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.
For all the pain of the past few weeks, there has been a lot of joy thrown in there as well.
My precious dance partner has been a huge source of it. Our lessons with Coach J have been fantastic; we’re schooling movements I’ve only ever dreamed of, planning to ride Novice 4 and 5 next weekend and easily skipping through the tests. I’ve never felt so prepared for a competition and yet also never felt less obsessed with it. What God does for me on that horse’s back every morning is incomparable to a simple horse show.
More than ever, it is about the dance, about the land of the threefold cord. About the way Thunder can take me to a place where it’s just him and God and me and the dance, and for an hour I can be in a place where pain can’t find us.
On the schooling front, we’re doing almost all of the Elementary work and some EM too, including our first few tentative flying changes.
The other man in my life arrived at a time where happiness was hard to come by, but as the wounds heal I am starting to discover how ridiculously happy I can be just because God made him. It’s quite astonishing how one smile can light up a goodly chunk of the world.
Arwen and I are in an amazing place right now. I could never possibly ask for a better partner, a better comrade through my struggling first years in the competitive arena, and it feels good now to be able to repay her with a gentler attitude in the saddle. We mostly hack these days, schooling seriously mostly before shows. Finally taking the time to just enjoy each other, enjoy the shows, enjoy the fact that God brought us here together. The fire in her belly still fuels mine.
I’m riding Faithy! She is still a pretty ungainly beast, particularly struggling to find a truly balanced canter, but in terms of temperament I couldn’t have asked for better. We are doing walk/trot in the dressage and she doesn’t seem to know how to spook. She likes working and trying to figure things out, and is a forward-thinking lady. I also just find her really comfortable to be around and ride; she’s my type, the size and shape that I grew up with, and reminds me deeply of Nell. It feels like we’ve been friends a lot longer than we really have.
Moos make me happy too, particularly super well behaved ones like Fergie and Sarah. The day after the one month anniversary of my friend’s death – an inexpressibly difficult milestone – was the annual Boer and Brit day with my family and it was just super awesome. God sent that day for a reason; it nursed my soul.
God’s provision has been so great this summer. My parents have graciously allowed a few pastures to be opened for horses, and the grazing is fantastic. The sight of healthy, grazing horses among the green abundance just soothes a horsewoman’s very soul.
I keep feeling this increasing awareness of the time we waste. We don’t have time. We don’t have time for anything but loving God and loving people and looking for heaven. We can’t afford to take the time for granted. We need to follow Him now, make amends now, ask forgiveness now, show our love now.
We only already have now and eternity. And eternity – our own and each other’s – hinges on now. We cannot waste it on hell’s schemes.
We need to follow Him now, wherever He leads. We need to live our lives before it’s too late.
There’s a lot about grief that I didn’t expect. The five stages you read about make it seem so simple, predictable. Like you’ll just plod on from one to the next, finally popping out of Acceptance with a whole and happy heart, and carry on with your life as if nothing ever happened.
It’s not like that. It’s not linear. It’s not structured, and it doesn’t make any sense.
These are lessons I learned for the next time I have to stand by a person who is grieving.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer massive physical effect of it. I’m used to the physical effects of standard anxiety – the odd moments of sweatiness or nausea, the occasional insomnia. This was an entirely different level. I have never really been able to sleep during the day – not even as a small child. Suddenly I was sleeping in giant, steady blocks of several hours at a time every afternoon, waking at three o’ clock every morning for no good reason. My appetite frankly disappeared. I think I ate, really ate, a meal for the first time 8 days after it happened. It was scary, but it passed. Your body knows what it has to do to survive. You will eat before you actually starve. In misguided caring, people tried to persuade me to eat or go to bed early, but really there is nothing you can do. Trust me, I would have been eating if I could have.
