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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I painted the windowframes this weekend. I should be dead.
Darling chose the colour; a metallic grey. He was building the cupboard with that painstaking, methodical way of his. First stripping planks off the old pallets that nobody wanted anymore – nobody except us, anyway. They were beaten up and weathered and cast aside, but they seemed to change in his big, careful hands. I knew that by the end of the day these broken old things would become something new, something useful. Unrecognizable.
A little like me.
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” – Matthew 26:36-39
The windowframes were my job. I put some music on and grabbed a little brush and got to work. The paint smoothed easily over the frames themselves, hiding the weathered surface under a shiny new grey coat.
The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss. Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. – Matthew 26:48-50
The burglar bars were a little more difficult. They’d been painted white before and the grey paint didn’t want to stick. I almost asked Darling for help, but decided that I was a strong and independent woman and that I was going to figure it out myself. Surrounded came up next on my playlist and I turned it up a few notches, dancing in place as I sang along. “It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by You.”
But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!” – Matthew 26:63-66
The first windowframe took all my concentration, but by the time I moved on to the bathroom window – Darling propped it open for me with a piece of plank – I’d hit my rhythm. I almost spilt some of the paint on the windowpane, but managed to catch it just in time.
Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!” – Matthew 27:22-23
By lunchtime, the windowframes were done. I rinsed out the brush and walked into our little house. Darling was stepping back to look at his cupboard with a critical eye, but smiled as I came in. He was fragrantly covered in sawdust and sweat, and when he draped an arm over my shoulders, the perfect smell of him embraced me.
“All done,” I told him.
He pressed his lips to the top of my head, a tiny and tender gesture, but as big and strong as the hands that built our house. “Well done, liefie.”
And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it. After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.“Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!” – Matthew 27:33-35,39-40
“Ready for lunch?” I asked. “There’s tuna, if you like.”
His smile was the sun in my world. “Sounds good.”
We walked back towards the farmhouse hand in hand. We always do, even if it’s too hot to hold hands, just interlacing our pinky fingers together – a connection.
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart… – Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51
I pause and look back. Our tiny house basks in the autumn sunshine, almost done. The grey windowframes look new and cosy, and it’s starting to look like a home instead of a construction zone. I lean against darling and let out a sigh of contentment.
“I can’t wait,” I say.
“Me neither.” He pulls me a little closer. “I love you.”
As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. – Matthew 27:57-60
I lean against the man who loves me and I gaze out at the little house and I know that I should be dead. I know that I should have been the one to kneel in Gethsemane horrible anguish. I know that I should have been the one to stand trial in front of mocking hordes. I know that I would have been found guilty. I know that I should have been nailed to a cross and that I should have died a slow, agonising death.
It should have been me. But it wasn’t. It was the King of all kings, the Creator of the world, the Alpha and Omega. I was the one who deserved it, but He was the One who died.
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” – Matthew 28:5-7
I should be dead. Instead, the Son of God, Who knew no sin, died in my place. He paid all of my debts and set me free two thousand years before I was born. Then He rose again, and I rise up with him, a new creature, living a new life.
I should be dead. Instead, I painted my windowframes. I painted them grey, and I sang His praise. I hugged my man and I made tuna sandwiches for lunch. And I know, with every breath, that I don’t deserve even the air in my lungs. I don’t deserve to be starting a life together with the most incredible human being on this earth. I don’t deserve to ride horses or enjoy a meal with my family or sing in the sunshine or even my pretty new grey windowframes. I certainly don’t deserve eternal life or unity with the God that is all goodness.
He died for me. I don’t deserve to call Him Abba.
But it’s not something I earned. It’s a gift. So I paint my windowframes. I hold my man close. I anticipate the glory that is to come. And I sing the praises of the God Whose love never gives up and never finds a limit.
Three months since that call came in and changed my life and myself forever.
A lot has happened in those three months. A lot more has changed than just me; a lot has moved. But all of it has moved in one direction. The right one.
Deeper. Further. Higher.
Deeper into God’s love. Higher up this tremendous mountain. And further and further from the shallow end, from the place where I can stand.
I have never before had to ride on water so deep. But I am grateful. Grateful for the priorities He set straight in my head with that life-changing moment. Grateful for every breath I get to share with those I love. Grateful for every second chance with the lost. Grateful even for the fire, as it burns me pure.
