The perfect blue sky with only a wisp of a jet trail slowly disappearing over the tops of the leafless trees surrounding my round pen inspired me to persevere. It seemed to be holding on to the stillness. There was no wind to disperse the white tail quickly, so the jet stream continued making its signature across the otherwise clear sky. It was such a beautiful Christmas afternoon. I could hardly believe it was a winter day in the Sandhills of central Nebraska. I remember a couple of years ago when the snow-covered my entire back door and I fell through drifts of snow up to my chest as I struggled to the corn crib to bring in the corn to heat our house. I carried what seemed like hundreds of five gallon buckets of water to the horses in the barn. I kept busy scooping and re-scooping paths from the house to the barn, the barn to the poop pile, and the barn to the water spicket because the wind would fill each path back up as quickly as I cleared them. I endured simply out of necessity in order to complete everyday chores that were mostly up to me because Keith was gone all the time clearing the roads as the snow, wind, and cold hung on with what seemed a vengeance. But not this year. My round pen was completely dry. I only wore a sweater and a vest. The usual big winter packer boots, wool socks, Carhart coat with vest, insulated riding pants, neck scarf and fuzzy fur hat were all still in the closet today. My regular cowboy hat and boots were more than enough to keep me comfortable. I even left my gloves in the barn when I was saddling Sorry. This is my kind of weather.
I started out today with liberty “stick to me” game. For those of you who don’t know what this is, I will give a brief explanation, as I have some people now reading my blog who would not consider themselves horsemen. I take the halter off and the horse synchronizes with me. If I walk she stays right at my side, mirroring my every move, like dancers. If I trot she also does. If I stop or back up she stays right in step with me. Well you get the idea. This is fun and it goes just as planned. Sorry makes me proud to be with her. As I finish this activity and we are just hanging out together, I start to make a plan in my head for the rest of our time together. I pray, “Lord teach me what I need to learn today, and help me be the kind of partner and leader Sorry needs.” When I left the house earlier my intention was to spend about four hours with two horses. Two hours with Sorry and two with DJ. But oh, how often things don’t go as planned.
No matter what great plan I have come up with I try to remember that my plans must always remain flexible. I have learned horses don’t always fit into my perfect little agendas, fulfilling my every wish. As I think about it, neither do most humans, or as for that matter even God may sometimes look at my aspirations with a question; saying “Really? Are you sure that is what you desire?” Thankfully I am discovering that His plans are always better than mine.
Oh no, I am so sorry. I got side-tracked a little. Hopefully this blog won’t go on too long. I will try to get to the point. Back to my plans. They were quite simple for the day: think about the lessons we have been working on our last few rides and refine them. Then take the same ideas adding a little more speed to them when ready. If you didn’t read the last three blogs, here is a little reminder about the major concepts we covered.
- Be Still (Find a quietness, a peace, a stillness, a relaxation in both the horse and myself. Be Still and Know God.)
- Wait (Wait for the horse to find the right answer. Listen to her and give her a wait time where we do nothing as a reward. Wait on the Lord for answers. Trust His control. Do some listening while waiting. Patience is a virtue)
- Alone (A solitary place alone with your horse is relationship building time and often the best things happen then. Get closer to God through an alone time with him which may include a quiet stillness, waiting, listening, trusting and praying)
- Now for todays lesson Persevere; which we actually touched on in the previous blog “Alone” where I shared how Jesus prayed alone and long. In fact, he stayed all night long. Now that is perseverance. I am also reminded of when Jesus was in the garden praying before His crucifixion and the disciples kept falling asleep, when he had asked them to keep watch and pray. But they couldn’t do it.
By now you are probably wondering what happened during my ride on Sorry that led me to the topic of perseverance? It had to be more than a white jet stream trying to continue painting it’s picture on the blue canvas above. I will try to keep this as short as possible but it could become quite lengthy. So stick with me like Sorry did in the “stick to me game”. After synchronizing with Sorry, I did some regular round pen work at liberty with her which went very well. Her draw to me was much better than it was the other day, so I didn’t over do it. I felt happy that we were making fine progress and moved on.
