, but apart from that the ponies were all fantastic.

Jamaica started out spooky for reasons known only to himself (“That’s Appaloosas” said coach K with resignation) and thus threw in a stop at the first little log and another stop at the dyke, but once he settled down he was back to his generous self and popped over everything, no questions asked. He flatly refused the water but drops, banks, skinnies, the dyke (eventually) and the scary trailer oxer thing were all quite OK.

I never said I wasn’t worried

Everything was 60-70cm, but it was fun and he learned something. Mission accomplished.
On the Tuesday and Thursday I basically kicked back and relaxed while the girls did everything. They even helped with the beginner lessons. I could get used to it.

Wednesday we all trooped off to the SA Lipizzaners: a whole gang of skinny, short, nervous girls with K towering over us. It takes people a few seconds to figure out which one is the coach. I’ll take it as a compliment while it lasts. We were having lunging lessons with the Lippy riders, a golden opportunity to ride a majestic white stallion and learn lots of stuff.

the Morning Star Stables invasion of the Lipizzaner Hall

The girls were all a little starstruck, but all managed to learn plenty, not least myself. My coach immediately spotted my chair seat (ugh) and we set to work on that. My biggest takeaway from this lesson was that, like, half of all my riding problems stem from my left hip. It doesn’t wanna. It’s very stiff and takes ages to warm up. I should have suspected this (it aches in the evenings or when I ride in the cold) but it was a total lightbulb moment for me. Because the hip is stiff it doesn’t open up and allow my leg to relax back into alignment, hence the chair seat. And I know I always sit badly crooked to the right, which is probably because my body is protecting the sore left hip from being sat on.
This begs the question: why exactly at the age of 20 do I already have a joint that’s checking out on me? I can only think it comes from years of climbing determinedly onto huge horses from the ground. It was my party trick as a kid – I remember being able to get onto 16.2 and 16.3 hand horses when I was like 11. My right shoulder is similarly stiff and painful, which is consistent with that theory as I use my right arm to pull myself aboard. Lesson learned. Don’t mount from the ground, kids.

The highlight of the week was undoubtedly the daily Bible study. The girls really came openminded and I had composed these meticulous little notes, which got cast aside as the Holy Spirit took the controls and spoke. The girls had so much to contribute and it was just this incredible spiritual experience.

Where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is, in the midst of us.

Glory to the King.

The Horse’s Default

Recently, I’ve started writing monthly reports for my full training clients. Many of them don’t get to see their horses work much, so to keep in touch with their training, they’d text me for updates and I found myself texting back only short and incomplete answers. Hence, I set aside some time in the beginning of each month to write a comprehensive summary of what their horse was learning. Texts are still welcome, but generally people now have a much better idea of what’s going on.

Writing the reports have proven just as useful to me, as they force me to evaluate and re-evaluate each horse’s personal journey and give reasons for what I’m doing. Not only does it keep me on my toes, it makes me think about what I’m doing instead of running on intuition. Intuition isn’t a bad thing, but it sure makes it difficult to hand the knowledge over to others when all you can really say is “do what feels right” to a person who hasn’t developed the feel just yet.

One interesting thing I found was that most horses have a default. I guess that should be obvious, but it wasn’t, to me. They all have a certain way that they tend to respond to stimuli, and that “default” in large part determines the horse’s trainability.

nell2
should I define trainability for you? Here it is

In general, I’ve found that most horses respond in one of four different ways.

Reactive: When a horse reacts, he flinches away from a stimulus with a swift, jerky movement. For example, on the lunge, he will scoot forward when you pick up the whip. A reactive horse is usually motivated by fear. The horse whose default is to be reactive, is generally a flinchy, hot and spooky sort.

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can still be good kid ponies, for the right kid

Resistant: When a horse resists, he fights against a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will kick out when you pick up the whip. A resistant horse is often motivated by pain or desire to be dominant. The horse whose default is to be resistant is sulky, grumpy, and habitually has his ears pinned back.

stardust1
like the majority of old school ponies

Responsive: When a horse responds, he moves away smoothly from a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will move calmly forward when you pick up the whip. A responsive horse is generally motivated by willingness to please. The horse whose default is to be responsive is generally pleasant and comes across quite sensitive.