And grateful, oh, so grateful that I now have a mighty comrade in every battle.
I’m still here, still doing what I do. Following my King and riding on water. There have been some exciting new developments, and there will be more, especially with regards to the blog. Don’t mistake my silence for loss – this blog is about to undergo changes that will only make it better.
While there are many things that just don’t scare me anymore since I helped to load a friend dying from a violent, criminal act into a helicopter, generalised anxiety has taken advantage of my bruised psyche from time to time lately. I have no idea what I am fearing; all I know is that I know the touch of that old and worthless demon.
Yet I rejoice. Not because of anything but because perfect love casts out fear.
I have so long been asking God why He would tell me to be strong and courageous when I have tried everything in my power to do so and failed. How could He demand of me to do something that is entirely impossible?
It was recently that I finally heard His reply. “Daughter, I commanded light to be, and it simply was. Do not take my command as an order to your mind. Just as I said Let there be light and there was light, I speak to your soul now: Be strong and courageous, and you will be strong and courageous because I said so.”
I certainly don’t always feel strong and courageous. But I am: strong enough and courageous enough to take the next step. To cling to my God in the next moment.
Perfect love casts out fear not only because I must love perfectly (although I must, and will never lose that last vestige of fear until I do) but because I am perfectly beloved. Perfect love casts out fear because perfect love is bigger.
Perfect love is bigger than my sin. Perfect love is bigger than my pain. Perfect love is bigger than anything I could face tomorrow. Perfect love is bigger than everything I fear. Perfect love has an answer for every inconsolable question that rises in my weary soul.
And I am loved perfectly, and on this Good Friday, I will think of the only One Who loves perfectly, and I will see the proof of His love in the blood on His hands, on the naked, wounded, bleeding, beaten, stripped and humiliated figure that dangled on the cross for me. There is no greater love than that.
I will look at that love and I will understand what it means to me here and now. I will see that I am loved perfectly by the God Who brought the earth to life. I will know that the Hand that holds mine shaped the stars, the Voice that speaks to me brought forth the sound of the tidal waves, the Arms that hold me wrap the entire aching universe in their embrace.
Not even my own failures can destroy me now.
And I let the Voice that commanded light to be, speak the sound of courage into my very soul. My mind and body might betray me, but my heart and soul are still and know that He is God. I trust His plan. I believe I am loved. I can’t wait to see where He goes with this, because I know the direction we’re heading.
Further up. Further in.
And it’s in moments like these, moments in the saddle when Thunder pops that flying change like a bursting bubble under me, moments around the dinner table laughing at the delirious wit of four exhausted Hydes, moments in the arena with a little girl’s soul shining so brightly it almost leaves trails of light on the long diagonal, moments on the very top of Heidelberg with the lyrics of Rooftops ringing all round and the man of my prayers’ solid warm presence beside me and the whole world rolled out at my feet –
At those moments I taste the perfect love that made heaven.
And it is all because the Son of God died on a cross for me.
There’s a lot about grief that I didn’t expect. The five stages you read about make it seem so simple, predictable. Like you’ll just plod on from one to the next, finally popping out of Acceptance with a whole and happy heart, and carry on with your life as if nothing ever happened.
It’s not like that. It’s not linear. It’s not structured, and it doesn’t make any sense.
These are lessons I learned for the next time I have to stand by a person who is grieving.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer massive physical effect of it. I’m used to the physical effects of standard anxiety – the odd moments of sweatiness or nausea, the occasional insomnia. This was an entirely different level. I have never really been able to sleep during the day – not even as a small child. Suddenly I was sleeping in giant, steady blocks of several hours at a time every afternoon, waking at three o’ clock every morning for no good reason. My appetite frankly disappeared. I think I ate, really ate, a meal for the first time 8 days after it happened. It was scary, but it passed. Your body knows what it has to do to survive. You will eat before you actually starve. In misguided caring, people tried to persuade me to eat or go to bed early, but really there is nothing you can do. Trust me, I would have been eating if I could have.
