Monday, 13 May 2013

Some parts of training a horse are really easy.  For instance the basic idea of round penning is based on how a wild horse herd functions.  So when you first put a horse in a round pen it doesn't take very long at all for them to catch on to what you are trying to do with them.

The same is true when you ride a horse for the first time.  You climb on and if you are lucky and the horse is accepting of you on their back it doesn't take long to learn walk, stop, left and right.  These are things that horses naturally do in the pasture. 

But some things are not so easy, for instance teaching a horse to side pass.  Side passing as the name implies basically involves the horse walking straight sideways.  A proper side pass involves the horse stepping their front legs right across each other.  It may seem like a useless thing to teach a horse at first, but when you need to do something like close a gate on horse back or get your horse out of a dangerous situation it can come in really handy. 

This is the situation I found myself in with my black Arabian mare one afternoon.  It’s not an easy thing to teach a horse because in order to get motion in the horse you have to put some leg pressure on them.  The problem is that up until now leg pressure has always meant one thing, move forward.  So the horse moves forward and the rider stops them, still keeping the leg pressure on their side. 

As one can well imagine a horse can get really frustrated really, really quickly this way.  To help my horses figure out the puzzle I will typically line them up with a wall or fence and apply leg pressure.  It still frustrates them (the probably thing that their rider just lost her marbles) but they tend to figure it out quicker and without as much pressure. 

It’s a tricky situation to be in as a trainer also.  Some horses try going forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards and then in frustration they just stop and ignore all pressure.   Or some horses will try other methods of expressing their frustration, tossing their heads, pawing the ground, shaking their heads…but eventually they all seem to do the same thing, give up and decide to ignore the pressure. 

I have learned through trial and error that the best way to handle this situation is to just keep gently applying pressure until the horse moves again.  At that point I don’t care which direction the move, just as long as they move a foot I immediately take the pressure off and let them rest. 

By doing that what I'm trying to reinforce is no longer “move your feet side ways” but “move your feet when you feel leg pressure.”

I wonder how often God has tried to teach me the same lesson?  So often  I have gotten  frustrated and angry and said “God, I don’t see where this road that you have me on is going, so I’m just going to sit in front of my TV until you fill me in.” and drown him out with the noise of everyday life. 

And so often he’s come beside me, gently tapped me on the shoulder and just kept tapping until he finally got me up off the couch and back moving my proverbial feet. 

At the end of the day we might not understand exactly why God put us in certain situations or exactly why this or that uncomfortable thing had to happen to us.  But we do know that as Romans 8:28 says, “God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his will.”

So sometimes even if you’re not one hundred percent sure where he’s leading you, just keep trusting and just keep moving your feet. You never know he might even want you to go side ways!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

 A friend of mine is a horse trainer, and has been for years now.  After spending that much time in any business you are bound to have a few interesting stories to tell, and he certainly is no exception!
  One story he tells really stuck with me He says it happen to him all of the time.  People buy young horses, do groundwork on them, but are afraid to get on for the first ride.  So they call him up, he is after all a horse trainer. 
When they bring the animal to him, they explain that all of the groundwork is done, and they are one hundred percent sure that the horse won’t buck, but they are just to timid to climb on. 
At this point my friend will take the horse, and begin doing some simple groundwork exercises with it.  He says almost always the owners will act confused, “What are you doing?” they ask, “The groundwork is done already.  He’s not going to buck, you just have to get on.”  My friend has heard this often enough that he has a very good answer for such people. 
“You’re sure he’s not going to buck?”  He’ll ask.  Invariably the response is a firm “Yes.”  “Really sure about that?”  He asks again, with a twinkle in his eye. 
Again he gets  another, “Yes.”  At that point my friend hands the reins back to the owner and says, “Okay, then you get on.”  The owner always back-pedals as fast as possible and sputters, “Well I can’t do that... he might buck!”
Do these owners really believe that their horses won’t buck?  The truth is no matter how much you claim to believe something, or how certain you think you are about it, you only believe it as much as you are willing to back it up with your actions. 
Put another way, you may say you are a Christian, you may say that you believe that God will provide for all of your needs, but when you get laid off from work, you worry and fret.  Do you really believe that God will provide for all of your needs?  Or somewhere deep down inside of you, do you think that there is a slight chance that the horse might buck?
But wait!  I have good news for you, horses are moody and unpredictable.  They change from day to day, so no matter how much groundwork I have done with my horse, there is always a slight chance that the horse might spook at something and buck. 
But our God is the same yesterday today and forever.  He’s not going to change, there’s no even a slight chance that he’s going have a glitch, or change his mind.  I would rather have faith in God than in my horse any day!  So go ahead trust God, and don’t be afraid to back your words up with actions.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

