I wrote this back in April this year, but forgot to actually press “Publish”. I was in the midst of a storm back then, and I want to honour the tremendous ways in which God helps me through every difficulty.
I’m only about 5′ 4″ and I don’t weigh a whole lot more than a bag of shandy cubes, but I’m intensely grateful that my horse is a weight carrier.
Physically, he bears me effortlessly, sometimes not even feeling my puny weight on his broad back. With me on board, he can float, lift, fly, dance. His tremendous muscles and powerful skeleton carry me not only with ease, but with grace.
Yet like all the most loved horses, he often has to carry more than just my flesh and blood. This weight is something he can’t use his bone and muscle for. It’s something that will never show up on an X-ray or cause him to need hock injections.
This weight is the mass of hope and fear. It’s the burden of all the dreams and dreadings that define the complicated emotional state of the average human. It’s the heaviness of all the baggage and trauma and joy and hope and love, the sometimes intolerable weight of how much we can love. The stress we have at work, the worry we have for the people we love, the hope we have for the future, the dream we have for our dancing horse – we bring it all, I bring it all to my horse, take it aboard with me, and try to take all that stuff that makes up my messy human psyche and combine it with a half-ton flight animal and try to find something like beauty and meaning among the chaos.
Some horses can’t take the weight. Those we try to protect, pushing aside everything we feel to be the better version of ourselves that we keep for those who aren’t ready for the truth. But some horses are weight carriers, emotional sponges that patiently allow us to have a voice, without ever exchanging a single word. They hear everything we want to scream out to the world even when we keep our touch gentle. They feel it in the way we breathe, the way our spines move, the tension in our shoulders, the desperate efforts to wipe away the grabbiness from our strange and clutching hands. And it drives some horses wild; but the weight carriers, they have an ability to absorb and understand and even forgive us for our chaotic selves.
There are not many of them out there. Most horses either panic or shut down in the face of our madness if we allow ourselves to be ourselves. But as long as we keep our voices broken instead of angry, as long as we remain thankful for the wonderful thing that they do for us, some horses can bring peace and faith to the table. They don’t let us bother them. They let us be who we are, and celebrate who they are.
And some people can be that way too.
We owe these horses and people in our lives an almost unforgiveable debt. Because they are to us a tiny inkling, an earthly incarnation of a little fragment of the majestic, never-ending and far-reaching love of the God Who sees everything we are and died for us anyway, the Lord Who responds to our inconsolable and complicated craziness by calling us to come Home to the rest we can only find in His arms.
All we can do is come when He calls. And as for our horses, we have to recognise what they do for us. They didn’t ask for us. We chose them. It remains our sober responsibility to give them everything we can to make them as happy as we can in exchange for the amazing gift they offer us.
We have no real name for it, but perhaps the closest thing we can come to is acceptance.
Thank God for His unspeakable gifts. Glory to the King.
There are horses who do everything they can to avoid us; horses who live with us quietly because they don’t feel like they have a choice; horses who live in terror of us; horses who tolerate our presence; horses who don’t mind having us around provided we have carrots; and a rare few who genuinely enjoy human interaction.
And then you get some horses that like people better than horses. Or perhaps you only get one – I’ve only ever met one, anyway.
Long-term blog readers will recognise a little grey Arabian gelding named Lancelot. He came to our yard on New Year’s Day 2016, the third livery we ever had. I started him that year for his kid and competed him through most of 2017, doing some jumping and dressage. He was one of my all-time favourite horses ever: not the most mentally engaged little chap, but as good and kind and genuine as they come.
Lancey also had his fair share of quirks. He was slow to mature mentally, always distractable, and much more interested in drooling on your shoulder than actually doing anything. We fooled around with gentle work for almost two years before, one day at a show, his little ears suddenly went up and his tail flagged and I felt the light bulb go on. Oh, this is what I’m supposed to do! Nothing could stop him on a jumping track ever since; I handed him over to his kid and he jumped everything in sight. She competed him throughout 2018 and the only elimination he had was for jumping a random fence sideways in the jump-off.
