ABOUT CHRISTIAN COWGIRL POETRY (Original Blog Posts)
“Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” ~ 2 Corinthians 3:17
I’m a Jersey girl at heart, born and raised in a small town halfway between the Garden State Parkway and the NJ Turnpike. I started horseback riding late in life — half whim, half wish to outrun the stuff that catches up to you when you reach “a certain age.” I’m a raging Commitment Phobic but somehow I’ve found myself captivated by the essence of all things equine. Hence, this blog on what I’m learning about my truest self — and God — in the company of horses.
On October 23, 2011, I lost my father to cancer – a mere three months from his diagnosis to his demise. For thirty years, I was his “right-hand” girl in his real estate development company, his faithful daughter, his loyal scribe, one who taught him time and again “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He was the fearless leader. I was his secret weapon.
I began taking riding lessons shortly before he became ill as “research” for a screenplay I was writing that involved a dude ranch in Oklahoma. I figured if I was going to write with authenticity, I’d better get my middle-aged buttocks on a live horse. And so, for only the second time in my life, I mounted up at a riding stable that specialized in natural horsemanship. I thought a package of ten lessons would do the trick. After the eighth lesson, my father took ill and died. Amid a crushing recession, the family business collapsed like a house of cards. My fortress, where I wielded my pen like a sword, was in ruins, and in its place, a dusty and fallow field. I was faced with a life-changing choice: I could shuffle my feet in meandering, meaningless circles, lamenting the loss … or I could ride.
I finished that first lesson package and signed up for several more, trotting through my grief and sudden “identity crisis” on a lovely palomino mare. In April 2013, I became the guardian and traveling companion of a nineteen year-old Appendix Quarter Horse whose registered name is Hot Sunny Dee, but whose barn name, Hook, reflects my inmost passion. Truly, I am “hooked”… on his wild heart, his innate gifts and power, and his heritage of freedom, which has set me on a quest to discover and claim these same things for myself, through the Sprit of Christ, my Lord, who from the beginning, created all for His glory.
It is my fervent prayer that these poems and reflections will illumine a path to Christ-centered horsemanship and bless you, your horses, homes, and barns, with peace, joy, courage, freedom, and wisdom for the journey.
Seeking from the Saddle,
Summer’s Last Stand (A Lenten Reflection)
AndieMarch 28, 2018Farm Life, Reflections
Spring is coming despite the titan grip Old Man Winter seems to have on us in the Northeast this year. Know how I know?
The foxes are on the hunt during daylight hours to feed their newborn kits. They’re sly. They’re fearless. They’re fierce. That spells very bad news for my small flock of five free-ranging chickens who I wound up naming in spite of my resolve not to. How could I not name them when they all have such distinct personalities and quirks and looks? And yes, I ignored my husband’s suggestions of Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack, and Wings.
Take “Summer” for instance, shorthand for “Wellsummer” which is her breed. The name actually suited her. She was as laid back and carefree and as rouge as summer can be with its long, lazy days and pop-up storms. She herself was carefree, but she was also the one I worried about. While the other four tended to flock together below the bird feeder or in the barn or under the shelter of evergreen boughs, and vocalized warnings when they sensed something amiss, Summer would wander and roam as far and wide as she pleased. And while the other four came running at the faintest sound of the scratch bucket or my “Here, chickie chickie!” calls, she would come around when she felt like it, lallygagging as if she hadn’t a care in the world as to who ate her scratch or got the best place on the roosting bar. More than once I chased her down for the better part of an hour to secure her in the coop at dusk. Sometimes it took two of us to corral her.
I wasn’t sure if she was a loner or a rebel. In the end, it didn’t matter. The fox came for her yesterday and all I have left of her is one single, beautiful golden and brown feather that captures all her beauty. She will be deeply missed.
I have no doubt she wandered a little too freely, too far, and alone. I’m sure the fox caught her by surprise in the early afternoon and closed the circle of life. But that was Summer’s personal stand: live free or die.
Some might admire her fierce independence. I know I did, but it also gives me pause. How often do I wander from my place of refuge—that quiet place in my heart where I pray and commune with the Lord, my Savior? How often do I stray from my peace and security—which is the will of God? How often do I rebel against God’s word, which guides me on the path of righteousness for His name’s sake?
How often do I choose to simply do my own thing, thinking that in the end, nobody really gets hurt…except maybe me. Just like Summer, I sometimes tend to be a free spirit and take my own stand—rather than follow the Holy Spirit and stand firm on my rock of refuge, who is Jesus Christ.
Summer’s last stand reminds me to be vigilant. The biblical wolves and lions are on the prowl in every season, not just Spring. Please God, may it be said of me:
For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. ~1 Peter 2:25
As we immerse ourselves in the Holy Week leading to the commemoration of the Passion, Death & Resurrection of Christ, may you too COME HOME to Jesus.
A cold, November rain
coats the earth, makes
and grass flatten,
as your ears pitch forward
and search for birdsong
beyond the blackbird’s caw.
As for me, this ashen mist
dims my vision,
dampens my will,
and deafens me to all but
my own sighs,
and splashes on stone dust
around my shuffling feet.
But for you, it’s liquid silver
a precious interlude
that makes the hay
sweeter in your mouth
and warmer in your belly
and your eyelids rest
in the rhythm of rain.
Lord, give me the heart
and the hope of this horse
who is unmoved
by passing storms,
whose feet plant firmly
at the edge of the stall
poised in peace-filled expectation
that birdsong will come.
He only is my rock and my salvation:
he is my fortress; I shall not be moved.
AndieSeptember 19, 2017Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsEphemeral, horsemanship
As some of you know from other social media, today’s the day that my newest novel, Ephemeral, makes it’s debut on Amazon.
This project started as a humble, 80-page handbook titled Accidental Wisdom — basically, a compendium of every mistake I made the first two years after buying my first horse. God knows, I made a lot of mistakes and Hook is the poster horse for patience. If horses could roll their eyes, I’m pretty sure he would have perfected the art.
Once written (although never done, as I added new “wisdom” weekly), I began shopping the book to agents. As much as they liked it, they essentially said the same thing: this is either a how-to (technically, a how-not-to) or a memoir. Pick a lane!
I thought about writing a memoir, but quickly discovered my real life is far too lovely and boring, even with all my horse folly. In a binge of self-pity for a good book gone bad, I hit “DELETE” on my keyboard like a woodpecker on steroids. Basically, I blew up everything I’d put on paper and later, much later, put it back together again—only this time I let my imagination run wild.
Three hundred and fourteen pages later, Ephemeral emerged.
The point is, I learned that sometimes you just have to break things down…go back to basics…and take the time that it takes to figure it out. I find this is especially true in horsemanship.
Hook and I did it once, after his suspensory injury and we spent the next three month of the “new normal” looking at each other and wondering: well, what now? We spent a lot of time hand grazing. And walking. And getting to know each other in new and inventive ways.
Then, after boarding for almost 4 years, Hook moved “home” and has lived in my backyard for almost 7 months. Our familiar routines are gone. We live on three and a half acres instead of thirty. We have no indoor ring. We have no outdoor ring. We have no other horses as playmates. No fancy jumps or ground poles. No amenities. No grooms or extra barn hands or riding partners.
But we have each other. We’re learning to improvise and shift our focus to the “necessary things.” Food. Water. Grass. Sunlight. Shelter. Safety. Love. Trust.
Funny, without all the bells and whistles and distractions, we’ve never been more in tune with each other than we are right now. There is accidental wisdom in the simple things. I feel like I’m finally getting to know my horse…his heart, his soul, what makes him naturally happy, healthy, and whole.
Most of all, I’m learning that when you consent to break things down (and/or let them break)—and put them back together again—it’s an opportunity to come back stronger. Better. And far more blessed for the breakdown that led to the gift of breakthrough.
So, here’s to accidental wisdom–and to believing that God does indeed “write straight with our crooked lines.” Sometimes, he even helps a clueless, midlife rider write a novel.
Should you be so inclined, my horse-loving friends, I hope you’ll enjoy reading mine!
(See the jacket blurb below, and yes, that’s Hook on the cover.)
Seeking from the saddle,
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. ~James 1:5
When a jaded romance writer takes up horseback riding as research for her latest project, she joins up with a horse on an accidental journey that will challenge everything she knows about love…
Enter into New Jersey’s legendary horse country, where wealthy women, six-figure performance horses, and elite show barns are part of the natural landscape. It’s into this white-gloved arena that Clarissa Stamos, a reclusive, midlife romance writer is thrust when she decides to write a country-western romance. The only problem is—she’s never been on a horse.
Clarissa signs up for riding lessons and finds relief from her troubled marriage and her darkest secrets in the company of horses who offer an intoxicating sense of freedom and daring. Before long, she impulsively buys an ex-rodeo horse who spurs her to take charge of her own destiny—or wind up in the dust. Complicating matters is an intriguing, Argentinian dressage trainer with secrets of his own.
One part romance novel, one part literary fiction, one part love-affair-with-horses, Ephemeral is told from the viewpoint of a quirky, old cow horse who not only invites you into his world, but also shares his sensible and soulful outlook on human hearts and the meaning of true horsemanship.
Lions & Tigers & Mares, Oh My!
AndieMay 12, 2017Uncategorized
After a few false starts, I’ve finally found a pasture mate for Hook. I searched high and low for an older, quiet, sweet, noble, kind, sound, uncomplicated, mannerly gelding. I was sure they would be a dime a dozen—even free. Turns out, nobody parts with geldings that fit that description (joke’s on me).
That’s how I ended up with Honey Bee, a 12-year-old Haflinger mare. To be honest, I don’t know a thing about mares, except for the horror stories others have told me about witchy mares who make them grovel for every ride. But when I met Honey Bee, she didn’t seem the least bit witchy. She actually seemed quiet, sweet, noble, kind, sound, uncomplicated and mannerly. So I took a leap of faith and said yes to a horse beyond my understanding. Somehow she just seemed “right.”
Honey has been home for ten days. The first five days were uneventful as she proved herself to be everything I was looking for and a perfect match for Hook who demanded to be in charge. She didn’t seem to mind that one bit and took to grazing in the pasture a few safe yards away, inching as close to him as he would allow.
On day six she came “into season” as they say. Hook doesn’t care but the gelding who lives next door sure does. Honey Bee honed in on him like—well, like a honey bee. We are on day five of prancing, vocalizing, and racing across the field to meet the tall, dark, and handsome stranger at the fence. She is distracted and not nearly as interested in me as she once was. I watch and shake my head. I call my horse friends who break into fits of laughter when I ask them about managing a mare. A few suggest certain products and strategies to stifle her behavior.
But when I step back and simply observe this phenomenon, I find myself drawing odd parallels to other things happening in my life. Scripture tells us that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, called into being by God who endows us with minds, hearts, bodies, and souls that express His perfect wisdom and will. That Honey Bee’s natural instincts call her to behave “differently” than I would have her behave on any given day is a state of being that I need to honor as part of God’s grand design for her. She is wild at heart. She is true to her nature. It is I who must give her the freedom to be who she is. It is the least I can do for having erected walls and fences that no matter how pretty or pristine, are still devices of captivity.
In a similar way, lately I find myself feeling constrained by the conventions of my life: people who want me to be different than I am, people who have no use for me unless I conform to their principles and preferences, people who want to keep me and my expressions of faith on a tight rein lest it offend their walls of intellect, breach their fences of propriety, or encroach upon their comfort zones.
Jesus gave us the Great Commission: to be His witnesses to all peoples and to every nation, even to the ends of the earth. And St. Paul gave us the Solemn Charge: proclaim the word [the truth of Jesus Christ]; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching (2Timothy 4:2). Naturally, there is a cost to this. Loneliness. Loss. Rejection. Jesus knew them all.
But if I, like Honey Bee, am to be true to my own God-given nature, then I can’t be stifled, silenced, or managed for the convenience of others. I will fulfill my call to be wild at heart for the love of God and wild for the salvation of souls—no matter the cost and the hurt it may bring to my heart.
It is a tender mercy of friends and family to love us as we are. It is also a tender mercy of good horsemen and good horsewomen to love our horses as they are…in every time and place, in season and out of season, for they, like us—are fearfully and wonderfully made. But most of all, it is a tender mercy of God that while we were still sinners, he sent his beloved son, Jesus, to lay down his life for us so that we might have everlasting life in Heaven.
Thank you, Honey Bee, for reminding me that it’s okay to be me.
Actually, it’s more than okay.
Thanks be to God.
Seeking from the Saddle,
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~Matthew 28: 16-20 “The Great Commission”
AndieMarch 15, 2017Uncategorized
I come from a long line of dawn risers. Growing up in a family hardware business that served the early morning needs of builders, tradesmen, landscapers, painters, and the occasional homeowner who showed up at our door at 5:30 am, I was a reluctant member of the tribe; the one who’d have to be pulled out from under the covers by her ankles and who struggled to smile before noon. Once I was “all grown up” and left to my own devices, I let my natural time clock rule the day—the time clock that didn’t dare start ticking until at least eight o’clock in the morning.