Another really odd effect was that normally, during anything emotionally difficult, I write incessantly. Either here, in a journal, in fiction, even just a Facebook status, very often a free verse poem on my phone – it’s always been an outlet. This time I could not write at all. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even my prayer journal ended up neglected, which is something I almost never skip, even though prayer itself has never been more central to my life. It was less like my soul was silent and more like there was so much that needed to be said that the door had jammed. I still can’t face fiction. The email I wrote to my close Canadian friend explaining what had happened was one of the most difficult pieces of writing I have ever faced.
The second thing I wasn’t expecting was the volume of emotional and cognitive space the whole thing takes up. I was so tired, all of the time – still am, during the aftershocks. I couldn’t focus on anything either for very long or very well. I lost things, forgot things, and zoned out completely even in the middle of conversations or tasks. Here is where a grieving person can be given the most active support, I think. Processing is good, but the continual zoning out is awful. Gently bringing me back down to earth, or encouraging me to talk about where my mind was going instead of just sitting there staring into the middle distance and facing the darkness in my head, was one of the most helpful things anyone could do for me.
The one I hate the most right now is the aftershocks. I did not expect them, at all. I thought grief was a linear graph. Like you could just walk through it and it would be slowly and steadily getting better until one day it was mostly gone, perhaps with a few little setbacks during the milestones (how I hate the milestones). Instead, especially now, there are a lot of days when I can wake up and carry on and be happy and used to this strange new normal. Then there are the days when it hits me all over again, and it all feels as raw and fresh as day one. This is perhaps the most misunderstood by those who haven’t been through it themselves. They expect you to be done with grief by now. I expect me to be done by now. But I’m not.
Possibly one of the most valuable things I take away from this experience is just how much the words and actions of others can impact the grieving process. People flounder – I know I always do – in the face of trying to help someone who has experienced something like this. I think it was especially hard for us because the whole thing was so gruesome, public, and violently dramatic. A lot of people wanted a piece of that sensation, others wanted to try and make sense of the world in which this kind of thing happens at our expense, and the rest want to help and don’t know how.
The best thing you can ever do for a grieving person is to pray for them. The second best is just to allow them to be hurting. People want to make you feel better somehow, they want to say or do something that will pick up the pieces and fix it. It’s impossible. Inevitably, the pain must be faced, it must come, the emotions must flow. You need to be allowed to hurt, you need to be given the space you need to just feel what you need to feel. But not alone – just not alone. The tolerant, patient presence of someone who does not attempt to make you feel better is invaluable in this time. No human being can ever drag you out into the light. But some of them can sit with you in the darkness.
Giving someone the emotional space they need to grieve is invaluable. Even more so is giving someone the physical space – taking over some of their work or responsiblities for a little so that they have the opportunity to grieve. My family is amazing at this. I don’t know how I would be able to survive this without them. ❤
God alone is the only One Who can truly heal me, and He has. Over time, and slowly, and in increments. Nobody understands pain the way He does. Nobody knows the extent of the inner shattering the way He can. Nobody holds, tolerates, loves, accepts, understands as deeply as He does, and nobody else can lay tender hands on the human soul and breathe the life back into it the way He does. He places no blame, He passes no judgment, and He sets no time limit on the hurt. God alone knows, because God alone went through grief from both sides at the same time: the agony of the Father watching His Son die, and the agony of the Son in the dying.
And God alone has the power to soothe the pain, because God both raised up from the dead and has risen up from the dead. He can resurrect everything my heart feels it has lost.
I am grateful for every set of arms that has surrounded me and for every prayer that has risen up to Heaven for me. I have been borne through this in the arms of my family, my medic family, my best friend, and my beloved. And I will be healed, and I will face the darkness, because my God is with me.
Every time someone asks, “Did you hear about that girl…?” I feel more hurt and more angry when I have to respond, “I was on the scene. She was my friend.”
But God will work all things for the good of those that love Him. Already He is working this for good.
I have loved and been in love for months, but just always been too hesitant to do anything about it. The night my friend died changed all that. God’s love is my only strength; this man is the place God’s love gave me where I don’t have to be strong all the time.
