A Little Faith

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.


Glory to the King.

In Abba’s Arms

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

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

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

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

It becomes forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It means Daddy.

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

Glory to the King.

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

Small Victories

This week was… incredible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You Father. Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 4

We danced.


It was AMAZING.

This was Arwen’s first show since April. She boxed great, but was a little sweaty when we got there. We headed for the warmup and she proceeded to engage full dragon mode. Like – she was rearing. And bucking. And bolting. I feared for my life, or at least for anything flammable in the immediate surroundings.

True to form, she actually stayed pretty obedient in between the rearing and blowing flames at stuff. We dragoned majestically up to the judges, leaving them with mildly singed eyebrows, and headed down centreline with minimal straightness and maximum sass. I couldn’t get the grin off my face. She wasn’t scared really; she was just alive and fit and bursting with the exuberance being created. Who could blame her? I was filled with a sort of grateful giddiness that had nothing to do with horses. What’s a dressage test going downhill in a handbasket compared with knowing Christ the King?

In the end, though, the tests themselves weren’t that bad. She settled as we went on. We broke to jog in our medium walk once, but we got the simple changes in Elementary 4, earning 60% and a third place ribbon. Elementary 5 was a bit floppy; I got lost and got the -2 for error of course, and we kind of swooped down into the simple change, then proceeded to break to trot for half a stride after the medium canter and throw a random flying change in the counter canter. So we got two nice fat 4s for that. Still, 57% – so it’s grading points. We have 5 in total now, halfway to points for EM, although we’ll likely never actually do it.

Video of the better test here: https://youtu.be/w12GY0fihPc

Thunder was so quiet to plait, merely dragging L’s hapless boyfriend around a bit. He hacked obediently to the warmup away from his buddies. The warmup itself started out rather worried and we had two tremendous sideways spooks when birds flew out of the grass (seeing how he’s never seen a bird before), so I was kind of expecting a disaster and resigned myself to just giving the dude a positive experience.

He never quit trying though. Again, worried as he was, he stayed obedient and got it together for me. I don’t deserve them, I really don’t. So we headed down centreline in Prelim 2 and suddenly he was totally fine. Happy even – and relaxed enough for a killer free walk.

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but Prelim 3 wasn’t a test, it was a dance. I wasn’t concentrating all that hard. Not on the test, anyway. The sky – and heaven – was very big and blue, and so close. Close enough to kiss, or be kissed, perhaps. Either way, it was amazing, and I’m not talking about the riding.

The riding was good too though. The judge said she wanted to take Thunny home and keep him. I don’t blame her because he was so, so good. He was worried at first but he coped, then eventually relaxed into it and just revelled in the joy of it.

 He won Prelim 2 with 65.91% and Prelim 3 with 72.5%. He had 8 for his free walk and 8s for both his canter-trot transitions. The first judge would have liked him more forward – I think I was still being quite conservative, waiting for a spook – and his stretchy trot didn’t really stretch, and his halts weren’t square. But that’s actually kinda exciting because it means this horse can do even better.

So he didn’t improve on his Prelim 2 score from last time, but he did get 72% on Prelim 3, so that’s a huge win.

Video of the better test here: https://youtu.be/6EX4AwMDi-c

So I actually couldn’t have asked for better from my dance partners, and it was amazing.

Then K and Renè had their prelim tests and despite Renè having a naughty moment in the warmup, she settled right down and K rode her nicest tests yet. It was Renè’s first dressage and she got 58% and 60%, not shabby at all. K brought her on all by herself, too.

Then it was the moment of truth – Destiny’s mom was riding him at his first ever outing at walk/trot 2. And you know what? He was brilliant. Delinquent Destiny who broke my lunging ring twice – he didn’t put a toe out of line. He didn’t buck, he didn’t run away, he didn’t even spook. He just squiggled down the centreline and whinnied a few times, that’s all. When he came fourth with 60%, well, it was just the cherry on top.

As for my goals, I don’t really know about the rest, but love, joy and peace? They all showed up.

How mighty is amazing grace. Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 4 Goals

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

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

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

We’re here to dance.

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

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

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

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

Show love to the horses and the people.

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

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

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

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

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

Have a little faith. God’s got this.

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

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

Tomorrow and every day, so help me God.

I can’t wait.

Glory to the King.