Economical Equestrian Reviews: Bridle Boutique Riding Leggings

I have had notoriously bad fashion sense for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I rocked holey jeans, baggy t-shirts, gumboots and no gloves – even at my first work riding job. I never dressed up to go into public until the darling entered my world. In fact, I got away with wearing pyjamas in church a few times – and things haven’t improved. I’m practically a hermit, and I dress like one most of the time, since who spends money on clothes when you can spend it on horses?

All this to say that I’m not used to getting compliments on my clothes. Well, I wasn’t: right up until these wonderful riding leggings came into my life.

IMG_20190923_173028.jpg
brand new

The Story

Finding durable, comfortable riding pants is a lifelong struggle for riders with shallow pockets. I ride 4-6 horses every day, and I’m particularly hard on pants. The only ones I could find that would last were denim-style breeches. These looked nice, but they were extremely hot and very uncomfortable, with the added downside of chafing occasionally after a ride too many in the Wintec.

After several years of the denims, I was desperate to try something new, and I stumbled upon Bridle Boutique’s leggings on Facebook because I was following them anyway for their pretty bridles. They immediately caught my eye because of their unique style and colours. And at only about R650 a pair, they were some of the cheapest riding pants I could find. They looked so beautiful and the cellphone pockets drew me in, and so I ordered a pair to see how they’d hold up.

As luck would have it, my denims both gave up the ghost just before my new Bridle Boutique leggings arrived. I figured I’d try the leggings and see how they were before purchasing a second pair. Circumstances (read: vet bills) conspired to make it so that since I bought them in September, these leggings have been my only pair of everyday riding pants. Since I spend about six hours in them per day, they have worked really, really hard. In the past four months, I’ve probably worn them as much as your average rider (riding one horse every day, and owning more than one pair of riding pants!) would wear them in an entire year.

So what’s the verdict? Are these leggings as nice as they look? Let’s start at the beginning.

The Ordering Process

Bridle Boutique has some of the best service around. When I saw their Facebook ad on my news feed, I left a comment to pre-order a pair of leggings, asking for my size and colour. (Pre-orders are at a slight discount). I left my email address and received an invoice within a couple of days. I took a few days to pay, but once I’d paid up, Bridle Boutique stayed in contact with me for the entire process.

It did take a few weeks for the leggings to get to me. These are imported from the UK, and there was a bit of a complication at customs, which delayed the leggings quite a bit. However, Bridle Boutique stayed in touch with constant updates. If you’re looking for a pair of leggings to arrive quickly, pre-ordering is not a good idea. I’d imagine that things would be a lot quicker if you order once there is a shipment in the country, but you have to move fast – they sell quickly!

As soon as the leggings hit the ground at Bridle Boutique, they were sorted and sent off within a day. I had mine shipped to me via Postnet-to-Postnet. Bridle Boutique sent me the tracking number as soon as the leggings had been packaged, and they arrived at my nearest Postnet within two working days. They were in perfect condition and neatly packaged.

The Product

I have never, EVER, EVER worn riding pants as comfortable as these!

As soon as I took them out of the packet, I could feel that they were going to be a whole lot friendlier than my stiff old denims. The fabric is stretchy and soft, yet very sturdy. It has stood up REALLY well to climbing through fences, catching on bits of wire, getting stained with purple spray/baby oil/horse snot/miscellaneous dirt, baking in the sun, and being generally abused. It hasn’t worn thin, torn, or even stretched out at all. Even better for summer in Africa, these leggings are really breathable and cool. I wouldn’t be donning them for a winter morning, but they’re perfect for the summer – much cooler than either my old denim breeches or even the pair of cheap gym leggings I have as a backup. (Rumour has it that they’ll be importing fleece-lined ones for winter, too). It was my first time riding with silicone sticky bum pants, and honestly I didn’t feel that much of a difference compared to a smooth seat. The silicone stars are really attractive, though, and I enjoy the look and texture. They do make a bit of a funny noise on the Wintec in rising trot when brand new, but I’m guessing all silicone riding pants will do it. The fabric is also thick enough that you don’t get underwear lines.

IMG_20200201_055536.jpg
muffin top feat. dirty mirror – they have stretched out a tiny bit around the knees, which I only noticed looking at this photo, but they still feel great

The colours are absolutely incredible. I wanted to be different but still fairly conservative and picked out the attractive olive green. The pictures on Facebook are pretty accurate, and they have wonderful colours – the standard black, white and navy, but also plum, pink, red, sky blue, olive green and purple (and a truly glorious unicorn print that just arrived at my house). Every colour except the white has a classy little unicorn printed on the right pocket.

As for the design, I really found them to be comfortable and serviceable. The high waist took some getting used to as I’ve only ever worn hipsters, but I love that the waist is reinforced and extra stretchy, as well as being really wide. It doesn’t don’t pinch, rub, or roll anywhere. I’m a little awkward to fit, with a tiny waist and wider hips, so I did find that the leggings slip down just a little, which most pants do on me. The legs are elasticated without Velcro (I hate Velcro bottoms with a passion), and they were really comfortable in long boots, with none of that folding or crumpling up that leaves rubs or marks.