Lancey’s upbringing was something of a unique one. He was the first offspring of English import Silvern Lance, a mostly Crabbet stallion who also happens to be one of the kindest and most generous horses you will ever meet in your life. His dam, Al Shama Pamirah, came from old endurance lines and also failed to have any milk for little baby Lancelot. The breeders hand-raised him, and he grew up into something of a gigantic puppy.
Unlike many orphans, though, Lancey didn’t grow up to be a socially crippled monster. He was still living in a herd and so he has all the social skills he needs. He just chooses not to use them. He lives in a big field with a large group of others, who tried to pick on him at first, but boss mare Arwen took him under her wing and protected him for a while until the others left him alone. Now, he peacefully coexists, but most of the time you’ll find him grazing off in a corner by himself. Happy as a clam, just not involved with the group.
But when a human being sets foot in the field, he’s the first to come gambolling over, with his funny little Arab tail over his back.
It’s hard not to be happy when you’re being drooled on by Lancey. He’s a truly happy, friendly, sweet guy who just wants to be your friend. He goes out of his way to spend time with people as part of his herd, and while it’s not very normal, it’s certainly good for the human soul.
Lancey’s people ended up going through something of a hard patch. And so, at a time when I really shouldn’t have another mouth to feed, I’ve found myself with another horse. Another dream of a horse: a beautiful, well-bred white Arabian with a heart of gold.
I don’t know where God is going with this. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep him. I don’t even really know what I’ll do with him if I do keep him. For now, everything happens one ride, one cuddle, one glob of friendly pony drool at a time.
Having been out of competing for the past eight months, I was not a little concerned about how my nerves – and Thunder’s – would behave for this show. I was glad to discover a training show at a friendly, local venue for our first trip back down the centreline. This is the longest break I’ve ever taken from dressage since starting to compete in 2014, and so I did take a few precautions in anticipation of struggling mentally.
Physically, I know I’ve never been as strong as I am right now, but I was worried about my mental game. So I entered him for the two lowest Elementary tests, asked a helpful kid to read my tests to me instead of trying to ride them from memory like I normally do, and then set my goal for the show to be singular and simple: just chill out. Nothing more. Not a certain score, not succeeding in a certain movement, just trying to relax and enjoy my incredible horse rather than sweating the small stuff.
And it worked. This may have been one of Thunder’s best shows yet in terms of his behaviour, even in challenging circumstances. Thunny does best if he’s shown by himself, and this show we arrived at with four of his girlfriends, all of whom stayed back by the horsebox while I was riding him. He did neigh for them a little, but instead of getting frustrated with him about it, I just let him call. It’s understandable, it’s acceptable, it’s a normal, equine response to a situation that causes some stress. He wants a herd, so it’s up to me to become the herd. That’ll take a little time and he’ll call during his tests until he gets over it. I kept warming him up with no fuss. It’s a strange one – he’s not really tense, he’s just sort of distracted. It’s not separation anxiety, more a stallion-esque tendency to want his girlfriends (which is weird considering he was cut at the grand age of 18 months, but whatever).
By the time we went in, he was looking a bit and still distracted but obedient to all my cues and fairly connected. I knew we were in for “tight neck” comments, as usual, but when he came down the centreline he was dead straight, halted perfectly at X, and trotted back off for a 7.5. “Straight entry, very balanced halt, direct move-off.” That was a good feeling considering that our halts have long been a weak point.
The turns at C, E and B were a 7.0, “more bend through corners and turn; fairly active.” I feel like that could have been my fault though because I tend to be kind of ham-fisted through those turns and allow his bum to wander off. I felt like his serpentine was pretty good so I was a little surprised to see a 6.5 with comment “fairly active, more suppleness”. The serpentine is normally an easy movement for him but I think the neck tightness that he has at shows didn’t help at all.
