Your Castle is on Fire

Knight and fire

Knight and fire (Photo credit: Ari Helminen)

Today’s Daily Prompt was a real character development question: Your home is on fire. Grab five items (assume all people and animals are safe). What did you grab?

I know what I’d grab. My King James Bible, our server (which has all our pictures, novels, and business records on it), my Solo Classic GP saddle, the tablet (which has all our ebooks on it), and one other book. I simply can’t decide which one – probably the beautiful graphic novel version of the Book of Revelation, though.

It’s far harder to answer this question on the behalf of somebody who doesn’t exist.

A very large part of being a writer is simply stepping into someone else’s shoes. The fact that you first have to imagine the someone else makes this somewhat harder, and it’s difficult to let go of your own thoughts and feelings and write purely from your character’s point of view. As a Christian girl with not much backbone, a lot of sentiment and little experience of grief or family trouble, I had quite a task writing from the point of view of a courageous if sarcastic young man who has no room for softheartedness, grieving for his sister and suffering from absent parents and massive responsibilities.

After a 95 000-word journey with aforesaid sarcastic young man, though, it’s becoming much easier to slip into the mind of Flann Hildebrand. His conversion in chapter eighteen (or possibly sixteen) made things much easier, too. He became a softer and much stronger soul, and an altogether much more agreeable person to pretend to be.

It’s as the Flann of early days, in the start of his (unpublished) story Another Sword, that I’ll answer today’s Daily Prompt. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Most Honourable Marquis of Hildebrand, Knight of the Noble Order of the Lion, Sir Flannery Hildebrand. What five items would you grab?

You’re thinking like a typical civilian. Your home is on fire. Okay, everyone’s safe, but grabbing a whole lot of stuff and heading for the hills is sure going to help to put the fire out. Please, people. Can we make a bit of an effort here?

What you should do is quit worrying about your stuff and start worrying about the flames spreading. Scream “Fire!” extremely loudly and clearly, but please not too shrilly, and do stop once you hear the alarm bells ringing. Send someone to the nearest Knight of the Lion (they’ll be guarding most of the gates and all of West Ardara, den of thieves that it is) and you should have a regiment of Knights helping you out within ten seconds, Knights being a good deal smarter than the average civilian, in other words, you.

While waiting for the Knights, run to your neighbours and scream your lungs out at them until they wake up. Bully them into forming a bucket chain and first wet down the houses and outbuildings nearest to the fire. The Knights will have arrived by then and will take over, usually quenching the flames.

No five items in your own house are more important than everyone else’s houses. Unfortunately, you won’t heed my advice. You’re a civilian, after all. It’s no wonder you need us Knights running around protecting your sorry backside.

I did warn you about the sarcasm.

Flann 120 pages later would have answered the same question entirely differently. I’m still getting used to a fervently believing, meek and mild Flann Hildebrand. He managed to hang onto his grumpy voice, but he became a quite different imaginary person on the inside. One I’d be proud to be.

If only changing your soul was as easy as changing an imaginary one.

Liveth and Believeth

My old cellphone expired a few weeks ago, resulting in my now being the proud(ish) owner of a Samsung Galaxy Ace Advance. For everyone else to whom that is pure gibberish, it’s a fancy touch-screen one where you can go and “buy apps” (which, in English, eventually turned out to mean downloading [for free] little programs to put on your cellphone).

You probably knew that. I am probably a phenomenally retarded teenager when it comes to cellphones. But I do know one thing: The Bible Gateway app is the best thing since chain mail. Er, I mean sliced bread.

As you may have noticed, I am extremely fond of the Bible Gateway website (www.biblegateway.com), a searchable online Bible in about a trillion different verses. I have a proper ink-and-paper King James Bible (a slightly scarred one, it is true; Bibles were apparently not designed to be taken camping), which I study in the mornings and guiltily dog-ear, but my knowledge of its hallowed pages is still somewhat deplorable. Hence, the searchable part is pretty cool.

The recently-released app is available for free on Google Play Store, and man, do I love it! My favourite thing about it? The audio Bible. The dramatized KJV is amazing. I’ve only listened to a few chapters – data not allowing for tremendous profligacy – but to hear each and every person in the Bible with their own voice, from Goliath’s rumbling ominousness to Jesus’s serene tone, was amazing. The music, the sound effects – Philistines baying for blood, Jews chattering in the synagogue – if the narrators and vocal actors just had British accents, it would be more than perfect. And even the quiet American accents work just fine for me.

John 11, with Mary and Martha’s high voices breaking up the dialogue, was particularly powerful. Well, more powerful than normal. John 11 has become one of my favourite chapters, mostly for just two verses:

25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

This. This is it. This is life. This is the big secret that you spend your life looking for, and it lives and it breathes and it loves and it is a He and His name is Jesus Christ.

And what a splendid thing it is to live and believe in Him!

***

Living and believing in Him, in my case, has quite a lot of horses in it. God made horses and He made me, and I’m pretty sure He had the link in mind long before He set my heart to beating.

These amazing animals are just that – animals. Many of today’s equestrians seem ready to fling themselves at horses’ feet and praise their wonders. Horses aren’t people and they aren’t God; horses are horses, and that’s all they were made to be. And isn’t a horse enough without any imagined powers? Isn’t it enough to see that half-ton of flesh and blood lift into the air like a bursting flame, to rise and sing above the wavering grass as if its powerful weight was no heavier than a hawk? Isn’t it enough to look into dark brown eyes and see nothing mystical, nothing beyond the courage and character of an honest beast?