I found the cut to be super flattering, too. I’m rocking a lil muffin top thanks to switching from full-time riding to part-time, and the broad elasticated waist keeps that tucked right away. The fabric is forgiving to one’s curves and thick enough that it keeps everything from wobbling about.

The cellphone pockets are AMAZING. Their location right on the thigh is ideal since your phone ends up well out of your way but also easily within reach. The elastic is stretchy enough to keep things securely in the pockets, but easy to take out. These pockets are pretty tough, too – I carry my keys around in them routinely and other breeches always seem to end up with holes in the pockets, but these haven’t shown wear at all.

IMG_20200130_173639.jpg
recently – little bit of wear on the unicorn, but pockets are still sturdy

I found the sizing to be pretty standard, too. I’m normally a size 28, and I ordered an XS, which is a 28-30 according to Bridle Boutique’s page. It fits me pretty perfectly – a little loose around the waist, which all pants are on me, but the right length. The stretchiness makes these leggings pretty forgiving to fit, and you can probably order your standard size, which makes ordering them that much more convenient. They come in all sizes, including children’s (although there are different colour options for kids).

Over the past four months, I’ve worn these leggings every single day to do horse chores and ride multiple horses. They have worn really well. I’m extremely hard on clothes (gloves do two months on me; pants normally make it a little longer) and these have held up well despite daily use. One or two of the silicone stars did come off, and the unicorn print on the pocket is starting to look a bit cracked. The stitching under my left hip has also worn out so the seam has split a little, but it’s easily mended. The fabric itself has hardly faded at all and shows almost no wear. For the price, and for what I’ve put it through, it’s pretty good.

IMG_20200130_173637.jpg
recent pictures – almost no fading at all

The Pricing

These leggings are on the cheaper end of what you’d expect to pay for new riding pants as an adult. They run at around R600 excluding shipping. About the only pants you can buy new that would be cheaper are the run-of-the-mill riding slacks, which you could get for R400 or less if you shopped around, but honestly – they’re not the same value for money.

Joyride jodhpurs, a bit nicer than the slacks, are available at most tack shops in the same price range as these Bridle Boutique ones. I have a pair of them for shows, and frankly, they can’t compare. They are a much more classic look for shows, and they’ve stood up to some abuse, but they have no pockets and they’re extremely hot and tight around the waist.

You can get similar and very pretty leggings from Western Shoppe for more than double the price of these. I can’t comment on how nice those are in comparison, but like I say – more than double the price.

Ultimately, it’s really hard to find nice riding pants in this kind of price range. These are not only comfortable and durable, they’re also classy. They are the best value for money I’ve ever spent on riding clothes, hands down.

The Verdict

Bridle Boutique’s leggings have been a real blessing for me lately. As anyone trying to do this sport on a shoestring can testify, while we’re all completely blessed with the opportunity to be part of the sport at all, sometimes it can feel really disheartening when all your tack and riding gear is kind of cheap and nasty or very secondhand. Sometimes it’s difficult not to compare yourself with the next rider over who has Pikeur breeches, knowing you’re never going to fork out a car payment on a pair of pants.

These leggings are good value for money. They’re tough and comfortable, but that’s not what makes them just a little bit magic. It’s the look of them. They look amazing, and it’s a real confidence booster, especially for those of us who are not as fit as we would like to be (those of us who have to sit at a desk all day in order to be able to ride at all). Ordinary, less well-off riders like us seldom get compliments at all, whether it’s on our riding or our horses or our gear. And when someone notices these beautiful leggings and spontaneously exclaims, “I like your pants!”, it can put a smile on your face just when you need it.

Raincoast Rider Blog Hop: Playing Favourites

I have a rather dressage-nerdy post about cantering (badly) coming up, but first I need to obsess over it, let it stew and probably develop some mild anxiety about the latest episode of Dressage is Hard.

So today we thank Raincoast Rider for a blog hop! Also thanks to the $900 Facebook Pony for linking the hop and leading me to a new blog to follow. Can never have too many of those.

1. Favourite show venue:

To show a mature horse, or watch, or coach, definitely Penbritte. It’s close, it’s friendly, not exorbitantly priced, there are great stables, everything is easily accessible and you can see all of the arenas from basically anywhere. And there are loads and loads of loos. The arenas are also meticulously kept. I can’t recommend it enough. It definitely beats some of the more famous show venues, in my opinion (I would totally not say no to having HOY at Penbritte). Plus, the people are cool and ethical and do a lot to grow the sport. Love it.

For young horses, though, while I do like to take them to Penbritte, nothing beats Equivest. It’s just a little quieter with less to look at, and the people are still really cool.

still had a good time at Penbritte with Gatsby

2. Favourite discipline:

It took me years to realize, but I really did find my horsy home in dressage. It started out as something I did because I was too scared to jump, and now I wouldn’t go back to jumping instead even if all fear suddenly evaporated. I love the intimacy. The dance.

