It took nearly three years to the day for Magic to get me to his first graded show (Magic did most of the getting, poor soul), but we did it. This is the journey so far, and I have a feeling it’s just the preface to what’s to come. God willing.
We have been brought this far on the love of God and on the back of a great horse. ❤
“Stop that,” the Mutterer opined, “and get back on the freaking horse.”
It was a year after I had started leasing Magic and we were having a tough lesson. The combination we were jumping was just big enough to make me nervous; I kept trying to make him jump the way I wanted, and he kept trying to please me and having to overjump his way out of trouble as a result. “Give him his head,” the Mutterer was bellowing. “Let him do his job.” Try as I might, I was just as green as the horse; even when my head said one thing my hands were still hauling back on his sensitive mouth, locked on the end of arms as tense as a high wire.
The horse was brilliant and beyond. But I couldn’t ride him the way he needed to be ridden. I wasn’t good enough for him.
“If you say that again,” said the Mutterer calmly, “I will kick your little butt to the other end of the arena.”
Facing this petrifying threat, I reluctantly hauled myself back onto the horse and we trotted back into that combination to fluff it again. And again. And again.
I can’t ride him right. He deserves better.
Magic felt my negative tension getting worse with every stride, and escalated accordingly. He approached the tiny 60cm oxer with his neck getting higher and longer every time his hooves hammered the floor. Once he got there, I hauled back, desperately wanting the deeper spot. Magic knew he would bring us both to the ground if he took the deeper spot so he jumped anyway, like a gazelle, popping me up out of the tack. I landed on his neck. He bolted, terrified. For the sixth time that day.
I’m going to ruin this horse. I don’t deserve him.
“Lord Jesus, I don’t deserve him, but please, I don’t want to lose him.”
It was the fifth day straight of seeing the terrifying agony in the horse’s eyes. He swayed in the horsebox, head hanging low, sweat drenching the coat that was now pulled tight over his bony frame. I pressed my forehead against his brow; he was burning up. “Come on, buddy. Keep fighting.” He rolled a great brown eye to me and it was filled with fire. He wasn’t going to quit. And I, swaying with him, filled with his agony, sleep deprived beyond expression and sick with tension, wasn’t going to quit either.
“I know I don’t deserve him, but I love him. Lord, save him, if it’s Your will.”
“You got this, buddy.”
He cantered through the start with four feet coming down like a waltz, with giant muscles lifting and dancing underneath me. First fence; he had a little look, but I gave my hands forward and he took it in that easy leap that only he has. The course rolled by underneath him until we reached the bending line to the one-stride combination. He saw the long spot; so did I, but I was sure we wouldn’t make the stride if we took it; I reacted before I could think and pulled. It was a mistake. He launched himself into the air, landing so hard we both grunted with the impact, and the next element was right under his nose. I scrambled, grabbed mane, managed only to make a feeble little clicking noise and he bailed us both out. We thundered off, disunited and in a complete mess, but the last fence was still waiting. I braced a fist against his neck, shoved myself back into the saddle and sat up. “The Lord is my Shepherd!” And we floated down to the last fence with his dizzying grace, cleared it without a second thought.
I fell on his neck, intentionally this time, and hugged him. The pure, sleek curve of muscle flexed in my arms, powerful as a breaking wave. “Thank you, buddy. I could never deserve you.” I sat up, rubbed gloved knuckles across the satiny coat; my horse’s whole frame lit up with pleasure, dancing forward. And it’s true: I don’t deserve him. But who could ever deserve half a ton of power and spirit, submitting itself to your foolish whim? Who could ever deserve a heart so mighty, yet so willing to beat in time with yours? I don’t deserve him, but nobody deserves horses.
So I’ll probably never take him to A-grade even though he could take those heights in his stride. So it’s unlikely he’ll ever be ridden to his fullest potential. Magic dances when I touch him, bails me out when I fail; Magic is the horse I didn’t quit on and he doesn’t care that I don’t ride him well enough.
I don’t deserve him, but if you know God, you know it’s not about deserving.
Don’t worry – he’s fine at last. After a week’s nursing at home and then five days in hospital, my poor, dear friend is finally better and relieved of the pain, hunger and discomfort he had so patiently endured for nearly two weeks. Poor Magic had a massive impaction colic that stubbornly refused to shift up until we took him to the vet hospital in Midrand, where a horse specialist vet put a tube up his nose and pumped water into him until he sloshed and, eventually, produced a glorious mountain of manure. Now he is home and eating everything in sight – 12 days of starvation can do that to you – and being his usual goofy wonderful self.
But when he was standing in the vet hospital, his head against my chest, his neck hot and sweaty under my hand, his breath racing with the pain, I didn’t know why his colic was persisting and I didn’t know that he was going to get better. I knew my friend was hurting, and I knew colic can be deadly.
I was terrified that I was going to lose him.
But by God’s grace, by His sovereign plan, I didn’t. By His hope and strength alone I did whatever I could to fight for Magic (we all did) and my amazing horse never thought of quitting or of rebelling against all the painful and uncomfortable things we did to him, and now we are both home, a little battered, a little tired, and a little skinny, but just happy to be back to the lives we’re used to. When I go feed, I am still greeted by a sharp grey face with its perfect straight nose and its tiny pricked ears and the great dark eyes with their love and their fire, and my heart swells fit to burst with relief and love. I am blessed beyond all deserving.
