2018 Goals: Competing Horses

At the end of 2016, I faced losing the ride on the best horse I’d ever sat on. At the end of 2017, I face, for the first time in my life, regular and serious training on a horse who can go all the way, as well as starting another talented baby. And nobody but God can take either of them from me because it’s my name on the papers. It truly should not be possible, not for an anxious overachiever in the middle of nowhere on a shoestring budget, but God pays no attention to the possible.

When I have finally upgraded my membership (gotta pay Dressage SA first *gulp*), I will share what’s going on in my heart about the upcoming year of dressage, as well as my adventures riding Coach J’s super ultra fancy horses yesterday (squee!). But for today we’re going to be a bit intellectual and look at the things we want to work on this year in terms of the four babies I show myself.

Thunder

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The man himself went from strength to strength in 2017, starting off by coming second in his first classes ever with mid-60s scores. He never scored less than 63% through a year at Prelim, then debuted at Novice with scores in the low 70s. We finished by scoring 66s again at CHG Champs despite riding in a thunderstorm with me as sick as a dog.

So his goals for 2017 were:

  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. We have schooled everything. It’s not all polished yet, but he can go into an arena and do any Novice test without totally embarrassing himself, I’m sure. We have not polished all of it, but the movements are installed.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. He’s sometimes a little tense, but there has been no bolting. Yay!

With Coach J’s help, Thunny’s schooling is pretty much on track to continue scoring steadily at Novice at the very least. Our greatest bugbear is tension in the show ring. If he’s relaxed he unfailingly scores in the 70s. He has never been disobedient in the show arena, but he locks up through his back and neck, going from being connected and through (for the level) to simply being rhythmic and on the bit. This is just something that we’ll have to keep competing to resolve, and I’m willing to be patient with him. If it takes him five years to be consistent at competitions, then so be it. The horse is far too good for me to lose sleep over losing points at Novice because he saw a butterfly.

With this in mind, my focus is shifting to schooling correctly rather than winning competitions next year. Of course I would like to compete him at least once a month to work on resolving that issue and, obviously, earn grading points, but we probably won’t be doing CHG Series. We will probably end up going to bigger shows, though, for both of us to get our heads around the atmosphere. (Also because Coach J might be there).

I’ll be real honest, I kind of have no idea what goals I should be setting. In yesterday’s visit Coach J was talking about doing EM this year. I have my doubts, but the oracle knows best. Mostly I’ll keep chugging along doing my thing and watching to see what God does, because He seems bent on blowing my pathetic little expectations out of the water lately.

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Improve all of our downward transitions.
  • Improve our stretchy trot.
  • Improve both lengthenings.
  • Improve the halts, specifically staying connected in halt and immobility.
  • Improve rein back.

Third and fourth quarter:

Introduce all of the Elementary movements:

  • serpentine four loops
  • halt immobility 5 seconds
  • canter circle with break of contact
  • half stretchy trot circle
  • canter-walk transition
  • transition from walk to counter canter on the long side
  • shoulder-in
  • medium trot
  • extended walk
  • serpentine 3 loops with counter canter
  • medium canter
  • leg-yield zigzag
  • turn on the haunches
  • 10m canter circle
  • half circle in counter canter
  • simple change on a short diagonal
  • simple change on the long side
  • E-X half circle, X simple change, X-B half circle
  • collected trot

General:

  • Keep working on quiet little hacks.

 

Arwen

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Arwie had another year of doing everything from showjumping to working riding to a whole lot of dressage. She took me to my first ever Elementary and tried her guts out in every single test despite mediocre riding and simply poor schooling, even scraping up a few placings as we went. Most of all, she was the dragon who relit my fire when I needed it, which is what she does best. Someday, if God wills it, I’ll ride the big grades and nobody will remember her – but I will, because she made it possible.

 

  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Sooooooo close. We would totally have done this if it wasn’t for the issue with her feet that ruined the last few months of the show season. It was God’s will, so I don’t mind admitting that this goal didn’t happen. Still, we have nine points and we need ten. She’s still registered with DSA so I might just drag the beast to one more show, get the last pesky point and then be done.
  • Don’t mess up a show riding/show hack class. 
  • Jump a graded 80cm round.
  • Do some cross-country lessons and/or go drag hunting. So we didn’t do this either, although not for lack of trying. Still, it’s no biggie.

Arwen tried her heart out for me this year, but we’ve been stuck in a rut for months, making almost no progress on our Elementary work. It’s not surprise, considering that all of her basics are lacking. It got worse when Thunder started to play with some of the movements and they were all so easy on him, which caused frustration with myself every time I schooled Arwie, knowing I could have done better if I’d had her as a youngster now. So, apart from maybe popping out to get that last grading point, dressage is on the shelf for Arwen for now.

Instead, we’ll be making our first serious foray into the world of showing. We’ve done bits, but this year I’m signing up with Showing SA (which is ridiculously cheap compared to DSA) and we’ll be hitting some of the bigger ones. The expensive classes do mean that I won’t be competing her as often, but she’s not a baby, she doesn’t need it that much anymore. I really look forward to it.

2018 goals:

  • Take at least one showing lesson or clinic.
  • Get over my phobia of all showing judges. Show at least once with one of the horrible ones and learn to deal.
  • Improve her rein-back and lengthenings.
  • Get points to go out of Novice.