3. Favourite horse colour:

To be honest, this fluctuates depending on which horse I’m riding the most at any point. Skye left me with a permanent soft spot for a flaxen chestnut. I like grey but I don’t like washing their tails all the time. I do have a particular fondness for four white stockings and a star on any colour you care to name, though. I think if I had to choose just one colour, it would be tiger dun. I’ve always wanted one.

or just have one in each colour!

4. Favourite tack store:

Y’all, I’m going to reveal how broke I am real quick and say the local tack/feed shop. They don’t have all the fancy pantsy things I like but can never afford, but they can probably order it. If they don’t have it, they always manage to scrounge it up from somewhere. Plus they stock pig food, doggo supplies and tons of hardware, so the darling and I can happily browse. Add two equine nutritionists into the deal and you have a winner.

5. Favourite breed:

I can’t pick just one! I love my Nooitgedachters as the type of sturdy, hardy all-rounder most riders really need. The Arabians are proving to be more athletic and I really enjoy them. Tilly is amazing but I still don’t really like warmbloods. I think if I had to breed an international prospect for myself one day, it would be half Arab, half WB.

half Friesian, half farm pony also works

6. Favourite place to ride:

My own dressage arena right on my doorstep. It’s home. I fell off on hacks too much as a kid to really relax in the trails – something to work on because our trails are AMAZING.

7. Favourite piece of riding apparel:

Easy peasy, hands down, my beloved green leggings from Bridle Boutique. They are the best, and I love them in every possible way. Review to follow.

8. Favourite horse related website:

I really like Dressage Today for training articles, and The Horse Magazine for care and management stuff. Also all the pretty ponies on Instagram are great.

Actually I think my favourite would have to be Tamarack Hill Farm’s Facebook page. So many nuggets of wisdom to pick up there, and Denny Emerson isn’t interested in talking nonsense anymore.

9. Favourite piece of tack:

The Kent & Masters dressage cob saddle I’m going to buy for Thunder when I write my bestseller. Imaginary tack aside, all of my things have served me well. But the particularly nice one is my cute custom fly bonnet. I like having a sparkle cross on my horse’s face. It makes me smile and chill out every time I look at it.

like this

10. Favourite horse book:

Wow. That’s hard. For nonfiction, there’s no staple quite so comprehensive as the BHS Manual of Horse and Stable Management, most of which I knew practically by heart just before Module 3. I also like Horse Conformation: Structure, Soundness and Performance and I really want to get my hands on Denny Emerson’s Know Better Do Better. For fiction, I’m still in love with Black Beauty.

11. Favourite horse movie:

Secreteriat. Start a movie with dazzling slow-mo of a galloping horse and a reading from Job 39, and you can’t really go wrong.

Till next time, glory to the King.

Weight Carrier

I wrote this back in April this year, but forgot to actually press “Publish”. I was in the midst of a storm back then, and I want to honour the tremendous ways in which God helps me through every difficulty.

I’m only about 5′ 4″ and I don’t weigh a whole lot more than a bag of shandy cubes, but I’m intensely grateful that my horse is a weight carrier.

Physically, he bears me effortlessly, sometimes not even feeling my puny weight on his broad back. With me on board, he can float, lift, fly, dance. His tremendous muscles and powerful skeleton carry me not only with ease, but with grace.

Yet like all the most loved horses, he often has to carry more than just my flesh and blood. This weight is something he can’t use his bone and muscle for. It’s something that will never show up on an X-ray or cause him to need hock injections.

This weight is the mass of hope and fear. It’s the burden of all the dreams and dreadings that define the complicated emotional state of the average human. It’s the heaviness of all the baggage and trauma and joy and hope and love, the sometimes intolerable weight of how much we can love. The stress we have at work, the worry we have for the people we love, the hope we have for the future, the dream we have for our dancing horse – we bring it all, I bring it all to my horse, take it aboard with me, and try to take all that stuff that makes up my messy human psyche and combine it with a half-ton flight animal and try to find something like beauty and meaning among the chaos.

Some horses can’t take the weight. Those we try to protect, pushing aside everything we feel to be the better version of ourselves that we keep for those who aren’t ready for the truth. But some horses are weight carriers, emotional sponges that patiently allow us to have a voice, without ever exchanging a single word. They hear everything we want to scream out to the world even when we keep our touch gentle. They feel it in the way we breathe, the way our spines move, the tension in our shoulders, the desperate efforts to wipe away the grabbiness from our strange and clutching hands. And it drives some horses wild; but the weight carriers, they have an ability to absorb and understand and even forgive us for our chaotic selves.

There are not many of them out there. Most horses either panic or shut down in the face of our madness if we allow ourselves to be ourselves. But as long as we keep our voices broken instead of angry, as long as we remain thankful for the wonderful thing that they do for us, some horses can bring peace and faith to the table. They don’t let us bother them. They let us be who we are, and celebrate who they are.

