The Hoof Print
Horse News. Christian Living. Equine Education
The Christian Equestrian's Literary "Stamp" in Type
In a memorable passage of Job 39, God uses a horse (and a donkey) out of 14 mentioned animals as a reflection of God's own power and sovereignty.
God asked Job:
"Have you given the horse strength? Have you clothed his neck with thunder? Can you frighten him like a locust?
His majestic snorting strikes terror. He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength; He gallops into the clash of arms. He mocks at fear, and is not frightened; Nor does he turn back from the sword. The quiver rattles against him, The glittering spear and javelin. He devours the distance with fierceness and rage; Nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded. At the blast of the trumpet he says, 'Aha!' He smells the battle from afar, The thunder of captains and shouting. Job 39: 19-25
There is an ounce of God's majesty that is reflected in His creature, the horse. A poise of dignity, spirit of challenge and an embodiment of strength dazzles our eyes as we watch horses move at liberty. Even a pudgy "Old Paint," when suddenly spooked, looks almost regal with head erect, nostrils flaring and tail up!
Strength. Thundering hooves. Mocking fear. Galloping through hazards. Devouring the distance with fierceness and rage. Thinking back 15 years, many horses could fit that category in my repertoire. Yet one story stands out specifically of knowing first hand how such strength and "mocking of fear" was encapsulated in two completely different horses as we raced down a center line of a busy Farmer Market Road!
The story begins...
It was the year I turned 15. We lived about 8 miles between two small Texas towns. Our home was a quaint, old farm house we had remodeled. The little patch of acreage was just 10 acres but we were surrounded by the aromas of East Texan pine trees and rolling hills of Bermuda. I often rode along the wide shoulders of the Farmer Market Roads and County Roads in a 5-6 mile loop. Many a day Acey and I trotted a good 2-3 miles to ride on Mr. Sonny's thousand acre cattle ranch. Or I might just decide to use my key to the gate of the 800 acres I was give special permission to ride on, not too far from our home.
This morning, I had saddled up Acey for a good 6 mile ride. We were to be joined by Sugar and her owner Billy Jo to ride along the busy Farmer Market Road. The path had wide shoulders and very hilly. It was just the type of weather that made you want to soak in all the sunshine possible.
Sugar was Billy Jo's barrel racing mare. Though just one of many horses Billy Jo's family owned, Sugar was treated with a bit more care than the family usually gave their horses. On the whole, the family was negligent. Horse hooves were to grow to a point of altering locomotion. Much of their breeding stock needed to be culled. The facilities were unsafe, dingy and not maintained. Yet, somehow--despite these tremendous set backs--the family had been able to get their hands on a few well bred Quarter Horses and raise some talented performance horses. Sugar was by far the most beautiful horse they owned. Surrounded by rusting pens that were a hodge podge of portable panels, tarps, tires, old tin sheds and weeds, Sugar was certainly a diamond in a very rough setting. Yet her quarters were so cramped. All her pent up energy was funneled into a sour, grouchy "I will bite you" disposition.
On the flipside, Acey was perfect! With all the loyalty and blinded love that engulfs a first horse relationship, I held Acey as the model of perfection, a standard to measure all other horses by. She was a happy horse that seemed to enjoy living and giving much joy to my life. Looking back, my fascination with this horse wasn't too far from the truth. Despite Acey's apparent conformational flaws that led to her lameness that I am no longer blinded to, Acey was just a wonderful, all-around horse that was a gift from the Lord. No, she didn't flex at the poll--but I didn't know that was a big deal then and it wasn't needed. And we learned together and some my happiest memories and most adventurous dreams were on my friend Acey!
But getting back to the story...
Acey and I trotted up the road to our rendezvous, Sugar was there in all her glory, ready to go, chomping at the bit, anxious to charge forward. Acey and I just ambled behind Billy Jo and Sugar for the first half of the ride, careful to be alert for spook hazards.
Billy Jo was confident in the saddle, little heeding the caution that my natural timidity always kept me from ever being too relaxed on the trail. Though Acey was "perfect" - she was capable of spooking at a surprise bunny or an unknown rustling in the woods.
It was uneventful. We talked about horses, watched the vehicles pass us by, drank in the sunshine and ambled along.