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yep here it is

Unresponsive: When a horse fails to respond, he ignores a stimulus. For example, on the lunge, he will stand there when you pick up the whip. An unresponsive horse is generally motivated by laziness or boredom. The horse whose default is to be unresponsive will be dead quiet, patient, and stoic, and can sometimes give the impression of not being “all there”.

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but still *are* all there – you just have to dig deeper, right, Z?

Horses also have a sort of “volume”. Not all reactive horses will necessary scoot forward when you pick up the whip. Some will merely step out more briskly than anticipated; others will panic and plunge through the fence. The vast majority of resistant horses never kick out or buck; they just pin their ears. This is why so many back pain and saddle fit issues go unnoticed. Just because a horse is easy to handle doesn’t mean its default is good, it just means its volume’s been turned down, and that can be a good thing – or a bad thing.

One would also think, looking at the list, that all horses should be responsive by default. That’s not true. Remember that horses tend to react to all outside stimuli according to their default – not just aids. Sure you want a horse to respond to your aids, but you don’t want him to respond to a dressage letter, not even if that just means quietly moving away from it. The best horses are a trained balance between responsive and unresponsive, leaning one way or another according to their job. Arwen is more towards the responsive because she’s an adult’s dressage horse who needs to deal with complicated sets of aids in rapid succession. Bruno was far more towards the unresponsive side, because he had to ignore all spooky objects in favour of keeping a kid safe.

Reactive and resistant horses, however, are almost always unhappy; it’s easy to see why – one is motivated by fear or pain, and the other is motivated by pain or by being in the wrong place in their hierarchy. We all know how gross it feels to be in a place where you don’t belong, even if you put yourself there.

All these types of horses (although many horses don’t fit in any of the boxes) need to be approached differently. That’s the most important part of listening, after all: actually acting on what you’ve been told.

Here’s a few little case studies.

Magic‘s default used to be reactive. He feels things deeply, and he expresses them dramatically. Pushing his limits never, ever works – it just makes him go up like a mushroom cloud. Patience and understanding are absolutely key to keeping him happy. The upside of being reactive is that it’s a small – difficult and key, but small – change to becoming responsive, which he has become by a massive effort.

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just like me, I guess

Jamaica used to be excessively unresponsive – to the point where it became complete disobedience and quite dangerous. His automatic reaction was just to hang on your hands till Kingdom come no matter what you did to him. You could flap, you could kick, you could do whatever you pleased – he’d just plough onwards. Unresponsive horses can be very rewarding because they’re fairly easy and safe to train out of it, and then you can really fine-tune the level of responsive you want. Jamaica proved to be one of those. He still has unresponsive moments, but he’s starting to decide that moving away from pressure is generally a good idea. On the plus side, he’s by default not spooky, and because I never trained him to respond to anything except my aids, he remains non-spooky.

Unresponsive horses can be really, really hard to get a read on. Some unresponsive horses have shut down, like a dog that just takes the kick because he knows it’s coming anyway. They bear pain and ill-treatment because it’s the only way they know how to cope. They can hide a tremendous amount of pain. Mercifully, most unresponsive horses are just really chill dudes at heart, who like to roll with it because that’s the way they are. Bruno comes to mind.

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unresponsive trained to be responsive = happy, and gets ribbons

Destiny is the most resistant horse I’ve ever met, and his volume was turned all the way up to the top. He wouldn’t just kick out at the lunging whip, he’d spin around and fly backwards, double-barreling at head height all the way and bringing to mind the legend that the Lipizzaners’ capriole was developed to decapitate footsoldiers. I sure thought he was going to decapitate me. Resistant horses, although a battle, are still an easier fix than reactive horses. Even though this chap’s problem wasn’t pain (which resistant horses almost always are in), he was more easily fixable than you would believe if you’d seen him at the height of his issues. Unfortunately, they’re not a pleasant fix in any way. There’s really two main ways to respond to resistance; to remove the stimulus so that they have nothing left to resist against, thus taking them by surprise and often removing the bitterness from the situation, or to resist their resistance more strenuously than they can resist you. When it comes to head-height double-barreling, option (b) is the only option that will leave you with your head still on. Removing the stimulus and rewarding aggression is a recipe from disaster. Hence, Destiny got a hiding. A big hiding. Now, his default is still to be resistant, but in the matter of a month we’ve got the volume turned down from enormous violence to merely pinning the ears. It’s not as good as resetting the default, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