Another really odd effect was that normally, during anything emotionally difficult, I write incessantly. Either here, in a journal, in fiction, even just a Facebook status, very often a free verse poem on my phone – it’s always been an outlet. This time I could not write at all. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even my prayer journal ended up neglected, which is something I almost never skip, even though prayer itself has never been more central to my life. It was less like my soul was silent and more like there was so much that needed to be said that the door had jammed. I still can’t face fiction. The email I wrote to my close Canadian friend explaining what had happened was one of the most difficult pieces of writing I have ever faced.
The second thing I wasn’t expecting was the volume of emotional and cognitive space the whole thing takes up. I was so tired, all of the time – still am, during the aftershocks. I couldn’t focus on anything either for very long or very well. I lost things, forgot things, and zoned out completely even in the middle of conversations or tasks. Here is where a grieving person can be given the most active support, I think. Processing is good, but the continual zoning out is awful. Gently bringing me back down to earth, or encouraging me to talk about where my mind was going instead of just sitting there staring into the middle distance and facing the darkness in my head, was one of the most helpful things anyone could do for me.
The one I hate the most right now is the aftershocks. I did not expect them, at all. I thought grief was a linear graph. Like you could just walk through it and it would be slowly and steadily getting better until one day it was mostly gone, perhaps with a few little setbacks during the milestones (how I hate the milestones). Instead, especially now, there are a lot of days when I can wake up and carry on and be happy and used to this strange new normal. Then there are the days when it hits me all over again, and it all feels as raw and fresh as day one. This is perhaps the most misunderstood by those who haven’t been through it themselves. They expect you to be done with grief by now. I expect me to be done by now. But I’m not.
Possibly one of the most valuable things I take away from this experience is just how much the words and actions of others can impact the grieving process. People flounder – I know I always do – in the face of trying to help someone who has experienced something like this. I think it was especially hard for us because the whole thing was so gruesome, public, and violently dramatic. A lot of people wanted a piece of that sensation, others wanted to try and make sense of the world in which this kind of thing happens at our expense, and the rest want to help and don’t know how.
The best thing you can ever do for a grieving person is to pray for them. The second best is just to allow them to be hurting. People want to make you feel better somehow, they want to say or do something that will pick up the pieces and fix it. It’s impossible. Inevitably, the pain must be faced, it must come, the emotions must flow. You need to be allowed to hurt, you need to be given the space you need to just feel what you need to feel. But not alone – just not alone. The tolerant, patient presence of someone who does not attempt to make you feel better is invaluable in this time. No human being can ever drag you out into the light. But some of them can sit with you in the darkness.
Giving someone the emotional space they need to grieve is invaluable. Even more so is giving someone the physical space – taking over some of their work or responsiblities for a little so that they have the opportunity to grieve. My family is amazing at this. I don’t know how I would be able to survive this without them. ❤
God alone is the only One Who can truly heal me, and He has. Over time, and slowly, and in increments. Nobody understands pain the way He does. Nobody knows the extent of the inner shattering the way He can. Nobody holds, tolerates, loves, accepts, understands as deeply as He does, and nobody else can lay tender hands on the human soul and breathe the life back into it the way He does. He places no blame, He passes no judgment, and He sets no time limit on the hurt. God alone knows, because God alone went through grief from both sides at the same time: the agony of the Father watching His Son die, and the agony of the Son in the dying.
And God alone has the power to soothe the pain, because God both raised up from the dead and has risen up from the dead. He can resurrect everything my heart feels it has lost.
I am grateful for every set of arms that has surrounded me and for every prayer that has risen up to Heaven for me. I have been borne through this in the arms of my family, my medic family, my best friend, and my beloved. And I will be healed, and I will face the darkness, because my God is with me.
Every time someone asks, “Did you hear about that girl…?” I feel more hurt and more angry when I have to respond, “I was on the scene. She was my friend.”
But God will work all things for the good of those that love Him. Already He is working this for good.
I have loved and been in love for months, but just always been too hesitant to do anything about it. The night my friend died changed all that. God’s love is my only strength; this man is the place God’s love gave me where I don’t have to be strong all the time.
He is her last gift to me. Because I learned from her well-lived life and her tragic death that life is just too short to be still when God calls you loud and clear.
Blogosphere, meet the darling. He is terribly good at reversing the horsebox. He and Thunder have an adorable bromance. I would say he is the man of my dreams, but he’s far more than that.
