Keys to a Smooth Course! Step 3 - Straightness
So, we have an appropriate pace for the course set before us. We are maintaining that pace purposefully by keeping a steady rhythm. And now it’s time to enjoy the ride! This really is the fun part! We get to ride the course, from the center of each jump, tackling each obstacle and change of direction, as well as the hills, valleys, and turns that present themselves. So how do we stay the course and not end up with a run out, a refusal, a cheap rail, or a time penalty? Straightness can be the key to avoiding a lot of those little pitfalls that cause such big frustration!
First things first - we need to look where we’re going! We must lift our eyes from the ground and look ahead of us. We can’t look too far ahead because we’ll miss a jump. But if we look down we’ll probably end up there as well! So instead we look to the next jump as we approach and once we know we’re straight and are maintaining our pace in rhythm, we look past that jump to the next jump.
So, how do we do this in the course of life? By “fixing our eyes on Yahushua, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of YHWH.” And what was the joy set before Him? US. We are the joy set before Him! He knew that by enduring the cross, He was reconciling the world to Himself (see 2 Corinthians 5:19). And that gave Him the strength and purpose to go through an unspeakably anguishing death.
It was the JOY of what was to come. By looking up we can have that same joy! We do not need to dread what lays ahead of us. We can be joyful on the journey. The course is fun when we have that kind of eternal joy set before us!
We want our horse to enjoy the course and not dread each approaching jump. By not only riding him in an appropriate pace, as well as maintaining the pace with rhythm, we can help him to be confident and enjoy the course by riding him in straightness - through his body, and along the track that we travel. Remember our horse didn’t get to memorize the course! When he steps into the ring all he sees is a bunch of sticks and walls, and left to his own choice, he would go around every one of them. Really, that makes a lot more sense than jumping them when there’s plenty of room to just pass on by! Let us never stop appreciating the giving nature of these amazing animals we ride. Let’s be thankful and joyful for every jump they jump, and help them avoid feeling the need to stop or run past any of them.
Straightness doesn’t just refer to the line we travel, but also the straightness of the horse’s actual body. By riding our horse’s body in a way that the line of travel passes through the center of his body from poll to tail (if we are looking down on him from above) we first create integrity within his own body. So we must do our homework - riding flat work consistently so that our horse can bend comfortably laterally both ways and can stretch and stay connected longitudinally from back to front. Only when his actual body has this quality of straightness can we hope to travel on a smooth track from obstacle to obstacle.
There is a plumb line, so to speak that runs through our whole body! This is the integrity that is essential when we are lined up with the Word of God! Our line of travel might have many bends, twists and turns, but straightness is the quality of integrity through the horse’s body and ours as we negotiate those twists and turns.
By listening to YHWH and following His Voice and His Word we will be on track for a peaceful course, even when it’s long and sometimes difficult. And when we study and live according to His Word, the Scriptures, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” ( ) When we live in the Truth, like 3 John 3 says, we will have the sincerity and faithfulness in our lives by His Word that brings the integrity that creates “straightness” in our lives.
I love the scripture in Isaiah 30:21 that reads, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” YHWH is like our rider - the Voice behind us! How comforting for a horse to have a capable rider behind him who knows where he or she is going and communicates that clearly and kindly to the horse! And how comforting to know that we have that kind of “rider” behind and before us - YHWH who knows exactly where we’re going and how to get there, and will communicate it to us clearly and kindly. All we have to do is be attentive - listen and obey! Easier said than done, right?! Should give us a lot more compassion for our horses!
Keys to a Smooth Course! Step 2 - Rhythm
We’ve discussed how important it is to find an appropriate pace for the course you’re riding. And we’ve discussed how to go about finding that appropriate pace based on the particulars of the course and the challenges it presents. But, even if we start with the correct pace, if we do not maintain that pace throughout the course with a steady rhythm, neither speeding up nor slowing down without a reason, we are back to square one - We will have an inappropriate pace at certain places in the course and lack the confidence needed to negotiate the course appropriately.
