CHG Leg 5 Goals

It has been a slow week in our little corner of God’s beautiful, broken world.

yay for volunteering though! ❤

Nevertheless, tomorrow we get to make up for it, with the fifth leg of our dressage series. Both dance partners were on walk/trot only until yesterday because they’d had their AHS shot, but it’s amazing how much you can get done without cantering even once. (Hint: Thunder did about one bazillion halts).

They both schooled their tests very nicely yesterday, though, so I’m not too worried.

Thunder: Preliminary 1 and 2

It would be nice to improve again on his first test’s score last time (65 point something). I don’t harbour much illusions of improving on the 72%, because the judge was (not unreasonably) generous, but it would be nice to get a good one again.

All that is subject to his brain staying in his head. I’d settle for a whole show without any huge dramatic spooks, too.

Arwen: Elementary 1 and 2

We’ve worked so. so. so. hard on our canter stuff and our shoulder ins. Both were 5s at the last show so it would be wonderful to see our work paying off on those, even if it us just to the point of a 5.5 or 6. Not rearing in the warmup would be nice, too. But dragons will be dragons.

Trooper – Walk/Trot 1

Taking Troopy was a bit spur-of-the-moment as we unexpectedly had room in the box, but I think I can pull off a w/t test on him as long as he remembers to go when I kick. I have no expectations because it’s his first outing and he just gets to be a baby.

More to the Point

God has been continually bringing a section home to me all week, and it’s this one:

 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:4-8

I am a teacher and a leader at this little yard and God knows how seriously I take that. But tomorrow I pray I will take myself less seriously, and Him far more; look up from all I’m trying to be and see the God Who is already doing a good work in me through no effort of my own. I am a part of the body of Christ. A rather scarred and occasionally dysfunctional part, but a part nonetheless, and I have a role and a gift to give the world – to give to my Abba. And tomorrow I pray I would behave like it, I pray I would be His Hands and Feet, I pray I would speak His words. And none of this by looking out at others and trying to help them, but all of this by looking up at Him, the reason for our interspecies dance, and praising Him with all my soul.

And if my gift is to dance with horses, then I’ll do it for the Giver.

Glory to the King.

In Abba’s Arms

Horses have been many things to me: an instrument of salvation, a gift from above, a storm, a heartbreak, a dream, the shattering of dreams, a gut-wrenching fear, a hope for the future, companionship, courage, a calling. But now, “my” horses – mine like siblings; they were always His – are, to me, worship.

My dance partners are how I praise the Lord when words won’t do. And they often don’t. Together, we sing the glory of the God too big for words, so big He’s praised in tiny things: a breath, a smile, a touch. Not only in dressage, but in grooming, in carrot stretches, in liberty.

Sometimes, of course, it’s a hot mess. Sometimes it’s all about percentages and my own inadequacies and fear and failure and shortcomings and temper and frustrations. It melts down and becomes something blackened and ugly. Then I sit in the wreckage, with a spooked and resistant horse and a broken heart, and I wonder how I could ever be forgiven.

Then I cry. And then worship becomes healing. It becomes the place where I can’t hold on and fall, only to find He was holding tight, all along.

It becomes forgiveness.

The world has been so heavy lately. I crack often under the pressure, with ugly consequences. So I have been giving much thought to surrender.

Horses have always been a place where I hear God’s voice speaking. And He speaks to me now.

I hear Him in the softness of Faith’s coat while I’m grooming and in the eagerness of her step while we work through the most basic stuff: trotting in hand, stopping without climbing on top of me, investigating the inside of a stable for the first time.

It’s all just the building blocks of being a horse in a world full of humans, but there’s nothing mundane about the threefold cord where loving God meets worshipping woman meets feeling beast.

I hear Him in the depths of our conversations, when I realise day by day that the horse I picked out of a field in fifteen minutes even though the others had better conformation – the horse I picked on the prompting of the Spirit, in faith – that horse has the most incredible, curious, thinking, eager and willing mind.

I hear Him in the playfulness of Magic’s body language as we play with rein back, turn on the forehand, lunging, little fences all without even a touch, with sounds and gestures. It shouldn’t work but it works for him, and it’s playtime for the both of us at the end of the day when we’ve both been facing our giants and just want to enjoy the beautiful world for once.

I hear Him in the shift of Thunder’s back, the swing of it, the suppleness. I hear Him in the joy that leaps inside me when I feel him melt and move between hand and leg with a newfound softness that can only be born of relaxation, of joy – his, not mine.

