Taking Up the Cross

​ Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. – Matthew 16:24

The past two months was really a journey in following this verse for me. Our minister preached about this concept somewhere in mid October, and I prayed with all my heart that Jesus would give me the strength to do exactly this. That I would do it, come Hell or high water… and that’s pretty much what happened.


So lots of bad stuff happened:

  • Olive came down with a neurological virus, possibly herpes. She was very very sick and had to be quarantined and intensively nursed.
  • Milady then got strangles, followed by Exavior, Titan, and Destiny.
  • Because we now had TWO outbreaks at the yard, we had to shut the whole thing down for two weeks. Yep, no lessons for two weeks. That was a financial kick in the guts.
  • A friend kind of turned on me. Personal stuff, but it always leaks into the yard when my emotional state isn’t perfect.
  • We had a massive hailstorm and the lightning damaged our gate, borehole pump, and power supply.
  • I lost the ride on my beautiful Nell.
  • Magic colicked. Again.

    Yes, again

    What’s God’s own stableyard to do faced with such catastrophes? Well, pray and trust Him. And well… Romans 8:28.

    • Olive recovered beautifully and not a single other horse contracted her thing. As a result, we’re tightening our vaccination program and have instituted a quarantine period for all new horses. Olive and my mom also developed an amazing bond, which is so great for the floof because she never really connected with me.
    • Not only did all the strangles horses recover without any abscesses bursting, Milady’s 5-day-old foal didn’t get it! Also I am probably going to pass the illnesses section in my exam, which I had been worried about…
    • My mom and dad told our yard mascot cookie lady prayer warrior awesomeness about the financial whack of losing two weeks’ lessons. She declared that we would get the money back and went straight to battle on her knees. Shortly thereafter, a client that had been owing us for months paid. Mom called to tell her that she’d overpaid a little – turned out she’d paid us by “accident”. I don’t believe in accidents.
    • The outbreak and all its drama drew me closer and closer to God; without the strength I gained from that, I doubt there’s any way I could have coped with the personal stuff.
    • The hailstorm brought with it the best rain we’ve had in three years. Now we’re up to our eyeballs in grass for the cows and horses.
    • I thought Nell’s new owner was some spoilt rich kid until I spoke to her mom. She’s a special needs teenager, someone who needs a beautiful, loving horse even more than I do. Nell is going to be an instrument of God’s power in her life – just as she was in mine. Nell’s price is also letting her retired owner replace his wrecked vehicle and is helping towards his medical bills.
    • Gutted about Nell, without a good dressage horse, my future career seemingly in tatters, I prayed: “Lord Jesus, if it’s not Your will for me to compete extensively myself, if I should conserve those resources for the kids, then please don’t let me ever have a good horse again. But if it’s Your will, please, send me one.” I prayed this ready to face the fact that I would never go up the levels: I just don’t have the money to build up the yard for everyone that needs it and own a good dressage horse, and I know which one I’m choosing. Hours later, Nell’s owner called: in return for schooling Nell, he wanted to pay me a commission. I couldn’t bear to accept money for the blessing Nell has been, so I refused it. “Okay,” he said. “Then you can come and pick out any young mare you like to train and show.” I hesitated; I didn’t know if I wanted to go through this heartache again so soon. “No, you don’t understand,” he said. “This one will be yours. In your name. You keep her.” Then I just cried, out of gratitude to him, out of awe of the dynamic and real power of God and His plan in our lives.
    • Magic’s colic was so bad we had to box him and take him to Witbos, the vets that fixed him last time. On the way there, I desperately called on everyone I know and a bunch of people on Facebook that I don’t to pray for him. We all prayed, and when we unloaded him, that horse was fine. The rather puzzled vets scanned his healthy guts, kept him under observation for two hours, and sent him home because there was nothing wrong with him.
    Nothing wrong with this

    We will praise God no matter what the storm. Because our God is faithful, our God is powerful, and our God is in charge.

    The condition for a miracle is difficulty. The condition for a great miracle is impossibility. And that’s exactly what we have seen.

    Glory to the King.