We may have a course that requires certain changes in pace to fit the obstacles and the terrain, but these changes must be intentional, and once we’re in the appropriate pace for the course or the particular element of the course, we need to maintain that pace by keeping a steady rhythm.
In life, we cannot be blown here and there by every wind of doctrine (see Ephesians 4:14) - speeding up and slowing down at different places within our arena of circumstances. Some points in the arena of life are scary and we, like our horses, sometimes shoot through the corners speeding up and losing our rhythm. At other places, like near the in-gate, we may want to slow down and leave the arena altogether! But once we have that appropriate pace, it’s essential that we maintain it in a rhythm from the beginning to end of the course and over each and every obstacle along the way. Otherwise we are going to be easy prey for the adversary!
Maintaining our rhythm doesn’t mean that our stride won’t slightly lengthen or shorten in order to meet the jumps at the perfect distance. Rhythm is actually what enables us to lengthen or shorten without losing ground of missing the mark. Rhythm helps both us and our horse have an eye for the distance and not second-guess ourselves as we are approaching a jump.
For example, when we come through the turn and we know we are carrying an appropriate pace, we may not see the distance right away. We’re going to have to “walk by faith and not by sight!”(see 2 Corinthians 5:7) Usually sight will kick in if we have a good pace and we maintain that pace without wavering. If we try to protect the distance, so to speak, by holding back on the pace until we see our spot, our course will not be smooth and will have a quality of slow and go that erodes the flow and polish of a smooth round.
Some horses need a little encouragement to stay on the pace and not progressively get slower or get stuck at certain spots in the ring. Many horses tend to build momentum as they go, and those horses need the help of a calm and steady rider who helps them maintain their pace without speeding up as they go.
If we tend to be the kind of “horse” that builds speed throughout our course we may want to remember the scripture in Isaiah 40:31 that says, “They that wait on YHWH shall renew their strength.” And Philippians 4:6 that reminds us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to YHWH. And the peace of YHWH, which surpasses all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Yahushua Messiah.”
If we tend to be the kind of “horse” that loses our momentum as we go and needs some encouragement to keep up the pace, let us meditate on 2 Corinthians 4:1 & 16: “Therefore, since we do hold and engage in this ministry by the mercy of God (YHWH) [granting us favor, benefits, opportunities, and especially salvation], we do not get discouraged (spiritless and despondent with fear) or become faint with weariness and exhaustion…Though our outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day after day.” (Amplified)
Maintaining the rhythm of our appropriate pace takes a lot of faith! But the rewards are worth resisting the momentary urge to pull on the reins, or throw our upper body at the fence, or run at the distance - any number of tendencies we each have to forget that our times are in YHWH’s hands and instead take matters into our own hands! Let us sit still and centered in our saddle, trusting our great Trainer, and in faith maintaining the pace He has set for us by keeping a steady rhythm. It is all based in perfect love, and perfect love drives out all fear! (1 John 4:18)
Keys to a Smooth Course! Step 1 - Pace
The first key to riding a smooth jump course is what I refer to as Pace. Pace is the appropriate speed to successfully negotiate the particular course and obstacles that are set before us. How do we find the appropriate pace? We need to consider a few things.
First we need to know what course we’re riding and that it’s suitable to our ability and experience as well as to our horse’s ability and experience. If the course is too scary for us or our horse, the appropriate pace will probably be too scary as well! And then the course will confirm our greatest fear because we will be too scared to ride it at the appropriate pace and will miss, crash and probably burn! So let us start off by making sure we’re entered in the best suited division for us and our horse.
Next we need to know the height of the fences we will be jumping, the distances between the jumps, and the terrain and footing that the jumps are set on. All of these variables will factor into finding the appropriate pace for each part of the course. If our course is set in a flat arena, with uniform distances and jump heights, like a typical hunter course, then our pace will most likely be the same from start to finish. But if those variables vary a lot during the course, like a jumper course set in a derby field, our pace will need to change to be appropriate to each presented element.