His transitions are so much better now. I’ve been more disciplined about not saying what I don’t mean with my leg, and suddenly I can speak in touches and breaths.

I don’t delight so much because it’s brilliant, anymore. I delight because it’s ours and we’re His. It’s a different place. Somewhere almost holy.

I hear Him in the courage of Arwen, in her fire, in the dauntless enthusiasm with which she bursts out and attacks every task she’s given.

I hear Him when our canter-walks stay terrible, when she doesn’t stretch in the circle with break of contact, when she hollows into the transition – yes, I hear Him even then, louder than our mediocrity, louder than the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing at this level just yet. I hear Him louder and every day we get just a little bit better – at dressage, at each other, at life.

And I hear Him sing in the shine on Skye’s coat and the light in her eyes and the way we still know each other better than anybody else.

I hear Him, and He just keeps saying the same thing over and over with that particular relentless compassion and unquenchable determination and ineffable patience that only He has: “I Am, I Am bigger, and I love you. I Am, I Am bigger, and I love you.”

That’s why, though I fail, though I fall, though it’s too heavy, though I let Him down, though I hurt him, though I break, though I am nothing – that’s why I call Him Abba. Abba is a Hebrew word, and it doesn’t mean Father.

It means Daddy.

So here’s one more thing the horses are to me: they are the place where I realise, again, anew, that I am in Abba’s arms.

Glory to the King.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15

Strong Women

Today amid the madness, I spared a thought for what it means to be a woman of God.

I thought about Proverbs 31, as you do. Strength and dignity. Sense and faith. A strange mixture of submission and power, rolled up in meekness and confidence.

I thought of the women of the Bible. I thought of Sarah, who mocked the Lord and then had a child that would become the ancestor of the nation through which God saved the world.

I thought of Deborah, Israel’s lady judge, the warrior woman who fixed her eyes on God and led her faltering people charging to victory against the looming foe.

dauntless courage

I thought of Ruth, the sweet, loyal, vulnerable girl whose meek purity shone through; the storms that should have scarred her only washed her innocence and gentleness whiter.

I thought of Hannah, the mocked, the belittled, the neglected, the distressed, the faithful; who prayed without words, and birthed the man who would anoint Israel’s first king.

blazing faith

I thought of Esther. The girl whom life threw down, a slave, a concubine, her family killed, stripped from her foster father by a selfish king, her nation accursed; a new queen who laid down her life to save her people. A woman sent for such a time as this.

heaven-sent

I thought of Elizabeth and Martha. I thought of Mary the mother of Jesus, maybe the greatest of them all – Behold the handmaid of the Lord! I thought of Tabitha and Mary Magdalene and I wondered – who does God want me to be like? Which of these great women would be my single role model?

God’s response was simple.
“I am your role model, daughter; I made you to be Firn.”

Go fix your eyes on Him and be the wonderful lady He created. Happy Woman’s Day and glory to the King.

Small Victories

This week was… incredible.

It was pony camp, which I always love because I get more than that single golden half-hour once a week with each child. I get a chance to listen. I get a chance to learn.

We had many kids, for us (12? 13? I’m honestly not sure) and I can confidently say they all impressed me this week. For sure some of them got told off rather sternly but they are all lights in the world. They all have their futures thrown wide before them and the knowledge that I had a whole week with them – a week that God could use to influence their lives – was a tremendous thing. Terrifying at times, but tremendous.

Bible study was something else. The first three days felt like they weren’t really going anywhere – I was preaching the Gospel, and they were listening (most of the time) like good little children. But such is Bible study, I’m finding. It takes a while to build the trust that makes it a conversation. On the last day, we ended up running 45 minutes long because the kids weren’t running out of questions. We sat together and had an open, candid, non-judgmental, honest and sincere discussion about God. Jesus was there and the Holy Spirit was working! It was a day that reminded me of what I’m here for.

Of course, much was learned about horses, too. We rode bareback (a first for most of the kids) and played that game where you give each child a coin under each lower thigh and the kid who manages to keep their coins the longest wins. This was to much hilarity, but regrettably, we lost almost all of the coins in the arena sand.

We also learned how to turn out a pony, to varied success. This was less of a hit with some of the boys, but for the most part they pulled together and did some rather stellar work. Trooper especially looked more dashing than I expected.

We also learned about the points of the horse, parts of the saddle and bridle, and colours and markings. The ponies were as usual entirely accepting of having stickers stuck all over them.

