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How to Think Like A Horse: The Essential Handbook for Understanding Why Horses Do What They Do

Horse Stable and Riding Arena Design

Horse Owner's Veterinary Handbook (Howell Reference Books)

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage: Designing and Managing Your Equine Facilities

Right, Left, or Straight Ahead?

When I rode Prissy today, I rode her in the large riding arena outside. I rode her out in the pastures as well, and presently decided to take her out by the railroad tracks, and up one of the roads that ran by the barn. Since it's a new barn, Prissy and I have yet to go around and explore...so we made up our minds to start today. She did alright in the arena...a little wobbly, a little speedy. Like she was trying to get ahead of me and do her own thing, even though I knew what would be best for her to do, considering the circumstances. I knew that if she would collect and use her hindquarters more, it might be more difficult for a bit but then it would be much more comfortable for her, and she wouldn't have to exert so much energy. However, she continued to fight me. After working for about thirty minutes in the arena and making very little progress, I decided to do something different and take my mare out exploring.


When I asked Prissy to go down the tree-roofed lane that is the driveway up to the barn, she balked. I calmed her and assured her that it was alright to trust me, and that there was nothing to fear. She hesitated, but walked forward, knowing that she could trust me, because I've never steered her wrong before. We got to the bottom of the lane and made a hard left, turning around a grove of trees so that we could follow the railroad tracks. Despite all sorts of debris on the ground (railroad ties, wood, large rocks, bottles, glass, cans, etc.), Prissy trusted me enough to keep going on until I asked her to stop. At that point we had come to a point where the woods went almost right up to the tracks...so that if a train HAD happened along, there would have been nowhere for Prissy to go. I decided that we wouldn't attempt that particular feat for today, since I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks. I know that I have to build her up to that by letting her stand out in the open and watch the train as it passes by before I ask her to walk or stand right next to it. I know she's close to being strong enough to make that hurdle, but not quite. I'm not going to push her where I know she could get hurt.


After a quick detour across the tracks and up and down a rather deserted road, my horse and I headed back up the gravel hill leading to the stable. We passed one of the other boarders coming down the hill in her car, so we stopped and waited for her to pass by (out of courtesy). While we were waiting, I chanced to notice an area where a small bulldozer had plowed out a rift in the ground so that it formed a little dirt path leading perpendicular to the gravel driveway, up into the green pasture that ended behind the riding arena. I decided to take a shortcut and go up that way, for a change of pace.


Prissy had a different idea. Let me back up a little and describe the scenario to you. Recently the torrential downpours in this part of North Carolina have all but washed away the driveway...so the owner had the brilliant idea of having canals dug out down the SIDES of the driveway, so that the water no longer carves deep ruts and chunks out of the road (which tend to wreak havoc on one's car). Said canal was not very deep where I asked Prissy to cross. It barely dipped down before it went back up into the pasture. It was quite clearly safe - but Priss certainly didn't think so. I nudged her forward to go over, and she planted her feet and wouldn't move. She absolutely would not go walk over that rut.


 Here's where it got interesting. Prissy tried to go to the right, and to the left, and backwards, and all over to get out of having to go forward. However, every time she moved right, I put my right leg and rein on her and wouldn't let her move over. Then she would try to go left, and I'd repeat the command on the other side. Then she'd back up...and I let her, but then when she stopped I immediately moved her back forward to the edge of the canal. It was a simple matter of stepping over an 8-inch wide dip that was about two inches deep...and not even a sharp drop off. But she didn't trust me. She knew that whatever was in there was going to bite her in half if she dared to step foot over it.


So I waited. I waited for 5 to 10 minutes. I refused to let her move either to the right or to the left, no matter how badly she wanted to. I continued to quietly ask her to move forward, even though she interpreted it in her own way, which meant moving to the right or the left. After lots of tottering on the edge and "almost" attempts, it happened. She placed her trust fully in me and made the leap - a gigantic leap of faith. She knew she had to trust me, because her choices were clear: go forward across the ditch or stand there  on the driveway for the rest of the night. As soon as she took that first step though, she was fine. She knew it. She knew that if she had trusted me all along, she would have been fine, and gotten back to the barn much sooner.


Tell me, can you see how working with a horse is like a relationship with God? Deuteronomy 5:32 says "So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; Do not turn aside to the right or to the left", and Proverbs 4:5 says "Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you."


Let's start over from the beginning and see how mine and Prissy's relationship is like a Christian walking with Christ. I knew what would be best for Prissy, for her to slow down and take her time. She didn't, and wanted to rush. So the same happens with us - we rush into things of our own accord, and refuse to listen to God's direction, telling us to slow down and listen to him, so that we will end up better in the long run, rather than have short-term satisfaction. Just like I took Prissy for a walk to refresh her and get her out of the arena and regain some of her spirit, think of the famed 23rd Psalm: "He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."


Jesus knows what is best for us, and consequently He asks us to trust him. Just like I asked Prissy to go down the lane, Christ asks us to travel down paths we've never taken before. We may hesitate for a bit, but once we are reassured (though not totally satisfied) we take one step, then two, then decide that God was right after all and that we'll be just fine. We go along fine for a while, just like Prissy did alongside the tracks and up and down the road.


But God will not take us farther than He knows that we're ready to go. I knew that Prissy was not ready to be right up close to a train...that's like going from a crawl to a run without first learning how to walk. Those are the times that Christ builds us up, by placing things before us little by little (or all of a sudden, as it sometimes seems). He won't throw us to the wind, or to chance...he's got his hand on us every step of the way, guiding us and making sure that we will be safe. He doesn't want our trust in Him to be destroyed, so He would never back out on His promises.


When we headed back, I asked Prissy to do something not so out-of-the-ordinary. At that point she reverted back to her fight or flight instinct: she didn't trust me anymore. All that I had done, showing her that it was okay to trust me, and she flew back on that so fast. It all fled...she remembered nothing of how safe I had kept her thus far. So it is with Christ - we're all fine and dandy during the good times, and when we don't see anything that we believe may be able to harm us. But boy, when we come up against something unfamiliar or that looks like it could be dangerous, what happens? Unfortunately, most of us cower and forget that Christ has kept us safe thus far...why couldn't He help us through this as well?


That's where those verses I mentioned earlier come in. God commands us to keep our eyes fixed ahead, and to turn neither to the right nor to the left. If Prissy had done that initially, she would have quickly discovered that her fear had no grounds, and that I could be trusted after all to keep her safe; that I wasn't out to get her eaten by the unknown ditch monster. But she had forgotten the safety that came from having me on her back. I won't ask her to do anything that will hurt her. I try to avoid such things at all costs.


If we look straight ahead, at Christ, and trust fully in Him, that He's looking out for us no matter what, we'll be alright. We need turn neither to the right nor to the left, and we'll be just fine. Once we trust Him and take that leap of faith, we discover that Christ never left...he was right there the whole time, and by not allowing us to go back or to the left or right, He was really right about how safe it was, and that He would carry us through.


I firmly believe that God can use horses as a tool for us to learn about Him. He created animals for man, and everything in the world. If everything points to His glory and honor, then why should horses be any different? Just look at how nearly everything that happened tonight relates to Christ. In everything we do, we are to give Christ the honor and glory...for He is above all, and He loves us more than we will ever be able to understand or comprehend. Aren't you glad that we are under such a Lordship?

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