What if we aren’t sure what pace is appropriate even after we’ve entered the best suited division and have carefully considered the variables of each course? Then what? That’s where a good trainer comes in, and faith! If we’re riding with a trainer who knows what they’re doing, they can help by walking the course with us, or studying it with us and looking at the posted distances. We can come up with a plan together and learn from their knowledge and experience. Trusting them and carrying out the plan takes faith!
Life isn’t always a hunter course if you get my drift! (OH NO! Don’t drift! We will get to straightness soon!) Sometimes it’s more like that jumper course in the big derby field! Our pace will need to change as we change, our relationships change, and our circumstances change. But it doesn’t change erratically. Instead it changes appropriately for the time, the place, the people, and the circumstance. Finding the “right pace”, whether that means finding one pace and sticking to it for the whole course, or changing our pace appropriately for the changes in our course, is the 1st step to living a life in step with the Spirit of YHWH.
(Quick note: Just because the “hunter” course seems like a simpler task doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easier! Sometimes it’s harder to do something simple! Being still and maintaining the same pace from start to finish may be simple, but it’s not always easy! Both “hunter” and “jumper” courses have their own unique sets of challenges!)
Psalm 31:14 & 15 in the Amplified version says, “But I trusted in, relied on, and was confident in You, O Lord (YHWH); I said, You are my God (Elohim). My times are in Your hands.” Isn’t it comforting to know that our times are in YHWH’s hands?! It’s as if He has the reins to our life and will show us the pace we need if we will listen and keep listening. Oh for that kind of faith and trust! We will still be jumping jumps, but we will be doing it with a smoothness and flow that exudes peace even in the midst of each course’s unique challenges.
Keys to a Smooth Course - Pace, Rhythm, & Straightness!
When we ride a course of jumps we’re looking for that “divine” distance! That perfect take off spot that enables us to negotiate each jump with apparent effortlessness. It can sometimes feel more like an elusive effort - the harder we try, the bigger we miss! When we find that perfect distance it feels as if we’re riding on cloud 9! But when we “miss the distance” the results can be anywhere from slightly uncomfortable to extremely disastrous!
The word translated as “sin” in scripture comes from the greek word “hamartano” which means to miss the mark. It’s like missing the distance to a jump. Sometimes our sin seems to have very small consequences and at other times the consequence is disastrous. Either way, missing the mark never feels good. In our walk with YHWH we are aiming for perfection - not that we will ever be perfect in this temporal life! But we move in the direction of perfection because we are becoming like Him in all things. (see Matthew 5:48 and Romans 8:29)
So what is the secret? How do those that ride what seems to be a flawless jump course do it? What is the key to a smooth, flowing, “divine” distance course? I use a 3 step approach in my own riding and in instructing my students that applies to both our riding and our walk with the Lord: Pace, Rhythm, and Straightness. I will elaborate on each of those 3 steps in my next posts. But for now, let’s look at all three together and understand how these 3 things will improve not only how we negotiate our jump courses, but also how we negotiate the course of our life!
There is a reason that I put those three things in a particular order. Pace is first because without an appropriate pace we will not be able to negotiate the particular obstacles that are part of our course. If we are riding a cross-rail course in a small indoor arena we would choose a slow canter or possibly just an energetic trot. If we were in a derby field competing in a Grand Prix, we’d better pick up a gallop!
Rhythm follows pace because rhythm won’t matter if our pace isn’t suitable for us, our horse, and the particular course that is set before us. But once we have established the appropriate pace, rhythm is essential. Without maintaining rhythm, we will be speeding up and slowing down all over the course, creating confusion and lack of confidence for both us and our horse.
The third element is straightness. Once we have an appropriate pace and we’re maintaining that pace in a rhythm from start to finish, then we simply ride a straight track through the obstacles. Remember, a straight track doesn’t always mean a straight line from point A to point B! Straightness means that we follow the course from point to to point, usually the center of each jump, with a smooth and flowing line of travel. If we’re coming through a turn, straight means being bent appropriately for that turn so that the line of travel passes directly through the center of our horse’s body from poll to tail if we were looking down on him from above.
