While there are many things that just don’t scare me anymore since I helped to load a friend dying from a violent, criminal act into a helicopter, generalised anxiety has taken advantage of my bruised psyche from time to time lately. I have no idea what I am fearing; all I know is that I know the touch of that old and worthless demon.
Yet I rejoice. Not because of anything but because perfect love casts out fear.
I have so long been asking God why He would tell me to be strong and courageous when I have tried everything in my power to do so and failed. How could He demand of me to do something that is entirely impossible?
It was recently that I finally heard His reply. “Daughter, I commanded light to be, and it simply was. Do not take my command as an order to your mind. Just as I said Let there be light and there was light, I speak to your soul now: Be strong and courageous, and you will be strong and courageous because I said so.”
I certainly don’t always feel strong and courageous. But I am: strong enough and courageous enough to take the next step. To cling to my God in the next moment.
Perfect love casts out fear not only because I must love perfectly (although I must, and will never lose that last vestige of fear until I do) but because I am perfectly beloved. Perfect love casts out fear because perfect love is bigger.
Perfect love is bigger than my sin. Perfect love is bigger than my pain. Perfect love is bigger than anything I could face tomorrow. Perfect love is bigger than everything I fear. Perfect love has an answer for every inconsolable question that rises in my weary soul.
And I am loved perfectly, and on this Good Friday, I will think of the only One Who loves perfectly, and I will see the proof of His love in the blood on His hands, on the naked, wounded, bleeding, beaten, stripped and humiliated figure that dangled on the cross for me. There is no greater love than that.
I will look at that love and I will understand what it means to me here and now. I will see that I am loved perfectly by the God Who brought the earth to life. I will know that the Hand that holds mine shaped the stars, the Voice that speaks to me brought forth the sound of the tidal waves, the Arms that hold me wrap the entire aching universe in their embrace.
Not even my own failures can destroy me now.
And I let the Voice that commanded light to be, speak the sound of courage into my very soul. My mind and body might betray me, but my heart and soul are still and know that He is God. I trust His plan. I believe I am loved. I can’t wait to see where He goes with this, because I know the direction we’re heading.
Further up. Further in.
And it’s in moments like these, moments in the saddle when Thunder pops that flying change like a bursting bubble under me, moments around the dinner table laughing at the delirious wit of four exhausted Hydes, moments in the arena with a little girl’s soul shining so brightly it almost leaves trails of light on the long diagonal, moments on the very top of Heidelberg with the lyrics of Rooftops ringing all round and the man of my prayers’ solid warm presence beside me and the whole world rolled out at my feet –
At those moments I taste the perfect love that made heaven.
And it is all because the Son of God died on a cross for me.
The first time I remember being afraid on a horse was the first time I rode a horse. For those keeping track, that was sixteen years ago. Almost my life, practically speaking. I was a nervous kid from the start; the type of beginner that could only ride two or three of the school ponies, and never got back on any of the ones I fell off of.
Then came years of riding the most random wild bush donkeys. I think if I hadn’t had old Skye, my ever-reliable island of solid ground, the cornerstone of my confidence, I would have quit then. Spooky youngsters. Stallions that bucked and bolted. My second pony spooked relentlessly. My first horse overjumped, stopped, bucked and had frequent meltdowns. (He was also four years old and fresh off the racetrack. Go figure).
Add on top of that all the teenage angst of being an insecure young girl, all the nasty falls and the mistakes and the inexperience that led to accidents, the hit-and-miss, trial-and-error learning, the lack of understanding guidance, the cowboy mentality I forced on myself, the collection of psychotic animals I found myself on in a desperate bid to prove myself – well, I dug my own hole and I was stuck in it for years.
Then I dug it deeper with every attempt at overcoming my demons on my own strength, every effort to overwhelm them with my own demonic qualities: pride, insecurity, dishonesty, cruelty.
Nobody could have fought and lost harder than I did. I hated that fear. It went against everything I wanted, everything I dreamed of, everything I stood for, everything I believed in. It brought me slap-bang against the agonising reality I refused entirely to believe:
Every throb of adrenalin felt like betrayal. Jesus died for you and you can’t even jump 85cm for Him. He said 365 times not to be afraid and you’re afraid 365 days a year. We haven’t been given a spirit of fear.
I felt unworthy. I felt like I’d let God down. I felt like I was inadequate, like I’d never earn my way into the Kingdom of Heaven since I couldn’t even kick my riding nerves.