The past two weeks still stands as a sobering and an invigorating reminder: that not a single one of us owns horses. They are not ours in any sense other than that someone is our friend, or our brother. Oh, we can pay money for them and control what we can about their lives; we can fill in forms with our name under “Owner” and brag about them as if we were the ones that made them. But all we really have on them is an extended home lease. Their Owner and Creator has blessed us magnificently with loaning them to us, but at any time He pleases, He will bring them all Forever Home.
The loss is ours, not theirs. The God that I know loves horses enough that He must have made a place for them when they leave us; He never told us where it is, or what, but that only means that it’s not our concern. That’s between God and horses. But the fact remains that we only have a lifetime (and how short the life of a horse can seem!) with them right here, right now, on this planet. And none of us know when that lifetime might end.
We all bicker about rollkur and helmets and bitless bridles. We all fight about racehorses and the bits allowed in Western. We pick on others for wearing the wrong coats, having the wrong horses, using the wrong tack and wearing the wrong size in breeches. But while we throw stones at each other, our horses are standing patiently in their paddocks waiting for us to come home. To put a little equestrian twist on Mother Theresa’s famous quote, if we really want to change the horse world, I suggest we all go home and love our horses.
Because when your horse is fighting for his life and he turns his big dark liquid eyes on you, none of that matters anymore. Not the mistakes other people have made or the mistakes you have made or the failures in your riding or the things you don’t have money for. All that matters is that horse and you realise that when you still have him you have everything a horseperson needs. You realise that all the time you spent on bemoaning your own inadequacy, on panicking about how you can afford that next show, on feeling hurt by those who wish to see a newcomer crushed, that time was all time you could have spent loving him. Time you wasted.
Turn the other cheek. Forget the politics. Leave the barn drama queens to their drama. Go love your horse, because he needs you, because you need him. No matter how your riding is going, no matter how bad you feel about how you ride, no matter how mad you are because he won’t perform the way you want, no matter how frustrated you are with the training challenge you just can’t figure out, don’t let any of it get in the way of loving your horse.
His heart is enormous, the most precious thing in the equestrian world, far surpassing the value of even the highest level of excellence. And it is yours. Don’t abuse it.
The first step for us equestrians to begin to truly and deeply love others, is to truly and deeply love our horses. Because just as with horses, we don’t have much time to love those around us.
Love your horse. Love your people. You don’t know how much longer you’ll be able to.
As for me, I know I love Magic as best as I have ever loved a horse or a human. But there are others, horses and humans both, and I might not get the second chance with them that I got with him. So now I need to get off my computer – and go love my horses.
The dentist calls him Princess. My instructor calls him the big baby. The chiro calls him a wuss. My sister goes so far as to call him gay.
They all have a point, except for my sister. He is kind of a delicate flower. Okay, so he’s a wimp when it comes to many things, like rain falling on his ears, or ribbons on his bridle, or having his teeth done or having freshly trimmed hooves.
Yeah, Magic is oversensitive. He spooks at things that just don’t exist, and then spooks at them again, just to be sure. He has broken more halters and leads than I care to remember. He almost always manages to scrape himself up in the horsebox and needs to travel with earmuffs and a gigantic poll guard and all the windows shut because he hates the noise of the traffic. He injures himself on a freakishly regular basis and then has a huge drama queening session about it. If it can happen, it happens to Magic. He loses weight if the wind blows the wrong way. One day I found him staring in consternation at his full feed bin; a tiny Jack Russel had his head in it and was merrily gorging himself on Magic’s food, and Magic, easily a hundred times the dog’s size, seemed utterly baffled as to what to do about this. Another day he knocked a cross-rail down and was so lame I was certain he’d fractured something, but really it had just stung him a little.
Yeah, so he’s a social retard. He has a way of terrifying new horses by galloping up to them in exuberant friendliness and then snorting at them very loudly to beg them to be friends. He bites them playfully to invite them to a game, but when they nip him back he squeals like a filly and runs to hide behind Skye (well over a hand shorter and almost twenty years older than him). He is both utterly terrified and irresistibly attracted to new horses, has no idea of how to make friends with them, and has even less idea of what a pecking order even is, much less where he should be in one. At nearly eight years old, he behaves like a weanling that hasn’t figured out how to horse yet.
Sure, so he’s a goofball. When it rains, he runs like a maniac because he’s convinced he’s melting. He gallops recklessly on the slick grass and then he falls, and while he falls he flails around madly with his long legs and whinnies shrilly. Then he gets back up and runs and bucks and farts and more often than not, falls again. He jumps up on his back legs and pirouettes in the air because he’s too silly and spirited to know that gravity is a thing. He will keep doing this until Skye bullies him into the shelter or he notices that he’s hurt himself… again.
But he is also courageous in a way that thick-skinned people cannot understand. He’s also generous, gentle, smart and loyal.
My horse is a ninny. But he’s also amazing.
Magic was created, right from his over-at-the-knees legs to the majestic jump that slaps gravity in the face. Every detail of him, from the tail that won’t grow to the face that radiates kindness, was handmade with love. He was fearfully and wonderfully made just the way he is. Sure, life and people have scarred him, and he’s still got a lot to learn. But they all do.
We all do.