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Destiny the Reformed

As for responsive, there’s not a lot of horses that are this way after people are done with them. A surprising number of horses are naturally responsive – they just get made either reactive or resistant, because the best horses are always the easiest to ruin. I love me a responsive horse. Nell was one of them, and we all know that she was just epic. The most responsive horse I have right now is undoubtedly Faith. I never had to teach her to move away from pressure because she had it programmed into her DNA. Once she knows how to move away from the pressure, she just does it without any fuss. She can come across spooky because she’ll move away (not leap away) from a scary thing, but personally, I don’t mind those. Nell was the same and as soon as you’ve got the whole moving-away-from-the-leg thing programmed they respond to your leg instead of the scary thing and do what you wanted. (Assuming you made yourself more important and valuable in their lives than scary things). Responsive + willing + gentle + intelligent = most trainable thing you’ll ever clap eyes on.

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and you’re clapping eyes on it now

Now for the million-dollar question, of course. What was the natural default of the majestic, legendary dragonbeast herself? I bet you’ll all be shocked to discover that Arwen was naturally unresponsive. Yep, you read that right. The dragon was the most unresponsive horse you’ve ever seen, and she still has that tendency lurking inside her. I like it because it makes her a lot more robust to my mistakes and whoopsies. It takes a while to train an aid on her, so while she learns good things a little slowly, she also learns bad things a little slowly, which is quite important when you’re doing dressage by trial and error like I am.

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just when you thought you had me all figured out, huh?

The vast majority of horses are complicated tangles of all four defaults, as well as having splashes of random other stuff thrown in. Many are born with one default and go on to be trained to have several different ones. All of them have reacted in all four different ways at some stage in their lives, for multitudes of different reasons. As an example, Nugget is a naturally unresponsive horse who became extremely reactive (with flashes of violently resistant) and is now gradually being trained to be unresponsive again, but with bits of responsive when I ask for them. And she’s only ever had two different handlers, really.

And to turn everything on its head a little, let me remind us all that people and horses are deeply similar, right at the bottom of things. We also react to the greatest Stimulus of all in different ways. Some of us fight Him. Some of us run from Him. Some of us ignore Him.

And some of us hear His voice, and move forward with confidence to do as He asked.

Glory to the King.

Struggling

​I kind of hesitate to write this post because I really am not writing this for sympathy, though I know it may come across that way. But I know scars can only do any good when they’re shown as a symbol of hope and survival, so I write this for everyone who is where I am and was where I have been, anyone for whom it might be a glimmer of hope.

Because I know how alone it feels to be afraid.

It feels so stupid to have riding nerves, doesn’t it? It’s so easy to believe that nobody else feels the way you do. That there’s something wrong with you that other people just don’t have wrong with them. Maybe you’re just not cut out for riding, maybe you just can’t. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal unless it’s your living. Your calling. A part of you. Something you’re on fire for. People my age so often complain that they don’t know what they want to do. Is there any worse agony than to know what you want to do and be unable to do it for a reason as humiliating as fear?

It’s not just nerves. Everyone has nerves. Nerves are the little buzz I feel at shows; an added sharpness that can develop into tension if not managed. No, this is fear, borderline phobic. It’s paralytic. I come down to that fence and I can’t move or think. I freeze and mess up, and that makes it worse, over and over again.