Apart from the child-rearing years, I was a diehard night owl. Reading and writing until near-dawn wasn’t unusual. More than once, I staggered to bed as my husband was getting dressed for work. For the last several years, however, I’ve discovered moderation, the gift and grace of age, I suppose.
And then, last week, Hook came home.
Yesterday, in the midst of an angry blizzard, I rose before dawn and prepared a bucket of warm water to lug to the barn to make a warm mash breakfast for the little quarter horse in my little two-stall barn. He’s been a real trooper so far, settling nicely despite being the only horse here for now. I figured the least I could do for him was make sure he felt comfortable and cozy and drank enough water.
I bundled up and grabbed my shiny, new green bucket with hands shod in triple-insulated gloves and walked out onto my deck. I gingerly descended snow-covered steps and slogged through the six inches of powder already on the ground. White crystals whipped into a frothy frenzy by a 30 mph wind stung my cheeks and made me grimace and remember my aversion to early mornings. So deep was the snow and the frown lines on my face that I forgot about the tree stump in the middle of my path.
I tripped. I fell. Actually, I face-planted in the snow. The last thing I remember thinking was save the water!
I said a bad word. And then I smiled. Somehow the bucket had remained perfectly upright and not a drop was lost. I pushed myself onto my knees, brushed off my face and swept the icy strands of hair from my eyes. Then I arose and slogged on with a grin on my face that wouldn’t quit.
I get to bring a bucket of warm water to my horse on a random Tuesday morning in the barn in my backyard. Yes, it’s dark. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it is an ungodly hour.
Wait. No, it’s not.
Day by day, I’m discovering it’s the most Godly hour of all, when the window to a brand new day is about to be thrown open; when the promise of His grace, mercy, and abundance peels back the darkness by imperceptible degrees until suddenly, there is Light—and I am immersed in it. I am overwhelmed with the grandeur of dawn. I am grateful for the chance to live, love, and serve that is granted to me this day. I am standing beside my beloved horse, our frosty breath blowing forth like prayer and rising like incense. And suddenly, I am on my knees again—this time on purpose…
I am giving thanks.
I am giving praise.
I am a morning person.
And I am blessed!
As for me, I will sing about your strength,
I will praise your loyal love in the morning.
For you are my refuge
and my place of shelter when I face trouble.
You are my source of strength,
I will sing praises to you,
For God is my refuge, the God who loves me.
Seeking from the saddle,
Beauty for Ashes
AndieMarch 1, 2017Uncategorized
I received ashes on my forehead today, the Church’s reminder that I am dust—and to dust I shall return someday. The season of Lent has just begun, but already my heart anticipates the spiritual renewal these forty days of prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving can bring…the beauty for ashes that is mine if I am penitent, faithful, and open to God’s grace. This is also the season that will bring Hook home to my newly purchased little farm, the first time in the four years we’ve been together that he hasn’t been boarded under someone else’s care. In less than a week, he’ll arrive in pastures where I’ve vigorously raked, seeded, and labored to overcome decades of neglect: choking vines, endless tangles of brambles, fallen trees, and splintered, broken down fences surrounding a two-stall barn that had fallen into disrepair.
Lately, I’ve had a lot of “fixing” to do—not just to the land, but also to my troubled mind and soul. You see, after all Hook and I have been through—the getting-to-know-you stages, the clumsy “first dances,” the misunderstandings and miscues, those first falls, the clawing my way up the learning curve, the giddy successes and amazing rides, the bouts of lameness and the slow but steady comebacks—I was sure that nothing could derail us moving forward into this new year.
And then it happened: a near-wreck in the indoor ring with another horse that has essentially blown Hook’s mind. Now, he is unable to function in a ring with other horses moving toward him or coming up behind him at more than a walk. He panics, spins, and would bolt into next week had I not mastered the one-rein stop. I’m too old for this. I have to admit, I’m tired. I feel discouraged.
I’d always intended to bring Hook home, just not so soon. This sad event has accelerated my timeline in the hope that bringing him into a “kinder, gentler” environment will help to heal his troubled mind and soul as well. Perhaps at the end of forty days, a time of decompression per se, we’ll see what horse has emerged from the ruins of our “career” at a fast-paced lesson and show barn where performance is cultivated, judged, and prized. It will take time, love, prayer, work, sacrifice, and faith—a lot of faith—that Hook and I can overcome the brokenness we both feel.
Today I wear ashes. I stare at the black stain of them in the mirror and think of the dust that I am, that we are. But nibs of green grass are sprouting. Bluebirds flit across my once-fallow pastures and sing of spring. My barn doors are flung open in anticipation.
And my Redeemer has promised me beauty for ashes…
Seeking from the Saddle,
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. ~Isaiah 61:1-3
AndieAugust 30, 2016Uncategorized
Over the past two days, I have set up hospice here at home for my beloved English Setter, Jonah, whose name means “dove” in Hebrew and who has been a sign of God-given peace, love, protection, joy, and friendship.
Never mind the particulars of the sudden onset of painful symptoms and the probable diagnosis that will lead to the death of my Jonah—within days, if I have to make the decision to humanely end his life. He’s been with me over twelve years. That’s a pretty good run for any dog and while I should be grateful for that, of course, I want more…more time, more of so much more.
And yet, there is the rule of “five things.” A wise animal advocate once said that when a dog is seriously ill, one should write down the five things that your dog loves doing most in life—and that defines his quality of life. When he can no longer do three of those five things, it’s time to think about helping him transition to heaven.
Jonah’s five things, in no particular order, are:
He loves to lie at my feet. He’s my constant companion, my shadow, my writing partner, my best, furry friend ever. Of course, being at my feet also means he gets tidbits of whatever I’m eating, random kisses, and lots of praise just for being near. He thinks it’s a pretty good gig. I think I get the better end with his peaceful energy and ever joyful disposition. He keeps me from being too introspective, too much to myself, and reminds me to take time to be present and engage in the world around me.
He loves to chase chipmunks (and ducks). In twelve years, he hasn’t caught one yet, but that doesn’t stop him from trying at home and at the lake house. He’s a fast dog, but he’s also bigger than the terriers who are pretty darn good at those things. His pivot just isn’t there, but he sure loves the sport of it all. Ditto for chasing ducks at the lake. We give him his best shot by putting him in the boat and “chasing” them with 250 units of horsepower behind us.
He loves to give hugs. I mean hugs. He’s the best hugger I’ve ever met in the human or animal world (sorry, human friends). That’s because they’re deep-in-the-soul, you-mean-the-world-to-me, don’t-ever-leave-me hugs EVERY time. I’ll sit in a chair and, deciding I need a hug, he’ll look at me adoringly, then very gently spring onto his back feet and put one front paw on each shoulder, bury his head in the base of my neck, curl his paws around my shoulders and clench, tightly, with super-dog strength, until there’s not an inch of space between us. It’s pure joy to be hugged by Jonah. I will miss this more than anything.
He loves to take long walks. Being an English Setter (aka a “runner”) who’s led by his nose, most of our walks are on-leash. He loves to explore every scent, tilting his long, regal nose and inhaling every microscopic trace of moving-things that drenches the air. He moves like poetry with his long, silky “show Setter” hair and for twelve years, I have been stopped and asked, “What kind of dog is he?” He has that way about him…beauty, grace, majesty. I will, however, most remember “that look” he gives me when I’m lagging behind, a gentle scolding for not showing enough enthusiasm for the world and all its sights, smells, and sounds.
He loves to protect my family and our home. He’s the first to charge the doorbell, size up visitors, and fend off perceived intruders—including the 200-pound bear that recently came to our bird feeder just when I put him out in the yard. He is fearless in his devotion. He has the body of a 55-pound dog and the heart of a lion. That’s my boy. That’s my heart-dog.
Of those five things, only one is left. He loves to lie at my feet. Only this time, I lie at his, unable as he is to stand on his own for more than a minute or two. He is eating and drinking. He is comfortable. His pain is well controlled. I pray that once the final diagnosis comes in, we’ll be able to miraculously treat him, or have the damning information we need to know there’s nothing more that can or should be done.
My heart tells me it’s time. It’s time to let him go. I will know in a day, two at most.
In the meantime, I keep vigil with the dog who has stolen my heart and will soon run with it into greener fields than any he has ever known on earth. I won’t ask for prayers for him, as dogs are as pure, honest, and innocent as the day is long and God’s kingdom is full of such beloved ones of every species and breed. I do, however, beg your prayers for me, as I seek wisdom and kiss his face, and say this long good-bye and set him free.
In the end, he leaves me with the five things he brought with him into this world and jubilantly set at my feet like a brand new bone:
Signs of God’s peace, love, protection, joy, and friendship.
Thank you, Jonah, my little dove.
My heart travels with you…until we meet again.
Seeking from the saddle
–and from Jonah’s side,
But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all of these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. –Job 12: 7-12
One Step At A Time
AndieAugust 4, 2016Christian Horsemanship, Reflections
(L) A photo someone found of Hook at a horse show, circa age 8. (R) Hook at 22, still dapper as ever! :)
Today is Hook’s 22nd birthday—the 4th birthday we’ve spent together—and it’s only natural to pause and reflect on our journey. The past few months have been challenging. In April, he came up lame at the trot and was diagnosed with a suspensory injury to his right foreleg that I suspect he got “horsing around” during overnight turnout. The vet prescribed stall rest and limited turnout with a reevaluation in mid-July. In the meantime, we could hand-walk in increasing increments of up to 30 minutes a day.
Just prior to his injury, Hook had never moved better. His condition was good, his attitude was great, and a little medical intervention for his arthritis was keeping him pain-free and more willing than ever. Let’s just say we found our sweet spot and life was one happy ride.
Once derailed, I gained entry to a very special “club” that I never paid much attention to before. It consists of a group of horsemen and horsewomen whose horses, like Hook, have suffered some kind of debilitating injury. Some of these horses will regain their former level of performance; others will have to be retired, and the outcome for a few hangs in the balance. I have watched and learned from these tireless, dedicated, loving, resourceful, patient, and profoundly kind individuals what horsemanship really means: it’s that deep, soulful commitment to one’s horse no matter the circumstances or the prognosis. It’s the hope that things can—and sometimes do—get better against the odds. It’s the love that walks, one step at a time, in endless, therapeutic laps around the arena without complaint—day in and day out—because any time spent with one’s horse is a gift, plain and simple.
I’m grateful to them for their shining example. I remain hopeful that someday in late September or October, if all goes well, Hook and I will trot and canter in the vast, open field behind the barn. But if it doesn’t go well…
…then I’ll take my cue from God’s creation, from the vibrant reds and golds of autumn, and remind myself that nature reinvents itself at least four times a year. I’ll find new ways to enjoy my relationship with Hook and play to his remaining strengths: his bright mind, big heart, willing spirit, and hilarious sense of humor (trick training, anyone?), just to name a few.
In a way, our reinvention is already in progress. The urgency I felt to achieve a certain level of performance (before we both get too old!) is gone, replaced by a new and peaceful surrender to whatever God has in store for us. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not giving up. I’m just ridiculously okay with trusting God to do “something new” as only God can, in every arena of life. I know whatever he brings our way will be a perfect gift and a powerful grace. I know because that’s the promise he has made to me. And to you. And to all of creation.
About a week ago, Hook was cleared to tack-walk ten minutes a day—maybe that doesn’t sound so great, but it is. After all, beautiful things happen at the walk. It’s where I first fell in love with my horse.
And it’s where I’ll love and celebrate him today, one beautiful step at a time. Is there really any other way?
Wishing you a Happy 22nd Birthday, Hook, with all of my heart & soul!
Peace, Love, Carrots,
“Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?”
AndieApril 4, 2016Christian Horsemanship, Reflections
Let’s see…Fifty seven instructional books on my book shelf. Four completely different, 12-week courses on DVD by four completely different horse masters. Five clinics. A thousand different opinions, online and in-person.
And three years…
Yesterday, on a dangerously windy day in New Jersey that kept all the horses where Hook is boarded in their stalls with the lights down low, I found Hook laying on a cushy bed of pine shavings surrounded by rich, green hay. He glanced up when I appeared at the stall door, then went back to nibbling at the few strands of hay within reach. I entered slowly, expecting him to scramble to his feet and shake off his repose. Instead, there was an invitation in his eyes: come and be with me.
I drew near and crouched next to him. I reached out and rubbed his face and gathered a mound of hay close enough for him to continue to nibble. He accepted some from my hand and ate the rest in small bites from the pile.
After a passing and unproven thought that something might be wrong, I allowed myself to sink into the shavings and into the moment and to rest beside him. The wind howled without, but the sun was streaming within and for a time, there was nothing but bliss between us. No thoughts. No words. Just bliss.
A few minutes later, he completely and suddenly flopped over onto his side. I grew alarmed. But he seemed healthy and comfortable and I think in retrospect, he only meant to say: wanna take a nap?
But I was already on my feet; sensing my anxiety, he slowly rose to his. Then he shook and drank some water and said: okay, I’m up—what are we doing today?
