This past fall, my best friend and I had the honor of receiving an award that was marked by perseverance. We won the high point all around award for the Sho-me Horse Show Association. We had accumulated the highest number of points in every discipline as a team. As you might have guessed my best friend, is a horse, named The Flash Attack a.k.a. Storm.
Let me tell you why this award is dear to my heart and just a few of the lessons I learned along the trail. Kick off your boots and just relax as I give you a little background. Ever since I was a little girl attending the American Royal and watching my aunt show Morgan horses; I knew I wanted to become a rider. I told my mom this and she secretly hoped this dream would fade. We lived in the middle of a city at the time and had no way to keep a horse. Little did we know of the plan and direction God had for our lives. You see, I was actually afraid of horses, but another part of me wanted to braid their manes and paint their hooves black. Then I wanted to show off their beauty to the world as a testimony of God’s marvelous creation. To this day, I am still spellbound when I watch a horse glide across a field or arena much like a ballerina.
Yet, life goes on and I was able to become a proud horse owner when I was 11. We had moved from the city and lived on about 10 acres. I learned to ride and show on this first horse, Wildfire. He was a great kid’s horse and I actually kept him until he passed away about 2 years ago.
I started my horse show career in 4-H, by showing in the county fair. However, waiting for this one event all year, while I watched other kids show every weekend, was hard to do. Yet, I can see now the wisdom my parents had in helping us kids pursue dreams, but not letting them consume us. We spent many summer days either at little league games, gymnastics practice, or relaxing at the lake, not just at horse shows. My parents told me someday when I grew up, if I wanted to spend all my time on horses; then I could. They guided me to see how I needed to work diligently on my schoolwork, so that someday I could go to college and study something that would allow me to keep a horse of my own. You see, horses are a fairly expensive hobby, because they require purchasing other major items like trucks, trailers, feed, and tack. I would save every penny, just for horse things, while other girls were worried about clothes and such during the teen years. I also learned to sew my own show clothing, which I still use today. And on my sixteenth birthday, I got a saddle, not a car. Yet these small sacrifices where certainly worth it compared to the joy I experienced caring for my horse. But hang on to your hats; this ride has just begun and I see a bumpy road just ahead.
Further on down the trail, I purchased two other horses. First a young little mare named Lucky, whom I spent years training and learning how to train. Not the best combination, I might add. Then a larger horse was needed to even have a chance at competing at the State Fair, the ultimate goal at that time in my life. So, I bought a beautiful well-bred show horse named Storm. But I had to travel all the way to the northern part of South Dakota to get him. Storm took my showing to the next level and that year I got to compete at the State Fair, with hundreds of other 4-H’ers. That was a great experience, but I was only able to compete in a few events.
We then moved to a new house and my handsome steed contracted a hoof disease which put him off the riding list for 4 years. Therefore, I spent my days feeding and grooming him, while he enjoyed the pasture.
Throughout this waiting period, my parents helped me see that while horses could be a lifelong hobby, I was only going to be able to seriously pursue gymnastics while I was young. I had to fold up these dreams and put them away in a safe place to hopefully someday reawaken. Even though I was torn about not competing in horse shows as much as I wanted, I now see there was a lot of wisdom in that advice. I devoted 16 years of my life training everyday and then traveling the nation to compete in gymnastics. Of course, this left very little time for horses. Next thing you know, I had started college. This left even less time for horses. During my college years, Wildfire and Lucky both passed away. Storm was still completely lame and could not be ridden. I spend my time attending to his hoof by applying special shoes and medications. I felt like all my hard work and efforts with horses were wasted and gone.
A few years later, after I graduated college, Storm’s hoof regained its health. I was finally ready to tackle the summer show season for a change. This got me thinking, "Wouldn't it be great if I could go to a lot of shows and compete in all the different classes just like I have always wanted to do?" Eleven years of hopes and dreams seemed to be falling into place right on schedule.
This meant spending long days in the saddle enduring the dust, heat, sweat, rain, cold, calloused hands, and sore legs. These were all part of the training process. It also required pouring over books, magazines, videos, and websites. Furthermore, moving to a new home required stepping out of my comfort zone and calling up new saddle clubs and driving to arenas out in the middle of nowhere; calling for directions again, and then attending all the shows. Did I mention it required learning how to haul a trailer too? I am still working on the backing part.