They also did an awesome job painting and decorating all our jumps,

and Kindness Rocks, which are now littered all over the yard. Some have rather imaginative spelling (and others are teetering precariously on top of poles, on the brink of falling upon somebody’s head like a bolt of divine inspiration) but they make me smile.

We jumped some jumps (pictured: head groom L winning at this) and limbo’d under others (not pictured: head groom L falling on her head trying to win at this).

There were no falls or serious injuries at all this pony camp, to my great relief. One kid did cut his finger on the fence, whereupon it bled magnificently, but it was nothing that making a big fuss, pulling on my blue gloves and sticking a Star Wars plaster couldn’t fix. I also got kicked halfway across the arena (walked behind a sleeping pony and touched its bum like an idiot) but luckily I went flying and skidded several metres so that seems to have taken the worst of the impact out of it. Young muscles do have their advantages.

The week culminated in today’s training show, our first ever. It was an outrageous success – by the grace of God. Literally. He was so with us. And I have no pictures. Sorry.

We opened with Scripture reading, a la Lipizzaners, by bringing in old Skye and reading Job 39:19-25. Not gonna lie, standing next to my brave old friend and facing the crowd (more than 80 people – it was quite the crowd) and the powerful words straight from my God’s mouth rolling over us, I got a little teary-eyed.

The POG class was enormous and consisted of basically everyone whether they could jump or not. But I only had two on the lead rein and everyone else remembered their track perfectly, even if they walked the whole thing. Lulu, Trooper (yes – the 3yo; ridden off lead by a 6yo kiddie. He was good except once he walked into an upright and it fell over), Stardust, Midas, Sunè, Renè, and Thunder all packed their kids around without putting a toe wrong. Starlight had a spook and cantered off causing a little panic, but the kid got her back and she was fine after that.

Lisna and E also trotted around the POG and 20cm effortlessly. Lisna didn’t look at a thing and E handled first-show nerves brilliantly.

Most notably, David and his person went around the POG in hand. A mighty feat considering all the fears that horse had to conquer to get there. I gave him a show name and it says everything about him: Facing the Giants. He has faced some incredible Goliaths.

The 20cm was more of the same, with the addition of Savanna and her teenager. Savanna has been SO naughty of late (used to following other ponies over jumps + now feeling rather too good = naughty) but she was super and her teenager rode her really, really well for clear rounds.

Rain and Arwen also popped around the 20cm and 30cm, to general applause. Arwen also packed another rider who she’s never seen before in her life around the 60cm and 70cm, kicking all of our bums in the process. That’s the dragonbeast for you. I love that about my dance partners – they can dance with me one day and carry random people around the next.

In the 40cm, Destiny got his first jumping win under his mom. Sunè and her kid also popped around beautifully and Starlight came second with a kid that will hopefully become her kid eventually.

In the 50cm, Liana and her kid charged around brilliantly for second place. Midas and his new little rider had their first show together and came third, and Pennie’s mom G jumped her young horse, Saartjie, for first place. When G got Saartjie about a year ago the pony had never seen a fence before in its life and I’ve never been on her so I am VERY chuffed with both. K and Renè also had a great clear round.

It was more of the same in the 60cm, with Arwen first, Saartjie second and Lancelot third – albeit having a rather gawky round because I was in the dressage saddle (the others were all taken) and mainly focused on not losing my stirrups. Lancey was amazing for the whole thing, jumping all clear rounds. We were all expecting Vastrap to win because he is awesome but he got a bit wild and threw in a stop – luckily for his child because I don’t think she could have sat the only distance available to him at that pace. He won the 70cm, with Lancey second and Arwen third.

The 80cm was only Pennie and G and Jamaica and I, and Maicy totally showed me again why I lease him. I was exhausted by this point and just sort of hung on and pointed him at the jumps. The distances were ugly, the rhythm was off, and we’d had one minute to warm up – but Jamaica just took me over each fence despite my mistakes. Good boy. He won it despite a rail down because Pennie got somewhat overexcited and crashed through a bunch of jumps.

The last class was called the 85cm but only because I didn’t want to say out loud that Jamaica and I were jumping a 90cm track. I needn’t have worried, though. Jamaica was superb. Both G and I had a pole down but Pennie was like 15 seconds faster so they won.

I am so happy with it – all of it. I feel so honoured to be among this group of horses and riders and to feel the buzz that was at this stableyard today. It’s more than just a good atmosphere brought about by mutual goodwill. It’s in me but not of me. It’s the Holy Spirit at work.