Had it not been for my unnecessary spook, who knows how long we might’ve dwelled in that transcendent, all-inclusive, here-and-now. I feel blessed and privileged for his invitation to simply be. And for the supreme trust that came along with it.
Yep, 57 instructional books, 4 sets of DVDs, 5 clinics and 1000 opinions. And not one of them could tell me how to arrive at that uncharted moment.
If I had to wager a guess, I’d say it’s a matter of time, trust, consistency, and grace. And in the final analysis, it is the invitation and gift of the horse.
In much the same way, God freely invites me to enter into each new day with complete abandonment and trust. I don’t need a litany of words or works to be caressed by His breath and to rest in His mercy and to feel His divine presence penetrate my soul like sunlight. In any and all given moments, I can simply be with him and know that I am loved with an everlasting love.
Today marks three, amazing years that Hook and I have been “in a relationship.” I wish I knew how many breaths that was; I would have counted and cherished each and every one.
Happy Anniversary, Hook. Thank you for inviting me to be with you yesterday.
Best. Invitation. On Earth!
Peace, Love, Carrots,
Follow The Leader
AndieJanuary 29, 2016Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Hook, Leadership, trailering, trailers
Hook has always been a serious trailer-phobic. Not having a trailer of my own has led me to rely on a great friend with a trailer and the keen natural horsemanship skills to get the job done. It has never been easy. Hook has alternately balked, bolted, reared, planted, evaded, and pulled back from halfway into the trailer leaving swaths of rope burn behind.
Eventually, when he’s good and ready/tired/willing, he’ll load. He’ll continue to protest once inside, whinnying and shaking nervously the entire ride. So when we had to leave my last barn – in a hurry – I was worried. If ever I needed Hook to put his big-horse pants on, it was that day!
When my friend arrived and opened up the back of his trailer, he instructed me to take hold of the lead rope and try to simply walk Hook onto the trailer. He was great until we got to the trailer’s edge (a step-up). As if on cue, he started balking and backing up. “Nope, no way, not going.” I hopped out of the trailer and sighed. My friend took the lead rope from me, calmly walked Hook to the edge once more, and stepped onto the trailer. I stood just off to the side, prepared to swing the door closed. I remembered to breathe. I relaxed my posture. I prayed it wouldn’t turn into a forty-minute (or more!) test of wills.
Hook continued to stand at the trailer’s edge. Then he calmly turned his head and looked at me with a question in his eyes: What do you want me to do?
The communication couldn’t have been clearer; it was as though he was telegraphing the words.
“Come on, Hook, we gotta go,” I said aloud with quiet urgency and conviction. He blinked, then faced the trailer, and stepped right in without the least bit of resistance. As the butt bar was fastened and the trailer door closed, he neither shook nor whinnied in protest. I stood there for a moment, stunned. And then it dawned on me…
That was the gift. Perhaps that was the whole point of our coming and going to and from this unhappy place. It was the long-awaited confirmation that my horse looks at me as his leader and he trusts me with his life.
I asked. He said yes, I will go where you go. My faith in you is bigger than my fear…
As crazy as it sounds, I would suffer the indignities, the loneliness, the trials and rejection all over again just for the gift and grace of that one moment in time, for which I’ve waited and worked for almost three years.
Of course, I know the work doesn’t stop there. Each new day I’ll have to prove myself a fair, honest, and committed leader. But I’m convinced there’s little this side of heaven that compares to the joy of winning my horse’s heart – and trust.
In a similar way, after all I’ve recently experienced, I have to stop and ask myself: where is God leading me? Do I trust Him – I mean, really trust Him? Is my faith in Him and His plan for my life bigger than my fear?
Maybe it’s time I put on my big-girl pants too and step onto the trail God has marked out for me. No more balking, bolting, rearing, planting, evading or pulling back…
What do you want me to do, Lord?
It’s a question that burns inside me, now more than ever. His eternal Word whispers to me with quiet urgency and conviction:
Seeking from the saddle,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all ways acknowledge him
and he will direct your paths.
~ Prov. 3:5-6
All that glitters is not gold
AndieJanuary 22, 2016Christian Horsemanship, Reflectionsbarn drama, barn mates, barns, Christian Horsemanship, Hook
If I’ve learned one thing from my journey with horses thus far, it would be that appearances are deceiving. At first glance, Hook was an older, weary lesson horse who was mildly cranky and seemed happiest parked beside a mammoth, round bale of hay. Over the years, he has revealed himself to be a horse with a strong body and spirit, a quirky (hilarious, actually) sense of humor, and a bold personality that more closely resembles that of a teenager. My “old lesson horse” has some serious swagger. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Similarly, I’ve met lifelong horse people who seem to have it all and know it all, only to discover that they’re beset by insecurities and false bravado—and have somehow missed or refused the opportunity to be taught by a horse as only a horse can teach.
I’ve known trainers who come with a high price tag and low respect for the horses and/or people with whom they work. I’ve seen upper-five-figure horses who are touted as up and coming but who are already well on their way to being used up and broken down in spirit.
In the same way, Hook has resided for the last four months at a multi-million-dollar barn/farm property that has every modern amenity, pristine stalls with princess bedding, Wi-Fi and Sirius radio, expensive performance horses, picturesque pastures and fields—no expense has been spared. It’s a horseman’s paradise.
It has great bones…and yet, it has no soul. A place without soul—that is, no kindness, no mercy, no love, nor fear of God, is no paradise to me.
Suffice it to say that Hook and I are moving on to a kinder, gentler, light-filled place. God knows why and that’s all that matters. But I can’t move on without a word to the precious few I reluctantly leave behind…
To my first, awesome friend who welcomed and invited me to ride with her: you have a heart of liquid gold, one that flows with the grace of being hospitable and sociable and good-natured through and through. How fitting that you ride on a gleaming, golden horse whose innate goodness and love for you are so clear and poignant to me. May you have faith that God put the two of you together to take care of each other in ways that you both need most. I truly believe you are a match made in heaven; you are her trusted guardian, and she will carry you to joy and freedom if you let her.
To my other spunky riding partner and friend: I treasure your quick wit, wisdom, and loyalty in difficult times. In fire, gold is tested, and despite the ups and downs of daily life, you come to the barn and ride with strength and determination. You show me what courage looks like, and I took notes from you. I pray that you and your amazing, chestnut horse will continue to enjoy the journey…he has the quiet dignity of a horse who knows what he is about and trusts in your loving acceptance of him. He has a sparkle in his eye that is only for you!
To the barn mate and friend who demonstrates such fidelity: I’ve been so impressed by your devotion to your mare. With so many hours spent at the barn nursing her back to health, you were overexposed to the culture of the barn but have never succumbed to it. I so admire the way you remain above the fray, staying true to who you are. You and your mare are a noble pair, and I pray for your long and joyful partnership. She’s a beautiful, soft, and sensitive horse who I believe will repay your kindness to her many times over. Trust her, she has so much to share with you!
Ladies, I have thoroughly enjoyed our rides, laughs, chats, secrets, stories, and so much more. It has been short but very sweet indeed. I know that Hook will miss his trail and pasture buddies too…
May God bless you and your wonderful horses (yes, they really are, don’t let anyone tell you differently!). As friends and horsewomen, you glitter with the authenticity and beauty of solid gold. Please don’t worry about me, for as the rest of the Tolkien saying goes:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
Happy trails, until we meet again.
Seeking from the saddle,
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ~ Matthew 6:20-21
AndieDecember 21, 2015Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, training
I have a very dear friend who also happened to be the riding instructor at the barn where Hook used to live. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve come to appreciate the myriad of gifts she brings to the arena and to life in general. One of them is her keen and natural ability to “take the time that it takes.” The horses adore her for that–and so do I. In stark contrast, my natural disposition is more of that of a bull in a china shop. I tend to plow through life, eager to check things off my list(s), seldom looking back to see what I sometimes leave behind: a wake of destruction.
I recently ran into trouble at my new barn where Hook and I relocated three months ago. I wanted to settle in, settle down, and “get with the program” there. I love its high energy, high stakes, and high expectations, which are all things one would expect in a barn filled with well trained performance horses. They’re young, athletic and strong. I love watching them and their young riders. In my mind, I’m young, athletic, and strong too–and so is Hook. But the reality is that I’m a midlife rider with a so-so core and a coming-22 year old horse with iffy stifles. We struggled hard to come up to speed. The spirit was willing but the flesh is weak.
Correction: my spirit was willing. Hook was clearly on the fence. Only accustomed to pleasant hacks around the farm and not-too-demanding w/t/c sessions in the ring, my sudden insistence on a proper bend, a decent headset, and consistent hind-end engagement with on-a-dime stops troubled him. Looking back, he whispered his confusion at my “new” riding style and our no-nonsense, no-fun training sessions. Clearly, the rules of engagement had changed but I hadn’t take the time to ask how he felt about it, mentally or physically.
His whispers turned into grunted protests and before long into serious, idiopathic spooks in the corners that quickly escalated into wheeling and bolting (yes, Hook, I can hear you now). My confidence plummeted and my wake of destruction threatened to pull both of us down and under. A horsewoman at the barn urged me to reevaluate my riding goals. Did I need to consider retiring Hook in favor of a younger, more capable horse? Or could I be content with the horse I had, doing only what Hook was willing and able to do? Could I “push” him through it? Did I want to? After several tearful, long chats with his (and my) Creator about our future together, I kept coming back to what Shakespeare said first and best: to thine own self [and thy horse] be true…
I’m not a midlife warrior-athlete. While the thought of pushing myself further, faster, and higher powerfully appeals to my imagination, it simply doesn’t square with who I am on the inside or the outside. And as an aged, former lesson horse, Hook is mentally resistant to endless, mind-numbing, disciplined circles and has quite possibly been made sore by them. While I had built him up and into a generally strong, senior horse over the past three years, he still trusted me to know and respect his natural needs, talents, and limits. And to top it off, my misguided enthusiasm for “performance” damaged the very thing I loved and cherished most about us: our relationship.
I am rife with regret, but we’re working our way back to our happy place with a “senior horse” protocol designed by my vet, and help from my good, patient friend and former instructor. We were recently able to ride without spooks for the first time in weeks. It is slow, compassionate, methodical going. We have to go backward to move forward. We are taking the time that it takes to rebuild trust, relationship and comfort zones. I know Hook forgives me. I’m working on forgiving myself, knowing now that no flashy race around the barrels compares to the rush of a soulful love that goes the distance.
Someday, when we have both passed over that Rainbow Bridge, Hook and I will leap and gallop and circle and bend with the freedom and joy of unbound minds and bodies. Patience, grasshopper, I tell myself. For now, to thine own self–and thy horse–be true.
Love is patient. Love is kind.
~1 Cor. 13:4
Seeking from the saddle,
RIP My Sweet Tristan
AndieSeptember 26, 2015Reflections
RIP my dear, sweet, silly Tristan. It was a day of unexpected and sudden loss, but you will forever be “my little mush.” Thank you for nine years of pure joy and laughter. I know you are in God’s kingdom waiting for me … until then, I remember and celebrate you with all my love and thanksgiving.
This is a reflection I wrote on my paws4prayer website when Tristan first came into my life after the loss of our beloved Golden Retriever, Grace. I hope you find reason and hope to smile through the tears as you recall your own most beloved animal companions through the years. As I re-read this blog entry from back then, I am reminded that the circle of life — and love — is eternal. The One who created us — humans and animals alike — is faithful … and all shall be exceedingly well.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever. ~Ps. 30: 11-12
There’s a good reason why this introduction to Tristan, my (now) one-year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is so late in coming. You see, for a while, I deeply and quietly grieved the loss of our 13-year old golden girl, Grace, who passed away on February 29, 2008, the day after what turned out to be her final birthday celebration. Given that it was a leap year, I thought it would be easier to only have to commemorate the exact date of her death every four years. Instead, the anniversary of her birthday, February 28th, served as both a day of celebration and profound loss as we remembered her coming–and going–from this world. In the aftermath of her passing, I was certain, as most pet lovers are, that I would not be able to bring another dog into the house on the heels of our Amazing Grace. I feared I would always be comparing one to the other…the great and incomparable “other” whom I believed was peerless in her temperament, intelligence, ability to love, to forgive, and to forge a place in my heart that was reserved for her alone.
And yet, as the days, then weeks, then months went by, I found myself missing Grace in an altogether different way. My grief was morphing into something lighter and brighter that approached a feeling of joy whenever my thoughts turned to her. I began to remember all the things I loved best about her and about being in her company, instead of only those final, agonizing months and days… Slowly but surely, I found myself smiling and nodding as I began to discover the true gift of Grace and what it had meant to be her animal guardian for the span of her life on earth. Only with time could I begin to see that our bond was deeper and stronger than the confines of earthly time and space, and that whenever I long for her, all I have to do is pause and remember the silky feel of her fur under my fingertips; the silly grin she sported whenever I walked through the door, the sight of her sitting peacefully in a vast, green field, tracking the flight of a butterfly this way and that, then glancing over her shoulder to see if I found it equally as enthralling. Then I know, in that supernatural, peaceful way, that the essence of Grace is with me still…and always. What was once a wound in my heart has become a womb in my heart where love grows once more in relationship to an exuberant puppy with luminous dark eyes that shout, “Come and play! Life is good! See that ball? C’mon, let’s GO!” Tristan (a.k.a. “my little mush”) makes me laugh out loud. For the last year, he has blazed his own trail into my heart and once again, I’m falling in love. Not in the same way. But in a wonderful, giddy, excited, joyful way just the same. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you–if you let it. So here’s to Tristan and to all the ones who come to us at a divinely chosen time and place as healers and intrepid companions in the wake of our tears and mourning. They ask nothing in return but for us to open our hearts and homes once more–so that they, by the goodness and grace of Christ, our Lord, may turn our mourning into dancing once again. Thanks be to God.