I was right. I can’t. I’m inadequate. I’ll never earn my way to heaven.
And it’s OK. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to. Nobody can earn their way to eternal joy; it’s a free gift.
My fists were clenched so hard on fighting they couldn’t open to receive the gift that was waiting.
Somewhere in this year, the tide of the battle against my demons turned. It was subtle at first, but now it gathers momentum, thundering onwards. Obliterating the inevitable setbacks as they come. Rushing forth to crush every new onslaught. Something changed, something fundamental, something vital.
I did the one thing I swore I’d never do. I gave up. I quit. I threw in the towel. I had fought too long, too hard, all for nothing. I lay down my arms, and I let it go. I brought it up against God and realised that on a scale of one to God, it was a pretty tiny problem. I brought it all to Him and laid it down at the cross because I couldn’t bear the choking weight of it anymore.
I admitted defeat. I told Him I couldn’t beat my fear.
You know what He said? He said, I love you anyway. He said, I’m so glad you finally brought this to me. He said, I forgive you. He said, I’ve got this.
He said, Be still, and watch what I can do.
And then inside me, the Lion of Judah rose and roared. And now instead of fighting I walk through a sea of demons with my open hands lifted high, looking past them as they fall before us. Barefoot and defenceless and surrounded by the majesty of my God.
I will never beat my fear. But I surrender to the God Who knew fear intimately, and I watch Him conquer.
Today our yard was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
This week everyone progressed in leaps and bounds, which is wonderful; we had a really productive, steady week and I feel ridiculously blessed. And I don’t use that word lightly.
Eagle went on his first little hack. I played it safe, as I always do with Eagle, and it wasn’t necessary, like it never is with Eagle. We did ten minutes around the bales, but it does involve cows, pigs, tractors and my arch-nemesis, the washing line. Eagle handled all of this with aplomb, strolling along with his topline floppy and ears to the side.
I bought fantastic red boots. They’re actually Jamaica’s, but if you’re the dragonbeast, you get to wear everyone else’s cool stuff. Arwen schooled Elementary 2 and 3 in preparation for a show on Sunday and her simple changes are streets and streets better. The leg-yield FX is quite nice, but the leg-yield back XM tends to have trailing quarters. The shoulder-in is better but still rather lacking. Either way, hopefully we get grading points.
Jamaica and I have done fine lately. (Also, how incredible are those boots??) We jumped a few exercises at 80-85cm and even installed lead changes over a fence with minimal trouble. He’s so honest. I’m so enjoying the novel experience of having a horse that will just canter right down to the fence and jump it every single time, no questions asked.
His flatwork remains mediocre but the addition of the market harborough has helped somewhat.
Faithy got in the box. I used the bum rope at first, and because she’s such a baby I didn’t spend long on it, but by the end she was strolling in without pressure on the bum rope. Every little session like this teaches me more about her personality. She’s trainable and responsive, but quite different from the ponies and hacks; there’s a sharpness here, an opinion. I rather like it. She’s a strong woman.
I clipped a shooting star on Vastrap’s butt because his kid asked. The clippers clipped half his other side and gave up. Now he’s running about with one butt cheek adorned by a shooting star and the other completely hairy – a situation I promise to remedy ASAP. Or at least before SANESA Q3.
One of my kids built me this and persistently attempts to rent it out to me. I countered this by constantly asking for improvements, which backfired badly when he then raised his price. Outsmarted by an eight-year-old.
This would be so much easier if he wasn’t gorgeous and talented. I lunged him over a little fence, about 80cm, and his technique and scope give me goosebumps.
Trooper now has canter circles firmly installed and is becoming easy to ride. His cute tiny gaits are comfortable, if boring to look at. We also trotted over his first itty bitty cross and went on a hack, which was utterly uneventful.
Working student L writes module one in July, so we’ve been hard at work. Ash helped with the ultra-fun points of the horse exercise.
She was not amused, but L did brilliantly and much fun was had.
Thunny is working so beautifully lately. He does Prelim 2 and 3 on Sunday and you know what, if he behaves like he does at home I think we might even place again. His weak points – left bend, keeping “jump” in the canter, and stretchy trot – have all improved hugely. Left bend matches right bend, I can keep the canter three-beat most of the time, and he stretches down to his knees. Such a clever baby.
Of course, he is a baby. So it’s rather unlikely that he’ll be perfect and score like 70% and more probable that he’ll scream the whole time and spook at C and get 40%. At least I know he has it in him.