 

Faith

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Last year this time, it was just days after I’d met Faithy for the first time. On the second of January, she came home – completely unhandled and so fresh off the veld that she didn’t even know what concentrates were and politely declined to eat them.

The little unicorn spent most of the year chilling in a field. The basic ground work was effortless, although loading went a lot better once I discovered that treats can bribe Faith into doing practically anything. I brought her in for backing in November, but it’s been slow progress, mostly because I hit a nasty burnout and non-competing horses went onto the back burner.

  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. Boo. There were no shows we could really do this year, as well as the minor disadvantage that she spent most of it looking like something like an adorable grey camel. Still, she has all the in-hand skills required, so that’s something.
  • In spring, lunge. I planned to start lunging in September/October and back shortly after her third birthday, but she was still such a baby then. I had to wait for the front end to catch up first, and I’m glad I did. She’s a sweetie, but very much immature for her age.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.
    She has worn a saddle, but that’s about it. Smart and loyal she is, but mature, not so much. I’m taking it slow. She could do with some growth and muscle tone before being asked to really do anything just yet.

Faithy is still only a very babyish three-year-old, so 2018 will still be very much relaxed. Our main goal is to be ready for YDHS in 2019 since I absolutely loved it on Nell last year, and since four-year-olds only do Prelim, I’m in no hurry. The main thing this year will be to establish rock-solid basics, and I’m taking the most basic of the basics: obedience, rhythm and relaxation.

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

Complete the backing:

  • long-line
  • introduce pole work
  • introduce the rider
  • introduce walk
  • introduce trot
  • introduce canter
  • move to the dressage arena.

Start preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the figures
  • establish good transitions between gaits
  • establish balanced and united canter
  • introduce hacks, alone and in company
  • possibly ride a walk/trot test at our April show
  • show in-hand.

Second and third quarter:

Complete preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the idea of a long and low, stretchy frame
  • grow the frame upwards to connection
  • improve consistency in the connection in all three gaits and transitions
  • introduce free walk and stretchy trot figures.

Introduce competing (August at the latest):

  • box out to a clinic, lesson or training show
  • compete at least twice at Prelim.

 

Jamaica

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I didn’t even show Jamaica until February 2017, where we popped around something ridiculous like 50cm. We quickly made our way to 80cm, then stayed there forever as I tried to scrape my nerve together. Our move up to 90cm was easy, and I feel nicely set up for learning to jump Module 5 in mid to end 2018.

  • Hack reliably in company
  • School Novice dressage. 
  • Jump 90cm graded. 

In another turn of events, it has transpired that he may need to be sold in 2018. Thank God (no, really, thank Him), his owners are happy for me to finish Mod 5. It doesn’t really change my plans, since I will not be riding him after Mod 5 anyway. I have zero aspirations to showjump right now. I would really have loved to event the dude, and might still if there’s spare time (ha!), but my focus will have to be on the yard and dressage. Still love him. ❤

2018 goals:

First and second quarter:

  • Showjump 90cm at available training shows.
  • Compete at equitation 90cm at SANESA. Score 70% (that’s a 28) or more, if not at the first qualifier, then at least at the last two. 70% is the pass mark for Module 5.
  • Introduce all the flatwork required at Module 5: leg-yield, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, a little shoulder-in, a little travers. (The exam specifies only “lateral work” but I don’t expect to have to do half-pass).

Second and third quarter:

  • In May/June, jump a 1.00m showjumping round. (I would love to do the 1.00m equitation, but it requires swapping horses, and that just ain’t happening, thankyouverymuch. Ask me in a decade).
  • Jump at least one more clear 1.00m round at an appropriate pace. It doesn’t have to be fast, just flowing.
  • Jump Module 5 in September.
  • If we do fail it, jump it again in December.

 

Personal Riding

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I didn’t actually set personal goals in 2017, but I did improve my position a LOT. I had a terrible chair seat for years and I feel like this year I finally fixed it. It’s still not perfect, especially not in my current dressage saddle, but yesterday when I sat down in Coach J’s proper dressage saddle my alignment was suddenly perfect without any effort on my part. My hands are also a lot better, as is my core.

I do still have a very long way to go. Riding Coach J’s big horses really impressed on me the amount of strength and suppleness required to keep it up, and I know I’m still severely crooked.

In terms of jumping, my high Module 4 mark shows that my position is pretty adequate. Still, my nerves tend to show when I grab mane and my lower leg tends to swing back on landing, so there is lots to do.

2018 goals:

Improve my own body:

  • Have regular chiro. If my medical aid covers it, I don’t have an excuse not to go, and it doesn’t help that I care about Thunny’s back when my own back is stiff and crooked on top of him. I’m almost permanently body sore, and that’s a disservice to the horses who get to carry that sack of potatoes around.
  • Take conditioning classes twice a week throughout the year. No excuses. My sister is a dance teacher, and nothing in the world compliments dressage like ballet does: it will be excellent for my core strength, body control, and awareness of how I use my muscles. Ballet is kinda savage so it’ll build my cardio for jumping at the same time. Even if my sister has to miss some classes, I have to find somewhere that I can cross-train. Volunteers get discounted membership at the local gym, so I really do not have excuses. I need to be just as strong and supple as Thunny.
  • I’m pretty good about eating and sleeping well. (This week does not count. One of the many perks of being a friendly teacher is large amounts of sweets at Christmastime – children’s love language). Keep it up, especially when I’m on volunteer duty.

Improve my dressage position:

  • Find out what’s going on with my shoulders – probably a chiro issue, but my left shoulder always starts stinging about midway through a ride. I also hang on my left rein a LOT and my left shoulder blade can’t go flat like Ms Ballet Teacher Sister wants it to. Literally, it can’t, not even with her manipulating it. (My chiro will be horrified).
  • Improve on my bad habit of bracing the lower back as soon as I feel tension. That tension is not limited to nervousness – even if I’m just concentrating, the moment I try harder than usual, my lower back arches and braces, and I lose my connection to Thunny’s back.
  • Improve on my bad habit of tipping forward at the hip, especially in canter. It’s related to the back and shoulders issues, but it needs focused attention to fix.
  • Improve on my super bad habit of looking down.

Improve my jumping position:

  • Improve my tendency for my heels to come up on landing. Lots of light seat for me!
  • Improve my release.
  • Improve my tendency to try and jump ahead on takeoff.

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I’ve never been so genuinely and childishly excited for a show season. God has blown me away this year, and I can’t wait to see what He does next. Yet, as always, there is so much possibility for things to not go according to plan. Horses go lame. Money runs out. These things happen. But my Abba, He loves me, regardless of what happens. So I lay down my anxiety, I look forward with joy, and I look up with peace, knowing that whatever lies ahead is part of His plan.

And I do not dare to dream, for my dreams are foolish. But as He has proven time and time again, He dreams for me.

Glory to the King.

 

Love Lit the Way

Standing at the end of the second year of Morning Star Stables, I look back with inexpressible awe, joy, and wonder at what my God has done. I have never been so tired or so aware of my limitations. I’ve never worked so hard and yet been so aware that it’s not going to be good enough. But this whole year was about God seeing my lack of good enough and saying, “That’s where I work, daughter; just you trust Me and watch this.” And so we saw Him working and He did some amazing, amazing things and poured forth His grace, mercy, love and power right before our eyes.

So before I start on the goal recaps and on looking forward to next year, I want to take a second to look back at some of the things God achieved in the yard this year. These are all only small things. His biggest miracles have been invisible, unfolding in young hearts and souls, continuing to reach out for every person that walks into the yard.


Despite still being on a shoestring, somehow our beautiful sand dressage arena was built. Bits of it tend to wash away in big storms since we’re still figuring out the drainage, but it’s nothing that a wheelbarrow, a spade and some determination can’t fix. This time last year I was still teaching kids and backing horses in a paddock on the side of a hill. None of our dressage kids could possibly have competed this year without it.


On the same note, still on the shoestring, we cut poles in our own woods and put together the most amazing lunging ring ever. Seriously. I love it so much, it’s the perfect size and its slanting poles make my life so much easier when I’m backing babies and giving lunging lessons. Our knees are spared!


I stopped fighting my fears, walked away from them and left them in the Hands of God because no matter how hard I struggled, I always lost, and my bruised and battered soul could take no more. God worked mightily in my heart and sent me Jamaica and Coach K to help, and I jumped my first two 90cm tracks with ease. We’re well on our way to getting Mod 5 next year.


Our group of competing kids grew from three in 2016 to six in 2017 to at least eleven or twelve for the 2018 SANESA team. I used to face shows with four horses with great trepidation. This year we were doing eight or nine horses and we were just fine because God was with us. Next year promises up to fourteen or sixteen!


After fearing and dreading Module 4 all year, particularly the riding, I came down with horrible food poisoning three days before the exam. A trip to hospital later, I staggered off to go sit it, feeling horrible and knowing in my soul God was up to something. I passed every subject, and the riding was by far my highest mark. Morning Star Stables has a qualified coach now.


My training expanded hugely from only doing schooling, to backing only ponies, to accepting almost all backing and most remedial work for good measure. God’s grace wrought in me the confidence to take on Champagne, our most remedial horse to date, and we’ve seen an enormous difference in her.


I started competing my fabulous Thunderbird and he exceeded my every expectation, raking in placings and high scores and prompting lots of encouraging comments from the judges. I have my top horse and he was standing in a field for seven years before I realised it. God had made him an incredible dressage horse before I even knew what dressage really was.


And along with my top horse, God gave me regular lessons with a top dressage coach for the first time in my life. I started the year broke and with zero guidance. I finished it still broke but with two incredible instructors, both excellently suited to what I need in that particular discipline. Both of them read me like a book. Coach K is super, super nice, always knows exactly how far she can push me before I start to panic, and is always ready to go back a few steps without making a big deal out of it. Coach J is much tougher and knows exactly how to make things magically happen, and despite having stables full of amazing fancy horses (as do most of his students), he never, ever makes me feel like we’re inferior just because Thunny is a mongrel from the middle of nowhere.


