Horses That Aren’t Grey

I apologise in advance for the almost complete absence of photos. I plead Internet issues. Now on to the post…

I promise that I don’t refuse to compete any horse that isn’t grey. I rode a spotty palomino one at shows once, see?

He was sold on months ago but I still miss him...
He was sold on months ago but I still miss him…

Still, it is kind of hilarious that I have to compete four horses (six, hopefully, including the stallions I’ve been asked to show in August) and they are all grey, every last one. Erin wisely suggested that I should get a shampoo company to sponsor me. I’m not complaining  – I adore greys; it is uncertain whether I love grey because grey or because almost all the grey horses I’ve ridden have been lovely.

Anyway, so today the blogosphere shall get some bay and chestnut love.

Exavior has been learning rapidly. We started working on baths, which was a battle – he doesn’t like water on his butt and ran over me once or twice before a well-placed elbow sorted that one out – but had to stop working on it because winter happened. We shall face it again in summertime; drenching him with icy water isn’t exactly going to improve his enjoyment of baths.

Apart from that, we got to work on lunging, leading and bowing. Lunging was a flop the first time because Mr. Smarty Pants knows exactly where the gate is but thankfully has not figured out that he could pop over the ring fence without a second thought. He liked to stop and/or spin around and/or rear half-heartedly in protest, especially on the right rein. We sorted this out in a few sessions, though, and now he’ll happily walk and trot around. I’m not pushing him too hard because he is such a baby but three laps of walk and two laps of trot each side once a week isn’t going to kill him.

We’ve also been going for little walkies around the homestead – up past the heifer paddocks, around the house and through the arena-in-progress. It’s quite a spooky route especially if you are terrified of bovines, and Exavior has cowophobia. We spent a little time walking around after Fiona, who is eleven years old and unlikely to be able to move fast enough to spook anything, until Xave realised that she was actually afraid of him. We had a huge argument about a narrow gate with a bar over the top, too. It turns out that Exavior has a special fear of low things he has to walk under, which is a bit of a bummer for a colt standing 15.2 at the age of 19 months. In the end I used my head-down cue to make him drop his head so that the bar appeared taller and he sort of tiptoed underneath it. We’ll be practicing this – dropping the head to walk under things – a lot in the next few months since I think it’ll be an important skill for him, especially when it comes to loading.

I also had to give him his herpes vaccine last week, not without considerable trepidation because the one thing he will get violent about is a needle. My other horses all stand like rocks for their shots – I vaccinated them all that day and Exavior was the only one that I bothered to put a halter on; Flare didn’t even get up from her nap – but he has problems with it. I think it may be that he had to have lots of injections when he tore up his leg, and he was pretty insane at that point anyway so they probably had to hold him down and twitch him for it. So I fed him bits of apple with one hand while rubbing the syringe on his neck with the other – he accepted this fine – and once he was totally occupied with apple I injected him in 0.02 seconds flat. (Vaccinating cows is good practice – you learn to accurately inject 2cc out of a full 20cc syringe while holding your hands above your head to get to the airborne heifer’s neck). He proceeded to shake his head violently and complain for five minutes afterwards, poor idiot, but kept all four feet on the ground.

Thunder has been his dear sweet self. We did another long hack around the neighbour’s game camp, this time accompanied by Flare, and the only thing that frightened him was a car that passed by on the road. The driver went wonderfully slowly and cautiously, though, so we survived. Nothing else – the sound of motorbikes next door, someone target shooting, the galloping game, or Flare, whose brain evaporated for half an hour or so – fazed him in the least. He plugged along like an old hand. Alone, he can still be really spooky, but not violent. The nice thing about Thunder is that his adrenalin comes down really, really fast. He’ll spook, sure, but thirty seconds later he’ll have gone right back down to completely calm again. He also has an amazing ability to be completely obedient even when scared out of his skull. No matter how frightened he is, as long as I keep my act together and give clear, firm aids, he’ll do what I want. And ultimately that will develop him into the horse I can trust completely – the one that I know will obey even when he is terrified. Horses that “never spook” always worry me somewhat because one day they will, and they won’t know what to do with their fear. Friesians (sorry Friesian lovers) are particularly bad at this: they “never spook”, until the day something pushes them over the edge and then they just can’t deal with their newfound fear and fly off the handle with 500kg of extreme power.

Thun has also been a star in his schooling. His lope is really coming together now, much more balanced and coordinated. He neck-reins in all three gaits most of the time and can go on a loose rein in a lope now, too, without needing my hands for balance. He can even slide now, which is awesome. My footing is bad so I don’t push it much, but he’s definitely getting the hang of scooting along (I am not, but I learnt the hard way to keep one hand on the horn… just in case). It’s kind of hilarious when I forget that he’s a reining horse and not a dressage horse, and we’re loping home on an outride in company and we want to go back down to a walk and he sits down and slides, much to everybody else’s consternation.

The chestnut horse formerly known as Duiwel (Demon) has been renamed David; I figured he needed a good Bible name after being called Demon for most of his life. He’s actually not a bad guy at all, and very handsome. I’ve been taking it easy with him, just lunging  and light riding, but he hasn’t put a toe wrong. Somebody has been really rough with poor old David, but he’s coming round very quickly. He’s stopped that dreadful, continuous, nervous snorting of the abused horse and doesn’t roll a white eye at me so much. To his credit, David has never turned aggressive, even in self-defence against things he obviously perceives to be major threats. Good boy. He’s my first real experience with a Saddler cross and much less nutty than I expected. He shall soon be for sale.

Magic Lady has been super; we’ve mainly been schooling because she has a hay belly like a gestating elephant, not exactly the most flattering look for being admitted into the SA Warmbloods. She’s taken to dressage most beautifully and has so far shattered every OTTB stereotype I know, except for that stargazing thing Magic used to do with his head. I’ll have her teeth fixed soon and then that should also go away. She free jumps fearlessly but apparently jumping with me on top requires lots of wriggling, although never overjumping or such silliness. I think once her broodmare stint with me is over, she’s going to make some junior really really happy. She’s so kind and bombproof, but with plenty of athleticism. Her 2014/2015 foal has just been weaned, so she’s sitting in a paddock waiting for me to come get her, which should be soon. She’ll be joining the Horde alongside a stunning little bay gelding bred by the Mutterer, who will be my own first resale project.

