Shock and Assumption – Horse Show Practice Pens and Christian Congregations

I went to a horse show today. Oh, dear.

If an 18th century Christian suddenly dropped into a US church service he or she might experience shock and possibly revulsion. Actually, a better illustration for my experience today would be yanking a 21st century saint out of pew or pulpit, dropping him into an 18th century congregation for a number of years, then returning him home once again to the 21st century.

Such a scenario would almost certainly deliver a body blow of revulsion to this faithful one. The way salvation is being worked out may have changed dramatically in the intervening centuries. My return to the horse show practice pen today got me thinking about how far we may have traveled from the path blazed by first century Christians.

Returning to the Horse Show Practice Pen

During my years in the horse show industry I learned more from watching the goings on in the practice pen between classes than anywhere else. Whether reining, pleasure, trail, or hunt seat, I studied the methods used by both elite trainers and the unknowns.

It has been a few years since I visited the practice pen at a large horse show and longer still since I was in there with the rest of the riders jockeying for space. Some simply exercised and maintained well trained horses while others tried to force just a little bit more before riding for the prize.

The practice pen is still a great place to gauge the training styles and methods used by successful riders but I didn’t stay in my seat very long today. Within seconds of arrival I witnessed riders banging horses in the mouth with severe bits for some infraction only they could detect. Booted toes pointed straight down allowing sharp spurs to rest against the horse’s bellies to “teach” the horse to slow even more, collect or lift.

At least that’s what I assume they were doing.  Without a working knowledge of “traditional” training methods one might assume these riders were sadists. In 95% of cases they aren’t; they’re just doing their job the best way they know how.

Otherwise graceful heads and necks were ratcheted down by super short martingales or clamped in place with draw reins. Strides were painfully crooked with hindquarters crabbed to the inside to create a nice “pleasure lope.” Little wonder that tied-in tails swished like angry cats and mouths gapped wide because trainers allowed the horses the freedom to open their mouths in vain attempts to escape the vise that captured poll, mouth, and chest.

One trainer was giving a lesson to a teen working her horse in a tight 30 foot circle at trot (not jog) and lope. When the girl jerked HARD on one rein after the other, time and again as the horse worked with unvarying cadence and apparent obedience, the trainer encouraged her to KEEP DOING IT.

Over-canted horses loping.  LMB photo

Over-canted horses loping.

Pulled up Short

Do these trainers wonder why their horses stop hard on the forehand? Do they blame the horse? Do they care? Time and again when a horse moved a bit too freely, visibly reacted to the lesson, or moved a head or neck just a tad more than the rider could tolerate, it was dumped onto its front end by leverage and muscled to a grinding halt.

Ugly. Unnecessary. Painful to watch. Heart-breaking because most of these riders do care about their horses. Perhaps horses forgive because they realize the humans have no concept of what they do.

Less than two minutes into my practice pen observation I was already quietly telling this horse and that to “dump your rider and stomp him into the ground!” Within five minutes I realized leaving was the best plan so off we went to a different arena.

Different ‘congregation’ – same result.

21st century Christian Assumptions

Recent years have proven to me how life with horses instructs humans about life with God if there is a willingness to learn. Wondering how far off course we are from the narrow path of Matthew 7 isn’t a new question. I’ve frequently thought modern assumptions and expectations may be more a result of false teaching than God’s truth.

Punitive horse training has been around a long time. Certainly I spoke against it in the past and was guilty of doing some things then that I would never do today, but my visceral reaction at this show was a shock. I know there is error within the church, but how much error does God see in me?

How far have 21st century Christians traveled from a pure pursuit of right relationship to God the Father? What would a 1st century Christian think of our behavior, lifestyle, worship, and family habits today? There is ample evidence that the early church wasn’t perfect, but would Paul or Silas, James or Peter, recognize us as brethren?

What reaction would our fictional time traveler have of his fellows today if given the opportunity to spend three years walking with the Apostles? Spending years pursuing relationship with horses without concern for competitive success certainly changed my perspective. There is right. There is wrong. There is reality. When do we need to question what we do and how we do it against an unwavering standard?

Have you ever wondered if God sees us the same way we see ourselves? I fear not.

.    .    .

I believe that every problem we have with our horses God has with us. Any trouble in the relationship is our fault – not His. Likewise, most (all?) difficulties we have in relationship with our horses is also our fault. Learn more about the pursuit of right relationship with God, horses, and one another in the first book of the Amazing Grays Trilogy,

Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace – click title or image for more information or reviews.
"Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace" on Amazon

“Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace” on Amazon

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons