The Hoof Print
Horse News. Christian Living. Equine Education
The Christian Equestrian's Literary "Stamp" in Type
Today is my King's birthday.
He is older than time, but today marks the two thousand and fourteenth year since his birth. When He was born, a giant star lit the entire sky with the brightness of a second sun. Angels sang, shepherds worshipped, his virgin mother held him close, wise men brought gifts of value and the King of Kings slept in the hay.
Tonight, there is no star. I hear no angels. I see no shepherds. Mary is long gone. And I can offer Him nothing more than I already have: myself, a living sacrifice.
But tonight, the King does not sleep. My resurrected King reigns today in the glory of His majesty; He is the Alpha and Omega, the Creator of the world, Lord and Saviour, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). He governs heaven and earth, He is mightier than mighty, stronger than the definition of strength. As I worked in the sunset, He filled my mind, Christmas carols rising around me as I ran the bodybrush briskly down my chestnut colt's sleek golden coat.
I always find Christmas a little sad. That innocent Babe in the manger was destined to live a cruelly short life, to die a horrible death, the hands that healed nations punctured by nails, the lips that spoke truth and love to cry in desperation, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 22:37) Of course, this Babe would rise again and reign forever. But I can't help but grieve a little knowing what my beloved Friend had to go through for my sins. I grieve, too, for Mary; Mary who sang her song to glorify the Lord that night, perhaps not knowing that in thirty-three years she would sob at the feet of the cross upon which her baby was slowly dying. As Simeon said to her, “A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.” (Luke 2:35)
I am joyful, yes. Thankful, beyond so. But always a little sad. And my thoughts were with Him, rejoicing and thanking and praising and apologising all at once. I finished grooming the colt, untied him and turned him loose. The last rays of the setting sun had turned the world to honey as I set to work scrubbing out the feed bins and convincing the ageing donkey to move from his feeding pen back to his paddock. The donkey, like all donkeys, bears a cross on his back. Maybe it's just legend that donkeys have crosses ever since a little donkey colt that bore the King, or maybe He laid it there when He first made donkeys, marking His humble mount since creation.
My humble, beloved King. I ride a thoroughbred; bright as a sword's blade, aflame with his power, able to leap as high as I am tall and run like a winter gale. But my Lord rode a humble little donkey that had never been trained, a donkey colt no more than ten or eleven hands high, dusty with the desert sand. Lord, how You bless me more than You blessed Yourself.
“O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore him,” I sang badly, tunelessly. I never sing when people are around, but I think Jesus appreciates the effort, even if He does so with earplugs. “O come let us adore Hi-im, Christ the – Oh, look!”
As I turned, I saw it. The chestnut colt, inviting the thoroughbred to play.
The colt is only fifteen months old, but he's had a rough start. He spent most of his life in a little paddock, and – worse – some of it cooped up on stall rest for an injury, going stir-crazy with nothing to do and nowhere to move until eventually he just died a little inside. The flame inside every colt stilled, until his eyes were full of fear instead of fire. Two months ago, when I got him, the colt didn't know how to be a horse. He didn't know what he was. He couldn't function in a group; while the other horses grazed, he would stand in a corner of the pasture, nibbling hay instead.
Now, my socially impaired colt has made friends and ventured further, but something has still been missing. The colt had no idea of how to play. Where his peers were on their hindlegs sparring joyously in boisterous play-fights with their friends, he would just stand and eat hay. Even the older thoroughbred gelding would dance and strike at him, trying to get him to play, but the colt would just trot out of reach and stand watching. It was the one thing he needed that I couldn't give him; I fed him as best as I could, and gave him the space and company he needed, but without the free exercise of playtime in a group, the colt's legs would never grow up properly, would never recover from the injury he had suffered a few months ago. There was nothing more I could do. It was up to God and the thoroughbred to teach the colt to play.
It was unusual to see the colt even walking briskly, which was why I was so excited to see him trot right up to the thoroughbred. But I was still more astonished by what I saw next. Tossing his gentle head, the colt stuck out his nose and nipped the thoroughbred right alongside the cheek. Snorting, the thoroughbred returned the nip, slightly harder. I held my breath, sure the colt would flee. But he didn't. He squealed, struck out with a foreleg and nipped the thoroughbred's neck. The thoroughbred, delighted, nipped back and the colt reared briefly, clumsily striking out with his forelegs in an attempt at the usual play-fighting gesture.
“Oh, Jesus, Sir!” I nearly sobbed. “He wants to play. Exavior wants to play.”
The play session only lasted for a few more seconds before the thoroughbred wandered off and the colt began to contentedly graze beside him. But it was a start. My broken colt had finally learned to play, and I knew exactly Who was behind this discovery.
It was the most perfect Christmas gift. A little gift, perhaps. But it lit up my world.
I turned into the sunset, smiled and said, “Thank You, Sir.”
Peace on earth, and goodwill to all men.