Every time I enter a dressage show I feel vaguely guilty about spending time and money on something that isn’t expressly helping other people. I know, intellectually, that God wouldn’t have sent me Faith, or made my scruffy homebred really quite talented, if He wanted me to stop. I know I gave it to Him. But knowing something in your head and having faith in it in your soul isn’t always the same thing.
But these past few days have been one step deeper into faith.
The dream team set off: Superdad, Wonderbird and the Dragon, at a leisurely hour on Sunday morning (things I love about dressage). We were there in good time and I plopped Arwen’s tack on and off we went. I was expecting a dragon, but she was really, really good. Relaxed and quiet from the word go, but forward and enthusiastic. Our warmup was very relaxed, but as mediocre as usual. I was focusing hard on trying to develop an actual medium trot instead of a piggy little run, and she was focusing hard on bucking through the counter canter at one point, but then we were off and I was cautiously optimistic.
Our first halt felt OK, it was steady, square and on the bit, but it was 5.5 for quarters to left. The serpentine XA felt good as well for 6.5, which is about as good as we get. I’ve been working hard on the leg-yield and FX felt good – and was good, for 6.0 – but it all came to bits XM and I tried to sort it out but couldn’t really so that was a 5.0: “too much sideways”. At that point I started to realise that Arwen, while not exhausted, was slightly tired. After so many years of having her so, so fit, I’ve forgotten how flat she can be when she’s not jumping out of her skin. Arwen has to be hot to be her best, and she didn’t have the oomph.
Still, she didn’t feel at all reluctant, just a little tired, so I felt it was OK to finish the test and we soldiered on. We picked up a few more 6.0s for the halt and rein back (“steps not quite clear”) and the two turns on the haunches (“little too hurried”) – both better than before. The extended walk was 6.0 too, “lacking purpose”. She has a fabulous walk, so I blame that on being a little flat, too. And then at A she struck off on the wrong leg for a well-deserved 4.0. Really, Arwen? A wrong lead, in an Elementary test? But once again, she never, ever does that at home. Her brain was tired.
We got it together though for our best marks of the test; 7.0 for both the 10m canter circle and – get this – the simple change! I suppose we can cross “survive the simple changes” off our goals list. The counter canter was back to 6.0 for lacking engagement, and then the medium was a 4.5. I thought it was OK, but this judge evidently laid great emphasis on correct extensions/mediums, so that’s fair. Our circle at R was down to a 5.0 (“more jump”) and then the next change she picked up the wrong leg again, for 4.0. The counter canter was another 5.0 with “more jump”, and then the medium trot, obviosuly, was a 4.0. I didn’t let her hurry this time, but we didn’t really do much medium-ing, so yeah. The halt was fine except she fussed and made herself extra-square at the last moment, earning a 6.0, “not quite steady”.
The final mark was 54.1%. I do wish we’d gotten 55% and that final grading point, but it was fair, and I loved the judge’s comments. He asked for more jump, more engagement, noting that she was a little flat and lost unnecessary marks (two incorrect strike-offs – ya think?). But he also said “Rider tried hard on an obedient horse”, which I felt was true and complimentary.
Ultimately I think she could have done better and will once she is fitter. I think she did go better in the double, especially in her changes and transitions and rein back (we almost got our goal of more than 6.0 for the rein back). I also think she will never be competitive at Elementary because I was twelve years old and entirely clueless when I started riding her, with practically no guidance. She’s done wonders considering the hand she’s been dealt, and I remember thinking as we walked out of the arena that this horse would run through fire for me. I’ve given her second-rate training and she has given me her heart, and that’s what makes it worth it despite the occasional disaster.
Moving onto Thunder, we decided for my dad to stand by the warmup and the show arena with Arwen this time. I wanted to give Thun the best possible chance at a good test considering it was a level up and I wanted to build his confidence with the new movements, and I knew Arwen would be impossible alone anyway, so it was just easier.
Warming up, I knew immediately he was going well. He was relaxed and forward, going down into my hand instead of having to be held at all, and there was a suppleness in his back that makes me excited. As we went on, I noticed that a rider who had also ridden in the Elementary had just come charging into the warmup, looking a bit flustered. She was number 113 and we were number 114, but had already been warming up for a little while. I had done my basic warmup – large, lengthenings, a stretchy circle, some transitions and circles and lengthenings in canter – and was just about to start riding my test movements to finish the warmup when I heard the announcer calling number 113, who hadn’t even cantered yet.