As for the Horde’s warrior Queen, her life is happy. She has Magic and Exavior to look after, Vastrap to hang out with when she’s tired of looking after them, lots of hay and her weekly hack. These are a highlight for her; I feel a bit sorry for her with the cold and thought I should give her the winter off but she has started doing these little excited half-rears in anticipation of our traditional tiny little canter. After eleven years I should know when she’s enjoying something, and she’s loving her rides, lame as she is. Learning to stay on a rearing horse bareback is good for me and she has a nice thick mane, so all is well. I don’t think you’re supposed to canter with 26-year-old arthritic mares, but I still need that horrendous giant curb for whoa, so it occurs to me that maybe her knees aren’t hurting all that much.

Health-wise she’s actually doing better than she has in years. The old knees still make her slightly lame, of course, but she is probably the shiniest of all my woolly donkeys. She’s staying as round as a barrel on just a tiny handful of concentrate twice a day, which I mainly give her so that she’ll take her joint medicine. That nagging COPD cough has entirely gone and even her permanent eye infection seems to be finally leaving after years of fortnightly antibiotic ointment.

Lord, not what I will, but what Thou wilt, but Sir, if Thou will it, as many more years as possible with this golden mare.

For Better or Worse?

Nobody likes that person that’s constantly selling their horse and buying a new one, only to repeat the whole experience a few weeks later. But nobody likes the newbie on the psychotic young horse who is constantly endangering both herself and everyone around her, either. Whispered conversations in the tack room – or, more realistically, loud conversations in nasal accents at the side of the arena – are as fickle as April: “What does she think she’s doing? She’s way overhorsed. She should sell him and get herself a nice schoolmaster instead.” “She’s going to sell it – again. Seriously. The poor baby. Someone needs to tell her that horses aren’t a commodity, they’re people too. How would she feel being sold on every few months?”

The right thing, as usual with horses, is not the same for anyone, but it seems to lie somewhere between the two extremes. Obviously, if you’re going through horses faster than most people go through T-shirts, then it’s probably not the horses that are messed up. But if you’re forever getting dumped and you hate riding and you’re holding onto Ponykins because he’s your baby, you’d probably be better off with a schoolmaster. Yet most of the time the situation is not extreme.

Let’s imagine a common scenario. Your horse is not a complete psychopath. You’ve had him for maybe two years. Even though he is kind of green, he has not repeatedly tried to kill you. But for the past month or two, he’s not been going the way he should be. He’s not making progress. In fact, it feels like he’s regressing. He doesn’t do anything truly terrifying, per se, but you’re starting to get pretty scared. You’ve fallen a couple times. He’s tossed a couple of naughty bucks and spooks at the jumps more than he used to. He’s fine when your trainer rides him, and you’ve spent a small fortune on the vet, chiro, natural horsemanship cowboy from down the road, supplements, dentist, saddle fitter, etc., only for nobody to find anything that’s really wrong.

Magic9

Now what?

In honesty, there is no black-and-white answer to this question, for the simple reason that horses are horses and people are people: there is no black and white when it comes to either for them. Emotionally, I often want to side with keeping the horse. I find it really easy to disrespect someone who loads Blaze on the trailer within two weeks after he tossed out his first buck. But maybe that’s just me: I’ve never had a ready-made horse. It’s so ingrained in me that I won’t get anywhere without some blood, sweat and tears that I kind of take it for granted that horses will give me issues.

On the other hand, I know a few people that I would happily tell to sell it. As soon as possible. Preferably to the salami factory. Okay, so I’m kidding about the salami.

Usually, though, these are the owners for whom it was a really bad idea from the start. Ammies (or their kids) who can’t really ride and don’t actually take lessons, riding lively young horses with a mischievous streak the size of China. People who just really don’t click with their horses and never have. I know how that goes, and I know that they have absolutely no control over it. As a (semi) professional trainer, I get given anything with four legs and told to ride, and ride I shall, or not get paid. But there have been a few horses that I was really quite happy to see the back of. None of them were truly bad horses (there are almost no horses that are truly bad), and many of them were actually pretty good horses. But I just couldn’t bring myself to get along with them, and they hated me equally. I could school them, and they would learn, but if they’d been mine, I would have sold them so fast their heads would spin. If I’m going to buy a horse – most especially a riding horse for myself – I’m going to have to feel some form of a connection or attraction to it. Not its colour, conformation, size, breed, talent or even level of training – to its very heart. There are some horses that make my heart sing, and I can’t explain why. Those are the horses I want.

Even if I can't afford them
Even if I can’t afford them

But there are some things a horse buyer does have control over. Mostly, their own brains. And unfortunately, dreams can easily cloud judgment. It’s fine and well for me to say I bought Magic because something in him touched me the way a country singer touches the strings of a guitar, making everything tremble and stand to attention in one responsive glorious note. But on the other hand, if he was too young or too small or the wrong breed or usually lame or had a habit of squashing people against the stable wall*, I wouldn’t have bought him no matter how poetic I could get about the way he made me feel. You have to be sensible. I bought Magic because he made me feel amazing, but I also bought him because he was 15.2 hands, a thoroughbred, gelded, green but never nasty, sound, gentle and had every bit of talent he needed for what I wanted. Oh, and he wasn’t exorbitantly expensive. Don’t forget that bit.

So to make a disgusting generalisation, and one which has so many exceptions that it may be more exception than rule, I could say: If it was never the right horse for you in the first place and now it has become a danger to your health, sell it.

But let’s be real. Most of us are not idiots who go out and buy it because it has a heart-shaped star. Most of us made smart decisions. We can’t all buy packers with ridiculous price tags; some of us have no choice but to buy the sweetest greenie we can find and bring it on under the watchful eyes of our instructors. And what do we do when the wheels come off?

I know what I did. I bought a horse that was a bit green and a bit daunting, but that I knew was gentle and generous to the core without a mean bone in his body. Also my instructor said we’d be fine (listen to your instructor, folks). And he did what young horses do – he went through a tough patch. We’d been jumping 90cm easily. We were struggling to jump 60cm without wanting to die. He overjumped, bucked, stopped, and spooked. I clutched, pulled, kicked, screamed and cried. But somewhere in there was a horse that ignited something inside me. He was just sensitive, and young, and confused, and I didn’t really know how to handle him. For months, we both had no confidence. My dreams of taking him up the levels seemed light-years away; I was much too scared to even go jump cross-rails at a schooling show.

Magic7

But we stuck with each other. What else could we do? He was the nicest horse I had ever had and, at that time, could even dream of having. I was the only person he knew that was always there wanting to love him and to draw the best out of him even if I didn’t always succeed. He knew about the wanting, and I knew about his heart.

Our  confidence still isn’t what it should be. But we’re going places now. We’re moving forward. We’re still not jumping 1.10m or 1.20m, but we’re jumping better. Some days we become two halves of one whole. And if we’d never had the tough times to guts through, we wouldn’t have the relationship we’ve got now.

