What’s it been, almost a year and a half? Who am I kidding? I don’t need to ask. I know. It’s been a few days less than seventeen months since we lost her: my friend and fellow medic. She was the same age as me, but now I’ve had a birthday that she never will.
The saving grace, literally, is that she’s never actually been less lost. Not to Him: to Him she’s finally Home. Nor, honestly, to us. She’s never been more important to us all. She’s just not here in the flesh anymore.
As long as we’re still here, we’ll continue to miss her.
Seventeen months. Here we all are now, living our lives again. We say we got through it. Sometimes maybe we look like we’re over it. But the truth is that you never get over it. A loss like that is not so much a storm to weather as it is a divider. A great, open gap ripped in your life, diving it forever into two pieces: a before and an after. Two pieces so different they feel like they belong to different people.
People say you should be trying to get back to normal. But the truth is that the old normal doesn’t exist anymore because the old you doesn’t exist anymore. You never heal from that wound.
You just rise from the ashes.
Who I am and what my life is will never ever look or be the same as it was before. It’s seventeen months later and I am happy, whole, blessed beyond anything I ever expected, and changed. So, so changed. The way I see and interact with the world, the things I value, the things I fear – everything is different. I will never get over it. I will never get back to normal.
I cannot go back.
But I can go forward. Because while I have changed, one thing never has: the God Who will never let go.
The process isn’t healing. It’s transformation. I didn’t get better: I was reborn.
There’s no way through grief. There’s no road back to the way it used to be. But there’s not supposed to be.
Grief only rips us down to rebuild it. Grief only tears down the road ahead to build a bigger bridge. And grief, soul-wrenching, heartbreaking, gut-ripping grief above all does one great thing:
Grief changes us.
And that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.
* * * *
I am happier and more free right now than I have ever been before, for I have plumbed the depths of grace to an extent I thought impossible. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ll always miss you.
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.
Three months since that call came in and changed my life and myself forever.
A lot has happened in those three months. A lot more has changed than just me; a lot has moved. But all of it has moved in one direction. The right one.
Deeper. Further. Higher.
Deeper into God’s love. Higher up this tremendous mountain. And further and further from the shallow end, from the place where I can stand.
I have never before had to ride on water so deep. But I am grateful. Grateful for the priorities He set straight in my head with that life-changing moment. Grateful for every breath I get to share with those I love. Grateful for every second chance with the lost. Grateful even for the fire, as it burns me pure.
And grateful, oh, so grateful that I now have a mighty comrade in every battle.
I’m still here, still doing what I do. Following my King and riding on water. There have been some exciting new developments, and there will be more, especially with regards to the blog. Don’t mistake my silence for loss – this blog is about to undergo changes that will only make it better.
For reasons I have yet to grasp, God saw fit to put you where you are: here with me on a farm in Africa. Sometimes I wonder where you even came from. The fact that your mother is a little round chestnut farm pony doesn’t mean that she isn’t valuable – to me, at least, her value is inexpressible – but she shouldn’t have been able to produce you. Not at 22 years old after being barren for at least seven years (if not all her life), not after having AHS when you were only a baby. The fact that you and your dam both made it out of that one alive was the first miracle that threw me to my knees.
Let alone the fact that you shouldn’t have survived, you should never have been talented. When people at shows ask me how you’re bred, I respond with, “His daddy was black and his mommy was chestnut,” and it’s about all I know. There is Friesian in there somewhere. You are a backyard-bred mongrel and you should never have been able to dance like you do. Dressage people should not be believing in you. Yet they are, because here you are; an unassuming little round bay horse, until you lift your back and suddenly grow two inches.
Your heart, at least, I can understand. Your dam is a fearless firestorm of a horse, a dauntless warrior queen of your kind. You’re not as fiery as she is, but, like her, you have a heart as big as the world.
That’s what makes you special, aside from whatever it is that makes you so supple and uphill and majestic. Your heart. You never stop giving. I never school for more than 20 minutes, except for you. Some days I look up and realise I’ve been on you for almost an hour and a half. Any horse should be sour by then, but not you; you stay enthusiastic, throwing yourself into the task, focused and attentive, delighting in your own God-given strength and beauty.
