Veronique’s Life Adventures, Continued

At this moment, I am sitting on a barstool without a backrest at a high counter with a table easel to put my work on because it hurts to bend forward and write like a normal human being. I am wearing a brace that goes around my neck and torso. The skin on my jaw and chin is red and irritated and on the verge of becoming a raw wound because of the brace. My back did not take into account when it fractured that I am in the last semester of my Honours year with four huge essays, two huge tests, and a giant thesis still before me. It apparently didn’t think things through properly. The horse that threw me off also did not take any of this into consideration (thanks a lot, Lady).

But. This is life, isn’t it? Things like this don’t happen if you’re just spending your life sitting on the couch. This happened because I am living. I am doing things. I am making my life as adventurous and full as I can. And that is not something that I will ever regret or wish away. So even though I am intensely frustrated, very super duper behind with my work, and planning a ceremonial Burning of the Brace when this plastic and foam creature can finally come off, I am thankful. Thankful that I just missed landing on my neck, thankful that this isn’t permanent, thankful for all the amazing people who visited me in the hospital (aka the Pit of Awfulness), for how amazingly helpful my friends and family have been, and thankful that this happened because I am living my life to the full. I am thankful for so many things that if I were to list them all, this would be a novel, not a blog post. And so the frustrations, while they are huge and my current reality, will pass eventually and somehow I will catch up with my work and everything will be okay.

Everything will be okay in the end. That’s all I know.

Mirrors

Obviously I have not posted in a while. I had such grand plans of posting once a week consistently this year, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. Anyway, it’s only March, so I’m going to attempt to get back on track 🙂

First of all, I’ve started horseback riding again. I stopped around four and a half years ago for two reasons: 1) I moved to Cape Town and didn’t have a car or money to ride, and 2) I had several slightly traumatic experiences with the horse I had been riding, which continued even after I spent hours and hours working with the horse to try and fix the problems, and I was afraid to get back on a horse again. When I arrived for my first lesson and she told me to get on the horse I kind of just stood there for a few seconds and seriously considered asking her if I could pass on that (and, what, stand and stare at the horse for an hour? I’m not quite sure what I was thinking haha), but once I got on and the initial terror passed, I managed to enjoy it.

The thing about horseback riding is that horses are mirrors. All animals are, in a way, but it’s more noticeable and marked with horses because they’re giant animals that you are trying to ride and stay in control of. This is probably why some people don’t like them; you can’t pretend with a horse because it sees right through you. It knows right away whether you’re going to let it do what it wants, whether you are riding with authority, and whether or not you are afraid. I have often had to reevaluate myself after a lesson or an outride, and last week was one of those times. I was struggling to get the horse to do an admittedly complicated turn, and I wasn’t able to get it right before the lesson ended. My instructor (who had been shouting “you’re in control! be in control!” the whole time) talked me through it, and then she asked whether I am generally a passive person.

I hate the word passive. I hate passiveness. To me it goes hand in hand with fear, because fear = paralysis and that’s basically what being passive is. But unfortunately I know that I can be incredibly passive, and it’s a fault that I like to ignore, but of course I can’t ignore it while I’m riding. And this year, my “theme” is You Make Me Brave. Brave. Active. Intentional. Adventurous. Unafraid. None of these things have anything to do with passivity.

I started the year off with a huge amount of excitement about academics, friends, trying new things (I even signed up for fencing, which I haven’t had time to go to yet, but I totally will eventually), and a determined decision to not. Be. Afraid. Anymore. I think I hit a slump, but today I am writing this to say that, with God’s help, this will be a year of intentional unafraidness. He makes me brave.

A Break Through

I had a feeling something was going to happen as I got ready for my lesson on Friday. Just…a feeling. In truth, that’s probably why something did happen, because I was expecting it…and with horses, I have learned, what you expect is what you get. I hadn’t had a very good week, so I was feeling overwhelmed already. And then we practiced jumping.

My biggest problem (I think) in riding, aside from being totally ignorant about what I’m communicating to Fire in the subtle equine language, is that I’m stiff. Stiff + jumping = bad things. I didn’t fall off the first round, but I almost did; and I didn’t fall off the second round, but I almost did. Once I was literally sitting on Fire’s neck, holding on for dear life, and only managed to get back in the saddle because I thankfully hadn’t lost my stirrups.

But he was going way too fast and I wasn’t in control, so I had to redo some things several times. Then Sue told me to do the one reign stop, which I learned about 8 years ago during some stray Western lessons but never actually had to use. So I tried it, but of course, being me, I turned him toward the jump. He jumped, I was suddenly sitting on his neck again, but this time I had lost my stirrups and there was no way I could get back on. I realized it would be better for me to decide when to fall, as opposed to tumbling over his head and being run over, so I dropped to one side and landed in the (thankfully) soft, deep sand.

