Charlotte Dujardin does it, Denny Emerson does it, J even makes me do it at the end of every ride and then yells that I should hold the buckle while my panicking horse spooks and snorts at washing lines and dogs. It’s fun, it’s good for the horse, it’s even good for the rider, it’s relaxation for everyone – and then there’s me, the self-confessed hater. Of hacking.
Tilly is not big on effort
I like my sandbox. I spent my teenage years faceplanting off a variety of horses, many somewhere on the spectrum of insanity, most of whom should never have been outside of an enclosed space to begin with, and it left me somewhat phobic. Having grown up in the just-kick-him school of thought I frequently pressured frightened horses into the wrong situations and frequently got left sitting on air, mostly due to nobody’s fault but my own. Still, it left its scars. I’m a long way from the fearless kid in jeans and gumboots who used to gallop all over the wide world on old Skye when she was young and strong like me.
The ding on her face? That’s from galloping into a solid iron gate. As you do when you’re about to turn 31.
I’m a long way from the teen who was perpetually tortured by the fear of her own fear, though, so for the sake of the horses I’ve resolved to gird up my loins and incorporate a little wander around the yard into each session. It’ll be a while before I take Thunder (AKA Mr. Spook-and-Spin) out on the big trails by myself, or even with a babysitter if we’re honest, but there are lots of little tracks through the pastures within the confines of the yard that we can take walkies on. We started with an attempt at this yesterday, and he was good apart from staring and staring at my little piggy who was oinking madly and running up and down in front of our cottage for some strange porcine reason.
Today the piggy was innocently rooting up the lawn when we passed, so he was fine until she suddenly oinked while he was staring at the washing line and he did a complete 180 in a sliver of a second. To my surprise, I didn’t even wobble in the saddle. Clearly, riding a bunch of good-hearted but athletic young Arabians has improved the quality of Velcro on my bottom. With newfound confidence in my ability to not fall off, I let him stare at the piggy for a bit longer and then we continued. He was tense at first, but by the end of the 10-minute walkies he was on the buckle.
The jury is still out on whether he actually will find this relaxing or not, but he’s a big boy who can learn this life still, so wandering we will go.
His dressage ride, preceding the unplanned pirouette at the sight of the piggy, was absolutely fabulous. He was a bit distracted to begin with (distinctly not helped when Vastrap, a gelding of 16 years, decided that it would be a great idea to enthusiastically cover one of Thunder’s girlfriends down in the field) but settled well. We had a mild argument about wheter he really had to go off my leg (YES YOU DO, BRO) and once that was over he was happy to go straight to work. We did renvers and renvers and renvers as per coach’s orders to warm up the walk. Once he was really active and into the outside rein we picked up the trot, and he was REALLY into my hands. Not as pleasantly soft and round as normal, but really driving forward from behind into the contact. He felt super light in front and powerful, so I didn’t mind the heaviness in my hands too much.
We got some of his best and most forward medium trot yet and then did even more renvers. It’s not great yet; he’s not fully through and connected in it yet, and the bend is not really supple yet. But he is bent the right way and in the right position so the rest will come once he’s more relaxed and used to it. At least I’m finally realizing that I do not need to haul on the inside rein to get shoulder-in position which, to be honest, is probably the whole point.
We moved on to canter and I was pleasantly surprised to find a HUGE powerful canter that was also extremely balanced and easy to collect. Amazing how when you do what your coach says, stuff gets easier. It was so good, even tracking left, that I only rode a 10m circle on each rein and some simple changes and that was it. The new Elementary 2 canter work – half circle onto the centerline with transition to walk at L, continue on centerline in medium walk to I, half circle back to track, transition to canter at S/R – is easy and horse-friendly and Thunder did it really, really well. We finished with one foot-perfect canter to walk on the track itself and stopped there.
The canter-walk has been such a huge issue in my head ever since poor Dragon and I were fighting our way through Elementary all alone two years ago. We never got it right and I hated it so, so, so much. Now, Thunder really can do them, I just have to relax and ride them softly instead of flapping about in panic because I think we’re not good at them.
Lancey also went for a ride, babysitting sweet Nugget on her first outride. I’m keeping things easy on his sweet brain, with lots of adventuring around outside and then short bursts of 10-15 minutes’ schooling. He really is struggling to just trust my hand, trust the contact, balance and carry himself. He is forever trying to rush, hollow, and then fight for all he’s worth. I don’t really know what to do – well, obviously, I can just put a martingale on or seesaw a bit and make him put his head down, but that’s not going to get me anywhere much in the long run.
So we’ll keep just touching on it here and there until he can go and see J next week and J can magically fix it. Having a coach is totally wonderful.