Our first SANESA season as a yard was awesome, and spectacularly successful. Every single child showed enormous improvement throughout the year and learned important lessons about confidence, faith, and courage. G and Pennie finished off the year by winning at Nationals despite a very challenging season and the odds being stacked against them with injuries.


We ran two pony camps, the second one our biggest yet, and our first shows – jumping in July and dressage in December. Both were a roaring success. Our kids all had the opportunity to compete in something this year if they wanted, and they all gave it everything. I am so, so honoured to be a part of their amazing young lives. ❤


Next year we can only go further up and further in. God is on this journey with us. He is here with us in His little stableyard, working the most tremendous miracles. Most of them are inside our own hearts. His Spirit is here, and everyone who walks in is welcome here. We’ve seen Him do great things in unlikely places. And for me the most wonderful thing about the yard is how He works to make it a safe place for everyone. The kids that don’t fit in, the special needs kids, the ones who for whatever reason need more than just being another kid on a pony – these are the ones that flourish here. This is a place where God touches lives.

Not least mine. Glory, glory, glory to the King!

and many thanks to the many, many parents, not least mine, who have helped us all on the way ❤

Hope

Once, English and Afrikaans murdered each other in the thousands. The stubborn Afrikaner met the relentless Englishman in a bloody clash that would last for years and destroy countless families; the marching hordes of the British facing the savage guerrillas of the Boer. Farms burned, men and boys died, and women and children starved in concentration camps in what has been called “the most terrible and destructive modern armed conflict in South Africa’s history”.

The Anglo-Boer War took place just more than a century ago, 1899-1902, and claimed the lives of thousands of people. Since this is an equestrian blog, perhaps the number most likely to bring home the sheer magnitude of the bloodbath is the number of horses that were killed: 300 000. That’s almost ten times the population of my hometown.

 

 

Today has been dubbed “Black Monday”. Not terribly original, perhaps, but it’s a name on the lips of almost every South African on this day. Highways are slowed to a crawl and smaller roads closed by hundreds of farmers and tractors and bakkies and their supporters, all wearing black. Whether I agree with the protest – peaceful though it is – itself or not is immaterial; at least voices are being heard. Today I have a strip of black cloth tied around my wrist. In mourning for the thousands of Afrikaners that are dying in this time.

Our farmers are being killed, raped, robbed and tortured in the farm attack trend that’s spreading all over the country. It’s not declared war, but it is ugly, and it is bloody. It’s also threatening to tear apart the ideal of the Rainbow Nation that our hero Madiba lived and died and won the Nobel Prize for. The actions of a hateful group has caused the festering old wound of racism to erupt and bleed on both sides. It is blatant, open, unquestioned.

In the minds of many, it has become us versus them. Black versus white. We don’t say it too loudly on social media, but the anger is there, the hatred is there. It is undoubtedly there for the killers, who have almost without exception targeted white Afrikaans farmers. Their excuse for their grudge is apartheid, which ended twenty-three years ago. I will be unpopular but truthful for saying that apartheid still lives on in the hearts of thousands – both black and white. For those killers, at least, it is still very much alive, and their hatred is based on the most pointless of factors: skin colour and the less-than-recent past.

 

The bitter enemies of Afrikaans and English reached a moody treaty in 1902, although many of the Boere, as stubborn and unbreakable as the rough country where they originate, chose exile over surrender. We call them the Bittereinders; Wikipedia translates the word to “irreconcilables”, but directly, it means, “Bitter Enders.” Bitter is a good name for it. Bitter is what we are today.

But we don’t have to be. Not forever.

On Sundays, I tuck my Bible under my arm and go to church. I mount the steps of a building older than the war, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk. We call it the Klipkerk. I speak fluent Afrikaans with no accent to the ouderlinge and I slide into my pew and sing the Oorwinningslied.

Then the dominee takes his place and we sit, and he begins to preach in Afrikaans. And I open my King James Bible and read along in English.

A hundred years ago, it would not have been possible, but here it is. My dad is so English he could barely understand anyone when we moved to our very Afrikaans community seventeen years ago. My mom is as Afrikaans as they come. As for me, I was ‘the Anglo-Boer Bulge’ before I was born. I have met with nothing but acceptance, and a little friendly ribbing, from “pure” English or Afrikaans people and communities.

I am the offspring of those who once were sworn enemies. And I am hope.

 

 

We have already come so far. And when I say “we”, I don’t mean “white Afrikaans/English people like me”, I mean “South African people like me”. We have already won so many small battles. This last uprising, this desperate resistance of evil and disunity can be conquered – must be conquered. We cannot give up now, we cannot give in to the darkness now, we cannot continue in our old and hateful ways anymore because it will shred us all. The farm attacks are born of racism; our response doesn’t have to be. We will stop those criminals not because they are people who are black but because they are people who are doing bad things. Surely that’s what’s more important? And we will stop the bad things we’re doing, in our actions, our hearts, and our words.

And yet I know we have a long way to go before apartheid ends, even though it was officially abolished before I was even born. It’s alive and kicking in the words and hearts of millions.

But it is not alive in mine. I have killed it. It fought back, of course, as hatred does; growing up in a world that sees in black and white makes the temptation difficult. It’s so easy to blame a skin colour rather than a flaw of society or, worse, a flaw of your own.

