I think one of the key secrets to life is hidden in the ability to discern between speedbumps and roadblocks.
I once had a friend introduce me to someone as ‘a force.’ The positive side is that I tend to get things done. I am good at pushing my way through and if I set my mind to something it takes an act of God to stop me. For real. When it happens (the act of God to stop me that is…) it’s not fun. The negative side of this is the damage that is caused to myself and others in the times I push through into territory I don’t belong, or maybe the right territory but the wrong time!
I have forced myself into enough situations I wish I hadn’t after the fact to begin to see sometimes yellow flags, red lights and roadblocks can be for our own benefit if we pay attention.
I think because my forceful nature is much quicker to kick down roadblocks than ask if I should, I had to take a lot of time learning the art of detours and waiting. Apparently I’m beginning to cultivate that skill because the pendulum is swinging toward lessons of when to push through and not let the speed bumps stop me from going forward.
The lesson of respecting a roadblock came first for me, now I’m seeing the lessons of recognizing a speed bump. A speed bump is something that causes you to slow down and take care, but you don’t stop completely. You continue on with a speed bump.
I had penciled in the Big South Fork ride in early planning for my year, but it was far from obvious that it was a good choice to go… in fact… many circumstances on the surface seemed to read the very opposite.
Khaleesi had a fabulous return to endurance in May 2021, but the summer brought death by a thousand paper cuts- some pretty deep. The highlights are in recent blog posts so I won’t cover them again here- but I didn’t have the summer riding miles I had planned for many various reasons and I was not at all sure she was fit for a 50.
I kept putting off registering for the ride and seeking God’s wisdom for some more clear sign of what to do. I slowed down and took caution and asked for guidance… I made a very clear request one day not many weeks back Please make it clear to me!! That day I loaded up K and Hope with Iva for a fun ride at our local river trail and park. As soon as I offloaded I had a trail monster on my hands. She wasn’t out of control, but she was begging me to fly. Iva was stunned watching us take on the terrain and in sensitivity to sweet Hope who is still coming into solid health we had to hold back for her- but every chance she got, K floated above the trail with a huge ground covering trot like she had wings and the strength in my hands as I navigated her was an entirely new level of balance and lightness.
Eyes wide at the end of the ride Iva said: Well it seems you got your answer today. You asked for clear. I can’t imagine it gets more clear than that!
I relented and registered for the ride. Saturday was the only day that worked to ride with the travel days factored in and it happened that day wasn’t a 50, it was a 55. Great… I’m already feeling on the fence about doing a 50 and now I am stretching into a 55. Ok. I’m in.
After registering and feeling pretty certain it was the right call (if it wasn’t- we may not finish, but that’s ok because we always learn things and not finishing isn’t the end of the world) I had a mixed bag of rides some of which felt solid, some felt downright sluggish and like wading through concrete. Each time this verse kept coming to mind:
Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers them with the victorious power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.Psalm 20:6-7
It was as if the quiet whisper kept reminding me: I already answered you! I said go run the 55- on my word. You asked and I made it clear. Quit asking and questioning, and quit looking around at the circumstances. The circumstances will fluctuate, you must be led by something with stability if you’re going to survive these trying times on the earth. You don’t trust in the circumstances, you don’t trust in your horse- you trust in my name. When I have spoken the matter is settled.
It was so clear to me in a way I can’t exactly explain, that though I held lightly my plans, I moved forward no matter what circumstances looked like. All these things were speedbumps, meant for me to roll over and move through. I kept my eyes out for a true roadblock… until the morning we were set to roll over and onto TN. That’s when things got really tricky.
My horses live on a beautiful farm a few miles up the road. They have access to two massive pastures, and I wanted to get the 9 hour drive south started as early as possible for me which meant ideally loading up in the dark. I also have a T-post electric fence with 3-strands of wire (electric connected) at home on my smaller 4 acre property. I have had the horses here before to work or for an overnight on occasion. This seemed the best plan as they’d be quick to get loaded up Thursday morning.
When the thunder and lightning began to roll through after midnight I wasn’t thrilled. We weren’t expecting a summer storm that I knew of. They’d be ok, but it’s a small pen without shelter.
I was less happy to wake up at 5am to hear the rain was still falling in the dark early morning. It felt like a rain on my parade for sure, who likes loading up last few things and horses in the dark rain? Not this girl.
Little did I know as I got my latte started just what I was about to find.