“Can’t you go?” she asked me.
It was a knee-jerk reaction. “No, sorry. I’m not quite ready.”
I headed off, leaving flustered lady to her warmup, but something didn’t feel good in my soul. I paused, and I reluctantly listened to that still small voice. I really wanted a good mark. I really believed Thunder would go better if I could just have another ten minutes. But I knew what Jesus would do, and we dance for Him.
“It’s OK!” I yelled, inelegantly booting poor old Thun across the warmup. “We’re going!”
I don’t write this to boast, because what’s one tiny kindness compared to the ocean of my sin, or to the extravagance of the Love that went to the cross for it? I write it because I want to tell you all how big my God is. I felt His pleasure, and we went in and I rode the best test of my entire life. And my horse was right there with me, doing his very best.
The first centreline and halt was 7.5; he was a little unbalanced, but stepped forward to a square halt. Then our turns at C and B and walk/trot transition at X was an 8.5. Yup. Comment “obedient”. So he is; I wish I was as obedient to the call of my Master as that good-hearted horse is to the touch of my hand. The serpentine was a 7, comment “needs to show more change of bend in body; accurate”. We had a 6 for the stretchy trot, a better mark than before; he maintained his rhythm and did actually offer a tiny stretch for the first time ever in the show ring, so I was happy. His stretchy trot is getting good at home – it’s just a matter of time before he relaxes in the ring.
We were back to a 7.5 for the free walk and a 7 for the first transition and canter circle. Our lengthening wasn’t terribly good, getting a 6 with comment “could be more balanced”. He was on his forehand and stayed there for the transition at A. I panicked about the lengthening and kicked him, so he gave half a canter step and I took a few strides to sort myself out and get a bit of lengthening, so that was a 6: “could show more balance at A and more ground cover”.
The canter transition at C and circle at B was a 7, asking for more uphill and jump. And our last halt was an 8. The final mark was 72.5%. You could say I was quite happy with that.
The second test started with a 7 for the centreline (“straight; halt could be more balanced”) and for the rein change with half circle (“could show more bend through body”). I fluffed the second rein change with half circle for a 6 (“not quite to X, could show more bend through body”). By this point my brain was also getting kinda tired – I had vowed to focus this time without being nervous, and I did, but it was starting to take a little strain. Our lengthening once again started with a tranter step and got a 6.0, comment “needs to show more push from behind to cover more ground”. And then we had our free walk. And then we got our first 9.0.
Not even kidding. It was fantastic.
The canter transition at M that I had been dreading was an 8.0, “obedient”, and the 15m circle was a 7.5, “could be more uphill”. I got the geometry right this time, though. The KXM rein change with a trot at X and canter at M was a 7.0, again asking for more uphill, but it was better than our downwards from canter to trot have been. The next 15m circle was another 7.5, the canter lengthening another 6.0. By the half circle onto the centreline, I was cooked. I sort of pulled him around any old how and we fell in a heap for 6.5.
Still, it was 71.8%, with super collectives: 7.0 for paces, 7.5 for impulsion (on Mr. Lazybones nonetheless), 7.0 for submission, 8.0 for rider position and aids. I have no idea where he placed because two tired Hydes really wanted to go home, so I just asked for my tests and they were nice enough to give me a couple of placed ribbons (cheers, Equivest!). “What a super horse,” the judge wrote. “Well ridden.” I was so chuffed.
But the story doesn’t end there. Oh no! There were a few more miracles in store for us. As we were waiting for my test and lunch, the owner of a top Friesian stud in our area beckoned me over.
“Who teaches you?” he enquired.
“I jump with Coach K,” I said, “but I don’t really get dressage lessons.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I can see that.”
I was just about to feel hurt when he offered for me to come over and join his riders in a lesson with their Very Big Name Trainer. Around this time Very Big Name Trainer popped up (I almost wet myself) and announced that this was a good idea and I could even get a very good price “if you do your homework”. I vowed to do my homework, and the next thing I know, this morning Thunder and I found ourselves in the middle of the very fancy arena at very fancy Friesian place with Very Big Name Trainer – OK, fine, I’ll call him Coach J – yelling at us.
