Safety is a high priority here at the ranch, especially when we're dealing with children. But when you're working with horses there is always an element of risk. The horse has a mind of its own and is a lot bigger than we are. There are few things we can make a horse do, so we work to build a relationship of trust where the horse respects us as the herd leader and submits his strength to do our will.
It is easy to get into a rut with these horses; where a horse has done well in the past, we expect them to continue to perform. But they will always be unpredictable. I discovered this the hard way in a recent experience with Victor.
Victor is our best horse to use with the kids. He has a calm, steady disposition. He behaves pretty much the same on any given day. We always use him for our riders with handicaps and there is not much that can phase him. He will give us attitude sometimes, but typically he doesn't have any issues that we need to work on, like some of the other horses do, so I think we have taken him for granted and allowed things to slide. If a horse can find a loophole to do his own will rather than the rider's, he will take advantage of it. The riding arena is a controlled environment, and Victor is usually easy to handle in there. Riding outside, away from the ranch, can be a different story.
A few weekends ago, I decided to take Victor out for a ride by myself. He is one of our fastest horses and I really wanted to go for an exciting, full-out run on a straightaway. I got exciting, all right. More than I wanted. I was aware that Victor had developed an annoying habit over the summer. We call it barn sour or gate sour. The horses get tired of work and they get lazy, just like people do. When kids were riding in the arena, all the horses got into this habit of going over to the gate and stopping. In their minds, that is the way to get out of work. Because we didn't curb it right away, they thought they were getting away with bossing their riders. We've been working on this, but all bad habits take time to break. So when we ride outside the arena, instead of running to the gate, the horses want to turn around and run back to the barn. We will let them run when we're headed away from the ranch, but we don't allow them to run home. But if Victor is already running and turns around, he is very hard to stop. So I had this in mind when I rode out, and I took him up along the edge of the field to where I thought we were far enough from home, and I asked him to run. He immediately took off, but it didn't take long to realize that we were not enough out of range to ignore that homeward pull. The barn and pasture are Victor's little box where he is happy and comfortable, and his mind was set on going back there. He wasn't trying to get rid of me, but he was choosing his will over mine. He did not want to leave his friends and his secure little world where he is in control. He did not want to go out into the unknown and trust me to guide him. He was not interested in spending time with me. He wanted to be with his herd, eat hay, and not work. My attempts to stop him or change course were futile. He simply ignored all my cues. So I tried to use the emergency stop, pulling his head sharply around to swing him in a tight circle and bring him to a stop. He still was not responding easily, and changed direction only enough to be heading for the nearby busy highway. Now Victor was placing himself and me in great danger. But he couldn't understand that. He was doing what he thought was in his best interest. Thankfully, God allowed a telephone pole and two guy wires to be directly in our path. He protected us from running headlong into the pole; instead, Victor hit the wires and the sudden stop threw me off his back. I have so much to thank God for, because my landing could have been a lot worse. I hit the ground hard, facefirst. Considering the force of the impact, I'm amazed at how little damage I sustained. Surface scrapes, a sore neck, and an injury to my eye which has healed wonderfully. I've spent a lot of time praising God for His mercy to me and I have gained some valuable experience in horse safety. Now I realize that we have to deal swiftly with little issues before they become big ones. And we can never take for granted the disposition of even the most solid horse. A wise horseman anticipates the unpredictable.
As I look back on the accident a few weeks later, I think about how Victor's rebellion against my will caused him to lose his connection with me. He did not try to throw me off, but that was the end result. We no longer had the relationship between horse and rider. He was on his own and could have still brought great harm on himself by running unguided into the highway. He also caused pain and grief to me. His stubborness has resulted in some regression of his training; in other words, we will have to go back and work on some basic principles again to reinforce our place as herd leader until he is willing to submit again. Suddenly it came to me; I've been acting a lot like Victor. I know that Victor is just a horse. He doesn't have an intelligent understanding, as we do, to see the value of relationship and to realize that our Master is doing everything for our good. He's been trained, and he "knows" what we want him to do, but he doesn't really know any better. However, I have no such excuse.
I took some time to think about what I value most in life right now, and what are the things that drive me. I realized that a lot of my motivation in relationships, how I spend my free time, spend money, and even how I approach prayer and Bible study, is self-interest, pride, guilt, and fear of man. Even in my pursuit of good things, I am driven more by my happiness, comfort, and glory more than God's glory. It is so easy to fall into a comfortable routine or box, if you will, thinking I'm okay with God and gradually spending less and less time with Him in favor of the stuff I really want to do. It's not that I try to outright rebel and push God out of my life. But when my heart becomes set on seeking my own will and pleasure, and I forget that I exist for God's glory, I am blinded to the harmful effects and, just like Victor, I run headlong for my desires, ignoring the prompting and convicting of God's Spirit. I would much rather stay in my safe and happy place than to follow God out into unknown territory, where the way might be scary, uncomfortable, or difficult. I would rather trust my own instincts, what feels good and right to me, than to trust God to be strong in my weakness, to use me in someone's life through means that don't make sense to me, and to give me the absolute best, even through challenging and painful circumstances. Eventually, pursuing my own will leads me in a dangerous direction, and if I still refuse to stop, listen to God, and turn around, I won't even see the trouble I'm headed into. I wind up "throwing God off" so to speak, losing the intimate connection with Him and grieving the Holy Spirit. As a result, I end up spiritually backtracked, and God has to deal with me to regain that ground before we can move deeper into relationship and further in His purposes. God never loses control, but He desires that I freely submit my will to Him, out of love and desire. He will never force us to do anything. My rebellion does not hijack God's plans, but it means I take a lot longer to get to where God wants me, and I'm only hurting myself in the process.
God gave me a lot of grace to see my accident in a positive light. I was truly thankful from the first moments that I could get up and move and nothing was broken. I could see God's protection and was blessed to experience so much love from the people around me. Still, I wasn't sure why this had to happen and I asked God what He wanted to teach me through it. The answer didn't come right away, but He did show me. He used Victor to help me see what I was doing and to uncover some things in my heart that I needed to repent of. He humbled me and gave me grace to reset my priorities, remembering that I was created to bring Him praise and glory. God's greatest interest is His own glory, because that is who He is. Self-existent. Eternal. Holy. Worthy. Think about this. It would be silly and pointless for the rain to try to fulfill the purpose of the sun, or a tree to do what a bird does, or....you fill in the blanks. When we make a car, we have no intention of using it to float in the ocean. We make hammers to pound nails, not cut wood. In the same way, God created us to fulfill a very specific purpose: to know Him, reflect His beauty, and worship Him. And what a wonder, that when we are fulfilling our purpose, the very thing that brings God all the glory also completes our joy and pleasure! Worshipping Him is in our true best interest. Oh, for hearts to believe and embrace the meaning of our existence and to trust our Life-giver with everything!
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world......to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved......that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory." From Ephesians 1