AndieSeptember 13, 2015Uncategorized
David Bowie’s 1972 catchy, hit single “Changes” was a song on the lips of every budding, teenage indie rocker who somehow knew it was an anthem to that vague feeling of being swept along with tide and time – but whose daunting lyrics defied further reflection. That famous, stuttering refrain was just soooo much fun to sing that in the end, no one I knew really gave a fig what Bowie was actually trying to say!
Yet, on the eve of leaving the barn where Hook and I have been in residence for the past two years, it’s a refrain that keeps bubbling to the surface in a very somber way…
“Turn and face the strange. Ch-ch-changes…
Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”
I’ve been beautifully, wonderfully, comfortable at my barn. Hook has been beautifully and wonderfully cared for. But over the course of the last six months or so, there has been a series of subtle and some not-so-subtle changes that have created a profound restlessness in me to explore new farms and fields and faces. And so, tomorrow morning, I’ll collect my belongings and my horse and head into the unknown of a new barn to call our home.
I like change. In fact, I welcome it. Sometimes I even chase it. But this time, it feels different. It feels strange; uncomfortably strange and I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Hook is content where he is. Me, not so much. If I were the same person, the same rider, the same horsewoman I was two years ago, I wouldn’t be writing this tonight.
Somewhere, in some mysterious, untraceable way, time has had its way with me. I am not the same at all, and yet I can’t begin to pinpoint the differences that have led me here. It is simply a deep-in-the-soul feeling that it’s time to “turn and face the strange”.
I can only and best liken it to the story in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, when the Pharisee, Nicodemus, comes to Jesus under the cover of night to explore the requirements of personal salvation. Learning that he must change, that he must be “born again”, he questions Jesus’ literal meaning; but Jesus encourages him to forsake the literal as well as the strict interpretation of law and give way to the strange and wonderful workings of the Holy Spirit. He then says to Nicodemus:
“The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” ~ John 3:8
In the same way, I have to believe that the God of all time and circumstances is directing me, like a wind at my back, to the new places and new faces he wants me to know. Though I cannot trace His divine breath, nor trace the influence of time on me, I know the ripples of discomfort in me will cease when I simply allow myself to “go with the flow” and not just face the strange –- but embrace it.
Tomorrow, I know that Hook will look to me to be his fearless leader. He will read me like a first-grade book and know at a glance if I believe in the decision I’ve made. So come sunrise – come Sunday! – I will remember and trust that mine is the God of all changes, all seasons, all time, and all matters under Heaven.
But most of all I will remember that His love for me – and for Hook – never changes.
I might just get a good night’s sleep after all.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven.”
Seeking from the saddle,
AndieAugust 4, 2015Christian HorsemanshipChristian Horsemanship, Natural Horsemanship, trainers, training
*Happy 21st Birthday, Hook!*
When my beloved trainer moved on from my barn, I had no choice but begin the search for someone Hook and I would love even half as much. One such possibility was a “professional” from a certain hallowed school of “natural horsemanship.” I expected, by working with this person, to up my groundwork, increase my confidence, and to enhance my already lovely, horse-human relationship with Hook.
Instead, I found myself unexpectedly belittled, reproached, and my spirit nearly broken by a running list of hurtful comments and criticisms that increased in intensity with each lesson and made me wonder what on earth I was doing with a horse in the first place.
I couldn’t do anything right: My tack was all wrong, from the saddle to the bit to the reins. My “energy” was all wrong (“Too much and too chaotic for this ‘personality’ of a horse!”); my understanding of a horse’s brain, language, and physiology was elementary (apparently I can’t “read” Hook at all because as a writer, I probably lack well developed social skills); my position in the saddle MUST be tipped forward and cumbersome to Hook (though this person never saw me ride). Boy, she said, am I lucky to have such a kind and forgiving horse. Yes, she really said that.
Pigeonholed as her “typical midlife client,” I guess I was an easy mark. I guess I was supposed to feel really lucky that she came along to rescue my horse – and me by default. The sad thing was, I nearly fell for it. During our third lesson, I watched her mercilessly manipulate Hook with a stick-and-string to try to get him to back blindly and obediently through the narrow (metal) gap in the sliding arena door (which includes an awkward step-down into a deserted part of the barn where Hook NEVER goes). Hook looked at me with a big question mark in his eyes. I felt like I should step in and abort the lesson but maybe I really didn’t know my horse after all. Maybe it was only my imagination that he was asking me to be his fearless leader and protector. After all, I had spent most of the last two years in that arena teaching him not to get too close to those very doors!
The trainer finally gave up after several minutes of Hook’s refusals and deflections of her pressure. She clucked her tongue and told me it wasn’t that he wouldn’t do it for her. It was that he couldn’t. My horse lacked confidence. She implied it was my fault. Nope, I thought to myself, he knows he stands a good chance of getting banged up by those doors, losing his balance on the step down, or mauled by a mountain lion on the other side. He’s all horse – and a really smart one, too. And by the way, I wouldn’t let you back my butt through those doors either.
She abruptly ended the lesson, charged me overtime and left. Hook stared at me with a new question in his eyes: What’s happening? Where did you (my leader!) go? His confusion and sense of betrayal was palpable.
That’s when I picked myself up from the stone dust, brushed off my breaches and the tears from my eyes, and said to myself: Lady, you don’t know jack about me. Or my horse. You can’t break him, or me.
Oh, and P.S. … you’re fired.
It was a defining moment for me, having always felt hopelessly behind the curve as a later-in-life horse lover and rider. But this time, I was clearly the one who knew more – and better!
I reminded myself that I’ve worked really (really!) hard these last two and a half years to become a knowledgeable horsewoman, a worthy leader, and a better rider with each and every ride. I do it for myself, but I also do it for Hook, who deserves the best partner I can possibly be. In many ways, I have progressed at warp speed. And yet, I am as eager as ever to learn and to improve. I humbly welcome corrections and coaching in order to emerge stronger and more capable. But I think this trainer liked to break things just for the sake of breaking them.
I didn’t know until then that people in the “natural” horse world, especially “professionals” with a lifetime of experience with horses, could have a cruel streak running through them. There’s nothing natural about degrading or demoralizing people or any other sentient being. God created us to be noble and kind. No excuses. No exceptions.
Hook, for your 21st birthday, I give you the gift and promise that I will always “show up” for you. I will defend the honesty, positivity, and natural goodness of our relationship. I will trust my instincts. I will honor yours. I promise to claim and to “know what I know.” I give you the gift of believing in myself.
I will fix my thoughts on things above and in doing so, become unbreakable. That’s how we were created. That’s how we’ll make the journey, together, in mind, heart and spirit.
Happy Birthday, my awesome, amazing equine partner and friend. You rock my world with joy!
Peace, Love, Carrots,
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute,
if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise,
dwell on these things.
Staying The Course
AndieOctober 27, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsBitless Riding, Christian Horsemanship, endurance, Hook
This past week, which included the three-year anniversary of my father’s passing, offered special opportunities to reflect and pray. I spent a lot of time riding and playing games with Hook early in the week as a means to distract myself from the sadness I anticipated on the day (Thursday) that marked my father’s death.
On Wednesday evening, I did something I haven’t done since the day Hook bolted with me on his back almost 18 months ago. I put on his Parelli-style halter and reins and rode him without a bit around our large, indoor arena. This may seem like child’s play to veteran horseback riders. But for me, they were victory laps.
You see, when I first got Hook, I was a timid rider with unsure hands, unsteady legs, and a mind that focused on “What if…(fill in the disaster)!” Hook came to me having only been ridden bitless, so I didn’t know the perils my inexperience and poor leadership would bring until he bolted on trail across a thirty-acre field. I managed to hold on and to bring him to a stop, but I’m pretty sure it was my guardian angel who did the heavy lifting that day. Up until then, I was barely able to keep him going at the walk. I had no idea he even had a gallop in him. Feeling frightened and defeated, I enlisted a western trainer the next day who put a snaffle bit in Hook’s mouth, assuring me it was the best way to keep me safe.
But when I put the rope halter on Hook and mounted him this week, there was no familiar flutter in my chest nor feeling of dread as I took up the reins. Instead, all I could think of was “What if…it’s wonderful this time around? What if…all the time and love and energy I’ve invested this past year to become a better rider and to be Hook’s leader/partner pays off?”
We walked. We trotted. We cantered in circles and serpentined through cones as neverbefore and I was giddy with excitement. He stopped on a dime. He backed up and side-passed. Other riders looked on in wonder. Bitless? Who does that?
Apparently I do. And it was pure joy – for both of us. I could see it in Hook’s eyes and feel it in my soul that he enjoyed the ride as much as I did!
When the sun came up on Thursday, I surprised myself once again in a similar way. This thing St. Paul calls spiritual endurance seems to have been building up in me this past year without my even knowing it. Simply by staying the course, by continuing to work, pray, trust, hope and believe that things will get better – they did.
This year, I didn’t feel the need to weep at my father’s grave. I smiled. I shared details of my life, of my exhilarating ride with Hook, and my faith that someday we’ll be together again in heaven. Then I collected an autumn-gold oak leaf from the ground and set it on his headstone – a testimony that just as we fall, we rise again in Christ: taller, mightier, firmly planted and strong in the Lord.
We are built for endurance. We are born to run with perseverance “the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the “pioneer and perfecter of faith.”” (Heb.12:1-2).
So what’s holding you back? For Hook, it was a bit. For me, it was a lack of confidence and profound grief. But this past week, God lifted me up – in and out of the saddle – with His assurances that I am also made for victory: over fear, over death, over sorrow, over all circumstances, if I will do my part to stay the course, with and through Christ Jesus.
May we ride every day with our eyes on the prize!
Seeking from the Saddle,
Happy 20th Birthday, Hook!
AndieAugust 4, 2014Uncategorized
MAY THE LORD, OUR GOD,
Bless your feet that run like rivers,
And empty me into still waters of peace.
Bless your senses that are faithful and true,
And teach me to believe in things I cannot see.
Bless your instincts that are keen and decisive,
And encourage me to trust my own.
Bless your Spirit that gives you life and breath,
And strength for this journey together.
Bless your back that bears and bends beneath me,
And testifies that our burdens can also be our joy.
Bless your mind that is always willing to try,
And teaches me to ask all things with expectation and humility.
Bless your heart that loves and forgives so readily,
And enlarges my own beyond my dreams.
Bless your soul that is old and wise and ever new,
And shows me the wonder of each moment in time.
Bless this day that you were born by the hand of God,
self-sufficient and free in every way…
yet you give yourself to me wrapped in ribbons of joy
and my life is forever changed.
Praise be to God for the gift of you.
Peace, Love, Carrots,
For Better, For Worse…
AndieJuly 15, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, commitment, Hook, illness, relationship
I recently had my first experience of Hook being potentially ill. I say potentially because I didn’t know if he was experiencing respiratory distress as a result of ongoing construction dust and fumes at the barn, as a symptom of fierce pollen conditions, or if he was truly sick in some way. I only knew that for the first time — and quite suddenly — he couldn’t even trot (let alone canter) without repeatedly coughing and stretching his neck, gasping for air.
At first I thought it might be a case of partial choke. I frantically searched for symptoms on my iPhone and quickly ruled it out. He seemed perfectly fine at rest in terms of appetite, demeanor, temperature, and respiration. There was nothing left to do but call the vet and hope for an easy answer and quick resolution. Given his general comfort, I didn’t deem it an emergency and scheduled a vet check for the following afternoon. But that 24-hour period in between turned out to be one long day of reckoning…
What if he had a breathing issue that was unresolvable?
What if he could never do more than walk?
Had I made a mistake in taking on an 18 year old horse?
If Hook was no longer able to work, what would happen to my own progress?
Would I lose all the skills, endurance, and physical fitness
I had worked so long and hard to attain?
Would I simply retire him on some distant (translation: “affordable”) farm
and buy or lease a younger, fitter horse?
I despised my ambivalence. I felt selfish and ill at ease for being concerned with my own “happiness” and agenda. And yet the thought of not having Hook in my daily life was stunning.