He is her last gift to me. Because I learned from her well-lived life and her tragic death that life is just too short to be still when God calls you loud and clear.
Blogosphere, meet the darling. He is terribly good at reversing the horsebox. He and Thunder have an adorable bromance. I would say he is the man of my dreams, but he’s far more than that.
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.
By the end of last week, it was beginning to feel like things were starting to come together with Thunny and I. And by that I mean that the spastic chicken had finally developed the ability to let go of its inside rein.
So we headed off to our next lesson with optimism, which was rewarded when Coach J only made us do the turn on the forehand exercise like three times and moved on to other work – still on the same theme.
Straightness and connection and bend. We did alternately long stretches of trotting large, pushing for something like a medium trot (pls Coach J we can barely do lengthenings), focusing on having Thunder really forward off my leg and into my hand. “Use his bum to push his head down, not your hands to pull his head down,” intoned the oracle.
To do this I also had to give my inside bend fetish a rest and straighten him considerably, even on the corners, allowing both hind legs to push evenly forward into my hands. I struggled with this because all I really got from him in trot and canter was to run onto his forehand. In walk we got something much nicer, a massive active walk that I could feel over his back.
Then we’d move on to long stretches of shoulder-in going large. And I had my doubts because shoulder-in hadn’t really been on our radar – shoulder-fore had been a big ask for preparation for walk-canter – but what do you know? I popped on inside leg and outside hand and we had something like shoulder-in.
It wasn’t terribly good shoulder-in, though. I generally was too quick to reward Thunny for running out through his shoulder instead of being straight and stepping across, mostly because I have no idea what a proper shoulder-in feels like. More outside rein (always more outside rein) mitigated this, but we both began to degenerate into a bit of a mess about it, so Coach J ordered me off and got on the steed himself.
Nobody has ever trained Thunny other than me, so I’ve never really seen him being ridden in a true connection in real life. It took me a few seconds to get over how majestic he is and start to listen to Coach J. Who magically got my horse to shoulder-in. By the end of it he was doing shoulder-in in a long and low frame with a floppy inside rein.
I got on again then, but he was quite tired so we just did a couple more and then called it a day. It did feel better, though, and having seen it, I had a better idea of what it’s supposed to be.
On Tuesday our session was a bit of a mess. Thunder seemed to have forgotten everything he’d learned about connection and retained only the ability to run onto his forehand. We tried to do some stretchy trot but all he did was run. Then I tried to do some lateral work to re-engage his brain, starting with a little leg-yield, and the whole mood changed when I touched him with my inside leg and he gave me the best leg-yield I’ve ever ridden on any horse, ever.
After that we did leg-yield all over the place until I was happy as a bird and, thus, he was happy as a bird. Apparently inside leg to outside rein fixes everything. His shoulder-in was better then, too, although he was still quite hollow.
Every session since has been better. He does want to run forward in stretchy trot, but the trot itself is better, with much more stretching over his back. We just have to address the break in rhythm. His shoulder-in in walk has been long and low and relaxed, too. In trot I still lose the shoulder now and then, which makes me go tense in my lower back and then makes him hollow. So the connection hasn’t been good at all, but the straightness has improved.
The thing I can’t get down at all is that lengthened/medium trot. He either doesn’t lengthen much and falls on his forehand or just runs forward. I have never been able to ride a good lengthening unless the horse had a naturally big and flashy trot (I’m looking at you, Nell), so that’s a me thing, I think.
It’s so reassuring to know that I don’t have to have a meltdown over something I can’t get right, because now by God’s provision, we have Coach J to help us.
I looked at my list of horses for this show and thought, “Six horses, six riders! What a lovely, relaxed show,” and then contemplated how six riders felt like about a million at SANESA this year. One does get used to things – and better at managing them.
Early sunrises also help; it was broad daylight when we loaded up our six horsies and hit the road for Fourways. For once we were late and had to hurry frantically to get the first two horses and kids ready, but we made it happen. Mercifully ground poles don’t exactly require a strenuous warm up.