Over time Magic will learn not to spook at flowerpots or at nonexistent monsters; he’ll learn not to panic in the horsebox and he’ll learn to tie up. And if I am to stay friends with my dentist, he’ll stand still to have his teeth done. But if Magic ever learns not to be goofy or melodramatic or sensitive or a little silly, then I’ll know my training has gone wrong somewhere. Because my ultimate goal, the greatest thing I want to do for Magic, is not to compete at A-grade or make a name as a great event horse. I want to help Magic become more Magic. I want to amplify him. I want him to be more himself than ever before. And yes, that means allowing him to be kind of a loon in the paddock even as it means allowing him to be brave. It means allowing him to be daft even as it means allowing him to explore the full extent of his honesty. Because no matter how silly Magic is, he is never malicious. He’s never pushy, or irritable, or selfish or lazy. He’s never tried to hurt anyone and he’s never disobedient. Magic always tries. Some days he doesn’t have much left to give, because the sheer effort of surviving the world has drained him. But whatever he has, he gives it all, every day. And as long as he is trying, and as long as it’s going in the right direction, I want him to express the wonderful thing that is himself.
Forget magic. My horse is a miracle.
You may call me sentimental, but I know this, and I know that he knows I accept him. He can’t tell what I’m thinking or reason his way to conclusions but like all horses he reads every feeling in the lines of my body and the movement of my muscles on his back. He knows I’m okay with him, and he begins to be okay with himself. Because right underneath, at the deep emotions, horses and humans are more similar than we sometimes think.
Magic is my mirror. And helping him become everything he can become is my key to making myself into the person that I can be.
He’s not resilient Arwen, steady Vastrap, or fearless Skye. He’s Magic.
Due to life being insane, weekends being booked, and me catching flu the day before a planned outing, I haven’t been anywhere with horses since the dressage training show in mid-June. I really wanted to get back into the show ring before a showing show with the Nooitgedachters in two weeks’ time and then graded eventing in early September, so I pounced on the first open weekend and enthusiastically entered a jumping training show. With three horses. So what if I’m only just used to riding two horses at a show? I had to try sometime, and I figured that if things got too hectic and our emotional states started deteriorating, I’d just scratch. It was only a training show.
Hence for the first time I actually had more than two horses in our box, so I didn’t look like a total idiot turning up in a giant aluminium four-berth with one small pony in it. Loading was quite interesting; we had more than an hour’s drive and I was in the first class, so by 6am we were shoving reluctant equines into the box in the dark. Arwen was a horrible influence on Magic; she had to be bodily pushed up the ramp before she agreed to go in, so Magic decided he’d try that too. Luckily Magic does not sit down on people and ignore them the way Arwen does, so he was a bit quicker to get in. We were ten minutes late and Dad was already frustrated and tired when we turned to Vastrap, but that dear little horse plugged up the ramp and then rolled his eyes at the babies (Arwen digging a hole in the floor, Magic neighing frantically) and pulled at his haynet. Thank goodness for sweet little white Nooities.
They travelled more or less all right; Arwen removed her halter about ten minutes in (don’t ask me how), and Magic did his usual head-flipping thing all the way to the show, breaking his lead rein and scraping his nose and foreleg in the process. Considering he’s Magic, I won’t complain. At least he didn’t rear or hang a leg over the partition or any of the other awful things that seem to happen to Magic. (Vastrap, of course, stood quietly and ate hay).
We arrived at 7:40, so I thought I would at least have a little breathing space to get to my first class, but as soon as I got out I heard the announcer: “This is the bell to open the 40cm course for walking.” Cue absolute pandemonium. I bellowed at my sister Rainy to go and find Magic’s calmer, e. g. an unlucky friend who happens to be amazing at keeping Magic happy at shows and had hence been roped in to babysit him while I was riding the Nooities. Unfortunately, this left Dad and I alone with a box full of hyper horses, and obviously Vastrap was right in the back and so had to be unloaded last. (I think Magic and Arwen would have self destructed left to their own devices anyway).
By some miracle, Magic’s bestie arrived, Arwen’s lead was flung at Rain, Vastrap was dragged out and had his stuff strapped on, and we were only slightly late to the class. Thankfully, the show organisers were extraordinarily patient, tolerant and understanding of this crazy person that had entered three horses in three classes each of the first five classes. (I had one in 40cm, two in 50cm, three in 60cm, two in 70cm and one in 80cm; I’m sure they must have had nightmares afterwards). Poor Vastrap was totally ungroomed and had hardly gotten off the box when I was on him and walking to the warmup. Once again, thank goodness for sweet little white (sort of; he was a bit yellow and had hay in his hair) Nooities. The poor animal had about 10 minutes’ warmup before I booted him into the arena and learned the following three things:
It is possible to jump a nice clear round without having had any idea of where any of the jumps are when you rode in.
Fourways builds awesome courses.
I didn’t even get the chance to see the course ridden, let alone walk it, but I found my way just fine and dear old Trappies didn’t think twice about anything. He just said, “Yes, ma’am” and jumped everything I pointed him at unquestioningly.
And this continued to be Vastrap’s mentality throughout the show. He didn’t spook at a thing, he contentedly stood and ate hay between classes, he happily put up with being yanked into the arena with half a warmup when I was running out of time between other horses, and he jumped three clear rounds without turning a hair. That pony is worth his weight in solid gold. I kind of feel guilty that I’m not 12 years old and nervous, because then I’d deserve him better. But still, he is amazing and I love him to bits. I am going to have to find a way to bribe Mom to half lease him to me, because I need a schoolie like that.