Our struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemies are not only human. Our fight is not only physical. I will not allow the darkness to overwhelm my heart. I will not allow racism to colour my vision. I will feel. I will believe. I will mourn for my brothers and sisters who have fallen, regardless of their skin colour.

Thousands of us have taken an entire day to stage this protest. Will we all take ten minutes every morning to take the fight to our knees? Will we all pray for our people with the same vehemence with which we curse our enemies?

The real bad guys only win when they make us hateful. In many of us, they’re winning.

I stand with every farmer who has died, every nourisher of our people who has had to be afraid, and I stand with every person who has ever been a victim of racism. I stand against hatred. I stand against violence. I stand against all that is dark and evil. I stand against unrighteous judgment and the division between the races. I stand for love, I stand for faith, and I stand for hope.

 

 

It might take a century, but I pray and I wait and I watch for the day when a brown-skinned young person mounts the steps of the Klipkerk and listens to an Afrikaans sermon, reading along in a Zulu Bible. It has been done before. It can be done again.

And I pray God that it is, for all of our sakes.

Sunlands Training Show

Here are some numbers for this show:

8 horses.

1 four-berth.

1 two-berth.

4 trips; one for the two-berth, three for the four-berth.

6 saddles.

Nowhere near enough girths.

No dedicated horse-holders. (We’re very thankful our horsies almost all tie up).

Not one single fall.

One child’s round that I didn’t get to watch. An experienced child, so that was OK.

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nobody else seemed to need this fence, so… we commandeered it, and chaos ensued

We arrived at 6:45am, in good time for our 8:00 class. This was a good thing, since while we had enough fitting saddles for Sune, Milady, Liana, and Savanna, it turned out that we did not have enough girths. A frequent problem when most of the riders are on a bit of a shoestring budget and thus borrowing riding school stuff. We decided to just swap saddles between Milady and Savanna and wing it, so off we went; Liana and her kid, Milady and K, Sune and L, and bareback Savanna following me and garnering some odd looks from spectators.

It was Milady’s first show, as well as L’s, and I was worried about them for about five minutes until I could see that they both had everything under control. All four of us were in the first two classes, the 50cm and 60cm, and there was some friendly ribbing. My money was on Liana and her kid; the kid loyally trusted me to win on remedial Savanna, and I think K and L were simply hoping to survive. In the end we all were wrong. Milady jumped a confident, quiet round, well-ridden by K, except both of them sort of weren’t looking at the second element of the combination and had a run-out there. Liana’s kid rode so, so nicely with excellent lines and position, but tapped the pole at number two. Savanna got to number two and then threw a hissy fit, whereupon she got a hiding and finished the track much better than she ever has before, taking a couple of poles. I was very happy with that – it’s the first time she’s actually gotten around without a leader.

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so confident!

Then Sune and L charged around in a perfect clear round, despite L firmly believing she wouldn’t remember her track, and thus handing all of our butts to us. There was more of the same in the 60cm; Milady, Liana and Sune all went clear in the first round, and Savanna had a pole, but I was very happy with her because she was confident, forward and relaxed. In the jump-off Milady and Liana had a pole each, but both their rounds were smooth and confident, so I was happy. Then little Sune and L charged around clear once again, albeit out of the placings because I had given them a Speech about going safely and building confidence.

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all smiles ❤ ❤ ❤

Then it was off to the working riding and small jumping classes. Trooper and E kicked off the little classes by trotting sweetly around the ground poles, although E kind of forgot that fence 3b was a thing, but it was a good warm-up for their working riding round. Poor little Sune was shunted straight off to be ridden by her kid in the 30cm and 40cm. Regrettably, the track was exactly the same as it was last month, and Sune’s kid is one super-smart little eight-year-old, so it wasn’t very good practice for remembering the track since he remembered it perfectly from last time. Either way, that led to a clear in the 30cm and an unlucky pole down in the 40cm.

Trooper and E absolutely knocked it out of the park in the working riding. Their course was fairly technical and all-inclusive: walking underneath an arch, then through a bendy little lane, halt and pick up a basket and walk around a marked-out circle on the ground before returning the basket, trot the bending cones, trot the trotting poles, walk through another lane, walk over a mat, go to a pillar and ring a bell. Troopy didn’t look at a thing, not even the mat. E didn’t quite kick him hard enough to trot all of the trotting poles, but their bending poles were absolutely perfect. I couldn’t be happier. And I haven’t seen E smile as much as when she’s around Trooper, ever. Mission accomplished; Trooper’s doing what only a horse can do for a teenage girl.

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picture perfect

Midas and VT’s kid also did a stunning test, Midas’s first. He did everything so perfectly except for the mat, where he just gently stopped and had a look. I popped in at that point and stepped onto it in front of him, and then he went over very happily and quietly. VT’s kid rode really very well and I was happy with the pony too; at the very least I know he’ll be excellent on a lead rein, and he’s quite good enough to get a solid mark off lead. I think she would have gotten him over it eventually.

Then poor Midas and the kid had to go charging straight off to the showjumping to jump Midas’s first 70cm. It was a speed class and I was calling dressage tests so I wasn’t there to tell the kid to go slowly, so obviously they tore around in a very confident clear round, coming fourth against some truly enormous horses (the whole of Team Nissan seemed to show up that day). So I couldn’t be much happier with that.