Some days, on your back, God takes me somewhere new; deeper into the land of the threefold cord, where there’s nothing but you and me and Him, and the dance. There is nothing that can touch us there. It’s a taste of Heaven; an intimate world where nothing else matters.
Some days. You see, love (and I know you do), while for 23 hours a day you live the comfortable life of the modern domestic horse – lolling in a field, teeth and feet always up to date, spine carefully adjusted, saddle fitted like a glove – I think God gave you a home that loves you for a reason. The only affliction you’ve ever had to endure sits between the saddle and the sky. I never mean to hurt you. Of course not. You’re my dance partner. But while there are some days that we taste Heaven, there are many more days when you get the old me, the carnal me, the mortality that is yet to be swallowed up of life, my flesh. The spirit indeed is willing, but you know exactly how weak the flesh can be. Oh, I’m not talking about the occasional hiding you get. Those are for your own good; you’re still a naughty little boy sometimes. But I know as well as you do that there is something we do to horses that is so much worse than just the tap of a dressage whip, or even a yank on the reins.
We’re human. Loud, complicated, emotional and always worrying about things that just don’t matter to horses. Sadly for you, you’re my horse. I can’t make the space between you and me that I have with the clients’ horses. Not with you. I need you. I don’t just need you to dance; I need you to hear me. I don’t have to explain anything to you. I just bring all my baggage and my fears and my hopes and my dreams and my exhaustion and bottle them all up and get on your back and try to make something beautiful, while emotions clash inside me so loud I can’t hear you and you can hardly hear yourself and God’s still small Voice doesn’t get through.
It’s ugly then. I’m sorry, love. I’m trying to fix it, but I can’t pretend it’ll be quick. I can’t pretend it’ll be easy or that there won’t be even more moments when my stressed out human will shouts down your quiet, loving opinion. We were made in the image of God, unlike you; but, also unlike you, we are the ones who fell.
God forgive me, sometimes I can make your life very hard for you. I know; then I worry about that, and make it even harder. You poor soul. You deserve better. But what you’ve got is me, and you’ve got me because God put us here together.
And you don’t mind.
I stress and fuss and freak out up there and make you tense. But you start every single ride with the same soft eye, the same supple back, ready for this ride to be better. You still come up to me in the field. You still love your work and never stop trying and concentrate, oh, how you concentrate. And with every breath, God is teaching me, not about dressage, but about Himself: about amazing grace.
I ask God’s forgiveness and I ask yours. And I won’t give up, because God hasn’t. You and me have a long, long way to go and sometimes it will be unpleasant. I don’t mean to make it hard for you. I don’t even mean to make it hard for myself. It just is. And you just accept it and go along with it, not questioning why your particular human should be the one that’s a little defective, just accepting that your heart is big enough for us both. I will be better for you, love. I promise. Just stay patient, stay loving, stay your wonderful self while I untangle my soul.
With December 28th marking two years after the arrival of our first official liveries (Zorro and Jamaica, who infamously jumped the fence and broke his scapula six hours later), running the yard is becoming much more second nature. In previous years, the day-to-day has been more than enough for me to handle. But as we get more used to routines and programmes, and as my faith in God’s ability to handle it grows, we can start going deeper now.
The yard belongs to God. His plan for it is perfect. It always has, and it always will. Setting goals is not me demanding God to do what I want. It’s just me doing my job to the best of my ability.
Build the eight stables, preferably before winter. God’s grace here again; we couldn’t possibly have built them from scratch, not this year, but we’re clearing out an old shed (barn for you international readers picturing me wedging ponies into a tool shed) and dividing it up into stables. It won’t cost much except time and ingenuity.
Repair the clippers before April. This one is subject to how expensive it’ll be, but if I can clip the client horses, it’ll help.
Build part of the little clubhouse. Not sure yet how we’ll do this, but it needs to be done. It’ll happen if God wills it.
Pass Module 5. Then we’ll have an internationally qualified coach!
Get my licence to tow the horsebox. Hopefully ASAP so that I can quit bumming lifts to lessons.
Hit our financial goal consistently.
Finish the first draft of the novel. God called me so clearly to this one.
Write 10-12 blog posts per month, every month. We made it most of last year, but not always consistently.