Vastrap’s only mistakes happened as we were warming up for the 60cm jump-off. He was getting a little up and excited, nothing naughty, but he ran at an oxer and threw in one of his rare dirty little stops. Those dirty stops are my fault since the time I catapulted up his neck and ate his face (and then the fence at me) rattled him quite badly, and he stopped twice more before I finally came to my senses and left his face alone and he jumped fine. We were already late so then we ran into the jump off and went enthusiastically clear. He’s an absolute jewel. We just need to work on his habit of running at the fences like that – longer strides, buddy, not just faster legs. (And stay out of his face).
Magic was in 50cm, 60cm, and 70cm, and there were only four horses in the 50cm class. Since two of them were mine, this was a bit chaotic and I had horrible visions of me riding a brain-evaporated Magic into the class. Magic normally leads at least 45 minutes of slow work at a show in order to scrape his brain off the floor and put it back into his head. Well, we had about 20. My stomach was doing slow little somersaults when I got on, but wonder of wonders, I got onto a grownup horse that knew what he was supposed to do.
It was a subtle but important difference from the Magic I climbed onto at our end May show. Magic never, ever sets out to hurt someone, and at the shows he’s done, he’s been confused and terrified and ready to blow up but never malicious. This show, he was worried, a bit stressy, and a bit spooky… but he knew what he was supposed to do. When I asked him for a trot he didn’t go AAARGHREGOHUEHOHOWEHROEWHTOR, he said, “Mom, I’m terrified! But okay, this means trot” and did as he was told. I only had three or four laps of trot before I sat and asked for canter and he flowed straight into his gorgeous easy canter with his head down and his brain on. When I turned him to the itty bitty little cross, he didn’t do his usual trick of tiptoeing towards it and then overjumping majestically. I had him in a trot, but with a soft allowing hand, so he popped in a little canter stride as he got there and then hopped over. A little extravagantly, but nothing like his old wild springbuck leaping.
My horse knew what he was doing. He was scared, but he was okay. And so was I. Sometimes I swear we hold up mirrors to each other, because we had exactly the same frame of mind: We were both worried, we were both a little frightened, and we were both spookier than was necessary, but we knew that we knew what we were doing. So we did it, worried and all. And my beautiful courageous grey gelding jumped every single fence he saw without ever offering a stop. Everything else was terrifying, obviously, necessitating huge spooks at other horses, flowerpots, photographers, the gate (the gate was evil), dogs, and his own rosette, but he didn’t spook at a single jump. The first jump on the 50 and 60cm courses had a white latticey gate under it, and a couple of the oxers had planks in them or wings, but he didn’t care. He just jumped, because he knew that that was what he had to do. Magic is starting to find solace in his work, and to make jumping his comfort zone, just like Arwen did at the start.
I was so happy with him. Apart from one lazy pole in the warmup arena, he jumped everything cleanly. Sure, we took a few dodgy distances, awkward leaps and overjumps (though not as bad as at his last show), but I’ll take it for a young horse ridden by a total newb to thoroughbreds. Best of all, he stayed relaxed, for Magic. I don’t think Magic will ever have the dragonslaying attitude of Arwen or the workaday approach of Vastrap. Life is just too scary for him to be that bombproof and quiet, but for a horse that spooks so easily, he is very brave. I don’t mind. Magic is Magic and that’s just fine by me.
Still, his 70cm class was markedly calmer than last time. Mostly, of course, because I actually gave him a release over the jumps (our partnership has improved alongside his confidence), but also because he’s just got more miles under his girth now. He did overjump a few fences if I got him to a poor distance – including doing a rather interesting midair manoevre over the second element of a combination; somehow Magic is able to climb stairs in thin air – but he was sane and ready to go to work.
The only real meltdown he had was about having a ribbon attached to his head and then having to trot around the arena with it on. We jumped a whole invisible course, then performed a Grand Prix dressage test worthy of Valegro, finishing off with a handful of airs above the ground that Podhajsky would have been proud of. But this is the good part – it was funny. Sure, I was quite glad when his ribbon flew off and I had an excuse to get both feet on solid earth again, but my spine wasn’t melting and I wasn’t shaking when I had to get back on him. Just as Magic felt like a frightened horse that nevertheless had plenty of talent and knew his job, instead of a confused and terrified greenie, I felt like a young rider with a lot of horse under her that was riding him tolerably well and learning how to ride him better. Not like an overhorsed, petrified beginner.
The other majorly spooky object was an odd little thatch thing standing by the gate, which I assume was a wing or something, but Magic said it was terrifying and tiptoed past it. Arwen, upon entering the arena for the first time, took advantage of my loose rein and reassuring hand and took a gigantic bite out of it. Mortified, I just sat there as she walked off thanking the organisers for considerately supplying a pre-class snack.
That was basically Arwen’s attitude for the whole show. I was already flustered and tired when I got on her for the 60cm, but I couldn’t help grinning when I asked her to walk on. When Arwen walks into the warmup she owns it. She was yelling, “Let’s do this thing!” and I was with her.
She aimed a few merry kicks at some thoroughbreds (luckily letting none of them fly), almost crushed somebody’s luckless trainer (to my great embarrassment) and jumped everything unquestioningly. We blasted into and through our 60cm class, both of us having an absolute ball. On the photos later I would realise that Arwen was jumping with quite… interesting technique (in one picture she’s taking off for an oxer with both hind feet on the ground, but both forelegs flung out straight… I don’t even know). Luckily, this is showjumping. Nobody cares. We won. Arwen beamed at the pony that came second and luckily refrained from bucking in the victory gallop.