Blizzard is ultra-cute. I’m going to start working him next week, and I’m rather looking forward to it.
Magic has gotten wonderfully fat, lazy and laid-back. He’s happy as a bird lately. Of course, he still has his little moments (case in point: was ground tied outside the stable, spooked at a goose, shied, spooked at his lead rein, stood on his lead rein, spooked at himself standing on his lead rein, yanked up his head and got slapped on the nose by the lead rein), but he comes right back to me these days.
He’s settling into a happier place than he’s ever been. He’ll always be quirky and sensitive and sharp, and some scars just don’t heal. But he can be happy and he can be meaningful, and right now, he’s both. More so than ever before.
Mr. Destiny and I came to an agreement: he’d spook wildly and I’d ignore him. Not much of an agreement, but at least we managed to jump a little and work on his canter transitions. His mom also rode him today; a giant storm was on its way and the wind was enough to make anything spooky, but he was no worse than normal.
He also went on his first hack. I dressed for the occasion because I thought I might die, but he was actually really good. Tense at first, but he just followed the older pony L escorted us on, and on the way home he took the lead and marched confidently forward with nary a spook in sight. Good brat.
Eagle got in the box, too, and it was a total non-event. I walked in, he stopped at the ramp, I stood there and let him figure it out, and in thirty seconds flat he got in too. No fuss, no bum rope. That’s my good boy.
Zorro’s kid has been in hospital (nothing huge), but he’s not had an uneventful week. We clipped him, one of the rising stars rode him, and then he developed a massive crush on Skye and broke all the fences. Seriously, Zorro?
Vastrap’s kid’s mom handmade the most amazing blankets. Doesn’t he look fetching in camo? Rather like a distinguished old lieutenant if you ask me.
Lessons with coach K have just been amazing recently. I got to ride the incredible Skrikkie today. I was hoping to ride through my Elementary tests but he wouldn’t go into the dressage arena because there was a hosepipe across the path. I think I love him so much because he’s what Magic would have been given the right circumstances. The biggest wuss ever, but also with the most courageous and generous heart you could ever ask for.
I also rode Troy, a schoolie I’m not familiar with, and felt a little bored jumping the EV70 fences (can you imagine? Me, bored?). So I asked K if I could jump the EV80 house, and then we were galloping through water and jumping banks down and the most ridiculous EV80 related distances and guess what? It was fun. I had fun on xc! On a horse I’d never ridden! At 80cm!
I’m eternally grateful to K and her schoolies. God is doing something truly mighty inside me, something I had tried so hard and for so long to do for myself. My deep struggle is being turned into a long and beautiful chapter in the shining novel that is the story of my life; that is, the love story about a King Who loved a peasant girl. And for the first time, I can’t wait to read the next page.
Today started with Revelation 1, and goosebumps down my arms at the terrifying description of our King with stars in His right Hand and a two-edged sword blazing forth from His mouth. Yet this majestic Person, this almighty Ruler of all that is and was and is to come, the Alpha and Omega, reached down to touch a lowly little worm of a man and said: “Fear not”.
This was the theme of my humdrum little day too, apparently. I’m a little shocked at how much God really has achieved in me, how far He’s taken me beyond the very limits of my courage.
I thought losing Nell and Rainbow would end the dream forever. Fear not, He said.
Faith is so fat and happy and shiny right now. And Thunder’s schooling today was amazing – I totally underestimated our big baby.
After a troubled little grey gelding called Dirkie bucked me off onto my hip, turning it several fascinating shades of red and purple, I thought I’d never start another youngster again in my life. Much less any sensitive or nervous ones.
But, Fear not, He said.
When I was hanging in the saddle over Eagle’s back like a sack of potatoes today, he gave this beautiful body-shaking big sigh and I knew he was ready. So I threw a leg over him and he slept for a few minutes while I patted him.
Also Destiny, to date one of the most remedial horses I’ve ever had on the ground, can now do walk/trot/canter large and circles in the dressage. He will reliably spook every session (only on the right rein and only in canter) but this has become rather half-hearted since I called his bluff.
I thought I’d never lead another hack with kids again, not after Jamaica chucked his kid off and broke her arm. The kid never missed a beat; I was thoroughly traumatised. But, Fear not, He said.
After years of falling off stoppers and dealing with poor old Magic’s nerves, I thought I’d never jump the required 85cm for module four, not even on a horse I know. But God said, Fear not, and today jumping an exercise at 85-90cm on Jamaica felt positively routine.