And some people can be that way too.

We owe these horses and people in our lives an almost unforgiveable debt. Because they are to us a tiny inkling, an earthly incarnation of a little fragment of the majestic, never-ending and far-reaching love of the God Who sees everything we are and died for us anyway, the Lord Who responds to our inconsolable and complicated craziness by calling us to come Home to the rest we can only find in His arms.

All we can do is come when He calls. And as for our horses, we have to recognise what they do for us. They didn’t ask for us. We chose them. It remains our sober responsibility to give them everything we can to make them as happy as we can in exchange for the amazing gift they offer us.

We have no real name for it, but perhaps the closest thing we can come to is acceptance.

Thank God for His unspeakable gifts. Glory to the King.

Standerton Show 2019

I told the world – and myself – that I had hung up Arwen’s double bridle after Nissan Easter Festival 2018. Of course, this was by no means due to any failing on her part. She had just blossomed into her prime, and we had had many fantastic years together, and of course nothing would ever persuade me to part with the dragonmare or our cast-iron friendship.

But when it came to competition, I was just stepping out over the threshold of adulthood, and frankly, I was totally broke. I had to get a day job (as far as being a ghostwriter can be considered any kind of a normal day job, lol) and narrow my focus to one or two horsies instead of riding everything and entering everything the way I had as a teenager sponging happily on the long-suffering parents. Knowing that my heart was called to dressage, it made sense not to retire Arwen, but to give the ride to someone who could exhibit her to her fullest potential: a kid. And God’s timing, as usual, was perfect. I had a a kid in the yard who was everything – dedicated, tall enough to sit on a 14.3 hand barrel without looking puny, tactful enough to ride a mare who knows her job and doesn’t want you in the way, with just enough spunk to enjoy the dragonmare’s fire and enough Velcro on his bottom not to get burned by it. They had a great HOY 2019 together, winning supreme champion in hand and reserve supreme in working riding. Arwen’s third year running with the latter title.

img-20180325-wa0028.jpg

We were all gearing up for kiddo to ride her at Standerton Show last week, and shipped her off to a lesson with a showing coach to get her ready, and then that turned out to be a complete disaster. Something got up the dragon’s nose – I am not sure what, but I think it must have been a bug that bit her or something along those lines – and she completely lost her mind for about half an hour. She was fine when we got home, but I wasn’t wholly sure if she was going to behave at Standerton, thinking that maybe she’d learned some silly manners from the kiddo. So I decided to ride her there myself.

FB_IMG_1568544212099.jpg

It was a good choice! Not for the poor kiddo, who missed out on a perfectly-behaved dragonheart and a beautifully run show, but for me. Sorry kiddo! It really was for his own good.

The show started out a little bit disastrous when, ah, Aunt Flo visited all over my canary breeches – right before the in-hand. Luckily, head-groom-turned-student-instructor L was showing Vastrap, so she was on hand to take Arwen into the class while one embarrassed lump of humanity (me) spread my hastily-washed breeches on the bonnet of the bakkie to dry. Despite the chaos around her, Arwen was impeccably behaved in hand. Obviously, she won champion mare. It’s kind of her thing when it comes to in hand.

By the time the working riding class began, I had mercifully regained my dignity and my now-dry breeches, so we could go in and do our thing. Arwen was considering some dragonishness, but she didn’t let it show too much, so we popped happily through a straightforward track to win the Nooitie section and get reserve champion overall.

Best walk was next, and I think best walk is the most amazing thing for skittish me on an equally skittish youngster, but I actually entered it because Arwen has such a magnificent walk. Unsurprisingly, she won that, too. I’m glad I read the rules for best walk and gave her a looong rein, though. If I’d tried to be my usual DQ self, we might not have done so well.

In between, L and Vastrap were doing great – second in the WR, second in the jakkalsperd (handy hunter) I think, and then third in Best Canter because VT thought it was Best Gallop.

Finally, we had the best three-gaited. I watched the pleasure horse and think I’ll give it a shot next time – Arwen will be great if she doesn’t dragon too much. We went in and the Nooities were being judged with the SASA Riding Horses, and that was where we had a little bit of an oops. This was a supremely accessible, cheap, local show, which attracted a lot of top-class Nooities and WBs but also some newcomers to the showing ring. And I think that is absolutely wonderful, but a few of them were a little unused to riding in a group – and especially unused to riding in a group that was doddering along at a nice little showing canter. So somebody promptly rode up the dragon’s bum.

pictured: barely containing full-blown dragon mode

Arwen is a boss mare and she is not afraid to show it. Her back came up at once, and I squiggled her out of the way before she could do anything about the horse breathing up her tail, thinking we had averted disaster. Regrettably, the horse that was now behind us also didn’t really know what to do, so as we turned down the short side it went up our bum too. Trapped against the fence, I had nowhere to go, and Arwen decided to remedy the situation by launching a series of double-barrels at the intruder. They were warning kicks and all missed, and thankfully the horse stayed off us after that, but by then she was ANGRY.