Horses are horses, but never just horses; for nothing God made is just a thing. He never made anything badly, and before you praise the horse, think for a moment of the One who made him; think for a moment of Job 39, and before you praise the horse, ask yourself, “Did I give the horse his strength? Did I clothe his neck with thunder?”

Nope, you didn’t. God did. And He’s all the more amazing for it.

I never can get those eye pictures quite right

I never can get those eye pictures quite right

My particular golden, not affrighted, thunder-clad mare quite lived up to her tribute in Job 39:19-25 recently; she could not stand still when the trumpet sounded, or, I may add, at any time at all. Standing still wasn’t on her agenda; nor was going any slower than was absolutely necessary, and going slow is never very necessary for Skye.

I could control her, by the skin of my teeth, with the snaffle on outrides – in the arena she’s just fine – but I had to get pretty rough with my hands. I don’t like being mean with my hands; Skye didn’t give the wrong end of a rat for how mean I was being as long as I let her run (Skye not being the thin-skinned type). However, after much mental deliberation, I decided that harsh hands with a soft bit are worse than soft hands with a harsh bit, and duly put the Pelham back on. I did put the reins through the top ring and set the curb chain at its loosest, though, so it was as mild as a ported Pelham can get.

It worked like a charm. I could keep my hands quiet and I had my dressage horse back, the one with the neck that bends like a bow of burning gold and the barely-controlled power crackling through from legs to poll like lightning. Oh, she was still Skye, still my great plunging charger who never says never and is game for anything. All the power and spirit is still there; the joie de vivre that’s part of her, the flame that burns high. But this time I didn’t have to cling on for dear life any more than strictly necessary, she wasn’t hiding behind her bit or playing tug-of-war with me, and we came to a compromise.

The fact still remains that I would much rather cling desperately to a happy, healthy, exploding Skye than sit easily on a droopy, sad one. There’s no malice in her; just a bursting exuberance for the very joy of life. The fact that it never scares me only means that this is a truly special horse.

Putting on some weight, too

Putting on some weight, too

Her son is also a truly special horse, only in a completely different way. Not for Thunder the leaping, the prancing, the snorting, the explosive happiness. He’s a quiet soul, a willing guy, laid-back and never much irritated or bothered or excited by anything. Some may be bored by this (not least the Horse Mutterer), but I deal with enough loony horses to be vastly relieved to handle an exceptionally quiet and gentle one.

Bear in mind that I speak of a two-year-old gelding who’s been under saddle for about a month, so baby Thun is by no means a solid old hack who never puts a toe out of line. He’s got the temperament, but not the training. He’s got some way to go before we get to Skye’s level. That said, he’s being a sweet pie.

He rides like a total baby; he’s still figuring out what whoa, go and turn mean, his paces are inconsistent, and he’s not fully in control of his giant gawky limbs. However, he’s a willing little guy once he knows what you want. His worst problem is going from trot to canter. Once he’s in the canter, naturally, he canters like a baby too; much too fast, on the wrong leg and off balance. But so far he has bucked once under saddle and that was probably my fault; I even aimed him at a 20cm jump from a trot just to see what he would do. He looked at it once and hopped over with no complaint.

I rode him pretty hard three days in a row last week, and by the third day he was really droopy and lazy. I’ll just have to be careful not to tire him out too much as he is so young.

It’s been three weeks since Arwen’s last AHS vaccine, so I have the all clear to work her poor fat butt off again. And it is quite a fat one, despite my efforts. Despite having her concentrate halved and her supplementary maize cut out, Arwie is a fat round grey pony again.

I can’t complain too much, though. She kept her pretty topline and elegant neck, as well as most of the muscling on her forearms and hindquarters. There is a marked bulge around her midriff that wasn’t there before. However, her ribs are still there and she doesn’t have that bloated, flabby look of a truly obese horse, so I think a few weeks’ work will fix her.

Thankfully, she doesn’t seem rusty under saddle. Arwen walks and canters really, really well most of the time. She’s flexing nicely at the poll now, bending her neck and bringing her nose in, as well as using her hindquarters and stepping over her tracks by two or even three hoofprints when I get her into a really decent walk. In canter, she’s lovely – slow, balanced, rhythmic, usually on the correct leg, and even starting to bring her little head in a bit.

Her trot stinks. She drags her legs along like a real old daisy-cutter. She can’t really be bothered to pick up her knees or flick out her toes, unless she’s given a generous dose of spur, in which case she arches her neck, picks up her belly, sticks out her legs and gives me goosebumps for about three steps before going back to her riding-school-pony pace.

Fixable. It’s all fixable. Now that Arwen has grown up a little, grown some muscles and learnt some schooling, she’s starting to show her true colours. And I’m pleasantly surprised. This is actually a really cool little horse. Her paces are nice, her looks are stunning – that pretty diamond-shaped star, wavy tail and unique colour are eye-catching – she has a sweet (if scatterbrained) temper, and apart from her dreadful withers and huge ears, I’m hard put to fault her conformation. If she was two hands bigger and had a bit more energy…

She doesn’t. But she’s still pretty cool: a six-year-old 14.1h pony who will tackle a 1m spread with an inexperienced rider like me, no qualms, no fuss, no real get-up-and-go attitude, just steady and sensible. If Arwen can be persuaded to get over her paranoia of new places, I think she’ll make a really steady jumper at around 80-90cm.