Magic7

I don’t know if horses know someone has quit on them. I think when horses are sold, especially out of a horse-rider relationship that was no good, they just move right on and deal with the life they have today. Horses are good at that.

But I do know that horses know when somebody didn’t quit. I know they know when there’s been bad times and the one constant was the person that was right for them from the start and still wanted them.

And maybe I’m being kind of out there now, but when I look at the way Magic trusts me now compared to the way he did before, it makes me want to believe that they return the favour.

* Just say no.

Magic8

Bring It, Springs!

With our next horse trial on the horizon, I’m feeling confident, in a way. I say “in a way” because I feel really confident, but before our previous successes I have been dead nervous, so I feel nervous because I’m not feeling nervous, if that makes any sense whatsoever. I have given up on trying to understand my own psychology.

Arwen, however, has given me not a scrap of reason to doubt her. There will be no stressage at this event (hooray!) so we don’t have to worry about the sandbox. We’ve been putting in brisk workouts around the neighbour’s fields; following her clip Arwen magically appears twenty times fitter and has been burning up the “track”. She comes out to work every day with bucketfuls of enthusiasm and energy; her workouts seem to steady her more than tire her out and after 45 minutes mostly spent hand-galloping, she’ll have covered at least 6km and still have plenty left in the tank.

Showjumping has also been going very well. At the beginning of April we blundered off to a training show (which never even made it into the blog), and blasted around the 60cm, 70cm and 80cm classes. 60cm was a speed trial, so I totally wrote it off knowing that I go around a showjumping course at the approximate speed of a continental drift, and we ended up coming third on top of a class of enormous thoroughbreds. We went double clear in the 70cm and had the last pole down in the 80cm, which I wasn’t upset about because I got her a terrible distance to it and she was exhausted anyways. This was pre-clip and it was a brutally hot day. So we know that she can jump an 80cm course without fuss.

At home we’ve been jumping a little course that I set up to challenge us. It starts with a vertical of around 1.00m, followed by a turn to a skinny about 65cm high (she takes the skinny in her stride, to my amazement), then a little bank up to an 85cm vertical, then a bank down and a turn to a 95cm parallel oxer. She had a few stops at the two bigger fences, but mostly this is rider error. 1.00m is reaching the end of the little mare’s scope and I can’t expect her to jump that sort of thing when I’m not doing my job. She saves my butt enough over the little jumps.

Much love for this fat beast
Much love for this fat beast

Cautiously confident over here; rest assured that walking the cross-country will probably dissolve me back into a suitable state of pressurised anxiety.

Magic has also been super. He managed to injure himself on Friday, another of his mysterious impossible idiotic injuries; some kind of an impact right above the hock on his inner left thigh, leaving a swelling and a graze. Dweeb. By Monday it was fine, though, so we went back to work. We jumped the same course as Arwen, except without the skinny and with everything down to about 60cm. He was his usual: honest as the day, excellent as long as I let go of his face. I think I should start singing “Let it Go” while I ride him. Unfortunately…

I’m also deeply puzzled as to Magic and the French link snaffle. Not because Magic fights the snaffle; that’s pretty normal. But for all the world Magic behaves as if the dear little copper-jointed French link is twenty times harder than his big nasty Kimberwick. He hides behind it, he overreacts to downward transitions in it, and he fights it every step in the canter, alternating violent head-throwing with coming up behind the bit. He’s even worse with the single joint and his teeth are up to date. Then with the Kimberwick he puts his little nose down and goes confidently into the contact. Lunatic. I know he hates the bit to touch his palate, so maybe he hates it to touch his tongue too and the Kimberwick’s port suits him. Either way, he detests dressage anyway, so for now the Kimberwick it is.

Take away this nasty evil snaffle, Mom
Take away this nasty evil snaffle, Mom

Further news is fairly limited, especially as it is too late for my brain to retrieve any of it. Vastrap jumped the same course as Magic like a superstar; one day when I have the courage I’ll have to do a power jump with him because I’ve seen him overjump 1.10m by miles – he’s got quite a pop in him. Baby Thun was much less stupid during his flatwork session yesterday than last time and even slid for me, on my poor footing no less. Exavior is being adorkable and growing like a weed. Skye continues to bully and babysit him, despite now standing almost a full hand shorter than him. The Mutterer’s chestnut mare has gone to her overjoyed new home. The little roan pony bucked me off rather painfully onto my left buttock, which now bears an impressive bruise; the impressive bruises are always somewhere that you can’t show off.

Except for the time that I faceplanted off Vastrap
Except for the time that I faceplanted off Vastrap

To bed with this exhausted equestrienne. Praise God for full days and good horses.

Glory to the King.

Back in the Groove

Because when you can use an Emperor’s New Groove gif, why wouldn’t you?

So the last two weeks were insanity, but also awesomeness. We took a truckload of Jerseys to Bloemfontein and my pet prized heifer was Northern Champion Jersey Heifer. She deserved it.

JoyfulMerida5
Yes, fellow horse people, cows can be this elegant

We slept in the horsebox, which was awesome but cold, and I came home sick with flu. Last week Wednesday I decided I was all better just because I didn’t feel like dying when I was in bed, and nearly repeated that rather embarrassing incident last year when the Mutterer had to scrape my unconscious body out from under a horse’s feet. Whereupon I stayed in bed some more, and only actually got to climb on my horses for real again this afternoon.

Arwen was fantastic. I changed our jumps a little bit, putting up a 1.00m (3′ 3″) vertical, a Swedish oxer that was around 80-85cm (2′ 9″) in the middle, and a little skinny that was more kind of emaciated. (This was achieved by making a stack of tyres, three high and two wide, so it was around 65cm or 2′ 3″). Arwen had jumped the vertical before, but we’d had a couple of stops at it mostly due to the height. Today she was awesome and popped over like no big deal. The Swedish oxer gave her pause for thought a few times, once again mostly because of me. She’s honest that way – she stops when I mess up but jumps every single time when I do my job. So when I got my act together she jumped the oxer just fine.

The skinny gave her pause for thought because she wasn’t sure that we were supposed to jump it. She kept steering out, not with a reluctant sort of attitude but giving me the impression that she was thinking “Wow, stupid human, let’s not crash into the tyres, shall we?” Eventually I insisted that I did want to jump it and she said “Ooooh why didn’t you say so?” and popped over. Because she drifts, it was a bit of a sticky point and we ran out a few times before she gave me some good efforts from the trot and canter, and I called it a day.