She spent the rest of the class pullung and wanting to buck a bit, for which I couldn’t blame her. She wasn’t bad, but definitely a grumpy little sassdragon. We ended up second to Wilgerus Dakota, a beautiful bay stallion that I didn’t think we could beat anyway. The judge did come up to me and let me know that she hadn’t penalized Arwen for kicking at the other horse.

I totally don’t mind, though. Everyone was a newbie once. I’m just glad the kicks didn’t land lol.

At least we were into the championship class and Arwen had simmered down. We were asked to show an individual test in this class and thanks to a few showing lessons on Gatsby, I had learned a new one. Dakota rode a truly stunning test, and then it was our turn.

The test was short and sweet. Walk away, trot a rein change, lengthen down the long side, canter in the corner, canter a serpentine with lead changes (I did them through walk), lengthen the canter, trot, halt for the judge. Arwen was just fired up enough that when I asked for the lengthening I got a massive one – I didn’t even know she had that much extension in her. I was kind of beaming by this point because despite 18 months under a child, Arwen had not forgotten one drop of the ten years of schooling we had put in.

The changes through walk were so, so clean and obedient and she was so quiet coming back from the lengthening. When we halted from trot, dead square off my seat, I knew she’d just ridden the best test of her life. I may have been grinning just a little bit when I asked for five steps of rein back and then dropped the reins. She stood like a statue.

It was the most exhilarating moment we’ve ever had in the show ring together – I could not have been prouder even if we’d placed dead last. It was not the single most magical achievement of our career so far, but it was symbolic to me of the partnership that has spanned my entire adolescence and extends into adulthood, a partnership that taught me so much courage on a mare that exemplifies the phrase “against the odds”. A partnership that has spoken to me of God’s great plan. This ride – it was just a cherry on top.

I was so happy, and so pleased with this absolutely amazing fireball of a horse, that my salute may as well have been a mic drop. Still, I was kind of flabbergasted when we finally got the title that’s been eluding her for years: ridden champion.

My wall is absolutely covered in satin from the dragonbeast, in every discipline, and yet those rosettes don’t inspire a feeling of achievement in me. They make me feel something else: grateful. And perhaps a little awed by God’s mercy. Oh, not because of the placings. Those will crumble to dust like everything else. But because of what He achieved in my heart because of the fire in hers. Rosettes are forgettable, but love and courage and gratitude – those are forever.

And Arwen has been an instrument to bless me with them all. The guts she showed me out on a cross-country track or walking into the show ring with all the big names, I needed later for far bigger and more real challenges. And she was there for me even in those.

So with 2020 on the horizon, what’s next for my most faithful equine partner? Well, Dakota’s owner offered us a free covering. I definitely would like to put her in foal, although I can’t keep her babies right now – they’d have to have buyers before they’re bred. Still, the Nooitie is a hugely endangered breed and partially so due to inbreeding. Because her lines are rare and she’s only half Nooitie, Arwen is exactly the type of mare that could really benefit the breed.

She has just turned 13 so it’s time to start thinking about this kind of thing. However, God willing, she’ll definitely do HOY 2020, with me and with a child. After that, it’s time for baby dragons!

God’s abundance is undeserved. Glory to the King.

Dancing at Home

img_20180530_081306.jpg

If  I had been told six months ago that my competing dreams for 2018 would be crushed under the tide of perplexing circumstance that comes with budding adulthood, I would have been devastated. But it proves to be out of mercy that the Lord fails to show us our future. Now that I am here in the moment, three months from our last competition and an array of obstacles from the next one, I find myself learning and living and loving it.

Don’t misunderstand me now. Every morning after my first round of the yard and the horsies, when the sun has cracked the horizon with molten gold and the frigid winter sent back into the shadows for a balmy Highveld day, the first thing I do is dust Thunder off, wrap his legs, put a saddle on him and ride. We might not have a competition on the schedule, but we have our lessons and we have a dream bigger than the both of us. Every day we chip away a little more at the vast obstacle of my ignorance. Every day as my riding strengthens I start to ask a little more of him: more suppleness, more collection, more impulsion. And every day he continues to give me everything that he has. If I’m totally honest, his saddle needs a gullet change and he could see the chiro again. But nothing hurts in his body or his heart, and he is happy to give me what he has, and I give him what I have, and so every day we step a little bit closer to that dream that God gave us.

The petty impatience and peevish perfectionism that occasionally plagued our relationship last year has melted in the face of what this means to my soul, just like the frost before the sun. This is more than a dream or a career to me. This dressage thing, it speaks to me on a level I can’t explain. It’s more than circles and straight lines in a sandpit on a horse. That thing that happens between the equine heart and the human soul, whatever it is – that thing matters.