Lancey is weird on outrides. He’s really good, and I trust him absolutely, but he looks at EVERYTHING. He hardly ever actually jumps, just stares and does some majestic Arab snorting. Keep trying, little dude. One day you’ll figure out how to horse.
Tilly is a good girl
The horses all had last week off for pony camp and this weekend’s show is cancelled, but I look forward to some chill time at home just working on all the little things and enjoying each other before we get stuck back into lessons and things in the second half of July.
God has been so rich and fearless in His blessings. He’s called me out so much further than I expected, dared me into deeper waters than I ever expected. But every step is joy and every breath is grace. Riding on water, on the back of a dancing horse.
Two lessons in a single week again? What sorcery is this?
No sorcery here – just too many blessings even to count. After spending a magical week with the darling at the fire base where he works, I was admittedly reluctant to come back to our home, but I know it won’t be long before he’s with me again too. And until he does get back, I know just how to keep myself occupied.
it’s only 3 hours away but it feels like Narnia
Lancelot and I were going to do an express eventing show this coming weekend, but I ended up not having space in the box. This turned out not to be a bad thing, because – with the best of intentions of keeping him from getting sweaty and miserable in his increased work – I clipped the little guy. (He behaved impeccably; he was fast asleep by the end, although he did pull away when I started tidying up around his head, so I left that for next year’s conversation).
he has no muscles so let’s call this the before picture
All fine and well; he slept in the field bundled up in a blanky. Unfortunately the winter elected that specific night for the coldest of the year, and evidently I hadn’t blanketed him thickly enough, because he got cold and was then really sore and stiff in his hind end. Sound again now, but he was not very happy. Of course, I put him straight into a nice warm stable.
I did have a lesson booked with K, though, so instead of skipping it we took the dragon out on xc for the first time in years. In fact, I haven’t even been on the dragon for months, but her kid has been riding her so I just borrowed her back for a few hours.
Of course, she was picture perfect. I had a lot of little glitches to fix in the warmup – which was a bit sad, but you know, kids – and she refused the first couple of jumps. Once she did jump them, though, a little switch flicked in her head. She realized that it was me on her back and that full dragon mode was absolutely allowed. So full dragon mode we went.
let us appreciate how small I look on her 14.3 hands
She jumped really great, her typical wild self, once she realized that I wasn’t going to let her stop. In fact, by the time we jumped a course at the end, she was actually running away and bucking quite a lot lol. I had forgotten how hot the fire in her belly burns. I am absolutely going to be stealing her back more frequently from now on!
I don’t think anyone will ever beat my dragon, just the way no one ever beat old Skye. She’s in a league of her own. Right now, the plan is for her to compete with a kid for two more years and then to breed a foal from her. She is from a rare breed that could really benefit from her bloodline, plus I think I really need a half-Friesian half-dragon to be my next young horse.
Speaking of half-Friesians, this one had a lesson booked with J for this morning – 6:30 this morning, to be precise. That meant that at 4:30 I was getting him ready to box. He was not amused with being woken at that kind of an hour.
“Mom, you’re out of your cotton-picking mind”
Nevertheless, he obliged, although when we got to J’s farm we were both still somewhat bleary-eyed. Still, we missed all the traffic, so that was a win. Despite having agreed to this madness, J was NOT amused at all with having to stand in the cold arena at that time of morning (it was 4°C when we arrived) and called me a name I won’t share on the blog.
It was absolutely worth it, though, to go out onto the freshly raked river sand. And when the sun just rose and painted everything in pale gold, it was magic.
J’s doggo is almost as big as my horsie
After bemoaning my terrible choice of entering Novice at the last show, J proceeded to put us through basically all of the Elementary movements to prove that we can.
And actually it was all fine. Canter left needs a lot more impulsion, but the changes were fine, and J even said “good” once or twice so that’s a plus. Thunder was also SUPREMELY well behaved throughout – he was relaxed, focused, and just a real pleasure to work with. He did spook at a few things but that only made J laugh at us.
Just when my abs (and his butt) were dying, though, J made us go to sitting trot and do all of the lateral things. Of course, I was in trouble for not using my outside rein enough (a running theme). I have been given strict instructions to do nothing but endless renvers until I finally fix it.
What’s it been, almost a year and a half? Who am I kidding? I don’t need to ask. I know. It’s been a few days less than seventeen months since we lost her: my friend and fellow medic. She was the same age as me, but now I’ve had a birthday that she never will.
The saving grace, literally, is that she’s never actually been less lost. Not to Him: to Him she’s finally Home. Nor, honestly, to us. She’s never been more important to us all. She’s just not here in the flesh anymore.
As long as we’re still here, we’ll continue to miss her.