Only thirteen months old, the chestnut colt is already a horse – more than 14.2 hands – at my best guess. Neat little ears tipped towards me, he watches me as I approach him; a lanky mixture of curiosity and fear, awkwardness and grace. His long legs look too thin to hold up his powerful hindquarters. The impossible slope of his shoulder looks strangely out of place against his skinny baby neck, which is weighed down at the other end by the one part of him that glows with nobility; his head. The wide white blaze should make him look placid, but instead it only attracts attention to the perfect wide brow, huge bright eyes, tiny mouth, and chiselled features. His expression is the most contrasting of all. The pricked ears say curiosity, but nervousness gleams in his eyes.
I put my hand his neck; the muscle tenses as if he wants to flinch, then relaxes when he feels the gentleness of the touch. “It’s okay, buddy. I’m not going to hurt you.” Words that I will repeat over and over, because the chestnut colt has been mine now for seven days.
My first warmblood, the huge colt is bred in the purple and looks like it, especially when he drifts across the ground as if his already bulky frame weighs nothing. His flashy sabino markings make him even more eye-catching than he already is anyway, with his expressive face and the promise of reaching over seventeen hands. He was well bred, well raised and trained by my own instructor; it was no surprise that he was quickly snapped up by a lady looking for her next competition horse. It was just a freak accident that he injured his left hindleg. The resultant scar and worries about his soundness made him difficult to sell, and that’s how the beautiful chestnut colt became mine.
He looks at me nervously. I know my trainer has never hurt him, but he doesn’t know me and for a lonely baby in a new world, that’s all reason he needs to be afraid. He trusts me enough that I can catch him, lift up his feet and brush his face; in fact he is perfectly easy to handle, but a fear lurks beneath the obedience. I know that as soon as something frightens him, he’ll think he has to fend for himself and run: barring that, fight. I wish there was a way I could tell him that he doesn’t need to be afraid, that I won’t let anything hurt him, and will look after him now. But there is none. So I show him instead, with slow movements and gentle words, a soft touch and a strict leadership. The small terrors of a fly spray bottle or a rainy day don’t make him quite so panicky as they used to. And one day the tiny steps we’re taking now – getting him to stand still while I groom him, showing him that rubbing his ears is pleasant, not scary – will all add up when we face the jumps or the dressage arena. One day he will be not a scared colt, but a conqueror.
I run my hand up one of his ears; instead of flinching, he tips his head towards me, enjoying the caress. Little steps.
Every time I look into the eyes of the chestnut colt, I see myself. Join-up has been done; I will follow God, however tremulously, where He leads me. I will stand firm, with however much terror, when the storms begin to break around me. There are still things of this world that scare me, things that I don’t want to face even though I know He is bigger than any of them, that His love is stronger than death itself. But God knows this even better than I know it, so while I grow He holds me close and shows me that I can trust Him no matter what.
I can’t tell the colt that he can trust me, but I know God could tell me, if He so chose. Actions, however, are so much stronger than words that God doesn’t just tell me that I can trust Him – He shows me, day by day. While little tribulations come my way, He is always the one constant and unchanging reassurance, the One who never leaves me. I do not become stronger; I just realise more and more how strong He is.
And while today the knowledge of His strength only tides me through little trials – just as my colt can only handle small things, like back boots or a camera flash – one day I will know Him well enough that I could face the entire world and not be afraid. For in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (Romans 8:37).
All photo credits: Wikimedia Commons
There is absolute silence but for the beat of the wild horse’s hooves and the huff of her breath as she moves at a jerky canter around the round pen. The man at the centre of the pen makes no sound, but to the horse every smooth movement he makes is speaking. The horse’s jaws are clamped shut, upper lip poking out as she runs, but her white-rimmed eyes and high-flung head scream silently.
The trainer keeps his eyes locked on hers, his shoulders squared. In her own body language, he says, Move away. She tries to flee, but all she can do is run around and around the pen. Sometimes he steps in front of her, making her wheel around, the staccato stamp of her rapid hooves breaking her fast rhythm for a moment before she resumes her laps of the pen in the opposite direction.
But as the seconds tick past, the mare starts to relax. She starts to realise that the trainer hasn’t hurt her, and begins to recognise the syllables of a language she understands in the way he holds his body. Gradually, her head lowers, strides lengthening as her back muscles relax. Previously buried in her tossing mane, her ears start to rise, then tip towards the trainer. He watches the horse intently, keeping the pressure on so that she keeps moving. At last, after a few minutes of running, the mare’s lips move as her jaws grind in the rhythmic motion known as a lick and chew. It is the final sign of submission, and the trainer’s cue to act.
Instantly, but smoothly, he looks away from the mare’s eyes and turns aside so that one shoulder faces her. His shoulders relax, all the lines of his body softening as he changes his body language to say, Come to me. The mare stops, turns to face him with her ears pricked sharply towards him, then flicking back and forth as she wonders what to do. She takes a hesitant step forward, then another, then stumbles into a walk towards him until at last her trembling muzzle touches the wrinkled denim of his shirt. For the first time, this untamed creature stands beside a human being, and she does it willingly, unrestrained.
