Dance

Emma and SprinklerBandit recently wrote about the why’s of riding – how the horse you have is linked to the very reason you ride in the first place. Never one to miss out on the chance to be sappy, I’m jumping right on the bandwagon.

just because I love this photo

It’s a topic I’ve been giving some thought to lately. The answers to why I ride for a living, and why I have the horses in the school that I have, are simple. God sent me, and God sent them.

Magic and old Skye are also pretty simple. They’re semi-retired pets. They’re here because they’re my friends and they don’t owe me a thing.

Then we get to the topic of dressage.

After realising that upper-level showjumping and eventing were just not going to happen for me – at least not in the next decade or so – I turned to my remaining options for a discipline I could be truly competitive in: dressage and showing. Showing judges freak me out, so that left dressage. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I adore dressage, in no small part thanks to the horse that was born for it – Nell. She gave me a taste of success and I liked it.

Then God turned the whole thing on its head.

Nell was sold. My best horse left; the carpet was pulled out from under the feet of my career. I mourned; not only the loss of a friend in Nellie, but the loss of a dream. It seemed to me that God was saying, “Enough of this selfishness. The time, money and energy you dedicate to this sport is self-serving; I want you to give it up and focus on the yard.”

And in a way, I guess He was. It shattered me to accept it, but I realised that much as I gave glory to Him in the high moments, schooling every day was all about progress and points and ambition. I laid down the dream.

Then He sent me Rainbow, and I was euphoric because I thought He was saying it wasn’t selfish after all.

And then Rainybow died. The cruelty of it was like a punch in the guts. It was all I could do not to lose my temper with God for this apparent injustice. I loved that horse and now she was gone and the dream with her, like Nell, but worse.

God said, “O, ye of little faith. I’ve got a plan with this, daughter.”

That’s why, when she basically fell out of the sky, I named her Faith. Not because I really had any, but to remind me to believe even when everything looks dark.

As you all know by now, since then everything just blossomed. Suddenly Arwen decided she was good at dressage too and went Elementary, and then Thunder was like “hi mom I’m really talented” and started scoring ridiculously well at Prelim, and now I have a dressage arena and even the sale ponies were scoring better than I ever have anywhere.

So the dream lives. But it’s a different beast to what it was with Nell. I have always been so desperate to prove to the students, to the world, to God that I was good enough  for them. I failed at jumping, I failed at eventing – dressage was my great hope.

But this whole year has basically been about one thing: the only opinion that matters is God’s, and nothing I ever do will make me good enough for His love, and it actually really doesn’t matter at all because He died for me before I even knew Him to say thank you to. It is the purest freedom from guilt to glimpse the depth of amazing grace, yet the strongest motivation to live purely, all at once.

So what is dressage to me now? A way to prove myself? I don’t have to prove myself because it just isn’t about me. My students are here and I give them my whole heart; as long as I keep doing that they don’t seem to care how much satin is on my wall.

Is it something for me to finally be brilliant at? Well, what does brilliance matter? Sport is temporary. I won’t be taking any ribbons or tests into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s become something more to me now. I don’t really have a name for it, but the closest word I know is this:

Worship.

I don’t deserve to be saved from eternal agony, yet I am. I don’t deserve to be loved by the God Who is Love, yet I am. I don’t deserve to become a dazzling, new, adopted member of God’s family, yet I am. I don’t deserve Arwen or Thunder or Faith or the 60x20m patch of sand or the opportunity to compete or anything – yet I have it. All that testifies to just one thing and that thing is grace.

So while I believe brilliance will be a by-product, and while I still hope one day I’ll get to ride Grand Prix, that’s all temporary. All just small things blowing by on the wind.

When I school now, I still tend to centre on selfish ambition. But this is my proclamation of a new mission statement for every time I throw a leg over one of the dressage horses.

The horses, the shows, the dances are a gift I don’t deserve, a reminder of the greater Gift. In riding every stride, I ride with empathy because I love the horses. I ride with diligence because I honour and appreciate the gift I have been given. But above all, I ride with love and passion, looking not at a number on a scoresheet but at the face of my God. I care less about how good the mark will be for a movement and more about the compassion behind the aid that asked for it. I care less about what the bystanders think and more about giving every breath I have to the God Who gives me life.

Dressage can be a sport, a dream, a torture session for horse and rider, a career.

To me, I choose dressage to be, in the style of Psalm 149:3, a dance.

Glory to the King.

Sunrise to Sunset

One perk of long hours and changing seasons is that I get to see the sky changing every morning and evening.

I suppose the sweeping expanse of colour should leave me feeling diminutive. Futile. A dirty, scrabbling little thing cowering on the face of a mighty universe. That’s all I am, after all. But here’s the beauty of the Gospel: the sunrise and sunset make me feel special. I almost blush watching it; it’s like a bunch of favourite flowers unexpectedly sent from my Lover.

I feel like He paints the sky for me. In a way I guess He does: the same way as Jesus died for me. For me in the most intensely personal way, and for all of us in the most magnificently all-embracing and equal way.

The space between this sunrise and sunset was pretty chock full. New junior groom L was kept on her toes, poor girl, but performed admirably. I got the day off to a good start by jumping a full course at 75cm on Jamaica, the easiest fence set to 80cm. I got off twice to check I’d actually set it to 80 because it felt small. Jamaica jumped brilliantly; I held him for a close spot and took the pole in the first attempt, but the second time he went clear and on the correct leads, if getting a couple of dodgy distances (my fault).

Arwen also schooled in the dressage for the first time. It was amazing. I really got to play around and try random stuff without worrying about hills or other horses, and we had a brilliant session. I was pleasantly surprised that she was easily able to complete a leg-yield down the log diagonal. We also did approximately three million simple walk changes. My canter-walk transitions aren’t any good at the best of times, but I struggled at first today until I started to use my brain for a change and squish her canter up to a super-collected little bounce before asking. I was so flabbergasted that she gave me a true, active collected canter, followed by a perfect canter-walk, that we called it a day immediately.

don’t let her fool you. She breaks out on a regular basis

Thunder was kind of an idiot today. He’s spooky and anxious in the new arena and went so far as to bolt a few steps until I caught him, so he’s being grounded from riding school work for at least a month while I sort him out. In his good moments he’s feeling super.

Sunè took a fairly new rider for a w/t/c and behaved brilliantly. I hopped on afterward and ran through our performance riding test for Saturday. She’s getting the leads better, but connection is still a bit of a sticking point.

Icey hates me for making him get up so early

Destiny is back to work after having had the snot kicked out of him by Starlight, and gave me a really super session including his first canter. Once I did get him to canter he went off so happily and freely forward that I panicked and thought my brakes had left, applying them sharply. He stopped so obediently he nearly catapulted me over his head. Apparently the delinquent can change his spots.

Eagle wore his first bridle, seeing that his lunging is now quite firmly established in three gaits, minus some anxious moments in walk.

Trooper is slowly improving. I get the impression he’s still kind of immature and needs a little time. I’ll give him another two weeks and see if he perks up about the whole work idea, but if not, I’ll just establish his lunging and give him a month to grow up and settle in some more. He is perfectly delighted to hang out with me – it’s the running about that he objects to.

We finished off with a slew of lessons. I’m particularly proud of Zorro and Z-kid -he’s come a long way from his trademark giraffe look.

and so shiny!

Liana also jumped a clear round at 50cm with her kid, a huge relief in light of her recent jumping trouble. I’ll school her tomorrow too, but she’s pretty ready for Saturday.

Long past sunset now – so bed. Glory to the King.