This evening I had one last job – herding the members of field A (Arwen’s group) back to their field, which was being used as a warmup. It was a short way along the corridor so I elected to just shepherd them along rather than catching each one. I whistled them up and Arwen led the charge, snorting fire. Magic caught on and started bucking in the neighbouring field and then suddenly they were all running – thirty-one shining, happy horses – each a thunder-clothed collection of graceful curves bursting with life and exuberance, the sky and earth trembling with the power of them. I was caught breathless in the whirlwind of it, and I understood what the psalmist meant when he said: Let everything that has breath praise the name of the Lord.

No eye has seen what He has prepared for us, but perhaps sometimes we catch the edge of Heaven’s melody, curling on the cusp of hearing.

Thank You Father. Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 4 Goals

I have never been so relaxed the night before a dressage show. I suppose it makes sense; tension seldom goes hand in hand with either worship or dancing.

I still care too much about scores. But this week’s dressage rides have been… something other. Some of them were still the run-of-the-mill awful. But as we went on, there was an upward incline, towards the light. I focused less. I laughed more. I turned my Jesus music up loud and sang along. Judging by the swing under the saddle, the horses? I think they liked it.

I still worry a bit. There will be a judge out there who’ll eventually tell me that Arwen and I don’t belong in Elementary. And they won’t be wrong. But we’re not here to belong.

We’re here to dance.

Arwen’s goals: ride the tests from memory without too much trouble. Get a grading point or two (55% or more). Attempt to avoid setting the judge’s box on fire.

Thunder, on the other hand, has been feeling amazing, technique-wise. The stretchy trot wasn’t that hotshot this week, but his canter is about a thousand times better.

Thunder’s goals: show an improvement in his scores (last time 66% for the same tests). Subject to baby brain falling out of his ears, of course.

Firn’s goals: show the fruit of the Spirit. By my fruits I will be known.

Show love to the horses and the people.

Revel in the joy of a God-given day, even if it collapses into perfect chaos, as they tend to do. Let it be a joyful dance, a praise to His Name.

Be at peace with the fact that we’re not perfect and neither is anyone else.

Be longsuffering – be patient – with the horses, students, grooms, and fellow competitors.

Be gentle. Let each aid be as soft as possible, every word as kind and polite as can be managed.

Be good; treat fellow competitors justly, be good about the warmup arena rules, don’t push for a ride time that’d suit better.

Have a little faith. God’s got this.

Employ meekness; submit to parents, judges, marshalls, and the needs of others; surrender every breath of the day to God.

Have temperance – self-control – and don’t allow negative emotions to become negative actions when they arise (they will).

Tomorrow and every day, so help me God.

I can’t wait.

Glory to the King.

Dance

Emma and SprinklerBandit recently wrote about the why’s of riding – how the horse you have is linked to the very reason you ride in the first place. Never one to miss out on the chance to be sappy, I’m jumping right on the bandwagon.

just because I love this photo

It’s a topic I’ve been giving some thought to lately. The answers to why I ride for a living, and why I have the horses in the school that I have, are simple. God sent me, and God sent them.

Magic and old Skye are also pretty simple. They’re semi-retired pets. They’re here because they’re my friends and they don’t owe me a thing.

Then we get to the topic of dressage.

After realising that upper-level showjumping and eventing were just not going to happen for me – at least not in the next decade or so – I turned to my remaining options for a discipline I could be truly competitive in: dressage and showing. Showing judges freak me out, so that left dressage. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I adore dressage, in no small part thanks to the horse that was born for it – Nell. She gave me a taste of success and I liked it.

Then God turned the whole thing on its head.

Nell was sold. My best horse left; the carpet was pulled out from under the feet of my career. I mourned; not only the loss of a friend in Nellie, but the loss of a dream. It seemed to me that God was saying, “Enough of this selfishness. The time, money and energy you dedicate to this sport is self-serving; I want you to give it up and focus on the yard.”

And in a way, I guess He was. It shattered me to accept it, but I realised that much as I gave glory to Him in the high moments, schooling every day was all about progress and points and ambition. I laid down the dream.

Then He sent me Rainbow, and I was euphoric because I thought He was saying it wasn’t selfish after all.

And then Rainybow died. The cruelty of it was like a punch in the guts. It was all I could do not to lose my temper with God for this apparent injustice. I loved that horse and now she was gone and the dream with her, like Nell, but worse.

God said, “O, ye of little faith. I’ve got a plan with this, daughter.”

That’s why, when she basically fell out of the sky, I named her Faith. Not because I really had any, but to remind me to believe even when everything looks dark.