Amazing what a bit of work and a few years’ growth can do, huh? Arwen sure has changed over the past four years!

Arwen last week, aged six. Compare to photo below

Arwen last week, aged six. Compare to photo below

Arwen aged two, being ridden for the second time ever by a nine-year-old Rain

Arwen aged two, being ridden for the second time ever by a nine-year-old Rain

As you may recall, last week I wrote that Magic had had a spooky day and jumped at everything, from a wild horse trying to break down the crush (chute) to a bag of cement lying beside the arena. This week, I was most delighted to get on him and find that my dear, sweet, patient angel Magic was back. Gone the spooking and snorting. Back Magic, in a frame of mind I was much better able to work with and enjoy.

Old picture from November

Old picture from November

We reached a little milestone this week. Steady work has sorted much of Magic’s head-tossing and stargazing, so his main problem became the fact that he never, ever led with the right foreleg at the canter. Cantering to the right was something of a nightmare around even gradual curves. Magic felt unbalanced; he tried to fix it the way most youngsters do, by rushing off, leaning on my hands and getting himself into quite a mess.

I’d taught him to go from halt to walk leading with whichever foreleg I asked for, so today, finding him in such a lovely mood, I tried to ask for a canter with the right foreleg for the first time. I took the precaution of halting him first and asking him to walk on with the right leg, just to remind him. Then I took him into a nice, strong, forward trot, sat down (not an easy task on a big bouncy thoroughbred, I can tell you), gave his right shoulder a poke with my toe and ordered him to canter on.

Wonder of wonders! He struck out with his right foreleg and off we went. Most messily off, as I sincerely doubt his hind end was cantering in sync with his front end, but he was much quieter around the corners, much calmer, and definitely on the right foreleg. Took him back to a trot and asked him again, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke: off we went again, on the right foreleg. We ended the session on that very high note with Magic pooped and me as proud as Punch (whoever Punch is).

Apart from my beloved crew of four (well, I’m counting Magic, but he’s only half mine), I’m still riding some of Ruach Stud‘s horses and, of course, my own family’s crazy youngsters. Siobhan, at the moment, winning the award for the craziest.

Ruach Stud's latest arrival, Shiloh out of Painted Sandy

Ruach Stud’s latest arrival, Shiloh out of Painted Sandy

She’s actually being quite nice under saddle, for Siobhan. With me, she’s progressed well in her training; straightness and willingness in canter has improved vastly, she’s responsive, and she doesn’t rush around her least favourite corner as much anymore. We’ve even done a spot of jumping and she’s much improved. Over 20cm poles she’s dead quiet, so I took it up to about 40-50cm and approached at a trot with lots and lots of encouragement (like her mom, Siobhan benefits from a good kick just before the jump, to let her know you’re committed, although I sure wouldn’t jump for anyone who gave me a good kick first. Rum things, horses). To my surprise and delight, she took off beautifully, cleared it easily and trotted happily away. To my surprise and disgust, she then fell. I have no idea what happened. One minute we were trotting along with me patting her and saying, “Oh, what a good girl you are, mustang”; the next we were both on the ground and I was saying, “What just happened?”

I still don’t know, but the ground where we landed had some quite impressive marks in it. Siobhan skinned her nose and the back of my knee turned a strange shade of yellow, but otherwise no harm was done. I jumped back on, lowered the jump a smidgen and popped her over that just for our confidence, and then called it a day.

Today Rain did most of the riding and lunged the poor pony’s butt off at my request; I finally took the plunge and rode Siobhan out, in company with Rain and Skye. I don’t like taking youngsters out. I really don’t. It’s a phobia of mine. We only went out for about ten minutes and a ridiculously short distance away from her paddock, but it was about as much as my stupid nerves could bear. I’m a CHRISTIAN, nerves!! I don’t have anything to be afraid of!! WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?!

Grammar always deserts you at the worst possible moment.

Anyway, Siobhan was actually good; she was a bit nervous, but we only had one moment where I was sure we were all going to die, and that was crossing a muddy ditch. Siobhan didn’t want to get her toes wet and took a flying leap; I had a bit of a moment (and a bit of a scream) but kept my stirrups and my wits and was more embarrassed than scared afterwards. (Rain is not going to let me hear the end of it, I tell you).

Achilles, too, has been doing well; he still kicks up his heels a bit at the canter, but with the aid of a crop (a girly pink one – Rain’s; the Disasters ate mine), I’m handling it okay, for me. He only had one or two real bucks last time and settled down to two or three buck-less laps of the little ring last week.

If I were as big as Sookie with a rider as little as me... I sure wouldn't let her boss me around

If I were as big as Sookie with a rider as little as me… I sure wouldn’t let her boss me around

Then there’s the princess, Sookie Lynn von Samaii, the warmblood owned by Ruach Stud. Although of late she was more Spooky than Sookie, she’s been doing well. Her laziness is clearing up well, although she trots with a very odd rhythm, mostly because she’s three years old and still pretty lazy, according to the Horse Mutterer. With some encouragement, the rhythm improves after a while, so it’s something we’ll just have to keep chipping away at it.