Arwen’s clipping last year was so horrific (like, going across the stable on her hindlegs with enough sedative in her to knock a carthorse flat, kind of horrific) that I thought we were doomed to woolly, overheating misery this winter. But even in this little thing, God spoke power and love.
She ate grass. I clipped. It took half an hour.
All I ever did was let go.
And watched my star-holding, flame-eyed, blade-speaking King landing the punches straight and square on the jaws of my demons.
I kind of hesitate to write this post because I really am not writing this for sympathy, though I know it may come across that way. But I know scars can only do any good when they’re shown as a symbol of hope and survival, so I write this for everyone who is where I am and was where I have been, anyone for whom it might be a glimmer of hope.
Because I know how alone it feels to be afraid.
It feels so stupid to have riding nerves, doesn’t it? It’s so easy to believe that nobody else feels the way you do. That there’s something wrong with you that other people just don’t have wrong with them. Maybe you’re just not cut out for riding, maybe you just can’t. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal unless it’s your living. Your calling. A part of you. Something you’re on fire for. People my age so often complain that they don’t know what they want to do. Is there any worse agony than to know what you want to do and be unable to do it for a reason as humiliating as fear?
It’s not just nerves. Everyone has nerves. Nerves are the little buzz I feel at shows; an added sharpness that can develop into tension if not managed. No, this is fear, borderline phobic. It’s paralytic. I come down to that fence and I can’t move or think. I freeze and mess up, and that makes it worse, over and over again.
I have screamed why. I have been sobbing on my knees begging to know why God would give me such a burning passion and such a debilitating handicap. Why can’t I be like the other riders I see floating over 1.20, 1.30? I’m willing to bet some of them haven’t ever taught a horse a thing but here I am, the horse trainer – a good one, too – freezing to the base of 70cm jumps. Through me God has fixed horses that you couldn’t touch, trained remedial buckers to dance, breathed the light back into the eyes of the broken. Why won’t He help me jump this fence?
It’s jumping, mostly. Young horses, even hacking are OK. Not as OK as I look; the silent battle remains – but OK enough that I can enjoy it and do it well. But jumping…
Today’s jumping exercise in my lesson with coach K was just a vertical of about 75cm, sharp right turn to a slightly bigger oxer, six strides to another oxer. I put up that kind of stuff in my lessons every day. I buried poor old Al so many times that eventually even he stopped. I was using every single trick I know to calm myself down and it wasn’t working.
Coach K is worth her weight in gold; she figured me out and remains endlessly patient. But from where I’m sitting, jumping 85cm on a horse I don’t know in my exam is looking like a very, very big ask.
I went home feeling exhausted from the battle. There’s just never a respite from it, no riding situation in which that dark clouds lifts completely. It’s so heavy sometimes and I couldn’t understand why.
Until this afternoon when I was helping my own little student with the very, very bad nerves. And I had to argue with him to let me put the lead on when we went for a little hack. And when I took him for his first little trot, he didn’t panic and squeal the way he used to when we just lifted him onto the pony. No. He laughed. He laughed and a smile burst over his little face like a sunrise.
And I could almost hear God saying, This is why.
He could lift this struggle from me. He could make this cup to pass away from me, but He leaves me to drink it because He’s got a plan. I don’t take it lightly when I say that God has made me a good coach for nervous riders. I can help them because I am them. I’ve been there and I know they can’t help it, they can’t just get over it magically. But I can help them get over it. Step by tiny step.
So I’ll drink that cup to the very dregs.
I still hate the struggle. I’m still so tired of it. But I know I have to bear it for a reason, so I pray, Not as I will but as Thou wilt. Tomorrow I’ll shoulder the cross and march on and share the truth about the struggle because it can help someone. There will be haters who’ll think a nervous rider can’t be a good one. They will be wrong. I make a living out of something that terrifies me – that has to stand for something.
And one by one, I’ll watch my riders blossom. And with each one, I’ll continue to hope that someday, that might be me, too.
Electric fences are the best, when they work. Unfortunately, they’re also notoriously cantankerous. While our perimeter fence is fairly impenetrable, our inside fences don’t always hold up to the steady abuse they’re subjected to by creatures of all sizes, and Field A’s gate decided to fail me this morning. Thankfully, the only casualties were the jumping exercise I’d painstakingly set out the day before and our mounting block.