As you all know by now, since then everything just blossomed. Suddenly Arwen decided she was good at dressage too and went Elementary, and then Thunder was like “hi mom I’m really talented” and started scoring ridiculously well at Prelim, and now I have a dressage arena and even the sale ponies were scoring better than I ever have anywhere.

So the dream lives. But it’s a different beast to what it was with Nell. I have always been so desperate to prove to the students, to the world, to God that I was good enough  for them. I failed at jumping, I failed at eventing – dressage was my great hope.

But this whole year has basically been about one thing: the only opinion that matters is God’s, and nothing I ever do will make me good enough for His love, and it actually really doesn’t matter at all because He died for me before I even knew Him to say thank you to. It is the purest freedom from guilt to glimpse the depth of amazing grace, yet the strongest motivation to live purely, all at once.

So what is dressage to me now? A way to prove myself? I don’t have to prove myself because it just isn’t about me. My students are here and I give them my whole heart; as long as I keep doing that they don’t seem to care how much satin is on my wall.

Is it something for me to finally be brilliant at? Well, what does brilliance matter? Sport is temporary. I won’t be taking any ribbons or tests into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s become something more to me now. I don’t really have a name for it, but the closest word I know is this:

Worship.

I don’t deserve to be saved from eternal agony, yet I am. I don’t deserve to be loved by the God Who is Love, yet I am. I don’t deserve to become a dazzling, new, adopted member of God’s family, yet I am. I don’t deserve Arwen or Thunder or Faith or the 60x20m patch of sand or the opportunity to compete or anything – yet I have it. All that testifies to just one thing and that thing is grace.

So while I believe brilliance will be a by-product, and while I still hope one day I’ll get to ride Grand Prix, that’s all temporary. All just small things blowing by on the wind.

When I school now, I still tend to centre on selfish ambition. But this is my proclamation of a new mission statement for every time I throw a leg over one of the dressage horses.

The horses, the shows, the dances are a gift I don’t deserve, a reminder of the greater Gift. In riding every stride, I ride with empathy because I love the horses. I ride with diligence because I honour and appreciate the gift I have been given. But above all, I ride with love and passion, looking not at a number on a scoresheet but at the face of my God. I care less about how good the mark will be for a movement and more about the compassion behind the aid that asked for it. I care less about what the bystanders think and more about giving every breath I have to the God Who gives me life.

Dressage can be a sport, a dream, a torture session for horse and rider, a career.

To me, I choose dressage to be, in the style of Psalm 149:3, a dance.

Glory to the King.

Two Weeks’ Recap

I’m a little overdue. But here goes – pictures and ramblings, the norm.

Skye is still the reigning queen of the yard, and doubly content to have Lady Erin to babysit. Plopsie herself can now walk around her field on a lead without a bum rope, although there have been one or two warmblood hissy fits. Luckily this warmblood is like 13.1 right now so those were easily dealt with.

Jamaica went hacking, babysat by Ash, who knows the routes well from her daily hand-walking. Hopefully we’ll be having a little sit on Ash to see how she feels next week.


Fluffy pony cuteness. ❤

Followed by Trooper packing the fairly novice L along on a hack on a horrible windy day. He didn’t turn a hair. I don’t think he knows how.

Winter came. Cherry got a blanket, and David disappeared into the hay. Cherry has since gone back to the stud farm to run around in a gigantic field, which should be good for her poor sad racehorse guts. It’s a bit sad to see her go. She’s been dealt a difficult hand in life so far, but it is to be hoped things will continue to look up for her.

David, however, is here to stay. He orginally arrived in winter 2015, a project from one of the Mutterer’s clients to be schooled and resold. I rode him for a bit and then it became evident that he’d been so abused that his mental and physical scars made schooling dangerous and unfair. I took him off the market and sort of quietly took over as many expenses as I could, hoping his owners would forget him. They did. He’s safe now.

I want to sell Lady Erin but she looks like a donkey right now. Just an ugly growth spurt – she’ll be gorgeous again soon enough.

Arwen’s early morning rides take on a sort of crystalline clarity in winter. We’ve been working on suppleness, both lateral and longitudinal, despite my lapse in motivation due to having no shows to go to until the end of June. It’s an opportunity to school without being tied to a certain test, so I’m trying to take advantage of it.

Apparently, mist can do this. I’ve lived here seventeen years and I still haven’t seen all the simple miracles of cloud and sky that God pulls out effortlessly, all the time.