Take a WHOLE day off every single week. Firstly, this is God’s explicit commandment. Secondly, I have severely struggled with burnout for two years. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling, it makes me half the person I can be, and I’m only 20. My body will not handle burning out four times a year for the rest of my life. Obviously, sometimes emergencies happen (beast in a pit, anyone?) but I need to focus on this because it IS a sin and I have repented.
There are many other personal things I want to achieve this year, but they’re impossible. That makes them not my job, so I can’t quantify them in goals. I can just be still and watch the Lord fight for me. And watch when He achieves the impossible. It’s His speciality.
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.
Once, English and Afrikaans murdered each other in the thousands. The stubborn Afrikaner met the relentless Englishman in a bloody clash that would last for years and destroy countless families; the marching hordes of the British facing the savage guerrillas of the Boer. Farms burned, men and boys died, and women and children starved in concentration camps in what has been called “the most terrible and destructive modern armed conflict in South Africa’s history”.
The Anglo-Boer War took place just more than a century ago, 1899-1902, and claimed the lives of thousands of people. Since this is an equestrian blog, perhaps the number most likely to bring home the sheer magnitude of the bloodbath is the number of horses that were killed: 300 000. That’s almost ten times the population of my hometown.
Today has been dubbed “Black Monday”. Not terribly original, perhaps, but it’s a name on the lips of almost every South African on this day. Highways are slowed to a crawl and smaller roads closed by hundreds of farmers and tractors and bakkies and their supporters, all wearing black. Whether I agree with the protest – peaceful though it is – itself or not is immaterial; at least voices are being heard. Today I have a strip of black cloth tied around my wrist. In mourning for the thousands of Afrikaners that are dying in this time.
Our farmers are being killed, raped, robbed and tortured in the farm attack trend that’s spreading all over the country. It’s not declared war, but it is ugly, and it is bloody. It’s also threatening to tear apart the ideal of the Rainbow Nation that our hero Madiba lived and died and won the Nobel Prize for. The actions of a hateful group has caused the festering old wound of racism to erupt and bleed on both sides. It is blatant, open, unquestioned.
In the minds of many, it has become us versus them. Black versus white. We don’t say it too loudly on social media, but the anger is there, the hatred is there. It is undoubtedly there for the killers, who have almost without exception targeted white Afrikaans farmers. Their excuse for their grudge is apartheid, which ended twenty-three years ago. I will be unpopular but truthful for saying that apartheid still lives on in the hearts of thousands – both black and white. For those killers, at least, it is still very much alive, and their hatred is based on the most pointless of factors: skin colour and the less-than-recent past.
The bitter enemies of Afrikaans and English reached a moody treaty in 1902, although many of the Boere, as stubborn and unbreakable as the rough country where they originate, chose exile over surrender. We call them the Bittereinders; Wikipedia translates the word to “irreconcilables”, but directly, it means, “Bitter Enders.” Bitter is a good name for it. Bitter is what we are today.
But we don’t have to be. Not forever.
On Sundays, I tuck my Bible under my arm and go to church. I mount the steps of a building older than the war, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk. We call it the Klipkerk. I speak fluent Afrikaans with no accent to the ouderlinge and I slide into my pew and sing the Oorwinningslied.
Then the dominee takes his place and we sit, and he begins to preach in Afrikaans. And I open my King James Bible and read along in English.
A hundred years ago, it would not have been possible, but here it is. My dad is so English he could barely understand anyone when we moved to our very Afrikaans community seventeen years ago. My mom is as Afrikaans as they come. As for me, I was ‘the Anglo-Boer Bulge’ before I was born. I have met with nothing but acceptance, and a little friendly ribbing, from “pure” English or Afrikaans people and communities.
I am the offspring of those who once were sworn enemies. And I am hope.
We have already come so far. And when I say “we”, I don’t mean “white Afrikaans/English people like me”, I mean “South African people like me”. We have already won so many small battles. This last uprising, this desperate resistance of evil and disunity can be conquered – must be conquered. We cannot give up now, we cannot give in to the darkness now, we cannot continue in our old and hateful ways anymore because it will shred us all. The farm attacks are born of racism; our response doesn’t have to be. We will stop those criminals not because they are people who are black but because they are people who are doing bad things. Surely that’s what’s more important? And we will stop the bad things we’re doing, in our actions, our hearts, and our words.
