In Which I Play Catch-up (again)

No tragedies have befallen the ponies, dear readers; no need to fear! They are still here, still by turns annoying and amazing, and still get an inordinate amount of my attention.

Progress has been made with all of my awesome foursome. Even Skye has, for a change, been learning something new that is not how to run faster/jump over rabbit holes/swim in dams. Back in September 2012 I fell in love with Western riding, and while showjumping will always be my passion, English just isn’t a patch on Western when it comes to chilled, awesome outrides. And since Skye hates anything to do with an arena, except the occasional barrel race or game of speedball (more on that later), it made sense to school her to Western.

Exploring the newly-filled dam

Exploring the newly-filled dam

Mounted games are the only things she enjoys in the arena, and being very inflexible she isn’t exactly the queen of pole bending, but she does have a lot of go and adores playing mounted games. I am equally not much good at mounted games but I love them; they’re buckets of fun and a way of just relaxing from the everyday grind of schooling. Speedball, a simple pattern in which you gallop at a traffic cone, run around it, drop a golf ball into it, and then gallop home became war when B. C. and Skye played versus Thunder and me. This was not a brilliant idea, as Thunder is fine at running in straight lines but not at turning, and B. C. has some kind of bluetooth connection with a ball enabling him to make it go wherever he wants it to, whereas the same ball in my hands turns into a cold missile that might end up anywhere.

At any rate, Skye took to Western, after a false start, like a duck to water. She goes on a gorgeous loose rein without any trouble and has even learnt to neck-rein in a few months, which, after ten years’ English training, isn’t to be sniffed at. Her strong point is her natural jog, which after some work is consistent, comfortable, and nice and slow, if not much to look at. She remains the awesomest outride horse the world has ever known and does anything from swimming in dams to jumping over logs with her trademark gusto.

Rocking the fluffy look

Rocking the fluffy look

Her handsome little son Thunder (who’s taller than her, but anyway) has been his usual awesome self. His role in life is to be Skye # 2, in other words, another nice outride horse, this time hopefully with a bit more schooling. As such, I decided to train him Western, too. So far I have learnt three things: a) Thunder can learn anything if you teach it right, b) Friesians and loping aren’t friends, c) Western in an English saddle is very, very awkward.

Luckily point (a) cancels out point (b), and Thunder will learn to lope whether he is part Friesian or not. He already reins back well, jogs tolerably well and is perfectly happy on a loose rein as long as nothing frightens him; neck-reining is still a little beyond him, but he’s only three, so to be fair direct reining was also a little beyond him. He has a lot to learn, but it should be easier to school him to Western than it was to school Skye, because he didn’t really have time to be fully English.

As for point (c), I’m busy trying to lay my hands on a cheapish Western saddle. I’ve been longing for one forever, and now with Western horses I can finally justify buying one… not that I needed much excuse 😉

B. C. and I have also been taking him on outrides alongside his mommy, and he’s been good. He had a few moments of “Aaaaah the terrifying tiny steenbuck is going to eat me” and bolted accordingly, but luckily he has such a soft mouth that I can stop him easily. He also settles down well once he sees that it’s nothing to be afraid of. Provided he’s not being spooked by something – and he almost always spooks at something that’s actually there, not thin air like some youngsters – he is content to even lope along happily on a loose rein, leading or following, it doesn’t matter.

We also taught the little dude to swim in the dam (for a given value of swim; we more wade and get muddy), with just one hitch: He won’t be ridden in. He must be led. Someday we’ll address this, but for now I’m just happy that he actually goes into the water.

Oh yes, I may have donkey ears, but I can jump 1.15m

Oh yes, I may have donkey ears, but I can jump 1.15m

Outrides and mounted games aside, I actually have been doing some schooling with the glamorous greys. Arwen has been solid awesome. She has been to her first two outings, the first a mounted games clinic and the second a jumping training show, both of which went well. She had to travel alone since she enjoys kicking other horses to shreds, and when we unloaded her at the WMG clinic, the sweat was pouring off her – the floor of the box was wet from sweat. She was also quite an idiot for the first hour, pulling me around on the ground, spooking dramatically, and bucking a bit, but by the second event she had settled down nicely and in the end she was working as well as she ever does.

She travelled a bit better for the show with less shivering and a little less sweat, and was noticeably calmer when she unloaded; in fact, she didn’t put a toe wrong for the entire show apart from a half-hearted buck or two. I was immeasurably proud of her. We did three classes (ground poles, 40cm and 60cm) and she jumped everything I put in front of her with hardly any hesitation. She had one rail in the 40cm class and that was all. In the 60cm, we put in a gorgeous, careful, rhythmic clear round that got us into the jump-off. Once in the jump-off, bolstered by the beautiful clear round we had, I decided to pull out all the stops, take all the risks, and if we failed at least we’d fail epically.

So I kicked Arwen into a gallop and we charged through that course at a hair-raising speed. We cut every corner, took every risk, and jumped some of the jumps from the most peculiar angles. I thanked my lucky stars for the fact that Arwen’s mounted games training made her both agile and controllable at high speeds. She put up her ears, threw up her tail and had the time of her life. We didn’t even touch a single rail, despite some very big leaps from very long distances, and she responded to every touch of the reins and legs. I had spurs and a whip, but I didn’t have to use either very much. There were some quite challenging lines – the line from jump 1 to 2 was very tight if you cut the corner off the way we did, and she had one straight stride before jumping – as well as a one-stride double, but she didn’t let anything phase her. We blasted through the finish with me grinning all over my face and Arwen looking quite pleased with herself.

Our time was about a second behind the winner and just not good enough for a ribbon, but we came fourth in a class of about fourteen, which was very respectable for a first show.

I would blame my complete lack of photos on B. C., but the poor thing was much too busy tagging after me reminding me to drink water, holding my horse between classes, keeping my mom up to date with innumerable SMSes and generally keeping me alive to even think about photos. Handy things, boyfriends. I feel deeply sorry for anyone who has to go to shows without one. Thankfully, he knows he has to be a horse groom before he can be a bridegroom, and took his duties in his stride.

Back at home, Arwen is becoming quite the dressage diva. Her basic paces are quite good now, although she does have days when her canter just doesn’t seem to come together, so we have been working on some more advanced stuff. She has nailed the turn on the forehand and pirouette at the walk, as well as tricky transitions like trot-halt and walk-canter. Her dubious leg-yields-trying-to-grow-up-to-be-half-passes have turned into true half-passes in walk with correct bend and forward movement as well as sideways, and she has given me a few leg-yields in trot, although she seems to find them very difficult. She will also shoulder-in and haunches-in at a walk, sometimes shoulder-in at a trot, but I have to work for it.

Her extended trot is utterly deplorable and so are her flying changes, but this is an improvement because up to this Wednesday her flying changes were simply nonexistent. We spent a gruelling half hour just on cantering in figures of eight, and whilst it became a fight at one point, she finally clicked and started to change leads. Again, her mounted games training definitely helped, because she didn’t become disunited anywhere near as easily as Sookie, Joepie and Cointreau used to. She still gets very flustered, flops onto her forehand and starts to gallop, but at least she knows what she has to do now.

Muscle man

Muscle man

That leaves Magic, who has acquired a new show name: Magical Flight. Gadsfly was just too awful. He progressed magnificently since coming home and even started to build muscles, losing his hay belly and getting some nice muscle tone in his shoulders, belly, and back. Even his neck has started to come out a little bit. Currently laid off for a minor injury that made the princess OTTB lame, he has been doing some very nice work.

He is now nicely ambidextrous and happily leads on whichever leg I want in a canter, has shed his habit of overjumping hideously, and pops happily over anything up to about 90cm. 1.10m is a bit more of a challenge, but we’ve jumped it a few times. The one sad part is that he became impossibly hard on my hands – not bolting, but poking his face in the air and resisting my hands with his neck and jaw. This doesn’t seem to be the fault of my hands but more of his racing background. We tried everything – standing martingale, lungeing in side reins, elastics, and draw reins, but none of them worked and eventually the Mutterer decided to try him in a Pelham, as the snaffle just wasn’t working. In the Pelham he was miles and miles better and goes happily in a running martingale, which is only necessary for emergencies when he goes all drama queen and throws his head around. He goes in a nice frame in walk and trot now and a tolerable one in a canter, and is still happy to jump without fear of the bigger bit hurting his mouth, so it seems to be a win-win. I also don’t cling to the reins as tightly as I did with the snaffle, since I don’t have to pull so much to slow him down after the jump.

This has been quite a novel of a blog post, but there you have it. The ponies are still alive and doing awesomely, exciting things are on the horizon, and life is good. Glory to the God Who made them!

