Friends, let me tell you a story.
I’ve owned the mare in these pictures for about 14 years. She’s only about 16. She’s my tried and true lesson horse who will try to catch kids if they get unbalanced (and she’s usually successful), cow horse, mini-eventer, best friend, and partner in crime.
She’s usually perfect. Usually. But when she’s bad, she’s really bad. Like a little kid who knows she’s did something wrong and then starts throwing a tantrum because she knows she did something wrong, and gets upset because she knows she’s in trouble, and then it spirals from there.
I learned a long time ago not to push this mare around. You push, she pushes harder. And let me tell you, this mare is a powerhouse. A freight train. She’s stubborn, and she absolutely will not quit, no matter how tired she is. In fact, she doesn’t really know the meaning of tired. I have learned that less is more with her. Patience is the key. If I feel her resist, I soften, and usually that’s all she needs to relax into my hands for a lovely ride. And she is a very soft horse.
I had a different experience with her this weekend.
I took her and her pasture buddy to a dressage show this weekend anticipating a nice relaxing day with only two rides a few hours apart, hanging out with my siblings and friends in the meantime.
She had a different idea.
After my ride on the other horse, I took a little break, and then decided to warm Chari up.
And didn’t get off her for the next two hours.
The horse I got on at that show I didn’t know. Except I did. She just completely lost her brain trying to get back to her friend who was standing at the trailer after I rode her away.
Fourteen years of working with this animal, and she flips out at a little schooling show like she’s never been to a show before? I would have been embarrassed if I hadn’t been concentrating so hard. Because all I could do was concentrate.
I know that horse well enough that I anticipated every single twist, plunge, lunge, rear, buck, holy-hell breakaway, stiff-necked, dropped-shoulder turn, yank—I could go on and on. What people saw me ride was the tip of the iceberg. I felt something in that horse, something totally out of control, and it took every ounce of my strength to divert it over and over and over.
What was the matter? Maybe she was in season. Maybe a bunch of factors came into play and she lost it because she made bad choices at the beginning of the ride by ignoring my requests—and knowing her, that’s truly a possibility.
All I know is that she never once looked at me, never once turned an ear to me, never chewed, never even acknowledged that I was anything more than a piece of asphalt attached to her back that she needed to relieve herself of so she could run, hell bent, back to the trailer.
My usually soft mare was like a steel rod. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get her to bend any more than her nose. I couldn’t get her to move off leg without her using it as an excuse to flip out even more. I tried every way I knew how to provide her with opportunities to get the right answer so she could calm down, but she was so focused on what she wanted that she completely ignored them.
Eventually lunchtime came and I was able to take her to the arena where I just let her canter until she tired herself out. But the rigidness and fight didn’t stop. Finally, I was crying. Not from anger, but from exhaustion. As much as I’ve ridden, I’ve never cried on a horse before. I’m far too stubborn. But this mare finally wore me down. I was so tired, but couldn’t quit. I didn’t even want to quit. I had to stick with my horse. I had to ride her to the end.
After two hours, two solid hours, it was finally my time to ride. We got eliminated because she jumped out of the dressage arena for a stride, but we kept going. The kind judge continued to score us, even though our score wouldn’t matter.
It took until the very middle of the test—the free walk that changes rein—for her to change. She still was a ball of not-my-horse, rushing transitions and leaning, mouth opened, on the bit, but there was a little more respect for the bit, and the anger was starting to dissipate from her.
When we finished and I dismounted, she didn’t try taking off for the trailer. She turned her face to me and put her nose in my side like she normally does. I rubbed her head. She walked next to me. Stopped when I stopped, even though we were headed back to the trailer.
So maybe we got somewhere.
But that’s not the point of the story.
God has used this horse many times to speak to me in ways only God can. Horses are amazing reflections of us humans and our relationship with God. There’s even a trainer who uses horse training as ministry because it’s so powerful (Sermon on the Mount).
I was so confused about her uncharacteristic behavior that I took it to the Lord.
I wanted to know what the point was—what lesson was I supposed to learn? I hadn’t gotten angry with her. I’d slapped her neck once or twice to try to get her attention—to try to get her to stop the self-destructive behavior—but I didn’t get mad.
I just stuck with her. When I gathered my reins to start my test, I said what I normally say to her: “You ready, love?”
Well, at church on Sunday, when my heart was quiet enough to hear the Lord during worship, this is what He told me.
“You know, I’ve been working on you for more than 14 years. You can have your tantrums, you can refuse to look at me, you can pretend I’m not here, but I’m going to stick with you no matter what and still love you infinitely.” He wanted me to know this badly enough to let me struggle with a crazed animal for two hours so I’d understand it better.
Just that little message affirming me in His love. But it’s for you, too.
Because, friends, that’s what He does. We can flail around, refuse to bend, insist on plunging around to our own destruction because we have our eyes SET on something we want or think we need instead of Him. He’ll just stick with us, lovingly redirecting us, gently asking us to bend back to His way, and he does it with infinite patience.
No anger, no expectations. Just love. And He’ll keep sticking with us. No matter what.