It is not possible to have the same simple relationship with another person you can with a horse. Few people have enough insight and wisdom to objectively evaluate their own thoughts, actions, and motivation much less those of someone else. As soon as two or more people enter into a relationship blender it starts getting a little messy.
The use of horses in ministry, physical and emotional therapy, leadership training, rehabilitation of body, spirit, and soul is exploding because – face it – there’s nothing like a horse.
Team building begins the instant you add a third party to any leader-follower mix. Teams always have a leader, whether elected, appointed, or by acclaim. Teams are most successful when each member has faith in the leader, understands the position he or she plays on the team, and has confidence that every other member of the team feels the same way.
Horses Mirror Relationship with God
Dogs are noble, sensitive, funny, forgiving, bold, courageous, and make wonderful service animals but you can’t ride a dog. A horse allows you to feel the exhilarating strength and freedom of its power in your own body that is only possible in a vicarious or metaphorical way with even the most amazing dog.
Horses provide a nearly perfect mirror of our relationship with God because, unlike humans, the Lord has no unfinished business with horses. They never fell from grace, live in accordance with the spirit God gave them, and have no need of salvation. The only animal with a sin nature is a human.
Horses never considered God’s plan for them and rejected it in favor of one of their own. We did.
Horses don’t lie to themselves or each other. You can’t fool a horse with a bravado no deeper than a freckle and horses are not impressed by wealth, status, pedigree, or appearance. Horses treat you exactly as you deserve unless they show grace. Sound familiar?
Horses are simple and teach us to be simple. Jesus said we must come to the Kingdom as little children. If you need a little work in the faith department look to your horse for help. Practicing pure leadership or followership with another person is quite difficult because both have a unique and ongoing interaction with Christ even as they seek to relate with each other.
Relationship Triangle – Two Horses and a Rider
Bo (one of my two amazing grays) is well on his way to being a great pony horse. He has already proven that he can take a hard hit and remain steady when a horse being ponied sits back with its full weight on the rope dallied to my saddle horn. Bo is to walk, trot, or lope as requested no matter what the other horse does. And, when asked, he has been obedient to move into the other horse, pushing its hip around with his chest and shoulder.
Bo and I have a well-established relationship. Where ponying is concerned, Bo has displayed a habit of obedience appropriate for his level of training. So has my other gray, Swizzle. She has learned how to be obedient as the ponied horse. Whether at a walk or trot, she keeps her forehead right at my hand or knee as if she wasn’t even haltered. Swizzle is confident in this arrangement; life makes sense to her. Bo, on the other hand, is now a little confused. Actually, I wonder if he thinks I am confused. When he ponies Copper, Bo is as steady as a rock. He stays right where I want, straight as an arrow, guides and responds just as if we weren’t leading Copper with us.
Bo and Swizzle chilling in the pasture
When Bo ponies Swizzle the whole dynamic changes. He isn’t exactly disobedient, but he tries to drift just a bit to the left, away from Swizzle, rather than tracking straight and easy. He keeps running into my left leg, and I have to repeatedly cue him to straighten up. He keeps a concerned right ear focused on Swizzle who blissfully pops alongside without a care in the world.
What is the difference? Why would Bo behave so differently? He is 100 percent obedient and solid when ponying his good buddy Copper, but isn’t sure he’s completely with the program when ponying his little friend Swizzle. The difference is one of relationship. Bo needs to learn to obey even when he doesn’t understand why he is being asked to do something that to him seems wrong.
Obedience by Faith Alone
Obedience without faith is possible, but not faith without obedience.- Unknown
Bo and Swizzle are part of a herd. In the herd pecking order Bo is higher than Swizzle. It is an almost daily occurrence for Bo to push Swizzle around by putting pressure on her hip and driving her where he wants. This is Bo’s reality of his relationship with Swizzle. They like each other and seek out each other’s company, but when push comes to shove, Bo is the boss.
Bo’s habit of obedience when we pony has been complicated by his relationship with Swizzle. From his perspective this third wheel in our relationship equation isn’t tracking correctly. Bo believes that the power position is off the hip of the other horse. When he moves Swizzle around the pasture, he is on her hip, gently pushing and driving her along. He is the top banana. As a pony horse, he leads and the horse being ponied is on his hip, just as if it were driving or pushing him along.
When we pony Swizzle, Bo thinks that his position relative to Swizzle is backwards and that she is in the position of power. This reversal of status, in his mind anyway, taxes his commitment to obedience. He is actually doing pretty well, considering, but we have more work to do. Bo must learn to obey no matter how bizarre the circumstances seem to him.
Bo and Swizzle teach me to obey the Lord even when I don’t understand the “why.” Sometimes it is hard to be obedient, especially when our pride is involved.
[Excerpted from the chapter Obedience and Bonding in Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace.]
The leadership process commonly referred to as team building has its roots in the art of teaching two or more horses to pull together. You build a team one member at a time before combining everyone into the relationship blender and pushing the Start button.
Successful teams, whether equine, corporate, athletic, or ministerial are led by effective and worthy leaders. Someone has to deliver clear expectations, apply effective correction, ensure consistency, balance motivation and education, and maintain an equal yoke of commitment that links all team members together.
Is your horse content, relaxed, engaged, and obedient to your leadership? Is the same true in your relationship with the people closest or most important to you whether leaders, followers, or brethren?
If not, could the problem be one of pride? Do you have faith in your Leader and in the commitment of those on your “team”? Are there clear and consistent expectations? Who establishes the rules and has the right to apply support and correction?
Transforming Relationship Triangles into Team Success
Teaching two horses to pull together requires at least one solid leader-follower relationship, like the one I have with Bo. The second horse needs private lessons until it understands the harness, how to pull, and simple directional commands.
Did you mean right or my other right?
Both horses need to know that Gee means right and Haw means left – assuming they know what right and left (wrong) even means. “Do you mean right looking in the direction the horse is looking or the other right, looking at the horse from the front?”
Once the basics are in place the junior member of the team is hitched and learns how to work alongside the more experienced horse.
Be rightly related to God and seek others who follow the same worthy Leader. Relationship triangles become strong teams once every side is equal in strength. There will always be a more experienced “horse” and one more junior. Seek wisdom from the former and willingly offer support and instruction to the latter.
“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.”
-2 John 6
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Interested is building a better relationship with God, horses, and one another? Check out the trilogy of titles on Amazon using this handy link to Lynn Baber’s author page:
For more on how to build your horse’s ability and confidence, click bookcover.