Somewhere around this point, Dad returned with the second load of horses, very timeously too, I might add. Ash was one of them, and her kid had plenty of time to trot around the warmup (and almost get killed by some of the aforementioned truly enormous horses – luckily Ash is a sassy little boss mare) before going in for their test. Savanna’s kid was also warming up and Savanna was being impressively calm and relaxed. I dragged them both down together so that I could keep an eye on each one and pushed Savanna and her kid in first.

Both boys were having their first show (apart from our little training show), and they both impressed me greatly. There were a few good moments and a couple of wobblies (Savanna broke in her first centreline and her kid kicked her to trot too early a few times; Ash didn’t really get the memo about having to halt on her last centreline and her kiddo’s legs were a bit flappy) but neither of them got lost or had any huge disasters. Ash and her kid had 64% and Savanna and her kid had 59%, which they both were happy with. Both have lots of work to do before they can ride anything other than a SANESA Riding Proficiency test, but I’m confident that they can go out and enjoy themselves at SANESA Level 0 next year. If they work hard they can get good marks, too.

At this point I was supposed to have been in the working hunter/stadium eventing arena on Jamaica about 45 minutes earlier, and had resigned myself to missing that one, but the judge there kindly let me go anyway. I cantered him around the warmup once (wearing Savanna’s bridle because his bridle was on Ash; I’m very grateful for his unfussy little mouth), popped over a jump, tied a knot in the end of the TREMENDOUSLY long reins, and off we went. The track was only about 60-70cm at the biggest, but fairly challenging, including a couple of banks down, a bank up, steps, a dyke with all three fences in it, a little ditch, a combination, some brush, and a whole lot of straw bales and rustic fences and such. He had a big wobble at the first fence because it was next to a water jump, but once he realised he didn’t have to do the water jump he was quite OK. He had another wobble at the brush the first time, but after jumping it once he jumped it nicely the second time. Somewhere around fence 10 he hit his stride and started to enjoy himself, as did I. I really want to event again.

Then we had a little break before going back to the warmup to climb awkwardly over the oxer and wait our turn in the 90cm competition. At this point, I had reached that mildly delirious stage near the end of a show with lots of kids, and could not really care less what size the jumps were. I just walked the related distances in the class so that I knew the strides and watched somebody go so that I knew where to go, and in we went. After cruising on a bigger stride in the stadium eventing arena, it was quite natural to send Jamaica more forward, adding only one stride in the related distances (which I don’t mind since he is almost a pony jumping on horse strides), and thus the round was very smooth. We landed on the wrong leg a few times and I was slow to correct it, but he still jumped every fence right out of his stride. There were a bunch of puddles in the arena and one of them was right in front of the second element of the combination, so he chipped in a stride looking at that, but the rest of it was fantastic.

It was the only clear round, too. So we got a big fat red ribbon.

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When I schooled him for this show and we couldn’t get a good stride to this one jump I literally remember thinking to myself, “Well, God, You got me through my Module 4 and gave me a very confident ride in that exam, so I’m not asking for anything more right now; I can lose my nerve again now,” but God’s reply seemed to be, “I’m not done working miracles yet, My daughter.” The 1.00m didn’t look all that big when we watched it as we were packing up.

Dad, meanwhile, had already shipped Milady, Liana and Trooper back home, and returned within half an hour of the end of my class to take the rest of us. We were all happily home by four in the afternoon, although how Dad did it is between him and God because I sure don’t know.

This year has been all about what God can do. Even at this little training show, He helped us to run it so smoothly despite not having enough tack or horseboxes or horses. Somehow He gave me an excellent ride and helped all the newbies to have a good show and – best of all – all three my rising stars got to ride, having somehow scraped together sponsorships and kindness from various sources to be able to have enough show clothes, entry money, and horses. All three of them. I am so, so happy to be a witness to the majestic spectacle of what God does when you give it all to Him.

So here’s a few more numbers for you to wrap up this post.

17 classes.

3 rising stars.

Innumerable great supporters.

And one amazing God.

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L and Sune, Milady and K, Trooper and E

Glory to the King.

Summer’s Here

The arrival of some beautiful rain has transfigured the face of our landscape from the dormant browns of winter to vibrant life.

And no matter that I’ve been living here since I can remember, it still takes my breath away. So do these, my three dance partners. Faith must be about Arwen’s height already. I expect her to mature about Thunder’s height and probably also quite solid.

The damp earth has helped eliminate the various coughings, sneezings and nose-runnings of all the allergic horses.

Longer days make for those stunning late afternoon rides in the golden light. I teach until at least 5:30 most evenings now.

Lullaby is back on fighting form, her old, happy, bouncy self. She’s even off her joint supplement. She led the way on this hack up the big hill.

Liana and her kid followed. I’m so honoured to be a small part of providing kids with experiences like these.

Jamaica also went hacking with Vastrap and his kid, and behaved impeccably.

The big hill is my favourite place for hacking. It’s interesting, has amazing views, and is good work for the horses too.

Clouds have changed the skyscape, making the world seem bigger. I don’t know why, but the sky is a deeper blue in summer around here.