    I think this is their way of praising Him

    And Jesus Was Enough

    I always love to watch the Mutterer at work, usually taking notes in my head so that I can try whatever he’s doing when I get home. But not today. Today’s small miracle is still so far beyond my capabilities that all I do is lend a hand and watch in wonder: it’s going to be a long time before I try this by myself.

    I hold the little mare’s head while the Mutterer runs a soft rope around her neck, tying it so that it can’t slip tight, then gently slips a loop around each hind pastern. The little mare trembles, rolling her eyes so that I can see the whites, her ears constantly moving. She’s supposed to be trained, but I don’t want to know what her “trainer” did to her. Beat her most likely, maybe twisted her ears, yelled in her delicate little face. She has a fear about her that goes way beyond the ordinary nervousness of an unhandled horse. Even the lightest and kindest touch makes her flinch. I can see it now as I try to stroke her neck; the big muscles jump under my hand, too scared to hold still, too scared to flee. Eventually, I give up. She’s beyond human comfort now.

    So I think, anyway, but the Mutterer has a plan. “Stick on the same side as me and hang onto her head.”

    “Okay,” I say doubtfully. He’s usually right, so I do as I’m told.

    The Mutterer has the ends of the rope around the mare’s legs in his hands. “Okay, girly,” he says to the mare, who trembles. “Easy now.” Then he pulls.

    The ropes spring tight around the mare’s hindlegs, pulling them underneath her. She fights, throwing her head against the halter, but off balance she can’t yank even my weight around. Scrabbling at the grass with her forelegs, eyes wide, nostrils flaring, she panics. But the Mutterer leans calmly on the ropes and her hindlegs fold up underneath her. She sits down on the deep grass and stares at us, gasping. The Mutterer, still as calm as a monolith (the mare and I are equally spooked), leans against her shoulder and she eases slowly down onto her side.

    “Good girl.” He puts a hand on her neck, but she’s not struggling. She quivers slightly, breath racing. He rubs her neck and shoulders and face and flanks, speaking to her slowly, explaining to me as I sit in the grass and stare. Because as the Mutterer explains, the mare relaxes. Her wide eyes soften. Her breathing slows down. The Mutterer loosens the ropes around her legs, but she doesn’t kick out. She is at her most vulnerable, lying on her side with – in her mind – her most powerful and violent enemy towering over her, but she’s relaxing.

    The Mutterer hears my question before I ask it. “Because we didn’t hurt her once in this whole process,” he says. The mare gives a long sigh. “We use soft, thick lunging lines that don’t burn her, and we do it in the open where she can’t hurt herself, on thick grass so that even if she falls it won’t hurt.”

    I nod. The mare went down, but she went down slowly, without being able to fight hard enough to pull any muscles.

    Then, the mare licks and chews, an ultimate sign of equine submission and relaxation. Now the Mutterer pats her, softly at first, then hard enough to make the thudding noise most horses enjoy. And the mare doesn’t flinch. She lies still and lets herself feel a human’s love for the first time.

    I’m still a little incredulous about the whole process right up until the moment when the Mutterer takes off the ropes and the mare gets slowly to her feet. Without a backward glance, he walks away. And without a second thought, without a halter on, in an open paddock, in the deep soft grass, away from her equine herdmates, the mare follows him.

    It made sense when he explained it. The mare was terrified. She understood only two things about men: that they would unfailingly hurt her, and that if she fought or fled for her life she might avoid the pain. To gain her trust, we had to reverse both those principles. She had to believe that men were stronger than her. And she had to believe that they would never do her harm.

    Pulling her down did just that. She was put into her most vulnerable position, shown that she could fight as she would but humans would always be stronger. (If it were not so, horses would still be wild; we have a God-given dominion over them. The bad part is that so many of us are tyrants and dictators instead of good rulers). But even at her most vulnerable, even at her most afraid, there was no pain. The humans didn’t hurt her or threaten her. In her darkest moment, there was just a gentle touch and a quiet voice. And when the force was taken away – when the ropes were removed – the little mare did what all horses do. She chose her leader, and she chose the leader that had proven his strength and his good intentions. Then she followed him.

    And it probably saved the little mare’s life. The few minutes of fear and worry, now eclipsed by the relaxation and submission that flooded every line of her features, had been worth it. The mare had been a worthless, wild creature, doomed to the dark future of every useless and dangerous horse. But now, she had a second chance.