This was not my problem however as I merrily charged off to Springs for my weekly ride-big-horses session, leaving the poor grooms to sort out the epic mess. On arrival I was vastly relieved to be given a cute little grey pony to ride and felt like I actually achieved something on him, which made me feel better about flopping around on coach K’s amazing schoolmasters. Thereafter I got to ride a beautiful white Lipizzaner gelding. He promptly bucked, and I promptly hit him, but Lipizzaners stay Lipizzaners.
To my great delight I was also allowed back on Kardinal AKA Giant Fancy International Pony. I don’t know what it is about him, but despite his being like as big as a mountain and rather on the spooky side, he inspires endless confidence; he doesn’t worry me one bit despite having spent a total of about forty-five minutes together. We played dressage and I had to roll K’s stirrup leathers so they’d fit (the apex of humiliation).
My jumping lesson didn’t go so great today. I was on a different horse, who really wasn’t bad at all, but he had a teeny look at something outside the arena and I immediately melted down. I forgot every trick I’ve taught myself to get my guts back instantly and became a trembling little heap again. This did not sit well with the poor horse, understandably, but he did his best to bail his frozen saddle monkey out. I don’t even really know what went wrong. Kardinal spooked far bigger and I was fine. Coach K is worth her weight in gold though, she seems to magically know what I can take on the day and gets a read on me really fast which is invaluable. I was kind of disappointed with myself, but on the way home when I got to talking to God about it, I was filled with the overwhelming realisation that He’s not mad. His strength, after all, is made perfect in my weakness. I’m just gonna keep fighting until the sun comes up.
See, this is why I don’t get mad at Magic. How can I? I’m just like him.
Speaking of Mr. Quirkypants, when I got home I hopped on him and he was back to his normal adorable happy self. He did have a good long look at Tara when she decided to spook wildly through the arena, but he didn’t leave at all. We even trotted a few little fences and he could barely be bothered to pick up his feet. At least his meltdowns definitely wear off really fast now.
Sunè was in heat which made recent gelding Midas lose his mind, but I explained my opinion on that kind of behaviour (forcefully, with a jumping crop) and he decided she wasn’t that attractive after all. He went on to have a forward and bold, if a little tense and rushy, jumping session. We popped over a bunch of little crosses including his first combination and finished with a slightly bigger spooky oxer, about 50cm. Little chap was fantastic.
Sunè herself was blissfully unaware of the chaos she’d been causing. She has quite enormous wolf teeth, which I will have removed, but they made her very fussy so I tried my favourite starting bit on her in the meantime. It’s huge and fat and full cheek and it was a huge success. She went much better today. In sharp contrast to my usual task of reinforcing the aids, I’m almost having to desensitise her a little to contact and leg. She gets reactive instead of responsive and instead of thinking about inside leg to outside rein she just gets stroppy because I won’t let her do what she thinks she should be doing. Totally nonviolent, though, and doesn’t know what a spook even is. We finished with some better canter. She is still unbalanced but it’s gone from feral pony gallop to unbalanced baby canter, so we’re getting there.
After a brief round of lessons (srsly lessons please start picking up!) it was off to Heidelberg for a first aid exam. I’m trying to volunteer with some local (awesome) medics to help at events, thus gleaning more experience for when I have to scrape someone off the floor again, and maybe lending a hand somewhere it might be needed. Assuming I pass, obviously. But God’s will be done.
Glory to the King.
I always love to watch the Mutterer at work, usually taking notes in my head so that I can try whatever he’s doing when I get home. But not today. Today’s small miracle is still so far beyond my capabilities that all I do is lend a hand and watch in wonder: it’s going to be a long time before I try this by myself.
I hold the little mare’s head while the Mutterer runs a soft rope around her neck, tying it so that it can’t slip tight, then gently slips a loop around each hind pastern. The little mare trembles, rolling her eyes so that I can see the whites, her ears constantly moving. She’s supposed to be trained, but I don’t want to know what her “trainer” did to her. Beat her most likely, maybe twisted her ears, yelled in her delicate little face. She has a fear about her that goes way beyond the ordinary nervousness of an unhandled horse. Even the lightest and kindest touch makes her flinch. I can see it now as I try to stroke her neck; the big muscles jump under my hand, too scared to hold still, too scared to flee. Eventually, I give up. She’s beyond human comfort now.
So I think, anyway, but the Mutterer has a plan. “Stick on the same side as me and hang onto her head.”
“Okay,” I say doubtfully. He’s usually right, so I do as I’m told.