Next I rode this adorable 13.1hh pony that I have to back for some kids. He was easy enough to back but doesn’t have any brakes to speak of, mostly because he has some awful wolf teeth. For now I’m schooling him in a halter and he’s actually pretty sweet. He’s a very loving little pony. Interestingly enough he seems to have a goodly dose of Basuto blood, a breed that is near to my heart. The Basuto originates in the mountains of Lesotho and is renowned for its toughness, stamina, hardiness and amazing hooves, characteristics that it passed on when it was crossed with the Arabian and Boerperd to produce my beloved Nooitgedachters.

Agenta1
First ride. Look how tall I am!

I lunged Vastrap for 10 minutes or so because he hadn’t been ridden in two weeks, but he was an angel to catch (he can be skittish about that) and was his usual saintly self on the lunge, so I didn’t even mount him myself before putting Mom on and taking them for walkies. Vastrap has begun to put on some weight and muscle tone. He’s beautiful. His personality has also started to blossom; he no longer has that hunted look about him, except sometimes under saddle. Mom’s rides are doing him the world of good because she doesn’t put any pressure on him, and he needs that.

I didn’t have a lot of time for Magic, but I put him in the ring and “free lunged” him. This, in Magic language, means standing in the middle for 10 minutes and not doing anything very much while Magic tears around at a terrifying pace, enjoying himself. Normally he’s superb to free lunge, but he really had ants in his pants today, so I decided against arguing with him and just let him run until his brain came back. Then we had some laps of beautiful relaxed canter and practiced some transitions on voice commands. Magic is excellent with voice commands. I think he uses his sense of hearing a vast amount. He’s probably my most vocal horse, and he responds instantaneously to voice commands; scary noises frighten him a lot more quickly than anything else does. My voice also soothes him an enormous amount when he’s nervous. It’s a good thing he’s not a dressage horse or one of our most important lines of communication would be against the rules.

Lastly I took Professor X for a walk. We’ve graduated to taking little hikes around the homestead; I take the precaution of a lunging line in case he freaks out and rears (I’ve had an 11hh pony come down on my empty head and that was bad enough), but I haven’t needed it yet. He does like me to approach a scary object and touch it with him standing about 10m away on the end of the line. Once I’ve touched it, it’s apparently okay. He’s extremely spooky but, most importantly, very considerate of my personal space. He doesn’t run over me even when he’s really frightened or pulling for home. In fact, one day when Thunder and Flare decided to come running up at about 100kph, Exavior understandably shied sideways towards me. Mid-leap I could see him think, “Oh, sugar!” and then he made a valiant effort and managed to miss me by a comfortable distance. With a horse his size, this is immensely important, so I’m pleased that my drilling has paid off. He’s kind of a pain about his head when I put his halter on, though. He stands with his nose on the floor and I have to bend over to buckle it. Not too bad for a colt whose ears you couldn’t touch six months ago. I love him so much.

Glory to the beloved King.

2015 Q1 Goal Review

I can hardly believe it’s already April! So far, this year has been terrifying and wonderful and oh so busy, but I love what I do so much that I don’t mind. I am quite happy with the universe because each day I grow more aware of how I walk hand in scarred Hand with the King.

So, let’s have a look at our goals.

Arwen’s goals:

  • Get her fit – A work in progress, but I’m happy with the progress. She survived the 2125m, 17-effort course at Le Godimo, albeit with a stack of time penalties, despite the horrific heat. At the moment, our most intense workout was 9.9km at an average speed of 22.9km/h (380mpm), our top speed 59kph (980mpm). We’re not event fit yet, but making good progress.
  • Build her upper neck muscle – A resounding success. I really, really like her musculature now. She looks strong without being butch. She just needs to lose weight, but those neck muscles are where I want them.
  • School Elementary Medium successfully – This one will take a while. We’ve been working on collected trot, counter-canter, medium trot, shoulder-ins and more difficult leg-yields. We also got a flying change yesterday, more or less by fluke, and the Mutterer is drilling us in lessons, which is exactly what we need.
  • Introduce scary-looking jumps – Haven’t done a lot on this one, except at shows and clinics. She’s been as brave as the day there.
  • Have her go through water more easily – Done. We did have a look at the Le Godimo water complex but she didn’t stop or even walk. Just trot, peek, and jump in. Super happy with that.
  • Show graded in EV70 – Not yet, but we’ve done EV60 at a graded show, and will do unaffiliated EV70 at the end of May.

Exavior’s goals:

  • Complete advanced halter training – Done. We can now trot, stand squarely, walk on a loose lead, turn on the forehand, and turn on the haunches in hand. Also no standing on top of people or dragging them around. This is a big one, so it’s just about all we accomplished so far, but it’s the basis for everything else.
  • Leading over, through and under scary things
  • Leading away from his group
  • Bathing – Started on this but he still doesn’t like water to be on his bottom.
  • Desensitisation to noise and sight
  • Loading preparation
  • Loading
  • Injections
  • Be gelded
  • Lowering of the head when requested by pressure on the halter – Total win. You barely have to breathe on his halter and you have ears around your knees. Also he keeps his head down while I switch halter and fly mask.
  • Basic lunging with a halter and long line only
  • Wearing a roller
  • Lunging over poles
  • Wearing boots
  • Preparation for clipping

Magic’s goals:

  • Improve fitness – Win. He’s a thoroughbred. He was basically born fit. He can canter around an 80cm course without being breathless, which is all I need from him right now.
  • Tie up – Eh, more or less. He ties up just fine until he gets a huge fright, and then he’ll still break his lead.
  • Load – Done. Self-loads now, sweet creature.
  • School Novice  – Work in progress; he still flips his head in transitions and sometimes in the canter. Lengthenings are good, simple changes are good, leg-yields are getting there.
  • Survive a hack – Nothing yet, but it’s in the pipeline.
  • Be confident at 80cm  – Done! Okay, so I’m not confident, but the height is not a problem for me at 80cm with him. We’re schooling 90cm at the moment with success.
  • Show graded at 70cm showjumping – Showed ungraded at 60cm, and would have showed ungraded 70cm this weekend, but he came up mysteriously lame. Maybe God’s just saying we need another couple weeks.

Thunder’s goals:

  • Fix his mild tendency to get in your space – He doesn’t do it with me anymore. With submissive or timid people he does still stand over you but never with malicious intent and he knows he’s not allowed to move anyone’s feet.
  • Get him to stand dead still for a bath – I didn’t bath him, but I hosed him off alone, and he stood like a stone.
  • Introduce flying changes
  • Improve on sliding stops, spins and rein backs
  • Log as many trail miles as possible

As for the old warrior Queen, she’s as happy as a bird, fat, healthy, and tries to throw me off on a regular basis just to remind me who’s the Queen around here. And that’s all she needs to do.