I reflected and prayed. I explored dozens of scenarios. I sliced and diced my finances. I made myself miserable with too much information (thank you, Google) as to what kind of crippling disease he might have. I became weepy. I got mad. I felt like I was on the verge of a really bad break-up. And then the words hit me:
“…to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health,
until death do us part…”
And at once, a perfect peace — the kind that only comes from Christ — descended. I knew with the utmost certainty that no matter what the diagnosis or prognosis, I would do everything in my power — with God — to achieve the best possible outcome and be content with the result. I didn’t aim to “cure,” only to pray and to leave no stone unturned, especially in seeking alternative methods and “medicine” to support Hook’s comfort, health, and healing. What I would NOT do is fret. Or quit. Or simply put Hook “out to pasture.”
You see, we’re in a relationship (as they say on Facebook). When I invited him into my life — and he accepted in his own way and time — there was, and is, an inherent promise; a vow that mirrors the one God makes when we invite Him into our lives:
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
That is, He will never withdraw His presence or His help. As a Christian horsewoman, I can say no less to my beloved Hook. Indeed, we are a match made in heaven. For better, for worse…until death do us part.
Seeking from the saddle,
An Ode To America’s Wild Horses (Happy Birthday, Cloud!)
AndieMay 29, 2014Christian Horsemanship, PoetryChristian Poetry, The Cloud Foundation
An Ode To America’s Wild Horses
“Tell them!” I heard you say,
“of those who couldn’t get away
from predators who hovered high
above our grassy plains and fly
so close to us that steely blades
have pair bonds cut and orphans made!”
“Tell them!” your proud Spirit cried,
“of broken laws and truth denied:
this is the land of ancient herds
where we evolved and were assured
that we, in peace, could roam and vie
by natural laws, to live or die.”
“Tell them!” your heart entreated me,
“how we are “managed” by decree
and made to dwell on shrinking land,
and rounded up – band by band!
We were an icon of The West…
now we’re an inconvenient “pest”
to ranchers and the BLM…
once all God’s—now “us and them.””
“Tell them!” you plead with misty eyes,
“our herds are dwindling in size,
our brothers, sisters, mothers, friends
await their fate in holding pens,
and with each passing hour spent,
their wildness from them is rent
till they are tamed by force or fear…
Will you let us disappear?
The bell within began to toll.
His question burns within my soul,
for it is clear, though he is “mine”
his Spirit still does intertwine
in some mysterious, ancient way
with those who couldn’t get away
and those whose freedom is at stake…
Mine is the charge, the stand to take!
I stroked his neck and gave a kiss
and said, “Dear horse, remember this:
you will reclaim your native hills
and valley streams and drink your fill.
In God’s peace, you will live and play
as He intended on the day
He set you on our great frontier.
I will not let you disappear!”
He bowed his head and then he sighed,
seeming to be satisfied,
by now he knows my word is true…
He asked me, now I’m asking you:
Our wild horses — native, strong,
American treasure, freedom’s song,
a long time gone, till that time when
God’s great love brought them home again…
Shall we lose them all once more?
How much more can they endure
before that final reckoning
when man is God and cattle, King?
Tell your children of their plight
Tell your friends to join the fight,
Tell the courts and tell the press,
the noble truth and nothing less.
Tell politicians, loud and clear:
We will not let them disappear!
Please, for the love of God, our horses, and our beautiful country…tell them.
Happy 19th Birthday, Cloud!
Hear this, O elders,
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
~Joel 1: 2-3
(Lament Over The Ruin Of The Country)
In my horse’s eyes…
AndieApril 17, 2014Christian Horsemanship, PoetryChristian Horsemanship, Easter, eyes, Inner beauty
of light and dark combined
beckon me to enter
in all that I am
and all that I may be.
Of the dark, I say:
It is too deep for me to stand,
I will be overcome,
I will drown in my failures and faults!
Of the light, I say:
It is too stark for my eyes,
I will be overcome,
I will be flooded by a greater glory!
Who can stand it?
You slowly blink
and ask again.
I take a deep breath
and plunge into darkness,
only to find myself
swimming in dazzling light.
Your liquid mirrors, oh horse,
are faithful and true.
I am a child of the Resurrection
and I am beautiful
in your eyes.
In Christ’s Love ~ Happy Easter!
The Starting Gate
AndieApril 16, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Hook, praise, thanks, thanksgiving
I woke up this morning to sunlight peaking through the blinds and the random thought that I had 6 hours till my riding lesson and 16 things I needed to do before that. I was running before my feet even hit the floor; in fact, I think I was already a few steps behind. Yikes.
My daughter said I have serious “bed head.” My dog wanted an impromptu walk. I didn’t factor those things into my schedule. 16 + 2. And mounting…can you relate?
I looked out the window. There was a coating of spring snow on the ground. Just enough to wilt the daffodils that have been begging me to notice them for days. I notice them now that they’re half dead. I think that falls into the biblical analogy of casting pearls before swine. Talk about a wake-up call!
Despite all the things I’ve already done this morning or will do before the sun goes down, there’s something that can’t wait a minute longer. I need to give thanks to God for this new day and recommit myself to loving and serving him with all of my heart, mind, strength and soul.
Yep. I have a lot to be thankful for — not the least of which is the fact that today I get to keep company with “my” horse. How many people get to do that? A mere 1.5% of U.S. households, according to the AVMA’s statistics on pet ownship. That doesn’t make me “exclusive,” only blessed with the desires of my heart. You see, I prayed for the ways and means to ride out a difficult time in my life. Not long after, I found Hook and the financial means to care for him. One thing after another fell into place. Some might call it coincidence. I call it God.
And yet, how easy it can be to forget His mercy, gifts, and grace when the alarm clock rings and the mind immediately starts to race with all the demands of a new day. I think that’s an automatic “gimmie” to the devil who has already claimed our time and attention before we’ve even gotten out of bed.
So dear Lord, please let me be “that kind of woman”:
It begins “at the gate,” first thing, with thanks and praise to God. And among my blessings to give thanks for today: Dear Lord…thank you, thank you, thank you, for giving me this horse to love, to ride, and to care for in Your name. Please may we ride this day in Your peace and protection!
So, let me just ask you a question that was recently posed to me: What if you woke up tomorrow and the ONLY things you had in your life were the things you thanked God for today?
Thanking God for you, my dear friends in Christ and in this journey of Christian horsemanship.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
Black Beauty Revisited
AndieApril 14, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsAnna Sewell, Black Beauty, Christian Horsemanship, grace, Suffering
One would naturally assume that that Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty, was an accomplished equestrian who likely jumped fences with ease and ran with the wind on the back of a favorite steed who would eventually take on the epic persona of “Black Beauty.”
Truth is, Anna took a terrible fall on the way home from school at the age of 14 and injured both her ankles. She never walked again without a crutch, and was essentially dependent on horse-drawn carriages for the rest of her life for mobility.
She didn’t even write Black Beauty till she was 57, and then as a means to reach (adult) people who were charged with the care of horses, to “induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses.” It was never intended to be the children’s classic it became, but a manifesto of animal rights and care. At the time she wrote it, she was an invalid confined to her home; she died a mere five months after it was published in 1878.
She never lived to see the powerful, far reaching consequences of her manuscript, which included not only its meteoric rise as a children’s book, but also the enactment of several anti-cruelty laws against the mistreatment of horses in England. For instance, the use of checkreins – straps used to hold horses’ head abnormally high, causing their necks great harm and pain — was soon abolished.
A devout Quaker, Sewell was brought up with abundant concern for the well-being of animals, for which the Quakers are known. She and her mother converted later in life to the Church of England and were active in evangelical circles. I would go so far as to say that “Black Beauty” is evangelical in its own right.
I don’t know about you, but in pondering the details of Anna’s life, I think how that fall altered her life – and life with horses – in a tragic yet beautiful way. Tragic for her never being able to ride the horses she wrote about with such passion, yet beautiful in the way that through the Holy Spirit, from Whom all inspiration flows, she channeled that passion on to parchment and created a legacy of better understanding and treatment of horses that remains to this day.
I imagine the cross of being bedridden also carries with it the seal of grace, for even in the opening lines of Black Beauty, and throughout the book, the tenderness of God spills onto the page from her lips, as she dictated the inmost thoughts of “Black Beauty” for her mother to record:
While I was young I lived upon my mother’s milk, as I could not eat grass. In the daytime I ran by her side, and at night I lay down close by her. When it was hot we used to stand by the pond in the shade of the trees, and when it was cold we had a nice warm shed near the grove.
“I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play.”
I have never forgotten my mother’s advice; I knew she was a wise old horse, and our master thought a great deal of her.
Good advice for Black Beauty and our own beloved horses….
Good advice for us as well.
Seeking from the saddle,
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ~2 Cor. 12:9
A Chained Dog’s Prayer
AndieApril 11, 2014Christian Horsemanship, PoetryChained Dogs, Dogs Deserve Better, Peter in Chains
Just for today, I’ll make a small departure from writing about horses to share a poem I wrote a few years ago inspired by the work of Dogs Deserve Better, a non-profit organization that strives to educate the public about the cruelty of chaining dogs and to save chained dogs in need of emergency rescue.
It’s only a “small” departure because I’ll wager nearly every good horseman or woman has a good dog (or two!) who runs with the herd. Sadly, that’s the kind of freedom most chained dogs will never know. If only God would send an angel to help them, as he did when the Apostle, Peter, was imprisoned in chains…
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter recovered his senses and said, “Now I know for certain that (the) Lord sent his angel and rescued me…. ~Acts 12: 6-11
Acts tells us that the whole community was joined in prayer to intercede for Peter’s miraculous release — and they were heard! Whether or not dogs “pray” is an interesting and thought-provoking question posed by Suzanne Clothier in her wonderful book: If Dogs Could Pray, Bones Would Rain From The Sky. One can only imagine what might be the prayer of a dog confined to life at the end of a chain. Reflecting on the experience of Peter in chains, and the God-given right of all creatures to be free, I humbly propose the following:
A Chained Dog’s Prayer
Great Giver of Earth and Sky:
your holy ground is hard beneath my body,
and my feet are dusty and sore
from pacing and circling under the sun
till shadows fall and sleep comes,
and at last the chain falls silent.
Great Giver of Wind and Rain:
send your cool, clear water
to refresh my thick and swollen tongue,
and carry the sounds of my loneliness
on your heavenly breeze to someone
who will pity my life in chains.
Great Giver of Life and Breath:
my body is tangled in cold steel and sorrow
but my soul keeps watch, for I know
surely you will send forth an angel,
to save my life and take me
into her happy home.
Great Giver of Second Chances:
send your angel soon,
for I am weary and weak,
though my heart still beats
with hope and wonder
at the sound of footsteps
Could it be an angel?
Is today the day that love will conquer
the chains that keep a good dog down?
Great Giver of All Goodness:
let me chase the wind
and roll in the grass
and settle in at night
by my human companion’s side,
I need no chains to keep me
faithful to my charge
to love, to protect,
and to lay down my life
for my friends.
May we always be angels to the animals among us.
Seeking from the saddle,
AndieApril 10, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Diary, Journey, Joy, Progress
Ever feel light years away from where you want to be in your riding or relationship with your horse? Like you’re moving at a snail’s pace (which technically, is .03 mph)? Or like you’re even losing ground?
I know I do. But then, thank God for spring rains. They create an opportunity to pour a cuppa tea and sit down with a good book (or two) that just might change one’s perspective or reveal a hidden truth.
It might be a horsemanship book by one of the masters. Or something totally non-horse related that clears the mind and acts like a “reset” button so that we can get up and get going once again. It might be a Bible.
In my case, I recently re-read my diary. Horse diary, that is. I know it’s more sophisticated to call it a “journal” when you’re all grown up. But please, let me assure you I can be every bit the whiny, giddy, silly, occasionally irrational, emotionally fragile twelve year old when I’m writing in it.
I remember when I opened to the first blank page and thought about what I wanted to say. I knew but one thing for sure: that I was a woman with a new horse in search of joy. And so I resolved that no matter what else spilled on the pages, I would always end my entries with a joyful footnote. Even if it was: I’m joyful that when I fell off my horse and lost my eyeglasses in the tall grass that I was able to drive home without killing myself or somebody else. Yep. Some days were a stretch…
Here are a few excerpts:
April 25, 2013 (my birthday): Hook thinks I’m a pain in the a**. And I don’t blame him.
May 5, 2013: Hook has two speeds: Lurch. And stop.
May 23, 2013: First off, let me just say that I have NO BUSINESS owning a horse.
June 7, 2013: Ugh.
June 16, 2013: Feeling dirty. Sweaty. Smelly. Demoralized. This whole situation feels out of control. And it freaks me out.
July 1, 2013: “Are we having fun yet?
July 10, 2013: “UNCLE!!!!!”
But then, things start to shift…
July 24, 2013: Another “first” that humbled me and made me feel really happy…
August 28, 2013: I was so proud of Hook – and myself.
September 9, 2013: I feel really good about that!
December 10, 2013: Thank you, Jesus!
January, 20, 2014: Now THAT was joy…
March 15, 2014: I’m a cantering fool!
April 8, 2014: I can’t believe this is the same horse. I can’t believe I’m the same person…
This little, blue spiral notebook gives me snapshots of not just my journey with Hook, but my journey with God as I keep stepping out in faith that “things will get better.” They did. And they do.