Life requires an appropriate pace that fits us individually, as well as the people we are in relationship with and the particular obstacles that we’re facing. Maintaining that pace is the rhythm that brings peace to our days and to our souls, so that we are not easily shaken and can move in faith, knowing that we are negotiating what is before us with an appropriate pace. And then we simply flow with straightness from point to point, smoothly, centered, and with integrity.
Is any course we ever ride really actually perfect? No. Not really. But it may be perfect for us and that horse and that course on that day. And when we finally walk out of the arena on a loose rein, our hope is that we can say, “I have fought the good fight! I have finished the race! I have kept the faith!” (see 2 Timothy 4:7)
Whoa in Your Go, and Go in Your Whoa!
When I lived in Atlanta I had the privilege of being an exercise rider at home for a wonderful grand prix show jumper named Ironclad. Around the barn he was called Chad. And when it was time for Chad to retire, I was given the amazing gift from his owners, the Tinney Family, of being his retirement home. He became a wonderful schoolmaster for one of my clients and enjoyed a life of trail riding and pampering. He was an absolute joy to ride! What made Chad so enjoyable? Attentiveness.
Riding Chad I felt that any transition or movement I wanted was available to me at any moment. He was aware, yet totally relaxed. He knew what the aids were and was confident and able to perform whatever was asked of him. He was completely attentive yet there was never any anxiousness, never any anticipation, and never any hesitation either. He was completely tuned in to me and completely relaxed at the same time. There was always the quality of “whoa” in his “go”, and the quality of “go” in his “whoa”.
Chad wasn’t born this way, of course, nor did he become this way overnight. Through quality training over time he learned and developed both the mental understanding and the physical ability to perform what was asked of him. And even more, he had the blessing of being owned, handled, and ridden by people that understood and practiced the art of kind partnership which developed the trust necessary for any horse to become his best.
I’ve learned a wonderful exercise for developing the quality of having whoa in your go, and go in your whoa, from studying Jane Savoie’s Happy Horse and Happy Horse Solutions programs. Jane suggests an exercise she calls “frequent transitions, skipping a gait” - going from trot to halt and halt to trot with no “dribbly walk steps in between” as Jane would say! By doing these transitions frequently, only a few strides of trot and just a few seconds standing still in halt, as well as skipping the gait in between the trot and halt so there is a clear and distinct change from whoa to go and go to whoa, we create in our horse attentiveness and responsiveness to our aids.
How does YHWH do this in our lives? Have you ever felt like He’s doing frequent transitions with you, skipping a gait?! I have! Sometimes it feels like I just get going and the next thing I know, He’s prompting me to stop. Or I’ve just stopped and the next thing I know, He’s asking me to go again! He’s not crazy:) Just like Jane Savoie’s exercise, YHWH is teaching us to be engaged. When we ask a horse to engage his hind end it it is because that allows him to have the quality of whoa in his go and the quality of go in his whoa. Just like a horse, when we’re engaged with YHWH - attentive, with neither anticipation nor hesitation - we find a wonderful, dance-like relationship with Our Father developing!
How tuned in to YHWH are you? How attentive are you to His aids? His commands? The questions He asks you in your circumstances throughout the day? Are you ready to go when He says, “go”, and are you ready to whoa when He says, “whoa”? Or are you in autopilot mode, much like a green horse who’s more attentive to everything around him than he is to his rider?
How can we be more like Chad in our life? Let us tune into the Father today, allowing Him to develop the qualities of attentively submitting and listening, being ready to make any transition or movement at the featherlight feeling of His aids, and becoming like our faithful horse partners who have some whoa in their go, and some go in their whoa!
Come To Me…!
Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to Me… and I will give you rest.”
