Practicing

The wind whipped the snow across the dark highway as I crept along at 35 mph. Once in a while I could see the yellow center line or the outside white line. They became a source of comfort letting me know I was at least still on the road. When I left Blair at 5:00 Sun. Jan 22nd it was still warm enough that I stayed comfortable giving a two-hour private lesson outdoors.  After hitting the snow storm on the west side of Dodge, I decided to try to make it to Humphrey where I could get a motel room. I didn’t think I would ever get there.  It wouldn’t be the first time I have had to stay there in my winter travels to Omaha and Lincoln to give lessons with my regular students.

I arrived at the motel about 7:30 pm which gave me the evening to reflect about the lessons I had given over the weekend. One thing kept standing out in my mind:  The kind of practice a student has been doing since I last saw them at the end of October makes a big difference in where they are now. I am reminded that only pertinent and deliberate practice which is consistent produces positive progress.

I observed two extremes of practice as I worked with students and their horses. We will call student one IIP (Inappropriate, Inconsistent, Practice). We will call student two PDP (Pertinent, Deliberate, Practice).  Then there are some people in-between these two extremes, and there is also those who don’t practice at all. Maybe worst of all are those who make practice become a drill. However, we won’t focus on those. I would like to explain a little more about IIP and PDP.

An IIP student comes to me with a problem. I give them some good solutions which are pertinent. I know if these solutions are deliberately practiced consistently over time without making it a drill, they will move toward the desired results of eliminating the problem. Instead of doing this an IIP doesn’t follow the instructions given. I often see them go back to what they have been doing. Maybe because it is comfortable to them. But obviously it hasn’t been working for them, and most likely it caused the problem to start with. The IIP may even try to put layers of bandages over the problem, which over time just creates a bigger problem.

Without mentioning any names, I did have some IIP students this weekend whose problem had actually gotten worse since I last saw them. When I asked if they had been doing the exercises I gave them last time, which I knew would help solve the problem. The IIP student not only admitted to not doing the exercises,  they could not even remember how. So we went back to the beginning and sure enough in two hours the horse had made some phenomenal positive progress.  However, I can promise any IIP student the problem will get worse again if they do not deliberately and consistently practice the things which are pertinent to the issues. Yes, it won’t be as fun, and it will take discipline and patience. But do you want to heal the problem for good or have to keep dealing with it in different forms?

Then I had an amazing lesson with a PDP student who had not only done her homework, she kept it up for two months before she even rode her horse again. The horse’s issue was not standing still for saddling or mounting. I mean he was very worried. Her assignment was to play the friendly game with all of the equipment (pads, saddle, ropes, mounting block) until he could stand still and relax while doing it. She did not even ride him until she accomplished this and more.

Then once he had truly accepted the equipment, she played the friendly game with her body (mounting the horse bareback). When he could not only accept this but enjoy it, then she moved on to mounting with the saddle from the mounting block. She was committed to her PDP for two months and it paid off with huge dividends. She was so excited to show me the results of her PDP.  The horse stood still and relaxed for saddling and mounting, in fact his leg was cocked and his head low. If I hadn’t seen the before I would not have believed the horse had any issue being saddled or mounted.  She had a wonderful riding lesson with me which was what she wanted to do the last time. I am so proud we were not willing to just push through to get what we wanted at the last lesson instead of doing what was best for the horse. I am so happy for both of them now and I know the partnership they will have from here on will continue to blossom because the human is willing to only practice deliberately that which is pertinent.

Practice defined in the dictionary  is the act of rehearsing a behavior over and over, or engaging in an activity again and again, for the purpose of improving or mastering it, as in the phrase “practice makes perfect”. But I will add that only perfect practice makes perfect.

How well one improves with practice depends on several factors, such as the frequency it is engaged in, the type of feedback that is available for improvement and how pertinent the practice is. Practice should be scheduled, to ensure enough of it is performed to reach one’s training objectives. How much practice is required depends upon the nature of the activity, and upon both the level of the horse and the rider. Some people or horses improve on a particular activity faster than others.

How expert one becomes at a skill has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice. Skills fade with non-use. The phenomenon is often referred to as being “out of practice”. Practice is therefore performed (on a regular basis) to keep skills and abilities honed.

Deliberate practice lies in continually practicing a skill at more challenging levels with the intention of mastering it. Deliberate practice is successful when supported by rewards for excellent performance.