Seventeen months. Here we all are now, living our lives again. We say we got through it. Sometimes maybe we look like we’re over it. But the truth is that you never get over it. A loss like that is not so much a storm to weather as it is a divider. A great, open gap ripped in your life, diving it forever into two pieces: a before and an after. Two pieces so different they feel like they belong to different people.
People say you should be trying to get back to normal. But the truth is that the old normal doesn’t exist anymore because the old you doesn’t exist anymore. You never heal from that wound.
You just rise from the ashes.
Who I am and what my life is will never ever look or be the same as it was before. It’s seventeen months later and I am happy, whole, blessed beyond anything I ever expected, and changed. So, so changed. The way I see and interact with the world, the things I value, the things I fear – everything is different. I will never get over it. I will never get back to normal.
I cannot go back.
But I can go forward. Because while I have changed, one thing never has: the God Who will never let go.
The process isn’t healing. It’s transformation. I didn’t get better: I was reborn.
There’s no way through grief. There’s no road back to the way it used to be. But there’s not supposed to be.
Grief only rips us down to rebuild it. Grief only tears down the road ahead to build a bigger bridge. And grief, soul-wrenching, heartbreaking, gut-ripping grief above all does one great thing:
Grief changes us.
And that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.
* * * *
I am happier and more free right now than I have ever been before, for I have plumbed the depths of grace to an extent I thought impossible. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ll always miss you.
I haven’t actually competed myself, due to the AHS outbreak in our area and some other factors, since Horse of the Year in February. That was something of a disaster in itself (well, Faith was second in one class, but bucked me off halfway through winning the other), and long breaks from anything often don’t do my nerves any good, so I had only one goal for this whole show: just. relax. already.
It helped that I was only riding two horses. One, obviously, was his majesticalness himself, and the other was Tilly, a four-year-old WB who can only turn right about 50% of the time. Tilly is a client’s horse, but there’s no pressure on her to score well at all right now – it was her first show and all she needs to do is not throw anybody off.
I missed darling really, really badly, but at my bestest-estest buddy Erin and my dad were both there, so I was in good company. They both were so kind and gave me so much help, and I had two students with me but they’re big kids and Rising Stars so I abandoned them to their own devices. (True to form, they rode very well).
Thunder’s ride time was at 12:16pm, so Erin and I (whilst talking the hind leg off a donkey) had a leisurely morning getting the two horsies plaited. Tilly walked straight onto the box, so that was great. She went to HOY in hand but this was her first time being ridden off property and only her third ever trip in the horsebox. She was pretty chill when she unloaded, though. As long as she was with her buddies, she stood and ate her hay without a care in the world. Good baby.
Thunder was also practically fast asleep while I saddled him up. I was getting on gracefully (and by gracefully, I mean scrambling over him from the mudguard of the trailer while he tried to wander off and made me split) when J suddenly popped up out of nowhere. He hasn’t seen Thunder since our lesson in January (see above re: AHS) and told me to ride properly. I was planning on doing so and assured him that this was the case as the big guy and I plomped off to the warmup.
The warmup at this venue is right up against the main road, and in past years I’ve gotten into massive fights with my horses right before my tests because of them freaking out about the traffic – something they never really see at home. This year, I just didn’t ride all the way up to the road end of the arena, and none of my horses had an issue. Problem solved. Thunder warmed up great – a little sassy to begin with, and chatting with the other horses like he always does, but listening. He was, as usual, a little bit tight in his neck and a little stiffer to the left than at home. That’s him at shows. It’ll go away eventually.
Our warmup was short but with his fitness level this was not a bad thing. Then we headed in, not before J discovered us and howled in despair because we were doing Novice instead of Elementary. My whimpered excuse that we hadn’t had lessons and I didn’t want to mess it up was met with much exasperation from J, who addressed Thunder (he prefers talking to him than to me) and told him that “your mother doesn’t think”, so that was a great confidence boost right before going in lol.
Thunder was still giving the odd whinny and a little bit distracted/excited, but not tense or worried. Erin read the tests, too, a novelty for me, but I honestly have not memorised the new Novice tests yet.
Speaking of the new tests, I LOVE them. They ride a lot better than the old ones used to, and I feel like they iron out the jump from Prelim 4 to Novice 1 a lot better without dumbing down the level.
luckily Dad took videos or I wouldn’t even have screenshots from this show
He was sooooo good in this test. He was really solid, obedient, and happy in his own skin. I was not paying a whole lot of attention to the movements, focusing more on just chilling out and being in the moment with him and keeping my internal dialogue positive or at the very least quiet, so they were not really all that polished and I didn’t expect big marks. We actually did better than I thought we did, in the end.