TOABH: Forever Homes

Beka from The Owls Approve asks:

Defining the Relationship

Let’s be realistic. What’s the plan with your pony? Is it a five-year investment with a return, is it until you move up beyond the Kin’s abilities, or is it forever?

I like to think I am not stupid about my horses. I like to think that I am a practical professional and that I view horses not as kids or dogs or machines but as horses, nothing more, nothing less. I do know that I don’t view selling your horse as a cardinal sin and that in many situations selling horses is a viable and non-abusive business. I like to think that I have a good working relationship with my horses with a minimum of coochy-coo and that I keep in mind that they are huge flight animals, not kittens.

That said, I’m pretty stupid about my horses.

Obviously, I take the very best care I can of all the horses on the place, no matter who owns them, but my own horses just have a whole other emotional dimension. With clients’ horses, I make good, logical decisions for the horse’s benefit and do my level best to make it happy. With my horses, I become a total sap. If a client horse hurts itself I inject it happily with NSAIDs. If my horse hurts itself I have to grit my teeth and force myself to inject the poor thing and even then I feel the needle go in just as if it was my neck that was getting stabbed. Perhaps it’s because I have to deal with so many horses whose fates and, sometimes, care I have absolutely no control over, but I am very sentimental and deeply attached to my own creatures. Client horses come and go – they get sold, they get taken off my list, they get taken home, whatever. Of course I love them, but I prevent myself from getting attached because I know it is highly likely that I will lose them.

All this to say that despite seeing client horses leave without emotional scarring, I am deeply and extraordinarily attached to all of my horses and likely to cry my eyeballs out if I ever found myself in a situation so dire that I had to sell one of them.

Arwen would make logical sense to sell because I have Magic to compete on and she would be quite valuable now, but that’s just never going to happen. She’s my partner and the one who’s got my back no matter the escapade; I think she may have my trust more fully than any other horse in the world, barring Skye. I’ll compete her up to EV80 or EV90 and once we’re bored of that maybe a little higher-level dressage, and in between some showing. When/if I’ve competed her at the highest level we can go and I have a riding school, I’ll probably let her pack my better students around some shows. Eventually, I want to breed her again; purebred Nooitgedachters (because she is so typey) and perhaps find a nice sharkfin-withered thoroughbred stallion to breed another trustworthy little event horse for myself. Whatever happens, Arwie is home to stay.

I was actually supposed to sell Exavior. I thought I could make some money out of him if he grew up sound, given his breeding and looks. And then I couldn’t stop thinking of him as mine and… yeah. I actually do have a valid reason to keep him, though. He’s big. Not that I actually need a big horse to cart my 100lb frame around, but I have confidence problems with big horses, which is not helped by the fact that the big horses I deal with are mostly stallions with aggression issues. If I could have a big horse that I raised myself, a gentle-hearted gelding that I had control over and could train at my own pace, it would do absolute wonders for my confidence. So Exavior is going to be my next youngster to bring on. I might still sell him if he proves to be too big for me to handle, which with the Mutterer on my side is unlikely, but we shall see. What discipline we shall compete in, nobody knows; he’s bred to jump but moves well enough for dressage. We’ll see what he likes and go with that.

Magic is not going anywhere. His shenanigans did make me wonder a few times whether I wanted to keep him or not, but I’ve always really known the answer; he’s my dream horse and he is mine forever. The current plan is for us to go up the grades in showjumping, since he most certainly has the scope to go quite far. I do dream of eventing him someday but I think he might just not be an event horse. He’s not very resilient at this point in time. Either way, showjumping is what I bought him to do and currently his passion, so up the grades we go and see what happens. He will never be a schoolie because I would hate to see newbies bouncing around on dear sensitive Magic (Arwen doesn’t give a rat’s bottom), so him and I shall compete until he is old and creaky, God willing.

Thunder well, who would ever sell a Thunder if they had one? Even if I was in the most dire straits I would never be able to put a price on him. I would give him to the Mutterer because they deserve each other. But Lord willing, I will never have to be parted from Baby Thun, and he can be my pleasure pony for his entire life. He’s to be my personal pleasure horse and do whatever we feel like doing, be it outrides or competing. When he is older he’ll also be a lovely school horse, so I’ll probably use him now and then for the more panicky sort of beginners that need a gentle, loving horse to hold their hand for a while.

Skye will also never go anywhere, ever. She has had an adventurous life already, and her home with me is where she will have all the adventures – I pray God there will be many – that remain. She’s being a happy, semi-retired hack right now, but should her old legs not be able to carry on hacking, she’ll be a weanling mommy and the companion that keeps Magic’s daft head out of the clouds. She reminds him to do things like drink water and go under the shelter when it rains.

There will, of course, be other horses that come and go at some point. I’m buying a broodmare, who I love but who will also be going once her foals have raised me enough money to buy a better one. I would also like to start training and selling ponies at some point. But these horses are mine and if the Lord wills it they will be mine until their last breaths. Of course, His plan prevails above all. But right now, that’s the way it seems to be going.

Kindred Spirit

Magic8

Last week Sunday, Magic and I had our second attempt at a show, by a miracle.

We did not exactly have the best ever preparation for it. Don’t get me wrong – he’d been a superstar all week. Still piling riser pads and extra numnahs under my Kent and Masters and riding him in that, I was sticking to Magic’s back easily. He was jumping everything in sight willingly (albeit messily). He didn’t even get a skin reaction to the shampoo I used to bath him with, which was a definite improvement on last time. In fact all was going swimmingly right up until Saturday morning, when the Mutterer’s white gelding had a refusal so embarrassingly random that facepalming just wasn’t enough; I facepoled instead. When I got up I thought I’d broken my face, but I got away with a bloody nose and scuff marks all over my face and left shoulder.

My face is messed up. Magic's trying not to make me look bad by messing his face up, too.
My face is messed up. Magic’s trying not to make me look bad by messing his face up, too.

Once I’d ascertained that neither horse nor rider had been hurt, my first thought was for my confidence at the show. As we all know, I’m already not the most confident when it comes to jumping Magic, and crashing headlong into a jump hadn’t been pleasant. But what was I to do – scratch? No. We walk by faith, and not by sight. So I girded up my loins and went forth, not without considerable trepidation.

