I sat Ollie’s trot yesterday. On the back of this statuesque Arab/Welsh Cob cross, I worked to keep hands still and seat in saddle. My fingers hurt from the 15 degree cold. But I kept riding his trot, getting to know this new horse. I concentrated hard on my task—keeping steady rhythm, hands down, back straight, head up, legs relaxed but making constant contact. I communicated with him, gently but consistently, asking him to turn, to soften, to give to the bit. I thought of nothing else—no one else except the horse and me. We worked together trying to read each others’ cues. And we were content. Just him and me.
For the most part, our ride was smooth but every now and then Ollie got scared. His head flew up, his back went hollow, his neck became stiff, and my back became jarred to the point where today I need to see my chiropractor to get straightened out.
Ollie is new to the farm where I take riding lessons. My trainer says he’s smart, incredibly athletic, talented, and best of all, “He’s a real sweetie.” After just two rides, I’m in love.
So why did the owner just give him away to my trainer?
She and her daughter are scared of him because, as my trainer also described him, he’s “goosey”. He bolts a bit when scared. But I’m used to horses like this. I bought one before and helped heal her nerves. Now I might just bring Ollie home and do the same. Nervous creatures can heal each other because they understand each other.
My Arab/Paint cross had reason to be nervous. She was a rescue horse. Nearly starved to death by her owner before being taken by the authorities as a yearling, my neighbor took and nursed her back to physical health. But she still remained a nervous mare till I bought her.
My horse trainer taught me how to ride her into calmness—to tell her with my voice, my legs, my hands that she could let go of fear if she trusted me and let me guide her. She didn’t need to be so hyper vigilant because I would protect her and, really, there are no horse predators where we live that should cause such nervousness. But she knew, and Ollie knows, that humans are predators. We have the power to hurt and to heal, both horse and human. Both Shania and Ollie have been hurt by humans—one through neglect, the other through hard handling. I want to heal. With God’s help (yes, I even pray for my animals because they too are God’s creatures), I did for Shania what I’m doing now for Ollie.
I’ve learned a thing or two about horses and their emotions. And in the process of healing a horse, I’ve found healing myself.
Nervous horses need consistent, firm direction and gentle, constant love. They need to know they’re not alone, fending for themselves in a scary world of predators. They need protection from someone they can trust. They thrive emotionally when their riders put them into physical positions that help them let go of their tension and relax.
When Shania and Ollie’s necks stiffen and heads raise in fear, I gently work the reins to bring their heads down, keeping them moving forward, speaking reassuring words to them. When they lower their heads, they begin to relax automatically. Before long, air blows loudly through their nostrils like a human sigh of relief. And I can feel them soften. Their backs become round and full instead of hollow. They stop bracing against my hand. Their trot becomes floating soft, not choppy hard. And we both enjoy the ride. No longer bracing against me, they give to my hold and I reward with a slight release of my hand, giving them the freedom to hold themselves in proper position. Only when they brace again with nervousness, do I hold again until they submit to my hand which will cause them to relax and trust. Bottom line, I always have them in my hands. I will never throw in the reins. I will never stop talking, and soothing, and encouraging. Because these horses? They are capable of greatness. And I will take them there.
These two horses are teaching me about me—my nervousness—my tendency to stiffen and brace and hollow out—my fear of being hurt—my lack of trust in God. I can be a bit of a nervous Nellie and I need calm and sure to calm me and assure me. God speaks His truth and love to me in His word and through His people. He never gives up on me—never throws in the reins and says I’m just too much work—too damaged—too far gone—a give-away. He knows my heart.
And when I throw my head up in the air and stiffen my neck in fear, He holds me. He holds until I get just too tired to keep bracing against His loving hand and I bow my head in prayer, in humble submission, in adoration of the One who does not abuse or frighten. I bow down to the One who always loves, always encourages, always wants to heal.
God is not done with me yet. I have a ways to go in my training up. So do these two horses. But I have a vision of what they can become in the hands of a good and loving trainer. And I’m beginning to get glimpses of what I can become in the hands of our good and loving God.
On this subzero Wisconsin morning, I’ve decided to treat other freezing creatures here below to a few summer photos of Shania. The blurring was purposeful, because none of us see clearly all the time, do we? Yet there is always beauty right in front of our faces. God gives glimpses of greatness as we walk by faith. Enjoy and think warm thoughts about yourself, others, and our loving God this day! And by God’s grace, I will do the same.