Stand in Awe

Have you ever just stood in bewilderment looking at a horse wondering what is going through your mind?

Have you ever watched in admiration as a group of horses galloped together through a field with total abandoned freedom?

Have you ever marveled at the miraculous birth of a new foal; how he stands up on his feet in only a few minutes able to run swiftly by his mother’s side from enemies?

Have you ever been surprised by the fact that a horse who is a natural-born claustrophobic, with a tendency to panic at the slightest thing can also display incredible curiosity and bravery?

Have you ever been astonished at how fast a horse can learn something or how fast he can train you to do things his way?

Have you ever been blown away by watching a truly great horsemen moving as one with his horse?

Have you ever simply been in total awe of the fact that the horse (a prey animal) would so trust any human (a predator)  that he would not only allow the predator on his back obeying the  human’s commands, but would at the same time be willing to develop a bond with him?

I have been working with my paint horse Sunshine over the last couple of weeks. I have been video taping my work with her for the on-line study group. Sunshine came to me with a very extreme ear and head shy issue, plus a lot of other problems. I have been helping her to deal with her fear and high need for self-preservation for several years. It is long and exhausting work which takes a ton of patience and perseverance. She keeps reminding me that to draw near to her and create a deeper bond with her I always need to find joy in who she is, not who I want her to be.

When I went to my first natural horsemanship clinic over 12 years ago I was blown away by the difference between what I saw the clinician and her students doing and what I knew I was doing with my horse. They had something I was missing and I recognized this fact right away.  Oh, I was very successful in the worlds eyes with horses if you looked in my trophy room. But the things these people who called themselves natural horsemen were doing especially on the ground with their horses amazed me. They simply blew my socks off with their imagination and the relationship I saw they had with their horse which I did not yet have.  I grew up the old cowboy way, just get on and ride em’. To tell you the truth it was pretty ugly and we are dang lucky we weren’t killed or injured more often; not to mention the stress we put the horses through with our ignorant handling skills. You just don’t know what you don’t know!

Now that I have been studying and practicing natural type horsemanship for over 12 years the things which once awed me can easily become common place things because they are now so easy for me. We can begin to take things for granted or never be satisfied with where we are or what our horse is offering us. One thing I never want to lose is my awe, wonder and excitement that the horse is doing anything at all with me, let alone something good and pleasing with me.

There are four strategies which I use to keep the awe and wonder of the relationship and performance I have with my horses fresh.

1. REMEMBER WHERE I HAVE COME FROM!

If I compare Sunshine’s ability to accept ropes and other equipment around her head and ears without any reaction to my other horses she may look like a complete and utter failure to those observing. I could easily feel discouraged with her or with my own skills to help her if I only focus on how I wish she was undisturbed like all my other horses. But when I look back over the past 10 years and see where we have come from I could not be  more astonished.

I am excited about the things I have learned about her and myself over the years even if I am still not exactly where I hoped to be at this time. I am in sheer wonder she has allowed me to make so many mistakes with her and yet she keeps improving with me as I improve. I think the best way to lose the awe of the relationship we can have with a horse is to do too much drilling, and never being satisfied with where you and the horse are on the journey. I hope I never lose the wonder of what the horse is offering me and what I have learned in order to allow the horse to cooperate with me. One way to keep this amazement is to always remember where I came from.

 2. EXPECT TO BE AWED

I know it sounds overly simplistic, but our expectations are key to re-discovering our awe of anything. If we want to have a better relationship with our horse, if we want to be blown away by what he does for us, if we want to amaze ourselves with our own skills but don’t go out to the arena expecting these things we often miss them even when they happen.

When progress feels far away it may be closer than we think, in fact it may be happening and you just don’t recognize it. When we are frustrated with our horse’s performance or our own horsemanship skills it could be time to change our thinking. The next time you go out to the corral expect to be awed, even if it is by your stumbling. Develop a lightness of heart and expect good things, I am sure you will get better results.

3. TAKE A DIFFERENT WAY HOME

Our personalities and preferences in many ways dictate how we interact with horses. What is your default way of interacting with a horse? Are you a head person, drawn to engaging the horse mainly through head knowledge from information you have studied. Do you try to stick with a set of rules for each exercise? Are you fairly mechanical in your presentation? Do you tend a little too much towards drilling the horse?  Are you a heart person, connecting with the horse most easily through an emotional connection? Do you ignore most of the rules and head knowledge, hoping things will just work out because the horse likes you?  Are you fairly unstructured in your presentation?  Do you tend to avoid practicing very much because you want to keep the horse happy? Are you a hands person? Do you connect with the horse by doing specific activities? Like trail riding, jumping, working cattle, etc.?