I have screamed why. I have been sobbing on my knees begging to know why God would give me such a burning passion and such a debilitating handicap. Why can’t I be like the other riders I see floating over 1.20, 1.30? I’m willing to bet some of them haven’t ever taught a horse a thing but here I am, the horse trainer – a good one, too – freezing to the base of 70cm jumps. Through me God has fixed horses that you couldn’t touch, trained remedial buckers to dance, breathed the light back into the eyes of the broken. Why won’t He help me jump this fence?

It’s jumping, mostly. Young horses, even hacking are OK. Not as OK as I look; the silent battle remains – but OK enough that I can enjoy it and do it well. But jumping…

Today’s jumping exercise in my lesson with coach K was just a vertical of about 75cm, sharp right turn to a slightly bigger oxer, six strides to another oxer. I put up that kind of stuff in my lessons every day. I buried poor old Al so many times that eventually even he stopped. I was using every single trick I know to calm myself down and it wasn’t working.

Coach K is worth her weight in gold; she figured me out and remains endlessly patient. But from where I’m sitting, jumping 85cm on a horse I don’t know in my exam is looking like a very, very big ask.

I went home feeling exhausted from the battle. There’s just never a respite from it, no riding situation in which that dark clouds lifts completely. It’s so heavy sometimes and I couldn’t understand why.

Until this afternoon when I was helping my own little student with the very, very bad nerves. And I had to argue with him to let me put the lead on when we went for a little hack. And when I took him for his first little trot, he didn’t panic and squeal the way he used to when we just lifted him onto the pony. No. He laughed. He laughed and a smile burst over his little face like a sunrise.

And I could almost hear God saying, This is why.

He could lift this struggle from me. He could make this cup to pass away from me, but He leaves me to drink it because He’s got a plan. I don’t take it lightly when I say that God has made me a good coach for nervous riders. I can help them because I am them. I’ve been there and I know they can’t help it, they can’t just get over it magically. But I can help them get over it. Step by tiny step.

So I’ll drink that cup to the very dregs.

I still hate the struggle. I’m still so tired of it. But I know I have to bear it for a reason, so I pray, Not as I will but as Thou wilt. Tomorrow I’ll shoulder the cross and march on and share the truth about the struggle because it can help someone. There will be haters who’ll think a nervous rider can’t be a good one. They will be wrong. I make a living out of something that terrifies me – that has to stand for something.

And one by one, I’ll watch my riders blossom. And with each one, I’ll continue to hope that someday, that might be me, too.

Glory to the King.

A New Place

I haven’t written much about Magic recently.

he’s so cute
The main reason for that is that the poor chap has just sort of whinnied at me as I flew past this week. It’s hard being the manager’s pet – he always seems to come second when the mango strikes the fan. I’ve groomed him, lunged him once, kissed his nose as I went past and sat on him for like 10 minutes on Tuesday.

No longer able to bear it, tonight after all the lessons were done and silence descended on the yard, I pulled him out of his field at last and we had some Magic time.

also cute here

Our relationship has found its way to a new place. It’s different, and sometimes a little weird, but it’s good. Oh, it’s very, very good.

There’s no pressure. I haven’t ridden without pressure since Skye retired years ago, and I barely remember what it’s like. Letting go of that seriousness, that deadly focus, that constant vigilance for the slightest slip in training or position has been – hard. Like unclenching a death grip. But so liberating. And especially so for my precious Magic.

He’s always loved work, but he’s never been this excited to get to work. He lights up these days. His good days are exuberantly happy. His bad days are so much less bad now that we both know that if he’s not coping today, then it’s just fine. We do what he can do. We don’t ask for more than he has. We play, we enjoy, we seek to rediscover the comfort zone I’d smothered in pressure.

We breathe.

And as God holds Magic up like a mirror to my soul, I learn to do something I’m truly no good at.

Without backsliding, without sinning, to give myself a break. And to see me the way He does.

Wreathed in timeless love.

OK so I couldn’t decide which one was cutest so you get all of them

So as we merrily bound through a gymnastic line and get all the strides wrong, or jump the same 40cm cross one million times, or gallop around above the bit, or hack bareback on a loose rein, or just hand graze – as nothing happens whatsoever in our training, something incredible happens in our souls. It’s that thing that God used to call me to the yard in the first place. That thing He does in the place where the equine heart meets the human soul.

That thing that happens when our jagged, ugly, broken pieces fit into one another, crack for crack, and God makes something beautiful from our very brokenness. That thing, that indescribable thing that only He can do…

I don’t know its name. But the closest thing I can find is “healing”.

Why I Fear Showing

We leave for Pre-HOY tomorrow and I’m terrified, for the dumbest reason.

I’m not worried about boxing nine horses there and back – I trust the drivers. I’m not worried about the horses – they know their jobs. I’m not worried about the kids – they’ve worked hard. I’m not even that worried that Exavior will knock my brains out (OK, so I’m a bit worried about that, not gonna lie).

evil but so cute wow
Oh, no. I’m worried about what they will think.

I’m so worried about what they will think when Exavior loses his brain and pulls away from me and kicks the judge or something. She can’t handle him. She’s no horsewoman.

Or what about when somebody notices how scuffed my saddle is, or how the girth really doesn’t match either the saddle or the horse? What does she know? She’s such a newbie.

Or when everything dissolves into chaos and I arrive in my class with my collar sticking up and Midas galloping about with his nose sky high? She’s not good enough to be a trainer!

And you know, all of the above could quite probably be true. It could be impostor syndrome or it could be sense or whatever because right now I don’t really care. Because I don’t know what they think or how it’s gonna go on Saturday or whether or not I’m coming home with my brains in my head (although that would be nice).

or when they throw the turnout stuff everywhere. Let’s focus on the tail instead cuz I finally figured out how to do it
Here’s what I do know, and these are the truths I will hold up like a shield against any fear or doubt that tries to come between my kids and horses and calling and me.

God made me yard manager. He wants me where I am. I gave my life to Him and this is where He’s put me so by His power in me I’m gonna get this done.

I’m nineteen years old. I’m showing horses I produced, and kids I teach on ponies I produced, against some of the top riders in the country. My best horse was for free. My most promising youngster should have been dead twice over by now. Our yard has faced outbreaks and financial crisis and more drama in a year than some yards deal with in a lifetime and we’re still here, nineteen-year-old wet-behind-the-ears manager and all.

less evil and more cute
So they can think whatever they want. We’ll be late and our ponies will act up and our kids might spill Coke on their cream breeches (just kidding, that’s my signature move, they’re generally more sensible) and maybe Xave will rear and run away too but we’ll SHINE. God got us here for just one reason: to shine for Him. For our King Jesus, we will shine. We’ll keep our eyes on Him and we will shine.

And I’m so excited to go do that.

God’s will be done. Glory to the King.

Thank You for Arwen

Sometimes it can feel like the horses in my life never come easy. I’m not complaining, because easy never made a good horseperson (or a good person, for that matter). Hard is necessary. But hard is exhausting and can be demoralising.

And my big-dream horses have all been hard. Except Arwen.

Nell and Reed got sold out from under me. Ryka lost his mind. Magic has different priorities. Rainbow died. Exavior is still a question mark. They all made me grow, as a rider, as a person, and I wouldn’t change any of it, but none of them were ever constant.

And then, there’s Arwen.

Always in the background. Always playing second fiddle. She was Magic’s understudy, then Nell’s sidekick. I didn’t even really want her in the first place, I just started riding her because nobody else was. There was no vibrant, verdant, dramatic love affair or Hollywoodesque magical relationship like I had with the others.

But always, steadily marching on, there is Arwen.

Her championship understated after Nell’s three. Her many wins paling in comparison to Nell’s success in YDHS. Lacking Magic’s jump, Nell’s trot, Reed’s quitness, Ryka’s presence, Exavior’s size. But abundant in the one thing they all lack and the one thing that makes her an anchor.

Steadfastness.

So the dragon pony marches on, undefeated and constant, the one horse I trust to the ends of the earth, the one that doesn’t go lame, the one that shows up every single day for the past eight years ready to do her job.