Such is the small miracle that is a successful join-up. It was the world-renowned Monty Roberts who first spread the idea of join-up, a theory that was at the time quite striking: that a human could communicate with a horse in his own language, and with it persuade even a wild horse to willingly come to the human. Ever since, thousands of trainers and horsepeople all over the world have learned join-up or a similar technique until for many it has become part of a routine. Often successful in establishing at least a little trust between man and equine, join-up has become just as famous as the man who first named it, ever since Roberts went into the wild and convinced an untouched mustang stallion to come to him out of his own free will.
Watching a successful join-up, one cannot help but see how so many of us are like wild horses. Terrified at every little sound, lost in our own society, we run from everything that startles us and trust no one. When God or His children try to reach out to us, we flee; if our flight is checked, we rebel against them and fight for all that we are worth. We batter ourselves against the walls of our round pen until we are raw and bleeding, but we would rather run ourselves to death than surrender and accept His presence.
But God is not like the horse-breakers of long ago who would fling a saddle onto an untouched horse’s back and try to ride him half to death with their spurs in his sides. He will never force us to come to Him, because He wants us to be His children, not His slaves. His boundless love means that He wants us to come to Him of our own free will. So He comes to us with patience, with love, and in a language that each individual understands best. Sometimes He has to allow us to go through trials and tribulations. We might even feel like He’s pushing us away, sending us out to run blindly around our round pen (Acts 14:22). But then we realise that even as we were running, He was standing there speaking to us in a language so familiar that we didn’t know it was Him talking. We see the love in His eyes and the gentleness in Him even as we run from Him. We learn how great He is, how much more powerful He is than we are, how unconquerable and mighty He is and how puny and helpless we are against Him. So we submit, but our fear is trimmed with joy; we submit to Him not as slaves under the whip of a driver, but as obedient children under the gentle hand of our great Father (Romans 8:15).
And once we submit to Him and acknowledge His greatness and confess to our sins, He welcomes us into Him with open arms (Matthew 11:28). So we come to him in full knowledge of what we do and with no restraint; we come to Him willingly, with love, with joy, with a little fear, but with a trembling trust. Like join-up, turning to Christ does not instantly make us complete; there is a long road ahead and much training to do before we can realise our full potential. But it establishes us forever in the Kingdom of God, and plants the seed of a trust in us, a trust that will grow so mighty that we will place our entire lives and everything we are and everything we love in His merciful, scarred and gentle Hands.
Oh, how He loves us. Glory to the King.
Originally Published on Discover Equus
For the advantage of understanding how horses can be used as a therapy strategy for people, therapists have studied horse ambulation. Remarkably, studies revealed that the average sized horse's movement and foot placement simulates the cadence and length of stride for humans.
The horse's cadence in steps/minute is also similar to an adult's cadence. The average adult walks at approximately 110-120 steps/minute and a large horse walks at a speed of 100-120 steps/minute."1
Horseback riding moves a rider's body as if they were walking. It provides a three dimensional, repetitive rhythmical motion to the rider's pelvis: rotational, medial/lateral and anterior/posterior. Such stimulation offers many equestrians health strengthening feedback for respiratory, circulation, muscular systems, etc. As anyone can attest that has tried it—riding a horse works the whole body!
Therapeutic Riding Instructors work to select horses with specific dominate movement as a suitable match for a rider's needs. Some horses walk, trot or canter with greater lateral motion, while other horses naturally have predominant movement that increases a rider's pelvic rotational and/or anterior/posterior response. Such sequenced movement from the horse has proven to be a breakthrough for many special needs riders toward an improved quality of life. Apart from the physical health benefits, learning to ride a horse increases spatial awareness and has proven to enhance cognitive processing (just to name a few of the advantages!).
As Christians we should stop and recognize what a gift our Creator Jesus Christ has given us in the horse. For ambulatory or even able bodied people, we might be tempted to forget the blessing of walking or good health—until it is taken away from us. Even then, for some people, riding horses provides a way for freedom of motion and strengthening activity once again. Without the "match" that horse ambulation provides to humans, the movement could be detrimental, overwhelming and/or ineffective to our bodies. Yet, God in His infinite wisdom has created all things for His pleasure and our benefit. He supplies our needs. When Christ the Creator proclaimed His creation as "very good", He foreknew that after The Fall many humans living today would need a four legged helper until in His time all things might be made new (Rev. 21)!
Let's not forget to praise the Lord for His benevolence in designing horses with just the right stride and three dimensional motion to enrich (and strengthen) our lives.
O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.
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Check out this book series written for Christian horse lovers. Each book includes a clear Christian message. Real-life girl characters are responsible, mannerly and helpful to others. Loving parents, aunts, uncles and a widowed grandmother are all essential characters. You’ll not find the typical “girlfriend—boyfriend” relationships, rebellious attitudes or sibling rivalry in these books. Homeschooling sisters and cousins are best friends! Readers will learn valuable life lessons according to Scripture while experiencing adventures with horses (and mules!).
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From Clothed With Thunder's Book Description:
You cannot pick up a non-fiction horse book today without reading about the evolution of the horse. The images showing the progression of eohippus, merychippus, etc. into modern equus are constantly portrayed as though they are fact. Clothed With Thunder presents the other side of the story - that horses are magnificent creatures meticulously designed by an awesome and loving God.
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