Horse Training Lesson from Ecclesiastes – Giver or Gift?

The book of Ecclesiastes is avoided by many teachers and bible study groups because it is “too difficult.”  To put it in the simplest of terms, Solomon* spent a great deal of money, time, ego, and energy on the pursuit of horse cookies. The conclusion he reached is that the pursuit of horse cookies eventually leads to an empty cookie bucket while pursuing relationship with the one who offers the cookies leads to eternal reward.

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher*;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes.

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.”

Solomon discovered the emptiness of seeking the gift instead of the Giver. To their detriment, horses, children, dogs, and Christians also get lost when their focus centers on some treat, entertainment, bone, or blessing and not on the trainer, parent, master, or Savior.

Every person has a unique appetite when it comes to goodies, motivators, or stimulants. The same is true when comparing what distracts or tempts one person completely yet can’t draw the attention of another for two seconds.

*Solomon is assumed to be the author of Ecclesiastes.

Gifts of Mercy and Grace

Christian Horse Training (CHT) centers on merciful hands and gifts of grace. Mercy and grace are far more important than simply being a reward for right choices. Mercy is compassionate, not only to heal and comfort, but also to teach and correct. Mercy dictates how relationship develops and it is only possible to give grace when it is undeserved.

“Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy, and teach me Your statutes.” – Psalm 119:124

Sometimes you must allow God’s hands to correct, restrict, or engage in order to wrest your attention from the world, circumstance, or blessing and return your focus to Him. Likewise, the most worthy trainers may show grace and mercy to a horse by a restrictive, correcting, or supporting rein or other aid.

Some folks believe the only proper motivator for training horses is positive – like food rewards. What happens when you reward your horse with a cookie instead of mercy and grace? Solomon discovered the answer, but what exactly was it he learned?

“For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them.”- Ecclesiastes 9:1

God and Horse Trainers want the same 3 Things

God wants the same three things from you that I want from my horses, to:

  1. Show Up
  2. Focus
  3. Offer Obedience

Show Up

It isn’t possible to have a relationship with someone who is not there. Once you are aware of God this prerequisite of proximity is met. God is far more creative in getting us into His space than we are. Round pens are used primarily to get a horse to simply show up. Once that hurdle has been cleared the way opens to seek the horse’s focus.

Focus

Horses don’t hide comic books inside their school books or mask their emotions. Since horses don’t pretend it’s not difficult to figure out what holds your horse’s attention.

Where is your horse looking? Where are his ears directed? A horse’s ears are like radar – always trained in the directions of greatest interest or importance. All you have to do is follow his eyes and ears to know what has his attention. Many times your horse will have his ears turned in different directions.

The first goal of this step is to get one of your horse’s eyes and one ear turned to you. Start small. Learn to read your horse and ask for very little at the beginning. You can ask for two eyes, the horse to face you, come, or answer more precise questions later. First… you need one eye and one ear – one time.

“I said in my heart, “Concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.” For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity.  All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. Who knows whether the spirit of the sons of men goes upward, and whether the spirit of the animal goes down to the earth?” – Ecclesiastes 3:18-21

 Obedience is Offered not Purchased

The third thing God wants from us and I want from my horses is obedience.  When a behavior is given in return for a specific benefit the transaction becomes contractual. God does not purchase our obedience, He asks for it. Your obedience to God and the your horse’s obedience to you are gifts, not the stuff of business deals.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using food as a motivator when training horses. The reason I don’t include it in the relationship I have with my horses is that it tends to divert the horse’s attention away from me. I want my horses to learn to look to me first. Used improperly, food rewards become temptations that turn an otherwise pleasant horse into an aggressive problem horse or establish the habit of focusing on what is in your hand rather than on you.

The greatest gifts aren’t cookies, carrots, or other tangible item. The greatest gifts are relationship based; security, affection, provision, stimulation, responsiveness, and the conviction that among all others on earth, you are unique and irreplaceable.

God is the giver of all good gifts. Too many testimonies and evangelists preach the gift and not the Giver. Is their witness about the blessing itself or about the One who gave it freely?

Food rewards can serve as a temporary means to capture a horse’s attention. However, I don’t want the horses I work with to see me as just a cookie bearer.  I want the horses to know me, to trust me, and to hold a place for me in their “herd” distinct and apart from any other being whether human, equine, or otherwise.

Is there anything wrong with using food rewards as positive reinforcement, aka bribes? Not at all – unless your goal with said horse is transformative relationship. Faith is not built on a foundation of bribery.

“Here comes the guy with the cookies! Let’s go see if he has one.”

“Here comes Lynn. I hope she’s coming for me!”

Do you see the difference? The first sentence is gift oriented. The second is giver oriented. I give my horses cookies roughly once a week, but there is no power or value assigned to the cookie. Horses who focus on cookies aren’t picky about who delivers them.

When food rewards are the foundation of relationship the sum total of the gift is the food item itself. The only value is the cookie, not the one who provided it. Send in the usual cookie provider empty-handed and a new guy with a cookie and see how long it takes for the usual gift-giver to be replaced in the affections of the horse.  Be sure your watch has a second hand if you intend to time it.

Some people think of God as little more than a gift provider or blessing machine. They’re happy to pay a little attention to Him as long as the gifts arrive regularly. Stop the goodie train and these folks are liable to seek a new cookie connection.

When relationship with God is based on the value of gifts received faith has no part. When tribulation comes, and it will [John 16:33,] the “believer” who seeks the gift and not the Giver has nothing to stand on, to shelter under, or to cling to.

There is no blessing in a relationship that only lasts as long as the treats hold out. The horse doesn’t make a commitment of relationship to the deliverer of gifts because he or she has little or no unique identity or personal value. Do you imagine God is pleased with people who don’t care about whom He is but only what He provides?

Learning from the Wisest Man who ever lived

Solomon knew that the pursuit of anything apart from God was pointless with no continuing – much less eternal – value. The proper focus for a horse is on its leader and the proper focus for a Christian is on God Himself. Concentrating on wealth, health, weather, possessions, intellect, or personal success was tried in the most expansive ways possible by Solomon.

The lesson presented so by Solomon so well in Ecclesiastes is the wisdom of placing your focus on the Giver and the folly of seeking only the gifts He bestows. Eternal life is the only gift of true value and that gift is Jesus Christ.

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:

Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Dan Cooksey:

    Great post and so true. When we first got Morgunn, our Icelandic gelding, ten years ago he was very mouthy. We think he was given treats by his previous owner, but we’re not sure. In any case we decided the only time our horses will get a treat is after they have work – after removing their saddles, grooming and picking feet. It’s the last thing before we let them loose. They each get a carrot cut up in a small tub so it’s not coming from our hands. That has helped Morgunn a lot. We want the same thing you mention – we want our horses to focus on us and not a treat in our hands. It has worked for us over the years. And, it’s also true in our relationship with God through Christ. Do we want Jesus to do something for us (i.e., seek a treat from his hands) or do we want Jesus for who he is – our Lord and Savior. There’s nothing wrong with asking Jesus for healing, wholeness, etc., but it shouldn’t be the basis of my relationship with him.

    Regards, Dan

    • Lynn Lynn:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Dan. Garth Brooks had a huge hit song, “Thank God for Unanswered Prayers.” It’s so much better to have a God who blesses us with what we need rather than picking a “leader” because he happens to have the blessing we want.
      Lynn

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