How can we apply all this talk about practice to our spiritual lives?

James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the word and deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

I think it is clear this scripture is telling us to get out there and do our homework like the PDP student above did. Become a person who practices what the word preaches.

I was reading about a guy who came to church late. He walked in right near the end of the service. He said to an usher, “Is the sermon done yet?” The usher answered wisely. He said, “The sermon has been preached, but it has yet to be done.”

That slick reply pretty much sums up the message of the book of James. The word of God is not just meant to be preached. It’s meant to be practiced. We must not only hear the word. We must heed the word.

Today, what kind of person are you? Are you a hearer only; or are you also a doer of the word?

In no way are we trying to say we can earn our way to heaven. Salvation is a free gift from God. It is not something  we earn, but rather it is something we receive. However,  after we receive the free gift of salvation we are called to be practicing Christians which includes applying the word of God to our lives with actions.

It took discipline and patience for the above student to deliberately practice the pertinent exercises which helped solve the issues her horse was having. Spiritual disciplines are patterns of behavior that, when practiced faithfully and regularly, draw you closer to the will of God and facilitate spiritual growth.

Are you drawing closer to the will of God and growing spiritually as a result of your faithful and regular practice of being a doer of the word?

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Love Relationship

Another exceptionally warm day in the middle of Jan. for NE. It is 45 degrees today with a 20 mph wind. So I put on my bomber hat with the fuzzy flaps down before I went outside. I need to protect my ears since I am getting over an ear infection. I am feeling much better, but I am conserving my energy. I don’t want to over-do it before the weekend, as I will be traveling to Omaha and Lincoln to give lessons. So instead of riding a horse, I decided to just spend time with them because I love them.  They always bring me joy and peace.

As I walked out to the corral I was greeted by the usual soft nickers. Three of the horses were lying down napping in the sun. Their heads popped up when they heard me open the gate. Stretching as they got up, I swear they could read my intentions. They followed me to the pasture gate and waited patiently while I opened it.

Sunshine is usually the last one to come out, since she is such a scaredy-cat. But today Sorry was the last to leave her corral because she was still stretching and waking up from her nap. I waited for her, and we walked beside each other as if we were lovers walking hand in hand. It was a precious moment that she stayed with me and did not try to catch up with the herd, who were already half way through the small pasture on their way to the larger one. Even Buddy, my dog was ahead with the other horses. As we reached the herd she lowered her head towards me, I gave her a pet then turned to go toward the next gate. She immediately went to herd up with her best partner, Fanny. Remember last week when I talked about herds within the herds?

As I reached the second gate to the larger pasture Cisco realized it was open and he led the rest of them out. As they formed their little herds within the herds, I walked the perimeter of the pasture, gazing at the beautiful sandhills. Even in the browness of winter they have a special serenity to them which my soul has not found anywhere else on earth. I’ve ridden my horses in the majesty of the rocky mountains in MT, WY, CO, and the Sierra’s in northern CA. I have traveled many miles on horseback through the high deserts of NV and the sage brush plains of WY.  I certainly appreciate the grandeur and beauty of these places, but there really is no place like home.

As I walked around with my horses simply enjoying their presence I felt so much love for them it is hard to explain. There is just something about how a horse lover  feels about their horses which cannot be explained to a non-horse lover. Either you love them or you don’t. And if you love them you love them with your whole heart, soul, mind, and emotions. Even when they buck you off,  have habits that drive you crazy,  break your heart when they get injured, give you a heart attack every year when you get the hay, vet, and farrier bills,  you know you will always want them in your life.

As I walked by each horse I just kept going unless they lifted their head up to greet me with what I call the horse hand shake. It is a gentle reaching forward with their nose to touch you. If they offered me the hand shake I touched them back with what I hoped felt like the touch of a horse. After the hand shake I just hung out with that  horse for a bit, blending in with him step for step. I did not make any demands of the horse, I just hung out in his/her presence because I love them. Many people think if they aren’t doing something with their horse they are not accomplishing anything. But I don’t think that is true. I believe we are building a relationship of trust and confidence in each other as I spend non-demanding time with them just because I like their company.

I did this for about 45 minutes. As I walked back to the house I was reminded of a scripture in Matthew.