I’m getting quite fond of Sookie; she’s big and young and a bit clueless, to be sure, but she looks like a queen and moves like a princess. She’s an even-tempered youngster, as well, and rides better than a lot of three-year-olds; although she has yet to canter under saddle. Today she had a good day and with a bit of help from the dressage whip I got her to extend a bit and show off her movement, and… squee! that horse can move! Give us some time and training, and I’ll bet Sookie’s going to make something spectacular.

I love her colour, too. Skewbald with that striking blue eye. (Yeah, I know, I just said “skewbald”. I’m still trying to get my head around all the bay tobiano stuff).

With that, I have to wrap it all up. I’m nodding over my keyboard, and there’s more horses and more living and believing to do tomorrow.

Thanks to my Lord Jesus, I’ll never have to stop living and believing.

Thank You, Sir!

First-Draft Detail

Detail is one of my favourite things to write. Unfortunately, I’m no good at it. Seriously. None.

Consider the following excerpt from Terramagnia, the children’s epic fantasy I wrote when I was about eleven:

It was a Wolf, but not a Wolf like the Wolves in our world. It was bigger than the Panther. Its coat was silver, silver like the moon, and stood up all along its back. More than that, the Wolf bore himself so proudly, yet somehow so humbly, that Melanie knew he was a knight. There was wildness, however, in everything about him; wildness in his stance, wildness in his bark, wildness in his deep blue eyes, blue as a lake and angry, like a lake in a thunderstorm.

“Steeldust,” hissed the Panther.

“Begone,” said the Wolf in a voice so soft that Melanie strained to hear. All this time, she had somehow known that the Wolf could speak, but when he did it was a most wonderful shock. He was almost howling, almost snarling; his voice itself spoke of long mountain runs in the moonlight, of bounding on the trail of caribou, of days spent loping free in the woods.

This is the first description of Steeldust the Wolf, who was rather a favourite of mine. Sure, there’s a lot of detail in it, but the details are all wrong. Firstly, they’re in entirely the wrong place. This was, in fact, an action scene. The wolf was fighting the panther when they both conveniently paused for long enough for Melanie (my POV character) to take in all this detail.

And so we hit the second flaw: it’s written out of point of view. We’re supposed to be seeing this through the eyes of Melanie, but instead, we’re reading a laundry list of details. We don’t get any of Melanie’s thoughts or emotions – just a picture of what she’s seeing. POV should be a lot more than that.

This second excerpt is from the first draft of Another Sword, written four years after Terramagnia. It’s clunky and clumsy and needs a lot of work, but I can already see the difference from the first excerpt:

Prince Demetrius. The last person I want to face, to have to play bodyguard to. To be responsible for.

Because I had one chance at that, and I completely blew it.

I’m starting to have serious second thoughts about this mission as I stand beside King Adolphus and watch the Prince make his slow and painful way up the hall. Eighteen months ago, before the attack, when he was still a squire in the first year with the rest of us, he was a picture-perfect prince. Slim, blond, blue-eyed, handsome and charming. Everyone in class liked him, even though he was only a mediocre student – hardworking, but not very talented. But he moved effortlessly, gracefully, like a deer.

Now, he can barely walk. One of his thin, elegant hands clutches the silver head of an ebony walking stick, which digs into the carpet as he grips it like a lifeline, tendons springing tight in his wrist. His unnaturally muscular right leg almost bows outwards as it supports his full weight. And the other leg… I don’t really want to look. Between the loose-fitting trousers and the specially made shoe, there’s nothing much to see. But it wobbles perilously under even the slightest weight, the toe swinging out, the knee buckling, before between the stick and the other leg he manages to get the weight off it and takes another staggering, struggling step.

Like the first excerpt, this is the first in-depth description of Prince Demetrius seen through the eyes of my main character, Flann. And like Steeldust in Terramagnia, Demetrius first appears in Another Sword during an action scene. Then, though, his description consists of a line or two, nothing more – we get just a vague impression of him, as Flann was rather more concerned with not getting killed than with studying the Prince.

Now, though, he’s at his leisure and has time to take in all the details. Being the sort of person who beats himself up about stuff, Flann instantly focuses on the Prince’s disability, which he feels responsible for. We get detail, yes; but we also get what that detail means and what’s going on in Flann’s head.

I’ve taken a step forward in my writing in one way, then. But even I can see how clunky that passage is. It’s more lame than Demetrius, for goodness’ sake.

I’d better get back to writing the second draft, then. Meanwhile, readers, feel free to drop a few lines of your own writing in the comments – your favourite piece of detail or character description. Or perhaps mention the writer you think does detail best. I’m backing Peter S. Beagle for his masterpieces, The Last Unicorn and Trinity County, C. A. (which has to be the best short story I’ve ever read in my life).

Will it be Sweet?

   I had a spot of difficulty with today’s Daily Prompt: When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like? Does it look like that? Is that a good thing?

Doesn’t look like a hard one, does it? I’ve always been a dreamer, one to look ahead to the future – probably too much so. And I can recap on my past effortlessy. Probably too effortlessly. In fact, there’s just one hitch.

I’m not sixteen yet.

Give me a month and three days and I will be, but, yeah, it poses something of a problem with answering the prompt.

So I’m gonna do this backwards: I’m going to write what I hope my 36-year-old self will be like, and what she’ll think of my 16-year-old self. About the person I want to be, not the person I was. Because I want to grow, and it’s not easy, ’cause I’m not a very good little mustard seed. But like the mustard seed, with God’s help and grace, I can grow to be a great tree.

