Horse News. Christian Living. Equine Education
The Christian Equestrian's Literary "Stamp" in Type
Firn Hyde is a homeschooled teenager from South Africa. She lives on a farm with her parents, sister, and more than 500 animals.
According to Firn, "Lord Jesus cured my horse, Skye, of a terrible disease and walked into my life in 2011 . He is my best Friend and has given me a passion and a vision to lead others to Him through His magnificent creature, the horse."
Firn serves eQuest For Truth through her writings. Her contributions often include articles about Africa's horses. Currently, she is contributor to The Hoof Print Blog.
Today I sit with my hands in my hair about my tack room. Well, I say tack room. I'm still not entirely sure if my bedroom has tack in it or my tack room has a bed in it. Either way, pandemonium reigns. Somewhere along the line one of the saddle racks fell down and now in order to reach the lunging equipment, you have to clamber over one of the saddles, probably tripping over a pile of halters in the process and rediscovering a lost exercise bandage, a bar of saddle soap older than you are, tiny stirrup irons you didn't even know you had and, quite possibly, Atlantis. It's madness. It's enough to make me wonder why I even have all this stuff and what possessed me to acquire all of it in the first place.
Then, half an hour later, one of the horses will have a temper tantrum and I will think, “I really need a standing martingale right now.” Never mind that I haven't used it for years – each horse needs a different approach, and often, a different piece of equipment.
Non-horsepeople must be utterly bewildered by the array of bits, boots, bridles, blankets, bonnets and miscellaneous gadgets that we horsepeople seem to require in order to complete what appears to be the relatively simple task of staying on top. There are variations of everything, from saddles to rein attachments.
Once again, horse training proves not to be so different from the rest of the world. Just as we have many different pieces of equipment, so there are even more different kinds of people. In fact, seven billion totally different human beings are alive today – there is nothing so diverse as the personalities of mankind. We all have our own ideas, opinions, feelings, passions, hopes, and fears. No two humans have ever been or will ever be identical. We are unique because we are Handmade – created with utmost care by the God Who loves us so. And yet we are all created for one simple purpose; for Him (Colossians 1:16, Revelation 4:11).
We are all under the same commandments. We are all created, saved, and cherished by the same God. One Lord, one Truth, one Word reigns over all of us. And we all have a common purpose. Why, then, are we all so different? How can a world full of unique people work for a single goal?
The answer lies not in why, but in how. All God's children work for one cause – His glory. And we all work for one reason – His love. But we all work in completely different ways, because we all have different gifts. God has given us strengths and talents for a reason. Each of us has a unique calling for which we were created.
Horse trainers would have a dreadful time if we were stuck with just one piece of equipment. Imagine trying to school a horse to perfection with just a bit. You wouldn't even have a bridle to hold it in the horse's mouth. It would be completely useless. But if you have the bit and a bridle, a saddle, stirrups, girth, saddle blanket – everything else you needed – then the bit would incredibly useful.
Of course, if you were a true master, and you had enough time, you could train a horse without anything. It's a good thing for us that God is a true Master. He can save this world and bring glory to His Name without any of us. He does not need us, but He wants us. All of us. As unique as we are.
If God had made all of us the same, it would be like trying to train that horse with only a bit. So He made us all different, each with something else to bring back to His Kingdom, each with something unique to contribute. Just like the horse trainer with all his diverse equipment, all tools in his hand to achieve the one goal of training that horse. 1 Corinthians 12 says that God has diverse people, all tools in His Hand to achieve the one goal of bringing Him glory. United by Christ, not by similarity.
We are not all called to be prophets. We are not all called to be songwriters. We are not all called to be nurses. I'm a horsewoman. Maybe you are a housewife, pastor, carpenter, accountant, banker, bus driver, architect, doctor, farmer, police officer, CEO, ironworker... Whatever we are, if we are in Christ, we are what God has made us. We do not have to be preachers to get to Heaven. We do not have to be Gospel singers to serve our King.
Whatever we are, we are children of the Most High God. And He can use us, whatever our gifts, whatever our strength, in a unique and marvellous and special way, to bring glory to His amazing Name.
I always love to watch my trainer, the Horse Mutterer, at work, usually taking notes in my head so that I can try whatever he’s doing when I get home. But not today. Today’s small miracle is still so far beyond my capabilities that all I do is lend a hand and watch in wonder: it’s going to be a long time before I try this by myself.
I hold the little mare’s head while the Mutterer runs a soft rope around her neck, tying it so that it can’t slip tight, then gently slips a loop around each hind pastern. The little mare trembles, rolling her eyes so that I can see the whites, her ears constantly moving. She’s supposed to be trained, but I don’t want to know what her “trainer” did to her. Beat her most likely, maybe twisted her ears, yelled in her delicate little face. She has a fear about her that goes way beyond the ordinary nervousness of an unhandled horse. Even the lightest and kindest touch makes her flinch. I can see it now as I try to stroke her neck; the big muscles jump under my hand, too scared to hold still, too scared to flee. Eventually, I give up. She’s beyond human comfort now.
So I think, anyway, but the Mutterer has a plan. “Stick on the same side as me and hang onto her head.”
“Okay,” I say doubtfully. He’s usually right, so I do as I’m told.
The Mutterer has the ends of the rope around the mare’s legs in his hands. “Okay, girly,” he says to the mare, who trembles. “Easy now.” Then he pulls.
The ropes spring tight around the mare’s hindlegs, pulling them underneath her. She fights, throwing her head against the halter, but off balance she can’t yank even my weight around. Scrabbling at the grass with her forelegs, eyes wide, nostrils flaring, she panics. But the Mutterer leans calmly on the ropes and her hindlegs fold up underneath her. She sits down on the deep grass and stares at us, gasping. The Mutterer, still as calm as a monolith (the mare and I are equally spooked), leans against her shoulder and she eases slowly down onto her side.
“Good girl.” He puts a hand on her neck, but she’s not struggling. She quivers slightly, breath racing. He rubs her neck and shoulders and face and flanks, speaking to her slowly, explaining to me as I sit in the grass and stare. Because as the Mutterer explains, the mare relaxes. Her wide eyes soften. Her breathing slows down. The Mutterer loosens the ropes around her legs, but she doesn’t kick out. She is at her most vulnerable, lying on her side with – in her mind – her most powerful and violent enemy towering over her, but she’s relaxing.
The Mutterer hears my question before I ask it. “Because we didn’t hurt her once in this whole process,” he says. The mare gives a long sigh. “We use soft, thick lunging lines that don’t burn her, and we do it in the open where she can’t hurt herself, on thick grass so that even if she falls it won’t hurt.”
I nod. The mare went down, but she went down slowly, without being able to fight hard enough to pull any muscles.
Then, the mare licks and chews, an ultimate sign of equine submission and relaxation. Now the Mutterer pats her, softly at first, then hard enough to make the thudding noise most horses enjoy. And the mare doesn’t flinch. She lies still and lets herself feel a human’s love for the first time.
I’m still a little incredulous about the whole process right up until the moment when the Mutterer takes off the ropes and the mare gets slowly to her feet. Without a backward glance, he walks away. And without a second thought, without a halter on, in an open paddock, in the deep soft grass, away from her equine herdmates, the mare follows him.
It made sense when he explained it. The mare was terrified. She understood only two things about men: that they would unfailingly hurt her, and that if she fought or fled for her life she might avoid the pain. To gain her trust, we had to reverse both those principles. She had to believe that men were stronger than her. And she had to believe that they would never do her harm.
Pulling her down did just that. She was put into her most vulnerable position, shown that she could fight as she would but humans would always be stronger. (If it were not so, horses would still be wild; we have a God-given dominion over them [Genesis 1:26]. The bad part is that so many of us are tyrants and dictators instead of good rulers). But even at her most vulnerable, even at her most afraid, there was no pain. The humans didn’t hurt her or threaten her. In her darkest moment, there was just a gentle touch and a quiet voice. And when the force was taken away – when the ropes were removed – the little mare did what all horses do. She chose her leader, and she chose the leader that had proven his strength and his good intentions. Then she followed him.
And it probably saved the little mare’s life. The few minutes of fear and worry, now eclipsed by the relaxation and submission that flooded every line of her features, had been worth it. The mare had been a worthless, wild creature, doomed to the dark future of every useless and dangerous horse. But now, she had a second chance.
I was silent for a long time afterwards, because I know the feeling. Because I, too, have been that horse lying on the grass and gasping in terror. My legs tied up. A weight on my neck. Unable to fight back, unable to do anything to prevent my worst fear from coming true. It was a dark hour, and I was most afraid. I could not understand why I was suddenly so helpless or why the strange, higher being would force me so, any more than the little mare could understand why the man had pulled her down.
But in that darkness, in that fear, in that helplessness, there was no pain from the One Who had put me there. Just a gentle touch and a quiet voice: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) And I knew He was God, and I knew He was all-powerful, almighty and all-knowing, that He could crush me like a bug where I lay. And I knew, more overwhelmingly than I have ever known, that He loved me.
You see, in that moment, it felt as though I had nothing. My herdmates felt far away and unable to save me. My own strength had failed me entirely. All I had was the loving touch of Jesus as He held me, and His soft voice as He stilled the storm inside. I had nothing but Him, and He was enough.