The Mutterer has the ends of the rope around the mare’s legs in his hands. “Okay, girly,” he says to the mare, who trembles. “Easy now.” Then he pulls.
The ropes spring tight around the mare’s hindlegs, pulling them underneath her. She fights, throwing her head against the halter, but off balance she can’t yank even my weight around. Scrabbling at the grass with her forelegs, eyes wide, nostrils flaring, she panics. But the Mutterer leans calmly on the ropes and her hindlegs fold up underneath her. She sits down on the deep grass and stares at us, gasping. The Mutterer, still as calm as a monolith (the mare and I are equally spooked), leans against her shoulder and she eases slowly down onto her side.
“Good girl.” He puts a hand on her neck, but she’s not struggling. She quivers slightly, breath racing. He rubs her neck and shoulders and face and flanks, speaking to her slowly, explaining to me as I sit in the grass and stare. Because as the Mutterer explains, the mare relaxes. Her wide eyes soften. Her breathing slows down. The Mutterer loosens the ropes around her legs, but she doesn’t kick out. She is at her most vulnerable, lying on her side with – in her mind – her most powerful and violent enemy towering over her, but she’s relaxing.
The Mutterer hears my question before I ask it. “Because we didn’t hurt her once in this whole process,” he says. The mare gives a long sigh. “We use soft, thick lunging lines that don’t burn her, and we do it in the open where she can’t hurt herself, on thick grass so that even if she falls it won’t hurt.”
I nod. The mare went down, but she went down slowly, without being able to fight hard enough to pull any muscles.
Then, the mare licks and chews, an ultimate sign of equine submission and relaxation. Now the Mutterer pats her, softly at first, then hard enough to make the thudding noise most horses enjoy. And the mare doesn’t flinch. She lies still and lets herself feel a human’s love for the first time.
I’m still a little incredulous about the whole process right up until the moment when the Mutterer takes off the ropes and the mare gets slowly to her feet. Without a backward glance, he walks away. And without a second thought, without a halter on, in an open paddock, in the deep soft grass, away from her equine herdmates, the mare follows him.
It made sense when he explained it. The mare was terrified. She understood only two things about men: that they would unfailingly hurt her, and that if she fought or fled for her life she might avoid the pain. To gain her trust, we had to reverse both those principles. She had to believe that men were stronger than her. And she had to believe that they would never do her harm.
Pulling her down did just that. She was put into her most vulnerable position, shown that she could fight as she would but humans would always be stronger. (If it were not so, horses would still be wild; we have a God-given dominion over them. The bad part is that so many of us are tyrants and dictators instead of good rulers). But even at her most vulnerable, even at her most afraid, there was no pain. The humans didn’t hurt her or threaten her. In her darkest moment, there was just a gentle touch and a quiet voice. And when the force was taken away – when the ropes were removed – the little mare did what all horses do. She chose her leader, and she chose the leader that had proven his strength and his good intentions. Then she followed him.
And it probably saved the little mare’s life. The few minutes of fear and worry, now eclipsed by the relaxation and submission that flooded every line of her features, had been worth it. The mare had been a worthless, wild creature, doomed to the dark future of every useless and dangerous horse. But now, she had a second chance.
I was silent for a long time afterwards, because I know the feeling. Because I, too, have been that horse lying on the grass and gasping in terror. My legs tied up. A weight on my neck. Unable to fight back, unable to do anything to prevent my worst fear from coming true. It was a dark hour, and I was most afraid. I could not understand why I was suddenly so helpless or why the strange, higher being would force me so, anymore than the little mare could understand why the man had pulled her down.
But in that darkness, in that fear, in that helplessness, there was no pain from the One Who had put me there. Just a gentle touch and a quiet voice: “Be still and know that I am God.” And I knew He was God, and I knew He was all-powerful, almighty and all-knowing, that He could crush me like a bug where I lay. And I knew, more overwhelmingly than I have ever known, that He loved me.
You see, in that moment, it felt as though I had nothing. My herdmates felt far away and unable to save me. My own strength had failed me entirely. All I had was the loving touch of Jesus as He held me, and His soft voice as He stilled the storm inside. I had nothing but Him, and He was enough.
Horses and people have the same clockwork inside. Because when He let me rise again and gave me my freedom, when I saw the open field and the rest of the world waiting, I looked up and I saw Him. He Who was stronger than me, Who loved me. So I did what all humans do: I chose my Leader. And I followed Him.