Figure out which one of these you default to. Then try engaging with the horse through a different means. Why? We get in ruts with what we do with our horses. Sometimes shaking it up really helps. Here is an example: I was swinging a rope over Sunshine’s head. She wasn’t exploding or anything, but you could see she was disturbed. After watching the video, one of the on-line study course students asked, “What if you did the same thing with an invisible rope? Just act like you are swinging it.” The next video I did with Sunshine I pretended to have a rope in my hand swinging it. It was obvious it wasn’t just about the rope the issue was much deeper. We took a different rode home by making such a simple change to the exercise and it helped Sunshine make tremendous progress that day. Think outside the box, try something different.

4. FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT

Of course I don’t mean pick a fight with your horse. I mean just don’t give up. Keep plugging away. Don’t take your eye off the ball. Keep going, keep trying, persevere. That may seem counter-intuitive to something as spontaneous as re-discovering your awe.   The problem of needing to re-discover the wonder we have for the little things with our horses, the joy we have in seeing them do the simplest thing with us, is a common one. And it seems so the higher level of horsemanship we attain. Don’t give up wanting a more excellent performance but at the same time don’t forget the wonder and awe of it all in your pursuit of perfection.

I encourage you the next time you go out to the corral to do anything with your horse, take a moment to bask in the wonder that this horse allows you into his world in such a special way. Take joy in who he is; exactly as God created him to be!

Have you stood in awe of the creator of the universe lately?

Psalm 33:6-9
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea together as a heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.

There are few things which inspire me more than:

  • watching a horses and rider moving in perfect harmony;
  • watching a herd of horses running through the field with strength and freedom;
  • the miraculous determination a new-born foal exerts in standing for the first time;
  • how curious and brave he can be especially when he is in the safety of the herd;
  • watching a horse try really hard to figure out and do what I am asking him to do.

These are just a few things about the majesty of horses which inspire me. But in Psalm 33 I read of something much greater than any of these things. The psalmist writes of the majestic one who created the horses that inspire me. He shares, “The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born. He assigned the sea its boundaries and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.”

His conclusion was, “Let the whole world fear the LORD.” What about you? When is the last time you stopped and stood in awe of God? When have you let your mind go and just bask in His greatness, His power and His infiniteness? No one can do it for you.

Remember how excited you were when the Lord first saved you? Remember how you once wondered at the power of His saving grace? If you are feeling far from God and want to feel closer to Him again, one thing that will help is to rediscover your awe of Him. He is still there! He is still the same! All we need to do is draw near to Him and find joy in who He is.

The good news is, it’s easier than you think. Just stop. Close your eyes and whisper, “How mighty You are, dear God.” Let it sink in and add, “I stand in awe of You, almighty Lord.” Then wait. Muse on Him. Pause and let the majesty of God flood your soul.

Meditate on how awesome and mighty He is and that He loves you just the way you are. He has let you in on his kingdom through his son Jesus Christ. When you are saved He comes to live in you by the Holy Spirit. Today, stand in awe of Him. There is nothing like it! Look from where you have come, expect great things now and in your future, take a new ride with him let him take you on his path home, and never give up because He will never give up on you! How awesome is that!

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Facing Challenges

Sunshine and Sherry

On a beautiful sunny day in February I set the camcorder on the tripod up in the pasture where there was a dry spot. I marked the trees in my mind where the lens of the camera ended so that I could stay in the frame of the picture. I returned to the corral to get Sunshine, my pretty paint  horse, because she is the only horse I have who might show signs of a challenge for the demonstration I was about to film.

This winter I have been teaching an on-line horsemanship study course. Each week I give the students written assignments for them to do with their horse. I also video tape myself doing the same exercises so they also have a visual picture to go along with the written instructions.  We also have a live chat each week where we discuss the progress we are seeing and also any challenges we may be facing. It seems last week several people were facing the challenge of a horse who was either head or ear shy or both.

As in all of my programs just because a certain exercise or problem is not listed on the syllabus for that particular event doesn’t mean we can’t address the issue. I always have a plan about what I am going to teach,  but I am also always willing to change the plan. So I come well prepared with a lesson plan but I am prepared to remain flexible in order to meet the specific needs of the horses and the people participating in the learning. Even though dealing with a head or ear shy horse was not in the lesson plans for this week, I knew that if we did not address this issue first, going forward with some of these horses would not spell success for their future.