As always, the King carried me through, and that gave me the strength to help carry Magic through. He loaded and travelled like a star and got off the horsebox looking calm enough. I hacked him around an empty and awesome dressage arena (MIRRORS. MUST HAVE MIRRORS), expected him to spook at the random emu that was wandering around, nearly jumped out of my skin when he spooked at a feed bin instead, and forgot all about yesterday. Partially because I was too busy reciting Psalm 23 to myself, and partially because I couldn’t stop staring at my gorgeous horse in the mirrors. Seriously, guys. MIRRORS.

All smiles
All smiles

He was stunning. Just a bit strong in the hand, maybe, but no disasters. No attempts to buck when I asked him for a canter – in fact, as usual, he felt better than normal because of the lovely arena surface. We headed up to the warmup arena and as we approached the first little cross-rail my stomach fell into my boots, but I planted my hands in his mane and locked my trembling legs around him and he jumped. No facepoling happened, so after that I was fine. We were both fine. In fact, we were both loving it. There was a 70cm vertical set up in the warmup and after a while we started jumping that as well, which was more fun and completely not terrifying.

Love this
Love this

Then it was time for our class and dear Rain, without whom horse shows would be rather more difficult, whisked us off to the jumping arena, wiped my boots and helpfully reminded me that the horse was supposed to accompany me over the jump instead of letting me take the leap solo.

I rode him into the arena and made an immediate beeline for the Scary Corner. It is apparently law that all show arenas must have a Scary Corner, which is usually in shade and used as a storage area for haphazard piles of jumping equipment and (heaven forbid) a groom waiting to pick the jumps back up. According to many horses, Scary Corners are the most terrifying black holes of this universe. It is unhelpful that Murphy’s Law dictates that the most frightening jump on course usually has to be jumped towards the aforementioned dreaded dragon lair. Magic, however, plodded past the Scary Corner at a free walk without turning a hair, dissipating a considerable amount of my nerves. He did startle a little at the speakers that were playing in the other corner of the arena, but then the bell rang and we were trotting through the start and Magic said, “CROSSRAILS I LOVE CROSSRAILS” and jumped everything with enthusiasm.

Because if you have perfect knees, use them at every opportunity
Because if you have perfect knees, use them at every opportunity

I used the strategy that seems to work best, for Magic; trot the first jump, legs on lightly, but try not to make too big of a fuss and keep the hands super soft. Only canter if he offers it; if we trot all the way round, no problems. Magic landed over the first 40cm cross in the canter so I let him cruise around at a ploddy dressage canter, popping over everything bravely, sort of schooling him as I made him bend the right way and stay on the right lead because he was confident and attentive. We weren’t quick, but we were straight, accurate, enthusiastic, and forward. I’ll take it.

The classes were very small and the jumps inviting, so there were few mishaps and not a lot of time to hang out between rounds. I shot down to the warmup to scramble over a little oxer and some slightly bigger jumps (still real lead-rein fences, though) before going back up to the arena and starting on the slightly twisty 50cm course. I chose a shorter line to the second jump than most people, but it was an easy sort of circle line and the jump was an inviting little cross so the risk turned out not to be a risk at all and Magic had no trouble with it. He had a look at the sixth jump, which was an oxer, but I talked to him and kept my legs on and over he went. We were resoundingly clear, so we went through to the jump-off.

Watching the rider before our turn and re-memorising the course. Both of us.
Watching the first rider in the class and re-memorising the course. He was dead focused on them as well.

Immediately, the first jump became a little oxer and my blood pressure went up for no reason other than that I suck at oxers and I suck at jump-offs and I was terrified we were going to stop so obviously as Magic reached it he realised that I was terrified, so he stopped. Luckily, I didn’t fall off, but unluckily he sort of staggered forward and fell/walked through the jump, demolishing it. One of the poles must have rapped his leg a little because he threw his head in the air and screamed that all four his legs were irreparably broken. One of the ground crew cried, “Oh no! Jump off – your horse is dead lame!”

I have probably forever written my name amongst the animal abusers in that particular stable’s history books, because I said, “Oh, he’s just a drama queen” and walked him in a little circle until he took a deep breath and the jump had been rebuilt, when I asked him for a trot and he was as sound as a brass bell. (The foot wasn’t even swollen the next morning, don’t worry.) I was timid, so he stopped again and we were eliminated (do two stops at one jump count as an elimination?), but they very kindly allowed us to finish the course and took away the back bar of the oxer to make it a bit more inviting. At which point I relaxed, so Magic relaxed and we cantered around the course without batting an eyelid.

I was extremely proud of Magic for recovering from our mistake. Six months ago he would have had a total meltdown and we would have been fighting to get over trotting poles for the next week. But as soon as that particular oxer was behind him, he left it in the past, looked up at the next jump and charged. For that reason, I was happy not to scratch from the 60cm.

The speaker in front of him was playing One Direction, which he loves
The speaker in front of him was playing One Direction, which he loves

It turns out that it was a good choice. The first jump was the dread oxer we had crashed through, but I planted my hands in the mane and said “The Lord is my Shepherd!” as we approached it and he jumped it like it was the Hickstead Derby. We went clear, resoundingly and perfectly clear as I didn’t have to kick once; he took me to the jumps, snorting in glee and thoroughly enjoying himself. We were absolutely dead last since it was a speed and precision class and we cantered around like it was a Sunday hack, but I fell on his neck hugging him as we left the arena. I couldn’t have been happier.

Dear, daft, amazing Magic. We fight the same battles, him and I – so many of our fears and weaknesses are the same. How blessed am I to stand before nearly sixteen hands of dapple-grey grace and fire and power, and to see in his eyes a kindred spirit. Glory to the King.

<3

I’m 18 and Arwen is Fitter

So much to say, so little time (and energy). I must, in advance, apologise for the lack of photos. Cyclone ate my phone. No, as in really, she ruined it completely. I’m using a spare, but the front camera is broken, so I have to use a real camera to take pictures like it’s 1997.

Speaking of 1997, on this day 18 years ago my parents brought six pounds of screaming infant into the world, blissfully unaware of the fact that eighteen years later I would be a horsy kid and they would be feeding my five horses. Soon to be six horses. God has this habit of dropping the best horses directly in my lap, and I think He has done it yet again in the form of my absolute dream broodmare, a young thoroughbred by the name of Magic Lady. More detail on her later, but today my gift from Him was to ride her for the first time. She’s not officially mine yet, but as soon as possible, she will be. She may just be the quietest thoroughbred I’ve ever seen and she moves like a dancer. If I had been grinning any harder, the top of my head would have come off. Watch this space.