And yet I know we have a long way to go before apartheid ends, even though it was officially abolished before I was even born. It’s alive and kicking in the words and hearts of millions.
But it is not alive in mine. I have killed it. It fought back, of course, as hatred does; growing up in a world that sees in black and white makes the temptation difficult. It’s so easy to blame a skin colour rather than a flaw of society or, worse, a flaw of your own.
Our struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemies are not only human. Our fight is not only physical. I will not allow the darkness to overwhelm my heart. I will not allow racism to colour my vision. I will feel. I will believe. I will mourn for my brothers and sisters who have fallen, regardless of their skin colour.
Thousands of us have taken an entire day to stage this protest. Will we all take ten minutes every morning to take the fight to our knees? Will we all pray for our people with the same vehemence with which we curse our enemies?
The real bad guys only win when they make us hateful. In many of us, they’re winning.
I stand with every farmer who has died, every nourisher of our people who has had to be afraid, and I stand with every person who has ever been a victim of racism. I stand against hatred. I stand against violence. I stand against all that is dark and evil. I stand against unrighteous judgment and the division between the races. I stand for love, I stand for faith, and I stand for hope.
It might take a century, but I pray and I wait and I watch for the day when a brown-skinned young person mounts the steps of the Klipkerk and listens to an Afrikaans sermon, reading along in a Zulu Bible. It has been done before. It can be done again.
The arrival of some beautiful rain has transfigured the face of our landscape from the dormant browns of winter to vibrant life.
And no matter that I’ve been living here since I can remember, it still takes my breath away. So do these, my three dance partners. Faith must be about Arwen’s height already. I expect her to mature about Thunder’s height and probably also quite solid.
The damp earth has helped eliminate the various coughings, sneezings and nose-runnings of all the allergic horses.
Longer days make for those stunning late afternoon rides in the golden light. I teach until at least 5:30 most evenings now.
Lullaby is back on fighting form, her old, happy, bouncy self. She’s even off her joint supplement. She led the way on this hack up the big hill.
Liana and her kid followed. I’m so honoured to be a small part of providing kids with experiences like these.
Jamaica also went hacking with Vastrap and his kid, and behaved impeccably.
The big hill is my favourite place for hacking. It’s interesting, has amazing views, and is good work for the horses too.
Clouds have changed the skyscape, making the world seem bigger. I don’t know why, but the sky is a deeper blue in summer around here.
We now have a sign. Each step forward feels like a miracle, probably because it is one; we depend so entirely on our Jesus, and He never lets us down. This year testifies to that.
Our yard is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
This is the place where my soul can’t sing loud enough to Abba Father. Where the miracle happens. As an aside, the footing held up impressively well in the rain. We’ve been able to jump every day.
For some reason the sky is a lot smaller in town, but it’s still beautiful. My personal space is about 228ha.
That’s more like it.
Sunrises haven’t quite reached the height of splendour yet, but there’s something more subtly majestic in their muted colours.
The jacaranda tree is in bloom.
The long one-sided love story of God and I starts with sunrises. Years and years ago, since I can remember thinking about bigger things, it was the beauty of the world that convinced me that there had to be Something out there. I felt its presence; something dynamic, vibrant, powerful, and very much alive. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have a name for it, but I found it utterly irresistible. I longed to know it. My longing was inexpressible; I wanted to feel it, to be drawn into it.
And the greatest miracle of them all was discovering that this amazing Thing was not only alive, it was Someone, and He had a Son, and He had given that Son up for me. The power that made the wind and stars, He wants me to talk to Him, to cry out to Him, to love Him. The sunrises stopped being splendid creations of some distant and mysterious magnificence and became something more: an intimate, personal expression of love from the God Who never lets go.
Summer and the return of beauty and freshness and flies and heat. The horses spend all day swatting at bugs and I sweat through my hair, but it’s worth it for the return of four of my favourite things: green grass, gleaming summer coats, the smell after rain, and summer sunrises.
There are little goslings and unreasonably aggressive geese everywhere. The occasional fresh breeze brings the hope of the first rains, and the earth is expectant, ready to receive it and return its vibrant bounty.
All the seasons have a purpose, and their turning is the rhythm of the yard. But I’ll readily admit that I’m ready for summertime.