    I was silent for a long time afterwards, because I know the feeling. Because I, too, have been that horse lying on the grass and gasping in terror. My legs tied up. A weight on my neck. Unable to fight back, unable to do anything to prevent my worst fear from coming true. It was a dark hour, and I was most afraid. I could not understand why I was suddenly so helpless or why the strange, higher being would force me so, anymore than the little mare could understand why the man had pulled her down.

    But in that darkness, in that fear, in that helplessness, there was no pain from the One Who had put me there. Just a gentle touch and a quiet voice: “Be still and know that I am God.” And I knew He was God, and I knew He was all-powerful, almighty and all-knowing, that He could crush me like a bug where I lay. And I knew, more overwhelmingly than I have ever known, that He loved me.

    You see, in that moment, it felt as though I had nothing. My herdmates felt far away and unable to save me. My own strength had failed me entirely. All I had was the loving touch of Jesus as He held me, and His soft voice as He stilled the storm inside. I had nothing but Him, and He was enough.

    Horses and people have the same clockwork inside. Because when He let me rise again and gave me my freedom, when I saw the open field and the rest of the world waiting, I looked up and I saw Him. He Who was stronger than me, Who loved me. So I did what all humans do: I chose my Leader. And I followed Him.

    And I am now no longer a worthless, wild creature. I am no longer doomed to a dark future. I have been given a second chance.

    I took it.

    Just Hanging On

    Horse riding is a sport. An art. A passion. A career. It takes technique, it takes time, it takes talent. Balance, rhythm, deep breaths, impulsion, low heels, high hopes, the perfect distance, the perfect bend, the perfect seat, a draping leg, automatic release, just the right tack.

    But sometimes, horse riding is just about hanging on.

    Sit tall and deep. Elbows by your sides. More leg. Open chest. Closed fingers.

    And sometimes, just hang on.

    Sometimes, push your heel a little further down and tuck your lower leg a little further back. Relax the lower back a little more. Straighten the hands again. Focus between the ears.

    And sometimes, just hang on.

    Because when the muck heap hits the windmill, there’s nothing you can do except try not to fall off. Drop your heels if you can, grab mane if you need to, try to get him back under control but ultimately, just hang on. Franz Mairinger, coach of the gold-medal-winning Australian Olympic eventing team, said: “In an emergency I don’t care what you do, just don’t fall off.”

    Just hang on.

    Which is easy enough, when your horse has a moment and temporarily loses his mind and twenty seconds later it’s all over and you’re back to work. But many horses – dare I say most horses – go through a stage where their brains serially evaporate. Sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes for frustratingly unfixable reasons, horses can and do go through tough times in their training where they seem to regress dramatically and just become absolute lunatics overnight. Your normally safe, sound, wonderful creature loses it and broncs like a crazy beast every single ride for the next six weeks. His back, teeth, legs, brain, routine, feeding, grooming, tack, stomach, vision, and ear hairs for all we know are completely fine. Yet still he goes insane. Still he is not the horse he once was. Still he is leaping and flailing over jumps that he never used to mind and you can’t figure out why his confidence is gone. And wherever it went, your confidence is rapidly following.

    But it’s going to be okay. Just hang on.

    Give it time. It’s not going to be perfect tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Don’t try to make it perfect. Just try not to fall off. And if you do, just get back on again. Falling is part of it, blood is part of it, pain is part of it all; we don’t do easy, and that’s how we’ll get through it. Horses, just like people, lose their confidence sometimes for simple little reasons or perhaps no reason at all; they go through growth stages in their character. It happens and there are no quick fixes. All you can do is hang on and keep trying.

    Just hang in there. Just hang on. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and once you’ve ridden all the way through the chaos and survived the sweat and the adrenaline and the dry-mouthed moments of absolute terror and the despair and the hopelessness, it will be so very worth it. Because you will be the one that clung fiercely to him when he couldn’t even keep a grip on himself. And then he will trust in you and he will fight for you, because you were there and you didn’t quit on him. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

    I know I don’t.

    I love you, crazy race monster
    I love you, crazy race monster