If I had known that I would be here now, I would have been crushed. I would have thought I’d be lost, aimless, without shows to go to. I would have thought that I would have wanted to quit. But here in the backstage, here in the shadows, this is where the dream is growing bigger than ever before. It’s in the airless darkness that a dormant seed becomes a living green shoot that pushes its tender fingers up towards the sun. Of course I want to be out there, gaining grading points and showing off our skills and winning some satin and having adventures with my half-ton dance partner. But I think I am here for a reason and that reason is bigger than it looks.

I am here because every day, as I learn about dressage, I learn about life. Every day I discover a little more what I have been saying all along: that I don’t do this for a number on a test or satin on my bridle. I do this for the dance. Because score or no score, show or no show, in this broken and fallen and hurting world there are inexplicable moments of perfect and unnecessary beauty, and I find mine between the saddle and the sky. If that’s not proof of God’s glory, I don’t know what is.

I have groped my way back to the reason at the heart of why I bother to do this ridiculous, expensive, difficult, unpopular thing that hovers at the line between sport and art.

I do this because I am saved, and this is how I sing the song in my soul.

I have no idea when I will get to go back down centreline again. But I do know this: that with every ride where God is our main focus, our dressage only gets better. That the unassuming little bay gelding with the fluffy hair and the sticky stifle might just have the greatest heart that’s ever beaten between my knees, and a body that seems capable of everything I ask and more. That every step of the dance belongs to the One by Whom and for Whom we were all created. That this horse and me, we can do this, we can go all the way. That even if we end up going all the way in our home arena, even if we piaffe one day for heaven’s eyes alone, it will have been worth it.

Because it’s not about anything else but the threefold cord. Every day the four rhythmic hooves of the horse I love take me deeper to a place where only the three of us can go. Every day he means something more to me, our bond becomes more comfortable. Every day is another step on the path of greatest love.

As the last precipice of adolescence becomes the first peak of real adulthood in the misty light of early day, the stakes grow ever higher. Love. Family. Work. Finance. Students. Grief. Priorities. The lives of others. God is taking me further, higher, deeper. His plan is majestic and perfect. His dreams are so big they terrify me to the core, but I cannot resist His sweet voice calling me deeper still. And I don’t know what the plan is; somehow everything was turned on his head after the tragic event that broke me and meeting the man who has become my lighthouse, the beacon guiding me home. But I know that dressage is part of that plan.

And one thing stays the same. I absolutely love dancing with my beautiful horse, and I give my best to every ride.

I can’t wait to take the dance back to the stage and see our scores and feel the thrill of climbing the levels again. But right now, I am where I am.

And I love every moment.

img_20180710_082900.jpg

 

No Such Men

Girls, let me be real straight with you for a second. That Hollywood fellow you coo over? The one with the brooding dark eyes and smooth complexion? The huge biceps and the perfectly tousled hair?

You don’t want him.

You don’t just want a man with sculpted curls, high cheekbones and a square jaw. You don’t just want a man with a dazzling smile and pecs that strain against his tight T-shirt.

You want a man with eyes that see into your soul and love it despite the darkness they behold there. A man with arms that are strong enough to hold your world together, yet gentle enough to hold your child. A smile that lights up your heart. Feet that will walk the straight and narrow. Hands that will build your future together with perseverance and courage, yet touch you with respect and tenderness.

You don’t want a man who tells exciting stories of a swashbuckling past and spends his days chasing the next rainbow. You don’t want a man with a hundred new ideas every day and a mind that never stops moving and bouncing.

You want a man who can stay. You want a man with his feet on the ground and his eyes on the stars, a man who can both see the mountaintop and climb there, one boring step at a time. And take your hand and do it beside you.

You don’t want a man who will give you romantic, candelight dinners and trips to exotic countries. You don’t want a man who will buy you jewellery and make you feel special.

You want a man who will give you tomorrow, the next day and forever; a man who will give you his next breath if it comes to that, a man who will give you what he has even when the world has drained him. A man who will buy you a hat or a book you love. A man who will make you feel strong, beloved. Worthy somehow.

You don’t want a prince. You want a husband, a father, a friend, a leader. You don’t want a rainbow. You want a rock. Rainbows are good for chasing on summer days, but it’s the rock that stays the same even when the winter night comes. Just be sure your rock has a core of pure light.

And I once believed there were no such men.

But I was wrong.

Gratitude and the Outside Rein

Today was our second lesson with Coach J, and I was nervous. Shocker. I had spent all week on poor longsuffering Thunder, trying to get the whole outside rein thing sorted out, and it just wasn’t working. I hoped Coach J wasn’t going to think we hadn’t been working on it, because we truly had – it just sure didn’t look like it.

Anyway, so we dragged Thunny into the box and headed off to our lesson this morning with some trepidation. At this point, I must pause and shout-out to some fairly wonderful people. First, my family, for obvious reasons. And then, two others who are rapidly becoming part of the family – my mom’s friend Tannie L and her son, D. Tannie L is the reigning queen of moral support and D happens to have a licence to tow a horsebox, so that’s how we’ve made it to our last couple of lessons. They also sometimes let me lie in a heap on their couch while I’m on duty (it’s been three weeks – count ’em – since I actually had a call). Tannie L and D are thoroughly nice and they’re being instrumental in taking the dream further.