Who of us doesn’t want a little rest?! Why is it so hard to find rest in our lives? Could it be that we’re looking in all the wrong places, from all the wrong people, and for all the wrong reasons? Let’s break down a few scripture verses (Matthew 11:28-30) that will give us the What, Who, How, and Why of finding rest for our very souls!
This passage starts out by telling us exactly what to do: Come to Me! That’s a command statement! It’s not a suggestion or a question. It’s a direct command telling us that we are to come to Yahushua, because He is the one speaking directly to the crowd of people that was gathered around Him. He was letting them know that they had a choice but that the only way to get Him was to make the right choice, the relational choice, and He was the object of that relationship.
Before He tells them what they’re going to get out of this relationship, He let’s them know that He understands who they are, how they feel, and what they’re going through. He says He is speaking to all who’ve grown weary by laboring so hard to do all the right things, those who feel the enormous pressure to meet up to the unrealistic standards placed on them by the world and even the church, and those who’ve become weighed down and worn out from carrying the heavy burdens of self-inflicted expectations.
Have you ever felt that way? Do you know that Yahushua is promising you rest for your very soul if you will come to Him? Your soul is the seat of your mind, your will, and your emotions. You can find rest for your thoughts, your choices, and your feelings only when you come to Him!
Sounds good, doesn’t it!? But HOW do we come to Him?! Like a green horse being ponied by a seasoned old veteran school horse.
Yahushua instructs His listeners to take His yoke upon them and to learn of Him. The imagery He’s using here is off a 2-oxen yoke - but since we’re horse people, let’s think plow horses! On one side of the yoke you have a seasoned and knowledgeable plow horse. On the other, the newbie - the young horse who’s just learning how to plow. Jesus is essentially saying, “Hitch up with Me! I will show you the ropes! It’s not that hard really, and the yoke isn’t uncomfortable. It’s actually very well-fitting and it sits so suitably to your back that it will enable you to pull all the weight you need to pull easily, without chaffing, hurting, poking or pressing you harshly. You can be my apprentice! I know what I’m doing and if you will just allow yourself to be hitched to Me and work alongside of Me, you will catch on quickly and will be able to do all that you need to do by becoming stronger and more knowledgeable every day.”
Isn’t that awesome?! He is going to work right alongside of us! We will be partnered with Him as we learn and grow! And it works because of WHO He is! He says that He is gentle and meek, not weak. His kind of gentleness implies great power and ability that is used wisely and thoughtfully, never to harm, but always to help. And He is humble and lowly in heart, showing us that we are to live the same way - being fully dependent on YHWH and not on self.
And when we are yoked with Him He promises that we will find this rest - relief, ease, refreshment, re-creation, and blessed quietness - for our very souls! Why and How? Because His yoke is easy and His burden is light! That doesn’t mean that these’s not a lot of work do be done or a lot of weight to bear. What it means is that He is the one carrying the load and teaching us how to walk with Him - the very way in which He walks. His kind of “easy” means that it is for our good (read Romans 8:28) and His kind of “burden” isn’t a burden at all!
When we come to Him, He will give us rest. The outcome of our work, when joined in tandem alongside Yahushua, is beautiful productive blessing for us and those around us. Let us come to Him today!
Resist the Proud, Give Grace to the Humble!
Remember how both James and Peter wrote in their letters that we should humble ourselves before YHWH? By basically quoting Proverbs 3:34 (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5), they both tell their readers WHY they out to humble themselves. And here it is: Because YHWH opposes (resists) the proud, but gives grace to the humble!
You may not know much about James and Peter, but I’m guessing if you’ve been a horse person for much time at all you know who George Morris is. George Morris is the former Dhef d’Equipe of the US Show Jumping team as well as a former Olympian himself. I would venture to say he is essentially credited with being the backbone of the American forward riding system - the grandaddy of teaching foundational riding skills in this country for decades.
George Morris has been known to say, “Meet resistance with resistance. Meet relaxation with relaxation.” I wonder if he knows that he’s basically quoting scripture!