After mounting I still sensed a little defensiveness in the head when I picked up the reins so we played around with that until I was satisfied that we were making a better connection. Or so I thought at the time. Something would come out later that would show me the error of my assumption. I was very pleased with the way she was moving off my leg without using the reins in order to step her hindquarters over. I thought everything was quite good enough for the plan of the day, which if you remember included refining then speeding things up a bit.
As I asked Sorry to trot on the rail, she was fine until we came to the side of the pen where the snow had been the last few days causing it to be slippery. As you recall, I had allowed her to cut or drop in on that side of the pen, because I couldn’t blame her for protecting herself by being careful to avoid this slippery area where she could easily lose her footing and fall. But don’t you know that habits form quickly in horses. In fact they are very good at learning patterns. Show them something they understand about three times and they have got it whether you wanted them to or not. Which is why we can inadvertently teach our horses bad habits without even knowing it.
Anyway, as I said at the beginning the round pen was completely dry today. So I bet you can see where I am going with this. Every time we got to that side of the pen, no matter what direction we were going, Sorry dropped her shoulder and ducked into the middle of the pen as had become the habit the last few days. Not acceptable to me at this stage of her development or maybe any stage of a horse’s development. Why would we want to put something in there that we will have to take out later?
I was not mad at Sorry, as I am the one who had allowed this habit to develop over the last few days. So it was my job to help her realize that now that it was dry we could safely trot through that area. As soon as I asked her to stay straight on that part of the circle she raised her head and braced in self-defense. She moved off my leg fine, but I had to really hold without bracing my own hands to wait for her to soften not just her head but her whole body. At first she thought the answer to my holding was to go even faster. Again, I stayed calm, and still, waiting with all the gentle firmness that I could find in myself. A few times I resorted to a smaller circle within the circle until her body began to soften in the bend and the crookedness left. I tell you it took some polite, patient, passive, perseverance in the proper position to finally convince her my idea was a good one.
I did not drill her at a trot this whole time. I interspersed trotting with walking, and standing. I used flexing both lateral and vertical to relax her muscles and mind. I refined and refined, talking to the hind legs and moving the front shoulders over without loosing forward impulsion. We were finally moving past the dreaded area of the pen with rhythm and relaxation, when lo and behold a new area became the place to avoid. My barn cats were hunting in the trees next to the round pen. Sorry decided they were hunting her. So we worked through all the brace and self-preservation behaviors again in that area of the pen. Everything means something. Thankfully it didn’t take as long this time to convince her we didn’t have to change our movement or state of mind in that section of our world within the round pen.
Nearly four hours later I think I had gained her trust and leadership, at least for the moment. I sat quietly in the stillness on Sorry. The white jet stream had given up. It had disappeared from the clear blue sky. Dusk was falling over the trees, but a new sense of contentment arose in me and floated to the heavens, as I thanked my horse and my God for the great lesson in perseverance. Without loosing my cool or becoming unfair with Sorry I had worked through some issues that I didn’t even know I had caused.
I teach a bible study every Thur. It stretches me and keeps me accountable each week to search the scriptures for truths. For the last couple of weeks I have been wrestling with God about some theology that I am somewhat confused about. I have been persisting many more hours than my normal amount of time in study. I will not let go of God until I know His truth on this matter. I will be alone with him in a still place, waiting, listening, trusting, and praying with diligent study of the scriptures until I find the answers to my questions on this topic. I am not ready to share about it yet. When I am confident that God has guided me into all truth about it and I am able to explain it clearly more than likely it will appear one day on this blog. But in the mean time I encourage all of you to do the same. Persevere in faith, in prayer and doing good.
Perseverance is enduring in a course of action or belief. In its negative sense, it can mean being stubborn; in its positive sense, it means a continuing commitment.
Are you continually committed to be the best horseman you can be for your horse?
Are you continually committed to do the best thing for your horse, even if it means changing your plans?
Are you continually committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to understanding his truths, to following His perfect leadership as the Master Trainer?
Here are a couple of scriptures for you to help you meditate upon perseverance.
Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
1 Thess. 5:15-18 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
A very wonderful Christmas Day is ending as I finish this blog. The next time I write to you I will be wishing you a Happy New Year.
Good night all,
PS: AHHH! Congratulations, you have Persevered to the end of this long blog entry. Well done!