Our first halt was a mediocre 6 which would have been a lot better if he hadn’t decided to step back into square halt, a habit that I taught him ages ago because I thought it was the done thing. The 12m circle left was another (expected) 6 because it was too big and he’s still stiff to the left because he hasn’t been in work for very long. The half circle onto the centreline, trot-walk-trot transition, and half circle off the centreline was a 7, because he was kind of perfect, again just a little stiff through his neck. He lost quarters in the second 12m circle for another 6, then achieved his best mark yet for a lengthening at a 6.5. He doesn’t lengthen well even when he is fit and J says he just needs more muscular strength, so I wasn’t sweating it, but I did accidentally penalise us by holding his frame as if for a medium. The judge commented on that and then, as usual, wanted him to cover more ground.
Everything fell apart a bit as we went into canter right. We have not been practicing a lot of trot-canter transitions because everything in Elementary happens out of walk, and Thunder executed the transition perfectly, but also onto the incorrect lead. I flapped at him and he fixed it so we still got a 5 lol. He tilted on the 15m circle right, but redeemed himself in the change of rein with canter-trot-canter transitions with a 7, so that was nice because our downwards have historically not been very good. The lengthening was pretty active but lost the quarters for a 6, which I can live with. His left 15m circle got another 7, followed by the downwards to trot and then walk getting another one, so I was really happy to see the transitions’ marks had improved. His free walk was an expected 7, but in the stretchy trot he saw a birdie and gazed at it, totally forgetting to stretch at all. We got 6.5 for that and then he didn’t step back in the final halt (albeit stepping right a little bit), earning another 7.
Our collectives were pretty fair, with 7 for walk, accuracy, and rider position, and then 6.5 for trot, canter and submission. The submission mark will come up automatically when he relaxes at new places, as, I think, will everything else; if he had the suppleness at shows that he does at home, our marks would be much better. The judge still liked him, commenting “You rode a fluent test on a willing horse, now needs a little more engagement, taking more weight behind” and giving us 66.04%. Considering our enormous mistake with the incorrect canter depart, I’ll totally take it.
my core feels so good, and my hands look so good, and my chair seat is totally back. ugh.
As we went in for the second test, Thunder espied a large burnt log lying next to the arena and promptly announced that it was evil and he didn’t trust it. I just kind of resigned myself to that fact because the whistle had already blown and we didn’t have time to investigate it, so I was just sympathetic and patted him when he was tense, knowing that movements near the log would be messy but if I just stayed with him emotionally everything else would be fine. It was pretty much the case. The judge in the second test is really strict and has never marked him well, but she sort of begrudgingly had to give us at least average marks, so that was cool.
He halted nicely and then gazed into the distance while I was saluting, so that earned him a 6.5, but he didn’t move – just looked up. The change of rein with two half 10m circles garnered another 6.5 with the usual comment about suppleness. The new leg-yield in Novice is gloriously easy – centreline to quarterline – and a total disaster for us because he thought we should be half-passing to the track and flew sideways when I touched him, so that was a 6. The lengthening was another encouraging 6.5, and he was looking at the log in the next leg-yield and led with the quarters for a few steps, getting another 6.
The half circle in medium walk was funny because he started off by gazing around a bit first and then realised halfway through that he should be stretching, whereupon he stretched all the way to the floor only a few strides before I had to gather him back up again. It was good enough for a 6.5. The transition to canter right at C was another disaster; he rushed, I flapped, and we flopped off into canter right for a 6. At least he was on the right leg this time lol. I got lost with the half 15m circle and made it too big, getting another 6, and then in the lengthening he saw the log again and decided to gallop sideways for a well-deserved 5.5. The next half circle was better because it was to the left, so we had a 6.5, and then he kind of fell in a heap during the final halt for no apparent reason for a 6.
Collectives were 6 for everything except 6.5 for the walk, with comments “Willing horse, could be steadier in frame, appears a little stiffer on the right rein. Some good moments”. Thunder always gets “willing horse” because he is just the very best boy. Despite the spooking he still got 61.42%.
Tilly was only riding at 3pm, so Erin and I sat in the shade holding them and talked another hindleg off the proverbial donkey for a while. I kind of forgot to go to the Novice prizegiving, but mostly because I was having a good time. I tacked up Tilly with about an hour to spare just in case she wanted to be crazy, and at first I thought she might be, but I used longsuffering Vastrap as brakes for a few laps of the arena and then she settled all the way down. A little looky, but completely controllable, and she just strolled down that centreline and behaved almost better than she did at home. I hadn’t polished her tests either, wanting nothing more than a good experience, but she was really well behaved (and turned right most of the time) and fetched up with scores of 64 and 65. I was just happy that she was calm and well behaved; when she won both classes it was the cherry on the cake. And when I was collecting the tests I learned that Thunder had won his first test, too. He was third in the second one, but I blame the log.