And then I almost cried. Like I said, it was a bad week, I’ve been struggling with Fire for months, and it just felt like too much. Everything on its own is never that bad, but you all know as well as I do, and probably better, that life loves throwing everything on you all at once sometimes, just to keep you on your toes.

Anyway. Sue showed me the right way to do it, let me calm down before getting back on, and generally everything was okay. I won’t mention the insane bawling that happened later that night, because that would be embarrassing.

After falling off, even if you get back on right away (which you should), I firmly believe you should go riding again as soon as possible after the fall. So I went yesterday, and I was newly determined to make this work; to ride better, to listen to him better, and to communicate better; to be more aware of him and what he was perceiving. I rode for a bit and it was okay, but once I had to do the one reign stop. He was rather surprised when I did this, and even swung his head around to look at me like, “Who are you and what have you done with my usual timid rider?” After that things were much better.

At one stage I got off because I wanted to put a pole down so I could practice the movement of jumping. Usually he just stands there, looking bored. This time when I walked away, I saw him move out of the corner of my eye, and I looked to make sure he wasn’t going to roll or something. But he wasn’t. He was walking after me. When I stopped, he stopped. We stared at each other for a couple seconds, and then I bent down to move the pole in place.

And then I stopped and thought. In a thing called Join-Up, which I won’t go into detail about here, you do a bonding thing with your horse where he chooses you as his leader, and you know it worked if he follows you around afterward. Fire never follows me around unless I have carrots. So I thought, let’s see what happens. And I started walking…and he stayed right behind me. Not invading my space, just staying close, with his nose practically touching the ground. When I stopped, he stopped. A few times he nudged me very lightly on my arm, but that was it; none of the usual pushing and shoving. I did some zig-zags, some sharp turns, and he stayed with me the whole time. And I almost cried again, because this is what I’ve been wanting to experience; Fire being with me because he chooses to be.

So much so that when I was unsaddling him, he tried to come with me to the tack room and was very frustrated by the halter that kept him from following.

Fun or Not, It Still Whips You Good

First horse show, even if it is a fun show. It was a fundraiser for one of the people I take lessons with so she can go to Jozi for a rather important show. Note: all photos were taken by my awesomesauce mommy.

8:40 am: I get there and see there are already three people there. I am forever in awe of morning people who don’t even need one cup of coffee to get up (she says, downing three). Either way, it’s still so early that Fire is sleeping in his stall. Usually he looks semi-happy to see me in a if-I-have-to-work-it-may-as-well-be-you kind of way, but this morning he’s yawning every five seconds and blinking at me in a I-hate-you-forever-and-ever kind of way.

9:40 am: I am finally done grooming him, and possibly skimped on the last bit of brushing. All his winter hair decided to come out today. He’s weirdly passive while I saddle him and I kind of worry that it’s the deep breath before the plunge, but I’m hoping for the best. And I grab a crop just in case. When he sees it he looks even more meek…and then he falls asleep.

10:00 am: After a short warm-up in the small ring, Fire and the other horses are at least no longer droopy-eyed. Apparently small ring=coffee. However, the rest of us, who are used to riding for one hour at a time, are already feeling tired-ish. The grooming alone took three times as long as it usually does (it is a serious arm workout), and we’ve been riding for about 20 minutes. We go over to the bigger ring where the show will take place and walk around, doing our own little pre-show show, so to speak.

10:30 am: And we’re off. A fun show essentially means the following: a) you probably know the judge, b) no show attire unless you want to, but you’ll be very overdressed, and c) it’s most likely smaller than a non-fun show. Also, while you’re doing your thing, you get advice from the judge on how to do better before he/she actually makes a decision, so you’ve got a better chance of doing well. By this time we’ve been riding for almost an hour, and I personally am already tired and my back is aching. However, the excitement of the thing sort of keeps you from feeling too much of that.