I was super proud of the halt – immobility five seconds at X. While it only scored a 6 for being above the bit during the halt and lacking some bend once again on the turns, he was absolutely obedient, and I know it’s a lot to ask of an energetic and distracted horse to stand immobile for five seconds. The lengthened trot was a predictable 6.0 asking for more push from behind – like I kept my butt in the saddle and at this point that was wonderful – and his free walk would have been absolutely perfect if he hadn’t taken exactly two trot steps at H. The trot-walk transition was perfect and the judge commented “fairly relaxed, stretching well”, but those walk steps got us another 6.0.
Things improved as he gave me a super obedient walk-canter transition at A, albeit slightly above the bit, for a 7; then 6.5s for a slightly crooked canter lengthening and for a hollow, but obedient, simple change. 6.5 is probably the best mark I’ve ever had for a simple change – and that out of canter right, usually his harder side – so I’ll take it. The second loop through X was a well-earned 7.5. Our next simple change was crooked because I overthought it and turned the slight shoulder-fore that I always use for canter-walk transitions into a hot mess, so we had a 6.0 there. Our transition down to trot – albeit “against hand” – centreline and final halt were our best mark of the test with 8.0.
I rode out of Elementary 1 expecting a low-60s score, knowing the changes had been a bit rough and there had been moments when he was tight and coming above my hand. I was also really, really happy with how he was going. He was absolutely listening to my every cue, really present and focused and trying so hard. And I was fine. A little distractable and not as focused as I can be, but totally fine – not even a twinge of nerves. It was good enough for my best score yet at Elementary at 66.78%. Not the greatest score ever, but still worth a few grading points once we have the money for proper shows again, and a mighty improvement over my last personal best on the Dragon.
We got 7.5 again for our first centreline in Elementary 2 even though he whinnied and was “slightly inattentive”, following it with 6.5 for the half 10m circles asking for more bend and suppleness. His 10m circle at V was a 7.0 for being “fairly supple”, followed by a six for the shoulder-in. I have this thing in the show ring during lateral work where I’m convinced that I won’t get any lateral work at all – like I’ll put my leg on and the horse will just keep going straight and everyone will die. I think this was messing with my head quite a bit here, which was a pity, because he was really obedient and into the bridle, but I botched it by asking for way too much angle. Shoulder-in is deceptively hard to ride correctly because I don’t have mirrors and I also don’t have any clue of how it feels when the angle is correct, so that’s going to have to be a lesson.
A string of sixes followed: another for the medium trot with comment “more push from behind”, then for the circle at P where he got really weird with his butt and wandered off completely for no apparent reason, and then another for the next shoulder-in, once again having way too much angle. We redeemed ourselves with an 8 for the extended walk and a seven for the counter-canter serpentine even though he felt a little unbalanced because he saw a horse he thought might be his girlfriend. The medium canter was a “conservative” 6, and then the changes fell apart a bit. He was getting a bit brain-tired and distracted at this point, so he trotted down into the first change for a five and we were crooked down again in the next one for another five. These were his worst marks, but they’re okay. It was more show-ring rustiness than any real issues. His changes do need to be established a bit more firmly.
On the bright side, our circle at C with break of contact was a seven; he was fabulous but I had to do it twice because the first time I kind of didn’t let go of my inside rein at all (I have no idea why). Our last centreline was another glorious 8.0, giving us a final score of 66.47%. The judge commented “Well done, work on suppleness and position in shoulder-in” and “Fluent test, very willing horse showing promising work, just at times a little tight over the back and in the neck”. It was certainly the first time a judge has ever told me well done after an Elementary test.
Although the scores weren’t quite what he was getting at Prelim, I actually could not be happier with my majestic dance partner. I also just love the way that it felt. As absolutely wonderful as Arwen was for even reaching that level without guidance, and as perfectly willing as she always is, Elementary was a struggle on her. Everything was just really, really hard and I was always super happy just to see a six. But on Thunder, it’s all sort of… easy. It comes naturally and flows. It’s not a struggle, it’s a dance.
Our relationship also feels really different compared to the last few shows. He’s always tried his heart out, but often it’s felt a little fractured – I was never really sure what horse I was going to get on the day and sometimes it was one that spent the whole test hollow and calling. This time our connection felt a lot more solid, our bond much more impenetrable. I was far more present for him and it made a massive difference.