We now have a sign. Each step forward feels like a miracle, probably because it is one; we depend so entirely on our Jesus, and He never lets us down. This year testifies to that.

Our yard is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

This is the place where my soul can’t sing loud enough to Abba Father. Where the miracle happens. As an aside, the footing held up impressively well in the rain. We’ve been able to jump every day.

For some reason the sky is a lot smaller in town, but it’s still beautiful. My personal space is about 228ha.

That’s more like it.

Sunrises haven’t quite reached the height of splendour yet, but there’s something more subtly majestic in their muted colours.

The jacaranda tree is in bloom.

The long one-sided love story of God and I starts with sunrises. Years and years ago, since I can remember thinking about bigger things, it was the beauty of the world that convinced me that there had to be Something out there. I felt its presence; something dynamic, vibrant, powerful, and very much alive. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have a name for it, but I found it utterly irresistible. I longed to know it. My longing was inexpressible; I wanted to feel it, to be drawn into it.

And the greatest miracle of them all was discovering that this amazing Thing was not only alive, it was Someone, and He had a Son, and He had given that Son up for me. The power that made the wind and stars, He wants me to talk to Him, to cry out to Him, to love Him. The sunrises stopped being splendid creations of some distant and mysterious magnificence and became something more: an intimate, personal expression of love from the God Who never lets go.

Glory to the King.

Why We Don’t Quit

(After Internet-related trouble, I’m back at last! Update on the horsies to follow.)

I’ve seen so many people come and go from the things I love. Not just kids in the riding school, but people who wanted to devote themselves to something, then eventually… didn’t.

In our culture, quitting has become socially acceptable. We’re practically expected to quit on something important, sooner or later. Every day, we quit on hobbies, on projects, on jobs, on marriages, on people… even on life. Who hasn’t, once in their life, just given up on something? Or someone?

But why do we quit?

We could make it complicated and say that kids who want to be yard managers quit because clients don’t pay, because one buck too many couldn’t be passed, because of midnight checks, because horses die. We could say coaches quit because of the kids who don’t care as much as they do, or because of being heartbroken for the kids who don’t get the chance they deserve. We could say volunteers quit because of people who abuse them or drunk people or dead people. We could say parents quit because of the realisation that whatever you do, kids will still grow up to be people who make their own choices and they won’t all be good ones.

We could say that cops quit because of corruption or because of line of duty deaths. We could say that husbands and wives quit because no one human being ever really understands another. We could say that therapists quit because of suicide or that vets quit because of having to put down healthy young unwanted animals or that people quit on life because of pain and unwantedness and despair and terror.

We could say all of these things and we would be wrong.

We quit for one reason that all of this aching humanity has in common. 

We quit because we don’t find what we’re looking for.

C. S. Lewis called it our “inconsolable secret”. We are all looking for something. We all have an aching void inside of us, an agonised abyss so vast and so inexpressibly painful that it has become the quest of our lives to find something to fill it. Call it what you will; happiness, meaning, purpose, security – our whole lives turn on filling that void. On finding that thing.

History is the long and sorry story of how we try to fill it. Some of us try to use drugs or sex or crime. But the vast majority of us have a socially acceptable method of trying to fill that intolerable emptiness. We try to fill it with people or careers or money or luxuries or hobbies or helping others or saving the world or our own perception of ourselves.

In my book, we call that idolatry.

But the terrifying, the inescapable truth is that none of those things are what we’re seeking. None of those things can ever satisfy our most demanding desire.

Anything that speaks to our natural inclination can pretend to satisfy us for a time. We find something that finally makes us feel better, or useful, or safe, or happy. Music perhaps, or people, or a sport or studies. Here are the things that have done it for me: horses, feeling needed, lights and sirens, and writing. But not one of them have ever satisfied me forever. I’ve been sick and tired of and burnt out on all those things. I’ve come face to face with their ugly flaws and hated them.

But I haven’t quit.

Not because there is anything particularly special about me or about the choices I make. I’m not a particularly tenacious person. The hundreds of half-finished drafts in my writing folder will attest to that. I’m prone to crippling insecurities and easily fatigued on the simplest of tasks.

And that brings me to what this post is all about. Not why people quit, but why we don’t.

The truths that we’re all searching for something and that we’ll never find it on this earth are absolute and apply to all of us. But the Truth that there is Someone beyond this earth that can fill our empty spaces is just as true.

I no longer do things to make myself feel better and I no longer spend all of my time searching because I’ve found that thing. I’ve found what can fill the gaping hole inside.

I’ve found Him and His Name is Jesus.

I still hate the flaws in the things in my life. I still feel pain, anger, frustration and exhaustion about the imperfections of the world. So did my Saviour, lamenting out loud, asking God how much longer He had to be stuck down here. Some days I feel the same way. But my Jesus didn’t quit.

Because of that, neither do I.

I love because He first loved me. I go because He sent me. And I don’t quit because He never did. He saw my salvation all the way through to the other side of death and back, He sweated blood, He took His final agonising breaths on the Cross and He faced the deepest darkness of the universe and He never, ever quit.

The least I can do is go when He sends me.

I don’t do things because I’m searching anymore. I do things because God sent me. And when we’ve been sent, what reason could there possibly be to give up? Compared to what He’s done for us, what is any trial we might face?

