Monday, January 26, 2009


Sometimes I think all I need to know in life I can learn from observing my horse.

Okay, an overstatement. Still, in matters of the spirit my three horses often speak to me of deeper truths. Last week was a prime example.

I felt weary and desperate as I hitched up my trailer, popped two sedentary horses inside and took off down the road. There was no rhyme or order to the thoughts jumping around in my mind. Spiritually I was groping in the dark, hands outstretched for anything to grasp or, more likely, bump in to. There were tangled relationship issues, home life challenges, and, last but not least, confusion in my writing goals. Freelancing has been good to me over the last four years--I am grateful--but lately I've felt stale, dissatisfied, and unsure of a direction. God has never let me down so, where was He in all of it?

On the way to the riding arena I gripped the steering wheel and stared out at the pastoral setting. Even at 2 pm, a hard frost crystallized every corner of the landscape not touched by a wan sunlight. A world in freeze frame. I related to the immobility around me. My prayers out loud were weak as the daylight: "Lord, I don't know what to do. You'll have to show me. You know, make it obvious." Obvious as in, hit me over the head, force my feet to take steps in the right direction. Whatever. These are the times one is grateful for solitude and for a God who doesn't require eloquent delivery.

At the arena I unloaded and began saddling Chance. I crave the rhythm and routine of riding at times like this. My brain is grateful to move in a direction that is familiar and comforting. I enjoy sharing space with an expressive creature that doesn't talk to me in words. I planned on lunging Tango, who suffers from a stifle injury, but Chance was the focus of the day. After a mid winter vacation he showed signs of regressing a bit in his training. Specifically, inability to yield and stiffness. Haley was back to riding but Chance needed a reminder of how to move and behave. He needed Mom.

I knew what sort of ride I'd have even before putting my foot in the stirrup. Chance looked here and there, refusing to stand for mounting. My presence was a trifling detail. I held his head but allowed him to walk and shift as he considered every possible distraction. It didn't take too long for him to realize he was working harder than he needed to so he stopped his feet and let me mount.

After about a ten minute warm-up, I pushed Chance into a trot and felt things come unhinged.

"Self Carriage" is a term horsemen use to describe an animal that knows how to use its body and move with grace, weight well shifted to the rear as it is propelled forward in cadence. Good self carriage is athletic. It is beautiful. It has nothing to do with a small resistant pinto of mediocre conformation. I felt as if I was wrestling a giraffe bent on a course of destruction. Any previous understanding of how to flex at the poll, give to the rein, and move in rhythm had evaporated in the course of a month and a half. Chance careened toward Tango (quietly standing tied to a post) one minute, shied at a barrel he's seen aproximately 117 times the next. I could see the front of his head as he craned to escape the bit that, up until that point, hadn't even been a source of pressure. I tried bending him into the semblance of a circle but his body couldn't follow his nose. The circle was a rectangle one minute, a triangle the next. I was riding a four-legged train wreck.

On any other day I might have been frustrated but I felt strangely calm. I understood Chance's inability to carry himself. This is the unsettling thing about the nature of horses--they are such perfect mirrors.

In lieu of punishment, I simply pushed Chance onward in his triangular circles and held my hands steady and quiet. After several minutes I felt him begin to relax. His head dropped, releasing the pressure of the rein. The spasmic, pogo-stick trot lengthened a little, even as it slowed. His body began to remember it could move efficiently and gracefully. The triangle stretched into an oval, than a circle. As a reward I allowed him to walk. By this time his small woolley ears (they really are adorable) were trained on me. He wasn't so worried about the barn swallows flitting in and out of the arena, the once "frightening" barrel, the other horses moving around in the stalls or trucks going by outside. He waited on my direction.

"God helps those who help themselves." While I understand the limited usefullness of this phrase, it isn't true (and isn't found in the bible). Yet somehow I have grasped the idea and used it to justify my internal thrashing, my busy plans, my worthy goals. I'll figure it out and God will show up after I've proven myself a clever, hard worker. In the Psalms David wrote, "Cause me to know the way in which I should go." He was a wealthy, good-looking king who had everything but a clue. He understood that he needed to wait for action/direction from God before taking action himself. I'd been doing a whole lot of worrying, a whole lot of extra work, when I could simply yield and wait for the help I desperately need. It will come.

As it turns out, I'm no good at self carriage.


Julie Garmon said...

Ohhhh, I love this post. It spoke to me today.



Dan Bettle said...

"The world in freeze frame." So well said by a stub sentence. It made me hold my breath. Keep up the vivid writing. I love it. DB