I was only a kid – about six or seven – when I first discovered the incredible world of horses. My grandfather was hitching up his team of Percherons to go out and pick rocks, and waved me over to join him. He never owned a tractor, using two heavy teams for hauling, plowing and harvesting, and a light-horse team for going to town.
As we left the barnyard, he called to the team, “Step together girls, step together,” and they did! Their feet pounded down in perfect unison and the clip-clop of shod hooves on the packed roadway is etched in my memory.
Moving up and down those Southern Ontario hills, loading rocks onto the stone-boat, he and I had one of those days that only a youngster and his Grandpa can have.
Later, as the afternoon wore on, I even got to drive the team. And I like to think that, even in my squeaky grade-three voice, I got those big girls to step together.
As we headed back to the barn, I asked him how many horses he had. “I don’t have any,” he replied. “They’re all God’s horses. I just get to look after them for awhile.”
It wasn’t until many years later, when I once again got involved with horses, that I caught a glimpse of what he meant.
At one stage or another in our lives, each of us goes through struggles and challenges. And, during those times, it often seems we’re alone. Our thoughts internalized, our feelings held close, our worries kept secret. But the need to feel connected, to know there is an answer, drives us. We don’t know where to turn, but we do know we must turn to someone or something.
Over the years I have heard one rider after another relate how, during particularly challenging times, their horse brought them peace and contentment. It may have been a particular ride, but more often it is just being in the company of the horse that eased their hearts. It was a time of healing, of sensing the presence of Someone more powerful than themselves, Someone who understood the bond between horse and human. It was if God took a special moment to spend with two of his most incredible creations. The horse drew them closer to their Creator.
After these many years, I still get excited when a new horse arrives at the ranch. The horse comes as a blank slate – no history, no background and, quite often – no name. We accept the horse just as he is – no conditions. We are challenged to help him become all he can be.
The horse that arrives at the ranch may be rebellious, discouraged, hurting or lonely. He has been entrusted to us to gentle that rebelliousness, bring joy to that discouragement, heal that hurt and become a friend to that lonely heart. And the horse responds. He becomes a reliable partner, a trusted friend and a wise and approachable confidant. He listens to our stories, shares our joys as well as our setbacks, and waits patiently as we stumble over words difficult to express. He lifts his head, looks into our eyes and brings us peace.
A short while ago I was struggling to understand a discouraging incident that had occurred in my life. Rather than saddling my usual mount, I took a young greenbroke gelding. The ride was equal to any I may have taken on a seasoned horse. He was responsive, alert and calm throughout the two-hour journey. As I returned to the main corrals, two of my core horses walked towards me – it was if they shared my dampened spirit.
The young gelding I was riding is normally nervous around other horses, particularly the two that were approaching. On this occasion, however, he walked towards them – ears erect, posture firm and stride confident. He came to a stop and calmly stood as the two big draft horses neared. I sat still and let the incident unfold. On one side, my huge Percheron mare, standing over 17 hands and weighing in at over a ton, laid her head across the pommel of my saddle, dwarfing the young Standardbred. Moving to the other side, my constant companion Caddie, put his head on the crest of the gelding’s neck. All three horses remained in that position for several minutes. It was if to say, It’s okay, we understand.
We continued our trip to the barn and I tacked down the youngster while the two big horses stood quietly in the doorway. When I released my mount from the stall, all three headed out into the darkness together. It was one of those moments that every horseman remembers and treasures. All is well. Everything’s under control.
Many horses that come to us arrive with medical issues the previous owners felt were too severe to deal with. The wounds aren’t pretty but there is no such thing as an ugly horse. Each has a unique and wonderful beauty. Upon arrival they are fearful, with eyes wide and nostrils flared. We ask of them only one thing – trust. And through our words and actions we bear out that request. Often the healing is painful. Wounds cleaned, atrophied muscles stretched and medications applied.
As my grandpa said many years ago, the horses in the herd are not mine – they are God’s. He has entrusted them to me to love and care for and, as best as I am able, help them find their way back from whatever trauma, chaos or hurts they may have endured in the past. And, in turn, He has given to them the instincts, character and power to change me and to change others who enter their lives.
Be still. Listen to the horse and hear the quiet voice of God.
©Ross MacInnes – 2008Pin It