This was really my favourite show to date. It was as God intended for it to be – a dance, a celebration. It wasn’t worry, it was worship. It wasn’t pressure, it was praise. And every moment of it beat with love.
We went home on such a high only to hit a bit of a wobble when poor Thunny came in from the field on Monday night with a temperature of 40.5C. He’s been a bit up and down ever since with a diagnosis of biliary, spiking some pretty scary fevers, but much as I’ve been open to sending him to hospital, the vets have been happy for him to be treated at home. Today was the first day that his temperature stayed under 39C, so hopefully we’ve turned a corner now. He has been really good and stoic about the whole thing and kept eating all the way through, so at least he hasn’t suffered too much. Your prayers for his healing are always appreciated. ❤
I look forward to many more invitations onto the floor from this particular dance partner. Glory to the King.
They say it only takes a little faith to move a mountain
Well, good thing a little faith is all I have right now
God, when You choose to leave mountains unmoveable
Give me the strength to be able to sing “It is well with my soul”
~ MercyMe, “Even If”
I had no expectations for this show, Faith’s first ridden competition. She had competed in hand at Horse of the Year in February, her first outing,
and then at a training show in August I brought her along just to do the ground poles and have a little fun,
but yesterday was her first show where we’d be expected to do anything very much beyond stay on top and go over the poles. I knew I had gone out on a limb when I entered her in a proper show horse class and the working riding, seeing that she only semi has steering and occasionally still picks up the wrong lead, but I didn’t really care. It was her first show. If it was a disaster, so be it. The idea was just to have a positive experience, to keep on building those blocks of trust and confidence and let the competition take care of itself.
She was in a class with three of her buddies – including Dragonheart – for the in hand, so obviously she was impeccable. A bit wiggly when standing in the lineup got boring, but not bad. The judge liked her but she is still very young and awkward-looking, so she didn’t place, which I was expecting. I didn’t mind at all, particularly when Arwen and her little handler won the class. The dragon’s still the boss.
I was very chuffed that the judge didn’t mention anything about Faith being downhill, though. My eye has not deceived me – the front end did catch up after all. Some people at her breeder’s were quite dismissive of her because she was so long-backed and croup-high as a baby that she looked pretty swaybacked, but I was sure the swayback look would go away if she was no longer so downhill, and it did. She’ll always be a bit long in the loin but that’s okay; it’s not like she has a ton of weight to pack around.
The show horse class was a bit of a disaster. I had four kids to watch at this show and there was the predictable array of minor crises that needed to be fixed and pep talks that needed to be given, so I was still tacking up when they gave the last call for my class. A friend and fellow coach managed to persuade them to wait but I ended up kicking the poor baby horse up to the arena quite unceremoniously. She took some exception to this, understandably, and expressed it by producing some rather obnoxious bucks in the show ring. I just patted her neck and told her she was doing a good job because she was, for a baby, so she chilled out by the end of the class. The judge commented that she was “rather frisky”. No poop there judge.
We warmed up for working riding, so of course, she was foot perfect. The first obstacle was already picking up the scary pink stuffed puppy and trotting a circle with it, but she handled it with panache. In fact she handled everything great – even walking over the mat. There’s nothing spooky about that baby horse. Winning the working riding put us through to the overall championship.
By the time the championship class came around I was tired and hot and almost just gave it a skip, but I figured that it was effectively free experience, so why not. We came in with about seven or eight other horses and she was completely relaxed by this point. Her rail was perfect, and while she picked up the wrong lead once in the individual show, we fixed it quickly and she behaved great for the rest of it. It was so hot and she was so tired that she slept through the rest of the lineup, and I was very ready to be excused and go untack her when the judge suddenly announced that we were reserve champion.