Arwen and I have been drilling fitness for the past two weeks, and it’s starting to pay off slowly now. Our event is in three weeks and, while it’s not hectic (the cross-country is under a mile long at 440mpm and the jumps are around 2′), in an ideal world it would be nice to make the ideal time. 440mpm feels awfully fast when you realise that there has to be jumps in it. I’ve been tracking us with the My Tracks app to see where we stand, though, and I think we’re doing all right. I have yet to sprint the full 1600m to see how fast we can make it even without jumps, but we’ve clocked speeds of over 30kph up a hill, which was comfortable and in control. I’m not awfully worried about the jumping or the dressage. As long as she doesn’t spook at the poles or dressage letters, we should survive.

We talked about hills
We talked about hills

Magic is being simply a star. On the Mutterer’s instructions, I put a riser pad under my Kent and Masters, added an extra-thick numnah and rode him like that a few times and the difference has been amazing. I feel much more in contact with him and much more in balance; the difference was so big that I picked all the jumps up to 80-85cm and we jumped them just fine. He even overjumped – not badly – once and my lower legs didn’t even swing back. The hunt is on for a second-hand, high-quality saddle for Magic, since the poor dude is still wearing an el cheapo, hand-me-down saddle that I’ve had for eleven years. His dressage is also doing extremely well. We have been working on canter lengthenings, leg-yields in walk and trot, simple changes (he nails them every time), correct frame at the canter and stretching down in the trot. Progress on all of them, although stretching down is still kind of an epic fail.

Baby Thunder is being amazing. I recently led an outride on him, with my sister on the Dragonbeast (Flare) and her Valentine on Arwen (who ate grass the whole way). He hadn’t been taken out for a while and was a little hyper, so I was a bit worried – luckily the mares are arrogant enough that nobody can influence them a whole lot. In the end, Baby Thun was the most well-behaved of the bunch. We had one hairy moment when our neighbour started target shooting while we were mid-canter; Flare, understandably, took off like a shot and passed Thunder and I. I thought that we were about to have a disaster, but when I sat back and whoaed, Thun slammed on the brakes and stopped dead. Flare halted after a stride or two and disaster was entirely averted thanks to Baby Thun and his miracle obedience. He is still spooky, sometimes I can feel him shake under me, but come what may he does what I ask him to because he’s amazing.

Exavior is coming along fine. We’re working on his advanced halter work, since I have a habit of halter training all my horses to the point where they could do quite well in an in-hand showing class. He does like to dawdle around behind me and has a lazy habit of wanting to stop when he’s led away from his friends/food/water/current favourite spot, but even mid-tantrum he has yet to really react violently to anything. We’ve done some yielding of the shoulder and quarters which he picked up on quite fast, and he also drops his head down when I put pressure on his poll either with my palm or by pulling on his halter. Getting him to walk at my shoulder instead of behind me, and then trotting up in any direction, is the next hurdle. I love him to bits; his personality is really starting to show now and I like what I see.

The old charger is doing fantastically well and is enjoying life as reigning queen of all she surveys. She is her stubborn, highly opinionated, and extraordinarily kind self, and she makes everyone around her happier and stronger and braver.

Forgive me for my incoherence; I beg sleep deprivation. My bed is calling my name. Grace and peace to all of you, and praise the Lord for great horses.

The Thundering Thelwell

If I only owned Arwen, this would totally be my blog name.

Last Sunday found my poor dad trailering two horses to President’s Park for cross-country; Arwen and the Mutterer’s wonderful white gelding, who proved to be the good influence in the equation even though the poor thing hadn’t been to an outing for months, if ever.

Arwen appeared to enjoy her travel buddy and was hyper but not sweaty when we arrived, seeming more excited than worried; she loves President’s Park. I pulled the gelding off the trailer in a mild flap (I was, as usual, somewhat late; I invariably oversleep on show mornings) and threw him at Mom as soon as I saw that he was as quiet as a sheep. Mom stood there grinning while he grazed (they love each other) and I threw Arwen’s stuff on and cantered off only to find that my trainer was way on the other end of the Park and I was actually quite early.

IMG_201502164068
Complete with oh-so-stylish blue duct tape holding my errant gaiter closed

This was a huge relief. I’d been sick all week, so my already unfit, overweight and hyper horse had spent five days eating grass. On Friday I was able to lunge her without dying and on Saturday I managed to kind of ride, although I don’t think I achieved anything apart from burning some energy (mostly mine). The same went for the dear white gelding, but I wasn’t too worried about him because he’s a trooper. But I was expecting a bit of fireworks from Arwen.

It was not to be. She batted her eyelashes at a very pretty (and matchingly rotund) grey stallion who was also warming up, then put her head down and went to work. No spooking. No neighing. Perfect obedience. No bucking. You just gotta love little grey mares.

IMG_2015021627810
I can’t wait for my new boots to arrive… but okay, my horse is amazing

She was good and unfit, so I hopped off after a couple of canter circles and waited for my lesson, giving up on trying to stop her grazing after a few attempts – I needed to save my limited energy. Then our instructor for the day, Graham Winn, came bouncing over looking much too energetic, so I scrambled on and my round horse and I wobbled off to join the lesson.

Arwen was amazing. She warmed up like a pro, despite the grey stallion who was leaping around everywhere, and aced the collecting and lengthening exercise our instructor used to get the horses focused and quick off the leg. For a change, Arwen was instantly responsive to my leg, as well as collecting calmly on gentle half-halts from my seat alone, with the hands having to do no pulling at all; just a touch of gentle resistance.

Lengthening the trot; I think this is going to be what our medium trot will look like
Lengthening the trot; I think this is going to be what our medium trot will look like

Then off we went to jump. I actually completely lost count of everything we jumped; we just never seemed to stop, trotting all over the Park after our instructor, who jogs everywhere at a frightening pace. I’ll be the first to admit that, although not for lack of trying, I was about as effective and balanced as a bag of potatoes. Mouldy potatoes. My flu was improved, but my muscles were basically mush, so “legs on” wasn’t happening a whole lot. So I concentrated on feeling confident and making my mind positive even when my poor jelly legs weren’t cooperating and Arwen heard the “yes” in me and responded with a bigger “YES” of her own. She was a star. She thought of stopping only once, and then I summoned the strength to kick and squeak and she jumped.

We tackled a few harder things than we’ve done before: a jump straight into water, a log with three strides to a thatch that you had to jump at an angle landing on a quite sharp downhill, a three-stride combination with the first jump on an uphill and the second on a distinct downhill, and (drum roll) a drop. I detest drops. To be honest, I am absolutely terrified of drops. Before the dynasty of the Kent and Masters, Arwen and I tried jumping down a few banks with the invariable result that my old saddle shot up her neck and I shot up her ears and she bucked in protest, which was not very fun at all and resulted in both of us hating drops. However, the instructor said go, so we went, most reluctantly and eventually horizontally; I was not expecting to leap into thin air and nearly sat on her tail. After a few attempts, however, she was already too tired to do the leaping thing and started to pop down sensibly and I realised that I was probably not going to die.