Relaxed more than ever, Billy Jo took her feet out the stirrups as we passed the residence of Duke and his wife Fancy. Their house pin pointed the last two mile stretch for our ride.
Duke and Fancy were a unique couple I knew only from a distance. Duke was a massive, muscular man a little later and crustier in life. He was a hairstylist and specialized in permanents and hair color for little old ladies. Thinking of the size of his hands, his towering 6'4" height and the rugged, western image he cut - it was the LAST thing you would have suspected. All I really knew about Duke was that he was a coarse beer drinking man who's only redeeming quality, I thought, was that he owned a fabulously conformed Quarter Horse halter bred stallion.
As Billy Jo and I walked past Duke's place, something in the bushes bolted -- and so did our horses. I was able to get Acey in check, but in the blink of an eye, Billy Jo was on the ground and her mare was galloping straight back the way we came...up the busy Farmer Market Road!
My heart raced!
In my youthful ignorance, I sped Acey in the most hair raising chase, trying to catch Sugar, leaving Billy Jo far behind.
It was just like the westerns. All I needed was a pistol, bandana and a lariat rope! I was in a state of growing alarm. Sugar, who was running with all her might, would run out in the busy road, or worse, get out on the open Highway that was only about a 1/4 mile further north. We could get hit! Or maybe she would just run away and never stop.
As the two horse race sped along, Acey and I were gaining ground on Sugar. She did take the dreaded turn on the Farmer Market road (though not toward the Highway) and I worked to stay on her tail.
Heart was pumping, hooves flying and cars were approaching. And Rebekah was praying audibly! "Help me Jesus!" Acey just couldn't quite get up to the racing mare's speed, try as we did. And Sugar was as inspired for freedom as a released convict!
The race continued - straight down the middle of the center line--literally. Sugar was on the center line and Acey and I were right behind her. We were in a low spot and I never looked back - but cresting the hill ahead of us, I could see vehicles coming!
We couldn't head the mare off. Then we came to the rail bridge. Vehicles began to stop or slow down. Sugar halted at one point to rest while Acey and I, with a couple of men on foot tried to head off the escape mare. We thought we had her cornered. Yet, she evaded all our attempts for capture and no sooner did I have hold on the rein--she took off like an escape artist.
By this time, I had worked myself up into a real panic. We were getting no where. I was worried about Acey. I was scared to death. And I was practically yelling "Help me Jesus" every 5 seconds at this point! Where we going to be hit by a vehicle? And what happened to Billy Jo?
Sugar shot uphill on the shoulder and I did too. Out emerged a truck with two men shadowing us along the road to help keep Sugar off road.
As the hot wind stung my face and I ducked through the trees, it dawned on me. Sugar was headed for home. And I had left Billy Jo far behind. We had now traveled at least 3 miles at a full gallop. I was exhausted, my horse was exhausted. It was hot. I was drenched in sweat and Acey was so wet- it looked like we had taken a dive into a pond!
There was no use heading back. I needed now to get help for Billy Jo. The two men followed the us and the pace became a little less furious as Sugar continued to lead the way to her home. I jumped off Acey into the arms of Billy Jo's mom and in broken, tearful sobs let the family know what had happened. Billy Jo's brother sped off in his truck and I satisfied myself with a short, lusty cry.
Suddenly, my focus turned to Acey, my faithful little mare that was practically wheezing and dripping with perspiration. Her feet were tender and she staggered around as we walked her to cool her off. My mother had always told me that such a drastic impact on the horse and such strenuous, sudden activity could trigger laminitis and even break a horse's wind. We walked for a long time. Acey was stiff but her wind began to regulate and the rasping sound began to subside. I gave her several days rest and remarkably, she was no worse for wear. Whew - that had me worried!
Bubba soon brought Billy Jo home. They were uncertain whether she broke her ankle or twisted it and were headed to the doctor for x-rays She had limped to Duke and Fancy's house and simply waiting for how it would all turn out. I would have thought she could have made a phone call! Incidentally, she had torn a ligament in her leg and had to wear a brace for a while.
