The Hoof Print
Horse News. Christian Living. Equine Education
The Christian Equestrian's Literary "Stamp" in Type
Only thirteen months old, the chestnut colt is already a horse – more than 14.2 hands – at my best guess. Neat little ears tipped towards me, he watches me as I approach him; a lanky mixture of curiosity and fear, awkwardness and grace. His long legs look too thin to hold up his powerful hindquarters. The impossible slope of his shoulder looks strangely out of place against his skinny baby neck, which is weighed down at the other end by the one part of him that glows with nobility; his head. The wide white blaze should make him look placid, but instead it only attracts attention to the perfect wide brow, huge bright eyes, tiny mouth, and chiselled features. His expression is the most contrasting of all. The pricked ears say curiosity, but nervousness gleams in his eyes.
I put my hand his neck; the muscle tenses as if he wants to flinch, then relaxes when he feels the gentleness of the touch. “It’s okay, buddy. I’m not going to hurt you.” Words that I will repeat over and over, because the chestnut colt has been mine now for seven days.
My first warmblood, the huge colt is bred in the purple and looks like it, especially when he drifts across the ground as if his already bulky frame weighs nothing. His flashy sabino markings make him even more eye-catching than he already is anyway, with his expressive face and the promise of reaching over seventeen hands. He was well bred, well raised and trained by my own instructor; it was no surprise that he was quickly snapped up by a lady looking for her next competition horse. It was just a freak accident that he injured his left hindleg. The resultant scar and worries about his soundness made him difficult to sell, and that’s how the beautiful chestnut colt became mine.
He looks at me nervously. I know my trainer has never hurt him, but he doesn’t know me and for a lonely baby in a new world, that’s all reason he needs to be afraid. He trusts me enough that I can catch him, lift up his feet and brush his face; in fact he is perfectly easy to handle, but a fear lurks beneath the obedience. I know that as soon as something frightens him, he’ll think he has to fend for himself and run: barring that, fight. I wish there was a way I could tell him that he doesn’t need to be afraid, that I won’t let anything hurt him, and will look after him now. But there is none. So I show him instead, with slow movements and gentle words, a soft touch and a strict leadership. The small terrors of a fly spray bottle or a rainy day don’t make him quite so panicky as they used to. And one day the tiny steps we’re taking now – getting him to stand still while I groom him, showing him that rubbing his ears is pleasant, not scary – will all add up when we face the jumps or the dressage arena. One day he will be not a scared colt, but a conqueror.
I run my hand up one of his ears; instead of flinching, he tips his head towards me, enjoying the caress. Little steps.
Every time I look into the eyes of the chestnut colt, I see myself. Join-up has been done; I will follow God, however tremulously, where He leads me. I will stand firm, with however much terror, when the storms begin to break around me. There are still things of this world that scare me, things that I don’t want to face even though I know He is bigger than any of them, that His love is stronger than death itself. But God knows this even better than I know it, so while I grow He holds me close and shows me that I can trust Him no matter what.
I can’t tell the colt that he can trust me, but I know God could tell me, if He so chose. Actions, however, are so much stronger than words that God doesn’t just tell me that I can trust Him – He shows me, day by day. While little tribulations come my way, He is always the one constant and unchanging reassurance, the One who never leaves me. I do not become stronger; I just realise more and more how strong He is.
And while today the knowledge of His strength only tides me through little trials – just as my colt can only handle small things, like back boots or a camera flash – one day I will know Him well enough that I could face the entire world and not be afraid. For in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (Romans 8:37).
Photograph from the public domain
All flowing, fiery curves, the gelding charges across the grass, his ears pricked as the next giant obstacle looms before him. A solid wall standing 1.60m high, it’s a jump that would daunt most horses and petrify most riders – but not this one. The horse seems to take the height as a challenge, and his rider urges him on in the final strides before he tucks up his front legs and leaps. With a flick of his tail, he clears it with a grace that makes it look easy.
Spectators watch with bated breath, listening to the beat of the bay gelding’s hooves as he heads towards the privet hedge. He seems confident, his rider pushing him on and turning him sharply into the fence, but there’s a slight stammer in the rhythm of his feet and he jumps awkwardly. Horseflesh thumps on wood. With a rattle and a thump, the rail falls and the crowd groans. But for the horse and rider, there is no time for dismay. They’re headed straight for the Devil’s Dyke, a jump they’ve already knocked down once today. If they don’t clear it, the competition is lost.
The rider encourages his horse with every stirring of his legs against the gelding’s sides, desperate to make it, but the horse doesn’t hesitate. He tosses up his head and charges, the power of his strides screaming his refusal to make the same mistake again. Giant muscles bunch under his sleek coat and he leaps. Hearts stop, and for a moment the horse seems to float above the high rail over the ditch of water as he attempts to clear both in one leap.
And he does.
The crowd roars. The horse plunges joyously away from the newly conquered obstacle and now there is no stopping him. Fence after mighty fence are left behind; he eats up the ground, swinging left, then right at the expert guidance of his rider. At last, he gallops through the finish and all eyes turn to the board where their time will be displayed: 85.17 seconds. 0.02 seconds faster than their closest competition. As the horse slows to a triumphant trot, his rider falls on his neck, hugging him, rejoicing.
Later, they stand in the winner’s circle, accepting the beautiful trophy that tells the world that Irishman Trevor Breen and the Belgian warmblood Adventure de Kannan have just won the British Jumping Derby, informally known as the Hickstead Derby, arguably the most prestigious single showjumping event in the world. Draped with flowers and showered with applause, the gelding stands proudly beside his rider. Every inch of him glows; his bay coat shines copper in the sun, muscles filling his outline with power. He is perfect in every way, except for one thing. As he turns his head from side to side, only one bright brown eye looks out of his noble face. On the other side, there is nothing – just a dark and empty socket where his right eye should be.
Interviewers ask Trevor Breen what it is that makes Adventure de Kannan so special. How did he become the first one-eyed horse ever to win the Derby?
Breen doesn’t miss a beat. “His heart,” he says instantly. According to him, it was Adventure de Kannan’s courage, will to win, and willingness to do anything his rider asks of him that makes him “a phenomenal horse, the horse of a lifetime”. Talented as he is, “Addy” would never have made it through all the setbacks that he did – losing his eye to surgery following an infection in 2013, an injured suspensory ligament not long afterwards, and a kick in the warmup ring only the previous day – without his inner qualities.
It is proven once again that it’s heart, above all else, that makes a truly special horse.
This is true not only for horses. How many of us know of people we deem more beautiful than we are? And upon what do we base our assumptions? We allow ourselves to feel inferior to people who are thinner or richer or better dressed than we are, people with the right hairdo and the right skin tone and the right job and the right education, without realising that we are all beautiful – fearfully and wonderfully made by the love of God (see Psalm 139:14). And it is more than just physical beauty or great circumstances that makes one special. For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
Deeper things than beauty or opportunities make one special. Meekness, faith, gentleness, courage, kindness, hope, love above all – anything that is a part of Jesus’s perfect example to us – these are what really matter. The truest beauty of a human being lies in a redeemed soul filled with Jesus Christ.
Just like Adventure de Kannan, whose guts and generosity helped him to win the Hickstead Derby despite his scars, his handicap and the disfigurement of that gaping hole in his face, you can triumph over any obstacle that stands in your way, by the grace of God. He will fill you with everything you need not only to survive, but to thrive. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Matthew 7:7). You can do all things through Christ, your strength (Philippians 4:13).
Glory to the King.