The 70cm class was a one-round speed competition on quite an open course, so obviously my fat pony came second and my thoroughbred was nearly dead last. Arwen once again had the course for dinner and was beaten only by an experienced thoroughbred with a good rider. She felt like kicking him in the lineup but I applied a diplomatic spur to her guts and she thought better of it. Victory laps on Arwen are awesome, especially when the winner let her horse blast off at a mildly inconsiderate speed; while the crowd held their breath in anticipation of Arwen’s bucking fit, she genteelly obeyed her French link snaffle and lined out in her rhythmic cross-country gallop all around the arena, flaunting her blue ribbon and informing the crowd that in America it would have meant she had won. And as we reached the gate, I brought her down to walk and threw my reins down and she stretched to the floor. No, you can’t have her, sorry.
80cm was no longer a game: I really wanted to jump clear in this class, and Arwen was on her A-game, so I was ready to ask her for it and ride my best. It was a fairly demanding course, with a couple of related distances and a two-stride combination (Arwen’s nemesis; in a 6-stride line she has space to add for seven strides, but a two-stride is just too short for three and just too long for two), as well as at least two max height oxers, but she was as brave as the day. I concentrated hard on using my inside leg to flex her around the turns so that she came to the jumps straight and balanced, and the team effort paid off; we went clear.
Unfortunately, by the jump-off, my energy and concentration were leaving me and I was giddy on our previous success. I forgot that my inside leg even existed and poor Arwen was asked to jump the oxer at number seven from the most preposterous angle. She tried anyway and took the rail, but when I got her to a similar angle with even worse balance at number eight – an oxer and the first element of the double – she said, “Uh, human, hello??” and stopped. She really can’t be blamed for this, but accepted her bad luck at having me for a rider with good cheer; we circled around, I rode a better line, and she jumped it without a second glance. Then we accidentally jumped two extra fences because I forgot the course, but the organisers graciously let this slide.
We were an exhausted but happy bunch that trooped back up to the horsebox. Magic had, at one stage, pulled free of his bestie; but to everyone’s relief (and my pride) he ran two steps and then stood in the road looking confused while helpful bystanders tiptoed towards him. Magic’s bestie is a lifesaver. I can hardly express what a relief it is to take my poor, delicate, sensitive creature from someone and find him in an even better frame of mind than he was when I gave them to him.
My legs didn’t want to leg anymore, but luckily the horses all loaded and travelled well, so the day ended much better than it had began. It was a great day filled with amazing horses, awesome people, and of course the reason for all we do and the strength behind all we ever achieve – our beloved, magnificent, merciful Creator God. Glory to the King.
This is the first thing that jumps out of people’s mouths when they are introduced to Exavior, usually shortly before, “What possessed you to buy him?”
And yes, people, he is going to be big. By my standards, the dude is already pretty freaking big. I just measured him over the weekend and discovered that my rising two-year-old stands half an inch shy of 15.2 hands. I always used to console myself with, “Well, he’ll be tall, but he’ll be a lanky thing,” until I compared the width of Exavior’s legs and chest with that of a three-year-old warmblood who is already about 16.1. Exavior looks like a carthorse next to him. He’s going to be kind of a tank, and I’m never going to be anything other than a toothpick. A short toothpick. We’ll make quite the pair.
He’s starting to look rather more regal and rather more like he might turn out to be a horse someday rather than the funny little hybrid llama-donkey thing that all yearlings look like. Well, apart from his hair, obviously. He’s a bit of a yak right now.
Most amazing of all, praise the Lord, his “ruined” leg is not just sound – it’s growing sounder. His near hind fetlock was twice the size of the off hind; it wasn’t hot or painful, but it was massively thick. Now, as you can see, there’s hardly a noticeable difference between the two joints. His pasterns have also straightened out some, and he doesn’t stand cowhocked so much anymore. He still has a bad habit of standing straight with one leg and completely crooked with the other while he’s resting, but he still moves straight, which is the main thing.
Oh, Lord, I can’t wait to see what You have planned for Your miracle horse and me. He shouldn’t be sound but he is. He shouldn’t be with me but he is. He shouldn’t be thriving but he is. He shouldn’t be alive but he is. We shouldn’t be bonding but we are. Bring all the more glory to Your amazing Name through us, Sir. Amen!
Do you currently have your “heart horse”? What makes a “heart horse” to you? If you don’t own a horse, have you ever leased a “heart horse”?
I encounter so many horses, with up to 20-25 different ones to ride in a week, that I’ve learned two things: 1) All horses are amazing, 2) regardless, certain horses just click with certain people, irrespective of whether they are actually that person’s favourite colour/breed/age/level of training.
So for me a heart horse is literally that horse that makes your heart turn a cartwheel and stop in its tracks, that makes it beat slower and faster at the same time. For those of us who are a little besotted (i. e. me), a heart horse makes you hot and cold all over and yet when you’re in the saddle you feel like nothing is too hard for God and you and that horse. It’s a lot like falling in love with exactly the right person (I imagine, anyway), only without having to make coffee and remember birthdays and run the risk of them suddenly not being who you thought they were. Horses don’t lie.