The show season this past summer lasted from about April to September. Each show day started bright and early and rarely ended before 11 pm. The week of the show I would make sure everything was cleaned, repaired, and ready to use. I would also bath Storm and clip his long hairs. On show days I loaded the trailer and fed, groomed, and then bathed Storm again. Next, I give him a good shave, band and braid his mane and tail, and apply the finishing touches of baby powder to his white legs and black paint for his hooves. Black paint is extremely difficult to remove from white hair, so this part requires a great deal of patience and precision. After removing all the grime and making Storm shine, it was my turn to get dressed for the show.
When all is ready to go, it is time to load Storm. This step is sometimes very trying since Storm hates going in the trailer. When we bought him, his owners had fought to load him since we did not have a ramp on the trailer. After the long trip home he would not back out and only did so hours later, after we built a makeshift ramp. This should have been my first clue of problems to come. After that, I spent countless days working with him, pouring over books and videos, and then teaching cues and practicing loading. He is much improved, but sometimes still decides on show day to be stubborn. There is no use arguing or trying to force a 1200 lb. horse into the trailer. Only a conditioned response or set of cues works and is safe in stressful situations, so horses require you to have done your homework. A few times when it was raining, Storm would not load and it seemed like I was chasing a rather foolish dream. More than once I felt like giving up or crying. But we stuck it out, and sometimes I just had to ignore the sweaty or muddy legs when we arrived too late to warm up or a few times when we even missed the first class.
Yet, those were just the trials of arriving. In each of the classes we would sometimes place first or last, depending on how precise we performed the patterns or ignored distractions. The classes require horse and rider to think and react together. It is almost like a delicate dance, we are still practicing. This part takes a lot of mental and emotional control. It is one thing to be able to be able to perform perfectly at home without distractions, but throw in some horses, cows, umbrellas, loud speakers, running kids, etc., and you can end up with a wreck on your hands fast. This is the hardest lesson I am still learning from horses. You must always think, plan, and look ahead. You have to be active and not reactive. I have come a long way, but still have so much to learn. I was acutely reminded of this during an embarrassing class this summer. I watched as some great riders' horses were spooking and shying during a class. I then noticed that they were startled because of a cow outside the arena. Well, I rather confidently thought Storm is not afraid of cows, he sees them everyday across the fence. However, when I found myself darting sideways across the arena, I realized I hadn’t prepared Storm soon enough. Needless to say he was still spooked for several other classes that evening, but it certainly kept me from becoming too confident.
Numerous incidents such as these and finding Storm lame again the day of the year end show, humbled me and carried a pang of disappointment with them. He had re-infected the damaged hoof wall and I was once again nursing him for a few months. I certainly cared more about him walking again, than any silly award, so I folded this dream and put it back in my hope chest for my horses, for another year. I went to a few remaining shows to cheer on the riders who had offered advise, encouragement, and support, for which I was very thankful. This also gave me a chance to take a young home schooled girl who loves horses and tell her all about shows. Additionally, many of the children showing had grown to love Storm and they were all concerned. This meant more to me than any blue ribbon ever could and gave me an even greater reason to help Storm get well again. I had to just step back and thank God for all the wonderful experiences and blessings I had already received through it all.
Then on a quiet afternoon late in the fall, I went off alone to attend the annual meeting and award banquet for the association. I was not prepared for what I was about to hear towards the end of the program. I was called up and presented a plaque and blanket for Storm for the all around high point award for a horse and rider team during 2005. I was speechless. And then silently thanked the Lord for all the years, lessons, and joys represented by that award. Since no one I knew was there and no pictures were taken, it was a special moment between the two of us. I was filled with a sense of awe and humbleness with complete gratitude to God. I felt like I was hearing, “My child, why did you doubt or fear the timing and process I had planned for you? Trust me.” This, my friend, is the greatest lesson that I am continuing to work on and apply to life. Something that in a way, seemed small and insignificant, even to those in the room, whom for the most part had won that award at one time in their life, was one of my most precious victories. Who knows if I will ever again chase after this award but one thing is certain, this one will always remain special.
Horses have taught me so much about responsibility, good stewardship, being assertive, responsive, and gentle. I also learned to be patient and persevere through all of the set backs, much like we have to learn to do in our walk with Christ. I had to develop goals, physically work at them, and mentally overcome my fears. Horses also taught me how to control my emotions, because they can sense whatever the rider is feeling. I had to learn to communicate in their language. This is what makes winning a high point all around award so meaningful. No, it was not the world show, but we gave it our all and realized a dream. That is what will be remembered when I someday tell my children and grandchildren about persevering in life.
By sharing my experience, and the humility that sometimes goes with it, I hope you will be encouraged to go after your dreams with perseverance and not give up when you encounter setbacks. Let’s saddle up our horses and ride off into the path of the Son together.
Your fellow journeyer,
"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him." James 1:12