It also does this, with the beloved dressage arena providing a suitable foreground.

I played with Blizzard for extra exercise on the days the Mutterer wasn’t here to work him. He’s almost the carbon opposite of Eagle – a little stubborn,  quite unreactive, doesn’t canter too well but trots really well. A sturdy sort of chap so far, though. Just not with the willingness of Eagle.


We had a school visit from a horde of first graders. Stardust suffered them with typical grumpy grace.

This is Lisna, who’s come in Cherry’s place. She’s a Nooitie mare with drool-worthy bloodlines and wonderful looks, here to be schooled and resold by one of my rising stars, E. She’s still in quarantine so I only really know her to wave to, but soon she’ll join the lesson program.

My course building skills continue to slowly improve. This was our practice course for SANESA, and while limited – I can only do so much with a hillside, twelve poles and some uprights – it rode quite nicely.

Lancey is coming along just fine. He hacks out fairly reliably, we’re aiming to do some dressage at the next SANESA, and he is now very willing and bold over fences – if a bit careless.

Destiny went on his second and third hacks. I wore my body protector, anticipating a hair-raising experience, but so far, so good. Not even looky, except today when we encountered the maize fields for the first time and things got a little interesting for a few seconds. Luckily he has a wonderful mouth so I can hold him no matter how spooked he gets. He seems to like hacking better than working in the arena.

Lancey is teaching Z-kid some dressage, because Zorro sure ain’t gonna.

Afternoon hacking with novice kiddos. Agony on the feet, healing for the soul. ❤

We introduced Ashy to a field of buddies – Milady and Nugget. Both are laid-back mares with little concern for where they end up in the pecking order, and so far they’ve been a calming influence. Milady just politely ignores Ash’s rampagings because they’re rather beneath her. Poor Nugget bore the brunt of her rage but she gets out of the way and they seem to have come to an understanding.

I’m working on taking Nugget’s halter off and putting it on after every grooming. I hate leaving it on. She’s got such a rub (hair only) on her nosey. But it beats never being able to get hold of her again for shots/treatments/grooming so on it stays until I know I can catch her reliably without it.


Did I mention the hacking out here is incredible?

Best framed by these dragon ears, of course.

Dragons keep having to stop for the lesser mortals to catch up. This hill is very steep and rocky but Arwen just power-walks up it without a single misstep while I kinda throw the reins at her and hope she knows what she’s doing.

Midas is getting better and better on hacks too, both solo and in company. This was a solo hack on a very blustery day and I took a spooky route on purpose – woods, maize fields (which make a dreadful racket in the wind), next door’s feral ponies – and he just chugged right along happy as a bird.

Faith is standing a field eating grass and waiting to be old enough to ride. She gets brushed and stretched and takes some selfies and that’s about it. Not a whole lot more you can do with a two-year-old that knows most of the basics.

I don’t have pictures of Eagle this week, but he’s been very nice. K has been schooling him and I hack him. He went on his first solo hack yesterday and he was lovely – a little spooky at one point, but he never actually jumped, just had a look and a big snort. The rest of the time he plodded on a loose rein, half asleep.

As for this wonderful animal, he’s living the life of the semi-retired pet and starting to look it. The teff hay has been a little too good for him, methinks. I’ve never seen him so fat in my life. Of course, by semi-retired I mean he now works 3-4 days a week instead of 5-6, and usually it’s just farting around aimlessly or lunging when I’m not up for even that, but he likes it. I like it. And if he doesn’t deal on the day, he doesn’t have to.

He does get some pent-up energy though, never released when I’m on board, but lunging has been rather interesting of late. I think some more cantering is in his immediate future.

Glory to the King.

SANESA Q3

Well, firstly, this show was amazing. I’m so proud of how hard my students all tried, and their hard work and talent is paying off. The ponies were super and God was with us, as always. Even the venue, which I was ranting about last time, really stepped up its game and I was suitably impressed. It ran really well for all concerned. We had our hiccups, but we all went home safe, sound and satisfied.

Saturday kicked off the qualifier with all the little primary school riders, who were brilliant. Liana and her child had two main goals: remember the course, and don’t fall off. Both were achieved with resounding success even though the poor child’s last practice before the show on Friday night included a nosedive in front of a fence. Kids are made of rubber, so this kid just bounced right back and they jumped great. Liana got quite hot in her first class (50cm showjumping) so the kid showed huge maturity in pulling her out and making a circle. They got penalties for that, but it definitely kept things safe and under control, for which they were rewarded with a big fat blue ribbon in their ideal time class.