To me a heart horse is simply, at its core, utterly compatible with me, no matter how wrong the size or level of training. For me obviously they’ll all share similar characteristics because I like certain things in a horse. They’ll all be generous, with a good eye, a good walk, tremendous loyalty, and a big heart.All of my own horses are heart horses for me, and I was just ridiculously blessed because I only ever picked out one of them. The rest just sort of fell in my lap, as perfect as they are. But you’ve all heard so much about them that today I’m going to describe three horses that are absolutely heart horses, which I don’t own and never will, but I’m quite happy to run the risk of heartbreak rather than keep these bright spirits at arm’s length.Double Reef was probably the first OTTB I ever rode and, unlikely as it seemed at the time, I loved him. He was 16.3 hands of dark bay moodiness who didn’t think twice about aiming me a kick or a bite, but once I was on him he carried me as proudly and as carefully as if I was made of fine china. Once a top racehorse, Reef was sold on after racing to an owner that severely neglected him. When I met him he was the most pathetic, skeletal sight I’d ever seen, and his perfect legs, enormous eye, and chiselled features only made it worse; he was the stern sad ruins of a castle, not a tumbledown shack. With care, the Mutterer nursed him back to his fiery dark finery and he went on to teach countless kids how to ride. He taught me leg-yields and everything I needed to know about thoroughbreds and ridiculously long takeoff distances. He never shed his characteristic grumpiness, but we used to trust him with our four-year-old Down’s syndrome student because Reefer would have broken his own legs rather than allow any harm to come to that little boy.Double Reef was grumpy enough but in his heart he loved his job and, above all, he loved to run. It was easy to see why he campaigned successfully until the age of seven. There was nothing he relished more than snapping out his endless legs to their full length and eating up the ground in gigantic strides that left me breathless and clinging to his torrent of dark mane. He had an enormous heart.Reef is now semi-retired and I haven’t ridden or even laid a hand on him for years, but he’s one of those horses I’ll never forget.Not long after Reef left my life, I met Reed, who was his carbon opposite on the outside but within he was very similar. Reed was a 14.1 pony stallion and may have been nothing to write home about if it wasn’t for his amazing temperament and his dazzling colour. He was the most golden palomino I’ve ever seen, dappling gloriously in summer, with an attractive little head. And I’m not a pinto fan, but his white patches just made him prettier. He was almost excessively polite and friendly and didn’t have a grumpy hair on his head. But he too was gentle, willing, and loved his work. He had a surprisingly long stride and stylish bascule for his size and conformation, and I trusted him with everything in me. Beginners could ride him, and frequently did. In the time when he was in regular training, he would have done anything for me. He even cleared 1.20m with me once, which he really shouldn’t have been capable of. If I’d had more time I could have helped him become an awesome child’s event pony.Reed was the first client horse to break my heart and I don’t think he’ll ever be the last. After a super summer of steady training, the influx of young horses his owner needed backing pushed him off my schedule a little and a few months ago he was eventually sold on to the other end of the country. He’s gone to a high-profile home, but I’ll always miss him.Surprisingly enough, for all my fear of stallions, my third client heart horse is also a stallion. We call him the Storm Horse: a magnificent grey tempest of a horse, a Nooitgedachter stallion of the highest standard, standing nearly as tall as the top of my head and appearing four times bigger from his sheer overwhelming presence. When he walks in, you know about it. He has a commanding presence, a regal power about him that you can’t help but notice. And he wasn’t piece of cake to train: smart and tenacious as he is, as a colt he used all of his intelligence and resilience to resist everything the Mutterer wanted him to do. It took quite some time for him to decide to use his powers for good, but once he did and the stud could show him he raked in National Champion Nooitgedachter stallion in-hand and under saddle without apparent effort.
But somehow (and how the Mutterer predicted it, nobody knows) the big stallion just decided to give me his gentler side. He has a reputation for being dangerous, but he’s never attempted to hurt me. He moves around me with a half-awkward carefulness, akin to the way a big man holds a baby, and has never put a foot wrong with me on his back. That gentleness, the obvious joy he takes in his own power, and his faultless fidelity must be what attracts me so much to him, but one thing is obvious: the Storm Horse chose me for his human, and it doesn’t look like he’s going back on that choice.Thanks be to God, and glory to the King.
Let’s be realistic. What’s the plan with your pony? Is it a five-year investment with a return, is it until you move upbeyond the Kin’s abilities, or is it forever?
I like to think I am not stupid about my horses. I like to think that I am a practical professional and that I view horses not as kids or dogs or machines but as horses, nothing more, nothing less. I do know that I don’t view selling your horse as a cardinal sin and that in many situations selling horses is a viable and non-abusive business. I like to think that I have a good working relationship with my horses with a minimum of coochy-coo and that I keep in mind that they are huge flight animals, not kittens.
That said, I’m pretty stupid about my horses.
Obviously, I take the very best care I can of all the horses on the place, no matter who owns them, but my own horses just have a whole other emotional dimension. With clients’ horses, I make good, logical decisions for the horse’s benefit and do my level best to make it happy. With my horses, I become a total sap. If a client horse hurts itself I inject it happily with NSAIDs. If my horse hurts itself I have to grit my teeth and force myself to inject the poor thing and even then I feel the needle go in just as if it was my neck that was getting stabbed. Perhaps it’s because I have to deal with so many horses whose fates and, sometimes, care I have absolutely no control over, but I am very sentimental and deeply attached to my own creatures. Client horses come and go – they get sold, they get taken off my list, they get taken home, whatever. Of course I love them, but I prevent myself from getting attached because I know it is highly likely that I will lose them.