The show was an extremely positive experience. Now, we’ll do Elementary for the next one (J might just disown us if we don’t) and Tilly will continue to enjoy her Prelim and learn how to be a grown up horsie at shows. Both horses and I had a really good time, and the King of Heaven loves the world enough to give it dancing horses.
As winter well and truly sets in, despite a totally packed schedule, I’ve still been able to really enjoy the two dudes over the past couple of weeks.
No media from the lesson so sunset pictures instead
Lancelot and I started last week with a lesson with all time most amazing and perfect jumping coach, K. She babied me through Module 4, she continues to believe in me fiercely despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and she remains just an all round super nice human being. I knew I was in for a good experience even before I took Lancey off the horsebox.
He was a little bewildered at being the only horse in sight when we arrived for our early lesson, with K’s horses all still in their stables, but he didn’t do anything foolish. Between the cold and his nerves, though, he definitely put on a wonderful display of Arab snorting and having his tail in the air. He spooked non-violently at everything for a few minutes before settling right down once we’d had a chance to warm up and look at everything.
He was spooky enough that I told K we could do showjumping instead, but she told me to go jump a little log and see how he was. Well, he was perfect. We ended up jumping the whole 60cm track, including a tiny drop, a tiny dyke, a bank up, the little train, and lots of spooky logs and things. I let him sniff everything before jumping, but by the end it was unnecessary. He didn’t stop, didn’t overjump, and plodded around everything on a loose rein. What a good boy! I was grinning like a dork, too, and I can’t remember when last I wore anything but a panicked grimace when jumping.
strangely pensive-looking Lancey
I would like him to just trot along into the arena without doing the majestic Arabian snorting thing, though, so we’re going on lots of hacks now to help him be more brave. His dressage seriously needs work, but I feel like he needs to trust my hands and get familiar with me again. I feel like drilling in the sandbox is not what we need right now. We need to find each other first, and the time we spend doing that will never be wasted.
Thunderbirdy has been working quite happily too. We had a big argument about going forward, but once that was done, we went a lot better. We have a competition this weekend; I entered the Novice because we NEED lessons, he’s not strong like he was, and honestly I don’t think I can survive the sitting trot at my fitness level, LOL.
Each session has been better as I keep focusing on easier, more basic movements to rebuild his strength and my coordination. I suspect J is going to be quite dismayed by us when we go for our next lesson, but he’ll save us.
He is so flabby though. That fat belly is dreadful! Emotionally, though, Thunder is doing oh so well. He’s much more relaxed than he’s ever been before, standing very still for everything, not getting freaked out by horses going past like he used to – just a really happy, pleasant creature to work with. I’m so happy with him.
I’m so happy, honestly. Darling being away is horrible but God is my strength, His joy is my power, and He is so, so good – no matter what. Let everything that has breath praise His Name.
The white knight and I were supposed to be off to our first dressage show of the year yesterday, but the poor judge ended up sick in bed without a voice, so we decided to lesson with the show organiser instead.
M is not as high a level instructor as J, but I knew she was super nice and very technical, so for little Lancey it was a perfect fit – better than a show, actually.
Lancey is being a very interesting ride. Although not yet strong in his body and possessing the attention span of a gnat, he was nicely schooled when I gave him back to his child as a 4yo. I backed him slowly and meticulously and worked on him for a year, so he was pretty solid for a baby horse. We rode two Prelim tests for 67 and 68 with a very strict judge, after all.
Fast forward two years of showjumping and I have a very different little horse, physically at least. He is much more confident and independent now and can actually concentrate, and in jumping, he really takes good care of himself – I can freeze up a bit and he doesn’t really give his left sock. But in the dressage, sadly, he appears to have forgotten everything I ever taught him. He’s obedient enough in his transitions but likes to run onto the forehand, fall in with the quarters, go in zigzags, crash into fences instead of turning, fall in with the shoulders, hollow, lose rhythm, etc.
One thing that hasn’t changed is his super adorable personality. Lancey just still wants to make people happy and succeeds at his task 99.9% of the time.
So we arrived at the venue and he was, obviously, completely relaxed. This is a novelty after Thunder’s occasional brain evaporations, and I enjoyed tacking him up and hopping on with no drama. He does like to stare pop-eyed at things while walking around for the first time, occasionally accompanied by melodramatic Arab snorting, but didn’t actually spook.