If I ever actually do ride Grand Prix, then I will never be able to take any credit for anything, because it feels like there’s been an army of people supporting me all the way. Thank you guys for caring about God’s dream for me ❤

Thunder2011
I have no media at all. So here I present the glory that was Thunder as a yearling.

Thunder had a moment’s hesitation as we were boxing him, and I had just phoned working student L to bring us a line and get him in when he suddenly decided he could get in after all. We left Jamaica at home this time, and I was a little worried he wouldn’t travel great. He did paw the floor and shuffle around a bit at first, but as soon as we started moving, he settled right down and spent the trip picking at his haynet.

Once there, we were a little late, so I chucked on his tack, bandaged only his forelegs (the horror!) and scrambled into the arena praying he’d behave. He didn’t just behave, he was a superstar. He did spook at himself in the mirror the first time he saw himself suddenly go past, but after that he was perfect – relaxed and super focused.

He is actually becoming a very pleasant chap to travel with.

thunder53
he was sooooo cute

Coach J came bursting out optimistically and sent me to “go warm up”. Six years of training for people and I suddenly couldn’t remember how one warms up a horse at all, so he had to come and shout at us to go and do our little serpentine. I felt like it was better than last time, which would be nice since we only practiced it a thousand times, and I hardly used my inside rein at all. Coach J also thought it was good so he started trying to get us to do more interesting things (like, you know, trot in a circle) and promptly discovered that I still haven’t got a handle on the inside leg to outside rein thing. Back on the square we went, doing turn on the forehand to shoulder in to turn on the forehand to shoulder in without our inside rein.

It was a little ugly. Not from the horse; in Coach J’s words, “It’s your lack of coordination, not his.” No kidding. I cannot seem to get my own body to do anything I want it to do. 16 years of bad habits will do that to you. Every time I get a little stuck, my inside hand goes haywire. And my left hand just does whatever the snot it feels like doing. It’s frustrating. Thunder patiently tried to figure out what on Earth I was trying to get him to do, while my own hands seemed much less obliging.

Thunder2011b
his ear hair has always been legendary

At least today we did graduate to doing the exercise in trot, where he gave me several really nice moments when I started to feel like maybe I have ridden a horse before. We also got to canter a little. Exciting stuff. This was shortly after Coach J asked nicely for “less of the spastic chicken, please”. I doubt I will ever hear the end of that.

So, our takeaways for this lesson:

  • It’s not so much about not using the inside rein as it is about getting him into my outside rein. Connection on the outside rein is everything.
  • He needs to be more off my leg laterally. I have to become intentional with the whip so that it’s a learning aid instead of just a punishment.
  • This exercise is not about the horse being round or bent – it’s just about him being on my outside rein. It’s okay if he bends the wrong way or goes above the bit for this exercise.
  • I have to “slow my brain down”. It doesn’t make much sense out of context, but as soon as Coach J said it, I knew what it meant.
Thunder2011c
positively majestic

Coach J is pretty tough. I’m going to have be careful with Thunny’s schedule not to absolutely cook us both on practicing All the Hard Things. However, again, where I need somebody very nice to hold my hand and know when I’m ready to take corrections – like coach K, who is the best – for jumping, I can take a butt-kicking with dressage. Especially now that I don’t take it so seriously, I can take it more seriously. I no longer care too much about dressage; I care about God, and horses, and the dance. God doesn’t really mind if we’re not terribly good at it. I want to be good at it because I want to glorify Him, not because I want to earn my way into His good books. It’s worship, not obedience. He is not commanding me to do it, He is watching in delight.

So I can handle it. Coach J is never down on us, he just knows what he wants us to do and he doesn’t settle for anything less. He expects hard work. He will see it. It’s the one thing I know I can do. He does want us to have this issue sorted out by our next lesson, which prospect makes me a little nervous because I’m not fully sure Miss Spastic Chicken will become at least Miss Coordinated Goose by then, but I know I’m going to do my level best to make it happen.

Thunder2011e
look at his fluffy feets

I don’t want to kill both our relaxation and joy in it, though, so I’ve tweaked his schedule a little bit:

  • Monday: lesson.
  • Tuesday: hard work, practicing the exercises from the lesson while it’s still fresh in our minds.
  • Wednesday: fun work. Warm up with the exercises and focus on the concepts, but do a little bit of test riding, play with our stronger movements to remind us we can sometimes do this, then cool down with a little hack.
  • Thursday: hard work again.
  • Friday: more hard work, if he feels OK with it.
  • Saturday: either off, or a bit of fun work, giving the hard stuff a last little polish.
  • Sunday: off.
Thunder2011f
he’s always had the kindest eye ❤

Something I’m just starting to get accustomed to in Thunny’s temperament is how hard he can be pushed. He’s a gentle soul, but robust, much less sensitive than other horses I’ve had. He doesn’t get anxious like Magic, offended like Nell, or overexcited like Arwen. He just sort of stays at the same level. Of course he has his green and spooky moments and can be a little separation anxious (increasingly less so), but in terms of work itself, as long as I’m not in a flap he doesn’t really get into a flap.

