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Ponies and Parables. Stepping out.

I have been bit quiet lately. There has been a lot going on personally and with the horses. If I'm honest I have been struggling with disappointment, discouragement and a loss of confidence.

In December Seve sustained an injury to his tendon sheath. This was a blow, not just for him, as I hate it when my horses are injured or ailing, but also for me. I had been preparing to start doing some dressage competitions again after about 3 years of not competing. I was to start with doing a team competition with some lovely ladies which I was really looking forward to.

During a training session Seve pulled up lame. After hopping off and further investigation, I took him home and the vet was called. He had a scan which showed there was some damage to his tendon sheath, thankfully the tendons themselves were intact.

It is very hard to tell a horse that he can't move and restrict his natural instinct. They are wired to move constantly. In the wild they browse, graze and eat whilst moving all the time. This helps their digestion as they are trickle feeders and foragers. Horses need to move to stay physically and emotionally healthy. Poor Seve was to have six weeks box rest, the leg was to be cold hosed twice daily and ice boots and pressure bandages applied. He was fit and so special attention had to be paid to his diet as problems such as colic and ulcers can occur if the diet and lack of movement are not adjusted to the amount of work a horse is doing, also they need access to fibre (hay) at all times to keep the gut moving.

The weather over this winter has been a daily challenge for horse owners. My tackroom flooded and the yard was under water. Thankfully the stables were dry, but the fields have been waterlogged on our Kentish clay and we have had to manage our pasture by not allowing the horses on it, otherwise we would have no grass in the summer and Seve was confined anyway. He hates to be separated from his friends and if they are out of sight he has a tendency to throw himself around, not conducive to healing a poorly leg, so dear old Alfie has had to babysit him which means he has not had much access to going out either. These challenges can take their toll and we manage the best we can, although it is far from ideal.

Katie and I have tried to be creative with helping him with boredom. We have strung haynets in various places to try to make things a bit more natural for him, he has been allowed to mooch around the yard and we have supplied him with stable toys like a treat ball that he can roll along the ground with his nose and if he hits the jackpot a pony nut is deposited and devoured greedily. We have also supplied him with some logs with bark on them to chew. Horses love to gnaw on wood and there is recent research to suggest they need it from observations of feral herds, although we are still not altogether sure of why. In Seve's case I wanted to alleviate some boredom for him and also stop him chewing fencing.

After six weeks of confinement the day arrived for the vet to come and see his progress. He was pleased and said he could now start walking out on a hard surface for five minutes a day to strengthen the leg. The problem was that he was a coiled spring of pent up energy. Trying to trot him up for the vet was hair raising as he exploded leaping and bucking as I was aware of hooves flying around my ears. He is Spanish and rather hot headed. I have seen the Spanish riding school performing what is known as "airs above the ground", where the horses are trained to leap in a controlled manner, I just wasn't too keen on it being so near my head.

The vet suggested a sedative which we had to administer to take the edge off his energy and also preserve his vulnerable leg. So we have started walking him out every day, increasing 5 minutes a week and we are nearly at the end of week 2. I have been very fortunate to have Katie to help me as it has needed two of us to walk either side of him.

During this time I have felt a bit nervous, he is a big, powerful horse, but I also know that it is important for me to be calm for him, despite my apprehension at times. We have begun to get into a daily rhythm and he is beginning to settle and be more sensible, but we have had a few leaps as barking dogs, joggers and cyclists, not to mention cars, which usually doesn't worry him have made him much more hyper-vigilant than usual because of the enforced lack of movement.

The fact that horses have to move forward constantly got me thinking about myself at present. The feeling of being stuck, and a bit fearful and discouraged has made me anxious for him and at times myself. Often challenges don't come singularly, more often than not we can be facing multiple stressors all at once and it can be overwhelming. There comes a point when we don't know how we can put one foot in front of the other. If we don't stop, re-evaluate and give ourselves some grace, we can not only be stuck but start to go backwards.

I felt I was at the end of my ability, resources and mental, physical and emotional strength to cope. There have been other personal challenges too which are not for this blog, I was feeling like everything I did just wasn't working. Why does it never just rain, but pour ? I am a problem solver, but I had run out of steam. When I get like this I tend to overthink and am prone to catastrophize.

So how have I been able to move forward and feel more positive? I had to accept and acknowledge that I felt the way I did. It is no good pretending everything is ok when it isn't. I also had to get my focus off myself and start to intentionally think about what was going right, rather than what was going wrong. I have started to be thankful for what I have here today rather than what I can't change or fix. Horses have always taught me life lessons and this period of time is no exception. I am learning that I don't have to have all the answers, some things just don't work out the way I would like, despite hard work, determination and a positive attitude, but most of all it always points me to my faith in God, and horses pointed me to him. What it really boiled down to was me trying to make things happen in my own strength, abilities or lack of them, when in reality from experience I know we are not designed to carry every burden ourselves. I love the picture of horses at the plough, they are yoked together to share the load evenly between them. This is a picture Jesus used to illustrate what it means to allow him to help us carry our burdens, it is also a favourite passage of scripture of mine and has come up for me time and again in my life.

"Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, my yoke is easy and my burden light. ". Matthew 11:28-29.

I go to a pilates class which really helps me with my joints and muscles. During the relaxation at the end, I was lying on the floor and all the tension from the past couple of months that I had been holding in my body had started to ebb away. I had a picture in my mind of a man walking out in front of Seve, although I couldn't see his face I knew intuitively that it was Jesus, and I heard him say to me, "you don't need to worry, I am on the end of the lead rope". I was so relaxed that I think I must have dropped off to sleep as the teacher came and gently shook me on the shoulder. It got me thinking about another scripture that says:

"The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged". Deuteronomy 31:8. I find this verse very comforting as I know from experience of having a living relationship with Jesus for over 35 years, this is often the way he speaks to me. It also got me thinking about the partnership and relationship we have with our horses, it has to be built on mutual trust, respect and love. I have this relationship with Seve, and although circumstances may change, that relationship is solid.

So as we continue to step out on our journey of rehabilitation, we can trust in that relationship and that I am not alone in facing challenges and overcoming fears. Life is uncertain and messy at times. We can't predict the future, we go through good and bad times, but knowing you are not alone and you are loved makes all the difference.

So next time I feel overwhelmed, I will remember these words "I Am on the end of the lead rope." The question is am I willing to be led or am I going to try to do it all by myself? Its a bit like the partnership with horses really, a big powerful horse who is much stronger than me is willing to humble himself and be led. I will do my best to put one foot in front of the other even if it is just a baby step, that is ok, as long as I keep moving forward and stepping out in faith and not fear.

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