All this to say that despite seeing client horses leave without emotional scarring, I am deeply and extraordinarily attached to all of my horses and likely to cry my eyeballs out if I ever found myself in a situation so dire that I had to sell one of them.
Arwen would make logical sense to sell because I have Magic to compete on and she would be quite valuable now, but that’s just never going to happen. She’s my partner and the one who’s got my back no matter the escapade; I think she may have my trust more fully than any other horse in the world, barring Skye. I’ll compete her up to EV80 or EV90 and once we’re bored of that maybe a little higher-level dressage, and in between some showing. When/if I’ve competed her at the highest level we can go and I have a riding school, I’ll probably let her pack my better students around some shows. Eventually, I want to breed her again; purebred Nooitgedachters (because she is so typey) and perhaps find a nice sharkfin-withered thoroughbred stallion to breed another trustworthy little event horse for myself. Whatever happens, Arwie is home to stay.
I was actually supposed to sell Exavior. I thought I could make some money out of him if he grew up sound, given his breeding and looks. And then I couldn’t stop thinking of him as mine and… yeah. I actually do have a valid reason to keep him, though. He’s big. Not that I actually need a big horse to cart my 100lb frame around, but I have confidence problems with big horses, which is not helped by the fact that the big horses I deal with are mostly stallions with aggression issues. If I could have a big horse that I raised myself, a gentle-hearted gelding that I had control over and could train at my own pace, it would do absolute wonders for my confidence. So Exavior is going to be my next youngster to bring on. I might still sell him if he proves to be too big for me to handle, which with the Mutterer on my side is unlikely, but we shall see. What discipline we shall compete in, nobody knows; he’s bred to jump but moves well enough for dressage. We’ll see what he likes and go with that.
Magic is not going anywhere. His shenanigans did make me wonder a few times whether I wanted to keep him or not, but I’ve always really known the answer; he’s my dream horse and he is mine forever. The current plan is for us to go up the grades in showjumping, since he most certainly has the scope to go quite far. I do dream of eventing him someday but I think he might just not be an event horse. He’s not very resilient at this point in time. Either way, showjumping is what I bought him to do and currently his passion, so up the grades we go and see what happens. He will never be a schoolie because I would hate to see newbies bouncing around on dear sensitive Magic (Arwen doesn’t give a rat’s bottom), so him and I shall compete until he is old and creaky, God willing.
Thunder well, who would ever sell a Thunder if they had one? Even if I was in the most dire straits I would never be able to put a price on him. I would give him to the Mutterer because they deserve each other. But Lord willing, I will never have to be parted from Baby Thun, and he can be my pleasure pony for his entire life. He’s to be my personal pleasure horse and do whatever we feel like doing, be it outrides or competing. When he is older he’ll also be a lovely school horse, so I’ll probably use him now and then for the more panicky sort of beginners that need a gentle, loving horse to hold their hand for a while.
Skye will also never go anywhere, ever. She has had an adventurous life already, and her home with me is where she will have all the adventures – I pray God there will be many – that remain. She’s being a happy, semi-retired hack right now, but should her old legs not be able to carry on hacking, she’ll be a weanling mommy and the companion that keeps Magic’s daft head out of the clouds. She reminds him to do things like drink water and go under the shelter when it rains.
There will, of course, be other horses that come and go at some point. I’m buying a broodmare, who I love but who will also be going once her foals have raised me enough money to buy a better one. I would also like to start training and selling ponies at some point. But these horses are mine and if the Lord wills it they will be mine until their last breaths. Of course, His plan prevails above all. But right now, that’s the way it seems to be going.
Because God gives us a spirit not of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind. Because perfect love casteth out fear. Because fear not, neither be afraid, for I am with you, saith the Lord. Because of the still, small voice that whispers, “Be of good courage, dear one.”
I don’t want to be afraid.
Because I have something better than fear in me. Because I have no real reason to be scared. Because I have a higher calling, and fear is an obstacle in the pursuing of that calling.
I can’t afford to be afraid.
Because I am a child of God. Because to live a pure and holy life is to be fearless. Because fear is not of Him.
I am afraid.
Because when I was twelve years old I thought I was invincible and I tried to break in a stallion thinking it would be a walk in the park. I did it, too. I mean, he was rideable, eventually. But he scared seven kinds of snot out of me in the process. The physical pain was minor and healed in days; the mental scars linger many years later. He was the first horse that truly frightened me beyond the standard beginner nervousness and he drove me to tears more times than I can remember. And I failed him. I failed him, I failed his breeder, I failed his owner, I failed my trainer, I failed my God, I even failed the person I sold him to because I sold them a horse that I could have made better than I did. I could have, if my hands would just stop shaking so hard I could barely hold the reins.
Even years later, I’ve always been haunted by the memory of that black stallion. If I had him today, he would be doing dressage shows. He didn’t even do standard stallion misbehaviours – he just did standard young horse misbehaviours. If I had him today I could school him in eight weeks. Because today I am stronger, better balanced, more experienced; I would have pulled up his head and given him a whack and he would have cut it out.