And I am now no longer a worthless, wild creature. I am no longer doomed to a dark future. I have been given a second chance.
Alyssa from Four Mares No Money asks: What has been the most fearful moment you have ever experienced with a horse?
Excellent question, and I have been pondering this subject all week and still can’t think of one specific incident. (My panic is more sort of drawn-out; it seems to like carrying on for months, albeit limited to a particular horse in a certain situation). There have been quite a few moments of absolute, dry-mouth, wet-pants kind of terror, those slow, cold moments when seconds crackle through frozen time and there’s ice in your very veins.
One of the worst ones was when Arwen gave my ex-boyfriend a rather nasty kick. I thought my heart had stopped; things got bloody. Luckily, there was no serious harm done, although he has a lifelong dent in his calf muscle to remember why dating a crazy horse chick wasn’t an awesome idea.
Then there was the time three or four years ago when I was still teaching and one of my students plopped off Skye. I had told him four thousand times not to pick his hands up going up a hill but what do I know? Of course, he picked his hands up and toppled off backwards; Skye trotted merrily off saying that she’d told him so and had no sympathy, and the poor child was totally winded and couldn’t move for several seconds. I thought I’d just killed my student. Luckily, once he got his breath back and I had screamed at him for a suitable period of time (just kidding) he was totally fine.
And who can forget the time Arwen threw Rain off and broke her collarbone? Yes, once my brave grey mare was a terrified two-year-old filly. Admittedly, we were riding in the dark, on a hack, bareback, with Arwen’s first foal at foot, and everyone was already on the freaked out side when the old dog ran under Arwen’s feet and she completely lost her mind. Poor little nine-year-old Rain landed straight on her collarbone and broke it. It mended flawlessly, except for a tiny bump in the bone that she likes to brag about, but it was still quite a panicky moment.
My own worst moments ever have usually involved stallions because I am terrible at them. Nothing like looking up at a pair of shod forefeet waving over your head. The time Achilles bucked me off onto my head was particularly nasty, but I think the rides after that – with the memory (or, rather, lack thereof) of the fall fresh in my mind – were much more frightening. Yet with the love of the King, breath by breath, I’m working through it; for perfect love casts out fear.
Ah, and of course there was the time I was holding a Quarter Horse mare and the Mutterer was trimming her hooves. I know everyone loves Quarter Horses and they are sweet and docile and wonderful, but I have yet to find one that I truly get along with, possibly barring Chrome the little stallion. This mare was being somewhat cantankerous, which wasn’t a problem until she leapt backwards into another QH mare. The other mare kicked her, she leapt forward, I didn’t manage to stop her and she landed on the Mutterer’s foot, breaking it. Somehow it’s always so much worse when it’s an apparently invincible person that you look up to that gets hurt.
But I think the moment in which my heart sank the lowest in the shortest amount of time was one memorable incident a few months ago when two of my clients (one on a Friesian and one on Reed) and I went for a hack. I was riding a mare who has a bad past, but the two of us were getting along all right and I felt it was time to go for our first hack. I will admit to some trepidation when the client leading the outride decided to pick the route that led to an unfenced field near the main road, but figured that we’d just stick to a walk anyway and the mare had good brakes. Famous last words. We were just fine right up until we turned back. The Friesian broke into a trot; his rider, who had been struggling for months to get him more forward-going, delightedly let him trot faster and faster; my mare started to fret and I was just about to ask if we could walk when the Friesian suddenly realised that cantering was a thing and took off like a shot. Reed plunged joyously after him and my mare totally lost her mind. One moment we were trotting and the next all I could see was that familiar blur of mane, sky and ground that is the trademark of being bucked off. I redoubled my death grip on the reins and hit the burnt stubble shoulderblade first. I am ridiculously lucky in that I usually roll when I fall, but this time I only got halfway before the reins (which I was still clinging to) yanked me under the mare’s feet. I saw hooves come down in front of my face and decided to let go. When I got up, the Friesian and Reed were distant specks on the horizon, my mare was galloping across the tar road with her flapping stirrups making her wilder each minute, I was absolutely covered in soot and my day had just gotten a whole lot worse. As if the other two rapidly vanishing horses and riders weren’t enough, my mare was galloping down the main road with cars swishing heedlessly by, blind with panic. Seeing that catching the mare was going to be impossible on foot, I wandered after the other riders, trying to shout in a nonthreatening way so that they’d notice I was no longer with them.