“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Mat. 22:37-38

It occurred to me that a love relationship with God is more important than any other single factor in our lives. My Christian life (not my salvation) and how I live it depends on the quality of my love relationship with God. Didn’t God create us for a love relationship with Him? I believe that to be loved by God and love Him back, is the highest relationship, the highest achievement and the highest position in life.

I also realized that we are a doing people. We feel worthless or useless if we are not busy doing something. The above scripture leads me to understand that God is saying, “I want you to love me above everything else.” If we love God in this way, I  think it will lead us to want to spend un-demanding time in his presence just because we want to and we can. His door is always open.

As I think about my time alone with God, I wonder if I am always doing something, or asking Him for something. Why do I keep a time alone with God? Is it to satisfy my needs? Is it to get to know him better? Is it to petition for others in prayer? Is it to seek guidance in decision and make requests of my needs?  Well there is nothing wrong with any of these reasons, and they are good things to do with God during your time alone with Him. However I would like to submit to you today that sometimes the reason you spend time alone with God is simply because He loves you and you love Him. Perhaps the reasons we will keep a time alone with God is not in order to have a relationship, but because we desire to enrich and deepen the relationship we already have with Him.

Have you spent un-demanding time with your horses lately, just because you love them?

Have you spent time alone walking with God lately, simply because you love Him and enjoy His fellowship?

You may ask, “you told us how to spend un-demanding time with our horses, but what does that look like with God?”

Here are some suggestions:

Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day.

  1. Set aside 30 minutes of time this week to “walk with God alone”.
  2. Find a suitable location. (I chose my horse pasture.) Some place without interruptions, and no cell phones, computers, or TVs.
  3. Talk out loud to God.
  4. Focus your thoughts on the love of your heavenly Father.
  5. Praise Him for His love and mercy.
  6. Thank Him for expression of his love to you. (Be specific)
  7. Express your love to Him.
  8. Worship and adore Him.
  9. Then quiet yourself and listen.
  10. When you get home write about your experience.

God bless you all as you enrich your love relationship with Jesus and with your horses too.

Sherry

Herds

I apologize to those who are following this blog. I have not written for several days because I have been very ill plus I have been preparing the horsemanship on-line study course that started Mon. Jan 9th. And it is that time of year to get rolling on taxes, so I have been doing book work as well, which is not my favorite thing in the world to do. Now that I am finally feeling a little better the taxes are started, and the on-line study group is off to a good start, I am making time for my blog.

I picked up the five gallon bucket from the barn grabbing a halter as I stepped out the door. Every horse head lifted, their ears perked up and forward as they saw me approaching the corral gate. I know they are thinking, “Yahoo, what’s in the bucket? Could it be grain?” As I entered the gate they all crowded around me trying to sniff the bucket contents. When Cisco discovered it was empty he pushed it with his nose. Like he was punishing it for not containing some luscious eatable treat. I ignored him and the rest of the herd as I walked to the center of the pen placed the bucket upside down and sat on it. I placed the halter on the ground between my feet. It was there just for good measure incase I needed the extra support to encourage any kind of movement to protect my space.

I looked back at the faces watching me which expressed curiosity yet disappointment. DJ must not have been convinced the bucket was truly empty. He walked toward me quickly with his head low, staring at the bucket intently as he approached. He didn’t seem to notice there was a human sitting on top of it. His main concern was finding out its content. As he arrived he smelled the bucket, I knew his next move would be to push it over, as he so often does his feed pan. I gently put my hand on his nose and pushed him back a little, asking him to respect my space, before he had a chance to push on me.  He looked at me with surprise then took a new approach. Maybe there is something in her pockets. So I got the smell down even though I haven’t had a treat in my pocket in years. I do not hand feed treats to my horses.  Not finding anything he gave up and stood quietly beside me nuzzling my hat softly with his lips. He always has to be playing with something.

Ginger couldn’t take it any longer she had to come see what DJ and I were up to. She blew her breath in my nostril as I sat still taking in every feeling with all of my senses. I love when a horse blows on me. She was so close I could feel her whiskers tickling my chin. As she touched me I suddenly realized how a horse touches and feels. I concentrated on really feeling her touch. I thought, if it feels that good to me, I want my touch to be just like that, so when I touch her back it will feel just as good to her.  As I went about the activities with my horses for the next three hours every time I touched them, I tried to be cognizant of the way Ginger touched me. Could I touch a horse like I was a horse? I realized how much harder, hurried, and unintentional my touch must feel to them.