The one that’s got my back and just deals with it and carries on and never lets anyone tell her what she can’t do. She’s got this. I rely on her, and she doesn’t let me down. She slays those dragons and faces those giants and will not be stopped.

The others have all had their rollercoasters and dramas and disasters and behind it all, Arwen soldiers on.

So Lord, I thank You for all the others too because they teach me so much and they mean so much. But tonight, I thank You for Arwen. A horse who can smell Your plan for her and marches on undaunted. A mare of God that puts this daughter of the King to shame sometimes. Terra firma under my feet when it all slips. But only an instrument in Your almighty Hand.

Thank You God for Your unspeakable gift. I resolve not to be unappreciative of Your blessing again and recognise her for what she is: the best horse I swing a leg over every day.

Good Narwie.

Glory to the King.

Chilling

We have our first show of the year on Sunday; a training show over tiny fences at a venue I’ve only ridden at more times than I have teeth. I’m on Magic, who has done 60 and 70cm ad nauseam, and Lancelot, who is super at shows.

And I’m absolutely dead nervous.

No, the show nerves do not go away. I’ve only been competing for about four years now, but I’ve ridden multiple shows on multiple horses every month and logged a lot of miles. I’ve brought a bunch of babies to their first show and I’m so well versed in boxing horses in the dark that it’s not even drama anymore. I’ve ridden nationals and finals and in the same arena as some of the greats – I should be used to this by now.

But here I am, facing 60 and 70cm training courses on horses I know at a training show, terrified.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think my horses were also subscribed to the Facebook event because the closer we come to the day, the worse they go. Especially Magic. Magic was a pogo stick on Thursday; I couldn’t hold him, I couldn’t turn him, I couldn’t get him to jump in a straight line and after every fence he leapt up and down, striking out with his forelegs in a kind of reverse buck.

Always before a show, Magic? Why?

at least he’s now a fat lunatic

I was a little mad but I patted his neck after dismounting and tried to figure out what was bothering him this time. Food? Teeth? Back? Feet? No.

As usual, it was far simpler than that.

It was me, of course.

So today I climbed aboard and we flopped around like we do any other day. I put on worship music and thought about the latest episode of Chicago Med while I warmed him up, letting my mind wander so that my hands, seat and heart could do the thinking. We trotted a few small fences. Then we cantered them. There was a storm brewing and the wind teased at us, making the horses in the fields skittish and silly, but Magic put down his head and enjoyed his job.

I did the same on Lancelot. I put all the fences and my ego down two holes and trotted a little course. He’d been napping and overjumping. We had the usual little argument or two, but he jumped every fence out of a steady soft rhythm.

So here’s my new resolve: I’m gonna chill out about training shows. I’m going to quit seeing them as shows and start seeing them for what they are – schooling sessions. I’m going to turn myself deaf to the imaginary judgment from the sidelines with which I torment myself, and the pressure of riding a client horse, and the pressure of being coach. I’m going to quit taking myself so seriously, cut a little slack and start riding the horse, for my God.

worth it ❤

I’ll wear my work breeches and a slightly faded shirt. I won’t clean my tack. I’ll sleep a little later than I probably should and when clients or students or chauffeur begin to stress, I’ll breathe deep and slow and calm us all down. That’s my job as trainer, after all.
As for Magic? Maybe we’ll do the 60 and the 70. Or maybe we’ll do the 50 and the 60. Maybe we’ll just hack in the warm-up arena because it really doesn’t matter.

He’s not going to win me ribbons. He’s far too busy being an instrument in the hand of God, teaching me the most incredible things about horses and people and life and God.

Glory to the King.

On Rainbows

It’s still too soon. It might always be. The pain subsides slowly, but the words still don’t come.

So this is not the whole story, or the whole piece of the story that’s revealed to me, anyway. It’s just the bare bones of what happened so that in the blog as in life I can turn my face to the future.

Rainbow was the incredible gift from God (via Nell’s breeder) that came to keep my dream alive after Nell left. She was one of the most beautiful horses I’ve known. She was undoubtedly the one with the best natural temperament. She had so much love for everyone and something in her heart sang in harmony with mine. I called her Rainbow because she was the beautiful thing that happened after the storm. The symbol of the promise.

I was so worried that she wouldn’t be Nell. And she wasn’t Nell. She was Rainbow, and she was perfect.

But her destiny and mine kissed only briefly in this present world. God called His most willing charger back to the celestial ranks of His army only days after we met. It was His will; it was for the best; it was agony. I thank Him for every moment I had with the horse my heart sang to and I thank Him that He has bigger plans for her, wherever good horses go when they die.

As for my dream, it was dead without a brilliant dressage horse. But we all know what God does to death.
We’ll never forget Rainbow. But we have a new hope for the dream He laid on my heart. A dream I laid down at His feet when Rainbow passed on, and which He lifted up and handed right back to me.

She’s not Rainbow. But she’s also perfect.

I named her Faith: the thing by which we will weather the storms to follow.

Magic’s 2017 Goals (or lack thereof)

Year in, year out, I have faithfully set a careful string of goals for all the horses – as long-term readers very well know. I think this may be the first year ever that I haven’t set any goals for Magic.

And I don’t intend to.

Last year was a rollercoaster with him. It started with his promising comeback after his terrible illness in 2015, winning both his first graded classes in fine style and staying absolutely sane throughout the show. Then it all came down around our ears a bit when I fell off him three times in as many months – my first falls off him, ever. We were heading in the right direction again when he decided he would like to have colic again after all and then the outbreak crashed any plans of returning to shows after that. All in all, he only had seven outings this year – and I stayed on top for five. (Of the ones that I stayed on, he jumped all clear rounds, barring one, which he won anyway). It was an unimpressive year, except that it wasn’t.

We made very little progress, training-wise. 80cm still looks about the size of the Great Wall of China (to me anyway; he’s good). Our flatwork remains low-level but rock solid. We go to shows and jump some jumps, sometimes, or not, as the case may be. But in terms of understanding this shining, suffering enigma of a horse, we made giant, groundbreaking leaps. Subtle, but groundbreaking.

I figured out the most important thing I could have, to help him. I figured out why he has panic attacks and how I can get him out of one when it’s happening. Anyone who knows anyone with PTSD knows how huge that is. To be able to look in his eyes when they’ve gone glassy and the horse I know and love just seems to be gone – and to know why he’s gone, where he’s gone and how to get him back… that’s tremendous. I feel like I can finally help him. I have finally found the hole that he falls into and how to get him out. After years of helplessly watching him leave into a terrible inner world that seemed to mentally torture him, at last I can break down those walls and bring him back to safety.

It’s so simple and self-explanatory that I’m amazed I didn’t see it long ago. Then again, if it was that self-explanatory, horse PTSD wouldn’t be the only thing we can deal with better.

I get in there with him, and I show him the way out.

In the face of discoveries like these – things invisible to man, but oh so important in the sight of God – the goals I’ve been setting just can’t compare.

For my own guts, I think it would be good for me to try and jump him higher. If he was always the Magic he is when he’s okay, he’d pack my butt around and teach me that jumps bigger than 70cm are not deadly and evil. Even when he is having a moment, he’ll jump 90cm as happily as he’ll jump 60cm.

But it’s not about me.

He needs a perfect rider. He needs a rock-steady lighthouse of a rider that can show him the way out of fear. He needs someone who’s never in a hurry, or in a bad mood, or focused on something other than being there for him. He needs someone who cares way more about him than about anything else. I so much want to learn to be that rider, not only for my training skill, but for my living skill. And I’m just not that rider when I’m scared.

Even if I did push him, he’s all of nine years old and already has bony changes in his withers. He won’t be sound forever. I don’t know how many years I’ll still be able to go jumping stuff with him. Maybe three? Four? I don’t want to spend those years fighting in order to jump mediocre heights badly.

I want to spend them listening to that horse’s soul. Because it tells me things about God and people and bullying and mental illness and myself that I really need to learn.

Goals can’t hold a candle to that.