I can’t say that it was a strong class, but I am very pleased with the baby horsie. The judge was complimentary of both her looks and her manners, and we might just have the makings of a great little show horse here. I honestly don’t really care. Fun as it is to win a sash, it’s way more fun – and awe-inspiring – to have the privilege of a relationship with this smart, opinionated, strong-willed young lady. The more I get to know this horse, the more abundantly grateful I am that I had her since she was a baby. We are both independent women who know what we want, yet we’ve cultivated a mutual agreement to depend on one another. There is no submission here, there is only willingness to serve. There is no fear, there is no resistance, there is no suppression. She is always allowed to express herself and for that reason she is never violent, never dangerous, and seldom outright disobedient. Our relationship is just what I wanted it to be – a horse whose voice is respected and whose personality is celebrated, freely and willingly obeying.
After Nell’s sale, after Rainbow’s death, after what has felt like a continual struggle, I feel very, very grateful to have Faith in my life. It only takes a little faith to move a mountain- about 15.1 hands will do. And where my mountains are unmoveable, I find myself riding up their peaks on the back of this horse, by the strength of my God, and by the side of the man my soul loves.
Nothing beats backing and bringing on a young horse from scratch for me. I love figuring out, helping and seeing improvement in remedial horses, but there’s always an element of frustration – the knowledge that this horse could have been so much better if nobody had messed it up in the first place. The blank slate of a baby is so refreshing, and they always progress so quickly with so few hiccups, comparatively. Especially babies with easy temperaments are just an utter joy if you know what to expect and what conversations to have.
Nobody is easier than baby Faith. After backing her and putting on walk/trot/a close approximation of something like a drunken camel attempting to canter, I turned her out again for a bit. L lunged her just in a halter and boots once a week for me and that was about it. Faith was never naughty, but she was just still a complete baby. At only three and a half, she had plenty of time to just chill and grow up.
Eventually, after six weeks almost completely off, I fetched her in from the field to just have a little ride and assess where she is now. Her manners are better but still babyish. She doesn’t do anything exactly naughty, she just can’t stand still for more than five minutes and wants to greet everyone who comes along. But she’s OK to groom and tack up, all while standing tied or in the stable, so it’ll improve as she matures.
I was going to lunge her a little bit first, considering she’s a green-backed baby who’d just had more than a month off, but in the end I was just kind of too lazy and ended up climbing on board. And she was absolutely fabulous. She was calm, relaxed and confident in all three gaits and, crucially, offered her first canter circle in rhythm and balance. She wanted to go to work and she had fun. Needless to say, so did I. She’s growing up into exactly the kind of horse I really love to ride.
I started toying with the idea of bringing her back into gentle work. Last week, when I actually had a look at her standing properly for the first time in months, I was pleasantly surprised with how she looks.
Gone is the dorkward baby wheelbarrow. The two inches she grew in the past year made her decidedly uphill now, which explains why balance is suddenly a thing. Her body is more ready than it was and her mind is certainly ready, so we’ve started back into work.
I love the conversations I can have with this horse. Her first real human contact was on the second of January 2017, when I loaded her in a box and brought her home to me, and so there’s nothing but my own work here. She especially has no concept of being punished for fear.
Yesterday’s conversation was about the washing line, the one thing that seems to have managed to freak her out. After a productive arena ride, we headed up the passage past the dread object alone. Some distance from it, Faith hit the brakes. I’m not sure that it’s safe. I rubbed her neck and gave her a chance to look, the reins loose. She knew she had no reason to panic, so she looked. After a few moments, she flicked her ears back to me, and I put on a little bit of leg. She took a few more steps and halted again. Rinse, repeat. No violence, no escalation. I didn’t ever even shorten the reins. Her natural curiosity and trust in me as her leader overcame her uncertainty, as a horse always will do if given enough time to look and think without fear of anything escalating.
The plan is to do 15-20 minutes two or three days a week all year. There’s lots of time. Most of our conversations will be about citizenship. Brakes and steering. Standing still to be tacked up. Going on hacks alone and in company. I’m in no hurry; we might go to a show to hang out or we might not. I know I could go compete Prelim in a month with her brain, but what’s the point of rushing now?