He has the work ethic to be able to take a heavy workload and enjoy it without getting frustrated, as long as I keep it varied and stay relaxed. He also focuses hard and tries hard, but unlike me, he seldom overthinks things or gets into a panic if he can’t figure it out. He just keeps trying, patiently and calmly, to get it right. I love it. I feel like I can’t mess up too much because he won’t take it personally; he just keeps on trying, ever longsuffering when I bumble, but ready with a moment of brilliance when I finally get it right.

He’s not like me, but he’s exactly what I need. Isn’t God amazing?

Thunder1
but give it six years and voila!

Yes, yes He is. Glory to the King.

Kingdom of Heaven

Burnout is an ugly, hateful, soul-draining thing.

If I could choose between anxiety and burnout, I’d choose anxiety. Every time.

But sometimes this life takes everything I’ve got and requires me to spend myself well beyond my limits.

I do what I can to prevent it, but sometimes I can’t. And it’s worth it.

Some days I stand in front of the whiteboard and I don’t know how I’ll give my kids what they deserve: the very best, and nothing less.

But then the first child arrives and I take a big breath and start to teach. And no matter how exhausted I am, no matter how weary my soul, five minutes in, the miracle starts to happen.

I step into another place where the tiredness can’t keep up. My aching legs suddenly find their strength. My heart just lifts at the first child’s smile. It all falls away, the world condensing until all that matters is this child, this pony, this moment and my God.

I ask for strength so I can teach. But I think I teach so I can be strong. The Kingdom of Heaven comes to me every afternoon with sticky fingers and tousled hair and wide eyes, and after hours of work, I can feel my body aching, but I can also feel my spirit floating.

These kids thank me after every lesson, sometimes with heart-lifting smiles, sometimes with little arms around my legs, sometimes with a temper tantrum because they don’t want to get off. And every time they do, I feel vaguely guilty.

Because I have been receiving in far greater measure than I have given. I give everything I have, but somehow every time more just comes right back at me.

Burnout is ugly. That’s why I’m being more diligent about taking down time than before and why I don’t find myself here as often anymore.

But the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and God is amazing, and that’s why when I do slip up, or when circumstances do require more from me than I have to give, it’s the very work itself that drags my soul back out of it.

Sometimes I yell at them. Sometimes I misunderstand them. But there’s never been a moment when I haven’t cared. I’ve so often spoken about my love and appreciation for horses, and so seldom written about how I feel about my kids.

I think that may be because it’s much too big to put into words.

Sometimes running the yard still feels a little impossible. But God is good at impossible.

And every day I know I can contribute to something more precious, more valuable, more important, more world-changing than anything else on Earth. Something with eternal relevance. Something pressing, urgent, vital. Something beautiful.

The life of a child.

Glory to the King.

Equivest Show Goals

With less than a month left before CHG championships, we had to find something local and small and nice to attend to keep Thunny’s hand in (so to speak). Enter Equivest, a stunning venue I’ve heard about but never been to, despite being only 40 minutes’ drive from our house.

working on the hands, working on the neck

The tests for champs are Prelim 3 and 4. I’ve ridden both a million times, and Thunder has won Prelim 3 twice, so I’m happy with that. Prelim 4 is a test he really likes and goes well in, as long as I keep it together (and actually remember the test). So I entered him in Novice 1 and 2 instead. Both have lengthenings, Novice 1 has a serpentine (like Prelim 4) and Novice 2 has a canter-trot transition on the long diagonal (also like Prelim 4).

CHG Champs will also likely be our last show at Prelim, as I’d like to move him to Novice next year. This show is supposed to be a little trial run.

getting somewhere

Arwen is also attending. She’s been schooling quite nicely but still really unfit, so she’s only riding one test. Just getting back into the swing of things so that we don’t start next year on a completely feral dragon (semi-feral will do).
Thunder’s goals

Dependent on his brain staying in his head (which it generally does):

Overall 60% or more for both tests.

6.5 or more for the trot lengthening.

yes?

6.5 or more for the serpentine. 
More than 5 for everything else, except the stretchy trot circle. He does it so nicely at home but he is still a little too tense at shows to actually, well, stretch.

Don’t fluff the canter transitions at M.

Arwen’s goals

These are simple. I wanted to get points for EM – not that we’ll actually go EM right now – this year, and we need one more. Just one. So without further ado:

55% or more overall.

More than 4.5 for everything.

More than 6 for the halt and rein back.

Survive the simple changes.

also avoid hate from judges for using the double

Excited for a day out with my dance partners. ❤ Glory to the King.