Of course, it’s hard, sometimes impossible, to see progress in the moment, but I’m deeply humbled when I see written in black ink just how faithful God is in His grace, leadership, and sovereignty.
In many ways, Jesus is the consummate “trainer” – never one to focus on how far we’ve yet to go, He sees our earnest efforts and sincerity of heart as we do our best to follow in His footsteps. In other words, he focuses on the “try.” He sees how far we’ve come!
May we always do the same for ourselves — and for our horses.
Seeking from the saddle,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Seeking A Sign
AndieApril 8, 2014Christian Horsemanship, Reflectionsadvice, Christian Horsemanship, Hook, silly horse laws
Once upon a time (in the 1970s!), there was a wildly popular, “anti-establishment” song called “Signs” and the refrain goes like this:
“Sign, sign. Everywhere a sign.
Blockin’ out the scenery. Breakin’ my mind.
Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?”
(Five Man Electrical Band)
Basically, the song is a musical treatise on our human obsession for making up rules and regulations for just about everything under the sun – often at the expense of common sense or Gospel truth.
For instance, here’s a short list of antiquated laws on the books throughout the U.S. regarding horses and horseback riding. While no one in living memory has ever been arrested for violating these, to the best of my knowledge, they still exist:
Every woman must “be found to be wearing a corset” when riding a horse in public. (Omega, NM)
“It is unlawful for any male rider, within the limits of this community, to wink at any female rider with whom he is acquainted.” (Fort Collins, CO)
A married man “can’t ride without his spouse along at any time, unless he’s been married for more than twelve months.” (Kearney, NB)
Every home within city limits must have a hitching post in the front yard. (Bismark, ND)
Horses are prohibited from from sleeping in a bathtub, unless the rider is also sleeping with the horse. (Budds Creek, MD)
Citizens are prohibited from buying, selling or trading horses “after the sun goes down,” without first getting permission from the sheriff. (Wellsboro, PA)
People are prohibited from swapping horses in the town square at noon. (Pee Wee, WV)
Horses are banned from neighing between midnight and 6 a.m. near a “residence inhabited by human beings.” (Pine Ridge, SD); or after 10 pm. (Pocataligo, GA)
It is illegal to let a horse sleep in a bakery within the limits of the community. (Paradise, CA)
During evening hours, a horse traveling on a street must always have a light attached to its tail and a horn of some sort on its head. (Sutherland, IA)
Any woman [when riding a horse] can wear heels measuring no more than 1-1/2 inches in length. (Clearbrook, MN)
A married woman is banned from riding a horse down a street while wearing “body hugging clothing.” (Upperville, VA)
“The rider of any horse involved in an accident resulting in death shall immediately dismount and give his name and address to the person killed. (Hortonville, NY)
These are just a few of the local laws made by “somebodies” who supposedly knew best.
Early on, one veteran horsewoman warned me that if I had any questions about horsemanship, I could ask ten different people and expect to receive ten different answers. She was so right.
The sheer scope of opinions and so-called hard-and-fast rules (depending on who I asked, or what I read), delivered with such personal conviction, was mind-boggling. “Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the signs?”
For the first six months of life with Hook, I was stricken with “analysis-paralysis.” Everything seemed like pretty good advice. Just like each of those silly, antiquated horse laws posted around town must have seemed like darn good government at the time.
Eventually, I began to suspect that in the vast world of horsemanship, there’s plenty of old-salt wisdom that has rightfully stood the test of time. And plenty of valuable, “modern” views as new research and understanding expands the paradigm and possibilities. But there’s also plenty of hype and hogwash.
So what’s a Christian horseman or woman to do?
The Bible provides signposts of its own. For instance in 1 Kings 3:10-12, in response to Solomon’s prayerful request of the Lord that he should receive an “understanding mind”:
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.
And in Thessalonians 5:21, St. Paul counsels the fledgling Christian community to “test everything; hold fast what is good…”.
What is vital in my daily Christian walk is as vital in my daily Christian ride. I take the time to listen to what people have to say, then pray to God for the wisdom to discern what is good and right for me, and good and right for my horse — whether it’s in opposition to the popular trend, bucks the conventional point of view, or just plain makes people scratch their heads.
Fads flourish and fade. Vanities vanish. Traditions rise or fall on their own merits. Signs come and go.
Except the one sign that doesn’t: the Cross of Christ which assures me there’s an infallible, divine, infinite Source of wisdom and understanding available to me as grace for the asking through the Holy Spirit.
After all, if God created the horse — doesn’t that make Him the ultimate horseman?
And the sign said, “Everybody welcome.
Come in. Kneel down and pray.”
And when the passed around the plate
at the end of it all,
I didn’t have a penny to pay.
So I got me a pen and a paper
And I made up my own little sign.
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me.
I’m alive and doin’ fine.”
Sign, sign. Everywhere a sign…
Seeking from the saddle,
Horses In Heaven?
AndieApril 7, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsAfterlife, Christian Horsemanship, Hook, Horses in Heaven
I just stumbled across an interesting fact publicized by the American Quarter Horse Association. Apparently, on January 1 of each year, all horses turning 25 are listed as deceased in AQHA’s database unless AQHA is notified that the horse is still alive.
(I’m pretty sure every 26-year-old horse would quote Mark Twain if he could: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!”)
Because the average life span of a horse is 25 years, horses over the age of 25 are listed as deceased to help AQHA keep a current and accurate count of the population of horses. Makes sense, I suppose. But still, that got me thinking (“stinkin’ thinkin’, I believe it’s called), as to the day when Hook, who’s coming 20 this summer, will no longer be with me.
Anyone who has ever loved (or lost) an animal companion, equine or otherwise, can relate. It’s that heart-sinking, bone-chilling, punched-in-the-gut feeling that strikes at the mere thought or reality of life without that special “other” who is part and parcel of our very existence.
A controversial question is whether it’s consistent with God’s plan for animals to be in Heaven. In terms of my own faith tradition, in 1990, Blessed Pope John Paul II proclaimed that “animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren.” He went on to say that all animals are “fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect” and that they are “as near to God as men are.”
The Holy Father reminded people that all living beings, including animals, came into being because of the “breath” of God. Animals possess the divine spark of life—the living quality that is the soul—and they are not inferior beings, as those who abandon, mistreat, kill, or exploit animals for profit would have us believe.
And then, there’s God’s own Word on the subject…
“This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.” ~ Eph. 1:10
EVERYTHING in heaven and on earth — all creation — will be brought together under Christ. When God says “everything,” is there any room for doubt?
And according to Isaiah 34:16-17:
Search in the Lord’s book of living creatures and read what it says. Not one of these creatures will be missing and not one will be without its mate. The Lord has commanded it to be so; He Himself will bring them together. It is the Lord who will divide the land among them and give each of them a share. They will live in the land age after age, and it will belong to them for ever.”
They [the animals referenced in the prior verses] will live in the land “age after age,” and it will belong to them “forever.” Does this not signify eternal life? Only one place of goodness will last forever — Heaven!
While only humans are made in the image and likeness of God and are the summit of His divine work, He also lovingly imagined and bestowed upon each animal its own unique nature and place in His kingdom, and animated each with the universal “spark of life.”
I personally believe it’s the height of hubris that humans should limit the gates of Heaven solely to those of our own kind. In Scripture verse after verse, Heaven is presented as a lovely, green pasture with springs of living water running through it. Is it not so that humans and animals can continue their journeys in perfect peace?
When my father was dying of cancer and struggling to let go, he was blessed and encouraged by visitations: siblings who had passed and even the Archangel, Ariel. He, who would not know this name, pointed to the corner of the room and his face lit up in wonder. I asked whom he saw, and he smiled and said, “Ariel.” Then, in one peaceful moment just before his death, he woke from a twilight sleep and said with joy: “I want to go to the pasture. My mother and father have been waiting for me for a very long time.”
I believe there is infinite, green pastureland awaiting us all. And while I’d like to think that we will encounter the bodies of our beloved equine partners as we knew them on earth – if not, I believe I will surely recognize the unique “spark” of my beloved animal friends in Heaven and delight in their unmistakable energies, radiant in Divine Love!
What do YOU believe?
Seeking from the saddle,
You Know Who You Are…
AndieApril 5, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, friendship, Hook
To the ones who first taught me how to ride, giving me a new gateway to joy.
To the one who gave me “the gift of massage” and the ability to help horses heal and stay strong.
To the one who trusted me with Hook after 12 years of loving and training him herself.
To the ones who welcomed me at my new barn(s) in a generous spirit of hospitality.
To the ones who never looked at me askance when I put on tack upside down or inside out, but gently showed me a better way.
To the one who took me on my first trail ride – and insisted I get back on the horse when I fell off, teaching me to be brave.
To the one who challenged me to trot faster than I should have and taught me to trust my own instincts.
To the ones who were such excellent horsewomen, who coached and encouraged me on the fly; your casual tips made a world of difference.
To the ones who jumped fences so joyously; you filled me with a sense of wonder and awe.
To the one who snickered at my efforts, had no time for me, and treated me as a “second class” Western rider – you strengthened my resolve.
To the one who listened to my fears and enabled me to canter with confidence.
To the one who meets me for a cuppa tea to talk horses (and just about everything else!), who gave me the benefit of the doubt and befriended me.
To the ones in “cyberspace” who share their love and knowledge of horses and in doing so, expand my universe – and possibilities — in wonderful ways.
To the ones who have gone from “barn mates” to treasured friends.
To the one who taught me to listen first, and always, to my horse…you rocked my world.
To the ones who have suffered missed dinners, missed time, and my “barn perfume” as I “figure this out”, supporting me unconditionally.
Thanks to all who have been as Christ to me (you know who you are!). You have made this past year a journey of faith, joy, love, and freedom.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
~ St. Patrick
AndieApril 3, 2014Christian Horsemanship, PoetryChristian Horsemanship, Shedding, Shedding Season
Tufts of chestnut,
palomino, and grey
cleave to broken stems of hay
and tumble across
the dusty floor.
How stoically you stand
as I curry away
your natural defense
against winter’s wind,
and wrath, and the
power of darkness
to chill you to the bone.
You seem to know Light has
with a promise to bathe you in
And so, you surrender
to my ministry, and yet
keep a watchful, round eye
on my weary face,
an ear cocked
to my every sigh.
You whisper to my soul,
“Come – shed with me.”
But I am not so willing.
The world is with me
in ways you cannot understand!
“Come – shed with me.”
You swish your tail
You care not
for the details of my life:
dim hopes, cold hearts,
worries that run through me
like an icy stream…
You coax me with your
and shame me with
that beyond the
new life in bloom.
“What are you willing to lose
to gain springtime in your soul?”
The Word wafts on a spirited breeze…
“Come – shed with me.”
Seeking from the saddle,
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience … Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
~Col. 3: 12,14-15
AndieApril 2, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Country Music, Hook, Singing
There’s a peculiar thing I do at the barn when no one else is around. I sing.
I don’t just warble sweet, breathy little songs. I belt out show tunes. I croon country (my favorite). I channel Joan Jett. I bellow Christian hymns.
The two black Percherons prefer rock & roll. They’re driving horses, so I think they dig the beat. Hook’s personal favorite is “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” from the cowboy musical “Oklahoma!” No surprise, given that he’s a Quarter Horse. His pasture mates prefer country. Apparently most horses do.
I once read that horses dislike music because it interferes with their ability to detect the sound of danger in the environment. But according to a pair of British researchers who studied the effect of four different kinds of music on Thoroughbred geldings, horses have definite musical likes and preferences.
The researchers played Beethoven (Classical), Hank Williams Jr. (Country), Green Day (Rock) and New Stories (Jazz) for 30 minutes each. They recorded 120 behavior observations per horse per genre, and additional observations for 30 minutes of silence.
Both classical and country music, as well as silence, elicited an identical balance of restful and alert behaviors. But it was country music that caused the horses to eat more calmly and quietly than any other genre.
Conversely, jazz and rock music caused horses to display more frequent stressful behaviors including stamping, head tossing, snorting and vocalizing (none of which were displayed with classical, country, or silence). Apparently the horses still ate when rock or jazz was played, but they did so nervously, “snatching at food in short bursts.” Jazz seemed to be the most antagonistic, which the researchers speculated may be due to its fast tempo and minor key. They also recommended a modest volume (21 decibels) for optimum listening pleasure!
I’m no expert (or Carrie Underwood), but I’m pretty sure the horses at my barn are amused if not soothed by my singing, no matter the genre. More than a few exude long, peaceful sighs, graze quietly, and occasional lift their heads when I stop as though begging an encore — and I happily oblige.
Besides, the human voice and heart were created for making music. The word “sing” is mentioned in the Bible 122 times. It’s the most frequently recorded commandment: sing to the Lord!
At creation, “the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:7). At the incarnation, the angels sang (Luke 2:14). At the end of time, the great multitude will sing, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.” (Rev. 19:6).
But singing is for every time and place. As St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) said:
“Cantare amantis est.” Singing belongs to one who loves.