I originally wanted to cry because I thought we’d never get good lessons ever again except once a year with Coach S when she fits his saddle, and here all of a sudden we were getting lessons from Coach J and cheaply and I was a little overwhelmed by what God is doing for us. But within the first two minutes I was way too busy to feel anything very much.
Despite seeing mirrors for the first time in his life, Thunny was perfect. We dragged Jamaica along to babysit but Jamaica chilled in the fancy stable and Thunder didn’t miss him at all – he didn’t even whinny once. And Coach J totally failed to hate my fabulous purple bandages. He did, however, roundly kick our behinds.
We didn’t actually do anything that hard, except that we had to do everything perfectly so it was all ridiculously hard. Once Thunny had walked around to have a look at everything and been asked to go long and low and a bit deep to stretch his back, we did a tiny little serpentine down the long side. And then we did a square with turns on the forehand that almost killed us, and then we trotted a 15m circle. That was it. My brain is overflowing with new stuff, and also I am very uncoordinated.
Inside leg to outside rein.
When Thunder wants to be looky, put him in shoulder-fore, flexing him away from the scary thing. This worked well for him because he isn’t really that scared, and being given a job and asked to soften helps him relax.
Inside leg to outside rein.
Tiny, tiny turns to help him bend through the body more (seeing a recurring theme yet?). They don’t have to be perfectly balanced, but 5m or smaller circles/serpentines in walk to help him release his back.
Inside leg to outside rein.
On small turns, inside hand to my belly button, not to my knee, to lift his shoulder.
Inside leg to outside rein.
Absolutely no seesawing on the bit; only solid contact, or small sponges within the contact. I say this to my kids about four thousand times every afternoon. I can’t believe I actually still do it myself. Urgh.
INSIDE LEG TO OUTSIDE REIN.
At this point Coach J had had enough of yelling at me about my inside rein and started the turn on the forehand exercise. We walked a little square, with a quarter turn on the forehand at each end. The catch? No inside rein. NONE. He wanted it hanging, to show me that I don’t need to pull it the whole time. It was at this point that my brain started to fry. It’s so automatic to hang on that inside rein – poor Coach J shouted about it like a million times. Eventually we were doing shoulder-in to turn on the forehand to shoulder-in to turn on the forehand with the inside rein dangling completely loose. Well, most of the time. Except when I was panicking and Coach J had to start all over again.
We moved on then to trotting a 15m circle, spiralling it in and out now and then, with no inside rein – but with bend and connection. It was so hard, but it so worked. Thunder was super willing – as soon as he understood, he obeyed. My inside hand, less so. It’s amazing how one’s own body parts can be less obedient than the half-ton prey animal that is my dance partner.
With that, we were done, and given loads of homework, and sent off ridiculously excited. Thunder has done so well all by himself, with only one lesson ever. Imagine what he can do with the help we have now. We might even do the bigger levels someday; Coach J seemed to think we could do more than EM. I would love so much to even do EM!
Thanks to our beloved King, Whose mighty plan prevails. I am so excited to see where my God is going with this. No detail is too small for Him. I have long since stopped dreaming: I have found that He dreams much, much bigger than I ever could.
Hebrews 11Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.2 Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.
3 By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
4 It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
5 It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.”[a] For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God.6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
7 It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.
8 It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.9 And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise.10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[b] that God would keep his promise.12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.
13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own.15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back.16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac,18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”[c]19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.
20 It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau.
21 It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.
22 It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left.
23 It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king’s command.
24 It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.25 He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin.26 He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.27 It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.28 It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.
29 It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.
30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons.37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
And by faith, this most undeserving of all His children would find herself most abundantly blessed.
I love my little mustard seed. ❤ Glory to the King.
(After Internet-related trouble, I’m back at last! Update on the horsies to follow.)
I’ve seen so many people come and go from the things I love. Not just kids in the riding school, but people who wanted to devote themselves to something, then eventually… didn’t.
In our culture, quitting has become socially acceptable. We’re practically expected to quit on something important, sooner or later. Every day, we quit on hobbies, on projects, on jobs, on marriages, on people… even on life. Who hasn’t, once in their life, just given up on something? Or someone?
But why do we quit?