The crux of Morris’ statement is that when a horse is resisting your aid - like pulling against the bit as you ask for flexion to the inside of a circle - you should meet his resistance by gently resisting with your aid. In other words, you wouldn’t give in to the pulling but instead you would firmly set you hand and let the horse pull against it. You would not actually pull back against him and get into a tug-of-war! We all know who wins that game! But instead, by gently yet firmly setting your intention through a fixed hand, your horse can feel that he’s only creating more difficulty and tension for himself.
Now the second part of the scripture-like adage by Morris instructs you, the rider, to relax your feel when the horse relaxes and ceases to pull against the set pressure and instead gives toward the pressure - in this example by allowing his poll to flex slightly in the direction of the rein-aid pressure. When you feel the horse relax and give, you too must relax your set hand and allow and give so the horse feels the release and knows that he’s responded correctly to the pressure. It takes a rider with the head knowledge of the power of pressure and release, as well as the skill set of having an independent seat and hand so that they are actually able to resist and release at the appropriate times in response to the horse’s reactions. The rider must have the horse’s best interest at heart and be firm yet kind, as well as consistent.
YHWH is like a seasoned, skilled, and kind rider. He opposes the proud - those that resist, pull, get offended, fight and fuss. He doesn’t fight and fuss back. No. He simply stands firm, unmovable, setting Himself against those that think they know better than He does. And yet when those same people respond to the pressure in life by releasing, allowing His hand to gently move them in His direction, He gives His grace - His favor, blessing, and gentle release which lets His children know that they have responded well. And in return, His child will feel the relaxation, joy, and comfort of what the Father was asking for in the first place!
In what ways is the hand of YHWH resisting you today? Remember, He won’t fight and fuss with you. He will simply stand firm and let you pull against Him for as long as it takes for you to realize that what He wants FROM you is actually best FOR you! Try giving to His pressure today.
Faithful in the Little, Humility is the Key!
“He who is faithful in a very little [thing] is faithful also in much, and he who is dishonest and unjust in a very little [thing] is dishonest and unjust also in much.” Luke 16:10 (Amp)
This same concept is put forth several times by Yahushua Himself as He teaches by telling stories. He makes the point that if you can be faithful with the little things that are entrusted to you, then you will not only be trusted with more, but you will be faithful with more as well! The lessons you learn in being faithful with the very little things you’re entrusted with will become the character and the habits that will mark your life and make you the kind of person who WILL be faithful with much! (Read Matthew 25:14-30 The Parable of the Talents.)
If you were put in charge of a little barn - not a fancy one - and you put the work in to clean it up, organize it, maintain it daily, and even improve it, the things that you will learn by doing the work needed in that little barn will equip you to be able to the work in a bigger, fancier barn in due time. You see, learning takes time! Character and habits take time to form. You don’t plant a tomato seed and expect to eat the tomato the next day! Even though the little package has a picture of a tomato on it, inside is simply the seed needed to grow the tomato -IF the work is done to plant it in good soil and care for it regularly, protecting and nourishing it until it reaches maturity.
SO how do you get started being faithful in the little? HUMILITY IS THE KEY!
Are you willing to be the servant of all? Or are you looking to be the greatest in the Kingdom? Several times Yahushua also addresses these issues when His disciples ask Him about their status in His Kingdom. (Read Matthew 18:1, 23:11, Luke 22:26) He tells His disciples that the greatest should be the servant and take the lowest rank, much like a little child.
James and Peter also address the same issue by writing in their letters that we should humble ourselves and letting us know that if we will humble OURSELVES, then YHWH will exalt us IN DUE TIME. In. Due. Time. Remember that tomato plant? :)
There is no shame in “paying your dues”, so to speak! Put in the time! Put in the effort! Be faithful and diligent! Do everything as unto the Lord! Think of yourself as the servant of all! And when and if you “arrive” someday, keep a servant’s heart even if you are the greatest in the barn!