1. I dream…

… that my 36-year-old self will still be dreaming, about good horses and good stories and good cows, about her family and their futures together, about her farm and her life and where it’s going. Or about anything, really. Maybe my 36-year-old self won’t dream about the things she dreamed about 20 years ago. But she had better dream.

And most of all, she had better dream about the true things, the dreams that are guaranteed to come to pass. She had better dream about a war and a dying world, and a Lamb and a Throne and a Prince of Peace coming on His great white horse to save the day and sweep her off to His Kingdom. She had better dream of a fountain of living water and a tree of life, of a King and a City and a shining, shining Light.

English: A girl was singing half hidden among ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The only way my 36-year-old self will be let off dreaming those things will be if her Prince has already come and she’s already curled up on His lap in His country. Because then she won’t have to dream about anything anymore. She will live a dream every day, and she will be happy, happy, happy.

2. I hope…

… that my 36-year-old self will look back 20 years and say, “Thank the Lord I’m not still her.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a happy person, and I’m happy to be me, because God made me, hand-crafted me with love, so I am me and I am okay. But I am still a sinner. I sin in fear, in doubt, in plain laziness; I probably sin not even knowing I’m doing it, apart even from the transgression I notice.

I don’t want to ever stop striving. I want to keep pushing onwards and upwards, reaching for the stars and beyond. I want to go further up and further in; I want to outdo myself constantly, to fight a good fight and run a good race. I want to be as perfect as I can be in the grace of Christ Jesus, and it’s only Him who can make this sorry piece of humanity something glorious to His Name.

Dream girl

Dream girl (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

3. I trust…

… that my 36-year-old self will be even closer to God’s love than I am now. I trust that she will draw nearer and nearer to God and know Him better and better. I trust that she will strive harder for Him, to love Him and love everyone else, man and beast.

4. Smaller dreams

I have smaller dreams, too. I dream that my novel will hit the world like a tornado and become an NYT bestseller and become a movie and touch thousands and thousands of lives, and do so with the blessing of Christ, spread His word, inspire people and exhort them in their quest for Him – or perhaps even turn a wayward heart back onto the straight and narrow road.

B. Holloway

B. Holloway (Photo credit: carterse)

I dream that I will train a fantastic young horse and love it and ride it and go to the Olympics, perhaps not Rio, perhaps in 2020, and jump there. And I dream that if I do my country proud and someone – anyone – asks the key to success, I will say, “Jesus.”

I dream that I will breed a National Champion Jersey heifer with a golden heart and golden milk and golden coat, because Jerseys are just gold all round.

5. Bottom line

But all those are little dreams.

I hope most of all that in twenty years’ time, I’ll be on the straight and narrow path. I’ll still hold tight to Jesus’s Hand; I’ll still rest in His love. I’ll still graze His green pastures. I’ll be unafraid to walk in the valley of the shadow of death, to be cast into the furnace or lions’ den, because I’ll still love Him.

He’s all that counts. And here and now, Sir, when I’m sixteen, when I haven’t written enough words or lived enough days to know even a speck of what I need to know and what You want me to know… Here and now when I’m sixteen, I’m sure of one thing, one immovable rock, one unbreakable shield against the perils of life.

I’m sure of this, and may I always be sure of it:

I love You, Lord Jesus.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Our Lord Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Riding Horses in the Rain

It’s raining.

Beautifully. Silverly, and steadily. The drops playing on the roof like a small child’s laughter, sinking into the deep earth, wakening the questing little plants to strive and grow and shove their fragile green heads out of the soil, to turn their innocent faces to the sun.

A very young Cyclone reposes amidst a heap of tack waiting to be put away

A very young Cyclone reposes amidst a heap of tack waiting to be put away

Less poetically, it’s raining, and unlike the olden, golden men, I’m not allowed to ride horses in the rain. Instead, I’m stuck inside, writing letters and overdue blog posts, editing Another Sword and reading poetry, all just to put off cleaning tack. I love anything to do with horses. Cleaning a small mountain of leather, metal and miscellaneous equipment doesn’t count as having to do with horses. Two bridles, two saddles, two numahs, two bodybrushes, two currycombs, two hoof picks, a dandy brush and a set of exercise bandages are all much dirtier than they should be, and it’s summer, hence muddy, so it all needs more cleaning than normal. And that’s not counting Rain’s stuff. Rain hates cleaning tack even more than I do, so I may have to start cleaning hers, too. (Three bridles for five horses, I hear you ask? Yeah. Luckily they all have the same size heads to within a hole on the cheekpiece. Only Skye and Siobhan have their own personal bridles, though I’m dreaming of a brown leather bridle with brass buckles and decorations for Thunder).

I haven’t written about horses for ever and a day on CWT. Never fear, my equinely minded readers. I still love them and spend most of my time running about after them, feeding them, grooming them, cleaning their dear little footsies, falling off them and occasionally even managing to ride. I am extremely blessed to be one of those people who love looking after horses just as much as they love riding, and to have the opportunity to keep my horses at home instead of at livery. I love it all.

Except cleaning tack.

So, to forestall the dreaded cleansing of the saddlery, I’ll blog about horses for a bit. Prepare for longwindedness.