We could make it complicated and say that kids who want to be yard managers quit because clients don’t pay, because one buck too many couldn’t be passed, because of midnight checks, because horses die. We could say coaches quit because of the kids who don’t care as much as they do, or because of being heartbroken for the kids who don’t get the chance they deserve. We could say volunteers quit because of people who abuse them or drunk people or dead people. We could say parents quit because of the realisation that whatever you do, kids will still grow up to be people who make their own choices and they won’t all be good ones.
We could say that cops quit because of corruption or because of line of duty deaths. We could say that husbands and wives quit because no one human being ever really understands another. We could say that therapists quit because of suicide or that vets quit because of having to put down healthy young unwanted animals or that people quit on life because of pain and unwantedness and despair and terror.
We could say all of these things and we would be wrong.
We quit for one reason that all of this aching humanity has in common.
We quit because we don’t find what we’re looking for.
C. S. Lewis called it our “inconsolable secret”. We are all looking for something. We all have an aching void inside of us, an agonised abyss so vast and so inexpressibly painful that it has become the quest of our lives to find something to fill it. Call it what you will; happiness, meaning, purpose, security – our whole lives turn on filling that void. On finding that thing.
History is the long and sorry story of how we try to fill it. Some of us try to use drugs or sex or crime. But the vast majority of us have a socially acceptable method of trying to fill that intolerable emptiness. We try to fill it with people or careers or money or luxuries or hobbies or helping others or saving the world or our own perception of ourselves.
In my book, we call that idolatry.
But the terrifying, the inescapable truth is that none of those things are what we’re seeking. None of those things can ever satisfy our most demanding desire.
Anything that speaks to our natural inclination can pretend to satisfy us for a time. We find something that finally makes us feel better, or useful, or safe, or happy. Music perhaps, or people, or a sport or studies. Here are the things that have done it for me: horses, feeling needed, lights and sirens, and writing. But not one of them have ever satisfied me forever. I’ve been sick and tired of and burnt out on all those things. I’ve come face to face with their ugly flaws and hated them.
But I haven’t quit.
Not because there is anything particularly special about me or about the choices I make. I’m not a particularly tenacious person. The hundreds of half-finished drafts in my writing folder will attest to that. I’m prone to crippling insecurities and easily fatigued on the simplest of tasks.
And that brings me to what this post is all about. Not why people quit, but why we don’t.
The truths that we’re all searching for something and that we’ll never find it on this earth are absolute and apply to all of us. But the Truth that there is Someone beyond this earth that can fill our empty spaces is just as true.
I no longer do things to make myself feel better and I no longer spend all of my time searching because I’ve found that thing. I’ve found what can fill the gaping hole inside.
I’ve found Him and His Name is Jesus.
I still hate the flaws in the things in my life. I still feel pain, anger, frustration and exhaustion about the imperfections of the world. So did my Saviour, lamenting out loud, asking God how much longer He had to be stuck down here. Some days I feel the same way. But my Jesus didn’t quit.
Because of that, neither do I.
I love because He first loved me. I go because He sent me. And I don’t quit because He never did. He saw my salvation all the way through to the other side of death and back, He sweated blood, He took His final agonising breaths on the Cross and He faced the deepest darkness of the universe and He never, ever quit.
The least I can do is go when He sends me.
I don’t do things because I’m searching anymore. I do things because God sent me. And when we’ve been sent, what reason could there possibly be to give up? Compared to what He’s done for us, what is any trial we might face?
I love what I do. I love horses, I love their smell, the way they understand the subtlest of cues, the shine of them, the rhythm of their movement, the purity of their hearts. I love children and their innocence and their simplicity and the breathtaking image of God I see in every single one of them. I love expressing myself on the page, putting my tangled feelings and dreams into dancing words. I love the sound of a siren. But when the horses kick and bite and buck and die, when the children scream and whine, when the words won’t come, when nothing happens all shift long, then I can still love and I can still keep on.
Once we’ve met the One Who fills the abyss, once we know the depth of perfect love, then the things we do stop being about them anymore. Riding is no longer about loving horses or excellence. Teaching is no longer about seeing children succeed.
We do things not because of what they are, but because of Whose we are.
My whole life is not about me anymore. I don’t do things because of what I need or who I want to be. It’s about Who God is.