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the day we came third won champion of the universe

Taking Up the Cross

​ Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. – Matthew 16:24

The past two months was really a journey in following this verse for me. Our minister preached about this concept somewhere in mid October, and I prayed with all my heart that Jesus would give me the strength to do exactly this. That I would do it, come Hell or high water… and that’s pretty much what happened.


So lots of bad stuff happened:

  • Olive came down with a neurological virus, possibly herpes. She was very very sick and had to be quarantined and intensively nursed.
  • Milady then got strangles, followed by Exavior, Titan, and Destiny.
  • Because we now had TWO outbreaks at the yard, we had to shut the whole thing down for two weeks. Yep, no lessons for two weeks. That was a financial kick in the guts.
  • A friend kind of turned on me. Personal stuff, but it always leaks into the yard when my emotional state isn’t perfect.
  • We had a massive hailstorm and the lightning damaged our gate, borehole pump, and power supply.
  • I lost the ride on my beautiful Nell.
  • Magic colicked. Again.

    Yes, again

    What’s God’s own stableyard to do faced with such catastrophes? Well, pray and trust Him. And well… Romans 8:28.

    • Olive recovered beautifully and not a single other horse contracted her thing. As a result, we’re tightening our vaccination program and have instituted a quarantine period for all new horses. Olive and my mom also developed an amazing bond, which is so great for the floof because she never really connected with me.
    • Not only did all the strangles horses recover without any abscesses bursting, Milady’s 5-day-old foal didn’t get it! Also I am probably going to pass the illnesses section in my exam, which I had been worried about…
    • My mom and dad told our yard mascot cookie lady prayer warrior awesomeness about the financial whack of losing two weeks’ lessons. She declared that we would get the money back and went straight to battle on her knees. Shortly thereafter, a client that had been owing us for months paid. Mom called to tell her that she’d overpaid a little – turned out she’d paid us by “accident”. I don’t believe in accidents.
    • The outbreak and all its drama drew me closer and closer to God; without the strength I gained from that, I doubt there’s any way I could have coped with the personal stuff.
    • The hailstorm brought with it the best rain we’ve had in three years. Now we’re up to our eyeballs in grass for the cows and horses.
    • I thought Nell’s new owner was some spoilt rich kid until I spoke to her mom. She’s a special needs teenager, someone who needs a beautiful, loving horse even more than I do. Nell is going to be an instrument of God’s power in her life – just as she was in mine. Nell’s price is also letting her retired owner replace his wrecked vehicle and is helping towards his medical bills.
    • Gutted about Nell, without a good dressage horse, my future career seemingly in tatters, I prayed: “Lord Jesus, if it’s not Your will for me to compete extensively myself, if I should conserve those resources for the kids, then please don’t let me ever have a good horse again. But if it’s Your will, please, send me one.” I prayed this ready to face the fact that I would never go up the levels: I just don’t have the money to build up the yard for everyone that needs it and own a good dressage horse, and I know which one I’m choosing. Hours later, Nell’s owner called: in return for schooling Nell, he wanted to pay me a commission. I couldn’t bear to accept money for the blessing Nell has been, so I refused it. “Okay,” he said. “Then you can come and pick out any young mare you like to train and show.” I hesitated; I didn’t know if I wanted to go through this heartache again so soon. “No, you don’t understand,” he said. “This one will be yours. In your name. You keep her.” Then I just cried, out of gratitude to him, out of awe of the dynamic and real power of God and His plan in our lives.
    • Magic’s colic was so bad we had to box him and take him to Witbos, the vets that fixed him last time. On the way there, I desperately called on everyone I know and a bunch of people on Facebook that I don’t to pray for him. We all prayed, and when we unloaded him, that horse was fine. The rather puzzled vets scanned his healthy guts, kept him under observation for two hours, and sent him home because there was nothing wrong with him.
    Nothing wrong with this

    We will praise God no matter what the storm. Because our God is faithful, our God is powerful, and our God is in charge.

    The condition for a miracle is difficulty. The condition for a great miracle is impossibility. And that’s exactly what we have seen.

    Glory to the King.

    I think this is their way of praising Him