I love what I do. I love horses, I love their smell, the way they understand the subtlest of cues, the shine of them, the rhythm of their movement, the purity of their hearts. I love children and their innocence and their simplicity and the breathtaking image of God I see in every single one of them. I love expressing myself on the page, putting my tangled feelings and dreams into dancing words. I love the sound of a siren. But when the horses kick and bite and buck and die, when the children scream and whine, when the words won’t come, when nothing happens all shift long, then I can still love and I can still keep on.

Once we’ve met the One Who fills the abyss, once we know the depth of perfect love, then the things we do stop being about them anymore. Riding is no longer about loving horses or excellence. Teaching is no longer about seeing children succeed.

We do things not because of what they are, but because of Whose we are.

My whole life is not about me anymore. I don’t do things because of what I need or who I want to be. It’s about Who God is.

And that, love, will never change.

So for as long as there is still breath left in me, where God wants me, that’s where I will be.

Glory to the King!

10 Questions from Me, My God and Maverick

Sorry for the extended silence, y’all. August has been one of those months that you tell kids about when they think they want to be stableyard managers. Somehow I managed to overbook the training at exactly the same time of year that the SANESA season gets serious, the seasons begin to change, and everything promptly either catches flu or colics – horses and people. None of which I’m really complaining about, because God has been with us, and the extra business was a blessing – but I hope you’ll forgive the fact that blogging fell by the wayside.

Mercifully, it is now September, my schedule is pleasantly full but no longer physically impossible, and it’s not so windy and I can blog again. When Rachel kindly tagged me in her post, I knew it was just the thing to get my feet wet once more.

Rachel’s 10 Questions

1. What is your impression of Australia?

Never having been beyond the borders of South Africa, much less all the way to Australia, I wouldn’t really know. The Australians that I do know tend to be no-nonsense, fun-loving and don’t give their left sock what anyone thinks of them, so there’s that. There are kangaroos. That said, Australia doesn’t seem to feature in many of the major worldwide dramas – so it’s no surprise that so many South Africans are immigrating there.

2. How did you start blogging?

I’ll be honest that I don’t even remember. I had a subsection on a tiny family website we had years ago, where I started blogging as early as 2009 or so – I was all of twelve years old. Maybe even earlier. Like many writers, I journal obsessively. I always wanted to capture the breathtaking experience of life, and as I met my Jesus and gave my life to Him, that blossomed into an opportunity to spread the Word.

3. What is your favorite animal and why?

It’s actually a tougher question than you’d think. I have to go with horses, but dogs come a very close second. Horses, because they are such deeply emotional beings, with such intricate social and emotional lives. I have found that their emotions are the closest we find to ours in all domesticated species. Through them God teaches me such profound lessons; through them He speaks to me. They are His megaphone into my heart.

Dogs, on the other hand, just love you forever. Sometimes it’s through puppy dog Ice that God makes me feel better when nothing else can.

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4. How has God blessed you this past week?

I woke. There were sunrises. Birdsong. Fresh air. Music. Horses. A great, steadfast Hand holding mine when it all became too much. Volunteering. I spent time on my knees. Horses smell amazing. Jesus loves me. I could go on.

5. What is you favorite recreation?

Dressage is where my soul worships, but not where it rests. I like sleeping and TV, as anyone does, I suppose. When I’m burnt out on horses and the yard – much as I love it, it can become so consuming – working with the medics or taking Ice to touch therapy refreshes my soul and gives me perspective.

6. Do you have a story you can share?

For the first time in years, I finally do again – I have, at last, began to draft a novel. It’s been years, probably four or five years? But I’m five weeks and 12 000 words in. It’s slow progress but it’s finally happening. The Defeat of Isaiah Abilene has a far darker and more broken tone than anything else I’ve ever written, but I feel like God wants to tell this story through me. It’s therapy, too, as service often is.

7. What is your passion?

I’ve long since found that nothing but my Triune God is worth pouring my fire into, and that He is the One Who stokes that fire when it burns low for everything else. Everything loses its allure sooner or later – everything but Him. It’s only when I find Him in everything that I can believe in it.

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8. What is your favorite Bible story or verse?

Ooh. There are so many. Psalm 107, the story of my wandering soul and the God Who just won’t let it go. The Gospels, all of them, front to back. I have always loved 1 Samuel 17 because my own giants can be enormous and I stand before them with a sling and a stone. Moses parting the Red Sea because I’ve seen seas step aside for my Abba Father. All of it, really, all of it.

9. What brings you inspiration?

God, in various ways; in His Word, in prayer, in the heartbreaking beauty of the world He made and we are destroying, in dancing with horses, in good music, in films and stories, in friendship. But whenever I lack courage, I pull Arwen out of the field and we dance. She reminds me that we are the dragonhearted.

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10. Can/do you draw?

Surprisingly, I used to be able to sketch well when I was taking lessons from an incredible artist in exchange for riding his little Arab mare. Now, I sketch when I have the energy. A good sketch takes me 12-16 hours and I just don’t have that anymore, so these days I just line draw, often from memory or imagination instead of the photorealism I was trying for.

Update on the horses and things to follow.

Glory to the King.