My centerline sprint ended my rides with Billy Jo. But I did learn first hand how the flight of a horse truly is like what the Bible said in the book of Job: "He devours the distance with fierceness and rage!" The Bible, as always, had it right and very relevant.
I also learned later on in life that you make sure your people are the first priority. Check their safety. Yet, despite all blunders, it was evident the Lord had His hand on the whole situation. And of course, one teen girl and two horses provided a completely free performance worthy of the greatest adventure ever seen on the Silver "B-Rated" Western Screen.
God Used a Horse…
To Express His Love For Me
Plans shattered. Tears of failure. Guilt. Grief.
All these were mine as I looked at the firstborn of my prized buckskin American Shetland stallion. All year I had waited for this specific foal. When it came to the crucial moment of delivery, I had proven totally useless to assist the laboring mare and in some ways, had ignorantly overlooked the “signs of trouble”.
How could I have done such a thing? I had been there with her! I had been preparing myself through reading, talking to other breeders and the veterinarian. I had read horror stories about foaling situations with ponies. I was diligent to try to study up on the subject of prevention of a bad foaling situation. The responsibility of helping dystocia cases was a worry that endured through the whole foaling season and kept me checking the mares around the clock for weeks prior to their delivery. But despite all my efforts, when it came down to it, I still “missed the boat.” The foal died.
With trepidation, I sought my veterinarian for help. Tell me what to do next time. What can I do? I have so many more mares set to foal out. He told me to not be afraid of assisting the mare and sent me home with palpation gloves and sterile lubrication. The vet also told me, well, in all honesty, due to the placenta removing like Velcro from the uterus with every contraction, there was a very tiny window of time to save a foal in a dystocia case. Horses have a very quick delivery (or rather should!) and with every contraction, the placenta and uterus comes apart progressively. Our 20 minute drive to the vet would have likely been too late anyway…by the time the mare could be hauled, etc., etc. It would have still been up to us, the owners. Plus, this filly was 3 weeks overdue. The foal was large for a first time mare. The mare would have had to have help even if the foal had been in the right position. And the fact the foal was coming “crown first”, the vet suggested it could have been an indication she was not wholly healthy. Later, we traced the culprit to be fescue toxicity and indeed, the symptoms of an overdue pregnancy and dystocia all coincided.
That night, I once again pulled out the foaling book and fortified my “foaling kit” box. Sleeping restfully was impossible. I felt like a bad steward of what God had given me charge over a beautiful small herd of American Shetland ponies. How was it possible I had failed the first time out and neglected even to heed my conscience that kept pricking me that something was “wrong” before it was too late? I mourned my ignorance and lack of experience. It was not just a mistake—it entailed a life and loss. This filly was a prize—a well-marked bay tovero with a dishy head the very first foal by my beloved Bucky and Bonnie. What a loss of time, life, money, preparation, energy, effort. Bonnie was thankfully going to heal up alright with some 3-4 times a day care and high powered medication to fight infection and inflammation. However, due to the trauma, the veterinarian said she would likely never be able to carry a foal again.
From then on, fear and dread gripped me as I watched the bulging stomachs of the remaining expectant broodmares. I found myself praying repeatedly to God, please help me! But despite a peace knowing God did hear me, there was a fear of a repeat situation and a true concern I would possibly fail again.
Like a hen, those mares were hovered over! Ruby and Dee were next.
Ruby and Dee were veteran “no help needed” older mothers that liked to foal late at night or in the wee hours of morning. They were inseparable like two little old-fashioned ladies that were always seen together. Their world was pretty settled without a care. Despite my anxious hovering, they just munched casually on their grass heedless to any greater concern than an occasional swish at a fly.
My vigorous routine of “around the clock” checkups started with the first signs of their “bagging up”. They were both expecting foals by our homozygous black tobiano stallion, Ryan. However, I had read how even good mares could still have “problems. These were our family favorite mares. To have them in a difficult delivery or possibly lose their foals (who were always some of the best of the crop), would indeed be a devastation from every angle.