Champagne and K were with us and Champagne, naturally, was a little loopy, so we started with walking around and using Lancey as Champagne’s brakes. Of course, he was totally good-natured about this – he barely noticed Pagney bouncing off his bottom. She soon settled down and worked really well, so we got to the lesson.
The work was very basic and simple, with M paying great attention to the fine details, exactly what Lancey needs. We did lots of large, some circles and a lot of tiny simple leg-yields – quarter line to track or 10m circle to 20m circle. Lance was quite willing to go to the left, but it took a few tries to go right, which makes sense because left is his stiff side. However, once M showed me how to get the timing of the aid right – applying the leg aid in pulses in time with his inside hind lifting – it made an enormous difference. Soon he was leg-yielding both ways without difficulty.
We also talked a lot about rhythm and tempo. Lancey has always had a really good natural rhythm, which got a little bit lost when he was being a showjumper. He likes to run onto his forehand and then sort of flinch away from my hand and hollow majestically as only an Arab can. M encouraged me to find his rhythm first and allow the hollowness to correct itself. She liked that my leg was keeping him active without nagging, but added that in order to keep a slower tempo – more active, less running – I had to slow my seat down without slacking off with my lower leg. This was a real light-bulb moment for me. Thanks to riding J’s schoolmasters once back in 2017, I pretended to be riding passage instead of a rather mediocre working trot, and letting my seat post on a passagey rhythm while my legs kept asking for forward really got him together without ever touching the reins.
We finished with cantering just a couple of circles. His canter work is horrible to be honest. He can be trusted to canter and be on the right leg, but apart from that it’s a bit of an epic disaster. But I’m avoiding it for now as we work on the trot first to get him more relaxed and soft in his own rhythm.
He had a few really gorgeous moments. When he does relax and start pushing, lifting and swinging, he just falls into the contact easily, and we get about half a circle of brilliance. But he doesn’t have the strength to hold it yet so then we flop around again for a bit.
M was saying how I’m very experienced and I added that yes, I am, but I’m still a total beginner at anything more than Prelim. I’ve backed more babies than I can really remember and ridden millions of Prelim tests, but I’ve only ever had three horses compete at Novice, and none of them for very long. When it comes to riding anything more than a 20m circle it’s still a real challenge for me to do well. In other words, I need a LOT of lessons lol. But at least I have spent a lot of time on the backs of moving horses – in the words of Denny Emerson – so the foundation is very much there; the balance, the effectiveness of the aids and the effort to understand the horse’s mind. Now there’s so much to learn and build on that foundation and I’m just really excited to go out and do it.
As for this wonderful little white horse, he just gives me so much joy and confidence. He’s such a relaxed, non-violent guy who just wants to have fun. Such a quick study and ridiculously sensitive to my seat for a horse that was ridden by a kid for two years.
Thunderbirdy is also still alive and getting back into work, and his first show is in two weeks’ time. I’ll post an update on the majestic one soon, but first Lancey and I have another lesson – jumping this time – tomorrow. It’s going to be really fun and I look forward to it. Darling is working away for a bit so I’m finding all sorts of horsy things to keep me occupied and avoid dwelling on the fact that not having him by my side feels like a missing limb.
How blessed I am to have something that I long for so deeply. Glory to the King.
For the past few months, I’ve been riding my own horses pretty sporadically. Part of this was personal stuff that got in the way and other parts were that my writing career suddenly took off like a shot, which is time-consuming but does mean that now I can actually afford to have horses. Now that I’m back in a position where I can afford my horses and actually ride them, I’m really excited to get back to work.
In the meantime, though, my horse was neglected.
Well, by neglected, I mean that he slept in deep shavings every night, spent all day gambolling in a green field with his buddies, was fed the best diet that money can buy, got groomed every day, spent his time drenched in fly spray, had his temperature taken twice a day, saw the chiro, saw the farrier, got put onto another even more expensive supplement and was fed daily doses of carrots. But, you know. Super neglected.
so neglected. much sadness
I rode him again properly for the first time in weeks on Thursday. For a horsie who’s hardly seen a saddle lately, he was incredible.
I’ve been riding regularly, but mostly babies, and almost exclusively Arabs. I felt like I was sitting on a barrel – which basically I was. Someone has acquired something of a dad bod on the rich summer grass.
pictured: dad bod belly
Because of how long we’ve both been out of it, I kept it very easy for this first ride. We just did a lot of working and stretchy trot and canter on very simple figures, not really working on anything, just finding each other once again.
I was genuinely surprised by how good he felt. In this level of work, he still feels VERY strong and supple. He even gave me a couple of flying changes effortlessly and one relatively good canter to walk. His connection was better than it felt – he felt kind of against my hand, but in the video, he’s actually looking very good. I kept trying to make him soft and putting him a bit BTV, though. Sorry buddy. I’m evidently more rusty than he is.
