As school started in August, my riding days ended. Both of my thoroughbreds moved to Earlham College for the school year to be a part of their equestrian team. Symphony eased into a pattern of being ridden only for lessons on the weekends and occasionally in the evenings if I finished homework, grading, and work early. Needless to say, that didn’t happen very often. Symphony got fatter and lazier, and I got more and more ambivalent about getting out to the barn to ride. Then Dandy happened.
Dandy was already here; I have been boarding him since June. In October, however, I decided to start training him, a pro bono job of sorts. His owners had not asked me to ride or train him, but they were unable to come out and work him themselves due to work and health issues. As a four year old gelding with little to no training, it wasn’t doing him any good to just be “sitting” in the pasture. While Symphony would come out of her temporary “retirement” a little rusty, but no worse for the wear, Dandy was only becoming more of a terror by the week. Contrary to popular opinion, horses with no training do not improve on their own. Thus, I broke out the old training saddle, the brain bucket, and my rope halter to begin the training process.
Saturday morning, Dandy and I discovered that we cannot both be “boss” at the same time. We were equally determined to have our own way in the relationship, thus contributing to a mutual dislike. As a rider and trainer, there is one thing I cannot tolerate about a horse–the refusal to give to pressure on a lead rope. Horses that pull back, rear, or turn and bolt instead of giving to pressure make me very angry. Unfortunately, I have also been trained to identify a lack of training in my own life through the horse I work. When Dandy repeatedly threw his hip into me, braced his shoulder, and took off across the arena dragging the lead rope behind him, I, frustration aside, understood the significance of my own stubbornness. As a mentor once told me, “Your stubbornness is powerful–for good or evil. It is a choice to channel your will into the hands of a loving Master to be molded, shaped, and used for great things. It is also a choice to remain hard, unshaped, and resistant; a choice that will only destroy you from the inside-out.” Each time the lead rope burnt through my hands, I recollected times when I had done the same thing to authorities in my life, and, in turn, God. The correcting taps of the cue stick that caused Dandy to react, explode, and bolt away from me were no more painful than the discipline God placed in my life that caused me to react, explode, and run from authority, correction, and instruction.
Within time, Dandy grew accustomed to the pattern of ask, tell, command and began to listen and respond obediently. Certainly, he still made mistakes, but there was definite progress. Patience alone allowed Dandy the time he needed to respond to the seemingly constant correction, just as grace alone allowed me to enter into a relationship with a holy God. Within only a few days of work, I was able to ride Dandy, take him on a trail ride, and further test his willingness to surrender himself and obey me despite his many fears. There will always be fear. I do not ask Dandy or any of my other horses to not be afraid. I ask Dandy and all of my horses to trust me and obey despite their fears. With the horses, I do not think it unreasonable for them to continue moving forward quietly at a walk when something scares them. When I am confronted with fear, however, it is a different story. Questions flood my mind: “What if…?” Reacting is easy. Reacting is natural. Reacting, despite the validity of my fear, is wrong. Just as I expect obedience from my horses, I also must choose to obey God despite my fears, despite my inability to see what is ahead of me, because I know that He is faithful. My horses have to deal with a fickle and inconsistent master; I serve a faithful and true God who is in control of every circumstance that comes my way.
I cannot say that I have necessarily enjoyed moving from well-trained hunter jumpers to an unbroke Arabian-Quarter Horse gelding who doesn’t know where his feet are. It has motivated me to get out to the barn and ride, which is a good thing, but more than that, it has opened my eyes to weaknesses in my own life. I am grateful for Dandy with all of his imperfections that so perfectly reflect my own, that in him, my eyes might be directed to the One who is perfect and holy.