The day arrived and Dee made her approach toward “any moment” foaling out. That night, I kept her up close to the house. With a full moon shining through the blinds of the window by my bed, 1 am, 2 am, 3 am, 4 am rolled by only to reveal her marching on foot along the fence line and whining to her pasture buddy who oddly didn’t stay close to her through the night. I knew enough about Dee’s patterns of foaling, she could “go” any moment…why did she wait? Yet, dawn broke, still no foal and Dee’s evening activity had merely left a worn path bordering the cross fencing. I turned her lose and down the pasture she trotted gleefully to join Ruby.
The morning wore on with occasional glances down toward the end of the 40 acre pasture where Ruby and Dee grazed. The pasture, though narrow and long, was treeless providing a clear view with binoculars at the far end. As these mares always foaled at night, I expected another worrisome night of broken sleep. Yet, around noon, walking to the front window overlooking the pasture, I parted the sheers and peered out through binoculars—my heart stood still.
Dee was in labor!
With all the panic surging with the urgency of needing to be on hand to “save the foal”, I dashed on a pair of rubber boots, ran to the barn to grab my kit and jumped in “Brownie” our 1989 brown Chevrolet standard shift pickup. With a racing heart, I shifted Brownie into 2nd and as I approached the laboring mare, I attempted to “quietly” barrel down the dusty driveway! I arrived in time to see a blinking, breathing, beautiful robust silver dapple tobiano colt laying in a carpet of clover and primroses. Dutiful Dee “spoke” to her colt in soft, fluttering of her nostrils with gentle, deep sounds I’ve only witnessed by mares to their newborns. It is the tenderest and most loving sound any animal could make.
Oh, he has a paint! And look at those white stockings! And a little star on his forehead! Awww! Oh thank you Lord, thank you Lord! Aw, Dee, aw, he’s so cute!
As my heart poured forth in ecstasy (and yes, I did “talk” to the horses many times!), I glanced over to Dee’s buddy, Ruby who never was too far away.
To my astonishment, the little red mare, who celebrated over the new arrival with little nostril flutters of her own, was acting strange! With a suddenly strutted udder, she walked around the baby and Dee and dropped down.
AH! Another one in labor in the middle of the day! Ruby in a matter of a few more minutes was making sweet sounds to her own stunningly handsome black and white tobiano colt. And I was so “unneeded” with no time to do anything but grab a camera and leap for all the joy that can be leaped for by a horse lover with two brand-new baby paint ponies only about 24” tall!
The reality of having witnessed a unique, almost miraculous circumstance was not lost on me. Two mares had foaled within a few minutes of each otherwithin a few feet of each other! The day was beautiful, sunny, blue skies and the backdrop of primroses, deep and light greens of spring was both glorious and memorable.
As I looked on at the lovely scene before me, I was overcome with the reality the Lord had “lowered the waters” for me. These mares were due several weeks apart. I had never heard of two mares delivering in the middle of the day, full sunshine and out in the open and rather socially! Neither had my veterinarian who I wasted little time in telling of this wonderful delivery! No, the Lord had not let me fail. Instead, He got it all worked out for me and had it all taken care of before I could do a thing. He also gave me a gift and did something that meant something to me. I loved being the first on the scene to witness the new little one. He reinforced that He knows me in a special way. No—I refuse to believe this circumstance was by chance. It was by His appointment I didn’t miss that quick foaling by the typical noon tradition of eating a sandwich. In a course an hour, all my dread, worries of inadequacy were overshadowed by the joy of new life and a real understanding the God who created me and endowed me with this love of horses really did something for me—Me, Rebekah—very personally. It was done in a way not asked for, but a real, delightful gift that gave both peace and tremendous delight. Photos were snapped and snapped to capture these fleeting, special moments of spindly new legs learning to bear weight (Brownie and I had to race back to the house to get me little 2 MP digital camera and a few excited siblings!).
“Dusty” and “Galloway” certainly grew to be rambunctious, fluffy colts. They were a delight to watch grow. Around Christmas, together they headed up toward Oklahoma to charm a big Indian family with extended families of youngsters. The following years, Ruby and Dee returned to their uneventful, nocturnal traditions of foaling leaving me to still hover through the night while they just went through motions like pioneers.
To some, it may not seem like much. But for me, Ruby, Dee, Dusty and Galloway were just a few pretty little horses that God used to express His love for me in a special way and provide a tangible, lovely reminder. God certainly used a horse. ><>
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).