Thursday, April 23, 2009


A certain Spanish proverb warns that, "He who would ride a horse must learn to fall." I've learned to fall, thank you very much. In my younger years this included being bucked off, scraped off, knocked off, and hitting dirt when my horse ran off. My base of experience in off seems wide enough. In the last 15 or so years I've avoided the inevitable. Until last week.

Looking back, this episode may have been avoided if I hadn't attempted a training short cut. I say may because I'll never know for sure. Why cry over spilled milk, or spilled bodies?

Perhaps three weeks ago we put a running martingale on Chance. This piece of equipment is meant to prevent a horse from throwing his head up and avoiding the bit. Reins are threaded through two rings which converge in a fork and are anchored at the girth. There is no pressure on the horses mouth unless they throw their nose in the air. Then the martingale engages. Through leverage the horses head is held down. I've never been a fan of these sorts of tools. The old fashioned way of teaching a horse, through repetition, to yield and soften his face is always best. But Haley is small. I figured some advantage was an order.

At first Chance tolerated the new situation. Then he bucked off a friend's son. He reared, kicked out and dumped the rider. This was new behavior for him. The next day, with me on board, he tried a similar maneuver when the martingale was engaged and I toppled off (Can I just say that my butt was forced into a youth saddle and I had no stirrups--trying to save my pride a tad). It appeared, to me, that the action of the martingale triggered the same response--panic--that makes Chance sometimes pull when tied. An old demon we are still trying to exorcise. After exiting the saddle I removed the device. Permanently. For Chance, less appears to be more.

Haley was understandably upset. Not only had a spring trail ride together been derailed, Chance's behavior was unsettling. What was going on here and were we missing something?

Later on I examined my bruised body (minor) and faith (major). I suddenly felt very fragile and it had nothing to do with the fresh realization I can be injured on horseback. Was I using poor judgement? Had I wanted a happy ending for this horse so badly that I was willing to risk my daughter's safety? So many signs along the way pointed to Chance being a gift to me and Haley. Things it seemed only God could have arranged. We'd all come so far. But maybe not far enough.

I discussed the situation with my husband. Perhaps it was time to make some changes. Sell Chance and get something that will take a whole lot less effort. At this point a horse with one foot in the grave looks good. No faith required just a "sure thing." All it took was a thought of selling this horse and my throat got tight, tears a threatening storm behind my eyes. What is wrong with me? I've sold several horses in the last ten years with not so much as a tear. They all touch me, and teach me, but I'm practical about such matters. One can't keep every horse that sets a hoof in the barn. I've sold more charming horses than a certain pinto aptly nicknamed "Jack." (Nicholson. Think As Good As It Gets) Chance is not special to me because of some outward quality. It's what he represents--the beautiful and often fragile journey of faith.

Though I've felt strongly, from the beginning, that I was meant to have this horse, I've lost track of how many times I've given up on him. The first time came after only two weeks on my property. After a disappointing encounter with him I retreated to the house in despair. I'd made a mistake. I made myself a cup of something hot and sat down with my Bible. When I'm down there is nothing like the Psalms to refresh and remind me of God's heart and His promises. Here is what I read that day: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle else they will not come near you. God the horseman. Love it. At the time those verses ministered to me in matters of horsemanship. When I read them again last week they meant something different. The bit and bridle leading me around are fears, expectations, and emotions. God's eye, his perspective, is different and I want to be led by that.

My husband confirmed this as we were discussing the situation, our hopes for our daughter through this experience, the fact that we may need to make some changes.

"Remember, Honey, you're only able to see this situation with your small perspective. God sees it differently. Perhaps there is a purpose in all this that you didn't consider."

Expectations. Always the problem for me. I'm pursuing a storyline like this: Neglected and starved horse becomes champion 4H pony for ten-year-old. I can be the beaming mother, proud of myself for plowing on when everyone else thought I was crazy. Instead, I'm the one feeling crazy, emotional, and faithless. I'm suspicious about what God is up to; ready to give up at the slightest opportunity (anyone have a nice, old horse that needs a home?).

Abraham Lincoln said: It is not best to swap horses while crossing rivers. Perhaps Haley and I are in the middle of a river. A river of faith.

Stay tuned.


Julie Garmon said...

Ohhhhhhhhhh,Catherine. This is beautiful. I needed this Truth today. I love your honesty--to admit your deepest desires. To admit you feel like quitting. That you've fallen. And still, you hang on tight trusting your Source.

Poetry for the soul.

Catherine said...

Sigh. Why does faith have to feel so hard some days? But I keep getting nudges to hold on and so, that is what I am doing. THanks for the encouragement, yet again.