My position has also gone down the drain a bit, I’m afraid. Riding babies is not conducive to having a neat little seat. I need to go ride a Lipizzaner and then get us back into regular lessons.
There was one thing, though, that bothered me inexpressibly. He was SO GROSS. He’d been groomed daily, but his fuzzy winter coat was just scurfy and dusty and frankly disgusting. So yesterday it was time for a bath. Historically he has been a pain to bath – or to do anything that means standing still – especially when he’s been off for a while, but I didn’t care. He needed to be clean.
He was actually a very good boy. I think he was just happy to finally be getting some attention. I gave him a big haynet too so he chomped on that while I scrubbed him – he’s never minded the actual bathing/clipping/whatever, he just doesn’t stand still.
I need to give him a trim as well but at least he’s clean and detangled now. Speaking of clipping, he seriously needs a clip, but I’ve got to do some of the liveries first because they have shows coming up.
Our first show is in June, and I think we’ll probably just do a few Novice tests for his fitness and my nerves. Either way, I’m just so happy, so blessed and so grateful to be spending time with this absolutely magnificent animal again.
The admin of an equestrian Facebook group asked a question the other day that was terrifying in its simplicity: Why do you have a horse?
It seems like such an easy question until you have to answer it.
The answers to her post grew longer and longer as horse people from every walk of life waxed lyrical with their reasons for adding a large and expensive flight animal to their lives and hearts. It seems at first glance that there are hundreds of reasons why people have horses: Because they are therapy; because we’ve always wanted one; because they’re our friends; because they give us freedom; because they help us reach our dreams; because they give us a few moments’ escape from the brutal world of human interaction. Because we love them. Because we find them beautiful.
But in reality, there aren’t hundreds of reasons why we have horses. There is only one.
We have horses because God lent them to us.
Only He knows why. If I had created an animal so perfect – a beast with the speed of the wind, the grace of an unfurling storm and the heart of a warrior – I wouldn’t have given it to the loud, messy, selfish, violent human race. We are the ones that fell, after all. He gave us the horse, a creature whose very movement heals us, whose emotional connection to us goes beyond what we can really explain, and we have been abusing that privilege ever since. They’ve been pulling our loads and fighting our battles for centuries, and we built our civilization upon their willing backs.
We don’t deserve them. But then again, it’s never been about what we deserve. Their presence in our lives is just a drop in the ocean of His grace.
The great mercy is that God didn’t give them to us to keep. It’s only ever a loan: sooner or later, and we never know when, they’ll all be called Home to stand in the stables of the King.
He gave us dominion over them. Let us never, ever forget how sacred our duty is towards these magnificent animals. Let us never lose our appreciation for what our horses do for us. Having horses is not about us and it has never been about us.
There are horses who do everything they can to avoid us; horses who live with us quietly because they don’t feel like they have a choice; horses who live in terror of us; horses who tolerate our presence; horses who don’t mind having us around provided we have carrots; and a rare few who genuinely enjoy human interaction.
And then you get some horses that like people better than horses. Or perhaps you only get one – I’ve only ever met one, anyway.
Long-term blog readers will recognise a little grey Arabian gelding named Lancelot. He came to our yard on New Year’s Day 2016, the third livery we ever had. I started him that year for his kid and competed him through most of 2017, doing some jumping and dressage. He was one of my all-time favourite horses ever: not the most mentally engaged little chap, but as good and kind and genuine as they come.
Lancey also had his fair share of quirks. He was slow to mature mentally, always distractable, and much more interested in drooling on your shoulder than actually doing anything. We fooled around with gentle work for almost two years before, one day at a show, his little ears suddenly went up and his tail flagged and I felt the light bulb go on. Oh, this is what I’m supposed to do! Nothing could stop him on a jumping track ever since; I handed him over to his kid and he jumped everything in sight. She competed him throughout 2018 and the only elimination he had was for jumping a random fence sideways in the jump-off.
Lancey’s upbringing was something of a unique one. He was the first offspring of English import Silvern Lance, a mostly Crabbet stallion who also happens to be one of the kindest and most generous horses you will ever meet in your life. His dam, Al Shama Pamirah, came from old endurance lines and also failed to have any milk for little baby Lancelot. The breeders hand-raised him, and he grew up into something of a gigantic puppy.
Unlike many orphans, though, Lancey didn’t grow up to be a socially crippled monster. He was still living in a herd and so he has all the social skills he needs. He just chooses not to use them. He lives in a big field with a large group of others, who tried to pick on him at first, but boss mare Arwen took him under her wing and protected him for a while until the others left him alone. Now, he peacefully coexists, but most of the time you’ll find him grazing off in a corner by himself. Happy as a clam, just not involved with the group.