Because this is how the big boys do it, right?
Because this is how the big boys do it, right?

There was also one sort of rolltop fence that she didn’t like; she was a bit tired by this point and touched it with her toes the first time she jumped, which scared the socks off her (Arwen hates touching fences) so she hesitated and then jumped it hugely the second time. No worries, at least she’s a careful cross-country mount.

Apart from those, absolutely nothing phased her. She did throw the odd happy buck or two, which I will not protest about because she’s young and lively and not malicious and totally allowed to express herself considering that she doesn’t come anywhere near dislodging me. Even the water didn’t give her a moment’s pause; she jumped over a log into it, she galloped through it, and I sat there grinning and unable to see (on a 14.3hh horse you are rather close to the spray) because I love water. At one big log, both the horses leading us ran out; Arwen thought about it, but the moment I clapped my legs on she said, “Yes, ma’am!” and jumped without a second thought. That’s my brave little grey mare.

That's what I'm talking about
That’s what I’m talking about

We are probably going to our first event in mid-March. Mentally, I believe she’s ready; the dressage should be easy for her, and she’s successfully done both cross-country and showjumping at a greater height than our class will be (60cm, or about 2′). Physically, well, in the words of a spectator: “Oh look! It’s just like a Thelwell pony.”

Arwen watching the grey stallion with WAY too much interest... If she pops out a little grey baby in 11 months, don't say I didn't warn you.
Arwen watching the grey stallion with WAY too much interest… If she pops out a little grey baby in 11 months, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Thelwell
The resemblance is actually rather frightening

We were both exhausted when we staggered back to the trailer; Arwen, although not very breathless, was sweating so hard that I couldn’t see the difference between sweat and wetness from the water complex. She did not seem much bothered, however, and started grazing happily as I ripped her tack off and strapped it onto the white gelding. He had been grazing demurely under a tree with Mom, being his usual saintly self. I was tired and hurting but figured that cross-country was a good way to die, so I got on and trotted off for his lesson with Kirsten (who was giving me a free lesson apparently because she wanted to see how the white gelding goes, but possibly because like the rest of her family she has a heart of gold).

Thank God (really, do it) the white gelding was perfect and I lived to tell the tale. He hesitated at the first jump, then took everything in his stride with his typical generous aplomb. I’ll let the pictures speak. Speaking of which, thanks big li’l sis for the pictures!

Glory, glory, glory to the amazing King!

I LOVE WATER
I LOVE WATER
He thought he should go over the water complex. Yes, Nooitgedachters can jump like superstars.
He thought he should go over the water complex. Yes, Nooitgedachters can jump like superstars.
WHEEEE
WHEEEE

Gethsemane

I shouldn’t be afraid.

Because God gives us a spirit not of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind. Because perfect love casteth out fear. Because fear not, neither be afraid, for I am with you, saith the Lord. Because of the still, small voice that whispers, “Be of good courage, dear one.”

I don’t want to be afraid.

Because I have something better than fear in me. Because I have no real reason to be scared. Because I have a higher calling, and fear is an obstacle in the pursuing of that calling.

I can’t afford to be afraid.

Because I am a child of God. Because to live a pure and holy life is to be fearless. Because fear is not of Him.

I am afraid.

Because when I was twelve years old I thought I was invincible and I tried to break in a stallion thinking it would be a walk in the park. I did it, too. I mean, he was rideable, eventually. But he scared seven kinds of snot out of me in the process. The physical pain was minor and healed in days; the mental scars linger many years later. He was the first horse that truly frightened me beyond the standard beginner nervousness and he drove me to tears more times than I can remember. And I failed him. I failed him, I failed his breeder, I failed his owner, I failed my trainer, I failed my God, I even failed the person I sold him to because I sold them a horse that I could have made better than I did. I could have, if my hands would just stop shaking so hard I could barely hold the reins.

Even years later, I’ve always been haunted by the memory of that black stallion. If I had him today, he would be doing dressage shows. He didn’t even do standard stallion misbehaviours – he just did standard young horse misbehaviours. If I had him today I could school him in eight weeks. Because today I am stronger, better balanced, more experienced; I would have pulled up his head and given him a whack and he would have cut it out.

At least, if I had no confidence issues, that’s what I would do. Currently, there are certain horses – always the ones that remind me of him – that turn my usual cool, calm professional self into a trembling beginner. I can’t handle them. It’s like I instantly forget what I know about horses.

I fight so hard.

I try every trick I know; I breathe deep through my diaphragm, I use a firm tone of voice, I force myself as much as I can not to use jerky movements, I wear a helmet even on the ground to make myself feel safer, I force myself through my comfort zone as hard as I can, every single time. Every. Single. Time. I push until I break down and freeze and in that moment those horses know they’ve got me, know that their leader does not have the confidence to lead them, know instinctively that they have to dominate me or die because in a horse’s mind that is how it works. Only the strongest ones lead. So they walk all over me, and learn nothing, and I fail.

Over and over again.

I am afraid.

I fail.

And that’s okay.

Because God, Who is the only One that really counts, knows everything that goes on inside me in those times. He knows how hard I try. He knows the shame I feel. He hears the desperate prayers. He knows – and how true, how true it is – that the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And that is how my God saved the world; with weak flesh, and willing spirit. Sweating blood and weeping tears. Broken. Crying. Too afraid to be alone.

He knows what it feels like, even better than I do.

There will be no fire-and-lightning miracle. There will be no sudden change, no roaring spirit suddenly bursting loose inside me and banishing all fear forever. There will be no overnight makeovers of my soul. But day after day, millenium after millenium, into all eternity, there will be the God Who knows what fear is, Who has felt it, Who has irrevocably and utterly and triumphantly conquered it. For it was that same willing spirit with the weak flesh that went as a lamb to the slaughter and saved the world forever.

So I walk hand in hand with the King of Kings. One day at a time. No more pushing until I break. No more pride. No more peer pressure. Just the King and I, and His marvellous, deadly, heart-changing creature, the horse. One session at a time. One positive experience at a time. His arms around me, His encouragement, His eternal love. For He knows – He knows, He believes – that the spirit indeed is willing. And if the flesh be weak, let it be weak; for His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

If this is Gethsemane, then it is not long before the great conquering. There will be no giving up. Glory to the King.