Horses and people have the same clockwork inside. Because when He let me rise again and gave me my freedom, when I saw the open field and the rest of the world waiting, I looked up and I saw Him. He Who was stronger than me, Who loved me. So I did what all humans do: I chose my Leader. And I followed Him.
And I am now no longer a worthless, wild creature. I am no longer doomed to a dark future. I have been given a second chance.
I took it.
Loving Thy Enemies Featured
Sometimes, the hardest person to love isn't your arch enemy.
When someone is really causing you pain, they're easy to focus on – too easy, sometimes. They're right there in your face, demanding your attention; you concentrate on them and think your problem through so that you reach the path of love and forgiveness. It's not always easy to do, but it's not easily forgotten, either.
But there are other enemies that slip your mind as soon as you turn your back. Enemies that cause only irritation, not pain. Enemies responsible only for hot flashes of anger, not abiding and seething fury. But these need love and forgiveness just as much as anyone else does: just as much as you do.
God has taught me some of His greatest lessons through horses. The latest is a particularly stubborn young horse with whom I do not get along. The reason why is difficult to explain; it's not a bad horse, and we have made quite some progress with its training, but I just don't like it. It's a simple personality clash, but that doesn't give me any excuses. No – I have to love that annoying little horse just as much as all the others, or what kind of a person am I? Even the worst sinners love those who love them. It's loving those who hate us that means we really love (Matthew 5:46).
So I gritted my teeth and plugged on, building a partnership with this horse and swallowing my annoyance when it did something random apparently just to irritate me, but I knew I didn't like it. I didn't like the way it looked, acted or carried itself and I couldn't make myself do it. I was starting to get annoyed with myself for not being able to love the little horse when one evening at feeding time the poor horse was not looking well at all. It wasn't hungry, it didn't want to get up, and once it did get up it just stood with its head hanging and agony in its eyes.
I nursed it most of the evening, giving it medicine, monitoring its vitals, walking it up and down to see if we could get its stomach moving. I knew what it had and it didn't make me happy; colic can turn nasty in moments, and you might never know what you're dealing with until it's too late. I could do what I would, but as usual, it was not in my hands.
So I wrapped my arms around the horse's neck and buried my face in its fragrant mane and prayed, “Lord, please make this little horse better.”
And in my heart, a light went on as I realised that I was not afraid of what the horse's owner would say if I lost it; I was not afraid of what would happen to my reputation as horse trainer if I lost it; I was not afraid of the financial implications if I lost it. I was afraid to lose the horse because, much as I disliked it, I loved it.
Lord Jesus was just teaching me something. Less than an hour later, the horse looked fine again, its stomach was back to work and its vitals were normal. I was riding it again less than twenty-four hours later and it annoyed me half to death, as usual. But this time I could just push the annoyance aside, grit my teeth and keep working without worry.
You see, God just showed me that you don't have to like somebody to love them. You don't have to feel attracted to them or see something good in them to love them. You don't even have to feel a warm emotion when you think about them. All you have to do is make a conscious, determined decision to love them and the Lord will do the rest.
Love's not an emotion. Love is a glorious duty, and one which we can do – which we will do – no matter what the implications, no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the price. Because we have been given this perfect and amazing commandment by the One Who is love, by the One Who loves the most mightily and eternally of all (Matthew 22:36-40).
Those who know my little grey mare now might not have recognised her when I first started schooling her.
Lately, the adjective I've been using most to describe her is “brave”. And she is – brave as the day; she'll jump pretty much anything from any angle, run over any ground, and snort at any horse in the warmup arena, no matter how big it is. She'll deal with traffic, trains, runaway youngsters, balloons, music, cross-country fences, water, dykes, applause, anything really (except for baboons, pigs and dressage markers, the worst monsters in the known universe).
But five years ago, the brave grey mare was a terrified little dark roan filly who had absolutely no self-confidence. We had many a battle, she and I, on the driveway as I tried to convince her that she could go on a hack alone and she protested vehemently that she couldn't. There was never any malice in her, but when I pushed her forward, she would plant her neat little front feet next to each other and refuse to budge. Should I insist, she'd rear.
Assuming we did actually manage to get down the driveway, the spooking would begin. Everything was terrifying. Trees, rocks, cattle, leaves, tall grass, holes in the ground – anything even remotely frightening required snorting, leaping, shying, bucking and general blind panic.
In the arena, though, she was totally fine. She did whatever I wanted, however I wanted it, quiet as a sheep. I could put beginners on her. But taking her out just wasn't a safe option.