Speaking of time, this is a picture from 23 years ago. This striking young stallion, Pretman Tornado, is now a 27-year-old retiree with multiple showing championships under his belt. He also happens to be Faithy’s grandpa.
He’s Nell’s grandpa too, unsurprising considering she has almost exactly the same head.
This champion broodmare is Faith’s maternal granddam, Hanu. I didn’t know her, but she has a similar look to Faith’s mom, Luna. These are from a Nooitie brochure from 1994, which Faith’s breeder showed me when I stopped in there last week. Faith’s breeder is like my grandpa and spending time there is always soothing.
These faces make my day. ❤ Lancey and Z-kid’s adorable little sister, who may be doing lead rein at SANESA on him next year. He loves her. Of course he does. Lancey loves everyone.
August marked Lancey’s last month in training with me. After eighteen months, he’s finally all ready for his kids, and I love seeing him with them.
Faithy has become so cuddly. We still do bits of groundwork here and there, much of which is rather pointless because she’s basically good with everything. She loves working and she really deals with new things rather well. I think she will be hot, but I do hope she won’t be spooky and fidgety and maybe she’ll even be good to hack one day. Either way, she’s a unicorn. Six more weeks before we start lungeing.
Olive is doing so, so well. K’s mom has been doing lots of walks and pole work and hills and it’s all paid off. She looks practically sound in the field and on the lunge these days. I still refuse to get on – the last thing I need is a Percheron falling on me – but I don’t think it impossible for her to return to ridden work in the future. Either way, she’s pasture sound and a happy camper, so all’s well.
It’s fly mask time again. Identifying fly masks is a perpetual headache – I’m so OCD about it. Each horse must have their mask and must be turned out only in that mask. The permanent marker thing is regrettably fading already. I used to have handy little tags but they’re a lot of effort and kinda expensive.
Milady’s soundness is giving me grey hairs. If she’s not footsore after a trim, she’s touchy around her wither. She’ll have chiro in October and we may end up nailing shoes on after all. She and K are such a good partnership, I really want to try to keep the creature sound for her. It seems a continual struggle with OTTBs. Nooities ftw.
Eagle is in his last month’s training; he and Blizzard go home in October. He’s more than ready. I ride him once a week myself now, scaling down on the professional work so that it doesn’t all fall apart when he goes home.
Thunny and I have had almost seven years together. ❤ We’ve both grown so much.
Even Renè is struggling with her recurrent episodes of tying up. Ah well. Sound horses do not a grateful rider make. When she is sound, though, she’s starting to show K’s hard work and I’m excited for them with next weekend’s dressage.
Lulu is back in fine form thanks to some saddle fitting tweaks, careful feeding and TLC, and she showed this by bucking off a child. Twice. In the same lesson. Ungrateful brat. She got first me and then Vastrap’s kid schooling her for her troubles, but I am so glad she feels better and is behaving like a four-year-old (worse than my four-year-olds, if we’re honest) instead of like a rising eighteen-year-old who’s tired of life.
I have loads of new pictures of Thunny, which need their own post. Basically, he is fabulous; I have overcorrected myself into a hot mess. Sorry Thunny.
Savanna is finally sound again (pls be sound now horsies) and back in action. Lungeing in side reins has helped her understand the contact better, but there’s still a way to go. Her bend is much better and she seems to get that her job is to jump the jump now, although if she has an excuse she’ll still try and run out.
Her condition is so much better it blows me away. I really didn’t think she’d be this bulky and impressive.
Icey says it’s far too hot to lie on his tummy like a normal canine.
Jamaica has been jumping exercises at 90cm for me. Thanks dude. He helps me out a lot, poor soul, and in return I make him do endless mountains of flatwork. He doesn’t like it, but it is paying off – his muscle tone is so much better.
She might buck with the big kids, but little Lullaby is still our best little lead rein pony. This kid made it to Newcomer’s Challenge on her and nobody is more excited about that than me. ❤
I finished my riding today by hacking Midas for the first time in ages. I’d forgotten how little and comfy he is. He was foot perfect.
You may have noticed that the tone around here is a little more cheerful this week. I had managed to burn myself out again. At least it’s happening less frequently these days, and I’m learning what steps to take to keep myself away from the brink.
I’d forgotten how much I love this place and how sure I am that God sent me. That I belong here.
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