In singing, I express my love for my awesome God as well as for these marvelous horses in my midst. As one of my favorite Christian hymns proclaims:
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?
~Robert Lowry, 1860
Keep on singing in faith and love,
A Different Kind of April Fool…
AndieApril 1, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsApril Fool's Day, Christian Horsemanship, Fool For Christ
From a letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians:
We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment, we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
~ 1 Cor. 4:10-13
I like Saint Paul. Immensely. Here is a classically educated Jewish man whose exclusive training, heritage, and social status as an upper-echelon Pharisee was beyond reproach. And yet he surrendered it all on the road to Damascus to become a “Fool for Christ.”
How willing are we to witness to Christ to the extent modeled by St. Paul? He presents an extreme form of asceticism (along with a rebuke to “comfortable” Christians), and yet becoming a fool for Christ in the manner described above is possible…even at the barn.
In Christian horsemanship terms:
Can we become more humble in our thoughts, words, actions? For instance, must we comment on or judge (aloud or in our hearts) the way our fellow barn mates act, ride, or keep their horses?
Can we graciously yield to others in the barn aisle or the arena, making their comfort, ease, and “honor” more important than our own?
Is there anyone at the barn in need of material support, a word of blessing, or special encouragement? Is there anyone struggling to “fit in” and feel at home?
Can we pitch in and help clean up the barn or muck some stalls as a random act of kindness to an overworked barn owner or staff? Can we groom a horse whose owner is too busy or overwhelmed to get to the barn?
Can we refrain from speculation and gossip? Can we courteously defend someone at the barn who’s being maligned?
Can we bear to be mistreated or misunderstood without becoming bitter or vindictive?
Can we share our Christian faith and worldview, whether it is convenient or inconvenient?
It wasn’t that Paul was a glutton for self-punishment. Rather, he had truly learned the “secret” of holy fools:
I have learned to be content with whatever I have.
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.
In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed
and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
~ Phillipians 4: 11-13
May you rejoice in your total sufficiency and foolishness in Christ!
P.S. Here are a few silly suggestions for April Fool’s Day pranks at the barn…
TELL YOUR HORSE…
Hey! We’re taking up a new sport this Spring!
We’re getting some new jumps at the barn.
I have a new clipper I can’t wait to try on you!
Sorry, I lost your fly mask.
AndieMarch 31, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Expectations, Hook, Rescue, Unwanted Horses
I recently viewed photos of “available” horses sent to auction, posted by a hardworking network of rescuers who provide this last reprieve in the journey of “unwanted horses.” It was hard to believe these beautiful beings were in such dire straits. Who can comprehend it?
In a 2009 study commissioned by the Unwanted Horse Coalition, the unwanted horse is defined as: “Horses that are no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old, injured, sick, unmanageable, fail to meet their owner’s expectations, or the owner is no longer able to afford them … The moment any owner decides to sell, donate, euthanize or abandon a horse, whatever the reason, that horse becomes unwanted.
The study is rife with troubling statistics like these:
The primary reason indicated for selling an unwanted horse is that the owner is in the business of buying and selling horses (37%); following closely is that the horse did not meet expectations (36%). The primary reason reported for donating a horse is that the horse did not meet expectations (26%).
“Did not meet expectations.”
What does that mean? Did she fail to jump high enough? Did he spook on the trail? Lack stamina, drive, elegance? Show poorly? Was he too forward, too pokey, too green…?
I understand expectations. I had a few of my own when I began searching for my first horse. I fully expected to buy a beginner-safe, buckskin beauty or flashy paint horse, a mare, 8 – 12 years old, with zero health issues or vices and a willing, social disposition.
On a whim, I arranged to meet Hook, whose owner was selling her farm and needed to rehome a few of her horses. Hook appeared as a stocky, eighteen-year-old, chestnut Appendix Quarter Horse gelding with a sticky stifle and the bored-stiff look, feel, and attitude of a been-there-done-that School Master.
Other than being “beginner-safe,” he hardly met my expectations. Yet I sensed something “more”, something beautiful, just below the surface. And so I took him home on a wing and a prayer that the eyes of my heart were trustworthy.
Those first few months were touch-and-go as I searched for new ways to engage his mind and know his heart. More than once, this beginner felt anything but safe. But what kept me going was his slow but steady transformation. The “real” Hook started to emerge. His once-dull eyes began to glimmer, then sparkle. His energy increased. He marched instead of lurched and his stifle issue self-resolved. The right supplements made harder hooves. Love, time, and consistency made a softer heart.
I discovered he had a lively sense of humor that had been masked by the monotony of life as a lesson horse – and a wellspring of kindness in his soul that forgave my every blunder. But what thrilled me most was his growing willingness to take this journey with me, to teach, to be taught, and to try.
That said, I’m pretty sure I didn’t look like such a hot prospect to him at the onset either: I appeared as a weary, stubborn, unconditioned, middle-aged woman with a scant two years of riding experience, green at the canter, clumsy with tack, heavy handed, and tense on the trail. Now, I can actually sense Hook’s delight as I emerge a fit, relaxed, mid-life rider with a spring in her step, a balanced seat at the canter, graceful hands, an easy laugh, and a willing, teachable heart. And I have to stop and wonder – did he, in his own equine way, “see” below the surface of me, too?
I think so. I really do.
Certainly, God sees His creatures with subterranean vision. For instance, in confirming His holy will that the young shepherd boy, David, should become the King of Israel, He says to a doubtful Samuel:
“Man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”
(1 Samuel 16)
Given that we are created in the image and likeness of God, isn’t it incumbent upon His children to do likewise? Maybe, just maybe, there would be fewer unwanted horses if we took the time to seek and understand the heart of a horse before expecting anything else.
Seeking from the saddle,
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened
in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted
when he raised Christ from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion,
and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age
but also in the one to come.
~Eph. 1: 18-21
The Cross On My Saddle
AndieMarch 28, 2014Christian Horsemanship, PoetryChristian Horsemanship, Cross, Tack
I have eight different reins, some leather, some rope,
some are split, some are loops, but each purchased with hope
that I’ll ride a bit finer and have more command
of my horse’s direction, a quieter hand.
I have three different cinches: neoprene, fleece,
and a genuine mohair but none bring me peace.
I mean, WHY do they even call it a “cinch”
when I have to struggle for every half inch?
I have four pairs of stirrups, two are for trails,
one pair is for safety in case my foot fails
to release from the stirrup should I take a fall;
the last pair is pretty, but no use at all.
I’ve had three different saddles, the first was a loan
till I could afford a nice seat of my own.
The next one, too narrow and long in the skirt,
so it went on consignment (and I lost my shirt).
But the third one is perfect, it fits my horse great
(as long as he stays this particular weight).
Did someone say saddle pads? Don’t get me started.
We’re barely acquainted before we are parted.
What about halters, bridles and bits?
Too many to count and I’m losing my wits!
Then I glance at my saddle and tied to a ring
is a faithful reminder of “only one thing.”
This cross on my saddle, a gift from a friend,
attests to the hope that I have in the end;
that for all of my searching, and all of my tack…
there’s a cross on my saddle – there’s nothing I lack.
“But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” ~Luke 10:42-43
Seeking from the saddle,
AndieMarch 27, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Hallelujah!, Psalm 150
When your horse playfully bucks and frolics with his pasture mates – Hallelujah!
When you sense your horse shining and “showing off” in the arena – Hallelujah!
When a herd of horses thunders across the field – Hallelujah!
When your horse is in high spirits (getting out the ya-yas!) – Hallelujah!
LET EVERYTHING THAT HAS BREATH PRAISE THE LORD. HALLELUJAH! (Ps. 150:6)
Psalm 150 is the grand finale of the Book of Psalms. And the Holy Spirit saved what I believe is the best and most important phrase in this hymnbook of praise for last.
The word most often used to exhort praise to the Lord (used over 110 times in the Hebrew Scriptures alone) is Halal (pronounced: haw-lal’). But this is no ordinary word for praise. It’s bursting with jubilation in the sense of “to shine, to show off, to make a foolish clamor, to boast, to rave, to celebrate!”
This same word is the root of our very general shout of praise, Hallalujah! (Halal = praise and jah (Yah) = the word for God/Jehovah).
In the context of Psalm 150:6, however, the word Hallelujah is anything BUT a general expression of thanks and praise. Rather, it’s written in the plural imperative form of the verb Halal, meaning:
“You [all] praise the LORD!”
In other words, it’s a powerful command directed toward every created being that has God-given breath (neshamah).
All who breathe are expected to be responsive to God by offering Him praise and thanksgiving to the fullest extent of the capacity with which they are endowed by their Creator.
Thus, “everything that has breath” has the duty, according to its kind and unique ability,to make its voice heard, to be animate and expressive in “shining, showing off, making a foolish clamor, boasting, raving, and celebrating!”
By virtue of their faithfulness to their God-given natures, our horses are experts in obeying the command to Hallelu et-shem Adonai: “praise the Name of the LORD!”
So, when was the last time you shined, showed off, made a foolish clamor, boasted, raved or celebrated with all of your might and breath for the praise, the kingdom, and the glory of the LORD?
When is the last time you did that with your horse?
Wishing you a Hallelujah-filled day with your equine partner!
Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy sanctuary; give praise in the mighty dome of heaven.
Give praise for his mighty deeds, praise him for his great majesty.
Give praise with blasts upon the horn, praise him with harp and lyre.
Give praise with tambourines and dance, praise him with flutes and strings.
Give praise with crashing cymbals, praise him with sounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath give praise to the LORD! Hallelujah!
What’s In A Name?
AndieMarch 26, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Horse Names, Prayers
“Hot Sunny Dee” a.k.a. “Hook”
From the beginning, God made a habit of naming names. When He wasn’t selecting a particular name Himself, He delegated the responsibility to one of His trusted human friends. For instance, in Genesis 2:19, Adam was entrusted with the awesome task of deciding the name of every living creature created by God.
In Biblical times, names weren’t mere conveniences or vanities. They were imbued with meaning and revelation.
For example: God changed Abram’s name to Abraham to ordain that he would be the “father of many” (Genesis 17:5). Isaac (Genesis 17:17, 18:12), meaning “laughter”, was the God-appointed name for Abraham’s and Sarah’s son, recalling their reaction when they learned Sarah was to conceive at the ripe age of ninety. Esau, meaning “hairy”, denoted a physical feature that would figure prominently in the conspiracy to deprive Esau of his father’s special blessing (Genesis 27). And the name Solomon means “peaceable” — a fitting reflection of the reign of peace and prosperity that Israel was to enjoy under his kingship (1 Chronicles 22:9).
In the Gospel of Luke, (1:13) God instructed Zachariah, through His angel Gabriel, to name his son John, meaning “Yahweh has shown favor,” an indication of John the Baptist’s role in salvation history. In this same Gospel, (1:31, 2:21) Gabriel announces to Mary what she is to name the Son of the Most High: Jesus.
From Genesis to Revelation, God has taken a personal interest in the naming of all of His creation: people, prophets, animals, holy mountains, stars, cities, rivers, valleys, angels, orders and dominions, and most importantly: He has given Himself “a name above every other name” (Philippians 2:9) so that we can enter into a personal relationship with Him through His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
So, what will you name that new equine (or canine or feline?) partner who has appeared in your life in some spontaneous or deliberate way? Will you succumb to pop culture or to the blatantly obvious? Or will you give him or her a meaningful name that hints at not only who they are now…but who and what you believe he or she will become to you and to the world in the months and years ahead?
In my case, “Hook” is the barn name for “Hot Sunny Dee”, my 19 year old AQH who came into my life just a year ago. Rather than change his barn name, which reflects his hook-shaped blaze, I have repurposed it to make it meaningful to me: truly, I am “hooked”… on his wild heart, his innate gifts and power, and his heritage of freedom, which has set me on a quest to discover and claim these same things for myself.
Yet I humbly suggest that it’s perfectly fine to rechristen the horse in your life as you see fit. It might even be a powerful catalyst for a fresh start.
When Jesus gave (Simon) Peter the “new” name Cephas, an Aramaic word meaning “Rock,” (John 1:42) he no doubt confused and humbled this poor fisherman whose impulsive character was well known to all. Yet, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. “You are Peter [Cephas], and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:17-19) He didn’t see an ill-equipped, tempermental fisherman with good intentions…God saw a man after His own heart, a man of strength, character, courage, and faith. A man trustworthy of the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Peter himself didn’t know what he already was: rock solid. It was a quality ordained, revealed, and fulfilled by the Master’s touch.
So, too, with what name, identity and purpose will you anoint your horse? Give thought to his special qualities, the expression in his eyes, his movement, his spirit, his unique personality and needs, and the promise and meaning of the bond between you. Pray on it, then choose wisely, for God himself shows us that the authority to “name” another living thing is an awesome power and a sacred trust.
Here’s a simple dedication prayer to use upon naming your equine partner:
[Name of Animal] may you be blessed
in the name of the Holy One
who created you,
and may we enjoy life together
and care for one another in peace.