Beautiful lady

Beautiful lady

Plunging charger Skye, given her increased fitness, plungingly charged off with me one day in an explosion of purest excitement; I managed to keep her about one-quarter under control, but it’s plain that she needs a bit more work before she’ll be quiet and controllable in a snaffle. Skye being Skye and looking after me even in the midst of her fiery eruptions, I intend to just keep on riding her with the snaffle and a running martingale and school her into responding properly to it. Although I may have to put the Pelham back on next time I take an inexperienced rider out. Poor Skye always ends up with the nervous or novice riders, because spirit and all she is definitely the most reliable member of the Horde, and her bouncing outlook tends to give them courage. It sure gives me courage.

Last time I wrote, I said that Thunder had had a nervous day with a whole lot of very daft shying and spooking. Luckily, it turned out that the little guy was simply having a bad day. The next time I rode him, he was his usual sweet-as-pie self; he had one silly spook, but settled down very quickly after that.

Bathed with gold in sunset light

Bathed with gold in sunset light

His training has been steadily progressing. I don’t work him as often as I’d like; three, maybe four times a week. I’m aware that he’s still a baby, so I still bring him into the lungeing ring once a week to play around and experiment. The first part of the session usually consists of some rather serious, down-to-earth lungeing, building up his strength and responsiveness; he lunges very nicely now, frequently giving me uninterrupted laps of canter, although he is still a bit lazy when it comes to that.

The second half of the session I just fool around and experiment with him. Usually I take the long line off, because I am a butterfingers and might get it caught up and hurt his mouth while I’m trying new things. Last week it was trotting poles to make him pick up his big goofy feet a bit; this week, I decided to see what Thunder boy would make of a jump.

I started him off on a pole about 30cm off the ground and free lunged him over that, which he seemed to enjoy and jumped willingly; to my inexperienced eye he jumped very well, tucking up his forelegs and rounding his back nicely without panicking. He also over-jumped it by miles and miles, so I took a chance and put it up to aroud 60cm. He refused once, then jumped twice in succession, beautifully.

Perhaps I will make a jumper out of him after all, sometime. He’s not bred for it, but I’m sure he can pop around little things at home without any trouble.

Under saddle, he’s been a star. We’ve graduated to using the arena instead of the lungeing ring and riding him without lungeing first. We go all the way around and do figures of eight in walk and trot with reasonable success, though I still ride him with spurs; he’s learning to respond nicely to my leg instead of hand for turning, and I don’t use my spurs anywhere near as much as I used to. He does go around corners a bit crookedly, but otherwise he’s relatively straight for his level of training and seems quite supple – he stretches well and leads with both forelegs easily on the lunge.

Under the Horse Mutterer’s guidance, I took him for his first canter under saddle about two weeks ago, which was very pleasantly surprising; Achilles and Siobhanny both did a few handstands at their first canter, but Thunder, once he got the idea, cruised off with a big, smooth, I-can-do-this-all-day sort of stride, looking rather shocked at himself.

He’s deplorably lazy going from trot into canter, but he used to be deplorably lazy going from walk into trot about a month ago, so I’m sure we’ll iron that out, too. The second time I cantered him he had a little buck, although I suspect I may have given him rather too hard a poke with my spurs.

All-round? I’ve never met a young horse quite like Thunder. I backed him in mid December. I trust him so well that if I want a lift around the paddock to go and retrieve everyone’s fly masks, I can plop his bridle on, jump onto his back (with some difficulty; vaulting onto a horse from the ground is not my strong point), and go off around the paddock. When we reach a horse still wearing its mask, I can pop off, leave him standing obediently still without holding him, get the mask, pop back on and off we go again.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I mean, I do it with Skye and Arwen all the time. But for nervous little me to trust a big newly-backed two-year-old that much… That means he’s pretty special.

Still pretty, though

Still pretty, though

Arwen has finally come out of her horse-sickness vaccine, so I can ride her into the ground again, poor thing. I probably will. Three years ago, when I started riding Arwen, she was a scrawny three-year-old with a ewe neck and legs like little black toothpicks. After a while she turned into a fat grey pony, and six weeks ago, she was the most beautiful, slim, trim creature. Her neck was a sleek, strong curve; her slender legs were delicately outlined with powerful muscle.

Now, she’s a fat grey pony again.

Luckily she still has a decent neck and some leg muscles, so hopefully I’ll get her back to her state of lean and powerful sleekness quite quickly. It’ll take a bit of lungeing, a bit of schooling and a bit of jumping, but she’ll get there.

Two things did improve during Arwie’s holiday; riding out and half passes. She’s becoming quite pleasant on our little short walking outrides, especially in company. She also half passes beautifully to the left and badly to the right, although six weeks ago she didn’t half pass to the right at all. It’s quite fun to have a horse that goes backwards, forwards and sideways.

Me not like gaudy new halter. Me make donkey face.

Me not like gaudy new halter. Me make donkey face.

Magic is big and healthy and awesome as usual. He had a bad day on Tuesday, shied at everything and simply couldn’t concentrate. Part of it was due to an unhandled horse whom the Mutterer had put in the crush next to the arena and was slowly accustoming to being touched and spoken to; the horse, though much improved from when she first arrived, was still very wild and kicked at the rubber sides of the crush. Magic took one look at her and said, “Uh-uh, lady, there’s no way. That chick’s insane!”