Spoilt brats

Spoilt happy brats

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Dear America

This brought me to tears… I might not be American, but this letter touched my heart.

Chris Martin Writes

This is the hardest letter I’ve ever written. I hate to address this to such a broad audience, but it’s the only way I can possibly get my point across. As we all know, Thanksgiving is coming up, which means Christmas is right around the corner as well. I beg you to appreciate what you have and all the people in your life. Do not take for granted those things that so easily are, and remember the privilege you have of spending quality time with the ones you love.

I haven’t seen my wife in six months, three weeks, two days, fifteen hours, thirty-seven minutes, and let’s see, twenty seconds now. I spend my nights in bed alone, if not in a hole somewhere on the opposite side of the world. Instead of drifting off to sleep to the sound of my wife’s steady breathing, I lie awake as explosions…

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We Should Burn

If we’re not going to burn in Hell, we should burn for Heaven.

I have written before of the extreme wit and occasional quirky wisdom of a favourite author, Sir Terry Pratchett. A literary genius, even his funniest, silliest book held a depth of wisdom to it that leaves me wishing he had been a Christian instead of a champion for atheism, because he could have turned the world on its head with that mind. But even with his atheistic viewpoint, Sir Terry’s novels have a way of making me see myself – see Christians – through an unbeliever’s eyes. It’s an excerpt from one of Discworld novels, Carpe Jugulum, that has me thinking today.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of what the passage says is that if there really is a god who loves us like a father, then why don’t Christians burn with passion at that knowledge?

And you know what? They have a point.

“I would have had no problem following Christ,” Mahatma Ghandi said, “if it were not for Christ’s followers.” And it’s true. Those who labelled themselves Christians have put crosses on their shields and ridden into battle to attempt to claim a city where Christ once lived, when they should have put crosses on their backs and walked into that city to preach to those whom Christ still loves. They have called themselves Christians and built concentration camps that killed millions. They have been cold, destructive, murderous, bloodthirsty. They have squabbled amongst themselves like petty children, pride and self-righteousness getting in the way of true doctrine, splitting up into warring factions like a country that won’t listen to its king.

They, however, are not our concern. They are dead and gone and there is nothing we can do about them; they have done their damage, and it is up to us to have the meekness, the patience, and above all the love that they have failed to give. Their judgment will come in the day that they stand before the Lord and say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” and He will reply, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22-23).

fire

Fire (Photo credit: matthewvenn)

But there is one thing that the earlier Christians, who wrought so much harm, had that we don’t. A saving grace, if you like, that, if they truly believed that they were doing what they did for our God, could redeem them. Something that so many of us lack today.

Not love, not hope, not faith, but something far less mentioned, and yet still essential.

Fire.

“[God] sets me on fire,” said John Wesley. “The people come out to watch me burn.” And we should burn!

We know the truth! We know the answers to the big questions! We know there is a God Who loves us, a God Who is in control! Our God died and lives again for us! Our God gave His only begotten Son for us! Our God gave Himself for us! There is a Heaven! And we can all go there, we can all live forever in peace and joy!

Our God is unimaginably powerful, inexpressibly great, indescribably loving, and incomprehensibly forgiving. He loves us, He forgives us, He knows us. He is bigger than the world, He made us and He cares for us. He is building Heaven for us and we will always be safe there. He created Adam knowing that mankind would fall from grace and that He would have to give up Jesus, would have to give up Himself, would have to endure all that terrible pain, to save us. And He did it anyway! He knew from the start what He would have to go through to save our sorry, ungrateful, undeserving skins, and He made us and gave us a free will anyway! Because He loves us! Because, above and beyond all, unlike any other god ever worshipped, our God is real!

We should burn!

We should burn with this knowledge! It should eat us up from the inside, it should take our breath away! We need to laugh more, we need to cry more. We need to sing, we need to dance, we need to scream. We need to do more than just exist, than just stagger zombie-like through this grey world with no more spark in our eye or spring in our step than any miserable sinner on the road to Hell. We need to burn!

We need to have passion, we need to have fire. We need to stop just doing and start striving. We need not be loud. We need not be proud. We need not be exuberant. But when someone looks us in the eyes, there should be something in there, a conviction, a faith… a flame. We must be the city on the hill that cannot be hid, the light that burns before all men. A beacon of flame for our God. He is inside us, and He wants to light us up like a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. He wants to give us that shining light to guide our fellow men.