Savanna and her kid were doing their first jumping show together. I had my trepidations, but with me being firmly on the ground with them, I knew I’d be there to catch if anything went wrong. I also had Lancelot’s tiny kid on the end of a lead and thus off we went.
Lancelot was, of course, fantastic. I jogged madly, he trotted peacefully beside me, and the little kiddy had a blast. She even remembered most of her track.
I expected a little of the old running backwards drama from Savanna and thus led her in, but once the bell went and her kid kicked her on, she was super. Forward and relaxed, trotted over every pole. She had one little spook, but her kid stayed on and they also remembered their course for a clear round, to the kid’s great delight.
He finished his show nicely with a second round in the 40cm. Savanna was more relaxed by this point and trotted around very peacefully. A confidence-building experience for them both.
Next up was Liana and her kid, Milady and K, and Savanna and I in the 50cm. Liana cheekily stopped at the scary carrot jump, but otherwise had a lovely controlled and smooth round. Milady circled because her steering broke at one point and K had to reinstall it briskly between fences, but she was very brave to every single fence.
Savanna was a bit of a loon. As soon as we started to canter, the sweet horse that packed her kid around was gone, and her pulling, rushing, headshaking alter ego had returned. She rushed a bit and almost threw a cheeky stop at one fence, but we made it around with a pole (or two, I don’t remember). It was her first proper round without any stops, though, so I was happy with that.
The 60cm was more of the same, but with the addition of Lancelot and his big kid, J (Zorro’s kid). Milady had a very green but honest pole down and was well ridden by K, Savanna was a little quieter for another pole down. Liana and her kid jumped double clear, even cutting some turns in the jump-off for fourth place. Lancey was doing his first show under J and J was definitely a bit nervous, but they bounced around beautifully clear for second place.
In the 70cm it was J and Lancelot for it, and they both knocked it out of the park. Lancey loves J and his whole body lit up with happiness as he charged around, quick and clear, winning the class without even trying. J was all smiles. I can’t think of a happier end to Lancey’s last year in training with me.
Then J came back on Zorro and did their first 80cm with an unlucky pole down. Zorro was so good, brave and forward, and J rode him great despite her nerves.
Jamaica and I were up next with our second 90cm. Fourways can always be counted on to build a track that’s fair to the horse but definitely up to height, and the main thing I was grateful for was that it was an accumulator so I only had to survive eight fences. I needn’t have worried. Jamaica was so, so good. I aimed and looked for something vaguely resembling a distance and he jumped everything beautifully for a slow clear round.
Work done, J and I headed down to the cross-country course on Jamaica and Zorro, and proceeded to have half an hour of the best fun you can have on a horse.
Jamaica was superb. A little spooky to start off with, and I tapped him into one or two of the fences, but he jumped nicely without a lead. We did lots of logs, little oxers, a combination, a fairly solid corner, a skinny between two trees, banks up and down, an A-frame, and two little ditches with rails over them. I showed him the ditches and the corner but expected him to jump everything else on the first go. He was looky at a few, but willing, and only threw one stop at a spooky fence with blue drums under it. Then he spooked at the fence next to it and bolted a few steps, for which he got in very big trouble.
Zorro also had one or two stops but seemed to enjoy the whole thing enormously and stayed very quiet for J.
The water was the moment of truth, because Zorro is dodgy about some water and Jamaica has never gone in. At all. Ever. K waded in with her gumboots and dragged Zorro in while I poked him with my whip from aboard Jamaica (I was in eventer mode), and once Zorro was in, K just led Jamaica and I gave him a little tap when he got rude and in he went. By the end of it we were joyously cantering through the water and over the banks.
The eventing bug has bitten me so badly again, and I know this horse would be a most trustworthy partner. Logistics are in the way, but we’ll see how it all pans out. I’m just so grateful we got to go play and school over it all again. Deo volente.