He also pulled back when he was tied up – an old trick of his that he must have learned on the racetrack – tossed his head and poked his nose out a little, so I think he was just not himself. I took him over to the far side of the arena and worked him in circles for a bit, and to his credit Magic didn’t buck me off or have a tantrum; he was pensive, but settled slightly and conceded to canter three uninterrupted circles to the right, which he has never done before, so I walked him cool and called it a day.

Most of the time, though, he’s the usual, gentle awesome. His biggest issue is cantering to the right, because Magic just doesn’t lead with his right foreleg. I’ve tried to fix the canter from the canter without success, so I’m going right back down to a walk and teaching him to step off with whichever leg I ask him to use – always the inside one. That goes hand-in-hand with teaching him to stop squarely. This sort of fiddly stuff seems to irritate him a bit; he’d much rather tear around the arena and jump over things, but he’s quite patient and learns nicely as long as I don’t keep at it for too long and bore his agile mind.

Magic is just something completely different. When I manage to claw my way up his 15.1h and sit on him and ask him to walk on and he flows forward with that long floating stride I can’t help grinning all over my face.

Big changes have come to Bushwillow Stables over the past year. Some of the horse owners who keep their horses at livery there have opened Ruach Pinto Sport Horse Stud and now own more than forty pinto horses, from the mighty Titan (a 15.3hh piebald warmblood/Friesian with movement to die for and a terrific amount of presence) to the adorable “twins”, Whisper and Whistle (the cutest pair of blue-eyed cremello foals you’ll ever meet).

Sookie's unique face

Sookie’s unique face

I’ve ridden some of their horses – including their stallions, Titan and cute palomino paint Reed – and now have gotten the opportunity to work with this pretty mare a little more. Sookie Lynn is a warmblood imported from Germany, making her rather more well-travelled than I am even though she’s just three years old. I rode her for the first time a few weeks ago and instantly fell for her looks, her temper, and her movement. She was a lot of firsts for me – I’d never ridden a warmblood before, let alone an imported one with, incidentally, one bright blue eye – and I think I’m going to love riding her. Thanks a lot to Sookie’s owner for trusting me with this very valuable horse!

Sookie is supposed to go to shows once she’s had the training, so I had better jump in and work hard. She’s a lovely mare with good conformation, but right now she’s three years old and newly backed, so she could have quite a lot more muscling. That’s the great thing about Sookie – she has such a nice foundation to build on. A few months’ work ought to bring out her neck into a beautiful sleek arc of muscle. Maybe one day she can look as gorgeous as her daddy!

I’ve never ridden a horse so valuable and with that much potential, so I’m a little bit intimidated, but I trust that God knows what He’s doing and I’ll try my best and pretty Sookie Lynn will hopefully be a credit to her owner and her stud.

I did say prepare for longwindedness, didn’t I? Well, there it is. Alongside pictures from my new cellphone. I loved my old Nokia C6. In fact, a year ago it stopped working and lay dead for a month until my dad dropped a heavy box on it and it promptly came back to life. Unfortunately, this time the C6 had finally had it, so an upgrade was due. This far, I’m quite enjoying the Samsung Ace Advance, although I still have to get used to the camera.

There. Blog written. Still raining. Maybe God’s giving me a little hint.

I guess I’ll be cleaning tack today after all.

Introducing CWT’s First Ever Poll

Random cute horsy picture with Siobhan on the left being grumpy, Thunder being huge and goofy in the middle and Skye being pretty on the right

Random cute horsy picture with Siobhan on the left being grumpy, Thunder being huge and goofy in the middle and Skye being pretty on the right

So, readers, I’ve been having a great response from you guys in the past few weeks. I’d like to thank you all for that. A writer without readers isn’t much good at all, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Writing was meant to be read.

In particular, the replies on the Weekly Photo Challenges have been stunning. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a cool camera 😉

Either way, I’ve decided that it’s time you awesome blog-reader people had the opportunity for some input on CWT. I would be thrilled to hear from you, so that I have an audience in mind and can write more effectively for my readership. Your comments (and yes, I’m looking at you, Lyn) have been fantastic, so here’s an easier and quicker way to contribute. A poll.

Can I confess that I love these things? I love setting them up and I love voting on them. The creative ones are funny and all of them are interesting.

Let’s hope mine is both! This is just an experiment, but I love polls, so I’m giving it a shot.

Okay, so what it will probably turn out to be, is controversial. I’ve jumped right in with a supremely awkward one. I saw the Daily Prompt for yesterday, “Polite Company”, which ran along the lines of: “They say you should never discuss religion or politics with people you don’t really know. Agree or disagree?”

Well, I gave that a big fat disagree. I’m a Christian. I’m not brave enough about saying it, but there it is. On the Internet for all of you to see. I’m not ashamed of my God. He’s a pretty awesome God, and I love Him.

Any of you who have been around for any length of time probably know that already. Just scroll down to “Girl Power” or “Worldbuilding: His and Ours”. And I won’t stop writing Christian content. But I’d like to know my audience better, now that I have one. And whatever your beliefs, thanks so much for taking the time to read my scribblings.

So what do you believe?

Real Girl Power Needed

  (Today’s Daily Prompt: Head to your favorite online news source. Pick an article with a headline that grabs you. Now, write a short story based on the article.)

My story is more based on the headline than the article, but here goes… and do bear in mind that no matter how many times I proofread it, if it’s out today, it’s a first draft. Expect a deplorable level of writing quality.