11:00 am: I am shocked to find that I don’t ride too badly. I got 4th place for best walk, and a surprising 2nd for best trot. Now it’s on to 3-gaited. This is essentially a judgment on your walk, trot, and canter all at once, and on command; so it judges your ability to control your horse, the quickness of your horse’s response, and the usual judgment on how well you can get your horse to walk, trot, and canter. A note: the walk is the most difficult to get right because horses like to trot. When they walk, you have to make sure they’re awake and taking long, but quick, steps, and their necks must be rounded dressage-style. In the trot, they’re looking to see that the horse is using its rear legs to move itself forward instead of the “lazy” foreleg trot, which is natural to them. In the canter, they have to have rounded necks and…some other stuff…that I’m not sure of. I’m not an expert, okay? 🙂

11:30 am: Performance riding. This is an individual thing, and at the show was as follows. First, you walk in a straight line up to the judge and salute. Then you walk to the middle of the ring, trot a figure of eight, trot in a straight line to the judge, halt, salute again. Then you dismount, cross your stirrups over the saddle, put the reigns over the horse’s head, hold the reigns just beneath the jaw, and stand beside the horse to wait for the judge’s nod. Then you turn the horse away from the judge, lead it at a walk in a straight line up to the top, and turn. Now you sprint while the horse trots, and lead it at a trot past the judge. Voila, it’s done. I tied for first in this.

12:00 pm: We’re halfway through the individual games. First was a normal bending race, where you have to weave through obstacles in a row, up and back, as fast as you can. I won the first round but finished last overall. Next was a can race, which is by far the longest. There are six “obstacles” all together; one tire at the start, then a drum, then three poles, then another drum. On the last drum are four cans. You have to bend back and forth, putting cans on the middle four obstacles, then go back again and retrieve the cans, and then race down to the beginning. I finished second. Then was a toolbox race, which was almost the same. By now, we are exhausted. In a show you put in much more effort because you’re being judged, and it drains you, even if it is a lot of fun. So no, you are not supposed to be slouching like I am in the photo, but I couldn’t sit up straight anymore.

12:30 pm: Ah yes, my favorite. The tire race. You bend up, dismount, pick up the tire and put it over your head, and let it drop to the ground. Then you lead the horse as fast as you can [read: you run like a friggin maniac and pull the horse after you] down to the tire. I got first in the first round, and came third overall.

1:00 pm: I’m finished. There were team games after lunch, but I was secretly glad we had to leave because I was way tired. The only other time I’ve been on horseback for more than four hours was when I was eight or so (and much more flexible and energetic) and went on a two-day horse ride in Ethiopia. But this was a lot of fun and I’ll do it again. When I get home, I fall on the couch and lie there until it’s time to sleep, at which point I do, and should have gotten another rosette for my deep sleeping skills.

Overview: I got one 1st place for the performance riding, two 2nds, one 3rd, and two 4ths.I know what I have to work on, and although I wasn’t too keen on shows, I can see now why they’re good to do. You get outside advice and it is fun to see how you do under pressure of competition. I was surprised to find that although I’m not cut throat, I can get quite competitive, but luckily I’m not a sore loser. The horses, on the other hand, were bloodthirsty, and if they had razor sharp teeth blood would have been spilled. Most of them are retired racehorses, so they got a bit…er…crazy. That is, crazier than usual 🙂 Fire, especially, got very carried away and by lunch time my hands were raw. But it was amazing to have to opportunity to ride for that long, to be with other horse fanatics for that long, and to get rewarded for something you love to do anyway. I’ll definitely do more in the future.

In Motion

Copyright © 2010 by Veronique Kruger

Today I have a little to say about a lot of things, so forgive me if this is choppy and boring. There will be little to no deep thoughts or insights; it is what we call An Update Post.

Firstly, if all goes according to plan, I have precisely 47 days (that’s 1,128 hours, 67,680 minutes, 4,060,800 seconds) until I finish school. FOREVER. After 4,060,800 seconds have passed, I will never have to do anything related to high school again (not counting my potential offspring, but at least I get a decade’s break, you know?).

Secondly, I have completed exactly 61.75 out of 90 hours of horseback riding that is required for my diploma. I can report that these 60-some hours have accomplished the following: 1) I’m not deathly afraid of horses anymore, 2) I can canter without getting a side ache, and 3) I know what those buckle thingies on the bridles and saddles are for.

Thirdly, I am now 19. I just thought I would add that.

Fourthly, my India fund is going well. I’ve received a donation and I’ve sold my bike and am receiving the money in increments, but once I have it all I will officially have R1,350 out of R9,000, or $180 out of $1,300. Once again, any donations and/or prayers are greatly appreciated, and you can email me at africanstardust@gmail.com if you feel like dropping your spare change in my pockets.

Fifthly, I am going to write the South African National Benchmark Tests on Saturday, which include Math literacy and English proficiency evaluations. I’m not too terribly nervous, but I would appreciate your prayers on that day. I will be writing from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm, so please be praying that I stay energized and refreshed and that I can stay focused for all that time. This has everything to do with my admission to UCT, so it’s quite an important day.

That’s all. I thank you if you stayed for all that rambling. If you visit (which is unlikely since most of you live across The Pond and the others, you know, have lives), you will be most warmly welcomed, especially if you bring coffee with you.

❤ africanstardust