If you parent or teach special-needs individuals or victims of abuse you already know that reaching and repairing broken places is far different that teaching and relating to humans or horses who don’t think, react, or process in completely “normal” ways. CAN’T and WON’T look very different in horses or humans who arrive with obvious physical scars and/or well-established emotional scar-tissue or adhesions.
Ace is a 13 year old gelding who returned to us nearly 10 years after he and his brother were sold. The book He Came Looking for Me shares the message God has for each of us, that no matter how hopeless our circumstances appear, Jesus will deliver us to our mansion in heaven just as He promises in John 14.
Both Ace and his brother (Shiner) came home with both physical and emotional issues. After the two boys gained enough weight and healed from their obvious sores, I rode them both a few times just to take stock. Shiner was a bundle of nerves and couldn’t walk two steps in any one direction, but he wasn’t dangerous. Ace, on the other hand, got in a few bucks and a couple of kick outs during the first 10 minutes of walk. Stop. Walk. Turn right. Walk. Stop. Walk. Turn left. Stop. No pull and no pressure, yet he let me know he was NOT happy. But why wasn’t Ace happy?
Over the next few years I catalogued Ace’s reactions and progress. Was his deal a CAN’T or a WON’T? I could never be 100% sure.
Equally Yoked – Adversity and Opportunity
Ace and I had to wait to begin our real work together until I was physically capable of my part of the process. With a new knee I began working with Ace in earnest. What a conundrum he has turned out to be! Shiner came as an unbalanced personality, but with completely different issues than his brother. Shiner tells his side of the story in the book and I tell mine. We know that Shiner’s story has brought at least one soul back to Christ and now I’m beginning to understand why Ace was part of the package.
“I must not forget to thank the difficult horses, who made my life miserable, but who were better teachers than the well-behaved school horses who raised no problems.” Alois Podhaisky
Ace bears the permanent scars of previous lessons. His beautiful profile is marred by a huge lump where someone used some type of “training device” to control his head. Whatever happened, he remembers – and not fondly.
Ace was a perfect gentleman the first few rides. I didn’t ask much and he was obviously pretty content with that level of commitment. Then I began asking for a tiny bit more precision. He objected in a mild way, not unexpectedly, and we continued. I discovered quickly that a one-rein emergency stop on Ace could lead to the Emergency Room so I was slowly trying to teach him a half-halt as a back-up in case the word WHOA didn’t work.
When I started riding him, Ace would panic at the word, WHOA. He planted feet, threw his head up in the air, and turned into a stone horse. After the first week I had that pretty much fixed. Ace would stop easily and softly, exhale and drop his head. I eagerly looked forward to the next week.
Crisis of Worthy Leadership
By the end of the second week I found myself on a big red horse that either wouldn’t or couldn’t respond to my voice, leg, or rein cues. Gone was our working trot and framing gymnastics from the week before. Ace had “left the building.” It took me a few minutes of real finesse to find a momentary halt in Ace’s forward movement letting me swing down from the saddle. As I led Ace back to the barn I mentally scrambled for the right thing to do. Some action was required if I wanted to remain the leader who controlled Ace’s feet, ’cause I sure wasn’t gonna get it done from the saddle without a heavy hand or going to war.
I opted for driving Ace. We went into the covered area at the end of the barn, I tied his stirrups down and ran a longe line through each one to the snaffle, and Mr. Ace learned to ground drive. After 20 minutes he was settled and I rode him through the basics before putting him away.
Shiner’s issues were fairly straightforward to diagnose and address. Ace has overcome a number of problems and those that remain are not as easy to catalog or describe. Regardless of one’s level of expertise or understanding, there is always a next step ahead; a challenge to master and a new lesson to learn. During prayer I asked God for direction. What tactics should I use to move Ace forward without sacrificing the quality of our relationship or behaving in any way other than as a worthy leader? Was Ace’s behavior evidence of an unwillingness or an inability?
Memories of training horses with internal scar tissue came to my mind, and how I had to devise exercises and methods to break the fibrous tissues apart in order for the horse to move properly. An inability to pick up a left lead wasn’t an unwillingness in one chestnut filly I rode 18 years ago, but an internal restriction invisible from the outside. I remembered horses with all kinds of emotional problems and how each one required a different touch and program. I was also reminded of how God broke through my own scar tissues, both emotional and physical.
Working with Invisible Scars
Ace is here to teach me more about relationship with God. He is here for Baber who has a special affinity for him; he is here so that I can become a better and more worthy leader for those who live with scarred or damaged personalities or loved ones with physical issues.
Able and willing is a much different goal when one has a less than pristine canvas upon which to paint. I’ve had my share of issues over the decades and made it out of circumstances many others did not. In every instance God was there to lead me out into the brilliant and secure light of His love.
I may know a lot about working with horses, but I know there is a whole lot more to learn. Ace is not my problem, he is my opportunity. He is a gift from God, a blessing intended to serve me and then allow me to serve others by passing along the blessing. Stay tuned.
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:16