And that, love, will never change.
So for as long as there is still breath left in me, where God wants me, that’s where I will be.
Sorry for the extended silence, y’all. August has been one of those months that you tell kids about when they think they want to be stableyard managers. Somehow I managed to overbook the training at exactly the same time of year that the SANESA season gets serious, the seasons begin to change, and everything promptly either catches flu or colics – horses and people. None of which I’m really complaining about, because God has been with us, and the extra business was a blessing – but I hope you’ll forgive the fact that blogging fell by the wayside.
Mercifully, it is now September, my schedule is pleasantly full but no longer physically impossible, and it’s not so windy and I can blog again. When Rachel kindly tagged me in her post, I knew it was just the thing to get my feet wet once more.
Rachel’s 10 Questions
1. What is your impression of Australia?
Never having been beyond the borders of South Africa, much less all the way to Australia, I wouldn’t really know. The Australians that I do know tend to be no-nonsense, fun-loving and don’t give their left sock what anyone thinks of them, so there’s that. There are kangaroos. That said, Australia doesn’t seem to feature in many of the major worldwide dramas – so it’s no surprise that so many South Africans are immigrating there.
2. How did you start blogging?
I’ll be honest that I don’t even remember. I had a subsection on a tiny family website we had years ago, where I started blogging as early as 2009 or so – I was all of twelve years old. Maybe even earlier. Like many writers, I journal obsessively. I always wanted to capture the breathtaking experience of life, and as I met my Jesus and gave my life to Him, that blossomed into an opportunity to spread the Word.
3. What is your favorite animal and why?
It’s actually a tougher question than you’d think. I have to go with horses, but dogs come a very close second. Horses, because they are such deeply emotional beings, with such intricate social and emotional lives. I have found that their emotions are the closest we find to ours in all domesticated species. Through them God teaches me such profound lessons; through them He speaks to me. They are His megaphone into my heart.
Dogs, on the other hand, just love you forever. Sometimes it’s through puppy dog Ice that God makes me feel better when nothing else can.
4. How has God blessed you this past week?
I woke. There were sunrises. Birdsong. Fresh air. Music. Horses. A great, steadfast Hand holding mine when it all became too much. Volunteering. I spent time on my knees. Horses smell amazing. Jesus loves me. I could go on.
5. What is you favorite recreation?
Dressage is where my soul worships, but not where it rests. I like sleeping and TV, as anyone does, I suppose. When I’m burnt out on horses and the yard – much as I love it, it can become so consuming – working with the medics or taking Ice to touch therapy refreshes my soul and gives me perspective.
6. Do you have a story you can share?
For the first time in years, I finally do again – I have, at last, began to draft a novel. It’s been years, probably four or five years? But I’m five weeks and 12 000 words in. It’s slow progress but it’s finally happening. The Defeat of Isaiah Abilene has a far darker and more broken tone than anything else I’ve ever written, but I feel like God wants to tell this story through me. It’s therapy, too, as service often is.
7. What is your passion?
I’ve long since found that nothing but my Triune God is worth pouring my fire into, and that He is the One Who stokes that fire when it burns low for everything else. Everything loses its allure sooner or later – everything but Him. It’s only when I find Him in everything that I can believe in it.
8. What is your favorite Bible story or verse?
Ooh. There are so many. Psalm 107, the story of my wandering soul and the God Who just won’t let it go. The Gospels, all of them, front to back. I have always loved 1 Samuel 17 because my own giants can be enormous and I stand before them with a sling and a stone. Moses parting the Red Sea because I’ve seen seas step aside for my Abba Father. All of it, really, all of it.
9. What brings you inspiration?
God, in various ways; in His Word, in prayer, in the heartbreaking beauty of the world He made and we are destroying, in dancing with horses, in good music, in films and stories, in friendship. But whenever I lack courage, I pull Arwen out of the field and we dance. She reminds me that we are the dragonhearted.
10. Can/do you draw?
Surprisingly, I used to be able to sketch well when I was taking lessons from an incredible artist in exchange for riding his little Arab mare. Now, I sketch when I have the energy. A good sketch takes me 12-16 hours and I just don’t have that anymore, so these days I just line draw, often from memory or imagination instead of the photorealism I was trying for.