What I Learned from My Easy Horse

They always say that the difficult horses have the most to teach you. That good horses don’t make good riders and that the more times you’re thrown, the more tenacity you learn. That the top horses are always a little sensitive, a little quirky, not everyone can ride them (as Valegro nods sagely in the background whilst carrying an eleven-year-old girl around on his patient back). There’s an undercurrent of feeling where if your horse isn’t that horse that’s a little crazy, maybe you’re not that rider who can do all the hard things.

But today I’m going to tell you everything I learned from my easy, sweet and safe horse.

Sure, he’s not the best ever on outrides and he’s got a spook in him, but he’s always been a steady sort. Even as a little foal he never had those crazy little baby tantrums while trying to navigate life with humanity. He wore his first saddle without a buck and fell asleep while I was putting on his first bridle. I was 15 and knew nothing. He was 2 and patient as a monolith, even then.

He was a clotheshanger-shaped two-year-old when I sat on him for the first time. I hadn’t done one quarter of the necessary groundwork, but he just turned his head to sniff at my toe and then went to sleep.

Fast forward seven years and he is still a good boy. He has his nervous moments, but in all our years of riding, I have only once believed I was actually going to come off him. We were walking and I was mostly asleep, one hand on the buckle, when huge lizard jumped up a rock out of nowhere and he jumped. I didn’t have reins, so he cantered off a few steps as I slithered down his side, stopping when I managed to get hold of a rein and drag myself back on board. Both times that I actually did fall off him, he was 3, we were hacking, and my (unreliable) girth came off. He always came back for me.

He has a quiet mouth. He doesn’t really go lame. He has a soft, supple back that doesn’t really go into spasm. These are probably reasons why he’s easy in his mind. He’s comfortable to sit on, not particularly flashy in his gaits, and rather on the slow side.

He’s not the horse that holds a grudge or gets offended by my myriad mistakes. His chiropractor, who has a deep intuition for horses, summarized him: “Oh, you just feel like everything is going to be OK when you’re with him.”

He is my easy, sweet and gentle horse. And here is what I learned from him.

I learned to ride a flying change, a half pass, renvers, travers, piaffe. A real shoulder-in, a straight leg-yield. A good simple change. A true connection, a supple bend, and a square halt. A figure eight in rein back. I learned these while he was learning them, because he was willing to learn, because he was helping instead of hindering.

I learned that mistakes are forgivable. I learned that there is a depth of grace out there that absorbs all sin, because a droplet of that grace lives in my little bay horse.

I learned that manes are still good for crying into when you’re a grownup.

I learned how to try, to give my best even when it’s not much on the day, to rise above fear and uncertainty and to try regardless because of how this horse always tries.

I learned about the depth of what horses do for us, about the scope of their kindness, about how much better I need to be for them. I learned to put aside everything and ride for the sake of the threefold cord, for the dance, for the joy of the fact that God made horses and he made us.

I learned to find a taste of eternity in the swing of a stride. And I liked it.

I learned that even on the worst days, horses still smell like heaven.

I learned that there are few greater gifts than a stalwart friend, even if that friend has four legs and a fluffy forelock.

I learned that I do have wings after all.

I learned that we can do anything.

I learned all these things from a 15.1 hand bay gelding who doesn’t rear or buck or bolt or kick or bite or get wildly wound up about life. I learned them from an easy horse.

And I love him.

Glory to the King.

By the way, ROW is now on Instagram! Find me on @ridingonwater for daily adorable Thunder pics and bits of philosophy.

Dear Thunderbird

For reasons I have yet to grasp, God saw fit to put you where you are: here with me on a farm in Africa. Sometimes I wonder where you even came from. The fact that your mother is a little round chestnut farm pony doesn’t mean that she isn’t valuable – to me, at least, her value is inexpressible – but she shouldn’t have been able to produce you. Not at 22 years old after being barren for at least seven years (if not all her life), not after having AHS when you were only a baby. The fact that you and your dam both made it out of that one alive was the first miracle that threw me to my knees.