Not having backed anything since July, I suddenly find myself up to the eyeballs in babies. Something for which I’m more than grateful – I love them, I feel like I have a vague idea of what I’m doing with them, but every single one is something totally new. And there’s always a leap-of-faith element to tossing a leg over a young horse for the first time.
Faithy is the greenest of them all, and thus progressing the most slowly of them all. I’m also taking it more slowly because I’ll expect more from her someday, and also because, as usual, I find myself crippled by doubts and fears just because it’s my horse. Somehow client horses just seem to be easier. It’s all in my head, of course. They go better because I chill the socks out and do what I know how to do without emotions getting all in the way. I worry far too much about my own.
Faith, however, has been fine. A quite normal three-year-old filly. Less wiggly to groom and bandage up, easier to get to go round in walk and trot. Still separation anxious, and the other day focused so hard on screaming at a buddy who was being brought in for work that she fell through the ring fence. As you do. Mercifully she’s a Nooitie and suffered only a minor bump to her fetlock, some bruises and a cracked ego.
I really need to sort out my own head space before we can make any real progress. It’ll be a matter of going to my knees and giving it to God; as usual, Satan is trying to hit me right where God can most mightily use me. That’s when I know the fight is getting real.
Teddy is by turns effortless and very challenging. He is a hard-trying horse and bright as a button, so intellectual training is dead simple. He’s also a very anxious horse who’s been both hurt and spoiled in the past, so emotional training is a lot less easy. The bridle was a complete non-issue after the usual mouthiness during the first session.
The saddle is also fine until it slips, then we can get quite a melodramatic and frightened little crow-hopping fit. I really hate to see a young horse doing that. It’s very hard to sit out, for one thing; it’s also almost always out of fear, for another. So we’re taking the whole backing thing very, very slowly.
He also has an issue with standing in the wash bay. He likes to fly back as an answer to everything and can be quite impossible to get in without help, but once in he is OK, although I take the precaution of closing the gates in case he wants to wiggle. Most of ours plop in and then graze while I chuck the lead over the fence and do my thing (including Champagne), but he’ll get there.
Emmy has gone a bit quicker. She does have some racetrack baggage, but she’s older, more sensible, and more experienced. She is obviously backed since she raced a bit, but I start from scratch anytime I’m slightly doubtful.
As expected she took the bridle effortlessly. She doesn’t mind the saddle but can be very touchy about having the girth tightened – somebody obviously had the girth yanked on quite often in her past. (Pet peeve.)
Today I fooled around with hanging over her, flapping the stirrups and patting her all over loudly and she went to sleep, so I put a leg over and had a little sit. She was dead quiet, completely relaxed. I won’t actually ride her until I’ve done the long-lining to check that whoa is a thing (and rearing is not), but I think she’ll be quite nice. She’s a gentle soul.
I totally failed to get photos of starter #4, but he is adorable. He stays at another yard and I only see him once a week, so his progress will be slow. The yard is actually where I was a yard rat in my preteens, so I helped to back his dam and knew his sire well and knew him as a tiny foal (by then I was riding for Ruach). The sire is a Friesian and the dam a little Nooitie/Araby thing, and he is basically a 14hh dark grey Friesian with a dish face. His name is Antwone and I’m not quite sure yet if I’m OK with his being a colt, but he’s only three and doesn’t know it yet, so we’ll take it as it comes.
So happy to have a full training schedule again. Glory to the King.
Every time I enter a dressage show I feel vaguely guilty about spending time and money on something that isn’t expressly helping other people. I know, intellectually, that God wouldn’t have sent me Faith, or made my scruffy homebred really quite talented, if He wanted me to stop. I know I gave it to Him. But knowing something in your head and having faith in it in your soul isn’t always the same thing.
But these past few days have been one step deeper into faith.