For years I would keep saying that the little grey mare was simply one of those horses who doesn't like to go out of their comfort zone. Her comfort zone was the arena, and she was okay there and she saw absolutely no reason to ever leave it. It took years of work, carefully pushing the boundaries, showing her that she'd be okay outside, before she would hack out alone.
Now, of course, she hacks out alone snorting like a dragon and telling the world to get out of her way or else. Even after being trailered off to a completely new location, she's fiery and fearless. Perhaps skittish for a few minutes, and then her usual unstoppable self.
“She's stretched her comfort zone so nicely,” I remarked to my trainer, the inimitable Horse Mutterer, after a particularly good cross-country lesson. “It seems as though she doesn't mind having the boundaries pushed any more.”
“Oh,” quoth the Mutterer, “it's not that. You are her comfort zone.”
It was an illuminating moment. And it's true: through the years of working together, the mare and I have become each other's comfort zones. When I'm on her, I know I'm going to be all right because she's on my side. And when she feels me in the saddle, she's comfortable and relaxed, because she knows I won't let anything hurt her.
So today the Lord said to me, “Be of good comfort: make Me your comfort zone.” Would it not be amazing if God was our comfort zone? If we always felt safe with Him around, no matter what we were facing? If we always knew that we'd be just fine as long as He was with us? If we felt brave enough to do anything, to say anything, to take on anything for Him because we knew that He was with us and would let nothing hurt us?
Brethren, this is all true. Our God is our Protector and nothing outside of His will can ever befall us once we are covered by His blood, as we are inseparable from Him (Romans 8:39). He has not left us comfortless; His comfort is with us in the form of the Holy Spirit (John 14:18). He is above all things and has power over all things; nothing can ever stand against Him. And He is on our side.
So let's make God our comfort zone. Let's make Him our safe place, so that no matter what our circumstances, we always know we can stand boldly for Him. Let us let His perfect love cast out fear. For when the Lord is our comfort zone, we will always be in a place where we are brave enough to do His will. Because Jesus is with us always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).
Last weekend, I took one of my favourite horses in the universe to a jumping lesson off-site. She is a young horse and conditions were not ideal, but she was amazing. Sure, she threw a little buck here and there out of purest excitement, but she jumped everything we put in front of her and tried her heart out. There were several moments in which she was afraid, but I was there with a determined voice in her ear and a firm leg against her side and no hesitation, so she went for me. There were several moments in which I was afraid, but she was there with a powerful thrust of her hindlegs and a forward set of her ears, so I went with her. Our partnership, from the outside, looks unremarkable; just a little grey mare obeying her rider. But on the inside, we are more than partners, we are friends, there for each other, rooting for each other, and working together to achieve our common goal. I may not fall on her neck kissing her each time she pleases me, and she may not neigh joyously at the very sight of me, but we love one another with a quiet constance. It is a strange and unlikely relationship, this mutual respect between man and beast, but one that I treasure.
How strange we are, us humans. We love, with an abiding passion, a half-ton animal that cannot speak; something with four legs and monocular vision. Yet at the same time, we fear and hate members of our own kind if they look a little different. History is pock-marked and scarred by dark deeds done in fear and hatred of those who happened not to be the right skin colour, the right gender, or the right origin; people who didn't look or act or speak like other people who happened to be stronger than them. Civil wars have been raged, concentration camps filled, apartheid declared. And while in many places, many people have made many huge differences, the old hatred of all that is different lingers on.
I am a South African. Born three years after our fondly-nicknamed Madiba and F. W. de Klerk put an end to apartheid, I should know it only as history. Yet one can walk anywhere in South Africa and realise that apartheid still smoulders in hearts and minds all over our country, remaining in an old wound called racism. And with every government survey demanding that you fill in your race (where is the box marked “Human”?), every angry glance thrown across the street, every car window nervously rolled up as the “wrong” kind of person goes past, that old wound's healing slows.
And yet we, the same people who shake their fists, spit as they cross the road, or hug their purses and children nearer at the sight of others, we will walk up to a huge and dangerous animal that doesn't speak any human language, mount up and trust it with our lives.
So if we can love a beast that could kill us in a breath, we can love those who we have warred with in the past. If we can love a creature with a furry coat, we can love those with a different skin colour. If we can love an animal that has no speech, we can love those who speak a different language. If we can love a herd animal that functions in a society we barely understand, we can love the people who have different cultures to us.
In short, brothers and sisters, if we can love the horse, then we can love one another. We are not so different after all. We are all human (Acts 17:26). Let us celebrate the amazing diversity of God's creation and accept what He has so fearfully and wonderfully made. The world is truly divided with only one line; God's children, and the lost; and we as God's children are called to love everybody. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Glory to the King.