We should burn!

Oh, we don’t all have to be loud. Some of us will burn like wildfires, like volcanoes; the preacher standing on the pulpit calling out his message to a thousand listeners will blaze like a firestorm. The old lady on her knees in prayer in a nursing home, the prayer warrior, unnoticed, unassuming will smoulder low, like coals. The small child singing “Jesus loves me” will flicker like a candle flame. The reformers will rip through the world like a forest fire. The loving mother with the words of God on her tongue will crackle with the reassuring heat of a hearth fire. Others will be sparks or stars that nobody knows about, except Jesus, the only One Who really counts.

But whichever way we burn, we should burn!

Whatever we do, we should do it passionately. If we preach we should preach as though we hold a flaming sword in hand. If we sing we should sing as though we have a full choir of angels singing with us. If we fight evil we should fight it as though a regiment of chariots of fire backs us up. If we pray we should pray as though Jesus is sitting across from us, listening. Why? Because we do hold that flaming sword, we do have that choir of angels, we do have that regiment of chariots, we do have that attentive Listener right beside us.

There is nothing wrong with resting. Even the brightest fire will at times burn low, and we are commanded to take a day’s rest out of every seven. But we should still burn.

We are the children of the Most High God! We are the light of this world, the salt of this earth!

Gas Flame

Gas Flame (Photo credit: tristrambrelstaff)

And we should burn! We should be all ablaze with love, we should be ardent with faith, we should be aflame with the hope that our God has given us! Because fire is bright, fire is respected, fire gives life and light, and most of all, fire spreads.

Even if all we can do is be a small candle flame in a dark night, we can burn. We can make a difference to one life at a time. In our own ways, big and small, all over the world we can change this unhappy universe and turn the everlasting souls of mankind towards the glorious light of Heaven and not the ruthless darkness of Hell.

We should not relent. We should rally our warriors and go to battle. Only God knows when Jesus is coming, but we know He is coming, and whether He comes tomorrow or in a thousand years there are souls slipping away from us every day.

And even if we don’t burn to save souls, we should burn for our God just because He saved us. We should burn with this knowledge not for anyone else but Him. We should quest after His people to save them not because we want to be right but because we love Him and we love them. We should burn! When there is evil in this world it should smite us like a knife in the chest, like a kick in the guts! We should care!

We should burn! We need to be alive, to be sensitive, to be passionate, to listen, to love, to laugh, to cry! We can’t keep on going through the motions, robotic, passive, desensitised to all the dreadful things and dark sins this world holds. We are special!

We should care.

We should burn.

English: Two candles in love. The flame is inv...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

10 Questions with a Twist

Regulars at CWT will already have guessed how I would reply to today’s Daily Prompt. It seems quite simple, right? 10 easy questions, answer ’em and go.

Of course, doing it the ordinary way has never held much appeal to me, so I have turned it once again into an exercise in character development. Readers, meet (or meet again) Flann Hildebrand, the reluctant hero of Another Sword. Flann, answer the questions with minimal sarcasm, please.

10 Questions as Flann Hildebrand

 

  1. What is your favorite word? Charge.
  2. What is your least favorite word? Dead.
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Hmm… I don’t tend to get turned on. I turn myself on and switch myself off whenever I feel like it. But there’s something about a good horse running, the Knights of the Lamb battle cry, and a Scripture passionately and wholeheartedly read aloud that gives me chills.
  4. What turns you off? A Scripture read like it’s a cold, dead piece of writing. Read it like it lives. Read it like it’s on fire. Oh, and lazy people turn me off too.
  5. What is your favorite curse word? Well, my favourite curse word used to be pretty unprintable. These days, I tend to stick to “Shea’s underpants”. Don’t tell Demetrius.
  6. What sound or noise do you love? Tariq – my horse – whinnying when he sees me for the first time in the early mornings.
  7. What sound or noise do you hate? Easy. Screaming girls. They’re always my problem and generally need defending. Alarm bells, too. Anything that means another battle.
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I can’t imagine being anything but a knight, but I think I’d have fun as a horse trainer.
  9. What profession would you not like to do? Politics. I suck at them. I usually leave the politics to Demetrius; all I do is poke swords in people when they threaten him. Quite simple.
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Call me corny, but it’s true.