The dream team set off: Superdad, Wonderbird and the Dragon, at a leisurely hour on Sunday morning (things I love about dressage). We were there in good time and I plopped Arwen’s tack on and off we went. I was expecting a dragon, but she was really, really good. Relaxed and quiet from the word go, but forward and enthusiastic. Our warmup was very relaxed, but as mediocre as usual. I was focusing hard on trying to develop an actual medium trot instead of a piggy little run, and she was focusing hard on bucking through the counter canter at one point, but then we were off and I was cautiously optimistic.
Our first halt felt OK, it was steady, square and on the bit, but it was 5.5 for quarters to left. The serpentine XA felt good as well for 6.5, which is about as good as we get. I’ve been working hard on the leg-yield and FX felt good – and was good, for 6.0 – but it all came to bits XM and I tried to sort it out but couldn’t really so that was a 5.0: “too much sideways”. At that point I started to realise that Arwen, while not exhausted, was slightly tired. After so many years of having her so, so fit, I’ve forgotten how flat she can be when she’s not jumping out of her skin. Arwen has to be hot to be her best, and she didn’t have the oomph.
Still, she didn’t feel at all reluctant, just a little tired, so I felt it was OK to finish the test and we soldiered on. We picked up a few more 6.0s for the halt and rein back (“steps not quite clear”) and the two turns on the haunches (“little too hurried”) – both better than before. The extended walk was 6.0 too, “lacking purpose”. She has a fabulous walk, so I blame that on being a little flat, too. And then at A she struck off on the wrong leg for a well-deserved 4.0. Really, Arwen? A wrong lead, in an Elementary test? But once again, she never, ever does that at home. Her brain was tired.
We got it together though for our best marks of the test; 7.0 for both the 10m canter circle and – get this – the simple change! I suppose we can cross “survive the simple changes” off our goals list. The counter canter was back to 6.0 for lacking engagement, and then the medium was a 4.5. I thought it was OK, but this judge evidently laid great emphasis on correct extensions/mediums, so that’s fair. Our circle at R was down to a 5.0 (“more jump”) and then the next change she picked up the wrong leg again, for 4.0. The counter canter was another 5.0 with “more jump”, and then the medium trot, obviosuly, was a 4.0. I didn’t let her hurry this time, but we didn’t really do much medium-ing, so yeah. The halt was fine except she fussed and made herself extra-square at the last moment, earning a 6.0, “not quite steady”.
The final mark was 54.1%. I do wish we’d gotten 55% and that final grading point, but it was fair, and I loved the judge’s comments. He asked for more jump, more engagement, noting that she was a little flat and lost unnecessary marks (two incorrect strike-offs – ya think?). But he also said “Rider tried hard on an obedient horse”, which I felt was true and complimentary.
Ultimately I think she could have done better and will once she is fitter. I think she did go better in the double, especially in her changes and transitions and rein back (we almost got our goal of more than 6.0 for the rein back). I also think she will never be competitive at Elementary because I was twelve years old and entirely clueless when I started riding her, with practically no guidance. She’s done wonders considering the hand she’s been dealt, and I remember thinking as we walked out of the arena that this horse would run through fire for me. I’ve given her second-rate training and she has given me her heart, and that’s what makes it worth it despite the occasional disaster.
Moving onto Thunder, we decided for my dad to stand by the warmup and the show arena with Arwen this time. I wanted to give Thun the best possible chance at a good test considering it was a level up and I wanted to build his confidence with the new movements, and I knew Arwen would be impossible alone anyway, so it was just easier.
Warming up, I knew immediately he was going well. He was relaxed and forward, going down into my hand instead of having to be held at all, and there was a suppleness in his back that makes me excited. As we went on, I noticed that a rider who had also ridden in the Elementary had just come charging into the warmup, looking a bit flustered. She was number 113 and we were number 114, but had already been warming up for a little while. I had done my basic warmup – large, lengthenings, a stretchy circle, some transitions and circles and lengthenings in canter – and was just about to start riding my test movements to finish the warmup when I heard the announcer calling number 113, who hadn’t even cantered yet.