Let alone the fact that you shouldn’t have survived, you should never have been talented. When people at shows ask me how you’re bred, I respond with, “His daddy was black and his mommy was chestnut,” and it’s about all I know. There is Friesian in there somewhere. You are a backyard-bred mongrel and you should never have been able to dance like you do. Dressage people should not be believing in you. Yet they are, because here you are; an unassuming little round bay horse, until you lift your back and suddenly grow two inches.

Your heart, at least, I can understand. Your dam is a fearless firestorm of a horse, a dauntless warrior queen of your kind. You’re not as fiery as she is, but, like her, you have a heart as big as the world.


That’s what makes you special, aside from whatever it is that makes you so supple and uphill and majestic. Your heart. You never stop giving. I never school for more than 20 minutes, except for you. Some days I look up and realise I’ve been on you for almost an hour and a half. Any horse should be sour by then, but not you; you stay enthusiastic, throwing yourself into the task, focused and attentive, delighting in your own God-given strength and beauty.

Some days, on your back, God takes me somewhere new; deeper into the land of the threefold cord, where there’s nothing but you and me and Him, and the dance. There is nothing that can touch us there. It’s a taste of Heaven; an intimate world where nothing else matters.

Some days. You see, love (and I know you do), while for 23 hours a day you live the comfortable life of the modern domestic horse – lolling in a field, teeth and feet always up to date, spine carefully adjusted, saddle fitted like a glove – I think God gave you a home that loves you for a reason. The only affliction you’ve ever had to endure sits between the saddle and the sky. I never mean to hurt you. Of course not. You’re my dance partner. But while there are some days that we taste Heaven, there are many more days when you get the old me, the carnal me, the mortality that is yet to be swallowed up of life, my flesh. The spirit indeed is willing, but you know exactly how weak the flesh can be. Oh, I’m not talking about the occasional hiding you get. Those are for your own good; you’re still a naughty little boy sometimes. But I know as well as you do that there is something we do to horses that is so much worse than just the tap of a dressage whip, or even a yank on the reins.


We’re human. Loud, complicated, emotional and always worrying about things that just don’t matter to horses. Sadly for you, you’re my horse. I can’t make the space between you and me that I have with the clients’ horses. Not with you. I need you. I don’t just need you to dance; I need you to hear me. I don’t have to explain anything to you. I just bring all my baggage and my fears and my hopes and my dreams and my exhaustion and bottle them all up and get on your back and try to make something beautiful, while emotions clash inside me so loud I can’t hear you and you can hardly hear yourself and God’s still small Voice doesn’t get through.

It’s ugly then. I’m sorry, love. I’m trying to fix it, but I can’t pretend it’ll be quick. I can’t pretend it’ll be easy or that there won’t be even more moments when my stressed out human will shouts down your quiet, loving opinion. We were made in the image of God, unlike you; but, also unlike you, we are the ones who fell.


God forgive me, sometimes I can make your life very hard for you. I know; then I worry about that, and make it even harder. You poor soul. You deserve better. But what you’ve got is me, and you’ve got me because God put us here together.

And you don’t mind.

I stress and fuss and freak out up there and make you tense. But you start every single ride with the same soft eye, the same supple back, ready for this ride to be better. You still come up to me in the field. You still love your work and never stop trying and concentrate, oh, how you concentrate. And with every breath, God is teaching me, not about dressage, but about Himself: about amazing grace.


I ask God’s forgiveness and I ask yours. And I won’t give up, because God hasn’t. You and me have a long, long way to go and sometimes it will be unpleasant. I don’t mean to make it hard for you. I don’t even mean to make it hard for myself. It just is. And you just accept it and go along with it, not questioning why your particular human should be the one that’s a little defective, just accepting that your heart is big enough for us both. I will be better for you, love. I promise. Just stay patient, stay loving, stay your wonderful self while I untangle my soul.

Thank you, buddy.

Glory to the King.