It looks like very simple, very boring work, but what we’re doing now is the basis on which everything else will be built. We’re not talking about connection or bend yet. We’re talking about how to deal with fear, how she’s safe with me. And as Faith learns, so do I.
When I named her Faith it was to remind myself that God can make good come of it no matter what. She came into my life after Nell was sold, Rainbow died and I felt like there would never be a good grey mare in my life again. But the faith God is using her to teach me right now is a more everyday kind. A faith like potatoes. A staple food.
Schooling a young horse like her is impossible if all you think about is the end product. Horses have no concept of their future. They certainly don’t worry about it like we do; they care about this moment. If I rushed through it now with my eye on the levels I know my beautiful baby horse can achieve, I’ll miss out on so many moments. I’ll miss out on the journey. I’ll miss out on the dance. Because much as it may look totally discombobulated right now, it is the dance, in its purest form.
No pressure. No hurry. Eyes on the prize, but hands open to receive what I’m being given in this moment. A lesson, like most lessons, in both horses and life. There is so much I want from the future. I have such tremendous dreams. But here and now, I am also blessed. So let me fix my eyes on Jesus and then run with patience, trusting Him for what is to come, knowing He is the God Who moves mountains.
It only takes a little faith to move a mountain. And she might be only 15 hands, but this little Faith is certainly moving mine.
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.
It’s still too soon. It might always be. The pain subsides slowly, but the words still don’t come.
So this is not the whole story, or the whole piece of the story that’s revealed to me, anyway. It’s just the bare bones of what happened so that in the blog as in life I can turn my face to the future.
Rainbow was the incredible gift from God (via Nell’s breeder) that came to keep my dream alive after Nell left. She was one of the most beautiful horses I’ve known. She was undoubtedly the one with the best natural temperament. She had so much love for everyone and something in her heart sang in harmony with mine. I called her Rainbow because she was the beautiful thing that happened after the storm. The symbol of the promise.
I was so worried that she wouldn’t be Nell. And she wasn’t Nell. She was Rainbow, and she was perfect.
But her destiny and mine kissed only briefly in this present world. God called His most willing charger back to the celestial ranks of His army only days after we met. It was His will; it was for the best; it was agony. I thank Him for every moment I had with the horse my heart sang to and I thank Him that He has bigger plans for her, wherever good horses go when they die.
As for my dream, it was dead without a brilliant dressage horse. But we all know what God does to death.
We’ll never forget Rainbow. But we have a new hope for the dream He laid on my heart. A dream I laid down at His feet when Rainbow passed on, and which He lifted up and handed right back to me.
She’s not Rainbow. But she’s also perfect.
I named her Faith: the thing by which we will weather the storms to follow.
We called her Stardust, because she is something of light and hope that not everyone believes in.
It was two days after I had made the impossible decision. The riding school is growing, and the two schoolies aren’t coping. First one, and then the other began to sour; both coming to their work and doing it as well as they could, but both starting to make flat ears at me when I brought them to saddle up, or wandering off when their groom went to catch them. They weren’t happy in their work and it was not the fault of the work; there was just too much of it. Even I get tired in the three hours’ lessons every afternoon and I’m not the one carrying the kids around.
I needed another schoolie, and I was pretty sure the growing business could support one. But where on earth the money to buy one was supposed to come from, I had no idea. I’m flat broke. The little yard has just begun, and when you’re 18 years old and have a grass arena and questionable stables, you are a dwarf in a world of equestrian giants. Low prices and fire in your eye is all you’ve got to attract clients with. And fire is only useful when it spreads.
But this is Morning Star Stables, the high calling of my dreams, and if we do not walk by faith now we never will. It is God’s now as it has been since it was just a spark and will be when it can be a giant too. So I made the decision: We were getting another schoolie. I started to look for it, and as usual, I was picky. Something a bit smaller than galumphing Thun – 14 or 14.2 would do it. Easy-keeping, chunky, with powerful legs that could stand up to the rigours of the schoolie workload. Smooth gaits. Basic training, and a naturally fearless, quiet and people-loving nature. As for my budget, I didn’t have one. I couldn’t afford anything and whatever pony God wanted for His new schoolie, He’d pay for somehow.
