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The Colt and the Champion

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Greenwich Park, 2012. The horse strides down the side of the arena, hooves sinking deep into the golden sand, ears flickering gently from one side to the other as he takes in the murmur of a crowd thousands strong. One ear remains always tipped backwards towards his rider, who sits so tall and deep that the line between her movements and his is blurred. She guides him carefully, with subtle movements. A touch of her legs stirs him into a trot; he glides, white socks flashing, bay coat burnished in the sun, into the Olympic arena. He doesn’t move like an animal. He moves like music.

They come to a halt; the collection of the movement is in itself a salute to years of training. The rider makes her salute and then puts both hands on the reins, gathering him. The music begins, and the horse comes to life. He floats, perfectly in time with the music, through movements so difficult as to be impossible for most horses; yet he piaffes, pirouettes and passages as though it all comes naturally to him, as though he has been doing it since he was born. His rider appears to sit motionless as she guides him through the movements they both know so well. Extending, his trot seems ready to lift off; collecting, he barely seems to touch the ground.

The music rings with the peals of Big Ben and fanfares with the high wisdom of I Vow to Thee, My Country. The sound fills the hearts of the spectators, twines around the horse until it seems that horse and song become one, until it is uncertain whether the horse dances to the song or the song dances to the horse. Horse, human and music become one glorious spectacle.

One moment, they lengthen the canter to fly across the arena with impossibly long strides. The next, they piaffe, trotting on the spot, all the horse’s energy contained and yet exuberant. The next, they walk, the reins loose, the horse’s head stretched out, yet even that simple movement is regal, controlled, magnificent.

At last, with the whole stadium ringing to the last notes, the great horse comes to a halt and his great rider lowers her head and stretches out her right arm. The routine is finished. The stadium erupts into a mighty applauding.

Later that day it is announced that Charlotte Dujardin, the British dressage rider, and the KWPN gelding known as Valegro have won the individual gold medal for dressage at the London 2012 Olympics, and broken the Olympic record with 88.022%. Before long the pair will hold three world records, too, including the spectacular freestyle score of 93.975%. For now, they stand, revelling in a job well done, and the people of London applaud their majestic display of power, grace, and willingness.

And while they set their records, in a dingy corner of Gloucestershire, hidden and forgotten, a young pony colt is starving slowly.

 

Semi-abandoned stableyard in Gloucestershire, 2014. So weak that he can barely stand, the colt huddles in a corner of the field, his shivers making his long, dull coat ripple over his ribs. His neck looks too thin to support his pathetically bony head; his eyes are sunken deep into their sockets, and have no sparkle. Breathing laboured, neck stretched out, belly low-slung and grotesquely large for his spindly legs, the colt is days from death.

Perhaps less.

 

Stableyard caring for horses from charity, Gloucestershire, 2014. Charlotte Dujardin chats with her friend, walking past the row of stables from which sleek and well-groomed heads look out, the great eyes and wide brows speaking of breeding and quality. The double winner of the FEI World Cup and double Olympic gold medallist, among many other accolades, runs her eye down the row of beautiful horses. She is used to them; huge, shining, well-trained, unbelievably valuable, deeply treasured.

Then, she reaches a stable door with no head looking over it. Curious, she stops and peers inside. Two huge, sad eyes, half hidden in a head that is little more than a skull with skin, look back. They belong to a tiny black colt that was found by the RSPCA. He was starving, riddled with parasites and sick with a lung infection. In the words of an Inspector, the colt was a week from dying.

Now, he is safe, but his ribs still protrude, his belly still dangles, long hair hanging off it like moss dripping from an old tree trunk. His disproportionate body, half hidden underneath a dog blanket stretched across his thin frame, looks much too ugly for the prettiness of his fine-boned little head.

He is a far cry from Valegro, and Dujardin has no illusions that he will ever be Valegro. But she falls for him instantly. Straight away, she contacts her sponsors to custom-make him a proper rug instead of the old dog blanket. And not long after, the little colt, christened Santa, moves into the possession of Charlotte Dujardin OBE.

 

We all have days when we feel like Santa compared to Valegro. We feel like a raggedy little pony, scrawny, weak and on the brink of starvation, a scruffy mongrel in comparison to that man in the church, that girl in the youth group, that preacher at the pulpit – those Valegros. We compare ourselves to those around us, and cast ourselves in a dim light: I’ll never be brave like her. I’ll never be wise like him. I’ll never be virtuous like her. I’ll never be patient like him.

This is not humility. Our God never intended for us to compare ourselves to each other, for in the end, we are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). Jesus alone is the example to strive for, the leader to follow (Phil. 2:5). We are to shine with His light, reflected in us; not to stand in the shadows, ashamed to shine because of the light of others (Eph. 5:8). Jesus loves all His children, and He alone can make us everything we want to be (Matt. 19:24-26).

If Charlotte Dujardin, a human being, can love both a little black rescue pony and the top dressage horse in the world, how much better can our Lord and God love each one of us? But our God will go one better. Our God will take every Santa and turn them into a Valegro. The God who designed horse, man and the entire world so perfectly will make all those who trust in His name into new creations, and we will live forever in the glory of His light.

Glory to the King.

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Guest Thursday, 30 March 2017