“Can’t you go?” she asked me.
It was a knee-jerk reaction. “No, sorry. I’m not quite ready.”
I headed off, leaving flustered lady to her warmup, but something didn’t feel good in my soul. I paused, and I reluctantly listened to that still small voice. I really wanted a good mark. I really believed Thunder would go better if I could just have another ten minutes. But I knew what Jesus would do, and we dance for Him.
“It’s OK!” I yelled, inelegantly booting poor old Thun across the warmup. “We’re going!”
I don’t write this to boast, because what’s one tiny kindness compared to the ocean of my sin, or to the extravagance of the Love that went to the cross for it? I write it because I want to tell you all how big my God is. I felt His pleasure, and we went in and I rode the best test of my entire life. And my horse was right there with me, doing his very best.
The first centreline and halt was 7.5; he was a little unbalanced, but stepped forward to a square halt. Then our turns at C and B and walk/trot transition at X was an 8.5. Yup. Comment “obedient”. So he is; I wish I was as obedient to the call of my Master as that good-hearted horse is to the touch of my hand. The serpentine was a 7, comment “needs to show more change of bend in body; accurate”. We had a 6 for the stretchy trot, a better mark than before; he maintained his rhythm and did actually offer a tiny stretch for the first time ever in the show ring, so I was happy. His stretchy trot is getting good at home – it’s just a matter of time before he relaxes in the ring.
We were back to a 7.5 for the free walk and a 7 for the first transition and canter circle. Our lengthening wasn’t terribly good, getting a 6 with comment “could be more balanced”. He was on his forehand and stayed there for the transition at A. I panicked about the lengthening and kicked him, so he gave half a canter step and I took a few strides to sort myself out and get a bit of lengthening, so that was a 6: “could show more balance at A and more ground cover”.
The canter transition at C and circle at B was a 7, asking for more uphill and jump. And our last halt was an 8. The final mark was 72.5%. You could say I was quite happy with that.
The second test started with a 7 for the centreline (“straight; halt could be more balanced”) and for the rein change with half circle (“could show more bend through body”). I fluffed the second rein change with half circle for a 6 (“not quite to X, could show more bend through body”). By this point my brain was also getting kinda tired – I had vowed to focus this time without being nervous, and I did, but it was starting to take a little strain. Our lengthening once again started with a tranter step and got a 6.0, comment “needs to show more push from behind to cover more ground”. And then we had our free walk. And then we got our first 9.0.
Not even kidding. It was fantastic.
The canter transition at M that I had been dreading was an 8.0, “obedient”, and the 15m circle was a 7.5, “could be more uphill”. I got the geometry right this time, though. The KXM rein change with a trot at X and canter at M was a 7.0, again asking for more uphill, but it was better than our downwards from canter to trot have been. The next 15m circle was another 7.5, the canter lengthening another 6.0. By the half circle onto the centreline, I was cooked. I sort of pulled him around any old how and we fell in a heap for 6.5.
Still, it was 71.8%, with super collectives: 7.0 for paces, 7.5 for impulsion (on Mr. Lazybones nonetheless), 7.0 for submission, 8.0 for rider position and aids. I have no idea where he placed because two tired Hydes really wanted to go home, so I just asked for my tests and they were nice enough to give me a couple of placed ribbons (cheers, Equivest!). “What a super horse,” the judge wrote. “Well ridden.” I was so chuffed.
But the story doesn’t end there. Oh no! There were a few more miracles in store for us. As we were waiting for my test and lunch, the owner of a top Friesian stud in our area beckoned me over.
“Who teaches you?” he enquired.
“I jump with Coach K,” I said, “but I don’t really get dressage lessons.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I can see that.”
I was just about to feel hurt when he offered for me to come over and join his riders in a lesson with their Very Big Name Trainer. Around this time Very Big Name Trainer popped up (I almost wet myself) and announced that this was a good idea and I could even get a very good price “if you do your homework”. I vowed to do my homework, and the next thing I know, this morning Thunder and I found ourselves in the middle of the very fancy arena at very fancy Friesian place with Very Big Name Trainer – OK, fine, I’ll call him Coach J – yelling at us.