Not quite two days later, a new lesson kiddie showed up and had her lesson on Thunder. All was going swimmingly when her dad leaned on the fence and asked, “You don’t need a new kid pony, by any chance?”
To make a long story short, Stardust is here for her month’s trial period. Free of charge. In case you were wondering, she stands 14.1hh and is fat on air. She is broad across the chest with stout little legs made apparently of cast iron. Her gaits are like sitting on a waterbed. She has all the basic gaits and aids, and when I tried her out at her previous home, there were kids running and yelling and hitting things in this spooky little farmyard and she didn’t do a thing. Just put her nose down and did what I said. We have a month to get through before we can be sure, but I think I am pretty sure.
And that is why we walk by faith, and not by sight.
12 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. ~ Hebrews 12:1-2
“If you can get over your fear factor,” quoth the Mutterer, “there’s few people that will be able to beat you two.”
Shamefaced, I looked at my feet, hugging Magic’s smooth neck against my cheek with one arm. We were both sweaty after what shouldn’t have been a tiring lesson. I’d set up a little course – an ascending oxer, spooky vertical, and two-stride combination of vertical to ascending oxer – which the Mutterer had abruptly turned into a bigger course. Bigger being 80-90cm (2’9″ to 3′).
And I had trouble with it.
Oh, Magic didn’t have any trouble. Magic believes in himself now; he knows he’ll make it. Of course, physically, it was absolutely no challenge for him. I’ve free jumped him 1.30m (about 4′) in a 15m ring and he popped straight over. So this little course was nothing for him. He hit his stride and drifted around, tucking up his knees and making every jump seem like nothing.
I was the problem. (My own favourite mantra came back to bite me – “People don’t have horse problems. Horses have people problems). The most I can really say for myself is that when he’s jumping I stay out of his face and I usually get him good lines to the jumps. My problem is the approach. It always is, because somehow the last few strides leading up to an obstacle are so much worse than the obstacle itself. In riding as in life.
Arwen, on whom I am fearless, likes to collect herself for the last two or three strides to get her hocks nicely under her for the jump. The bigger the jump, the more she likes to collect. That suits me just fine because it gives me more time and prevents scarily long takeoffs from happening too often. Magic doesn’t need to get his hocks under himself. Magic can jump from half a mile away and still clear these little jumps with plenty of room to spare. He likes to accelerate for the last couple of strides, which is a good thing. It allows him to jump straight out of his stride, gives him more momentum so that he uses less effort over the jump, lets him jump across the fence instead of up and down over it, saves time since he doesn’t need to slow down to jump, and helps him be quick off the ground. He doesn’t rush or pull – he just likes a few bigger strides for the takeoff. As soon as he lands he settles back into a quieter canter.
The problem? I don’t let him do that. I want my little collected canter so that I have more time to hopefully not be scared. Magic, being his generous and willing self, tries to give me that slow canter, but he obviously doesn’t jump well out of it. And if I feel that our rhythm is off (which it is, because I made it off) I put my hands on his neck and look at the jump and luckily for me he stops. If he jumped while I was doing that I would probably eat mane.
It’s become a pattern. He stops; annoyed with myself, I turn him around, listen to the Mutterer, keep my hands up and over he goes because Magic actually had no issues whatsoever with the jump. When I’m on my game, we’re awesome. He listens, he jumps like a pro, I’m balanced, we’re harmonious and effortless. But when my head is not in the right place, we’re a total mess.
Today we lesson again. Today I will keep my hands up and my eyes on the prize. I have one of the most amazing horses in the world, and I believe in him. Now I just have to believe in myself – and yet not I, but Christ in me. So today I will look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith, and lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset me, and ride with patience for the joy that is set before me. Because Jesus endured the cross and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God, so I have nothing to fear.
I believe in my amazing horse. And I believe in Christ. And Christ believes in me.