Sunshine has given me many challenges helping her believe that she could trust me to handle her head and ears. Her story is really quite lengthy and I do not have time or space to tell it all here. However, if you are interested in reading her story it is found in the final chapter of my book “Win Your Horse’s Heart” (Be a Better Horseman). The chapter is titled “Prayers for Patience”, and  that is exactly what it has taken to convince this horse I am not attacking her and she does not have to be defensive when I handle her head or ears. Without going into a long history of her past, we will just say, coupled with her sensitive horsenality and mishandling she experienced before she came to me she had resorted to quite aggressive behavior about quite a few things. Her sense of self-preservation was very high, much higher than most domesticated horses.

As I began working with her several years ago, I didn’t really know what I was getting into with her. It was a much bigger challenge than I ever dreamed it would be.  I would just about get one thing dealt with and another would pop up. But the head and ear shy issue seemed to be the worst problem and the most difficult to overcome. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of hours I have spent on this one thing and although it is a ton better, it is still not 100% resolved. Sometimes I think it is, and then once in a while she shows me the raw truth of the matter. All I can do is start over again, and never give up on her. I do have faith that someday she will appreciate how much I have done to try to help her overcome this challenge.

It was so bad she would not even eat grain from a pan on the ground or graze fresh grass in the spring if she had a halter on. As soon as she would lower her head and feel the pressure on her pole behind her ears she would freak out and nearly flip over backwards. I had never met a horse so extreme before. I determined not to see Sunshine or her problem as the enemy but as an opportunity to develop my skills as a horseman. It also developed my patience and compassion for her. I loved her despite her problems, and I never blamed her for her issues.

My purpose has always been to help her conqueror her problem for her own safety as much as my own. I was willing to do whatever it took. And it has taken much more than I ever thought it would. I wish I could tell you I found the perfect easy fix, but we had to work hard and long together to make any progress. We had to learn to trust and respect each other. I can report we both have come a long way. She can eat grain and grass with her head lowered while wearing a halter now. I can touch her all over her head and ears with my hands now and usually she stays very relaxed and calm. But she still has reactions on occasion to any kind of equipment, like, sticks, ropes, reins, etc.

As the camera rolled on I am proud to say, Sunshine only had a couple of what I would call fairly small reactions to having her head and ear touched with equipment in comparison to what it used to be. She was very patient while I handled her head and ears with my hands, showing no real outward visible signs of negative reactions. However, I think on the inside she is still wondering if something bad is going to happen to her.

I am pretty sure the students watching this video will learn a thing or two about the challenge they are facing with their horse. Although their horses may not be as severe as Sunshine’s case, they will still have to be patient in order to help their horse conquer this problem. They will find out what they are really made of and what the horse is made of too. I am certain by facing this challenge and working through it with their horse it will not only make them a better horseman it will reveal their character and build even more character in them if they don’t give up.

I can promise one thing for sure, we are all going to face challenges in both our horsemanship journey and the journey of life. Some will be new problems we have never faced before. I have faced some tooth problems the last couple of months that I have never had to face before. I know talking about problems is not fun, we would rather talk about our goals and achievements.

I am a very positive thinker and goal setter, which I encourage you all to do also. However, there is one thing I have come to realize in my life and relationship with God. If I didn’t have problems, I wouldn’t need faith. Faith is what takes me through times when I don’t understand what or why something is happening. Believe me I wish my tooth problems were not happening, and I wish Sunshine had not had the head and ear shy problem. However I have learned to not see my problems as the enemy, but as opportunities to exercise my faith. When I face a difficult or impossible circumstance this is when I find out who I really am, and more importantly I find out who God really is.

Faith empowers us with supernatural strength, provision and love to come out victorious on the other side. Without any challenges to face in my life I may never have fully come to appreciate how much God loves me. But when I experienced Him move with power in my life helping me through those problems not avoiding or going around them, I realized how much he cared for me and loved me. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that all He has prepared for us is “good”.

I understand in the middle of a discouraging situation one is temped to think God has abandoned us or doesn’t love or care for us. But we need to understand God is on our side, and our true enemy is the devil who will whisper such lies in our ears. He constantly lies to us because he wants to keep us from living the life Jesus died to give us. A life of becoming more than a conqueror.  A conqueror knows that whatever problem comes his way he can overcome it through Christ who loves him. Romans 8:37

God is never surprised by the challenges that come into our lives. Unlike I was surprised by the many challenges Sunshine and I have had to face together. He knows about the struggles we will face which is why I believe He has filled his Word with so many promises describing His love as unconditional, never-failing, long-suffering and constant.

I write this blog for myself as much as I do for those who are reading it to encourage us that no matter what challenges we may be facing right now, we can face our obstacles with confidence that God is on our side, ready to give us the victory, freedom and abundant life we so desire.

Stand on this promise that nothing absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. If I won’t give up on a troubled horse like Sunshine just because I love her how much more will Christ never give up on you no matter how deep or how hard the problem is.