I originally wanted to cry because I thought we’d never get good lessons ever again except once a year with Coach S when she fits his saddle, and here all of a sudden we were getting lessons from Coach J and cheaply and I was a little overwhelmed by what God is doing for us. But within the first two minutes I was way too busy to feel anything very much.
Despite seeing mirrors for the first time in his life, Thunny was perfect. We dragged Jamaica along to babysit but Jamaica chilled in the fancy stable and Thunder didn’t miss him at all – he didn’t even whinny once. And Coach J totally failed to hate my fabulous purple bandages. He did, however, roundly kick our behinds.
We didn’t actually do anything that hard, except that we had to do everything perfectly so it was all ridiculously hard. Once Thunny had walked around to have a look at everything and been asked to go long and low and a bit deep to stretch his back, we did a tiny little serpentine down the long side. And then we did a square with turns on the forehand that almost killed us, and then we trotted a 15m circle. That was it. My brain is overflowing with new stuff, and also I am very uncoordinated.
Inside leg to outside rein.
When Thunder wants to be looky, put him in shoulder-fore, flexing him away from the scary thing. This worked well for him because he isn’t really that scared, and being given a job and asked to soften helps him relax.
Inside leg to outside rein.
Tiny, tiny turns to help him bend through the body more (seeing a recurring theme yet?). They don’t have to be perfectly balanced, but 5m or smaller circles/serpentines in walk to help him release his back.
Inside leg to outside rein.
On small turns, inside hand to my belly button, not to my knee, to lift his shoulder.
Inside leg to outside rein.
Absolutely no seesawing on the bit; only solid contact, or small sponges within the contact. I say this to my kids about four thousand times every afternoon. I can’t believe I actually still do it myself. Urgh.
INSIDE LEG TO OUTSIDE REIN.
At this point Coach J had had enough of yelling at me about my inside rein and started the turn on the forehand exercise. We walked a little square, with a quarter turn on the forehand at each end. The catch? No inside rein. NONE. He wanted it hanging, to show me that I don’t need to pull it the whole time. It was at this point that my brain started to fry. It’s so automatic to hang on that inside rein – poor Coach J shouted about it like a million times. Eventually we were doing shoulder-in to turn on the forehand to shoulder-in to turn on the forehand with the inside rein dangling completely loose. Well, most of the time. Except when I was panicking and Coach J had to start all over again.
We moved on then to trotting a 15m circle, spiralling it in and out now and then, with no inside rein – but with bend and connection. It was so hard, but it so worked. Thunder was super willing – as soon as he understood, he obeyed. My inside hand, less so. It’s amazing how one’s own body parts can be less obedient than the half-ton prey animal that is my dance partner.
With that, we were done, and given loads of homework, and sent off ridiculously excited. Thunder has done so well all by himself, with only one lesson ever. Imagine what he can do with the help we have now. We might even do the bigger levels someday; Coach J seemed to think we could do more than EM. I would love so much to even do EM!
Thanks to our beloved King, Whose mighty plan prevails. I am so excited to see where my God is going with this. No detail is too small for Him. I have long since stopped dreaming: I have found that He dreams much, much bigger than I ever could.
Hebrews 11Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.2 Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.
3 By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
4 It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
5 It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.”[a] For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God.6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
7 It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.
8 It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.9 And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise.10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[b] that God would keep his promise.12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.
13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own.15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back.16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac,18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”[c]19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.
20 It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau.
21 It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.
22 It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left.
23 It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king’s command.
24 It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.25 He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin.26 He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.27 It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.28 It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.
29 It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.
30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons.37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
And by faith, this most undeserving of all His children would find herself most abundantly blessed.
I love my little mustard seed. ❤ Glory to the King.