There are days when I wonder if the ones I love (especially dogs and horses) have lost their minds. They behave in outrageous ways that shock or mystify. My first response is usually, “What were you thinking?!?”
The main lesson learned over years paralleling relationship with horses and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that every problem is my problem. Every error is my error. Every failure is my failure.
When it comes to horses I am completely good with that. I don’t even have to think about it. Every interaction with a horse that doesn’t elicit the response I intend automatically redirects my behavior. Horses are always right so when change is necessary I adjust my side of the equation.
“Have you lost your mind?!?”
This morning our youngest dog Winston waited for me to give him permission to eat his breakfast – just as he does every day of every week. He recently turned 2-years old and has been with us since being adopted from a local pound as a four-month old puppy. He’s smart. He’s attached. Winston has a curious personality; the bravado of a junk yard dog with an ego of glass.
Winston wolfed down his food – as he does every day – while I sat in my office chair preparing to meet with the Lord. A few moments later Winston finished his food, calmly walked the five feet to my chair, lifted his leg, and piddled all over the side of the chair.
4-month old Winston
“Have you lost your mind?” I grabbed him by the collar and scolded him with the most serious tone I have. No yelling, but there was no question I was appalled. I tried to drag him to the front door to pitch him outside, reminding him with every step how disappointed I was in his behavior, but he slipped his collar and ran under the kitchen table.
I ignored him and put my cleaning materials to work. Our barn has a concrete floor but there are area rugs in most spaces. Once that was finished I went to the animal side of the building to feed the new rescue cat and the horses.
“What is wrong with Winston? What am I going to do now? Is he THAT emotionally unstable?”
Human nature always defaults to finding fault in others. I wondered, is Winston really more emotionally troubled than I thought? Is he going to be a continuing problem? I’ve noticed little things lately that make me wonder about him…
Be Responsive not Reactionary
Time out from conflict is a good thing. It is a necessary thing. I never lose what little temper I have, but consciously taking time to soak in a problem is always time well spent. Matters often get worse when we instinctively react instead of thoughtfully responding to relationship issues.
The Holy Spirit usually provides input when I carry on conversations with myself – as long as I remember to listen. When I finished feeding the horses and returned to my chair the Holy Spirit’s voice broke through. The bad news? It was my fault. Again. Whether horses or dogs, responsibility for relationship rightly rests on my shoulders.
Where did I fail Winston? He never had an accident in the house since the day we brought him home. He learned our double pet doors the day he joined our family. He’s a very smart, very high energy dog with a very fragile ego.
Winston and I used to spend time together on a daily basis. We had special lessons with treats when the big dogs were out and about. He loves to trot on the treadmill in the garage, running to it as soon as the door opens. On nice days I hooked him to a 30 foot longe line so we could explore the pasture together.
NONE of that has happened over the past several months. No treadmill. No lessons. And very few walks.
During my father’s extended decline and recent passing I was gone a lot. Immediately after my dad died my husband unexpectedly ended up in the hospital. It was nip and tuck for a few days and getting the two of us back into a routine took a couple of months. Did I really think that wouldn’t take a toll on Winston?
And then came the ultimate rejection — Winston wasn’t only evicted from our bed, but from the bedroom. Until my husband came home from the hospital Lexi, our 70+ pound yellow lab mix, and 35 pound Winston slept with us. Having those two in bed didn’t work for someone recovering from major abdominal surgery with complications. Even a young person would need to rethink that combination. The pet gate went up in the bedroom doorway and the dogs were locked out.
Is it any wonder Winston lost his security?
Fluent in the Language of “Horse”
I am fluent in “horse.” I understand most horses and easily read our six horses so doing what’s necessary to keep them balanced is easy. Bo, my herd leader, recently needed a little extra attention to reinforce his sense of security and confidence in his own authority. I reminded him that I am faithful and expect him to do his job just as faithfully.
My horses and I communicate on many levels so we seldom get too far out of sorts with one another. I am obviously not as well tuned in to small changes in dog behavior. “Dog” is, at best, my third language. I’m conversant, but “dog” isn’t as instinctive and automatic as “horse.” The dogs who have been closest to my heart didn’t require me to learn “dog” because they willingly learned “human.”
Winston came home to live with an older (and much larger) autistic puppy and an old deaf Aussie. The responsibility for creating balance and security was mine. It worked well enough that I may have taken the status quo for granted. A couple of days ago we rescued a stray cat that wandered onto a friend’s porch. She’s now in residence in the barn while she recoups from health issues. Winston knows there’s a new something just outside the door. He knows but hasn’t been allowed out to see what it is.
In recent weeks Winston has become more aggressive toward our barn cats. I missed that sign. I missed a lot of signs. My step-mother moved from Texas to Kansas City a few days ago marking the end of my traveling back and forth to her house. Today Winston let me know – in a way guaranteed to get my attention – that he needed a little more of my time. So, he lifted his leg on my chair and did what he did.
It’s my fault. It’s always my fault. And that’s not a sin. It’s a growing pain.
Whose fault is it when you and the Lord are on the outs? God’s? Hardly. Whether in relationship with a horse, dog, or Christ, the error is always ours. The good news is that He patiently waits for us to take time out from the conflict to soak. We can’t receive His input until we get quiet and ask for it.
God never walks away from us. Winston didn’t leave me or disappoint me. I left him. The only way to put things right is for me to turn around and pick up the pulled threads of relationship and make the necessary repairs.
If you’re having relationship troubles with a family member of any species – or with the Lord – take time to soak. The real problem is you. It’s me. Sometimes life overwhelms. That’s reality. Being overwhelmed isn’t a sin. Holding someone else accountable for our failure exacerbates the error. We can’t be all things to all people all the time. No one can.
Winston knows he did wrong. Just because I failed him doesn’t mean he isn’t accountable for his behavior. The way to fix our relationship is to do the things we did before, like the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2) that lost its first love. Today I’ll sweep the garage and get Winston back on the treadmill. It’s may be 100 degrees, but the rest of Winston’s life begins today. It’s my job to help him regain his security and confidence.
Winston is curled up the chair (the same one he watered this morning) waiting patiently. We’re off to tread!
Winston did not run to the treadmill as he used to, confirming my conclusion. Even good habits change if not reinforced. Winston and I have enough foundation that I expect he’ll be back where he was in just a few days. The moment we came in from treading good news arrived; Winston was noticeably different. At least some of the weight was lifted from his little shoulders.
Take a few moments to reflect before reacting the next time you look at your dog, horse, or whomever and say, “What were you thinking? Have you lost your mind?” Give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to share His wisdom. The world would have us be too busy to sit and contemplate our relationships. The world is not on our side.
If there is ever a choice to be made between trusting the world and trusting one of my horses or dogs, my four-legged instructors will win every time.