But when a human being sets foot in the field, he’s the first to come gambolling over, with his funny little Arab tail over his back.
It’s hard not to be happy when you’re being drooled on by Lancey. He’s a truly happy, friendly, sweet guy who just wants to be your friend. He goes out of his way to spend time with people as part of his herd, and while it’s not very normal, it’s certainly good for the human soul.
Lancey’s people ended up going through something of a hard patch. And so, at a time when I really shouldn’t have another mouth to feed, I’ve found myself with another horse. Another dream of a horse: a beautiful, well-bred white Arabian with a heart of gold.
I don’t know where God is going with this. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep him. I don’t even really know what I’ll do with him if I do keep him. For now, everything happens one ride, one cuddle, one glob of friendly pony drool at a time.
I painted the windowframes this weekend. I should be dead.
Darling chose the colour; a metallic grey. He was building the cupboard with that painstaking, methodical way of his. First stripping planks off the old pallets that nobody wanted anymore – nobody except us, anyway. They were beaten up and weathered and cast aside, but they seemed to change in his big, careful hands. I knew that by the end of the day these broken old things would become something new, something useful. Unrecognizable.
A little like me.
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” – Matthew 26:36-39
The windowframes were my job. I put some music on and grabbed a little brush and got to work. The paint smoothed easily over the frames themselves, hiding the weathered surface under a shiny new grey coat.
The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss. Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. – Matthew 26:48-50
The burglar bars were a little more difficult. They’d been painted white before and the grey paint didn’t want to stick. I almost asked Darling for help, but decided that I was a strong and independent woman and that I was going to figure it out myself. Surrounded came up next on my playlist and I turned it up a few notches, dancing in place as I sang along. “It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by You.”
But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!” – Matthew 26:63-66
The first windowframe took all my concentration, but by the time I moved on to the bathroom window – Darling propped it open for me with a piece of plank – I’d hit my rhythm. I almost spilt some of the paint on the windowpane, but managed to catch it just in time.
Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!” – Matthew 27:22-23
By lunchtime, the windowframes were done. I rinsed out the brush and walked into our little house. Darling was stepping back to look at his cupboard with a critical eye, but smiled as I came in. He was fragrantly covered in sawdust and sweat, and when he draped an arm over my shoulders, the perfect smell of him embraced me.
“All done,” I told him.
He pressed his lips to the top of my head, a tiny and tender gesture, but as big and strong as the hands that built our house. “Well done, liefie.”
And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it. After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.“Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!” – Matthew 27:33-35,39-40
“Ready for lunch?” I asked. “There’s tuna, if you like.”
His smile was the sun in my world. “Sounds good.”
We walked back towards the farmhouse hand in hand. We always do, even if it’s too hot to hold hands, just interlacing our pinky fingers together – a connection.
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart… – Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51
I pause and look back. Our tiny house basks in the autumn sunshine, almost done. The grey windowframes look new and cosy, and it’s starting to look like a home instead of a construction zone. I lean against darling and let out a sigh of contentment.
“I can’t wait,” I say.
“Me neither.” He pulls me a little closer. “I love you.”
As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. – Matthew 27:57-60
I lean against the man who loves me and I gaze out at the little house and I know that I should be dead. I know that I should have been the one to kneel in Gethsemane horrible anguish. I know that I should have been the one to stand trial in front of mocking hordes. I know that I would have been found guilty. I know that I should have been nailed to a cross and that I should have died a slow, agonising death.
It should have been me. But it wasn’t. It was the King of all kings, the Creator of the world, the Alpha and Omega. I was the one who deserved it, but He was the One who died.
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” – Matthew 28:5-7
I should be dead. Instead, the Son of God, Who knew no sin, died in my place. He paid all of my debts and set me free two thousand years before I was born. Then He rose again, and I rise up with him, a new creature, living a new life.
I should be dead. Instead, I painted my windowframes. I painted them grey, and I sang His praise. I hugged my man and I made tuna sandwiches for lunch. And I know, with every breath, that I don’t deserve even the air in my lungs. I don’t deserve to be starting a life together with the most incredible human being on this earth. I don’t deserve to ride horses or enjoy a meal with my family or sing in the sunshine or even my pretty new grey windowframes. I certainly don’t deserve eternal life or unity with the God that is all goodness.
He died for me. I don’t deserve to call Him Abba.
But it’s not something I earned. It’s a gift. So I paint my windowframes. I hold my man close. I anticipate the glory that is to come. And I sing the praises of the God Whose love never gives up and never finds a limit.