Seeking from the saddle,
Nine Pounds of Flesh
AndieMarch 25, 2014PoetryChristian Horsemanship, Faith, Horse's Heart, Moving Mountains, Poetry
How can it be
that from less than
one percent of you
springs forth the power
to move mountains in me?
Piles of grief, longing, loss,
foundations of self-doubt,
peaks of discontent planted in
the epicenter of me
quake at the sound of your heart
throbbing with God-given freedom,
circulating His power to
make all things new…
He nestles His love for me
in its pulsing chambers;
he fills it with wild,
and tempers it with willingness
to be bridled and ridden
by the likes of me
for my supernatural joy.
We jump and trot and
I am shaken loose.
My rubble pours out
into a sea of grace.
I am turning green valley,
and you are summer sky;
your nine pounds of flesh
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” ~ Mark 11: 23-24
May you be granted all the desires of your heart, according to His will,
Don’t Baby Me!
AndieMarch 24, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, gentleness, Hook, Job, pampering, respect, St. Francis de Sales
A recent survey conducted by a consulting group for a major client in the animal-health/nutrition industry produced the following profile: “The average horse owner is a married female, ages 35-54, with kids between the ages for 12-17. They also enjoy country music, hiking and outdoor activities, read lots of publications, and own cats and dogs.”
It seems I’m “average” in nearly every way, right down to the cats and dogs. But according to this description, the “average” horse owner also embodies the consummate nurturer: wife, mother, nature lover, and pet guardian across multiple species.
So when Hook came along, it seemed perfectly natural that I should do what I do best: mother him. And yet, I should’ve known better given my interaction with the first horse I ever rode, a palomino mare who made it clear from the start that horses aren’t children – or dogs. Here’s how it went down:
Me (to pretty, palomino horse): Hey, you’re one pretty girl! How y’all doing today? (reaches out to pet said horse)
Horse: Lady, you’re in my personal space. Back off.
Me: Oh, I get it. You need to look me over, decide I’m okay, right? Want to sniff my hand?
Horse: No, I don’t.
Me: So, I’m supposed to groom you before we ride. How about it, sweetie, you want to get groomed today? (Starts using the curry comb as instructed.) Okay, this is good stuff, you’re being such a good girl!
Horse: Flattery will get you nowhere. Let’s just get it done.
And so began my first lesson, an hour-long chat session that must’ve exasperated my instructor and this beautiful mare who cared nothing for being fawned over like a puppy and everything about the leadership ability of the human on her back. Of that I demonstrated precious little. Without Milk Bones in my pocket, I had no idea how to ask for what I wanted. And so we sat. And sat. And sat some more.
“Raise your energy!” my instructor called out to me.
“Woo Hoo!” I shouted internally. “Let’s ride!”
“Did you say something?” the mare seemed to reply as she twitched her ears ever so slightly and hung her head. I started noticing the shapes of the clouds drifting by.
“Walk.” My instructor finally commanded. The horse dutifully picked up her head and took a lumbering step forward; then another and another until we were halfway around the arena. I murmured a steady stream of encouragement and sat taller in the saddle. I was riding at last. After a few more laps punctuated by my effusive whispers of thanks and praise, the horse walked to the center of the ring and stopped at an invisible taxi stand sign.
Horse: So, this is where you get off.
Me: Yep. Got it. Thanks for the ride.
I awkwardly dismounted, led the horse back to the paddock, and fished in my pockets. I had nothing to offer my new, non-canine friend to reward her for her time and attention. Not that it mattered. The minute she was unloosed from her halter, she turned her big, beautiful butt to me and trotted off without a second look.
“Next time, bring some game.” I thought I heard her say.
I turned to my instructor. “I think she hates me.”
“Nah,” she replied. “She just doesn’t respect you.”
I stood alone at the gate and contemplated the difference between my effortless relationship with my dogs (fellow predators), and this strange, new paradigm that required me to elicit trust and respect from a prey animal hard-wired to flee from the likes of me. It would take more than sweet talk and liver bits. Just how much more, I had no idea…
It didn’t take Hook too long to set me straight. He turned away from my fussy hands, turned a deaf ear to my baby talk, and turned up his nose at offers to draw close to his head and snuggle (a good way to bloody a nose, I soon discovered). Not such bad stuff if you’re a baby or a dog, or even a husband, But to a horse?
Death by pampering. His pleas were issued in massive sighs: “Don’t Baby Me!”
In dire need of guidance, I decided to see what God had to say about horses. Here’s what I found in the Book of Job (39:19-24):
“Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying.
He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.
Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin.”
Mighty. Gorgeous. Athletic. Majestic. Powerful. Dauntless. Determined. Loyal. Brave under saddle. I read this verse again and again, taking note of the raw beauty that was expressed in such potent, poetic language. Clearly, there are no sissy horses in heaven. Or on earth.
By nature, Hook is every bit the horse God made him to be. When I started treating him as he was created, there was a colossal shift in the energy and level of respect between us.
Day by day, I am learning the art of gentleness, which honors and serves my horse in ways that babying him never can. According to St. Francis de Sales: Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.
Life with horses is full of paradoxes such as this. I think it’s God’s way of keeping us searching for the Truth according to his Word. Turns out, my Bible is the best tool in my tack box.
Seeking from the saddle,
The Spooky Winds of March
AndieMarch 21, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Psalm 23, spooky horses, Spring, trust, wind
Yesterday’s 25 mph wind gusts made me sigh and wonder if this lion-hearted March will ever become a lamb. The calendar read, “First Day of Spring” but it might as well have read, “National Spooky Horses Day”.
Apparently, the word “spook” comes from the Low German word “spōk”, which translates to “ghost.” And the effect of the wind on the herd was ghostly, indeed!
With each new burst, they’d toss their sensitive noses into the air and brace for flight. Invisible predators: lions & tigers & bears (oh my!) rustled branches and rattled gates. To make matters worse, tumbling bits of paper, leaves, and random, unsecured objects made it seem to them as though everything was running for its life.
I stood at the rail and called to Hook, who huddled with his pasture mates in a triangle of closed ranks. He turned his head to acknowledge me. Lately, he’s been eager to meet me at the gate, but yesterday his ambivalence was clear. There was safety in numbers, safety in the open space, safety untethered to a ten-foot rope. He took several strides toward me, then stopped twenty feet from where I stood. I heard his question: Can I trust you?
I answered: I will keep you safe.
He slowly closed the distance between us. I clipped on the lead rope and opened the gate. As we stepped through, he looked over his shoulder at his pasture mates once more, as though second-guessing his decision – and me. I paused and gave him the choice to move forward with me or to go back to the herd. He snorted and shifted his gaze to the open field across the driveway where I often take him to graze on tender shoots of new grass. And so we walked headlong into the wind.
He settled and began to graze. But at the next big gust, he jumped backwards and poked his nose into the air. Then he gave me the stink eye as though to say: I thought you had this under control.
“I never said I would stop the wind. I only said I would keep you safe,” I replied. He went back to grazing and didn’t spook again.
I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of giving God the stink eye now and then. I’m pretty sure, more than once, I’ve become spooky and indignant and said: I thought You had this under control. Some days, I wish I could be as trusting as my horse and surrender to lush, green pastures and the promise of safekeeping.
The Psalmist clearly knew that deep, soulful feeling of divine peace and protection when he wrote:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
~Ps. 23: 2-3
Sure sounds like Spring to me. Hmmm, maybe it’s not an exact date – but a surrendered state of mind, body, and spirit.
Perpetual springtime in my soul? I like the thought of that.
A Love Letter to St. Joseph
AndieMarch 19, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, Flight into Egypt, St. Joseph
Dear Joseph, Foster Father of Jesus,
You led Mary, Mother of God, and Christ himself, in flight from Herod’s murderous hands into the refuge of Egypt. You were receptive to the voices of angels, to the dreams that bubbled up from your soul, and to the will of God who commanded you to go forth into the desert.
The Bible speaks so little about you, but that you were “a just man.” But your actions speak of courage, compassion, faithfulness, and wisdom. And in the Spirit of these things, you walked through the searing heat of days and the deep cold of nights to deliver your holy family to safety.
Alongside of you was “a beast of burden,” the one who carried Mary, Jesus, and your precious few belongings. From your just hands, this creature drew confidence and calm, received food and water, and your unfailing kindness and care. And thus, his burden was no burden at all, but an act of service to the one who led him with love.
Thank you, dear Joseph, for your heroic protection of Jesus and Mary. And thank you also, for your protection of the equine in your care. For in that flight into Egypt, his soul became winged and blessed, a vital part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
Please, St. Joseph, protect and bless all families this day—and all the horses we love.
Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” ~ St Matthew 2:13-15
Shall We Dance?
AndieMarch 18, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship, dancing with horses, grace
I recently watched a group lesson given by an accomplished trainer. In the arena were women and warmbloods primed for exercises that would improve their jumping equitation skills and take them to the “next” level. The ambition, excitement, and intensity of the riders (and their trainer) was palpable. The horses’ – well, not so much. They appeared to be on autopilot, well-oiled machines ready for action.
I think most riders actively strive for the perfect seat, impeccable posture, and that immovable balance point on the flat and over fences. Those are essential things that help keep both horse and rider safe and sound. But what happens when riders – like the more athletic contestants on Dancing With The Stars – work their butts off to bring all the right moves but still turn out a lifeless performance?
I humbly submit that’s what happens when we dance – or ride – without grace.
Biomechanics, kinetics, and an iron will can only take us so far. Armed with every technical advantage, we often march onto the arena like it’s a battlefield rather than a ballroom, a testing ground for our own physical and mental prowess. That’s fine if one is riding in isolation.
But, um, cue the horse. Our “partner”. Did anyone bother to invite him to the event?
Left off the dance card, a horse has no choice but to simply “go through the motions,” forfeiting his own unique, grace-filled repertoire of spirit, expression and creativity that brings movement to life. Just as likely, he defaults to passive resistance, shutting down his mind to the telepathy and communication that elevates mere athletics to a sublime form of art.
What’s left is a technically savvy — but dead — display of horsemanship. The same way that self-reliance and impersonal prayers to God deaden our discipleship. So what’s a Christ-centered horse man or woman to do?
It starts with asking.
How much more would we receive with and from our horse if we politely asked for his physical participation, earnestly sought his mental cooperation, and gently “knocked” at the door of his heart, inviting him to be a true partner – not just once but each new day? How much more “alive” would both of us be?
Horses, by nature, are eager to please. This kind of social grace and affability gives peace and order to life in the herd and in relationship with humans, too. Your horse awaits a chance to connect with your heart and mind, to form the same kind of telepathic and emotional bonds that keep him alive and happy in the wild.
He’s not a prop, he’s a partner. And he’s literally dying to dance with you.
If only you would ask.
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
~ Matthew 7:7-8
Whatever it is that that concerns you or your horse, take it to God in prayer today. He too, is waiting to be invited to the dance! For “this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14)
Seeking from the saddle,
St. Patrick’s Miracle Horse
AndieMarch 17, 2014Christian Horsemanship, ReflectionsChristian Horsemanship; miracles, St. Patrick
Today we celebrate in modern ways (corned beef and cabbage, beer and Irish blessings) the feast day of Saint Patrick. But historically, not only did he introduce many thousands of people to a new life in Christ, he was a man of “one thousand miracles” including thirty-nine recorded resurrection miracles – the raising of the dead.
So what does this have to do with HORSES?
Well, one of those resurrection miracles was given unto a horse. Yep, clearly, St. Patrick loved horses, too.
According to a text titled, “The Life and Acts of St. Patrick,” written in Latin by Jocelin, a 12th century Cistercian monk (my simplified version):
There was a rich fellow named Darius, who gave St. Patrick a little house on a small field in which to make himself at home while he preached the Gospel in a place near Ardmachia in Ireland.
And after a season, the charioteer of Darius sent his horse into this field to pasture during the night; but in the morning, the charioteer found the horse was dead. When Darius heard this, he was “moved with wrath” and without further ado, “commanded that Patrick should be slain, as the slayer of his horse.” But scarcely had the command issued from his lips, when Darius himself became deathly ill. His deathbed misery, however, “gave [Darius] understanding” and he repented of his intention to “shed innocent blood.”
When Patrick heard of this, he “bade that the steed and the man should be sprinkled with water which had been blessed by him; and being so sprinkled, each arose; the horse from death, and Darius from the bed of sickness.”
Imagine the humility of Darius. Imagine the joy of the charioteer whose relationship with this horse is unrecorded but who was likely as devastated by the loss as any horseman would be. Imagine the sheer majesty of this horse, raised from the dead.
St. Patrick could’ve just healed Darius and moved on. But he didn’t. He took pity on the horse as well and restored to him the fullness of life and breath! Is this not wonderful proof that God cares not one iota less for his equine creatures than he does for us?
For St. Patrick’s power to heal and to resurrect came not from his own self, but from the mighty and amazing power of God, the true and only source of every miracle on heaven and earth.
Is there a miracle, large or small, you’re hoping for, for you or for your horse? Today is a great day to take it to prayer!
“Therefore be amazed, you great and small who fear God.”
May you be blessed with an amazing day,