They also showed a great improvement in their Prix Caprilli scores, which neither of them like very much, but it’s good for both of their training so I’m chuffed.

Liana1

Meanwhile, having to cope largely by herself as I ran from calling a test to coaching Liana’s kid to dragging Lulu about on the lead rein, Vastrap and his kid carried on happily by themselves. I only managed to watch one of their classes (listening to the announcer in their other class while I was trotting around the dressage myself on Midas), but I’m glad I did because it was brilliant. VT showed no ill effects after his tying-up episode, demonstrated by a resounding second place in their competitive A2 speed class. They were fourth in the competition round and as happy as piggies in poo. This combination has the necessary qualifiers to go to Gauteng Finals, so that’s pretty awesome.

Vastrap1

Our next little primary school rider was the littlest of all of them, a truly adorable five-year-old riding at her first show. She was doing POG equitation on the lead rein, accompanied by myself and dear old Lullaby. Dear old Lullaby absolutely LAUNCHED herself over the first ground pole, but the kid sat it out just fine and even remembered her little course for third in her 9-and-under class of 11 kids. Pretty impressive. Lulu was super well behaved apart from that, um, little moment, so hopefully there will be a whole horde of kiddos attending the next one with their equine teacher.

Lulu1
melting the judge’s bones with cuteness

In light of the little kids’ successes, the high school kids had a lot to live up to, but they absolutely knocked it out of the park. K and Thunder had dressage on Saturday and equitation on Sunday. Thunny was much less tense than normal and got lots of “obedient” comments in Prelim 3 and 4, but regrettably they got a little lost with their canter leads and the 6’s and 7’s of their walk/trot work got disappointed by the 4.5’s and 5’s of their canter work. It was still good enough for fourth place. Their equitation also got them a placing with some lovely comments in a very competitive class.

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no touchy trotting poles

Zorro started his show by flinging Z-kid’s family’s gardener-cum-groom into the air (according to eyewitness; I’m not sure how that happened), dislocating the poor man’s thumb rather painfully in the process. I patched him up (perhaps a little over-enthusiastically) and sent him off to hospital, but at least Zorro appeared to have used up all his naughty for the day. He and Z-kid headed into their working hunter without me, while I was calling K’s tests, so I was sweating for them as I heard the announcer call them in over my shouting, but it was totally unnecessary. Zorro wiggled down to the first fence and Z-kid had had enough of his nonsense and gave him a hiding he won’t forget. He didn’t offer up a single wiggle for the rest of the show, getting first in the working hunter, third in the competition, and two poles down in the A2 speed (he took the “speed” part rather seriously). This combination just goes from strength to strength. The poor groom was very stoical about it all.

Pennie and G also started their qualifier with working hunter, and proceeded to have another show without any stops at all. When Pennie doesn’t stop, she places. This little mare is just the best showjumper I know. She had second place in the working hunter, won both her showjumping classes at 90cm by absolute streets, and came second in equitation despite an unlucky pole. They’ll also probably get to Finals, so far for both WH and EQ.

Pennie1

That leaves my crew, who were also impressive. Midas started my personal weekend off with a bang when, with a total of three and a half minutes’ warmup (part of which was spent spooking at a horse in a nearby field that chose that moment to completely lose its snot), he scored first 60.8% in Prelim 3 and then 68.4% in Prelim 4. It’s a personal best for the both of us, and considering the poor little chap was quite stressed out at the time, I’m rather chuffed.

He continued to be quite wonderful for his showjumping, winning both 60cm classes in fine style. Admittedly this was not very hard considering his competition consisted of one other rider and Lancey, but he still went clear and quiet in the ideal time and clear and quick in the A2 speed. I made him take some very tight turns in the speed, more as an educational exercise than anything else, and apparently tight turns ain’t no thing if you’re 13.1.

Lancey jumped both 60cm classes as well; I entered 60 as a precautionary measure since I thought the buzz that is SANESA might scramble his little Arabian brain, but I needn’t have worried. He came out totally ready to do his job and did it well over the first eight fences of the first class. Then both of us had a lapse of concentration, took the pole at number nine, climbed through 10A and ran out at 10B. I brought him back over 10B by itself like a newb so we had the technical elimination but that’s what happens when you didn’t get a competitive education.

His second class, though, was wonderful. We both focused and he put in his first totally clear round in a long time, not even breathing on a single pole and brave to every last fence, so that ended us on a high note.

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this picture makes me so happy

Then came the 80cm, which looks ridiculously small in this picture for some reason, and I was more or less OK until Jamaica landed from the oxer in the warmup and then took off like a shot. He made it all the way outside the arena and through a bunch of unwitting spectators (none were harmed in the making of this episode of Morning Star Madness) before I managed to stop him. I brought him back and popped him over it again and he was OK, so I thought it was a once-off right up until we were actually in the arena and our bell had gone. I asked for canter and I got several rather melodramatic handstands instead.

The last time this thing bucked with a rider, bones were broken. I hung on for dear life, or didn’t since that never seems to work, instead choosing to try and pull his head up for dear life. Mercifully, that did work. He stopped, I stopped, I stared at the judge in panic and in that wobbly moment I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to putting my hand up and retiring. I’m still not really sure why I didn’t. Instead we cantered another circle and headed for the next jump, reciting. “The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want.” The first two were OK. He landed from number three and took off again down the related distance to number four; I pulled him off it and circled desperately because I was fairly convinced I was going to die. We scraped over that, and then we had something like control for a while again, although I made it all the way through Psalm 23 (rather loudly over the combination) by number ten. Then I panicked because I had run out of psalm, but luckily Jamaica had run out of steam and we made it. It may just have been the most terrifying showjumping class I’ve ever ridden, but on the plus side, the height was not the problem. Also, stopping was never in the equation. He jumped everything without any question. It was all the galloping and bucking in between that worried me.

I sort of schooled him around for a bit before the second class and again strongly considered scratching from it, but again didn’t. It took every shred of guts I had, and even then it was only by the grace of God that we walked back into the arena, but by then he’d gotten a very solid one-rein stop which had made him rethink his life choices and settled down from whatever had worried him so much, so he was himself again. Looking at the pictures later, I realised I buried that poor animal to every single fence and he patiently jumped every single fence carefully and quietly. This is why I lease this beast. He’s rather funny-looking and has the odd psychotic break, but at the end of the day he jumps the first time every time and I can cope with his drama. He’s the one thing that my beloved Magic just isn’t – resilient to rider error. I can mess up as much as I please and he’ll still jump.

He jumped clear, which dismayed me a little because it meant I had to go back in and do it all over again for the jump-off. By this point, Jamaica was completely chilled and he was holding my hand again. The other rider had a very quick mare and they were good and I was still kinda panicking so any form of being competitive wasn’t in the equation at all. Then, rather unluckily, the other mare crashed straight through the first fence and I figured I may as well try since I had hopefully used up my near-death experiences for the day. (Did I mention how nerves exaggerate a situation?) So he popped around clear and slightly faster than slug-esque, and we got a ribbon. Which was nice.

It was, in many ways, a tough qualifier for all of us and it challenged all of our patience and courage. It was our busiest yet, but our riders absolutely rose to face every giant that met them and they won.

Blessed to be where I am, and most undeservedly so. Glory to the King.

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Perspective

It’s truly amazing what a long hack, with a prayerful attitude and John 15 in the back of your head, at sunrise, can do for the soul.

Arwen and I headed out at about 6:30 this morning, before the sun had dared to show its face.

As we started down the hill, it was just slipping into the sky from behind the hill and the brooding woods.

The world became rose-tinted; its edges softened, illuminated by golden light. It was beautiful, it was breathtaking, it was pure, and it was deeply humbling.

The challenges of running a not-so-little-anymore stableyard can mount dauntingly at the beginning of each day, leaving me as thunderstruck as the traveller in Psalm 121. Stressed. Burned out. Hopeless. Exhausted. Complaining. Selfish.

But like the traveller, today I’m reminded of where my help comes from.

On a scale of one to God, none of today’s challenges are anything more than a speck in the face of majesty.

I’m reminded of how vastly, limitlessly, with how much abandon and abundance I have been blessed. Wouldn’t it have been enough if Christ had just died and lived again for me? It is enough. Why then am I so spoiled? Why sunrises and rustling fields of ripening maize and shadow-silent little duiker buck slipping across the paths and the sweeping expanse of Highveld magnificence and a good, grey mare who never quits? Why do I, who deserves only death, not only gain life and redemption and peace, but also beauty and grace and friendship?

There can only be one answer to such an impossible question: an answer utterly complicated in its very perfect simplicity.

It’s because I am loved.

Glory to the King.

Still Alive, Part 2

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

so miserable right?

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

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

I never said I wasn’t worried

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

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

the Morning Star Stables invasion of the Lipizzaner Hall

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

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

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

Glory to the King.