As long as I can remember I've been enthralled with the idea of jumping horses.  There’s something almost magic about the way a horse can jump such incredible heights while balancing a rider on their back.  To me it was the equivalent of sprouting wings. 
  Then one day I saw an ad for the perfect horse.  "Oscar" was so well trained he had even been used for lessons and was jumping fences as high as four feet.  (Not a spectacular height, but double what any of my current horses had jumped.)    Best of all he was cheap!  Excitedly I counted my money and we once again hooked onto our trailer to take a look. 
Oscar was perfect in every way.He was gorgeous, registered and had obviously been trained by someone who knew what they were doing.  He worked well off of leg pressure and had lovely collected gaits.  There was only one problem, and it was a big one.  Oscar had what horse people refer to as a "Hard mouth." 
You see a horse’s mouth is very sensitive, and whatever pressure you put on the reins the horse feel time three on the bars of their mouth.  In other words if you exert two pounds of pressure on the reins the horse will feel six pounds of pressure in his mouth. 
It’s a pretty important mechanism, because sometimes when if a horse gets spooked and runs away in fear the reins are your life lines and tripling the pressure on them becomes important.  The only problem is sometimes when inexperienced riders are put on horses they are careless with their hands and yank on the reins.  That deadens the nerves in the horse’s mouth and pretty soon they hardly even feels pressure on the bit   And if the horse ignores the bit he's almost impossible to control.  Often it means that you can't stop turn or back your horse up, In essence the horse is ruined .  Like in Oscar’s case a well trained beautiful registered horse had become virtually unrideable because his nerves where deadened.  Often it's the same with people, we
 don't develop hard mouths though, we develop a hard conscience.  We tell ourselves that it's okay to skip reading our bible just this once.  And ignore the feeling of guilt.  We don't go to church on Sunday because we don't feel like it.  God pulls on our reins by gently tugging at our
 conscience.  And we ignore it.  Pretty soon our conscience gets harder and harder until we don't feel anything..  Or the only thing that we can feel is very sharp jabs.  You know there's nothing more pleasurable that riding a horse that works lightly off of the reins and your legs.  Sometimes all you have to do is pick the reins up and the horse will stop before you even make contact with their  mouth.  That should be our goal with God.  To be so in tune with him that he just has to whisper quietly to our conscience and we skid to whoa.
Oh and Oscar eventually found a good home with one of my friends.  She purchased him as a companion horse and discovered that when she used a bitless bridle he was quite ride-able.  He lived the rest of his life out in well-deserved rest.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Beauty Of The Pasture

When I was a teenager I had a hobby that doubled as a little side income.  I would purchase young or untrained horses, train them and resell them.  To this day I marvel that I’m alive after some of the stupid stunts I pulled with those horses.  My guardian angels must have been exhausted by the end of every summer.  But those summers proved to be some of the best summers of my life!
To me, there was nothing more exciting to me than buying a new horse.  I loved wandering through compete stranger’s barns and pastures, petting the velvety noses, scratching behind ears and daydreaming about how I could coach any of these horses to be the perfect western pleasure mount.  While other girls my age daydreamed about boys and went shopping for clothes every spring, I dreamed of horses, and shopped for bloodlines!
One year I had just picked out my next prospect, A beautiful black Arabian gelding, he was incredibly good looking, had an impressive pedigree, and most importantly in my teenage mind he had a long mane and tail.   Excitedly I helped my father hook up the stock trailer and embarked on the task of bringing him home.
Our yard at the time was perfect for owning horses.  We have a beautiful, luscious forty acre pasture.  It has at least five ponds, beautiful shady oak trees, and  in three generations no one in our family has ever grazed it down.  To me this pasture was a magical place.  There was nothing more relaxing than a long walk in in the pasture when the sun was setting, and the leaves were turning gold.  The smell of autumn, the leaves crunching beneath my feet, and a herd of six horses following me wherever I went begging for treats made it one of the best places in the world.  The horses loved their home too, every spring when theywhere turned loose in the pasture for the first time they would run, buck, rear, and kick up their heels over the sheer joy of their new freedom. 
Sadly our horse trailer was not anything like our pasture.  Far from being magical, or even scenic, it can only be described a decrepit thirty year old, primarily rust colored rolling junkyard.  Although it was still sturdy enough to be safe, it most certainly is not pretty.  To a horse who had never been in any trailers before, this certainly did not look like a comfortable, happy, or even safe place.  Suffice to say, it took three people, an hour, a bucket of grain and a lot of coaxing to get my newest acquisition into our rust bucket of a horse trailer.
To my new horse, that trailer was the ultimate destination.  He couldn't see past all of the metal and rust to our pasture.  He was not thinking about 40 acres of luscious green grass, shady oak trees, or pleasant ponds, all he saw was a cold, rusty, metal horse eating machine.
In a way it reminds me of how we humans view death.  The 23 Psalm speaks of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.”  Did you catch that?  It’s just a shadow!  Like our stock trailer, death appears to be a cold, ugly, dark place.  But in reality, it is just a means of moving from one place to another.  Death is not the final destination, and we have an advantage over that horse, he didn't know where he was going, he had no way of knowing what lay before him, but we can.  God has promised us greener pastures filled with things more beautiful than we could ever imagine.  He’s never lied to us yet, so why are you afraid of the trailer?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Horses and Faith, admittedly it's an odd title for a blog, after all what do horses have in common with faith?  It would seem so little, and yet so much.
Anyone who has ever ridden a horse can tell you how much faith it takes to swing that leg over a young horse and rest you weight in that saddle.  Faith in the horse, faith in God, faith in your skills as a rider, not to mention the faith required on the horse's part to allow you to rest your weight in the saddle.  
As strange as it seems every time I am around a horse I feel God passing on so many lessons about love, life, trust and what he expects from me.  
When I was a little girl my Grandmother sent me out to the garden to pull weeds, she told me that the garden was the closest place to God, because he was there making the plants grow. (I now know she was just trying to get me to weed her garden!)  But I beg to differ, I think the closest I get to God is in a round pen with a 1500lb heavy horse cross thundering in graceful circles around me.  
So I would like to invite you to come with me and peek over my shoulder as I share what I learn in the barn, welcome!

REMEMBER: Jesus was born in a barn!