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Life's a Carousel

Life’s a Carousel

By Betsy Kelleher

     Horse shows (especially Western Pleasure classes) remind me of a Merry-Go-Round. Round and round the arena they go, pretty groomed horses with silver ornamented saddles, carrying sparkly dressed riders. It’s a beauty pageant!

     I’ve been in the show ring just enough to understand the amount of work it takes to get there. I know the feelings of wanting to win and not making it! My first mare literally ran away with me in our first and only western pleasure class. She didn’t win any competitive trail rides either, but we both enjoyed that a lot more! I’ve shown Traveller in trail class, jumping and English pleasure. I’ve shown Lady several times in trail and gaited classes and actually got one blue ribbon! And I showed Rocky not long ago in two classes. I admit I am NOT great in the show ring! I started showing Lady just for the experience of loading and going somewhere and exposing her to more stuff. We love watching horse shows, and it’s something to do. But I had lots more fun riding a Hunter Pace!

     And I’m not complaining about not winning. The day I showed Rocky, I knew why we didn’t place. By the end of the class, I knew exactly what I had to work on. It was his first show, and I was happy with most of his performance (spurs might have helped).

     Our local shows include all levels of riders, and they are a good place to gain experience. Watching a show inspires me to go home and work harder. Gives me incentive and purpose! I realize that some riders (myself included) don’t spend enough time improving performance. We need to do more than just ride around and around the arena the way we’ve always done it. We need to learn to do it BETTER and work to IMPROVE our riding. Each horse has its own level of potential, which can only be accomplished with the rider’s skill.

     When I started riding gaited horses, I bought DVDs and books and tried to figure out how to get the right gait. Lady’s gait was smooth and consistent until I turned her out in a big pasture and she had the chance to run more.  For some reason, her gait started being “pacey” and I had to work to keep her in a four beat gait. I figured it out in time, but it didn’t work the way everyone told me. Instead of sitting back and letting the horse’s head come up, I found better results with sitting up straight and holding a snug rein. Maybe it depends on the horse. Lady tends to pace if I ask for more speed, and Rocky goes into a trot. But with both, I can usually bring them back into a smoother gait by simply squeezing the reins and asking for more collection.

     I’m told that judges have a picture in their minds of the perfect ride (or halter horse). They look for the breed standard in good conformation and movement. Overall, the judge looks for a well-groomed, graceful moving horse with tack that fits and compliments the horse, creating an eye-catching coordinated total look. Naturally, the performance of horse and rider should be as perfect as possible. Consistency is important, and the horse’s attitude should be willing and obedient. Although judging rules are uniformly established, each judge interprets and follows those rules within his or her own experience and philosophy of judging. You do the best you can on that day in that class and hope it is what the judge is looking for.

     I happen to be reading Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, published in 2002. Chapter Five begins, “The way you see your life shapes your life.” I can relate to those who see life as a carousel: “Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, and sometimes you just go round and round.” Like the horse shows, with pretty horses going round and round in the ring, getting nowhere.

     I find myself thinking that I need to stop the Merry-Go-Round and take an objective look at who I am and where I’m going. Life moves quickly by and another week is gone, and the carousel just keeps on going, round and round. Anyone else ever feel that way? We need to take time to really look at life’s meaning sometimes and see if we need to make changes! We need to take charge of our direction and our purpose!

     Warren mentions that the Bible offers different metaphors that teach us God’s view. Life is a test and a trust. Yes, I can see life as a test. The show ring is a test. Will my horse perform its best? Will I ride well enough to make it happen? Will I win a blue ribbon? And if I don’t win, what can I learn from the experience?

     Warren goes on to say that “Character is both developed and revealed by tests, and all of life is a test.” Therefore, nothing is insignificant. Every moment is an opportunity. Some tests seem overwhelming, others will pass by unnoticed. But God has given us precious promises to help us prepare for every test!

     In I Corinthians 10:13 (NIV), we are told that “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Today’s English Version says “He will not allow us to be tested beyond our power to remain firm; but when tested, He will give strength and provide a way through the test.” If we don’t understand this promise, we can become discouraged and lose that firm resolve. But if we trust God’s faithful provision, we can respond to the testing with faith, hope, courage and patience, which perhaps in itself is the victory God wants.

     The Bible tells us that the world belongs to God, and we are His stewards. I agree that we aren’t doing as well at this as we should. In reality, I can’t fix all the world’s problems; but I can take care of whatever is within my reach. My horses. My family. My home. My own possessions and financial means. My individual path in life. These are my responsibilities. 

     In Matthew 25: 14-30, Jesus told about a man who went on a journey and entrusted his estate to his servants while he was gone. Upon his return, each servant was rewarded according to his stewardship. To those servants who took good care of things, the owner said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” 

     So perhaps I did OK when I owned one horse, and now I can take care of four? (Big sigh!) I’m still not sure if this was God’s will or if I just got too attached. Anyone looking for a nice Tennessee Walker?

     Thinking of these horses as God’s property and myself as the caretaker, their care becomes even more important. True, they’re just horses—but at the moment, I feel God has given them to me and I am responsible. I can enjoy their personalities and problems with a different perspective and purpose.

     During a horse show, the judge bases decisions on what he or she sees. God isn’t fooled by outward appearances, important names or positions, or fancy outfits. Outer beauty is appealing to mankind, but God looks into the heart and He knows what is inside. Just as some horses have a great heart to win and will give you everything they have, you don’t usually know that from just looking at the horse. Some people have passed many Earthly tests and have developed inner strength and a deep faith, but you don’t see that under normal circumstances. God knows, and his testing reveals the truth of what lies within. I must share something I heard recently, “you must be able to climb the mountain to enjoy the mountain top.”

     Don’t try to do it all in your own strength. Depending on God is much easier and more rewarding. Again and again, we must affirm the basic principle: God is in control. He is our Creator and the Source of all power and goodness. Our relationship to Him and our obedient response to His ways is the biggest test.

(Originally published in the July 2008 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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