Girl Power

 

West side of Carlow Castle

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bahaduryans came in a murmuring sea of men and horses, curling around the foundations of Lynndara Castle like a poisoned mist. They were grey-faced men in grey steel with grey scimitars at their sides and grey trappings on their ponies; a grey flag, drooping above their heads in the windless day, its ominous insignia of the red snake strangling the white unicorn crumpled and hidden in the silken folds. The ponies’ bay and chestnut coats were turned white and grey with the sweat that had lathered and dried on the sleek hair.

Sheena knew that Lynndara could fall. Everyone inside Arishea’s southernmost fortress, all the men and women, children and dogs, horses and cattle that had breathed when the sun rose could be dead when it set.

She stood on the battlements in a puddle of serenity as all around her the brass bells rang, calling Lynndara to arms. Armour clanked, bows creaked, strings twanged; orders were shouted and men in the green-and-grey armour of Carlow Duchy shoved past her, running, yelling. She stared down at the Bahaduryan host, its commander flamboyantly decked in blue and green where he sat on his dragon.

“Lord, what are we to do?” she whispered.

“Sheena!” The voice was not God’s. It was Catriona’s, and there was a sizeable difference. Sheena’s older sister exploded out of nowhere. Her red hair burst down her back like a cascade of backwards fire; the plate armour that she wore from head to toe flashed dazzlingly in the sun. “What are you doing out here? Get into the keep!”

Sheena looked at her sister with a steady respect. Catriona was a Duchess from the ice in her green eyes to the tip of the five-foot broadsword that hung by her side; taller than the longbow she held in her hand, she was stronger than most men, more fiery than a Flame Horse from the highlands of Hildebrand.

“God ride with you, Cat,” said Sheena.

“Get into the keep and stay out of my way. I have a war to win.” Catriona strung her bow effortlessly. “Keep! Now!”

Sheena gathered the simple cloth of her green skirt in one hand and hurried down off the battlements and through the main courtyard; the porcullis was open, knights and horses streaming out, longbowmen running to the battlements. And they all sang their slow war chant, a grim melody that shifted and roared like the sea from a thousand throats.

A thousand throats! How brave it sounded. But of the Bahaduryans there were more than ten times that number.

Sheena ran up the staircase two at a time. Lynndara would not be saved by blood and steel alone. They were doomed to failure; not even Carlow’s best archers and bravest knights could hope to beat a force so much greater than they were. But there was a secret weapon in Lynndara, one that Catriona didn’t know; there was a power deep within that could conquer the Bahaduryans, and Sheena knew that she had to join the fight or watch her home perish at the edge of the sword.

It would have to be her. The men were all on the battlefield; a woman would have to do this, unleash the secret weapon, as women had done for thousands of thousands of years. And today, in this battle, here and now, Sheena was the girl to do it.

She shoved the oaken door aside and slammed it beside her, then struggled to drag the heavy bar across the doorway. Sweat was pouring down the sides of her face when she finally managed to bar the door, splinters biting into her palm. She spun, panting. Here she would reach for that secret weapon, that mighty power.

The room was round and quite small and very old; spiderwebs filled the corners, dust the floor. There was nothing in the room but Sheena and a rather elegant old arched window set in the wall, looking south over the teeming Bahaduryan horde, letting in the edge of the battle cries and wounded screams as the Lynndaran force rushed to meet its enemy.

Sheena walked over to the window on silent, slippered feet. Despite the danger outside, the sunshine streamed into the room in a golden flood. She fell to her knees at its centre and folded her hands. No sound passed her lips, but she opened the floodgates of her heart.

“Lord, please forgive us, have mercy on us, bless us from the abundance of Your love. Save Lynndara, Lord!”

The prayer was simple and unspoken, but it burst from Sheena’s heart like an arrow from a bow. The arrow flew high, past the battle, past the tallest tower of Lynndara, past the blue sky, past the very stars; it flew higher and higher still, and it came to rest as lightly as a butterfly on the palm of a Hand bigger than the universe, a great, calloused, scarred, gentle, beautiful Hand.

Sheena stayed on her knees long after they turned numb from the pressure on the cold stone floor. She stayed there as Catriona, yelling defiance and brandishing her broadsword, spurred her plunging warhorse into the thick of the fight. She stayed there as the thousand men of Lynndara flung themselves forward, set their eyes on the flame-haired duchess before them and fixed their gaze upon it, followed it through the grey masses of the Bahaduryans. Sheena stayed on her knees as the Bahaduryans began to falter, as the Lynndarans, hardly believing it, pressed home their advantage.

Sheena was still there hours later, when the last battle cries had faded, when Catriona, with a single blow of her mighty fist, shattered the heavy bar and made the oak door drop clean off its hinges and into the room. Only then did Sheena stir, to rise and look at her battle-worn sister, who was sweating and bleeding and smiling.

“Girl power!” thundered Catriona, punching the air with a gauntleted fist. She laughed mightily, and stamped off down the staircase.

“Girl power,” whispered Sheena, and looked up far past the cobwebby ceiling, smiling as if to share a private joke with God. And He smiled back.

 

Albrecht Dürer, Study of Praying Hands, 1508

Albrecht Dürer, Study of Praying Hands, 1508 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

***

See 1 Samuel 1 for my inspiration for Sheena.