By God’s grace, it all ended well. The mare finally got off the road and thundered along the verge all the way to her stable, miraculously not hurting herself or causing any accidents. The other two riders noticed my absence, managed to stop their horses and milled around in bewilderment wondering where my horse had vanished to. The farrier saw my mare gallop into the yard and (with commendable presence of mind) got in his car and charged off in the direction she’d come, so I didn’t have to walk quite all the way home. The Mutterer refrained from ripping my skin off for scaring him, although I think he was rather tempted, and made unhelpful comments about how terrible I looked while I tried to get the soot off myself.
The mare’s confidence has been entirely restored, as has mine, the soot washed out of my work shirt and I no longer ride with Friesians unless I have a quiet horse under me. But every time I head off towards the unfenced field, I am most helpfully reminded by everybody that the idea is not for my horse and I to come home individually.
Because God gives us a spirit not of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind. Because perfect love casteth out fear. Because fear not, neither be afraid, for I am with you, saith the Lord. Because of the still, small voice that whispers, “Be of good courage, dear one.”
I don’t want to be afraid.
Because I have something better than fear in me. Because I have no real reason to be scared. Because I have a higher calling, and fear is an obstacle in the pursuing of that calling.
I can’t afford to be afraid.
Because I am a child of God. Because to live a pure and holy life is to be fearless. Because fear is not of Him.
I am afraid.
Because when I was twelve years old I thought I was invincible and I tried to break in a stallion thinking it would be a walk in the park. I did it, too. I mean, he was rideable, eventually. But he scared seven kinds of snot out of me in the process. The physical pain was minor and healed in days; the mental scars linger many years later. He was the first horse that truly frightened me beyond the standard beginner nervousness and he drove me to tears more times than I can remember. And I failed him. I failed him, I failed his breeder, I failed his owner, I failed my trainer, I failed my God, I even failed the person I sold him to because I sold them a horse that I could have made better than I did. I could have, if my hands would just stop shaking so hard I could barely hold the reins.
Even years later, I’ve always been haunted by the memory of that black stallion. If I had him today, he would be doing dressage shows. He didn’t even do standard stallion misbehaviours – he just did standard young horse misbehaviours. If I had him today I could school him in eight weeks. Because today I am stronger, better balanced, more experienced; I would have pulled up his head and given him a whack and he would have cut it out.
At least, if I had no confidence issues, that’s what I would do. Currently, there are certain horses – always the ones that remind me of him – that turn my usual cool, calm professional self into a trembling beginner. I can’t handle them. It’s like I instantly forget what I know about horses.
I fight so hard.
I try every trick I know; I breathe deep through my diaphragm, I use a firm tone of voice, I force myself as much as I can not to use jerky movements, I wear a helmet even on the ground to make myself feel safer, I force myself through my comfort zone as hard as I can, every single time. Every. Single. Time. I push until I break down and freeze and in that moment those horses know they’ve got me, know that their leader does not have the confidence to lead them, know instinctively that they have to dominate me or die because in a horse’s mind that is how it works. Only the strongest ones lead. So they walk all over me, and learn nothing, and I fail.
Over and over again.
I am afraid.
And that’s okay.
Because God, Who is the only One that really counts, knows everything that goes on inside me in those times. He knows how hard I try. He knows the shame I feel. He hears the desperate prayers. He knows – and how true, how true it is – that the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And that is how my God saved the world; with weak flesh, and willing spirit. Sweating blood and weeping tears. Broken. Crying. Too afraid to be alone.
He knows what it feels like, even better than I do.
There will be no fire-and-lightning miracle. There will be no sudden change, no roaring spirit suddenly bursting loose inside me and banishing all fear forever. There will be no overnight makeovers of my soul. But day after day, millenium after millenium, into all eternity, there will be the God Who knows what fear is, Who has felt it, Who has irrevocably and utterly and triumphantly conquered it. For it was that same willing spirit with the weak flesh that went as a lamb to the slaughter and saved the world forever.
So I walk hand in hand with the King of Kings. One day at a time. No more pushing until I break. No more pride. No more peer pressure. Just the King and I, and His marvellous, deadly, heart-changing creature, the horse. One session at a time. One positive experience at a time. His arms around me, His encouragement, His eternal love. For He knows – He knows, He believes – that the spirit indeed is willing. And if the flesh be weak, let it be weak; for His strength is made perfect in my weakness.
If this is Gethsemane, then it is not long before the great conquering. There will be no giving up. Glory to the King.