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.