At least, if I had no confidence issues, that’s what I would do. Currently, there are certain horses – always the ones that remind me of him – that turn my usual cool, calm professional self into a trembling beginner. I can’t handle them. It’s like I instantly forget what I know about horses.
I fight so hard.
I try every trick I know; I breathe deep through my diaphragm, I use a firm tone of voice, I force myself as much as I can not to use jerky movements, I wear a helmet even on the ground to make myself feel safer, I force myself through my comfort zone as hard as I can, every single time. Every. Single. Time. I push until I break down and freeze and in that moment those horses know they’ve got me, know that their leader does not have the confidence to lead them, know instinctively that they have to dominate me or die because in a horse’s mind that is how it works. Only the strongest ones lead. So they walk all over me, and learn nothing, and I fail.
Over and over again.
I am afraid.
And that’s okay.
Because God, Who is the only One that really counts, knows everything that goes on inside me in those times. He knows how hard I try. He knows the shame I feel. He hears the desperate prayers. He knows – and how true, how true it is – that the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And that is how my God saved the world; with weak flesh, and willing spirit. Sweating blood and weeping tears. Broken. Crying. Too afraid to be alone.
He knows what it feels like, even better than I do.
There will be no fire-and-lightning miracle. There will be no sudden change, no roaring spirit suddenly bursting loose inside me and banishing all fear forever. There will be no overnight makeovers of my soul. But day after day, millenium after millenium, into all eternity, there will be the God Who knows what fear is, Who has felt it, Who has irrevocably and utterly and triumphantly conquered it. For it was that same willing spirit with the weak flesh that went as a lamb to the slaughter and saved the world forever.
So I walk hand in hand with the King of Kings. One day at a time. No more pushing until I break. No more pride. No more peer pressure. Just the King and I, and His marvellous, deadly, heart-changing creature, the horse. One session at a time. One positive experience at a time. His arms around me, His encouragement, His eternal love. For He knows – He knows, He believes – that the spirit indeed is willing. And if the flesh be weak, let it be weak; for His strength is made perfect in my weakness.
If this is Gethsemane, then it is not long before the great conquering. There will be no giving up. Glory to the King.
Hallelujah for blog hop hosts. I had thought of several awesome ideas, mostly about the horses’ dentist visit on Monday, but it’s late, I’m tired, and everyone had kind of a bad day (suffice it to say, it stinks when anyone gets hurt at work, and it happens so quickly). However, no lasting harm has been done, so without further ado, my response to the wonderful Beka’s latest blog hop:
Let’s pretend that financial restrictions don’t exist and logistics isn’t a nightmare. If you could do anything with your Ponykins, what would you do?
Arwen. I’m at least the third person to say this, but drag hunting. Absolutely. I mean, what could be better than sprinting in a pack of speed-drunk horses, following a set of baying hounds, over solid obstacles? It’s not something I would easily do on any other horse, with the possible exception of everybody’s favourite pinto stallion, but on Arwen, it would be insanely fun. And she’d love it, too. And possibly kick everybody else, come to think of it, but it would still be a fantastic adventure. As a matter of fact, there is a Hunt led up in Kyalami, which is not very far; if we can find time and cash, it’s something we’re actually likely to try, preferably when Mom isn’t looking.
As an aside, I’d also love to breed her one day. If I could find myself a nice, tall, leggy stallion with high withers and a lot of pop, I think she could breed a pretty awesome little junior event horse. Or I’d go purist and put her to a Nooitgedachter stallion with a truly excellent head and good withers and breed a pure Nooitie show pony to die for.
Exavior. Since Mr. Spastic Giraffe is not yet showing the signs of being able to perform Valegro’s Grand Prix freestyle on the How To Train Your Dragon music someday (c’mon, a girl can dream), I’ll stick to my other favourite dream for him: teaching him to kneel down when I need to get on. He’s a hair under 14.3 now, but he’s going to be 16.3+, and I look like a dweeb trying to get on big horses (and have a passionate hatred of mounting blocks). Imagine pausing at the opening of the warmup ring, having him drop obediently to one knee, and mounting up. A vain little dream perhaps, but it does score on the coolness factor.
Magic. He’s a bit too old now, but I would have loved to put him in a free jumping competition for up-and-coming young sport horses. He has amazing technique – really, I’m not just being a proud horse mom, he jumps like a superstar – and absolutely loves it. I think he’d be able to relax, enjoy himself, show everyone what a stunning creature he really is, and probably kick some considerable butt while he was about it.
Skye. According to the dentist, Skye isn’t 16-18 years old, she’s 26. 26?! She didn’t get the memo. Anyway, seeing as long trail rides are kind of out for her in that case (she’s like 80 in horse years!), I would love for her retirement to be as a weanling mom. She would love it so much and be so happy bossing around and looking after the babies, and those young horses would grow up with a social security and authority that would impact their training for years and years to come. Every horse she’s been in a herd with has benefited from her strict but sympathetic leadership and it’s been reflected instantly in its interactions with humans.
Thunder. Two words: Cattle drive. He has the kind of personality that would love, and be lovable on, a week-long trip to herd cows. I mean, he’d get to be with people, cows, and horses all day – Thunder paradise. I would adore being in his saddle all day every day and sleeping out under the stars with my head pillowed on his saddle blanket and him grazing nearby. Of course, I doubt real cattle drives are quite as idyllic, but it’s an experience him and I would both absolutely love.