I got everything sorted out- last minute things and sent a text to Iva- I’m loading horses and heading out to pick her up. As I grabbed my wet halters and walked into the pen in the drizzly dark I saw sweet little Hope still half asleep with a foot cocked and looked around… grabbed my light… and thought how odd…
Where is Khaleesi?
Not here was the answer I found after walking the entire pen with my light. And no evidence of disturbed fence or a muddy high jump landing.
She just had vanished.
I’ll save you the play by play but it was about the worst thing I’ve faced trying to get to a ride yet. I drove up and down the highway in the early dim drizzle. No sign of her dead or alive. I called the sheriff and no reports of a horse on the road. I called some neighbors, no sign of her wandering in someone’s yard. Now I was beginning to really panic. My mind went into all possible scenarios between her thrashing caught in some abandoned barbed wire in a back wood section of property and finding her dead next week… wandering onto the road and meeting a logging truck… some injury that wouldn’t take her life but maybe end her riding career… or never finding her at all and always wondering what happened?
As I began my hike on foot into the woods behind my house that leads to a massive national forest tract I stopped my vain imagination and insisted that I would not go there. I can’t know what is to come and I refuse to partner with the fear. What I had to do is stay PRESENT and do what I could do right now. In this case begin to walk and look for signs, hoof prints or poop?
There was also something else I’ve come to realize over time: I always have EVERYTHING I need in the moment I need it. This means if I don’t have something exactly now, I don’t need it exactly yet. Logically this follows that right now I didn’t have to have K in possession – because she isn’t here. So I can relax and be curious to see what this outcome would look like. God will use this for my good. Yes, even this.
Is this the roadblock? Have I been heading the “wrong” direction these past weeks? And this is how you’re letting me know? Ok then. You have my attention.
Last thing that I was clear on: this horse isn’t mine. I only manage her and care for her. She belongs to the one who created her and gave her into my care as a perfectly suited gift for me. If that creator of the universe wanted to do something else with her- he gets to make that choice and my part is to ask: show me how you see this, and what I need to see to respond well. Open my eyes.
About that moment my cell phone rang. It was a neighbor, Danny. Danny the one who I can always count on to help out in the stretch of highway we call the neighborhood. Danny whose wife works at the hospital and bandaged up Khaleesi’s knees for me and helped clean out the wounds after our big crash. Danny had headed out to look for K when I called to see if he’d heard anything or seen her, and he’d been out over an hour but found her in a cemetery about 1/2 mile down the road. He said she seemed totally fine and he’d try to get his hands on her. By the time I hiked it back to my yard relieved, I heard that message clearly again: this is a speed bump. Load up and go. It’s now time.
He came walking up the driveway with the wandering horse. I’d already loaded up Hope and was only 2 hours behind schedule, still plenty of time to get set up before dark. I put K right onto the trailer, gave Iva a call and we got on the road.
We made it to Big South Fork with no more drama in plenty of time to get set up. Friday was a recovery day and we enjoyed an easy 5 mile walk around some of the trails with both horses, vetted in with no trouble and prepared for the next day. I had no idea what to expect. I knew I was right where I was supposed to be, but I have learned enough now to know that doesn’t always mean a victorious completion- sometimes it means a lesson. I have made a peace with that and find the process much more enjoyable when a perceived outcome doesn’t carry such weight. I was still grateful to have my horse in one piece and we’d made regular jokes about if she was still in her pen, and which cemetery we passed on the way in to look for her first.
The morning of the ride Iva shared a dream she had of me where I had volunteered for a dangerous mission to help women who were trapped in a war zone. She had been inspired in the dream and also volunteered for the war but was in a less dangerous training camp. It was an encouraging picture, and as she shared I noticed again the number 58 written in white on Khaleesi’s rump I sensed something was significant this time to our number. Not able to get service to do a search, I asked Iva to look up Isaiah 58 when she got into service later in the day.
The ride was a gift. Complete undeserved grace. She ran in more strength than I’ve even seen. She began similar to the Bethel Ride in May, but this time instead of one strong loop, one average loop, and then a tough third loop where she began to wear… she took on the first two loops (about 36 miles) at her fastest average speed (about 7mph) including tricky terrain, rocks, ridge climbs, and water crossings without tiring. I was certain at some point she would falter and lag back having spent all her energy too soon for the day. She vetted through with good scores, gut sounds, and heart rates and CRI of 48/48 and this was trotting fast into camp, dropping tack and getting into the pulse box relatively quickly.
The second hold I gave her an extra 10 minutes to drink and eat. The holds were only 40 minutes here which is a bit short for our experience. The extra 10 minutes was definitely worth it (she really tanked up on the water toward the end of that hold) but it meant the small group we were riding with had left us behind. We rode out to the last 18 mile loop alone. The good news is she rode out without much prodding and that is also an improvement for her going back out after 36 miles!
I had hoped we might run into someone or end up slow enough that someone would catch up with us, but we only passed one rider who was going slow on a horse that needed to take it easy. We didn’t see another soul out there until the spotters who made sure we didn’t short cut a 4 mile section of trail, and then the finish line crew. It was also about the worst loop of the day. It was a figure 8 that took us right back through camp in the middle, this is mentally downright cruel I think and I hated being part of that. I think it was poor planning myself and would have preferred if it had to be this way to use this loop earlier in the day. Riding past camp — alone!– at mile 45 in the heat of the day was probably the toughest thing we’ve had to do mentally.
The other unfortunate part of this last loop was the handful of very steep rolling hills in the final couple miles. At this point she was not as balanced and was weakening from the long day and after I crested the second steep road and saw another down/up I apologized to her (again, this would have been much better earlier in the day) and hand walked her on these really steep hills. They kept coming.
After these ridiculous ravine type down/up segments it flattened out again and we jogged side by side. When she seemed to even out and move with less stiffness I got back on and we trotted the last mile or two and both of us were surprised and glad to see the finish line. The finish is not in camp, and the approach was in the one place we hadn’t ridden in and out and in and out all day.
She finished in 15th place out of 38, and considering it was the Arabian Distance National Championship Ride (not for us, a non-arabian) there were some really talented horses out there with us. I was surprised and pleased at her strong placing. Especially for the horse who has kept the vets waiting after dark and earned a few turtle awards
I am beyond pleased with the outcome of this event. As we cantered up mini-big-south-fork cougar rock formations at the end of loop 2 like she was fresh from the start I finally thought I just might have a horse here that can do this sport. After years of rebuilding and strength training, saddle fit questions, mild intermittent lameness, and hoof issues, it is heartening to get through a ride in a new level of strength and balance.
I have two saddles that are working well for her right now. Both of them are through Balance International, one the Nexus R tree GPD, the other a Matrix GPJ. I switched them each loop and found her back to be completely unreactive at the end of the ride. I think the composite shoes are also a key to the success she’s been having and we are still using the last of the Flex full heart bar with side clips stock — next year we will have to try out the other models which I don’t think are quite as good (likely versa grips unless something better comes along this winter). I am also loving my Hope Horsemanship jerseys because they have the back pockets, great for my rider card (it’s easy to grab quickly) and I stuff it full of carrots each loop. For this ride it was the only thing she ate on trail. She just didn’t stop for grass, only water.
If anyone asked me, which… no one generally does 😜 I would say the thing that made the most substantial change in her this year has been working with Emily Kemp on moving in balance, and learning to ride better myself. I have been dedicated to this process for years both for improvement myself and for her. It has taken time and patience and practice to work on straightness and flexibility and balance that finally this summer broke through to a level that is hopefully the beginning of true self-carriage work and using the power of her hind end to drive and not the front end to pull. I believe we have found a new level, but a year or two from now I’ll be so excited about how we’re finally getting it. This process is like unlimited treasure or an obsession that will never find it’s end. Whenever I get excited about how we’ve possibly arrived I only find we weren’t “there” yet because there’s a new even more connected even more balanced and even stronger place we settle into as we continue.
Yet this is what I love most. I love the endless “better” and the ability to get more soft, more round, more through, more self-carried and even more connected.
I am particularly grateful to Becky Pearman the most extraordinary photographer who has captured the stages of our development each ride over the years, and for Lynne Gilbert my mentor and friend who encouraged me to get a photo album to save the photos in from each ride that I might enjoy looking back from where we’ve come.
Yet most of all I am grateful for Iva who is my right hand and my left at times. Not only is she fun and we laugh and pray together, but I trust her with my horses and that is a big deal for me. She is always willing to do any of the 5 things I ask of her at once in the middle of a ride. She is always calm and kind no matter how frazzled I get, and she did look up Isaiah 58 for me. We rode under that banner and when we were finished and relaxing for the night I asked her to read it to me. The last verse was the most beautiful to me:
Then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land…Isaiah 58:14