In one simple word, “grace” defines the Golden Rule of Christian Horse Training.
One of our barn cats frequently slips in through the dog door to sleep in the tack room. Little Grace is one of those personalities who is the complete opposite of what her name implies. During her first 6 years Grace was more like an attack cat if your name was Don (seriously) or she didn’t think you were giving her enough attention.
But that’s not the “grace” we’re going to talk about today. Some horses seem to have real difficulty staying focused, consistent, or have what seems like a major case of bull-headed resistance. Every “No” your horse gives you is caused by one of two situations; he is either unwilling to do as you ask or is unable to comply. When asked, most owners are certain their darling equine’s response is not that he can’t, but that he WON’T!
Have you ever asked your horse,
- “Why are you being so stubborn?”
- “Are you really this stupid?”
- “You could do this yesterday, did you have a brain transplant overnight?”
Each question implies that your horse is being a pain in your saddle-sitter just to be annoying. Why else would he act this way if it isn’t simply to be difficult and try your patience? Here’s where it pays to step back and think about what’s really happening, or what really ISN’T happening.
Why do you train your horse? Is mastering specific maneuvers or skills your primary goal, or are you building a foundation of relationship that increases faith in your worthy leadership? Faith grows every time you figure out what’s bugging your pony and provide a solution. It’s an odd coincidence that when Grace enters your revolving door of character, Frustration and his buddy Temptation somehow find themselves pitched out to the curb.
Temptation is the first guest Frustration invites to any party. Grace may be the last guest to arrive, but she will always stay until the dishes are washed, the trash emptied, the barn swept, and you’ve had a moment to put your feet up on a bale of hay to visit quietly before calling it a day.
Your horse’s behavior may reflect your own
Let’s assume that your horse has been distracted, forgetful, or obtuse more than once. One of the great blessings of life with horses is the opportunity to learn more about the state of our relationship with God. Issues we have with our horse often reflect problems we have with God — or He has with us.
After a delightful ride a while back I dropped Bo’s bridle and walked over to the tack room to hang it up. When I came out I realized that Bo was parked about 10 feet down the barn aisle from the tack room door. Bo was standing peacefully with eyes and ears focused on what I was doing. Why should I carry the saddle so far when Bo was already wearing it? I looked at Bo and used a small gesture to ask him to come on over to me.
Bo’s feet didn’t move. How odd, I thought. I took a good look at him. Bo was comfortable, attentive, relaxed, happy – and continued to stand perfectly still. I asked again, adding a voice command to my gesture. Bo saw me, heard me, and was perfectly focused. But Bo didn’t move an inch.
What in the world is wrong with him? Bo is always obedient. Bo is my guy. Why is he being so stubborn? He knows exactly what I want and he knows that I know he understands perfectly… yet he isn’t doing as I ask? WHY?
Lightning bolt moment of revelation
The Holy Spirit joined us in the barn to point out that Bo was doing to me exactly what I have done to God. How many times has God looked at me and wondered the exact same thing? Lynn knows what I want and she knows that I know she understands perfectly. Yet she isn’t doing as I ask.
Every one of us has woken up and met God one morning appearing to be stubborn, stupid, or with a completely different mental outlook than we had when we finished our bedtime prayer the night before. On such days, do you behave that way on purpose? Are you simply trying to be difficult?
If you’re not pushing God’s patience for the sheer fun of it, perhaps your less-than-responsive behavior is the result of the pressures, sores, cares, or circumstances of recent hours or days. I have been reminded more than once that I, too, have a problem with distraction or old habits that stubbornly refuse to die completely. I like to think my ears are wide open and waiting to hear the small voice of the Holy Spirit whenever He speaks. Sometimes I’m wrong.
Human nature, assumptions, and motivation
Human nature looks at the odd, rude, or inattentive behavior of others and automatically assigns a motivation to it. The interesting thing about this is that the motivation we assume causes the behavior in question just happens to be the reason we would do the same thing. This built-in characteristic is instructive in more than one way. It explains why we condemn some who do not deserve our reproach and why we err on the side of forgiveness at other times.
Instead of trying to understand our horse’s behavior we often jump immediately into blame, frustration, or attack mode. (Rather like our own diminutive little Grace the cat.) In other words, we come to the barn with no grace in our saddlebags. Before you let your emotions run wild, dust off your worthy leader hat and pay attention.
Was your horse confused? Comfortable? Rebellious? Distracted? Insecure? Friendly? Moody? Hungry? Did you ask him to do something you haven’t practiced for a while? Were you rushed, out-of-balance yourself, distracted, comfortable, moody, or less than precise in how you communicated with your horse? Was your horse unwilling, unable, or simply mentally absent? (Which could be evidence of either inability or unwillingness.)
The Golden Rule of Christian Horse Training
Do unto your horse as you would have God do unto you. God is the Author of patience and grace. Ask yourself why you aren’t always perfect in your own response to God. Why aren’t you consistent 100% of the time? Why are you understanding and merciful to a stranger Monday but judgmental on Tuesday? Is the problem your mournful “I can’t” or emphatic “I won’t”?
What might God question about your own behavior? Ask your horse. Horses are faithful to treat us exactly as we deserve unless we are gifted with unmerited equine grace. God knows our hearts, yet He forgives and corrects us again and again. When Jesus says “Come,” do we? Every time? Immediately? Without question?
“Grace” isn’t just something we say before a meal. Bring grace with you to every lesson with your horse. You will be a far better leader, your horse will improve more quickly, and God will smile.