As Cisco arrived he made it clear that it was time for DJ and Ginger to leave. He only had to give them a look and they slowly stepped aside without hesitation.  They weren’t in a big hurry to leave, but knew better than to wait too long and find out whether he meant business or not. Cisco stood behind me with his head over my head. So I am basically under his neck, like a chick under the hen’s wing. I think he must have been saying, “This is my girl and I ain’t sharin’ with the rest of you.”  Dozer is the head hauncho so he had to test the waters. Cisco let him come in close enough to touch my pant leg. That seemed to be good enough for Dozer. DJ came back and they sort of let him be on the outskirts of our little conversation. I knew that neither Dolly or Que would try to come over to me while these guys were hanging around. So I picked up my bucket and headed for the pasture gate. Everyone eagerly followed. They knew what was coming next.

After opening the gate, I followed them as they marched single file out the gate in their normal pecking order. They walked at a leisurely pace with my dog Buddy and I behind them until they reached the second gate to the larger pasture then they took off at a gallop.

I love watching them move as one like a flock of birds flying in harmony. They moved in unison like a wave as they turned here and there stomping down the brittle brown grass. It was  a record-breaking warm day for the middle of January. Once they settle down to grazing in the northeast corner of the pasture I found a place to put my bucket down. Another round of observing the herd dynamics. It was the perfect day for this activity since I am still fighting this infection and don’t have enough energy for riding.

As I watched the herd I noticed that there are herds within the herd. They were paired up with their best buddies. It was very distinct who was hanging out with who, even though to a person driving by it might just look like a bunch of horses sort of spread out grazing with contentment. But I could see that each horse had a partner within the herd they chose to be with. And it did not change the whole time I watched.

It is the horse’s natural instinct to form strong bonds with other members in their group.  The herd and its dynamics teach, order, and control the behavior of all of its members from youngest to oldest. Even though the herd order is never static, it creates a safety, peace, and contentment within the members of the herd. There is no doubt about it one of the main purposes of the herd order is protection from predator enemies. There is safety in numbers.  A horse left by himself becomes easy prey.

I have often wondered what makes a horse dominant or submissive? I have noticed that weaker horses are sometimes more submissive, but it is more a state of mind.  Some of my horses are aggressive while others don’t care much about their position.  I think it is also partly what the horse learns as a baby.  The foal of a mare high on the pecking order will see how his mother behaves toward other horses and will probably learn to do the same.

So you are probably wondering how in the heck I am going to relate this to what God is teaching me. I was wondering that myself for a while, because there are many different  ways that I could go with it. Like submission to: authorities, wives to husbands, children to parents, etc. I could talk about quarrels and squabbles in the church which usually boils down to wanting to be at the top of the herd, getting your own way. I could talk about clicks within larger groups which may cause division of the whole. Or on the positive side I could talk about effective small groups within a mega church. There are many parallels between how the dynamics of a horse herd influences each member and how we as humans relate in group situations. And what about the lone Christian who thinks he doesn’t need the body of Christ?

However, I am taking it to a more personal level. God had a herd, named Israel. He (God) was their leader.

PS: 81:10-14 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes.”

God chose to bring Moses into a relationship with Himself so that He (God) could deliver Israel out of bondage with miraculous signs and wonders. Wouldn’t you think they could trust God to do just about anything after all of that? But when they got to the promised land they could not trust Him to deliver the promised land to them. For that reason they spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness.

In Psalm 81 God reminded Israel that He would have conquered the enemies quickly, if they had only listened, trusted, and followed His plans rather than their own devices.

As a member of God’s herd of redeemed Christians, I ask myself:

  •  “Am I listening to the lead horse? “
  • “Am I trusting that the herd leader’s will and guidance is best for me?”
  • “Am I wandering away from the protection of the herd into dangerous territory?”
  • “Am I following the herd leader with confidence?”
  • “Am I following my own stubborn heart and devices?”
  • “Am I adjusting my life to the order of the herd?”
  • “Have I submitted my life to the herd leader?”
  • “Am I at peace with my place in the herd?”
  • “Do I believe that the herd leader will subdue my enemies?”
  • ” Do I know the herd leader will never leave me or forsake me?”

I hope you will prayerfully consider this questions, as I have.

Blessings,

Sherry